In 1786-88 J.W.von Goethe travelled around in Italy and wrote lots of letters for his friends back home in Germany. 230 years later, in summer 2016, I read them all in a fascinating book. His language was very vivid and picturesque, so I felt like I was set back in time, travelling with him. In the book were small black and white photos of some of his own watercolour sketches and works by other artists from the time, showing places he visited and wrote about.

I started to paint my versions of these pictures, as monochromes with my homemade watercolour paint from plant indigo pigment, gum arabic and local honey. I posted them on Facebook with my own texts, as if I was travelling as Goethe’s companion and they became a success. Some thought I was travelling in Italy for real!

You can find cards of some of these in the Shop.

Goethe wanted to see all the antique remains in Italy. Most of his two years there were spent in Rome, but he was also very eager to see Sicily, so he travelled to Naples and went on ship over to the big island. There were no turists (!) so he and his companion had to fix ‘b&b’ along the road. I found his watercolour sketches very modern and energetic.

J.W. von Goethe, portrayed by Tischbein in the countryside outside Rome. 22x30 cm (8,8x12")

J.W.von Goethe. A famous portrait of him outside Rome, made by his friend Tieschbein.

Madonna del Granduca, detail, from Rafael 1505. 22x16 cm (8,8x6,4") Hahnemühle 300gsm 2016.

Rafael’s Madonna del Granduca, detail, painted in 1505, a beautiful work that Goethe studied with great admiration. I chose to only paint her delicate face and thought the indigo made her look extra serene.

Ship at Capri, from painting by Kniep 1787. 30x22 cm (12x8,8") Hahnemühle 300gsm 2016.

Ship at Capri. The young artist Kniep was with Goethe to Sicily, hired as ‘photographer’, meaning he should draw and paint everything interesting. On the way back to Naples, their ship got dangerously close to Capri and Kniep was ‘photographing’ the situation.

The Minerva temple in Assisi, from a painting by Ruhl in 1760's. With homemade plant indigo watercolour. 22x30 cm (8,8x12") Hahnemühle 300gsm 2016.

The Minerva temple in Assisi. On his way to Rome, Goethe was eager to see this old building and was disappointed to see it squeezed up between ‘modern’ buildings. Original by Ruhl in 1760’s.

Velletri, from a watercolour by Goethe 1787 in my indigo interpretation. 22x30 cm (8,8x12") Hahnemühle 300gsm 2016.

View towards Vellitri. Now on his way to Napels, over the marshlands. Inspiration from a watercolour made by Goethe himself.

Evening view over Napels, with Vesuvius in background, from painting by Vernet around 1780. With homemade plant indigo watercolour. 22x30 cm (8,8x12") Hahnemühle 300gsm 2016.

Naples. Here Goethe stayed in bed with a cold before bording the ship to Sicily. The active volcano Vesuvius is seen in the distance and was also visited, right up to the crater. He was close to die there, too curious to be careful! Original by Vernet approx 1780.

Sicilian landscape, from watercolour by Goethe 1787, with homemade plant indigo watercolour. 22x30 cm (8,8x12") Hahnemühle 300gsm 2016.

Sicilian landscape. This is spectacular view, caught in a watercolour sketch by Goethe, in my indigo version.

Ruins of Zeus temple near Agrigento, Sicily, from painting by Houel around 1780. 22x30 cm (8,8x12") Hahnemühle 300gsm 2016.

Zeus temple outside Agrigento. This place was one of the main reasons for the Sicily visit! From a painting by the contemporary artist Houel.

Sea view near Messina, Sicily, from Goethes watercolour 1787. 22x16 cm (8,8x6,4") Hahnemühle 300gsm 2016.

Messina. Here Goethe had time for some ‘plain air’ painting, while waiting for a ship to take him back to Naples. Here is my version of one.

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