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THOMAS STOTHARD, Esq. R.A.
LIBRARIAN TO THE ROYAL ACADEMY.
The lives of artists, generally speaking, are best traced in their works. Quiet and sedentary, their days pass with little interruption but from the common casualties to which all are exposed, and over which none can have any control. The disposition of the amiable and highly-gifted individual whose name stands at the head of the present page was philosophical, temperate, and industrious; never seducing him into extraordinary adventure. He appears to have been “ held in thrall” by his love of art, and his admiration of the beauties of nature. These constituted his chief enjoyment, and to transfer the latter to his paper or canvass was his sole occupation. Beyond this
“ His sober wishes never learnt to stray;
But through the cool, sequester'd vale of life
He kept the noiseless tenour of his way." Of Mr. Stothard's early boyhood the following interesting account was, sometime before his death, related by himself to a friend, who subsequently communicated it to the Athe
My father was a native of Stretton near Doncaster. * He came to London while a lad; and, when he married to took a sort of hotel in Long Acre t, which was much fre
* The property of Mr. Stothard's father was much reduced by the South Sea scheme.
+ Mr. Stothard's mother was the daughter of Elizabeth Reynolds, niece to D'Anvers Hodges, Esq. of Broadwell, in Gloucestershire, and the heir in entail under his will, dated 1720. The Stothard family, however, have never yet benefited by this bequest.
Then, and now, known by the name of The Black Horse.
quented by coachmakers. I was born there in the month of August*, 1755. I was an only child, and a sickly and ailing one: my father, anxious about my health, sent me, when only five years old, to his brother in York; but as he lived in a close part of the city, I was removed to Acomb, a small village two miles north of York, and put under the care of an old douce Scotch lady, - a sound Presbyterian, who loved to keep her house in order, and all that was in it. As this was the Kensington Gravel Pits of York, I soon began to grow strong; and I remember that I also grew solicitous to be doing something: I soon found employment, which has now afforded me full seventy years' pleasure, - I became a painter. This came rather curiously about.
“My Scotch friend had two sons in the Temple, London, who had sent her some of Houbraken's heads, with an engraving of “ Blind Belisarius," and other prints from the graver of Strange: as they were framed, she had them hung up in a sort of drawing-room, and rarely allowed any one to look at her treasures, as she called them. One day I ventured to follow her into this sanctuary: she was pleased with the earnest looks with which I regarded the heads and groups, patted me on the head, and said I should often see them, since I seemed to like them so much. I became an almost daily visiter to the room ; and I began to wonder how such things were done : I was told they were done with pencils. Though the old lady told me this, she little expected the result: in short, she missed me from her side one day, and found me standing on a chair trying to imitate with a pencil one of the heads before me. She smiled, clapped my head, and bade me go on, adding, Thomas, ye are really a queer boy.' I did little else now but draw; and I soon began to make tolerable copies.
“ I lived at Acomb till I was eight years old, when I left my old Scottish dame with tears in my eyes, and went to school at Stretton, the birthplace of my father.
The 17th of August.
tinued drawing, and even attempted to make sketches from life. Some one told me that engravings were made from paintings in oil colours: I longed to see a painting, and shall never forget the delight with which, for the first time, I looked upon one. I resolved to paint in colours, and wrote
father to send me some: I was, however, too impatient to wait their coming; but going to a cart and plough wright, I begged black, red, and white oil-colours from him, and commenced to make a picture. I painted a man, I remember, in black paint, and then tried with the red and white to work it into the hues of life. It was a sad daub: I still persevered; and soon learned to handle my brush with more skill, and lay on my colours with better taste. I was soon afterwards removed to London, where all manner of facilities abounded – you
know the rest.' Mr. Stothard, when he was of a proper age, was bound apprentice to a pattern-drawer for brocaded silks; but that fashion so completely declined that, his master having died, the widow gave up to him the last year of his apprenticeship. In this art, however, he had minutely studied nature, in the drawing of flowers and other ornaments; and took every opportunity of improving that knowledge by little trips into the country by both land and water. During his apprenticeship, being a favourite with his mistress, he used to employ his spare hours in making drawings for her ; some of which were arranged along the chimney-piece of her parlour. It chanced that, in the course of business, a gentleman who saw these drawings was struck with them; and putting some questions as to the artist, was told they were by one of the apprentices, who had made a great number. The gentleman took some of the drawings away with him; and having shown them to a publisher of that day with whom he was intimate, this led to the employment of the young artist in making drawings for the booksellers. Mr. Harrison, the well-known publisher in Paternoster Row, was, we believe, the earliest employer of Mr. Stothard. Many of the engravings for “ The Town and Country Magazine," between 1770 and
1780, are from drawings by Stothard, but there is no name to them. The drawings which we have seen of that period have all the characteristics of his style: the first glance leaves no doubt as to the artist. Shortly afterwards he became more known by the exquisite little designs he made for Bell's “ British Poets," and the “ Novelist's Magazine;” some of which procured for him the friendship of his eminent contemporary, Flaxman.
Sir Joshua Reynolds also was so struck with his talents that when he was requested by Sir John Hawkins to design a frontispiece for Ruggle's Latin play of
Ignoramus,” he said, “ There is a young artist of the name of Stothard who will do it much better than I can; go to him.”
Mr. Stothard's designs at this period formed an era in British art, and created a new taste in the public mind. They were also productive of a more laboured and beautiful style of engraving than had till then been seen in embellishments to printed works. Mr. James Heath was to Stothard what Bartolozzi was to Cipriani; transferring his designs to copper in a manner worthy of them, preserving the character and spirit of the originals, and at the same time investing them with the grace and brilliancy of a finished work.
Most of the embellished volumes published during the last half century have been illustrated by the inimitable compositions of this truly poetic painter, and they form a monument, not to his own fame only, but to that of the country which gave him birth.
him birth. It is probable that, Chedowiecki excepted, Mr. Stothard made more drawings than any man that ever lived; for his invention was equalled only by his taste and delicacy: on every subject he was completely at home; and the manners and customs of all ages and nations were familiar to him. The number of his productions of this class cannot be less than five or six thousand. One admirer, an artist, has three folio volumes of them, each containing a thousand works; and we were told, some time ago, of a lucky purchaser of ten original drawings, of which the artist himself had lost all recollection. His series of sketches for « Robin
son Crusoe” are among the happiest of all his works of that clasu. Nothing can exceed them for perfect simplicity and that beauty which arises from truth. They tell the story almost as well as the inimitable original. A sense of lonelinens steals upon us as we look at them; the shipwrecked Crusoe discovering the print of the savage's foot in the sand, and also his standing in desperate rumination by the side of his new boat, are amongst the finest things which British art has to show. His designs to illustrate " The Pilgrim's Progress, engraved by Strutt, are singularly beautiful. Of the designs for “ Bell's Poets,” the Ariadne from Chaucer, the Listening Shepherd from Hughes, and one in which Cupid is opposed to an armed man, with the words
« Now I'm in my armour clasp'd,
Now the mighty shield is grasp'd,"
may be selected as replete with excellence. His illustrations of “ Don Quixote” and “ Gil Blas" are full of humour. One of the loveliest things ever beheld is a design of his for
Rokeby,”- that scene in the wood where the young lady sits on the grass beside Wilfred and Redmond, and relates the sad history of Mortham. They occupy the summit of a small knoll in one of the glades of the forest; a little sunshine struggles through the thick boughs, and scatters itself over them; while below, half concealed by the underwood, lurk Bertram and Guy Denzil; the former presenting his carbine at the unsuspecting group, and the latter laying one hand on the instrument of death, and with the other pointing to the approach of armed horsemen. Among the most beautiful of his more recent designs were his illustrations of Mr. Rogers's “ Italy,” in which he could not have been more successful if he had passed his life in that luxurious clime. Soon after their publication the following lines appeared in " The Athenæum:”.