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Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A. (London, 1802-1873)
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Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A. (London, 1802-1873)

Lions at a Kill

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A. (London, 1802-1873)
Lions at a Kill
oil on canvas
13 7/8 x 18 in. (35.2 x 45.6 cm.)
Joseph Fenton, Bamford Hall, Rochdale; Christie’s, 5 May 1879, lot 173 (44 gns. to Hooper).
Thomas Corns, and by descent to his daughter,
Mary, wife of William Berry, 1st Viscount Camrose (1879-1954), and by descent until,
Hackwood Park sale; Christie’s, 21 April 1998 (=2nd day), lot 763, when acquired by the present owner.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of the Works of Sir E. Landseer, Winter 1874, no. 271.
London, Royal Academy, Landseer Exhibition, 10 March-14 May 1961, no. 3.
Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery, Landseer and his World, 6 February-12 March 1972, no. 4.
Philadelphia, Museum of Art, and London, Tate Gallery, Sir Edwin Landseer, 25 October 1981-12 April 1982, no. 11.
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Lot Essay

Painted by 1818, this small canvas dates to an important moment in Landseer’s early career, at around the time he was concluding his studies at the Royal Academy of Arts and beginning to fully formulate and articulate his artistic identity. The painting is demonstrative not just of Landseer’s early fascination with animals (which would continue to guide his work and establish him as a favourite painter of Queen Victoria and one of the leading artists working in nineteenth century Britain) but also of his considered, rapid brushwork, which describes the ruffled fur of the fighting lions, and which would continue to be used to great effect throughout the painter’s career. In this, Landseer perhaps shows the profound influence that Old Masters, in particular Sir Peter Paul Rubens, had on his work. Indeed, the latter’s work inspired not only the painter’s technique but also his compositions, with Landseer copying lions and other wild cats by Rubens for his 1823-1828 Engravings of lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, dogs, as well as pictures like the Wolf and fox hunt, copied in circa 1824-1825 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 1990.75).

Throughout the course of his studies in London, Landseer would have had ample opportunity to visit both the Exeter ‘Change and the menagerie kept at the Tower of London, studying the animals housed in the two collections. The painter’s particular interest in the lions he saw and his desire to understand their anatomy further, even saw him borrowing a series of drawings of a dissected lion from the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) in 1815 to improve and augment his own life studies. In 1814, Landseer published, with his brother Thomas, an engraving of Nero, a Lion from Senegal and resident in the Tower menagerie. By that year, the menagerie had a male lion, Nero, and two females, and it is tempting to suggest that these served as the source for Landseer’s Lions at a Kill. Nero, however, appears considerably older in Landseer’s engraving than the lion in the present work. It is more likely that Landseer’s studies were taken at the Exeter ‘Change where the specimens were younger (they would have cubs in 1820) and which, by the time the present work was painted, far exceeded the Tower in the number and quality of its collection.

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