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Edwin Landseer

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Edwin Landseer

by John Ballantyne
oil on canvas, circa 1865
31 1/2 in. x 44 1/2 in. (800 mm x 1130 mm)
Given by Sir William Agnew, 1st Bt, 1890
Primary Collection
NPG 835

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • John Ballantyne (1815-1897), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 9 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

Landseer is shown in the Kensington studio of Italian-born French sculptor Baron Marochetti modelling one of the lions for the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. Marochetti cast Landseer's sculptures in bronze. This project occupied him on and off for the eight years between 1858 and 1866 and contributed to the ill health which clouded the last ten years of his life. Known for his amusing and sentimental paintings featuring his pet dogs, Landseer is here attended by a collie. The dog is thought to be Lassie, known to have been his constant companion in the studio at this time. The portrait is one of a series of artists in their studios by Ballantyne, exhibited as a set in November 1865.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 11 Read entry

    Edwin Landseer (1802-73) is shown in the studio of Baron Marochetti modelling one of the lions for the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. This project occupied him on and off between 1858 and 1866 and contributed to the ill health that clouded the last decade of his life. Known partly for his amusing and sentimental paintings featuring his pet dogs, Landseer is here attended by a collie. The dog is thought to be Lassie, his constant companion in the studio at this time. The portrait is one of a series by Ballantyne of artists in their studios, which he exhibited as a set in November 1865.

  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 56
  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 93
  • Hargreaves, Roger; McCullin, Don (foreword), Trafalgar Square: Through the Camera, 2005 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 13 September 2003 to 28 March 2004), p. 12
  • Ormond, Richard, Early Victorian Portraits, 1973, p. 254
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 88 Read entry

    The most famous British artist of his day and certainly the greatest animal painter of the nineteenth century, Landseer was more or less obliged against his better judgement to undertake the monumental task of modelling the lions for the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. He was occupied with the project on and off from 1858 to 1866, and there is little doubt that it was a major contributory factor to the ill health that clouded the last ten years of his life. After a barrage of sniping in the press about the commission being given to a painter and the lack of progress, he opened his studio in 1863 to a select gathering to view the initial 6-foot model, on which he had been working. Ballantyne’s painting, one of a series of six famous artists in their studios, was probably based on photographs taken around this time. It shows Landseer at work on the final 20-foot model in the borrowed studio of the sculptor Baron Carlo Marochetti, who was eventually responsibly for casting the four bronzes, which were finally put in place in January 1867.

    Landseer owned a number of dogs all his life, and acute observation of his own pets – combined with a strong vein of sentiment and an immaculate technique – undoubtedly helped to make him the greatest and most successful painter of dogs of all time. As such, he was one of the very small number of artists whose work appealed to Queen Victoria, and she and Prince Albert commissioned a large number of paintings of their own extensive collection of dogs. The brown dog on the platform here, patiently attending her master, is almost certainly Landseer’s faithful collie Lassie, who was known to have been his constant companion in the studio at this time. Her appearance agrees well with the one in a famous self-portrait, also of 1865, called The Connoisseurs, which Landseer later presented to Edward, Prince of Wales.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 363
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, pp. 150 - 151 Read entry

    Edwin Landseer was a favourite of Queen Victoria and one of the most popular painters of the nineteenth century. He specialised in animal painting, chiefly pet portraits and hunting scenes, and also anthropomorphic works parodying human behaviour, such as Laying Down the Law (1840), which satirises the legal profession. A child prodigy, Landseer entered the Royal Academy Schools at the age of fourteen, and was affectionately nicknamed by the Keeper, Henry Fuseli, as ‘my little dog boy’. In addition to his animal subjects, he painted historical works and portraits and made sculptures and prints. Much of his fame and income was generated by engravings of his work, many executed by his brother, Thomas, with whom he also gave art lessons to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

    This is one of a series of portraits of artists at work by John Ballantyne (1815–97), and shows Landseer in the studio of Baron Marochetti, modelling one of the lions for the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London – now his most universally recognised work. The commission occupied him for over eight years, and the pressures of the ambitious project greatly affected his health. The ageing artist is here shown, appropriately, accompanied by his pet collie, Lassie.

Placesback to top

Events of 1865back to top

Current affairs

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson is the first female to be awarded a doctor's licence. She is also involved in collecting signatures for the Manchester Suffrage Committee, the first suffrage organisation, formed this year. John Stuart Mill was also elected to parliament this year on the platform of women's suffrage.
Palmerston dies in October, and is replaced as leader of the Liberal government by his Foreign Secretary, Lord Russell.

Art and science

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is published, inspired by Carroll's relationship (as Oxford don Charles Dodgson) with his friend Henry George Liddell's daughter Alice.
Matthew Arnold publishes the first series of Essays in Criticism, a defining text in the development of English literature as an academic discipline.


In the American civil war, Robert E. Lee surrenders the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, leading to the surrender of the Confederacy's remaining field armies. A few days later, US President Abraham Lincoln is shot dead by Confederate sympathiser John Wilkes Booth. Later this year slavery is officially abolished after years of fierce campaigning. In response, the first branch of the Ku Klux Klan is founded on Christmas Eve.

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