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sir edwin landseer
(1802-1873)

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landseer

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"Landseer was the David Attenborough of his day."
- Paul Page

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landseer



biography


    The most famous of all the Victorian animal artists, Edwin Landseer was born at 83 Queen Anne Street, East London, the son of John Landseer, the engraver. As John Landseer had always been keenly interested in portraying animals in his engravings, it was inevitable that Edwin's first attempts at art were of sheep, goats and donkeys, which he sketched in nearby fields. Nine of the drawings he produced at the age of 5 are in the V&A.

    Landseer entered the RA Schools at the age of 13, and the following year he exhibited at the RA his first animal studies entitled Portrait of a Mule and Portraits of a Pointer and Puppy. There followed a long series of animal paintings and by the time he painted The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner (1837, pictured above) he had already reached the position where he could do no wrong in the eyes of the Victorian public.

    He made a number of visits to Scotland, which helped to establish the vogue for Scottish painting once his Highland scenes had been seen in England. Queen Victoria became a great admirer of his work and gradually acquired a large collection of his paintings, as well as commissioning him to paint her dogs.

    A less likeable aspect of Landseer's art were his comic animal paintings which the public seemed to demand of him, and which were part of the process he went through in his all-too-successful attempts to humanise animals in his work. In this deliberate pandering to the unexacting and often highly emotional taste of the Victorian public, he sacrificed his enormous talent on the altar of commercialism, which has led to a devaluation of his position among nineteenth-century artists. However, many of his paintings, especially The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner which depicts a grief-stricken sheepdog mourning the death of his master, can still strike a responsive chord with animal lovers today.

    Landseer's work was admired from the outset by the RA, and he was made an associate in 1826 when he was 24, the earliest age at which the rules of the institution allowed him to become an associate. He was made a Royal Academicia in 1831 and knighted in 1851. The bronze lions which he modelled for Trafalgar Square were unveiled in 1867 and are his most important companion works.

    His last years were marred by illness and long bouts of depression. He died in St John's Wood and was buried in St Paul's Cathedral on 1 October 1873.

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