Clues to British coastal change detected in19th century artwork

December 30th, 2008 - 2:45 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 30 (ANI): A retired engineer in the UK has found artistic clues to coastal change in nineteenth century artwork, which he says is a useful tool for studying coastal erosion.

According to a report by BBC News, Robin McInnes, the retired engineer, assessed the accuracy of geological and topological features in more than 400 paintings of the Isle of Wight and Hampshire coastline.

McInnes said that such old masterpieces gave engineers the chance to see coastal features before they were changed by industrial development.

Over the years, Dr McInnes had amassed quite a collection of paintings, prints and etchings depicting the coastlines of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, where he ran the islands coastline management strategy.

Combining his interests in paintings of the local environment, geology and coastal erosion, he looked at hundreds of artworks and came up with a method to assess their value as indicators of coastal change - especially erosion.

From the late 18th Century, Europe was cut off by the Napoleonic wars, this resulted in travellers and artists paying greater attention to the picturesque landscapes of the British Isles, said Dr McInnes.

Dr McInnes began to examine images from the 1770s to the 1920s. From more than 400 paintings, prints and illustrations he drew up a scale to evaluate how useful such artworks were as coastal engineering tools.

I looked at issues such as the material and the nature of the media, oil paintings versus prints. Generally, watercolour allowed the most accurate depiction, he said.

The next question was what do they actually show, do they provide understanding of the geology or beach levels? I gave each a score for that, said Dr McInnes.

Also to time periods, from a coastal engineers point of view, the most relevant period is when rapid coastal development took place, he added.

Dr McInnes said the Victorian era saw a dramatic change in the coastline as towns, such as Portsmouth, grew with the opening up of railway links.

He added that the paintings of the period were not just a tool for categorizing physical change, but also environmental and developmental issues.

Many artists returned to the same spot to capture the same scenes over a period of years, said McInnes.

The study shows how Victorian development has radically changed the coastline. Its nice to strip it back because it helps you understand what might be the underlying problems of erosion and instability, he added.

Looking back 150 years, its easier to understand the geography and topography when you dont have this coastal development covering the slopes, he further added. (ANI)

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