Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt: Artworks and Letters by John Douglas Woodward, 1878–1879

Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt: Artworks and Letters by John Douglas Woodward, 1878–1879
Edited with commentary by Sue Rainey George F. Thompson Publishing May 2024
A treasure trove of beautiful and informative illustrations of key areas of the Holy Land during the late nineteenth century.

This book is a beautiful and engaging presentation of drawings and letters by John Douglas Woodward (1846–1924), a prominent American artist/illustrator during the [1870s and 1880s. He was on assignment for New York publisher D. Appleton and Co. to make on-the-spot drawings for illustrations for Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt (1881–1883), which has been called the most important book of illustrations of the region of its time. Some 200 of his compositions appeared in the book as wood engravings, the least expensive mass media of the time, while he contributed the art for 13 steel engravings. Woodward traveled with the somewhat older and better-known artist, Harry Fenn, who was the lead artist for the very successful Picturesque America, published by D. Appleton in parts from 1872–1874. Woodward was the second most prolific contributor to Picturesque America and, like Fenn, also travelled and drew for Picturesque Europe (1878–1879). 

Woodward’s travels for Picturesque Palestine yielded a treasure trove of unique historical art and correspondence. Most drawings for book and magazine illustrations during this period were discarded by the artist after the printing plates were made. But Woodward saved his, providing a visual record, often in full color, of the region, in addition to the black-and-white illustrations in the book. In presenting them alongside his lively, engaging letters, this book will appeal to those interested in the history and art of the Middle East as well as in the appearance of places of importance mentioned in the Holy Bible and the specifics of travel to the region during the 1870s, when there was almost no tourist infrastructure and limited knowledge of other cultures.

Although Picturesque Palestine is well-known to scholars and connoisseurs and available in some libraries and on-line, Woodward’s drawings and letters recording his trip to Palestine are not. The exquisite drawings, rendered in pencil, watercolor, and gouache, belong to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and have been stored since 1941 at Shrine Mont, a conference center in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley (founded by the artist’s nephew). The letters to his wife and mother belong to Shrine Mont, a retreat and conference center in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley founded by the artist’s nephew, where thy have been stored since 1941. The Letters to his wife and mother are in the collection of the Valentine History Museum in Richmond.

About the Author:
Sue Rainey is an esteemed scholar who has focused her research and writing on artists who prepared book and magazine illustrations in the latter half of the nineteenth century, especially John Douglas Woodward and Harry Fenn. Her Creating Picturesque America: Monument to the Natural and Cultural Landscape (Applewood Books (1994 & 2001) was the first study of that landmark 1872-74 publication and won the 1997 Charles C. Eldredge Prize of the National Museum of American Art (Smithsonian) for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art.

In 1997 she and Roger B. Stein curated an exhibit of Woodward’s work at the University of Virginia’s art museum, whose catalog, Shaping the Landscape Image, 1865-1910; John Douglas Woodward (Bayly Art Museum/University of Virginia 1997) won the Award for an Outstanding Publication of the American Historical Print Collectors Society, as did her Creating a World on Paper: Harry Fenn’s Career in Art(Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book) (University of Massachusetts Press 2013). For over thirty years, Rainey has served as volunteer curator of the Woodward collection owned by Shrine Mont, an Episcopal conference center in Orkney Springs, Virginia.

2024 Next Generation Indie Book Awards: Art Finalist

“Rainey has put together a wonderfully detailed picture of the experience of making an on-the-spot description of Palestine in the 1870s. As someone who makes paintings in the very civilized countryside of Virginia today, I am impressed by the quality and quantity of the work [John Douglas Woodward] did under difficult and often dangerous conditions. The drawings are highly skilled and wonderfully detailed, giving a sense of the texture, light, and physical presence of his subjects. The letters give us the day-by-day progress of his assignment of describing the places of the Holy Land, so familiar to Protestant America from their understanding of the Bible, as they really looked. His letters are full of anecdote, opinion, and lively description. He is a wonderful storyteller. I am reminded of Theophil Gautier’s description of his travels in Spain thirty years earlier, with a bit of Mark Twain’s bemused skepticism thrown in. Woodward’s objectivity as an artist vis à vis his received understanding of biblical subjects set up a very engaging tension in this narrative. The drawings are a remarkable record of a landscape that has been of paramount importance to the Western world over the years, and the letters are a very entertaining testament to the skill, determination, and courage of J. D. Woodward.”

––Richard Crozier, painter and retired Professor of Art, University of Virginia

“Picturesque Palestine is one of the most important and comprehensive volumes devoted to the Holy Land published in the nineteenth century.  It is incredibly inventive in its design and its integration of image and text.  What better inspiration for Rainey’s timely project bringing the words and the original works of art by Woodward into a new dialogue and contextual discussion?  I have seen the works on paper at Shrine Mont, and I visited Rainey’s exhibition at the University of Virginia in 1997.  This is a superb visual archive that has survived almost miraculously.  It definitely deserves wider public appreciation.”

––John Davis, President, Historic Deerfield, and author of The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture (Princeton University Press, 1996).  

“The artwork and travel narratives of painter John Douglas Woodward (1846-1924) are vivid visual and verbal depictions that bring to life the lands of the Bible. Little changed over the centuries, and scarcely available to Americans in the nineteenth century, Woodward’s paintings and observations even today evoke the light, space, color, and living details of many New Testament scenes. Woodward’s images and words will provide satisfaction, joy, and enlightenment to anyone interested in American art, the Middle East, and the life and times of the New Testament.”

––Jack Robertson, Fiske and Mare Kimball Librarian Emeritus, Jefferson Library at Monticello