Historical notes

 

 

 

 

Landscape painting, Queen Victoria and the BAA Mars Section

 

What do the above have in common? The answer is a man called Nathaniel Green. N.E. Green (1823–1899) was a famous English amateur astronomer of the late Victorian period. A landscape painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, Green once included Queen Victoria among his pupils. He was one of the founder members of the BAA in 1890, was President 1896–98, and for some years directed its Saturn Section. By then, Green was already famous for his drawings of the planets, having previously published them in the Astronomical Register and in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society. He is best known for his ‘soft-pencil’ views of Mars from the island of Madeira in 1877, at a time when Schiaparelli was covering the planet with fine canali. In 1894 the BAA Mars Section Director B.E. Cammell produced a manuscript report which was too long for the Council to publish. Green was prevailed upon to edit the Memoir down to a more acceptable length, and this he did. In 1897, Green presented his 18-inch mirror to the Association, and it was later used for many years at Headley observatory by the Rev T.E.R. Phillips, mostly for observations of Jupiter and Mars. In recent years it was with Denis Buczynski at Conder Brow.

      For many years I casually looked for Green’s non-astronomical works, but without success – until recently, when, in an antiquarian bookshop in Stamford, I came across a lovely copy of a book Green wrote in about 1880, entitled Hints on Sketching from Nature. I knew that Green wrote more than one book upon the subject, but had never seen any examples. This lovely little work about watercolour landscape painting was published by Rowney & Co., the firm who produce all sorts of artists’s materials, and was intended to encourage art students new to the craft. Indeed, Green had Rowney & Co. print for his own (and BAA members’) use cards bearing a series of 2-inch diameter planetary drawing blanks, each disk being ochre-tinted and set upon a black background. You can draw on these disks in pencil or pastel, and then scrape away the ochre tint to give the highlights. I have a stock of these cards in the Mars Section archives, and Richard Baum and I once tried them out. The little art book includes beautiful coloured lithographic reproductions of some of Green’s works. Oh, to own an original!

 

Flowers for Tycho

 

My favourite tram ride in Prague is to take tram no. 22 from Malostranska metro station, up the hill to the ancient streets above Prague castle. This route offers lovely views over the city as the tram attacks the steep hill and sharp corners. Then, if you alight at the right stop, you face a large statue of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. Just behind is the modern Jan Kepler Gymnasium, Prague’s top school, and inside there are foundations of a house in which Kepler once lived. Tycho is buried in the Tyn Church in the Old Town Square, a stone’s throw from the famous astronomical clock of the Old Town Hall. I have visited the tomb several times, and recently I went to see the statue again to mark the 400th anniversary of his death. Czech astronomers had laid flowers there in Tycho’s memory.

 

 

Richard McKim, Director