Sunday, July 22, 2012

Victorian Artists: Sir Edwin Landseer

Dignity and Impudence 1839

I wrote my MA dissertation on dogs in nineteenth-century literature, and since then animals seem to pop up everywhere in my reading. Actually, they were most likely always there, but now I take notice of them. 

Throughout the Victorian Celebration, this trend has continued. Animals act as symbols that signify the wider themes in Lady Audley's Secret and The Professor. A labrador is an important character in the Sarah Waters novel I just finished earlier this evening (not Victorian, but still), while Sonnets from the Portuguese brings to mind the affectionate relationship Elizabeth Barrett Browning had with her spaniel Flush and how that's mirrored in her poetry.

So, I obeyed the sudden inclination to look through some Landseer artwork.

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873) produced an incredible array of paintings featuring domestic animals and wildlife during the Victorian period -- in fact, he was commissioned to paint several portraits of Queen Victoria and the rest of the royal family, pets included. Although he is best remembered today for his lion sculptures that adorn Trafalgar Square, it's his portraits of animal that are, to me, the most poignant. 

Some of his representations are rather fanciful and anthropomorphic by twenty-first century standards (and some are disturbingly violent), but I feel he truly captured the spirit and individuality of animals. Landseer's work transcends the portrayal of animals as mere accessories to their aristocratic masters. I'm looking forward to finding out more about him and other nineteenth-century artists as I continue my fascinating research on the Victorians.

Here's a small sample of his paintings...

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert 
at Home at Windsor Castle in Berkshire, England 1843

The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner 1837

The Arab Tent 1866

 Laying Down the Law 1840

 The Monkey Who Had Seen the World 1827

And this last one makes me smile. It reminds me of my own terrier who is always begging for food with a similar pleading expression. It's as if he's saying, 'Please, sir, I want some more.' 

Macaw, Love Birds, Terrier, and Spaniel Puppies
Belonging to Her Majesty 1839

P.S. Just scouted out this book containing Landseer's private drawings. I want it!

6 comments:

whimsicaldesperation said...

I hadn't seen his work before but some of those paintings are delightful! (and what a fantastic dissertation topic!)

Caro said...

I had never heard of Landseer before, but now I definitely want to check out more of his work. It felt more like photographs than paintings- and animated photographs at that.
I'm in love with Laying Down the Law. It could come as the cover of a copy of Animal Farm.

amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

What lovely pictures! I'd never heard of Landseer before, but I really like the paintings.

Diana said...

Jordan: Yes, I had so much fun researching the topic that I only wished for more time to dig deeper into the literature (and, obviously, work on my writing).

Diana said...

Caro: I hadn't thought of that before, but you're right. Trade the poodle for a pig and it's Animal Farm all over again.

P.S. I love the ending to that book. It was perfection!

Diana said...

Amanda: I hadn't heard of him either -- until I started conducting my research on animals, that is. I'd love to buy a giant book about Landseer and really learn more about his life and work.