Thos. Creevey and Life at the Royal Pavilion – Part Three

 

Mrs. Fitzherbert
A Letter from Mrs. Creevey to Mr. Creevey in London.
“. . . Oh, this wicked Pavillion! we were there till past one this morng., and it has kept me in bed with the headache till 12 to-day. . . . The invitation did not come to us till 9 o’clock: we went in Lord Thurloe’s carriage but the Prince did not come out of the dining-room till 11. Till then our only companions were Lady Downshire and Mr. and Miss Johnstone—the former very goodnatured and amiable. . . . When the Prince appeared, I instantly saw he had got more wine than usual, and it was still more evident that the German Baron was extremely drunk. The Prince came up and were in fear of being too late; sat by me—introduced McMahon to me, and talked a great deal about Mrs. Fitzherbert—said she had been ‘delighted’ with my note, and wished much to see me. He asked her ‘When?’—and he said her answer was —’ Not till you are gone, and I can see her comfortably.’ I suppose this might be correct, for Mac told me he had been ‘worrying her to death’ all the morning.

 

“It appears to me I have found a true friend in Mac* He is even more foolish than I expected; but I shall be disappointed if, even to you, he does not profess himself my devoted admirer.
“Afterwards the Prince led all the party to the table where the maps lie, to see him shoot with an air-gun at a target placed at the end of the room. He did it very skilfully, and wanted all the ladies to attempt it. The girls and I excused ourselves on account of our short sight; but Lady Downshire hit a fiddler in the dining-room, Miss Johnstone a door and Bloomfield the ceiling. … I soon had enough of this, and retired to the fire with Mac … At last a waltz was played by the band, and the Prince offered to waltz with Miss Johnstone, but very quietly, and once round the table made him giddy, so of course it was proper for his partner to be giddy too; but he cruelly only thought of supporting himself, so she reclined on the Baron.”

Sunday, Nov. 3, 1805. “And so I amuse you by my histories. Well! I am glad of it, and it encourages me to go on; and yet I can tell you I could tire of such horrors as I have had the last 3 evenings. I nevertheless estimate them as you do, and am quite disposed to persevere. The second evening was the worst. We were in the diningroom (a comfortless place except for eating and drinking in), and sat in a circle round the fire, which (to indulge you with ‘detail’) was thus arranged. Mrs. F(itzherbert] in the chimney corner (but not knitting), next to her Lady Downshire—then Mrs. Creevey— then Geoff—then Dr. [erased]—then Savory—then Warner—then Day, vis-a-vis his mistress, and most of the time snoring like a pig and waking for nothing better than a glass of water, which he call’d for, hoping, I think, to be offered something better. . .
Last night was better; it was the same party only instead of Savory, a Col. or Major Watley [?] of the Gloster Militia, and the addition of Mrs. Morant, an old card-playing woman. . . . Mrs. Fitz shone last night very much in a sketch she gave me of the history of a very rich Russian woman of quality who is coming to Lord Berkeley’s house. She has been long in England, and is I suppose generally known in London, though new to me. She was a married woman with children, and of great consequence at the court of Petersburgh when Lord Whitworth was there some years ago. He was poor and handsome—she rich and in love with him, and tired of a very magnificent husband to whom she had been married at 14 years old. In short, she kept my Lord, and spent immense sums in doing so and gratifying his great extravagance. In the midst of all this he return’d to England, but they corresponded, and she left her husband and her country to come to him, expecting to marry him—got as far as Berlin, and there heard he was married to the Duchess of Dorset.
“She was raving mad for some time, and Mrs. F. describes her as being often nearly so now, but at other times most interesting, and most miserable. Her husband and children come to England to visit her, and Mrs. F. says she is an eternal subject of remorse to Lord Whitworth, whom she [Mrs. F] spoke of in warm terms as ‘a monster,’ and said she could tell me far more to make me think so. The story sometimes hit upon points that made her blush and check herself, which was to me not the least interesting part of it. . . . She laughed more last night than ever at the Johnstones—said he was a most vulgar man, but seem’d to give him credit for his good nature to his sister and his generosity. The Baron is preparing a phantasmagoria at the Pavillion, and she [Mrs. F] laughs at what he may do with Miss Johnstone in a dark room.”
* The Right Hon. John Macmahon, Private Secretary and Keeper of the Privy Purse to the Prince of Wales. Died in 1817.

Number One London’s 2019 Queen Victoria Tour will be visiting the Brighton Pavilion – find details here.

THOMAS CREEVEY AND LIFE AT THE ROYAL PAVILION – Part Two

Originally published April 2011

“I suppose the Courts or houses of Princes are all alike in one thing, viz., that in attending them you lose your liberty. After one month was gone by, you fell naturally and of course into the ranks, and had to reserve your observations till you were asked for them. These royal invitations are by no means calculated to reconcile one to a Court. To be sent for half an hour before dinner, or perhaps in the middle of one’s own, was a little too humiliating to be very agreeable.

“. . . Lord Hutchinson* was a great feature at the Pavilion. He lived in the house, or rather the one adjoining it, and within the grounds. … As a military man he was a great resource at that time, as we were in the midst of expectations about the Austrians and Buonaparte, and the battle which we all knew would so soon take place between them. It was a funny thing to hear the Prince, when the battle had taken place, express the same opinion as was given in the London Government newspapers, that it was all over with the French—that they were all sent to the devil, and the Lord knows what. Maps were got out to satisfy everybody as to the precise ground where the battle had been fought and the route by which the French had retreated. While these operations were going on in one window of the Pavilion, Lord Hutchinson took me privately to another, when he put into my hand his own private dispatch from Gordon, then Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, giving him the true account of the battle of Austerlitz, with the complete victory of the French. This news, unaccountable as it may appear, was repeated day after day at the Pavilion for nearly a week; and when the truth began at last to make its appearance in the newspapers, the Prince puts them all in his pockets, so that no paper was forthcoming at the Pavilion, instead of half-a-dozen, the usual number. . . . We used to dine pretty punctually at six, the average number being about sixteen. . . . Mrs. Fitzherbert always dined there, and mostly one other lady—Lady Downshire very often, sometimes Lady Clare or Lady Berkeley or Mrs. Creevey. Mrs. Fitzherbert was a great card-player, and played every night. The Prince never touched a card, but was occupied in talking to his guests, and very much in listening to and giving directions to the band. At 12 o’clock punctually the band stopped, and sandwiches and wine and water handed about, and shortly after the Prince made a bow and we all dispersed.

“I had heard a great deal of the Prince’s drinking, but, during the time that I speak of, I never saw him the least drunk but once, and I was myself pretty much the occasion of it. We were dining at the Pavilion, and poor Fonblanque, a dolorous fop of a lawyer, and a member of Parliament too, was one of the guests. After drinking some wine, I could not resist having some jokes at Fonblanque’s expense, which the Prince encouraged greatly. I went on and invented stories about speeches Fonblanque had made in Parliament, which were so pathetic as to have affected his audience to tears, all of which inventions of mine Fonblanque denied to be true with such overpowering gravity that the Prince said he should die of it if I did not stop. … In the evening, at about ten or eleven o’clock, he said he would go to the ball at the Castle, and said I should go with him. So I went in his coach, and he entered the room with his arm through mine, everybody standing and getting upon benches to see him. He was certainly tipsey, and so, of course, was I, but not much, for I well remember his taking me up to Mrs. Creevey and her daughters, and telling them he had never spent a pleasanter day in his life, and that ‘ Creevey had been very great.’ He used to drink a great quantity of wine at dinner, and was very fond of making any newcomer drunk by drinking wine with him very frequently, always recommending his strongest wines, and at last some remarkably strong old brandy which he called Diabolino.
The 11th Duke of Norfolk

 

“It used to be the Duke of Norfolk’s custom to come over every year from Arundel to pay his respects to the Prince and to stay two days at Brighton, both of which he always dined at the Pavilion. In the year 1804, upon this annual visit, the Prince had drunk so much as to be made very seriously ill by it, so that in 1805 (the year that I was there) when the Duke came, Mrs. Fitzherbert, who was always the Prince’s best friend, was very much afraid of his being again made ill, and she persuaded the Prince to adopt different stratagems to avoid drinking with the Duke. I dined there on both days, and letters were brought in each day after dinner to the Prince, which he affected to consider of great importance, and so went out to answer them, while the Duke of Clarence went on drinking with the Duke of Norfolk. But on the second day this joke was carried too far, and in the evening the Duke of Norfolk showed he was affronted. The Prince took me aside and said—’ Stay after everyone is gone tonight. The Jockey’s got sulky, and I must give him a broiled bone to get him in good humour again.’ So of course I stayed, and about one o’clock the Prince of Wales and Duke of Clarence, the Duke of Norfolk sat down a dinner of broiled bones.

* Brother of the 1st Earl of Donoughmore; a general officer, succeeded Sir Ralph Abercromby in command of the army in Egypt, and was raised to the peerage in 1801, with a pension of £2000. Died in 1832.

Part Three Coming Soon!

Number One London’s 2019 Queen Victoria Tour will be visiting the Brighton Pavilion – find details here.

THOMAS CREEVEY AND LIFE AT THE ROYAL PAVILION – Part One

Originally published April 2011

Thomas Creevey

 

“It was in 1804 when I first began to take a part in the House of Commons, at which time the Prince of Wales was a most warm and active partizan of Mr. Fox and the Opposition. It was then that the Prince began first to notice me, and to stop his horse and talk with me when he met me in the streets; but I recollect only one occasion, in that or the succeeding year, that I dined at Carlton House, and that was with a party of the Opposition, to whom he gave various dinners during that spring. On that occasion Lord Dundas and Calcraft sat at the top and bottom of the table, the Prince in the middle at one side, with the Duke of Clarence next to him; Fox, Sheridan and about 30 opposition members of both Houses making the whole party. We walked about the garden before dinner without our hats.

“The only thing that made an impression upon me in favour of the Prince that day (always excepting his excellent manners and appearance of good humour) was his receiving a note during dinner which he flung across the table to Fox and asked if he must not answer it, which Fox assented to; and then, without the slightest fuss, the Prince left his place, went into another room and wrote an answer, which he brought to Fox for his approval, and when the latter said it was quite right, tne Prince seemed delighted, which I thought very pretty in him, and a striking proof of Fox’s influence over him.

George IV as Prince of Wales by Reynolds

“During dinner he was very gracious, funny and agreeable, but after dinner he took to making speeches, and was very prosy as well as highly injudicious. He made a long harangue in favour of the Catholics and took occasion to tell us that his brother William and himself were the only two of his family who were not Germans—this too in a company which was, most of them, barely known to him. Likewise I remember his halloaing to Sir Charles Bamfyld at the other end of the table, and asking him if he had seen Mother Windsor lately. I brought Lord Howick  and George Walpole home at night in my coach, and so ended that day.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
“At the beginning of September,1805, Mrs. Creevey and myself with her daughters went to Brighton to spend the autumn there, the Prince then living at the Pavilion. I think it was the first, or at furthest the second, day after our arrival, when my two eldest daughters and myself were walking on the Steyne, and the Prince, who was sitting talking to old Lady Clermont, having perceived me, left her and came up to speak to me, when I presented my daughters to him. He was very gracious to us all and hoped he should see me shortly at dinner. In two or three days from this time I received an invitation to dine at the Pavilion. . . . Mrs. Fitzherbert, whom I had never been in a room with before, sat on one side of the Prince, and the Duke of Clarence on the other. … In the course of the evening the Prince took me up to the card table where Mrs. Fitzherbert was playing, and said—’ Mrs. Fitzherbert, I wish you would call upon Mrs. Creevey, and say from me I shall be happy to see her here.’ Mrs. Fitzherbert did call accordingly, and altho’ she and Mrs. Creevey had never seen each other before, an acquaintance began that soon grew into a very sincere and agreeable friendship, which lasted the remainder of Mrs. Creevey’s life. . . .
Mrs. Fitzherbert by Cosway

“. . . Immediately after this first visit from Mrs. Fitzherbert, Mrs. Creevey and her daughters became invited with myself to the Prince’s parties at the Pavilion, and till the first week in January—a space of about four months—except a few days when the Prince went to see the King at Weymouth, and a short time that I was in London in November, there was not a day we were not at the Pavilion, I dining there always once or twice a week, Mrs. Creevey frequently dining with me likewise, but in the evening we were always there.

“During these four months the Prince behaved with the greatest good humour as well as kindness to us all. He was always merry and full of his jokes, and any one would have said he was really a very happy man. Indeed I have heard him say repeatedly during that time that he never should be so happy, when King, as he was then.

Part Two Coming Soon!

Number One London’s 2019 Queen Victoria Tour will be visiting the Brighton Pavilion – find details here.

ROYAL WEDDING GOWNS

by Victoria Hinshaw

Originally posted on February 12, 2011, ahead of the other wedding of the decade, that of William and Katherine.

As I write this, there is no word on the designer Kate Middleton has chosen to create her wedding gown, though I have heard many breathless accounts of who is and who is not in the running.  So let’s indulge our royal wedding mania by looking at some of the gowns worn in the past.

Above is the dress worn by Princess Charlotte of Wales at her May 2, 1816, wedding to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, as exhibited in the Museum of London here.

The Lady’s Magazine of May, 1816, described the gown: White silk net embroidered in silver strip with a spotted ground and borders. The wedding dress, composed of a most magnificent silver lama on net, over a rich silver tissue slip, with a superb border of silver lama embroidery at the bottom, forming shells and bouquets above the border; a most elegant fullness tastefully designed, in festoons of rich silver lama, and finished with a very brilliant rollio of lama; the body and sleeves to correspond, trimmed with a most beautiful point Brussels lace, in a peculiar elegant style.
The manteau of rich silver tissue lined with white satin, trimmed round with a most superb silver lama border, in shells to correspond with the dress, and fastened in front with a most brilliant and costly ornament of diamonds. The whole dress surpassed all conception in the brilliancy and richness of its effects. Head dress, a wreath of rose buds and leaves, composed of the most superb brilliants.”  At right, an engraving of Charlotte and Leopold at their wedding in Carlton House. 
 

The portrait of Queen Victoria, at left, is by Winterhalter. It shows a rather wistful young bride at the time of her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg (nephew of the above-mentioned Leopold) on February 10, 1840 in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace.
It was this gown and veil that supposedly has inspired generations of brides ever since to wear white for their ceremonies, though many brides had previously dressed in fashionable white as well as in a variety of other hues.

At right, an image of Queen Victoria’s dress on a mannequin in the collection of Kensington Palace. 

Left, the wedding gown of Alexandra of Denmark, who married Victoria’s son, eventually King Edward VII, on March 10, 1863 in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She was Princess of Wales for almost forty years before becoming Queen in 1901. After her husband’s death in 1910, she was known as the Queen Mother until she died in 1925.

Like Charlotte’s mother, Caroline, Princess of Wales, and like the first wife of the present Prince of Wales, Diana (see below), Alexandra had to endure the infidelity of her husband.  But unlike the other two, she stuck with him to the end. We’ve all heard the possibly-apocryphal story about how Alexandra invited one of his mistresses, Alice Keppel, to comfort Edward VII on his deathbed.

 

Princess Mary of Teck wed Prince George, Duke of York on 6 July, 1893 in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace. She had been engaged to Prince Albert Victor, eldest son of the Prince of Wales in 1891, but Albert Victor died in the great influenza epidemic of 1891-92.  Mary and George fell in love and were married with the approval of Queen Victoria as well as Edward and Alexandra, Prince and Princess of Wales.  George succeeded his father as George V in 1910.  Queen Mary, who was a godchild of Queen Victoria, had five sons and one daughter.
Her eldest son, known to all as David, was more than a disappointment. After inheriting the throne as Eward VIII in 1936, he abdicated less than a year later to marry Wallis Simpson.


After her husband’s death, Queen Mary chose to be addressed as Her Majesty, Queen Mary, rather than as Queen Mother.  She was very supportive of her second son, who became King George VI after his brother’s departure from the throne. According to several sources, she was the first dowager queen of Great Britain to ever attended the coronation ceremony of her husband’s successor.

 

As Duke of York, the second son of George V and Mary grew up in the  shadow of his dashing older brother.  He married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon  on 26 April 1923 in Westminster Abbey. At the time of the wedding, it was not expected that “Bertie” would take the throne. Lady Elizabeth’s gown, perhaps for that reason, was not as elaborate as some of her predecessors. It was certainly in the style of the day, a rather loose gown,  slightly less than floor length.  Below is the dress on a mannequin in a Kensington Palace exhibition of several years ago, along with a detail of the veil and bodice.

On 20 November, 1947,  Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) married Prince Philip of Greece (later Duke of Edinburgh) in Westminster Abbey. The designer was Norman Hartnell and the fabric is silk spun at Lullingstone Castle in Kent. She wore a diamond and pearl tiara and a filmy veil. The long train was decorated with traditional symbols, such as Tudor roses and wheat.  All the details of the royal romance, the wedding, the gown and the ceremony were eagerly read around the world. It is said the happy event was like a tonic to the war-weary Britons still enduring shortages of goods and rationing.

 

The Gown on a mannequin

 

Princess Margaret, second daughter of King George VI, married Antony Armstrong-Jones (later Earl of Snowdon) on  May 6, 1960, at Westminster Abbey. Television cameras covered the event and the broadcast was seen worldwide. Like her sister, Margaret chose Norman Hartnell to design her bridal gown.The couple had two children: David, Viscount Linley in 1961 and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones in 1964. The Snowdons were divorced in 1978 and Princess Margaret died in 2002.

14 November 1973  – Anne, Princess Royal, married Captain Mark Phillips in Westminster Abbey. Born in 1950, she is Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter.  Anne and Phillips have two children, Peter Phillips born in 1977 and Zara Phillips born in 1981. After divorcing Phillips in 1992, Anne married Timothy Laurence, in Scotland on December 12, 1992.

 

On 29 July 1981, Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales, were married in St Paul’s Cathedral. Her dress was controversial — and still is. The designers, David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, immediately shot to the top echelon of British fashion. Like many of Diana’s fashions, the gown (or a replica) travels around the world for popular exhibition.


Charles and Diana had two sons, Prince William, born in 1982, and Prince Harry, born in 1984, before separating
 in the late 1980s, the Prince living in Highgrove and the Princess at Kensington Palace.  Formal separation came in 1992 and the marriage of Charles and Diana ended in divorce on 28 August 1996. On 31 August 1997, a year after the Prince and Princess divorced, Diana died in a car crash in Paris.

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, married at Westminster Abbey on 23 July 1986. The Duke and Duchess of York had two children during their marriage: Princess Beatrice of York (born 1988) and Princess Eugenie of York (born 1990). They separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996, though they are often together for vacations and family events. 



Of all the gowns shown above, I think I like Sarah’s best, as designed by Lindka Cierach.  It is beautiful, flattering to her and has no gimmicks.  Princess Elizabeth’s was lovely too, but I like Sarah’s veil better.  All in all this one is the winner in the gown category, if perhaps not in the list of “most suitable royal brides.”



If like us, you can’t get enough of this wedding stuff, here is a wonderful exhibition from the Royal Collection you will enjoy. 

SIR EDWIN LANDSEER, R.A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Kristine Hughes Patrone

One of my favourite painters is Edwin Landseer, who will always be associated with his Scottish paintings featuring wild landscapes and majestic deer, such as the Monarch of the Glen, pictured above,  painted following a visit to the Highlands of Scotland in 1824. So inspired was he, and so taken by the wild Scottish landscape and people, that Landseer continued to visit  Scotland every autumn for many years thereafter.

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873),  was an English painter, born the third son of John Landseer, A.R.A., a well-known engraver and writer on art. He was born at 71 Queen Anne Street East (afterwards 33 Foley Street), London, on March 7th 1802. His mother was Miss Potts, who sat to Sir Joshua Reynolds as the reaper with a sheaf of corn on her head, in “Macklin’s Family Picture,” or “The Gleaners.” So you might say that when it came to art, Edwin was ‘born to it.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1815 Landseer began studying with the history painter, Benjamin Robert Haydon, and in the following year he entered the Royal Academy Schools at the age of fourteen. Landseer had a gift for painting animals, either as animals, or as animals in human attitudes, as in his Laying down the Law, shown here. Landseer was inspired to paint it after seeing Count d’Orsay’s French poodle, Montaigne, resting on the table. At the time, Lord Lyndhurst — who had held the Seals before, and would hold them again — remarked, “What a capital Lord Chancellor!” prompting Landseer to dash off the painting. At the request of the Duke of Devonshire, whose property it became, the artist afterwards introduced his Grace’s Blenheim spaniel just above the highly-bred greyhound. The painting now hangs in the visitor’s entrance Hall at Chatsworth House, while a sketch of Montaigne that Landseer had done for the painting was part of the contents of the Blessington/D’Orsay auction held in Spring of 1849 at Gore House when the couple fled to France to avoid their creditors, a la Brummell.

 

Another of Landseer’s famous canine portraits, and a personal favourite, is that of Eos, Prince Albert’s favourite greyhound, which he painted at the request of Queen Victoria, who gifted her husband with the painting. The Queen wished the Prince’s hat and gloves to be introduced into the composition, and sent them to Landseer’s studio for this purpose.

However, another favorite has always been the evocative 1837 painting titled, “The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner,” seen below. I found a color print in a magazine years ago, cut it out, framed it and have had it on my wall ever since. It’s so poignant, so heart tugging that you can really only look at it when you’re in a good mood. Gaze upon it when you’re even quasi in the dumps and you’re a goner.

The sense of pathos in this work is almost painful to behold. Beyond the pitiable dog, there is little to see in the scene – a room with a hard packed dirt floor, plaster, or daub, falling from the dingy walls, a discarded walking stick and hat and a bible. Though there are a simple wooden chair and a three-legged stool, the main piece of furniture in the scene, of course, is the coffin. With these few props – and the dog’s pose – Landseer managed to eloquently convey the life of the Old Shepherd and the sort of man the Old Shepherd must have been. Everyone who looks upon the scene will, quite naturally, form their own opinions on this. In my mind, I see the Old Shepherd as a loner, perhaps uncomfortable in the company of others. Making monthly trips to town for supplies, he spent his days in the company of his sheep and his faithful companion, his nights looking out at the distant mountains and stars or in reading his bible. Perhaps he indulged in the occasional wee dram of whisky and a pipe. However, the Old Shepherd must have possessed at least one good relative, neighbor or friend, for to me the soft woolen blanket that has been draped over the coffin and on which the dog rests his head seems too fine, and too clean, to have belonged to the Old Shepherd himself. How long had the Old Shepherd lain ill in his cottage before he had been discovered and someone had brought him food, water, a kind word and the blanket? Now that the Old Shepherd is gone and it has become apparent that the dog will not leave his side, this same someone has draped the blanket on the coffin for the sorrowing dog to rest his chin upon. In my personal imaginings, this same kind someone will take the dog home with them once the Old Shepherd has been buried and the dog will be grateful, but will ever after miss the company of the one who had loved him so singularly and so well.

Dignity and Impudence 1839 Sir Edwin Henry Landseer 1802-1873 Tate Museum, Bequeathed by Jacob Bell 1859

To evoke such thoughts and feelings in the viewer was one of Landseer’s greatest talents. Praise for Landseer is and was unanimous, with he and Stubbs still standing as the greatest English animal painters of all time, yet Landseer had no talent for business. It was his art patron and personal friend, Jacob Bell, who took Landseer in hand and arranged for him to put realistic prices on his paintings. Previously, Landseer had consistently undervalued his own work, a fact which benefited Bell early on as a collector. However, having purchased eighteen Landseer paintings, Bell left them all to the nation upon his death, including Dignity and Impudence, above, one of Landseer’s best known works. Another patron who benefited early on was John Sheepshanks, son of a wealthy Leeds clothier who became one of the age’s leading art collectors. He purchased the above mentioned The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner for a “ludicrously small” price, according to W.P. Frith. Thankfully, Sheepshanks also left his collection of art to the nation and The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner now hangs in the V&A for all to see

Bell and Sheepshanks had both inherited huge sums from their industrialist fathers, allowing them to buy and grow art collections by several contemporary painters. Their wealth also allowed them to socialize with the aristocracy and Landseer, by proxy, was given entree to that world early on, before his talent would no doubt have eventually opened some of the same doors.

Edwin Landseer by Sir Francis Grant, oil on board, circa 1852

By 1835, Landseer could boast some very important people amongst his clients, including the Dukes of Aberdeen, Argyll, Atholl, Devonshire and Wellington, but life changed significantly for Landseer the next year, after he was commissioned by the Duchess of Kent to paint a portrait of Dash, her daughter, the future Queen Victoria’s, King Charles Spaniel, which pleased Victoria greatly. Just months afterwards, Victoria took the throne and commissioned Landseer to paint a further portrait for her. She wrote in her diary: “Saw Lord Conyngham and Edwin Landseer, who brought a beautiful little sketch which he has done this morning, of a picture he is to paint for me of Hector and Dash. He is an unassuming, pleasing and very good-looking man, with fair hair.” Landseer must, indeed, have been pleasing to the new Queen, as she would go on to commission many further paintings and portraits from him, to invite him to stay at Windsor, at Osborne and in the Highlands and remained, to the last, one of Landseer’s most loyal patrons and his friend.

In addition to acting as friend to both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Landseer also taught them both to draw and, further, to engrave. His elder brother, Tom, was a well known engraver, as was their father, and with Tom’s help, and that of Henry Graves, the Royal couple were taught to engrave and press prints of their own making on a press set up in Buckingham Palace for just this purpose.

Queen Victoria by Edwin Landseer, commissioned as her engagement portrait

 

The Princess Royal with Eos and Dove, commissioned by Queen Victoria
Princess Alice with Dandy, commissioned by Prince Albert

 

The King of the Castle by Landseer with his dog, Brutus at centre

Landseer will always be thought of as a masterly painter of dogs, stags and, much later, lions, but it is by his dogs that he is most remembered. His own dog, Brutus, was a model for many of his early dog portraits,  followed by Lassie, a Scottish sheepdog and a pedigreed pooch called Breechin. Landseer owned dogs, and gained fame by painting dogs, which led people to believe that he had some special, uncanny connection to dogs, which prompted friends, and even strangers, to write to him for advice concerning their own problem pooches. Eventually, Landseer’s connection to dogs began to work against him, as critics began to complain that his later canine portraits were overly coy and/or sentimental. Landseer went from painting studies like The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner or even Eos, to endowing the dogs he put on canvas with overtly human expressions or attitudes. In Laying Down the Law, mentioned above, Landseer inserted the Duke of Devonshire’s spaniel into the finished picture at the Duke’s request. Some say that the inclusion ruined the symmetry of the composition. Regardless, such was the fate of an artist whose chief source of income were the commissions he received from wealthy and aristocratic clients who clamored to have their pets memorialized by the great man himself. Landseer continued to paint other subjects and to show them at the Royal Academy, but this may be where the rot began to seep in – more and more, Landseer began to doubt his own abilities, he became less sure of himself and often gave in to bouts of melancholy and drink. More frequently than not, he began to put off beginning a commissioned work and to miss promised deadlines, even though he was renowned for being able to deliver fully realized paintings in record time. The head of Odin took him two hours, to complete and Landseer tossed off Rabbits in three quarters of an hour.

A Dialogue at Waterloo exhibited 1850 Sir Edwin Henry Landseer 1802-1873, Tate Museum, Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

Queen Victoria had offered Landseer a knighthood in 1842, which he humbly refused to accept until 1850. That same year, he was still taking canine commissions from the Queen and it was also the first year that he was invited to stay at Balmoral and to bring with him “his drawing materials.” In this same year, Landseer’s contribution to the Royal Academy show as his Dialogue at Waterloo, commissioned by his patron Robert Vernon for the princely sum of three thousand pounds. The outsized picture (six feet by 12 feet in size) was produced by Landseer in response to Vernon’s request for a Waterloo painting. Vernon had made much of his fortune by supplying horses to the military and he was also an admirer of the Duke of Wellington. However, Landseer knew full well that his strengths as an artist did not translate to full blown battle scenes. Instead, he portrayed the elderly Wellington revisiting the field at Waterloo on horseback, accompanied by his daughter-in-law, the Marchioness of Douro – a nice sentiment, however the scene never actually took place outside of Landseer’s creative imagination. Regardless, the subsequent engraving sold extremely well.

Landseer at work on the Trafalgar Square Lions, John Ballantyne c. 1865

Increasingly, Landseer suffered bouts of melancholia, causing him to isolate himself within his home in St. John’s Wood and to turn to alcohol and drugs for relief. Despite this, Landseer enjoyed popularity throughout the Victorian era and, although he had no previous experience as a sculptor, in 1859 Landseer was commissioned by the government to make the four huge bronze lions for the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London. It took him eight years to complete the work. Lions were not a new animal for Landseer – he had been given the carcass of a Regent’s Park zoo lion by it’s keeper after it had died of old age in 1848. After 1859, Landseer managed to acquire another elderly lion, still living, which he kept in his garden. He also made visits to the Regent’s Park zoo to study their still living lions. Landseer completed other works over the course of the eight years, in between bouts of melancholy, but once again, he stalled for time on the most important work in progress. Finally, the clay models were completed and were cast in bronze by Baron Marochetti, whose experience to that point had largely been confined to casting large equestrian statues for public spaces. The lions were put in place and unveiled in Trafalgar Square on 25 January, 1867.

To this day, rumours persist that Landseer’s lions are not anatomically correct and that, unable to secure an actual lion as model, Landseer instead used a common variety house cat as his study. The facts prove this to be untrue. In actual fact, though Landseer had models to hand, he was most likely unable to bestir himself to make use of them. As with his Dialogue at Waterloo, he solved the problem in the end by using a sort of “bait and switch” tactic – the Art-Journal got right to the heart of the matter: “it appears that one body only has been modelled, while two heads were made, each of which served for two bodies. Thus the same body was cast in bronze four times, and the heads twice each.” Another reason for the persistence of the cat rumour can be traced back to early complaints that resting lions do not place their paws flat on the ground, as house cats do, but instead have them angled inwards. Despite The Illustrated London News having published photographs showing zoo lions with their paws in both positions, the rumours refuse to die.

The lion debate could not have done anything to soothe Landseer’s nerves and his mental health deteriorated further and he isolated himself further from both friends and the art world. When his drinking was worst, Landseer’s elder brother, Charles, sent him to a home in Surrey, to dry out. and confided to his friend, T.S. Cooper, that Landseer was a perfect wreck and suffering from the D. T.s. Still, Cooper was shocked by what he found when he visited Landseer and realized that Charles had not been exaggerating the artist’s condition. However, Landseer had not lost his skill. As Lord Frederick Hamilton recalled: “On another occasion there was some talk about a savage bull. Landseer, muttering ‘Bulls, bulls, bulls,’ snatched up an album of my sister’s and finding a blank page in it made exquisite little drawings of a charging bull. The disordered brain repeating, ‘Bulls, bulls, bulls,’ he then drew a bulldog, a pair of bullfinches surrounded by bullrushes and a hooked bull trout fighting furiously for freedom. That page has been cut out and framed . . . ”

In 1872, Landseer’s health had broken down to the point where his family had him certified as insane and he died the following year.  The Times wrote: ‘Sir Edwin has been long known to be in a most precarious state of health but the news will not the less shock and grieve the worlds of both art and Society in which he was an equal favourite.’ Landseer was buried with full honours in St Paul’s Cathedral and his lions guarding Nelson’s Column were hung with black wreaths.