Morland, George

, an eminent but very unhappy artist, was born in 1764. He was the pupil of his father Henry Robert Morland, an indifferent painter of portraits, and subjects of domestic life, whom he very soon surpassed. This perhaps was at first his misfortune, for the father, finding what advantage he might reap from his talents, confined him to such work as might be readily brought to market, without endeavouring to give him any part of that education or polish which would have enabled him to appear with credit in society. The consequence of this was, that when patrons appeared they found him wayward, dissipated, and irreclaimable. Low habits and low company early got possession of his affections, and all means to recommend oeconomy, decency, and regularity, were employed in vain. At length his father was advised to send young Morland to Margate to paint small portraits; and although this scheme did not produce all the effect expected, it made him more known, and -he became independent of his father, and could now pursue his art when he pleased, and for his own emolument.

Success, however, made no difference in his conduct, which became irregular beyond all calculation and all powers of description; and while the vigour of his genius and the soundness of his judgment never forsook him in a picture, they scarcely ever accompanied him in any other employment, action, or sentiment of his life. Capable of the most regular and profound reflection on every thing connected with his art, capable even of the clearest distinctions of moral rectitude, he never appears to have dedicated a single leisure hour to sober conversation or innocent pleasantry, to any of the endearing intercourses of domestic or social life, or to any rational purpose whatever. He is generally acknowledged to have spent ali the time in which he did not paint, in drinking, and in the meanest dissipations, with persons the most eminent he could select for ignorance or brutality and a rabble of carters, hostlers, butchers’- men, smugglers, poachers, and postilions, were constantly in his company and frequently in his pay. He was found, at one time, we are told, in a lodging at Somers-town, in the following most extraordinary circumstances: his infant child, that had been dead nearly three weeks, lay in its coffin in one corner of the room an ass and foal stood munching barley -straw out of the cradle a sow and pigs were solacing in the recess of | an old cupboard; and himself whistling over a beautiful picture that he was finishing at his easel, with a bottle of gin hung up on one side, and a live mouse sitting (or rather kicking) for his portrait, on the other

Of his particular merits in imitative art, it may be observed that he was the first (or at least, among our countrymen, by far the most eminent) of those who have given the true spirit and character of our great palladium the British Oak as well as the form and action of all our most familiar animals, in all their subtleties and varieties nor does he appear to have undertaken any subject that he did not treat with equal success. Among his other rare qualifications, he appears to have been thoroughly and impartially acquainted with the Complexion and bias of his own genius from his very boyhood; since, after that period, he is never found “out of his element.” No sooner had he described the scrawls and daubings of puerility, than, anticipating his future success, and conscious of his present powers, he retreated in silence to the free walks of Nature; contemplated deeply, reasoned accurately, and practised diligently. A few years brought him back to public notice, a finished painter of English scenery, nature, sentiments, and manners; an artist, who, having sagaciously prescribed the limits of his pursuits, and effected whatever, in knowledge or in practice, was essential to the purpose of filling up those limits, had now nothing more to learn. He shrunk from no difficulty, for his choice of subject left him no difficulty to encounter. He disdained nothing that was natural and picturesque, consistently with that decorum which he has inviolably observed in all his public works. He would never risk truth, but would rather give 20 guineas to have a cat stolen for him, than presume to paint one from an uncertain remembrance. He sometimes leaves the truth unfinished, but never violated. He affected none of those whimsies that are for ever setting amateurs by the ears on the subject of colouring, or light and shadow. His characters affect no graces nor anti-graces that do not belong to them. His lights and shadows are mild, moderate, and diffusive. The whole together rests easy upon the eye, and pleases a correct taste as much as it would had it surprised a vicious one more. His choice is always good; for he chuses that in which there is nothing essential to reject. He never gives us too much of a thing. The character of Morland, therefore, as a painter, | appears to be remarkably equal and consistent. His pictures never make a mistake never insult by falsehood, disgust by affectation, disappoint by error, or teize by mystery. His early productions were landscapes, and he painted one or two small conversation-pieces; but his favourite subjects were animals, chiefly of the domestic kind horses, dogs, pigs, and other cattle, which he painted in a very masterly manner. At the Exhibition of the Royal Academy, in 1791, he produced a picture representing the inside of a stable, with horses and draymen, &c. larger than a half-length canvas an excellent performance, and perhaps his master-piece.

Edwafds observes, that “his low and vulgar propensities led him into society little calculated to improve either his mind or manners; that he readily stooped to an intimacy with any associates with whom he could gratify the despicable ambition of being at the head of his company.” “But,” says Fuseli, “it is surely one of the favourite paradoxes of the age, to wonder at the association of a man’s favourite objects of amusement with his favourite objects of study. It would be a disgusting idea, were it a possible one, to suppose, that the man who, with congenial satisfaction, spends the day in penciling, to a degree of deception, a sow amid her litter, could long for the recreation of elegant society in the evening: or can it be wondered at, if he, who chooses his subjects among the patrons of a pot-house or gin-shop, the inhabitants of a stable or a hovel, and the usual victims and furniture of a prison, should court the first, frequent the next, or paint and perhaps rot in a jail

By this unhappy conduct, steadily pursued for many years, he ruined his constitution, and at length diminished his powers, and sunk himself into general contempt. He had no society, nor did he wish for any other but the lowest of those beings whose only enjoyment is gin and ribaldry, and from which he was taken, a short time before his death, by a Marshalsea writ, for a small sum of money: when removed to a place of confinement, he drank a large quantity of spirits, and was soon afterwards taken ill. The man in whose custody he was, being alarmed at his situation, applied to several of his 'friends for relief; but that relief, if it was afforded, came too late. The powers of life were exhausted, and he died, Oct. 29, 1804, before he had attained the age of forty years. His wife, whose | life had been like his own, died a day or two after him. 1

1 Gent. Mag. for 1804. Life by BiagJon. Edwards’s Supplement to Wai* pole. Pilkington, by Fuseli.