Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (March 2, 1802 -- 1873) was a popular English painter and sculptor, known for his depictions of animals. His paintings of Newfoundland dogs led to the common name of "Landseer Newfoundland" often used for that breed. While he is well-known for his paintings, he also designed the four lions which lie at the base of Nelson's column at Trafalgar Square in London.

Landseer was trained as a graphic artist by his father, John, with a particular emphasis on depicting animals. He later studied under the English Romantic painter Benjamin Robert Haydon. Edwin was a child prodigy, and exhibited works at the Royal Academy in his early teens. He was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1826, and a full member in 1831. He was voted the Academy's President in 1866, but declined the honor.

Early in his adult life, Landseer visited the Scottish estate of the author Sir Walter Scott, and Landseer incorporated the pastoral and historical influences of these visits into his landscapes. He also continued to develop his animal paintings, which were given a wide audience via the prints produced by his brother, Thomas, an engraver like their father John. Edwin's popularity with the general public also gained him fame and popularity among British upper classes, including the Royal family. Landseer painted several portraits of Queen Victoria and her family, including a portrait of Victoria and Prince Albert, and a few of Victoria on horseback. Landseer was knighted by the Queen in 1851.

Finally, Landseer was the designer of the four lions which lie at the four corners of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square in London. The lions were apparently much-hyped prior to placement, but were somewhat frowned upon by artists after they were installed, some claiming their poses and figures were unrealistic. (I thought they were impressive, aside from all the pigeons.) Perhaps this was a reaction to the long delay in their installation -- Nelson's Column was erected in the early 1840's, but the lions were not installed until 1866.

Edwin Landseer was very popular in his day, mainly because of the idealized images of animals he produced, especially those of man's best friend. Unfortunately, Landseer may have been overburdened by his popularity, and suffered at least one mental breakdown in 1841. He was apparently in ill health and suffering badly from depression from the late 1850s to the end of his life in 1873. Landseer was given a public funeral by Britain, and was interned in St Paul's Cathedral in London with several other British artists, including Joseph Mallord William Turner, another famed (and troubled) painter twenty-five years Landseer's elder.

In London, some of his paintings can be found at the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Some of his works were also collected by the American Paul Mellon, and now reside at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. The Yale Collection features several paintings of dogs and horses, along with a large painting of the American animal handler Isaac Van Amburgh, who was a sensation in London in the middle of the nineteenth century. This painting is very large, and features Amburgh in a cage, holding a whip and surrounded by several lions and tigers. This particular piece made me rather sad. While the animals are incredibly lifelike, you can see very clearly the fear and sadness in their eyes, and a calm arrogance in the face of Amburgh. The frame of the painting has a quotation from the Book of Genesis as well, granting mankind dominion over the beasts of the Earth. Perhaps the artist and the framer wanted to emphasize man's dominance over nature, but the expressions on the animals merely emphasize man's occasional thoughtless cruelty. (I would like to think that was Landseer's intention, but given the age he lived in, I doubt it.)

Most of his other pieces are more benign. He occasionally depicted (and sentimentalized) the special bond between humans and dogs in his works. In one, he shows a dog lying beside a man who had fallen onto rocks, his paws on the man's chest as if to shake him awake. In another, he shows a Newfoundland which rescued a young girl from the sea, and lies with the child's body stretched across its forelegs, awaiting its master. Another shows a dog resting its head on the coffin of its recently-departed shepherd master. Yale has a painting of one of his signature Newfoundland dogs; this piece is set in a stable with a horse and a trio of hunting falcons. Apparently they belonged to a younger relative of Queen Victoria, and all are depicted patiently awaiting the day's activities. He also painted several depictions of wildlife, including pheasant, ptarmigan, and deer. His paintings of deer are particularly striking, with several paintings (including "The Monarch In His Glen" -- visit the second URL below) capturing the strength and wildness of these creatures.


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