Sunday 8 November 2015


2015-46  Henry Landseer: "The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner" 
                          A Masterpiece of the "Man of Mind"

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer [1802-1873]
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer [1802-1873] was an English painter, well known for his paintings of animals—particularly horses, dogs and stags. However, his best known works are the lion sculptures in Trafalgar Square.
His work had added appeal in the Victorian age because of his tendency to give his animal scenes a moral dimension. These pictures were widely circulated in his time in the form of engravings, often made by his brother Thomas. 

Edwin Landseer was the youngest son of an engraver and studied under Benjamin Robert Haydon, the historical painter, who encouraged him to study animal anatomy. 

In 1824 Landseer made the first of his many visits to Scotland. He fell in love with the Highlands, which inspired many of his later paintings such as 'The Monarch of the Glen' [1851]. He also visited Sir Walter Scott, who admired his paintings and chose him as one of the illustrators to the Waverley edition of his novels. In the 1830s his work gained wide popularity and was bought both by the aristocracy and the middle class. 
Lions at the base of Nelson's  Column
After a breakdown in 1840, Landseer had a permanent fight against depression and ill health, although he continued to paint brilliantly almost until the end of his life. In the 1860s he modelled the lions at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. In 1866 he declined the presidency of the Royal Academy, and after 1870 sank slowly into insanity. 

John Ruskin's comments on Landseer's "The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner" [Modern Painters Vol.1]

Landseer: "The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner" [1837]

This painting "The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner" by Landseer, when first exhibited in Royal Academy Exhibition in 1837, received complimentary comments from many established critics, and was enthusiastically greeted in the press. It was engraved by Gibbon in 1838, and became one of the best-selling prints of the century.

In his 'Modern Painters Vol I' [1843]Ruskin described it as 'one of the most perfect poems or pictures which modern times have seen.'  He went on to say, 'The exquisite execution of the glossy and crisp hair of the dog, the bright sharp touching of the green bough, the clear painting of the wood of the coffin and the folds of the blanket, are language - language clear and expressive in the highest degree.

But the close pressure of the dog's breast against the wood, the convulsive clinging of the paws, which has dragged the blanket off the trestle, the total powerlessness of the head, laid close and motionless, upon its folds, the fixed and tearful fall of the eye in its utter hopelessness, the rigidity of repose which marks that there has been no motion nor change in the trance of agony since the last blow was struck on the coffin-lid, the quietness and gloom of the chamber, the spectacles marking the place where the Bible was last closed, indicating how lonely has been the life, how unwatched the departure, of him who is now laid solitary in his sleep - these are all thoughts - thoughts by which the picture is separated at once from hundreds of equal merit, as far as mere painting goes, by which it ranks as a work of high art, and stamps its author, not as the neat imitator of the texture of a skin, or the fold of a drapery, but as the Man of Mind.' 

                 Some More Masterpieces by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer:

Landseer: "Bloudhound and Pups" [1839]

Landseer: Deer of Chillingham Park, Northumberland [1867]

Landseer: "Favourites" [1835]

YouTube Video: 90 seconds at Trafalgar Square: [Click Here] 

Postscript: More than a year after the first post on Landseer on 1 Jun 2014 in 2014-22 Devotion of a Dog: Henry Landseer's "Attachment" [Click Here], I came across Landseer's "The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner" with John Ruskin's comments on it. Also I could not leave out Landseer's "Bloudhound and Pups" and the "Deer of Chillingham Park, Northumberland" Hence this revisit to Landseer.

1 comment:

  1. oh Boy your summary of Landseer really nice, I love 'painter of the mind'- tho also of the heart- frowned upon (an not remembered) for support not just dogs/horses- his brave 'dissenting' support for women's liberty & independence, from Caroline Norton ( Family Act), Brontes, Ada Lovelace (Babbage), Mary Evans (George Eliot) to Flo Nightingale, an others, before they achieved fame or success, a wonderful human being. Best wishes, James (Gorin von Grozny)