Picturesque Lost: Martin Conway’s Experimental Travels into Geography

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William Martin Conway (1856-1937), art critic and mountaineer, made clear distinction between ‘geographical exploration’ and ‘geographical experiment’. If the former identifies ‘the investigation and record of the form of the earth’s surface in relation to man’, the latter simply refers to the practice of travelling–‘Geographical experiment is called Travel’. In devoting himself to science, the ‘careful and observant traveller’ has to refrain himself from indulging in any picturesque appreciation of landscape scenery. The aesthetic dimension of travelling is filtered through a physical engagement with the landscape itself, elevating the body as the main instrument of both geographer and artist. In this paper, Conway’s experimental travel performances into geography is explored by looking at his approach to ‘climbing’ in his pioneering travel books, beautifully illustrated by A.D. McCormick: Climbing and Exploration in the Karakoram-Himalayas (1894), The Bolivian Andes: A Record of Climbing and Exploration in the Cordillera Real in the Years 1898 and 1900 (1901), Aconcagua and Tierra del Fuego: A Book of Climbing, Travel and Exploration (1902). In a time in which mountaineering performance was still linked to an Alpine Club ‘orthodoxy’, heavily influenced by the aesthetic stance of John Ruskin and the performative ethos of Leslie Stephen, Conway’s ‘experimental travels’ in the Andes and Himalayas were accused of challenging the ‘picturesque’ and of putting an end to the era of Romantic voyaging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-108
Number of pages9
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2019


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