1902 Encyclopedia > Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer
English painter

SIR EDWIN HENRY LANDSEER (1802-1873), third son of John Landseer, A.R.A., a well-known engraver and able writer on art, was born in London, March 7, 1802. His mother was Miss Potts, who sat to Reynolds as the gleaner, with a sheaf of corn on her head, in Macklin's Family Picture, or the Cottagers. Edwin Henry Landseer began his artistic education under his father so successfully that in his fifth year he drew fairly well, and was acquainted with animal characters and passions. Etchings of his, at South Kensington, dated by his father, attest that he drew excellently at eight years of age; at ten he was an admirable draughtsman, and his etchings show considerable sense of humour. At thirteen he drew a majestic St Bernard dog so finely that his brother Thomas engraved and published the work. At this date (1815) he sent two pictures to the Academy, and was described in the catalogue as " Master E. Landseer, 33 Foley Street." Youth forbade his being reckoned as an artist in full, and caused him to be considered as the " Honorary Exhibitor " of " No. 443, Portrait of a Mule," and " No. 584, Portraits of a Pointer Bitch and Puppy." Adopting the advice of Haydon, whose pupil he was not otherwise, he studied the Elgin Marbles, the " Wild Beasts " in the Tower and Exeter Change, and dissected every animal whose carcase he could obtain. In 1816, in which year he exhibited with the Society of Painters in Oil and Water Colours, Landseer was admitted a student of the Royal Academy. In 1817 he sent to the Academy a portrait of Old Brutus, a much-favoured dog, which, as well as his son, another Brutus, often appeared in subsequent pictures. Even at this date Landseer enjoyed considerable reputation, and had more work than he could readily perform, because his renown had been zealously fostered by his father in Elmes's Annals of Art. At the Academy he was a diligent student and a favourite of Fuseli's, who would look about the crowded antique school and ask, " Where is my little dog boy ? " The prices of his pictures at this time were comparatively small; ten guineas was, in 1818, considered enough for a whole length figure of a horse on a canvas of 27 by 35 inches, which now belongs to Lady C. Wellesley.

In 1818 Landseer exhibited at Spring Gardens Fighting Dogs getting Wind, a picture from which his future might have been predicted. The sale of this work to Sir G. Beaumont vastly enhanced the fame of the painter, who became "the fashion" in a way disclosed by Haydon's account of his own and Wilkie's positions under similar circumstances nearly at the same date. This picture is now at Coleorton, and it illustrates the culmination of the studies of Landseer's youth and the prime strength of his* earlier style. Unlike the productions of his later life, this masterpiece of his boyhood exhibits not an iota of sentiment; but it is, in its way, a proof of astonishing vigour in design, and richer in animal character than anything produced since the death of Snyders. Perfectly drawn, solidly and minutely finished, bold in tone, and carefully composed, the execution of this picture attested the skill that had been acquired during ten years' studies from nature, and the learning with which diligent observaj tion of the best antiques and of Raphael had endowed the painter. Looking at the work as a whole, and valuing it on technical grounds, the critic feels that Landseer never produced anything better or so manly. On this level he stood until 1824, when he removed from his father's residence, and set up for himself in the house No. 1 (afterwards 18) St John's Wood Road, where he lived nearly fifty years, and in which he died. In 1818 it was little more than a cottage, with a bam attached, which was converted into a studio. Between 1818 and 1825 Landseer did a great deal of work, but on the whole gained little besides facility of technical expression, a greater zest for humour, and a larger style. The work of this stage ended with the production of Lord Essex's painting called the Cat's Paw, which is well known by an engraving. It was the price of this picture, £100, that enabled Landseer to set up for himself. He had to borrow a second hundred pounds to pay a premium for the house, and repaid this sum by twenty pounds at a time. Between 1818 and 1825 Landseer's pictures were such as proved the severity of his studies ; among them the principal were the Cat Disturbed, which was lately in the possession of Sir P. de Malpas Grey Egerton; Alpine Mastiffs reanimating a Distressed Traveller, a famous work engraved by John Landseer; the Batcatchers, which is now at Lambton Castle ; Pointers to be ; the Larder invaded ; and Neptune, the head and shoulders of a Newfoundland dog. The Cat's Paw was sent to the British Institution in 1824, and made an enormous sensation. In this year Landseer and C. R. Leslie made a journey to the Highlands,—a momentous visit for the former, who thenceforward rarely failed annually to repeat it in search of studies and subjects.

In 1826 Landseer was elected an A.R.A. In 1827 appeared the Monkey who had seen the World, a picture which marked the growth of a taste for humorous subjects in the mind of the painter, and had been evoked by the success of the Cat's Paw. Taking a Buck, 1825, was the painter's first Scottish picture. Its execution marked a change in his style which, in increase of largeness, was a great improvement. In other respects there was a decrease of solid qualities ; finish, searching modelling, and elaborate draughtsmanship rarely appeared in Landseer's work after 1823. The subject, as such, soon after this time became a very distinct element in his pictures ; ultimately it dominated, and in effect the popularity of the artist was extended in a greater degree than technical judgment justified. Sentiment gave new charms to his works, which had previously depended on the expression of animal passion and character, and the exhibition of noble qualities of draughtsmanship. Sentimentality ruled in not a few pictures of later dates, and quasi human humour, or pathos, superseded that masculine animalism which rioted in its energy, and enabled the artist to rival Snyders, if not Velazquez, as a painter of beasts. After High Life and Low Life, pictures of 1831, now in the National Gallery, Landseer's dogs, and even his lions and birds, were more than half civilized. It was not that these later pictures were less true to nature than their forerunners, but the models were chosen from different grades of animal society. As Landseer prospered he kept finer company, and his new patrons did not care about rat-catching and dog-fighting, however vigorously and learnedly those subjects might be depicted. It cannot be said that the world lost much when, in exchange for the Cat Disturbed and Fighting Dogs getting Wind, came Jack in Office, the Highland Shepherd's Chief Mourner, and the Swannery invaded by Sea-Eagles, three pictures which are types of as many diverse moods of Landseer's art, and each a noble one.

Four years after his election as A.B.A. Landseer was chosen an Pv.A. (1830). Chevy Chase (1826), which is at Woburn, and the Illicit Whiskey Still (1829), appeared in the interval, and were followed by High Life and Low Life (1831), and Spaniels of King Charles's Breed (1832); the last is a wonder of brush handling. Landseer had by this time attained such amazing mastery that he painted Spaniel and Rabbit in two hours and a half, and Rabbits, which was at the British Institution, in three-quarters of an hour; and the fine dog-picture Odin (1836) was the work of one sitting, i.e., painted within twelve hours. He began and finished a whole-length, life-size study of a fallow deer while Mr Wells of Redleaf was at church. A more remarkable feat consisted in drawing, simultaneously, a stag's head with one hand and a head of a horse with the other. Harvest in the Highlands, and that masterpiece of humour, Jack in Office, were exhibited in 1833. In 1831 a noble work of sentiment was given to the world in Suspense, which is now at South Kensington, and shows a dog watching at the closed door of his wounded master. Many think this to be Landseer's finest work, others prefer the Highland Shepherd's Chief Mourner (1837). The over-praised and unfortunate Bolton Abbey, a group of portraits in character, was shown in the same year, and was the first picture for which the painter received £400. A few years later he sold Peace and War for £1500, and for the copyrights alone obtained £6000. Man Proposes (1864) was resold in 1881 for 6300 guineas, and a cartoon for 5000 guineas. A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, a dog reclining on a quay wall (1838), was succeeded by Dignity and Impudence (1839). The Lion Dog of Malta, and Laying down the Law appeared in 1840. The Defeat of Comus was painted in the summer-house of Buckingham Palace garden in 1842. In this year was finished the capital Highland Shepherd's Home (Sheep-shanks Gift), together with the beautiful Eos, a portrait of Prince Albert's most graceful of greyhounds, to which Thomas Landseer added an ineffable charm and solidity not in the painting. The Challenge, and Coming Events cast their Shadows before, were accompanied (1844) by Shoeing (Bell Gift), and followed by Peace, and War, and the Stag at Bay (1846). Alexander and Diogenes, and a Random Shot, a kid dead on snow, came forth in 1848. This year Landseer received a national commission to paint in the Houses of Parliament three subjects connected with the chase. Although they would have been worth three times as much money, the House of Commons refused to grant £1500 for these pictures, and the matter fell through, more to the artist's profit than the nation's gain. The Sauctuary, and Night and Morning, romantic and pathetic deer subjects, came in due order. For the latter a French jury of experts awarded to the artist the great gold medal of the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1855. The Dialogue at Waterloo (1850) commemorated Landseer's first visit to the continent, and showed how he, like nearly all English artists of original power and considerable fertility, owed nothing to French or Italian training. In the same year he received the honour of knighthood. The Monarch of the Glen (1851) was succeeded by Geneva, a group of mule, and a bull; Titania and Bottom, which comprises a charming queen of the fairies; and the dramatic design of the Combat, or Night and Morning, as above. Then came the Children of the Mist (1853), Deer in Repose, Saved (1856), Braemar, a noble stag, Bough and Ready, Uncle Tom and his Wife for Sale (1857). The Maid and the Magpie, the extraordinarily large cartoon called Deer Browsing, the Twa Dogs, and one or two minor paintings, were equal if not superior to any previously produced by the artist. Nevertheless, signs of breaking health were remarked in Doubtful Crumbs, and a Kind Star (1859). The immense and profoundly dramatic picture called a Flood in the Highlands (1860) more than reinstated the painter before the public, but friends still saw ground for uneasiness. Extreme nervous excitability manifested itself in many ways, and in the choice (1864) of the dreadful subject of Man Proposes God Disposes, bears clumsily clambering among relics of Sir John Franklin's party, there was occult pathos, which some of the artist's intimates suspected, but did not avow. In 1862 and 1863 Landseer produced nothing; but with Man Proposes came a Piper and a Pair of Nutcrackers. The last triumph of Landseer's career was the Swannery invaded by Sea Eagles (1869). After four years more, mainly of broken art and shattered mental powers, he died 1st October 1873. He was buried in St Paul's. See Sir E. Landseer, by F. G. Stephens, 1880. (F. G. S.)

The above article was written by F. G. Stevens, author of Sir Edwin Landseer.

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