Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories
The collapse of Thomas Cook this week has prompted Rakewell to look back at the travel agent’s very first overseas trip in 1855. Up until then the British cabinetmaker-turned-tour operator had limited himself to the UK, treating punters to such excursions as a temperance rally in Loughborough, and trips to Liverpool, Scotland and the Great Exhibition. But the International Exhibition in Paris that year provided Cook with an opportunity to expand his horizons. He took two parties from Harwich to Antwerp, Brussels, Cologne, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, and then Paris, where the decidedly un-rakish Cook warned the gentlemen he was accompanying: ‘The can-can is danced by paid performers, and is altogether an unnatural and forced abandon.’
Cook’s first overseas tour party visited the Louvre, before delving into the exhibition halls on the Champs-Élysées, which included – unlike the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park four years earlier – a fine arts pavilion. There they encountered David Roberts’ recently painted watercolours of the Middle East, and would have also seen Meissonier’s La Rixe, and work by Ingres and Delacroix, who were both awarded gold medals by the exhibition jury. Ingres was surely helped by the fact that one of his works was The Apotheosis of Napoleon, which would have pleased at least one member of the jury – Napoleon III.