From Telegrapher to Titan: The Life of William C. Van Horne

By Valerie Knowles | Go to book overview

Chapter Eleven
Art for Art’s Sake

Van Horne had a deep love of beauty and art, a love that dated from the days of his childhood, when he had drawn pictures on the whitewashed walls of the family home in Chelsea. Now, whenever time permitted, he took up one of his favourite pursuits: painting. At Covenhoven he retired to a large, well-lit studio to paint realistic, somewhat ethereal landscapes rich in browns and yellows, frequently inspired by the primeval woods, fields, and shores of Minister’s Island. A rapid worker, he would frequently complete his canvases — usually large oils — in a single evening from notes made earlier in the day. He did not labour over his work or spend much time preparing for it since it was his firmly held conviction that great art was the product of feeling, not intellect. As he himself expressed it, with his customary bluntness, “There is no place for intellect in art. Art is wholly a matter of feeling. As intellect enters art goes out … All of the great artists who acquired temporary fame but subsequently lost the esteem of the world were intellectual. Many of the great artists have been weak-minded or lunatics, or sodden with drink or debauchery.”663

Whether Van Horne truly believed that rapidity of execution made for spontaneous and inspired art is open to question. There is no doubt, however, that he revelled in the speed with which he completed his canvases. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to astonish his friends with the revelation that he had completed a picture in one, two, or three hours, or even in half an hour. “Sir William,” reported his friend Robert Wickenden, who frequently joined him in painting sessions, “wanted to paint by telegraph.”664

On one occasion some admiring friends were dumbfounded to learn that a large canvas depicting birch trees in their autumn glory had been

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From Telegrapher to Titan: The Life of William C. Van Horne
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Table of Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgements 11
  • Prologue 13
  • Chapter One - Growing Up in Frontier Illinois 17
  • Chapter Two - Early Career 37
  • Chapter Three - Rapid Advancement 55
  • Chapter Four - New Challenges and Hobbies 83
  • Chapter Five - New Horizons 95
  • Chapter Six - Toward the Last Spike 117
  • Chapter Seven - Cutting Costs 147
  • Chapter Eight - The Final Push 175
  • Chapter Nine - All That Grant Was to the U.S.a 209
  • Chapter Ten - Van Horne at the Helm 239
  • Chapter Eleven - Art for Art’s Sake 283
  • Chapter Twelve - Family Matters 299
  • Chapter Thirteen - Cuba Beckons 325
  • Chapter Fourteen - Building the Cuba Railroad 339
  • Chapter Fifteen - Chasing the Money 367
  • Chapter Sixteen - Dodging the Grim Reaper 397
  • Afterword 429
  • Bibliography 433
  • Notes 443
  • Index 495
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