Leslie, Charles Robert (DNB00)
LESLIE, CHARLES ROBERT (1794–1859), painter, was the eldest son of American parents. His father, Robert Leslie, a personal friend of Benjamin Franklin, was a clockmaker, of extraordinary ingenuity in mathematics, who in 1793, in order to increase his business connections, came from Philadelphia to London, where Charles was born on 19 Oct. 1794. A sister, Eliza Leslie (1787–1858), who remained in America, was a prolific miscellaneous writer (see Appleton, Cyclop. of American Biog. iii. 696). When Charles was about five years old, his father, in consequence of the death of his partner, Mr. Price, returned with his family to Philadelphia. In the course of the voyage they had a fight with a French privateer, and had to put into Lisbon, where they spent the winter while the ship was being repaired. Robert Leslie died in 1804, with his affairs embarrassed by a lawsuit; but through the kindness of the professors at the university of Pennsylvania, Charles and his brother were able to complete their education. From his childhood Leslie had shown a decided talent for drawing, but his mother was too poor to permit of his training as an artist, and he was apprenticed in 1808 to Messrs. Bradford & Inskeep, publishers in Philadelphia.
A portrait of George Frederick Cooke the actor, drawn by the young apprentice from memory, attracted the attention of Mr. Bradford. It was taken to the Exchange Coffee-house, and in a few hours Leslie's fame was spread among the wealthiest merchants in the city. A subscription, headed by Mr. Bradford, was at once raised to enable Leslie to study painting for two years in Europe. After a few lessons in painting (his first) from a Philadelphian artist named Sully, he sailed from New York with Mr. Inskeep on 11 Nov. 1811, arriving in Liverpool on 3 Dec. He bore with him letters of introduction, and was kindly received by Benjamin West [q. v.], the president of the Royal Academy; he was at once admitted as a student at the Academy, and through West's influence was allowed access to the Elgin marbles, then deposited in a temporary building in the gardens of Burlington House. He and another young American, Morse, who had lodgings with him in Warren Street, Fitzroy Square, used to study them from six to eight in the morning, after a bath in the Serpentine. He also studied the Townley marbles in the British Museum, and succeeded in carrying off two silver medals at the Academy schools. He soon became acquainted with Allston and King, two American artists of some standing. From Allston and West he received instruction in painting, and through Allston he made the acquaintance of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose society aided in the rapid development of his mind. He was fond of reading and the theatre, and delighted in the acting of John Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, and Bannister. He found congenial fellowship in the society of his fellow-countrymen, Washington Irving and Newton. They had the same circle of acquaintances (chiefly American), and for a time the three generally dined together at the York Chop-house in Wardour Street. John Constable also soon became an intimate friend, and the group, which included Peter Powell, who lived with Leslie at 8 Buckingham Place, Fitzroy Square, formed a merry company.
Leslie's early and natural ambition was to succeed in what was called ‘high art,’ and after a few portraits he painted ‘Saul and the Witch of Endor,’ which was rejected at the British Gallery, but was afterwards purchased for one hundred guineas by Sir J. Leicester (Lord de Tabley). The subjects of two other early pictures were ‘Timon’ and ‘Hercules,’ but the first which was exhibited at the Royal Academy was called ‘Murder’ (1813), a terrific scene of an assassin stealing from a cave at midnight holding a drawn sword in one hand and (as he himself describes it) ‘his breath with the other.’ In 1814 he exhibited a portrait of Mr. J. H. Payne (the American actor and dramatist) in the character of Norval, and in 1816 ‘The Death of Rutland,’ in which the curly-headed young Edwin Landseer [q. v.] figured as Rutland.
In 1817 he went to Paris with Allston and William Collins, and while there painted some portraits of American friends. In 1818 he visited Dawlish and Plymouth, and in the following year exhibited ‘Sir Roger de Coverley going to Church,’ the first picture in which he showed his special vocation as an artist. It had an immediate success. It was purchased by Mr. Dunlop, a wealthy tobacco merchant (whose constant kindness he owed to his American connection), and a replica was painted for the Marquis of Lansdowne. At this time Leslie was much occupied in illustrating Irving's ‘Knickerbocker's History of New York’ and ‘Sketch-book.’ He also, in 1820, painted Irving's portrait. In 1821 he exhibited the well-known picture of ‘May Day Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth,’ which was visited twice in the course of its progress by Sir Walter Scott. Sir Walter, to whom he had been introduced in the previous year, suggested the introduction of the archers. In the same year Leslie was elected an associate of the Royal Academy.
His next picture of note was ‘Sancho Panza in the Apartment of the Duchess’ (exhibited 1824), in which his racy but refined humour first had full scope. It was repeated four times (Mr. Vernon's picture is now in the National Gallery), but the picture of 1824, the first and best, though not the largest, was painted for Lord Egremont, and is now at Petworth, Sussex, with four other pictures by Leslie which were afterwards purchased by the same patron.
In 1824 he went to Scotland with Edwin Landseer and visited Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford. Here he painted Sir Walter's portrait, and shortly afterwards he made six illustrations for the Waverley novels, which were engraved. In 1825 Leslie removed to the house in St. John's Place, Lisson Grove, where B. R. Haydon [q. v.] painted ‘Christ's Entry into Jerusalem,’ and shortly afterwards he married Miss Harriet Stone, to whom he had been engaged for some years. She had been introduced by him in his first picture of ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’ as a yeoman's daughter. The next year saw him a father and a Royal Academician, and his life hereafter was one of constant domestic happiness. This year he painted ‘Don Quixote doing Penance in the Sierra Morena,’ for the Earl of Essex, and about the same time his diploma picture, ‘Queen Katherine and her Maid.’ In 1829 came his second picture of Addison's famous country squire, which was called ‘Sir Roger de Coverley among the Gipsies,’ and in 1831 he exhibited his inimitable ‘Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman,’ ‘The Dinner at Mrs. Page's House,’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ The original of the first picture and replicas of the two others were painted for Mr. Sheepshanks, and are now at the South Kensington Museum. ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ or ‘Katharine and Petruchio,’ was painted for the Earl of Egremont, and chiefly at Petworth, where the artist and his family paid yearly visits in the summer. During its composition he received some valuable hints from Washington Irving. In 1833 Leslie was induced by his brother in America to accept the appointment of teacher of drawing at the Military Academy at West Point, on the Hudson River, but after six months' trial at the instance of his wife he returned to England. In 1835 Leslie exhibited ‘Gulliver's Introduction to the Queen of Brobdingnag,’ painted for the Earl of Egremont, and ‘Columbus and the Egg,’ painted for Mr. W. Wells. In 1835 came ‘Autolycus,’ and in 1837 ‘Perdita,’ both painted for Mr. Sheepshanks and now in the South Kensington Museum. In 1838 Leslie was summoned to Windsor to paint ‘The Queen receiving the Sacrament at her Coronation,’ which was followed by ‘The Christening of the Princess Royal,’ 1841. The former picture was not exhibited till 1843, the year of the admirable scene from the ‘Malade Imaginaire’ (now in the South Kensington Museum), and a large picture of the ‘fudge’ scene from ‘The Vicar of Wakefield,’ the only one he painted in illustration of Goldsmith's masterpiece. In 1844 he exhibited a ‘Scene from Comus,’ which was afterwards painted in fresco in the pavilion in Buckingham Palace Gardens. In 1845 he published ‘The Memoirs of John Constable, R.A.’ In 1848 Leslie succeeded Howard as professor of painting at the Royal Academy, and began to deliver the series of lectures which afterwards formed the substance of his excellent ‘Handbook for Young Painters,’ published in 1855. In 1852 his delicate health obliged him to resign the professorship of painting. In 1855 he exhibited another ‘Sancho Panza,’ his last picture from ‘Don Quixote;’ in 1856 ‘Hermione;’ in 1857 ‘Sir Roger de Coverley in Church;’ and in 1859 ‘Hotspur and Lady Percy,’ and ‘Jeanie Deans and Queen Caroline.’ He died in Abercorn Place, St. John's Wood, 5 May 1859, the day after the Academy exhibition was opened. His death was hastened by the shock received by the loss of a daughter (Mrs. A. P. Fletcher) shortly after her marriage.
His ‘Autobiographical Recollections,’ edited by Tom Taylor [q. v.], were published in 1865, and his ‘Life of Reynolds,’ which he left unfinished, was completed by the same writer and published in 1865. A collection of thirty of his works was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the winter of 1870.
Leslie occasionally painted a scene from scripture, as ‘Martha and Mary’ in 1833, and ‘Christ and his Disciples at Capernaum’ in 1843, repeated for Mr. Henry Vaughan in 1858. His serious scenes from Shakespeare also, like those from ‘Henry VIII’ and the ‘Winter's Tale,’ which he painted for I. K. Brunel the engineer, have much merit. But it is as a humorous illustrator that Leslie's special merit as an artist lies. He threw himself so completely into the spirit of his author, whether Cervantes, Sterne, Addison, Shakespeare, or Molière, that we seem to see the very creation of the writer untinged by the personality of the artist. His humour, though hearty, is always refined. Technically, he was an excellent draughtsman, with a vital quality akin to that of Hogarth, with whose works he had been familiar from his youth. He was skilful in composition and deft in execution. His principal defect as a painter was his colour, which, especially in his later works, was harsh.
Among the many portraits which he painted, besides those already mentioned, were those of Miss Fry, Samuel Gurney, the Marquis of Westminster's family, Lady Lilford (for Lord Holland), the Duchess of Sutherland, the Marquis of Stafford, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Howley), Lord Cottenham, the Baroness Burdett Coutts, Charles Dickens as Bobadil (1846), and (Sir) John Everett Millais, 1854.
Leslie was genial, sociable, of high principle, happy in his home and welcomed as a guest by high and low. He was a pleasant and able writer; his ‘Handbook for Young Painters’ (1855) and his ‘Life of Constable’ (1843, 2nd edit. 1845) are both excellent in their different ways; his letters are natural and full of intelligence, and his appreciation of the work of other artists was sound, generous, and without bias. Though by no means wanting in industry, his production was not large, but this is partly to be accounted for by the popularity of his work, which led to a frequent demand for repetitions of the same subject.
The nation is fortunate in possessing a number of his best works. In the National Gallery are ‘Sancho Panza in the Apartment of the Duchess,’ ‘Uncle Toby and Widow Wadman,’ ‘Scene from Comus;’ and at the South Kensington Museum ‘Scene from “The Taming of the Shrew,”’ ‘The Principal Characters from “The Merry Wives of Windsor,”’ ‘What can this be?’ ‘Whom can this be from?’ ‘Uncle Toby and Widow Wadman’ (a replica of the National Gallery picture), ‘Florizel and Perdita,’ ‘Autolycus,’ ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,’ ‘Les Femmes Savantes,’ ‘Le Malade Imaginaire,’ ‘Don Quixote and Dorothea,’ ‘Laura introducing Gil Blas to Arsenia,’ ‘A Female Head,’ ‘Queen Katherine and Patience,’ ‘Amy Robsart,’ ‘The Two Princes in the Tower,’ ‘The Toilet,’ ‘The Princess Royal’ (a sketch for ‘The Christening’), ‘Portia,’ ‘Griselda,’ ‘Her Majesty in her Coronation Robes’ (sketch for ‘The Coronation’), ‘A Garden Scene’ (portrait of the artist's youngest son when a child), ‘Dulcinea Del Toboso,’ and ‘Sancho Panza.’ All the works at South Kensington were given by Mr. Sheepshanks. At the National Portrait Gallery there is a portrait of Lord Holland by Leslie.
Between 1813 and 1839 Leslie exhibited seventy-six works at the Royal Academy and eleven at the British Institution.
[Leslie's Autobiographical Recollections; Cunningham's Lives of Painters (Heaton); Redgraves' Century of Painters; Redgrave's Dict.; Bryan's Dict. (Graves and Armstrong); Graves's Dict.]