THE British school, as will be seen, developed its own ideals and standards. A certain mellow quality in colouring, at least among its earlier pictures, is observable ; in this quality it is allied to the old masters rather than to modern open-air impressionism. Sir George Beaumont used to say : ” A good picture, like a good fiddle, should be brown.”
George Romney was only eleven years younger than Reynolds, and is a connecting-link between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He lived until 18o2. A follower of Reynolds, he indeed caused the older master to look to his laurels on several occasions. He had more sweetness than force, indeed, British art at this period was somewhat lacking in painters who could portray the masculine characteristics. His artistic abilities displayed themselves first in music and in wood-carving. By degrees he moved into the more conventional channel, and became a portrait-painter. Romney’s master in Lancashire was a ” rollicking fellow,” who eloped with a girl, leaving his pupil behind quite ill, the result, says a chronicler, of ” his exertions in assisting the escape of the bride.” So, when Romney was nursed through this sickness by a compassionate girl, he followed his master’s example, and married her immediately, quite from impulsiveness. It was rather an imprudent step, for at that time he had no visible means of support. Leaving her and their two children in the North, he went to London, at the age of twenty-seven, and devoted himself to his art. Soon he rose to be recognized as second only to Reynolds and Gainsborough. ” Romney and Reynolds divide the town,” said Lord Thurlow, ” and I am of the Romney faction.” His was a great success. Reynolds used to allude to him as ” the man in Cavendish Square.” It is unexplainable why, at his zenith, he did not send for his family, but he never did so.
A lady who had had her portrait done by Romney wrote to a friend that every one was delighted with it, adding, naïvely : ” I have reason to be so, for it is handsomer than I ever was in my life.” Nearly all his faces have a tendency, however, to approach as nearly as possible to his ideal type, that of the beautiful and frail Emma, Lady Hamilton, who sat for him constantly, and with whom he was bewitched. Romney’s ” divine lady ” appears twice upon the walls of the gallery ; once, as a Bacchante, in No. 312, and again, in good contrast, in a rough sketch, No. 1668, where the expression is almost tragic.
Perhaps the most varied career ever experienced by a woman was that of Emma Lyon. The daughter of a poor servant, she began life as nursemaid in the family of a country doctor, soon afterward taking a position as serving-maid in London. In the same house lived, as cook, one Mary Jane Powell, who was destined to be a great actress ; and years later, when Emma Lyon, as Lady Hamilton, entered Drury Lane Theatre ablaze with diamonds, she received a mock heroic curtsey from the leading lady who was then reigning on the boards, none other than her early companion in the kitchen. Two such cases of social evolution it would be difficult to match. Emma Lyon received a good education at the hands of Mr. Greville, the first lover whose home she honoured with her presence. While under his protection, she met Romney, who was engaged to paint her portrait, and an infatuation seized the painter at once. He used to study her in all positions, and in all kinds of characters. He says, in a letter : ” The pictures I have begun are Joan of Arc, a Magdalen, and a Bacchante, for the Prince of Wales.” The lady was versatile in her posing, and used to portray antique statues at evening entertainments, with the aid of drapery, which she managed with great skill. When her extravagance had caused the financial ruin of Mr. Greville, Emma was passed on to his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, who after-ward married her. Romney always spoke of her as ” the divine lady,” and from the esthetic point of view she certainly must have been all that a painter could desire. How much there was in their attachment beyond a platonic love for art, has never transpired. After the conspicuous episode with Lord Nelson, Lady Hamilton, middle-aged and stout, retired into private life and penury, and died in a Calais lodging-house, almost as humble as the cottage in which she was born. The meteoric flash of her wonderful prime is preserved for all lovers of beauty, chiefly by Romney, although many other artists of the period rejoiced to depict her glories as well.
The chief characteristic of this master is grace. He is almost as charming in this respect as Greuze, and is less mannered. If he adhered a little too closely to one model, he could not, at any rate, have chosen a more faultless one. He was a dreamer, but his dreams were realized in an in-carnation of the evanescent witchery of feminine beauty, and, even if this be his limitation, it is a limit likely to hold popular favour for many a generation yet to come.
Romney’s colouring in his accessories is very re-strained, and this is one reason why his ” settings ” are so ” becoming.” The subject’s face has its beauty all the more enhanced by the subordination of surrounding tints. He loved soft dark creamy white, and an occasional glint of blue or green is often all the positive colour that appears in a portrait. Soft browns predominate in his backgrounds, and the charm of his colouring usually makes up for an occasional anatomical inaccuracy.
A thoroughly worthy family portrait is No. 1396, of Mr. and Mrs. Lindow. It is an early work of the master, and is harder in its precise lines than his later pictures. The colouring is realistic, and not based upon an ideal scheme. In the Parson’s Daughter, however, No. 1068, Romney has planned a delicious cool scheme of tawny shades and green as soft as sea-water; this picture is usually regarded as a ” fancy head,” but some consider it a portrait of Mrs. Pope, the actress. The green and tan tones of this lovely tondo of the Parson’s Daughter suggest soft autumnal harmonies, al-though the girl herself is as fresh as a June rose. The arch expression and the general breeziness about this delightful little person have enshrined her among the most popular examples of British art.
No other test of Romney’s abilities except a consideration of his portraits is quite fair, as this was his especial line of work. The Lady with a Child, No. 1667, a charming picture in soft pink and green, with one bold dash of scarlet far down in the corner, on the little girl’s shoe, is a perfect example of this painter at his best. The wondering eyes of the child are well rendered, and the mother’s refined, aristocratic bearing is enhanced by her sympathetic attitude toward the child in her arms.
Lady Craven, too, No. 1669, is a beautiful study in low tones. This lady was a talented writer of plays, and, although her matrimonial experiences were somewhat chequered, she was reported as an amiable person, and was a great friend of Horace Walpole. Mrs. Mark Currie, No. 1651, the bride of a few months when she sat for Romney in her ingenuous muslin gown and rose-coloured ribbons, is as fresh and fascinating today as she was in 1789.
Romney had to a stupendous degree that ability to flatter his subject while still preserving the likeness, which is the most valuable faculty to which a portrait-painter can attain. His education had been very desultory, so that he did not even spell correctly. When it was possible to avoid it, he preferred not to write. His power lay in his wonderfully accurate vision, which in his case took the place of all the usual training. He was absolutely impulsive. His temperament was as untrained as his character. His ideal was to paint great historical pictures, but he never rose beyond portraiture.
In 1794 Romney began to fail perceptibly. His mind weakened, the symptoms of his disorder being a rash and boastful series of undertakings on a gigantic scale, which all fell through. While a morbid activity dominated his brain, his hand lost its cunning to a great extent. His right hand became partly disabled, and, whether the victim of partial paralysis or of some drug, Romney began to deteriorate. He was subject to a slight mental infirmity, which took the form of a suspicion of unknown enemies, a usual manifestation in cases of insipient morbid insanity. The most charitable way to account for his coldness and indifference to his wife and children is to assume that his mind was always slightly deranged. This shrinking from imaginary persecutors was probably one reason why Romney never made an attempt to become a member of the Royal Academy. The smallest criticism had a very depressing effect upon him, and accounted for many unfinished pictures. When he got to the point when he felt the need of some one to care for him, he put his pride in his pocket and started North to find the wife whom he had deserted for so many years. This lady, with commendable charity, received him tenderly, and nursed him until his death. He was imbecile for months before his final dissolution, which took place in November, 1802, in his sixty-eighth year.
Two attractive pictures are Nos. 1402 and 1403, laundresses at work, one washing and the other ironing, so daintily, and in such a festive guise, that one is inclined to believe that the report of their being really portraits of two court ladies is true, and that these votaresses of the ” simple life ” posed for Henry Morland merely for amusement. Henry Morland was the father of the famous and erratic George Morland, of whom more hereafter.
An interesting study of light is the picture by Joseph Wright of Derby, No. 725, representing an Experiment with an Air-Pump. When Wright offered to exchange pictures with Richard Wilson, Wilson replied : ” With pleasure; I will give you air, and you will give me fire.” And there is fire in this domestic scene, with its weird effect of light coming from the centre, a curious problem, the candle being hidden behind a bowl of water. The air is just being restored to an exhausted receiver, in which a parrot, which had been subjected to the test, is seen fluttering, almost dead.
The two young girls by the table have been over-come with emotion at the thought of losing their pet. As a study of centrifugal lighting, the picture is very clever.
John Singleton Copley was born of Irish parents in Boston, Mass., in 1737. His father died while he was a boy, and his mother then married a man of artistic tastes, Mr. Pelham; his stepfather was Copley’s only known teacher. His boyhood was spent in America, where he married. He went to London in 1774, his wife and children afterward joining him. There he passed the remainder of his life. His success in England was immediate. During the first few months he wrote to his wife: ” I have just returned from Mr. West’s, where I took tea. He accompanied me to the queen’s palace, where I beheld the finest collection of pictures, I believe, in England. I have had a visit from Sir Joshua, and from Mr. Strange, the engraver. Lord Gage is out of town, I have not therefore seen him or Lord Dartmouth, but shall be introduced to the latter next week by Governor Hutchinson. . . . I dine out every day.” With that true zest for hospitality which characterizes the best Englishmen, these good people welcomed the man of such great talents who had had so few opportunities. One can understand their enthusiasm in displaying their riches of art to him, and his appreciation of their generous courtesy. In those days Boston was not the home of culture and art which it afterward be-came, and Copley’s son stated that, with the exception of his own pictures, his father had not seen any good paintings until he was nearly thirty.
Copley’s personal appearance was pleasing; he was not a large man, and his build was slender; he was always appropriately dressed, in good style, but not conspicuously. His bearing was aristocratic, and the expression of his face decidedly prepossessing. He visited Italy in 1774. He travelled in company with a dyspeptic egoist, who kept a diary of their trip, which is amusing, if cynical. He gives a description of Copley as he appeared on the road, which ill accords with the fastidious, well-dressed gentleman painter at home ! ” He had on one of those white French bonnets,” says Carter, ” which, turned on one side, admit of being pulled down over the ears ; under this was a yellow and red silk handkerchief, with a large Catherine-wheel flambeaued upon it. . . . This flowed half-way down his back. He wore a red brown or rather cinnamon greatcoat, with a friar’s cape, and worsted binding of yellowish white; it hung near his heels, out of which peeped his boots; under his arm he carried a sword, which he bought in Paris, and a hickory-stick with an ivory head.”
Although Copley’s fame rests chiefly on his portraits, we cannot judge of his work in that branch in the National Gallery, for his only pictures here are large historical pieces. One turns naturally first to the famous great canvas, No. Ioo. The tragic episode which forms the subject of this picture is the death of the Earl of Chatham, after his celebrated speech in the House of Lords, in which he protested against the taxation of the American colonies. The incident was a dramatic opportunity for an artist, and Copley has used it well. The peers standing about are all portraits ; this fact militates against the action of the picture to a certain extent, for of course no man wished to have his likeness perpetuated in an extreme attitude and with the distortion of facial expression such as would have been more natural under these trying circumstances ; but the result is dignified and noble. An engraving of this picture was sent to George Washington, from whom Copley received a most gracious note, which we cannot refrain from giving here. It is dated :
” PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 12, 1792.
” DEAR SIR: . . . I received a few days ago your acceptable present of the print representing the Death of the Earl of Chatham. The work, highly valuable in itself, is rendered more estimable in my eye when I remember that America gave birth to the celebrated artist who produced it. For the honour you have done me in this mark of your attention, I pray you to accept my best thanks and the assurance of my being, sir, your most obedient and obliged humble servant,
” GEORGE WASHINGTON.”
The Death of Major Pierson is portrayed in another large historic painting, No. 733. This gallant young officer fought with much ardour in the defence of St. Helier’s in Jersey, when it was invaded by French troops in 1781. While Major Pierson was successful in defeating the attack, he was shot by deliberate aim of one of the French soldiers. The black servant who accompanied him instantly turned and shot his master’s assailant. The moment chosen for representation is when the negro is shooting the Frenchman, Pierson having just fallen among his faithful followers. Copley went to Jersey to study the topography of St. Helier’s before painting this picture. An exact view of the town is seen in the background. In the central group twelve of the figures are actual portraits. The Great Duke himself pronounced this the best picture of a battle that he had ever seen.
The National Gallery happens to have only tragic episodes from the hand of Copley. Still another battle is to be seen in No. 787, the Defeat of the Spanish Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, by Lord Heathfield. We have seen this hero at closer range as painted by Sir Joshua; here he appears on horseback, on a narrow jetty of land, surrounded by his troops, while the other half of the canvas is occupied with a naval engagement. This is only the sketch for the finished picture on this subject, which hangs in Guildhall. In his passionate love for absolute truth of detail, Copley took the journey to Gibraltar to study the setting for his picture, so we may feel sure that this small promontory does in reality exist at some part of the coast where this defeat might have been possible, al-though the arrangement is somewhat strange from a pictorial point of view.
Copley was terribly slow as a portrait-painter, and nearly wore his sitters out. He had a habit of first laying his palette with every tint, completely mixed, which he should want; and, as he insisted upon matching every shade from the subject direct, many hours were spent in this preliminary. One lady had sat to him fifteen or sixteen times ; Cop-ley was called from the room for about ten minutes, and requested her not to move during his absence ; but she, overcome with curiosity to see what progress he had been making in all these weeks, got up and peeped at the canvas, and was amazed to find that it was entirely rubbed out !
Copley’s slow execution led to the fantastic story that he once began a family group, and was so long about it that the wife died, and the gentleman married again, that the first wife was then re-modelled as an angel, and the new one introduced sitting by her husband ; some have even gone so far as to add that the second wife also had to be enshrined in the clouds, and still a third face substituted, and that Copley had great difficulty in making the owner pay for all these quite necessary alterations !
Copley’s technique was conscientious, the paint laid on thick, and then smoothed down so as to obliterate the brush-marks. Compared with the great British artists, we have to admit that his style is hard and cold. His colouring, too, lacks charm and glow, but it is accurate, though unimaginative. But he is individual, in being almost self-taught, and that is something, in an age when nearly every one was trying to work in the manner of some one else. His early work is harder than his work after he went to England, and where he had opportunity to see what others had done. He became much more like the contemporary British painters in later life than he was in the beginning. His modelling of heads was very clever, and his eyes are always true and expressive. As a pioneer, in America, he was remarkable; if he had had the same early advantages as the other great English artists, who knows but he might have led among them? As it is, he is recognized as standing well.
Copley was saddened in his later years by seeing his fame waxing cold. His pictures became less popular, but he continued bravely to paint through genuine love for his art. He died in 1815, having attained his seventy-eighth year.
Gilbert Stuart is the only American painter, unless we count Copley as such, who is included in the collection of British pictures in this gallery. Two portraits, one of himself, No. 1480, and one of the artist, Benjamin West, No. 229, hang here.
Henry Fuseli, who painted the picture from the ” Midsummer Night’s Dream,” No. 1228, was a strange eccentric, one of the most amusing characters in English art annals. The date of his birth is uncertain, and he himself shifted it about, saying, when asked his age, ” How should I know? I was born in February or March, it was some cursed cold month, as you may guess from my diminutive stature and crabbed disposition ! ” Fuseli was al-most as devoted to literature as to art; his ” Academy Lectures ” are delightful reading. But, like many a blunt wit, he had a truly poetic soul underneath his forbidding mask. His pictures are intensely dramatic. When he was asked what OEdipus was afraid of, in his picture of OEdipus and His Daughters, he exclaimed : ” Why ! afraid of going to hell!”
In the picture in the National Gallery, Fuseli is in genial mood, and the composition is spirited and gay. The scene may be brought vividly before one by referring to the opening scene of Act IV. Titania and Bottom, with his ass’s head, are sur-rounded by their crowd of fairy retainers, and the spirit and even the letter of the text is carried out with tender zeal, although the nymphs are emphatically of the period of the artist himself. In nearly all historic paintings, the error is made in depicting the coiffure of the times in which the picture is painted, rather than that which would better suit the period in which the action takes place, and this gives the heads a modern look.
Fuseli indulged in a flirtation with Miss Mary Wollstonecraft, which caused his wife to be extremely jealous. While she was expostulating with him one day, Fuseli observed : ” Sophia, my love, why don’t you swear ? You don’t know how much it would ease your mind ! ” He enjoyed painting imaginative subjects better than actual scenes. ” D Nature ! ” he used to exclaim. “She always puts me out ! ” He was quite a wag in his blunt and crotchety style. He repeated a sentence in Greek one day, and then, turning to a learned professor, who was present, ” You can’t tell me who wrote that,” he said. The professor acknowledged his ignorance. ” How the d could you know ? ” chuckled Fuseli. ” I made it up this moment ! ”
Fuseli became professor of painting in the academy in 1799, and he was made Keeper of the Royal Academy upon the death of Wilton the sculptor. In this position he was able to criticize and assist the young Thomas Lawrence, when he was a student. He died while on a visit to the Countess of Guildford, in 1825, having been a prolific painter all his life, a good writer, and a conscientious student.
Sir George Beaumont, who so generously donated his gallery of pictures in 1826, was himself quite a painter, and two of his landscapes may be seen here, Nos. 105 and 119, the latter being a Shakespearian subject, Jacques and the Wounded Stag.
Until 1900 the National Gallery had no example of the work of Robert Smirke, who was a famous illustrator of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, and others, living between 1752 and 1845. In 1900 Mr. Henry S. Ashbee presented two delightful illustrative pictures, scenes from Don Quixote. In No. 1777, Don Quixote is shown overcome with amazement at the strange narrative of the countess.
This countess, it will be remembered, was really one of the duke’s stewards, dressed as a woman, with the purpose of playing a trick upon the un-suspecting cavalier, whom he informs that the beard on his face is the result of cruel enchantment. No. 1778 shows the interview between the duchess and Sancho Panza.
Thomas Stothard, R. A., began life in 1755. At fifteen he was apprenticed to a designer of textiles, where he worked and sketched, spending his spare time in illustrating. He was more interested in portraying the softer emotions than those of the more turbulent passions, and his work has a restful charm of peace and soft mirth running through it, which makes him stand out as the exponent of cheerfulness. He was a simple and unconventional character. One morning he went to church, got married, took his bride home, and went around to the academy as usual; after the school closed, he as casually invited his friends to come home with him and meet his wife. ” Guilelessness ” was generally conceded to be his leading characteristic. This quality is felt in his Greek Vintage, No. 317, where the young nymphs and swains, anything but Greek in motive, are dancing in an inane but amiable way. Many of his small pictures here are studies of classical subjects in British dress. In 1900 Mr. Henry Vaughan bequeathed a number of pictures by Stothard, one of which is a group of Shakespeare characters, No. 1830, amongst whom may be distinguished, progressing from left to right across the picture, Malvolio and the Duchess, Maria, and Sir Toby and Sir Andrew; the lovers in ” Love’s Labour’s Lost “; Falstaff, Bardolph, and Pistol are in the back, and Prince Henry on the right. On the other side are Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone, while Prospero, Miranda, and Caliban are also seen ; Lear with his daughters, Edmund with Kent and Edgar, Hamlet and Ophelia, and Macbeth and his lady, are at the right. Romeo and Juliet are the subject of a separate composition, No. 1835.
His sketch for Intemperance, or Mark Antony and Cleopatra, is a charming bit of colour, in a decorative style, No. 321. But his most significant work is his famous Canterbury Pilgrims, known to every one through the engravings which are so often seen. The picture, No. 1163, had a noted career from the first. It was exhibited by itself, at a shilling admission, in many of the leading towns of Great Britain. It may be considered as his masterpiece, on which his fame chiefly rests. It is full of humour, and is as much in the spirit of Chaucer as any production of the early nineteenth century could be. The relaxed figure of the Wife of Bath, chattering so inconsequently to the monks, is full of playful appreciation. The whole composition is most satisfactory, filling its space grace-fully, and the action is sufficiently dramatic to enable one to pick out the various figures with ease.
There are three fine portraits by Sir Henry Raeburn, one, No. 1146, a full-length of a lady, in a charming dress of yellow harmonies, standing in a grove of beeches; another, No. 1435, of Colonel Bryce McMurdo, sitting on a rock by a stream, fishing. The third portrait, No. 1837, represents Mrs. Lauzun, at the age of seventeen. The composition of all of these portraits is delightfully pictorial. When Raeburn was a beginner, he was honoured by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who, recognizing his talent, said to him : ” I know nothing about your circumstances ; young painters are seldom rich; if money be necessary for your studies abroad, say so, and you shall not want it.” Raeburn was able to dispense with this generous offer, but he pressed Sir Joshua for letters of introduction, and went to Italy under the best auspices. He became later the undisputed leader of art in the north of England and Scotland. He only visited London three times in his life, and yet he was elected an R. A., and also a member of the Imperial Academy in Florence, and an honorary member, in 1817, of the Academy of Fine Arts in New York. In 1821 he was elected to the same honour in the Academy of Arts in South Carolina. Being also a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, it is to be seen that he was appreciated in his lifetime. As an architect and landscape-gardener, Raeburn was also clever. George IV. conferred knighthood on him in 1822, when he was sixty-seven years of age. He remained all his life hale, vigorous, and temperate, of a singularly lovable disposition. His tastes were simple and wholesome; he was an inveterate lover of fishing, and used to make little tours for this purpose in the country made famous by Walton and Cotton in the ” Complete Angler.” It was after an excursion of this character, in company with Sir Walter Scott, whose portrait was the last work of Raeburn, that this good man was taken ill, and died after a week’s languishing, in 1823.
James Opie was a marvellously precocious student. At ten he could solve difficult problems in Euclid, while at twelve he opened a night-school, where he taught scholars twice his own age. He was a son of the village carpenter, and was born in Truro in 1761. He began his artistic career early, too; an amusing incident of his childhood is related. Opie wished to draw a picture of his father in a rage; and he deliberately teased him, running in and disturbing him at his reading, until the mood had reached such a climax as he wanted to portray! Opie was heralded by Peter Pindar, who brought him to London, as ” the Cornish Wonder,” as ” Caravaggio and Velasquez in one ! ”
“The Cornish boy in tin-mines bred, Whose native genius, like its diamonds, shone In secret, till chance gave him to the sun,”
soon became a popular and fashionable portrait-painter. He was twice married; his first wife eloped, and he was divorced, but with his second wife, who was very beautiful, he lived in great contentment. We have only portraits by which to judge him in this collection, but he also painted many famous historic and dramatic pictures.
Opie’s portrait of William Siddons, No. 784, is significant as presenting to our attention the likeness of the husband of the brilliant actress, Mrs. Siddons. Siddons himself was but an indifferent actor, but an excellent husband and father. Mrs. Siddons’s private life was rendered very happy by him. Rev. Bate Dudley characterized him as ” a d rascally actor, though seemingly a good fellow.” At the time of his death, Mrs. Siddons wrote to Mrs. Piozzi : ” May I die the death of my honest worthy husband ; and may those to whom I am dear remember me when I am gone as I remember him.”
Opie was a great natural philosopher, and used to electrify even such sitters as the celebrated Horne Tooke with the brilliancy of his axioms. He was essentially free from vanity as to his own talent, his wife tells that he was never satisfied with a picture; that, after a portrait was finished, he would throw himself down in dejection, exclaiming : ” I am the most stupid of created beings ! I never, never shall be a painter as long as I live ! ”
He had a splendid conception of chiaroscuro, and his portraits are always lighted so as to bring out all the strong points of character in the faces. The portrait of Opie himself, No. 1826, is painted, less to proclaim his own appearance to the world, than as a study of strong lights on a down-turned face. No. 1408 is a portrait probably of William Opie, the younger brother of the artist. It would be difficult to compose a more ideal and beautiful picture of a youth. The broad touch of the artist is seen at its best in this striking work. Equally fine as a study of light and shade and as a rendering of texture, is the likeness of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, No. 1167. William Godwin, the clever author of ” Caleb Williams,” and other works, may also be seen in No. 1208. The gentleman is not handsome ; as Southey said of him : ” He has large noble eyes, and a nose, oh, a most abominable nose ! ”
Opie’s rather dashing style of work brought upon him the censure of the quaint Fuseli, who muttered, in his broken English : ” The fellow can’t paint notink but thieves and murderers ; and when he paints thieves and murderers, he looks in the glaas ! ” He wrote an essay on the ” Cultivation of the Fine Arts in England,” in which he strongly recommends the founding of a National Gallery.
Opie died of congestion of the brain in 1807; he was active to the last, and, even after delirium had set in, criticized, during a lucid interval, the work of one of his pupils in a perfectly sane and intelligent manner.
Nos. 1130 and 1497 are most characteristic works of the better class, from the hand of the profligate but original George Morland, whose vagabond genius did not always accept such moral and rural limitations. George Morland was the son of Henry Morland, who painted the pretty laundresses which we recently noticed. George was born in 1763, and gave such promise in his boy-hood, that his proud father ruined his life by over-working him, shutting him up in an attic, and only allowing the boy to leave his painting and drawing for an hour at twilight. This course of treatment naturally led the youth to try and crowd his whole boy’s life into that hour; and, with this end in view, his pals would assemble under his window in the afternoon, and George would let down to them by a string some drawings of improper subjects which they would go off and sell; so that by sunset they had a sum of money ready to enjoy with the young artist. His life quickly ran into various excesses in this way, and at the age of seventeen he left his home and fared forth to seek his fortune. He became the boon companion of stablemen and pot-boys, and, although he was very successful and facile with his brush, he was not a favourite in good society, for which he expressed utter contempt. Decent people bored him; he was, in fact, a low character. He married a very good girl, but paid her little attention after the first, and her influence had no appreciable effect upon him.
In No. 1030 Morland has painted a stable with that absolute realism which a man accustomed to live in the atmosphere of hay and horses alone could reproduce. In its line it would be impossible to improve upon it. The sentiment in this picture is decidedly Dutch, especially in its method of lighting through the door; but it has Morland’s own touch. No one could better render the shaggy coat of a pony. It is considered his best achievement, and the careless disposition of the objects, as one would be sure to see them in a stable, is wonderfully natural and observing.
Morland used to cook his own food and eat it from a chair in his studio, so that he might not be interrupted in his work, or leave his easel. In the same room he kept pigeons, dogs, and even pigs; he drank plentifully of strong liquors, but virtuously abstained from tea, as he said it made his hand shake ! At one time he had a perfect private menagerie in his home. He kept an ass, foxes, hogs, goats, monkeys, squirrels, guinea-pigs, and dormice. The two grooms and a footman whom he maintained must have had plenty to do, for he also kept eight horses.
He used to place his companions as outposts to watch for interesting-looking passers-by ; when they thought a wayfarer was of a suitable type, they would beg him to come in and sit for Morland, who always treated these sporadic models to beer and cheese, and often ended by enrolling them among his regular followers. In spite of his debaucheries, his skill prevailed, and he was never lazy or idle; only convivial and inconsequent. He produced four thousand pictures in his short and merry life; diligence was his one virtue. A solicitor once advised him to examine into his genealogy, for he was entitled to a baronetcy. ” Sir George Morland ! ” cried the painter. ” It sounds well, but it won’t do. Plain George Morland will always sell my pictures, and there is more honour in being a fine painter than in being a fine gentleman ! ”
By degrees he sank into untidiness and carelessness about appearances; his jovial companions were ready to strip him of his large earnings; so that after awhile creditors began to pursue him, and he, becoming nervous, constantly changed his place of residence. He finally descended to painting by the day for picture-dealers ; a rather ghastly anecdote is told of his being engaged at ” four guineas a day and drink.” His employer was obliged to sit by him, and dole out liquor while he worked. He would thus paint until he was quite tipsy, and then demand his wages, and stop work, no matter what time it was, so that much tact was required in the dealer, to keep him cheerful, with sufficient wine to satisfy him, while he preserved him from incompetence until he had got a day’s work out of him !
Sometimes, when flying from creditors, he would join a band of gipsies for a few days, or go and live quietly at some little wayside cottage, making friends with the children, and appearing quite as a simple rustic to the trusting people. Such open country life and homely sport are exemplified in the fine picture called Rabbiting, No. 1497. The Village Inn, too, No. 1351, is very rural and charming.
He died in delirium tremens in a spunging-house, when he was not yet forty-two years old ; and yet, in spite of his neglect, and his vicious ways, his wife was so much overcome with grief at his death, that she went into convulsions, and expired herself, and they were both buried in one grave. He had composed his own epitaph : ” Here lies a drunken dog.” Poor Morland ! It was appallingly simple and true.
Richard Westall’s portrait of Philip Sansom, Jr., as a child, No. 1414, is one of the loveliest incarnations of baby life in the gallery. The quaint little child is gathering flowers, and the picture is harmonious and fascinating.
There are four cattle pieces by James Ward, R. A., two of which, although they go under other names, are really studies of oxen. The first Landscape with Cattle, No. 688, shows much more cattle than landscape, this picture was exhibited in competition with Paul Potter’s famous Bull, but the comparison is unfavourable. No. 1043 is a curious study of a cleft in the limestone mountain, a white bull being introduced in the foreground to act as scale. The view of Harlech Castle, No. 1158, is very ” distant,” the foreground being occupied by a fallen tree and the cart of some wood-cutters, which are much more important features in the composition than the building in the far landscape. James Ward has been compared with Landseer as an animal-painter. He lived to be ninety-two years old, dying in 1859.