Once the delight of Victorian artists, the Isle of Wight still has the capacity to inspire. Coves, rocks, cliff-lined bays conspire to lure painters, poets, authors and photographers. Some very famous names lived here, others visited for holidays. 'Plaque hunting' around the towns and villages is rewarding.
JMW Turner did a sketching tour of the island. He painted his first oil study, of fishing boats off the Needles rocks, whilst staying at East Cowes Castle.
The poet Algernon Swinburne lived at East Dene, Bonchurch, an Elizabethan style house overlooking the English Channel. Actually dating from about 1825, the house probably incorporated three much older buildings. Tradition has it that it contained relics of King John, Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth 1st. Swinburne's poem, 'The Armada', visualises the naval battle as the English Fleet harried the Spanish Armada off South Wight.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, lived at Farringford House, Freshwater, which is now a hotel. Tennyson Down, a stretch of unspoilt hillside bordering the sea, boasts the Tennyson Monument in his honour. The area is very popular with art lovers and walkers, affording spectacular views.
Alfred Noyes, poet, lived at the Undercliff and is buried at Totland; John Keats stayed at Eglantyne Cottage, among the thatched cottages of Shanklin, as did Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the American poet. A plaque on the wall outside the Crab Inn commemorates his visit.
Charles Dickens first visited in 1838 when he stayed at the Grove's Needles Hotel at Alum Bay, and then returned with his family to Winterbourne House at Bonchurch. In the 1840's Bonchurch was in its hey-day; its rocky terraces became an exclusive retreat for the Victorian art world. It was there that Dickens wrote much of 'David Copperfield'.
Brook Hill House
Lewis Carroll, author of 'Alice in Wonderland', visited Tennyson at Freshwater; J B Priestley lived at Billingham Manor, and later at Brook Hill House overlooking Compton Bay.
Charles Darwin mentioned in a diary the he had started to write his 'Origin of the Species' while on holiday in Shanklin.
One could go on and on! It is enough to say that there are many more artistic connections to be unearthed by the enthusiast.
Today, rounding a corner to yet another wonderful view, you may get the chance to glance at a masterpiece of the future. Who knows who that lady in the straw hat may be, or who that man sketching boats rounding the forts off Bembridge? A visit to the local art gallery will provide you with a treasured memento.