Charles William Mansel Lewis (1845–1931), Stradey Castle, Llanelly, Carmarthenshire;
Thence by descent.
Philadelphia, Museum of Art, Sir Edwin Landseer, 24 October 1981 – 2 January 1982, no. 71;
London, Tate Gallery, Sir Edwin Landseer, 10 February – 12 April 1982, no. 71;
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, The Monarch of the Glen, Landseer in the Highlands, 14 April – 10 July 2005, no. 20.
R. Ormond, Sir Edwin Landseer, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1981, pp. 117–18, reproduced pl. 71;
R. Ormond, The Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands, National Galleries of Scotland exhibition catalogue, Edinburgh 2005, pp. 33–34 and 129, reproduced in colour pl. 20.
The sport of hawking, which had largely fallen into remission in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, enjoyed a marked revival in the early nineteenth century among aristocratic sportsmen. Carrying a strong association with the chivalric world of the Middle Ages and Tudor England, its resurgence was part of a wider interest in all things medieval that was characteristic of the period and which manifested itself in everything from literature to architecture; attaining perhaps its most fantastical zenith in the pseudo pageantry of the Eglinton Tournament of 1839. Descriptions of hawks and hawking are scattered throughout the work of the artist’s great friend, Sir Walter Scott, whose novels did much to further the popularity and spread of this Gothic revival. As Landseer did in his historical paintings, Scott used the imagery of hawking for period effect and the scene in this sketch might just as well have been taken directly from one of his novels, so in tune is it with the author’s rich descriptive detail and romantic characterisation.
However, though Landseer did paint a small series of oil sketches directly illustrating scenes from Scott’s work, which were directly commissioned by the author for his Waverly edition, as a rule the artist was wary of precise literary references. Though he had a strong facility for narrative within his compositions it can be argued that the figures and settings in his pictures are ancillary to his true artistic interest; the display of dogs, hawks, wild beasts, dead game and other animal life. Painted with a fresh, lively touch this is one of a number of studies relating to hawks and hawking by the artist and the composition, with its historicising interior scene, relates to such celebrated pictures as Bolton Abbey in the Olden Times (Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth) and Interior of a Castle Courtyard (Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery).
Here, evoking the chivalric atmosphere of Abbotsford and the world of Scott’s imagination, Landseer conjures a scene in which two young ladies of the castle (which is itself visible through the doorway) pay a visit to the Falconer’s house. They watch intently as a young boy, possibly their brother, smartly dressed in a slashed doublet and hose, feeds a hawk from the hand, whilst the Falconer himself peers over his shoulder, possibly offering instruction. Two rows of hooded falcons line the room, whilst in the foreground a brace of dead herons and a dead duck strew the room; trophies of a successful hunt. Beneath the stool upon which the boy sits an exhausted hound slumbers with its chin resting on the cross bar, in contract to the two alert greyhounds warming themselves by the stove, one of which picks up its ears at the figure of a man, a sword at his hip and the gleam of armour at his shoulder, silhouetted in the doorway. Shields, a cross bow, a breast plate and other paraphernalia line the walls of the simple wooden barn, suggestive details which, combined with the sixteenth-century costumes, transport us back to a period that appears more heroic and more exciting than our own.
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