Ernest J.C. Savory, Orsett Terrace, London
Christie’s London 19 May 1899 Lot 82 (as Wilkie School – An Artist’s Studio)
Bought Leggatt Bros
Private Collection USA
London, British Institution, 1830, No 81
This highly engaging picture, coming to light after more than 100 years of obscurity, shows Sir Edwin Landseer, perhaps England’s greatest ever animal painter, at still only some 20 years of age, in the process of creating one of his early masterpieces, The Larder Invaded (1822). The artist is seated at his easel, where that picture is positioned.In the foreground another young man – most probably John Hayter the painter himself – is urging a dog on to enrage a cat, whom we see perched up on the right hand margin of the picture. Landseer turns to sketch this cat with its arched back and outraged expression.
Landseer’s paintings--hugely popular in his lifetime--are still recognized today, but his own image is less well-known. Those images which are in the public sphere tend to show him in his pomp as a middle or late-middle aged man. Francis Grant’s portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery – and its variants – or Landseer’s own self-portrait working while observed by two dogs in the Royal Collections are perhaps the best known.But images of Landseer as a young man are not at all common and a full exhibition picture of him in his early days – and at his easel painting - is a considerable rarity. That the artist at the easel is Landseer is easily demonstrated. Not only does it look like him, as comparisons with Hayter’s portrait group and his sketches show, but of course the work on the easel in this picture is clearly his Larder Invaded.
The Larder Invaded, shown at the British Institution in 1822, was in fact the picture that propelled the young Landseer to fame.His ability to draw – animals in particular – was well known to those around him. But when this picture went on public view it was hugely admired and eventually won the artist a prize in the considerable sum of £150 from the Institution. That his close friend John Hayter should have chosen to put The Larder Invaded on his friend Landseer’s easel for his own picture here and then shown it at the British Institution himself is also telling. Landseer had not only had a major success with The Larder Invaded at the BI, but also two years later with the Cat’s Paw (1824) at the same venue. To cap it all, in 1830, Landseer had just been given the status of a full Royal Academician at the still young age of 28. To paint a picture of his friend engaged in creating one of the great BI pictures, referencing (with the cat) another BI success and showing it in the year of his election as full RA, was probably quite a canny marketing strategy by Hayter. Landseer as a subject would have been a highly saleable proposition.
John Hayter and Edwin Landseer were friends from an early age. Both families were close and Hayter’s first picture at the RA was indeed titled The Cricketer, a portrait of Master E Landseer. Hayter was just 15 years old at this point and Landseer 13. But there is no more eloquent a witness to this friendship than John Hayter’s memorable 1823 group, now held at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, in which John paints himself, standing behind three seated figures; his father, the miniaturist Charles Hayter, his brother, the painter George Hayter but also the young Edwin Landseer. Landseer we can see was effectively ‘family’. Further sketches of Edwin Landseer’s recognizable, tousled-hair countenance came from Hayter’s pencil in the 1820s. It can also be noted that John Hayter’s depiction of his own features in the Gateshead group are very similar indeed to those of the second figure in our painting.
But while friendly interaction between the two painters is clear, what enables us to give this present picture definitively to John Hayter is its inclusion in the 1830 exhibition of the British Institution. Listed under Hayter’s name in that year is a picture called Interior of a Painter’s Study. It does not refer to Landseer as the subject by name; but this is convention. Portraiture as such was not welcome at the Institution, so artists tended to get round that obstacle by titling their pictures as generally as they could without mentioning the names of any sitters. The Institution also usefully gave (framed) sizes in their catalogues. The size given for this exhibit is in exactly the right proportions for our 30 x 25 inch painting. If we add a 4 ½ inch frame to that, the overall size is identical. But perhaps the most telling piece of evidence is the review of the 1830 show in the Morning Post which picked up this Hayter exhibit. It is inexact and quirky – as so many reviews of that date were - but its references are far too co-incidental for it to be referring to any other picture. It is worth quoting in full:
81. Interior of a Painter’s Study. J.Hayter.
The artist has for the moment turned from his easel, and is apparently lost in some mental abstraction of his art. He is in that state of mind which is technically described as a "brown study”, quite insensible to the living objects about him. A favourite greyhound on the point of making a spring upon his master, is very pleasingly introduced to contrast with and heighten the repose which pervades all the other parts of design. The figure of the artist is, we believe, a portrait of Mr Hayter, so that we have the genius and the person of the painter depicted in this specimen of his works. In point of colouring, chiaro-scuro, and composition, this performance is highly creditable to the fame of its author.
Now we can note the discrepancies. The dog is not a greyhound.It is not in the act of leaping on its master, but on a cat etc.But we must be forgiving here. An 1830 reviewer would have the problems of poorly lit pictures, and of pictures often hung too high to see in detail.Similarly, in the absence of any kind of illustration, reviewers had to rely on their own notes and memories when they went back to write up their copy. If we add to that the fact that many of them might be doing this after a good lunch to boot, then all art-historians have had to allow for these writers’ inexactitudes in what were after all not much more than social columns. Despite the above, the Morning Post reviewer has noted the artist “turned from his easel” – our artist is.He has noted that there were “other living objects about him” – there are. He has pointed out a dog “on the point of making a spring” – there is one. Taken together these references (especially the dog) are simply too specific to be referring to any other interior picture. When we add to that the fact that in all the exhibited titles in the Royal Academy and in the British Institution between 1822 and 1830 this is the only one with an appropriate title, we must conclude that our picture is indeed one and the same as John Hayter’s 1830 exhibit.
This re-discovered painting is a remarkable document showing us exactly how Edwin Landseer set about painting his pictures. We can sense Landseer and Hayter as ambitious young artists setting out on their journeys and the scene has the appealing combination of high jinks and serious endeavour often associated with young artists. How Landseer contrived to paint his animals with the expressions he gave them has long fascinated the public. The emergence of Hayter’s painting, showing us the specific manipulations that Landseer employed, goes a long way to answering this question. This is both a delightful painting and a most welcome addition to our body of knowledge of one of England’s greatest painters.