Nelson's Column, 5 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5NJ, UK
St. Paul’s Cathedral, New Change, London, London, EC4M 9AD, UK
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer RA (7 March 1802 – 1 October 1873) was an English painter and sculptor, well known for his paintings of animals – particularly horses, dogs, and stags. However, his best known works are the lion sculptures in Trafalgar Square.
Landseer was born in London, the son of the engraver John Landseer A.R.A. He was something of a prodigy whose artistic talents were recognised early on. He studied under several artists, including his father, and the history painter Benjamin Robert Haydon, who encouraged the young Landseer to perform dissections in order to fully understand animal musculature and skeletal structure. Landseer's life was entwined with the Royal Academy. At the age of just 13, in 1815, he exhibited works there. He was elected an Associate at the age of 24, and an Academician five years later in 1831. He was knighted in 1850, and although elected President in 1866 he declined the invitation.
In his late 30s Landseer suffered what is now believed to be a substantial nervous breakdown, and for the rest of his life was troubled by recurring bouts of melancholy, hypochondria, and depression, often aggravated by alcohol and drug use. In the last few years of his life Landseer's mental stability was problematic, and at the request of his family he was declared insane in July 1872.
In 1858 the government commissioned Landseer to make four bronze lions for the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, following the rejection of a set in stone by Thomas Milnes. Landseer accepted on condition that he would not have to start work for another nine months, and there was a further delay when he asked to be supplied with copies of casts of a real lion he knew were in the possession of the academy at Turin. The request proved complex, and the casts did not arrive until the summer of 1860. The lions were made at the Kensington studio of Carlo Marochetti, who also cast them. Work was slowed by Landseer's ill health, and his fractious relationship with Marochetti. The sculptures were installed in 1867.
Landseer's death on 1 October 1873 was widely marked in England: shops and houses lowered their blinds, flags flew at half mast, his bronze lions at the base of Nelson's column were hung with wreaths, and large crowds lined the streets to watch his funeral cortege pass. Landseer was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, London.
At his death, Landseer left behind three unfinished paintings: Finding the Otter, Nell Gwynne, and The Dead Buck, all on easels in his studio. It was his dying wish that his friend John Everett Millais should complete the paintings, and this he did.
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