Edwin Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen

The English painter known for depicting animals, shows the brutality and cheap sentiment attached to hunting

Hard candy …

Edwin Landseer was one of the most successful painters of the 19th century and a corny joke for much of the 20th. His animal paintings switch between the extremes of bloodsports and his age’s equivalent of Lolcats. They can seem the nadir of Victorian hypocrisy, a mix of brutality and cheap sentiment.

Stag party …

The Monarch of the Glen from 1851 is his most recognisable painting, thanks partly to its later use promoting Dewar’s whisky. In his “deer period”, Landseer was a regular visitor at Balmoral, where the Prince Consort had a passion for deer stalking.

Deer me …

Many of the resulting paintings are scenes of grand guignol, showing animals being vigorously attacked by human hunters or each other. “Who does not glory in the death of a fine stag?” Landseer wrote.

Law of nature …

He had conflicting feelings about the violence, however. They are brought powerfully home in this depiction. Taking out stags was an aristocratic pursuit, where nature was shown who’s boss. Yet here it is the deer who judges his audience, full of innate nobility.

Edwin Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen, 1851.

Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen, The National Gallery, WC2, to 3 February

Contributor

Skye Sherwin

The GuardianTramp

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