fainting from the Bite of a Serpent’ (1831) (South Kensington Museum); ‘Escape of Francesco Carrara’ (1834), a replica of which, painted 1849, is in the National Gallery (Vernon collection); several ‘Pilgrim’ pictures, variations more or less of the picture of 1827; ‘Gaston de Foix’ (1838); and ‘Christ blessing little Children’ (1839). This last picture and ‘Christ weeping over Jerusalem,’ painted in 1841, and now in the National Gallery, raised his popularity to its height; and a graceful composition of the same year, ‘The Sisters,’ had to be repeated (with variations) six times. Never a large producer, the pressure of other duties and an increasing fastidiousness now limited more and more the number of his works.
Of his art no one has written more justly than his widow in the memoir prefixed to the second edition of ‘Contributions to the Literature of the Fine Arts,’ which is one of the most admirable of short biographies. She writes truly that ‘he was one of those painters whose art, however in unison with his mind, by no means conveys a just measure of it.’ Elegance of composition, breadth and sweetness of colour, and refinement of expression are the chief characteristics of his pictures, and their most enduring charm lies perhaps in those female heads of ‘enchanting type’ which first appeared in ‘Pilgrims in Sight of Rome.’
In 1832 Eastlake was presented with the freedom of his native city of Plymouth, and the reputation he had acquired as an authority on art began to show itself in many ways. Though he thought and wrote much upon art, he refused to enter into any engagements which would interfere with his profession as an artist. Twice (in 1833 and 1836) he refused to be the first professor of fine arts at the London University, and the scheme fell to the ground. He declined to give a series of lectures at the Royal Institution, and after the government had adopted his scheme for the establishment of schools of design he could not be induced to undertake its direction. In 1836, however, he consented to be one of the council appointed by the board of trade for the new schools. In the following year he was examined before Mr. (afterwards Sir Benjamin) Hawes' [q. v.] committee for inquiring into the means of promoting the arts in this country, and his evidence and a letter which he wrote to the chairman may be said to have been the commencement of his long labours as a public servant. His learning and capacity attracted the attention of Sir Robert Peel, and when the commission for the decoration of the houses of parliament (called the Fine Arts Commission) was appointed he was singled out for its secretary. He had previously declined to be one of the commissioners, on the ground ‘that they would have to select the artists most fitted for employment.’ The appointment brought him into close communication with Prince Albert, and he was from this time the chief adviser of the government and the prince in all matters of art.
He threw himself with the greatest ardour into his new duties, and poured without stint all the accumulated knowledge of his life into a series of papers and memoranda on art, which were buried in appendices to the blue-books of the commission, only to be resuscitated in part by his friend Mr. Bellenden Ker, by whom a selection from them was published in 1848 (‘Contributions to the Literature of the Fine Arts,’ 1st ser.) His labours in connection with the commission were heavy, especially in the earlier of the twenty years during which they lasted. In 1843 a competition of cartoons was held in Westminster Hall, and for this, as well as for the subsequent exhibitions in connection with the decoration of the houses of parliament, Eastlake prepared catalogues carefully designed to instruct and interest the thousands who came to see them. In 1849 he was appointed one of the commissioners for the exhibition of 1851. In 1849 also Eastlake married the present Lady Eastlake, then Elizabeth Rigby, the daughter of a celebrated physician of Norwich and already well known as the authoress of ‘Letters from the Baltic.’
In 1842 Eastlake was appointed librarian of the Royal Academy, and from 1843 to 1847 was keeper of the National Gallery, but he resigned the latter position in consequence of some groundless attacks. In 1850 he was elected president of the Royal Academy, and in 1855 he was appointed to the newly created post of director of the National Gallery. From this time he may be said to have left off painting, devoting his life to the discharge of the duties of these two important offices. Every year he paid a visit to the continent in search of pictures with which to enrich the national collection, sparing no labour and visiting the remotest parts of Italy in this (for him) most interesting pursuit. During his directorship he purchased 139 pictures for the nation, many of them of the greatest interest and value, and raised the gallery to a position of high rank among the public collections of Europe. In one of these journeys his health, which had long been failing, broke down utterly, and he died at Pisa on 14 Dec. 1865. He was buried first at Florence, but at the desire of the