Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lions Forever, Edwin Landseer and Partridge with Port Wine Sauce

Lions installed at Trafalgar Square 1867

I was full of rage and terribly saddened by the dastardly murder of Cecil the lion by a pathetic excuse for a man/hunter. The tragic death has had one positive effect, it has really advanced the conversation about killing for fun the way Black Fish has raised awareness about the plight of captive killer whales.  To honor animal spirits and dislodge that horrid image of the leering dentist and the dead lion from of my brain, I thought it would be cathartic for me to write of one of the greatest animal artists of all time and share some of his wondrous works.

One of the most iconic portrayals of leonine majesty would have to be the quartet of 22 foot high bronze lions astride Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square created by Edwin Landseer.

Landseer working on the lions by John Ballantyne

Landseer’s lion study

Edwin Landseer (1802-1873)

Edwin Landseer, born into a family of master engravers, was prodigiously gifted from a very early age. He could paint with both hands at the same time (quite a parlor trick).

Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler, 1820

Although his work was already being shown in London at 13, he achieved fame at 18 with his dramatic portrait of Alpine Mastiffs going to the rescue of a traveler. It made a big splash and even created a tradition. The dog on the right is more familiar St. Bernard, on the left is the extinct Alpine Mastiff. That barrel of brandy on the Alpine Mastiff's collar –– it’s all Landseer’s fault the poor animals now wear the damn things (they are heavy and awkward and the dogs really don't like them). He put a cask on the great beast’s collar in this painting and the idea caught on.

 Landseer lion study

As for the lions, he was fascinated with them from childhood. McDougall Scott wrote in his 1907 biography of Landseer, “He and his friend, Thomas Christmas, at intervals still sketched and painted the lions the tower and at Exeter ‘Change, and on the death of a noble brute at the latter menagerie, Mr. Cross presented them with the carcass, which they removed to their studio. The skin was afterwards preserved and stuffed. They dissected the body, and then the skeleton was articulated and set up. This accounts for the number of leonine subjects that occupied his can vases about this period. The “Lion Enjoying his Repast” and “Lion Disturbed at his Repast” (both of 1820, and exhibited at the British Institution a year later), and the “Prowling Lion” and “Study of a Lion” (both of 1822, and the former shown at the Royal Academy), all point to a lingering fascination for the reputed King of Beasts — a master passion that remained with him, despite intervals of dormancy, to the very last.” 

Isaac van Amburgh with his Animals, 1838 

Aside from the famous lions at Trafalgar Square, he also worked on a book filled with engravings of lions, tigers and leopards.and painted the famous animal trainer, Isaac van Amburgh, in a cage with his menagerie (he seems an animal whisperer in Landseer’s portrayal ­­–– in fact he was a vile abuser who starved and beat his creatures to get them to perform).

 Stubbs,Whistlejacket, 1762

Mares and Foals, Stubbs 1762

Landseer, Study of a horse

Although I loved the cool authority of earlier artist George Stubb’s  magnificent equine portraits, Edwin Landseer’s peerless dogs, lions, and yes, sometimes even horses were the rage of Victorian England (grand Stubbs show at the Met this summer, btw).

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with animals by Landseer

He was Queen Victoria’s favorite artist. He actually helped the Queen with her sketching and taught the Queen and Prince Albert how to etch. They even had a small press installed at Balmoral so they could make prints of their work. He spent much time at Balmoral with the family, painting them and their many pets.

Mental illness struck Landseer in 1840 and would recur for the rest of his life. It led him to use narcotics for relief (he was probably manic-depressive) and sometimes forced him to be institutionalized but rarely kept him from his work. The Queen was inconsolable when he died. Many observed, “Her Majesty’s kindly, we might almost say tender, compassion for her distraught artist in his last sad days. Though she did not come in person to see him, her messages were always full of comfort and kind thought.” She had a book of etchings of his paintings made for her to treasure as well as the dozens of works in oil and on paper that he had made for her when he lived. She was terribly fond of all of them.

Queen Victoria’s Dogs, 1838 “Hector, Nero, and Dash with the parrot Lory”

Prince Albert’s dog, Eos, 1841

What Landseer was best known for were his dogs and there was a reason for this. His great friend, Mrs, Ritchie (William Thackeray’s daughter) said: “He had a strong feeling against the way some dogs are tied up; only allowed their freedom now and then. He used to say a man would fare better tied up than a dog, because the former can take his coat off, but a dog lives in his forever. He declared a tied-up dog without daily exercise goes mad or dies in three years. His wonderful power over dogs is well-known. An illustrious lady [whom we shall venture upon identifying as Queen Victoria] asked him how it was that he gained this knowledge. ‘By peeping into their hearts, ma’am,’ was his answer.”

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, 1838

Saved, 1838

Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner
Queen Victoria's mother's dog Quiz and a St Bernard pal

Monarch of the Glen, 1851

Landseer was also famous for his portrayals of the heroic stag that captured his imagination when he first traveled to Scotland in 1824. The best known, his “Monarch of the Glen” is positively inspirational -- the stag never looked so regal as he does captured by Landseer (the title nudged me to watch the television show, Monarch of the Glen as I was writing –– gorgeous scenery and a great dog days of summer escape).

Serving the Guns

He painted a lot of hunting scenes with dogs.

This is where we started, isn’t it, the hunting part?

I do understand a love and reverence for animals that inspires art like Stubbs’ and Landseer’s and inspires many of us to have animal paintings, sculptures and photographs as well as the animals themselves all about our houses. Animal videos on YouTube are consistently viral sensations – I can understand that. I cannot understand the taking of a beautiful animal life to hang on a wall to have something to boast about and crow over – that I simply cannot understand.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a hunter. I love looking at beautiful beasts in the wild but can’t bear going to zoos or seeing animals in cages. The idea of enjoying killing is beyond me. Watching a creature run from me in terror is not my idea of a good time. I see nothing brave or sportsmanlike about shining a light in an animal’s eyes and shooting it. There is only cowardice in a canned hunt – some pathetic John Wayne delusion (who for all his swagger got out of serving in WWII). Even worse, as in Cecil’s case, the idea of hunters who shoot and do not kill – making the animal suffer for hours or days with a bullet or arrow in them –– horrible. Makes you think we haven’t advanced past brutal cave men who at least killed for hunger -- to do it for trophies???

The Wild Cattle of Chillingham

Death of the Wild Bull, 1833

My experience with hunters has not been positive.  I used to have a house in prime hunting territory and saw hunters in the fall –– drunk, shooting up the land, wounding but not killing and just leaving dead animals they were too lazy to field-dress (I put an orange vest on my St. Bernard so he wouldn’t be mistaken for a white tail deer and get shot because the hunters were so careless). I also saw Bambi as a child and believe you me –– I’ve thought of hunters as pure black evil since I was 5 or 6 (sorry Hank Shaw, I can’t help it). It’s a hard thing to change your attitude when something is so powerfully ingrained in your psyche.

I do eat meat, so I have to accept responsibility for the death-for-my-dinner thing. It is perhaps hypocritical and cowardly to point any fingers at a hunter, yet for me,  i would feel like a soldier in war –– having to shoot into the darkness I might be able to do, having to look someone in the eye and shoot is another. Once you make real contact that’s it. Once it’s a man and not ‘the other’ most men can’t pull the trigger. If I had to shoot my dinner, I would be a vegetarian.

Best of all is to make sure we treat all creatures great and small with love and affection. If we must kill it should be done quickly and humanely after a life well lived.  Adam Gopnik said in the New Yorker this week, “So let us mock the sentimentalists who weep loudly for Cecil, and chide them for being insufficiently attentive to other circles of suffering, and those they find less easy to love than lions. But let us not mock too much: the instincts and habits that make us extend our circles of compassion outward, however irrationally, are the ones that bring us closer to something like a shared natural morality. Rest in peace, Cecil.”  Amen, Adam.

Punch cartoon from 1867 (Nelson is on top of the pillar that the lion’s surround)

Although I don’t know how much of a sportsman Landseer was, he did use the bodies of dead animals for studies of musculature and bones. Because it took Landseer so long to do the lions of Trafalgar, there was a story going around that the lion corpse that he used got so ripe that it had to be tossed before he was done working on the feet which were not as perfectly realistic as the rest of the beast (since he had been sketching lions since childhood it seems implausible that he would not have had many examples to draw from to do the work – tongues were wagging because it had taken so very long to deliver the work).

Two Partridges

Landseer did aspire for verisimilitude even in his depiction of highland birds, Scott noted, “Whenever a pheasant, partridge, or wild-duck fell to the sportsman’s gun, its attitude was carefully preserved by bits of moss and pebbles so that it might stiffen in death, and thus become a true model for the painter.” When looking at his “Two Partridges” above, you can see how it paid off.

 I found Landseer’s love of Scotland’s fields, forests, streams, rivers, and the beasts and men that inhabit the beautiful country terribly inspiring. It set me combing over an old 19th century Scottish cookbook, The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie  for authentic Scottish recipes to get an idea what men of Landseer’s time would have done with their feathered bounty – to get the flavor of the time. I also found a great game cookbook from the early part of the 20th century The Derrydale Game Cookbook

In them I found some pretty interesting recipes for grouse mousses and soufflés, as well as the more traditional roasts and pies. Many were downright weird, and others were boring as all get out.

Working with my stash of D’Artagnan’s Wild Scottish Game Birds, I decided I wanted to do a partridge, and the  The Derrydale Game Cookbook had a splendid Panned Partridge Port Wine Sauce that was amazing –– I could drink this sauce.  I added just a bit of Aftelier Petit Grain chefs essence to the stuffing for an extra hit of orange –– the fragrance permeated the meat that was also tender and juicy. I am going to try a game bird pie and a game bird mousse soon –– just not today.

Panned Partridge Port Wine Sauce (based on a recipe from Derrydale Game Cookbook)

2 Wild Scottish Partridges from D’Artagnan
1 -2 T good gin (I used Breuckelen Gin with lots of juniper and herbs)
12 sections of tangerine or 8 of oranges
2 T butter
Port Wine Sauce*
Potato chips (then still called Saratoga chips)

Wipe the birds with a paper towel. Pour the gin carefully over the birds and inside them and rub a drop of Petit Grain essence on the inside as well.

Salt and pepper them inside and out and then stuff the birds with the tangerine or orange sections. Add a touch more gin inside the birds.

Heat the oven to 400º

Sauté the birds for about 25 minutes, turning frequently until browned.  You can do this step an hour in advance -- the birds are best if they cool down a bit before you roast them.

Put in the oven for another 10 -12 minutes for a bird that's medium-medium well.

Serve with Port Wine sauce and homemade or kettle cooked chips.

Port Wine Sauce (based on a recipe from Derrydale Game Cookbook)

½ c port (ruby or vintage –– Rare Wine Co. has some spectacular ports if you want to do it up right)
1 t shallot
½ t thyme or small sprig
juice of 1 orange
¼ orange zest
few drops of lemon juice
salt and cayenne to taste
¼ c veal demi glace
¼ c water
1 ½ t flour

Reduce the port to ¼ cup. Add the shallot, thyme, orange zest and orange and lemon juice with salt and cayenne and cook for a few minutes. Add the veal stock and water and the flour stirred into a tablespoon or 2 of water. Cook for about 5 minutes then strain into sauceboat.


Don001 said...

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Elizabeth Speicher said...

A beautiful blog entry, in every way.

Marjie said...

My grandmother gave me a stuffed lion for my first birthday. Rumor is that he rode home from New York City with her on the train to Connecticut. I have loved lions all my life, probably because I had my own lion. Your animal pictures are lovely, but I half expected to see a Mastiff amongst Queen Victoria's pets. Oh, well, at least there was a St. Bernard in the mix.

Painting the hamptons said...

Thoughtful and interesting post as always! Cheers.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Great idea to focus on the sad death of such a celebrity. So sad. I hope the Stubbs show makes it to our art museum too but thoroughly enjoyed the Landseer paintings. He painted with two hands at once? Amazing prodigy! I've only had squab once or twice and I was too young to appreciate it. Beautiful photos!

The Ancient said...

Thank you for this recipe!

Barbara said...

Thought provoking post, Deana. I was a hunter....ducks, geese, partridge, quail. And am from a hunting family...many generations back making their living that way.
I really don't know enough about the lions in Africa, or how the people of those countries feel about big game hunting. I remember visiting an island in the Caribbean and we saw a line of dead sea turtles. My daughter, an experienced diver and avid about protecting our oceans and sea life, was terribly upset and while they didn't serve turtle meat to the hotel guests (because there were too many complaints), we were basically told to butt was their island, what they did was their business.

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El said...

Lovely post, as always. I'm with you. I love seeing animals in their natural habitat.