"Feeding Sheep" by JOHN LINNELL,R.A. John Linnell 1792-1882 an outstanding work by a leading member of the Royal Academy, ranking alongside William Blake and Samuel Palmer (his son-in-law). His work is found in most prominent collections, and he was a regular exhibitor at the Academy, where this painting was shown three times: 1863, no. 671, then in the Modern Masters Exhibition 1883, no. 83, and finally in the Winter Exhibition of 1901, no. 9. Provenance: H.J.Turner, Stockleigh House, Regent's Park
Oil on Panel, signed and dated 1863
Fine Original Frame
Exhibited: Royal Academy 1863 no.671
Royal Academy Exhibition of Old and Modern Masters 1883 no. 83
Royal Academy Winter Exhibition 1901 no.9
Provenance: H.J.Turner Esq.
Stockleigh House, Regents Park, Inverness House, Porchester Square
John Linnell, not just a great painter but a true artist. A man for whom life and art were inextricably linked, one serving the other. John Linnell was born into an ordinary working family, his father was a frame maker and his uncle a furniture maker. He rose to become one of the outstanding landscape painters of the 19th century, ranking alongside William Blake and Samuel Palmer.
As a youngster he was noticed and assisted by the great Sir Benjamin West, and trained with John Varley. William Mulready then became his mentor and ‘champion’. As with many artists, the initial years were hard, and Linnell had to take up portraiture to support his large family. However, the whole purport of his being was directed to the ‘realism’ of landscape. He believed firmly that landscape was more than the sum of its parts, and recorded it faithfully in order to show that in landscape there was a reflection of something spiritual, a Divine Hand. He held passionate and unorthodox religious views, rejecting formalised church religion and espousing a brand of low Protestantism, developing his landscape painting as a carriage for religious expression. To a large extent the sheep, harvesters and storms of his landscapes are pastoral metaphors. Occasionally he devised an actual Biblical scene such as ‘Noah, the Eve of the Deluge’, but he preferred to see the hand of God manifest itself in nature.
Like Blake, he drew on the work of the Northern Renaissance artists – Durer, van Eyck, Lucas van Leyden; and his collaboration with his son in law, Samuel Palmer, was beneficial to both painters. Linnell’s early work is highly descriptive and throughout his life he made use of the camera obscura, and then the camera as it developed. His later ‘mature’ landscapes, from 1850 onwards, look for a distillation of landscape into ‘an aspect of nature’. His technique evolved alongside into light flickering brushstrokes, slightly impressionistic, building forms in layers of fine glazes over a white ground. This use of white ground was borrowed from Blake and was to become one of the major precepts of the Pre-Raphaelites, who much admired John Linnell.
“Feeding Sheep” belongs to this period of mature work, the shepherd tending his sheep is a strong symbol for Linnell. Note the Luminescent quality of the colour due to the fine overlay of glazes.
Linnell was a man of great stature and uncompromising views; although a regular enough exhibitor at the Academy, his application for Associateship as a young man had been spurned by the Academy board. It became a matter of embarrassment to the Academy that they had not sooner recognised such a master. However, after his death, Linnell’s work was honoured in an exhibition of Old and Modern Masters held in 1883, which highlighted his work. His paintings were frequently recalled for the Winter Exhibitions thereafter (this one being shown for the third time in 1901).
John Linnell spans a great age, his work begins with Sir Benjamin West and Sir Thomas Lawrence. His own mainspring is the Romantic movement, with a belief in nature comparable to Wordsworth and the Lakeland Poets. Linnell’s mastery encouraged, among others, the Pre-Raphaelites, Samuel Palmer and the ‘ancients’, and his influence subsides with the century. Soon after his own death, concepts in art were soon to be revolutionised by the young Sickert and the New English Art Club.
Reappraisal of the work of John Linnell began in the 1960’s with the Reigate Exhibition of Linnell and Palmer in 1963, followed by ‘John Linnell and his Circle’ at Colnaghi’s, London in 1973. The Salisbury Festival Exhibition ‘John Linnell’ was held in 1977, and then the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge put on a ‘Centennial Exhibition’ in 1982, which then transferred to the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, America.
Examples of Linnell’s works are included in permanent exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also featured in many Provincial Museums, and abroad he is found in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Learmont, Montreal and the National Art Gallery of Australia in Sydney.
Refs: Alfred Story – The Life of John Linnell, 2 vols, London 1893
K.Crouan – John Linnell, A Centennial Exhibition, Fitzwilliam, Cambridge
R.Lister – Samual Palmer and the ‘Ancients’, Fitzwilliam, Cambridge
Royal Academy notes
Benezit/Christopher Wood etc.
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Stock number: NL146
height 28" x width 39"
height 41.5" x width 52.5"