Landseer, Sir Edwin Henry
LANDSEER, SIR EDWIN HENRY (1802-1873), English painter, third son of John Landseer, A.R.A., a well-known engraver and writer on art, was born at 71 Queen Anne Street East (afterwards 33 Foley Street), London, on March 7th 1802. His mother was Miss Potts, who sat to Sir Joshua Reynolds as the reaper with a sheaf of corn on her head, in " Macklin's Family Picture," or " The Gleaners." 1 Edwin Henry Landseer began his artistic education under his father so successfully that in his fifth year he drew fairly well, and was familiar with animal character and passion. Drawings 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 work shows 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 Royal Academy, and was described in the catalogue as "Master E. Landseer, 33 Foley Street." Youth forbade his being reckoned among practising artists, 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 B. R. Haydon, he studied the Elgin Marbles, the animals in the Tower of London and Exeter 'Change, and dissected every animal whose carcass he could obtain. In 1816 Landseer was admitted a student of the Royal Academy schools. In 1817 he sent to the Academy a portrait of "Old Brutus," a . much-favoured dog, which, as well as its son, another Brutus, often appeared in his later pictures. Even at this date Landseer enjoyed considerable reputation, and had more work than he could readily perform, his renown having been zealously fostered by his father in James Elmes's Annals of the Fine Arts. At the Academy he was a diligent student and a favourite of Henry Fuseli's, who would 'John Landseer died February 29, 1852, aged ninety-one (or eighty-three, according to Cosmo Monkhouse). Sir Edwin's eldest brother Thomas, an A.R.A. and a famous engraver, whose interpretations of his junior's pictures have made them known throughout the world, was born in 1795, and died January 20, 1880. Charles Landseer, R.A., and Keeper of the Royal Academy, the second brother, was born in 1799, and died July 22, 1879. John Landseer's brother Henry was a painter of some reputation, who emigrated to Australia.
look about the crowded antique school and ask, " Where is my curly-headed dog-boy ? " Although his pictures sold easily from the first, the prices he received at this time were comparatively small. In 1818 Landseer sent to the Society of Painters in Oil and Water Colours, which then held its exhibitions in Spring Gardens, his picture of " Fighting Dogs getting Wind." The sale of this work to Sir George Beaumont vastly enhanced the fame of the painter, who soon became " the fashion." This picture illustrates the prime strength of Landseer's earlier style. Unlike the productions of his later life, it displays not an iota of sentiment. Perfectly drawn, solidly and minutely finished, and carefully composed, its execution attested the skill acquired during ten years' studies from nature. 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 the painting called " The Cat's Paw," which was sent to the British Institution in 1824, and made an enormous sensation. The price obtained for this picture, 100, enabled Landseer to set up for himself in the house No. i St John's Wood Road, where he lived nearly fifty years and in which he died. During this period Landseer's principal pictures were " The Cat Disturbed"; "Alpine Mastiffs reanimating a Distressed Traveller," a famous work engraved by his father; " The Ratcatchers " ; " Pointers to be " ; " The Larder Invaded " ; and " Neptune," the head and shoulders of a Newfoundland dog. In 1824 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 has seen the World," a picture which marked the growth of a taste for humorous subjects in the mind of the painter that 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, however, there was a decrease of solid qualities; indeed, 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 artist enjoyed a greater degree of popularity than technical judgment justified, so that later criticism has put Landseer's position in art much lower than the place he once occupied. Sentiment gave new charm 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 <?M<m-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," now in the Tate Gallery, London, Landseer's dogs, and even his lions and birds, were sometimes 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 Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner," and " The Swannery invaded by Eagles," three pictures which are types of as many diverse moods of Landseer's art, and each a noble one.
Landseer was elected a Royal Academician in 1831. " Chevy Chase " (1826), which is at Woburn, " The Highland Whisky Still" (1829), "High Life" (1829) and "Low Life" (1829), besides other important works, had appeared in the interval. 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 threequarters of an hour; and the fine dog-picture " Odin " (1836) was the work of one sitting, i.e. painted within twelve hours. But perhaps the most wonderful instance of his rapid but sure and dexterous brush-handling was " The Cavalier's Pets " (1845), the picture of two King Charles's spaniels in the National Gallery, which was executed in two days. Another 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 1834 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 Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner" (1837). The over-praised and unfortunate " Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time," a group of portraits in character, was also shown in 1834, and was the first picture for which the painter received 400. A few years later he sold " Peace " and " War " for 1500, and for tjte copyrights alone obtained 6000. In 1881 " Man proposes, God Disposes " (1864) was resold for 6300 guineas, and a cartoon of " The Chase " (1866) fetched 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. In 1842 was finished the capital " Highland Shepherd's Home " ( Sheepshanks 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 " Rout of Comus " was painted in the summerhouse of Buckingham Palace garden in 1843. The " Challenge " was accompanied (1844) by " Shoeing the Bay Mare " (Bell Gift), and followed by " Peace " and " War," and the " Stag at Bay " (1846). " Alexander and Diogenes," and a " Random Shot," a d^ad kid lying in the snow, came forth in 1848. In 1850 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 famous " Monarch of the Glen " (1851) was one of these subjects. " Night " and " Morning," romantic and pathetic deer subjects, came in due order (1853). For " The Sanctuary " (1842) the Fine Arts jury of experts awarded to the artist the great gold medal of the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1855.
The " Dialogue at Waterloo " (1850), which he afterwards regarded with strong disapproval, showed how Landseer, 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. Next came " Geneva " (1851), " Titania and Bottom " (1851), which comprises a charming queen of the fairies, and the " Deer Pass " (1852), followed by " The Children of the Mist " (1853), " Saved " (1856), " Braemar," a noble stag, " Rough and Ready," and " Uncle Tom and his Wife for Sale " (18.57). " The Maid and the Magpie " (1858), the extraordinarily large cartoon called " Deer Browsing " (1857), " The Twa Dogs " (1858), and one or two minor paintings were equal to any previously produced by the artist. Nevertheless, signs of failing 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 " A Piper and a Pair of Nutcrackers " (1864) revealed his old power. He declined the presidentship of the Royal Academy, in 1865, in succession to Sir Charles Eastlake. In 1867 the four lions which he had modelled for the base of the Nelson Monument in Trafalgar Square, London, were unveiled, and with " The Swannery invaded by Eagles " (1869) he achieved his last triumph. After four years more, full of suffering, mainly of broken art and shattered mental powers, Sir Edwin Landseer died on the 1st of October 1873, and was buried, ten days later, in St Paul's Cathedral. Those who would see the full strength of Landseer's brush should examine his sketches and the like in the Victoria and Albert Museum and similar works. In these he shows himself endowed with the strength of Paul Potter.
See Algernon Graves's Catalogue of the Works of the late Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A. (London, n.d.); Frederic G. Stephens's Sir Edwin Landseer (1880) ; W. Cosmo Monkhouse's The Studies of Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A., with a History of his Art-Life (London, n.d.) ; W. P. Frith's My Autobiography and Reminiscences (1887) ; Vernon Heath's Recollections (1892) ; and James A. Manson's '.' Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A.,'' The Makers of British Art (London, 1902).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)