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Sir Edwin Landseer online

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years, and chief mourner, the single and faithful guardian of the dead.
The expression and attitude of the friendless animal suggest almost
human woe; his limbs seem relaxed and without life, as, pressing close
to the coffin and resting his head on it, he broods over his loss. The
pious life of the shepherd is hinted by a Bible on a stool in front, his
age and infirmities by the spectacles beside the book, never more to be

“The Shepherd’s Grave,” painted in 1837 - which appeared with the Art
Treasures at Manchester, in 1857 - was a picture of similar inspiration.
A sheep dog lingers by his master’s grave, his head declines over the
fresh heap of earth, with its bindings of withy. The moon is rising on
the horizon, yet the dog remains. To show how recent has been the
master’s decease, the white stone displays an incomplete inscription;
the carver will return in the morning, his tools lie ready, but the dog
will remain all night, and until there is no more day for him. The
picture belongs to Mr. W. Wells, M.P.

“The Portrait of the Marquis of Stafford, and the Lady Evelyn Gower,”
placed before the public in 1838, is a pretty picture of a girl with a
fawn, round the neck of which she has placed a garland; a spaniel sits
“begging” before her; a boy in a short dress, with bare shoulders and
legs, is seated on the grass in front and looks up, while a noble
deer-hound lolls against a tree; it is probably Landseer’s best
portrait-picture. It was beautifully engraved by Samuel Cousins.

“The Life’s in the old Dog yet,” exhibited in 1838, and now the property
of Mr. John Naylor, is poetical and pathetic. An old deer-hound,
champion of many a hunting, was over-eager in pursuit of the deer which
lies shattered at the foot of a cliff. The deer fell in a desperate
leap, the dog, being close on his haunches, overran himself and fell.
When the hunters came the difficulty was to recover the old dog and
bring up the deer. An ancient sportsman was let down by a rope, and, in
the words which give a title to the picture, hails the folks above,
while he sustains the head of the dog.

When this picture was comprised in the Art Treasures Exhibition at
Manchester, in 1857, it hung close to Mr. J. R. Herbert’s, “Lear
disinheriting Cordelia,” a subject the artist had treated with
sufficient demonstrativeness in the action and expression of the king. A
humorous mistake was made by a person who was attracted by the effective
design of Landseer’s brother Academician. In the broadest “Yorkshire” he
demanded of a companion, “What’s 329?” The latter blundered, and read
from the catalogue the title of No. 331, “There is life in the old Dog
yet.” “So there is, _to be sure_!” ejaculated the inquirer, in happy

The year 1838 was remarkable in the annals of Landseer, for in the
Exhibition of that year was one of the finest of his works, “A
Distinguished Member of the Humane Society” - the large Newfoundland dog,
with a black head and a white muzzle, reclining on the last stone of a
quay, while the summer ripples slowly rise at the sea-wall, where the
mooring-ring catches the lapsing wavelet as it runs along the stone. The
likeness of the dog is a wonderful representation; this may be truly
said, notwithstanding all that can be averred in respect to the _chic_
and dexterity, of the painter. The trick of an earnest expression, the
semi-human pathos of the dog’s eyes, is not less effective than
truthful. He lies in the broad sunlight, and the shadow of his enormous
head is cast sideways on his flank as white as snow. He looks seaward
with a watchful eye, and his quickness of attention is hinted at by the
gentle lifting of his ears. The painting of the hide, here rigid and
there soft, here shining with reflected light, there like down; the
masses of the hair, as the dog’s habitual motions caused them to grow;
the foreshortening of his paws as they hang over the edge of the quay;
and the fine sense of chiaroscuro displayed in the whole, induce us to
rank it with the painter’s masterpieces. Superbly engraved by Mr. T.
Landseer, it now belongs to Mr. Newman Smith.

“Dignity and Impudence” was at the Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester,
and first shown at the British Institution in 1839, with the title
“Dogs.” The noble bloodhound of the Duke of Grafton’s breed who calmly
regards an approaching person, has received on terms of intimacy a
snappish little Scotch terrier, whose irritability is not soothed by
grand companionship. The big dog’s name was “Grafton,” a name of his
family; that of the little one is unknown to fame. The picture was
bequeathed by Mr. Jacob Bell to the National Gallery. It was engraved
admirably by Mr. T. Landseer, and, again, severally, by Mr. Zobel and
Mr. Davey.

In the year 1839 appeared “Van Amburgh and his Animals,” a different
work from that which belongs to the Duke of Wellington and was at the
Academy in 1847. The latter is the less acceptable of the two; both have
merits, but in the eyes of critics neither, nor any of Landseer’s later
paintings of lions, approach those works of his youth we have named, “A
prowling Lion,” and “A Lion enjoying his Repast.” The artist had, during
a considerable portion of his life, continued his studies from lions,
and whenever Mr. Mitchell, Secretary of the Zoological Society, had a
dead lion on his hands, the refusal of the corpse was offered to
Landseer. Until the painter was consulted, there was small chance of a
zoologist dissecting “a king of the beasts.” There is a story, told
originally by Charles Dickens, or at least so often fathered on that
writer that it may belong to him. It is the counterpart of the tale of
Sydney Smith, on “Is thy servant a dog?” Some of our artist’s ways were
strange to visitors, and stories float about them which are untrue, but
there is strong probability in that which tells how one evening, while a
few friends were assembled at the house in St. John’s Wood, the door of
the room was suddenly opened by a man-servant, who said, - with
_sang-froid_ which indicated volumes as to the nature of a speaker to
whom nothing seemed unreal, - “Did you order a lion, sir?” If such beasts
had arrived daily at the door, the question could not have been uttered
with more imperturbability. The guests looked to their host for an
answer. It is said that some were afraid, or pretended to fear, that a
living lion was loitering at the gate, waiting Sir Edwin’s word to
enter. No one could be quite sure; but none present expected to be given
to the lion. The explanation that calmed all real or pretended fears was
soon obtained; Landseer was no more prepared than his company for the
question of the henchman. A lion had died suddenly at the Zoological
Gardens, Regent’s Park - a lion well known to Sir Edwin. It was evening
when this occurred, and the Secretary had the dead beast put in a cart,
and driven to No. 1, St. John’s Wood Road, where the party was
assembled, as a present acceptable to the host. As lions do not die
daily in this country, the gift was worthy of the Society and the
receiver. It was from this model that the picture “Nero” was painted;
and it is said that the lion of that name left his skin to the British
Museum; at any rate it is certain that, being duly stuffed with straw,
his hide received popular admiration in a glass case in one of the upper
galleries of Bloomsbury.

Sir Edwin’s lion pictures were by no means numerous. “A Lion disturbed
at his Repast,” 1821, before alluded to, was the first, and accompanied
by “A Lion enjoying his Repast.” The next was “Van Amburgh and his
Lions,” 1839; the other, derived from the same materials, appeared in
1847. The lions of Trafalgar Square were the last we owe to Sir Edwin.
Our readers remember how tardy was the appearance of these
sculptures - how long Nelson’s monument remained unfinished. Besides the
above, Landseer painted a picture which has not been exhibited, styled
“The Lion’s Den.” This was engraved by John Landseer.

“The Lion-Dog of Malta - the last of his Tribe,” was exhibited at the
Royal Academy in 1840, and shows the white flossy little creature, with
a hawk’s-bell at his neck, lying on a table close to the head of a huge
Newfoundland dog, on whose nose the smaller beast has placed a puny,
long-fringed paw. The latter looks with glittering ferret’s eyes through
its overhanging mane. The enormous head of the larger dog is bigger than
the whole carcase of the little one; and his eyes have the trick of a
deep, earnest expression, which none caught so well as Landseer. On the
front of the group are instruments for drawing, a porte-crayon, brushes,
pencils, a stump, and quill pen. Before these lies a piece of bread for
rubbing out; a mouse has stolen into light, and hastily nibbles at the

Many stories have been told of Landseer’s _bonhomie_ in general company,
but probably the best was that Leslie related of a dinner-party at which
the two friends met in Sir Francis Chantrey’s house. This meeting
happened in one of the later years of the life of Sir Francis, some time
before his death in 1841. This story is best related in Leslie’s words,
and as follows, from “The Autobiography” of that artist: - “Edwin
Landseer, the best of mimics, gave a capital specimen of Chantrey’s
manner, and at Chantrey’s own table. Dining at his house with a large
party, after the cloth was removed from the beautifully polished
table, - Chantrey’s furniture was all beautiful, - Landseer’s attention
was called by him to the reflections, in the table, of the company,
furniture, lamps, &c. ‘Come and sit in my place and study perspective,’
said our host, and went himself to the fire. As soon as Landseer was
seated in Chantrey’s chair, he turned round, and imitating his voice and
manner, said to him, ‘Come, young man, you think yourself ornamental;
now make yourself useful, and ring the bell.’ Chantrey did as he was
desired; the butler appeared, and was perfectly bewildered at hearing
his master’s voice, from the head of the table, order some claret, while
he saw him standing before the fire.”

The “Roebuck and rough Hounds,” a picture of 1840, represented a broken
hill-side, where a young deer has fallen from one of its ledges to a
lower table of rock, where the dogs have found it, and now guard the
spoil until the huntsmen come. There are four dogs; one behind the prone
head of the prey has the vantage-ground for watching, and looks out with
globe-like, glistening eyes. Lower is a rough deer-hound, lapping blood
as it flows from the buck. In front, and at the foot, are the heads of
the other dogs, one with a placid expression, the other expectant of a
step. It is now at South Kensington.

Another work of this year was the famous “Laying down the Law.” The
picture belongs to the Duke of Devonshire, and is too well known to need
description here; suffice it that, in our opinion, it shows one of the
best of Landseer’s designs of that class, by investing animals with
human expressions and feelings; it is to be looked on less as an
animal-picture proper than as a representation of human passions in
animal forms. We must accept this non-natural characteristic, this
artistic heresy, otherwise the work is naught; notwithstanding all
possible objections, it is never less than a fascinating satire, one of
those works which override principles by innate strength. In 1841 Sir
Edwin did not contribute to the Academy.

In 1840, 1841, 1842, 1843, and 1844, the Queen and Prince Albert amused
themselves by etching certain designs by Landseer: impressions from
these plates are very scarce. These transcripts are named in Mr.
Algernon Graves’ catalogue of Sir Edwin’s works, p. 41.

“Otters and Salmon,” one of the pictures of 1842, shows the fruit of one
of those visits to the Highlands which, since the tour was made with
Leslie, were annual: it has been finely engraved by Mr. Gibbon. It
exhibits a huge silver salmon lying on its flank, and a long-bodied,
long-waisted, brown otter, cringing stealthily at the side of the fish,
showing his teeth, and turning half round, snarling in the fashion of
his kind. The year 1843 found the painter at work on the fresco for the
garden-house at Buckingham Palace; it represents “The Defeat of Comus,”
of which the sketch in oil was given to the nation by Mr. Jacob Bell.
But to return to the otter. This proved the artist at work on a novel
theme, which he made his own by the well-known “Otter speared” of 1844.
So various had been the painter’s studies in sporting
subjects, - including wild cattle, dogs of all kinds, horses of all
sorts, fish, deer, ptarmigan, swans, rats, ducks, eagles, hawks,
falcons, otters, to say nothing of lions; and huntsmen of all English
ranks - that people naturally fancied Sir Edwin was a keen sportsman.
Nevertheless, such was by no means the case; in truth, he often carried
the gun as an introduction to the sketch-book.

This is proved by the story we obtain from a painter, who, while
sketching in the Highlands, fell in with Ewen Cameron, an old
forest-keeper of Glencoe, who for more than four-and-twenty years
accompanied Landseer with the sketch-book and the gun; he had been with
him from his first shooting excursion, and described the knight as but a
poor shot at first, but one who improved as he grew older. He was,
nevertheless, often laughed at. But one day Sir Edwin had the laugh at
all the party, for, knowing that he was not the best of shots, they had
deliberately posted him where the herd was not expected, “when,” as the
old forester said, “it so happened that the greater number of the stags
went his way, and he just made by far the biggest bag of the party;” in
fact, “we found him surrounded with dead stags lying all about.”

On another occasion the gillies were astonished, just as a magnificent
shot came in the way, to have Sir Edwin’s gun thrust into their hands,
with “Here, take, take this,” hastily ejaculated, while the sketch-book
was pulled out. The gillies were often disgusted by being led about the
moors, walking with more sketching than shooting; and they grumbled
dreadfully in their own tongue; “but,” said Ewen, “Sir Edwin must have
had some Gaelic in him, for he was _that angry_ for the rest of the day,
it made them very careful of speaking Gaelic in his hearing after.” “The
last time he was here,” repeated the forester, referring to but a few
years ago, “I could not but observe to him, ‘Sir Edwin, ye’re becoming
like the ptarmigan,’” alluding to that bird’s turning white as the
winter approaches.

Another picture of the year 1842 was the pathetic “Highland Shepherd’s
Home,” which was engraved by Mr. Gibbon, and is very popular. This was
at the Academy; but a not inferior picture, painted in the Highlands,
is, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like Home,” which was at the
British Institution in that year, and is now comprised in the
Sheepshanks Gift at South Kensington; it was bought by Mr. Sheepshanks
from Landseer, A spaniel cowers at the entrance

[Illustration: _Goat and Kids._]

of his home in a quiver of glad recognition of the shelter; he looks up
with a whimper, and gleefully wags his tail, for the beast has been a
vagrant. In the foreground occurs one of those little points of by-play
such as often occur in Landseer’s designs. Here a snail, who does not
quit his home, but rather carries it on his back, is travelling slowly
and noiselessly towards the water-dish of the spaniel.

In 1842 there likewise appeared, but at the Academy, the most
dexterously painted “Pair of Brazilian Monkeys, the property of the
Queen,” the dashing form of “Breeze,” a retriever, which has been
engraved by Mr. C. G. Lewis, and the ever-beautiful figure of “Eos,”
that model of grace, a greyhound belonging to Prince Albert, which Mr.
T. Landseer engraved faultlessly. In this picture Sir Edwin must
have been happy, for the grace, fulness of refinement, high feeling
for beauty, and that defect of the animal which arose from
over-civilization, were here, and he painted them perfectly. The very
defect of his art suited the truth of the subject, and “Eos” in the
engraving seems the finest example of the finest strain of Landseer’s

“The Sanctuary” was of this year, and akin in its inspiration to those
which showed Landseer at work in snow and ice, with new subjects, and
hardly ever tried by an artist of his standing. The latter are the
admirable “Coming Events cast their Shadows before them,” of 1844, and
“Night and Morning,” the noble designs of 1853. “The Sanctuary”
illustrated the refuge of a long-hunted stag on an island, or on the
coast of Loch Maree; the swimming beast approaches the shore, and
perfectly represents the pathos of the verses: -

“See, where the startled wild-fowl screaming rise,
And seek in marshall’d flight those golden skies;
Yon wearied swimmer scarce can win the land,
His limbs yet falter on the watery strand.
Poor hunted hart! the painful struggle o’er,
How blest the shelter of that island shore!
There, whilst he sobs, his panting heart to rest,
Nor hound nor hunter shall his lair molest.”

We all remember the water dripping from the flanks of the beast, the
swerving line, a little too mechanically drawn, of the flying fowl, the
even colour of the twilight sky, the gleaming of the water, a surface
broken only by the track of the ripples the exhausted swimmer’s
shoulders had set in motion. The picture belongs to the Queen, and was
in the International Exhibition, 1862, and at the Exposition
Universelle, Paris, 1853; and while there attracted much less attention
than it deserved from the French, who demand qualities which Landseer
did not always succeed in furnishing. We do not think it was on account
of the pathos of this picture that the jury awarded him the great gold
medal, he being the only English painter to receive it; many Englishmen
desired that Mulready should obtain this distinction, and the award in
Landseer’s favour puzzled many, because he was much less a painter _per
se_ than Mulready, who expected a decision in the reverse direction.




A.D. 1843 TO A.D. 1850.


The pictures contributed to the Academy in 1843 were not very important:
one was a scene in Windsor Castle, with portraits of Her Majesty, Prince
Albert, the Princess Royal, and four of the Queen’s dogs; another was
“Not caught yet” - a fox examining a trap.

Most visitors to the Academy, who recal “The Otter speared” of 1844,
which appeared with “Coming Events cast their Shadows before them,”
remember the profound impression caused by these works. The former is an
“upright” picture, showing a huntsman standing to mid-leg in a stream,
surrounded by a numerous pack of yelping dogs, while he, having driven
his spear through the loins of the poor otter, raises that ignoble prey
on high, in his last agonies, transfixed, writhing, biting the staff of
the spear, and helplessly contorted in the air. The dogs follow their
nature, and the man follows his; the otter will be thrown to the hounds,
and torn to pieces. There is an immense amount of diverse action and
intense passion in the dogs, who leap, yell, yelp, bark, struggle,
bound, howl, and even fight each other in their fury for the prey. The
design was admirable, but the execution of the picture was a little
flat - a defect which strongly affected the public - the colour was cold,
not improved by the introduction of the crude scarlet coat of the man in
the centre without an effectual echo or compensating piece of colour.
The flatness of the execution made the perspective of the group of dogs
look incorrect, which was not really the case. The drawing of the dogs
was worthy of Sir Edwin’s skill: they belonged to the Earl of Aberdeen.

“Coming Events cast their Shadows before them,” sometimes called “The
Challenge,” and now in the collection of the Dowager Duchess of
Northumberland, was another of the pictures of 1844. Although it has not
appeared since its display at the Academy in this year, it is well known
by means of engravings, and therefore the subject being as simple as it
was effectively told, it will not be needful to describe it here.

“Shoeing,”[40] another picture of this year, was painted for Mr. Jacob
Bell, and is now comprised in the Bell Gift in the National Gallery (No.
606). The scene is a forge, with its open door and anvil, and utensils
lying about the place. A bay mare, a portrait of “Old Betty,” the
property of Mr. Bell, stands near the anvil, while a farrier tries a new
shoe on her near hind hoof, the other animals being an ass and a
bloodhound, the name of which was “Laura;” these, like the figure of the
man, are portraits. The painting of the mare is worthy of Landseer’s
peculiar skill; her skin is glossiness itself, while the likeness is so
completely faithful that she stands exactly as she was accustomed to
appear “at ease,” and without a halter; the latter, Mr. Wornum told us,
was an appendage the creature would never tolerate. Mrs. Mackenzie adds,
that the mare was so fond of being shod that she would go of her own
will to the farrier. Mr. Lewis engraved this picture three times, an
extraordinary proof of its popularity.

In 1845 appeared a nameless work, signalized in the Academy catalogue as
“141 * * *,” and now described as “The Shepherd’s Prayer,” which has
been engraved by Mr. T. L. Atkinson.

The pictures “Peace” and “War,” both of 1846, now in the National
Gallery, require only the briefest mention. The scene of the former is
the summit of a high chalk cliff looking over Dover harbour - not too
faithfully painted, by the way - with the calm blue sea, a little
defective in clearness of colour, the whole lying in sunlight, as Sir
Edwin was accustomed to paint that effect. A cannon has been tumbled
from its place, and is here topsy-turvy on the grass; in its harmless
muzzle a pretty lamb is grazing; other sheep and a few goats are
browsing near; close by are three bright-faced, heedless children, the
shepherds of the flock, one of whom has placed grass in the cannon’s
mouth for the lamb. These elements complete the design, of which the
idea is a little too melodramatic to be acceptable to critics, but it is
most welcome to less fastidious judges. “War” is simpler still, and a
design of less challengeable quality; there has been a battle, a cottage
is in ruins, lurid smoke dashes the still sunny walls with shadows, the
torn roses of the porch shine in the desolation, a dying horse and his
dead rider, a dragoon in steel, and sword in hand, lie near the door; a
dead horse and a second dead man lie close to the others.

“The Stag at Bay,” belonging to the Marquis of Breadalbane, which
appeared in the same year, had a more energetic design than that of
“War;” it is one of the strongest of Sir Edwin’s pictures, and well
known by Mr. T. Landseer’s engraving. “The Drive,” produced in 1847, was
a hunting-piece, representing the shooting of deer in a pass of
Glenorchy Forest; it is the property of the Queen, and was engraved by
Mr. T. Landseer.

At the same exhibition some readers remember the large but not very
fortunate “Portrait of Mr. Van Amburgh, as he appeared with his animals
at the London theatres.” Many years had passed since Sir Edwin had
painted a “lion picture,” and his reputation was uninjured in that
respect, although there were not lacking grumblers who averred that his
earlier works far surpassed in artistic qualities the more attractive,
more popular and, it must be admitted, far more poetical productions of
his middle life. At this date our artist had hit the chords in popular
feeling to which it would best suit him to appeal, and he did so
vigorously and constantly; the chords were two - that of sad pathos and
that of gentle, semi-human satire.

The pictures of 1848, to which we now turn, being “A random Shot” and
“Alexander and Diogenes,” were apt illustrations of the concurrent
powers of Landseer’s mind at the best. Technically speaking, he had lost
prodigiously by this period; his works were not half so solid as when

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