Sir Edwin LANDSEER (London, 1803 - London, 1873)
One of the most popular and successful artists of Victorian England, Edwin Landseer was widely regarded as the greatest animal painter of his day. His interest in animal subjects was manifest from a very early age, and accounts for many of the precocious artist’s earliest drawings. These are often not only of dogs and farmyard animals but also of wild beasts, which Landseer would have seen and sketched at the menageries at Exeter Change and the Tower of London. Trained in the studio of Benjamin Robert Haydon and, from 1816, at the Royal Academy Schools, Landseer had by the age of fourteen already exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Society of Painters in Oil and Watercolours. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1826, at the age of only twenty-four, and rose to become a full Academician in 1831. Landseer made his first visit to Scotland in 1824, and returned there almost every year thereafter. He was particularly fond of the Highlands, where he would spend the autumn months hunting, fishing, shooting and sketching. He gained the patronage of several noble and aristocratic families, and enjoyed a position of some regard at the court of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were to become among his most loyal patrons. Several of his paintings were engraved – many by his older brother Thomas - and these prints widely sold and distributed; indeed, Landseer may be claimed to have been the most published artist of the period. Despite suffering a nervous breakdown in 1840, at the height of his success, he continued to paint and to receive important commissions. Knighted by Queen Victoria in 1850, Landseer was commissioned in 1857 to sculpt four bronze lions to be placed at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in London. This was to be his last significant commission, and occupied much of his time over the next decade. His nervous condition, aggravated by alcoholism, became more acute near the end of his career, and by the last few years of his life he seems to have worked very little before his death in 1873.