Read THE STORY OF A SCENE-PAINTER. of Art in England Notes and Studies , free online book, by Dutton Cook, on ReadCentral.com.

When, in the middle of the seventeenth century, Sir William Davenant, manager of the theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, discarded the ‘traverses’ and tapestries which had theretofore been accepted as sufficient for the purposes of stage illusion, and substituted regular scenes ‘painted in perspective,’ without doubt there were to be found many conservative old playgoers who lifted up their voices against the startling innovation, and prophesied the approaching downfall of the drama. If the grandsons present marvelled how elder generations could for so long have gone without such useful and necessary appliances, assuredly the grandsires were complaining that now things had come to a pretty pass indeed, when a parcel of beardless, empty-pated boys, not content with stage fittings such as had been esteemed good and sufficient by the late Mr. William Shakespeare and his great brother-dramatists, demanded foolish paintings and idle garniture, that diverted attention from the efforts of the players and the purpose of the playwrights, and had never been dreamt of, and would never have been tolerated in the good, and simple, and palmy days gone by. Unquestionably, the first ‘painting in perspective’ brought upon the boards was, in the judgment of many, the thin end of a wedge, which, as it thickened, was certain to drive forth and destroy all that was intellectually and vitally precious in the drama, and to lead the way to a last scene of all in the eventful history of the stage, which should be ‘second childishness and mere oblivion.’

But the scene-painter having set foot within the theatre was not to be expelled. The intruder soon won for himself a large popularity; held his ground against criticism and opposition. He was no mere journeyman dauber. From the first he had taken distinct rank as an artist. Lustrous names adorn the muster-roll of scene-painters. Inigo Jones planned machinery and painted scenes for the masques, written by Ben Jonson, for performance before Anne of Denmark and the Court of James the First. Evelyn lauds the ’very glorious scenes and perspectives, the work of Mr. Streeter,’ serjeant-painter to King Charles the Second. In February 1664, the Diarist saw Dryden’s Indian Queen acted ’with rich scenes as the like had never been seen here, or haply, except rarely, elsewhere on a mercenary theatre.’ Mr. Pepys-most devoted of playgoers-notes occasionally of particular plays, that ’the machines are fine and the paintings very pretty.’ In October 1667, he records that he sat in the boxes for the first time in his life, and discovered that from that point of view ’the scenes do appear very fine indeed, and much better than in the pit,’ to which part of the house he ordinarily resorted. The names of the artists who won Mr. Pepys’ applause have not come down to us. But previously to 1679, one Robert Aggas, a painter of some fame, was producing scenes for the theatre in Dorset Gardens. Nicholas Thomas Dall, a Danish landscape-painter, settled in London in 1760, was engaged as scene-painter at Covent Garden Theatre, and was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1771. For the same theatre, John Richards, a Royal Academician, appointed secretary to the Academy in 1778, painted scenes for many years. Michael Angelo Rooker, pupil of Paul Sanby, and one of the first Associates of the Academy, was scene-painter at the Haymarket. Other names of note might be mentioned before the modern reputations of Roberts and Stanfield, Beverley and Callcott, Grieve and Telbin are approached; and especially over one intermediate name are we desirous of lingering a little. The story of the scene-painter of the last century, who was well known to his contemporaries as ’the ingenious Mr. DE LOUTHERBOURG,’ presents incidents of singularity and interest that will probably be found to warrant our turning to it for purposes of inquest and comment.

The biographers of Philip James de Loutherbourg are curiously disagreed as to the precise period of his birth. Five different writers have assigned five different dates to that occurrence: 1728, 1730, 1734, 1740, and 1741; and it has been suggested, by way of explanation of this diversity, that the painter’s fondness for astrological studies may have induced him to vary occasionally the date of his birth, in order that he might indulge in a plurality of horoscopes, and in such way better the chance of his predictions being justified by the actual issue of events. He was born, at Strasbourg, the son of a miniature painter, who died at Paris in 1768. Intended by his father for the army, while his mother desired that he should become a minister of the Lutheran Church, he was educated at the College of Strasbourg in languages and mathematics. Subsequently he chose his own profession, studying under Tischbein the elder, then under Vanloo and Francesco Casanova; the latter, a painter of battle pieces after the style of Bourgognone. By his landscapes exhibited at the Louvre, De Loutherbourg acquired fame in Paris, and in 1763 was elected a member of the French Academy of Painting, being then eight years below the prescribed age for admission to that distinction, say the biographers who date his birth from 1740. Quitting France, he travelled in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and in 1771 came to England, moved hitherward probably by the opinion then prevalent both at home and abroad, that (as Edwards puts it in his Anecdotes of Painting) ’some natural causes prevented the English from becoming masters either in painting or sculpture.’ Shortly after his arrival in England he was engaged by Garrick to design and paint scenes and decorations for Drury Lane Theatre, at a salary of L500; a sum considerably larger than had been thitherto paid to any artist for such services.

Of gorgeous scenery and gay dresses Garrick was as fond as any manager of our own day; he knew that these were never-failing allurements to the general public. Yet as a rule he confined his spectacle to the after-pieces; did not, after the modern fashion, illustrate and decorate what he regarded as the legitimate entertainments of the theatre. For new as for old plays, the stock scenery of the house generally sufficed, and some of the scenes employed were endowed with a remarkable longevity. Tate Wilkinson, writing in 1790, mentions a scene as then in use which he remembered so far back as the year 1747. ’It has wings and flat of Spanish figures at full length, and two folding doors in the middle. I never see those wings slide on but I feel as if seeing my old acquaintance unexpectedly.’ Of the particular plays assisted by De Loutherbourg’s brush, small account has come down to us. They were, no doubt, chiefly of a pantomimic and ephemeral kind. For the ’Christmas Tale,’ produced at Drury Lane in 1773-the composition of which has been generally assigned to Garrick, though probably due to Charles Dibdin-De Loutherbourg certainly painted scenes, and the play enjoyed a considerable run, thanks rather to his merits than the author’s. Some years later, in 1785, for the scenery of O’Keeffe’s Omai, produced at Covent Garden Theatre, the painter furnished the designs, for which he was paid by the manager one thousand pounds, says Mr. J.T. Smith; one hundred pounds, says Mr. O’Keeffe; so stories differ! The scenery of Omai was appropriate to the then newly discovered islands in the South Pacific, and the play concluded with a kind of apotheosis of Captain Cook. In the course of Omai, Wewitzer, the actor who played a chief warrior of the Sandwich Islands, delivered a grand harangue in gibberish, which of course, for all the audience knew to the contrary, was the proper language of the natives; a sham English translation of the speech being printed with the book of the songs. The harangue was received with enormous applause!

As a scene-painter, De Loutherbourg was decidedly an innovator and reformer. He was the first to use set-scenes, and what are technically known as ‘raking pieces.’ Before his time the back scene was invariably one large ‘flat’ of strained canvas extending the whole breadth and height of the stage. He also invented transparent scenes, introducing representations of moonlight, sunshine, fire, volcanoes, etc., and effects of colour by means of silk screens of various hues, placed before the foot and side lights. He was the first to represent mists, by suspending gauzes between the scene and the audience. He made something of a mystery of the artifices he had recourse to, was careful to leave behind him at the theatre no paper or designs likely to reveal his plans, and declined to inform any one beforehand as to the nature of the illusions he desired to produce. He secretly held small cards in his hand which he now and then consulted to refresh his recollection, as his assistants carried out his instructions.

After Garrick had quitted the stage (in 1776) and sold his share in the management of Drury Lane to Sheridan and his partners, it was proposed to De Loutherbourg to continue in his office of chief scene-painter, his salary being reduced one half. This illiberal scale of remuneration the artist indignantly declined, and forthwith left the theatre. He is said, however, by Parke in his Musical Memoirs, to have painted the scenes for the successful burletta of The Camp, produced by Sheridan, at Drury Lane, in 1778. But he now devoted himself more exclusively to the production of easel-pictures. He had, in 1773, become a contributor to the Exhibition of the Royal Academy. In 1780 he was elected an Associate; in the following year he arrived at the full honours of academicianship. Peter Pindar, in his ’Lyrical Odes to the Royal Academicians for 1782,’ finds a place for De Loutherbourg. Having denounced the unlikeness of Mason Chamberlin’s portraits, he satirizes the style of art of the landscape painter:-

’And Loutherbourg, when Heaven so wills,
To make brass skies and golden hills,
With marble bullocks in glass pastures grazing:
Thy reputation too will rise,
And people gaping with surprise,
Cry “Monsieur Loutherbourg is most amazing!"’

And in another ode he derides the artist’s pictures as ‘tea-boards,’ ‘varnished waiters,’ and avows that his rocks are ‘paste-board,’ while his trees resemble ‘brass wigs,’ and his fleecy flocks ‘mops.’

Probably the quiet of his studio oppressed our painter somewhat. The simple effects attainable in an easel-picture did not satisfy him. He missed the appliances of the stage: the coloured lights, the transparent scenes, the descending gauzes, and cleverly combined set-pieces. He would not go back to Drury Lane, however; as to that he was fully determined. He would not toil for ungrateful managers, or paint backgrounds merely to supplement and enrich the exertions of the actors. He decided upon providing London with a new entertainment; upon opening an exhibition that should be all scene painting.

Charles Dibdin, the famous sea song writer, who was also a dramatist, a composer of music, an actor, a scene painter, and a manager, had constructed in Exeter Change what he whimsically called ’The Patagonian Theatre:’ in truth, a simple puppet-show, upon the plan of that contrived years before by Mr. Powell, under the Piazza, Covent Garden, and concerning which Steele had written humorously in the Spectator. Dibdin, assisted by one Hubert Stoppelaer, humorist and caricaturist, wrote miniature plays for the doll performers, recited their parts, composed the music, played the accompaniments upon a smooth-toned organ, and painted the scenes. The stage was about six feet wide and eight feet deep; the puppets some ten inches high; the little theatre was divided into pit, boxes, and gallery, and held altogether about two hundred persons. For half a century no exhibition of the kind had appeared in London. The puppet show was old enough to be a complete novelty to the audience of the day. For a time it thrived wonderfully; then managers and public seem both, by degrees, to have grown weary. Dibdin and his friend departed; the exhibition fell into the hands of incompetent persons; then closed its doors. The dolls, properties, scenery, and dresses were brought to the hammer by merciless creditors; and there was an end of the puppet-show. In 1782 De Loutherbourg took the theatre for the exhibition of his EIDOPHUSIKON.

De Loutherbourg had professedly two objects in view: to display his skill as a scene-painter well versed in dioramic effects, and to demonstrate to the English people the beauties of their own country. He averred ’that no English landscape-painter needed foreign travel to collect grand prototypes for his study.’ The lakes of Cumberland, the rugged scenery of North Wales, and the mountainous grandeur of Scotland, furnished, he said, inexhaustible occupation for the pencil. He opposed the prejudice then rife among artists and amateurs alike, that England afforded no subjects for the higher display of the painter’s art. He confined the Eidophusikon for the most part to the exhibition of English landscapes under different conditions of light and shadow.

A chief view exhibited was from the summit of One Tree Hill, Greenwich. There was cleverness evinced in the selection of this landscape. A large public are always prepared to be pleased when they are shown something with which they are well acquainted. Each spectator found himself, as it were, individually appealed to. Each had seen One Tree Hill, and could bring to bear upon the subject his own personal knowledge and observation, and so test and certify to the painter’s skill. The view was a set-scene with a moveable sky at the back: a large canvas twenty times the surface of the stage, stretched on frames, and rising diagonally by means of a winding machine. De Loutherbourg excelled in his treatment of clouds; he secured in this way ample room and verge enough to display his knowledge and ingenuity. By regulating the action of his windlass he could control the movements of his clouds, allow them to rise slowly from the horizon and sail obliquely across the heavens, or drive them swiftly along, according to their supposed density and the power to be attributed to the wind. An arrangement of set-pieces cut in pasteboard represented the objects in the middle distance: the cupolas of Greenwich Hospital, the groups of trees in the park, the towns of Greenwich and Deptford, and the shipping in the Pool; due regard being had to size and colour, so that the laws of perspective in distance and atmosphere might not be outraged; the immediate foreground being constructed of cork broken into rugged and picturesque forms, and covered with minute mosses and lichens, ‘producing,’ says a critic of the period, ‘a captivating effect amounting indeed to reality.’

In his method of illuminating his handiworks, De Loutherbourg was especially adroit. He abandoned the unnatural system (introduced by Garrick on his return from the Continent in 1765) of lighting the stage by means of a flaming line of footlights, and ranged his lamps above the proscenium, out of sight of the audience. Before his lamps he placed slips of stained glass-yellow, red, green, blue, and purple; and by shifting these, or happily combining them, was enabled to tint his scenes so as to represent various hours of the day and different actions of light. His ’Storm at Sea with the loss of the Halsewell, East-Indiaman,’ was regarded as the height of artistic mechanism. The ship was a perfect model, correctly rigged, and carrying only such sail as the situation demanded. The lightning quivered through the transparent canvas of the sky. The waves, carved in soft wood from models made in clay, coloured with great skill and highly varnished to reflect the lightning, rose and fell with irregular action, flinging the foam now here, now there, diminishing in size and fading in colour as they receded from the spectator. Then we read-’De Loutherbourg’s genius was as prolific in imitations of nature to astonish the ear as to charm the sight. He introduced a new art: the picturesque of sound.’ That is to say, he simulated thunder by shaking one of the lower corners of a large thin sheet of copper suspended by a chain; the distant firing of signals of distress he imitated by striking, suddenly, a large tambourine with a sponge affixed to a whalebone spring –­ the reverberations of the sponge producing a curious echo, as from cloud to cloud, dying away in the distance. The rushing sound of the waves was effected by turning round and round an octagonal pasteboard box, fitted with shelves, and containing small shells, peas, and shot; while two discs of strained silk, suddenly pressed together, emitted a hollow, whistling sound, in imitation of loud gusts of wind. Cylinders loosely charged with seed and small shot, lifted now at one end, now at the other, so as to allow the contents to fall in a pattering stream, represented the noise of hail and rain. The moon was formed by a circular aperture cut in a tin box containing a powerful Argand lamp, which was placed at the back of the scene, and brought near or carried far from the canvas as the luminary was supposed to be shining brightly or to be veiled by clouds. These contrivances, from a modern point of view, may strike the reader as constituting quite the A B C of theatrical illusion. But then it must be remembered that they were, for the most part, distinctly the inventions of De Loutherbourg, and, upon their first introduction, were calculated to impress the public of his day very remarkably.

For two seasons De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon, exhibited at the Patagonian Theatre in Exeter Change, and afterwards at a house in Panton Square, was attended with singular success. Crowds flocked to the new entertainment; the artist world especially delighting in it. Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was a frequent visitor, loudly extolled Mr. De. Loutherbourg’s ingenuity; recommending him to the patronage of the most eminent men of the time, and counselling all art-students to attend the exhibition as a school of the wonderful effects of nature. Gainsborough’s ready sympathies were completely enlisted. For a time, after his manner, he could talk of nothing else, think of nothing else; and he passed evening after evening at the exhibition. He even constructed a miniature Eidophusikon of his own-moved thereto by De Loutherbourg’s success and the beauty of a collection of stained glass, the property of one Mr. Jarvis-and painted various landscapes upon glass and transparent surfaces, to be lighted by candles at the back, and viewed through a magnifying lens upon the peep-show principle. But at last the fickle public wearied of the Eidophusikon, as it had been wearied of Mr. Dibdin’s puppets. The providers of amusement had, in those days, to be ever stirring in the production of novelties. The sight-seeing public was but a limited and exhaustible body then, little recruited by visitors from the provinces or travellers from the Continent. Long runs of plays or other entertainments-the rule with us-were then almost unknown. The Eidophusikon ceased to attract. The amount received at the doors was at last insufficient to defray the expenses of lighting the building. It became necessary to close the exhibition and provide a new entertainment. Soon the room in Exeter Change was crowded with visitors. Wild beasts were on view, and all London was gaping at them.

Meanwhile De Loutherbourg prospered as an artist. His reputation grew; his pictures were in request; he was honoured with the steady patronage of King George III., and was personally an acknowledged favourite at court: a thoroughly successful man indeed. Then we come down to the year 1789, and find the artist of the Eidophusikon assuming a new character. He has become a physician-a seer-a fanatic-and, it must be said, a quack; a disciple of Mesmer, a friend of Cagliostro; practising animal magnetism, professing to cure all diseases, and indulging in vaticination and second sight.

Towards the close of the eighteenth century, credulity and imposition shook hands heartily and held a great festival. Throughout civilized Europe a sort of carnival of empiricism prevailed. Quack was king. A spurious leaven of charlatanism was traceable in politics, in science, in religion-pervaded all things indeed. The world was mad to cheat or to be cheated. The mountebank enjoyed his saturnalia. Never had he exhibited his exploits before an audience so numerous and so sympathetic-so eager to be swindled, so liberal in rewarding the swindler. Gravely does Miss Hannah More address Mr. Horace Walpole, concerning what she terms the ’demoniacal mummery’-’the operation of fraud upon folly’ which then occupied the country. ’In vain do we boast of the enlightened eighteenth century, and conceitedly talk as if human reason had not a manacle left about her, but that philosophy had broken down all the strongholds of prejudice, ignorance, and superstition; and yet, at this very time, Mesmer has got a hundred thousand pounds by animal magnetism in Paris, and Mainaduc is getting as much in London. There is a fortune-teller in Westminster who is making little less. Lavater’s physiognomy books sell at fifteen guineas a set. The diving [divining?] rod is still considered as oracular in many places. Devils are cast out by seven ministers; and, to complete the disgraceful catalogue, slavery is vindicated in print and defended in the House of Peers! Poor human nature, when wilt thou come to years of discretion?’ Mr. Walpole writes back (he has always a proper tone for Miss More, reserving his levity and license for less staid correspondents):-’Alas! while Folly has a shilling left, there will be enthusiasts and quack doctors;’ and he adds, airing his pet affectation-a hatred of royalty, a love for republicanism-’and there will be slaves while there are kings or sugar-planters.’

Joseph Balsamo-more generally known by his pseudonym of Count Alexander De Cagliostro, expelled from France, after nine months’ durance in the Bastille, on account of his complicity in the diamond necklace fraud and scandal-had taken refuge in England, bringing with him a long list of quackeries and impostures; among them, his art of making old women young again; his system of ‘Egyptian freemasonry,’ as he termed it, by virtue of which the ghosts of the departed could be beheld by their surviving friends; and the secrets and discoveries of the great Dr. Mesmer in the so-called science of animal magnetism. Walpole at once proclaims the man a rascal, and proposes to have him locked up for his mummeries and impositions. Miss More laments that people will talk of nothing else. ‘Cagliostro and the cardinal’s necklace,’ she writes, ’spoil all conversation, and destroyed a very good evening at Mr. Pepys’s last night’ A discussion of such subjects was by no means compatible with Miss More’s notion of a good evening.

What could have induced simple-minded Mr. De Loutherbourg to put trust in this arch-juggler? Can it have been that from the painter’s native Strasbourg had come to him unimpeachable accounts of Cagliostro’s feats during his stay there, which had preceded his nefarious expedition to Paris? But the artist is ever excitable, receptive, impressible-the ready prey of the dealer in illusion and trickery. De Loutherbourg is soon at the feet of the quack Gamaliel; soon he is proclaiming himself an inspired physician, practising mesmerism. Cosway and his wife declared themselves clairvoyants. Other painters of the period were dreaming dreams and seeing visions. Nor was it only the artist world that took up with, and made much of, Count Cagliostro and his strange doings. Wiser people than Mr. De Loutherbourg were led astray by the mountebank, though they did not wander so far from the paths of reason and right, nor publish so glaringly the fact of their betrayal into error. Cagliostro was the rage of the hour. The disciples of Dr. Mesmer were without number. It was in ridicule of general rather than class credulity that Mrs. Inchbald wrote (or adapted) her comedy of Animal Magnetism, produced on the stage of Covent Garden in 1788.

A curious fanatical pamphlet, by one Mary Pratt, of Portland Street, Marylebone, was published in 1789. It was entitled, A List of Curses performed by Mr. and Mrs. de Loutherbourg, of Hammersmith Terrace, without Medicine: By a Lover of the Lamb of God, and was dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury in very high-flown terms. Mr. De Loutherbourg was described as ’a gentleman of superior abilities, well known in the scientific and polite assemblies for his brilliancy of talents as a philosopher and painter,’ who, with his wife, had been made proper recipients of the ‘divine manuductions,’ and gifted with power ’to diffuse healing to the afflicted; whether deaf, dumb, lame, halt, or blind.’ The Archbishop was therefore entreated to compose a form of prayer to be used in all churches and chapels, that nothing might prevent the inestimable power of the De Loutherbourgs from having its free course, and to order public thanksgiving to be offered up for the same. In her preface, Mrs. Pratt stated that her pamphlet had been published without the consent of Mr. De Loutherbourg, and that he had reprimanded her on account of it, and enjoined her positively to suppress it; but that on mature reflection she had considered it more advisable to offend an individual rather than permit thousands of her fellow-creatures to remain strangers to the precious gifts of the painter. ‘I judged by my own private feelings,’ she writes, ’that had I any relative either deaf, dumb, blind, or lame, how thankful I should be to find a cure (more especially gratis); therefore I suffered the pamphlet to be sold, in hopes that by circulating these most solemn truths, many poor afflicted people might come and be healed.’

The cures enumerated in Mrs. Pratt’s list would be marvellous enough if the slightest credit could be attached to the lady’s wild statements. De Loutherbourg’s treatment of the patients who flocked to him was undoubtedly founded on the practice of Mesmer, though Horace Walpole appears to draw a distinction between the curative methods of the two doctors, when he writes to the Countess of Ossory in July 1789: ’Loutherbourg the painter is turned an inspired physician, and has three thousand patients. His sovereign panacea is barley water. I believe it is as efficacious as mesmerism. Baron Swedenborg’s disciples multiply also. I am glad of it. The more religions and the more follies the better: they inveigle prosélytes from one another.’ In a subsequent letter he writes, in reference to a new religion advocated by Taylor the Platonist:-’He will have no success. Not because nonsense is not suited to making prosélytes-witness the Methodists, Moravians, Baron Swedenborg, and Loutherbourg the painter-but it should not be learned nonsense, which only the literate think they understand after long study. Absurdity announced only to the ear and easily retained by the memory has other guess operation. Not that I have any objection to Mr. Taylor for making prosélytes: the more religions the better. If we had but two in the island they would cut one another’s throats for power. When there is plenty of beliefs the professors only gain customers here and there from rival shops, and make more controversies than converts.’ This letter was also written to the Countess of Ossory. It was hardly in so free a vein on such a subject that the writer would have ventured to address Miss Hannah More; with whom Mr. Walpole was fond of corresponding about this period.

In Mrs. Pratt’s List we read of a lad named Thomas Robinson, suffering from the king’s evil, and dismissed from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital as incurable, brought before Mr. De Loutherbourg, who ’administered to him yesterday in the public healing-room, amidst a large concourse, among whom were some of the first families of distinction in the kingdom,’ and wholly cured the sufferer. The two daughters born deaf and dumb of Mrs. Hook, Stable Yard, St. James’s, waited upon Mrs. De Loutherbourg, ’who looked upon them with an eye of benignity and healed them.’ ’I heard them both speak,’ avers Mrs. Pratt, by way of settling the matter. Among other cures we find ’a man with a withered arm which was useless, cured in a few minutes by Mr. De Loutherbourg in the public healing-room at Hammersmith;’ ’Mr. Williams, of Cranbourne Street, ill of a fever, had kept his bed ten weeks, was cured instantly;’ ’a gentleman, confined with gout in his stomach, kept his bed, was cured instantly;’ ’a green-grocer in Weymouth Street, Marylebone, next door to the Weavers’ Arms, cured of lameness in both legs-went with crutches-is perfectly well;’ ’a Miss W -, a public vocal performer, cured,-but had not goodness of heart enough to own the cure publicly;’ ’a child cured of blindness, at Mr. Marsden’s, cheesemonger, in the borough.’ Other cases are set forth; but the reader will probably consider that specimens enough have been culled from Mrs. Pratt’s pamphlet.

That the proceedings of the De Loutherbourgs attracted extraordinary attention is very certain. Crowds surrounded the painter’s house at Hammersmith, so that it was with difficulty he could go in or out. Particular days were set apart and advertised in the newspapers as ‘healing days,’ and a portion of the house was given up as a ‘healing-room.’ Patients were admitted to the presence of the artist-physician by tickets only, and to obtain possession of these, it is said that three thousand people were to be seen waiting at one time. Mrs. Pratt recounts ’with horror and detestation ’the wickedness of certain speculators in the crowd, who, having procured tickets gratis, unscrupulously sold them, at a profit ranging from two to five guineas, to buyers who were tired of waiting. De Loutherbourg complained bitterly that out of the thousands he professed to have cured, but few returned to thank him for the great benefits he had conferred upon them. He preferred to believe in the ingratitude of his patients rather than adopt the more obvious and reasonable course of questioning the perfect virtue of his curative powers, Mrs. Pratt, in concluding her pamphlet, entreats the magistracy or governors of the police to wait on Mr. De Loutherbourg and consult with him as to a proper mode of promoting his labours, and suggests that a ‘Bethesda’ should be forthwith built for the reception of the sick, and that officers should be appointed to preserve decorum, and to facilitate the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. De Loutherbourg, ‘without so much crowding.’ Finally she exhorts the world at large to contribute generously to the promotion of these beneficial objects.

But even at the date of Mrs. Pratt’s pamphlet the tide was turning-had turned. The nine days’ wonder was over. The mania was dying of exhaustion. Incidentally, the lady relates that ’having suffered all the indignities and contumely that man could suffer,’ the inspired physician had for a time retired from practice into the country. ‘I have heard,’ she continues, ’people curse him and threaten his life, instead of returning him thanks.’ In truth, as the public credulity waned, the doctor’s cures failed. His labours were of no avail; his prophecies were falsified. His patients rose against him; the duped grew desperate; the mob became exceeding wroth. The house in Hammersmith Terrace was attacked; stones were thrown, and windows smashed. Not much further mischief was done, however. De Loutherbourg and his wife prudently withdrew from public observation-quitted the kingdom. They were next heard of in company with their friend Count Cagliostro in Switzerland; Madame Cagliostro having accompanied them in their journey from England. But Count Cagliostro’s career of jugglery and fraud was nearly over. On the night of the 27th December 1789, he was arrested in Rome, and shut up in the Castle of St. Angelo, whence he never emerged alive.

In the curious and scarce Life and Adventures of Joseph Balsamo, commonly called Count Cagliostro, translated from the Italian, and published in London in 1791, copies are given of certain strange papers found in his possession, concerning which he was examined by the Inquisition during his imprisonment. In one of these documents there is unquestionable reference to De Loutherbourg, though the painter’s name is not given at length, and appears surrounded by the jargon of Cagliostro’s so-called system of Egyptian freemasonry, of which it is not possible to render any satisfactory interpretation. We extract from the paper the following:-

On the twentieth day of the eighth month-

’The Grand Master being employed in his operations, after the usual
ceremonies, the Pupil, before seeing the angel, said, “I find
myself in a dark room.

’"I see a golden sword suspended over my head.

’"I perceive Louth-g arrive.

’"He opens his breast and shows a wound in his heart; he holds out
a poniard to me.”

Grand Master. “Is he employed in the service of the Grand
Cophte?”

Pupil. “Yes.”

G. M. “What else do you see?”

P. “I see a star.

’"I see two.

’"I see seven.”

G. M. “Proceed.”

P. “Louth-g has retired-the scene changes, I see seven
angels,” etc. etc.

Cagliostro was ordered by the Inquisition to explain the meaning of this paper. He professed the profoundest ignorance as to its purport. There will probably be no great harm in concluding, therefore, that it did not possess meaning of any kind. But the reader is left to form his own opinion on the subject.

Soon De Loutherbourg was found to be again in England. But he practised no more as an inspired physician; he now followed sedulously his legitimate profession. His eccentricities and escapades were overlooked; it seems to have been agreed that he had been more fool than knave-that he had imposed upon himself quite as much as upon other people.

A highly esteemed painter, he was permitted to resume his place in society. In proof of the regard in which he was held, it may be noted that the guardians of the De Quinceys deemed it worth while to pay De Loutherbourg a premium of one thousand guineas, to receive as a pupil William, the elder brother of Thomas De Quincey, who had given promise of skill in drawing. The young fellow died, however, in his sixteenth year, about 1795, in the painter’s house at Hammersmith. A more moderate sum had some years previously been demanded of Mr. Charles Bannister, the actor, for the art-education of his son John. For a payment of fifty pounds per annum for four years, it was agreed that John Bannister should be taught, boarded, and lodged. But the arrangement came to nothing. De Loutherbourg demanded the payment of the money in advance. He mistrusted the players. They had caricatured him on the stage as ’Mr. Lanternbug,’ in General Bourgoyne’s comedy, The Maid of the Oaks; and then his mocking artist brethren caught at the nickname, corrupting it, however, to ‘Leatherbag.’ Mr. Bannister was unable or unwilling to comply with the painter’s requirements: so young John was sent to the school of the Royal Academy, which he soon deserted, and finally trod the boards, and charmed the town as an actor. Another pupil of De Loutherbourg, and a close imitator of his worst manner, who is yet worthy of public notice as the founder of the Dulwich Gallery, was Francis Bourgeois, knighted by the King of Poland. Edward Dayes, artist, critic, and biographer of artists, is said to have exclaimed eccentrically in reference to Sir Francis: ’Dietricy begat Casanova, Casanova begat De Loutherbourg, De Loutherbourg begat Franky Bourgeois, a dirty dog, who quarrelled with nature, and bedaubed her works!’

By his pictures of ‘Lord Howe’s Victory on the 1st of June 1794,’ and ‘The Storming of Valenciennes,’ De Loutherbourg acquired great popularity. For Macklin’s Bible (most luxurious of editions, in seven folio volumes, published in seventy parts at one guinea each!) he painted ‘The Angel destroying the Assyrian Host,’ and ‘The Deluge;’ the latter a particularly spirited and effective performance. Dayes, his contemporary, suggests, however, that he was made a historical painter by the printsellers, rather than by the sufficiency of his own genius in that respect. For the higher purposes of art, his composition was too defective, his drawing not masterly enough, and his execution too small and delicate. But Dayes greatly admired De Loutherbourg’s ’Review of Warley Camp,’ in the Royal Collection; especially praising the animals introduced, and the cool grey of the general effect; the painter as a rule being prone to a somewhat coppery tone of colour.

In 1808, Turner, appointed Professor of Perspective to the Royal Academy, went to live at Hammersmith, in order, it has been suggested, to be near De Loutherbourg, of whose works he was known to be an admirer. That he should have aided in the art-training and forming of the greatest of landscape painters is a real tribute to the merits of De Loutherbourg. It is something to have been even the fuel that helped the fire of a great genius to burn the more brightly.

The characteristics of the old scene-painter’s art which attracted the attention of Turner, were doubtless the boldness and strength of his effects: his rolling clouds and tossing waters; his sudden juxta-positions of light and shade; his bright and transparent, if occasionally impure and unnatural, system of colour. He was of another and inferior school to Richard Wilson, Gainsborough, and Constable, who, differing widely in their points of view and in their methods of art, are yet linked together by a common love of the natural aspects of the objects they studied, and a preference for a tender and temperate over what may be called a hectic and passionate rendering of landscape. But succeeding or failing, De Loutherbourg certainly aimed at the reproduction of certain pictorial tours de force which they would never have attempted. He was an innovator in the studio as on the stage. According to modern modes of thought he was not, of course, a conscientious worker. His landscapes were indeed begun, continued, and completed in his painting-room. A few crude pencil lines upon a card were enough for him to take home with him; for the rest he relied upon his memory or his invention. But in such wise was the general method of his time. Painters produced their representations of land and sea after close toil by their firesides. There was not much taking of canvases into the open air in the days of De Loutherbourg. Pursuing such a system, he became, necessarily, very mannered; and yet, with other and greater men, he helped to destroy a conventional manner in art. Rules had been laid down restricting the artist to an extent that threatened to oust nature altogether from painting. It had been decreed, for instance, that in every landscape should appear a first, second, and third light, and, at least, one brown tree. Departure from such a principle was, according to Sir George Beaumont and others, flat heresy. De Loutherbourg avowed himself a heretic. And he ventured to object to the old-established, well-known classically-composed landscape, which was becoming an art nuisance. The thing has disappeared now, but the reader has probably a dim acquaintance with the classically-composed landscape. It was somewhat in this wise: in no particular country, a temple of ruins on the right hand was balanced by a trio of towering firs on the left. In the middle distance was raised another temple in a more tenantable state of repair, above a river crossed by a broken bridge, the ragged arches strongly reflected in the water; at the back, in the centre of the horizontal line (gracefully waved with lilac mountains), was the sun, rising or setting, it was never quite certain which; whilst little ill-drawn, inch-high figures straggled about in the foreground, and furnished a name to the picture: AEneas and Dido, Venus and Adonis, Cephalus and Aurora, Apollo and Daphne, etc. etc. De Loutherbourg’s dashing sea-views and stormy landscapes, although they might savour a little of the lamp and the theatre, did service in hindering the further production of the ‘classical compositions’ of the last century.

De Loutherbourg died on the 11th March, 1812, at the house in Hammersmith Terrace, which had been the scene of his exploits as an inspired physician. He was buried in Chiswick churchyard, near the grave of William Hogarth.