« ZurückWeiter »
notice of the Princess Charlotte, who, young as she was, perceived the true native excellence of his works, and expressed a wish to see the artist. He was introduced, accordingly, at Warwick House, and was charmed, as all were, by the grace and kindly dignity of her manners. Encouraged by her courtesy, which had no chilling stateliness about it, he spoke readily and well, and acquitted himself so cleverly that her Royal Highness took an opportunity of saying to Mr. Murphy, who introduced him, " Mr. Bird is a very well-bred man—he has a natural politeness about him." The Princess promised him her support, and appointed him her painter, on which he made her a present of a work he had lately finished—*' The Surrender of Calais." This was a favourite production, and he desired, very properly, to place it in the best company: alas! in that enviable situation it was not long to remain. That sad event happened which brought tears to all eyes, and of which one of our best poets has so mournfully sung.
"In its summer pride arrayed
On the death of our painter, his widow wished to exhibit his works, and applied to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg for the loan of "The Surrender of Calais:" the Prince did more than was asked, or expected, or indeed wished—he presented the painting to Mrs. Bird, accompanied by a donation of a hundred pounds.
During one of his visits to London, Bird sat for his bust to Chantrey; and the writer of this very imperfect account had thus many opportunities of conversing with him. He said he had no regular system of study; he painted or sketched just as it suited him, and when once he had sat resolutely down to his easel, it was no easy thing to make him quit it. The subject once settled, he generally painted fast, and when fastest, best. He wrought much by candlelight, and in this manner he painted his Death of Eli. At this time Mr. Chantrey was busied with one of his cleverest works—the figure of Lady Louisa Russell—a child fondling a bird in her bosom, and standing on tiptoe with delight. As the sculptor was anxious to have it ready for the approaching Exhibition, he stuck a candle in the front of his hat, took a chisel in his hand, and laboured at the statue during the evenings. On one or more of those occasions, Bird was his companion. The light in the sculptor's hat glimmered as he moved his head among busts, and groups, and statues—some emerging from the block, some rough-hewn, and others fully finished. The singular scene took the painter's fancy, and he resolved to make a picture of it. I wish he had finished this very original design: he left it sketched in oil. Chantrey appears in the act of carving one of the feet of the figure, surrounded by his other works, over which there is shed a partial illumination. When the bust of Bird was finished, Skirving of Edinburgh, an artist of some talent and more eccentricity, paid the gallery of the sculptor a visit. He fixed his eye on the bust of the painter and said to the person who showed it, "Well—and who is that?" "It is Bird—Bird of Bristol." "Bird! what strange bird is he?" "He is an eminent painter." "Painter! and what does he paint J" "Ludicrous subjects, sir." u Ludicrous subjects! have yon sail" Upon this the other answered. "Yes, he has had one sitting; but when he heard that a gentleman with a white hat, and who wore no neckcloth, had arrived from the North, he said,' Go, go—I know of a subject more ludicrous still: Mr. Skirving is come.'"
These visits to London, and his admiration of the historical pictures of the great painters, wrought a sore change on Bird: he forsook that style of art natural to his feelings, and dedicated his pencil to far other aspirations. He became affected with a kind of Scripture mania. He thought only of sublime passages in the Bible, and scenes of religious tragedy which the Reformation furnished. The fortitude of Job, the Death of Saphira, the Crucifixion, and the burning of Ridley and Latimer, are among his latter works: they found admirers and purchasers. There is considerable talent in these paintings and some pathos; but they are deficient in that regal loftiness of look which the subjects require, and without which merely clever works are but processions of puppets. Our Redeemer's Atonement had already been painted by higher hands, and the Martyrdom of the Bishops is a subject too horrible for any genius to render acceptable.
Those works having failed to yield fame to the artist in proportion to the toil they cost him, he filled up the measure of his sorrow by attempting what 1 may call the political style of art. The times in which Bird lived teemed with events of vast importance: kings and thrones appeared and disappeared like figures in a disturbed dream; and the splendid sun of Napoleon was setting as it rose, in blood. We all remember, and many of us witnessed, the departure of Louis XVIII. from his English exile for Paris. The painter had awakened a deep interest by his Surrender of Calais: he probably imagined that the farther he came down the stream of national story, the interest of the subject would increase; and in an evil hour for his own happiness, he resolved to paint the Embarkation of the French King and his attendants.
Of this work—which proved to be his last —Bird soon made the sketch, and all that he wanted was the likenesses of certain important personages. From Louis himself and his courtiers—men who, having suffered from oppression, had learned to be merciful—he received polite and kind attention. Tlie old King praised the generous English, and the Dutchess of Angouleme spoke highly to the honoui of our ladie3. But some of the nobles of his native land, whom he wished to introduce, were by no means so tractable to our artist; who seems indeed to have been little skilled in the arts of courtly conciliation. They answered his applications very civilly, but day after day neglected to bestow on him the necessary sittings. His patience and at length his health failed him, after a sore trial of many months. The death of a son and a daughter, whom he tenderly loved, pressed grievously about the same period upon his feelings; he grew peevish and dejected, and a drooping look and unsteady step began to give notice that his days were numbered.
It is painful to think that the sensitive feelings of a man of genius should have been at the mercy of people thus unconscious or neglectful of its claims; but it is still more painful to think that he dedicated his time to processions and pageants, in width the likenesses of such ephemeral personages were necessary to his purpose. Bird slowly sunk under the pressing misery of hope deferred, diplomatic excuses and courtly delays; and on the 2d day of November, 1819, felt no longer the insolence of office. He died in the forty-eighth year of his age, and was buried in the cloisters* of Bristol Cathedral.
Three hundred gentlemen of Bristol joined in the funeral procession of their favourite painter, and when the grave received his remains they were so much affected with the sight of his son—a child of seven years old, who was there as chief mourner— that they requested leave to bear the expense of the interment. This Mrs. Bird, with modesty and good feeling, declined. A colder tale is, however, told, and even credited far from Bristol. Those three hundred gentlemen, it is said, obtained, with much entreaty, Mrs. Bird's permission to bury her husband with all the honours of the city and at their own expense. The scene was splendid, and many were the external symptoms of public wo; but when all was over, the undertaker presented his bill to the widow of the painter. If this story be true, the sarcasms of Savage and Lovell are merciful and kind—but I believe it rests on no sufficient authority.
Edward Bird was in stature below the middle size, his eyes were expressive, his smile particularly winning, and his whole look full of intelligence. He was an admirer of truth, loved good order in his family, and kept strict discipline among his children, who loved and feared him. The air of rusticity which hovered about his person wore off as he became animated in company: there was much about him to please and even captivate, and, what all men
the close of his life his looks grew dark and melancholy; but this was less the fault of his mind than of his fortune; he felt that the world of fashion which he had worshipped was making its own return—neglecting while it praised, and spurning while it caressed him.
The early works of Bird have an original and unborrowed air, which mark an artist who thought for himself, and sought the materials of his pictures in the living world around him, rather than in the galleries of art. In these he was eminently happy, anfl bi« vorv success was the cause of his after-sor
:rfect sincerity of heart. Towards