Copyright
J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

. (page 22 of 35)
Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 22 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


March 1805, Wilkie says, "I assure you I am getting into
extensive business, and am covering a great deal of canvas in
the country, for, in addition to what you send, the carrier brings
me great pieces of it every week ; and there is one advantage
attends me, that is, I am well paid, and I believe I will raise as
much money as will keep me in London for some time."
Having accumulated the necessary sum he sailed from Leith,
and on arriving in London took up his abode at a lodging
in Norton Street.

Haydon gives several characteristic anecdotes of the early
years of Wilkie in London. One morning Haydon was invited
to breakfast with the young Scotsman. On his arrival he was



252 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

greatly astonished to see David sitting, in puris naturalibus>
drawing himself from the glass ! Without the slightest apology
for this position, he, with the greatest simplicity, replied to
Haydon's inquiry as to breakfast, " It's capital practice, let me
tell you : just take a walk," upon which Haydon did as he was
bid, and walked till the study was finished and the breakfast
ready.

Not long after this practice from the nude, Wilkie made his
first great success with " The Village Politicians." This picture
was painted on commission for Lord Mansfield for 15, which
sum, after a little fencing with the artist, who had in the
meantime been offered 100 for it, was increased to 30.
On the Sunday following the private view of the Exhibition of
1806, a very flattering notice of Wilkie's picture appeared in
The News. " Wilkie, my boy, your name's in the paper ! " cried
his fellow student Haydon. " Is it re-al-ly ? " said David. The
puff was read and with a cheer Wilkie, Jackson, and Haydon
joined hands and danced round the table until they were
tired.

This success introduced Wilkie at once to the notice and
patronage of Lord Mulgrave and Sir George Beaumont, and he
was dined and feted as the artistic lion of the season by all sorts
of people of fashion ; but we learn from his friend Haydon that,
amidst all this triumph, much to the honour of his heart, his
thoughts went homewards, whither he despatched two new
bonnets, two new shawls, ribbons and satins, and other things
for his mother and sister ; these his landlady and her daughter
helped him to pack so that they should escape injury on their
voyage northwards. " All the time," Haydon writes, " Wilkie
stood by, eager and interested beyond belief, till his conscience
began to prick him, and he said to me, ' I have just been very
idle/ and so for a couple of days he set to, heart and soul, at
' The Blind Fiddler' for Sir George." Haydon tells us of an
expression that Wilkie continually made use of, " Come, jist be
doing," which might have been taken to heart, to their great



WILKIE'S PICTURES 253

advantage, by his friends, the easy-going Jackson and the
combative Haydon.

Wilkie followed up the successes of " The Blind Fiddler " and
" The Village Politicians," both painted in 1 806, by a goodly
series of pictures of a similar style and class of subject, which
do not perhaps excite so much wonder and admiration now, as
in the days when they were first exhibited, nor indeed as they
are entitled to; chiefly, no doubt, owing to the number of
inferior pictures that have since been painted by innumerable
artists, either in direct imitation of them or on their lines.

It is in 1809 that we first find his name among the list of
candidates for the Associateship, and on 6th November in that
year he was elected. Nor had he to wait long for the full
honours of the Academy, being chosen R.A. on nth February
1811.

The pictures which Wilkie painted between 1806 and 1825,
which all belong to what may be termed his first style, are no
doubt those on which his fame will chiefly rest. The greater
number of them were engraved, and the plates secured an
extensive popularity. Wilkie was much interested himself in
extending the sale of these engravings, for on a visit to Paris
in 1814, with his friend Haydon, he took a selection of
them with him which he tried to introduce to the notice of
the French publishers. His extraordinary ability in the com-
position of groups of figures and accessories, and in render-
ing truth of character and expression, is seen at its best in
these earlier works ; no painter has, perhaps, ever exceeded
him in the deftness with which he could express the twinkle
of an eye or the quiver of a lip. As a superlative example of
his brush work at its very best we should be inclined to select
the marvellously painted monkey in the picture of "The
Parish Beadle " in the National Gallery. The expression and
character of the animal has certainly never before or since
been given by any other painter with equal truth and fidelity.
The little face has just that look about its eyes which caused



254 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

Jeffreys to say of monkeys that they always seemed to remind
him of poor relations.

After Wilkie's visit to Spain in 1827, he adopted a change
of style, for which no doubt the fascinating works of Velasquez
were answerable. Such pictures as " The Maid of Saragossa,"
and " John Knox preaching before Mary Queen of Scots," still
show Wilkie's powers of composition standing him in good
stead, and wherever he gets a chance he displays his old dex-
terity in the expression and character of the heads ; though he
is not nearly so much at home with lords and ladies or Spanish
monks as he is with Highland pipers or Fifeshire peasants.
At this period of his life he had become the abject slave of
asphaltum, which seductive but treacherous pigment, though it
might for a time produce something approaching the deep
shadow tones of Rembrandt, would by no means help him to the
sombre and sedate greys of the mighty Spaniard. You cannot
teach an old dog new tricks. Excited to a new departure in
breadth of treatment by seeing the works of Velasquez, it is
marvellous how Wilkie totally failed in catching the aspect and
spirit of the Spanish master.

In one respect, indeed, he may claim resemblance to him,
and that is in the intenseness of his nationality. Just as
Velasquez was the very essence of a Spaniard, so Wilkie was
the most Scottish of Scotsmen ; he might almost be considered
the Burns of Art, for his picture of "The Penny Wedding"
breathes with the very soul of Burns. He is never so successful
in the expression of life and character as when the scenes and
the people he represents are those of his native land. So
imbued is he with this feeling that he imparts a sort of some-
thing Scottish into the greater part of all the faces he paints.
Even in " Her Majesty's First Council " there is something of
the Scottish lassie plainly discernible in the Royal countenance.
This picture, painted in 1838, is perhaps the most remarkable
of all Wilkie's later works. None of the Royal pictures that
have been painted of late years excels this in the happiness of



WILKIE'S CHARACTER 255

the subject and in masterly composition ; it is in every sense a
perfectly satisfactory historical work of Art, and it is even more,
for surely there is poetic sentiment of a very high order in the
sweet simplicity of this figure of the Maiden Queen seated
amidst the representatives of the strength and wisdom of her
kingdom. When Wilkie was engaged on this picture he told
C. R. Leslie that Mr Croker made so many objections to this
and that in the composition, "that," said Wilkie, "though I
don't like to have words with any man, I was re-al-ly obliged
to have words with him." This little story shows how confident
Wilkie must have felt in his true sense of composition as well
as how ignorant of the subject Mr Croker must have been.

Leslie tells of another occasion on which Wilkie stood out
for his composition even against so great a personage as The
MacCallum More, for when he was painting " George IV.
entering Holyrood House," he had a good deal of difficulty
with the Duke of Argyll, whose fine face and figure are con-
spicuous in that picture. The Duke, among other things
protested strongly against the round Highland shield, because
he had not carried one on the occasion ; but Wilkie, who wanted
its form in the composition, persisted in retaining it

The following extract from Leslie's Autobiographical Recol-
lections, as it gives a very reliable account of the personality of
Sir David, ought to find a place here :

" The recollections of all my intercourse with Wilkie, and I
knew him for about twenty years, are altogether delightful. I
had no reason ever to alter the opinion I first formed of him
that he was a truly great artist and a truly good man. The
little peculiarities of his character, as they all arose from the
best intentions, rather endeared him to his friends than other-
wise. He was a modest man, and had no wish to attract
attention by eccentricity ; and indeed all his oddity, and he was
in many things very odd, arose from an extreme desire to be
exactly like other people. Naturally shy and reserved, he
forced himself to talk. I can easily conceive, from what I knew



256 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

of him, that he had a great repugnance to making speeches at
dinners or public meetings, yet knowing that from the station
he had acquired he must do such things, he made public speak-
ing a study. He carried the same desire of being earnest into
lesser things, not from vanity, but from a respect for society, for
he considered that genius did not give a man the right to be
negligent in his manners, even in trifles. When quadrilles were
introduced, Wilkie, who like most other people; of his rank had
danced reels and country dances only, set himself in the most
serious manner to study them. His mind was not a quick one,
and I am told he drew ground plans and elevations of the new
dances to aid his memory in retaining the lessons of his master.
Then, in dancing them, he never omitted the proper step, never
for an instant walked, and never took a lady's hand without
bowing. All this, so different from common ball-room habits,
gave a formality to his manner that was extremely amusing,
and his dancing, as indeed his mode of doing most things, was
from the same cause very unlike that of anybody else. He was
always ceremonious ; but, as I have said, from modesty and not
from pride or affectation, for no man had less of either. Long
as I knew him, and latterly in very close intimacy, he never
addressed me but as * Mr ' Leslie."

His death took place on the ist of June 1841, when he was
returning from a visit he had paid to the Holy Land, on board
the steamer Oriental ; he was seized with illness between
Alexandria and Gibraltar, which in a few hours terminated
fatally. His old fellow student, Haydon, thus alludes to his
burial : " As his death was touching, so was his burial romantic ;
for what Briton, ' whose march is o'er the mountain wave, and
home is on the deep,' would not glory in anticipation at the
poetry of such an entombment as Trafalgar Bay ! " It is no doubt
partly the romantic character of this burial, and partly his desire
of paying a tribute to the memory of his friend, that induced
Turner to make it the subject of his remarkable picture, now in
the National Collection.



JAMES WARD 257



JAMES WARD, R.A.

Thames Street, in the very heart of the City of London, with
its narrow thoroughfare thronged from morn till night with the
picturesque forms of busy life, always to be found in the vicinity
of the ports or harbours of large mercantile towns, would, even
in the present day, afford a most congenial and suggestive
neighbourhood in which an English artist might pass the early
years of his childhood. But in the latter part of the eighteenth
century, when no doubt the skies were bluer, and the costumes
of the cosmopolitan population more quaint in colour and
variety, it must have formed an environment that could not fail
to have had a healthy influence on the youthful imagination of
such a truly English artist as James Ward, who was born there
on 23rd October 1769. The robust energy which is displayed
so conspicuously in all the works of this painter, is somehow
just what would be expected from one brought up amidst the
manly toil and never-ceasing activity of Thames Street.

Very little is known of these early years of his life. Owing
to some untoward family circumstances he had but a small
amount of ordinary education, and we learn that when twelve
years old he was sent to learn engraving under John Raphael
Smith and William Ward his elder brother, who employed him
chiefly as an errand boy.

James Ward, however, knew how to use his eyes, and
occupied his spare time in making drawings in chalk on any
bits of paper he could obtain ; and after serving an apprentice-
ship of nine years to engraving, turned his attention to painting.
At first his style was much influenced by the works of his
brother-in-law, George Morland, so much so that many of his
early pictures are said to have been sold as Morland's. Ward,
however, had far too much spirit and individuality to remain
long as the mere imitator of another man's style. Resenting
very bitterly the criticism on one of his exhibited works,

R



258 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

that " it was by a pupil of Morland," he determined to discard
for ever this brother-in-law's delightfully liquid and facile execu-
tion ; and with the view of developing his own power, devoted
what spare time he had from his occupation as an engraver, to
the study of anatomy and animal painting. His heart was
evidently more with the brush than the burin, though with
this latter implement in his early career he attained much
success and considerable emolument.

In 1794 Ward was appointed painter and engraver to the
Prince of Wales, and for many years was chiefly employed in
painting portraits of favourite animals. He soon afterwards
entered his name as a candidate for the Associateship of the
Royal Academy, but being principally known as an engraver,
he did not at first succeed, since it was for his works as a painter
in oil that he solicited the honour. The exhibition, however, of
several large pictures, such as " A Boa Constrictor seizing a
Horse," " Deerstalking," and many other similar ones, at length
gained for him the reputation as a painter which he desired,
and after his name had appeared on the list of candidates for
some ten years, without ever securing a vote, he was at length
in 1807 elected an Associate, and was raised to full membership
in 1811, on the same night as, and immediately after, Wilkie.

In 1817 Ward gained the premium offered by the British
Institution for " An Allegory of the Battle of Waterloo," and
was commissioned by the Directors to paint a large picture
from the design for ;iooo. This picture was exhibited in the
Egyptian Hall in 1820, but met with no success. Following
up this fanciful idea, Ward next painted sundry religious
allegories, none of which were favourably received, although
his scenes of animal -and rustic life, intermingled with these
more venturesome works, still displayed the great abilities of
the artist. One of his most remarkable pictures was painted
in 1820-22, as the artist himself informs us, at the suggestion
of West, in emulation of the celebrated picture of a bull by
Paul Potter; it represents, in life-size, a bull, cows, calf, and



JAMES WARD'S PICTURES 259

some sheep in a meadow. This picture is now in the National
Gallery.

James Ward's pictures are remarkable for their vigorous
boldness and originality ; they arrest the attention at once. His
delight is in rather startling effects of line and light and shade,
which at times lays him open to the charge of exaggeration ; a
fault, however, which one soon overlooks on account of the many
beautiful passages of tone and colour with which his works
abound. His favourite scheme of colour and love of curving
line, seem derived from the enthusiastic admiration with which he
had evidently studied the works of Rubens. His knowledge of
the anatomy of the animals he portrayed was very remarkable.
A fine example of the use to which he put this knowledge can
be seen in the masterly way in which the white fighting bull, in
the picture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is so to speak
" built up " and put together by his powerful brush work. In the
rendering of the human subjects introduced into his pictures,
Ward is not always so successful, though in his sketches and
drawings from nature of children and peasants, numbers of
charming examples can be found. His technique was in all
cases sound and thorough; he had a perfect mastery of the
difficulties of glazing, and with the exception of a few cracks in
their extreme depths, his pictures have stood the test of time
well.

Ward does not appear to have taken much part in the busi-
ness of the Academy during the forty-one years that he was a
full member. He served the regulation two years on the
Council three times, 1813-14, 1821-22, and 1830-31, but on the
three following occasions when his turn came he declined to
serve ; nor do his attendances at General Assemblies appear to
have been very frequent. Almost the only occasion on which
his name appears in the minutes of either body is in 1814, when
there is the following entry on the Council minutes of 7th
January, in that year : " Mr Ward presented to the Royal
Academy, a work containing observations on two extraordinary



260 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

fasting women, for which the chairman (Sir Thomas Lawrence)
returned Mr Ward thanks in the name of the President and
Council." This book is still in the library, and is entitled, Some
Account of Mary Thomas, of Tanyralt, in Merionethshire, who
lias existed many years without taking food ; and of Ann Moore,
commonly called tlie Fasting Woman of Tutbury, accompanied
with Portraits and Illustrative Etchings. By James Ward, Esq.,
R.A. The dedication runs as follows : " To the Right Honour-
able Sir Joseph Banks, Baronet, President of the Royal Society,
the supporter of science by a liberal and enlightened patronage ;
the disseminator of knowledge by many ingenious productions ;
and eminently distinguished by the devotion of wealth to the
cause of Literature, this short narrative of some singular aberra-
tions in the animal ceconomy (sic) is dedicated with perfect
respect and esteem by the Author." There are seven large
plates from sketches by Ward, giving portraits of the two fasting
women, and views of the houses where they lived. He appears
from the narrative to have originally thoroughly believed in
both women. Ann Moore, as stated by Ward in an appendix,
was subsequently proved to be an impostor, and he admits thr^
his belief in Mary Thomas, who had died in the previous year,
was thereby somewhat shaken. It is a curious story, and is
quaintly told.

The veteran Academician continued to exhibit until 1855,
having contributed altogether 298 works to the exhibitions of
the Royal Academy since he was first represented on its walls in
1792, besides 91 works to the British Institution. Towards the
close of his long life, he appears to have been in pecuniary diffi-
culties, as at the beginning of 1858 he applied to the Council of
the Academy for some assistance, and received a grant of .50 ;
and at the end of the same year a similar sum was given him
in response to a letter from his wife speaking of his increasing
infirmities and the need of help to provide necessities for his
failing health. His death took place in his ninety-first year, on
the I ;th of November 1859.



SIR RICHARD WESTMACOTT 261

SIR RICHARD WESTMACOTT, R.A.

Sir Richard Westmacott, R.A., was born in London in 1775,
and was the son of a statuary in Mount Street, Grosvenor
Square. He first learnt his art in his father's studio, and
afterwards, at the age of eighteen, went to Rome, where he
became a pupil of Canova. Being a diligent and capable
student he soon made rapid progress, and gained the gold medal
for sculpture of the Academy of St Luke, for a bas-relief of
" Joseph and his Brethren," and shortly afterwards the first prize
for sculpture at the Academy of Florence. In 1796 he returned
to England, and exhibited his first work at the Academy in the
following year. His marriage took place shortly afterwards, and
he settled down to a prosperous career at 14 South Audley
Street, not far from the residence of his father. His work
received rapid recognition. Commissions poured upon him
from all quarters, and his being appointed to superintend the
arrangement of the Townley Marbles in the new building of the
British Museum showed that his taste and judgment were
highly appreciated.

Westmacott executed many poetic works, all more or
less in the style of Canova. He also helped largely to
further encumber our cathedrals with examples of the large
pseudo-classic monuments to departed worthies so much in
vogue at that time. Among them are Pitt and Fox, in West-
minster Abbey, Sir Ralph Abercromby and Captain Cook in
St Paul's. The statue of Fox in Bloomsbury Square, that of
the Duke of Bedford in Russell Square, and of the Duke of
York on the column in Waterloo Place are amongst the best
known of his street monuments. His adaptation of the Monte-
Cavallo statue, entitled " Achilles," cast from cannons taken at
Waterloo, which stands at Hyde Park Corner, has been severely
criticised ; the substitution of the property shield and sword for
the reins of the horse which the original figure is represented as
holding, being especially taken to task.



262 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

Westmacott was elected an Associate in 1805, and was pro-
moted to the full rank of Academician in 1811, being chosen on
the same night as James Ward and Sir Robert Smirke. In 1827
he succeeded Flaxman as Professor of Sculpture, and continued
to hold the post till his death. The first lecture he delivered
contained a glowing eulogy on his gifted predecessor, in which
he says : " If to have procured esteem whilst living, and to
have rendered himself useful to his fellow labourers, both by
his practice and the examples he has left us, demand applause,
few men have died with stronger claims on posterity." And in
another lecture the following passage occurs : " But the greatest
of modern sculptors was our illustrious countryman, John
Flaxman, who not only had all the fine feeling of the ancient
Greeks (which Canova in a degree preserved), but united to it
a readiness of invention and a simplicity of design truly astonish-
ing. Though Canova was his superior in the manual part and
high finish, yet in the higher qualities, poetical feeling and
invention, Flaxman was as superior to Canova as Shakespeare
to the dramatists of his day."

The honour of knighthood was conferred upon Westmacott
in 1837, and the same year he received the degree of D.C.L.
from the University of Oxford. This period marked the termina-
tion of his active career, as he executed very few works during
the last twenty years of his life. His death took place in
1856.

SIR ROBERT SMIRKE, R.A.

The artistic world at the commencement of the nineteenth
century, at any rate as far as sculpture and architecture were
concerned, was animated by a marked endeavour at a closer
approximation in style to the chaste severity of pure Greek art.
Extended exploration and the advanced enlightenment of
antiquarian research had produced a feeling of dissatisfaction
with what had hitherto passed as respectable in the classic style.



SIR ROBERT SMIRKE 263

The good old useful Palladian architecture was no longer in
vogue. In sculpture the reign of the gods and goddesses,
nymphs and fauns, and Roman emperors of the periwig period,
was over. It can scarcely be wondered at, for the Greek craze
was rampart everywhere ; the very dandies were then styled
" Corinthians," and the " girl of the period " emulated in her
dress the scant simplicity of the Greek chiton. In those days
the Antique School of the Royal Academy was in the very
zenith of its glory ; Fuseli, its enthusiastic keeper, shouting
to the students, " The Greeks vere Gods ! the Greeks vere
Gods ! "

On this great wave of Classic Revivalism Sir Robert Smirke
and Sir Richard Westmacott, twin brethren Academicians, with
steady hands and unimpassioned hearts, without encountering
let or hindrance of any sort, steered their respective courses to
honours and success ; whilst others, less fortunate, like Haydon,
were dashed to pieces on the rocks of overweening ambition, or,
like the modest Flaxman, left stranded on the cold mud-flats of
neglect. Sir Robert and Sir Richard both possessed the happy



Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 22 of 35)