>Despite rallying efforts The Courtier has spent a great deal of time in bed over the past several days due to a seemingly unconquerable cold, and he has had a great deal of time to watch television both exciting (“Spooks” aka “MI-5”), instructive (“America’s Test Kitchen”) and annoying (Rick Steeves). While so incapacitated, he caught an old episode of the U.K. edition of Antiques Roadshow, which featured a tour of Castle Howard. To American audiences, Castle Howard is probably best known as the film embodiment of Brideshead in the television and film productions of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”. In fact, it has been the country home to a branch of the important Howard family for centuries.
This writer was particularly intrigued when Hugh Scully and an expert from the castle paused to admire some of the paintings of George Howard, the 9th Earl of Carlisle (1843-1911). Many a man with the leisure to do so takes up the brush, but the results are usually uneven. Churchill, for example, was quite an accomplished painter, but The Courtier does not think the same can be said for the present Marquess of Bath. Lengthy pedigrees are not necessarily infallible indicators of either talent or indeed of discerning good taste, as di Lampedusa makes tragi-comically clear in the description of the chapel at the conclusion of “The Leopard”.
In the case of the 9th Earl however, there was real talent to hand. As he was a friend to many of the Pre-Raphaelites such as Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, it would be understandable if we were to concentrate on Lord Howard’s figural painting and portraits. However what proved particularly attractive were his landscapes with figures, and specifically his views of North Africa and India, as in the example shown below. Those with a collecting persuasion can take advantage of the opportunity to acquire one of his works, such as this view of the Palatine Hill in Rome, and admire what is obviously a high quality of brushwork. He may not have earned his living by painting, but the Earl clearly could have done so had he wished.
Times have changed, of course. Because of the instantaneous nature of photography, and particularly since the advent of digital photography, the kind of careful planning and skill needed to render a scene such as that below is no longer needed when trying to capture a moment and place. Even early photographers had to spend a great deal of time trying to come up with how best to shoot a landscape, given ever-changing light conditions. Cameras now do the thinking for us, producing attractive results from simply pushing a button.
Few of us would have the patience to trek out into remote areas with an easel, paints and brushes, and work to capture the experience of what surrounds us as did George Howard. Perhaps this is one reason why the art of painting among both professionals and amateurs has taken such a significant decline over the past century; instant gratification from the little electric box is so much easier. This is not to disparage photography by any means. It allows more people to look at and appreciate the world around them, and this is a very good thing.
What it does mean, however, is that there are fewer people willing to take up the time to do so using paint and canvas. At the same time, it makes the work of the Earl of Carlisle all the more emblematic of a by-gone era of artistic aspiration in Western culture, and an all the more important exemplar to follow. The reader will, perhaps, take the example of George Howard to heart in considering whether he, too, might attempt – even if in a more localized way – to take a look around him with brush in hand.