Landseer was the most celebrated Victorian painter of animals. He learned drawing from his father, John Landseer A.R.A, and studied at the Royal Academy where he exhibited in 1815 at the age of thirteen. His first royal commission came in 1836 when he painted Princess Victoria’s pet spaniel as a birthday present from her mother, the Duchess of Kent. He would become Queen Victoria’s favorite painter, eventually teaching her drawing and etching. Landseer spent much time in the Scottish Highlands, often staying with socially prominent patrons like the Duke of Bedford who owned vast estates and deer forests there. Sir Walter Scott’s novels of Scottish subjects and, later, Queen Victoria’s love of all things Scottish, sparked the nineteenth century’s fascination with the Highlands. And through the wide distribution of engravings of his works, Landseer’s images captured the imagination of the British people. Of his works the most widely seen are the four bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square which were built to his designs, though his authorship is generally unknown. More iconic, and his signature painting, is the Monarch of the Glen, a dramatic portrait of a stag silhouetted against a windswept sky, a symbol of Britain’s proud independence.
In his earlier years, he was much influenced by the lively and fluent technique of Rubens and his pupil, the animal specialist Frans Snyders. He even copied a Rubens Sketch of a Deerhunt (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Landseer’s ability to depict animals not only with a high level of finish and anatomical accuracy but also subtle anthropomorphic qualities contributed to his renown. Indeed, he developed a sideline in humorous paintings depicting such subjects as a dog reading the newspaper, which just steer clear of chocolate-box sentimentality.
Landseer has recently been recognized as an important romantic animal painter. His Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller, one of his earliest and most famous paintings was acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in December of 2019 while the Monarch of the Glen was privately purchased in 2016 by the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh.
Top Auction Results for Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A.
Scene in Chillingham Park: Portrait of Lord Ossulston, or death of the wild bull
Sold for £1,271,650 ($2,031,389)
London, Christie’s, 19 February 2003, The Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Works of Art I, lot 6
Return from the staghunt
Sold for £937,250 ($1,522,251)
London, Sotheby’s, 9 December 2009, Old Master and British Paintings Evening Sale, lot 51
Scene in Braemar - Highland Deer
Sold for £793,500 ($1,188,230)
London, Christie’s, 25 March 1994, Fine Victorian Pictures, Drawings and Watercolours, Lot 48