Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873)

Jacob Bell

At their meeting on 18th May 1859, the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society requested that Jacob Bell sat for a portrait “in testimony of the Society’s appreciation of Mr Bell’s meritorious exertions on its behalf.” Bell sat for this portrait just two weeks before his death at the age of 49. It was completed in only two hours. The portrait was presented to Thomas Hyde Hills with the inscription 'Given to his very worthy successor TH Hills by his friend the author'. The portrait was bequeathed by Hills to the Pharmaceutical Society in 1891.

Bell and Landseer met as adults when Landseer was already an established painter. The foundation of their friendship seems to have been a mutual love of animals, in particular horses and dogs – two of Landseer's chief subjects. Unworldly in business matters, Landseer gradually came to rely on Bell to act as his business manager. Until his death in 1859, Bell, with his brother, James, acted as the artist's business agent and adviser, relieving the artist of business correspondence and helping him to secure the best prices for his pictures. Although it is difficult to conjecture how far Bell determined the content of Landseer's painting, it is possible that he steered him towards subjects with commercial appeal, and consequently the artist was never short of patrons throughout his career.

Bell's efficient management of Landseer's affairs contributed greatly towards the artist's prosperity. An account among Bell's papers from about 1851 shows how dramatically the artist's income rose on account of his astute businessmanship. For example, in 1832 Landseer's income was just £1,017 but seven years later had risen to £3,298. By 1847, it had increased even further to £6,432, nearly half of which came from copyright fees. The animal painter's income reached the highest point in 1865 when he earned £17,352 in one year.

Bell perhaps took on more than he had initially bargained for. As Landseer's business manager, he became involved in the rebuilding of the artist's house, helping him to enlarge the estate by purchasing large tracts of land. He also found himself helping out in a crisis, lending Landseer his carriage, stabling his horses and looking after the servants and animals when he was away.

In 1840 Landseer became severely depressed after his proposal to the recently widowed Duchess of Bedford was refused. Landseer requested Bell's company on a continental tour through Belgium, Germany and Switzerland during which Bell encouraged him to do as little as possible. In the end it was Bell who ended up cutting the trip short after developing quinsy and, after two months of travelling, they returned home via Paris.

Landseer spent much time at Bell's house in Langham Place, and bought a country house in Wandsworth, next to Bell's Clock House. Joseph Ince, a member of the Pharmaceutical Society's Journal Committee recalled attending a meeting at Langham Place: "The business of the committee was interrupted by outside visitors who had no connections with pharmacy whatsoever; chiefly by Sir Edwin Landseer, who rippled over with droll remark and conversation. "Now, I suppose you must go, "said Sir Edwin; "rammed up to the muzzle with your speeches to be let off before the Society!" He put an adjective before the last word derived from the animal kingdom."

Bell bought Landseer's The Maid and the Magpie, Alexander and Diogenes, The Defeat of Comus, Dignity and Impudence, Shoeing, and The Sleeping Bloodhound. Bell's collection also included works by Edwin's older brother, C Landseer.

After Bell's death in 1859, Landseer suffered from bouts of depression and mental illness.

Image above: Jacob Bell 1859