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his spurs were won, but in the higher intellectual and imaginative
qualities they now far surpassed their forerunners, notwithstanding
occasional dashes of melodramatic taste. “Van Amburgh,” was injurious to
the reputation of the painter. The works of the next year - 1848 - set
this higher than ever.

In 1848 we were presented with “A random Shot,” one of the most pathetic
and epical of Landseer’s works. It is a snow-piece, the scene high on
the mountain, whose more distant ridges rise above the mist. The snow
lies smooth; and for miles, so far as the eye can penetrate the vapour,
there is nothing but snow, which covers, but does not hide, the shapes
of the hill-tops. A few foot-prints show that a doe has come hither,
attracted, doubtless, by her knowledge of a pool of unfrozen water which
would assuage her thirst. Some careless shooter, firing into a herd of
deer, had hit the doe whose fawn was with her, and, mortally wounded,
she came to die; the poor fawn had followed. There the victim fell,
there the innocent one strove, long after the mother’s form was cold, to
obtain milk where an unfailing source had been. The mother has fallen on
her side, the long limbs, that once went so swiftly, are useless, and
the last breath of her nostrils has melted the snow, so that, stained
with her blood, the water trickled downwards until it froze again.

This year was one of unusual good fortune for Sir Edwin’s admirers; two
of his best pictures were exhibited, besides the beautiful “Old Cover
Hack,” a horse standing with an air of being at home, at the door of a

“Alexander and Diogenes,” another of the pictures of 1848, is well
known; the big white bulldog Alexander pays a visit to the philosopher
in his tub, personified by a dingy, meditative little beast in inferior
condition of health and of poor belongings. He appears to be a farrier’s
tyke, to judge by the box of nails, with its thumb-hole, and the hammer,
which lie before the tub; and he is undoubtedly of abstemious habits, if
we may judge by the “rope” of onions and the herbs suspended at the side
of his place of shelter, and the potatoes which lie on the flag-stones.
The big white bully, with his “military” collar, stands before the tub,
and, regarding its cynical occupant askant, knits his brows - not a dog’s
action, by-the-bye - at once inquiringly and with hauteur. The courtiers
are commonplace; two are whining, with hypocritical mouths turned down,
the one has upcast eyes, the other is self-absorbed in meditation, and
with his eyes dreamily half-closed, occupies part of the background. A
greyhound, of the gentler sex, whose collar is decorated with a hawk’s
bell, and is herself a courtier, is courted by the sneaking little
spaniel with the set smile on his lips, and adulatory eyes as lustrous
as globes of glass. A contumelious spaniel of another breed is near,
and, with nose upturned and scornful, looks at the more scornful and not
less insincere cynic, who, with greater pride, tramples on the pride of
Alexander. This year (1848) produced the “Sketch of my Father,” that
capital portrait of John Landseer to which we have already alluded. In
the same year appeared a series of etchings by C. G. Lewis, styled “The
Mothers, by Edwin Landseer,” from drawings made in 1837. This
publication was the last in which our artist had direct concern.

In 1848 Landseer received from the “Commissioners on the Fine Arts” a
charge to paint in oil three subjects connected with the chase, for
compartments of the Peers’ Refreshment Room in the Houses of Parliament;
the absurdly inadequate price was not to be more than 500_l._ each. It
is evident that Landseer accepted these tasks patriotically rather than
in hope of profit. However, the matter came to nothing, for after a
sharp debate, rather a skirmish than a fight, when this great sum of
1500_l._ was proposed as the national payment to a great artist for
three important pictures, the House of Commons, piqued at the conduct of
the scheme for decorating the Palace of Westminster, struck the sum from
the estimates, and put an end to the affair; more to the artist’s profit
than ours.

The pictures of 1849, although comprising “The Free Church” and “The
Evening Scene in the Highlands,”

[Illustration: _Sow and Pigs._]

present no features which need detain us. It was at this period Landseer
made his first visit to Belgium, to procure studies and sketches for the
capital “Dialogue at Waterloo,” which appeared in 1850, and is now
comprised in the Vernon Gift; it represents the Duke of Wellington and
his daughter-in-law, the Marchioness of Douro, at the scene of “the
famous victory.” This visit naturally attracted a great deal of
attention from the Dutch and Belgian artists, who listened to strange
stories of Landseer’s mode of painting, and his, to their notions,
luxurious mode of life; that he went out into the woods near the place
of his sojourn, Brussels, accompanied by a man servant, and made careful
studies on millboard, was not so surprising to our neighbours as that he
was reported to regale himself with champagne. It had been the artist’s
custom during the greater part of his life, especially during that
period which has now been described, to make his studies on millboards
of a generally uniform size; great numbers of works of this size exist,
and their artistic qualities are of a high order. The sale of his
artistic remains brought to light numerous millboard studies, including
first thoughts for not a few of Landseer’s finest designs, studies for
pictures, and bold versions of thoughts which were never elaborated into
pictures, or placed before the world. These studies realized a
considerable sum, and thus increased the handsome fortune which he
obtained by means of a long life’s labours.

* * * * *

In 1850 Edwin Landseer was made a knight.



A.D. 1851 TO A.D. 1861.


“The Monarch of the Glen,” exhibited in 1851, was a stag, executed with
vigour and soundness of modelling, which recalled some of the finest
works of the artist.[1] The group styled “Geneva,” which appeared with
this, was a large painting of several asses, a bull, a mule, &c.,
gathered under an arch. The head of the mule struck us as the best part,
where all portions were worthy of the painter. “The last Run of the
Season” showed a fox leaving his earth; the texture of the beast’s hide
was rendered with dexterity, and the head characterized the painter’s
peculiar craft in such subjects, but there was not enough of the
“varmint” in its expression.

“Titania and Bottom - Fairies attending,” was a happy specimen of Sir
Edwin’s poetical invention, and one of the most agreeable pictures which
illustrate Shakespeare. The graceful nature of the Queen of the Fairies
was shown in Titania, whose figure expresses the love-languor of her
absurd dream; she leans with a confiding caress against the most
complacent Bottom, who extends his huge paw to handle a fairy. The head
of Titania is decorated with a diadem of leaves and glow-worms. Fairies
mounted on white rabbits add quaintness to the whole. “A Highlander in
a Snow-storm, holding an Eagle he has just shot,” and “Lassie,” were
summer and winter scenes which effectively contrast each other. These
concluded the pictures of 1851. The year 1852 gave us nothing of
immediate profit, but the year after made ample amends.

What one may call the progress of ultra-facility, the decline of Sir
Edwin’s power of solid painting, was illustrated by the pictures of
1853, being the dramatic designs - they were little more - styled “The
Combat,” and, severally, “Night” and “Morning,” the subjects being a
duel of stags, and the ruin of both. The pictures were at the Academy,
and, later, at the International Exhibition of 1862. The contrasted
effects were those of, 1, romantic gloom, much less than twilight, with
a dim moon, with screens of rain flying by a tumultuous lake, and, 2,
dawn growing rosier as the day grows over the fields; the subject of the
death struggle, and of death. In the one picture the beasts were
fighting, with such intensity of action as no one but Landseer could
have given, so that they are “locked horn in horn in fight.” The second
picture shows the combatants still locked together by their
horns - indeed it was this which decided their fate; they are both dead
on the hill-side, the day has come, the gusty night winds are hushed and
the lake is a mirror again; growing light reveals the outlines of the
hills, grey mist creeps on the strand, the bird of prey wheels in the
air above the dead, and the fox has come from his lair in the rotting
fern; the royal dead are carrion prey. Here is a moral forcibly
depicted, on which we need not enlarge. The pictures belong to Viscount
Hardinge, and have been engraved by Mr. T. Landseer, to whom not a
little is due on their account, for it is certain that the magnificent
design lost little in translation, and that the picture was not
pre-eminent. “The Children of the Mist,” a group of deer on a
cloud-laden moor, was exhibited with these more powerful examples which
we have just described.

Whatever may be the defects of the Royal Academy as a society - and most
of these are, we trust, in the course of correction - there can be no
doubt that collectively it has done many fine things; the members have
often acted in a noble manner; the number of instances of sacrifice of
cherished advantages to fellows or rivals is considerable, and the story
has been told of many Academicians who have taken their own pictures
from the walls in order to place those of others in good situations. We
believe it was about 1853, or it might have been at an earlier date,
that Sir Edwin was one of the Hanging Committee for the Royal Academy
Exhibition; it does not signify who was his fellow, but it is certain
that he was a landscape painter, and therefore no rival of M. Gudin, an
animal painter. Sir Edwin found among the contributions which had been
set aside as “doubtful,” - _i.e._ its chance of being hung was but a poor
one, - a work which pleased him greatly, but which had no artist’s name.
Taking it to his fellow-hanger, Sir Edwin found that both agreed as to
its merits, and that it ought to be hung, and well hung. The difficulty
was where to put it; at last the other hanger found that a place
accorded to a painting of his would suit this one extremely well, he
therefore took down his own and put M. Gudin’s production in its stead.
Thus the animal painter found an animal painter’s work, and was the
means of inducing a considerable sacrifice in order that it might be
seen. It may be asked, why did not Sir Edwin take down one of his own
paintings instead of allowing his companion to do so? The answer is,
that it is possible that Sir Edwin had no pictures at that gathering; or
it is still more probable that M. Gudin’s contribution would not fit one
of the places occupied by Landseer. We have an impression that Sir
Edwin’s generous companion was W. Daniell, R.A., in which case this
circumstance must have happened long before 1853; but this date has been
given as that of the circumstance.

The year 1854 was not one of those in which Sir Edwin’s powers shone at
the Exhibition; in 1855 he gave nothing; in 1856 he contributed the
capital “Saved!” - a fine picture, good enough to have made the
reputation of another artist - to the Royal Academy. In 1857 we had the
grandest stag which came from his hands, being “Scene in
Brae-mar - Highland Deer, &c.,” a magnificent stag, standing in the mist,
but not concealed by the vapour, and on the brow of a hill, bellowing
defiance to the hunter or to other males of his own kind; a group of
does are about him; a rabbit appears on the grass. The stag is superbly
drawn, and his action instinct with pride. “Rough and Ready” was of this
year; a portrait of a favourite mare, in the yard of her stable. The
humour of the picture, one of those capital pieces of by-play which none
introduced more happily than Landseer, was presented by the passionate
emotion of a hen, who, having just laid an egg, calls all the world to
witness the fact. “Rough and Ready” turns a questioning eye on the bird,
but is not deeply moved by the event; indeed she looks a little bored by
the uproarious mother-bird. This was a good example; but “Uncle Tom and
his Wife for sale,” which accompanied it at the Academy, showed that
Landseer had occupied some of his time during the years before this one
in reading a now almost-forgotten United States novel. “Uncle Tom” is a
dog of humble breeding and sturdy constitution; he has been brought to
the market for sale, and is chained to his wife, for whom a similar fate
is purposed. The best part of the picture was the tearful look of the
wife at the dog of her heart. This was a masterpiece wherein Sir Edwin
often triumphed - the humanizing of animal expression, or rather, the
animalization of human expression.

“The Maid and the Magpie,” given by Mr. Bell to the nation, with better
pictures, is, however, by no means unworthy of Landseer. The scene is a
shed, where a pretty Belgian girl, with a gay red cap on her head, has
come a-milking; the cow is willing, and turns with affectionate docility
to her friend; but the girl, whose expression is happy, is ardently
listening to her lover, who, leaning against a post, sighing and
longing, speaks to her. Thus far she neglects her immediate duties. She
is supposed to get into further trouble, because, having placed a silver
spoon in one of the wooden shoes at her side, she did not observe how a
malicious magpie pilfered the treasure, which, being missed, cause her
to suffer grievously. The story belongs to that of Rossini’s “La Gazza
Ladra,” with an older source, as Mr. Wornum said, in the French _Causes
Célèbres_. A calf and some goats were Landseerian, one cannot have a
better word.

The most remarkable work which Landseer had for some years exhibited was
the immense cartoon styled “Deer Browsing.” It is in coloured chalks,
black, red, and white, used in a manner analogous to that which Mulready
employed for his famous studies from “the life,” and it represented a
herd of deer grazing, while hunters have stolen on them from the heights
of the mountains, and prepare to fire from behind rocks. A royal stag
browses unsuspiciously; but two does have detected the intruders, and,
looking up with startled air and erected ears, are about to take to
their heels. In the same year we found at the British Institution, to
which gathering Sir Edwin had not then contributed for a considerable
period, the humorous and characteristic “Twa Dogs,” an illustration of
Burns’ poem with the same name. The gentlemanly dog, “they ca’d him
Cæsar,”[41] had all the marks of his education about him; not only in
“his lockit, letter’d, braw brass collar,” but in the gravity and
cleared-eyed dignity of his face, which is wonderfully represented. The
other dog, “that gash and faithful tyke,” is evidently for rougher
service; and if not so much to be admired, is perhaps to be liked more.
There is not the slightest doubt that

“His honest, sonsie, braws’nt face
Ay got him friends in ilka place.

In the same exhibition appeared the portrait of Sir Walter Scott to
which we have referred, styled “Extract from a Journal whilst at
Abbotsford.” The poet sits laughing at the gambols of his dogs. Maida,
the old deer-hound, famous in his master’s verses, is looking with
“inane benevolence,” the humour of which is exquisite, on a little puppy
on the floor; the little dog nibbles his senior’s tail. At their side is
a letter directed to Sir Walter. In this, as the catalogue lets us
infer, a proof of one of the Waverley novels had been received. By means
of this, Landseer was convinced that the authorship of those novels was,
as many suspected, due to Scott. This was, relatively, not a good
picture. As a sketch of canine character and a dexterous piece of
painting it had great merits; but the story was incomprehensible without
the catalogue. In this respect it was less explicable at sight than “The
Maid and the Magpie;” for the latter might be taken for no more than it
really was, a picture of lovers gossiping, and the incident of the
magpie and the spoon ignored.

“Doubtful Crumbs,” at the Academy in 1859, was hardly equal to its
origin; a mastiff lolls at the door of his kennel, and a smaller dog
looks anxiously for permission to pick up scraps. The picture, with a
title in Highland jargon, in the catalogue of the Royal Academy
Exhibition of this year, displayed how a hunted stag escaped two dogs by
taking to the water. One of the dogs is hurt to death; the other is
about to leave the stag. It was finely and vigorously designed, not less
slight than of late from the painter. “The Prize Calf” showed, with a
slight touch of humour, a frightened girl leading a calf through a
mountain pass. “A kind Star” illustrated a Highland superstition, but in
such a manner as proved that the designer’s mind was not in its usual
fine tone when it was conceived. The superstition is that hinds are
under the protection of beneficent stars: a hind lies dying on the banks
of a lake. So far nothing could be said; but the introduction of a
spirit, with a star in its hair, to bend over the poor beast, was of
quite another order of invention. The production of this idea was the
first decided sign of decay in the powers of our artist. Those who owed
him much delight stood aghast before it. Some of these tried to ascribe
its exhibition, and even its production, to obedience to some unfrequent
impulse - deference to some inferior mind, subservience to some vulgar
taste. However this might be, there, unfortunately, it was.

The year 1860 put the artist before us as effectively as before, and
gave what is probably the strongest of all his pictures, the “Flood in
the Highlands,” as to which I cannot do better than borrow from the
“Athenæum” of the time the following description, which has the freshest
impression because I wrote it on the day when, in the well-known St.
John’s Wood studio, and before the picture was sent to the Royal
Academy, Mr. Millais introduced me to Sir Edwin Landseer: - “By right of
seniority let Landseer come first. His subject is a flood in the
Highlands, one of those catastrophes to which villages situated in
gorges of a mountain country are exposed by the sudden melting of snow
on the hills, or heavy falls of rain, which, swelling the little
rivulets, often overwhelm a valley-hamlet at a sweep. The great flood,
rushing from the hill-side, rages through the street; up to the very
thresholds of the houses it pours along, a torrent irregular and
resistless. Behind the village a range of low hillocks bear a few scanty
trees, in the boughs of which some black birds have taken refuge,
telling the wide extent of the inundation. The water has drowned the
adjacent country, bearing along with it multitudes of farming implements
and the _débris_ of the swept district. The inhabitants have taken
refuge on the roofs of their cottages. Upon one, in the mid-distance,
are men urgently endeavouring to save a team, which, borne onwards by
the torrent, struggles relentlessly against its force, and, mad with
fear, nigh baffles the efforts of the rescuers, straining to the utmost
a rope held by them, whose entire strength fails to check the terrified
animals that have already been swept past

[Illustration: _Sheep and Lambs._]

the place of safety, and come driving full on to another cottage, nearer
the front of the picture; an exhausted ox has reached this spot, and
now, breathless, with bloody nostrils and eyes possessed with the
madness of fear, strives in vain to save itself. The dumb agony of this
beast is fearful; being nigh spent with the violence of the flood which
sweeps over its flanks, the forefeet wrestle fruitlessly, and the animal
will soon be borne away to destruction. The principal group, in which
the chief interest of the picture concentrates, is placed on the roof of
the nearest cottage. The people have saved themselves, but little else,
so sudden was the coming of the flood. Right in the front sits a woman
with a cradle beside her, of which the clothes are tossed aside, and the
infant who occupies it lies in her lap; round her neck the child clings,
ignorant, but yet alarmed. The woman’s action tells the horror and fear
predominating in her soul. Fear for herself and fear for the infant
relax even her grasp on its body, letting it rest almost wholly on her
knees (the hands, however, instinctively making a guard), which terror
has drawn up towards her; while, with forth-thrust neck and head, she
glares at the approaching torrent out of large, rounded and dilated
eyes, that have no glance for the infant now, but see in the struggling
beast a presage of death for both. Her jaw is set back, paralyzed with
dread; her mouth is open, the lips are retracted and hard, the eyebrows
are up and yet compressed, the cheek pallid and rigid with lines of
fear, her hair is dishevelled and her dress is disarranged. In short,
this figure is a perfect study of expression, the success of which does
honour to the artist. He has done well to show her momentary
indifference to the child; for this is a new point of character, beyond
question just and natural, which alone would remove the picture from the
conventional order of works of Art.

“Behind this group sits an aged man, half imbecile, and scarcely
recognizing the danger which threatens his family; but, with his dress
drawn about him, keeping steadfastly in the seat where their heedful
affection has placed him. Beyond, squats a boy, wrapped in a plaid wet
from the flood, and caressing a dog he has rescued from the water, and
now holds it, shivering, in his bosom. On a ladder raised against the
side of the house, by which the people have ascended to the roof, are
perched some poultry, fussily alarmed at the distress about them; a
hen - as is the wont of such creatures when terrified - has laid an egg,
which, falling on a step below her perch, much astonishes a cat that has
established herself there, and now rises to examine the phenomenon. Here
is a point some hypercritical people will get hold of. The egg is broken
by the fall, the shell being hard and set. No egg is otherwise than soft
at this moment of exclusion, these critics will say. Let us leave them
their discovery, and proceed to point out an incident of the design that
marks the genius of the artist. Close under the eaves of the house, and
just emerging from the water, is a poor hare, endeavouring to burrow a
way into the thatch, with struggling feet and ears laid back; the flood
has brought this timorous beast into the neighbourhood of man, and it is
pitiful to see its frantic efforts to make a place of refuge in the very
habitation of its enemies. Above, grey wreaths of rain-clouds haste
along, and the whole aspect of the picture bespeaks terror and
desolation. The very fault of its execution aids this appearance, for
the want of appreciation of colour, which is alone to be lamented, helps
the motive of the theme by a certain chilly opacity. This, under another
aspect, would seriously mar the credit of so marvellous a work. Sir
Edwin has done his best in the picture, and the result of many years’
study shows how profitably they have been employed in ensuring him fresh

So far the critic, and present writer, sees no reason for changing his
opinion of this masterpiece of Sir Edwin’s. If it was not his finest
work, it was at any rate his culminating one; he painted none so good
afterwards - indeed, even before it was finished, the painter, always a
man of extreme nervous susceptibility, had hints that the human mind and
the body which surrounded it are mortal. He was constitutionally
subject to nervous depression, but these attacks accumulated force as
years went on, and threatened the end which came with all its

I remember him, during the painting of this picture, on the Tuesday
before it was sent to the Academy - putting a few touches on the canvas.
He looked as if about to become old, although his age by no means
justified the notion; it was not that he had lost activity or energy, or

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Online LibraryFrederick G. StephensSir Edwin Landseer → online text (page 8 of 11)