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.
Tour in Wales — George Lewis — Drawing and Sketches — First Sight of Mountains — Importance of Figure Drawing — Impressions of Welsh Scenery — Return to London — 'The Gravel Pits' — Return to his Father's House — 'Bayswater in 1814.'
N July, 1811, Linnell had taken a second-floor at No. 11, Queen Street, Edgware Road, with a Captain Strutt, 'a most respectable person,' as he records, at a rent of twenty pounds a year, and removed his pictures and other belongings thither from Streatham Street in August. This is given as his address in the Catalogues of the British Institution Exhibition for the years 1812 and 1813. But in the latter year's Catalogue of the Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, to which he sent 'The Bird Catcher — a Scene from Nature', the address given is 81, Edgware Road. The reason for this seems clear. When the exhibition took place — in the middle of the year — he had resolved upon a tour in Wales, and this was simply an address for letters or other communications. In his journal he says: 'After giving up my lodgings in Queen Street, I went at the end of August to Wales for a month with G. Lewis.'
The journey to Wales appears to have been one of the immediate results of his engagement to Mary Palmer. He had carefully 'taken stock' of his position, his acquirements, and prospects in view of the important step he had taken in selecting the lady who was to be his wife. No doubt he felt also, as a result of the examination of what he had achieved, and what was still to be done to make his position what it should be before venturing upon marriage, that one very necessary thing was to enlarge his experience, as well as the stock of material upon which he could work. With some such thoughts in his mind, therefore, he seized upon the opportunity which now presented itself of visiting the Principality.
George Lewis, the engraver, and the wellknown illustrator of Dibdin's 'Bibliomania,' was going for a month's tour in Wales, and proposed that Linnell should accompany him. They set out from London towards the end of August, proceeding straight to Llangollen by coach. After staying a night at the latter place, they started to walk to Bettwsy-Coed, going through Cernioge. Thence they proceeded to Dolwyddelan and the adjacent valleys; then to Capel Curig and the Pass, and so on to Llanberis, making a special journey down the valley in order to get a view of the Isle of Anglesey. Snowdon, also, and the adjacent valleys were visited. And at every turn sketches were taken.
To enumerate all the studies that the artist made at the above places would be impossible; but the names of a few may be given to show what an indefatigable worker he was. At Llangollen he made two or three sketches in black and white chalk; at Bettwsy-Coed and neighbourhood three studies in water-colours and chalk; and at Dolwyd-delan some six studies, either in water-colours or in chalk. Further, in the Dolwyddelan valleys he made six water-colour sketches. Between Bettws and Capel Curig he completed six more studies in water-colours and chalk. Of the Pass of Llanberis he took home one study; of Llanberis some eight studies in water-colours and chalk; also a water-colour drawing from the end of the Llanberis Valley of the Isle of Anglesey. The other named studies, the fruit of this journey, are two studies in water-colours, entitled View of Snowdon,' two chalk studies 'From the Top of Snowdon,' and one water-colour study made at Beddgelert.
In addition to the above, there are about twenty studies in water-colour on which no particular locality is marked, while of sketches in black and white there are over fifty.
In some notes of this tour made years afterwards, Linnell says it was his and his companion's custom to rise early, and walk eight or nine miles before breakfast, which consisted of eggs, milk, and bread and butter. They generally had the same fare for dinner, with sometimes beer in the place of milk. Fresh meat was not to be had in the wild parts where they went, and bacon they did not care for. Towards the end of their tour together, Lewis's elder brother joined them, and they took long walks over the wildest parts of the mountains.
The sight of this most romantic district of Wales was a perfect revelation to the young artist, who, London born and bred, had previously seen nothing higher than a Kentish hill or Sussex down. In his autobiographical notes Linnell records, with the freshness as it were of yesterday, the deep impression the mountain scenery made upon his mind, and especially the scenery of some of the valleys near Snowdon. The experience was one never to be forgotten; and year after year, with the aid of his studies and sketches, he reproduced the scenes which he had visited in picture after picture of astonishing brilliancy and power.
Not the least of the surprise and delight he experienced was to see realized what had always charmed him in the pictures of the Italian masters, and particularly in the backgrounds of Raphael and Titian. The Welsh landscapes of the Varleys and their school be always found 'to be conventional, and the refuge of those who had no power in figure-drawing and individualization.' He thus came to the conclusion that elaborate drawing, such as can only be acquired by drawing from the nude, is essential in every department of painting, in trees and rocks, as well as in the figure itself. It was this quality which he felt was the source of all that he most admired in the works of the great men of Italy and Germany.
These views of Linnell's in regard to the value of figure-drawing are so strikingly at variance with much that has been expressed in respect to drawing in landscape art that one is justified in dwelling somewhat on the point, especially when, as is recorded, a lecturer at the Royal Academy, himself an R.A., can tell the students that if they cannot draw they must take to landscape-painting. Linnell wrote emphatically: 'Drawing at the Royal Academy, and painting there from the life, separated me in practice from the Varley school of art, and gave me perceptions and taste more allied to the Italian masters. This I found when I went to Wales.'
So thoroughly did the beauty of some of the scenery in the neighbourhood of Snowdon carry him away from all previous associations with modern art, that he used to say he could almost fancy himself living in the times of Jacob and Esau, and might expect to meet them coming towards him and his travelling companions with their flocks, so primitive, so beautiful, and so wild did everything appear to his fresh and unsophisticated mind. Especially did the sight of the eagles coming out of their nests inside the crags, breasting the air upon their mighty wings, and, after circling aloft for awhile in their untamed freedom, disappearing again — especially did this sight astonish the London artist. It must be remembered, in order rightly to understand his feelings, that Linnell was just fresh from his new religious experiences and his study of the Bible. Everything, therefore, was apt to become imbued with the fervour of religious thought, and by that means, perhaps, its effect was deepened.
Can we suppose that when that idea of Jacob and Esau occurred to him it was not made more vivid by the sight of the eagles, and the recollection of the words of Jeremiah: 'Behold, he shall fly as an eagle, and shall spread his wings over Moab.' He never forgot how they appealed to him.
At the end of a month Linnell parted from his companions and proceeded alone to Shrewsbury, where he arrived so footsore that he was able to walk no further. It had been his intention to continue his tramp to London, but his feet were so bad that he was obliged to take the coach. On his return to London he put up at his father's, where he remained, paying for his board and lodging, until 1817. He records that Mr. Chevalier attended him for his sore feet; but, though he salved and lotioned them for some time, they got no better, and finally his treatment was discarded for that of Mrs. Linnell's bread-poultices, with the best effects.
During his residence at Captain Strutt's in Queen Street, our artist painted his picture entitled 'The Dairy — Morning,' a charming bit of landscape, with a white horse and other figures in the foreground. It was exhibited at the British Institution in 1812, and afterwards at Liverpool, where it was sold.
His other pictures exhibited this year in Pall Mall were, 'A Scene on the Coast near Dover,' and 'A View on the Thames.'
In Queen Street also he painted 'The Gravel Pits'(39 by 25 inches) which is among the best of his early works. This was the only picture he exhibited in the British Institution in 1813. But, albeit well placed and greatly admired — Flaxman in particular praising it very highly — it did not sell. Nor was it purchased by the Institution, This the painter always considered a proof of the apathy and neglect that characterized the doings of the Institution, which was supported by wealthy patrons whose object was the encouragement of this description of art. It will be acknowledged that there was some ground for the criticism when it is stated that the picture was afterwards bought at Liverpool by Creswick for £40 (the price originally put upon it), that it was subsequently sold for £400, and later realized a much higher figure.
Linnell's object in going to live once more in Streatham Street appears to have been the desire to lay by something to begin married life with. Probably he had found living in lodgings not so economical as he would have liked. He therefore came to an arrangement with his parents, hired a room from them, and paid for his board. They were better able to make such an arrangement flow than they had been formerly, in consequence of the marriage of one of his sisters, which would leave them more room to dispose of. He did not quit the parental roof again until he was married.
Here he worked still more industriously, and studied with more zeal and earnestness than he had ever done before. He covered the walls of the room in which he worked with old prints after the Carracci, Titian, and others; so that the Old Masters, his exemplars, were ever before him.
Here he painted two pictures of Welsh subjects, which he sold to his brother-in-law, Mr. Chance, for £43. This amount, together with the £40 received for his picture of 'The Gravel-Pits,' formed the nest-egg of the savings he was endeavouring to lay by against the day of his marriage.
Meanwhile (1813) Linnell had become a member of the Old Water-Colour Society, which, in consequence of internal dissensions, had extended its scope and title, transforming itself into the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours. A large number of the old members seceded, whilst a still larger number of new men, chiefly painters in oil, were admitted. Linnell was among the latter, and henceforth became a regular contributor to the society's exhibitions, which were held in the 'Large Room,' Spring Gardens. As already stated, his first exhibit in Spring Gardens was 'The Bird-Catcher — a Scene from Nature.' This picture was recently sold at Christie's sale-room for 670 guineas, under the title of ' Bayswater in 1814.' At the foot of some trees, on the top of a low hill, a boy standing between a donkey and a white dog talks to a girl, who is seated with a child on her lap; other children sit near; below them is a pool, and trees and buildings beyond. A wooded slope rises in the distance. The size of the picture is 37 by 51 inches. It is very fine and deep in tone, with something Poussin-like in quality, and is suggestive of a soft summer's day under a subdued light. This picture, although retouched in 1859, is a good specimen of Linnell's early manner, with his firm drawing and what have been called his 'Dutch' qualities.
Last modified 1 December 2001