The Strand Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 4 (April 1891)
The Strand Magazine - Vol.1 - No. 4 - April 1891
Pictures with Histories.
The frontispiece we are enabled to give this month is penned inwhat may be termed pictorial hieroglyphics by Sir Edwin Landseer. Theletter was addressed to Charles George Lewis, the celebrated engraver.The first house represented is Lewis's residence in Charlotte-street,whilst the final sketch is a very correct drawing of the artist's housein St. John's Wood-road. It remains just in the same state to-day, andis occupied by Mr. H. W. B. Davis, R.A. This delightfully originalmissive reads—evidently in response to an invitation:—
"Dear Charles,—I shall be delightedto come to your house, also Maria, William,and Henry.—Yours, Neddy Landseer."
The only other occasion on which Landseer departed from his usualroutine of work seems to have been when he was on a visit to theDuke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, in December, 1826, at which timethe artist was in his twenty-third year. He set himself to sketch acouple of sportsman's cards, of which we give the one considered themost picturesque, and best calculated to show the great painter'sversatility and ingenuity. The writing is that of the Duke of Bedford,and, to judge by the number of hares, rabbits, and pheasants bagged,sport at Woburn Abbey during this particular week must have been fairlybrisk. There is no question as to the genuine nature of this veritablecuriosity, for on the back of it is written the signature—in inkalmost faded—of Lady Georgiana Russell.
From our remarks in the previous chapter on "Pictures withHistories," it will be readily gathered that behind nearly everycanvas which Landseer touched some happy incident lies hidden away.His magnificent work, "A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society,"was suggested to him by seeing the noble creature which figures in thepicture carrying a basket of flowers in its mouth.
"Lion"—a picture he painted for Mr. W. H. Merle for£50—has its story to tell. Landseer particularly wished to seethe dog—Lion—excited. There chanced to be in the house alive mouse in a trap. The mouse was let loose, Lion gave chase, andthe next instant the mouse had disappeared. There was no accountingfor such a rapid exit, when somebody suggested that possibly Lion hadswallowed it. And such was the fact; the poor little mouse had foundsafety in the dog's huge jowls. Immediately Lion's lips were opened thetiny creature jumped out uninjured and made good its escape.
Lion, being a particularly powerful dog, was not easy to play trickswith. On one occasion whilst he was walking along the bank of a canal,a passing bargeman began to poke him with his oar. With a sudden rushand a jerk, Lion seized the oar, and lifted his tormentor into thewater. It is interesting to note that Lion's portrait was despatched ina heavy case to Paris, just at the time of the Revolution, and narrowlyescaped being used as a barricade.
Here is another anecdote of one of Landseer's pictures. "Beauty'sBath" was a portrait of Miss Eliza Peel, daughter of Sir Robert Peel,in which she is shown with a pretty little pet poodle, named Fido,in her arms. At the time the picture was engraved and about to beissued to the public, Sir Robert was not on the best of terms with thepopulace. This the publisher knew, and saw that, if he issued the workas "a portrait of Miss Peel," it would ruin the sale. Accordingly,he gave it this very taking title, by which it has ever since beenknown.
One day Sir Robert met the publisher and demanded why the titlehad been changed. He was assured that "Beauty's Bath" was mostappropriate.
"Oh! yes, that's all right," said Sir Robert. "I've no objectionto that. Only," he continued thoughtfully, evidently thinking of thepet poodle and his charming daughter, "which do you intend for thebeauty?"
"Well," replied the publisher merrily, "you pay your money and youtake your choice!"
Landseer loved to have his artistic joke.This is excellently seen in the two sketcheswhich we reproduce. "Huntsman andHounds" is a little pen-and-ink drawingdone for Miss Wardrop at the age ofthirty-four. Miss Wardrop, herself, was fondof the pencil and brush, and was particularlypartial to animals. She found nosmall difficulty in drawing accurately ahorse's hoofs. One day she went to Landseerand told him frankly of her non-success,at the same time asking him to giveher a hint as to the best way of drawingthem correctly. The artist good-humouredlycomplied with her request, and showedher that it was by no means necessaryto depict them at all. This he did by337hiding the horse's hoofs in a wealth of grass,as shown in the sketch.
"The Expectant Dog" is another exampleof the artist's merry moments. Thepoodle was the property of the Hon. F.Byng, a distinguished member of theHumane Society, and also prominentthrough his connection with the MetropolitanCommission of Sewers. Landseerwas dining with Mr. Byng, when he wasasked to make a little sketch of Mr. Bynghimself. This he immediately did bydrawing that gentleman's favourite dogwith its head up a sewer in the midst ofa puddle of water, and a rat making avery speedy exit at its approach. Theeminent Commissioner of Sewers saw thejoke at once, as did also his friends, andfor many a long day he was known by thenickname of "Poodle Byng."
We now turn to some works by SirJoshua Reynolds, to which a history isattached, and, in so doing, there occurs asomewhat curious incident, which has theinterest of connecting two of our greatestpainters. Sir Joshua's famous pictureof "The Gleaners" shows one of thetoilers of the field carrying a bundle ofwheat on her head. This figure wasput in, as the lady—Miss Potts—who posedas the model for it, happened to be stayingwith her friends, the Macklins, where SirJoshua was staying also. Miss Potts wasdestined to become the mother of SirEdwin Landseer; for, some time afterwards,she met John Landseer, loved and marriedhim. In passing, it may be mentionedthat Sir Joshua is credited with having expressedthe opinion that if an artist paintedfour or five distinctly original subjects inhis lifetime, the achievement should be sufficientto satisfy the demands of the expectantpublic. Hence he painted no fewer than aquartette of "The Strawberry Girl," eachsingle picture being as good as the others,though probably the first one painted wouldbe preferred for choice. Any of themwould easily fetch £2,000 or £3,000 each.We have had the privilege of examiningSir Joshua's own ledgers, and in 1766 wefind that he was only receiving £150 for awhole length portrait, £70 for half-length,£50 for a kit cat (36 in. × 25 in.), and£30 for a head. Gainsborough receivedabout the same figure.
The recent tragic death of the Duke ofBedford suggests to us a picture which SirJoshua painted of "The Bedford Family"—awork worth, at the lowest estimate,£10,000. The curious circumstance ofallowing this valuable painting to be turnedtowards the wall in a darkened room for agreat number of years is in itself suggestiveof some unknown story. At last it wasdecided to have the picture renovated, forit had become perfectly black. It wasaccordingly sent to be cleaned; but itwas found impossible to remove the dire338results which a darkened room and a dustyatmosphere had worked upon it. It was thensuggested that the very opposite meansshould be tried. The canvas was hung ina room, the roof of which was of glass,through which the bright sunshine couldfall upon it. As the week and monthpassed by, the sunlight scattered thegloom by degrees, until, at the end of ayear, all had disappeared, and the richcolouring was once more visible. One ofthe boys represented in the picture is LordWilliam Russell—the father of the lateDuke of Bedford—who was killed by hisvalet in 1840.
A "Sir Joshua" worth £15,000 has beenthrown out of window during a fire, andreached the ground untouched by smoke orflame. This was "Lady Williams Wynnand children," which now hangs at Wynstay.A very interesting incident may be toldto show how minute Sir Joshua was—evento a hair. At the sale of his books, therewas found amongst the leaves a little curlwrapped up in a small piece of tissue paperon which the artist had written "LadyWaldegrave's hair." He had painted apicture of the Countess of Waldegrave andher daughter, and, in order to get the exactcolour of the hair, had persuaded theCountess to cut off a lock. It was recentlybeautifully mounted, surrounded by portraitsof the pictures connected with it,and presented to the late Countess; and itnow hangs underneath the original work.
Can a leopard change its spots? Yes, sofar as a pictorial leopard goes—as may beillustrated by a painting by Sir Joshua of339Master Herbert as a Bacchus. He made anerror here, for he depicted the god of winesurrounded by lionesses, when, of course,leopards should have figured in the festivescene. The engraver in whose hands thepicture was placed saw the mistake, andtook it upon himself to add the spots to thelionesses, thereby converting them intoleopards in his engraving. He even wentfurther, and painted the necessary spots onthe animals on the canvas. One hundredyears passed away, and the picture was sentto London to be cleaned and restored, when,to the great dismay of the cleaner, henoticed that as he worked the leopardsbegan to lose their spots! Examinationsoon showed what was the reason. Allthe spots were removed,the lionesses appeared intheir proper skins, and so thepicture now appears.
We reproduce two picturesby Sir Joshua Reynolds. Thehistory of one is as sensationalas the other is broadlyhumorous. They happen,too, to be the stories of ahusband and wife.
Mrs. Musters was a greatbeauty of her day, and in1778 Sir Joshua painted her.The picture he sent home toMr. Musters to his seat at Colwick.An application was receivedfrom the artist that thecanvas should be returned tohim, as he desired to makeone or two important alterationswhich would considerablybenefit the picture. Itwas sent back to him, andit remained in his possessionseven years. Time after timeit was applied for, but allto no effect—it was impossibleto get it back; theapplicants got nothing butexcuse after excuse. At last,in desperation, Sir Joshuadeclared that he had spoiledthe work, and so destroyed it,and to make up for this hepainted another of Mrs.Musters in the character ofHebe, after a lapse of sevenyears. Where was theoriginal picture? It transpiredthat George IV.—thenPrince of Wales—was at thattime engaged in making a collection ofthe beauties of his Court, and had oftenasked Mr. Musters to allow his wife tosit for her portrait for this purpose. ThisMr. Musters firmly refused. The Princethen brought some pressure to bear onSir Joshua Reynolds to get the picture.How Sir Joshua set to work has alreadybeen seen. The painting was afterwards soldat the Pavilion at Brighton, and was purchasedby the Earl of Egremont of Petworth,at whose seat it now hangs. Itshould be mentioned that this is the onlyinstance on record where Sir Joshua didanything to cast a shade upon a characterwhich was in every other respect atruly honourable one. The pressure which340the Prince enforced was too great, and hesuccumbed.
Surely nothing can be more humorousthan the fact of a man having hisportrait painted, and, as the fashionin clothing changed, so having the latestthing in satin coat and flowered vest puton his figure! Yet this was actually done,and by the husband of the very lady whofigures prominently in the preceding story.Mr. Musters was exceptionally eccentric.Not content with a picture of himself by SirJoshua, he secured from time to time theservices of another artist to re-clothe himup to date. Some years after his death, thecanvas was submitted to a well-knownexpert, when the momentous questionarose as to how it could possibly be agenuine Sir Joshua when the clothing wasof a date some thirty years after the greatartist had ceased to exist? The picture wasput into the hands of a cleaner, when he,almost bewildered, sent a hasty message tothe expert to say that all the clothes weregradually coming off! Part of the coathad