Frederick W.W. Howell – Iceland

At the end of the nineteenth century, the British artist, photographer and traveler Frederick W.W. Howell, F.R.G.S., recorded Icelandic and Faroese landscapes, farmsteads, towns and people in a remarkable series of photographs that depicted Iceland and the Faeroe Islands on the edge of modernity.

Although he was not the most compelling writer among the travellers to Iceland in the 19th century, Frederick Howell produced a book that is noteworthy in two ways: first, he visited many parts of the island that were overlooked by most other travellers; and second, his black and white drawings (and some early photographs) are excellent depictions of the Icelandic landscape a little over a hundred years ago.

“But didn’t you find it very cold?” is a question so often asked the writer, that he fears there are many intelligent Englishmen yet to whom Saga Land is little else than an ice-bound, ice-clad, ice-capped isle, save where Hekla’s flames or Geysir’s floods have pierced the crystalline crust! To such, these pages will come with special interest, revealing the wealth of historic lore and the fulness of mountain beauty possessed by Iceland. And even the snowfields themselves, in the hot bright summer days, become dazzling fairylands, while the wild-flowers at their feet can rival those of many a Switzer Alp. There are few countries in which such great changes of scenery occur within a compass so limited. From pasture to desert, from peak to sea, from ice to lava is often a transition for which an hour may suffice. It is true that monuments of antiquity are conspicuous only by their absence; but the presence of a people with the language and many of the customs of a thousand years ago is a monument of itself….

Twice the author has travelled through the island, in 1890 and 1891; primarily, perhaps, as a mountaineer in quest of its highest summit, virgin till 1891, but with deep and growing interest in the land itself. In addition, he has consulted five-and-twenty works of Icelandic travel, and over thirty articles in other books pertaining to the. It is therefore hoped that Icelandic Pictures will be found to contain as complete a sketch of the island as its limits permit, and that it will prove useful to many who may be led to visit a land in which travel becomes more easy every year, but which permits the wayfarer to lose himself in the atmosphere and surroundings of an old world life.