Stanfield, Clarkson (DNB00)

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STANFIELD, CLARKSON (1793–1867), marine and landscape painter, sometimes in error called William Clarkson Stanfield, born at Sunderland on 3 Dec. 1793, was son of James Field Stanfield [q. v.], by his first wife, Mary Hoad, who died in 1801. He was called Clarkson after Thomas Clarkson [q. v.], the anti-slavery agitator. He soon showed a taste for drawing, which is said to have been inherited from his mother, and at the age of twelve he was apprenticed to an heraldic painter in Edinburgh; but his love of the sea, inherited perhaps from his father, made him enter the merchant service in 1808, and, after several voyages, he was pressed into the navy in 1812. In 1814, when in H.M.S. Namur, he painted scenery for the theatricals on board, of which Douglas William Jerrold [q. v.], then a midshipman, was ‘managing director,’ and he was sent on shore to adorn with a painting the admiral's ball-room at Sheerness. He gave such satisfaction that the commissioner of the dockyard promised to get him his discharge and give him an appointment in the yard. The commissioner died before he could fulfil his promise, and Stanfield went to sea; but shortly afterwards he was temporarily incapacitated by a fall, and was allowed to retire. He went, however, to sea again, this time on board an East Indiaman. A sketch-book which he used in China is now in the possession of his son, Mr. Field Stanfield. About 1818 he visited his father in Scotland, and missed his ship, to which he had been appointed as second mate. He then retired from the sea and obtained employment as scene-painter at the sailors' theatre, called the Royalty, in Wellclose Square in the east of London. In 1821 he went to Edinburgh and obtained similar employment at the Pantheon Theatre. Here he made the acquaintance of David Roberts (1796–1864) [q. v.], then employed at the Theatre Royal, and of Alexander Nasmyth [q. v.] He soon returned to London, whither Roberts followed him. Both were employed at the Coburg Theatre, where they painted the scenery of ‘Guy Fawkes,’ and afterwards (from 1822) at Drury Lane, where Stanfield achieved such success that in 1826 he was presented by the proprietors of the theatre with a silver wine-cooler, in ‘testimony of his genius and skill in the scenic department.’ But he had already achieved a reputation as a painter of easel pictures, and in 1834 he gave up scene-painting as a profession, though he occasionally painted scenes for friendship's sake. At the request of Macready he painted a diorama for the pantomime at Covent Garden in 1837, and refused to accept more than 150l. for it, though offered twice that amount by the great actor. He superintended the scenery of Dickens's private theatricals at Tavistock House. The drop-scene for ‘Frozen Deep’ was painted by him in two days, and was sold for 1,000l. at the Dickens sale at Gads Hill. He also painted the beautiful scenery for the pantomime ‘Acis and Galatea,’ produced by Macready at Drury Lane in February 1842. His last work of the kind was the drop-scene of the new Adelphi Theatre, painted for his old friend Benjamin Webster in 1858.

The first picture he exhibited was ‘A River Scene,’ which appeared at the Royal Academy in 1820, and was followed by ‘St. Bernard's Well, near Edinburgh,’ in 1821, and in 1822 he (as well as his friend, David Roberts) contributed some small works to the Edinburgh Exhibition, and in the same year he sent two pictures to the British Institution. He was one of the foundation members of the Society of British Artists in 1823, and contributed to their exhibitions for some years till he seceded from the society. In 1827 he recommenced exhibiting at the academy, with a picture of ‘A Calm,’ and obtained a premium of 50l. from the British Institution for ‘Wreckers off Fort Rouge.’ In 1829 he sent to the academy ‘View near Chalons-sur-Saone,’ and in 1830 ‘Mount St. Michael, Cornwall,’ which was much admired. After this he was a regular contributor to the academy exhibitions (except in 1839) till his death. In 1832 he was elected associate, and in 1835 academician. He exhibited in all 135 works at the academy, twenty-two at the British Institution, and twenty-one at the British Artists. His life was one of continued prosperity. He frequently went abroad, and by far the greater number of his pictures were from sketches taken on the continent, principally in Italy, but also in Holland and France. Two of his few home pictures were ‘The Opening of New London Bridge’ and ‘Portsmouth Harbour,’ painted for William IV, the former of which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1832. In 1836 appeared one of his most important compositions, ‘The Battle of Trafalgar,’ painted for the United Service Club. His first picture of Venice was exhibited in 1831, and his first Italian lake scene, ‘The Isola Bella, Lago Maggiore,’ in 1834. About this time (1830) he commenced ten Venetian views for the banquetting-room of Lord Lansdowne at Bowood, and (1834) a similar number for the Duke of Sutherland at Trentham Hall. Venice and its neighbourhood, and the Italian lakes, with an occasional view on the Medway and the coast of France, employed his pencil till 1837, when he exhibited ‘On the Scheld, near Leiskenshoeck—Squally Day,’ and the works of the following years show an extension of his travels to Avignon, Ancona, Amalfi, and Naples. From 1844 to 1848 the subjects of his exhibited pictures were principally Dutch, and included ‘The Day after the Wreck; A Dutch East Indiaman on Shore on the Ooster Schelde; Zierikree in the distance’ (1844); and ‘Dutch Boats running into Saardam—Amsterdam in the distance’ (1845); but he also exhibited some Italian scenes like ‘Il Ponte Rotto, Rome’ (1846), and ‘Naples’ (1847), besides a battle-piece, ‘The Capture of El Gamo by H. M. sloop Speedy (Lord Cochrane)’ (1845), and ‘French Troops (1796) fording the Margra’ (1847), painted for the Earl of Ellesmere.

In 1840 he was recommended country air for his health, and rented a cottage at Northaw in Hertfordshire, near the residence of his friend, Joseph Marryat (the brother of Captain Marryat, the novelist), and in 1846 he took a lodging at Hampstead. In 1847 he determined to take up permanent residence at Hampstead, and left 48 Mornington Place for The Green-hill, now the Hampstead Public Library. Here were painted some of his finest pictures, including ‘Tilbury Fort—Wind against Tide’ (1849), painted for Robert Stephenson, M.P.; ‘The Battle of Roveredo’ (1851), painted for J. D. Astley; ‘The Victory (with the body of Nelson on board) towed into Gibraltar after the Battle of Trafalgar’ (1853), painted for Sir Samuel Morton Peto; ‘The Pic du Midi’ (1854); and ‘The Abandoned,’ a large dismasted derelict, rolling in a heavy sea. It was painted for Thomas Baring, and is the most poetical of all his works, and also the most original, as at that time a picture without any figure or suggestion of human life was almost unknown. It was sent with two others to the Paris Exhibition of 1855, when Stanfield was awarded a gold medal of the first class, and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856.

It was at Hampstead that many of Stanfield's happiest years were passed. Many of the meetings of the ‘Sketching Society’ were held here, and a large circle of literary and artistic friends, including Charles Dickens, Thackeray, Macready, John Forster, Sir Edwin Landseer, David Roberts, Samuel Lover, C. R. Leslie, and the two Chalons were frequent visitors at The Green-hill. In 1851 he made a somewhat lengthened tour with his wife and daughters in the south of France and the north of Spain, and made numerous sketches, from which many of his later pictures were produced.

In 1858 Stanfield went with his old friend David Roberts to Scotland, to receive his diploma as honorary member of the Scottish Academy, and in 1862 he was made chevalier of the Belgian order of Leopold. During the last ten years of his life his health, which had been much improved by his residence at Hampstead, began to fail again. He was obliged to withdraw in some measure from the society of his friends, and in 1864 he sustained a very severe blow by the death of David Roberts. Nevertheless his interest in his art never tired, and he continued to exhibit till his death on 18 March 1867, when his last picture, ‘A Skirmish off Heligoland,’ was hanging on the walls of the academy. He died at 6 Belsize Park Road, Hampstead, whither he had been compelled to remove from The Green-hill on account of some projected building operations. He was buried in the Roman catholic cemetery at Kensal Green, where a marble cross is erected to his memory. He was twice married (first, to Mary Hutchinson, and, secondly, to Rebecca Adcock), and had nine sons and three daughters, of whom four sons and two daughters survive. One of his sons, George Clarkson (see below), followed the art of his father with some success.

Stanfield attained a great reputation as a marine-painter, and was called the English Vandevelde. Professor Ruskin regarded him as ‘the leader of the English realists,’ and averred that he was ‘incomparably the noblest master of cloud-form of all our artists.’ He was a manly, sincere, and accomplished painter, with a keen sense of the picturesque and knowledge of sea, and sky, but he looked at nature with the eyes of a scene-painter, having too special regard to its spectacular qualities, so that few of his works, except ‘The Abandoned,’ are imbued with much poetical feeling. For these, and perhaps for other reasons, as a certain monotony in treatment and colour, the exhibition of a number of his pictures at the first winter exhibition of deceased masters at the Royal Academy (1870) did not advance his reputation, and it has never since risen to the level it attained in his lifetime. His friend Charles Dickens, in a charming memorial notice published by him in ‘All the Year Round’ (1 June 1867), calls him ‘the soul of frankness, generosity, and simplicity, the most loving and most lovable of men.’

In the National Gallery of British Art (Vernon Collection) are four of Stanfield's pictures, ‘Entrance to the Zuyder Zee, Texel Island,’ the sketch for ‘The Battle of Trafalgar,’ ‘The Lake of Como,’ and ‘The Canal of the Giudecca and Church of the Jesuits, Venice;’ and at the South Kensington Museum (Sheepshanks' gift) are ‘Near Cologne,’ ‘A Market Boat on the Scheldt,’ ‘Sands near Boulogne,’ and (Townshend bequest) ‘A Rocky Bay.’ Other pictures by him are at the Garrick Club, of which he was an active member. ‘The Battle of Roveredo’ is at the Royal Holloway College, Egham. Many of his pictures have been engraved (two of them, ‘Tilbury Fort’ and ‘The Castle of Ischia,’ for the Art Union of London), and book illustrations after his sketches are to be found in Heath's ‘Picturesque Annual,’ 1832, &c., Brockedon's ‘Road-book from London to Naples,’ 1835, Stanfield's ‘Coast Scenery,’ 1836, Lawson's ‘Scotland Delineated,’ Mapei's ‘Italy,’ 1847, &c., Marryat's ‘Pirate and three Cutters,’ 1836, and ‘Poor Jack,’ 1840, Dickens's ‘Battle of Life,’ Tennyson's ‘Poems,’ 1857, and Tillotson's ‘New Waverley Album.’

George Clarkson Stanfield (1828–1878), second son of the second marriage of William Clarkson Stanfield, was born in London in 1828. He was the pupil of his father, and painted the same class of subjects. He exhibited seventy-three at the Royal Academy, and forty-nine at the British Institution from 1844 to 1876. He died in 1878.

[Cunningham's Lives (Heaton); Men of the Time; Redgrave's Dict.; Graves's (Algernon) Dict.; Bryan's Dict. (Graves and Armstrong); Ballantine's Life of David Roberts; Life and Letters of Charles Dickens; Pollock's Life of Macready; Dafforne's Pictures by Stanfield; Portfolio, viii. 69, x. 124, 135; Once a Week, xi. 675; The Hampstead Record, 27 Dec. 1890; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. xi. 301–2; private notes of Mr. Field Stanfield.]

C. M.