Robert David Gauley was born in Ireland in 1875. His family moved to Boston when he was a child, and he studied art there and in Paris. In 1893, still a young man, he made a trip through Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. The Kennedy Museum is fortunate to have much of the fruit of this trip: dozens of sketches, watercolors, and oil paintings. Gauley clearly was trying to take it all in—he painted sweeping landscapes and famous buildings, sketched the minutest architectural details of the palaces of Italy, and made copies of the Old Masters wherever he encountered them. What is clear from his artwork is that this man was out to see the world, to absorb it to saturation. Many of his pieces that ended up at the KMA are rough, unfinished, or damaged, but nevertheless they form together a dazzling and colorful panorama of the late-nineteenth-century Mediterranean world.
Christina Meyer was my great-great grandmother. Her family were recent German immigrants living in Louisville, Kentucky, and in the winter of 1896 Christina set out on a months-long tour of the Mediterranean and Europe. From Louisville she travelled by train to Columbus and New York, boarding a steamer for Italy and stopping at Gibraltar on the way. Everywhere she went, she sent charming, descriptive letters home to her family, and I am fortunate to have copies of some. For the next few weeks, I will be pairing extracts from Christina’s 1896 letters with images of Gauley’s 1893 trip from the KMA collection. This is the experience of a museum at its best: the intersection of a personal history and art, coming together to provide a vivid picture of travel just before the turn of the twentieth century.