The stunningly prolific 19th century Austrian artist Thomas Ender produced literally thousands of watercolours in his life time but of which I have only been able to unearth four that feature Gibraltar. He was also an incredibly well connected individual – a court painter to the Archduke Johann of Austria and a protégé of Count Metternich.
They were connections which meant that when for various political reasons the Austrian Emperor’s daughter Leopoldina was sent to Brazil to meet a husband that she had never met, a full blooded expedition involving geologists, map makers and – more to the point - two resident artists, Ender was chosen as one of them.
When they finally set off in 1817 from Trieste on the frigates “Austria” and "Augusta” they were pursued by bad weather and were obliged to interrupt their journey. Among these interruptions was a three week stay in Gibraltar waiting for favourable winds. According to Ender’s biographer Walter Koschatzky, Thomas Ender’s watercolour technique experienced a remarkable change during his stay on the Rock.
North View of Gibraltar
Europe Passgate at Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar
Whether he was influenced by the Mediterranean light or by the watercolourists that he met on the Rock is hard to tell but Koschatzky insists that the paintings shown above confirmed a change in technique which would eventually made Thomas Ender a master of painting in watercolours.
As regards the subject matter the two classical views of the north face of the Rock are taken from the ruins of the Spanish Lines or fortifications – la Línea de la Contravalación – which had been demolished less than a decade previously by British engineers. (See LINK)
The middle picture shows what is today known as Europa Pass. The arched gate through the pass was constructed in 1811 by Colonel Charles Holloway – Gibraltar’s chief engineer at the time and – as a coincidence – the man more or less in charge of the demolition of the Spanish Lines
The Market in Gibraltar
The fourth and final painting - regardless of whatever one might think of its artistic value - is a historical gem. The “market” is in fact Gibraltar’s principle square. It has had more names that I would care to quote (see LINK) but I suspect it was known as Auction Square in the early decades of the 19th century.
The Peninsular War had left its economic legacy in Gibraltar – as well as a lot of hard cash. Smuggling was back on the agenda (see LINK) and commerce generally was brisk to say the least – hence the crowds milling around under canvas. The imposing mansion at the back or western end of the square had just been built by a Jewish business man – Aaron Cardozo. (See LINK) It was for long considered to be one of the most imposing houses on the Rock. It was finished in 1815 which means it was probably less than two years old when Ender painted it.
As regards the foreground, Gibraltar’s Exchange and Commercial Library of Gibraltar was founded by voluntary subscription in 1817 and was formally opened by the Governor General Don (see LINK ) in 1818 – in other words shortly after the picture was painted. At first it would seem obvious that it is the construction of this building that is going on in the foreground.
Unfortunately there are two flies in this ointment .The first is that at least some of the activity in the picture suggests that a certain amount of demolition – as against building - is going on. And secondly the outline of the foundation of the building does not correspond with the known shape of the final building.
The Exchange and Commercial Library ( Late 19th century )
The problem is that as far as I can make out there had never been a building in the east end of the square until the Exchange was built. A note in a contemporary issue of the local Gibraltar Chronicle (see LINK) mentions a sale in an “Auction Room” in the Alameda. As the square had boasted the name of the Alameda among its many variants the suggestion is that there had been an auction house here previously and that this was the one being demolished.
My personal opinion is that the Auction Room referred to was not in the square but elsewhere in the southern area of Gibraltar which was also called the Alameda and that the reason for the lack of correspondence as regards shape was simply that we are looking at the unfinished article. Regardless of all this I suspect that Ender painted quite a few more than just four pictures of Gibraltar. - it is just a question of looking for them – I am sure they will be worth the search.