“Recollections of a Portrait Painter” by A Brother of the Brush”
by Ann Neilson
It was not until after I had finished transcribing this story of unknown authorship for a personal webpage, that I realized the story was not written by the author I’d mistakenly attributed it to. Therefore, I post this story for the public with the hopes that others may enjoy it.
You will find this in several installments, as it is quite lengthy. You can view links to the next parts below.
[From The Corsair, Vol. 1, No. 37, November 23, 1839, pp. 581-583.]
RECOLLECTIONS OF A PORTRAIT PAINTER.
A BROTHER OF THE BRUSH.
My friend, Sir Philip Borrodaile, shortly after his union with the fair Eleanor Armstrong, called upon me one morning, to request that I would accompany him to the——street gallery to assist him in the selection of two or three pictures, which were wanted to complete the furniture of his splendid dining-room.
“I know but little of pictures myself,” said he, “but Eleanor dotes on them, and I am sure I owe it to the company of painters to encourage them by every means in my power.”
To the gallery we proceeded accordingly, and commenced a search for such pictures as my friend wished to purchase. Three were soon fixed upon—my share in the choice being rather a negative thing; for clever as they certainly were, they were not quite what I should have selected, if left to my own judgment. “A Scotch terrier,” by one of the first animal painters of the day, Sir Philip fell in love with at first sight, because of the resemblance it bore to a favourite dog of his own, which had died a few weeks before. “A party of Duch boors” were purchased, because they were so amusing; and a large fruit piece concluded the trio, because as Sir Philip remarked, “nothing could be more suitable for a dining-room.” But still a fourth was wanting to complete the required number, and as I saw my friend casting an eye towards the representation of some nameless battle, simply because it accorded in size with those already chosen, I drew him away towards a picture which had all along attracted my attention, and which, whilst it was nearly of the proper dimensions, was far more tasteful in design than the battle aforesaid.
On examination I found that this work was not particularly well finished; but I was pleased with the poetical light and warmth, the freedom of outline, the stamp of natural genius that pervaded it. There could be no question but that the artist, whoever he was, had the root of excellence strong within him, though it might lack sufficient cultivation. The subject was “an Italian vintage scene,” as we found by reference to the catalogue; and certainly the painting told its own story without words. A beautiful peasant girl had just reached her cottage door, and was reclining in a languid attitude on the turf before it. A large basket of grapes rested on the ground beside her, and an infant slumbered on her knees. Behind her leaned a youth of eighteen or twenty, who was twisting a few vine leaves amongst her dark curls. She was raising one hand as if to put aside those tresses, and her eyes were uplifted with an expression of the deepest and most overflowing tenderness I ever saw in or out of a picture. But the most striking feature of the whole, was the appearance of the young man, whose features and dress were genuinely and evidently English. I felt that the picture had a history. Perhaps the very thing that fixed my attention so lovingly upon it, was the conviction that at once entered my mind that here were portraits. Sir Philips did not seem particularly taken with the object of my admiration. I assured him that Lady Borrodaile would be delighted with it; but still his eye obstinately wandered towards the battle piece. At last he consented to suspend his choice till his lady’s opinion could be taken; and directions were given, that while “sold” should be marked on the three positively chosen, the “Italian vintage scene,” and its gaudy rival should not be disposed of, without due notice being given to me or my friend.
I had observed that an elderly man, of very prepossessing appearance, had several times lingered near us during our perambulation of the rooms, and though there was not the least of impertinent curiosity or obtrusiveness in his manner, I could not but see that he was in some way interested in our decision. He always kept in the neighbourhood of the “Italian scene,” and though as we came near it again and again he withdrew his eyes from us, and seemed totally absorbed in the perusal of a catalogue, I was sure he wished to hear what we said—sure that our choice was a matter of moment to him. Once, when I was advising that my favourite should be at any rate purchased, I caught his clear blue eyes fixed on me with the most intense eagerness; but the moment he perceived that I noticed it, he turned very red, and rolling up his catalogue, retreated to the farther end of the room. He came near us no more, but we passed him as we were leaving the gallery, and as the door closed, a heavy sigh reached my ears. I was sure it came from the old man behind us.