John Linnell’s Garden, Hampstead
Signed, inscribed and dated in pen and black ink ‘Collin’s Farm / J. Linnell’s Garden, Hampstead 1823’
Acquired directly from the descendants of John Linnell
P. & D. Colnaghi & Co Ltd., London, A Loan Exhibition of Drawings, Watercolours, and Paintings by John Linnell and his Circle, 10th January - 2nd February, 1973, No. 65
Stephen Somerville, A Loan Exhibition of Drawings, Watercolours, and Paintings by John Linnell and his Circle, P. & D. Colnaghi & Co Ltd., London, 1973, No. 65
Keith Roberts, “London.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 115, no. 840, 1973, pp. 193–194
The wonderful palingenesis of nature and existence after a downpour, its return heralded by a bow of coloured light, bestowing new hope upon a rueful sky; radiantly hung as an emblem in the blue-grey veil of rain-cloud, of a long-ago, divinely fathered promise of sanctification and redemption. This superlatively fresh and beautiful response to natural phenomena ranks itself among John Linnell’s most delightful watercolour studies. Made during his thirty-first year whilst the artist and his family were renting Collins’s Farm in North End, Hampstead, the watercolour has since its creation in 1823, descended almost two hundred years through the Linnell family. Taken from his garden in Hampstead and looking out onto the heath, this study is one of a handful of pictures which prompted a reappraisal of the artist’s work, beginning in the middle of the last century and culminating in a centennial exhibition in 1982 at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Yale Center for British Art. In 1973, Colnaghi organised a landmark loan exhibition which focused particularly on works from the artist’s earlier years. The present watercolour was exhibited and distinguished itself as the only work singled out for comment in a Burlington Magazine review of the show: ‘There was naturally a large group of works by Linnell himself, including some exquisite sky studies and John Linnell’s Garden, Collins’s Farm, a water-colour of landscape after rain in which the oppressive sky, rainbow and an almost artificially clear light are rendered with an accuracy and brilliance that looks forward to Millais’s Blind Girl ’. The best of these vitalised, unpretentious early landscape ‘transcripts’ stand in venerable contrast with much of his later work which was habitually repetitive, vapid and bromidic but ultimately sold very well.
The present work whilst recording a scene of uncomposed naturalism and exercising an alluring but honest atmospheric freedom, nevertheless, seems at first glance to align itself more closely, than many of his studies from the ‘naturalist decade’ of 1810-1820 - to more prominent concepts of Romantic landscape theory which his formative works were conspicuous in eschewing. The watercolour is nonetheless consistent in its conception with his earlier objectively observed studies of nature. The execution a little less fastidious - and a little more expeditious, larger masses of wash and less stippling, harmonising together to create a greaterimpressionistic précis of form. This landscape demonstrates its development from the comparatively more unaffected and practical recordings of the 1810s by how it is expressed with a maturer more dazzling brush and by a hand commanding a superior extempore freedom of touch.
In 1821, William Blake and John Linnell travelled to Hampstead together on a sketching expedition. The two had become friends three years earlier after they were introduced by Linnell’s pupil George Cumberland Jnr. Linnell who had married in 1817 and had a young family to support, apportioned himself little time to draw from nature like he once had, instead, occupying his days with portrait commissions. The clear air of Hampstead and open expanse of the heath compelled Linnell to rent Hope Cottage, North End in the summer of 1822. The next year he rented Collins’s Farm (See Fig. 9) and eventually moved his family, which now included four young children, to live there permanently until 1828. Linnell kept his house at Cirencester Place as a studio and also as a place to make his bread which he had been in the practice of baking himself since 1820, having a fear of buying bread corrupted with impurities. Collins’s Farm was not sizeable enough to accommodate such an operation so Linnell brought his bread up to Hampstead, freshly baked from the house at Cirencester Place. Blake who was living in Fountain Court off the Strand used to be a regular visitor to Collins’s Farm. With good health permitting he would visit almost weekly, normally on a Sunday. Although there were stage coaches which left and returned twice a day between Hampstead and the city, Blake often walked there and back, Linnell dispatching a servant to accompany the elder artist with a lantern. A wonderful portrait drawing by Linnell of William Blake (Fig. 1), drawn at Hampstead during the Collins’s Farm period, is now at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Linnell would hold dinners at Collins’s Farm for Blake. Many of the younger artist’s own circle would attend, including John Varley (Fig. 2), Cornelius Varley, George Richmond, Edward Calvert, William Mulready, Frederick Tatham and Samuel Palmer. Henry Richter was another noted visitor to these evenings. Besides being a passionate adherent to Kantian metaphysics he was also an artist, philosopher and old friend of Blake’s, and had recently published an unusual pamphlet entitled Daylight - which expounded, amongst other ideas, Richter’s view on how artists should paint their works in full daylight in order that colour may be comprehended and selected in a correct and precise manner. Dr Robert John Thornton, another frequent visitor, was in addition to being the Linnell family physician, the publisher of The Pastorals of Virgil, the third edition (1821) of which Blake had provided illustrations for.
Dr Thornton remembered in later years these two charming memories from Collins’s Farm:
“ [Blake] would often stand at the door gazing in tranquil reverie across the garden towards the gorse-clad hill. He liked sitting in the arbour at the bottom of the long garden, or walking up and down the same at dusk, while the cows, munching their evening meal, were audible from the farmyard on the other side of the hedge. He was very fond of hearing Mrs Linnell sing Scottish songs, and would sit by the pianoforte, tears falling from his eyes, while he listened to the Border Melody to which the song is set, commencing —
“O Nancy’s hair is yellow as gowd,
And her een as the lift are blue.”
“The children, whenever he was expected, were on the qui vive to catch the first glimpse of him from afar: One of them, who has now children of her own, but still cherishes the old reverence for Mr Blake……He would take her on his knee, and recite children’s stories to them all: recollects his kind manner; his putting her in the way of drawing, training her from his own doings . . .”
Collins’s Farm had been owned since 1793 by John Collins and his son who were both dairy farmers, their cattle would graze upon the heath. Today, it is the only surviving farmhouse in Hampstead (Fig. 11). About ten years after Linnell’s period of tenancy had come to an end the farmhouse was rented by Charles Dickens and his wife who stayed there for nearly a month and a half during the early summer of 1837 following the sudden death of Dickens’s teenage sister-in-law Mary Hogarth. Dickens, occupied with writing Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers at the time, was so overwhelmed with grief that during their time in Hampstead he put aside his writing and afterwards recalled that he
had dreamt of Mary every night. He was later to use the farmhouse and its surroundings as locations in both Oliver Twist, where Bill Sikes after murdering Nancy, takes flight from London and spends a night in a field near to Collins’s Farm, and in The Old Curiosity Shop, in which the cottage Dick Swiveller moves to after his marriage to the Marchioness, is believed to have been based on Collins’s Farm.
In 1812 Linnell converted from Anglicanism to the Particular Baptists - having been introduced by his friend the artist Cornelius Varley to the Rev. John Martin, an influential but remarkably dissenting pastor of the Particular Baptist Church in Keppel Street, Bloomsbury. Historians including Katharine Crouan and Christiana Payne - have placed great significance on Linnell’s Baptist conversion and the resultant effects it had on his art. The reaffirmation of his faith at the young and susceptive age of twenty assuredly helped attune his eyes to God’s works (and thus God himself) through the inquisitive practice of landscape painting. It was thought that by studying the intricate designs of nature through objective artistic mimesis, a personal and subjective communion with the ‘almighty’ could be obtained. A communion or perhaps a dialogue, of the question made by the artist and the reply of nature and the divine. David Linnell, the great-grandson of the artist, was uncompromising in his assertion that “the strong belief in the visible presence of God in nature was to dominate his art”. We know from John Linnell’s journals that on “July 6th 1811 — [He] Called on Cornelius Varley. Borrowed of Mr Colborne Paley’s moral philosophy”; “July 15th 1811—Borrowed of Mr Ridley Colborne the 2nd vol. of Paley’s philosophy, Paleys Natural History and Bacon’s Essays”; “Sept 23rd Called on C Varley. Borrowed…1st vol. of Paleys Evidences.” These entries which date from 1811, the year before the artist’s conversion, demonstrate that Linnell was already occupied with questions concerning natural theology and Christian apologetics. William Paley’s writings were greatly influential on many artists during Linnell’s time. This makes great sense when one considers that it would likely be the veritable student of nature, or even, as in this case, an inquiring Baptist landscape painter, who would aspire to observe and identify the “evident marks of design […] intention and contrivance”. The following two excerpts are quoted from Paley’s Natural Theology:
“It is a step to have it proved, that there must be something in the world more than what we see. It is a further step to know, that, amongst the invisible things of nature, there must be an intelligent mind, concerned in its production, order, and support.”
“Nothing which he has learned from Natural Theology, will diminish his desire of further instruction… His inward veneration of this great Being, will incline him to attend with the utmost seriousness, not only to all that can be discovered concerning him by researches into nature, but to all that is taught by a revelation, which gives reasonable proof of having proceeded from him.”
The rainbow in this watercolour undoubtedly bore a religious denotation for Linnell. He would have certainly been aware of the sacred meaning that the rainbow conveyed, as a symbol of the covenant transaction between God and Noah (I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of the covenant between me and the earth.’ Genesis 9: 12-13). The meaning of the rainbow as a symbol in Christian iconography is not customarily interpreted with such particularity. It has regularly been signified, either, as a traditional symbol of Christian faith or as a manifestation of the creator’s grace and righteousness. John Ruskin in Modern Painters indicated that in his view "the bow, or colour of the cloud, signifies always mercy, the sparing of life." With this in mind it is perhaps fitting to conclude this piece with another Ruskin pronouncement, selected from the addenda of Modern Painters:
“[Linnell’s] observance of nature [was] scrupulously and minutely patient, directed by the deepest sensibility and sided by a power of drawing almost too refined for landscape subjects…”
1. ‘And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you.
I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of the covenant between me and the earth.’
Genesis 9: 12-13
2. Katherine Crouan notes that 'With rare exceptions, Linnell never parted with his studies in oil and watercolour, and he didn't exhibit them’. Katherine Crouan, Introduction to John Linnell: Truth to Nature, exh. cat., p.ix
3. Keith Roberts “London.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 115, no. 840, 1973, pp. 193–194
4. See John Gage, A Decade of English Naturalism 1810-1820, 1969, Norwich Castle Museum
5. Linnell remarked on his early methodology when making landscape studies: ‘through the practice of very carefully copying all the beautiful varieties of tint and texture ... we learnt to see beauty in everything’. John Linnell, Autobiographical Notes, f.38
6. In a letter written to Linnell (Feb. 1st 1826), Blake discusses the malaise he suffered from the air in Hampstead: ‘When I was young, Hampstead, Highgate, Hornsey, Muswell Hill and even Islington, and all places north of London, always laid me up the day after, and sometimes two or three days, with precisely the same complaint and the same torment of the stomach.’
7. A.T. Story, The Life of John Linnell, Vol.1, p.144
8. In another letter written to Linnell (July 2nd 1826), Blake wrote: “As to pleasantness of Prospect it is All pleasant Prospect at North End.” Blake’s visits to Hampstead were to end in 1826 when his declining health prohibited him from making the journey.
9. Samuel Palmer was greatly affected by the art and counsel of both William Blake and John Linnell:
‘Fortunately for my father, Broad Street lay in Blake’s way to Hampstead, and they often walked up to the village together.’
- A.H. Palmer, The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer, p.27
‘It pleased God to send Mr Linnell as a good angel…. to pluck me from the pit of modern art’.
- Samuel Palmer in A.H. Palmer, The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer, p.14
10. Henry James Richter, Daylight: a recent discovery in the art of painting, with hints on the philosophy of the fine arts, and on that of the human mind, as first dissected by Immanuel Kant, 1817
11. Alexander Gilchrist, The Life of William Blake, 1863, p.339
12. Alexander Gilchrist, The Life of William Blake, 1863, p.338
13. N.B. Collins’s Farmhouse is thought to date from the 1600s and is more often known by its original appellative ‘The Wyldes’ and less regularly as ‘The Old Wyldes’.
14. Dickens was very close to the seventeen year old Mary and she died in his arms. Two unknown tokens of affection (Fig.13) which contain, in one a lock of Charles’s, and the other a cutting of Mary’s hair, were acquired by the Charles Dickens Museum last year.
15. David McAllister, “‘Subject to the Sceptre of Imagination’: Sleep, Dreams, and Unconsciousness in ‘Oliver Twist.’” Dickens Studies Annual, vol. 38, 2007, p.1
16. Norman Page, A Dickens Companion, 1984, pp.300-301
17. “A little cottage at Hampstead being to let, which had in its garden a smoking-box, the envy of the civilised world….” Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop, 1840-41, p.335
18. This specific denomination of Baptists arose in England in the 17th century. The group are Calvinistic in orientation and adherents to the doctrine of particular atonement.
19. Martin provoked outrage in January 1798 among many English Dissenters after he exclaimed from the pulpit that “should the French land , some , yea many , of these different and differing people [the Dissenters] would unite to encourage the French”. He was later ejected from the communion of the Particular Baptists. See ‘A letter to the Rev. John Martin; occasioned by his late publication of a sermon, preached in Broad-Street, January 14, 1798’.
20. Christiana Payne draws an apposite connection in how “Linnell’s concentration on humble detail parallels his Baptist faith” in Christiana Payne “John Linnell and Samuel Palmer in the 1820s.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 124, no. 948, 1982, p.132
21. Linnell was later forced to withdraw from the church for heterodoxy.
22. David Linnell, Blake, Palmer, Linnell and Co: The Life of John Linnell, 1994, p.26
23. Taken from John Linnell’s journals which are now held by Joan Linnell Ivimy and the Linnell Trust.
These diary entries mention the following borrowed books:
William Paley, Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, 1802
William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, 1785
Probably: Francis Bacon, Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, 1625
24. Edmund Paley (ed.), Sermons on Various Subjects by William Paley, London 1825, vol. II, pp.247–255.
25. William Paley, Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, 1802, p.542
26. William Paley, Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, 1802, p.543
27. John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Vol. 5, p.326
28. John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Vol. 5, p.326