Frederick G. Stephens.

Sir Edwin Landseer online

. (page 5 of 11)
Online LibraryFrederick G. StephensSir Edwin Landseer → online text (page 5 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

1823; it throws a double light on the writer and our artist. The passage
refers to what Sir David called a “niggling touch” in painting, as “very
common of late in our pictures,” a defect, if such it was, that was due,
no doubt, to over anxiety on the part of the artists, and to the desire
“for fulness of subject,” whatever that may be. The writer stated: “I
have been warning our friend Collins against this, and was also urging
young Landseer to beware of it.” The fact was, Wilkie’s health, then
breaking up, precluded that extreme care which distinguished his early
and good pictures; moreover, his reputation was made, and he wanted to
make money; this could not be done by “niggling,” so he aimed at
breadth, as he called it, went abroad for health, came back over head
and ears in asphaltum, and never painted a sound picture afterwards.
Unfortunately, his better pictures, such as “The Blind Fiddler,” and
“The Village Festival,” now in the National Gallery, have been repaired
on account of excessive cracking.

Edwin Landseer’s early practice is thus curiously illustrated by
Wilkie’s advice. At a later time, no one could caution the former
against “niggling,” or enjoin cultivation of “breadth.” Nor was this
required since the Highland subjects were taken up after the northern
journey with Leslie in 1824; to the first of these we shall presently
refer, under the title of “Highlanders returning from Deer-Stalking,”
exhibited in 1827, the first contribution of the artist as an Associate
of the Royal Academy.

“Neptune,” a picture of 1824, represents the head and shoulders of a
huge Newfoundland dog, in full front view, with his mouth open and
tongue shown; the head is black, with a white stripe dividing it, and
having an oval spot of black on the white of the forehead; it is
superbly designed, and treated in honour of the noble animal. It was
painted for Mr. Ellis Gosling, and has been admirably engraved by the
artist’s brother.

The best known of Edwin Landseer’s early pictures is “The Cat’s Paw,”
which was exhibited at the British Institution in 1824, and now hangs in
the dining-room at Cassiobury, the seat of the Earl of Essex. This work,
which is painted on a panel, was bought of the artist for one hundred
pounds, and sold a few days afterwards to the late Earl of Essex, a
great patron of the arts, for one hundred and twenty pounds, and would
probably be worth, if now sold, about three thousand pounds.

This was Sir Edwin’s estimate, made some years since, when, soon after
the fever caused by Mr. Bicknell’s remarkably well-managed sale of
pictures, the present Earl of Essex met the painter, and asked what he
thought “The Cat’s Paw” would produce if it were sold. “About three
thousand pounds,” was the answer. At the sale, which occurred in 1863,
appeared illustrations of the increase in the value of Landseer’s
pictures; thus “The Prize Calf,” which is by no means one of his best
works, and for which he four years earlier received four hundred and
twenty pounds, was resold for one thousand eight hundred and ninety
pounds; “The Twa Dogs,” purchased for three hundred pounds, was sold for
two thousand four hundred and fifteen pounds; “The Highland Shepherd,”
exhibited in 1850, and bought for three hundred and fifty pounds,
brought back again two thousand three hundred and forty-one pounds, ten
shillings. As “The Cat’s Paw” now appears, it is hot and dark in tone,
if compared with some silvery and more solid productions. It scarcely
needs a description, yet we may point out how admirably the incident is
told. The scene is a laundry, or ironing-room, probably in some great
house, to which a monkey of most crafty and resolute disposition has
access. The place is too neat and well-maintained to be part of a poor
man’s house. The “ironing-woman” has left her work, the stove is in full
combustion, and the hand of some one who appreciated the good things of
life has deposited on its level top, together with a flat iron,
half-a-dozen ripe sound chestnuts. To the aromatic, appetizing odour of
the fruit was probably due the entrance of the monkey, a muscular,
healthy beast, who came, dragging his chain, and making his bell rattle.
He smelt the fruit and coveted them; tried to steal them off the
cooking-place with his own long, lean digits, and burnt his fingers. He
looked about for a more effective means and - heedless of the motherhood
of a fine cat who, with her kittens, was ensconced in a clothes-basket,
where she blandly enjoyed the coverings and the heat - pounced upon Puss,
entangled as she was in the wrappings of her ease. Puss resisted at
first with offended dignity and wrath at being thus treated before the
faces of her offspring. She resisted as a cat only can, with lithe and
strenuous limbs; the muscular, light, and vigorous frame of the creature
quivered with the stress of her energy; she twisted, doubled her body,
buckled herself, so to say, in convulsions of passion and fear, but
still, surely, without a notion of the object of her captor. Yet he had
by far the best of the struggle, for her tiger-like claws were enveloped
in the covering which erst served her so comfortably; and, kicking,
struggling, squalling, and squealing as strength departed from her, she
flounced about the room, upset the coal-scuttle on the floor, and hurled
her mistress’s favourite flower-pot in hideous confusion on the
“ironing-blanket.” It was to no purpose, for the quadruped with muffled
claws was no match for her four-handed foe. He dragged her towards the
stove, and dreadful notions of a fate in its fiery bowels must have
arisen in her heart, as nearer and still more near the master of the
situation brought his victim. Stern, resolute, with no more mercy than
the cat had when some unhappy mouse felt her claws - claws now to be
deftly, yet painfully employed, Pug grasped her in three of his powerful
hands, and, as reckless of struggles as of yells, squeals, and squalls,
with the fourth stretched out her soft, sensitive, velvety fore-paw - the
very mouse-slayer itself - to the burning stove and its spoils. What
cared he for the bowed backs or the spiteful mewlings of her miserable
offspring, little cats as they were? He made their mother a true “Cat’s

This picture was engraved by C. G. Lewis. Shortly after its exhibition
Sir Walter Scott came to London, and took the young painter to
Abbotsford on his return, “where,” said

[Illustration: _Mare and Foal._]

Leslie, recording the circumstance, “he will make himself very popular,
both with master and mistress of the house, by sketching their doggies
for them.” It was probably due to the vein of thought and fancy most
cultivated by Scott, and sure to affect his young visitor, that Landseer
after this painted Scotch subjects and romantic themes, such as he had
not previously indulged in. “Chevy Chase” was commenced shortly
afterwards, and exhibited with marked effect on young Landseer’s
fortunes. Leslie had been with Sir Walter, taking his portrait, and
found the novelist to “dislike sitting very much,” and to be fonder of
dashing out of doors with the “doggies,” rabbit-killing, and landscape
hunting. The incident referred to by the picture at the British
Institution in 1858 (see the Catalogue) probably occurred at this time.
Landseer’s first visit to the Highlands was made in 1824. Leslie and he
went in the London and Leith steamer. They visited Glasgow, and Loch
Lomond and Loch Katrine, and crossed the mountains on foot to Loch Earn,
in order to be present at an annual meeting of Highlanders, which
occurred under the patronage of Lord Gwydyr, and included performances
on bagpipes, dancing, broadsword exercise, and the like pastimes; the
painters traversed Loch Earn in a large row-boat, with Highland rowers,
who told them, says Leslie, in his “Autobiography,” stories of the
fairies who haunted the shores. To this visit to Abbotsford was due the
well-known “Scene at Abbotsford,” by Landseer, and from it he derived
inspiration for Highland pictures. After this period he rarely failed to
visit the north annually, and the catalogue of his works bears evidence
of his studies there.

“Taking a Buck,” and “The Widow,” were Landseer’s contributions to the
Royal Academy in 1825, with a portrait. “The Poacher” appeared in the
same year at the British Institution. “The Hunting of Chevy Chase,” an
important work, which has been repeatedly exhibited, was shown in the
following season at the Academy. The affectionate deference paid by
Edwin Landseer to his father at this time has been illustrated by the
account of the difficulty he experienced in leaving the paternal roof.
No one who knew the painter believes that he was likely to be weakly
subservient to his father or any one else; or that in 1824, when in his
twenty-second year, and already the possessor of a very considerable
reputation, he was in any respect a timid recluse. Nevertheless, it is
recorded that when one interested in bringing his pictures into note,
called on the painter in the dingy studio he occupied in the Fitzroy
Square region - it was, we believe, Upper Conway Street, now Southampton
Street, Fitzroy Square, near where Mulready lodged in Cleveland
Street - the visitor asked, “Why are you in this place, without a table,
carpet, or proper chairs? why not have a place where you can keep a dog
or two, and have a garden, and so on?” The answer was that the painter
lived with his father, and occupied the place only to paint in. The
offer of a hundred pounds for “The Cat’s Paw,” then just finished, a
price satisfactory to the artist, did not induce him to conclude the
bargain and set himself free from the paternal control. John Landseer
managed his son’s affairs, settled the prices of his pictures, received
the money, and treated Edwin in his twenty-second year as he had done
when he was twelve years old. John Landseer did what Mr. Jacob Bell,
many years afterwards, did for his friend, _i.e._ managed his affairs
with zeal and discretion, and, perhaps, the father kept a tighter hold
on the painter than the friend was able to maintain. This affectionate
arrangement was proof against the second offer of one hundred pounds in
a crisp bank-note for “The Cat’s Paw,” which thus came into the
possession of the Earl of Essex, and not into that of the young artist’s
friend. The same affection for his parent appeared in “Sketch of my
Father,” 1848, the pathos of which was as simple as it was kindly. Of
the same vein of feeling we find it recorded that in 1817 or 1818, the
Landseers, in order to make a present to Haydon, when they were about to
quit his tutelage, prepared a copy of one of the Cartoons which were at
the British Institution; this copy - we are not certain if it was more
than an important group - was a gift to Haydon. Sir Edwin bought and
carefully preserved Haydon’s “Judgment of Solomon,” not only on account
of the fineness of the picture, but, it is said, in kindly remembrance
of his old adviser.




A.D. 1825 TO A.D. 1834.


“The Cat’s Paw” was sold, and soon after a renewed offer of pecuniary
aid that he might establish himself, was accepted by the painter, and he
found, near Regent’s Park, a small house with a garden; here a large
barn was converted to a studio, and he set up his staff
independently - not, however, without qualms of heart at thus quitting
the “old house at home.” The fact is, he was not a man of business, nor
a man of the world; he had remained so long in tutelage, and owed so
much to his father, that it needed more than ordinary impulses ere he
was induced to plunge into the world as the chief of a household. This
diffidence was so strongly marked that, on learning that a premium of
one hundred pounds was demanded for the house, Landseer was about to
break off the negotiation in despair. But his adviser, who had
endeavoured to buy “A Cat’s Paw,” came to his aid. “Well,” said he, on
learning the difficulty which seemed insurmountable, “if that is the
only obstacle, I will remove it. Go to the lawyers, and tell them to
make out the lease, and that as soon as it is ready for signatures, you
will pay the sum required, and I will lend you the money, which you can
repay when it suits you, without interest.” This was agreed to, the
lease was made out, and the money paid. Edwin Landseer returned the
money by instalments of twenty pounds each, and this transaction
concluded the history of the obtaining the house, which was enlarged as
his means permitted and his convenience demanded. This is the house in
which he lived for nearly fifty years, and in which he died. Here his
sister, Mrs. Mackenzie, to whom the reader is much indebted, long acted
as his housekeeper. Here the greater part of his life’s work was done,
and in it, as we believe, John Landseer died. It was for many years the
centre of the kindly painter’s _entourage_, where his friends were
summoned to meet by hasty messages bidding them to pleasant parties, and
it is the house which of all others in London belonging to artists has
received the greatest number of distinguished visitors, always excepting
that of Sir Joshua Reynolds in Leicester Square. Not long before, the
district was open and the locality pertained to Red Hand Farm.[34] In
those days deer were in Hyde Park, where one would now as soon expect to
see a phœnix, or be gored by the stag that was painted in our artist’s
next picture, as to encounter even a doe.

The “Portrait of Lord Cosmo Russell,” 1825, represents a boy in a
Highland dress, holding a whip and galloping on a pony over a moor, with
a dog running by his side. “Taking a Buck” shows three deer-hounds
chasing a buck; one of the dogs has leaped at and seized its prey by the
ear, and thus checked the progress of the latter, giving a keeper an
opportunity for throwing a noose over his antlers, so that he may be
pinioned and secured.

In 1826 appeared “The Dog and the Shadow” now at South Kensington. This
is an illustration of the old fable; a dog with a piece of flesh in his
mouth is crossing a brook by means of a fallen tree, and stops to gaze
at the reflected image of himself and his prize. A worsted cap and a
pair of shoes on the bank indicate that a butcher’s boy, who loitered to
fish or bathe, has been plundered of part of his charge. Such is the
official description. We believe it was about this time that Sydney
Smith’s humorous reply was given to an invitation that he should sit to
Edwin Landseer. He said, with that dashing readiness which characterized
the man of jokes, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this great
thing?” This was a not very reverent paraphrase of the speech of Hazael,
the messenger of Ben-hadad, king of Syria, to Elisha. There have been
more than one claimant for the honour of saying this good thing; like
many others of its kind, it was probably never “said” at all, but
deliberately invented, with toil of brain and mental throes. There is
another story of Sydney Smith, which is very good, and not less
characteristic of the wit. Landseer said to the clerical dignitary,
“With your love of humour, it must be an act of great self-denial to
abstain from going to the theatres.” “The managers,” he replied, “are
very polite; they send me free admissions, which I can’t use, and, in
return, I send them free admissions to St. Paul’s.”

In 1826, when Landseer was twenty-four years of age, several of his
works were etched by his pupil, Georgina, Duchess of Bedford.

The exhibition of the picture of “Chevy Chase” can hardly be said to
have led to Landseer’s election as an Associate of the Academy. This
honour was long anticipated, and the election occurred, as a matter of
course, immediately on his attaining the age of twenty-four years, that
being the limit prescribed by the laws of the artistic body. Sir Thomas
Lawrence and Mr. Millais were among the few to whom similarly early
elections have been vouchsafed. “Chevy Chase” is at Woburn Abbey, and
the property of the Duke of Bedford, whose ancestor was the original
purchaser. In this picture we see the fruits of Landseer’s visit to Sir
W. Scott and to the Highlands, a district of which he may be said to
have been the artistic prophet, and from which he derived more subjects
than any other; its men, animals, and landscapes he illustrated from the
picture next before us up to the “Flood in the Highlands” of 1860.

[Illustration: _Shepherd’s Dog and Pups._]

“The Chief’s return from Deer-stalking” (1827) is not only the first
important Highland picture by our painter, but the first of his
contributions to the Royal Academy as an Associate. It is one of the
best of his compositions, the subject giving scope to all his powers in
dealing with dogs, deer, and horses. Across the backs of a white and a
black pony two magnificently antlered deer are bound. A young chief and
his old companion, a mountaineer - with traces of the wear and tear of a
hard life on his cheeks and in his gaunt eyes - step by the head of one
of the horses. They go slowly and heedfully down the hill. Two dogs pace
with them; one of these turns to a deer’s skull which lies in the
herbage. With this picture is connected a more noteworthy point than
those we have observed in the history of our subject. With it his style
of execution was changed from the sound and deliberate firmness of
youthful practice to the broader, freer, and more effective mode which
next characterized his later work. The careful studies of earlier life
enabled him to paint broadly, and with precision, and gave power to
indicate at once that which, ere this time, was the result of ardent and
long-sustained consideration. Amassed knowledge made the artist a
master. It must not be concealed, however, that with this attainment of
“mastery” no small sacrifice was made in solidity and elaboration of
modelling. Facility that was marvellous, and dexterity which had the
charm of magic, astounding to the observer, are somewhat dearly, though
in a pecuniary sense profitably, purchased by the sacrifice of qualities
which are higher and rarer than facility and dexterity.

With “The Chief’s return” appeared “The Monkey who had seen the World,”
which was engraved by Gibbon as “The travelled Monkey,” and is a
well-known design, showing the reunion of Pug and his untravelled
friends. The latter are in their natural costume of hair, the former is
dressed as a “beau,” with his head in powder and covered by a cocked hat
of the most audacious _mode_; a cravat embraces his neck, and its
widely-spreading ends cover his chest; a long-skirted, deep-pocketed,
laced, stiff-collared coat holds his lean body, a large lapelled vest
hangs nearly to his knees; breeches, stockings, and buckled shoes
enclose his lower extremities; his tail is nowhere, but he carries,
instead of it, a splendid cane, and bears round his neck a most
superfluous eye-glass. His unsophisticated comrades contemplate this
figure with expressions which may be readily imagined. The pendant
eye-glass bothers them more than all the rest of his bedizenments. A few
of the less bold monkeys squat and gibber behind the principal group.
This picture belongs to the Baring Collection.

The British Institution comprised in this year (1827) with “Chevy
Chase,” the well-known picture of a dog - Sir Walter Scott’s
“Maida” - reclining by a piece of armour; a work which is entitled “Scene
at Abbotsford,” and was, no doubt, designed during the visit of which we
have spoken before. It is well known by Westwood’s capital engraving for
the “Keepsake.” The year 1828 was for our subject one of comparative
rest, so far as exhibitions were concerned; 1829 produced “The Illicit
Whisky-Still in the Highlands,” an admirable work, familiar to most
readers, and “A Fireside Party,” which is now at South Kensington, and
shows how in a rude bothy several serious-looking terriers are lying and
sitting in various attitudes of thoughtfulness and ease before the fire.
These dogs belong to Malcolm Clarke, Esq., of Inverary, and are said to
have been the original “Peppers” and “Mustards” described by Sir Walter
Scott in “The Antiquary;” a descendant appeared in the picture of 1833,
which represented Sir Walter himself and companions.

The year 1830 witnessed the election of our artist to the full honours
of the Royal Academy. Having attained this point in his life, it will
not be needful to follow his yearly steps; suffice it that it is our
purpose to deal chiefly with Landseer’s more important productions, and
to note his accessions to honours.

In “High Life” and “Low Life,” which are in the Vernon Gift, and now in
the National Gallery, we have contrasted conditions. The gentle,
gentlemanly stag-hound, apparently the dog of the “Scene at Abbotsford,”
appears in the former of these paintings, which were first exhibited at
the British Institution in 1831, and are noteworthy on account of their
size, being not more than eighteen inches by thirteen inches and a half.
They are among the smallest of celebrated pictures, and, comparatively,
mere sketches. The second subject is a broad and brawny bull-dog, the
_aide_ of a butcher, by whose block, and guarding whose hat, pipe,
boots, and pot, he sits. Our dog here is in a state of satisfaction with
the recent past and the soon to come: he has had a capital meat
breakfast - note the beef bone in front of the step; the sun is bright
and warm, so that it makes him lazily blink one eye, while the other,
being shaded, is watching. Fat, he lounges against the jamb of the door;
the savour, nay the very flavour of the bone and its adjuncts, lingers
about his muzzle, which he licks gently and unctuously. His prospects
are almost as agreeable as his experiences; for is he not about to have
a ride in the cart - note the whip hanging on the door-latch, and the
boots - to market, where there will be company and canine sports. Mr.
Ruskin has studied “Low Life” from his proper point of view, which is,
of course, not that to be adopted in this book. See “Modern Painters,”
v. 271. “Cunning signifies especially a habit or gift of over-reaching,
accompanied with enjoyment and a sense of superiority. Its essential
connections with vulgarity may be at once exemplified by the expression
of the butcher’s dog in Landseer’s ‘Low Life.’ Cruikshank’s ‘Noah
Claypole,’ in the illustrations to ‘Oliver Twist,’ in the interview with
the Jew, is, however, still more characteristic. It is the intensest
rendering of vulgarity absolute and utter with which I am acquainted.”

“Poachers Deer-Stalking,” another famous picture, appeared in this year
(1831), with “Too Hot!” “A Lassie herding Sheep,” sent to the British
Institution in 1832, was at the Art Treasures Exhibition in 1857, and
at that time the property of William Wells, Esq. It needs no description
here. In 1832 was exhibited a picture, which most fortunately
illustrates the perfect command of the brush and the extraordinary
facility which long-continued and severe studies gave to our painter.
This was “Spaniels of King Charles’s Breed,” which is now in the Vernon
Gift, in the National Gallery. It is sometimes styled “The Cavalier’s
Pets,” and represents two dogs lying on a table, by the side of a grey
hat with a large drooping ostrich feather stuck in its band. The dogs
were pets of Mr. Vernon’s, and the sketch was made in his house as a
commission to Landseer, but, after a short sitting, not continued for
some time. One day Mr. Vernon met the artist in the street, and reminded
him of the commission. Two days later the work as it now appears was
delivered at Mr. Vernon’s house, although it was not begun when the
meeting happened. It is due to not more than two days’ labour, and a
triumph of dexterity in brush working, showing as much facility as the
ancient fresco painters exhibited when they dealt with and completed an
important head of a man in one day. The sweeping touches by which the
feather in the felt hat is expressed have been placed with exquisite
precision, and deserve the most careful consideration of all students
and amateurs in dexterous art. This kind of execution, of which

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryFrederick G. StephensSir Edwin Landseer → online text (page 5 of 11)