Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/243

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Foster
Foster
231

from the drawing-master, Charles Parry. Soon after he left school in 1840, his father's friend, Ebenezer Landells [q. v.] the wood-engraver, took the boy into his own office on trial. He remained with Landells as an apprentice from 1841 to 1846, working at first as an engraver only, afterwards, by Landells's advice, as an original draughtsman on wood. Most of the woodcuts for the early numbers of 'Punch' were engraved in Landells's office; the first of Foster's original contributions to 'Punch' was published on 5 Sept. 1841. He was also employed by the 'Illustrated London News' on its foundation in May 1842, and did much work, especially for the annual almanacs published in connection with that paper. During his apprenticeship he spent his spare time in the fields at Hampstead and Highgate, making careful studies of trees and plants in water-colours. He received much kindness from Jacob Bell [q. v.], the collector of Landseer's works, who allowed him to make copies of pictures in his possession. Foster on one occasion obtained 20l. for a drawing after Landseer. On leaving Landells and starting as an illustrator on his own account in 1846, he obtained such ample employment from publishers that for some years he had little leisure for independent painting. His work on wood, in which he carried on the tradition derived through Harvey from Bewick, began to appear at a time when the public was tired of the steel-engravings which had enjoyed a long vogue in countless annuals and gift-books, and the change was welcome. His first patron was Henry Vizetelly [q. v.], who gave him a commission to illustrate 'The Boy's Country Book,' in four parts, by Thomas Miller, published by Messrs. Chapman & Hall in 1847. His first great success was with the illustrations to Longfellow's 'Evangeline,' published by David Bogue in 1850. This was followed by editions of the same poet's 'Voices of the Night,' 'Hyperion,' and 'Poetical Works,' 1852. In the course of a few years Foster illustrated a large number of editions of the poets with vignettes and designs, either of pure landscape or of a domestic and sentimental character; he did his best work in black and white in illustrating Milton, Goldsmith, Scott, and Wordsworth. He also illustrated some prose works, including his own 'Memento of the Trossachs, Loch Katrine, and Loch Lomond' (1854), 'Black's Guide to the English Lakes' (1858), and Henry Mayhew's 'Rhine' (1856) and 'Upper Rhine' (1858), the last two with engravings on steel. In addition to all these woodcuts and engravings by other hands from his designs, he illustrated several books with etchings on steel by himself; the first of these was Milton's 'L'Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso,' 1855 (thirty etchings), followed by Goldsmith's 'Traveller,' 1856 (thirty etchings), and 'The Hamlet' by Thomas Warton, 1859 (fourteen etchings). This prolific period of black and white work came to an end in 1858. Foster accepted no new engagements for illustration, to which he returned only on a few occasions in later years. Thus he illustrated Lorimer's 'Scottish Reformation' in 1860, 'Pictures of English Landscape' (thirty fine wood-engravings by the brothers Dalziel, with text by Tom Taylor) in 1863. and Moxon's edition of Hood's poems, 1871–2, for which his designs were engraved on steel by William Miller of Edinburgh.

From 1858 onwards Foster devoted himself almost entirely to painting. He spent the summer of that year near Dorking, improving himself in water-colours and making the most careful studies from nature, in which his strong eyesight and his practice in minute finish on the wood-block led him to carry detail too far. The first drawings which he sent in to the Old Water-colour Society were rejected, but 'The Farm,' a view near Arundel, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in? 1859, and the three drawings which he sent to the Old Watercolour Society in 1860 led to his election as an associate. He became a full member of the society in 1862, after a period of probation of unexampled shortness, and remained from that date onwards one of the most indefatigable as well as the most popular contributors to the society's exhibitions, in which over three hundred of his drawings appeared. His subjects were principally studies of roadside and woodland scenery with rustic figures, studies made for the most part in his favourite county of Surrey, varied with sketches made on his frequent visits to the continent. He never abandoned the habit of excessive finish which he had learnt from his practice as an engraver and draughtsman of vignettes, with the result that his work in water-colours, remaining at the end of forty years much what it had been at the outset, became old-fashioned in the opinion of most artists and critics, though it never lost favour with the general public or failed to command a good price, whether at exhibitions or in the saleroom. He did not use the broad transparent washes of the older water-colour painters, but painted largely in body-colour, retouching his work with careful stippling till it was finished to his satisfaction. So in his choice of subjects he showed a taste for small and pretty scenes rather than wild or spacious landscapes. He was skilled in composition,