LANDSEER, Sir Edwin Henry (1802-1873) – LANDSEER, Thomas (1795-1880). The Stag at Bay. London: Louis Brall, 1865.

$ 4,500.00

Single sheet, (26 ½ x 42 inches). Fine engraving showing a hunting scene.

First edition. Sir Edwin Landseer once wrote, “Who does not glory in the death of a fine stag?” He rose to fame in the 1840s and 1850s, largely due to the publication of prints based on his paintings of deer. These engravings, including this one and ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ secured Landseer’s place in history, achieving status as familiar household icons.

“Landseer had close links with the sphere of zoological art through his friendship with [Joseph] Wolf and through the activities of his own brothers, Charles and Thomas Landseer, both of whom were occasionally employed as illustrators of popular books on natural history. However, his paintings had a scale, dramatic power and imaginative exaltation that set them apart from such works. They were history paintings, but of a completely original kind, in the sense that they invested the lives of animals themselves with tragic grandeur. That this could be done so convincingly is itself evidence of great changes in attitudes to nature in the nineteenth century: the profound philosophical implications of the discoveries in geology, paleontology and evolutionary theory which I have outlined placed animals at the forefront of consciousness. As a writer in the London Quarterly Review put it in 1874, Landseer painted ‘the poetry of animal life, running so curiously parallel to the poetry of human life’ (Diana Donald, Picturing Animals in Britain, 1750-1850, p. 94).

“Landseer’s Stag at Bay was exhibited in 1846…No human figures are visible, but the epic quality which Landseer gave to this animal combat is far from implying emotional distance. This is the view of the quarry which the eager sportsman would obtain through his telescope or spyglass: indeed, Landseer’s series of drawings called ‘The Forest’ included several circular designs, in frank allusion to telescopic sights. The animals are seen from a low eye level, the stag silhouetted against the sky, and are brought so close to us that the dogs – one already laid low – are partly cut off by the bottom edge of the painting, as though almost outside the zone of optical focus. All are intensely real, with that heady recollection of the experience of stalking and that first-hand, empathetic knowledge of the hunted animal which Landseer conveyed to Keyl. The artist could imitate a stag’s ‘voice & gesture & expression…eye faintly rolling in Corner – the very ears seemed to go back,’ and this recall was used to heighten the emotive, quasi-anthropomorphic characterization of the animals. It is like watching a modern wildlife film, or rather, like being in a theatre; the grim facts are lifted to the level of high tragedy by the stag’s expression of defiance and agony… The fitful shafts of light, the wind whipping up the water of the lake into spray, the jagged shoreline and lonely horizon, the eagle hovering in the clouds in hope of carrion: all heighten the pathos of the animals’ plight” (Donald, p. 299).

72MMS345