1842 Snowstorm and Sanctuary
Without doubt, the most significant group of works shown at the 1842 Exhibition by a single artist were five paintings by J.M.W. Turner: The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the steps of Europa; Campo Santo, Venice; Snow storm—steam-boat off a harbour’s mouth making signals in shallow water, and going by the lead. The author was in this storm on the night the Ariel left Harwich; Peace,—burial at Sea; and War. The exile and the rock limpet. Four of these exhibits are now in the collection of Tate, while the fifth, Campo Santo, Venice, the companion to Dogano, San Georgio, Citella is in the Toledo Museum of Art. Inevitably, Turner’s contributions attracted considerable press attention. As noted in The Athenaeum, the Venetian pendants were:
among the loveliest, because least exaggerated pictures, which this magician (for such he is, in right of his command over the spirits of Air, Fire, and Water) has recently given us. Fairer dreams never floated past poets’ eye; and the aspect of the City of Waters is hardly one iota idealised. As pieces of effect, too, these works are curious; close at hand, a splashed palette—an arm’s length distant, a clear and delicate shadowing forth of a scene made up of crowded and minute objects!1
Inevitably, others disagreed. On 1 June, The Art-Union averred:
The Venetian pictures are now among the best this artist paints, but the present specimens are of a decayed brilliancy; we mean, they are by no means comparable with others he has within a few years exhibited. A great error in Mr. Turner’s smooth water pictures is, that the reflection of colours in the water are painted as strongly as the substances themselves, a treatment which diminishes the value of objects.2
While Turner’s Venetian views had a mixed reception, Snowstorm—Steam-boat off a harbour’s mouth (Fig. 1) was the subject of a particularly vitriolic attack in The Athenaeum:
This gentleman has, on former occasions, chosen to paint with cream, or chocolate, yolk of egg, or currant jelly,—here he uses his whole array of kitchen stuff. Where the steam-boat is—where the harbour begins, or where it ends—which are the signals, and which the author in the Ariel … are matters past our finding out.3
It was also Snowstorm that elicited the celebrated criticism that the painting resembled “soapsuds and whitewash”, provoking Turner’s response: “soapsuds and whitewash! What would they have? I wonder what they think the sea’s like? I wish they’d been in it.”4
Turner’s paintings, although they attracted the lion’s share of press comment, represented a tiny fraction of the works on view: over 1,400 pieces by several hundred artists, professional and amateur alike. Among the Royal Academicians, prominent as exhibitors this year were veterans William Etty, William Mulready, Henry Pickersgill, and the Academy’s President, Martin Archer Shee. Of a slightly younger generation, the portraitists Francis Grant and John Prescott Knight, each contributed seven works, while the historical and literary painter, Daniel Maclise, exhibited in the same room as Turner’s Venice views his vast canvas, The Play Scene in ‘Hamlet’, measuring 5 by 9 feet. This picture was, in the opinion of The Athenaeum, “the great attraction of the great room”. The reviewer observed,
There is hardly a plume or a shoe-tie—not a tendril on the tapestry—not a shadow on the floor, that has not its part in enhancing the meaning or marking action in his compositions, be they ever so complicated or crowded.5
David Wilkie, who had died in the previous summer, was represented by two posthumous portraits, His Highness Muhemed Ali, Pacha of Egypt and His Imperial Majesty the Sultan Abdul Meedgid. Turner’s painting, Peace—Burial at Sea, was conceived as a very personal tribute at the Exhibition to his departed friend.
The Athenaeum also commented warmly on the return to the Exhibition that year of the Royal Academician, Edwin Landseer. The foremost animal painter of the age, Landseer had become a favourite of the public through his anthropomorphic representations of dogs, deer, and other creatures. Among his most ardent admirers was Queen Victoria, who had commissioned her first painting from him in 1837: a portrait of her pet spaniel, Dash, which Landseer exhibited at the Academy that year.
Two popular “royal” paintings exhibited by Landseer in 1842 were “A pair of Brazilian monkeys, the property of Her Majesty”,6 and “Ziva, a badger dog belonging to the hereditary Prince of Saxe Coburg-Gotha”. Ziva was commissioned by Queen Victoria for her German brother-in-law, and featured one of several dachshunds owned by Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, in the company of a clothed organ-grinder’s monkey. The picture was, according to The Athenaeum, “one of Mr E. Landseer’s most perfect representations of monkeyhood.”7 Another of Prince Ernest’s dachshunds was Sewa, whose portrait was purchased by Prince Albert in 1847 to hang alongside Landseer’s The Sanctuary in his Writing Room.8 As a watercolour in the Royal Collection reveals, Ernest’s painting then hung above sofa in the sitting room of his hilltop German home, Schloss Callenberg.9 Clearly, for Prince Albert, the virtual presence of Sewa on his wall served as a reminder of his affection for his now remote elder brother.
In 1842, Landseer’s most impressive exhibit was, without doubt, The Sanctuary; an evocative depiction of an exhausted stag seeking refuge from the hunt on the shore of a Scottish loch (Fig. 2). For one critic at least, Turner and Landseer represented two poles in their approach to the natural world. For the reviewer writing in the North of England Magazine, Turner’s Snowstorm was “the absurdity of genius, the very next step beyond the sublime, which reasonable men tell us, means ‘the ridiculous’.” Landseer, by contrast, “claimed true companionship with nature”, The Sanctuary demonstrating “a flood of stern beauty mingled with gentle feelings”. It was, the reviewer affirmed, “little more than a sketch, but worth fifty finished pictures around it.”10 Queen Victoria, who had viewed the painting at the Summer Exhibition, purchased it from another of Landseer’s patrons for £215, presenting it in turn to Prince Albert as a birthday present. The Prince, a keen deerstalker and a crack shot, hung it in his Writing Room at Windsor; although his enthusiasm for blood sport, which he shared with Landseer, was not without controversy.11 Turner’s Snowstorm remained in the artist’s possession and was accepted by the nation in 1856 as part of the Turner Bequest.
The Athenaeum 758, 7 May 1842, 409.↩︎
The Art-Union, 1 June 1842, 120.↩︎
The Athenaeum 759, 14 May 1842, 433.↩︎
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 2 vols (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1862), Vol. 2, 207.↩︎
The Athenaeum 758, 7 May 1842, 409–410.↩︎
See Brazilian Marmosets, Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 403088, https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/403088/brazilian-marmosets (accessed 11 July 2017). See also Richard Ormond, Sir Edwin Landseer (London: Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Tate Gallery, 1982), 155.↩︎
The Athenaeum, 7 May 1842, 410.↩︎
For Sewa, see Sotheby’s, 15 July 2015, lot 37.↩︎
Georg Konrad Rothbart (1817–1896), Schloss Callenberg: The Duke’s sitting-room, ca. 1845, Royal Collection Trust: RCIN 920603, https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/920603/schloss-callenberg-the-dukes-sitting-room (accessed 11 July 2017).↩︎
The North of England Magazine: A Monthly Journal of Politics, Literature, Science and Art 1 (1842): 316.↩︎
See https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/403195/the-sanctuary (accessed 11 July 2017). See also Ormond, Sir Edwin Landseer, 170–171.↩︎
Thematic categories: animals in art, art criticism - history painting, art criticism - landscape painting, art criticism - marine art, history painting, landscape painting and drawing, marine art, nature in art, patronage, royal patronage, sales of art, seascapes