The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Edwin Henry Landseer, 1802-1873

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1802.03.07
Place of Birth: London
Date of Death: 1873.10.01
Place of Death: Saint-John's Wood, London


Edwin Henry Landseer was a portrait, animal and history painter, draughtsman, sculptor and etcher, who came from a family of artists. His father John Landseer was an engraver and etcher and his uncle Henry Landseer (fl. 1820-6) was a landscape painter. Edwin Landseer had six surviving siblings, all of whom were artists: Thomas (1795-80), Jane (b. 1795), Charles (1799-1879), Anna Maria (1805-71), Jessica ('Jessie') (1807-80) and Emma (1809-95). Thomas Landseer's son George Landseer (1829-78) was a portrait and landscape painter.


Landseer studied etching under his father, and then painting with Benjamin Robert Haydon and at the Royal Academy Schools in London. In 1815 he made his début at the Royal Academy with a number of animal drawings. Landseer, who went on to specialise in animal painting, most notably pictures of dogs, tended to give his animals anthropomorphic qualities, e.g. Dignity and Impudence (1839; Tate Gallery, London). From 1824 he made regular trips to Scotland and became known for his Highland scenes e.g. Monarch of the Glen (c. 1851; John Dewar and Sons Ltd, London).

Queen Victoria was notable as one of Landseer's patrons, commissioning genre paintings and group portraits of the royal family and their pets, e.g. Windsor Castle in Modern Times (1841-45; Windsor Castle). Landseer was also responsible for teaching the Queen and her Consort to etch in the early 1840s.

Landseer's paintings were also extremely popular with general public and many were engraved, sometimes by his brother Thomas. He also worked as an illustrator, making drawings for such volumes as the 1854 edition of Walter Scott's Waverley novels. Furthermore, he tried his hand at sculpture, designing four bronze lions to flank Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, which were cast by Carlo Marochetti (1858-66).

Landseer's popular and sentimental approach to painting was in direct opposition to JW's concern for form and colour. In 1886 Richard Whiteing, writing an article in support of JW in the Court and Society Review, criticised John Ruskin's enthusiasm for Landseer's The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner (Victoria and Albert Museum), as demonstrating an unintelligent 'liking for pretty things'.

Landseer was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1826 and a full member in 1831. He was knighted in 1850, having initially refused in 1842. In 1865 he was offered the Presidency of the Royal Academy but declined due to ill-health.


Obituary, Art Journal, vol. 12, 1873, p. 326; Stephens, F. G., Memoirs of Sir Edwin Landseer, London, 1874; Graves, A., Catalogue of the Works of the Late Sir Edwin Landseer, R. A., London, 1876; Ormond, R. (ed.), Sir Edwin Landseer, London, 1982; Upstone, Robert, 'Edwin Henry Landseer', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 18 December 2002); Ormond, Richard, Landseer in the Highlands, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2005.