This small book (43 pages plus plates) offers a guide to the use of perspective in drawing. It describes perspective as ‘the art of drawing, according to the principles of optics and geometry, the true representations of real objects’. The book is epistolary in form (composed as a series of letters). Each of the nine letters in the book is from William Daniel to the mother of a young woman called Eliza, and each letter contains instructions on perspective, supposedly for Eliza’s benefit. Daniel encloses with his letters various images which illustrate the principles that he describes. The letters progress from very basic geometry (‘A line is formed by the motion of a point; and therefore has length, but neither breadth nor depth’ – Letter II) to more complicated concepts.
It is not known whether William Daniel really did send the letters in the book to the mother of Eliza; it may be that he used the epistolary form in order to make the book more lively and engaging.
Who is William Daniel?
William Daniel (usually spelled Daniell; 1769-1837) was a renowned engraver and landscape painter. Born in England, he spent most of his teenage years and his early twenties in India. Many of his sketches and paintings depict scenes and people he saw throughout Asia, though he also painted landscapes around the United Kingdom, from London to the Hebrides. He exhibited many of his works at the Royal Academy, and became a member of the RA in 1822.
Who would have used it and why?
As the title page makes clear, this book is designed for ‘ladies’. Drawing and painting would have been a hobby rather than a career for such women; artistic ability was an important accomplishment for young women from the leisured classes. Mathematics, however, was not deemed an important part of female education; even among the educated classes, most women would reach adulthood without more than a basic understanding of mathematics. Women would therefore have used this book to understand the principles of geometry that they might not have learned while growing up, but which were considered essential for painting and drawing.