Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Landseer, John

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1433500Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32 — Landseer, John1892William Cosmo Monkhouse

LANDSEER, JOHN (1769–1852), painter, engraver, and author, the son of a jewe1ler, was born at Lincoln in 1789. He was apprenticed to William Byrne [q. v.], the landscape engraver, and his first works were vignettes after De Loutherboug for the publisher Macklin's Bible and for Bowyer's 'History of England.' In 1792 he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy. His contribution was a ‘View from the Hermit's Hole, Isle of Wight.' He was living at the time at 83 Queen Anne Street East (now Foley Street), London. His connection with the Macklin family resulted in his marriage to a friend of theirs, a Miss Potts, whose portrait, with a sheaf of corn on her head, was introduced by Sir Joshua Reynolds into the picture of ‘The Gleaners,’ sometimes called ‘Macklin's family picture,' as it contained portraits of the publisher, his wife, and daughter. After his marriage he removed to 71 Queen Anne Street East (now 38 Foley Street), where his celebrated sons were born. In 1795 appeared ‘Twenty Views of the South of Scotland,’ engraved by him after drawings by J. Moore. In 1806 he delivered at the Royal Institution a series of lectures on engraving, still valuable for their clear exposition of the principles of the art and of the methods of different kinds of engraving. In these he defended his view of engraving as a description of ‘sculpture by excision, and warmly demanded from the Royal Academy a more generous recognition of the claims of engravers, who were then placed in a separate class as associate engravers and only allowed to exhibit two works at the annual exhibitions. In the same year he was elected an associate engraver, a personal honour which he only accepted in the hope that it would give him a stronger position for the furtherance of his views in vour of his profession. This was not realised. He, with James Heath, another associate engraver, applied to the Academy to place engraving on the same footing as in academies a road, but their application was refused. He also petitioned the prince regent without result. The lectures at the Royal Institution were cut short by his dismissal on the ground of disparaging illusions to Alderman John Boydell [q.v.], who had died in 1801. The action of the managers was no doubt due to the representations of John Boydell's nephew, Joseph Boydell. By no means daunted, Landseer published his lectures unaltered in 1807, with notes severely comments on Josiah Boydell and on a pamphlet which Boydell had issued. At this time Landseer was engaged on several works including illustrations for William Scrope's 'Scenes in Scotland' (published 1808) and the ‘Scenery of the Isle of Wight' (published 1812). For the latter he engraved three of J. M. W. Turner's drawings, ‘Orchard Bay' 'Shanklin Bay,' and ‘Freshwater Bay.' His only other engravings after Tumor were ‘High Torr’ in Whitaker's ‘History of Richmondshire' (1812) and 'The Cascade of Terni' in Hakewill's 'Picturesque Tour in Italy,' probably the finest of all Landseer's engravings. In 1808 he commenced a Review of Publications of Art,' which lived only to the the second volume. In 1813 he lectured at the Surrey Institution on ‘The Philsophy of Art.’

Dissappointed at the failure of his memorial to the Royal Academy, he is said by the author of a biography in the ‘Literary Gazette’ (No. 1834) to have turned his attention from engraving to archæology. In 1817 he published 'Observations on the Engraved Gems brought from Babylon to England by Abraham Lockett, Esq. considered with reference to Scripture History.' He contended that these ‘gems' or cylinders were not used as talismans but as seals of kings, &c., and in 1823 he issued ‘Sabæan Researches, in a Series of Essays on the Engraved Hieroglyphics of Chaldea, Egypt, and Canaan.' He also commenced in 1816 a work on ‘The Antiquities of Dacca,' for which he executed twenty plates, but it was never completed. But he did not entirely abandon himself to archæology. He (1814) engraved a drawing by his son Edwin (afterwards Sir Edwin Landseer. [q.v.], called 'The Lions’ Den.' In 1823 he published an ‘Essay on the Carnivore’ to accompany a book of ‘Twenty Engravings of Lions, Tigers, Panthers, and Leopards, by Stubbs, Rembrandt, Spilsbury, Reydinger [Riedinger] and Edwin Landseer,' nearly all executed by his son Thomas. With some assistance from his son Thomas he engraved Edwin’s celebrated youthful picture of 'Alpine Mastiffs reanimating a Distressed Traveler.' This was published in 1881 (eleven years after the picture was painted), together with a pamphlet called ‘Some Account of the Dogs and of the Pass of the Great St. Bernard,’ &c. In 1833 appeared a series of engravings illustrating the sacred scriptures, after Raphael and others. In 1834 he published a description of fifty of the ‘Earliest Pictures in the National Gallery,' vol. i. In 1836 he made another effort to press the claims of engraving on the Royal Academy by joining in a petition to the House of Commons, who referred it to a select committee. The report of the committee was favourable, and was followed by a petition to the king, which was ineffectual. In 1837 he commenced a short-lived but trenchant periodical called ‘The Probe.' In 1840 appeared ‘Vates, or the Philosophy of Madness,' for which he executed six plates. His contributions to the Royal Academy were only seventeen in number, but they did not cease till 1851. His last contributions were drawings from nature; one of ‘Hadleigh Castle’ was exhibited after his death in 1852. He died in London, 29 Feb. 1862, and was buried in Highgate cemetery.

John Landseer was a F.S.A. and engraver to the king (William IV), and attained an honourable reputation as an engraver, an antiquary, a writer on art, and a champion of his profession, but it has been said that his chief work was the bringing up of his three distinguished sons, Thomas, Charles, and Edwin. Out of eleven other children four daughters only lived to maturity: Jane (Mrs. Charles Christmas), Anna Maria, Jessica [q. v.], and Emma (Mrs. Mackenzie). A portrait of him by his son Sir Edwin Landseer was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840. It represents him as a venerable old man, with long white locks and great sweetness of expression, holding a large open volume. It is now in the possession of Mackenzie, his only surviving child, but will become the property of the nation at her death.

[Sir Edwin Landseer, in Great Artists Series, by F. G. Stephens; Pye's Patronage of British Art; Crabb Robinson's Diary, 1869, i. 505–6; Literary Gazette, No. 1834; Evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Arts, &c., 1836, question 2046; Redgrave's Dict.; Bryan's Dict.; Graves's Dict.; John Landseer's Lectures on the Art of Engraving, 1807; Algernon Graves's Catalogue of the Works of Sir E. Landseer; Annals of the Fine Arts; information from Mrs. Mackenzie and Mr. Algernon Graves.]

C. M.