9 FEBRUARY 1867, Page 15



WHEN our great painter's services were secured to complete the monument which does not adorn Trafalgar Square, there could have been no thought of getting any such tenants for its four vacant pedestals as are conventionally known as lions to heralds and Gothic architects. The naturalistic treatment of his subject was the only one possible for a man whose most poetical works have owed their best qualities to their intense realism, and any attempt to repeat the fantastic animals which support the dexter side of the shield of England on a thousand panels at the lower end of Parliament Street (creations which are probably due solely to the ignorance or clumsy workmanship of early architects or sculptors, but too faithfully copied by their uniuventive successors) would have been misplaced and ridiculous. The artist would make it his business to study the form and habits of the lion in the only way practicable without taking a journey to African desert or Asiatic jungle, and poetic instinct would do the rest. With materials precisely similar he painted one of his finest pictures, "Man proposes and God disposes," and it was not unreasonable to hope for like success in a like attempt. Like, that is, in subject and in the means of studying it ; though widely different in the means by which it was to be embodied. Here, indeed, was the pinch ; for quote precedents as we may to

prove that some painters have also been sculptors, and have been eminent in both arts, yet they won their eminence in the usual way, by the constant practice of both ; while Landseer (so far as the public knows) had confined his attention exclusively to one, and was now for the first time to show how far he could maintain the reputation he had gained with a brush dexterous beyond all ordinary degrees of dexterity, by the straiter resources and severer methods of sculpture. It is true that last year he modelled and exhibited at the Royal Academy a small group of a stag at bay with two hounds ; but so little did he appear to trust the effect of pure form, that with questionable taste he had painted both stag and hounds so far as might be with their natural colours. Some material points of difference between painting and sculpture, which have often been noted, may without impropriety be here repeated, such as that it is much easier to draw a beautiful form on a flat surface, beautiful, that is, from one point of view, than to model one that shall be beautiful from every point of view; and that any harshness or ungracefulness of form will, in sculpture, always assert itself undisguisably, but in painting may be con- cealed by skilful disposition of colour or shadow, or lost in the background. Then " local " colour is, and, notwithstanding some modern experiments, must always be absent from sculpture; and the absence of one such quality as colour will make it very difficult to excuse an error in another quality, such as form. Fortunately, Sir E. Landseer is a thoroughly good draughtsman, and has seldom understood consummate skill in painting as a licence to be slovenly in expressing form. Nevertheless, these difficulties must in all fairness be taken into consideration in estimating the professional character of the man who has to deal with them, as well as in judging of another matter of a more transitory kind, but about which a good deal has been said, viz., the length of time taken by the artist in performing his con- tract. However defective the House of Commons may be in other respects as a representative body, they faithfully reflect the commercial spirit of the community in assuming that the contract of an artist might, but for a certain innate and ineradicable per- versity in the artist, be performed with as much punctuality as the contract of a manufacturer ; and that if the proper amount of bronze be supplied to the one he ought and should be forced to work it up into the stipulated condition within the stipulated time, just as the other would convert so many bales of the raw material into yarn. It is probably useless to protest against this spirit,—it has always existed,—and no artist may hope to escape the troubles which vexed the lives of the greatest of his pre- decessors, least of all one who has to learn a new art for the occasion.

How, then, has Sir E. Landseer succeeded in his enterprise? Does he need any indulgence on account of inexperience ? Con- sidering what he has achieved in so short a time, we may perhaps regret that he had not more constantly practised the art of model- ling ; but comparing his work with that of our practised sculptors, the answer must be simply that he needs no indul- gence at all; and it is perhaps unnecessary to refer to the Guards' Monument in Waterloo Place as evidence that in the sculptor's peculiar province he has succeeded well where experience does not always prevent error ; there is no point from which any one of the lions appears ludicrous. They are all couching, but on the watch, with heads erect and shoulders and fore-paws advanced. And here it should be stated at once that all four are identical, save only that the heads of two of them are turned to the left and of the others to the right ; or, if there be any other difference, it is so minute as not to be perceptible, except upon very detailed scru- tiny. The animals' immense strength is well indicated by the deeply marked muscles of the back and loins, and the attitude of repose is accompanied by an appearance of potential action which suggests far more real vitality than the closest imitation of actual and violent movement. In all quadrupeds, and not least in the feline race, the tail is very indicative of temper and mood, and the artist has properly bestowed some of his best care in modelling this part. The full swing of those tails would mean something terrible. The eyes are averted, and the mouth half open, so as to show the tongue resting between two fangs of the lower jaw. These peculiarities, which are habitual to the lion in his imprisoned state, the artist has chosen to imitate literally, not caring for the doubt how far they may be proper to him when free ; some additional spice of character at all events is thus gained. Looking at the grand proportions of their heads, and their eyes deep-set under a slightly knit and anxious brow, one can understand the feeling that made the lion the emblem of wisdom, and his head the type on which to model the front of Jove himself. The ferocity of the brute has nevertheless not been forgotten in the sensitive upper lip. cruelly fit to month a prey. The best views are of three-quarter front or back ; espe- cially the latter, as seen across the base of the monument between the plinth which carries the bas-reliefs and any of the nearer lions. And if this latter view is taken on a sunny day, when the shadow of the column is cast across the lion, the bronze of which he is made will exhibit a most beau- tiful combination of delicate greys and greens, like the plu- mage of a green plover. This of course will soon disappear under the blackening influence of our soot-laden atmosphere, an influence which is more injurious to bronze than to stone or marble, and suggests a doubt whether bronze be a desirable material for metropolitan monuments.

The most obvious defect in the detail of the artist's work is the careless or incomplete modelling of the fore legs and paws. This is unfortunate, not only on account of the natural expressiveness of the whole limb, but because it is the part nearest to the eye. One would have thought, too, that the temptation to give some greater variety of posture would have been irresistible, and might have been followed without sacrificing the uniformity required for monumental repose. It must be confessed, too, that the fall-fed bulk of these British lions is a little inconsistent with that lithe- ness and leanness, that spare and fibrous form, clothed or hung over with rolls of loose skin, which one is accustomed to think characteristic of the lion. The artist might have thought that a lean and hungry look was incompatible with "the royal nature of that beast," as generally credited to him by poets. And as it is the appearance of this very royalty which gives such dignity to the bronzes, the artist was probably right. In conclusion, it may be added that the lions are in as good proportion to the rest of the monument as it is possible for anything to be to that mean- looking exhibition of bad taste. To a person standing close to them of course they look too large, but look from the terrace, and