English painter Sir Edwin Henry Landseer was born on 7 March, 1802. Landseer was born in London, the son of the engraver John Landseer. In 1815, at the tender age of 13, the young Landseer exhibited works at the Royal Academy. He was elected an Associate Member at the age of 24; and an Academician five years later in 1831, at the age of 29.
According to Wikipedia, he studied under several artists, along with his father, and the artist Benjamin Robert Haydon, who encouraged the young Landseer to perform dissections in order to fully understand animal musculature and skeletal structure. (This is why he is well known for his paintings of animals, including those of horses, dogs and stags).
Landseer was rumoured to be able to paint with both hands at the same time, e.g. paint a horse’s head with the right and its tail with the left, simultaneously. He was also known to be able to paint extremely quickly—when the mood struck him. Likewise, he could also procrastinate, sometimes for years, over certain commissions.
Queen Victoria commissioned many artists to produce numerous works of art. Initially asked to paint various Royal pets, Landseer moved on to portraits of the Royal family, which included the Queen’s children as babies, usually in the company of a dog. So popular and influential were Landseer’s paintings of dogs in the service of humanity, that the name Landseer came to be the official name for the variety of Newfoundland dog that, rather than being black or mostly black, features a mix of both black and white.
In his late 1830s, Landseer suffered what is now believed to be a substantial nervous breakdown, and for the rest of his life was troubled by recurring bouts of melancholy, hypochondria, and depression; often aggravated by alcohol and drug use.
- Knighted in 1850, Landseer declined his Presidential election to the Royal Academy, sixteen years late in 1866.
- As for Landseer’s most renown works, in 1858, the British government commissioned him to make four bronze lions for the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London. The sculptures were installed in 1867 ( see image – below).
In the last few years of his life, Landseer’s mental stability was problematic; and at the request of his family he was declared insane in July 1872.
- Landseer’s death on 1 October 1873 was widely marked in England: Shops and houses lowered their blinds, flags flew at half mast; his bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square were hung with wreaths; and large crowds lined the streets to watch his funeral cortege pass. Landseer was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
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