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Sir Edwin Henry Landseer was a British Animalier sculptor and painter who became primarily known for his masterful representation of animals, especially stags, dogs, and horses. However, his best-known artworks are probably his lion sculptures located at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, Central London.
Young Edwin was quite a prodigy, whose artistic prowesses were noted at a very early age. Besides his father, Landseer studied under several artists such as the British history painter Robert Haydon, who would encourage the young artist to perform animal dissections in order to comprehend their skeletal structure and musculature fully. These studies were a pivotal element in the development of Landseer’s future production.
Landseer’s career was closely related to the Royal Academy. When the artist was thirteen years old, he would already exhibit his artworks at the institution. At age 24, he became a Royal Academy Associate, and five years later, he was elected as a full Academician.
In 1823, Landseer received a commission to paint a portrait of the Duchess of Bedford, Georgina Russel. Despite her being almost twenty-five years older then the artist, they began an affair.
Soon, Landseer’s artworks were noticed by Queen Victoria, who promptly secured him a place in court, where he would become one of the Queen’s favorite artists. In 1850, following the acquisition of the Balmoral Castle by the Queen, Landseer visited her to paint a group portrait of the Royal Family. However, the artist could not finish the picture. Landseer was knighted in the same year.
Around 1840, following his mother’s death, Landseer’s mental health would decline severely, worsened by his failure to finish the aforementioned portrait of the Royal family, which helped to lower the artist’s morale and self-esteem. Landseer never fully recovered, suffering recurring bouts of hypochondria, melancholy, and depression, often aggravated by drug and alcohol use.
In 1666, Landseer was elected President of the Royal Academy of Arts; however, he declined. During his last years, his mental stability worsened deeply, and in 1872, under the request of his family, the artist was declared insane.