A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII
LATER LANDSCAPE PAINTERS

JOHN LINNELL, perhaps the most thoroughly English of our landscape painters, was born in Bloomsbury, 16 June 1792. Unlike Constable, who revelled in the flat pastures of his native Suffolk, Linnell seems, as a rule, to represent a glorified Surrey. The scenery of that county and of Kent in passing through his mind reappears upon his canvases, shorn of all littleness--treated with great impressiveness under the happiest effects, and surmounted by the most splendid skies. It is curious that this master of landscape art began his career by painting portraits, but they were, in one sense, merely 'potboilers', as our painter only looked upon them as subservient to landscape, his real love; and while he painted portraits for money, he worked away at landscapes till he had secured a fame and reputation in his cherished art.1

He seems, from the account of those who knew him best, to have begun to draw from his earliest years, and he painted his first work in oil when only twelve years old. While quite a boy Linnell was articled to Varley, where one of his fellow-pupils, his senior by seven years, was Mulready. The two became great friends, and Linnell probably learnt most of the technical part of his art from him. The lad also obtained an introduction to West, who treated him kindly, criticized his drawings, and even worked upon some of them, and advised him, as did Mulready also, to enter the Academy schools. He was admitted as a student in his thirteenth year, and not only carried off a silver medal for a drawing from the life in 1809, but in 1810 successfully competed with sculptor students and took a medal for the best modelling in bas-relief from the life model. Already in 1809 he had been awarded a prize of £50 by the directors of the British Institution for his landscape 'Removing Timber in Autumn', exhibited in their gallery. This delicious little painting, which remained in the artist's possession, is a curiously finished work for a boy of sixteen to produce, and it shows a thorough insight into the beauty of shadows cast upon grass. The figures are happily

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1
One of these early portraits, reproduced in John Varley and his Pupils, J. P. Heseltine, 1918, shows the quality of these 'pot-boilers'; a depth of feeling rarely reached afterwards.

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