The West Front of Hampton Court Palace is perhaps its most famous aspect, being the main approach to Henry VIII’s former residence for visitors arriving by road (or, since 1849, by rail). Spyers’ view was made shortly after the Great Gatehouse at the centre of the west front had been reduced in size, and is almost unchanged today.
John Spyers’ Hampton Court Albums contained 150 drawings, predominantly of the palace’s gardens and Bushy Park, but also a number of copies after famous artists, imaginary landscape views and even architectural drawings. The apparently miscellaneous nature of this collection, and the somewhat poor quality of some of the drawings therein, suggests that Spyers ‘bulked up’ the volumes with extras and cast-offs.
In 1786, in collaboration with Francis Jukes, Spyers produced six etchings of Hampton Court, all of which are held in King’s Topographical Collection. These must have been worked up from his original sketches, since the finished drawings had been sent to Russia in 1784. The prints focus on the palace itself, with one view of the Tudor West Front, two each of Base Court and Clock Court, and one of the Baroque East Front. However, the albums notably included views of lesser-known parts of the palace, such as the service courts, the melon yard, and the furthest corners of the Home Park, making them an invaluable resource for modern historians.
As well as showing the palace and grounds at the moment when the famous ‘Capability’ Brown was in charge of the maintenance of the historic gardens, Spyers’ views are known to be topographically accurate. Recent research by Mikhail Dedinkin supports the theory that Spyers made use of a camera obscura in his renderings of the palace.
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