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.
Steady Effort and Progress — Avoidance of Over-Confidence — Portrait-Painting — Visit to Derbyshire — Exhibition of Welsh Pictures — Windsor Forest — Visit to the Isle of Wight — Portrait of Mr. Pritchard — 'A Fall of Timber' — The Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours — Leading Members — Oil Copal — Letters from David Cox.
HE next few years were years of steady endeavour and slow but sure progress. Our artist was working with extra zeal, not only with a view to lay by sufficient money to justify him in entering into the marriage state, hut also, by conscientious application and study, to approach nearer and nearer to that ideal truth of art which he conceived should be the aim of all sincere workers. It would appear, at first sight, to be a rash step for a young man to engage himself to a woman when, as he tells us, he was at the time hardly able to keep himself. But the step was not really so rash as it looked. Everything goes to prove that. John Linnell had his head set squarely upon his shoulders, and he knew perfectly well what he was about. His religious awakening had taught him a good many striking truths, and one was that it is good for a man to marry young. if he can manage to support a wife. He believed that, with God's help, he could; at all events, he intended to make the effort. He knew it would be an uphill fight, for at that time the prices paid for work such as he did were small. Still, he was not without the confidence which comes from a sincere faith. That faith, which was based on reason and the perception of truth, gave him an unwavering hope in the ultimate position of every honest and truthful effort. But, though never lacking in this source of assurance, he was not tempted into over-confidence, and so constantly took the greatest pains, thus avoiding the faults of hasty or ill-thought-out work.
Such a frame of mind will carry a man a long way, and it was these principles, thus early adopted, and so rigorously carried out, that enabled the artist to go so far. For many years it was necessary for him to turn his hand to many different kinds of work; nor was he too proud to do it. As we have seen, he was not above earning a little by cleaning a picture. Or he would do drawing for an artist who was less gifted as a draughtsman than himself. Sometimes he would condescend to work on another man's picture, as he had done in 1814 for Pugin, and as he did later (in 1822) for Sir Thomas Lawrence.
For a long time the chief source of his income was portrait-painting. He did other work: he was always painting landscapes; but sometimes they did not sell, and when they did the prices he got for them were low. Not that they were not worth more; that they were was proved in many cases by their subsequently fetching double, treble, and sometimes even ten times the price at which they were originally sold. But there is a fashion in these things, and Linnell had not yet got into the fashion. However, he was not without his encouragements. Discerning friends perceived his undoubted gifts, and bade him work on and bide his time. His friend Mr. Tatham was one of these, and his confidence in the young artist gave him great encouragement.
Working thus in hope, with occasional short runs into the country, Linnell went on his way with a cheerful heart.
In 1814 occurred the visit to Derbyshire for Mr. Samuel Bagster, the publisher, already referred to. Mr. Bagster accompanied the artist to Beresford Hall. From that place Linnell visited the beautiful scenery of Dovedale and its neighbourhood, and made his drawings for the new edition (published in 1815) of Walton and Cotton's 'Angler'; for which he had in the previous year drawn the Cross at Tottenham and the Hertford subjects.
This year, his second as an exhibitor at Spring Gardens, Linnell was represented by seven pictures, four of which, if not more, were the result of his tour in Wales. They were: 'Evening — a View in Wales', 'Morning: Crossing the River — a View in Wales,' 'Afternoon — Going to Milk', 'Windmill,' 'Morning — Milking,' 'Travellers- — a View in Wales, and 'Snowdon, from Dolwyddelan — Evening.' The last-named the artist always considered one of his best Welsh landscapes, and he repeated this subject, with slight variations, several times.
In the next year's exhibition at Spring Gardens, Derbyshire vied with Wales in supplying subjects for pictures. From Derbyshire there were two views in Dovedale; while the Principality gave the material for three landscapes: 'Midday — a Scene in Wales,' 'A Fine Evening after Rain — a Scene in Wales,' and 'The Haymakers' Repast — a Scene in Wales.' The second of these Welsh subjects was sold in the Exhibition to Mr. Tomkinson for twenty guineas. The artist painted a replica of this picture for the same gentleman in 1820, taking in exchange for it a forty-guinea pianoforte. A second replica (smaller) was subsequently executed for Mr. Harman for thirty guineas.
An exceptionally brilliant 'Fine Evening after Rain — North Wales' (dated 1836) was lent to the Old Masters Exhibition of 1883 by Mr. David Price. It is a panel, 15 by 22 inches, and represents a flock of sheep crossing a common, surrounded by hills. In the foreground there is a woman on a black pony, and a cow followed by a boy, with a dog and some sheep. Whether this was another replica of the same subject, I do not know. It is remarkable for its exquisite quality of sky and its pearly clouds such depth and luminosity as it exhibits is a rare achievement. In Mr. Price's catalogue this picture is entitled 'Crossing the Common, Dolwyddelan.
The remaining two pictures in this year's exhibition were 'Barges on the Thames' and 'Fishing-Boats, Hastings.'
In May and June, 1815, occurred one of Linnell's most noteworthy visits to the country. For four weeks during those months he went with his unmarried sister Elizabeth and Mary Palmer to Wingfield, near Windsor Forest. Here they spent a month of rural peace and quiet, Linnell himself devoting his whole time to sketching. The studies he then made of the forest scenery, wood-cutting, etc., are amongst the best he ever did; and as one looks at many of his subsequent woodland pictures, one cannot help being impressed with the fruitfulness of the diligent month spent in Windsor Forest.
All of the studies then made, carefully mounted and dated, as he left them, are still in the possession of the family. They are most of them in water-colours or black and white chalk, although some few are in oil. They all show that faultless drawing for which Mr. Ruskin, in his 'Modern Painters,' gives our artist such unstinting praise; they show also that transparency of atmosphere and that delicacy of colouring for which he was afterwards so noted. These drawings subsequently supplied the material for some of his best pictures.
Shortly after returning to London our artist went by invitation to Kingsclere and Newbury, where he painted a number of small portraits. Finishing in September, he proceeded thence to Southampton, and from there passed over the Solent to Lymington, in the Isle of Wight; where, peregrinating about the island (and he walked over half of it), he had a renewal of those impressions which he had experienced so profoundly in Wales. On the way from Newport to Niton, in particular, he was exceedingly delighted by a sudden view of the sea from the summit of the hill, and he leaves it on record how it recalled to his mind the passage in Xenophon's 'Retreat of the Ten Thousand,' describing the delight of the Greeks when they beheld the sea. During this tour the solitude sometimes became extremely oppressive, and on one occasion he had to talk to himself aloud in order, by breaking the silence, to dispel the feeling of utter loneliness.
In the following year (1816) Linnell had no fewer than eleven pictures on the walls at Spring Gardens. They included another Derbyshire landscape, and one from the isle of Wight. The former is entitled 'A View from a Hill, called Hanson Toot, in Derbyshire, looking into Dovedale' (vide Walton's 'Complete Angler'). The Isle of Wight landscape is called 'A View near Steep Hill, Isle of Wight.' The other pictures comprise: 'A View on the River Kennett, near Newbury, Berks,' a result of his visit to Newbury, portrait-painting, the previous year; 'A View in Windsor Forest,' 'Shipping,' 'Digging Potatoes,' 'Evening,' and 'Evening — Shepherds' Amusement,' one of his notable pictures. In addition to the above there were three portraits, one of which was a likeness (painted in 1814) of Mr. Pritchard, the successor of Mr. John Martin in the pastorate of the Keppel Street Church.
Our artist was already beginning to be known for his excellent and lifelike portraits, and this likeness — albeit not such a masterpiece as that of John Martin — attracted much attention and added greatly to his reputation. It is very dark, almost Rembrandtesque in treatment, but full of life and character. This picture was the means of bringing him many portrait commissions at this time. It was also engraved by the artist. Linnell now began to be very busy with portrait work, although he had as yet to be content with very moderate prices.
This year (1816) our artist enjoyed a weeks sojourn at Sevenoaks, Kent. He went in order to make studies of timber-felling for a picture. He had lodgings in the town, and spent most of his time in the woods painting. His expenses for the week, as he records in his journal, amounted to twenty shillings. His principle of daily living in those days was frugality and hard work, and he carried it out very rigorously.
From the studies made at Sevenoaks, he (in 1817) painted a picture, 40 by 50 inches, called 'A Fall of Timber,' which was exhibited at Spring Gardens, and sold to Mr. Allnutt for fifty guineas. That gentleman afterwards (1846) sold it to Mr. Gibbons, of Regent's Park, for £250. It was exhibited in the British Gallery in 1825.
The other exhibits in Spring Gardens in 1817 were four portraits and two Isle of Wight views. This year Linnell acted as treasurer of the society. It had no permanent officials, the secretary, treasurer, etc., being elected afresh every year. This democratic management of the business of the society seemed greatly to please our artist, who wrote respecting it:
'We hired the rooms at Spring Gardens, we paid for everything at the close of the exhibition, and divided the surplus of receipts according to a percentage on the gross amount of works exhibited by each member. We had a president merely for order and business. He wore no chains or badge of any sort, and we had no titles, merely official distinctions, as secretary, treasurer, etc.; and we had no half-members, called " Associates," as the Water-Colour Society has had since, in imitation of the worst feature of the Royal Academy.'
The society went on in this way until 1820, when it reverted to the old constitution, and again became a water-colour society only. As it was facetiously put at the time, the oil floated out upon the water. Linnell, not being able any more to exhibit his oil pictures, went out with the other oil-painters.
Some of the most famous pictures that were ever exhibited under the auspices of this society were seen at Spring Gardens during the period that Linnell was a member. Haydon's celebrated 'Judgment of Solomon' was exhibited there one year (1814) ; while four years later his 'Listening to the Voice of the Angel of Death' appeared in the same exhibition.
Among the more prominent men who were then connected with the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours were John Varley and his brother Cornelius, David Cox, Copley V. Fielding, William H. Hunt, A. Pugin, James Holmes, F. Mackenzie, H. Richter, T. Uwins, J. Cristall, W. Howell, L. Clennell, and J. Glover. Many new members had joined when the constitution was altered so as to admit painters in oil. J. Glover was one of the new members. Some of his confreres must have regretted his admission,; for Linnell puts it on record that Glover carried off most of the profits of the concern. The method pursued by the society was, at the close of the exhibition, after all expenses had been defrayed, to divide the profits amongst the members according to the prices they affixed to their pictures. By this plan Glover, who obtained large prices for that time, practically swamped all the others by taking the lion's share of the proceeds.
Notwithstanding this fact, Linnell was of opinion that some such method as that pursued by the Old Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours would be the one most conducive to the general interests of the whole body of artists, as by that means they would be the most likely, not only to have their pictures exhibited, but also to obtain what legitimate profits belonged to them.
Speaking of J. Glover, Linnell, in his autobiographical notes, records the fact that that artist first recommended him to try oil-copal varnish as a medium for oil-painting. He did so to his great satisfaction, and his example was soon followed by Mulready, William Collins, and others.
As already stated, Linnell was the treasurer of the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours in 1817. The two following letters by David Cox, addressed to Linnell in his official capacity, have an interest quite apart from the minor matter of pounds, shillings, and pence to which they chiefly refer:
Hereford, July 21, 1817.
I have received yours of June 26, and should have answered by return of post, as you requested, but was from home when it arrived on a sketching excursion. I am much pleased to hear the exertions of the society have this year been so successful. I will thank you to send me a five-pound note in a letter; the small change can remain till I see you in London.
I am, dear sir,
our obedient servant,
Direct " Drawing Master, Hereford."
Hereford,July 26, 1817.
I this day received your remittance of £5 on the society's account. Accept my thanks for your kind attention. I have always the interest of the society at heart, and would have contributed to it this year if it had been possible; but circumstances occurred which robbed me of my inclination. Next year I promise to exert myself.
I am, dear sir,
Your obedient servant,
Last modified 1 December 2001