A Century of British Painters

By Richard Redgrave; Samuel Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIII
WILLIAM MULREADY AND THOMAS WEBSTER

WE resume the narrative of Mulready's art from the completion of his student career. As far as we can trace him by the pictures he exhibited, he first came before the world as a landscape painter, and for some time exhibited such works rather than subject pictures. We find his name in the Royal Academy catalogue for the first time in 1804, appended to three landscapes. In 1805 he exhibited three landscapes, and in 1806, four. But in this year there was a great change in the execution of his pictures: the careful, precise and rather minute execution of his former works was changed for one somewhat larger and broader, but approaching mannerism in the use of the browns, and in the mode of painting into a brown key. It is evident that he was not satisfied with this new manner--no doubt adopted from some of the more advanced painters of the day--as he soon reverted to his own elaborate mode of viewing nature, and with slight modifications he persevered to the end in this treatment of his art.

In 1807, together with one or two landscapes, Mulready exhibited his first subject picture, 'Old Kaspar', from Southey's poem of The Battle of Blenheim. It is a small work (about 10½ inches square) on panel, and has an interest from being his first figure picture, rather than from any intrinsic excellence as a work of art. It is solidly and crisply painted, with the evident want of knowledge of a beginner, but showing that the painter had looked to his Dutch predecessors. It has stood well, and it is still fresh, although it has failed a little in the darks. The composition, light and dark, and even the colour, have been well considered; but there is a great want of truth and of knowledge of the constructive details in the parts of the cottage shown in the background: a want soon overcome by the painter's great perceptive imitation. There is a foreshadowing of his future finish in the hair and beard of the old man.

In 1808, Mulready was again a contributor to the exhibition of the Royal Academy, both of landscapes and figure pictures; and one of these, 'The Rattle', is painted very much in the manner of Teniers, except that the background is more solid. It is executed with a flat crisp touch, very little glazing or scumbling, and with no appearance of the stippled manner of his latter years, but a dexterous onceness,

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