A prominent figure in Enlightenment circles, John Clerk began producing prints in his 40s with the encouragement of English landscape painter Paul Sandby and architect Robert Adam. The three took drawing trips together having met through the business dealings of their families.
Clerk produced sets of etchings that were sold through print seller Thomas Philipe near the Tron Kirk, depicting more than one hundred views of Scotland, Wales and the north of England. He worked closely with the geologist James Hutton, producing drawings to accompany his Theories of the Earth. Like many in Edinburgh at the time, Clerk turned his hand to a number of disciplines; he was also a successful merchant and author on naval strategy.
‘You, … who are a worshipper of originality, should come a pilgrimage to Edinburgh on foot to see this remarkable man … The table at which he sate was covered with a miscellaneous collection of all sorts – pencils, paints and crayons (he draws most beautifully), clay models half-finished or half-broken, books, letters, instruments, specimens of mineralogy, vials with chemical liquors for experiments, plans of battles ancient and modern, models of new mechanical engines, maps, and calculations of levels, sheets of music printed and written, in short an emblematical chaos of literature and science.’
- Sir Walter Scott on Clerk in his manuscript for Guy Mannering