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J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

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of grace.

An opportunity makes a man, it has been said, and it is
doubtful if Rossi, without the great monumental commissions,
would have succeeded in charming the public by his artistic
gifts; indeed, as it turned out, when those commissions ceased he
produced no more, though he lived to old age. He was elected
an Associate in 1798, and full member in 1802. Some years
before his death he appears to have got into monetary diffi-
culties, as, in addition to a pension from the Academy, he was
continually applying for, and being granted, pecuniary assist-
ance. He died in 1839.

HENRY THOMSON, R.A.

His name conveys no meaning to the world at large, and
the image of him as an artist has vanished into nothingness.
He is said to have displayed considerable talent in historical
painting, in which style of art he practised for many years, but
we cannot call to mind receiving any impression from a work
of art bearing his name. He was the son of a purser in the
navy, and was born in London in 1773. I n ! 79 ne entered the
Academy schools, and was elected an Associate in 1801, and
Academician in 1804; he succeeded Fuseli as Keeper of the
Royal Academy in 1825, but was forced by ill-health to throw
up the appointment after only two years' tenure ; he then retired



HENRY THOMSON 239

to Portsea, and lived there to the end of his life in 1843 on ty
occasionally practising his art.

When he retired from the office of Keeper he wrote a long
letter to the Council, which, if somewhat stilted and diffuse in
style, is certainly a model of dignified and polite letter-writing.
In it he says : " To the Royal Academy I am indebted for my
early professional education, and to obtain its honours was one
of the dearest objects of my ambition. To sustain those honours
with the credit which becomes an artist and the respectability
which belongs to the character of a gentleman has been my
undeviating desire, and I trust I shall not be deemed presump-
tuous if I express a hope that they have not been tarnished in
my hands." At the same time he presented the Academy with
several valuable gifts, among them being the pictures by
Giorgione and Mola in the diploma galleries. The Academy on
its part showed its appreciation of his services by presenting
him with " a gold snuff-box, handsomely enriched and with a
suitable inscription."

WILLIAM OWEN, R.A.,

was born at Ludlow, in Shropshire, in 1769. His father was
a clergyman, in so far, at least, that he had gone through the
ceremony of ordination, but having committed the imprudence
of marrying into a very respectable Gloucester family, before
patronage had given him the means of living, he abandoned
the ministry and devoted himself to bookselling. Young
William was educated at Ludlow Grammar School, was
admitted a student of the Royal Academy in 1791, and at some
time probably previous to that date, attracted the favourable
notice of Sir Joshua Reynolds by a copy he made of "Perdita."
He is also, more or less conjecturally, supposed to have been
a pupil of Catton. These facts are given by Allan Cunning-
ham, who seems disposed to hang a veil of mystery over the
early years of the future R.A. What is perfectly certain is, that



240 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

in the Somerset House exhibition of 1792, there were two
works, a landscape and a portrait, by William Owen, then aged
twenty- three, and from that time forward he was a constant
annual exhibitor.

He often painted fancy, quasi idyllic scenes of rustic life such
as the "Cottage Girl," but his chief occupation was portrait
painting, and the vast number of works of this class he left
behind him shows that patronage was never wanting. He used
to complain, however, that he only got the leavings of his
three most formidable rivals, namely, Hoppner, Beechey, and
Lawrence. Hoppner was Court favourite, and was in some
mysterious way connected with the Court. Owen said of him,
that when he was at a loss, the Prince would sit to him and
help him to sell the picture. Sir William Beechey, according to
the same authority, sat with the feathers of princesses fanning
his brow ; whilst the indictment against Lawrence probably
included the possession of inordinate good looks and gentle
manners, as well as a general tendency to flummery and hum-
bug, which excited the wrath of Owen. But in spite of these
hindrances he was able to hold his own, and the long list of
distinguished men who sat to him shows that he enjoyed a
popularity of a decidedly substantial kind.

In 1810, the year of Hoppner's death, and probably after
that event, Owen was made portrait painter to the Prince of
Wales, and three years later " principal portrait painter to His
Royal Highness the Prince Regent," at which time he was also
offered knighthood, which he declined. He had been elected
an Associate in 1804, and a full Academician in 1806.

As a painter we must place him very high ; he had acquired,
possibly from that early copy of " Perdita," something of the
rich, unctuous, yet crumbling method of laying on the colour
which is conspicuous in Reynolds. Owen's execution was
truly admirable, and had it only been guided and controlled
by a more subtle and watchful sense of colour, his reputa-
tion as an artist would have stood very high. In his lifetime



WILLIAM OWEN 241

he was accused of being too literal and of not rendering his
sitters at their best, but this we think could have been only
very partially true. It may be conceded theoretically that
the world loves truth rather than falsehood, but with relation
to the visual presentment, the artistic simulacrum of individual
humanity, it were more true to say that the world shrinks from
perfect truth, and very much prefers the sort and degree of
falsehood which was supplied by the courtly Lawrence and by
Beechey, fanned by the plumes of princesses. Owen probably
fell short of their standard, but if he refused to conduct his
sitters into the inner recesses of that paradise, in which a
certain class of persons love to dwell, he certainly planted them
on its outskirts, else they had forsaken him and turned to
other and more complaisant guides. And this the world never
did, but, on the contrary, maintained him in affluence until the
close of his career in 1825. In the last five years of his life he
had fallen into a state of utter debility, from which he was
relieved, we are almost inclined to say mercifully, by the
mistake of a chemist who mixed a poison in his dose.

SAMUEL WOODFORDE, R.A.,

was born at Castle Gary, Somersetshire, in 1763. Having shown
at an early age a great talent for art he was enabled by the help
of Sir R. C. Hoare to enter the Academy schools in 1782, and
the same kind patron sent him three years later to Italy.
While in Rome he followed the usual course of artistic educa-
tion, than which nothing it was then thought could be more
perfect. It obeyed the laws of an eclecticism which had been
originally borrowed from the Carracci, though subsequently
perfected by restricting the field of study to Raphael and
Michael Angelo for design and to the Venetians for colouring,
and into this hole all the pegs, round, square, or whatever their
shape may have been had to be fitted.

Woodforde returned to England in 1791, where he very

Q



242 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

soon acquired a conspicuous position as a painter of history,
choosing classical scenes by preference and exhibiting very
correct drawings, with " an attractive mode of treatment." He
was elected an Associate in 1800, and an Academician in 1807.
He died of a fever at Bologna in 1817.

HENRY HOWARD, R.A.

Henry Howard was born in 1769, and after being a pupil
of Philip Reinagle, entered the Academy schools at the age
of nineteen. Two years afterwards, on loth December 1790,
he obtained the two highest prizes awarded, viz., the first silver
medal for the best drawing from the life, and the gold medal
for the best historical painting, the subject being " A Scene
from Mason's ' Caractacus.' " In the following year he went
to Rome, and studied there with Flaxman, not returning to
England till 1794. Six years afterwards he was elected an
Associate, and an Academician in 1808. In 1810 he was
appointed Deputy Secretary, and on the death of Richards, in
i8ii,was elected to succeed him as Secretary, a post he held
till his death, in 1 847, though his age and infirmities rendered
the appointment of a deputy necessary at the beginning of that
year. The minutes kept by him are models of precise verbiage
and neat handwriting till near the end of his time, when the
writing certainly shows distinct signs of feebleness. He was
also elected Professor of Painting in succession to Thomas
Phillips in 1833, and held this post likewise till his death.
He had been connected with the Academy in one capacity or
another for sixty-one years of his life.

Howard, when a young man in Italy, had devoted himself
with immense industry to the study of Grecian sculpture. In
conjunction with a sculptor of the name of Deare, he made a
series of exquisite drawings after the masterpieces of ancient
art, and to this culture he adhered unswervingly all his life.
Both by examples in his works and by precept in his lectures



HENRY HOWARD 243

he maintained the ideal theory as based upon Greek models.
He was a man of great taste and refinement, qualities which
were happily combined with earnestness, industry, and single-
mindedness, and with their aid throughout a long life, he pro-
duced a vast number of pictures of a high average of excellence,
though he failed necessarily in attaining the point of mastery.
His art is strictly academic, and it is difficult to detect in it any
inspiration from nature, as derived directly from her without
transmission through another mind.

Howard, though born in 1769, and touching hands with
Reynolds and the fathers of English Art, is also associated with
artists who were living and painting in the nineteenth century ;
he was a competitor for the Westminster cartoons in his
seventy-fourth year, and received a premium of 100 at the
same time with Watts, Horsley, and others ; and his life
becomes doubly interesting, not only for his influence and
activity as a member of the Royal Academy, but as bridging
over a wide gulf of time.

We know that Reynolds saw Pope, Howard saw Reynolds,
and no doubt Watts saw Howard four lives suffice to fill up
the interval between the first decade of the eighteenth and the
first decade of the nineteenth centuries.

THOMAS PHILLIPS, R.A.

Thomas Phillips is a name of considerable note in British
Art history; though his work is interesting perhaps quite
equally from an historical as from an artistic point of view. He
had the good fortune to paint most of the eminent literary and
scientific men of his time ; he lived in an era of great literary
splendour, and it is by his pencil, more particularly than any
other, that we have been made familiar with the features and
appearance of Byron, Scott, Southey, Coleridge, Campbell, and
a number of other great men.

His portrait of Byron in a Greek dress is the standard



244 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

likeness of the poet, as it is the most beautiful ; indeed, the
engraving after Phillips, which forms the frontispiece to the 1815
edition of the poems, appears more beautiful than any face
ever seen in life ; it is the face of a poet, and beautiful with a
Hyperion beauty, etherealised and sublimated until all earthly
coarseness has disappeared. It is not only the poets, but the
great scientific men of his age, Sir H. Davy, Faraday, Sedg-
wick, Sir Joseph Banks, and others, whose likenesses have been
handed down to us by Phillips, and they are seen probably at
their best ; indeed, one cannot help suspecting him of having
occasionally flattered his sitters, either consciously or uncon-
sciously.

Of conscious flattery in portrait painting, all that need be
said is that it destroys character, and is a step towards man-
nerism. But in unconscious flattery we often have the highest
attainable truth about a man ; it is a glimpse into his inner
being, a sort of intuition which has been vouchsafed to the
painter which he has followed, and rendered, perhaps unknow-
ingly to himself; what may be called the central idea of that
man, what he was intended to be by nature, and what he is
painfully struggling to be in a world full of carnal impediments.

This Thomas Phillips came from Dudley, in Worcestershire,
where he first saw the light in 1770. He had had some partial
instruction in Art, and came to London provided with a letter
of introduction to Benjamin West, who found employment for
him in glass painting at St George's Chapel, Windsor. In 1791
he became a student of the Royal Academy, and after certain
preliminary and tentative efforts in historical and even landscape
painting, seems finally to have settled down to portraiture in
1796. Like most portrait painters, Phillips would at times grow
impatient of the restraints and the more or less mechanical
conditions of his occupation, and would indulge his fancy with
some historical or poetical conception such as the " Venus and
Adonis" which he presented to the Royal Academy as his
diploma work. But his long and industrious life, prolonged for



THOMAS PHILLIPS 245

seventy-five years, was mainly devoted to portraiture, and, as
we have already said, he handed down to posterity a mass of
authentic documents of the highest biographical interest.

From 1804 to the time of his death he resided at No. 8
George Street, Hanover Square ; he was elected an Associate
in that same year, and a full Academician in 1808. He suc-
ceeded Fuseli as Professor of Painting in 1825, a post which he
held for seven years, and he died in 1845.

His manner as a painter was sprightly and entertaining,
he is never dull or heavy ; he was a correct draughtsman, and
his colouring, like his handling, is bright and lively. One cannot
reckon him amongst the great men ; he had much more affinity
with Lawrence than with Reynolds or Gainsborough ; but he is
very characteristic of his age, and his works are easily recognised.
To the tutored eye the touch of Phillips is no doubt like the
handwriting of a friend seen on an envelope before it is torn
open, and whatever may have been the man's merits or demerits,
one charm he has, namely, that of being uniformly interesting
and individual.

NATHANIEL MARCHANT, R.A.,

was celebrated as a sculptor of intaglios, medals, and poetical
designs for cameos ; he held several appointments in connection
with these arts such as assistant engraver to the mint, gem
sculptor to the Prince of Wales, engraver to the king, and chief
engraver of stamps.

He was born in Sussex in 1739, and after studying under
Burch, became in 1766 a member of the Incorporated Society
of Artists. In 1773 he went to Rome, and remained there till
1789, when, having already obtained a great reputation for his
gems, he returned to London, was elected an Associate in 1791,
Royal Academician in 1809, and closed his worthy and respected
life in 1816, in his seventy-seventh year.

It may be mentioned, as not without interest, that Marchant



246 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

first offered as his diploma work a set of impressions of gems
he had cut, and when these were refused on the ground that
they were not, as required by the Academy, " original work," he
sent a cast of a female head, which likewise was declined :
"casts not being deemed admissible from sculptors." Subse-
quently, he submitted a gem which was accepted. The
impressions offered in the first instance were afterwards
presented by him to the Academy.



CHAPTER XV

ROYAL ACADEMICIANS ELECTED DURING THE PRESIDENCY
OF BENJAMIN WEST continued

SIR AUGUSTUS WALL CALLCOTT, R.A.

SIR AUGUSTUS CALLCOTT may justly be looked upon as the
first of the many painters of distinction who have rendered the
classic neighbourhood of Kensington famous for the number of
its studios. He was born in " The Mall," and he lived and died
there. Kensington at the commencement of the nineteenth
century was a mere country suburb, the Bayswater Road which
connects North Kensington with the metropolis being at that
time a lonesome thoroughfare at night, beset by roughs and foot-
pads ; even in 1812, when Wilkie came to live in Phillimore
Gardens, he was always nervous as to walking home from town
at night unaccompanied, declaring that "Several people had
been lost there " ; though he would, with characteristic Scottish
caution, somewhat qualify his remark by adding, " But on the
other hand several people have been found there."

Callcott's father was a builder, with a considerable business
in that neighbourhood ; the old Orangery in the gardens of
Kensington Palace was undoubtedly built by him, as was also
probably The Mall itself, and most of the other old houses of
that period in the vicinity.

Augustus Wall Callcott, born in 1779, was nine years younger
than his brother, the celebrated musical composer, John Wall
Callcott, under whose influence he made considerable progress in

247



248 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

the study of music, and when a boy occupied a seat in the choir
at Westminster Abbey. It was not long, however, before young
Callcott, inspired it is said by the sight of Stothard's exquisite
illustrations to Robinson Crusoe, resolved to abandon music and
devote himself entirely to painting. He became a student of
the Royal Academy in 1797, and about that time he was also
working in the studio of Hoppner, the portrait painter. In 1799
he exhibited a portrait done under the tuition of his master, who
soon afterwards expressed himself as so pleased with his pupil's
works that he recommended him to put down his name for
election as an Associate ; this, however, he does not appear to
have done, as his name is not found on the list of candidates till
the election of 4th November 1805, when he received no vote.

On the next occasion, however, 3rd November 1806, he was
successful. Whether his disappointment on the first occasion
had anything to do with it or not, it was about this time, or
perhaps earlier, that Callcott devoted his talents entirely to land-
scape, and with such success that he had not to wait long for his
election as an Academician, which took place on loth February
1810, the same night, curiously enough, on which the death of
his master, Hoppner, was announced.

As a student of the Academy and from his work in Hoppner's
studio, young Callcott, no doubt, must have pretty well mastered
the drawing of the human figure, which not only accounts for
the ability shown in the figures occasionally introduced into his
landscapes, but prevents surprise at the success which he after-
wards obtained by the exhibition in 1837 of his picture " Raphael
and the Fornarina."

It is, however, as a landscape painter that Callcott will
probably be long esteemed as an artist of very distinguished
merit. Though his love of calm evening effects and the placid,
soothing character of his landscapes and marine pieces have
gained for him from his admirers the title of the " English Claude,"
the monotony of his scheme of colour and its lack of sparkle,
depth, and richness, place him, in the eyes of all competent



SIR AUGUSTUS CALLCOTT 249

judges, on a far humbler pedestal than that on which the illus-
trious "pastrycook" will ever stand. But though not an
" English Claude " or an " English Cuyp," he was a thoroughly
good English painter in his own way ; his pictures possess great
breadth of treatment, able drawing, and a sweet simplicity which
cannot fail to gain him many admirers. Owing to the sound-
ness of his technique and the workmanlike character of his
execution, his pictures have lasted well, time having done them
little harm, and, if anything, some good, by mellowing a certain
coldness a fault which was sometimes advanced against them
by the critics at the time they were painted.

Callcott's works in a way reflect the estimable and quiet
character of the man himself, who, though slightly reserved, was
social and hospitable, possessed many friends and no enemies.
He was married in 1827 to the widow of Captain Graham,
R.N., a lady who had previously been known as an authoress,
and who published in 1836 her Essays towards the History of
Painting. She is, however, better known to fame by her Little
A rthuSs History of England^ a work still, we believe, much in
vogue. In 1837 Callcott received the honour of knighthood from
the Queen ; and in 1844 he was appointed to succeed Mr Seguier
as Conservator of the Royal Pictures, an office which he held
for a few months only. Lady Callcott died in 1842, and on 2$th
November 1844, he also departed this life, at Kensington, in his
sixty-fifth year, and was buried at Kensal Green, where a flat
table-tomb marks the site.

To the believers in heredity, it may be interesting to note
that the late Mr J. C, Horsley, R.A., was a grandson of Sir
Augustus Callcott's elder brother, John Wall Callcott, the
distinguished musical composer.

SIR DAVID WILKIE, R.A.

" There is a queer, tall, pale, keen-looking Scotsman come into
the Academy to draw. N.B. There is something in him ! he is



250 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

called Wilkie." So wrote a Royal Academy student, named
John Jackson, in July 1805, to another Academy student, named
Benjamin Robert Haydon, who was away in Devonshire at the
time. The said student Haydon when he came back to town
found in the queer, tall Scotsman an artist already possessed of
very considerable accomplishments rather than a raw student.
From his infancy David Wilkie, who was born in 1785, had
evinced a strong propensity to draw whatever he saw, beginning
when a wee, bare-headed, bare-footed urchin, with a burnt stick
on the walls of his father's house at Cults. All the aversion of
father and mother and grandfather to his following, what they
considered, as usual, an idle and unprofitable pursuit, only served
to verify, as it always does, the adage of Horace

" Naturam expellas furca ; tamen usque recurret."

His father's successor in the ministry has mentioned that
when he first came to Cults he found the walls of the nursery
completely covered with eyes, noses, hands, and other parts of
the human body, boldly executed, not with crayon, but with the
charred end of a stick. These early drawings were afterwards
obliterated by an energetic house painter. The parents and the
grandfather often shook their heads at little David, and one
day, as he was drawing, the old man said : " Ah, my mon
Davie, it will be a long time ere daubing wi' a stick wull do
anything for thee." David was not to be deterred, however,
and carried his predilection to such lengths that though the
son of a Scottish clergyman, and more accustomed than others
to have the sanctity of the Sabbath continually impressed on
his youthful mind, he could not help at church, in the intervals
of prayer, filling up the blank edges and pages of his Psalm
books with sketches of any peculiar characters that caught
his eye amongst his father's parishioners; who, after a bit,
went to his father in a body, and complained of master
Davie.

At length Wilkie's father and friends, seeing it would be



WILKIE'S EARLY LIFE 251

cruel, if not hopeless, to attempt crushing his predominant
passion, considered it more sensible to regulate it than to
extinguish it, and with great judgment David was sent in 1802
to Edinburgh, and placed in the admirable school then kept by
John Graham. Wilkie always spoke of Graham with respect
and affection. Whilst at this school he contended for a prize
in historical painting, the subject given being the murder of
MacdufFs wife and children.

One important lesson that Wilkie learnt from his father,
whose income was rather straitened, was the value of money ;
he began, therefore, very soon to exercise his profession as a
means of subsistence so as to relieve his father, and by dint of
portrait painting between the years 1803 and 1805 had, through
his exertions and thrift, saved money enough to enable him to
carry out the project he had formed of coming to London to
enter the schools of the Royal Academy. It was at this
time, too, that he painted "Pitlessie Fair," a large picture
containing about one hundred and forty figures, most of them
portraits ; and for which he received 2$. Burnet writes of him
"that from the first he surpassed all his companions in
comprehending the character of whatever he was set to
draw."

In a letter to a Scottish friend, Thomas Macdonald, I7th



Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 21 of 35)