Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sir Edwin Landseer's Feats of Skill

Sir Edwin Landseer, Study of a Lion, 1862, oil, 914 x 1378 mm, Tate
British animal painter Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) developed remarkable skills of speed and dexterity.

According to one one account, "It was Landseer's custom to place a clean canvas, or panel, upon his easel and leave it there untouched for several days, or until he had completely thought out the subject that he was to paint. This done, he would take up his palette and brushes and set to work, and in an astonishingly short space of time the picture would be finished."

There are many stories of him painting large oil studies of animals in less than an hour. He painted the portrait of the spaniel and the wounded rabbit in two-and-a-half hours. 

One houseguest recalled leaving for church on a Sunday morning as Landseer set a blank canvas on his easel. Landseer skipped church that day, and when the guest returned from the service, the painting was finished.

Another story of his prodigious ability comes from a dinner party in London. A lady remarked that it would be impossible for someone to draw two things at once. "Oh, I can do that," Landseer said quietly; "give me two pencils and I will show you."

Landseer took a pencil in each hand, and then "drew simultaneously and unhesitatingly the profile of a stag's antlered head with one hand, and with the other the perfect outline of the head of a horse. Both drawings were strong and vigorous; that drawn with the left hand in no way inferior to its companion sketch."
Sir Edwin Landseer on Wikipedia


Sesco said...

That Lion is impressive, and impressively executed! I love the swatches of blue in the hide; he looks dusty to me, which gives him more clout as a wild beast and not a circus inmate.

Jacob A Stevens said...

Do you think these are directly from life, or based on detailed drawings, or from memory?

James Gurney said...

Good question, Jacob. I'm not sure, but I would guess the lion is from a caged animal, though Landseer was also known to work from dead specimens borrowed from the zoo. The dog is most likely from a living animal. Don't know about the deer—he often traveled with hunstmen and often painted dead deer.

Sesco, yes, and I love the brushwork. He must have kept his old splayed brushes to get those mane textures.

Unknown said...

No wonder he was so quick. If I had to paint a live lion I'd be painting on the run!



HNK said...

Everything comes from observation if talking about imagination: textures, light sources... These paintings are stunning. I don't know how to keep an animal for SUCH a long time to make these paintings; I am also talking about the painting of a dog - if it is from a living one. The detail work is truly amazing.

Rich said..., those animal paintings & drawings! Another thing you've ferreted out for us.

Kessie said...

He drew two completely different things with two hands?? Now THERE is a feat I don't think YouTube has attempted!

jamgvg said...

Sorry I missed this. Brilliant James. Everything you've said is spot on. And you didn't call him an 'animalier'- close to animals, he could do anything- raise tears of joy with a piece of coal on a limed wall. Despite the trummelling stigma of madness mid-career, was compassionately forgiven by old friend Victoria (who set the pariah back to work and knighted him), made him favorite maker of his age, now untangled from 19th c. social perceptions, his art survives, without parallel.

Patrick Cotter said...

Landseer is only the second historical figure who was able to do that. The other was President James Garfield (elected in 1880) who could write in Latin with one hand while simultaneously writing in Greek with the other. Can you imagine being that gifted? I certainly can’t...