‘Monarch of the Glen’ by Landseer

     It is a highly recognizable painting — a magnificent stag standing alertly against a mountain background.  If you haven’t seen a picture of the painting itself, you may have seen the logo of the Hartford Financial Services Group, which is taken directly from the painting.  Or, if you’ve had a sip of Exmoor Ales, you’ve seen the same stag on their logo. 

     The original is an oil-on-canvas painting titled “Monarch of the Glen.” It was painted in 1851 by the English painter Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873). Beginning in the 1840s, Landseer traveled to the Scottish Highlands several times and it was during these trips that he did studies of the great stags that ruled the mountains.  In 1850, the artist received a national commission — a great honor — to paint three subjects connected with hunting game for sport.  These were to be hung in the Refreshment Rooms of the House of Lords.  “Monarch of the Glen” was one of these three paintings.  Landseer painted the stag as if the viewer were looking up at it, which makes the creature look even more noble and imposing.  The gleam of early sun on the stag’s flanks and the morning mist rolling up from the valley behind almost let us feel the crisp, fresh air of the highlands.

     However, once the paintings were completed, the House of Commons refused to pay the 150 pound fee promised for the commission.  As a result, the paintings were sold to private collectors.  The Pear’s Soap Company eventually purchased “Monarch of the Glen” and featured it in their advertising.  It was later sold to John Dewar and Son’s distillery, and became their trademark, before being sold to and used by Glenfiddich.  The original painting is now part if the Diageo collection.  It has been exhibited by the National Galleries of Scotland.

     Sir Edwin Henry Landseer was a member of the Royal Academy and a favorite of Queen Victoria.  He was famous for his paintings and drawings of animals, especially dogs.  However, his best known works are sculptures — the lions in Trafalgar Squire, London.

     A child prodigy, Landseer’s talent was recognized early.  As a child and young man he studied under several artists (including engraver John Landseer, his father).  At age 13, in 1815, Landseer exhibited works at the Royal Academy (RA).  He was elected an associate of the RA at age 24 and became an Academician five years later.  He was knighted in 1850.  In 1866 he was elected president of the Royal Academy but declined the invitation.

     It was rumored that Landseer could paint with both hands at the same time — e.g. he could paint a dog’s head with the right hand and its tail at the left, simultaneously.  Whether this is true or not, it is certain that he could paint very quickly when he wanted to.  However, he could also procrastinate, sometimes for years, over certain commissions. 

     Landseer was one of Britain’s most notable and popular artists of the 19th century. He was considered one of the foremost animal painters of his day. Reproductions of his work were common decorations in middle-class homes.  He was also popular with the aristocracy, including Queen Victoria, who commissioned numerous portraits of her family and pets from the artist. 

     His paintings of dogs were so popular that the name “Landseer” became the official name for mixed black-and-white Newfoundland dogs, a variety he often painted in their service as water rescue dogs. 

     In his late 30s Landseer suffered what was probably a serious nervous breakdown.  For the rest of his life he suffered from depression, hypochondria and melancholy, often aggravated by the alcohol and drugs he used in his efforts to find relief.  In the last few years of his life, he was often mentally unstable and in July 1872, at the request of his family, he was declared insane.

     He died October 1, 1873.   He left three unfinished paintings on easels in his studio.  His dying wish was that his friend John Everett Millais should finish them, and Millais did so.

     Landseer’s death was widely noted, and almost all England mourned his passing.  Houses and shops lowered their blinds and large crowds lined the streets to watch his funeral cortege go by on the way to his burial place, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  His best known sculptures — the huge bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square — were hung with wreaths in silent mourning.

Published by on March 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Bugle Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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