Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Scottish School of Painting
Chapter XI. Duncan, Harvey, R. S. Lauder

With the consolidation of the Scottish Academy a new group of painters begins to attract attention. Their birth-dates range from 1803 to 1804. Two of these, Grant and Macnee, have been considered amongst the successors of Raeburn. Robert Scott Lauder, George Harvey, Thomas Duncan, William Dyce, and David Scott, figure-painters, with Macculloch and Crawford, landscapists, complete the group. Of the former, Duncan and Harvey best ally themselves with Wilkie and Allan. In certain aspects of their work the two painters just named may be bracketed with Robert Lauder, for they were all three more or less affected by the writings of Scott. That influence was world wide, but, naturally, in many of its aspects it appealed specially to his countrymen. In its romance, its picturesqueness, and its portrayal of character, its effect on Scottish painting was almost immediate. Wilkie and Allan, it is true, in their pictures from Scottish history kept mostly by the chroniclers and historians, even where the subjects had been touched by the wand of the magician, but the rising generation of painters realised the mine of wealth Sir Walter had bequeathed to them, and in such works as Prince Charles Edward and the Highlanders entering Edinburgh after the Battle of Preston and Prince

Charles Edward asleep in a Cave, by Duncan ; The Trial of Effie Deans and The Bride of Lammermoor, by Lauder, one has proof of it. With Harvey the influence though not so obvious is no less real, for not only are his Battle of Drumclog and other Covenanting scenes redolent of the word-painting of “Old Mortality,” but the more intimate national character he infuses into those incidents and pastimes of Scottish life he loved to paint must be largely due to one who did more than any other to awaken and preserve that sentiment. Another influence in which his brother artists hardly share makes itself felt in Harvey’s more serious work, the religious, or it might be more correct to say, the ecclesiastical movements of the time. Though not a member of the national Church, he was a keen sympathiser with the spirit which had been long at work over the length and breadth of Scotland, and which culminated in the Disruption of 1843. That movement was, in the main, a reaction from the moderatism of the eighteenth to the more evangelical tenets of the preceding century. Naturally, this was accompanied by a tendency to sublimate the deeds of those who in the “killing times” defied the arm of the civil magistrate, and often sealed their testimony with their blood. The enthusiasm of the later had a good deal in common with that of the earlier time : hence the impassioned periods of contemporary orators and writers, and those sympathetic renderings of the conventicles and communions of the Covenanters by the painter of the hardly less striking incidents of 1843.

Though portraits predominate during Duncan’s short professional career, it is evident from the beginning that he is a subject painter in a different sense altogether from Watson Gordon, Graham Gilbert and Macnee, who interspersed their portraiture with figure-subjects in about the same proportion. Duncan regards it merely as a means to an end, the end being the working out of the elaborate figure-compositions with which his name is associated. The fact that, of the subjects he contributed to Scottish exhibitions, eleven, and these by far the most important, were inspired by the writings of the author of “Waverley,” is sufficient proof of the influence dwelt on above. The earliest of his pictures known to the writer—the finished sketch for Jeanie Deans and the Robbers, exhibited in 1831—is unfortunately so badly gone that it is impossible to say much about it. The next, of six years later date, Anne Page inviting Slender to Dinner, is finely representative of the artist, and forms one of the attractions of the National Collection. He has escaped for a moment from Scott. The subject, painted on a panel 54 x 42 inches, upright, is from the opening scene of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Mistress Anne leans on the balustrade of an outside stair to invite the would-be reluctant Slender, who grimaces at her from below, whilst from an open window Falstaff and one of his boon companions make merry at the interview. A liver-and-white dog snuffs at Slender from the steps, and behind, a boy approaches with materials for the feast. The lady wears a low-cut bodice with loose sleeves of flowered plum-colour, a full yellow skirt and coquettish little hat. Slender is gorgeously arrayed in a dark green sleeved doublet, with cherry tights; a round feathered cap sits jauntily on his head and a white fluted ruff encircles his neck. His right hand holds up gingerly the skirt of his cloak, as if better to show its richly-patterned folds. The characterisation in both heads is delightful. The humour of the immortal comedy is there, without being over-emphasised, either in facial expression or in the action and gesture which accompany it. In technique also the picture shows Duncan at his best, and it is eminently characteristic of his palette. The flesh painting in the two principal figures is closely wrought and highly finished, perhaps a trifle over much so in the charming features and bust of Mrs. Anne; in the shadowed faces of Falstaff and his companion a looser treatment is adopted, a manner approximating and tending to assimilate them with the background, of which indeed, they form part, With most colourists there is a predilection for certain combinations which give a personal note to their gift. Duncan delights in varieties of rnaroon, cherry, and puce, and in harmonising or contrasting such with olives, ruddy browns, or a full note of yellow. Green he uses in a modified way, blue he avoids. So that his pictures, on the whole, are in a warm key. The cooler tones in which blue is usually so large a factor, are furnished by the more neutral shades of the plum-colours and greens of his draperies. An analysis of the picture under consideration shows everywhere these combinations and contrasts. The technique of costume and accessories is typical of Scottish figure-painting of the period. Glazings and scumblings are much in evidence, the breadths of shadow are fine in surface and of transparent or semitransparent material. But Duncan does not shirk the impasto where it can be used with effect; the yellow skirt is painted with a full brush, at once light-handed, crisp, and fluent, expressing perfectly the quality of the brocaded fabric. The looser handling of the background, the glimpse of sky and its reflected sheen on the smooth woodwork of the stair and the glass of the open casement are all skilfully used to give an appropriate setting to the scene and variety to the arrangement.

The following year, 1838, the artist reverts to Sir Walter in scenes from “Ivanhoe” and “The Heart of Midlothian,” and, after an interval of portraiture, there comes the first of his two illustrations of the ’45. Neither is taken directly from Scott, but they are none the less inspired by the writer who invested that tale of “sixty years since” with an abiding interest. The pictures express severally the short lived triumph and the lowest ebb of the last warlike venture of the Stuarts. In the first, the young Prince, fresh from the success of Preston, and attended by the Duke of Perth and Lord George Murray, rides at the head of his Highlanders through a mingled throne of enthusiastic supporters and secret enemies towards Holyrood. In the other he is seen a hunted fugitive, worn by weeks of wandering and hair’s-breadth escapes, stretched asleep in a mountain cave, the watchful Flora and his trusted Highlanders keeping guard by his side. The cave and its inmates are weirdly lit by the flickering faggots in the foreground. A sudden alarm of some passing stag has startled the watchers; and their alert yet cautious action, contrasted with the peaceful slumbers of the central figure, gives dramatic interest to the scene. In the earlier picture, where the figures are on a smaller scale, the colour-scheme is in consonance with the occasion. White satins and the gaiety of the royal tartan are conspicuous. But its peculiar charm is the dainty delineation of character in the male, and of beauty in the female groups, which perpetuate the features of many of the artist’s friends and contemporaries. In the other a deeper and richer note has been struck. It was the product of his last years, and allies itself technically with the portrait of himself painted at the same time. 111656 two pictures were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840 and 1843 respectively, with the result that id 1844 Duncan was elected an associate. In 1845 the portrait of himself appeared at the Royal Academy as by “the late Thomas Duncan.”

The only subject-pictures of note which followed Prince Charles in the Cave were The Martyrdom of John Brown of Priesthill, and Cupid. Both are fine works. In the former he touches on the sphere of Harvey, whilst in the latter he essays the field of fancy associated with William Etty and David Scott. In the Cupid there is, over and above the qualities found in the pictures already considered, a decorative colour-scheme united with a largeness and beauty of design which augured great things for the future. Alas ! with the flight of the Love-god the spirit of Thomas Duncan took its departure. He left on the easel an unfinished sketch for what, to judge from a calotype in the possession of the writer, would have been an advance on anything he had accomplished, George Wishart dispensing the Sacrament in the Cagtle of St. Andrews.

Duncan has only further to be considered as a painter of portraits. During his earlier years these are of indifferent quality. Even in 1837-8, when he had already painted the Anne Page, his bust portrait of Lady Stuart of A Ranbank + is far from satisfactory; having neither the individual character, nor even the qualities of execution one would have expected from the painter of the Shakepearean picture. But in this department also Duncan was capable of high achievement. The small head of Mrs. Morris, and Mrs. Charles Finlay and Child, show his capacity in the direction of female portraiture, whilst in the three-quarter length of himself the artist may be said, by a supreme effort, to have placed himself in line with the masters just before the final darkness came.

The Mrs. Morris, from its small dimensions—the panel is only 11 X 8 inches—allies itself with the figure-work of his later period. It shows the artist at his best, if one may speak so of a work where a colourist has restricted himself to black and white. In Mrs. Charles Finlay and Child, a three-quarter length of the size of life, Duncan is himself again, revelling in colour. The beautiful features, partly shadowed, the light brown hair in side curls and back knot, no less than the costnme, recall the early portraits of Queen Victoria by Wilkie and Hayter. Her figure shadows the child, whose face nevertheless glows with reflected light; and these varied breadths of flesh with their softly modulated surfaces are skilfully wrought into a general scheme of crimson and russet and ruddy brown, which opposes itself to the vivacious brushwork and sharply accented folds of the lady’s dress, and to the softer whites of that of her daughter.

But it is from the three-quarter length of himself f that one can best judge of what Duncan might have accomplished in portraiture. Placed betwixt Gainsborough’s Mrs. Graham and Raeburn’s Mrs. Hamilton, with three of the finest male portraits of the Scottish master over against it, it yields little to any of them as a work of art, and nothing to the latter as an example of virile portraiture. The scheme is one of deep olives, in which the massive head and the right hand laid by cheek and chin tell with extraordinary force. Of secondary lights, in the conventional sense there are none; only the mysterious sheen, more or less felt, on the various fabrics, the cherry lining of the coat lapel and one or two wanner tones on the lower part of the canvas, give variety and the feeling of space and atmophere. Duncan is seen full front. The lighting is that so much affected by Raeburn, but the result is less conventional. The modelling is more searching and the surface more finely felt through all its variations of tone, though the flesh lacks something of the spontaneity of the earlier master’s technique. A shadowy aureole of wavy brown hair, accented by light hatching, interposes betwixt the strongly lit brow and the background. In later times Paul Chalmers made frequent use of the same strongly illumined flesh and dark surroundings. Here, as often in the work of the more recent painter, the Rembrandtish theory is carried to the verge of a fault.

In his long series of figure-pictures Harvey illustrated Scottish life in a greater variety of its aspects than any member of the school, and in this sense, at least, he is the most truly national. In discussing the genre pictures of Wilkie, it was pointed out that after the date of The Blind Fiddler they become more or less cosmopolitan in character. His early removal to London made this inevitable, and though, now and again, on his visits to the North he made studies for such pictures as The Penny Wedding, he cannot be said to have delineated Scottish life in the way some later painters have done. In Wilkie’s time, indeed, what is now known in literature as “local colour” was hardly thought of. In so far as Scotland is concerned, the sense of it was only being awakened by the character creations of the Waverley Novels. In Nicol Jarvie, Dominie Sampson, the Deans household, and the innumerable company of lawyers, tradesmen and country lairds, the nation realised its own qualities or peculiarities, and it was mainly in this way that Scott influenced Harvey. For, though his Covenanting pictures recall some chapters in “Old Mortality,” the painter’s view differed widely from the author’s. Amongst those sufferers for conscience’ sake the artist finds no place for Balfour or Mucklewrath, much less for Mause or Cuddie. But in his pictures of contemporary Scottish life Harvey also illustrates a society discovered by the novelist.

In speaking of Harvey’s works one must j udgetoa considerable extent from the engravings, for many of them, through the injudicious use of bitumen, have perished or become the wrecks of their former selves. Fortunately a sufficient number, those of his later years especially, are in good preservation. The Covenanting and Disruption pictures appeared at intervals from the Preaching of 1829-30 till the Sabbath in the Glen, painted about thirty years later. Such works as Bunyan imagining his Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan selling tag-laces at the door of Bedford Jail, and Reading the Bible in the Crypt of St. Paul's, are kindred with them, being inspired by the same spirit. Harvey had little training; from the first indeed one feels the ardour of a contemplative and imaginative spirit trugglmg with a limited technical knowledge, gradually gathering strength and painfully evolving methods to express its conceptions. The Communion of 1840 is very far in advance of the Preaching and Baptism of ten years earlier date, and in some of his later pictures a yet farther advance is discernible. In the first two the grouping is crowded, the lighting artificial, and the breadth of the masses is injured by over insistence on a multitudinous detail. These are defects natural to a very young painter in treating subjects of great complexity. Drumclog, which stands midway between the Baptism and the Communion. has disturbing elements in its composition. The hurly-burly of the central onslaught is depicted with a spirit and gusto which the groups to right and left are very far from sustaining. In the Communion, on the contrary, all is homogeneous. The congregation seated about the grassy slopes of this lone nook amongst the hills, both by their devotional expression and attitudes and by the artistic management of the masses in which they are disposed, lead up to the central solemnity where the minister blesses the cup before passing it to the elders. He is young, though not in his first youth, the swarthy, darkhaired silhouette he presents to us, the dilated eye, and his impassioned yet restrained gesture, bespeak the ardour of a Renwick or a Cameron. Over against him stand three elders, each of unmistakable Scottish type, ready to receive the sacred symbol. A fourth passes silently behind the worshippers bearing the Holy Bread. The impressiveness of the scene is intensified by the shadowed waste of hillside which seems to enfold the little company, and to make more vivid by its contrasted gloom the central white of the Communion-table. In 1840 it is evident Harvey has found his metier.

In the same vein are the two pictures of later date dealing with the events of the Disruption period, Quitting the Manse, 1847-8, and Sabbath in the Glen, 1858-9. The former of these, so well known through the engraving, has unfortunately perished; the latter is in excellent condition. Both belong to that most valuable category of historical painting which perpetuates for us events the artist has himself seen and possibly taken part in, and which stands related to what is called historical painting as the novel of contemporary life to romance. To speak only of Sabbath in the Glen one can note at a glance that, both in spirit and treatment, it is the very analogue of The Communion. Something of the austerity begotten of persecution has lifted from these worshippers of a happier time, and there is here no sense of an impending dragonade to give its hint of tragedy to the occasion. The benevolent features and commanding form of Thomas Guthrie bear no suggestion of the setter forth of extreme doctrines, as do those of the hunted hillman of the conventicle, but one feels that should occasion arise, he could call his well conditioned and intelligent hearers to resistance and give as good a stroke in the cause as did ever Hackston or Paton for the blue banner of the Covenant. The varied grouping of the numerous company, seated or recumbent on the heathery slope, shows a finer sense of composition and a more learned subordination of details to the masses than do the earlier pictures. The character of the heads of this typically Scottish audience, intent on the words of the preacher, are admirably depicted ; whilst in yet another aspect, the unity of the landscape and figure elements, Harvey is here at his best.

Education and the national pastimes have not escaped this keen observer of his countrymen. His first two subject-pictures—The Village School and Showing the Prize —tell how early his attention had been directed to the nursery of so much that is best in Scottish life. The autocratic sway of the dominie is an indelible memory, kindly or otherwise, with country-bred Scotsmen of ante-schoolboard days; and such pictures as The School Examination, 1832, and The Schule Skailiri, 1846, call vividly to mind two of its happier aspects. In the former, a row of selected scholars, raised on a platform, are being put through their facings by the maister in presence of the minister and a mixed company of admiring parents and friends. The meantime unoccupied children on the foreground benches and in the shadowed recesses of an apartment which would shock a modem inspector, twist and wriggle and chatter, with the comfortable assurance that, for to-day at least, the tawse is a dead letter. In the later picture, now in the Scottish National Gallery, the children make for the open door with an alacrity which, according to Mr. Barrie, marks our Scottish manner of exit, not from school only, but from church. Two of the bigger boys, already outside and grinning with delight, endeavour to block the passage by closing the door. But the assault at Hougomont was a trifle to this, the pressure is irresistible, and the obstructionists may as well desist. Meantime the dominie, in long black coat and knee breeches something the worse for wear, turns from his desk near the window to examine the copy-book of a delinquent, who eyes him with appealing glance, nibbling at his quill the while. A younger red-headed urchin, with carritch in hand and tear-stained cheek, watches the exit with an air of resignation, whilst two girls at the other side of the room await, with school-bags ready, the release of one or other of the unfortunates. This is a delightful specimen of Harvey’s art from every point of view. The contrasted expressions of the elderly bewigged pedagogue and the boy whose copy he is examining, the one irritated yet patient, the other eager only for release, the wild struggle at the door, and the commiserating glance of the girl at the younger “ kept in,” whose doom seems fixed, whilst that of the other trembles in the balance ; all are touches of nature showing a keenness of observation and rendered with a sureness of touch which the artist has never surpassed.

One can only mention The Highland Funeral, 1843—4, Past and Present: Children blowing soap bells in Greyfriars Churchyard, 1849 ; and The Mountain Pool, 1863. These and others awaken the reflective faculties by their various suggestions of joy or sorrow. Nor can the delineation of our national games, The Curlers, and Village Bowlers of 1835 and 1852 respectively, be dwelt on. The former has become a classic. The animation and excitement of the “roarin’ game” have never been so depicted, and it has long been used as a frontispiece for their Annual by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

One other picture must not be so hastily dismissed, both on account of its own merits and because it marks the transition from figure to landscape painting. Sheep Shearing* was exhibited in 1860. It is in such occupations, as old as the world’s history, that one feels in a peculiar way how much man is a part of his surroundings ; and never has the immemorial sentiment been better expressed than in Harvey’s rendering of this event of the pastoral year. For “the clipping” is an event. In the sheep-farming districts of the Highlands and the Borderland the shepherds from a wide radius attend at the different functions in turn. The work is hard, but amongst our “herds” at least, there is no “deterioration of physique,” and it is carried through with a will. From early morning till dark of the long northern day, in some farm shed, or oftener by a drystone fank wall, the work goes merrily on to the clicking of shears, the bleating of assembled flocks and the collveshatignes inevitable where each shepherd is accompanied by two or three dogs. Here the gathering is on a smaller scale. The men, stripped to the shirt, with one or two attendant women, are seated in the lee of the enclosure where the sheep are penned. An older shepherd, past the more strenuous work, applies the marking iron to the flank of the latest shorn, whilst a fresh victim is hauled struggling through the gate. In the immediate foreground one of the men sharpens his shears, and between him and the main group are the embers of a fire and a collie seated by the tarpots. Only the painter’s life-long friend Dr. John Brown might have put in words the restfulness and peace of this upland idylL Suffice it to say that the component parts of the landscape, the rounded plateau where the collie sits sentinel over the next contingent of the flock, the shadowed escarpment of bare hills beyond, the blue distance, the sky of banded cirri and the thin veil of smoke rising from the embers in the foreground, adjust themselves to the figure interest with the ease and inevitableness of Nature itself. There is little positive colour, the neutral tones of the draperies are accented only by the red cap of one of the herds, and here and there a touch of blue, whilst a silvery light pervades the scene.

Harvey’s technique does not come easy to him. He was heavily handicapped by the inadequate training of his earlier years. Both in the defective drawing and in the laboured composition of the first three Covenanting subjects this can be felt. The Curlers escapes the latter part of the charge by a sort of inspiration, the former not altogether, for one or two of the principal figures, by a something of rigidity in pose and drawing, interfere with the full swing of the action. This defect is more marked in some of the subordinate groups of the Drumclog, where the figures seem to be in a kind of arrested movement. In the latter case this is largely due to over-insistence on detail, but to some extent also to want of suppleness in the drawing. The lack of breadth in the masses is due to the former cause, but both that and the rather artificial lighting of those early pictures are common to the figure-painting of the period, in which studio-lit figures were made to do duty in the open. It troubles Harvey more because, at an early age, most of his subject-pictures are complex in their composition and the scenes are enacted under plem air conditions. In those days the painting which goes by that name was still in the distant future. One or two had had a prevision of the theory of values, but even they had not thought of its application to crowded figure-subjects under the light of heaven. It says much for Harvey’s powers of observation, that with no cut-and-diy theory to help him, in his later figure pictures he so closely approximated the plem air effect. In Sabbath in the Glen, for example, the studio effect on groups and individuals has given place to the more diffused lighting with which modem painting has familiarised us. As a bit of tone, indeed, few modems have excelled the setting of the figure of the preacher against the shadowed hill beyond.

As regards colour and handling Harvey is at his best in some of the pictures of his middle period which have survived the processes he then used. The Schule Skailiri’ is a fine example of the freer brushing and fuller quality he then attained. Even in the wreck of such works as The Communion one can feel the richer glow of the more complex methods he abandoned in his later figure-work, through fear of the consequences. Comparing the last-named picture with its replica at the Mound, or The Schule Skailin\ with Sabbath in the Glen, one feels that in the later pictures the fineness of surface, which has been spoken of as a merit in contemporary Scottish painting, has been pushed to excess, especially in the latter, which has the smoothness almost of lacquer work. Unlike Duncan, Harvey makes plentiful use of blue and the cooler neutrals which give lightsomeness to colour arrangements, but they are not always very happily related with the warmth of the flesh tones or the browns of the darker shadows. Though, when at his best, a most capable craftsman, Harvey’s work touches us primarily on the emotional side, and through the interpretation he has given to so many aspects of Scottish life and sentiment.

Like Wilkie, Duncan and Harvey were native bred, and the Italian legend seemed dying a natural death. But all through the history of the craft, the spell of Southern Art has reasserted itself from time to time, and certain natures have been drawn to the old centre. During the second and third decades of the nineteenth century, and following hard on the movement initiated by Mengs and Winckel mami, the northern tide again flowed strongly Romewards. Robert Scott Lauder was amongst those who felt its current irresistible. His countrymen David Scott and William Dyce were also of the number, but their motives differed widely from his. They were mainly interested in a revival of the grand style; Lauder’s passion was colour. Neither of his fellow artists had much effect on subsequent Scottish painting. Lauder, on the other hand, from his influence on a younger generation and the peculiar way in which his art relates itself to the old and the new, is one of the most interesting personalities in the history of the school.

From the first his work shows a certain accomplishment. In a small portrait of himself as a lad of about nineteen, there is nothing of crudity, or of the gaucherie often apparent at so early a stage in the works even of those who, later, have become good technicians. The boyish face looks over the shoulder, tv la Raphael, the flesh is simply and broadly modelled, and, though there is not all the salience one could desire, the handling has that consonance with the structure of the head and sympathy with the varying consistencies of the surface which mark at once the colourist and the brushman. The same qualities can be seen in the small portraits of his friends W. L. Leitch and John Steell, of shortly later date. In various life-size family portraits painted about this time, and notably in half-lengths of his brothers James Eckford and Hem-y, young Lauder gradually attains to greater facility; whilst the qualities which distinguish him from his Scottish contemporaries—a preference for a fuller brush and a certain sumptuousness of colour—become more marked.

The influence of Scott on Robert Lauder began early, for soon after his student years he was employed along with others in the illustration of an edition of the Waverley Novels. Thereafter, for more than a quarter of a century the picturesque themes with which they abound divided his best energies with subjects from the sacred narrative. Portraiture and landscape varied his production; but his reputation rests mainly on such works as The Bride of Lammermoor, and The Tried of Effle Deans, in the one direction, and Christ teacheth Humility,J and Christ walking on the Sea, in the other. The first named appeared at the Scottish Academy in 1881. The scene is that in which the Master of Ravenswood suddenly presents himself in the family gathering assembled to witness Lucy Ashton’s espousals with Bucklaw, and the mingled tragedy and festivity of the occasion admirably suit the qualities Lauder had for some time been developing. The shadowed and richly furnished apartment, the agitated guests in rustling silks or military accoutrements, with the contrasted figures of the Master and the bride, give full scope both for the delight in costly stuffs, and for a certain gravity and dignity of arrangement which mark the artist’s finest achievements. The intermediary combinations of colour and the chiaroscuro are so disposed as to lead, on the one hand, to the bravery of white satin and lace and pearls of the unfortunate Lucy, on the other to the cloaked and sable-plumed figure of her lover, thus subserving the dramatic interest of a story which has furnished a theme for three arts. In painting it could hardly be more impressively handled than in this early essay of Robert Lauder. “The Legend of Montrose” and “Peveril of the Peak” were also laid under contribution, but his work about this time was mainly portraiture.

In the autumn of 1833 he married a daughter of Thomson of Duddingston, and shortly after the young couple crossed the Alps and made Rome their headquarters for some years. It would be interesting to know how Rome and Italy and all that he had come so far to see impressed the Scottish painter. He could scarcely have found the contemporary art to his liking. Reference has been made to the quickened European tide that had been setting southwards for fifteen or twenty years, and of all the invasions of which Rome has been the object, none have been stranger than that led by the young German painters between 1810 and 1820, and which was still a living force at the date of Lauder’s visit. A reaction from the classicism of the previous generation, the “cult of the Madonna,” of which Overbeck, Cornelius, and Schnorr were the high priests, was equally an outcome of literary and philosophic theorising. What Lessing and Winckel-rnann were to the earlier, Wackenroder and Frederick Schlegel were to the later movement. Muther, in his fascinating narrative of this period, tells of the devotion with which “the Nazarenes,” as they were nicknamed, pursued their new ideals, shunning “the paganism of St. Peter’s” and marvelling at the old Christian monuments. We know that David Scott and Dyce had affinities with the new movement, but one of Lauder’s temperament could have had little sympathy with either the art or the manner of life of the innovators. Their dinners “composed of a soup and a pudding, or some tasty vegetable, seasoned only by earnest conversation on art”; their rather selfconscious worship of “the seraphic Fiesole,” and their wanderings “at the twilight hour” on Monte Cavo, would hardly be to the liking of the somewhat dressy Scottish painter fresh from his tandem-driving on the Queensferry road. This phase of the Nazarene movement may indeed have been of earlier date, for most of them had returned to Germany before 1833; but “the young German Raphael” —Overbeck—remained, and the frescoes at the Villa Massini were still new. For the work of men who, on principle, abandoned the use of the model and painted their pictures from imagination in the seclusion of their cells “in order not to be too naturalistic,” the painter of The Bride of Lammermoor and The Trial of Effie Beans could have had little liking. The probability is that he gave both Nazarenes and classicists a wide berth. More congenial company would not be wanting, many compatriots being in Rome about this time. His old master, Wilson, would give him a hearty welcome: Macdonald, Park and Lees were kindred spirits. Scott in one of his sickly humours calls on him shortly after his arrival and notes, with an implied touch of scom, “find he has got a sitter’s chair erected and is employed painting portraits.” Poor David with his morbid broodings would scarcely prove lively company for the young couple, but others would be more sympathetic. With Gibson he was on terms of intimate friendship, and in William Simson, when he arrived a year or two later, he would have a man after his own heart. He had begun his Effie Deams before leaving Scotland, and taken it to Rome with him. On the occasion of one of Gibson’s visits to his studio, Lauder, after showing him the various works on which he had been engaged, bethought him of the roll of canvas which, it may be, he had forgotten amidst new surroundings. He unwound it for the inspection of his visitor, who, after a close examination, turned to the painter with the exclamation: “Go home and finish that, it will make your reputation.” It was hardly work for Rome, where only the “sitter’s chair” and the frequency with which it was occupied enabled him to prolong his residence, and through study of the great masters to confirm those tendencies which had drawn him southwards.

On returning to this country Lauder took up his residence in London, where he remained for twelve or thirteen years. Hardly had he settled down before he was at work on The Trial of Effie Deans. The picture appeared at the Scottish Academy in 1842. Though it has suffered somewhat from causes common to so many pictures of the period, its retains all its original impressiveness. The moment selected is that when, counsel for the defence having failed to elicit from the prisoner’s sister the statement on which the hope of acquittal depended, her father falls senseless on the floor of the courthouse. The prostrate figure of Deans, and Jeanie, who bends over him with tender solicitude, with one or two others who lend assistance, occupy the left foreground, hard by the table where the advocates conduct the prosecution and defence. To the right the prisoner at the bar wildly strives with the guards between whom she is placed, whilst from foreground to the shadowed recesses of the apartment, the crowded benches of the auditorium rise behind her. An advocate exchanges words with the counsel who has been so unexpectedly baffled, others view compassionately the affecting scene. The judges grouped about the president whisper each other on the bench, the audience is in suppressed agitation. The bar-keepers and macers alone preserve the rigid composure of office.

In choosing for his subject one of Scott’s master-scenes, Lauder set himself no light task. How often in such cases the one art fails adequately to realise the other, how often such translation only disturbs and confuses the mental vision ! Here it is otherwise; the artist has so identified himself with the word-painter that the scene is visualised, and even supplemented in those directions proper to the art of the former. Turning to its technical aspects, it can be seen at a glance that the composition is highly original. The picture is cut in half by the dark-robed figures of the two leading counsel, and it is only by the skilful use of the pervading atmosphere, and the wildly stretched arm and appealing gesture of the prisoner on the right to the judges on the left, that the breadth and dramatic unity of the whole are preserved. Thus, what might have been a fatal element is not only obviated, but skilfully made use of by the artist to give restfulness and stability to an arrangement otherwise too agitated for the dramatic intensity of the occasion. One can find here also those distinctive qualities and tendencies to which reference has been made, and which his residence in Italy had confirmed and deepened. A veiled sunlight which enters by a high window beyond the bar suffuses the apartment, and its incidence on the varied uniforms and dresses, and on the picturesque adjuncts of the law, assists admirably the painter’s predilections. This softened light falls on the yellow front of the bench, on the ermine and red of its occupants, and illumines more keenly the contours and costume of the foreground group. It adds a richer gold to the yellow coat and a glow to the features of the brown-haired young man who leans forward on the chair abo\ e Jeanie, while the pink coat of him who kneels beside her takes on a woof of amber. The girl’s naked shoulders catch the warm light, which glints on facss, wigs, and parchments of the advocates about the table, and is repeated, with lessened force, on Effie’s face and figure, as on those in the crowded benches behind her. To this arrangement of sombre shadow and mellow lights, the negative notes are furnished by the cooler shadows of wig and ermine, and by the varied shades of blue in the uniforms of the officials and the shawl on the chair in the foreground.

Unlike some of his countrymen who have gone South, Lauder, all through his London residence, continued to support strongly the exhibitions of the Scottish Academy, and his interest in the North was further kept alive by a succession of subjects from the “Waverley Novels.” “Guy Mannering,” “Ivanhoe,” “Old Mortality,” “Quentin Durward,” and “The Fair Maid of Perth” were laid under contribution. The last-named seems to have had a special attraction, furnishing no fewer than four subjects between 1842 and 1854. One—The Glee Maiden—is well known through the engraving issued by the Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland. The Fair Maid and Louise listening at the Dungeon Wall, in which the contrasted fair and dark types of the glover’s daughter and the Glee Maiden have supplied the motive, has also been reproduced.

The Scriptural subjects begin with the Ruth of 1843. It was followed two years later by Hannah presenting Samuel to Eli. and during the artist’s subsequent career the Gospel narrative increasingly attracts him. Subjects from prose and poetic literature—Bums, Byron and Tennyson in the latter—continue, but his mind is more filled with the realisation of the graver ideals embodied in Christ walking on the Sea, 1850, The Crucifixion, 1853, and on the two versions of Christ teacheth Humility, the larger and better of which is now in the Scottish National Gallery. It was exhibited in 1848. The impressive scene is imagined on the old lines, though there is something of the true costume of the East mingled with the conventional draperies of the older masters. Under a somewhat lurid evening sky our Lord and His hearers are assembled on the steps of a gateway of some Judean city, its huge buttressed walls forming a sombre background for the mixed multitude. Various shades of reverence, surprise, curiosity, and ill-concealed enmity, mark the spirit in which the divine teaching, with its symbol of the child set in the midst, is received by His disciples, the common people, and the emissaries of the Sanhedrim. Technically, the picture combines much that is best and most attractive in Lauder’s work. The sober harmonies which always distinguish it are here accented by broader and fuller notes of positive colour. The red of Christ’s robe and the scarlet cap of a boy seated in the foreground gather up the various shades of crimson and rose in the draperies ; the warm whites and buffs of lighter fabric and heavy burnous, and the gold and russet of sky and background, culminate in the yellow sleeve of the disciple who rests his hand on the marble balustrade, whilst the blue of the Master’s outer garment concentrates the cooler tones scattered through the composition. These combinations reveal everywhere an individual note in Lauder’s use of colour— interminglings and transitions, delicate echoes of the more dominant tones—which, like subtle chords in music, make a peculiar appeal to the aesthetic sense. The painting is thinner than in the Effie Deans and some pictures of the Roman period, and this, on so large a scale, tends to flatness. But the want of relief, though accented by the less nourished material, is mainly due to a tendency to etherealise, as one might say, the divine and more spiritual types in such themes; for in dissociating them from the earthly and sensuous the artist often overshoots the mark. One desiderates a fuller humanity in Lauder’s conceptions of Christ, and less of the spiritual in his renderings of the more ardent worshippers. In some of the artist’s other pictures one is even more conscious of this. Here, a certain dignity of aspect mitigates, but does not altogether atone for, a want of relief in the body and of animation in the features of the central figure. Again, the white-robed woman at His feet, who listens so eagerly, is a creature of spirit, a beautiful idea, statuesque in pose and of almost statuesque pallor, but too obviously contrasted with the men of flesh and blood around her, and especially with the dark and sinister figure of Judas close by. The aubum-haired girl in the shadow is more happily imagined, as is the younger child towards the left, whose innocent expression is in such striking contrast with that of the old man by her side.

At the exhibitions of 1850 and the three following years Lauder was represented by various important Scriptural works, Christ walking on the Sea, Christ denied by Peter—a subject to which he returned seven years laterf—Christ appearing to the Disciples on the way to Emrnaus, and The Crucifixion. The last named, in which the cross and body of Christ only appear, is a striking version of the often painted theme. From the drooping head downwards the figure of our Lord is covered by the loose folds of a winding-sheet, which shows weirdly against the darkened sky. The effect, as with other versions where some unexpected, but quite appropriate, trait has been added, is solemnising. The Velasquez at the Prado, where the heavy tress of dark hair has fallen on the shoulder, is an instance.

After 1857, landscape and slighter figure-themes of poetry and legend become more prominent, but soon failing health in the form of paralysis arrested the busy hand of the painter, and though for some years he continued to exhibit, his contributions were almost entirely of sketches and studies made in connection with earlier work.

The aims and characteristics of Lauder’s art have been indicated in the course of the foregoing remarks. Like that of most Scottish painters it suffers from the lack of a thorough training. The opportunities for study in Edinburgh were extremely limited, and his five years with Andrew Wilson at the Trustees’ Academy, during his teens, would forward him little. And, though he spent some time subsequently drawing from the Antique at the British Museum, and from the Life at a private art school, he had little more systematic training in the all-important knowledge of form than Duncan, Harvey, and Bonnar, all of whose works exhibit more or less slackness in that direction. This defect, not easily remedied after a certain time of life, especially with those in whom the colour instinct is strong, undoubtedly prevented Lauder from reaping the full benefit of his five years in Italy. The nobler and graver sense of design added to his work thereby, often seems only to accent the looseness of drawing, and certain stiffnesses and rigidities, which mar his compositions. In Hal o’ the Wynd and the Glee Maiden, for instance, where the two hurry along by the cloister wall, there is the same feeling of arrested action as in some of Harvey’s groups. Neither limbs nor drapery have the easy flow of line which suggests swiftness. But, in his example of a more dignified design, and in his use of those sober and harmonious colour arrangements which suit best the expression of graver subjects, Lauder did a great service to Scottish Art. For though the former often lacked the suppleness which adds the ultimate grace, it was never trivial, nor, though he was a most capable craftsman, can it ever be said of his technique, as of that of some expert masters of the brush, that manual dexterity is its main characteristic. Sir Walter Armstrong in his “Scottish Painters” finds a strong resemblance in Lauder’s work to that of Eugene Delacroix, and though most of his compositions are deficient in that sense of motion and tumult which is so special a characteristic of the great romanticist, the analogy holds good in respect of a marked similarity in their treatment of colour. Nay, some of his sketches and unfinished studies—like the small Slaughter of the Innocentsf—show much of the fire and vivacity of the Massacre at Scio in the Louvre.

It is doubtful if the Scriptural subjects which occupied so large a proportion of his later career add to the artist’s reputation. In spite of the many fine and painter-like qualities in which they abound, a certain constraint incident to the treatment of such themes in modern art, seems to hamper his brush. His qualities are seen to better advantage in his renderings of the more tragic incidents from the “Waverley Novels,” the lighter subjects from poetry and legend—Bums and Captain Grose, and Feckless Fanny, may be instanced—in some pensive Scottish and Roman landscapes, and, as is the case with most artists, in such studies done at odd times as A Vine at Genzano and A Roman Studio. These two small canvases show that though his Roman period was unproductive in pictures, Lauder was all the time acquiring the qualities which made him the painter and the influence he became in later years. Both show how the painter’s faculty can lift any subject into the higher regions of art. That little vine, with twisted fibrous boughs and burden of ripe fruit basking in the mellow sunlight, is eloquent of all the poets have written on the inexhaustible theme; the story of Silenus and Bacchus lies hidden in its indented leaves and juicy bunches. The Studio suggests no such fancies, but its classic torso, costly properties, and the glow of its sombre recesses where piled-up canvases, studies and sketches gradually reveal themselves to the eye, embody, as fully as his best pictures, that sensuous element without which the painter's art is shorn of its special glory.

In 1852 Lauder returned to Edinburgh on his appointment to the mastership of the Trustees’ Academy, and, for nine years thereafter, he superintended the Life and Antique departments. No more fortunate choice was ever made, for, by a certain enthusiasm and the charm of a unique personality, more than by direct teaching, he influenced Scottish Art in a way no individual painter before or since has done. His reverence for traditional art, both in its spirit and methods, was inherited by most of his pupils, and though he was opposed to the extreme developments of the contemporary realistic movement south of the Tweed, he was not blind, as his own practice shows, to the necessity of each succeeding age adding some new element to the art of the past. So that the naturalism of the distinguished artists trained under Lauder—and none of them escaped the trend of the times —was never a violent rupture with the past, as it was in England, but a something added to and absorbed into the body of orthodoxy, as one might say. Most of his pupils are colourists, yet none of them even in this show any marked resemblance to their master, whose influence tended rather to help the faculty of each along its individual line, than to assimilate them to himself: surely the true function of a teacher.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus