Edwin Landseer

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Most Britons can identify Sir Edwin Henry Landseer's most famous work, the lions at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, even though the average person may not attribute them to him. Landseer (1802-1873) remains one of the best known British artists and animaliers over one hundred and thirty years after his death. Among his more easily-identified works is the stag portrait Monarch of the Glen (1851) and the highly romanticised Saved, (1856). A breed of dog, the Landseer, a type of Newfoundland, was named after him, as was architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens, son of his good friends. His brother, Charles was also a painter; a third brother, Thomas, was an engraver, who distributed copies of many of Edwin's works. All three brothers studied first with their father, a writer and engraver, then under Benjamin Robert Haydon, a well-known historical painter, and finally at the Royal Academy.

Landseer was prolific, and indisputably gifted in several media: painting, drawing and sculpting. He exhibited frequently and his work was and remains widely reproduced. Opinions vary as to the quality of his later work; while some appreciate what they see as its moral and evocative qualities,"he continued to paint brilliantly almost until the end of his life" [1] and "A Piper and a Pair of Nutcrackers" (1864) revealed his old power….and with The Swannery invaded by Eagles (1869) he achieved his last triumph."[2] others feel it is excessively sentimental and anthropomorphic, lacking the realism of his earlier creations; some even feel his work was "marred" by this [3].

Christopher Forbes, commenting on Queen Victoria's Favourite Dogs and Parrot, also known as The Royal Pets, said, "While Landseer has not endowed these creatures with specifically human characteristics, as he was to do in many of his most amous (sic) pictures, such as Dignity and Impudence exhibited at the British Institution in 1831 (Tate Gallery), there is a suggestion of the animals' mental activity which makes Landseer's painting quite different from, say, portraits of horses by George Stubbs (1724-1806). The dogs are not only beautiful, but also alert, sensitive, and intelligent; each is shown in a separate position and in an attitude that seems to reflect his own dividual state of mind. . . . The image of "Dash," regally perched on his stool, became a popular needlework subject throughout the balance of Queen Victoria's reign." [4] on 28 December 2008.

Landseer could paint unusually fast; some of his oils on canvas were completed in just a few hours (although he could also procrastinate for months). He was ambidextrous to the point where he could paint with both hands at once, even famously working simultaneously on different parts of a painting with right and left hand.

His failure to complete a royal commission is believed to have led to a nervous breakdown from which he never fully recovered, being plagued by depression throughout his life, exacerbated by drugs and alcohol. His death in 1873 was universally mourned. He is buried in St Paul's Cathedral, London.

Notes and sources

  1. Hilary Morgan at http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/landseer/, sourced 28 December 2007
  2. From the Landseer article in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, sourced online at: http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Sir_Edwin_Henry_Landseeron on 28 December 2007
  3. From the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online article, http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9047062/Sir-Edwin-Landseer, sourced on 28 December 2007
  4. From Forbes, Christopher, The Royal Academy Revisited, sourced at: http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/landseer/paintings/2.html