I began the following transcription of W. Holman Hunt’s biography of Augustus Egg about 30 years ago when I encountered a copy of part of The Reader on microfilm. About a year ago I found two volumes of The Reader on the Hathi Trust, and Jacqueline Banerjee helped by finding the closing section on the Internet Archive. I am not sure that this is the entire biography, though Hunt's closing paragraphs make that seem likely. In transcribing the following text I have added images and paragraphing for easier reading.
William Holman Hunt published his “Notes on the Life of Augustus L. Egg” in several issues of the short-lived periodical The Reader, which James Bohn published in 1863-1867 and which was edited successively by D. Masson, J. Dennis, and T. Bendyshe. This valuable article, which contains a great deal of information about the artist’s biography and works, begins rather eccentrically. Rather that simply explaining Egg’s parents gave him Leopold as a middle name after the Prince of Saxe-Cobourg. who married Princess Charlotte, he needlessly narrates the entire wedding, telling us, for example, that the Queen and women in the wedding party “reached Carlton House by the garden-entrance at eight o’clock.” After the first few paragraphs, however, Hunt’s biography of the artist he so admired proceeds straightforwardly with heavy emphasis upon how Egg selflessly acted as Hunt’s mentor and financial saviour.
In Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood he gives an instance of Egg’s defense of him and his work:
A few nights after my interview with the artist who had originally given me a commission and had then withdrawn it, he and Egg were at another artist’s house, and I was told by a third person present (never by Egg) that the repudiator began saying, "Young Hunt called on me the other morning, asserting that I had given him a commission for fifty guineas, but I soon told him that I had never done so; and he showed me some designs, which I declared to him candidly were odious and full of affectation." At this Egg said, "Stop!" And beginning at one end of the table, he went round to nearly every guest, asking, "Were you not at Forster's two years ago with Charles Reade?" When all had remembered, he went on, "Did or did he not come in boasting that he had asked Hunt to paint a picture of one or two figures for fifty guineas?” Egg would have no evasions, and every one remembered the circumstances. "As for the rest," he added, " Hunt brought the drawings from you to me. I declare they are admirable, and I have persuaded him to commence the 'Claudio and Isabella,' and you shall all judge of it in time." He was silenced, but he never forgave me; men rarely do when they have done you an injustice. [1.343]
In the 1913 second edition of his memoirs, Hunt identifies the artist as an “Academician” (1.250).
Given his admiration for Egg, it is a little surprising how frankly and stringently he describes Egg’s earlier works, though the later ones are full of praise. Hunt, who himself had a bitter relationship with the Royal Academy, mentions Eggs’s becoming an Associate as “what is called the honour of election to the Associateship. Henceforth he was to have his name printed in full on the fly-leaf of the Academy catalogue” (364). Hunt devotes much of his multi-part essay to detailed descriptions and critical analyses of Egg’s work in the context of contemporary artists.
Notes on the Life of Augustus L. Egg — 9 May 1863
Augustus Leopold Egg After William Frederick Lake Price/ Circa 1855. Albumen copy print, arched top 6 ½ x 5 ⅛ inches. (164 mm x 131 mm). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London NPG x5180/ Click on image to enlarge it.
THE 2nd of May, 1816, is a notable date, in the Court Annals at least, for on it was enacted a marriage in which the nation was generally interested, although it was allowed but little opportunity of manifesting its feeling at the time. It was a marriage between the Princess Charlotte and the Prince of Saxe-Cobourg. The ceremony began in the evening, at Buckingham Palace, with a dinner given by the Queen. A few minutes before eight o'clock the Princess Charlotte was conducted to the hall. The Queen entered the carriage and sat with her on one side, while the Princesses Elizabeth and Augusta took their places opposite. The Princesses Mary and Sophia of Gloucester followed in another. They reached Carlton House by the garden-entrance at eight o'clock. The Prince of Saxe-Cobourg left the Duke of Clarence's at half-past eight. The marriage ceremony was celebrated in the grand crimson saloon. It commenced at nine and terminated at half-past. The Archbishop of Canterbury was assisted by the Bishop of London. The bride and bridegroom started off for Oatlands, which they reached at ten minutes to twelve.
The public, as we have indicated, were not called upon to express their interest in the event; but in many a household the feeling of sympathy for the unfortunate Princess and admiration for her husband were exhibited. We have to do only with one example of this. It was in the house of Mr. Joseph Egg, gunmaker, of Piccadilly — a useful man in the world by the exercise of a great gift of ingenuity; particularly, perhaps, in the invention of the universal copper percussion-cap, before which all shooting had been done with the simple flint-lock, or by an intended but doubtful improvement on that in the shape of a percussion-gun, which, having proved disastrous to the eyes of several sportsmen, was voted worse than useless — it was in this house, on this same 2nd of May, that a third son was born, who, in due time, was christened, after the royal bride-groom, Augustus Leopold Egg.
We like to know what men, who have afterwards proved remarkable, were in their infancy. Master Gussy, then, when he got his legs, seems also to have got a will of his own. He walked down into the shop very frequently and meddled with the workmen's tools, and interfered with his elder brothers’ experimental labours until they grew out of patience with him and thrust him out through the door into the private passage. But, as the handle would turn from that side too, and the child could master it, in a minute or two he was back at his mischief again, as troublesome as ever; whereat, profiting by experience, the additional precaution was taken, when he was next expelled, to lock the door, when work was recommenced with a feeling of security. But the young gentleman was not so easily beaten. The street-door fastenings yielded to his hand, and, once in the street, he knew no fastenings existed but those that would give way to any respectable application for admission; so, with a plausible rat-rat, he abided his opportunity, and rushed again triumphantly into tho shop immediately the door was incautiously opened. This, and such like conduct, was to be borne only when there was no alternative: so most of the family were interested in his punctual observance of school-hours; and accordingly Master Augustus was despatched — too strictly, in his opinion — on the stroke of nine in the morning to his dame's school, and, for the journey, was confided to the care of a stalwart workman on the spot, who took him up bodily to convey him over the dangerous crossings. The boy was no easy charge. There are mothers of families — children then at the same school — who can tell how the young scapegrace, when there, delighted in getting one or two other boys to assist him, at a given signal, to turn over a whole form full of girls together. The general conclusion from these facts will be that Master Augustus Leopold was a spoiled child; but it docs not seem that he was considered more trouble than he was worth. In spite of his steady determination to have his way in the world, he was loved by every one—father, mother, sister, brothers, servants, and even the school-mistress and his fellow scholars. In time he became too old for the dame's school; when he was sent to Hall Place, Bexley, Kent, for further education. Of this time we can learn only that he was the foremost in all enterprises of adventure in the play-ground and the orchard. The first instance, however, of his disposition to sacrifice himself belongs to this period, although it did not occur at school, but during the holidays, in the Isle of Wight. He had been wandering with an older companion on the beath, when they observed that the tide had come in and cut them off from dry land; it was calm, and there was no danger but of getting a soaking. Augustus remarked that there was no necessity for the two to get wet, and proposed that the other should get on his shoulders, and accordingly he thus carried him through the water. When he got well on in his teens his father had him home, to be ready for a government appointment that had been promised him. While the boy was waiting for this, with much time on his hands, he first exhibited a passion for drawing. By some chance, Sir F. Chantrey, who often called upon his father, saw some of his sketches, and, recognising their talent, encouraged him by inviting him to bring his future drawings to his studio at Pimlieo. Doubtless, this had a great effect in determining him to become an artist; for soon after he took to tho task of decorating the walls of his father's study, at tho top of the house, with a composition of a Swiss scene, and earned a large meed of praise by his labours. The government appointment, meanwhile — as fate would have it — did not come to him and interfere; be the father, it the advice of Sir Francis, sent Augustus to Mr. Sass, to study drawing systematically. Here he met Douglas Cowper, Dadd, Frith, Elmore, Phillip, and some other of his later friends.
He was by this time fast approaching his twentieth year. He is described as appearing rather less than his full age, and noticeable for being extremely exact and gentlemanlike in his dress, and of a bearing that soon made him a great favourite. His disposition for fun recommended him more to his fellow-students than to his teacher. On one occasion, this gentleman, who had quite a romantic notion of the dignity of the profession, and did justice to this view by his solemn deportment, suddenly discovering a pewter quart pot in a little cupboard in the pedestal of the Apollo Belvedere, held it out in great indignation, inquiring to whom it belonged. Mr. Augustus Leopold advanced politely, with the naive assurance that he believed it belonged to the publican round the corner, whose name was engraved on its face. “My question, sir, applies to the person who is responsible for its introduction here. “It was I, sir, who had the beer for my lunch brought in it,” replied the student. “Then I have to declare, Mr. Egg,” said the scandalized Mr. Sass, gesticulating with the beer-pot still in his hand, “that your conduct makes it easy to prophesy you will never succeed in your pursuit of art;” and it seems he held this view to the last, although the student drew and progressed steadily, and exhibited no degrading taste but in the instance given of love of beer out of the pewter. Like Clive Newcome, under similar circumstances, the young gentleman had his horse brought to the door by the groom when he left at three or four in the afternoon; and in all things, it would appear, he conducted his studies in a more luxurious way than his fellows.
In 1836 he obtained admission to the Royal Academy as a probationer, and afterwards as student. This was the last year of the Academy occupancy of Somerset House. (To be continued.)
Notes of the Life of Augustus L. Egg — (Continued.) 16 May 1863
MR. EGG now received private instructions from a Mr. Stewart in oil-painting. This was probably limited to the secret of methodically laying the palette and mixing the oil and varnish to the proper consistency of megilp, and preparing the day's painting by a glazing of asphaltum, which was then the approved method, unfortunately for the duration of the pictures produced at the time. The foremost painters of the day were Wilkie, Mulready, Uwins, Howard, Turner, Martin, Haydon, Hilton, Eastlake, Calcott; and, amongst the younger men, Leslie, Maclise, and Herbert, and some others now entirely forgotten. These divided the ground; but the classical painters had outlived the taste for their works, and the students, with but few exceptions, went over to tho other side. Douglas Cowper was the first amongst these to make a sensation. In the year 1839 he exhibited a picture of “Othello Relating his Adventures,” which at once made him a distinguished man in the profession, and the head of the new-coming party. His was a short race, however, for death closed his career before he could paint another picture; but his memory was held dear by his companions, who forthwith instituted a club named after him, and in this compared all their efforts for the next few years. Our hero had, however, already exhibited; for we first find his name in the “Academy Catalogue,” in 1838, to a picture entitled “A Spanish Girl,” and again, in 1839, to a picture with the title “Laugh when you can.” By their names one would not suppose they were very ambitious works; and it is worth noting that at this time his companions had but little hopes of his ultimate success in the art, and regarded him more as an amateur painter than a professional one, living as he did more luxuriously than the majority on a good annuity granted him by his father. In the first instance his address in the catalogue was at his family-house in Piccadilly; the next year he had gone away to University Street; and in 1840 to Gerrard Street.
He exhibited this year a picture of “A Scene in the Boar's Head,” from “Henry IV.” That he had been working to some purpose was proved by this picture; and henceforth he was recognised by his intimates as more likely to achieve success. It is an interesting picture to look at by this light. Till then, his works were imitations of others, and were, for the most part, of lovers either alone or together, with landscape constructed on the principle of the portrait-backgrounds of the preceding century — a tree of no particular genus, with drooping branches, in the foreground; a sloping meadow of brown tint in the middle distance; and, further off, an undulating range of hills melting into a lowering sky. These pictures made no great demand upon his inventive faculties; and the spectator might regard them in their completed form without having his attention arrested either by merits or defects. The last picture, on the other hand, required continual exercise of discriminating power in portraying character. Conventional drawing would no longer serve when he had to represent Falstaff, Bardolph, Dame Quietly, Slender, and Doll Tearsheet; and, accordingly, in looking on the picture, which is now in the possession of Mr. Rougier, we see defects that did not show in his earlier work, with merits that he had never before indicated the possession of. The next year’s catalogue has no picture of his in it. This fact, together with some other interesting particulars, will be explained by the following extract from a letter which we have received from Mr. W. B. Scott, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne:—
When I became acquainted with Egg — in 1841, I think — he had his painting-room in Gerrard Street, Soho, one of the houses there with tall middle windows, in the approved style of the day. He was then really a handsome little fellow, of twenty-four or thirty, and one of the most cultivated of the set, at the head of which was the most unfortunate of men, Richard Dadd. Egg lived there very quietly I hardly saw any one, at least in the way of enjoying society in the student style, except the man I have mentioned, Frith, now the most popular of fact-painters, and, occasionally, Sibson, who died at Malta a few years later, and myself. Dadd painted portraits of the three, on separate canvases, but all the same in size and style. Egg, I remember, was in a tall conical brown hat, like a Puritan, his complexion being almost colourless; of course, the picture exists somewhere still, and will be a very interesting one. At that time there were several movements in connection with Art, all of which Egg and his friends joined; especially the “Institute of the Fine Arts,” from which all of us expected a good deal, but which went to nothing. I have still preserved, I find, a circular dated 26th October, 1841, from a “Committee appointed to consider the establishment of a new Exhibition,” calling a meeting to hear their Report at the British Coffee House, Cockspur Street, “the Chair to be taken at 7 o'clock precisely.” On the committee, which, I imagine, was self-appointed — at Dadd's studio, perhaps, a few evenings before — Egg was a leading member. The movement was caused by the rejection of pictures at the previous Academy Exhibition. Dadd was in the chair, and the meeting was attended by nearly all the good younger artists. It came to nothing, of course, because in a few years two or three of these indignants were in the Academy themselves.
We see by this extract that Egg, little as he had done hitherto in Art, already impressed those who met him as a superior man. And we know by his later works, how well warranted this favourable opinion was. He was slow, however, to exhibit his advantage in his works. Each year he advanced; but he was yet but a young swimmer, who could not venture far from the shore alone; and, when he did strike out from the shallows, it seems to have been only in the track of a leader. His pictures so far, and even for a year or so later, were known by his immediate circle to be full of plagiarisms from the works of his elders, and even of his bolder fellows. It is interesting to reconcile this with the fact that, in his nature, he was veritably a man of original power, and that he showed this so strikingly in no more than four or five years from this date. It may rather surprise our readers to have it asserted, after the instances given in the last paper of his self-assertion in childhood and youth, that he was, nevertheless, a being of singular modesty. By those who were intimate with him, however, this could not be doubted. His readiness to be convinced that he was in the wrong in any question; the alacrity with which he acknowledged the merit of others’ works; his misgivings about the value of his own labours; the continual researches he made in his art after new secrets — all showed, to the day of his death, a diffidence in his own nature such as few men, after success great as that he had achieved to support them, would entertain. It was, then, true modesty and not weakness that made him dependent so long. In his rough ideas he could see little to satisfy him, little worth carrying further, unless it bore a resemblance to something done before by another.
When one examines his early works with the clue that his later ones give, it is possible to see from the first a personality of his own gradually growing in importance from the most retired parts until it takes possession of the whole. In many men who eventually became great one may find a counterpart to such diffident progress; but it is not so with all, even of that numerous section of such who in youth work unregarded by the world. We engage ourselves principally with his progress as seen in his pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy; but these were only half of his works. Many others were exhibited at Suffolk Street, and some at the British Institution, before that Exhibition had sacrificed its claim to respect by the bad hanging of later years. The picture which had been rejected at the Royal Academy in 1841 was probably sent to one of these last collections in the following season. We will not stop to find out what this was, but pass on to his next picture of “Cromwell discovering his chaplain, Jeremiah White, making love to his daughter, Francis,” with regret that we can do no more than give its title. In '43 appeared “The Introduction of Sir Piercie Shaftim to Halbert Glendinning.” This may be regarded as an excellent illustration of the manner of his advance. The drawing in it was wonderfully better than in the earlier pictures we have noticed; and the colour was beginning to indicate a greater reliance upon himself than before. Many things could be found in it suggested by other works; but he had made them his own by the manner in which he had adopted them, and by their relation to points entirely original. Halbert Glendinning, for example, was in the pose of an antique figure — the Antinous; but it was so well chosen, and with such strong marks of control in his treatment of it, that it looked as proper to the place and circumstances as some of the figures and groups in the cartoons of Raffaelle seem, which are taken from the antique. Sir Piercie Shafton, too, it is said, was strikingly like a figure designed by an artist of his own standing in a picture of the previous year. This, however, in its supercilious bearing, was as true to the character represented as the former figure was in its silent resentment of insolence. Of the Halbert Glendenning, we know the original; and we can see how far alterations have been made so that the expression of modesty for which it is distinguished might become that of impatient offended pride. The left foot may be taken as the most available example in the antique; it is turned outwards with graceful ease: the adaptation has the foot drawn laterally nearer to that on which the figure stands, and turned inwards, with a somewhat gauche air. Doubtless in the Sir Piercie there were similar marks of there being a strongly defined image of the character in the painter’s mind which made his plagiarism other than that of one who makes up his work of unconsidered trifles, like a modern Gothic architect, with nothing of his own but his “Remains of the Middle Ages.” The less important figures are free from any trace of the works of others. These are all original, appropriate in expression, and characteristically costumed. The background, too, is admirably arranged and free from any look of having been made up. The colour had even stronger marks of originality than the design; so that, altogether, the picture deserved to take a high rank as a young man's picture.
Scene from "The Devil upon Two Sticks," by Augustus Leopold Egg, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845. Oil on canvas, 186.4 x 111.8 cm. Collection: Tate Britain. Accession number N00444. Presented by Robert Vernon 1847.
The picture of '44 was a scene from “The Devil on Two Sticks,” which we do not remember to have seen; but any one may see a picture by our artist of this period at the South Kensington Museum, of “Gil Blas in his difficulty to pay the Landlord,” which was exhibited elsewhere than at the Academy, and bought by Mr. Vernon at the time. It exhibits a decided advance, in mechanical skill and in originality of design in the individual figures, on his previous works. The succeeding year produced a scene from the “Winter's Tale” of “Autolycus Selling his Wares,” which was placed above the line in a corner of the West Room, out of sight. Then followed “Buckingham Rebuffed,” hung on the left hand side of the West Room as a pendant to a picture of the same size by Mr. Frith. Together, these furnished an admirable occasion for the ordinary newspaper critics, who delight in nothing so much as to contrast two artists of the same standing, and discover that, while one has gone to the gods, another has gone to the dogs. The colour of Mr. Egg's was admirable; there was not a tone in it not peculiarly his own; and the taste for beauty was distinguished by an appreciation of character not common in the pictures of the day. To us it seemed that Buckingham's face was somewhat too tragic in expression for the occasion; but, in saying this, we rely upon our impression of sixteen years since, and this assures us that the remainder of the figure was perfectly designed.
Scene from "The Winter's Tale" (Act IV, Scene 4), by Augustus Leopold Egg, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845. Oil on canvas, 86 x 117 cm. Collection: Guildhall Gallery, London. Reproduced by kind permission of the City of London Corporation.
About this time he did a larger work than he was accustomed to in fresco, which was exhibited in Westminster Hall. It was called “Love,” and was of two figures. It had a poetic aspect which claimed attention. His eye for colour had not lost its discrimination in working in the new material, but the subject gave no scope for the quality of dramatic invention by which he had distinguished himself in his smaller pictures, and the scale of the work was unfavourable to him on account of the demand for larger drawing which it made. In this last particular he might have remedied his shortcomings, as he had in other branches of the art so signally within the last few years; for he had the means of living nearly independently, in the shape of a liberal annuity left to him by his father. But two years before, when his picture of Sir Piercie Shafton was placed in the Octagon Room, to relieve his mortification, he had with Mr. Frith, who had been similarly treated, made a journey on the continent; and during this he caught a severe cold, which settled on his chest and sowed the seeds of the asthma, from which he suffered very severely at the time, and more or less afterwards during the remainder of his life. For a while, indeed, his friends despaired of his recovery; and it was a wonder that he could for a year or two do justice to the powers that he had. This was a trying time to him; but it is interesting to find that he does not appear to have lost his spirit, as the following anecdote will prove. An Edinburgh Art-Union had drawn its lottery, and one of the holders of the prizes had selected his picture. But a standing rule of the Society was perhaps in the way of the intended patronage; so the Secretary wrote to tell Mr. Egg of the choice of their member, but added that — as the rule was that no painter should be encouraged by the Art Union unless he had had his nativity north of the Tweed — he was anxious to learn from the painter whether this was the fact in his case. Mr. Egg wrote a letter in reply thus:—
Sir, — I am happy to state that I am not a Scotchman, nor in any way connected with Scotland; but, if it will conduce to the sale of my picture, I shall be delighted henceforth to subscribe myself,
Yours ever obediently, A. L. Mac(?) Ego. (To be continued.)
Part 3,“Notes on the Life of Augustus L.Egg,” The Reader 6 June 1863 (Continued from No. 20.)
IN '47 Egg had left Gerrard Street and gone to Ivy Cottage, a pleasant little house, covered with evergreen, since pulled down, in Queen’s Road, Bayswater; and he contributed two pictures to the Royal Academy Exhibition — the first hung low on the line in the East Room, and the second on the line in the Middle Room. These were “Katherine and Petruchio” and “Bianca and her Music-Master.” In painting these pictures he had thrown aside his timidity and established a claim to a very high and independent position in his profession; for they were admirable in invention, both in colour and design. In the first, Katherine and Pctruchio were seated on a couch with their faces towards the spectator; behind them was a window with white blinds drawn down, on which was projected the shadow of the frames of the window-panes. Katherine was turning a cold shoulder to Petruchio, and scowling sulkily under her brows towards though not at him; Petruchio — his arm resting on the back of the sofa, and his legs crossed one on tho other, the upper sawing the air, and chosen at the moment when directed straight out to the front of the picture — was displaying a sort of elfish, unconcerned, good humour at her baffled rage. Altogether, it wanted nothing in character, nor yet in colour, to make it a forcible and worthy illustration of the scene in Shakespeare's great comedy. The one shortcoming was in the drawing of the foreshortened leg, which some four years later he corrected.
The “Music-Master” was as admirable in expression and colour, and was freer from the evidence of immature power of drawing. The background of this picture was full of true and naive character. It was stronger, indeed, than the other in this respect — for the square-paned window in that was not perhaps proper to the time of Shakespeare. In this there was a high wall covered with deep coloured hangings; and above, near the top of the picture, was a little window with rich and quaint illuminated panes. It looked the cosy corner of a largish mediaeval room, made for quiet family pursuits. Bianca was the dearest little innocent schemer that ever lived; Luccntio the most self-possessed and happy of adventurous lovers; and Hortensio the most puzzled of hopeless rivals. Unhappily, it is too correct to speak of the sweetest features in this picture in the past tense, for the boldness of the painter was not equalled among picture-buyers. The picture did not sell; and Egg, who was always accustomed to find purchasers for his works, lost confidence in the merits of this one, and, a few years afterwards, was prevailed upon by some dealer to alter the background and the whole effect of light and shade of the picture, to make it marketable. It may be still a remarkable work; but it has no longer the special claims it had to admiration. When Egg painted these pictures he was alone, after Leslie, in his power of treating comedy. We make the exception only because the painter mentioned had done more extended subjects, and a long series of delightful works. Not that we think any of his better, or indeed so good, in the qualities of painting and colour; for Leslie, without his extraordinary power of delicate expression, would have had but small claims to a high position in his art; while Egg, with these two pictures, would, had there been no qualities of expression, have had just claims to a foremost rank among the painters of the day.
"Queen Elizabeth discovers she is no longer young ” was his picture for 1848. Hitherto his works had illustrated the more humorous phase of comedy. In this he undertook to embody a graver incident. How probable it seems that he had been led to this by the serious feelings excited by his dangerous illness! None of us, say the moralists, are very ready in youth and middle life to realize decay and death as our own ultimate portion; but he had had the conviction forced upon him that, as his fellows, he too was mortal — more of a shadow, perhaps, than they — at best a mere changing cloud, not certain even to run his course from horizon to horizon. A cloud, indeed, growing in volume and revelling in its fulness, collecting in its breast from off the teeming seas moisture that, held together, and tenderly poured upon the thirsty plains, should refresh many a drooping flower, and moisten many feverish lips; but, in mid-air, meeting the fierce sun, it had there suddenly felt itself stricken through and through with fire. He too was such as this. And, when he had tested the bitter thought, and yet knew it was well, that as the cloud should yield up its riches at its Ruler's will — that it should quench the thirst of the hot air instead of the distant land for which it had started in its course — so it was also good that he should bend to the will of the Giver of his life, he found a homily to his remaining fretfulness in the mortification of the vain Queen at finding she could not retain her youth for over. Whatever the motive, the picture was painted with this single idea. The stamp of stealthy Death, by which he would some day claim her for his own, was in the Queen's face. She was surrounded by lovely hand-maidens and flattering courtiers; but their praise could no longer deceive her. She was in a room luxuriantly furnished; but its riches could not cheer her. She saw in them nothing but the reflection of her own pallid and withering face. God send her comfort, for there is nothing but that for the stricken Queen! The painting of this work was rich and firm. The character in the faces of the lookers-on, as well as of the principal figure, was all individually wrought out. It was a misfortune of the subject that these figures had nothing to do. What they said could not be told by painting; and they looked, therefore, like so many supernumeraries at a theatre, who do nothing beyond filling up the stage; but then they were at least living people, and in that how different these were from the ordinary accessorial figures of many pictures. There were some shortcomings in drawing — particularly, we remember, in the legs of one of the courtiers — which indicated haste more than incapacity; for every expression had been made out, and every purpose possible in the figures, particularly in the group of maids-of-honour, gracefully and efficiently rendered.
Augustus Leopold Egg. Maull & Polyblank. Circa 1863. Albumen carte-de-visite. 3 ½x 2 ¼ inches. (89 mm x 58 mm). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London NPG Ax14945 Given by Algernon Graves, 1916.
Egg was now thirty-two years of age. Let us try to describe him as he appeared on the morning of the Exhibition, when he was working on his picture, and when we saw him for the first time. He was a man of no more than five feet six or seven inches in height; but broad-chested and large-shouldered, dressed in a black cloth frock-coat, black velvet waistcoat, and grey checkered trousers. His head was of the largest; but so delicately formed that, on his firm-looking figure, it was in perfect accordance. His complexion was of a certain sallowness, that bore evidence to his recent dangerous illness, which might also have been seen in the precision with which the anatomical construction showed through the modelling of his face. His forehead widened at the temples, as much as is compatible with entire absence of deformity, and the face was built up to conform gently with this peculiarity. His eyes were of a dark, rich brown, and deeply set with spacious eye-lids; his nose high and slightly aquiline, cartilaginous at the nostrils, and compressed; his lips were deficient in fulness, but not poor; his chin was wide and large, but without projection; his flowing hair was dark and glossy, almost black. These features made up the figure of a remarkably handsome and distinguished-looking man, as God and himself together had made him in thirty-two years. Altogether, he affected one with surprise and satisfaction, as a firmly-established human being; while his grave and almost sad expression made one ask oneself at first could he be the painter of such piquant humour? But the serious stare with which he met one's eyes was also a ready one. It was not waiting for more severe matter to engage it. The soul that directed it was so quick and searching that it could not disregard any of the pages of life in which human interests were written; and, when he talked, and the life kindled in his face, there could be no doubt that he was the truer type of his work than any figure one had imagined as proper to the maker of the images and fancies one knew in his name.
The picture of Queen Elizabeth gained for him what is called the honour of election to the Associateship. Henceforth he was to have his name printed in full on the fly-leaf of the Academy catalogue; and, in the list at the end, the alphabetical succession was only to prevent him from appearing before Academicians and other Associates, whose second letters were earlier in order than the second letter of his name. This, with the addition of his Christian names in full instead of in initials, was one great advantage of his elevation; another being that he had for ever after a prior claim to the good places in the Exhibition.
Launce and His Dog. Augustus Egg, painter. Leicester Corporation of Art Gallery. Source: Magazine of Art 16 (1893): 44.
No one begrudged him this, we feel certain. The news of this important event was taken to Bayswater by two of the Council on the night of the election, who found him already in bed, little dreaming perhaps of his greatness. In 1849 he exhibited “Henrietta Maria in Distress relieved by Cardinal de Retz” and “Launce's Substitute for Proteus's Dog.” Both of these were worthy of his growing reputation, and remarkable for qualities of character and good colour, in either case strictly in unison with the sentiment of the subject. The unfortunate Queen was in sadder plight than discarded monarchs of our own day. It was, indeed, pitiful to see her in her cheerless chamber, with the snow falling in the dark street outside, and so lately with no friend to give her fire to warm her, or bread to eat, and it was a real comfort to see her at last relieved. This picture was sober, but still with a certain royalty of colour about it; while the other was sparkling and brilliant, like the wit of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” itself. Some of our readers may have recently seen the cartoon for this last picture, which was sold at Messrs. Christie's rooms on the 18th of this present month, and may have been reminded by it of the exquisite grace of the ladies in the picture, and the unaffected breeding of the men. The only artist of our time, besides Mr. Egg, who could portray such delicate character was Leslie; and he, it must be acknowledged, rather suggested than worked it out with the fulness of form and colour as it was in this picture.
The exhibition of this year, 1849, contained two pictures, by comparatively new men, which attracted great attention. The one was by John Everett Millais — an illustration to Keats's “Isabella;” the other by W. Holman Hunt — an illustration to an incident in the early life of “Rienzi.” These pictures, with another by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, exhibited at the Portland Street Gallery in the same year, first publicly introduced what is called Pre-Raphaelism to the world. Enough has been written on this subject to make it unnecessary to consider what were the painters’ aims. It is enough now to say that thus early the painters were acknowledged to be young men of considerable power by their elders in the profession, although the peculiar views they held were canvassed in a variety of tempers, and for the most part with disapprobation. The first-named painter, young as he was, had already had the graces of an accomplished artist to recommend his work. The second gave evidence of having less mastery over his material. It was natural, therefore, that the one work should be sold early in the exhibition, or rather before leaving the artist's studio, and that the other should be left unpurchased month by month until the exhibition had closed.
We remember the picture coming back to the artist’s studio, a room which he had taken a twelvemonth before, on first leaving his father's house. Many an artist has the same experience. In this case it was as stern an event as it well could be. The little money that Hunt had started with was exhausted; the landlord was impatient for the last quarter’s rent; and this picture, and a few sketches on his walls, which no one would buy, a book-shelf barely furnished, and an easel and paint-box, were the only property he possessed to convert into money. Two or three of his friends were with him, with whom the painter was bitterly joking about his prospects in life, when a double-knock was heard at the door below. It was repeated two or three times; at which our host descended, surmising that the Irish servant had gone out for a walk, or else, seeing that the knock was for the beggarly painter, refused to move from her kitchen.
When the door was opened, and the applicant for admission had had it explained why he was kept waiting so long, he, in the most courteous manner, advanced, apologizing for venturing to pay this visit without formal introduction; but, said he, “I think we have many mutual friends. I, too, am an artist — Mr. Egg. I hope you have heard them speak of me as a true admirer of the work which you exhibited at the Royal Academy; and I trust my interest in this will lead you to excuse me for not taking the ordinary means of presenting myself to you.” Saying this, he advanced, at the artist's invitation, upstairs into the room. “I well remember this studio,” he continued; “it was once occupied by a friend of mine — Mr. Elmore. It was always difficult to make it have a pleasant aspect,” he added, as if anxious to conceal his consciousness that it was unusually dungeon-like at that moment. “I see,” he continued, as he observed that Hunt seemed to regard the remark as an amusing instance of politeness, “that you already have your picture back. I took the opportunity of looking at the faces on the varnishing days with a ladder; but I am glad again to see it close. You are working upon it. Let me ask you in what points you intend to advance it.” Mr. Hunt explained his desire to improve one or two points of detail; Mr. Egg listened attentively. “I understand your desire,” he returned, “to make the picture as perfect as possible in every detail. Your feeling for such matters is exhibited throughout the picture; but don't you think,” he said, with a great stress on the don't — a stress used peculiarly by him in each phrase on some word or the other when in animated discussion, together with a bend of the body and an extension of the hand like a fencer plying with a light sabre, as if he could not give sufficient force to the expression by mere words — “don’t you think it is worth while first to try whether the work already in the picture might not be made more of by some modification of the general effect. I know your views,” he added, after a moment's pause, during which the workman looked puzzled and obstinate; “and I would not think of advising you to adopt any conventional treatment to force the effect. I do think we are all too apt to do that; but what I mean is, simply, that where there is no reason to the contrary it is desirable to arrange the colours of a picture so that one object shall be distinct from the object next to it, even at a certain distance at the first glance.” Hunt admitted this, with the condition, immediately. “Well,” said Egg, “did you study the effect of the picture in the exhibition?” Hunt declared that he had been ashamed to be seen looking at it. Egg replied, “Well; but I think you should have done so; and I think you would have felt then that the colour of Rienzi's robe was too  similar in tint to the grey tone of the horses beyond, and that it would be a question whether one or the other could not he changed without departing from truth, you know!” “Yes!” said Hunt, slowly, no longer as if a dangerous snare lay hid in the counsel, but only as if considering whether one of the two points could be changed. “I know,” Egg went on, “how hard it must be after you have worked each out so conscientiously from nature to think of altering them; but I must say I feel that if the robe of Rienzi were changed the picture would gain immensely.” Hunt declared that in any ease he could only have the greatest respect for Mr. Egg’s opinion on such a point, and that in this he had further to express his conviction that the suggestion was a valuable one. “I feel it the more,” he said, “as I consider it; and I will not allow any consideration of trouble to prevent me from making a manifest improvement in my work; but I have to fight against a certain prejudice I started with in favour of the harmony of the grey with the pink and the orange tints near it as appropriate to the sentiment of the subject.” “But,” said Egg, "why not rely upon the greys in the middle distance for this, which are so connected with this portion of the picture.” And at once it was agreed that the robe of Rienzi should be made of a brown tone. “Well,” said the visitor, after a sort of resumé of this question had been made, which was a characteristic feature in Egg's discussion when he had gained his point, “may I ask you whether it is true that you have not sold the picture?” “Yes,” said the younger artist; “I have not been so fortunate as to find a purchaser.” Egg said, “It is an astounding fact to me that no one in all London has had the courage to buy this picture. You ask a hundred pounds for it? Is it not so?” The painter replied in the affirmative. The visitor, looking round the room with a kind smile of sympathy, said, “And I suppose the sale of it is really an object to you.” “It is, indeed,” replied the other, with a shrug of the shoulders. “I have been unwise, perhaps, in counting too much upon this chance, and so I have spent all my time since sending in this work in making designs of future works; and I have been deluded out of the remainder of my time by a dishonest sort of dealer; otherwise I might have some little things to rely upon, as well as this, for raising the wind.” “And what do you think of doing with this picture now?” asked Egg. “I think of sending it to Liverpool, if I can,” said Hunt. “You will, I suppose, have a few days to spare after you have completed the retouchings,” said Egg. “A friend of mine,” he added, “an invalid, has heard much of the picture, and has been very anxious to see it; but he could not get to the Exhibition. In the course of a week he is coming to dine with me; would you mind sending the picture up to my place that, he might have his desire gratified?” Mr. Hunt promised that he would endeavour to let him have it by a certain day; and the visitor then took his leave.
William Holman Hunt. Rienzi vowing to obtain justice for the death of his young brother, slain in a skirmish between the Colonna and the Orsini factions. 1848-49. Oil on canvas, 34 x 38 in. Collection Mrs. E. M. Clarke.
Can you see, reader, the kind-hearted gentleman walking his way, striding, staring, and frowning as if he really felt that at heart he was a very sour and hard-grained person, and that it was of no use to attempt to conceal it from the people in the dingy streets through which he went to where he had left his horse, that he might not approach his poor brother-painter on unequal ground, and returning to his dinner as if he had done nothing but seek a better appetite in the pure sunlit air of the park? We did — we see him now; and it is a picture that obliterates many a hard impression of humanity that might otherwise remain in our minds. But his kindred office was not yet finished. Four or five days afterwards the picture of “Rienzi” was smuggled out of the house by night, for fear of the landlord; and the painter took it to Ivy Cottage. Two days later, he went by invitation to breakfast with Egg, who then told him that Mr. Gibbons, the collector of Regent's Park, was the gentleman he had referred to, and that, on seeing the picture, he determined at once to buy it; and Mr. Egg handed Hunt a cheque for £105, explaining that it was Mr. Gibbons's desire that the additional £5 should be received as payment for the frame.
Part 4. Notes on the Life of Augustus L. Egg. — 9 January 1864, p. 57
He had got now fairly over his distemper, and certainly made an advance in some qualities; his scope and end were higher, although the works were not so complete as some of his earlier ones — the “Peter the Great,” for instance. It was a difference in a small way, equivalent to that stupendous one in animal creation between the lion and the ourang-outang — the first animal being the perfection of its order, strong and lithe, firm and nimble, terrible, but how graceful! a perfection of design! which, its victim might perish in admiring; while the second is an animal of imperfectly-balanced powers, awkward, ugly, hobbling. chattering, miserable in its crude excellences, which its Creator, so to speak, might pity, did they not foreshadow the perfection of animal inventions.
The Exhibition of 1856 came with no picture from our artist. In 1857 he had “A Scene from Thackeray’s Esmond” — the return from the battle. We remember it only enough to know that it bore some trace of his recent Italian observations. He had made the pilgrimage to the great shrines in art at an age when his mind had already got a form of its own, and settled to a state of firmness. How many an artist is ruined by making this journey early in life! — at least so we must judge if we consider how many of the number who have gone there to study have ended their lives in nothing more than glorious plagiarisms at the best — and then tell the tale of our best English works painted by men who had never seen the Italian galleries — Hogarth, Stothard, Flaxman, Opie, Wilkie, Leslie, and Mulready. It was well for Egg that he, too stayed at home in his youth and worked out his own problem of art; as it was, seeing the perfection of Italian work after this, when he had stores of English ideas and observations in his mind which he was pledged to himself to put into form, his admiration of his predecessors affected his practice only in regard to mechanical points. In his next picture, another scene from Esmond — “Beatrice dubbing him her Knight” — now in the possession of Thomas Fairbairn, Esq., the same spirit affected him in the drawing and painting, and certainly, we may say, with a good result; for the simplicity, the largeness of masses, as to colour and form, are valuable, and certainly very unusual merits in the pictures of our native school.
Beatrice Knighting Esmond, by Augustus Leopold Egg. Oil paint on canvas, Support: 869 × 1171 mm. Courtesy of Tate Britain N01385. Purchased 1893.
To the Exhibition — that of ’58 — in which this last appeared, Egg sent a picture, in three compartments, with no title, but an extract from a diary to give the subject. It may, however, here — where we hesitate not to call things by their right names — be entitled “The Adultress.” It was not a favourite picture with the public, although it attracted an extraordinary degree of attention in the Royal Academy Exhibition. Once before, and once only, he had painted a modern subject, and that, we think, had never been exhibited. It was a scene that had presented itself to him when he was engaged in his perambulations as an amateur actor — Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, one of the company, engaged with a pack of cards telling the fortunes of his friends. In that scene there were many points to attract the artist. Apart from the general object of ennobling an occult study, which we in our ignorance, as it seems, regarded as unfitted for any but the old gipsy woman on the common, there was the personal grace of the principal figure, the purity of his Norman type, the delicate hands of the operator, almost feminine in their proportions, bespeaking a line of ancestors uncontaminated by mean transaction of barter since, shall we say, the Conqueror, or Adam, and withal dress and furniture controlled and arranged by the taste of the great novelist — the poet, the thinker, the philosopher. These advantages might well counterbalance the ordinary objections felt by painters on account of the hideous character of modern costume to a subject of his own day. This present one was of dramatic interest alone. Certainly it was not specially undertaken with the feeling that the particular conditions of the case would be exceptionally favourable, for they were so arranged as to make any choice of still-life objects of a graceful character inadmissible.
The first panel of the painting now known as Past and Present but which Hunt calls The Adultress.
To Egg, therefore, who, by his previous pictures, had exhibited a strong feeling for elegant and rich accompaniments to his compositions, this subject must have had the strongest recommendation, on a moral grpund; and accordingly it indicated a certain change of interest in the object of his art. The centre-frame contained the main-spring of the whole story. A husband of middle age, who, by his carpet-bag, seemed to have just returned from a journey, had thrown himself down in a chair, his right hand still holding a note — the wife, apparently having been immediately before confronted with this evidence of her guilt, had fallen to the floor, hiding her face and throbbing out her shame. The two are placed there, as they well may be, as if never to stir. To him, for himself, there could be no more faith, or trust, or hope on earth; to her the day of judgment had come — only well that it had come in this life. What could his eyes see if he gathered up his sight from that ruminating retrospect! To what should she raise herself when her deceit — her sole reliance — had betrayed her vanity so utterly! But there are two other beings in the room — children who are disturbed from their play by this strange scene. They have been building card castles, and now are turning round in wonder. Upon them, too, the sin shall be visited, in whispers of pity at the least, for all their years to come. The room is papered with red, lurid paper, throwing a hot and oppressive reflection upon all the objects in the room. On the walls is a print of Stanfield's "The Abandoned," and about are various other suggestive incidents — a severed apple, for instance — intended probably to connect themselves in the minds of the spectators with the main event.
The Daughters at home (left) looking at the same moon the now-abandoned mother, who is holding her baby, sees.
The two other scenes are coincident. Four or five years have passed; the miserable mother is now an outcast, crouching at night in one of the dark arches of the Adelphi, beneath a ruined boat. Under her shawl one may see the poor child, the offspring of her sin. Her expiation is, indeed, severe! She is looking from her dismal hiding-place at the moon, which shines its full glow upon the ebbing river. The third picture introduces us to a neatly-furnished room, dimly lighted. The two children of the marriage are there. By the clothes of mourning one may guess that their one protector — the father — is dead. The elder, now a girl of some fifteen years, has been engaged in hearing the prayers of her youngest sister, and she is turning with religious sadness to gaze at the moon which shines through the open window. One recognises the fact, by the phase of the satellite being similar, that, it is the same moment of time when the poor lost mother is staring at it so despairingly from her darkness. This scene is, indeed, very pure and beautiful. It is the fashion now to dislike all pictures that are sad: it is the fashion, too, to denounce all morals that are severe, particularly on this subject; and so the picture, whatever its merits, could never be popular now. But we know Mr. Egg foresaw this when he undertook it, and determined to make a sacrifice of popularity for the principle that he felt the picture might illustrate.
For our part we see nothing to regret in the intention of the subject; we were sorry only that it was not executed in a larger series, so that the stages of the plot should be introduced more gradually, and therefore more intelligibly. It is by no means a matter of course when a woman falls that she should die in misery. God’s laws were never necessarily so inevitable and rapid, “Upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and slew them — think ye they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?” and man’s laws, devised as they are to entrap the guilty in this world, let many escape. Indeed the adultress often reaps reward rather than punishment by her sin; and therefore the painter of this series should have shown how it was that his heroine suffered her punishment so directly. Hogarth left no gap in his histories. Egg leaves us to wonder whether the erring wife was more overcome by her conscience, and so sought voluntarily a place of repentance, or was more imprudent than those who in daily life gather honours and worship by their wickedness. Whatever its shortcomings, however, the invention was free from the false sentimentality of many modern novel-writers, who dwell upon vice with prurient unction, and make its votaries the only intellectual and poetic characters of their book, which is not true to our observations of nature by any means, so dull and unromantic are we.
The Death of Chatterton. Henry Wallis. 1856. Oil on canvas, 24 1/2 x 36 3/4 inches. Courtesy of Tate Britain, London.
In 1855 Mr. Egg purchased Mr. Wallis’s remarkable picture of the “Death of Chatterton” when general collectors were hesitating to decide upon its merits. Mr. Wallis was in a position to bide his time for a recognition of his talent; yet it could not but have been a great satisfaction to have the disputed question settled so authoritatively in his favour by an artist so established in position as Mr. Egg.
Mr. P. B. Morris, a still younger artist, the gold-medal student a year or two later, received encouragements from our painter characteristic of his consideration and liberality, which we feel our readers will prefer to have in the words of the gentleman concerned, as extracted below from a letter with which he has favoured us:—
It was a year after my successful competition at the Royal Academy that, with the last five or six months spent in the country painting from nature, I found myself in my studio with two pictures which I had failed to complete in time for the annual exhibition. I was out of heart with my works; the more so, perhaps, because I was altogether out of cash, and I had no prospect but in the chance of finding a purchaser for my pictures in the provinces, where alone I could exhibit them, unless I could find means to keep them another year.
In this crisis Mr. Egg called on me. As I showed him the picture I apologised most sincerely for its defects, assuring him that it fell far short of my first conception. To my astonishment and gratification, he declared himself greatly pleased with it, and that I had no reason whatever to be discouraged by it. Suggesting certain minor alterations, be then asked what price I intended to put upon it. My reply was, “Anything.” But, he repeating the inquiry, saying, ” If you send it to an exhibition what sum will you ask?” I said, “£50, if not too much.” His reply was, “I think it would be a pity to sell it for such an amount. I will pay £70 for it; and, as you may require money to pay models in completing it, I shall send you half the money to-morrow.” I felt I could have gone round the [world?] for the good soul; but in the meantime, as he did not require me to make the journey then, I determined to finish the picture to the highest pitch possible.
From that time till his departure for Algiers he was in all things my kindest adviser and friend. He introduced a purchaser to me for my next picture, and helped me even more, with his artistic judgment, in all my labours.
Hunt, William Holman. "Notes on the Life of August L. Egg." The Reader: A Review of Current Literature. no. 19 (9 May 1863): 462; (16 May 1863): 462, 486-67, 557-58; 2 (6 June 1863): 42-43, 91, 516-17; 3 (9 January 1864): 56-57. The essay appeared anonymously, but Hunt discusses writing it with William Bell Scott, one of whose letters he included in the text.
Last modified 15 April 2022