Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Clennell, Luke

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CLENNELL, LUKE (1781–1840), artist and wood engraver, was born at Ulgham, near Morpeth, Northumberland, on 8 April 1781. He was the son of a farmer. Placed as a youth with his uncle, Thomas Clennell, a grocer and tanner of Morpeth, he continued to develope an early manifested taste for art until, upon the recommendation of a nobleman who saw one of his drawings, he was transferred from the counter to the care of Bewick, the Newcastle engraver [see Bewick, Thomas]. This was in April 1797. With Bewick he remained seven years, during which time he copied on the block, and subsequently engraved, several of the designs of Robert Johnson [see Johnson, Robert], which were used as tail-pieces for Bewick's 'Water Birds,' 1804. By the time his apprenticeship expired he had become an expert draughtsman and designer, with something of his master's love of, and feeling for, nature and natural history. His apprenticeship must have ended early in 1804, about which time he executed a number of cuts for the third edition of Solomon Hodgson's 'I live of Ancient and Modern Literature,' 1800. Probably the majority of the illustrations to this book, some of which bear his initials, were by him, the rest being by Thomas Bewick. He afterwards worked for Bewick on Wallis and Scholev's 'History of England,' but, finding that his old master received the greater portion of the money, he came to London in the autumn of 1804, after having opened direct communications with the publishers. In May 1806 he received the gold palette of the Society of Arts for 'an engraving on wood of a Battle.' Among other engraved work he was employed upon the 'Scripture Illustrated ' of Craig [see Craig, William Marshall], and Thurston's designs for Beattie's 'Minstrel,' 1807. Another volume of this period was Falconer's 'Shipwreck,' 1808, which contains a well-known picture of a ship in a gale of wind. In 1809 he took part in Ackermann's 'Religious Emblems,' his colleagues being Nesbit, lira 11st on, and Hole. The designs for this book were by Thurston. Clennell's work was unequal, his best cuts being the 'Call to Vigilance' and the 'Soul Encaged.'

After he settled in London he married a daughter of Charles Warren, the copper-plate engraver, a connection which introduced him to the society of Raimbach, Finden, and the little knot of talented men who emulated each other in producing those delicate book embellishments published by Sharpe, Du Rovery, and others, at the beginning of the century. After Ackermann's 'Emblems,' his next work of importance was a large block for the diploma of the Highland Society after a design by Benjamin West. For this, in 1809, he received the gold medal of the Society of Arts. His last work of any moment as a wood engraver was the series of cuts which illustrate Rogers's 'Pleasures of Memory, with Other Poems,' 1810, a volume which has a deserved reputation with collectors for the excellence of its rendering of Stothard's pen-and-ink sketches. Towards 1810 Clennell seems virtually to have relinquished wood-engraving for painting, in which direction he had probably for some time been preluding, since he had prepared many of the sketches for Scott's 'Border Antiquities,' and there is an engraving after one of his designs as far back as 1803. In the Kensington Museum there is, besides other sketches, a water-colour drawing called the 'Sawpit,' dated 1810 ; and the Art Library contains a number of lightly washed designs, afterwards engraved for a series of 'British Novelists,' published by Sherwood, Neely, & Jones, which show considerable vigour and force of realisation. In 1812 he contributed to the Royal Academy a lively picture of 'Fox-hunters regaling,' which was twice engraved. Henceforth he continued to exhibit at the Academy, the British Institution, and the Exhibition of Painters in Water Colours. The 'Baggage Waggons in a Thunderstorm,' 1816, the 'Day after the Fair,' 1818, and the 'Arrival of the Mackerel-Boat,' are good specimens of his work. In fishing scenes and marine subjects he specially excelled.

His two most important pictures, however, were the 'Waterloo Charge,' and the 'Banquet of the Allied Sovereigns in the Guildhall.' The former, which is his masterpiece, gained one of the premiums awarded by the British Institution for finished oilsketches of the British successes under Wellington. It is a most spirited composition, full of fire and furious movement, and was engraved in 1819 by W. Bromley. The latter was a commission from the Earl of Bridgewater. So much fatigue, vexation, and disappointment was experienced by the artist in assembling the materials for this picture that he became insane, and, with brief lucid intervals, continued so until his death. Under the pressure of this misfortune his wife's mind also gave way, and she died, leaving three children. Friends interested themselves for the father and young family. The ' Waterloo Charge' was engraved for their benefit, and they were also assisted by the Artists' Fund, to which institution Clennell had belonged.

From 1817 until 9 Feb. 1840, when he died, Clennell never wholly recovered his reason. In his milder moments he amused himself by strange, half-articulate verses, and half-intelligible drawings, specimens of which, dated from one or other of his asylums or temporary retreats, are still preserved. Some of his poems were published in the 'Athenæum' for 7 March 1840, in Chatto's 'Treatise on Wood Engraving,' 1839, and elsewhere. In many of them the inborn love of nature is still discernible through the disjointed imagery and wandering words. In 1831, becoming dangerous, Clennell was placed permanently in an asylum. Four years after bis death a tablet by a local sculptor, R. Davies, was erected to him in St. Andrew's Church, Newcastle. As an engraver, he ranks, after Nesbit, as the best of Bewick's pupils. As a water-colour artist it is probable that he had not reached his highest point when his faculties failed; but he had already exhibited a distinct ability for landscape and rural scenes. Fineness and delicacy are less conspicuous in his work than breadth, spirit, and rapidity of handling.

[Chatto's Treatise on Wood Engraving. 1839; Chatto's History and Art of Wood Engraving, 1848; Memoirs of Dr. Robert Blakey, 1879; Thomas Bewick and his Pupils, 1884, by the writer of this article.]

A. D.