Frederick G. Stephens.

Sir Edwin Landseer online

. (page 9 of 11)
Online LibraryFrederick G. StephensSir Edwin Landseer → online text (page 9 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


that his form had shrunk, for he moved as firmly and swiftly as ever,
indeed he was rather demonstrative, stepping on and off the platform in
his studio with needless display, and his form was stout and
well-filled. Nevertheless, without seeming to be overworked, he did not
look robust, and he had a nervous way remarkable in so distinguished a
man, one who was usually by no means unconscious of himself, and yet, to
those he liked, full of kindness. The wide green shade which he wore
above his eyes, projected straight from his forehead, and cast a large
shadow on his plump, somewhat livid features, and in the shadow one saw
that his eyes had suffered. The grey “Tweed” suit, and its sober trim, a
little emphatically “quiet,” marked the man; so did his stout, not fat
nor robust, figure; rapid movements, and utterances that glistened with
prompt remarks, sharp, concise, with quick humour, but not seeking
occasions for wit, and imbued throughout with a perfect frankness,
distinguished the man. Even in 1867 there was little outward change,
although not long after that date the attacks occurred with fewer and
briefer intervals. These intervals caused the reports which flew about,
“Sir Edwin is better,” “much better,” as some would have it, and, anon,
“much worse,” as many said.

After the “Flood in the Highlands” had set Landseer’s reputation on a
basis which was apparently firmer than ever, he produced pictures of
value, even judging them by the standard proper to our estimate. In 1861
we had “The Shrew tamed” - “_la jument domptée_” of its French admirers,
in 1867 - a riding-mistress, who, having overcome a vicious thoroughbred
mare, (for, this picture echoed the wandering voices of the hour, and
“horse-tamers” were then in vogue) has made the beast lie on straw, and
triumphantly reclines her own head on the mare’s flank, as the dame,
supine and smiling, rests beside the steed, while the latter gently and
obediently caresses her hand; the former, conscious of her victory, pats
the animal’s head. The horse is exquisitely faithful in the handling,
the glossy muscle-binding hide is all a-shine with health and horsehood;
her powerful hoofs; her eye of fire, subdued but not depressed, and full
of vigour; the strong, unmastered neck, that turns gracefully in its
vigour towards the slender lady resting among the dreadful feet, as if
there were no more harm in them than in her own, that peep daintily
beneath the blue riding-robe. Among the straw, and painted as only
Landseer could paint lapdogs, was a saucy little beast of that kind.
Besides this very telling picture, Sir Edwin contributed three large
cartoons in distemper, a triptych of “stag subjects.” In the centre was
“The fatal Duel,” two mighty stags that have been fighting to the very
death: here was an echo of a former picture, the noble notion again
worked out. They lie in the snow on a mountain side, the surface of
which, crisped by frigid winds after a thaw, was given with power and
truth. One stag, wounded to the death, is prostrate, and dying on the
ensanguined snow, while the torn and bleeding fragment of a horn attests
the stubbornness of his defence. Over him the conqueror, with gory flank
and limbs, bellows victory to the mountain side. The wings of the
triptych are styled, “Scenes in the Marquis of Breadalbane’s Highland
Deer Forest;” the first, stags and hinds traversing snow-covered hills;
the second, a similar subject in mist. All these were capitally drawn
and designed.[42]




[Illustration]

CHAPTER VIII.

A.D. 1862 TO A.D. 1873.

MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES - THE CONNOISSEURS - THE SWANNERY
INVADED - CLOSING YEARS - DEATH OF LANDSEER.


The years 1862 and 1863 were, so far as the Exhibitions were concerned,
significantly void of the fruits of Sir Edwin’s art. But 1864 brought
good news and good work again; and we all rejoiced over the vigour which
was apparent in “Man proposes, God disposes,” an Arctic incident
suggested by the finding of the relics of Sir John Franklin. The scene
is a piece of rugged ice, the coast-line of that remote land, broken by
inlets of dark water. Over all is the greenish light of an Arctic noon;
a purple veil of mist is drawn aside, as if a secret were displayed, and
in order that we might see what had become of our long-lost countrymen.
The veil gone, the rose tints of sunlight fall on the nearest and the
highest points of rock-like ice, while light itself penetrates the
sea-green blocks, and lurid shadows appear among the masses that strew
the shore. Right across the front lies the mast of a boat, covered with
brine as hard as a stone, and with a hoary fringe of icicles. A rag of
tarpaulin - that may at one time have been the roof of a hut formed
amongst the angular blocks - lies over this spar. Beneath this spar are a
few planks, bleached in the long frost; and from below them peer a few
bones - the rib bones of a man; above these lies a coat of navy blue. A
huge white bear, her head on high, holds between cruel jaws a whitened
bone. At the other side of the picture, and at the back of the so-called
hut, sprawls the formless bulk of a larger bear, whose flattened head is
laid along the ice, dragging between its jaws and from beneath the spar
the ragged length of a piece of bunting, part of a Union Jack. This work
now belongs to Mr. E. V. Coleman. With this painful picture we received
that charming piece of manual dexterity, and keenest feeling for animal
character, “A Piper and a Pair of Nutcrackers,” a bullfinch perched on a
bough, just above the seat of a pair of squirrels. It is now in the
possession of Mr. C. Booth.

At the British Institution for this year (1864) we had “Well-bred
Sitters, that never say they are bored,” a large painting of dogs,
produced with all Sir Edwin’s dexterity although, it may be, not showing
all his soundness of drawing, or that finish in which, of yore, he
delighted. An enormous black dog sits, as if before an artist, a model
of dignity and self-possession; in his mouth is a badger-hair brush,
such as painters style a “softener.” By his side a fawn-coloured dog is
posed with great elegance. In the foreground are several dead doves, a
pheasant, a purple velvet cigar-case, the colour of which serves as a
chromatic echo to that of the pheasant’s neck. This was a vigorous
picture, showing all we were accustomed to find in Sir Edwin’s later
works.

The most interesting, if not the best, picture of 1865 by Landseer was
his own portrait, styled “The Connoisseurs,” a humorous piece,
comprising portraits of two dogs, who look appreciatively over his
shoulder while he makes a drawing. “The flesh painting is too white as
well as pinky to be true to nature, opaque and rather coarse, but the
dogs who look over his shoulder at the sketch he is making, supply the
title to the picture. Canine meditation and the result on a dog’s face
of critical habits were never even thought of before, much less ever
painted, as they are here. The dog on our right will not, it seems, give
a hasty verdict in favour of his master’s work, that on our left will,
like other critics, follow his neighbour. If anything could justify a
man’s wish to be a dog it would be that Sir Edwin might paint him. What
a gentle dog is he on our right!” “Déjeûner à la Fourchette,” a donkey
feeding, a boy near, was not a fortunate picture. “Adversity” and
“Prosperity” had contrasted subjects in the life of a horse. In the
latter we had a superbly elegant bay horse; his hide has an inner glow
such as would delight Titian to paint it; he sniffs the air gladly and
looks from on high far off; his limbs are perfectly formed, and his body
is a model for a Greek sculptor, and although too small in proportion
for the body, his head is elegant. By his side is a dandy groom, the
least satisfactory part of the picture. “Adversity” gives the other side
of the same medal. A cab-horse in a low inn-yard sniffs wearily a mass
of corn that is locked up; the shabby collar of servitude is about his
neck, and, worse than all, has rubbed to bleeding some of that golden
bay skin, which, a little too perfectly it may be, remains to the poor
beast of all his beauty, pride, and delight in life; he sniffs in vain,
almost afraid to go too near the locked food, and feebly,
apologetically, paws the stones with worn hoofs. The artist never told a
tale better than by these pictures, and probably never painted a horse’s
hide better than that of the youthful model. These works were sold with
Mr. Albert Grant’s pictures, April 28, 1877; the former for £1480, the
latter for £1501.

The next year, 1866, produced the unfortunate “Lady Godiva’s Prayer;”
the finely painted white “Mare and Foal” lying on the grass by the side
of an Indian tent; “Odds and Ends, a Trophy for a Hall,” a collection of
bucks heads, hunting weapons, &c., grouped with three living dogs, an
unlucky grouping. There was likewise a large cartoon, recalling the
triptych we have described, and showing a stag rushing at full speed,
and followed hard by a great hound, both full of action. In this year
Sir Edwin made his first appearance as a sculptor with the vigorous
“Stag at Bay,” the fruit of practice of which the then long-delayed
Lions for Trafalgar Square were expected to have the benefit. “Wild
Cattle at Chillingham Park, Northumberland,” one of the pictures of
1867, gave a fine painting of a magnificent bull, companied by a cow and
a calf, standing among heather and rocks. This and a companion picture,
“Deer in Chillingham Park,” were destined for a chamber at Chillingham
Castle, the seat of the Earl of Tankerville.

In January of this year the Lions were placed in Trafalgar Square: they
had been commissioned from Sir Edwin Landseer so long before as 1859.
They have monumental poses, with by no means wholly fortunate realistic
execution. Their attitudes are undeniably grand, the surface treatment
of each figure is excellent; but the incongruity of the two
characteristics is injurious to examples of architectonic art. This may
be admitted by those who have recognized in the statues from the
pediments of the Parthenon, similar characteristics combined in works
which, like the Lions, were intended for architectonic service.

The pictures of 1868 do not call for any particular mention. On the
other hand, there was one in the Academy in 1869 which recalled to our
minds all the artist’s power. This was entitled “The Swannery invaded by
Sea-Eagles,” and came a great deal nearer to Snyders’s manner than any
Landseer had produced for many years; indeed, since youth had ceased
with him he rarely worked with so much solidity, firmness, and with such
skill as in that which we think his last noble picture. It shows a group
of swans’ nests near the mouth of a mountain river. “From the hills that
overlook the ocean, the fierce brown birds have descended on the white
brood, and attacked them with beaks and claws. One has a big wader by
the throat, and just below the bill that vainly bites his thigh, while
with a yellow dreadful claw he tears the downy breast of the victim, so
that the red blood streams over it, dashing the plumage of snow to the
black foot-webs themselves, which vainly quiver on the ground. Yet the
swan fights well, and delivers smashing blows with his wings at his
tyrant. The effect of this mode of defiance is seen on the body of
another eagle, which, with the ravenous yelp of his kind, returns to the
attack on a second swan, and will certainly get the best of it. Already
dead between her still fighting fellows, a third swan lies prone, with a
grey cygnet beside her. In the air above the nest, other swans flutter
away, but in vain, for other eagles are there to destroy the last of
those who built near the robbers. The design of the picture may be thus
explained, but it would be hard to illustrate the painting of the
plumage, or the largeness of the style which pervades this, one of the
best painted of Sir Edwin’s works. It belongs to Lord Northampton.

With this noble painting Sir Edwin’s artistic biography, his
_auto-biography_, may well be closed. Succeeding works added nothing to
our knowledge of his skill, nor were they calculated to illustrate his
genius more fortunately than those which have been enumerated and
described.

An exceptional painting may fitly have place here; it is described by a
correspondent to the “Athenæum,” No. 2396: “To your list of
distinguished English artists who have practised scene painting, should
be added the name of Sir Edwin Landseer. I have myself seen, in the
theatre at Woburn Abbey, a scene painted by him. In the time of the late
John, Duke of Bedford, private theatricals were much in vogue at Woburn,
and Sir Edwin was then a frequent and honoured visitor, and on one of
these occasions he painted the scene in question, which represents the
interior of a room, opening in the centre on to a terrace or balcony. In
the doorway stands a lady’s dog, marvellously touched, in a listening
attitude, with one of the fore-paws uplifted, exhibiting, in a striking
degree, all the artist’s wondrous power, even in the coarse and hasty
manner incidental to a scene-painter’s art. - H.B.”

* * * * *

A few notes of the prices said to have been obtained for some of the
artist’s works may not be unwelcome to the reader, especially as these
will show how greatly they increased in value as popular applause
justified his labours, and did honour to his achievements. We believe
the sums named are substantially correct, but, of course, cannot verify
every statement.

In 1831 Edwin Landseer conveyed the copyrights of “Lassie and Sheep,”
and “The Widow,” to John Burnet for 150 guineas. In 1850 Sir I. K.
Brunel gave £450 for “Scene from a Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It was sold
with his pictures, April 21, 1860, for £2800. Mr. Pender gave £3500 for
each of the pair of pictures by Sir Edwin, which were in his collection.
Mr. Coleman gave the artist £2500 for “Man proposes, God disposes;” Mr.
Huth gave him 1000 guineas for “A Piper and a Pair of Nutcrackers.” The
painter received £400 for “Bolton Abbey,” £100 for “A Cat’s Paw;” Mr.
Vernon gave him £1500 for “Peace” and “War.” For the copyright of these
the publisher of the engravings gave, it is said, £3000. £3600 is said
to have been paid for the copyright of “A Dialogue at Waterloo.” “The
waiting Horse” cost £2500. The four pictures at the Academy in 1846,
_i.e._ “Peace,” “War,” “The Stag at Bay,” and “Refreshment,” cost, it is
said, for copyright and engraving, at least £10,000. “The tired Reaper,”
which measures 14 × 10 inches, was sold in 1858 for 200 guineas. In
August, 1860, on the dispersion of Mr. Houldsworth’s collection at
Glasgow, “Uncle Tom and his Wife” sold for £800. In 1861 this picture
obtained no higher bidding than £590. “A Study of a white Horse,” given
by Landseer to Leslie, sold at the latter’s sale for 44 guineas; “A
Goat’s Head,” for 240 guineas. In April, 1860, “The Stone-breaker’s
Daughter” was sold, with the Redleaf Collection, for 1000 guineas; and a
“Portrait of Lord Alexander Russell” for 825 guineas. At Mr. Windus’s
sale, March, 1859, Lord Ward bought “A River Scene,” which has not been
exhibited, for 440 guineas; “The Sentinel” was sold for £126, in 1861.
The sale of Mr. Gillott’s Collection, April, 1872, comprised several
works by Landseer; the prices obtained for these are interesting to us;
for examples, take “A Landscape,” with a monk proceeding to a cell, an
illustration to one of Scott’s novels, £183; “A View in Scotland, with a
ruined Abbey,” £110; “Waiting for the Deer to rise,” £1412; “Mount St.
Bernard Dogs,” £1827; the “Pointers, To Ho!” (exhibited in 1821)
obtained the enormously disproportioned price of £2016. “The Otter
Hunt,” 1844, painted for Lord Aberdeen, was sold with Mr. Albert Grant’s
pictures, April 28, 1877, for £5932 (?).

Landseer’s “remaining works” were sold by Messrs. Christie, Manson, and
Woods, May 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15, 1874. On this occasion “Lady
Godiva’s Prayer,” 1866, sold for £3360.

It was amusing to read the lamentations of an “able editor” at the time
of the selling of “Peace” and “War.” There was a gentleman of this class
who expressed his horror and wrath at the facts in question, and stated
himself to be in dread lest Sir Edwin’s success would swallow up all
other art, and he declared it to be gravely injurious, as tending to
“lock up” the capital of publishers of prints!

It is necessary to add here that most of Landseer’s earlier pictures,
show deterioration; others, among which “Bolton Abbey” has prominence,
are in a deplorable condition. Extensive cracking, or parting of the
outer layer of pigments into what resemble irregular tesseræ, is the
common defect. In a less degree Wilkie’s works have suffered in the same
manner, and show, notwithstanding repairs, too obvious signs of crack.

* * * * *

With this our subject is exhausted. Further, as to the honours won by
Sir Edwin Landseer, and to enumerate them at once: he was knighted in
1850, and received the large gold medal from the authorities of the
Paris Universal Exhibition of 1853, being the only English artist who
was so distinguished. He declined the Presidency of the Royal Academy
when the death of Sir Charles Eastlake and the modesty of Mr.
Maclise - who would not receive an honour he merited - induced most of the
artists to beg Landseer’s acceptance of the dignity. When Eastlake was
elected on the death of Shee, Edwin Landseer had one vote given in his
favour as President of the Royal Academy, Mr. George Jones obtained two
votes, Eastlake twenty-six.

* * * * *

The closing years of Sir Edwin’s long, otherwise not unhappy, and
generally laborious life were darkened in the manner we have already
indicated rather than described. He died on the morning of the 1st of
October, 1873, and on the 11th of the same month was buried in St Paul’s
with full honours.

[Illustration]




CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF PICTURES BY SIR EDWIN LANDSEER, MENTIONED IN THIS
VOLUME.


PAGE

1809} Drawings and Etchings made before Edwin Landseer was
to } thirteen years of age 20-28
1814}

1815. Portrait of a Mule 29
Portraits of a Pointer Bitch and Puppy 29

1817. Portrait of “Brutus” 41
Portrait of an Alpine Mastiff 42

1818. Fighting Dogs getting Wind 42
Portrait of a Donkey 44
White Horse in a Stable 44

1819. The Cat disturbed 47

1820. Alpine Mastiffs re-animating a distressed Traveller 47
A Lion disturbed at his Repast 48
A Lion enjoying his Repast 48

1821. Seizure of a Boar 48
A prowling Lion 48
The Ratcatchers 48
Pointers To-ho! 50

1822. The Larder invaded 51
The watchful Sentinel 51

1824. Neptune 52
The Cat’s Paw 52

1825. Taking a Buck 55-59
The Widow 55
The Poacher 55
Portrait of Lord Cosmo Russell 59

1826. The Dog and the Shadow 59
The Hunting of Chevy Chase 55-60

1827. The Chief’s Return from Deer-stalking 61
The Monkey who had seen the World 61
Scene at Abbotsford 62

1829. The illicit Whisky-still in the Highlands 62
A Fireside Party 62

1830. The Stone-breaker’s Daughter 68

1831. High Life 63
Low Life 63
Waiting for the Deer to rise. (Poachers Deer-stalking) 63-69
Too Hot 63

1832. A Lassie herding Sheep 63
Spaniels of King Charles’s breed 64
Hawking 69
Waiting for the Countess 69

1833. The Harvest in the Highlands 69
Jack in Office 69

1834. The Naughty Boy 70
Suspense 72
Highland Shepherd-dog rescuing a sheep from a snowdrift 72
Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time 72
A Highland Breakfast 74

1835. The Drover’s departure 74
A Sleeping Bloodhound 75

1836. Comical Dogs 76
Odin 76

1837. The Highland Shepherd’s Chief Mourner 77
The Shepherd’s Grave 77

1838. Portraits of the Marquis of Stafford and Lady Evelyn Gower 78
The Life’s in the old Dog yet 78
A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society 79

1839. Dignity and Impudence 79
Van Amburgh and his Animals 80

1840. The Lion-dog of Malta 81
Roebuck and rough Hounds 82
Laying down the Law 82

1842. Otters and Salmon 83
The Highland Shepherd’s Home 84
Eos 85
Pair of Brazilian Monkeys 85
Breeze 85

1843. The Defeat of Comus 83-85
Not Caught yet 87
The Sanctuary 85

1844. Otter Speared 83

1844. Shoeing 88
Coming Events cast their Shadows before them; or, the Challenge 85-88

1845. The Shepherd’s Prayer 89

1846. Peace, War 89
The Stag at bay 90

1847. The Drive 90
Portrait of Van Amburgh 90

1848. A random Shot 90
Alexander and Diogenes 90
Old Cover Hack 91
Sketch of my Father 92



1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11

Online LibraryFrederick G. StephensSir Edwin Landseer → online text (page 9 of 11)