Friday, 6 December 2013

Lives of the Artists No.2: Edward Chatfield

Benjamin Robert Haydon, about whom enough has probably been written,  had several pupils, of whom Charles Lock Eastlake and the brothers Edwin and Charles Landseer were the most successful. Others have disappeared almost without trace,  though they may not have gone entirely unnoticed in their own time.

Edward Chatfield was  born  in 1800, the son of a distiller from Croydon.  Impressed by some paintings by Haydon, he obtained an introduction to the artist, who agreed to take him on as a pupil. His training with Haydon  included a course in anatomy, and close study of two of Haydon's special enthusiasms: the "Elgin Marbles" and the Raphael Cartoons. Although Haydon provided his tuition free, the master-pupil relationship would eventually cost Chatfield a considerable sum, as he had unwisely guaranteed  some bills for the man described by  Henry Vizetelly as "the unthrifty painter of colossal canvasses", and had to pay up when Haydon was arrested for debt in 1823. However he remained attached to Haydon, whom he often, rather oddly, referred to as "father".

Following the abrupt end of his training, he embarked on a career that mixed portrait painting - presumably for the money - with more  ambitious historical subjects. His works seem to have sunk into almost complete obscurity. There aren't any paintings - at least not recognised as such - in British public collections, and a simple internet search  turns up only a few prints after his works.

In 1825 he painted a deputation of Huron chiefs, who had came to London  in order to present their grievances to  George IV. Charles Hullmandell made lithographs of the pictures:

Three Chiefs of the Huron Indians Residing at La Jeune Lorette, Near Quebec, in their National Costume. Lithograph by Charles Hullmandel, after a painting by Edward Chatfield (1825). Image: National Gallery of Canada

Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi. Lithograph by Charles Hullmandel, after a painting by Edward Chatfield (1825). Image: Wikimedia Commons.

His painting The Otter's Cairn—a Scene in the Island of Islay,  with portraits, painted for "Campbell M.P. of Islay" and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, was, though,  in a Christie's sale in Edinburgh in 2008. Oddly enough it was catalogued as "Circle of George Sanders (1774-1846)", but if the description of the painting as "The Islay Otter Hunt with numerous figures, including Walter Frederick Campbell (1798-1855), and his son John Francis Campbell (1822-1885)" wasn't enough to confirm an attribution to Chatfield, the catalogue entry notes that an indistinct inscription on the stretcher,  reading "An otter hunt in Islay painted by Cha[tfield?] in Islay/Portrait of ..... Campbell of Islay...."

This is how The Sporting Magazine reviewed it:

Otter Hunting will lose none of its attractions by Mr. Chatfield's delineation of it—he has been very happy in selecting his points, which tell with considerable effect. The listening attitude of some, and the wary countenances of others while awaiting the dislodgment of the enemy from his retreat, is cleverly imagined, and the whole is heightened by the Highland costume of some of the party.

Other exhibited paintings by Chatfield included The Death of Moses, shown at the British Institution in 1823, and recorded at the time of his death at Salters' Hall, in the City of London;   Penelope's Grief over the Bow of Ulysses ( 1824), La Petite Espiegle (1825), The Death of Locke (1833); The Battle of Killiecrankie (1836)  and  Ophelia (1837), as well as various portraits. Are we missing much by not knowing these paintings? The Gentleman's Magazine was ambivalent about his achievement:

As an artist, Mr. Chatfield had never succeeded in doing perfect justice to the powers which he really possessed. His taste was formed upon a thorough understanding of all that was loftiest in art— but his hand, judging by his exhibited pictures, could not accomplish the tasks which he would have set it. His unceasing and feverish ambition to realise his pure views of art—to trace the forms which he saw in visions, peopled with the shapes and colours of the Old Masters whom he venerated —to pourtray the beauty, and work out the truth which lie felt so acutely—may have had its effect among the causes of his premature death. 

In other words, he was a victim of Haydon's high-mindedness. There isn't much more. He wrote articles  on art for various magazines under the pseudonym "Echion". In his last piece, ''On Poetic Painting and Sculpture'' for the ''Monthly Magazine" he criticised the works of Henry Fuseli in terms that, to the modern reader, might seem like an argument for dullness in art:  "The fantastic, the eccentric, the grotesque, the unnatural, the horrible, may all put in their claims to the title of Poetic, and some portion of the true Hippocrene may mingle with all; but a matured taste rejects from any affinity with the genuine fountain of the Muses, whatsoever is inconsistent with fine sense or propriety of character".

In Greek mythology Echion was, in the words of Lempriére's Classical Dictionary, the standard  reference work of the time and favourite reading of Haydon's friend John Keats, "one of those men who sprung from the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmus. He was one of the five who survived the fate of his brothers and assisted Cadmus in building the city of Thebes."  Chatfield's life was less epic. In 38 years it took him from Croydon to Bloomsbury, where he died at the house of his friend, the wood engraver Orrin Smith, with whom he had lived for several years, in   January 1839.

[[Sources: Obituaries in the Aldine Magazine and
the Gentleman's Magazine; Chatfield's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography; Henry Vizetelly Glances Back Through Seventy Years; The Sporting Magazine; The Monthly Magazine; Lempriére's Dictionary.]

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