Painting Within Tent: Philip Georg von Reck in Georgia
Philipp Georg Friedrich van Reck (1710-1798), untitled sketchbook page (c 1736), media not known, 36.5 x 28.8 cm, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen, Denmark. Courtesy of Det Kongelige Bibliotek.
Many of the early accounts and painted records we have of the New World of the Americas were made not by explorers as such, but by its first settlers. Among them was a baron of Hanover in Germany, Philipp Georg Friedrich von Reck (1710-1798), who left us a marvellous book of notes, sketches and paintings.
Von Reck was a noble who held the rights to five hundred acres of land in North America. He was appointed commissary to a group of three hundred Lutheran settlers who were expelled from Catholic Salzburg, and sent to live in their own colony of Ebenezer in Georgia, in 1734. Their offence was to refuse to recant their faith at the command of Count Leopold von Firmian, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Von Reck was responsible for secular matters, but disputes with the leader and a competitor led to him being stripped of his role.
He returned to Georgia with a third wave in 1736, which he led, but never made his claim to the land that awaited him. He returned to Europe to enter the Hanover civil service, and later entered the Danish civil service.
His journal of the first period in Georgia was published in 1734, but what remained unknown at the time was that he had filled a sketchbook with drawings and paintings of his travels, local flora and fauna, and the Yuchi indigenous people who he came into contact with. That sketchbook was lodged with Det Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was rediscovered in 1977. You can access images of its entire contents here, from where I have selected a few pages of his paintings.
There’s a fascinating discussion of the ethnological significance of his records here.
This last painting shows the Needles, the Isle of Wight, just a few miles to the west of where I live. It was presumably one of von Reck’s first sights of Europe on his return. The sea here may appear a little overwrought, but it’s faithful: this channel in the Westerm Solent is home to one of the more spectacular tidal races of the south coast of England, and often generates short, steep waves of more than a metre in height.