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Edwin Landseer
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One of Britain’s most famous and popular artists during the 19th century, Sir Edwin Landseer is known as a painter of animals, but also painted portraits and landscapes. His patrons included Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert (1819-1861), many British nobles and leading industrialists. A believer in the marketing power of the reproductive print, some 350 of his paintings were reproduced and sold widely. Born in London in 1802, his father John (1762/3-1852) was an engraver, author and antiquarian. The fourth of seven surviving children, Landseer’s siblings all became artists. Initially trained by his father, Landseer excelled at drawing by age five and learned to etch at age seven. He focused on depicting animals, including lions and tigers exhibited at a menagerie on The Strand in London. In 1813 he won an award from the Society of Arts for a drawing. Landseer and his two brothers began studying under Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) in 1815, the year he first exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art. He entered the Academy’s schools in 1816, studying there for three years. Landseer’s Fighting Dogs Getting Wind (1818, Paris: Louvre) was exhibited to critical acclaim in 1818. By that year his older brother Thomas (1795-1880) had begun making prints after Edwin’s paintings. Landseer visited Scotland for the first time in 1824, the first of many such trips. He stayed with Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) at Abbotsford for ten days, making several oil sketches of the author. Landseer then went on to the Scottish Highlands to stay with John Murray, the fourth Duke of Atholl (1755-1830) at his castle, who commissioned Landseer to paint the group portrait of the Duke, his grandson and two gamekeepers in a hunting scene, Death of the Stag in Glen Tilt (private collection). The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1830. This visit was the first of many to the stately homes of a variety of British aristocrats, all faithful patrons, who found him to be an amusing and lively friend. Landseer’s ascendant career was recognized by the Royal Academy, which made him an associate member in 1826 at age 24, the youngest permitted age, and a full Academician in 1831. Landseer’s best works were painted during the 1830s and his output was prodigious. Then in 1840 he suffered a nervous breakdown. Although he recovered to a great extent after a long trip to the Continent with his friend Jacob Bell (1810-1859), a research chemist, Landseer’s mental condition remained unstable. He was subject to depression and a variety of phobias, and indulged in drugs and alcohol. With the support of Bell, who managed Landseer’s affairs, and an aunt, who ran his household, Landseer became productive once again, with considerable financial success. He enjoyed Queen Victoria’s patronage beginning in 1837 and made many visits to Buckingham and Windsor Palaces. He was offered a knighthood in 1842, but declined. During the 1840s Landseer gave drawing and etching lessons to the Queen and Prince Albert. She invited him to Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands in 1850, the year he consented to accept a knighthood. He would visit Balmoral in the company of the royal family during each of the following three years. By 1851 Landseer had finished one of his most famous paintings, The Monarch of the Glen (Edinburgh: Diageo Collection, on loan to the National Museum of Scotland), depicting a magnificent stag. In later years Landseer’s animal paintings became more anthropomorphic, imbuing his animal subject with human emotions, which made his works even more popular. He was awarded a gold medal at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Then in 1857 he accepted the commission to design the four huge bronze lions that decorate the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, despite his limited experience as a sculptor. The project took ten years to complete, with Landseer sculpting clay models cast in bronze by his sculptor friend Baron Carol Marochetti (1805-1867). By the mid-1860s his mental health had further deteriorated. From time to time he was confined on doctor’s orders. Landseer declined to stand for election as the president of the Royal Academy in 1866, pleading age and ill health. Yet somehow he continued to paint and stay active in society. By 1872 he was certified as incompetent. He died in his London home in October, 1873 (TNB 3/2015) Selected bibliography: Ormond, Richard. The Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands. Exhibition catalog, with an essay by T. C. Smout. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2005. Ormond, Richard. Sir Edwin Landseer. Exhibition catalog, with contributions by Joseph Rishel and Robin Hamlyn. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Tate Gallery, 1981.