The Grand Tour came into being in the 17th century as a voyage of initiation which was first undertaken by young members of the British aristocracy, who quickly inspired all European nobles to follow in their wake. In time, the men of the aspirational and newly wealthy bourgeoisie class would later follow suit and adopt the Tour as part of their own rite of passage. The final destination of the cultural expedition was Italy, thus the voyagers were required to pass through Switzerland. This particular section of the journey was initially dreaded by travellers because of the practical difficulties involved in passing over the Alps. However, from the beginning of the 18th century, Switzerland became a destination in and of itself, rather than just simply a challenging geographical prelude for the Touristes. A new aesthetic appreciation for the rugged beauty of the Alps explained this radical shift in perspective. Before this time, the mountains were perceived, in the eyes of the locals, to be both psychologically terrifying and agriculturally barren. But with the coming of the age of enlightenment, scholars and scientists of all fields were drawn to the crystals, rocks, fauna and flora of the Alpine terrain. The aforementioned aesthetic shift was a direct consequence of new a philosophy: the older classical model of beauty, in which perfection in nature was measured by the degree to which men imposed their own artificial order upon it, was replaced by a vision of beauty which was itself inflected by both sublime and picturesque theories of how to see the natural world. Science, too, played an important role, with new discoveries helping to exorcise the ancient fears of what had previously been perceived to be demonically extreme and uncontrollable natural forces. Consequently, many Touristes scaled the required dizzy heights to feast their eyes upon the peaks and glacial seas of a newly discovered heaven, one which had been previously invisible to even the most penetrating of peasant gazes. Thus, for example, the Bernese Oberland became very popular and the valley of Chamonix came to be a must for any Touriste passing through Geneva.
In our coming autumn exhibition we will be delighted to introduce you to a magnificent pair of watercolours by Gabriel Lory, the younger, (1784-1846) which represent the Jungfrau, the Mönch and the Eiger; and the Well and Wetterhorn and the glacier of Rosenlaui. Amusing plates from the series, "Les Touristes", by Eugène Guérard (1821-1866) will also be shown, along with watercoloured engravings by Jean-Antoine Linck (1766-1843). Books on the Alps and on the first ascensions of the Mont-Blanc will complete this collection, with works by Marc-Théodore Bourrit (1739–1819), Martin Barry (1802-1855) and John Auldjo (1805-1886).