Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Landseer, Edwin Henry

A Naughty Child
oil on millboard
size unknown
Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London, UK

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, RA (1802 - 1873) was a notable English painter and sculptor, well known for his animal subjects. Apart from animal subjects, he also painted portraits and historical scenes. The best known of his works, however, are sculptures: the lions in Trafalgar Square, London. Although he had no previous experience as a sculptor, in 1858 he was commissioned to make four huge bronze lions for the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

His career was a story of remarkable social as well as professional success: he was the favorite painter of Queen Victoria (who considered him ‘very good looking although rather short’) and his friends included Dickens and Thackeray. Queen Victoria commissioned numerous pictures from him. Initially asked to paint various royal pets, then, in the year before her marriage, the queen commissioned a portrait of herself, as a present for Prince Albert. His appeal crossed class boundaries: reproductions of his works were common in middle-class homes, while he was also popular with the aristocracy.

He was born in London, the son of the engraver and writer. He was something of a prodigy whose artistic talents were recognized early on. His life was entwined with the Royal Academy. At the age of just 13, he exhibited works there. He was elected an Associate at the age of 24, and an Academician five years later. He was knighted in 1850, and although elected President in 1866 he declined the invitation.  By this time his health had broken down and, for this reason, he declined the presidency of the Royal Academy.

In his late 30s he suffered what is now believed to be a substantial nervous breakdown, and for the rest of his life was troubled by recurring bouts of melancholy, hypochondria, and depression, often aggravated by alcohol and drug use, although he continued to paint brilliantly almost until the end of his life. In the last few years of his life his mental stability was problematic, and after 1870 sank slowly into madness.

Landseer was the most famous English artist of his generation, and he was mourned throughout the nation. He was accorded the honor of public funeral, and he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral alongside Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and J.M.W. Turner.