Extract from Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge’s London Travel Diary
|Wednesday. 3d April. |
Very busy with my preparations for departure. Saturday March 30th, we visited the two great Artists, Mulready & Landseer, than whom there cannot be two persons more unlike. Mulready is a large, full-faced, middle-aged man, somewhat brusque and something of a humorist, complaining in a tone between jest & earnest, that he is called coarse, his pictures vulgar, full of fighting & the passions of low-life. Edwin Landseer young, about thirty four, courtly, not entirely free from affectation but gentle & civil. He has been much taken up by the higher classes and petted by the Aristocracy, being a favorite artist among people of fashion. He is the best living painter of animals, and perhaps as good as any who have preceded him. He is also eminently happy in his portraits of children. Mulready is more highly esteemed among artists than in general society, though his pictures command high prices. The only pieces he would allow us to see were such as had been expressly named by Mr Sheepshanks in his note of introduction, and it was evident that we were entirely indebted to this note for the courtesy with which we were treated. Mr Sheepshanks is so good a friend, and buys so many pictures, that his name goes a great way among painters, and I suspect that in the present instance, it was the sole charm. There is a certain something in the countenance & manner of Mulready which does not indicate much patience with intruders, especially such as pretend to no knowledge of art. Heaven knows I love it enough to be my excuse for unavoidable ignorance. Pictures are my passion—I did not know how much so till since I have had the opportunity to see good ones.
The three of Mulready’s pictures which we saw were,
1st “The fight interrupted”—Two schoolboys, one evidently the aggressor & still full of fight, the other lubberly if not cowardly, are interrupted in their single combat, by a grave and reverend clergyman, who is hearing the merits of the case from other boys, bystanders, and is recommending to these witnesses truth & impartiality in their statements. The group is admirable, the sullen anger of one boy who has not had or given enough, the somewhat pusillanimous complaining of the other, the eagerness & animation of the partisans on both sides, the grave, reproving looks of the clergyman are all as true as possible to nature. I could not help thinking there might be something in a criticism which Mulready told us had been made upon his works, that none but a man who himself had been a pickle as a boy, could have executed such subjects so well.
2nd A girl reading a sonnet whilst the author, a young man, watches the expression of her countenance.
3d A girl shutting her eyes and opening her mouth to receive a cherry, which a man, reclining on the turf, is bobbing at her lips. These two small & charming pictures belong to Mr Sheepshanks. Mulready is particularly good as a colorist, but his drawing and his conception of character seemed to my unlearned eyes equally as admirable as his colouring.
The pictures shewn us by Landseer were mostly unfinished but far enough advanced to produce a most charming effect. We were kept waiting in his parlour awhile, till he had finished with a sitter, who with a female attendant passed out soon after our arrival; a charming little girl, a daughter of Sir Robert Peel, whose portrait with her mother’s dog, a brindle small spaniel, in her arms, Landseer is now at work upon.
The other pictures that we saw were,
1st Princess Mary of Cambridge, a lovely child with a large Newfoundland Dog whom she is trying to tempt & teaze with a biscuit. The noble animal seems to understand and lend himself to the joke.
3. Two fair children, portraits, feeding rabbits.
4. A boy holding a horse at the door of a rustic inn—with two dogs.
5. A scene in an English Park with a group of deer.
6. 7. Two half lengths. Girls dressed as Summer & Winter
8. An unfinished sketch of the Queen on horseback. Landseer had influence enough to prevail on her Majesty to substitute a sort of Spanish Hat & Feather for the unbecoming round Men’s hat usually worn by ladys in riding.
9. Van Amburgh & his Lions. The man inferiour to the brutes. The old Lion is a noble animal, a monarch discrowned but not degraded—in captivity but right Royal still. He reminded me of Sir Joshua Reynold’s “Banished Lord” in the National Gallery. Landseer says a sort of King Lear.
Edwin Landseer is good-looking & well-mannered. He lives in a small and somewhat humble house on the St. John’s wood road, with his sister who has his affectation without his talent. She may be clever, she is certainly a “precieuse”
Mulready lives beyond Kensington, Leslie on the Edgeware road—all far enough from the idle part of the town to avoid escape1 too frequent intrusion.