Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Landseer, Edwin Henry
LANDSEER, Sir EDWIN HENRY (1802–1878), animal-painter, third and youngest son of John Landseer [q. v.] was born at 33 Foley street (then 71 Queen Anne Street East), London, on 7 March 1802. His father held that ordinary education was unnecessary, if not harmful, to artists, and as Edwin showed little love for books and a great deal for drawing, he was taken into the fields (which then extended nearly all the way from Marylebone to Hampstead) to sketch the sheep, goats, and donkeys which grazed there. There are very clever drawings made by him from nature before he was six in the South Kensington Museum and elsewhere. He also began very early to sketch the wild beasts at Exeter Change. His earliest known etching (1809) is from a drawing by himself, of ‘Heads of a Lion and a Tiger,' in which the lion's head was etched by himself and the tiger's by his brother Thomas. Seven more etchings were executed by 1812, At this time, therefore, be could etch as well as draw in pencil, chalk, and water-colours, and he painted in oils before he was twelve. The works of his childhood are still esteemed for their artistic merit. ‘A Brown Mastiff' painted at the age of ten, was sold at Sir John Swinburne's sale (1861) for seventy guineas. His young genius was fostered by the whole family, and his genial disposition helped him to gain friends. At Beleigh Grange, Essex, the residence of Mr. W. W. Simpson, he found a second home, and drew the horses, the Persian cats, the dogs, and the coachman.
In 1813 he was awarded the silver palette of the Society of Arts for drawing of animals, and he wok the Isis medal of the same society in 1814, 1815, and 1818. In 1815 he received some valuable hints from B. R. Haydon [q. v.], who gave him his dissections of a lion, bade him study anatomy, Raphael's cartoons, and the Elgin marbles, and the Snyders of England, and in the same year he made his début at the Royal Academy exhibitions with drawings of a 'Pointer bitch and puppy' (engraved) and a 'Mule' belonging to Mr. Simpson. In 1816 he entered the schools of the Royal Academy. At this time he is described by C. R. Leslie [q. v.] as ‘a curly-headed youngster, dividing his time between Polito's wild beasts at Exeter Chanqe and the Royal Academy Schools.'
In 1817 he exhibited at the Royal Academy a portrait of ‘Brutus,' a terrier belonging to Mr. Simpson, and the father of another ‘Brutus, a celebrated dog of his own. In the same year a picture of ‘A Sleeping Dog' created an impression at the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-colours (now the Royal Society of Painters in Water-colours), and this was exceeded by that of ‘Fighting Dogs getting Wind’ at the following exhibition of the same society, which was bought by Sir George Beaumont. In 1820 he availed himself of the opportunity of dissecting a dead lion. In this year his previous successes ‘were crowned by that of 'Alpine Mastiffs reanimating a Dead Traveller,’ which was engraved by his father and brother Thomas. In 1821 two large pictures of lions, ‘A Lion enjoying his Repast' and ‘A Lion disturbed at his past,’ were exhibited at the British Institution; and in 1822 he obtained a prize of 150l. from the directors of this institution for his picture of ‘The Larder Invaded,’ in which his own dog 'Brutus’ was introduced. In this year he also executed a large picture of ‘A Prowlinq Lion,' and a set of live original compositions of lions and engraved by his brother Thomas and in a work called ‘Twenty Engravings of Lions, Tigers, Panthers, and leopards, by Stubbs, Rembrandt, Spilsbury, Reydinger, and Edwin Landseer; with an Essay on the Carnivore by J. Landseer,' and commenced his later series of etchings (seventeen in number), one of which was the portrait of a dog named Jack, the original of his celebrated picture of ‘Low Life,' painted in 1829 and, now in the National Gallery. In 1824 he exhibited at the British Institution the ‘Catspaw,' which was bought by the Earl of Essex, and established his reputation as a humorist. In this year he went to Scotlsnd with Leslie, paying a visit to Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford. There he drew the poet and his dogs; ‘Maids,’ the famous deerhound who only lived six weeks afterwards, and Ginger an Spice, the lineal descendants of Pepper and Mustard, immortalised as the dogs of Dandie Dinmont in ‘Guy Mannering.' All these drawings were introduced in subsequent pictures, ‘A Scene at Abbotsford’(1827), ‘Sir Walter Scott in Rhymer's Glen' (1833), and other pictures.
The visit to Scotland had a great effect upon Landseer. That country with its deer and its mountains was thenceforth the land of his imagination. He began to study and paint animals more in their relation to man. Lions, bulls, and pigs gave way before the red deer, and even dogs, though they retained their strong hold upon his art, were hereafter treated rather as the companions of man than in their natural characters of ratcatchers and fighters.
In 1826 Landseer exhibited at the Royal Academy a large picture of ‘Chevy Chase' (now the property of the Duke of Bedford), and was elected an associate of the Royal Academy at the earliest age permitted by the rules, being then only twenty-four. He now left his father's house in Foley Street, and went to live at 1 St. John's Wood Road, Lisson Grove, where he remained till his death. In 1827 appeared his ‘Monkey who has seen the World’ (belonging to Lord Northbrook), and his first highland picture of importance, ‘The Deerstalker's Return’ (Duke of Northumberland). In 1828 appeared 'An Illicit Whiskey Still in the Highlands' (Duke of Wellington).
In 1831 he was elected to the full honours of the Academy and in the same year exhibited at the British Institution the two small but celebrated pictures, ‘High Life' and ‘Low Life' (now in the National Gallery), in which he contrasted opposite classes of society as reflected in their dogs—the aristocratic deerhound and the butcher's mongrel. In 1833 this vein of humour was developed in his ‘Jack in Office’ (South Kensington Museum), the first of those canine burlesques of human life to which he owed much of his popularity. The next year he struck another popular note in his picture of ‘Bolton Abbey in the Olden Times’ (Duke of Devonshire), which exactly hit the prevailing romantic sentiment for the past which had been largely developed by Scott's novels, and displayed his power of elegant composition and dexterous painting of dead game. In 1837 he showed the variety of his gifts in ‘The Highland Drover's Departure' (South Kensington Museum), in which perception of the beauty of natural scenery was united with humour and pathos. A deeper note of pathos was sounded in the ‘Old Shepherd‘s Chief Mourner’ (South Kensington Museum), though the mourner was only a dog. In 1838 appeared ‘A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society’ (National Gallery), and ‘There's Life in the old dog yet’ (Mr. John Naylor), in which sympathy is excited for the dog only. In 1840 came ‘Laying down the Law’ (Duke of Devonshire), a scene in a court of law in which judge, counsel, &c., were represented by dog of different breeds, one of the cleverest and most successful of his works of this class. Belonging to this period, though never exhibited, are three noble works, ‘Suspense,’ ‘The Sleeping Bloodhound,' and ‘Dignity and Imprudence.' The first is in South Kensington Museum, and the two others in the National Gallery.
Down to this time (1840) there had been no check in his success, artistic or social. Early in life he made his way into the highest society, and became an intimate and privileged friend of many a noble family, especially that of the Russells. As early as 1823 he painted his first portrait (engraved in the ‘Keepsake') of the Duchess of Bedford, and between that year and 1839 he painted a succession of charming pictures of her children, especially 'Lords Alexander and Cosmo Russell, and Ladies Louisa and Rachel (afterwards the Duchess of Abercorn and Lady Rachel Butler). Some of these, as ‘Little Red Riding Hood,' ‘Cottage Industry,' ‘The Naughty Child' (sometimes called The Naughty Boy,’ but really a portrait of Lady Rachel) and 'Lady Rachel with a Pet Fawn,' are perhaps as well known as any of his pictures. A different version of the last subject, as well as several others of Landseer's works, was etched by the duchess. Among his other sitters at the time, some for separate portraits and others introduced into his sporting pictures, were the Duke of Gordon, the father of the Duchess of Bedford (‘Scene in the Highlands,’ 1828); the Duke of Athole (‘Death of a Stag in Glen Tilt,’ 1829); the Duke of Abercorn (1831); the Duke of Devonshire and Lady Constance Grosvenor (1832); the Countess of Chesterfield and the Countess of Blessington (1835); the Earl of Tankerville (‘Death of the Wild Bull’); Lady Fitzharris and Viscount Melbourne (1836); the Hon. Mrs. Norton, and two children of the Duke of Sutherland (1838). To 1839 belong the celebrated portraits of girls, Miss Eliza Peel with Fido (‘Beauty's Bath’), Miss Blanche Egerton (with a cockatoo), and the Princess Mary of Cambridge with a Newfoundland dog (‘On Trust’); and in the same year he painted his first portrait of the queen, which was given by her majesty to Prince Albert before their marriage. At the palace he was hereafter treated with exceptional favour. From 1839 to 1866 he frequently painted or drew the queen, the prince consort, and their children, the Princess Royal, the Princess Alice, and the Princess Beatrice. He painted also her majesty's gamekeepers and her pets, and made designs for her private writing-paper. He taught the queen and her husband to etch, and between 1841 and 1844 the queen executed six and the prince four etchings from his drawings.
In 1840 he was obliged to travel abroad for the benefit of his health, and he sent no picture to the Academy in 1841. He made, however, a series of beautiful sketches during his absence, some of which were afterwards utilised in pictures like ‘The Shepherd's Prayer,’ ‘Geneva,’ and ‘The Maid and the Magpie,’ and from 1842 to 1850 he exhibited regularly every year. To this period belong many of his most famous and most poetical pictures. In 1842 appeared ‘The Sanctuary’ (Windsor Castle), the first of those pictures of deer in which the feeling of the sportsman gave place to that of the sad contemplative poet, viewing in the life of animals a reflection of the lot of man. In 1843 he painted a sketch of ‘The Defeat of Comus’ for the fresco executed for the queen in the summer-house at Buckingham Palace called Milton Villa, one of the most powerful and least agreeable of his works. In 1844 came the painful ‘Otter Speared’ and the peaceful ‘Shoeing;’ in 1846 the ‘Time of Peace’ and ‘Time of War;’ in 1848 ‘Alexander and Diogenes,’ his most elaborate piece of canine comedy (the four last are in the National Gallery), and ‘A Random Shot’ (a fawn trying to suck its mother lying dead on the snow), perhaps the most pathetic of all his conceptions. In 1851 he exhibited the superb ‘Monarch of the Glen’ (which was painted for the refreshment-room at the House of Lords, but the House of Commons refused to vote the money), and his most charming piece of fancy, the scene from ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream,’ or ‘Titania and Bottom’ (painted for the Shakespeare Room of I. K. Brunel [q. v.], and now in the possession of Earl Brownlow); in 1853 the grand pictures of a duel between stags named ‘Night’ and ‘Morning’ (Lord Hardinge); in 1864 ‘Piper and a pair of Nutcrackers’ (a bullfinch and two squirrels); and the grim dream of polar bears disturbing the relics of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated arctic expedition, called ‘Man proposes, God disposes’ (Holloway College).
In 1850 Landseer was knighted by the queen, and in this year appeared ‘A Dialogue at Waterloo’ (National Gallery), with portraits of the Duke of Wellington and the Marchioness of Douro. He had gone to Belgium for the first time the year before, to get materials for this picture. In 1855 he received the large gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition—an honour not accorded to any other English artist. In 1860 he produced ‘The Flood in the Highlands.’
A severe mental depression, from which he had long been suffering, began at this time to obscure Landseer's reason, and in 1862 and 1863 no finished picture proceeded from his hand. But he rallied from the attack, and in 1865, on the death of Sir Charles Eastlake, he was offered the presidency of the Royal Academy, which he declined. In November 1868 his nervous state of health was aggravated by a railway accident, which left a scar upon his forehead. His most important works between his partial recovery and his death were a picture of the ‘Swannery invaded by Eagles,’ 1869, in which all his youthful vigour and ambition seemed to flash out again for the last time, and the models of the lions for the Nelson Monument, for which he had received the commission in 1859. These were placed in Trafalgar Square in 1866, when he exhibited at the Royal Academy his only other work in sculpture, a fine model of a ‘Stag at Bay.’ His last portrait was of the queen, his last drawing was of a dog. He died on 1 Oct. 1873, and was buried with public honours in St. Paul's Cathedral on 11 Oct.
In person Landseer was below the middle height. His broad, frank face, magnificent forehead, and fine eyes are well rendered in the portrait-group called ‘The Connoisseurs’ (1865), in which the artist has represented himself sketching, with a dog on each side of him critically watching his progress. This portrait, which the artist presented to the Prince of Wales, is in all respects characteristic, for Landseer went about with a troop of dogs, making up, it was said, in quantity for the quality of his early favourite ‘Brutus.’ In disposition he was genial, quick-witted, full of anecdotes of men and manners, and an admirable mimic, qualities which contributed largely to his great success in society. But his highly nervous disposition, which made him enjoy life so keenly, made him also extremely sensitive to anything like censure, or what appeared to him as slights from his distinguished friends, and to such causes are attributed those attacks of mental illness which saddened his life.
As an artist he was thoroughly original, striking out a new path for himself by treating pictorially the analogy between the characters of animals and men. His principal forerunner in this was Hogarth, who occasionally introduced animals in his pictures from the same motive. But Landseer was more playful in his humour, more kind in his satire, trying only to show what was human in the brute, whereas Hogarth only displayed what was brutal in the man. But Landseer was a poet as well as a humorist, and could strike chords of human feeling almost as truly and strongly as if his subjects had been men instead of dogs and deer.
As a draughtsman he was exceedingly elegant and facile, and his dexterity and swiftness of execution with the brush were remarkable, especially in rendering the skins and furs of animals; a few touches or twirls, especially in his later work, sufficed to produce effects which seem due to the most intricate manipulation. Of his swiftness of execution there are many examples. A picture of a bloodhound called ‘Odin’ was completed in twelve hours to justify his opinion that work completed with one effort was the best. Another, of a dog called ‘Trim,’ was finished in two hours, and the famous ‘Sleeping Bloodhound’ in the National Gallery was painted between the middle of Monday and two o'clock on the following Thursday.
His compositions are nearly always marked by a great feeling for elegance of line, but in his later works his colour, despite his skill in imitation, was apt to be cold and crude as a whole. Though he could not paint flesh as well as he painted fur, his portraits are frank and natural, preserving the distinction of his sitters without any affectation. His pictures of children (generally grouped with their pets) are always charming. Perhaps his best portraits of men are those of himself and his father.
Landseer was fond of sport. In his boyhood he enjoyed rat-killing and dog-fights, but in his manhood his favourite sport was deer-stalking. This he was able to indulge by yearly visits to Scotland, where he was a favoured guest at many aristocratic shooting-lodges. At some of these, as at Ardverikie on Loch Laggan, erected by the Marquis of Abercorn in 1840, and occupied by her majesty in 1847, and at Glenfeshie, the shooting-place of the Duke of Bedford, he decorated the walls with sketches. Those at Ardverikie have been destroyed by fire. Sometimes the love of art got the upper hand of the sportsman, as once, when a fine stag was passing, he thrust his gun into the hands of the gillie, and took out his sketch-book for a ‘shot’ with his pencil. Between 1845 and 1861 he executed twenty drawings of deer-stalking, which, engraved by various hands, were published together under the title of ‘Forest Work.’
His most important work as an illustrator of books were his paintings and drawings for the ‘Waverley Novels,’ 1831–41, and six illustrations for Rogers's ‘Italy,’ 1828. He drew a series (fourteen) of sporting subjects for ‘The Annals of Sporting,’ 1823–5, and engravings from his drawings or pictures appeared in ‘Sporting,’ by Nimrod (four); ‘The New Sporting Magazine’ (two); ‘The Sporting Review’ (one); ‘The Sportsman's Annual’ (one); ‘The Book of Beauty’ (five); Dickens's ‘Cricket on the Hearth’ (one); ‘The Menageries’ in Charles Knight's ‘Library of Entertaining Knowledge,’ &c. In 1847 he drew a beautiful set of ‘Mothers’ (animals with young) for the Duchess of Bedford, which were engraved by Charles George Lewis [q. v.]
Landseer was the most popular artist of his time. His popularity, in the first place due to the character of his pictures and to the geniality of disposition which they manifested, was enormously increased by the numerous engravings that were published from his works. Mr. Algernon Graves, in his ‘Catalogue of the Works of Sir Edwin Landseer,’ numbers no fewer than 434 etchings and engravings made from his works down to 1875, and no less than 126 engravers who were employed upon them. Sir Edwin was also very fortunate in his engravers, especially in his brother Thomas [q. v.], who may be said to have devoted his life to engraving the works of his younger brother. Of his other engravers the most important (in regard to the number of works engraved) were Charles George Lewis, Samuel Cousins, Charles Mottram, John Outrim, B. P. Gibbon, T. L. Atkinson, H. T. Ryall, W. H. Simmons, Robert Graves, A.R.A., W. T. Davey, and R. J. Lane, A.R.A. (lithographs). Proofs of the most popular of these engravings are still at a great premium. The large fortune which he left behind him was mostly accumulated from the sale of the copyrights of his pictures for engraving.
Landseer's paintings have greatly increased in value since his death. Even his earliest works fetch comparatively large prices. 'Spaniel,' painted in 1813, was brought in at Mr. H. J. A. Munro's sale (1867) for 304l. 10s.; a drawing of an ‘Alpine Mastiff,' executed two years after, sold at the artist's sale (1874) for 122 guineas; and the picture (painted 1820) of 'Alpine Mastiffs reanimating a Dead Traveler' sold in 1875 for 2,267l. 10s. At the Coleman sale in 1881 the following high prices were given: for a large cartoon of a 'Stag and Deerhound,’ in coloured chalks, 5,250l.; ‘Digging out an Otter,' finished by Sir John Millais, 3,097l. 10s; 'Man proposes, God disposes,' 6,615l; and 'Well-bred Sitters,' 5,250l. The Monarch of the Glen' was sold in April 1892 for over 7,000l., and 10,000l. have been given for the 'Stag at Bay' and for the 'Otter Hunt.'
There are several portraits of Landseer. As a 'boy he was painted by J. Hayter, then himself a boy, as ‘The Cricketer,’ exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815, and in 1816 C. R. Leslie, in ‘Time Death of Rutland.' There are two lithographs after drawings by Count D’Orsay, 1848. He drew himself in 1829 as 'The Falconer,' engraved in 1830 for ‘The Amulet’ by Thomas Landseer, who in the same year engraved a portrait of him after Edward Duppa. In 1855 Sir Francis Grant painted him, and C. G. Lewis engraved a daguerreotype. 'The Connoissers' belongs to 1865, and a portrait of him by John Ballantyne, R.S.A., to 1866. There is also a portrait by Charles Lanseer, and others by himself. A bust by Baron Marochetti is in the possession of the Royal Academy. In the works was exhibited at the Royal Academy.
By the generosity of private persons, principally Mr. Vernon, Mr. Sheepshanks, and Mr. Jacob Bell, the nation is rich in the works of Lanseer both at South Kensington and the National Gallery, and the British Museum contains a collection of his etchings an sketches.
[Cat. of Works of Sir E. Lanseer by Algernon Graves (a very valuable work full of notes teeming with minute and varied information about Landseer and his works); Memoirs of Sir E. Landseer by F. G. Stephens, Sir Edwin Landseer in Great Artists Ser. by the same; Cunningham's British Painters (Heaton); Pictures by Sir E. Landseer by James Dafforne; Redgrave's Dict.; Redgraves' Century; Bryan's Dict.; Grave's Dict.; English Cyclopædia; Annals of the Fine Arts; Lockhart's Life of Scott; Ruskin's Modern Painters. The Art Journal for a number of years published steel engravings after his pictures in the Vernon and other collections, and in 1876–7 a quantity of cuts after Landseer's sketches, extending over his whole career. The latter ware republished as Studies of Sir E. Landseer, with letterpress by the present writer. Information from Mr. Algernon Graves.]