Frederick G. Stephens.

Sir Edwin Landseer online

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Landseer’s pictures exhibit innumerable illustrations, is magical; it is
really more like penmanship, in which the artist astounds us by
elaborate and super-skilful flourishes and the flow of lines in lines,
than downright painting of the stricter order, which is not contented
with exquisite craftsmanship alone. In this category of triumphs must be
classed the countless imitations of hair and feathers which consummate
“dragging” of the brush and incomparable skill enabled Landseer to
produce rapidly and frequently. It is said, although our memories cannot
verify the statement, that Landseer sent a picture of “Rabbits” to the
British Gallery, _i.e._ the British Institution, under which he wrote,
“Painted in three-quarters of an hour.”[35] Both the dogs in Mr.
Vernon’s picture came to violent ends, so says our authority for this
matter.[36] The white Blenheim spaniel fell from a table and was killed;
the true “King Charles” fell through the railings of a staircase in his
master’s house, and was picked up dead at the bottom. The history of
another ill-fated dog, a subject of Landseer’s art, will be found in our
account of “The sleeping Bloodhound,” which was exhibited at the British
Institution in 1835, and is now in the National Gallery. This anecdote
likewise illustrates Landseer’s amazing facility. Hardly less remarkable
is the fact that the Hon. W. Russell’s picture “Odin,” which was
exhibited in 1836, was painted within twelve hours, or at “one
sitting.”[37]

As to Landseer’s facility of execution, Mr. Redgrave truly wrote
thus: - “That happy facility which has already been alluded to is fairly
to be illustrated in the works of Sir Edwin Landseer. Examine carefully
‘A Fireside Party,’ No. 90 (Sheepshanks Gift); here the hairy texture of
the veritable race of ‘Pepper’ and ‘Mustard’ is given, as it were, hair
for hair, yet it was achieved at once by a dexterous use of the
painter’s brush. Or turn from this work to ‘The tethered Rams’ (No. 95,
Sheepshanks Gift), where the fullest truth of a woolly texture is
obtained by simply, with a full brush, applying the more solid pigment
into that which has already been laid on as a ground, with a large
admixture of the painter’s vehicle; days might be spent endeavouring to
arrive at a result which the painter has achieved at once. The early
works of this painter are a complete study for light-handed and
beautiful execution; they look intuitively perfect, yet many instances
are known of his extreme rapidity of execution.” It should be noted that
Mr. Redgrave must refer to pictures which might be truly, if relatively,
styled “early works” of Landseer. The works to which we have called
attention as produced before 1826 are examples of happily directed
labour, not drudgery, and anything rather than displays of tact in
painting and dexterity in handling. Note the passage we have quoted from
Wilkie’s letter to Sir George Beaumont. It is needful to interpose this
statement, because too many persons admire such facility as an end,
whereas it is but a felicitous means in art. The extraordinary felicity
and skill of our painter followed more than twenty years hard study.
Foolish ideas often rise in the minds of those who read stories such as
we have just given, which stories are truer than the tale of the
exasperated painter - was it Rubens or Zeuxis? - who dashed the foam in a
pictured horse’s mouth by angrily casting his brush at the painting. Mr.
Redgrave continues: -

“In the collection of the late Mr. Wells, of Redleaf, among many
other works by this artist (Landseer) are two which are peculiarly
illustrative of this quality; one is a spaniel rushing out of a
thicket with a wounded rabbit. The rabbit and dog are of the size
of life, they have the fullest appearance of completeness, yet the
picture was painted in two hours and a half. The other picture is
of a fallow deer, and of the size of life, painted down to the
knees. Mr. Wells used to relate that on leaving the house to go to
Penshurst Church, the panel for this picture was being placed on
the easel by his butler, and, on his return in about three hours,
the painting was complete; so complete, indeed, that it is more
than doubtful if equal truth of imitation could have resulted from
a more - - execution.”

This picture was in the Royal Academy, 1874, No. 350. Finally, as to
this astonishing facility in painting, let us write that in the National
Portrait Exhibition of 1868, was a portrait of the second Lord Ashburton
(No. 467), a three quarters view, painted on a canvas thirty-six inches
high, by twenty-eight inches wide, and said to have been executed, like
“Odin,” in one sitting. Of course it is not highly-finished. As a
vigorous sketch, the thinking and power of execution involved in such
rapid production are marvellous. A picture, “Spaniel and Rabbit,” No.
405, at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, was inscribed by the
artist “painted in two hours and a half.”

But by far the most amazing instance of the technical powers of our
subject is that which is in itself, without regard to Landseer, a
subject of extraordinary interest to physiologists, and inquirers into
the nature of the action of the brain and the distribution of nerve
power. Our informant is Mr. Solomon Hart, a Royal Academician remarkable
for his accomplishment and acute observation. A large party was
assembled one evening at the house of a gentleman in the upper ranks of
London “society,” crowds of ladies and gentlemen of distinction were
present, including Landseer, who was, as usual, a lion; a large group
gathered about the sofa where he was lounging; the subject turned on
dexterity and facility in feats of skill with the hand. No doubt the
talk was ingeniously led in this direction by some who knew that Sir
Edwin could do wonders of dexterous draughtsmanship, and were not
unwilling to see him draw, but they did not expect what followed. A
lady, lolling back on a settee, and rather tired of the subject, as
ladies are apt to become when conversation does not appeal to their
feelings or their interests, exclaimed, after many instances of manual
dexterity had been cited, “Well, there’s one thing nobody has ever done,
and that is draw two things at once.” She had signalized herself by
quashing a subject of conversation, and was about to return to her most
becoming attitude, when Landseer said, “Oh, I can do that; lend me two
pencils, and I will show you.” The pencils were got, a piece of paper
was laid on the table, and Sir Edwin, a pencil in each hand, drew
simultaneously, and without hesitation, with the one hand the profile of
a stag’s head and all its antlers complete, and with the other hand, the
perfect profile of a horse’s head. Both drawings were full of energy
and spirit, and although, as the occasion compelled, not finished, they
were, together and individually, quite as good as the master was
accustomed to produce with his right hand alone; the drawing by the left
hand was not inferior to that by the right.

This showed that the artist’s brain was acting in two directions at
once, controlling two distinct limbs in similar but diverse operations,
for it was observed by our informant that the acts of draughtsmanship
were strictly simultaneous and not alternate. Had the latter been the
case the feat would have been of deft draughtsmanship, about which no
one would have questioned the ability of Landseer. This feat far
surpasses that of chess-players who continue six games at chess at one
sitting, without seeing any board. Feats like that of the chess-players,
however wonderful, differ in kind from the unparalleled one we have
described. These are efforts of astoundingly powerful memories and acts
of the clearest mental vision combined with that faculty with which
chess-players seem to be specially endowed, possession of which,
however, by no means proves superior mental ability. Landseer’s feat was
another sort, and proved him capable of “doing two things at once,”
things which singly were, no doubt, easy of accomplishment by an artist
of his faculties, but when simultaneously performed in duplicate were
such as have not hitherto been recorded. Mrs. Mackenzie has enabled us
to confirm this account of her brother’s feats in draughtsmanship.

“The Stone-breaker’s Daughter,” a picture of the year 1830, engraved by
J. Burnet, shows a group by a Highland roadside; an old man, with a
plaid over his head, squats on the ground, hammer in hand, snuff-mull by
his side; his pretty daughter, of twelve years or thereabouts, has
brought the old fellow’s dinner in a basket; a dog licks her hand
affectionately, as the damsel loiters to gossip with her father. This is
an agreeable picture, but possesses no particular interest of sentiment
or technical value.

[Illustration: _Cow and Calf._

_Chal. G. L. 1847._]

“Waiting for the Deer to rise,” 1831, otherwise “Poachers
Deer-stalking,” represents three Highlanders crouching near the summit
of a hill, one of whom holds a dog round the neck to restrain him, while
another, with a gun in one hand and a branch in the other, looks for the
coming of the game. It was painted for Mr. E. Holden, of Aston Hall,
Derbyshire, and some years afterwards sold for 819_l._ It measures two
feet three inches by one foot eight inches and a half.

“Hawking,” 1832, shows a lady mounted on a white horse, with attendants
riding and on foot, with dogs and hawks; the group is on the border of a
lake; a falconer in the mid-distance flies a hawk at a soaring heron on
our left; a bare-headed page stands at the head of the lady’s palfrey,
holding its bridle. “Waiting for the Countess,” a portrait of a dog
belonging to Lady Blessington, engraved by Wass, was painted in this
year.

In 1833 Sir Edwin painted the figures of “The Harvest in the Highlands,”
of which Callcott produced the landscape. This combination was sent to
the Academy in the same year, when an unusual number of Landseer’s
pictures were exhibited. For our present purpose, the most important is
the inimitable “Jack in Office” (in the South Kensington Museum,
Sheepshanks Gift). The faculty of Landseer’s mind which is most popular,
because most obvious in its manifestations, was humour, of which few
painters possessed a greater share. True humour, however, contains
pathos, and sets us thinking even when we smile. This sort of humour is
shown in “A Jack in Office.” An itinerant dealer in dog’s-meat has left
his barrow in an alley, and under the guardianship of a satiated
mongrel, whilst he transacts business, probably across the counter of a
tavern. The tight-skinned custodian has seated himself on the barrow, as
on a throne, where he receives the courtier-like attentions of his
hungry and less fortunate fellow-creatures. One wretched beast exhibits
his lean carcase, pleading for pity; another, seated on his tail, begs
_in formâ pauperis_, with dropped paws, and adulatory whine; a third
appeals to the guardian’s gallantry and devotion to her sex: but in
vain; he sits in calmness and pride; a half-twinkle is in his eye, as
though he saw the motives of all, and scorned the meaner supplicants.
Also, he seems experienced in the canine world, for under his
half-closed and disdainful eyelids is a sharp look at the self-degrading
beggar: he thus watches because he feels this beast to be devoid of
principle, a rascal who might, if the eye should only wink, dash upon
the spoil and fly. A _coup d’état_ of this kind must, let it be noted,
be successful; and, by dogs of bolder spirits than these, could be
attempted. One must, in that case, sacrifice himself for the common
good; there is none to do so. The meagre beast in front is a pointer,
and all about him is pitiable; he must have lost his character ere he
sunk so low as this; his drivelling mouth, sunk chaps, nervous and
imploring eyes, shaking limbs and quivering tail indicate a born
gentleman driven to implore charity, with signs of utter famishing as
the utmost appeal. A contrast is seen in the person of a dark puppy,
who, having devoured his “ha-porth,” nervously gnaws the skewer which
held it, and quivers with unsatisfied greed. One discerns that the
guardian is a thorough dog of business, because he pays not the
slightest attention to this little customer, who, having legally
acquired his portion, is not under surveillance. Besides, if he did
anything wrong, has he not a responsible master? There is such a hateful
disdain about the “Jack in Office,” that the spectator, heedless of
morality, and reckless of the rights of property, hopes one of the dogs
will sacrifice himself for the general luck, and engage the watcher in
combat, while the others fall to. There are volumes of character in this
picture, which are sustained even by the placing of a dog in the
distance, looking on, as if in hopes to profit by the chances of a
_mêlée_.

“The naughty Boy,” exhibited at the British Institution in 1834 as “A
naughty Child,” and well known by means of Finden’s engraving, was a
portrait of a sulky little urchin whom Landseer essayed to paint on
account of the determination his features exhibited and the sturdiness
of his handsome face and frame. The boy being in a rebellious frame of
mind, was brought straight from his school to the workshop of the
painter; sulky at first, he became outrageous when he saw his enemy
seated with a kindly laugh on his face; pouting, the boy frowned and
hugged himself with his own arms, blew bubbles between his compressed
lips, scowled, and obstinately turned his knees in. Pending the
preliminaries of the picture, the irate young gentleman was left
standing alone in the centre of the room. Wrath overcame him at seeing
resistance would be useless; with dreadful clangour, he flung down his
slate like the shield of a wounded Homeric hero and, skulking into the
corner, savagely cried, “I _won’t_ be painted!” and was painted for the
admonition of all “naughty” boys, so that “his knit and furrowed
forehead” gathers itself under a fine head of flaxen hair, twisted into
Gorgonian curls, and quivering with determination and wrath. It is right
to notice how the self-devouring passion of the child makes him shrink
into the smallest possible space, and turn his toes in, huddling his
feet together, while his arms are pressed against his sides, and his
shoulders raised, as though every power of body and mind concentrated
itself. The artist introduced accessories from an infants’ school,
including a book lying on a form, &c.

[Illustration]




[Illustration]

CHAPTER V.

A.D. 1834 TO A.D. 1842.

SUSPENSE - HIGHLAND SHEPHERD DOG - BOLTON ABBEY - DROVER’S
DEPARTURE - SHEPHERD’S CHIEF MOURNER - DIGNITY AND IMPUDENCE - OTTERS
AND SALMON - THE SANCTUARY.


In 1834 many place the attainment of Sir Edwin Landseer’s highest level
in art; “Suspense” then appeared at the Academy, with “A Highland
Shepherd Dog rescuing Sheep from a Snowdrift,” “A Scene of the olden
Time at Bolton Abbey,” and other works. Of these, to our minds,
“Suspense” is by far the best picture, and aptest illustration of
genius; on this, if we chose, his honour should rest. “In some cases,”
says Mr. Redgrave, with reference to it, “the invention of the artist is
exerted rather to exercise and call forth the imagination of the
spectator than to display his own.” “Suspense” is an excellent example
of the pictures of this class. A noble bloodhound is watching at a
closed door, shut out, one may imagine, from the wounded knight, his
master. There are the steel gloves removed from the now powerless
limbs - the torn eagle-plume tells of the deadly strife, and the
continuous track on the floor shows how his life-blood flowed away drop
by drop as he was borne within. Who does not watch with the faithful
hound in deep “suspense” for some token that his master yet lives?
Others, again, can read the picture far differently: these may imagine
that the dog has tracked the author of some act of violence or deed of
blood; the plume, torn from the casque of the struggling man, lies on
the floor sprinkled with the blood shed in the struggle ere the victim
was borne within the now closed portal; we recognize the scuffle of the
moment, his hand clutching the door-post with fearful energy to prevent
the closing, the stifled cries, the hopelessness of resistance. Yet
there, like a watchful sentinel, waiting in silence, the animal
crouches, whose instinct teaches him to follow untiringly the object of
his search; the spectator himself waits in anxious eagerness for the
reopening of the door, anticipates the spring of the animal and the
renewed struggle that will ensue. In the course of Mr. Ruskin’s
magnificent criticism on Tintoret, Titian, Velazquez, Veronese, and
Landseer, as dog-painters, are remarks on the last-named artist which,
however true they are in respect to Landseer’s “drawing-room” pictures,
award but scanty justice to the masculine author of “Suspense” and its
class. - See “Modern Painters,” 1860, v. pp. 260-3.

“The Highland Shepherd Dog rescuing a Sheep from a Snow-drift” tells its
own tale, and needs no explanation from us. The sheep is almost
smothered, its struggles avail little, but the sagacious “collie” aids
it by clearing away the snow.

“Bolton Abbey in the olden Time,” engraved by Mr. S. Cousins, has been
interpreted in many ways.[38] It is, perhaps, the most popular of the
painter’s productions, and yet, except “Windsor Castle,” it is that
which least satisfies the critic. Primarily, the difficulty of fairly
and naturally interpreting it, the lack of imagination it evinces, and
the artificial posing of the figures, are defects which the analytical
mind hardly overcomes; secondly, it has the air of a collection of
portraits of modern folks, and so belies its title. The dogs and game
pertain to another category, and deserve differing judgment. The work
belongs to the Duke of Devonshire. Of this our artist said that it was
the first picture for which he got £400. It looks as if it had been
“done on purpose,” is really only less spontaneous than the deplorable
“Windsor Castle.” The monk was a portrait of Sir A. W. Callcott; Mrs.
Mackenzie sat for the girl with the fish; the falconer’s boy was one
Sidney Smith, a frequent model of Sir Edwin’s - not the Canon of St.
Paul’s. The picture has been engraved three times, and, separately, more
than one of its elements.

In the Sheepshanks Gift is a picture exhibited in 1834, the humorous and
characteristic “Highland Breakfast,” showing several sheep dogs and
terriers anxiously waiting the cooling of a mess of hot milk, which has
been put before them in a pan. That impatient beast whose back is
towards us risks his nose and vainly demurs to the delay; the next, a
canine mother, yields a meal to her puppies, but gets none herself;
another, longing but prudent, sniffs, and feeding in imagination, licks
his mouth; beyond, a staid, experienced, and dignified retriever is
content to bide his time, knowing that he, at least, will get a lion’s
share; a little white terrier, toady to the last, vainly imitates his
self-command. The mistress of the shieling, a fair young mother,
nourishes her babe in the most approved fashion.

“The Drover’s Departure, Scene in the Grampians,” was at the Royal
Academy in 1835; a picture arising out of the departure of herds from
the Highlands. In the foreground the grandfather has his horn filled
with “mountain dew” by his daughter, whose husband, just behind,
caresses their youngest child. The plighted lovers in the background
discuss probabilities. The droves are assembled, the old dog suckles
her puppies for the last time, the old white pony has lost his front
teeth, therefore bites sideways the last meal of home grass, the hen
defends her chickens against an aggressive and hilarious puppy, the boy
promotes the strife, the old woman “fidgets” every one about her. Note
the position of the lovers’ hands. For the old shepherd on our left of
the foreground of the composition, Mr. John Landseer was the model, Mr.
R. Leslie, the marine painter, son of the first R.A. of that name, sat
for the boy, who, in front, is engaged with the puppies. This picture is
at South Kensington, part of the Sheepshanks Gift; “The tethered Rams”
is a study for part of it. The last-named work was at the Royal Academy
in 1839, is now part of the Sheepshanks Gift, and may be referred to
here. The official description is the best, “Two rams are tethered to an
old and fallen tree, and watched by two sheep dogs; in the mid-distance
the flock is feeding under the care of a shepherd, who is talking with a
Scottish lassie near him. A loch and mountains form the background.”

We have remarked that Landseer contributed some of the most popular as
well as some of the best pictures to the British Institution; an
instance, which has a very interesting anecdote attached to it, occurred
in respect to “A sleeping Bloodhound” (“Countess”), sent to Pall Mall in
1835, a date to which our remarks have reference. This work is now in
the National Gallery, bequeathed by Mr. Jacob Bell, Landseer’s constant
friend and zealous “man of business.” It represents “Countess,” a dog of
the kind indicated by the title, lying as if asleep, with the body
slightly curved, the jowl resting on the floor and the forepaws
extended. The picture has been admirably engraved by Mr. T. Landseer.
The following is its history: - The hound whilst lying on a parapet at
the Clock-House, West-hill, Wandsworth, Mr. Jacob Bell’s house,
overbalanced herself, and falling between twenty and thirty feet, died
during the night, and was taken on the following morning (Monday) to
St. John’s Wood, in hopes of securing a sketch of his old favourite, who
had long been waiting for a sitting. Speaking of Sir Edwin, Mr. Bell
said: - “The sight of the unfortunate hound suddenly changed an
expression of something approaching vexation (at the interruption during
his work) into one of sorrow and sympathy, and after the first
expression of regret at the misfortune, the verdict was laconic and
characteristic - ‘This is an opportunity not to be lost; go away; come on
Thursday, at two o’clock.’ It was then about midday, Monday. On
Thursday, two o’clock, there was ‘Countess’ as large as life, asleep, as
she is now.” Another authority states that she knew Mr. Jacob Bell, and
lived in the house at Wandsworth, from the balcony of which the dog
fell. She had often heard Mr. Bell give the following version of the
circumstances: - “The hound was, one dark night, anxiously watching her
master’s return from London. She heard the wheels of his gig and his
voice, but in leaping from the balcony where she watched, she missed her
footing and fell all but dead at her master’s feet. Mr. Bell placed the
hound in his gig and returned to London, called Sir Edwin Landseer from
his bed, and had a sketch made then and there of the dying animal.”

The rapidity with which this picture was produced is another
illustration of the facility of Sir Edwin’s brush; the canvas is no
little one, it measures three feet three inches high, by four feet one
inch wide.

“Comical Dogs,” now at South Kensington, shows two large, rough
terriers, who have been decorated by their master, the one with an old
woman’s cap, and a pipe in its mouth, the other with a great Scotch
bonnet. There is a good deal of humour in this picture, but it is not
one of the artist’s best paintings.

“Odin,” engraved by Mr. W. H. Simmons, a fine picture of a famous dog,
and others, were exhibited in 1836. “Odin” belongs to Mr. W. Russell. We
have already related an anecdote of its execution. “Odin” was a smooth
mastiff, the property of Mr. Russell. In 1836 was published

[Illustration: _Donkey and Foal._]

“The Sportsman’s Annual,” with illustrations by Edwin Landseer, A.
Cooper, and C. Hancock, thirteen lithographs of dogs, with a descriptive
text.

In 1837 came “The Highland Shepherd’s Chief Mourner,” which is far more
touching than direct appeals to the imagination: a lonely shepherd has
finished a long life, and the picture represents his coffin covered by
his maud for a pall, with his dog, the trusty companion of his later


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