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A large mid-19th century landscape oil on canvas of cattle being herded across a river at sunset by the world famous British painter John Linnell (1792-1882). Entitled ‘The Ford’, this very important Victorian landscape painting is signed by the artist and dated 1858. Such was John Linnell’s success and fame in the first three quarters of the 19th century that a great many copies of his work and outright fakes purporting to be by Linnell were painted.


Crucially the painting being sold here can be traced back to the definitive catalogue of Linnell’s known works initially compiled by the artist’s biographer A.T. Story in 1892. Once you have seen and studied a genuine Linnell the fakes become easy to spot. Naturally you will always find one or two of these on ebay, but even those unfamiliar with his work need only to google images of Linnell’s vivid, dramatic landscapes to recognise the real thing.


If you were to ask most people today who were the two most famous landscape painters of Victorian Britain they would probably say Turner and Constable. Turner is certainly one, but the other is John Linnell. Prior to 1900, Constable’s work always played second fiddle to the highly charged romanticism of Linnell.


John Linnell exhibited at the Royal Academy from the age of 15 and despite initially becoming famous at a portraitist, it was as a brilliant painter of poetical landscapes that prompted both his great acclaim and the resentment of John Constable. Linnell’s confident and forthright nature – especially his readiness to ensure his wealthy patrons paid promptly for the paintings they purchased – never endeared him to the elite grandees of the Royal Academy, but it was malicious and false gossip spread by John Constable that probably help prevent Linnell’s election as a Royal Academician.


So successful and famous was Linnell that by the 1860s his exclusion was considered a public scandal, and a panicked Royal Academy repeatedly invited Linnell to put his name down for an associateship. He refused, and instead published a pamphlet attacking the Academy’s exclusivity; a unique and brilliant man, as well as painter.


Nevertheless, Linnell was greatly esteemed during his lifetime by most of his peers, and as a landscape artist he was considered second only to JMW Turner. Upon his death in 1882, The Times obituary said ‘A glory seems to have faded from the domain of British Art. England mourns John Linnell, the most powerful of landscape painters since Turner died’.


Between 1807 and 1881 John Linnell exhibited 177 paintings at the Royal Academy, and 92 at the British Institution. During his long career John Linnell was a patron and financial supporter of William Blake, Samuel Palmer and the young Pre Raphaelites.


Recommended reading: ‘The Life of John Linnell’ by A.T. Story’ and ‘Blake, Palmer & Linnell’ by David Linnell.


Dimensions: (framed) 119cm x 91cm (46¾” x 35¾”)

Dimensions: (canvas only) 96cm x 68cm (37¾” x 26¾”)

Medium: Oil on canvas.

Provenance: Very fine private UK collection.

Presentation: Magnificent Louis XV style swept giltwood frame.

Condition: Excellent. Newly professionally cleaned. Lined circa 1980. Ready to hang.


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