« AnteriorContinuar »
A certain lord.-Fidelity to nature.-Woodman.-Rustic sublimity. than too radiant loveliness. A certain lord came for his portrait; and that all might be worthy of his station, he had put on a new suit of clothes, richly laced, and a well-powdered wig. He put on also a practised look of such importance and prettiness, that the artist, who was no flatterer, either with tongue or pencil, began to laugh, and was heard to mutter, "This will never do!" The sitter having composed himself in conformity with his station, said, "Now, sir, I beg you will not overlook the dimple in my chin!" "Confound the dimple in your chin," said Gainsborough; "I shall neither paint the one nor the other." And he laid down his brushes, and refused to resume them.
Nature sat to him in all her attractive attitudes of beauty; and his pencil traced, with peculiar and matchless facility, her finest and most delicate lineaments. Whether it was the sturdy oak, or the twisted eglantine, the mower whetting his scythe, the whistling ploughboy, or the shepherd under the hawthorn in the dale-all came forth equally chaste, from his inimitable and fanciful pencil.
The dates of Gainsborough's various productions, cannot now be ascertained he never put his name to his compositions, and very seldom even the date. He knew that his own happy character was too strongly impressed on his works to be denied; and probably thought that the excellence of a painting had nothing to do with the day or the year of its execution. The Woodman with his Dog in a Storm, was one of his favourite compositions. There is a kind of rustic sublimity, new to English painting, in the heavenward look of the peasant, while the rain descends and the lightning flies. The same may be said of the Shepherd Boy in the Shower; there is something inexpressibly mournful in the looks of both. The former unfortunately perished; but the
Manner of painting.-Sketches.-Last words.-Numerous drawings.
sketch remains, and shows it tc have been a work of the highest order. He valued it at one hundred guineas, but could find no purchaser while he lived. His widow sold it for five hundred guineas, after his death, to Lord Gainsborough, whose house was subsequently burned to the ground. Another of his own chief favourite works, was the Cottage Girl with her Dog and Pitcher.
Like Reynolds, he painted standing, in preference to sitting; and the pencils which he used had shafts sometimes two yards long. He stood as far from his sitter as he did from his picture, that the hues might be the same. He generally rose early, commenceu painting between nine and ten o'clock, wrought for four or five hours, and then gave up the rest of the day to visits, to music, and to domestic enjoyment. He loved to sit by the side of his wife, during the evenings, and make sketches of whatever occurred to his fancy; all of which he threw under the table, except such as were uncommonly happy, and those were preserved, and either finished as sketches, or expanded into paintings.
He died in 1788, in the sixty-first year of his age. When he felt his end approaching, he sent for Reynolds, with whom he had been unable to live in peace. But in the hour of death all petty animosities and rivalries were forgotten, and the last words of Gainsborough were addressed to Sir Joshua: "We are all going to heaven, and Vandyke is of the company."
His drawings are numerous and masterly-no artist has left behind him so many exquisite relics of this kind. "I have seen," said his friend Jackson, "at least a thousand, not one of which but possesses merit, and some in a transcendent degree." Many of them are equal, in point of character, to his most finished performances. They have all great breadth and singular freedom of handling. His sketches of ladies are very fine. The Duchess of Devonshire is shown in side view and in front; she
National air of Gainsborough's pictures.-Execution.
seems to move and breathe among the groves of Chatsworth. The names of many are lost, but this is not important. New light, however, has lately been thrown on those perishable things, by the painter's grand nephew, Richard Lane, in whom much of the spirit survives. He has copied and published some twentyfour of those fine sketches.
The chief works of Gainsborough are not what is usually called landscape; for he had no wish to create gardens of paradise, and leave them to the sole enjoyment of the sun and breeze. The wildest nooks of his woods have their living tenants, and in all his glades and his valleys we see the sons and daughters of men. A deep human sympathy unites us with his pencil, and this is not lessened because all his works are stamped with the image of old England. His paintings have a national look. He belongs to no school; he is not reflected from the glass of man, but from that of nature.
"It is certain," says Reynolds, "that all those odd scratches and marks, which, on a close examination, are so observable in Gainsborough's pictures, and which, even to experienced painters, appear rather the effect of accident than design—this chaos, this uncouth and shapeless appearance-by a kind of magic, at a certain distance, assumes form, and all the parts seem to drop into their proper places, so that we can hardly forbear acknowledging the full effect of diligence, under the appearance of chance and hasty negligence." That Gainsborough himself considered this peculiarity in his manner, and the power it possesses in exciting surprise, as a beauty in his works, may be inferred from the eager desire, which we know he always expressed, that his pictures, at the exhibition, should be seen near as well as at a distance.
There is a charm about the children running wild in the
Children of Gainsborough, Reynolds, and old painters.—West. landscapes of Gainsborough, which is more deeply felt by comparing them with those of Reynolds. The children of Sir Joshua are indeed beautiful creatures-free, artless, and lovely; but they seem to have been nursed in velvet laps, and fed with golden spoons. There is a rustic grace, an untamed wildness about the children of the latter, which speak of the country and of neglected toilets. They are the offspring of nature, running free among woods as wild as themselves. They are not afraid of disordering their satins, and wetting their kid shoes. They roll on the green sward, burrow like rabbits, and dabble in the running streams, daily. In this the works of Reynolds and Gainsborough differ; but they are both unlike the great painters of Italy. The infants of Raphael, Titian, or Coreggio, are not meant for mortals, but for divinities.
Benjamin West was born in the year 1738, at Springfield, Pennsylvania. In his seventh year little Benjamin was placed by the cradle to watch the sleeping infant of his eldest sister while his mother gathered flowers. As he sat by the cradle, the child smiled in sleep; he was struck with its beauty, and seeking some paper, drew its portrait in red and black ink. His mother returned, and snatching the paper, which he sought to conceal, exclaimed to her daughter, "I declare, he has made a likeness of little Sally!" She took him in her arms and kissed him fondly. When he was some eight years old, a party of ro ng Indians paid their summer visit to Springfield, and were much pleased with the rude sketches which the boy had made of birds and fruits and flowers, for in such drawings many of the wild Americans have both taste and skill. They showed him some of their
Indian teachers.-Implements.-Surprising performance.
own workmanship, and taught him how to prepare the red and yellow colours with which they stained their weapons; to these his mother added indigo, and thus he was possessed of the three primary colours. The Indians unwilling to leave such a boy in ignorance of their other acquirements, taught him archery, in which he became expert enough to shoot refractory birds, which refused to come on milder terms for their likenesses. The future President of the British Academy, taking lessons in painting and in archery from a tribe of Cherokees, might be a subject worthy of the pencil.
The wants of West increased with his knowledge. He could draw, and he had obtained colours, but how to lay those colours skilfully on, he could not well conceive. A neighbour informed him that this was done with brushes formed of camel's hair; there were no camels in America, and he had recourse to the cat, from whose back and tail he supplied his wants. The cat was a favourite, and the altered condition of her fur was imputed to disease, till the boy's confession explained the cause, much to the amusement of his father, who, nevertheless, rebuked him, but more in affection than in anger. Better help was at hand. He received as a present a box of paints and brushes, with canvass prepared for the easel, and six engravings by Grevling. West placed the box on a chair at his bedside, and was unable to sleep. He rose with the dawn, carried his canvass and colours to the garret, hung up the engravings, prepared a palette, and commenced copying. So completely was he under the control of this species of enchantment, that he absented himself from school, laboured secretly and incessantly, and without interruption for several days, when the anxious inquiries of the schoolmaster sent his mother to his studio with no pleasure in her looks. But her anger subsided as she looked upon his performances. He had