Tim Linnell [tim@thelinnells.freeserve.co.uk], a descendant of the artist, has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web his scanned text of The Life of John Linnell, which the London publishers Bentley and Son brought out in 1892. George P. Landow has adapted it for html, adding links to the original text.

Love of the Old Masters — Copies made of their Works — 'The Four Ages' — Hook — David Roberts — French Ultramarine.

decorated initial 'B'EFORE leaving this period, it is necessary to dwell a little more upon Linnell's love of the Old Masters and the many copies he made of their works. His admiration for them was so great that he never felt it a toil to sit down and make an exact reproduction of a picture he liked. Even in the prime of life, when his hands were the fullest of business, he would spare the time to indulge himself in this way. On several occasions he had commissions to make copies of certain pictures, as in the case of the two Titians for Captain Digby Murray, already mentioned. But as a rule he painted them for the pleasure of doing so, without any thought of selling; albeit, as a matter of fact, many of them were purchased by connoisseurs. Thus he made a copy (in 1822) of Rembrandt's 'Abraham putting away Hagar,' which was sold to Captain Murray. About the same time he copied a landscape by Titian — 'The Coming Storm' — now in the royal collection at Buckingham Palace, but then in the possession of Mr. R. R. Reinigale. This fine copy still hangs, where it hung during the artist's lifetime, in the library of his house at Redhill.

Mention has been made of his highly-finished miniature copy on ivory in water-colour of the magnificent Raphael — 'The Virgin and Infant Saviour' — the property of Earl Cowper; also of the landscapes by Raphael and Titian, the property of Mr. Samuel Woodburn, which he copied in 1833 and 1837 respectively.

Between 1828 and 1834 he executed a series of highly-finished water-colour drawings of pictures in the National Gallery for Mr. Pye (the line engraver) to engrave from. They were, 'Christ appearing to Peter,' by Annibale Carracci ; 'Silenus,' by the same artist ; 'Susannah and the Elders,' by Ludovico Carracci; 'The Coronation of St. Nicholas,' by Paolo Veronese; the portrait of Lord Heathfield, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and 'The Crucifixion,' by Rembrandt. In 1839 he made an oil copy, the same size as the original, of Lord Francis Egerton's Titian, 'The Four Ages.'

This picture was at that time in the School of Painting at the Royal Academy, and Linnell made his copy there in company with the students. John Hook, the Royal Academician, who was then a student, was copying 'The Four Ages' at the same time, but wanting to proceed more expeditiously than he could do alone, he got someone to help him, which caused Mulready to tell the latter that he ought to write over the picture, 'This was copied by Hook and I.'

Amongst the last works of the kind that Linnell executed was (in 1843) a highly-finished oil copy, the same size as the original, of a 'Holy Family,' by Sebastiano del Piombo (the property of Mr. W. Cunningham), which was bought in 1846 by W W. Pendarves, Esq., M.P., for 150 guineas; also (in 1844) a copy of a picture of 'Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane,' attributed then to Raphael, which Mr. Cunningham had just then acquired from Italy, but which has since been assigned to the Florentine School by the authorities at the National Gallery, where it has now found a home. Linnell's copy is still in the possession of the family.

Although these are the chief copies of Old Masters that our artist made, they by no means exhaust the list, which includes examples by Backhuysen, Gaspar Poussin, Domenichino, Vandervelde, etc.

Linnell has again and again in his writings explained the keen appreciation he had of the qualities of form and colouring exemplified in the Old Masters; and it may be that his constant practical study of their works in this way kept fresh, and possibly even intensified, his own perception, especially in regard to colour, which was recognised as a rare gift by his fellow-artists.

Mr. Horsley, R.A., relates an incident touching Linnell's fine sense of colour which is worth repeating. At a dinner given by Mr. George Young, at which many Academicians, besides others, were present, amongst them being Mr. Horsley himself, Leslie, Creswick, Hart, Webster, and Roberts, the latter was expatiating on the character and virtues of the new colour, French or artificial ultramarine, and seemed hardly able to find words strong enough to express how valuable an acquisition he considered its production to be to artists. He explained in his broad Scotch that it had been subjected to all the different tests for colours, and that it had come out triumphantly, and was therefore entitled to take its place as a substitute for real ultramarine, lapis lazuli, etc., which were so expensive, whereas it could be had for sixpence a tube.

When Roberts had finished his enthusiastic eulogy, Linnell, who was seated next to him, said: 'Mr. Roberts, in your description of the numerous tests to which this colour has been subjected, there is one which you have omitted to mention.'

'Ah, indeed!' said Roberts, turning round and looking down at his neighbour; 'one test that I have omitted? And pray what may that be?'

'It won't bear looking at,' replied Linnell very quietly and deliberately.

That the other artists thought he had struck the real defect of the new colour was evidenced by the fact that his answer was greeted with a great outburst of laughter and applause, which grievously discomposed Mr. Roberts.


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Last modified 7 December 2001