December 29, 2008

Classic Art Used As Tool For Measuring Erosion

A coastal engineer thinks that nineteenth century artwork is a functional device for considering the effects of coastal erosion.

Robin McInnes reviewed the exactness of geological and topological qualities in 400 paintings of the Isle of Wight and Hampshire coastline.

McInnes thinks these classic artists allow engineers to have the opportunity to view coastal features prior to changing from industrial development.

McInnes has a huge collection of paintings, prints and etchings showing coastlines in England, where he was in charge of coastline management.

When viewing the paintings of the local coastlines, geology and coastal erosion, he invented a technique of evaluating their importance as markers of coastal change.

"From the late 18th Century, Europe was cut off by the Napoleonic wars, this resulted in travelers and artists paying greater attention to the picturesque landscapes of the British Isles," said McInnes.

McInnes started examining paintings from the 1770s to the 1920s. From the 400 paintings, prints and illustrations he created a scale to view how functional these artworks are as coastal engineering tools.

"The ranking system is based on four or five factors, it is a qualitative assessment," he said.

"I looked at issues such as the material and the nature of the media, oil paintings versus prints; generally, water color allowed the most accurate depiction.

"The next question was what do they actually show, do they provide understanding of the geology or beach levels? I gave each a score for that.

"Also to time periods, from a coastal engineers point of view, the most relevant period is when rapid coastal development took place," he added.

McInnes noted that the Victorian era indicated a striking modification in the coastline as towns, like Portsmouth.

"In Italian landscape style accuracy was not the prime consideration, (whereas) traditional Victorian coastal painting was the most accurate as the idea was to provide an exact image to take home. Followers of the Pre-Raphaelites captured in precise detail this period, it coincided with an interest in geology and natural sciences," he said.

McInnes thinks the paintings of the time are an instrument for classifying physical alterations, and also environmental and developmental issues.

"Many artists returned to the same spot to capture the same scenes over a period of years. The study shows how Victorian development has radically changed the coastline; it's nice to strip it back because it helps you understand what might be the underlying problems of erosion and instability. Natural processes in the past are largely masked by coastal development," McInnes explained.

"Looking back 150 years, it's easier to understand the geography and topography when you don't have this coastal development covering the slopes," he said.

Dr McInnes just offered his notes at a coastal engineering meeting in Venice.

"A lot of people think it can be applied to other parts of the coast that are well illustrated," he says.