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Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Robert Haydon’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency (I include those who were born before 1811 and who died after 1795), today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Samuel Prout
17 September 1783 – 10 February 1852

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Samuel Prout

Samuel Prout was born at Plymouth, the fourth of fourteen children born to Samuel Prout Senior, a naval outfitter in the dockyard city, and Mary Cater. Attending Plymouth Grammar School he came under the influence of Headmaster Dr. John Bidlake who encouraged the young Prout and Benjamin Robert Haydon in their artistic apprenticeship. They spent whole summer days drawing the quiet cottages, rustic bridges and romantic watermills of the beautiful valleys of Devon. With John Britton, he made a journey through Cornwall to try his hand in furnishing sketches for Britton’s Beauties of England. In 1803 he moved to London, where he stayed until 1812. Marrying Elizabeth Gillespie in 1810, they had four children; Rebecca Elizabeth (b. 1813), Elizabeth Delsey (b. 1817), Isabella Anne (b. 1820), and Samuel Gllespie (b. 1822).

In London, Prout saw new possibilities, and endeavoured to correct and improve his style by studying the works of the rising school of landscape. To earn a living, he painted marine pieces for Palser the printseller, took students, and published drawing books for learners. He was one of the first to use lithography.

It was not however until about 1818 that Prout discovered his niche. Happening time to make his first visit to the Continent, and to study the quaint streets and market-places of continental cities, he suddenly found himself in a new and enchanting province of art. His eye caught the picturesque features of the architecture, and his hand recorded them with skill. The composition of his drawings was exquisitely natural; their colour exhibited “the truest and happiest association in sun and shade”; the picturesque remnants of ancient architecture were rendered with the happiest breadth and largeness, with the heartiest perception and enjoyment of their time-worn ruggedness; and the solemnity of great cathedrals was brought out with striking effect.

He established his reputation with these street scenes, and gained praise from his erstwhile student John Ruskin. Until Prout, says Ruskin, excessive and clumsy artificiality characterized the picturesque: what ruins early artists drew “looked as if broken down on purpose; what weeds they put on seemed put on for ornament”. To Prout, therefore, goes credit for the creation of the essential characteristics lacking in earlier art, in particular “that feeling which results from the influence, among the noble lines of architecture, of the rent and the rust, the fissure, the lichen, and the weed, and from the writings upon the pages of ancient walls of the confused hieroglyphics of human history”. Prout, in other words, does not unfeelingly depict signs of age and decay chiefly for the sake of interesting textures, but rather employs these textures and other characteristics of the picturesque to create deeply felt impressions of age nobly endured. Whilst often compared, neither Turner nor Prout were vulgar artists, and while Turner concentrated upon the infinite beauties of nature, Prout, more interested by the cityscape.

Prout was appointed the coveted title of ‘Painter in Water-Colours in Ordinary’ to King George IV in 1829, and afterwards to Queen Victoria.

At the time of his death there was hardly a place in France, Germany, Italy (especially Venice) or the Netherlands where his face had not been seen searching for antique gables and sculptured pieces of stone. He died after a stroke at his home, 5 De Crespigny Terrace, Denmark Hill, London and was buried at West Norwood Cemetery.

A large quantity of his original sketchbooks, lithographs, account books, letters and family materials are held at the North Devon Athenaeum, Barnstaple, Devon. The collection was sold at auction in 2010, and much was acquired by Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery, adding to its existing holdings of his work.
Samuel Gillespie Prout followed in his father’s footsteps by also painting watercolours. Another member of the family, John Skinner Prout made a career for himself painting and writing books in Tasmania.

Writing:

  • Picturesque Delineations in the Counties of Devon and Cornwall T. Palser, London 1812.
  • Prout’s Village Scenery T. Palser, London 1813.
  • Rudiments of Landscape in Progressive Studies (R. Ackermann London, 1813)
  • Picturesque Studies of Cottages R. Ackermann 1816
  • Sketches of the Thames Estuary T Palser London 1817
  • Marine Sketches Rowney & Forster, London 1820.
  • Picturesque Buildings in Normandy Rodwell and Martin, London 1821.
  • Views in the North of England R. Ackermann 1821.
  • Studies from Nature Rodwell & Martin London 1823
  • Illustrations of the Rhine J. Dickinson 1824.
  • Views in Germany J. Dickinson 1826.
  • Interior and Exteriors Ackermann & Co 1834
  • Hints on Light and ShadowAckermann & Co 1838
  • Prout’s Microcosm Tilt & Bogue, London 1841.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Charles Landseer
Charles Landseer

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Charles Landseer

Charles Landseer was born in London on 12 August 1799, the second son of the engraver John Landseer, and the elder brother of the animal painter, Sir Edwin Landseer. He trained under his father, and the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon. He was awarded the silver palette of the Royal Society of Arts for a drawing of Laocoon in 1815, and in 1816 he entered the Royal Academy Schools where he was taught by Henry Fuseli.

In 1823 he accompanied Sir Charles Stuart de Rothesay on a diplomatic mission to Portugal and Brazil. Many of the drawings he made on the journey were shown at the British Institution in 1828.

He became an associate in of the Royal Academy in 1837, and a full academician in 1845. In 1851, he was appointed Keeper of the Royal Academy, a post requiring him to teach in the “Antique School”. He remained in the position until 1873.

Most of his pictures were of subjects from British history, or from literature. He paid close attention to the historical accuracy of the accessories and details in his paintings. His works included The Meeting of Charles I. and his Adherents before the Battle of Edgehill, Clarissa Harlowe in the Prison Room of the Sheriff’s Office (1833, now in the collection of the Tate Gallery), The Pillaging of a Jew’s House in the Reign of Richard I (1839, Tate Gallery) and The Temptation of Andrew Marvel (1841).

He died in London on 22 July 1879, leaving 10,000 guineas to the Royal Academy to fund scholarships.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

William Seguier
9 November 1772 – 5 November 1843

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William Seguier

William Seguier was born in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, the descendant of French Huguenot refugees.

Many of his relatives were involved in the arts on a professional level, from his father David, a picture dealer, to his uncle on the paternal side, the sculptor Peter Seguier.

Initially Seguier worked as an artist; he may have been taught by George Morland and perhaps even William Blake. However, his marriage to Anne Magdalene Clowden (a fellow Huguenot), gave him the independent means to establish a dealership, and he largely gave up painting thereafter. The business, in which his brother also worked, also offered picture-cleaning and restoring services, a useful way of getting to know collectors.

From 1806, when Lord Grosvenor consulted him on the purchase of the Agar collection, Seguier’s clientele became ever more aristocratic and well-connected, including such names as Sir George Beaumont, Sir Abraham Hume, Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington.

Beaumont and Grosvenor were also members of a group of connoisseurs and artists (including David Wilkie and Benjamin Haydon) that called itself “the clique”, to which Seguier was admitted. Through such connections as these, the opportunistic Seguier secured a number of high-ranking official positions, beginning in 1805 with his appointment as Superintendent of the newly formed British Institution. This was followed in 1820 with the post of Surveyor of the King’s Pictures, and upon the foundation of the National Gallery in 1824 he was appointed its Keeper.

The Superintendent was responsible for organizing and hanging the shows at the British Institution, a role that inevitably gave rise to grumbling and worse from artists – at the Royal Academy a committee was responsible for the hang, which allowed someone else to be blamed, but Seguier had no such opportunity to share the blame. In 1833 John Constable wrote with heavy irony of having received a visit in his studio from “a much greater man than the King—the Duke of Bedford—Lord Westminster—Lord Egremont, or the President of the Royal Academy — “MR SEGUIER”.” When in 1832 two pictures by Richard Parkes Bonington, who had been dead only four years, were included in an “Old Masters” exhibition, Constable (who was twenty-six years older than Bonington) wrote that Seguier was “carrying on a Humbugg”.

Seguier held these three positions until his death in 1843; his brother succeeded him at the British Institution. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Sir David Wilkie
18 November 1785 – 1 June 1841

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David Wilkie

(Note that while I have seen Wilkie’s painting in museums and have seen reproductions, I have a friend who had an original in her home—and that was wonderful! —DWW)

Sir David Wilkie was the son of the parish minister of Cults in Fife. He developed a love for art at an early age. In 1799, after he had attended school at Pitlessie, KingsKettle and Cupar, his father reluctantly agreed to his becoming a painter. Through the influence of the Earl of Leven Wilkie was admitted to the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh, and began the study of art under John Graham. From William Allan (afterwards Sir William Allan and president of the Royal Scottish Academy) and John Burnet, the engraver of Wilkie’s works, we have an interesting account of his early studies, of his indomitable perseverance and power of close application, of his habit of haunting fairs and marketplaces, and transferring to his sketchbook all that struck him as characteristic and telling in figure or incident, and of his admiration for the works of Alexander Carse and David Allan, two Scottish painters of scenes from humble life. Among his pictures of this period might be mentioned a subject from Macbeth, Ceres in Search of Proserpine, and Diana and Calisto, which in 1803 gained a premium of ten guineas at the Trustees’ Academy, while his pencil portraits of himself and his mother, dated that year, prove that Wilkie had already attained considerable certainty of touch and power of rendering character. A scene from Allan Ramsay, and a sketch from Hector Macneill’s ballad Scotland’s Skaith, afterwards developed into the well-known Village Politicians, were the first subjects in which his true artistic individuality began to assert itself.

In 1804, Wilkie left the Trustees’ Academy and returned to Cults. He established himself in the manse there, and began his first important subject-picture, Pitlessie Fair (illustration), which includes about 140 figures, and in which he introduced portraits of his neighbours and of several members of his family circle. In addition to this elaborate figure-piece, Wilkie was much employed at the time upon portraits, both at home and in Kinghorn, St Andrews and Aberdeen. In the spring of 1805 he left Scotland for London, carrying with him his Bounty-Money, or the Village Recruit, which he soon disposed of for £6, and began to study in the schools of the Royal Academy. One of his first patrons in London was Robert Stodart, a pianoforte maker, a distant connection of the Wilkie family, who commissioned his portrait and other works and introduced the young artist to the dowager-countess of Mansfield. This lady’s son was the purchaser of the Village Politicians, which attracted great attention when it was exhibited in the Royal Academy of 1806, where it was followed in the succeeding year by The Blind Fiddler, a commission from the painter’s lifelong friend Sir George Beaumont.

Wilkie now turned to historical art, and painted his Alfred in the Neatherd’s Cottage, for the gallery illustrative of English history which was being formed by Alexander Davison. After its completion he returned to genre-painting, producing the Card-Players and the admirable picture of the Rent Day which was composed during recovery from a fever contracted in 1807 while on a visit to his native village. His next great work was the Ale-House Door, afterwards entitled The Village Festival (now in the National Gallery), which was purchased by John Julius Angerstein for 800 guineas. It was followed in 1813 by the well-known Blind Man’s Buff, a commission from the Prince Regent, to which a companion picture, the Penny Wedding, was added in 1818.

Meanwhile, Wilkie’s eminent success in art had been rewarded by professional honours. In November 1809 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, when he had hardly attained the age prescribed by its laws, and in February 1811 he became a full Academician. In 1812 he opened an exhibition of his collected works in Pall Mall, but the experiment was unsuccessful, entailing pecuniary loss upon the artist.

In 1814 he executed the Letter of Introduction, one of the most delicately finished and perfect of his cabinet pictures. In the same year he made his first visit to the continent, and in Paris entered upon a profitable and delighted study of the works of art collected in the Louvre. Interesting particulars of the time are preserved in his own matter-of-fact diary, and in the more sprightly and flowing pages of the journal of Benjamin Haydon, his fellow traveller and brother Cedomir. On his return he began Distraining for Rent, one of the most popular and dramatic of his works. In 1816 he made a tour through Holland and Belgium in company with Raimbach, the engraver of many of his paintings. The Sir Walter Scott and his Family, a cabinet-sized picture with small full-length figures in the dress of Scottish peasants, was the result of a visit to Abbotsford in 1818. Reading the Will, a commission from the king of Bavaria, now in the New Pinakothek at Munich, was completed in 1820; and two years later the great picture of The Chelsea Pensioners reading the Waterloo Dispatch, commissioned by the Duke of Wellington in 1816, at a cost of 1200 guineas, was exhibited at the Royal Academy.

In 1822 Wilkie visited Edinburgh, in order to select from the Visit of King George IV to Scotland a fitting subject for a picture. The Reception of the King at the Entrance of Holyrood Palace was the incident ultimately chosen; and in the following year, when the artist, upon the death of Raeburn, had been appointed Royal Limner for Scotland, he received sittings from the monarch, and began to work diligently upon the subject. But several years elapsed before its completion; for, like all such ceremonial works, it proved a harassing commission, uncongenial to the painter while in progress and unsatisfactory when finished. His health suffered from the strain to which he was subjected, and his condition was aggravated by heavy domestic trials and responsibilities.

In 1825 he sought relief in foreign travel: after visiting Paris, he went to Italy, where, in Rome, he received the news of fresh disasters through the failure of his publishers. A residence at Toplitz and Carlsbad was tried in 1826, with little good result, and then Wilkie returned to Italy, to Venice and Florence. The summer of 1827 was spent in Geneva, where he had sufficiently recovered to paint his Princess Doria Washing the Pilgrims’ Feet, a work which, like several small pictures executed in Rome, was strongly influenced by the Italian art by which the painter had been surrounded. In October he passed into Spain, whence he returned to England in June 1828.

It is impossible to overestimate the influence upon Wilkie’s art of these three years of foreign travel. It amounts to nothing short of a complete change of style. Up to the period of his leaving England he had been mainly influenced by the Dutch genre-painters, whose technique he had carefully studied, whose works he frequently kept beside him in his studio for reference as he painted, and whose method he applied to the rendering of those scenes of English and Scottish life of which he was so close and faithful an observer. Teniers, in particular, appears to have been his chief master; and in his earlier productions we find the sharp, precise, spirited touch, the rather subdued colouring, and the clear, silvery grey tone which distinguish this master; while in his subjects of a slightly later period – those, such as the Chelsea Pensioners, the Highland Whisky Still and the Rabbit on the Wall, executed in what Burnet styles his second manner, which, however, may be regarded as only the development and maturity of his first – he begins to unite to the qualities of Teniers that greater richness and fulness of effect which are characteristic of Ostade. But now he experienced the spell of the Italian masters, and of Diego Velázquez and the great Spaniards.

In the works which Wilkie produced in his final period he exchanged the detailed handling, the delicate finish and the reticent hues of his earlier works for a style distinguished by breadth of touch, largeness of effect, richness of tone and full force of melting and powerful colour. His subjects, too, were no longer the homely things of the genre-painter: with his broader method he attempted the portrayal of scenes from history, suggested for the most part by the associations of his foreign travel. His change of style and change of subject were severely criticized at the time; to some extent he lost his hold upon the public, who regretted the familiar subjects and the interest and pathos of his earlier productions, and were less ready to follow him into the historic scenes towards which this final phase of his art sought to lead them. The popular verdict had in it a basis of truth: Wilkie was indeed greatest as a genre-painter. But on technical grounds his change of style was criticized with undue severity. While his later works are admittedly more frequently faulty in form and draftsmanship than those of his earlier period, some of them at least (The Bride at her Toilet, 1838, for instance) show a true gain and development in power of handling, and in mastery over complex and forcible colour harmonies. Most of Wilkie’s foreign subjects – the Pifferari, Princess Doria, the Maid of Saragossa, the Spanish Podado, a Guerilla Council of War, the Guerilla Taking Leave of his Family and the Guerilla’s Return to his Family – passed into the English royal collection; but the dramatic Two Spanish Monks of Toledo, also entitled the Confessor Confessing, became the property of the marquis of Lansdowne. On his return to England Wilkie completed the Reception of the King at the Entrance of Holyrood Palace – a curious example of a union of his earlier and later styles, a “mixture” which was very justly pronounced by Haydon to be “like oil and water”. His Preaching of John Knox before the Lords of the Congregation had also been begun before he left for abroad; but it was painted throughout in the later style, and consequently presents a more satisfactory unity and harmony of treatment and handling. It was one of the most successful pictures of the artist’s later period.

In the beginning of 1830 Wilkie was appointed to succeed Sir Thomas Lawrence as painter in ordinary to the king, and in 1836 he received the honour of knighthood. The main figure-pictures which occupied him until the end were Columbus in the Convent at La Rabida (1835); Napoleon and Pius VII at Fontainebleau (1836); Empress Josephine and the Fortune-Teller (1837); Queen Victoria Presiding at her First Council (exhibited 1838); and General Sir David Baird Discovering the Body of Sultan Tippoo Sahib (completed 1839). His time was also much occupied with portraiture, many of his works of this class being royal commissions. His portraits are pictorial and excellent in general distribution, but the faces are frequently wanting in drawing and character. He seldom succeeded in showing his sitters at their best, and his female portraits, in particular, rarely gave satisfaction. A favourable example of his cabinet-sized portraits is that of Sir Robert Listen; his likeness of W. Esdaile is an admirable three-quarter length; and one of his finest full-lengths is the gallery portrait of Lord Kellie, in the town hall of Cupar.

In the autumn of 1840 Wilkie resolved on a voyage to the East. Passing through Holland and Germany, he reached Constantinople, where, while detained by the war in Syria, he painted a portrait of the young sultan. He then sailed for Smyrna and travelled to Jerusalem, where he remained for some five busy weeks. The last work of all upon which he was engaged was a portrait of Mehemet Ali, done at Alexandria. On his return voyage he suffered from an attack of illness at Malta, and remained ill for the remainder of the journey to Gibraltar, eventually dying at sea off Gibraltar, en route to Britain, on the morning of 1 June 1841. His body was consigned to the deep in the Bay of Gibraltar. Wilkie’s death was commemorated by the English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner in the oil painting titled Peace -Burial at Sea.

An elaborate Life of Sir David Wilkie, by Allan Cunningham, containing the painter’s journals and his observant and well-considered “Critical Remarks on Works of Art”, was published in 1843. Redgrave’s Century of Painters of the English School and John Burnet’s Practical Essays on the Fine Arts may also be referred to for a critical estimate of his works. A list of the exceptionally numerous and excellent engravings from his pictures will be found in the Art Union Journal for January 1840. Apart from his skill as a painter Wilkie was an admirable etcher. The best of his plates, such as the Gentleman at his Desk (Laing, VII), the Pope examining a Censer (Laing, VIII), and the Seat of Hands (Laing, IV), are worthy to rank with the work of the greatest figure-etchers. During his lifetime he issued a portfolio of seven plates, and in 1875 David Laing catalogued and published the complete series of his etchings and dry-points, supplying the place of a few copper-plates that had been lost by reproductions, in his Etchings of David Wilkie and Andrew Geddes.

Wilkie stood as godfather to the son of his fellow Academician William Collins. The boy was named after both men, and achieved fame as the novelist Wilkie Collins.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Benjamin Robert Haydon
26 January 1786 – 22 June 1846

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Benjamin Robert Haydon

Benjamin Robert Haydon was born in Plymouth, the only son of another Benjamin Robert Haydon, a prosperous printer, stationer and publisher, and his wife Mary, the daughter of the Rev. Benjamin Cobley, rector of Dodbrooke, near Kingsbridge, Devon. At an early age he showed an aptitude for study, which was carefully fostered by his mother. At the age of six he was placed in Plymouth grammar school, and at twelve in Plympton Grammar School, where Sir Joshua Reynolds had received most of his education. On the ceiling of the school-room was a sketch by Reynolds in burnt cork, which Haydon loved to sit and look at. Reading Albinus inspired him with a love for anatomy, and from childhood he wanted to become a painter.

Full of energy and hope, he left home, on 14 May 1804, for London, where he entered the Royal Academy Schools. He was so enthusiastic that Henry Fuseli asked when he found time to eat. In 1807, at the age of 21, Haydon exhibited, for the first time, at the Royal Academy. The painting he entered, The Repose in Egypt, was bought by Thomas Hope a year later for the Egyptian Room at his townhouse in Duchess Street. This was a good start for the Haydon, who shortly afterwards received a commission from Lord Mulgrave and an introduction to Sir George Beaumont. In 1809 he finished his picture of Dentatus, which, though it increased his fame, resulted in a lifelong quarrel with the Royal Academy, whose committee hung it in a small side-room instead of the in great hall. That same year, he took on his first pupil, Charles Lock Eastlake, later a leading figure in the British art establishment.

The financial difficulties which were to dog him for the rest of his life began in 1810 when, in response to Haydon having achieved a certain amount of commercial success, his father stopped paying him his annual allowance of £200. He also became involved in disputes with Beaumont, for whom he had painted a picture of Macbeth, and with Richard Payne Knight, who had outraged Haydon by denying both the aesthetic and the financial value of the sculptures from the Parthenon, recently brought to Britain by Lord Elgin. Haydon was fascinated by the “Elgin Marbles”, and believed that they provided evidence that ancient Greek artists had studied anatomy. The Judgment of Solomon, his next production, was sold for £700, to two Plymouth bankers, and also brought £100 voted to him by the directors of the British Institution, and the freedom of the borough of Plymouth. The income was not enough to pay off all his debts, but it maintained his credit, allowing him to continue borrowing.

At the end of May 1814 he took advantage of the cessation of hostilities with France to visit Paris with his friend David Wilkie, and see the art collections gathered by Napoleon from across Europe at the Louvre. Much of what he saw there disappointed him: he described Raphael’s Transfiguration, a painting he had particularly wanted to see, as “small & insignificant”. At François Gerard’s studio he saw a portrait of Napoleon, and began to develop a fascination with the defeated French leader, although, unlike some of his more radical friends such as William Hazlitt, Haydon never admired him politically.

On returning to England, he produced Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, which was later to form the nucleus of the American Gallery of Painting, erected by his cousin, John Haviland of Philadelphia. While painting another large work, the Resurrection of Lazarus, his financial problems increased, and he was arrested but not imprisoned, the sheriff-officer taking his word for his appearance. In October, 1821, he increased his commitments when he married Mary Hyman, a widow with two young children, whom he had known for some years. In 1823 Haydon spent two months imprisoned for debt in the King’s Bench Prison, where he received consoling letters from leading men of the day. While there, he drew up a petition to Parliament in favour of the appointment of “a committee to inquire into the state of encouragement of historical painting”, which was presented by Lord Brougham.

During 1825, following an agreement for his financial support with his lawyer, Thomas Kearsey, Haydon turned, rather unwillingly, to portrait painting, and at first he had considerable success. His works in the genre were, however, attacked in a savage review in Theodore Hook’s weekly newspaper John Bull. Haydon later blamed the article for his loss of clientele, and falling back into unmanageable levels of debt. Following a second period of incarceration at the King’s Bench Prison in 1827, he painted the Mock Election inspired by an incident he had witnessed there. The picture was bought by King George IV for £500. Encouraged by this success, he painted a companion picture, Chairing the Member, returning to the prison to make drawings of some of the inmates. A third painting of contemporary life showed the audience at a Punch and Judy show in the New Road at Marylebone. His hopes that the king would buy this work were disappointed, a setback he blamed on the actions of the Keeper of the King’s Pictures, William Seguier.

Among Haydon’s other pictures were: Eucles (1829); Napoleon at St Helena, for Sir Robert Peel; Xenophon, on his Retreat with the ‘Ten Thousand,’ first seeing the Sea; and Waiting for the Times, purchased by the Marquis of Stafford (all 1831); and Falstaff and Achilles playing the Lyre (1832). Curtius Leaping into the Gulf, and Uriel and Satan. (1843) As a supporter of parliamentary reform, he had the idea of painting a grand canvas of a meeting on Newhall Hill, addressed by Thomas Attwood, leader of the Birmingham Political Union. Attempts to raise subscriptions to fund the painting failed, and only sketches were ever made, but Haydon did receive a commission from the new Whig prime minister, Lord Grey, for a picture of the Reform Banquet held at the Guildhall. Completed In 1834, the painting contained 597 individual portraits. He also made a painting of the Meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Haydon became well known as a lecturer on painting, and from 1835 onwards travelled throughout England and Scotland on lecture tours. He campaigned to have the country’s public buildings decorated with history paintings showing the glories of the nation’s past, and within three days of the destruction of the Palace of Westminster by fire in 1834 he visited the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, in order to impress on him the importance of government patronage of art, especially in relation to the opportunities offered by the rebuilding made necessary by the disaster. Although a scheme along the lines of his suggestions was in fact carried out at the new Houses of Parliament, Haydon played no part in it. When, in 1843, an exhibition was held at Westminster Hall, to choose designs for paintings to decorate the Houses of Parliament. he submitted two cartoons, The Curse of Adam and Edward the Black Prince, but the commission charged with artists to carry out the work (which including his former pupil, Eastlake) found neither suitable.

He then painted The Banishment of Aristides, which was exhibited, along with other works, at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, where he had hired a gallery several times over the years. The American dwarf General Tom Thumb was then appearing at the same venue; over the Easter week 12,000 people paid to see him, while only 133 visited Haydon’s exhibition.

The artist’s difficulties increased to such an extent that, whilst employed on his last grand effort, Alfred and the Trial by Jury, overcome by debts of over £3,000, disappointment, and ingratitude, he wrote “Stretch me no longer on this rough world,” and attempted suicide by shooting himself. The bullet failed to kill him, and he finished the task by cutting his throat. He left a widow and three surviving children, who were generously supported by Haydon’s friends, including Sir Robert Peel, the Count d’Orsay, Thomas Talfourd, and Lord Carlisle. A resident of Paddington, he was buried just to the north-west of the grave of Sarah Siddons at St Mary’s Church, Paddington, London. The cemetery was converted to a park, St Mary’s Gardens, in 1885. Haydon’s is one of the few preserved stones. It is modest and eroded but his name is still (2014) just legible.

In 1839 Haydon began work on an autobiography, drawing on materials from his extensive diaries. Before his death he had completed the story of his life up to the year 1820. It was published in three volumes in 1853, edited by Tom Taylor, with additional material from the diaries, under the title Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon, Historical Painter, from his Autobiography and Journals.

The autobiography was assessed by the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition this way:

Haydon’s autobiography is one of the most natural books ever written, full of various and abundant power, and fascinating to the reader. His love for his art was both a passion and a principle. He found patrons difficult to manage; and did not have the tact to lead them gently. He failed, abused patrons and patronage, and intermingled talk of the noblest independence with acts not always dignified. He was self-willed to perversity, but his perseverance was such as is seldom associated with so much vehemence and passion. He had confidence in his own powers and in the ultimate triumph of art. He proclaimed himself the apostle and martyr of high art, and believed himself to have a claim on the sympathy and support of the nation.

Readers of his autobiography were struck by the frequency and fervour of the short prayers interspersed throughout the work. Haydon had an overwhelming sense of a personal, overruling and merciful providence, which influenced his relations with his family, and to some extent with the world. He had many enemies, actuated by motives as unworthy as his own were always high-pitched and on abstract grounds laudable.

Haydon’s Lectures, published shortly after their delivery, showed that he was as bold a writer as painter. He also wrote the long and elaborate article on “Painting,” in the 7th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Charles Dickens wrote in 1846 that “All his life [Haydon] had utterly mistaken his vocation. No amount of sympathy with him and sorrow for him in his manly pursuit of a wrong idea for so many years — until, by dint of his perseverance and courage it almost began to seem a right one — ought to prevent one from saying that he most unquestionably was a very bad painter, and that his pictures could not be expected to sell or to succeed.”

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