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Art in Scotland
James Howe

Born, 30th August 1780; died, 11th July 1836.

Howe was a much earlier artist than any of those among whom he makes his appearance here. Although he cannot be said to have had any influence on the development of Scottish art, he was too well known in his time to be omitted in the list of native artists. He was a clever animal-painter, and eldest son of the Rev. William Howe, a poor parish clergyman in the county of Peebles. As a youth he was so fond of drawing, that not unfrequently his father, on laying out the manuscript of his sermon before him on the pulpit, found the margins profusely decorated with animals of every conceivable species. This, together with the boy's passionate and absorbing love for art, caused him to be sent at a very early age with a rather incomplete education to Edinburgh, where he was apprenticed to the Norries, to whom he was related. One of his first performances with the brush was whitewashing the interior of the Old Tolbooth; but he soon so far developed his talent, that in a very few years his leisure hours were utilised by a Mr Marshall in painting on a panorama at the remunerative rate of five shillings per hour. At the close of his apprenticeship, with little or no art training, he began to practise as an animal-painter so successfully, that he was patronised by the Earl of Buchan, who has been already referred to as an amateur in art, and settled down in a house in Greenside Street, the window of which he decorated with a clever deceptively painted figure of a piebald pony, by way of an advertisement. On the advice of Lord Buchan he went to London, bearing introductory letters to some of the Royal household, and painted portraits of some of the horses in the Royal stud, but received no further encouragement, as George III. was then prevented from looking at pictures on account of a disease in his eyes. Being thus disappointed he returned to Edinburgh, and besides other works, painted for Lord Buchan an Assembly of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries with the Earl, who was one of its founders, from a design furnished by David Allan, and finished by Alexander Carse. At the age of thirty he had obtained a good position in his branch of art, and his cattle-portraits and animal-subjects were purchased by many of the nobility and.gentry in Scotland. At this time he painted a series of paintings, representing the different breeds of cattle in Scotland, some of which were engraved in the Agricultural article in the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' and subsequently a Hawking-Party, very popular in its engraved form: all his animals were remarkable for their character and nice discrimination in those features and forms so much appreciated by connoisseurs in cattle- breeding. In illustration of his rapidity of execution, it is told that, being advised to paint a panoramic view of the Battle of Waterloo, he visited the field, and finished within a month after his return, a panorama measuring 4000 feet of canvas, well covered with incidents in the fight: this was such a success in Edinburgh and Glasgow, that during a large portion of the time while it was on exhibition, the painter's half of the drawings amounted to 15 each night. He spent about two years in Glasgow, and unfortunately became so unsteady that he was preyed upon, and associated with that class of people too lazy to work, and who only look upon money as a means of administering to intemperance.

On his return to Edinburgh he was employed by Mr Maule, afterwards Lord Panmure, at Brechin Castle for four months, where his health was as much improved as his habits, and, for the first time in his life, had his name in a bank ledger, credited with several hundred pounds,a state of matters, however, which did not long continue. After a short visit to his native village, made in the hope that his health might benefit, he died at Newhaven from the rupture of a blood-vessel, in his fifty-sixth year.

Some facts in the life of this unfortunate artist suggest the supposition that his improvidence, irresolution, and unsteadiness were the result of the mental weakness which, in the case of his brother, developed into insanity. In instance of this, while passing through London in a hackney-coach in company with Carse and another, the two latter happened to talk about apoplexy, and Howe, imagining himself affected, insisted on stopping the cab till his friends pumped cold water on his neck and shoulders. At another time, when enjoying a visit to Colinton with some ladies and gentlemen, he went to the village cobbler to get his shoe repaired, which had got accidentally torn: not reappearing, his friends became anxious, and after some searching, found him engaged in a carouse with the mender of soles. Many an innkeeper's bill was paid by poor Howe with a sketch done on the spot, even at a time when some of the most celebrated painters gladly availed themselves of the aid of his brush in putting cattle into their pictures, his skill being too much a part of his nature ever to fail. During some of his last years spent at Newhaven, he entered upon the task of illustrating the 'British Domestic Animals,' to be engraved by Lizars, and abandoned for want of success, after a few parts had been published.' An anecdote illustrative of his humour is still related of him, that on one occasion a farmer wishing to have some cattle painted, knocked at his door and inquired of Howe "If this was whaur the bruitpenter lived?" on which Howe invited him to enter, asking at the same time if he wished his portrait taken.

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