Landseer in Art -"beauty without vanity"

Between the years of 1600 and 1800, the Newfoundland dog in England and the continent, as a rule, were rough-coated, curly-haired, liver and white dogs. These dogs were brought to a higher level as company for rich people who could afford such dogs but they found their way as fisherman’s dogs in Britain as well.

A black dog was scarcely ever seen. Only begin 1800’s first black St. John's dogs arrived in England, some imported by the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury to Heron (Hurn) Court, near Poole.

Portrait of a Newfoundland dog
George Stubbs: Portrait of a Newfoundland dog, 1803
the property of H.R.H., the Duke of York.


Two of the greatest animal painters, George Stubbs and Edwin Henry drew animals in the wild on every possible occasion, all their lives. When Stubbs was painting a racehorse or hunter, and needed to be totally accurate to satisfy its owner, he nearly always had it held by its stable lad. He spent years studying the dynamic structure of the horse, buying dead hacks to dissect and flay so he could master their musculature. His drawings of equine anatomy are the most complete and sensitive ever compiled.

Sir Edwin Landseer

Sir Edwin Landseer

As soon as he could afford it, Landseer bought Stubbs's collection and studied it eagerly, along with his own vast repertoire of animal life sketches. In addition, he rebuilt his studio-house in St John's Wood with huge doors so that not only horses but animals of all sizes from the zoo could be brought to him. After long years of practice - his first important portrait of a dog was done when he was nine he hardly needed to look at an animal body to get its proportions and line right. Once, after dinner, asked if he could draw with his left hand as well as his right, he demanded two pencils and paper. With his left hand he drew the head of a ten-pointer stag, and simultaneously he used his right hand to draw the head of a horse.

Lion, A Newfoundland Dog,1824, Sir Edwin Landseer

Stubbs and Landseer both loved animals with all their hearts, but also with a difference. Stubbs observed them with total dispassion. He was as objective as a camera. There is not the smallest touch of sentiment in any of his paintings, either of treasured dogs and horses or of wild beasts like leopards and monkeys. He noted, recorded, but never commented.

By contrast, Landseer was a passionate romantic, who entered into all the feelings of the creatures he painted -- their triumphs, fears, pains and death agonies - sometimes to the point of anthropomorphism. But both painters always put truth to nature before any other consideration, which is why their beasts, though scrutinized with such different eyes, are always alive. The Queen adored Landseer, to the point where she even tolerated his scandalous affair with the Duchess of Bedford. Landseer and the Duchess would spend much of the summer in the 1840s in the beautiful Highland wilderness of Glen Feshie, then part of the Bedford estates. They lived rough, in tents, cabins or caves, eating the produce they caught, chiefly deer and salmon. I discovered and bought some years ago a superb watercolour by Landseer of an old woman wearing the discarded tweed coat of a stalker and wielding a longhandled spade. An inscription in Landseer's hand records that she was Sarah, who lived in 'Fesshie Cottage', and that he presented the drawing to `the Dss. of B.'. Sarah used her spade to dig for worms for their fishing and spuds for their feasts. When the Duchess died, the Queen sent Landseer a heartfelt message of condolence.

out of “The Spectator” Aug 21,1999 by Johnson Paul


Edited painting from Ceresa from Freudental