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Title: John Pettie, R.A., H.R.S.A. - Sixteen examples in colour of the artist's work
Author: Hardie, Martin
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John Pettie, R.A., H.R.S.A. - Sixteen examples in colour of the artist's work" ***

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  [Illustration: Bonnie Prince Charlie (Cover Page)]





                     64 & 66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

                     205 FLINDERS LANE, MELBOURNE

                     27 RICHMOND STREET WEST, TORONTO

                     MACMILLAN BUILDING, BOMBAY
                     309 BOW BAZAAR STREET, CALCUTTA

  [Illustration: Portrait of John Pettie]

  R.A., H.R.S.A.






                                    OWNER OF ORIGINAL

  1. Portrait of John Pettie        _Tate Gallery_

  2. The Vigil                                "

  3. The Step                       _Kenneth M. Clark, Esq._

  4. A Drum-head Court-Martial      _Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield_

  5. Treason                                  "

  6. Rejected Addresses             _The Rt. Hon. Baron Faber_

  7. Ho! Ho! Old Noll!              _W. J. Chrystal, Esq_.

  8. A Sword-and-Dagger Fight       _Corporation Art Gallery, Glasgow_

  9. Two Strings to her Bow                   "

  [A]10. Bonnie Prince Charlie      _Charles Stewart, Esq._

  11. Disbanded                     _Fine Art Institution, Dundee_

  12. Portrait of Sir Charles
        Wyndham as David Garrick    _Sir Charles Wyndham_

  13. The Clash of Steel            _John Jordan, Esq._

  14. A Storm in a Teacup           _Colonel Harding_

  15. Grandmother's Memories        _Trustees of the late Alex. Rose, Esq._

  16. The Chieftain's Candlesticks  _By permission of the late Mrs. Morten_

        [A] _On the cover_


Like many great painters, John Pettie was of humble origin. Born in
Edinburgh in 1839, he was the son of a tradesman who, having reached
some prosperity, purchased a business in the village of East Linton and
moved there with his family in 1852. The boy was born with art in his
blood, and Nature never intended him for the dull and respectable
vocation to which his father was anxious that he should succeed. More
than once, when despatched on an errand to storeroom or cellar, he was
discovered making drawings on the lid of a wooden box or the top of a
cask, totally oblivious of his journey and its object. A portrait of the
village carrier and his donkey, done when he was a boy of fifteen,
struck neighbouring critics as being almost "uncanny," and overcame even
his father's objections to art as a possible career.

Greatly daring, his mother carried off her son to Edinburgh, a bundle of
drawings beneath his arm, to visit Mr. James Drummond, one of the
leading members of the Royal Scottish Academy. "Much better make him
stick to business," was his verdict, after listening to the mother's
story. But his tone changed when he had seen the drawings. Not a word
was uttered while he turned them over; but then, handing them back, he
said: "Well, madam, you can put that boy to what you like, but he'll die
an artist!"

With every encouragement Pettie now entered the Trustees' Academy, where
he became a student under Robert Scott Lauder, R.S.A. Among Pettie's
fellow-students were George Paul Chalmers, W. Q. Orchardson, J.
MacWhirter, Hugh Cameron, Peter Graham, Tom Graham, and W. McTaggart.
They were destined to form a School which breathed new life into
Scottish art and inaugurated a fresh epoch. All of them gave free
expression to their own personality, but one and all made beautiful
colour their highest ideal.

In 1858 Pettie exhibited his first picture at the Royal Scottish
Academy; and in 1860 made his first venture at the Royal Academy in
London with "The Armourers," which was hung on the line. It was followed
in 1861 by "What d' ye lack, madam?" a picture of the saucy 'prentice in
Scott's "Fortunes of Nigel." With the exhibition of this picture his
success was assured, and the encouragement he received led him to leave
the North and seek his future in the greater world of London.

In 1862 we find Pettie sharing a studio in Pimlico with Orchardson and
Tom Graham. A year later, taking C. E. Johnson in their company, they
moved to 37, Fitzroy Square, a house afterwards tenanted by Ford Madox
Brown. I have before me a solemn agreement dated September 18, 1863:
"We, W. Q. Orchardson, J. Pettie, and T. Graham, agree to each other
that we shall pay the following proportions of rent for house, No. 37,
Fitzroy Square (W. Q. Orchardson, £66 13s.; John Pettie, £56 13s.; T.
Graham, £41 13s.), or in these proportions whether of increase or
reduction." Here they lived a happy Bohemian existence, with guinea-pigs
running about the studio floor; their cash-box an open drawer where
bank-notes, gold and silver were mixed in cheerful confusion with
bottles of varnish and tubes of colour; their general factotum one Joe
Wall, a retired prize-fighter, who had been model to Landseer and Frith.

To the two years spent in Fitzroy Square, and to the ten years
following, belong several of Pettie's finest works. His keen perception
of dramatic incident, his fine sense of colour, and his brilliance of
craftsmanship, soon drew the attention they deserved. In 1865 his
"Drum-head Court-Martial" was one of the pictures before which visitors
clustered daily when it hung on the Academy walls. It is a dashing
picture, full of spirit in idea and design; and the artist seldom
painted anything better, or more full of character, than the heads of
those commanders sitting in judgment.

In the following year, at the early age of twenty-seven, he was elected
an Associate of the Royal Academy, winning the coveted honour eighteen
months before his friend and companion, Orchardson. With "Treason,"
exhibited in 1867, he burst into a triumph of dramatic intensity and
glowing colour. The picture has a grip and unity of conception that
places it on a higher level than any of his previous works. To the three
following years belong such fine subjects as "The Sally" and "The Flag
of Truce," which, with "Treason," are now in the Mappin Art Gallery,
Sheffield; the "Tussle with a Highland Smuggler"; and "Touchstone and
Audrey." "Rejected Addresses," exhibited in 1870, has all Pettie's charm
of colour and fluent brushwork.

Among other comedies in little, touched with light fancy and the joy of
life, are "A Storm in a Teacup" and "Two Strings to Her Bow." The latter
is one of Pettie's happiest pieces of pure sentiment, persuasive in its
natural charm and its touch of romance. Light-hearted gaiety and the
ecstasy of existence sing in rippling music from lines and colours
vibrant with joy.

In 1874 Pettie was elected a Royal Academician, filling the vacancy
caused by the death of Sir Edwin Landseer. His first exhibits were two
of his finest works, "A State Secret," and "Ho! Ho! Old Noll!" The scene
in the latter is a tennis-court where two cavaliers are looking on with
a chuckle of amusement at the spirited caricature which a third has made
upon the wall. "Ho! Ho! Old Noll" is the work of a master draughtsman.
The light pose and easy grace of the cavalier who makes the sketch, the
foreshortening of his arm, the hand that holds the chalk--so lightly
that it seems to move--are all superbly rendered. Two years later, in
1876, he exhibited "The Step," a picture of a little girl with golden
hair, in a pale blue dress, dancing before her grandmother. The same old
lady, with spinning-wheel and high-backed chair, formed the subject of a
picture titled "Grandmother's Memories."

"A Sword-and-Dagger Fight," exhibited in the following year, is one of
many pictures that show Pettie's dramatic perception and his power of
representing physical exertion and momentary movement. Almost at the
same time was painted "Disbanded," a rough and ragged but stalwart
Highlander, without doubt a rebel of "the '45" on his return from
Culloden. This is one of many subjects for which the artist sought
inspiration in the novels of Sir Walter Scott. "The Clash of Steel,"
painted in 1888, obviously owes its origin to the first chapter of "The
Fortunes of Nigel." It depicts the time when the cry of "Clubs! Clubs!
'Prentices!" often echoed along a London street.

"The Chieftain's Candlesticks," of 1886, will puzzle those who do not
recall the scene in Scott's "Legend of Montrose." Angus M'Aulay, a proud
Highlander, on a visit to his friend, Sir Miles Musgrave, in England,
had six candlesticks of solid silver set before him on the table at

     "Sae they began to jeer the laird, that he saw nae sic graith in
     his ain poor country; and the laird, scorning to hae his country
     put down without a word for its credit, swore, like a gude
     Scotsman, that he had mair candlesticks, and better candlesticks,
     in his ain castle at hame, than were ever lighted in a hall in

When the laird welcomed the Englishman on an unexpected visit shortly
after, his purse and credit were both at stake, for he had nothing of
more value than some tin sconces. But M'Aulay was helped out of the
dilemma, to his own surprise, by his retainer, Donald:

     "'Gentlemans, her dinner is ready, _and her candles are lighted,
     too_,' said Donald.

     "The two English strangers, therefore, were ushered into the hall,
     where an unexpected display awaited them. Behind every seat stood
     a gigantic Highlander, holding in his right hand his drawn sword,
     and in the left a blazing torch.... 'Lost, lost,' said Musgrave
     gaily--'my own silver candlesticks are all melted and riding on
     horseback by this time, and I wish the fellows that enlisted were
     half as trusty as these.'"

Another Scott scene, chosen from "Waverley," was painted in 1892, and
shows "Bonnie Prince Charlie" at the moment when the young chevalier is
entering the ballroom at Holyrood, with flowers strewn at his feet.
This, one of the last of Pettie's works, is one of the most brilliant
and energetic in its colour scheme.

The last years of Pettie's life were lean years for the painter of
genre. The period preceding 1890 marked the climax of the prejudice
against the "literary idea" in paint. It was a prejudice somewhat
unjust, for there is nothing to prevent the subject-picture from being
true art, any more than the subject-poem from being poetry. At the same
time there was a natural reaction after the banalities of the
mid-Victorian painters of genre on the one hand, and the over-wrought
preciousness of the pre-Raphaelites on the other.

Pettie had often painted portraits for his own pleasure, and in these
lean years they became to some extent a necessity. His portrait work is
naturally not so well known as his subject-painting, yet now and then
he produced things that in sheer power and interest of colour and
technique rank among his highest achievements. One of them is his own
portrait, now in the Tate Gallery, which is masterly in its brushwork,
with a Rubens-like quality in its rich impasto of brilliant colour, its
fine amber tones, and its translucent carnations. Another of his finest
portraits is that of Sir Charles Wyndham, in his character of David
Garrick at the moment of recognizing Ada--"If I had but known." It is
not only a brilliant portrait, but a magnificent piece of
characterization, summing up and seizing all the intensity of the
actor's emotion at the most dramatic moment of the play. It required a
great actor so to express, almost in silence, by the look of a moment,
that world of sorrow and regret. It was a great painter who could catch
and throw upon his canvas the poignant emotion of an "instant made

The greatness of Pettie's art owes much to his strong personality. His
art was the immediate response to his own vigorous nature, and rarely
has an artist's temperament been more absolutely reflected in subject as
well as style. A painting of action was to Pettie, vigorous and robust,
as natural a fulfilment of his own spirit as was an exquisite dreamy
nocturne to Whistler, the fragile man of nerves and sentiment. Nature
and inclination led Pettie to the dramatic motive, the treatment of
anecdote, the representation of the "brute incident." He loved romance;
he delighted in costly stuffs, in frills and ruffles, silks and satins,
the glitter of a sword, the sheen of military accoutrements. His work
shows the possession of that quality which the formal critics of
literature call vision. He actually saw the things that he painted, as
they really were, in their own atmosphere, whether of the seventeenth
century or of fifty years ago, whether they were things of State, plots
and deep-laid treachery, or things of romance--the tragedies and humours
of life, whether in palace, camp, or country lane. His pictures are
quick and alive--_une tranche de la vie_. It is no mean art that can
give on one canvas the whole spirit and circumstance of a period in

Though Pettie's subjects make a universal appeal, his claim to greatness
must rest on something higher than this. The great picture depends for
its greatness not on its subject, but on a combination of inherent
qualities of line, form, colour, and chiaroscuro. The greatest of these,
the very language of the painter, is colour; and in colour Pettie
excelled. As a young student in Edinburgh he used to visit George Paul
Chalmers at his lodgings, and stay talking with him till he had to
remain all night. So they would retire to bed, still talking, till they
fell asleep; and, says Chalmers' biographer, "their talk was all of
colour." Whether in shadow or light, Pettie's colour has, in a high
degree, those qualities of resonance and vibration which distinguish the
masters of this essential of the painter's craft. He loved colour not
only for its full brilliance, its magnificent contrasts, its satisfying
opulence, but also for its suave delicacy, its possibilities of subtle
orchestration. It is as a great colourist that he will live.

In a brief note like this, intended mainly as an introduction to an
admirable series of reproductions of Pettie's work, it is impossible to
picture the man, or to analyze adequately his work and his methods. I
should like, however, to add here two extracts from unpublished letters
by him, which have recently come into my hands and throw some light on
the man and his attitude towards his work. To a question about the
number of versions of his picture "The Laird," he writes as follows:

     "In April, 1878, I sold to Mr. E. F. White, the dealer, _three_
     canvases, one a blot of colour, my first idea, a few inches long.
     The second was a finished sketch, which was carried on at the same
     time as the picture; and the third, the picture now in Manchester.
     It was my habit at that time (and is so still, to some extent) to
     design my subject-pictures first by a blot of colour, then by a
     large study, generally half the size of the picture. On this I try
     any alterations or variety of effect during the progress of the
     larger picture, sometimes finishing as highly as the principal

The second letter, of March 11, 1873, shows him indignant at an opinion,
quoted to him by Sir Frederick Mappin, that he was getting into the
hands of dealers and hurrying his work under pressure from them:

     "Fortunately, or unfortunately, members of my profession who make
     any mark at all are the subject of much criticism and talk which
     is often presumptuous, wrong, or utterly foolish. None knew this
     better, I dare say, than John Phillip, your old friend. I have
     never desired the favour of critics and newspaper men, thinking,
     with Byron, that 'a man must serve his time to every trade save
     censure. Critics all are ready-made.' I have to look to members of
     my own profession for position and honour in it. It is therefore
     with me a matter of the highest importance that my pictures should
     be as good as I can make them, and thoroughly well studied. I
     should be unworthy indeed if money influenced me in the smallest
     degree as regards the _quality_ of my work.... In conclusion,
     let me assure you that while I am by no means inclined to be
     self-confident in my own powers, yet I have judgment to see that
     being consciously true to my art I need not fear in the long run
     to receive my due from my profession and from the public as well."

Some critics--by no means all, for he had his meed of praise--have
abused Pettie's work in his lifetime and since; the storied idea always
their stumbling-block. But painters--and I have spoken with many whose
own art is at the opposite pole to Pettie's in aim and method--are
always enthusiastic in their homage to his colour and workmanship. I
venture to think that no painter, however modern, and no critic, however
biassed, could stand in front of that little portrait head in the Tate
Gallery and honestly refrain from admiration and respect. Pettie need
not fear to receive his due.

I have said little of the man himself. By his death in 1893 the world
lost not only a fine painter, but one of the most honest, loyal, and
generous of mankind. When writing Pettie's biography a year or two ago,
I asked a well-known artist, who had been his life-long friend, for any
recollection that would lend "atmosphere" to my memoir. He gave me
several reminiscences, telling tale after tale of Pettie's cheeriness,
loyalty, and unselfishness, and he ended: "Have you ever seen John
Pettie's portrait of himself in the Aberdeen Gallery? It's all pure and
luminous, all rich coral and amber and gold. That's the atmosphere you
must suggest. Pettie was pure and honest through and through. His nature
was all amber and gold."

                                                      MARTIN HARDIE.

  [Illustration: The Vigil]

  [Illustration: The Step]

  [Illustration: A Drum-head Court-Martial]

  [Illustration: Treason]

  [Illustration: Rejected Addresses]

  [Illustration: Ho! Ho! Old Noll!]

  [Illustration: A Sword-and-Dagger Fight]

  [Illustration: Two Strings to her Bow]

  [Illustration: Disbanded]

  [Illustration: Portrait of Sir Charles Wyndham as David Garrick]

  [Illustration: The Clash of Steel]

  [Illustration: A Storm in a Teacup]

  [Illustration: Grandmother's Memories]

  [Illustration: The Chieftain's Candlesticks]

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John Pettie, R.A., H.R.S.A. - Sixteen examples in colour of the artist's work" ***

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