Tim Linnell [email@example.com], a descendant of the artist, has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web his scanned text of this biography. George P. Landow has adapted it for html, adding links to the original text.
Removal to Bayswater — Linnell and Fashionable Portrait-painting — Landscape Art — Home Life and Home Labours — Engraving — Shoreham — Mr. Sheepshanks.
N April, 1828, Linnell removed from Hampstead to Bayswater, at the same time vacating the house which he had kept on as a studio in Cirencester Place. He at first lived at 26, Porchester Terrace, but afterwards he built a house for himself on land leased from the Bishop of London. Into this house — numbered 38 — he went to live in 1830. He subsequently added to his lease a plot of land adjoining his house to the south, upon which he built himself a larger studio — or 'workshop,' as he preferred to call it — than the one he had hitherto worked in in the house. He superintended the building operations himself, arranging with, and employing, the various workmen, bricklayers, carpenters, labourers, etc. — and paying all of them their wages on the Saturday night. The land was leased and the work begun in 1836. The studio was sufficiently finished for him to enter it in the early part of 1837. It was fifty feet long by twenty wide, and was provided with three skylights. Here he used now to paint his portraits with a light from above (as in the case of the portrait of Thomas Carlyle, which was painted in this room).
Later still he rented an additional piece of ground to the west of his garden, which gave him an opening to the fields between Porchester Terrace and Black Lion Lane, now Queen's Road. He took great delight in his garden, and was wont to find health and recreation in attending to it. A large proportion of the work required in it was done by his own hands. He sowed and planted it, pruned his trees and mowed his grass, and saw to his fowls and bees, with but little assistance save that given by his sons. Sometimes, when he could spare the time, he would devote the entire day to gardening. The effect of these labours on his constitution was very beneficial, and he gradually increased both in health and strength.
He would probably have said that this result was attained not only in part through the economy of strength effected by having no longer to toil to and from Hampstead night and morning, but in part through the pure water with which he was able to supply his household by digging a couple of wells in his garden. It may be imagined that he sunk them at considerable monetary cost; but such was ever his 'rage' for the real, unadulterated thing, whether in art or religion, in comestibles or the raw material of his craft, that he never spared either trouble or cost in striving towards his end. The 'fountainhead' was his aim ; and when he had sunk one well and found the water satisfactory but not sufficient, he presently went to work and sunk another. As he had nothing to pay for water-rates ever afterwards, the money spent in sinking the wells proved a good investment.
It is noteworthy in regard to this removal from Hampstead to Bayswater, that Linnell seems to have become possessed of a similar feeling in regard to the former place to that entertained for the North generally by Blake, as the following lines show.
'" Of all the airts the wind can blaw, I dearly loe the west,"
Is the first line of the old Scotch song; I suppose you know the rest.
It is quoted here only to show
The way when I travel I like to go,
To get a good healthy breezy blow.
'So if with fresh air your lungs you'd fill,
'Tis better to go to Richmond Hill,
That place where lived a lass,
Than to Hampstead where
The dust fills the air,
Kicked up by many an ass.
'You can ride from your door,
And it costs no more;
Nay, I think it costs much less;
And if it should rain,
You can ride back again,
And so get out of the mess.'
One of the first results of his removal to Bayswater was a diminution in Linnell's portrait commissions. Cirencester Place was near the Squares of Bloomsbury, which then formed the fashionable part of the town, while Porchester Terrace was a comparatively unknown place, in a district of open fields and eligible building land, upon which the eyes of the speculative builder were just then being turned.
But in the course of a year or two his commissions became as numerous as ever, while his prices were considerably improved. He was now getting fairly good prices for those days, and was gradually establishing for himself a high reputation as a portrait-painter. Every year he had two or three portraits in the Royal Academy; and if he does not compare well with some of the more fashionable portrait-painters of his day in the number of celebrities he painted (albeit his list is a very good one), he will stand comparison with the best of them for the excellence of his work. One has only to look at his portraits of Blake, of his father-in-law, Thomas Palmer, of Sir A. W. Callcott, R.A., of Edward Sterling and Archbishop Whately, not to mention a score others of well-known men, to see that he reached the high-water mark of portraiture. His portrait of Callcott (now in the possession of Mr. J. C. Horsley, R.A.) could not easily be excelled for life-like expression and ease of treatment.
Linnell always held, and one cannot help thinking, in the light of subsequent facts, that he was right, that his religious views and democratic opinions stood in the way of his preferment, not only in regard to the Royal Academy, but as a professional portrait-painter. As he often said, he was too independent, too uncompromising, for a courtier, and without something of that it is hard — or was in the earlier part of the century, at all events — to make headway in Court and fashionable circles.
He showed his indomitable resolution not to bend the knee or submit to any system of currying favour, when it was a question of his election to the Associateship of the Royal Academy; and the same spirit was manifest in all he did. We have seen the attitude he took when he thought he might be commissioned to paint the portrait of George IV. If asked to execute a likeness, whatever the consequences might be, he avowed it should be 'like.' No untruthfulness for him — not even to flatter his King. In his autobiographical notes he remarks that 'had he been content to be reckoned a son of Pharaoh's daughter, he might have flourished as a Court painter.' But he was not prepared to make the sacrifice that would have been required of him so to thrive.
Apart from the fact that he always conceived his strength to be in the painting of poetic landscape, and constantly looked forward to the day when he should be able to return to his first love, he felt that there was something approaching degradation in painting pictures of men and women, and calling them portraits, when all the salient points of likeness and character had been softened to the point of effeminacy. He might possibly have afforded to be less uncompromising and lost nothing; and yet one cannot help in these days, when it is the fashion to hold all things lightly, and to regard those who hold their convictions too earnestly with a pitying cynicism — one cannot help admiring the man who, in his profession as in his religion, was resolved at all hazards to be true to himself and steadfast to the faith that was in him.
Had there been less of this sincerity and truth to himself in John Linnell, we may be sure that his gift to his generation would have been of far less value than it was. He might have painted beautiful landscape, but it would not have been what it was — a landscape that maintained the best tradition of the early English School, and, at the same time, added to it something of the grandeur for which the Old Masters are celebrated. For, high as was his reputation during the middle period of his life for portrait-painting, he never got beyond the feeling that he painted portraits to live, while landscape he lived to paint. Such was his attitude towards the two branches of his art. Even in Portrait-painting he made his work subserve the greater aim ; for by his care in painting flesh and human expression, he held that he learned to paint individual nature with more force and fidelity.
It is difficult to convey to the reader how deep was the trait in Linnell's character which urged him on to arrive at the essential truth of things. In some respects it amounted to an idiosyncrasy, as such traits are apt to do, and led him to do some things which have their humorous as well as their practical side. His motto was to do everything himself if he could possibly manage it, and if not, to see it done, or as much of it as possible.
Thus his children, who were now growing up into sturdy boys and girls, found in him their chief instructor. He, with the assistance of Mrs. Linnell, not only guided them in the acquisition of the rudiments of education, but at an early age began to drill them in art. The house was workshop, school, academy — one might almost add, at a later period, college of divinity into the bargain. There was no idle time under our artist's roof. The boys had ever their work to do, and if it was not studying drawing, it was gardening, grinding corn, helping to make the family bread, or, it may be, lending a hand in the brewing of the household beer when the time came round for that operation to be performed; for to the labour of bread-making, commenced at Cirencester Place, and taken up again at Porchester Terrace, was now added that of brewing.
The stimulating cause was the same in both cases — namely, the desire to have everything genuine,, and of the best quality. To nothing did Linnell give more care and attention than to his brewing, which, though he employed a competent man to do the practical part of the work, he always superintended himself, taking especial care to see to the employment of a proper quantity of hops, and to the working of the liquor after the brewing. Thus he always had a plentiful supply of genuine ale, which he continued to drink until extreme old age, when his medical man advised him to give it up. It was a good brew, and gave general satisfaction to all who partook of it. Later, when the dealers began to pay him visits, and they were treated at his table to a taste of his ale, as well as of his theology, he used to tell in his humorous way how they preferred the former to the latter.
An amusing anecdote is related illustrative of Linnell's unquenchable desire always to have the real Simon Pure article, and to have likewise his money's worth. On one occasion, the servant not being about, he went to the door himself to receive the morning milk. Taking a jug in each hand, he quietly asked the milkman to let him have the milk in one jug and the water in the other, at the same time saying that he would pay for them separately.
There must at this time have been something primitive and almost patriarchal in the life of the artist's household — if, that is, we can conceive of the sons of a primitive and patriarchal household grinding corn, kneading and baking bread, etc., while declaiming the wrath of Achilles in Chapman's translation of Homer, or discussing some choice passage in Shakespeare; for Linnell was as original in his views on education as he was in everything else, and rested his faith rather on creating a strong intellectual stimulus than in schoolmasters and the setting of tasks. Hence, with the exception of a few months' instruction in grammar, Latin, and arithmetic from Mr. Samuel Palmer, the father of the landscape-painter, his sons had no aid from masters or teachers until they became Academy students. But the whole artistic and intellectual life of the family was such as to act as an incentive to mental growth and development. There was always something going on from which quick minds could not but receive a powerful impulse.
When the daylight was gone, and he could no longer see, Linnell was accustomed, as we have seen, to turn to the graver and the steel plate; and while he was thus engaged, he would hear one or the other of his sons read some historical or other work, and discuss with them its merits, or the subject upon which it treated; or if it were one of Shakespeare's dramas which was before them, he would help their understanding of the scope of the play and of the various characters in it by his own perceptions, and by his recollections of the great actors and actresses he had seen — as Macready, Edmund Kean, Mrs. Siddons, the Kembles, etc.
These early years spent at Bayswater were, perhaps, the most laborious of Linnell's entire life. His work was continuous both day and night. For many years he hardly went out of town at all, unless it were for a day or two to execute some portrait commission. His chief ruralizings at this period were a few days spent on one or two occasions at Shoreham on a visit to his friend Mr. Palmer. These visits took place soon after his removal to Bayswater, and before he had fully recovered from the illness which had been the main cause of his deciding to leave Hampstead; and from them he seems to have derived much benefit.
Mr. Palmer's cottage was at that time a favourite resort of a number of young artists who afterwards attained to fame. Amongst the number, besides young Palmer, were George Richmond, Edward Calvert, and others. They used to love to wander about the country lanes at night, talking poetry and art, and enjoying the moonlight and silence. On one occasion they were caught prowling about by some labourers, who, taking them to be boys who ought to be in bed, laid hold of them, thinking, perhaps, they might get a reward for conducting them home. It was a very dark night, and so they were not able to see their mistake; but one of them, happening to place his hand upon Samuel Palmer's closely-cropped head, exclaimed, 'This ain't no boy; this be an old file,' and they were accordingly let go.
In lieu of going much into the country to sketch at this time, our artist made use of the open fields about him, and within a few yards of his house he got the subjects for two or three of his pictures. One of them was 'The Hollow Tree,' which was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1836. He subsequently painted two replicas of this subject, one of which, 10 by 14 inches, and bearing the date 1859, was exhibited at the 'Old Masters' in 1883. It represents a stream on the right overhung by trees. Upon one of them, in the foreground, are some children climbing after a nest — other children and a woman are standing near; in the background to the left are cottages. It represents what Bayswater was about the year 1834, when the original sketch was made.
Another canvas, painted from a sketch made at Porchester Terrace, was 'A Landscape — Morning,' which was exhibited at the British Institution in 1832, and purchased by Mr. E. T. Daniel for fifty guineas. Along with this was exhibited 'The Cow Yard,' which subsequently found its way into Mr. Sheepshanks' possession, and by him was bequeathed to the nation, and now forms one of the seven specimens of Linnell's work to be found in the South Kensington Museum. It is a fine example of the artist's early manner. Not less interesting is another picture by Linnell in the Sheepshanks Collection, painted about this period (1830) — namely, 'The Wild-Flower Gatherers,' showing a group of children rosy with health, and delightedly revelling amongst the flowers, as he loved to depict them.
Mr. Sheepshanks appears to have been a great oddity, with very little independent judgment in regard to art, but very much imposed upon by titles. Thus, on one occasion when Linnell called upon him for an amount that was due to him for a picture, he was shown into an anteroom, where he heard the sound of voices from an adjoining room, and the clatter of knives and forks. Mr. Sheepshanks came in to him, and begged him to wait a minute or two while he fetched the money, saying, 'I can't take you in there' (pointing to the room whence the sounds came), 'because I have got some R.A.'s at dinner.'
Amongst others, Linnell heard the voice of William Collins. He was, perhaps, more sensitive than he need have been; but he never forgot being considered unworthy to be taken into the room in which some Academicians were dining.
Later, his relations with Mr. Sheepshanks became more cordial, as will be seen from the following letters:
172, New Bond Street, Tuesday evening, May 20, 1834.
The note you kindly sent to Bond Street, along with the print of Mr. Callcott, dated Monday, only reached me here after some delay, as I had quitted London on the Saturday. This will explain why I have not thanked you earlier for the portrait, which I shall value very much.
I feel also greatly obliged to you for sending the two pictures for exhibition to Leeds; and although I hope my townsmen will have the taste to keep both, yet should the smaller one be sent back, I shall be glad to have it at the price you mentioned, and which I think was twenty guineas.
I am sorry that an immediate answer could not be returned to your note, and that some other engagements prevented our friend Mr. Pye from coming to Hastings, otherwise I might have hoped for the pleasure of seeing you there. I have left Mr. J. H. Robinson, and intend to return to him early on Friday morning. We have no engagement that I am aware of until the 30th or 31st of this month, and then only for two or three days. I shall be glad, if it suits your engagements, to see you after the 3rd or 4th of June, as the very short period between the present time and the end of the month would not be worth the trouble of a journey.
I am, dear sir,
Your very obedient servant,
172, New Bond Street, November 5, 1834.
On my arrival from Hastings yesterday evening, I found your note of the 18th, which would, of course, have been answered immediately had I been in town.
I am quite pleased to think the little picture is mine, and, speaking from recollection, feel satisfied that it requires no alteration. For the want of taste exhibited by my townsmen, I cannot offer an apology. As you very kindly propose to send the picture, I feel disposed to take advantage of your civility, having myself many little matters to attend to during the short time I remain in London; and should any business bring you into my neighbourhood to-morrow in the morning before twelve, or in the evening after seven, I should be glad to settle the pecuniary part of the business with you.
Should this arrangement be inconvenient, then I will remain at home all the following mornings during the week until twelve o'clock, or will enclose a cheque for the amount by post if more agreeable to you. The price mentioned was, I think, twenty guineas ; but if I am incorrect, pray set me right, as I always wish to act honestly at least.
Believe me, dear sir,
Your very obedient servant,
When his daughter Hannah was with her husband, Mr. Palmer, in Italy, Linnell wrote her an amusing account of a dinner given by Mr. Sheepshanks at which he was a guest:
'I dined the other day at Mr. Sheepshanks', where I met Messrs. Mulready, Collins, Robinson, and Seager. When we had finished our wine, etc., Mr. Collins let out that it was his birthday, which started Mr. Sheepshanks in quest of a bottle of sack. And wonderful stuff it was! and, in addition to what we had had, went nigh to make us tipsy. Being, however, in such godly company, I thought there was no harm in being drunk, and so took my share. We got to Deptford by a fly, to London Bridge by railroad, and to Bayswater by a 'bus all right.
'Mr. Sheepshanks is a capital fellow. He is as enthusiastic as a young artist, and has a large collection of the best modern pictures, with which he is ready to jump out of his skin with delight. You leave his society with a strong impression that the art is worth ten times the exertion you have ever bestowed upon it. Mr. Mulready's best picture is the crown of the collection.'
Linnell used to relate an amusing anecdote of the way in which Mulready became acquainted with Mr. Sheepshanks. He was a funny little old man, and one day Mulready found him beset in the street by a number of rough fellows, who were pulling him about, and 'guying' him to their hearts' content. The stalwart R.A. stepped in and rescued the old gentleman, dealing a few well directed blows amongst his assailants that had the effect of speedily dispersing them. Mr. Sheepshanks was exceedingly grateful for this yeoman's service on the part of Mulready, begged to be made acquainted with his name, and became henceforth his steady friend and patron.
Last modified 1 December 2001