Sir Edwin Landseer RA
Born London, 7 March; died London, 1 October. Painter in oil of animals, portraits, landscapes and narrative subjects. Although not Scottish, this great Victorian animal painter influenced the appreciation and development of Scottish art in two ways. First, his association with many of the leading figures of British life, from Queen Victoria downwards, a large number of whom were Scottish, and second, the paintings and drawings themselves which were a major factor in placed Scotland on the artistic and social map of the western world. Visited Scotland for the first time 1824 meeting Sir Walter Scott and as a guest of the Duke of Atholl at Blair Atholl, falling in love with the Highlands. Made studies of the Duke’s keepers, and of red deer, which eventually became part of ‘Death of the stag in Glen Tilt’. His visit to Scott was momentous for the influence of the writer was profound and long-lasting. Together, with Mendelssohn in the realm of music and Horatio McCulloch in the realm of art, they gave Victorian Scotland its unique, rather sentimentalised image which survives to this day. Spent 10 days at Abbotsford, and in 1826 Scott described Landseer’s dogs as ‘the most magnificent things I ever saw – leaping, and bounding, and grinning on the canvas’. The artist was chosen to be an illustrator for the Waverley edition of his novels. Landseer visited Scotland almost every year of his life thereafter. His closest friends and patrons were in Scotland. Queen Victoria appointed him Animal Painter to Her Majesty for Scotland. His whole career was inextricably intertwined with the Scottish scene. Among his closest friends were the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn who had a lodge at Ardverikie on Loch Laggan; the 4th Earl of Aberdeen whose Scottish home as Haddo House, Aberdeenshire, where Landseer painted ‘The Otter Hunt’; the 4th Duke of Atholl at whose home Landseer was a frequest guest; the 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane, Lord Chamberlain of the Queen’s household and who frequently stayed and hunted on his Perthshire estate; and the politician and sportsman the 10th Earl of Wemyss; Edward Ellice, of Glen Quoich, Secretary of War 1833-34 and deputy governor of the Hudson Bay Company. Landseer paid brief visits to Balmoral during three consecutive autumns and in 1854 Queen Victoria sat for him for the last time. His last important Royal commission was a pair of contrasting subjects ‘Sunshine’, a recollection of Prince Albert in the Highlands, and ‘Sorrow’ depicting Queen Victoria as a widow at Osborne. With advancing age his identification with the spirit of the Highlands became more pronounced. ‘His was not the idealised romanticism of the outside, but one founded on knowledge and close association’. “There is a stern sincerity about Highland rocks” he wrote to an old friend in 1859, “a sort of unadorned truth which you don’t find in the rich combinations of the Banks of Conan – where everything is suggestive of comfort and tenderness”. He might have said the same of the strong, stubborn character of the Highlanders, and he is still remembered with respect in the glens’ [Ormond]. His influence on Scottish animal painting remains strong, comparable to his influence not only on the British School but throughout Europe. He was made an honorary Scottish Academician 1866, exhibiting 19 works there 1827-1872. In the RSA’s official report of 1873 a point was made that is still sometimes overlooked ‘no-one understood as well as he did, the working of that mysterious faculty which we call instinct, but which approaches much nearer to the human intellect than many of us are ready to allow’.
Represented in NGS, SNPG (4), NG, NPG, British Museum, Tate, V&A, Aberdeen AG, Perth AG, among many others.