WE will glance now at the pictures of the Norwich school, an interesting side-issue of British art, quite by itself, and dominated by its own peculiarities.
John Crome, the founder of the Norwich school, was born in a public-house in 1769. He began life as an errand-boy, but commenced to draw soon after, while apprentice to a house-painter. He soon developed enough talent to enable him to become a local teacher, and he and his pupils formed a little academy, called the Norwich Society of Artists, for the study of the fine arts. Small exhibitions were held, and its reputation spread. He continued to paint signs for inns, and an account-book has been preserved which contains such entries as ” For painting Ye Lame Dog, Is; for writing and gilding Ye Maid’s Head, 5s.” He taught his pupils to study nature, and to paint the country which was about them, instead of yearning after Italian lakes and Alpine views. While Crome visited London frequently, he preferred to spend his life among his native heaths and hills, and the result is that Norwich scenery has been embalmed for posterity by his skilful hand.
No. 689 is Crome’s famous Mousehold Heath, a picture with a strange history of vicissitudes. It was bought by a dealer, who considered that it would be worth more as two pictures than as one, so he cut it down the middle. In the course of time the two halves came into possession of an intelligent art-lover, who joined them together again. The seam is still visible down the centre, and probably a small portion of the picture had to be sacrificed. Crome’s chief charm is his absolute fidelity to nature, with a feeling for ” air and space,” this is the key-note of Mousehold Heath. He was in this respect uncompromisingly realistic. The Windmill, No. 926, is a homely scene, on the downs ; but the donkeys in the chalk-pit give a peculiar effect to the perspective, and the picture is not so good as Mousehold Heath. No. 897, a View at Chapel Fields, is delightful in tone and feeling, and the range of trees recalls faintly the Avenue, by Hobbema, although the situation is entirely different. The light through the trees is exquisitely rendered. The Welsh Landscape, Slate Quarries, No. 1037, is a curious study of a remarkable condition of nature, while No. 1831, Brathey Bridge, Cumberland, is a noble and dignified picture of a rocky stream set about with stately trees.
Crome died in 1821, his last words being, ” Dear Hobbema, how I have loved you!” His advice to his son, who was also a painter, was : ” Paint; but paint for fame. If your subject is only a pig-sty, dignify it ! ” Crome was alluded to by George Borrow as ” the little dark man in the brown coat and the top-boots,” who, having ” painted, not pictures of the world, but English pictures,” will some day be considered as ” the chief ornament of the old town.”
Two good examples of John Sell Cotman may be seen in the National Gallery, No. 1111, a River Scene, contrasting curiously in its calm tranquillity with No. 1458, a Galiot in a Gale, which is boisterous and stormy in the extreme. Cotman was one of the Norwich school, which, with Crome at its head, stood so high as a local influence. Cotman had also literary and antiquarian tastes, and edited many valuable works on historic arts and crafts. He had a wonderful apprehension of the picturesque, and could convert what would usually be a commonplace subject into a picture full of interest.
Sir Martin Shee’s portrait of W. T. Lewis, the actor, as the Marquis in the Midnight Hour, is a fair example of his work. No. 677 was bequeathed to the gallery by the actor’s son, and was received in 1863. Sir Martin had connections with the stage, and a strong dramatic talent himself, which has enabled him to portray with great spirit a mobile face full of comedy possibilities. He wrote a tragedy, among other literary ventures, but when, after the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence, he was elected President of the Royal Academy, public sentiment regarding his literary talent may be detected from the following epigram :
” See Painting crowns her sister Poesy; The world is all astonished ; so is Shee ! ”
John Jackson’s portraits of Rev. William Holwell Carr, No. 124, and James Northcote, the Artist, No. 1404, are interesting. The Salvator Mundi, No. 1382, was presented by Rev. John Gibson, of Brighton, in 1892. The portrait of Northcote was owned by Lord Carlisle, who hung it beside Van Dyck’s head of Snyders; and Chan-trey says : ” Our countryman’s reputation for fine colouring loses nothing by the comparison.” Jack-son exhibited a hundred and forty-five pictures between 1804 and 1830. He was much in vogue as a portrait-painter. He used to paint the entire picture first in black and white, and then tint it as if he were colouring a photograph. In his later years he became the victim of a slight religious mania.
Sir William Beechey, the first artist since Reynolds upon whom was conferred the honour of knighthood, is represented by three admirable portraits, Mr. James P. Johnstone, No. 167o, and Mr. Alexander Johnstone, No. 1671, being pictures of two members of a family. They bequeathed their likenesses to the nation. Beechey was preeminently a portrait-painter, and was not led into the error of many good painters of faces, who try to create a great imaginative work. A portrait which he painted of a nobleman was rejected by the hanging committee of the Academy, upon which the owner ordered the picture to be sent to court, where the king was much pleased with it. So his apparent failure really brought Beechey into prominence, and he was commissioned to paint many portraits of the royal family. Beechey was of a convivial nature, and complained often at the growing sobriety of his companions. He said that, when he was young, no Academy dinner was considered complete until at least one duke and one painter were under the table ! Arriving in Constable’s studio one day, Beechey sputtered out in his wonted way : ” Why, d__ it, Constable, what and fine picture you are making ! But you look d __ ill, and have a d ___bad cold ! ”
Beechey’s most interesting portrait in the National Gallery is that of Nollekens, the Sculptor, No. 12o. Nollekens was a strange character, cross-grained and yet lovable, as may be seen from that fascinating life of him by J. T. Smith, a book full of the atmosphere of London art life of the period of transition between the eighteenth and ‘nineteenth centuries. This picture has immortalized the quizzical but intelligent face of this peculiar character.
The paintings of Sir Augustus Callcott, R. A. (1779 to 1844), are well displayed here. No less than eight examples of his pleasant out-of-door studies may be seen. Callcott began life as a chorister in Westminster, but his artistic temperament led him to another form of expression later, which proved to be his permanent vocation. Music was exchanged by him for the painter’s art, and charming landscapes were the outcome of his genius. It was prophesied from his horoscope that he should live single until he was fifty, and then marry and go to Italy. This he did in due season, greatly gratifying the superstitious friends who had, without his knowledge, forecast this part of his destiny. His wife was literary, and, indeed, rather dominated the establishment. Callcott worked on a principle of ” reducing positive tints to negative ones,” according to Redgrave. Light was evenly shed throughout his compositions, and the figures were thrown out as telling points. No. 340, Dutch Peasants, is a special instance of this principle, as is also No. 346, the Entrance to Pisa from Leghorn. This latter is very negative in colouring, while in the first the predominating tone is green, of a shade peculiar to Callcott, with but two touches of primary colour, the red bodice of one peasant and the petticoat of another. This scheme of colouring may be said to be ideal, for it is not based upon nature; it is almost colouring conventionalized. He studied from drawings instead of from nature. The results are effective, though capricious. No. 348, the Coast of Holland, is usually supposed to be a copy of the work of some Dutch painter. There is a little foretaste of the works of some of the pre-Raphaelites in No. 344, the Benighted Traveller. It is only a sketch, however.
Patrick Nasmyth, the son of Alexander Nasmyth, the painter, was born in Edinburgh in 1786. He was also a landscape-painter like his father. Nasmyth, though born in Scotland, moved to London when he was but twenty, preferring English subjects to Scotch ones, and he painted there until his death in 1831. He had many drawbacks ; owing to an accident to his right hand, he was obliged to paint with his left. He became deaf during his boyhood, and this infirmity causing him to lead a life of loneliness and seclusion, he undoubtedly sometimes resorted to the bottle for solace. A charming series of his rustic compositions may be seen here. No. 38o represents a little cottage which formerly stood in Hyde Park, and one feels that the Complete Angler must have been at home in the very propitious little Angler’s Nook, painted in No. 381. Nasmyth has been styled the English Hobbema, and there is a certain intimate charm about his pictures which justifies this view.
In No. 1178 and 1176, the beautiful English country is rendered in all its charm, and in No. 1828 Nasmyth’s affinity with Hobbema is especially striking. The soft rural sentiment is felt again in Nos. 1179 and 1384. His death was caused by influenza, contracted while sketching in the open air. He died during a thunder-storm, having insisted upon being raised up in bed so that he could see the raging of the elements.
Julius Caesar Ibbetson has left us an interesting study of Smugglers on the Irish Coast, No. 146o. Ladbroke, one of the Norwich school, is represented in a landscape view of Oxford, No. 1467.
Thomas Whitcombe, who was a prolific painter of the eighteenth century, produced the large picture of the Battle of Camperdown, No. 1659. In this naval engagement Admiral Duncan’s flag-ship, Venerable, is in the centre, while the Dutch vessel, Alkmaar, is burning. In the foreground may be seen the English ship, Hercules.
John Christian Schetky, who lived from 1778 to 1874, has immortalized, in his picture, No. 1191, the tragic Sinking of the Royal George, off Spit-head, in 1782. Every schoolboy knows the poem upon this subject, ” Toll for the brave,” etc., de-scribing the tragic event when Admiral Kempenfeldt and eight hundred men sank with their ship.
John Hoppner’s lovely Portrait of the Countess of Oxford, No. 900, is an exquisite bit of this painter’s work; he was a great favourite of Sir Thomas Lawrence, who acknowledges himself greatly indebted to Hoppner as an artist.
No more eccentric or weird character has ever appeared in art than William Blake, with his clever inventions and his curious visions. Born in 1757, he became an artist at the age of ten, and a poet at twelve. Both these arts went hand in hand with him through life. He discovered a method of printing from copper by using a raised line. This process, common now by means of photography, was entirely original with him. He tells how the inspiration to try this inverse experiment in copper-engraving came to him. He was designing one evening, lamenting the difficulty and expense of engraving his plates, when a spirit appeared before him, as spirits were in the habit of doing when-ever Blake had an original idea. ” Write the poetry,” directed this practical apparition, ” and draw the designs upon the copper with – ” (a liquid which Blake always kept secret), then cut the plain parts of the plate down with aquafortis, and this will give the whole, both poetry and figures, in the manner of a stereotype.” Blake’s volumes were all printed according to this process.
He married Katherine Boucher when he was twenty-six. She proved to be the one woman in the world for this erratic visionary. She entered into all his plans, and made the path smooth for him to indulge his hobbies. The story of their meeting is amusing. At an evening party, Blake was recounting a love-adventure in which he had been badly treated. Katherine Boucher said: ” I pity you from my heart.” ” Do you? ” said Blake. “Then I love you for that.” The lady replying, amiably, ” And I love you,” their courtship began at once.
One day a customer called to consult Blake. He found him and his wife sitting in an arbour at the end of their garden, quite unadorned by any clothing. About to withdraw, he was detained by Blake, who explained : ” We are only Adam and Eve.”
But the neighbourhood was much scandalized at this extreme exponent of the simple life.
Blake’s picture of the Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth, No. 11 1o, has never been quite understood. As Blake was a great sympathizer with the American Revolution, it seems as if this picture must have been intended to represent the post-mortem task of Pitt in directing Behemoth, ” that angel,” as Blake says, ” who, pleased to per-form the Almighty’s orders, rides on the whirl-wind directing the storms of war. He is commanding the reaper to reap the vine of the earth, and the ploughman to plough up the cities and towns.” Blake himself says that the picture is a ” composition of a mythological cast, similar to those Apotheoses of Persian, Hindoo, and Egyptian antiquities.” The picture has been called an ” iridescent sketch of enigmatic dream.” The colour is certainly visionary and splendid. It is liquid fire flickering and golden ; the medium is water-colour, for Blake disapproved of oil, claiming that a water medium is stronger and more durable.
No. 1164 is the Procession to Calvary; the figures are finely decorative, and the design and outlines .restrained and dignified. No other artist is at all like Blake; his works are absolutely individual, and can be recognized anywhere. His one great principle was respect for outline, the ” sharp, wiry bounding-line ” as he called it. His visions were not without form and void, but were apparently most tangible. He describes an angel, who introduced himself as Gabriel; Blake questioned his identity, observing, ” But you may be an evil spirit ! ” Upon which the voice of the spirit replied, ” You shall have good assurance.” Then Blake continues, in his mystic poetic vein : ” I looked whence the voice came, and was then aware of a shining shape with bright wings, who diffused much light. As I looked, the shape dilated more and more. He waved his hands, the roof of my study opened, he ascended into he stood in the sun, and, beckoning to me, moved the universe.” Possibly this ” angel standing in the sun ” was partially incorporated in the Spiritual Form of Pitt. As to the sanity of William Blake, there is some room for divergence of opinion.
Second only to Sir Joshua in the perpetuation of his fame as a portrait-painter, Sir Thomas Lawrence still holds his position in the hearts of the English. He was born in 1769, at Bristol. His parents were people of refinement, and good-breeding was one of the happy inheritances of this artist, who, in this respect, comes with welcome relish after Morland and such eccentric geniuses as Blake or Fuseli. Possessed of great personal beauty as a child, the young Thomas’s temperament first displayed itself in dramatic ability, and he used to recite poems with much effect at small gatherings. His father kept an inn, and the child entertained the guests in this way, and also by drawing sketches of them, which showed such promise in portraiture that his father determined to have him educated as an artist. At the age of twelve years he was sufficiently advanced in this art to have his own studio in Bath, where he had sitters who enjoyed the novelty of his precociousness, and, at seventeen, he himself, though not in a spirit of vanity, admitted that he feared no rival but Sir Joshua. He mounted steadily in public favour, the king and queen becoming his patrons ; by the time he was thirty, he was at the summit of a great career. The family anecdotes of his own precocity had always entertained him; on an early drawing which he sent to an admiring friend, he wrote : ” Done when three weeks old, I believe.” Reynolds said of him: ” This young man has begun at the point of excellence where I left off.”
One of the houses where Sir Thomas was al-ways welcome, was the home of Mrs. Siddons, the actress. His portrait of her, No. 785, shows the stately stage-queen in a more sympathetic and human guise than most of her portraits. There is a mild scandal, that Lawrence made love to Mrs. Siddons’s eldest daughter, and then want only transferred his affections to the youngest ; that this fickleness caused the death of both, one from chagrin at being jilted, and the other from dis- satisfaction at discovering that she was only second fiddle! But such legends sound rather fanciful, and must be taken with a grain of salt.
He was admitted to full honours at the Academy in 1794, when he was less than twenty-five years of age. He used to warn his pupils that absence of defect was not enough merit for a work of art; if it had no positive merits, it was but a negative achievement.
His home life was simple and unpretentious; being a bachelor all his days, though ardently de-voted to women in the abstract, he had a modest retinue, his only luxury being a carriage and horses. Sir Thomas seems to have had an irresistible fascination for women. A lady, in alluding to him, writes : ” He could not write a common answer to an invitation to dinner without its assuming the tone of a billet-doux; the very commonest conversation was held in that soft, low whisper, and with that tone of deference and interest which are so unusual and so calculated to please.” Sir Thomas was certainly born at the right time, when romantic social standards made him such a favourite! Fuseli called him a ” face-painter,” and that is what he certainly was, in perfection. Opie, less sympathetic, observed that ” Lawrence made coxcombs of his sitters, and his sitters made a coxcomb of Lawrence.”
Of the portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, we have a goodly array to inspect. Most of them are likenesses of notable English characters. Sir Thomas was one of the most facile of painters, and his works remaining are numerous. His large portrait of Benjamin West is interesting and impressive, and was executed to order for the Prince of Wales in 1811. It is No. 144, and represents the great artist at the age of seventy-three, standing by his easel, on which is a sketch of Raphael’s cartoon of the Death of Ananias. A duplicate of this painting was sent to America. Sir Thomas Lawrence succeeded Benjamin West as President of the Royal Academy after the death of the latter in 1820.
No. 129 is a likeness of Mr. Angerstein, the banker, whose collection of paintings was purchased for the nation in 1824, and formed the nucleus of the National Gallery, as has been stated. The portrait of Mr. Philip Sansom, No. 1413, is a fine rendering of a good English gentleman of the period, in his coat of black and his breeches of kerseymere. A red curtain enlivens the composition in a somewhat conventional way. No. 922, a Child with a Kid, is a lovely ideal rustic portrait of Lady Giorgiana Fane, at the age of five, as the inscription shows. It is a work of Lawrence’s earlier days, having been executed in i800. This lady bequeathed this charming idyl of her child-hood to the nation in 1875. Why a peeress should elect to be portrayed as a rural child, about to engage in the task of a blanchiseuse, is only known to the romantic souls who planned the picture. Miss Caroline Fry, with a fine melodramatic expression upon her upturned face, appears in No. 1307. Miss Fry was an authoress of some note, chiefly upon religious subjects. Her ” Autobiography ” is her most important literary bequest. She afterward became Mrs. William Wilson, and the portrait was given by her husband. It is a pleasing harmony in low tones of blues and browns.
Sir Thomas Lawrence’s method of procedure was to make first a full-sized drawing of the portrait he contemplated painting; the next day he began to paint, commencing with the features, and finishing and then enclosing them with the bounding-line. He always stood at his work, and concentrated all his attention upon it, never entering into conversation with the subject during a sitting. Very characteristic of his method is a sketch of the Princess Lieven, No. 893 ; the head was always finished, and then the clothes and background treated as little as was consistent with the effect.
Reynolds, in his old age, warned Sir Thomas not to use certain pigments, which he had discovered, to his cost, were fugitive; therefore the works of Lawrence are better preserved than those of the greater artist, though they have not quite the same magic hues and colour sentiment. Sir Thomas had little historic feeling. He had no ambition to paint scenes of the past; he was the exponent of the fashion and style of his own day, and, as such, is himself a significant figure in art history. He was an indefatigable worker, having on one occasion painted continuously for thirty-seven hours ; it was on a portrait. He began at seven in the morning, continued all that day and night, and up to eleven o’clock in the evening following; all this standing or walking about. His personal deportment and his works both partook of certain qualities ; they were both graceful, and observant of charming details : both were a trifle overpolished, and savoured a little of affectation. Lawrence was not so fertile as some of his contemporaries in his compositions ; he is less original in the use of landscape, and his treatment of light and shade is not striking. He had a facile way of resorting to little tricks, like that of splitting up his brush into many fine points in order to paint furs or hair; but he got his effect. He was called upon to paint not only the English royal family, but the heads of many European courts. When he came to be sixty, he was in such demand that the tax upon his strength, which had not been too great in youth, proved more than he could well endure. He lost his health by degrees, and at last succumbed to a series of sharp attacks of illness, dying in January, 183o. He had been sitting up listening to reading, when he suddenly fell from his chair, and his last words, to his faithful servant, were : ” John, my good fellow, this is dying.”
When one comes to deal with Turner, the re-doubtable Turner, who has been the theme of so many rhapsodists and the idol of the soul of John Ruskin, one hesitates to make any contribution toward the literature already extant upon his merits and defects. To treat of Turner in a few pages seems an unwarrantable liberty. We hope for par-don if we fail to cast much new light upon a subject already illuminated on all sides and from all points of view, by every shade of enthusiast.
Strange to say, this great apostle of the picturesque was born in an ugly part of London, in 1775, the son of an unassuming hair-dresser. Joseph William Mallord Turner had none of the early environment which sometimes seems to have determined the future bent of an artist’s genius. The only available touches of nature with which he could have been familiar as a boy were the river Thames along the wharves, and the inadequate floral display of St. James’s Park. Even his home influences were trying, for his mother was a violent-tempered woman, who finally went insane. Still, in spite of all handicaps, Joseph drew on the walls of his school, and exhibited all the usual symptoms of youthful artistic endowment. In due course of time he joined the Academy, and his first picture to be exhibited, in water-colours, which he usually preferred, was No. 459, Moonlight, a Study at Millbank. He had not departed from his native surroundings for his inspiration, but he had clothed it with his own visionary apparel. In this first picture, Turner has used rather warm tones in his moonlight, and the result is not inartistic, although the picture has little actual merit.
The second picture, in order of their production, is No. 472, Calais Pier. It is dashing, full of energy, and composed as if to guide an etcher, it is in decided values of light and dark, and not concerned with subtle gradations. His Clapham Common, No. 468, is a pastoral and straightforward study of trees; this was an early picture, as was also No. 461, Coniston Fells, and No. 465, a Mountain Scene. No. 46g, too, is a realistic and striking sea-piece, full of animation.
In his works after about 1802, the quality of the dreamer is more marked in his pictures; up to that time he attempted little beyond the realistic. His portrait of himself, No. 458, at the age of twenty-seven, suggests a curious combination of the Oriental and the commonplace. The eyes and the angle of the brows are almost Japanese in con-tour; the mouth and nose are heavy, and the long cheek-line very unprepossessing. Still, the face is a strong ugly one, and the careless hair and attire more in harmony with the face than a neater and more conventional setting would be. He is said to have been a strange-looking little man, short and stubby, with no ray outward and visible to suggest the inner and spiritual. Ugly, peculiar, both in appearance and manners, he shunned social inter-course. He went frequently on sketching-tours, to make illustrations for magazines and engravings; he travelled chiefly on foot, with a bundle slung on a stick, like the traditional portraits of Dick Whittington. After travelling extensively in England, and fully acquainting himself with her topographical treasures, he went into France, Ger-many, Italy, and Switzerland. His famous collection, the Liber Studiorum, although in London, is too extensive a production for us to examine within the present limits. It is supposed to exhibit all the varieties possible in natural scenery.
When he sent a picture to the Academy, it was frequently unfinished; he waited until varnishing-day to put in the last touches, sometimes planning these according to the requirements of the hanging, and its proximity to other paintings. On one occasion Jones had a very vividly coloured picture, which was hung close to Turner’s. Turner mounted on his flight of steps, palette in hand, murmuring, with a chuckle, ” I’ll out-blue you, Joney ! ” and painted in a brilliant sky. Jones, to baffle him, then changed his own picture to a low tone, which made Turner’s look absurd. When the little artist arrived the next day, he quite appreciated the joke, and admitted that Jones had got the better of him this time.
When Turner was painting in the Academy, he would spy about at the different palettes, and, when he saw a ” luscious knob ” of bright colour, he would swoop down upon it and bear it off, to use upon his own work.
He kept his pictures stacked in his own house, and, as his roof leaked, they were exposed to constant vicissitudes from drippings and mildew. It is remarkable that they survived at all. He would rarely sell one of his pictures, although he was glad to make money by engraving and illustrating. When he was induced to part with a painting, he would go about despondently, saying : ” I have lost one of my children today! ”
Turner hated scientific perspective, and would never study it; the yearning love for beauty sometimes revolts before the drudgery of mechanical accuracy. And there are plenty of people who can see only this lack in Turner’s pictures. He based his work upon the model of no preceding artist ; nor did he go straight to nature for his inspiration. In his seething brain there seemed to be a new creation of the power of vision, and things hitherto undreamed of in pictorial art were transcribed by him upon his weird canvases. Nature with a veil of mysticism was presented to eyes accustomed either to imagination or nature treated separately, It was his original genius which first fused the two into tangible form, and painted interpretations rather than statements ; dreams about Venice in-stead of the Grand Canal as any one may see it; the poet’s idea of a storm instead of our association of mud and mist ; thought was predominant, and reality secondary.
The Tenth Plague of Egypt, No. 470, was painted in 1802, and the artist’s imaginative power is here manifest. The dark low shadows, and the brooding sky, are fit concomitants for this baleful subject. The few figures in the foreground only serve to emphasize the desolation of the scene, while the light on the distant towers increases the gloom of the foreground.
The Shipwreck, No. 476, is hardly more boisterous than the Calais Pier; but where one is filled with the buoyant fresh wind of fair weather, the other is dominated by the hurtling blast of the angry elements, in one life is invigorated and stimulated, and in the other it is destroyed. An-other breezy water-picture is Spithead, No. 481, where a ship’s crew is seen recovering an anchor, while men-of-war lie moored at peace. The buoy at the left of this picture is that which marks the spot where the Royal George went down, under brave Admiral Kempenfeldt, whose portrait by Schetky has been noticed.
The Blacksmith’s Shop, No. 478, serves chiefly to demonstrate that Turner’s genius lay purely in imaginative landscape and ideal subjects; the plain genre subject is uncongenial, and probably painted in emulation of Wilkie; it is quite mediocre.
There is a good deal more attention paid to vast flapping sails than to the nominal subject of the picture, No. 480, the Death of Nelson. One can discover the hero lying wounded among his men, but he is so inconspicuous a dot in the picture that one feels that Turner was more convinced of the majesty of the fleet than of the man. It is a painting of a naval battle, and should be recognized as such, the historic moment selected being only an incident in the composition and intention of the picture.
The Goddess of Discord in the Garden of the Hesperides, No. 477, is a comparatively early picture. The landscape and figures are really quite classical, and the fossil-like dragon lying along the top of the rock is a most original conception. Nothing could be more decorative in tree-form than the tall dark clump on the left of the garden. For simple beauty of form, it would be difficult to find any-thing more majestic than this section of the canvas.
No one can look at Jason, No. 471, awaiting the full appearance of the dragon, without remembering how Ruskin calls attention to the nameless horror embodied in that great single coil of the reptile. Here, too, the appeal is to the imagination, the exciting moment of suspense is more interesting than the moment of action, for perpetual contemplation in a picture.
Turner’s other classical subjects in the National Gallery are numerous. The picture called the Bay of Baie is purely imaginary as to the locality painted, and is called by its name arbitrarily, the gladness and light in the composition being the only characteristics of the spot. The greatest of the classical pictures is the splendid masterpiece, Ulysses De-riding Polyphemus, No. 508. Ulysses is putting off to sea, leaving the Cyclops blinded, infuriated,
While raging he repeats his cries, With hands uplifted to the starry skies.”
Rich and yet delicate the colours glow; purple and blue, with golden lights in the sky; the metallic green of the surging waves, with the gilded galley propelled by its scarlet oars, makes an ensemble as gorgeous as an illuminated missal, and yet as tender as a fiery opal.
Turner’s imagination runs more easily to classic idealism than to the religious; his Holy Family, No. 473, is quite commonplace.
He felt so strongly the spirit of rivalry with Claude, and was so convinced of his own superiority, that he bequeathed two of his pictures on condition that they should hang on either side of Claude’s masterpiece. These two pictures are No. 479, Sun Rising through Mist, and No. 498, Dido Building Carthage. The sunrise is replete with that mysterious light that the artist loved, handling it as few painters have ever done. The pale liquid gold of the mist-shrouded orb and its reflection in the water are among the atmospheric marvels of art. It is rendered with the sympathy of one who loved nature, and who was accustomed to early rising. In his studies of mists, Turner delighted to use a thin scumbling of white, which makes literally a veil over the brighter colours beneath, and is a perfectly sincere way of super-posing a fog. Dido Building Carthage is equally charming in its glowing lights; but the subject has departed from nature, and the scene is not familiar to its author; his brain alone is responsible for it, and there are certain freaks of perspective which are almost amusing, for instance, how could the sun possibly round the corner and shine on the concave wall at the right? It is very effective, but palpably false. It is, as Leslie said, too much like a very splendid drop-curtain. One must return to the room where the Claudes hang to examine these two pictures, owing to the conditions made by the artist.
This feeling of rivalry with Claude may be the irritating cause which made Taine write as he did of the Turner gallery. ” An extraordinary jumble,” he says, ” a sort of churned foam, place a man in a fog, in the midst of a storm, the sun in his eyes, and his head swimming, and depict, if you can, his impressions on canvas.” Then, he declares, you will have an idea of Turner’s art. The French critic has this impression of the English painter; we can easily compare it with the views of the English critic, Ruskin, who is equally harsh upon the subject of Claude Lorrain!
Turner’s tendency was always to generalize; he slighted detail, and in this was an impressionist. This lack of realization grew upon him, in his later works, so that they are extremely vague, – a mere ghostly scheme of a scene takes the place of portrayal. An unprejudiced observer must certainly admit that Turner’s earlier pictures are more sane than his later ones; but it is said that sanity is granted in its completeness to only about one out of five human beings, so there will always be plenty of advocates for Turner’s late works.
Among his cheerful and entirely sane works, is Bligh Sands, No. 496, with its crisp curling waves, telling of the light wind that blows the clouds in such a way that the foreground is under a dark shadow, while the sunlight is seen breaking upon the distance with inimitable charm. Another beautiful piece of real nature may be seen in his famous Crossing the Brook, No. 497, a lovely bit of Devon-shire landscape, which was painted at the time of his transition from his first and more natural style, to his later and visionary manner in 1815. Turner was walking with a friend one day, when they came to a spot from which this view was visible. After enjoying it for a short time, Turner said to his companion : ” We shall see nothing finer than this if we stay till sundown, let’s go home. It was the subject of his next picture.
The Field of Waterloo, No. 500, is weird and fantastic; No. 5o6, Dido Directing the Equipment of the Fleet, is equally so, although in a different spirit. The green, oily water, with its misty light, and the odd-shaped mass of dark on the left, terminating in a woolly tree, is unsatisfactory.
There are some pretty fanciful sketches from literary subjects; one, No. 514, is an interesting problem which Turner set himself, called Watteau Painting, the idea of the artist being to illustrate, as he has cleverly done, the passage from Du Fresnoy’s ” Rules for Painters ” :
White, when it shines with unstained lustre clear May bear an object back or bring it near.”
Effects of fiery glow are accomplished in No. 517, the Three Brothers in the Fiery Furnace, and in No. 558, a Fire at Sea, and 550, an Angel Standing in the Sun. Some of his more lurid studies may be accounted for by an anecdote told of him by an eye-witness. This gentleman saw Turner gather some children about him, and then fill three saucers with red, yellow, and blue water-colour. He told the children to dabble their fingers in these saucers, and to play with their coloured fingers on some clean paper. Delighted with this opportunity for a mess, the children cheerfully obeyed, and much merriment ensued. Suddenly Turner cried ” Stop ! ” He took the paper, added a rock or two, and presented a landscape to the astonished spectator. This story will be readily credited, and even applied, by many people who look at some of the chromatic novelties here displayed.
The golden shimmering dreams of Venice, Nos. 370, 534, and 535 are as opalescently lovely as mother-of-pearl; the spirit of the lagoons, if not the letter, is there.
No. 524, the Fighting Téméraire Tugged to Her Last Berth, is a picture of the disabled man-of-war being taken out of commission, its days of adventure over. Purposely the painter has given a ghostly, deathlike quality to the old ship, in fine contrast with the little enterprising black tug which is leading it. The lighting in the picture is highly dramatic, and absolutely impossible ; both sun and moon cast reflections arbitrarily upon the water wherever the artist wants them to ! The vessels, too, are lighted in a way quite out of the natural order of things; but, with all its technical faults, it is one of Turner’s best late pictures. The redness of the sunset is rendered marvellously, it is an extremely difficult problem. to paint a clear colour and yet retain luminosity, but he has here succeeded. He now combines imagination with substance ; later the substance disappears.
In Rain, Steam, and Speed, No. 538, an abstract elemental condition is actually placed before our physical eyes. No one can deny that the suggestion is that of dampness ; no one can deny the sensation of rushing speed produced on his consciousness by this painting; and certainly the mist is obvious enough. What more does the painter claim? In his own erratic and original way he has done what most artists would simply put aside as beyond the province of their art; but he has not only attempted, but accomplished, this strange impression. Why has not paint as good a right to give a person a damp chill (if it is in the hands of one who can make it do so) as music has to re-produce the emotions of a morphine dream, or the pulsations of an ether-heart ? Analyze the picture, try to see a portrait of a locomotive and railway bridges, and it is a failure. But Turner did not attempt to paint a locomotive, he tried, and with success, to portray Rain, Steam, and Speed.
Sometimes his impressionism carries him too far. What shall we say of such unparalleled phenomena as No. 490, which purports to represent a snow-storm? Or, No. 530, which is another, even more exotic in its development? Or of No. 531, and 532, one a study of darkness and the other of light? (Turner used to wear a worsted comforter about his throat, and while painting he would untie it, so that the ends constantly swept over his palette, depositing little dips of colour on his clothes. A few of these sketches look as if he had experimented with the comforter on canvas!)
Punch caricatured this phase of Turner’s art with great appreciation, in the following title for an imaginary picture by him : ” A typhoon bursting in a simoon over the whirlpool of Maelstrom, Nor-way; with a ship on fire, an eclipse, and the effect of a lunar rainbow.” When a critic once complained to Turner that he had never seen such skies as he painted, ” Possibly,” muttered Turner, ” but don’t you wish you could? ”
When Turner got old and broken in health, the reticence which had been his peculiarity all through life became almost a mania. He deliberately disappeared, so that inquiring friends could find no trace of him. It was only a short while before his death that the fact transpired that he had retired under an assumed name to Chelsea, where he was discovered in lodgings. It was too late to render any of the needed assistance. He died the very day after his friends found him. He had been a miser, but with the laudable motive of laying up a great fund to bequeath to poor artists. His death occurred in 1851.
There has never been a landscape-painter who was a more perfect exponent of the delights of his own land than John Constable. Born of honest parents, in 1776, his life began in his father’s mill, and until 1799 he lived quietly and uneventfully at home in the country. After that he went to London, as was the custom of artists, but his life was simple, and he never attempted to paint the un-known or the imaginary. Benjamin West said to him, when an early landscape was rejected by the Academy: ” Don’t be disheartened, young man; we shall hear of you again. You must have loved nature very much before you could have painted this.” Constable said that his first lesson was when West told him not to forget that ” light and shadow never stand still.” He benefited by West’s advice, and the result is that the leaves of his trees seem to glint and dance; the effect of sparkling little lights in his foliage has been termed by some rather carping critics, ” Constable’s snow.”
Constable was amiable and ready to take suggestions from any one. In his diary he recounts an amusing interview with Varley, when Constable purchased a drawing from him. ” Varley the astrologer told me how to do landscape, and was so kind as to point out all my defects. The price of the drawing was ` a guinea and a half to a gentleman, but only a guinea to an artist’; but I insisted upon his taking the larger sum, as he had clearly proved to me that I was no artist ! ”
As we look from one td the other of the landscapes by John Constable, the Corn-Field, No. 130; the Valley Farm, No. 327; the Hay-Wain, No. 1207, it is almost like taking a walk or a journey in England, so absolutely real are the atmosphere and physical features. Constable maintained : ” There is always room enough for a natural painter. The great vice of the present day is bravura, the attempt to do something beyond the truth.”
In No. 130, the Corn-Field, and, indeed, in all his pictures, he departs absolutely from, the old notion of brown effects in nature. He painted green where he saw it, and yellow where he saw it, and he saw the distant corn-field of a most delicious yellow. In spite of all the sunshine, too, he manages to retain that cool, damp earthy quality which is so characteristic of English country, so that those of us who are fortunate enough to look back upon an English childhood can almost feel the balmy coolness, and smell the air laden with the subtle primrose breath, which has to certain temperaments a message which is almost religious. Constable felt this British nature-worship, and was never influenced, as were Wilson or Turner, by the Italian atmosphere, which, although fascinating, has a charm entirely different; he read aright the intention of the Almighty with regard to the physical surroundings of his own nation, and his temperament was in harmony with an environment not to be matched elsewhere on earth. The painters of the ” brown-fiddle school ” used to laugh at his ” dampness,” which is neither more nor less than virility, and Fuseli called one day to the Academy porter : ” Bring me my umbrella, I am going to see Mr. Constable’s pictures ! ”
Constable had not large fame in his own day, but he knew that he painted truth, and his simple heart was satisfied with his own honesty. He used to say : ” My pictures will never be popular, for they have no handling; but I do not see handling in nature.” His artistic conscience was clear, he knew that he never resorted to tricks and what he called ” fal-de-lal and fiddle-de-dee,” but he recognized when he had accomplished a work of merit, and, with the soul of a true artist, he was content.
While he was working on the matchless Valley Farm, No. 327, he made this entry in his diary : ” I have got my picture into a very beautiful state; I have kept my brightness without my spottiness, and I have preserved God Almighty’s daylight, which is enjoyed by all mankind, except only lovers of old dirty canvas and snuff of candle.” And the world is with him to-day, for honesty, after all, is the best policy, and his sincerity and genuineness have made their appeal to those who know best. Look at the trees in this picture. They have the spring and buoyancy that come from a knowledge of the life of the vegetable kingdom. They are as different from the trees of Claude or Poussin as a portrait by Sargent is different from a charcoal drawing of a plaster cast. It hardly occurs to us to ask whether Constable’s skies are well painted, they are simply skies, so absolutely real that our attention is not called to them.
Constable was an exponent of the great secret of a genuine æsthetic truth, that warm colours are not essential to warm effects. He can use cool colours, and yet, by infusing the whole with a glow of sunshine, produce the impression of actual heat. Warmth in painting does not depend so much upon colours as upon their qualities and relations one to another. Examine No. 1824, which is a study in blues, and the lovely little Barnes Common, No. 1066, and you will recognize this fact.
Constable tells us in his interesting diary that, on a coaching-tour through the vale of Dedham, ” a gentleman in the coach remarked, on my saying that it was beautiful : ` Yes, sir, this is Constable’s country.’ I then told him who I was, lest he should spoil it!” His modesty and also his realization of his own lack of popularity are manifest in this anecdote. Dedham Vale may be seen here, in No. 1822.
The life of this artist was so without incident that one might suppose that it had been lacking in interest; Constable, however, had a quick mind and a lively sense of humour, and he enjoyed all the little every-day happenings which many men do not regard as events, so that his life was full and happy. His diary was a companion to him always, and his quaint thoughts were jotted down, so that we have a sort of mental history of his life. I quote an amusing suggestion as to his views on ecclesiasticism. ” What a mistake our Cambridge and Oxford apostolic missionaries fall into, when they make Christianity a stern and haughty thing ! Think of St. Paul in a full-blown wig, shovel hat, apron, round belly, double chin, stern eye, rough voice, and imperious manner; drinking port wine and laying down the law as to the best way to escape the operation of the Curate’s Residence Act ! ”
No. 1272, the Cenotaph, is interesting as representing the monument which was erected to the memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds in the park of Sir George Beaumont, who designed it. In Words-worth’s lines, he likens this grove to the aisles of the church :
” Where Reynolds, ‘mid our country’s noblest dead, In the last sanctity of fame is laid.”
The colouring of the picture is autumnal, a rare choice for Constable.
In several small studies in the National Gallery, it is evident that Constable had in mind the larger pictures which he afterward painted. It is instructive to note the changes and evolution in the final works. His life may be said to have been bounded on the south by Salisbury, for he never went abroad, not even to visit Italy. He was absolutely satisfied with English scenery. Salisbury Cathedral, No. 1814, was painted in 1823. The gentle nature and attractive kindliness of this worthy man may be summed up in a remark made by a cabman to Leslie, when he was driving him home from Constable’s funeral. He said : ” I knew Mr. Constable, sir, and, when I heard that he was dead, I was as sorry as if it had been my own father, he was as nice a man as that, sir ! ” Con-stable died in 1837.
Sir David Wilkie, of whom his old friend Leslie said, after a close intimacy with him for twenty years, ” He was a truly great artist and a truly good man,” is endeared to all our hearts by his picture of the Blind Fiddler, which all of us must have seen in our childhood, in engravings. Pleasant, full of humour and sunny good-temper, his wholesome painting, No. 99, comes to us as an old friend. We know well the old itinerant musician, the merry young father, the cheerful children, and the aspiring baby, who has reached out his arms ever since 1807!
Like his life, Wilkie’s art is restrained and conservative; none of his characters overact, none of his schemes of colour are exotic, he does not paint violent or rollicking scenes, but, as in the Village Festival, No. 122, the whole atmosphere is that of temperate mirth. The Duke of Hamilton considered the Blind Fiddler as one of the greatest treasures of the National Gallery. But Wilkie is not essentially British. All of his pictures are in the Dutch spirit, and therefore he is not as complete a national figure as Constable. His subjects, of course, are entirely different, but even if the two men had chosen the same themes, Constable would always have painted an English scene, and Wilkie a Dutch one.
The portrait of Wilkie by Thomas Phillips, No. 183, shows us the outward appearance of the artist, as he looked when he was forty-four. Wilkie was the son of a Scotch clergyman, and his devotion to his dear parents has always been one of the loveliest traits of his character. The ” wee sunny-haired Davey ” was mischievous and natural as a child. Developing early his talent, he left home to study in Edinburgh. He made steady progress, and in 1805 he went to London to set up as a painter. He was only nineteen, but a Royal Academician described him at this time as ” a raw, tall, pale, queer Scotchman,” but with something in him.”
Wilkie’s early days were marked by necessary frugalities; he painted many of his finest works on the bureau in his own bedroom, pulling out the lower drawer for the canvas to rest upon, to save the expense of an easel. A friend, calling upon him one day, found him acting as his own model, sitting quite nude on the side of his bed, and sketching himself by the aid of a mirror; another time, his economy made him pose to himself as an old woman, and when Bannister, the actor, happened to come into the room, he explained : ” I can’t move, lest I spoil the folds of my petticoat ! ” His fame was, however, in no way impeded by these petty hardships, nor was the lack of proper equipment ever visible in his pictures. When Wilkie once saw an artist preparing to paint his own portrait, and turning away the collar so as to exhibit his throat, he observed : Don’t do that ! You’ll look as if you were going to be shaved ! ”
Wilkie experienced that happiness which is so often denied to genius, of being able to return to his native town after the world had crowned him with its laurels, and of finding his dear ones still alive to welcome him and to appreciate his fame. Often this day of public recognition is delayed for an artist, so that all those who would the most have rejoiced over it have died, and strangers alone are left to sing his praises.
He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1811, but his health gave out at this time, so that his work was labour and sorrow. He decided to travel, and try the open-air life of a long holiday. He visited France, and later Holland and Italy ; he made a tour of the usual cities loved by artists.
In 1822 Wilkie was in Scotland, at the time when George IV. made his royal visitation. Wilkie was presented at Edinburgh, and a naïve account of his reception by the monarch is found in a letter to his sister. ” At first,” he writes, ” the king did not appear to recognize me, but, on hearing my name, he looked at me, gave a sudden smile, and said, ` How d’ye do ! ‘ ”
Wilkie’s health was never again robust, and a long list of afflictions, which seemed to pile upon one another, broke him down again. He visited the Holy Land in 1841; when asked if he had provided himself with a guide-book, he replied, ” Yes, the very best,” and pulled out a pocket Bible. In his journal, while on this expedition, he expressed his intention of turning his talents in the direction of realistic religious pictures on his return. He recorded his belief that the illustrators of Bible scenes should be ” acquainted with the country whose history and aspect they profess to teach.” These were his last written words. He was taken suddenly ill a day or two later, and died on his way home without a struggle. The ship was in Gibraltar Bay at the time; the ship’s carpenter constructed a rude coffin, and the engines were stopped, at half-past eight in the evening, while the body of the great painter was reverently committed to the deep. Let us go again to the Turner paintings, and, with this scene in mind, look at the picture called Peace, No. 528. It represents this quiet burial at sea. The poetry and pathos of the situation appealed to Turner, and he has treated it worthily.
Only six of the many works of Landseer are now in the gallery at Trafalgar Square, most of his pictures having been removed to the Tate Gallery, where modern British art has its home at Millbank. Three of these paintings are of dogs, –his favourite subjects, two of lions, and one a study of a horse. So the great animal-painter is characteristically shown. Edwin Landseer was born in 18o2, and, as he showed no love for books as a boy, his father used to take him out into the fields and allow him to make drawings from various animals, instead of insisting upon other schooling. Therefore his progress was rapid and early ; his first picture to be exhibited at the Royal Academy was painted when he was but thirteen. Fuseli, who was the president, used to call him lovingly the “little dog boy.” In 1831 he was taken into full membership in the Academy. His life was rather uneventful ; he spent much time in studying the habits of animals, for he never attempted any other branch of art, except portraiture, not very successfully. He was taken upon deer-stalking parties, and, when the stag would appear he would give his gun to the keeper to hold, whip out a sketch-book, and draw the animal in preference to shooting it! Landseer was a personal friend of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, who gave him numerous commissions. The queen knighted him in 1850. Unfortunately, his success did not leave him entirely unspoiled. He became rather vain and affected, which greatly detracted from his charm. After losing the keenness of his eyesight, he died in 1873.
Rather hard and cold in technique, Landseer’s art does not make a very strong appeal to the emotions, in spite of the fact that he has endowed his brutes with human sentiments and feelings. That is the trouble. He has made an effort to be pathetic, and this misplacing of intelligence is just what has frustrated his intentions. Had he painted his animals with animal traits, instead of trying to show in them all the gamut of human emotions, we should be much more inclined to be sympathetic.
In the selections at Trafalgar Square, however, we are fortunate in being spared this idiosyncrasy of the artist. The scene of the Shoeing of a Horse, No. 6o6, is simple and straightforward, as is also the Sleeping Bloodhound, No. 603, which is remarkable for having been painted in three days from a dead dog which had been killed by a fall. The dog had been a great favourite at Wandsworth, and fell twenty-three feet from a balustrade, where it had been sleeping. Landseer seems to have been fated to paint dogs who died from falls (rather an unusual form of death for a dog, too!). The two little King Charles Spaniels, No. 409, belonged to Mr. Vernon, and were both killed in this manner. The well-known No. 604, Dignity and Impudence, needs no introduction. Every child is familiar with it. The Studies of Lions, Nos. 1349 and 1350, are splendid drawings, made as sketches to assist Sir Edwin in designing the four lions at the base of the Nelson Monument in Trafalgar Square. These sketches were in the possession of Mr. Thomas H. Hills, who bequeathed them to the gallery in 1892.
Sir John Everett Millais and George F. Watts are the latest of the British artists whose works have been retained, and there are only two of Mil-lais and one of Watts, for these men belong properly to the more modern school. The delightful old Yeoman of the Guard, No. 1494, still hangs here, and every one recognizes the Beef-eater’s ” costume which is thus immortalized. The soldier in this case was John Charles Montague, who distinguished himself on various occasions during his twenty years’ service in India. The other picture by Millais is No. 1666, a face well known to all Englishmen, and even to men everywhere, being a portrait of the Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone.
The only example of Watts, and by no means completely characteristic of his work, is No. 1654, a portrait of Mr. Russell Gurney, the Recorder of London.
If the student has progressed through this splendid collection of pictures systematically, he will have seen specimens of the art of the world such as can seldom be studied under one roof ; from Egypt, through Greece, to Italy, and then into Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and England; he will have had presented to him a history of aesthetic development which should pique his interest to further research among the riches of the many schools. In conclusion we will quote the words of C. R. Leslie, the Royal Academician, who understood so well the educational possibilities of this historic collection : ” If the National Gallery should help to keep young artists from the dissipation of their time, and the injury their unformed minds receive while running all over Europe in quest of the art, which can only be acquired by years of patient and settled industry, it may effect some good.” In those days of hazardous and difficult travel, this observation was a sensible one. Although one can hardly hold with Leslie to-day, that the National Gallery would take the place of foreign experiences, still it might mean much more in the lives of many than it does. Its message, though not final, is a wholesome one to any earnest lover of æsthetic culture.