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That Morland Of Yours
( Originally Published 1913 )
A picture of pigs, isn't it ? George Morland was Par excellence the painter of pigs. I hope it is genuine, that " Morland " of yours ; but-have you closely compared it with the authentic Morlands in the public galleries at Trafalgar Square, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cambridge, Bath, Glasgow, Leicester, Manchester, or South Kensington ? Does it stand the neighbourhood of the authentic ? Has it the true Morland touch ?
George Morland died in 1804, his forty-second year, of apoplexy, in a sponging-house, a prisoner for debt. Yet today the smallest canvas from his easel sells for much money. That seems to be, pushed to a tragical extreme, the eternal history of great art. Today the contemporary colour-prints of " Morlands " are hunted for as if they had been printed upon bank-notes. So to-day myriads of forgeries of Morland paintings and colour-prints lie in wait for you in Great Britain, Holland, and France.
At Tonnerre.-I remember dropping off the train at Tonnerre, en -route from Dijon to Paris ; Tonnerre is a small old town, lost in the wide rurality of the Burgundy plain. I studied some fifteenth-century stained glass in two churches there-glass of that period is rarer than twelfth.-century windows, by the by-and then, as I made for the railway station, I passed a dirty old shop with books and pictures in the front of it. Or, rather, I did not pass it, I went in; and immediately the old fellow who kept that omnium gatherum saw me he tried to sell me a couple of Morlands. This is artists' fame indeed.
The Facility and the Failing.-Morland painted swiftly, in all sorts of unsuitable places. There was a public-house at Freshwater Gate, Isle of Wight, called The Cabin; there was the Mother Blackcap, in Pleasing Passage, Camden Town; there was the White Lion, at Paddington; there was the Black Bull, near Deal-undiscovered Morlands still lurk in those neighbourhoods, perhaps-and there were scores of other taverns where " George " was familiarly known. He had become the prey of picture-dealers ; they came to him with a bottle in one hand and a purse in the other. He was then in the plenitude of his swift, sure, wonderful brushwork, and would paint a canvas almost every day ! Once he completed a large landscape, with twenty-four figures in it, beginning and finishing it, all within twenty-four hours!
Pictures were his currency; every dun who came to him was paid off by a still-wet canvas. For his brother alone, who had set up as a dealer, he painted 192 canvases between the years 1800 and 1804. He probably painted twice as many again for other dealers during the same period. Dealers used to take it in turn to " farm " him, paying him for what he painted by giving him four guineas a day and his liquor. His brother's day-books showed that for him alone, not to mention others, " George " did 792 canvases and more than a thousand drawings during his last eight years of life. By day he painted in oil, and by candle-light did drawings; he was far more industrious than many a sober man.
The Contemporary Counterfeits.-Morlands are numerous, therefore; but many more " Morlands " are for sale than even he could have painted. His style was the rage in his day, and copyists imitated or counterfeited him while he was alive. A contemporary of his put on record that " I once saw twelve copies from a small picture of Morland's all at one time, in a dealer's shop-window, with the original in the middle." Nowadays these contemporary copies, browned and cracked by effect of time, sell as true " 'Morlands," and not one purchaser in ten-not even you, perhaps-discovers that he as well as the picture has been sold. Cleverish counterfeiters are forging small " Morlands " to-day-always beware of a very small " Morland," about nine inches by five-upon old panels, and pieces of old canvas re-stretched.
The True Touch.-But there are tests. Whatever Morland painted, no matter how swiftly he did it, he painted supremely well. He worked rapidly but not scampingly ; the genius in him more than supplied the place of careful execution and painful pains. In all his pictures you find the marks of a swift, instinctively accurate brush ; if your " Morland " is laboured or finicking anywhere it is certainly a copy. Or if the colour is dirty-I do not mean dirtied-not fresh and rich, not contrasted and striking, though in a low key, it is little likely to be Morland's work ; he was a colourist in browns. The " Inside of a Stable," at the National Gallery, shows what he, at his zenith, could do; and, like all great artists, he never put second-best into his work. His copyists, contemporary or modern, were fourth-rate men, and could not even put second-best into their work.
If " that Morland of yours " be really a Morland, treasure it ; its value will increase. Every year Morland's fame is more wide in Europe. He is recognised as the greatest English genre painter in scenes from country life, gipsy subjects, sporting acts, stables, inn-yards, groups of natural-looking men and women, and still more natural-looking horses, asses, poultry, dogs, and pigs-above all, pigs. Morland has been compared to Jan Steen, but he was greater than Jan Steen or any of the Dutch realists whose paintings incited him so when a lad. His name will always be famous ; it might have ranked with the best. But the curse of the thirsty was on him ; he did not chasten and separate himself, as the great must do to be great. He swilled; and I sometimes think that he may have felt a cousinly feeling while painting those wonderful hides of pigs at the trough in the stye.