Appendix II: Gleeson White On Frederick Sandys
This most admirable illustrator
was born in Norwich in 1832, the son of a painter of the place, from whom he received his earliest art instruction. Among his first drawings was a series of illustrations of the birds of Norfolk, and another dealing with the antiquities of his native city. Probably he first exhibited in 1851, with a portrait (in crayons) of ‘Henry, Lord Loftus’ which appears as the work of ‘F. Sands’ in the catalogue of the Royal Academy to whose exhibitions he has contributed in all forty-seven pictures and drawings.
The above, extracted from Mr. J. M. Gray’s article, Frederick Sandys and the Woodcut Designers of Thirty Years Ago, gives the facts which concern us here. A most interesting study of the same artist by the same critic, in the Art Journal, supplies more description and analysed appreciation. The eulogy by Mr. Joseph Pennell in the Quarto must not be forgotten. Further references to Mr. Sandys appear in a lecture delivered by Professor Herkomer at the Royal Institution, printed in the Art Journal, 1883, and in a review of Thornbury’s Ballads by Mr. Edmund Gosse in the Academy.It is quite possible, although only thirteen of the thirty or so of illustrations by Frederick Sandys appeared in Once a Week, that these thirteen have been the most potent factor in giving the magazine its peculiar place in the hearts of artists. The general public may have forgotten its early volumes, but at no time since they were published have painters and pen-draughtsmen failed to prize them. During the years that saw them appear there are frequent laudatory references in contemporary journals, with now and again the spiteful attack which is only awarded to work that is unlike the average. Elsewhere mention is made of articles upon them which have appeared from time to time by Messrs. Edmund Gosse, J. M. Gray, Joseph Pennell, and others. During the “seventies,” no less than in the “eighties” or “nineties,” men cut out the pages and kept them in their portfolios; so that today, in buying volumes of the magazine, a wise person is careful to see that the “Sandys” are all there before completing the purchase. Therefore, should the larger public admit them formally into the limited group of its acknowledged masterpieces, it will only imitate the attitude which from the first fellow-artists have maintained towards them.
The original drawings, If, Life’s Journey, The Little Mourner, and Jacques de Caumont, were exhibited at the “Arts and Crafts,” 1893. That a companion volume to Millais’s Parables, with illustrations of The Story of Joseph, was actually projected, and the first drawings completed, is true, and one’s regret that circumstances—those hideous circumstances, which need not be explained fully, of an artist’s ideas rejected by a too prudish publisher—prevented its completion, is perhaps the most depressing item recorded in the pages of this volume.
That some thirty designs all told should have established the lasting reputation of an artist would be somewhat surprising, did not one realise that almost every one is a masterpiece of its kind. At the risk of repeating a list already printed and reprinted, it is well to condense the scattered references in the foregoing pages in a convenient paragraph:
The Cornhill Magazine : The Portent (’60), Manoli (’62), Cleopatra (’66) ; Once a Week : Yet once more on the organ play, The Sailor’s Bride, From my window, Three Statues of Ægina, Rosamund Queen of the Lombards (all 1861), The Old Chartist, The King at the Gate, Jacques de Caumont, King Warivolf, The Boy Martyr, Harold Harfagr (all ’62), and Helen and Cassandra (’66); Good Words: Until her Death (’62), Sleep (’63); Churchman’s Family Magazine: The Waiting Time (’63); Shilling Magazine: Amor Mundi (’65); The Quiver: Advent of Winter (’66); the Argosy: If (’65) ; the Century Guild Hobby Horse: Danae (’88); Wilmot’s Sacred Poetry: Life’s Journey, The Little Mourner; Cassell’s Family Magazine: Proud Maisie (’81); and Dalziels’ Bible Gallery: Jacob hears the voice of the Lord.
In addition, it may be interesting to add notes of other drawings : The Nightmare (1857) a parody of Sir Isumbras at the Ford, by Millais, which shows a braying ass marked “J. R.” (for John Ruskin), with Millais, Rossetti,
and Holman Hunt on his back; Morgan le Fay, reproduced as a double-page supplement in the British Architect, October 31, 1879; a frontispiece, engraved on steel by J. Saddler, for Miss Muloch’s Christian’s Mistake (Hurst and Blackett), and another for The Shaving of Shagpat (Chapman and Hall, 1865); a portrait of Matthew Arnold, engraved by O. Lacour, published in the English Illustrated Magazine, January 1884; another of Professor J. R. Green, engraved by G. J. Stodardt, in The Conquest of England, 1883 ; and one of Robert Browning, published in the Magazine of Art shortly after the poet’s death; Miranda, a drawing reproduced in the Century Guild Hobby Horse, vol. iii. p. 41; Medea, reproduced (as a silver-print photograph) in Col. Richard’s poem of that name (Chapman and Hall, 1869); a reproduction of the original drawing for Amor Mundi, and studies for the same, in the two editions of Mr. Pennell’s Pen-Drawing and Pen-Draughtsmen (Macmillan); a reproduction of an unfinished drawing on wood, The Spirit of the Storm, in the Quarto (No. i, 1896); Proud Maisie in Pan (1881), reissued in Songs of the North, and engraved by W. Spielmayer (from the original in possession of Dr. John Todhunter) in the English Illustrated Magazine, May 1891, and the original drawing for the Advent of Winter and one of Two Heads, reproduced in J. M. Gray’s article in the Art Journal (March 1884).
To add another eulogy of these works is hardly necessary at this moment, when their superb quality has provoked a still wider recognition than ever. Concerning the engraving of some Mr. Sandys complained bitterly, but of others, notably the Danae, he wrote in October 1880 :
My drawing was most perfectly cut by Swain, from my point of view, the best piece of wood-cutting of our time—mind I am not speaking of my work, but Swain’s. To see that the artist’s complaint was at times not unfounded one has but to compare the Advent of Winter as it appears in a reproduction of the drawing (Art Journal, March 1884) and in the Quiver.
It was my best drawing—entirely spoilt by the cutter, he said; but this was perhaps a rather hasty criticism that is hardly proved up to the hilt by the published evidence.
As a few contemporary criticisms quoted elsewhere go to prove, Sandys was never ignored by artists nor by people of taste. Today there are dozens of men in Europe without popular appreciation at home or abroad, but surely if his fellows recognise the master-hand, it is of little moment whether the cheap periodicals ignore him, or publish more or less adequately illustrated articles on the man and his work. Frederick Sandys is and has been a name to conjure with for the last thirty years. Though still alive, he has gained (I believe) no official recognition. But that is of little consequence. There are laureates uncrowned and presidents unelected still living among us whose lasting fame is more secure than that of many who have worn the empty titles without enjoying the unstinted approval of fellow-craftsmen which alone makes any honour worthy an artist’s acceptance.
- This excerpt was taken from English Illustration, “the Sixties” written by Gleeson White and published in Westminster by Archibald Constable and Co., 1903.
- Image source: Reproductions of Woodcuts by F. Sandys, 1860-1866. London: Carl Hentschel, n.d.