It has been rather amusing to sit to various artists; they have such
different ways of working. When Herbert Schmalz did my portrait (1894)
he was busy upon those enormous religious canvases of his which
afterwards toured round England and Australia as a one-man show, and
which are so well known in reproductions.
He was painting “John Oliver Hobbes” at the same time, and she and I
went to the studio on alternate days. Although we were hardly alike,
the names of _Craigie_ and _Tweedie_ had something of the same sound,
and quite confused the little servant, who always announced me as Mrs.
Craigie, and John Oliver Hobbes as Mrs. Tweedie. Those were pleasant
sittings, and perhaps I went ten or twelve times for the picture.
Herbert Schmalz is a careful, painstaking artist, who is prone to alter
scheme or colour, and do the work all over again unless it pleases him.
At that time Sir Frederick Leighton often came to the studio, which
almost adjoined his own.
Leighton was one of the most courtly, charming men I ever knew. Short
of stature, he still had a magnificent presence, and his grey head
was grand. No President of the Royal Academy ever looked finer at the
top of the stairs on soirée night than this splendid draughtsman.
The Academy Soirée in his day was a grand function. His personality
attracted all that was best. I never liked his painting, but always
loved his drawing.
The portrait painted by Mr. Schmalz was one day standing in my hall
a year or two later, when a new servant—new servants are luxuries I do
not often indulge in—asked if the picture was going away.
“Yes,” I replied, “it is going to an exhibition.”
“I thought pictures only went to exhibitions when they were newly
painted,” she remarked.
“So they do, as a rule,” I answered, “but this one is going to the
Exhibition of ‘Eminent Women’ at Earl’s Court.”
“Lor’!” (in her surprise she nearly dropped what she was holding). “You
don’t mean to say _you_ are going there?”
Mohammed could not have been a prophet in his own household.
After all, plain truths and trifling jokes are often the most
enjoyable, just as small ills are the least endurable.
When I sat to Blake Wirgman in 1902 for my portrait shortly after my
visit to the West, he insisted on my being dressed in a dirty old
divided skirt, huge Mexican sombrero, high boots, and shirt. The
canvas is nearly life-size, and as I was foolish enough to submit to a
standing position, with one foot up on a stone, I used to get awfully
tired. Balancing on one leg in stiff riding-boots is apt to bring
on cramp, so at odd intervals I danced round the studio to relieve
my aching toes, and begged him to paint the boots without me. After
dressing one day I returned to the studio, having put the boots on
their trees, and placed them carefully beside the rocky stone where I
stood. “There,” I exclaimed, “there are the boots, now can you paint
them without torturing me.” Never shall I forget his peal of laughter
at the idea of painting a pair of boots with wooden insides! However,
he found a girl who took “threes” in boots, and she saved me a few
hours of torture. Blake Wirgman is a delightful man, and I thoroughly
enjoyed those sittings—all but the cramp.
“All but” reminds me of a dear old Scotch minister who used to read
out the prayers for the Royal family, and to our amusement pronounced
“Albert Edward Prince of Wales,” “All-but Edward Prince of Wiles.” This
happened in a Highland kirk in Sutherlandshire, where the collie dogs
used to come into the church and get up and shake themselves at the
benediction, knowing that it was time to go home. A tuning-fork and a
precentor added simplicity to the service, while the shepherds from
the hills wore black coats and top-hats and pennies were collected on
a tray at the door, just as represented in the play _Bunty pulls the
The famous picture of “Scotch Elders” was painted by my husband’s
cousin John Lorimer, A.R.A.; a very fine picture it is too. The
appreciation of pawky Scottish humour runs in our blood, on both
sides of the family, so my praise of a kinsman’s work will be readily
understood as needing no apology.
Being with other workers amused and interested me, and made me forget
the everlasting grind of my usual working-day. Mr. Cyril Davenport, of
the British Museum, and author of many books on jewels, miniatures,
and heraldry, made a _vitreous_ enamel of my head. This is not paint,
but powdered glass, shaken on the silver and then fired in a furnace.
Some of the effects produced by this process are lovely. It is an old
art revived, and a tricky one, as no workman knows the exact shade
the furnace will turn out, any more than they did in the days of the
manufacture of the famous _rose du Barry_.
It is quite a mistaken idea to suppose that sitting for a portrait
necessitates sitting still. Far from it. Artists like one to talk and
be amused, otherwise the sitter gets bored and the picture reflects
the boredom. Few painters can work with a third person in the room,
although Sir William Orchardson always preferred to have his wife
reading aloud to him, or talking to his sitter while he was at the
It may seem strange that so many people have painted my head, but
please do not think it was the outcome of vanity on my part. I did not
ask them; they asked me. Dozens have asked me to sit, and the baker’s
dozen to whom I have sat have started off full of enthusiasm, found me
difficult, and ended by thinking me horrid. Yes, horrid, I know. They
have not said so in so many words, they have been too polite for that,
but they have owned I was “very difficult, especially about the mouth.”
That is why I have thirteen different mouths in thirteen different
pictures. A mouth is the most expressive and the most characteristic
feature of a face, and therefore the most elusive for the artist’s
brush. When I am not talking, my face is as dull as London on a Bank
Some painters make too much of a portrait and too little of a picture.
Others, on the other hand, make too much of a picture and too little
of a portrait. Really, the picture is of most consequence, because
the good picture with its impression of the sitter remains, while the
fleeting expression of the face and age of the sitter passes away.
Joy is only a flash, sorrow is an abiding pain. We women have lines of
figure when young, but we must all expect lines of wrinkles when old.
Artists and writers are generally poor, but we are often happy. The
greater the artist, the less he seems to be able to push his wares. It
is the mediocre who ring the muffin-bell, or whose wives sell their
cakes. A certain clever woman is said never to stop in a country house
without returning home with an order for a new ship in her husband’s
wallet. Well, why not? If a woman is smart enough to find purchasers
for her husband’s pictures, his horses, or his ships, all honour to
her. We all want agents, even literary agents—poor, dear, abused
things—and if we can get our own flesh and blood to do the work without
demanding a commission, so much the better, but we might give them a
little acknowledgment sometimes.
The poor want to be rich, and the rich want seats in the House of
Lords, while a Duchess wants to write books and be poor. The simple
want to be great, while the great know the futility of fame. It is a
world of struggle and discontent. The moment _any_body can get seats
for a first night, or tickets for a private view, _no_body wants them.
That sounds rather Gilbertian.
The late Sir William S. Gilbert was a dear and valued friend of mine
for many years. One of the most brilliant companions I ever knew when
he chose, and one of the dullest when something had put him out. He
talked as wittily as he wrote, and many of his letters are teeming with
quaint idiosyncrasies. He was a perennial boy with delicious quirk.
So few people are as interesting as their work—they reserve their wit
or trenchant sarcasm for their books. W. S. Gilbert was an exception—he
was as amusing as his _Bab Ballads_, and as sarcastic as “H.M.S.
Pinafore.” A sparkling librettist, he was likewise a brilliant talker.
How he loved a joke, even against himself! How well he told a story,
even if he invented it on the spot as “perfectly true.” His mind was
so quick he grasped the stage setting of a dinner-party at once, and
forthwith adapted his drama of the moment to exactly suit his audience.
After a lapse of nearly twenty years “Iolanthe” was revived at the
Savoy. Not one line or one word of the original text had been altered.
“Pinafore,” when it was revived for the second time, just twenty-one
years after its first performance, ran for months. How few authors’
work will stand such a test of excellence, yet Gilbert penned a dozen
The genesis of “Iolanthe” is referable, like many of Gilbert’s
libretti, to one of the _Bab Ballads_. The “primordial atomic globule”
from which it traces its descent is a ballad called “The Fairy Curate.”
It is a well-known fact that almost every comedian wishes to be a
tragedian, and _vice versa_—look at Irving and Beerbohm Tree—and
Gilbert had a great and mighty sorrow all his life. He wanted to write
serious dramas, long five-act plays full of situations and thought;
but no, fate ordained otherwise, when having for a change started his
little bark as a librettist he had to persevere in penning what he
The public were right; they knew there was no other W. S. Gilbert, they
wanted to be amused. Some say the art of comedy-writing is dying out,
and certainly no second Gilbert seems to be rising among the younger
men, no humorist who can call tears or laughter at will, and can send
his audience away happy every night. The world owes a debt of gratitude
to this gifted scribe, for he never put an unclean line upon the stage
and yet provoked peals of laughter while slyly giving his little digs
at existing evils. His style has created a name of its own; to be
Gilbertian is all that is smart, brilliant, caustic, and clean.
Mr. Gilbert proudly remarked when he was just sixty-five, that he
had cheated the doctors, and signed a new lease of life on the
twenty-one-year principle. During those sixty-five years he had turned
his hand to many trades. After a career at the London University,
where he took his B.A. degree, he read for the Royal Artillery; but on
the Crimean War coming to an end and no more officers being wanted,
he became a clerk in the Privy Council Office, and was subsequently
called to the Bar. He was also a Militiaman, and at one time an
occasional contributor to _Punch_, becoming thus an artist as well
as a writer. His pictures are well known, for all the two or three
hundred illustrations in the _Bab Ballads_ are from his clever pen. I
saw him make an excellent sketch in a few minutes at his home on Harrow
Weald; but photography cast its web about him and he disappeared into
some dark chamber for hours at a time, alone with his thoughts and his
photographic pigments. The results were charming.
What a lovely home that is, standing in a hundred and ten acres
right at the top of Harrow Weald, with a glorious view over London,
Middlesex, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire. He farmed the land himself,
and talked of crops and stock with a glib tongue, although the real
enthusiast was his delightful wife, who loves her chickens and her
Sullivan always wrote the music after Gilbert had written the words.
Gilbert’s ear for time and rhythm was impeccable, but he freely
admitted that he had a very imperfect sense of tune.
The Gilberts were tremendous travellers; for many years they wintered
in Egypt, India, the West Indies, Burma, or some other far-away
land, and it was on these wanderings that he conceived ideas for the
“Mikado.” When in Egypt for the third time, they nearly lost their
lives in the railway accident between Cairo and Halouan. Fortunately
they were only bruised from the concussion, but several of the
passengers were killed and many wounded. The expert photographer was
of course on the spot, and while waiting for a relief train W. S.
Gilbert was busy with his camera. Being physically incapacitated by a
long illness from being of any service to the sufferers, he contented
himself with sitting on a rock in the desert and taking snapshots at
the scene of the calamity.
Apropos of an interview I was writing on himself for one of a set that
appeared in the front page of the _Pall Mall Gazette_, he wrote the
following amusing reply to my chaff suggesting all sorts of dreadful
things that I would put in if he did not help me.
“GRIM’S DYKE, HARROW WEALD,
“_3rd December, 1901_.
“MY DEAR MRS. ALEC,
“I have filled the gap to the best of my ability—but really I have
very little to tell, on the subject of _Iolanthe_.
“I haven’t the least objection to be described as a ‘whipped
cur’ (indeed, I rather like it), but unfortunately the epithet
doesn’t in the least describe my attitude on a first night. The
‘embankment’ is purely mythical. I usually spend the evening in
the greenroom or in the wings of the theatre, and I fancy that few
authors accept failure or success more philosophically than I do.
When ‘Princess Ida’ was produced I was sitting in the greenroom as
usual, and, likewise sitting there, was an excitable Frenchman who
had supplied all the armour used in the piece. The piece was going
capitally, and he said to me, ‘Mais savez vous que vous avez là un
succès solide?’ I replied that the piece seemed to be all right,
and he exclaimed, with a gesture of amazement, ‘Mais vous êtes si
calme!’ And this, I fancy, would describe the frame of my mind on
every first night.
“It is also a mistake to suppose that I have fruitlessly longed to
write more important plays. As a matter of fact, I have written
and produced four ambitious blank-verse plays, ‘The Palace of
Truth,’ ‘Pygmalion and Galatea,’ ‘The Wicked World,’ and ‘Broken
Hearts,’ all with conspicuous success—besides many serious and
humorous dramas and comedies—such as ‘Daniel Druce,’ ‘Engaged,’
‘Sweethearts,’ ‘Comedy and Tragedy,’ and many others. It was when
I was tired of these that I tried my hand on a libretto, and I was
so successful that I had to go on writing them. If d——d nonsense is
wanted, I can write it as well as anybody.
“I know I can be dismally dull—but I am sure that dinner-party at
which I never opened my mouth (except to eat) is apocryphal. If you
put that in, I shall never be invited to dinner again!
“By the way, would you like to go to a rehearsal? There will be one
on Thursday at about 11.30, and the Dress Rehearsal on Friday at
2.30. The enclosed will pass you. If you don’t use it, tear it up.
“On Thursday the entrance will be by Stage Door—on Friday at the
“Yours for ever and ever, Amen,
“W. S. GILBERT.”
Amongst the many people who made a sketch of my head was the late
Captain Robert Marshall, the author of “The Second in Command” and
other delightful plays.
This came about a few days before the Coronation of Edward VII. We were
having tea together, when he took out a pencil, and in a few minutes
this soldier-playwright made a charming little sketch. What a strange
thing it is that people who succeed in one particular thing are often
so gifted in various other lines. And people who do not succeed at
anything seem to have no versatility of any sort or kind, except to
amplify the various forms of stupidity.
I first met Captain Marshall at Sir W. S. Gilbert’s. The younger man
almost worshipped his host, and considered him a model playwright. On
his side, Sir William had been very kind and encouraging. His manner
was perfectly frank, and he never hesitated to say whether he thought a
piece of work good or bad, as it struck him.
There are not many cases in which a man can earn an income in two
different professions. Lord Roberts is a soldier and a writer; Mr.
Forbes Robertson, Mr. Weedon Grossmith, and Mr. Bernard Partridge are
both actors and artists; Mr. Lumsden Propert, the author of a great
book on miniatures, was a doctor by profession; Mr. Edmund Gosse and
Mr. Edward Clodd have other occupations besides literature; Sir A.
W. Pinero is no mean draughtsman; Miss Gertrude Kingston writes and
illustrates as well as acts; and Mr. Harry Furniss is as clever with
his pen as with his brush.
No one looking at Captain Marshall would have imagined that ill-health
pursued him; such, however, was the case, and but for the fact that a
delicate chest necessitated retiring from the army, he would probably
never have become a dramatist by profession. “After one gets up in
the service,” he amusingly said, “one receives a higher rate of pay,
and has proportionately less to do. Thus it was I found time for
scribbling, and it was actually while A.D.C. and living in a Government
House, that I wrote ‘His Excellency the Governor.’ Three days after
it came out I left the army.” Many men on being told to relinquish
the profession they loved because of ill-health would have calmly sat
down and courted death. Not so Robert Marshall. He at once turned his
attention elsewhere; chose an occupation he could take about with
him when each winter drove him to warmer climes to live in fresh
air, doing as he was medically bidden, thus cheating the undertaker
for ten years. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to spend an
evening at the Opera. One night I happened to sit in a box between
him and Mr. Cyril Maude, and probably there were no more appreciative
listeners in the house than these two men, both intensely interested
in the representation of “Tannhäuser.” Poor Mr. Maude was suffering
from a sore throat, and had been forbidden to act that evening for
fear of losing the little voice that remained to him. As music is his
delight, and an evening at the Opera an almost unknown pleasure, he
enjoyed himself with the enthusiasm of a boy, feeling he was having a
“real holiday.” Since then he has appeared as a singer himself, in a
Herbert Bedford, the painter who married that delightful composer
Liza Lehmann, was another once desirous to do a miniature of me.
Accordingly, one terribly foggy morning in January, 1909, he arrived
with his little box and ivory. He started; but of all things for a
miniature a good light is the most necessary and fate was not kind. The
fog deepened and blackened, till we were thoroughly enveloped in one of
“London’s particulars.” I really think it was one of the worst fogs I
remember; and that is saying a good deal, for I have not only had much
experience in London, but have seen denser specimens in Chicago, and
almost as bad in Paris and Christiania.
He waited an hour, but working was hopeless, so he departed. Next time
he came, the morning was beautifully bright, but ill-fate pursued us,
and we had no sooner settled down to work than Cimmerian darkness came
on again. A week later a third attempt was made, and incredible as
it may appear, the blackest of all smoky, yellow, carboniferous fogs
arrived that day also. Verily, it was a black month. Though the morning
was always fine when we started, the darkness arrived as soon as we
were well settled down to work, as if from very “cussedness.”
November is named the month of fogs, but as a Londoner I should say
they rarely come before Christmas, generally in January; and three or
four during the entire winter is now our usual number. They seldom last
more than a few hours; but they are so awful when they do come, that
that is quite long enough, and the sooner science robs us of their
presence the better. They certainly are less frequent and less severe
than when I was a child. Poor old London climate! how we abuse it,
and yet we have much to be thankful for. We do not get prickly heat
or mosquitoes, sunstroke or ticks, neither do we have frost-bite or
leprosy. The Marquis de San Giuliano, late Italian Ambassador in London
and now Minister of Foreign Affairs in Rome, always maintained that
London possesses the best climate in the world, and wondered why people
ever left England with all its comforts in the winter, for the South
with its cheerless houses and treacherous winds.
Madame Liza Lehmann has one of the most interesting faces I ever saw:
fragile, delicate, refined. Once a well-known singer, but always
shivering with nervousness, she left the public platform when she
married, about 1894, and began composing. No woman has had more success.
“Liza doesn’t work, she conceives,” her husband once said as he
stippled in my head. “For instance, sitting over the fire after dinner,
I give her a poem that I think would make a song; she reads it through,
drops it idly on the floor, and takes up the nearest book. I know the
subject has not pleased. Another time she reads some verses, pauses,
puts them on her lap, looks into the flames, waits and then reads
them again. I say nothing; one word would spoil her thoughts. Again
and again she reads them. She gazes into the flames or plays with
her bracelet. Then, as in a dream, she gets up and fetches paper and
pencil. In feverish haste she writes. I have known her write a song
like that in ten minutes. I have known her go months and do nothing.
Words speak to her, thoughts come, she seems at times inspired—but she
can do nothing otherwise.
“One day she was at a publisher’s and was running through _The Daisy
“‘Too serious,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid it won’t sell.’ (He was wrong; it
did.) She was angry.
“‘Nonsense,’ she said, ‘the public can’t only want rubbish like this.’
And she rattled off something.
“‘Excellent, excellent,’ he cried; ‘just what they do want.’ That
became a popular song, and fifty thousand copies were sold in no time.”
“I feel almost ashamed of that song,” she said to me one day. “It
is not music at all, but I am punished for my sins; it haunts me on
hurdy-gurdies and from boarding-houses, when the windows are open in
Her husband is also an enthusiastic composer in a heavier line. His
orchestral pieces have been played in Berlin, Russia, and other
centres, but he cannot set a ballad to music, and has none of her
pretty touch. He is a charming miniaturist, and once painted an
interesting series of Meredith’s heroines.
Next in my gallery of artists comes Mr. Percy Anderson, who is
almost better known by his designs for stage costumes than as a
portrait-painter, although he has done some delightful sketches of
women and children. His wonderful knowledge of human attire through
the world’s history is well known. He has every period at his fingers’
ends, although sometimes, as in the case of “Ulysses” for His Majesty’s
Theatre, he spends days and weeks in the British Museum, hunting about
to find suggestions and designs for the required costumes; in fact, he
even went to Crete on one occasion to copy the mural decorations, in
order to be certain he was correct in his work.
Mr. Anderson is really an artist, not only in colour and form, but
also in grouping and harmony. The greatest compliment he ever received
was when he was invited to design the dresses for the famous “Ring” at
Munich. That for an Englishman was indeed high praise from Germany. In
working for the stage he often does six or seven hundred costumes for
a single historical play. Each has to harmonise with its own tableaux
groups, be right in detail and singly, yet form part of a scheme for
the effect of the whole.
The water-colour drawing of me was done in a couple of hours. (See page
One summer day in 1903, I sat to John Lavery for a little sketch of my
head, which that brilliantly clever artist painted in thirty minutes.
I chanced to have sat next to him at dinner shortly before, and he had
“I would like to paint your head!”
“You know how I hate sitting,” I replied.
“But could you not spare me half an hour one afternoon just for the
gratification of making a sketch of you? Once I have gained that
satisfaction I will give you the picture.”
This put a different complexion upon the matter, and accordingly one
afternoon I went to his studio, near the South Kensington Museum, to be
decapitated. That studio is probably the best proportioned in London.
It was built by Sir Coutts Lindsay, and is almost square like a box.
The high walls are covered with a sort of dull brown paper, and a few
French chairs and bureaus are its only decoration. I sat down in one
of these special chairs waiting for him to arrange his easel, when he
“That will do, just sit as you are, and if you don’t mind I should like
to take off my coat, as when I paint at high pressure it is hot work.”
To this I assented, and in a moment he was hard at it.
“Talk as much as you like,” he said. “Forget you are sitting; move your
head or your arms as you wish, just simply think you are paying me a
little call; never mind the rest.”
All this sounded delightful. Then in a few minutes the speaking-tube
whistled, and a message was called up to know if Mr. Cunninghame Graham
might come up.
“Do you object?” asked Mr. Lavery, “Because he knows you are sitting to
me, and said he would like to come if he might.”
“Not in the least,” I replied; “I should like it.”
Cunninghame Graham in the capacity of chaperon was a novel experience.
So up he came, and took a seat immediately behind the artist so that
my eyes should not wander from the right direction for the picture.
Was there ever a greater contrast than those two men? Lavery, short
and broad, with ruddy cheeks, dark hair, and little, round, twinkling
black eyes full of life and verve, and the calm aristocratic, artistic
Cunninghame Graham, who always looks exactly like a Velasquez picture,
so perfect is he in drawing and colouring.
Mr. Lavery has a curious arrangement for his palette. There is a
table at his right hand, upon which a palette slants as on a desk. It
is about three feet by two in size, and can hold a large number of
[Illustration: HALF-HOUR SKETCH OF AUTHOR BY JOHN LAVERY, R. A.
EXHIBITED FAIR WOMEN EXHIBITION, LONDON, 1910]
“I require lots of paint and lots of room to splash about, and I like
the table arrangement; it is, in fact, the only way I can work,” he
We chatted on about many subjects, and when the conversation turned on
Velasquez, whose wonderful pictures I had visited in Madrid only a few
months before, Cunninghame Graham waxed warm. Although descended from
a stock old as any in Scotland, his mother (or his grandmother) was
a Spaniard, and there is clearly some of the warm Southern blood in
his veins. He speaks Spanish with a charming accent, and has the true
Castilian lisp and pretty intonation.
In the ’nineties I was riding along the shore in Tangier with W. B.
Harris, _The Times_ correspondent, Sir Rubert Boyce, of the Liverpool
University, and the late Mr. Russell Roberts, a well-known barrister,
when we saw two men riding towards us. One of them was performing all
sorts of wild antics upon his steed, standing on the saddle and waving
his whip in the air. As he galloped towards us I thought he must be a
cowboy let loose, but as he came nearer he looked like a picture of
Charles V painted by Velasquez which had stepped out of its frame. The
tawny hue of his clothes, the brown leather of his boots, the loose
shirt, the large brown felt sombrero, and the pointed brown-grey beard
seemed familiar, and as the man drew nearer I discovered it was Mr.
Cunninghame Graham, with whom was Will Rothenstein.
The next night I heard this descendant of old Scotland’s shores
expounding Socialism to a handful of Arabs in Spanish. Well, well, Mr.
Graham has his foibles; but he is doubtless the most brilliant short
story writer in our language; and as fine a rider as any I ever saw on
the open prairie catching wild bulls for the ring.
Cunninghame Graham is a strange personality; he is an artistic being,
and Mr. Lavery’s portrait of him is inimitable. It has been exhibited
all over the world and is well known.
Suddenly Cunninghame Graham exclaimed, “Twenty-seven minutes are up.”
“All right!” replied the painter. “Let me know when the next three have
“Thirty minutes, my friend. Time is up.”
Lavery looked round at me, smiling.
“Done. I shan’t touch it any more. You allowed me thirty minutes, but
you must let me have a moment over-time to add your name to the canvas,
and then you may take it home with you.”
And I did so.
In 1910, that canvas appeared at the Exhibition of Fair Women at the
Grafton Gallery, and a month or two later to my surprise I found it
reproduced in a large volume of works by Scottish artists published in
Edinburgh, under the title, _Modern Scottish Portrait Painters_, by
So much is John Lavery appreciated abroad that his most famous pictures
hang in Pittsburg and Philadelphia in the United States; in the
Pinakothek, Munich; the National Gallery of Brussels, the Luxembourg in
Paris, the Modern Gallery of Venice, the National Gallery of Berlin,
although a few have luckily been gleaned by the public galleries of
Glasgow and Edinburgh.
It is a curious fact that Mr. Lavery sent six or seven years
continuously to the Academy, and six or seven times his pictures were
refused. In 1888 the Committee accepted his “Tennis Party”—to his
amazement—and actually hung it on the line. It went to Paris, where it
gained a gold medal, was then “invited” to Munich, where it was finally
bought for the National Gallery. He continued to send to the Academy
for a few years, generally without success, but those rejected pictures
are now hanging in various National Galleries. Suddenly in 1910 he was
elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.
Concerning John Lavery, he told two funny little stories about himself
one night when he was dining with me. The Exhibition of Fair Women, in
1908, had been attracting all London.
“A picture of mine was lost there,” he remarked.
“Well, I painted the portrait of a lady, and this picture went to the
New Gallery. It was three-quarter length. When its space was allotted
it was stood on the floor under the place where it was to hang, but
when the moment of hanging came the picture was gone, and what is more,
has never been heard of since.”
“Who would take it?”
“That is more than I can say.”
“Why would they take it?”
“For the sake of the frame.”
“But was the frame anything very remarkable?”
“Oh, it was worth about ten pounds.”
I laughed: “So they stole your valuable painting worth some hundreds of
pounds for the sake of a ten-pound frame. What have you done to get it
“Nothing,” he replied.
“Nothing,” I repeated, amazed.
“No, my only chance of ever seeing that picture again is to do nothing.
You see, it is this way. If a thief realised it was a valuable painting
which had attracted attention and was being searched for, he would
destroy it. Whereas, if he thinks it is of no value, he will sell it in
some back slum, and in course of time the picture will turn up again.
At least that is what we artists think. I have no replica, not even a
photograph, but the lady has kindly promised to sit again. Mercifully,
it was not an order, but my own picture; and in a year or two I shall
exhibit the second portrait and let it be photographed for different
papers, when, in all probability, someone will discover they have one
just like it, and we may be able to trace the picture back to the
original thief. The frame must have attracted his attention, for it was
not quite ordinary. I had it made in Morocco.”
“Have you ever had any other queer episode with a picture?”
“Yes,” he replied. “There is a certain well-known lady whose husband
has her painted every year by some artist. She is good-looking and
this is his hobby. My turn came. I painted the picture. It was barely
finished, and had to go to an exhibition while the paint was still
wet. When I went on varnishing day I was surprised to see a curious
green haze over the face just as when you stick your nose against a
window-pane, and the skin appears green in hue. I did nothing at the
time, but determined to make some little alteration when the exhibition
closed. The portrait came home. I looked at it. Yes, there was still
that strange green hue over it, so I began to take it out of the frame
in order to touch it up.
“Imagine my horror when I found that the canvas had stuck to the glass!
and the more I lifted it, lumps of paint from the lady’s cheeks stuck
to it. I did everything I could think of to get the two apart, ending
by leaving the glass and losing my temper.
“‘Oh,’ said an artist friend, ‘just break the glass, and you will find
it will be easier to get the portrait away.’
“Accordingly, I broke the glass. Worse and worse! bits of the canvas
broke too, and anything more deplorable than my poor lady with her torn
canvas and bits of glass hanging to her nose cannot be imagined. The
issue was critical.
“I dared not tell her, for her husband had liked the picture, so I
determined to copy it. For three solid months I painted every day at
that copy. I never can copy anything, and that was my last attempt. The
more I worked the worse it grew. I really was in despair. They kept
bothering me for the return of the picture. The lady was abroad and
could not sit again. They had paid me for a thing that was destroyed,
and I was at my wits’ end.
“One day the lady was announced. I felt in an agony. Then I thought,
before confessing, I would have one desperate and final shot. I told
her I wanted to make a slight alteration—would she sit? She amiably
complied. I seized the copy; feverishly for a couple of hours I worked
upon it, and then—all at once the long-lost likeness returned. I had
“The picture was sent home; her people were delighted with it, and it
was not till long afterwards that I told them the awful episode, by
which I had at least painted half a dozen portraits of that lady.”
Live and learn. Education is one constant enquiry, and knowledge is but
an assimilation of replies.