Edward John Gregory, R.A.
(Southampton, 19 April 1850 - 22 June 1909, Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire)
Grandson of John Gregory, engineer-in-chief of the auxiliary engines in Sir John Franklin's last Arctic expedition, and was eldest child (in a family of three sons and five daughters) of Edward Gregory, a ship's engineer, by his wife Mary Ann Taylor. On leaving Dr. Cruikshank's private school at fifteen he entered the drawing-office, in his native town, of the Peninsular and Oriental steamship company, in whose employ his father sailed; but though always keenly interested in all kinds of mechanism, he had set his mind upon being a painter. Making the acquaintance at Southampton of Hubert Herkomer (now Sir Hubert von Herkomer, R.A.), whose family had settled there, he started a life-class with him. In 1869, Gregory went to London, and with Herkomer joined the South Kensington Art School. Subsequently he studied for a short time at the Royal Academy. He was soon employed in the decorations of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and in 1871, with his friends Herkomer and Robert Walker Macbeth [q. v. Suppl. II], began working for the Graphic, which had just been started by William Luson Thomas [q. v. Suppl. I]. Gregory at first contributed sketches from the theatres, but soon freely transcribed sketches sent home from the French army at the front by Mr. Sydney P. Hall. Gregory's illustrations, which were sometimes signed by both himself and Hall, discovered the variety and ingenuity of his draughtsmanship. He ceased to work regularly for the Graphic about 1875.
Gregory was not a frequent exhibitor at Burlington House. His mark as a painter was first made by an oil-painting, 'Dawn' (now in the possession of Mr. John Sargent, R.A.), originally shown at Deschamps' gallery in 1879. Much of his best work appeared at the exhibitions of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, of which he was elected associate in 1871, and member in 1876. He succeeded Sir James Linton as president in 1898. From 1875 to 1882, his contributions to the Academy were mainly portraits, including that of Duncan McLaren, M.P., a replica of which is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. As early as 1883, he was elected with Macbeth to the associateship, and he became academician in 1898, after the completion and exhibition of his 'Boulter's Lock: Sunday Afternoon,' a work which hardly justified the years of elaboration spent upon it.
Gregory's art was honoured abroad, both his oils and his water-colours being awarded gold medals at the international exhibitions of Paris (1889 and 1900), and Brussels (1898), and at the Munich Jahresausstellung (1891). Probably his water-colours and some of his drawings on wood will have a more enduring fame than his oils. In all mediums he showed cleverness and resource as a draughtsman, and a technical skill that was especially remarkable in his water-colours. His art suffered in the end through a fastidious preoccupation with the technical problems of his craft. For many years his paintings, which were not numerous, were acquired as soon as they were finished by Charles J. Galloway of Manchester, at whose death they were dispersed with the rest of his collection at Christie's on 24 June 1905, Gregory's water-colours bringing large prices.
Besides 'Dawn' and 'Boulter's Lock'
Gregory, despite a bad stammer, showed unusual aptitude for affairs as president of the Institute and was a conscientious and popular visitor at the schools of the Academy, in the counsels of which he exerted much weight. He died at his residence, Brompton House, Great Mario, and was buried in Great Marlow churchyard. He married in 1876 Mary, daughter of Joseph Joyner, who survived him without issue.
'A Look at the Model' (the property of Mr. H. W. Henderson) and the 'Souvenir of the Institute' are self-portraits. Two other portraits of himself, painted by him in 1875 and 1883, are in the possession of Mrs. Alfred Henry, London. A portrait by John Parker, R.W.S., belongs to his widow. Early in his career Gregory was invited to contribute his portrait to the Uffizi Gallery at Florence, but never finished one to his satisfaction.
[Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, by David Storrar Meldrum; Graves's Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1905-1906.]
E. J. GREGORY, A.R.A.
THE artistic work of one who is almost the youngest of the Associates of the Academy is noticeable and delightful not only because Mr. Gregory differs from so many of his brethren by the extent of his achievements, but also because he is peculiarly free from the preoccupations which are wont to limit the efforts and harass the imaginations of cultivated people. I am told, and can well believe, that Mr. Gregory is among the best read men in London -- among the most widely read -- but if he has read much, at least it has not, like the character in "Faust," been "dreadfully much." He has not been overpowered. Neither through literature nor society has he submitted himself unduly to influences which are seductive and gentle, but which often end by debilitating. In the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century he has had the extreme courage to see the world with his own eyes. The Art and Letters of the past have given him a cultivation that he has been strong enough to bear. They have not destroyed his individuality: they have hardly affected it. His forerunners have, indeed, taught him. Now in Italy and now in Holland, he has seen their work with the admiration which no fairly observant person can withhold from the art of Titian or that of Jan Steen. But the poetic realism of the Venetian has left him as free as has the more prosaic fidelity of the Dutchman. Feebler, for I will not say more sensitive, personalities have discovered in Bottiicelli or Pollajuolo qualities to which they have been obliged to submit. The pupil has declared himself when he has recognised the master. Mr. Gregory, it would seem, is nobody's pupil.
The circumstances of Mr. Gregory's early days, his early training, and the nature of his literary education, his first artistic pursuits -- all have had the tendency to send or to keep him among modern things, to engage him chiefly in translating into more or less beautiful colour and line an every-day experience and no remote vision. The son of an engineer, and born in a modern seaport town -- Southampton; his literary culture gained chiefly for himself; owing nothing to universities, and little to Academic men -- the delusion has never been encouraged within him that the age in which he exists is an age whose influences it is necessary to avoid, and accordingly when another generation than his own takes note of his art and estimates it, it will be found to contain an extraordinarily ample share of the accurate yet really pictorial record of the "very form and pressure" of the time in which it was produced. In it will be the signs of the keen vision -- in it is the precise yet beautiful rendering -- of much even of what is trivial and accidental in the life of the moment. In so far as it belongs to genre, it belongs to that which is concerned with the things which its creator has actually known. Of genre there are, it may be said, two kinds -- historic genre and the genre of the day. Genre can never look forward. It is only theological or so-called "religious" painting that can be concerned with the future. Genre has the choice of looking back to the past or of looking to the present. It belongs, therefore -- or, upon the surface, seems to belong -- to that order of painting which approaches most nearly to the most approved of modern novels. It illustrates daily life. But there is this distinction to remember -- that with the main theme of the modern novel, the tracking of the sentiment or of the passion of love, the art of Mr. Gregory hardly deals, and that with Mr. Gregory, or with any painter who works in his spirit, that which is only episode or slighter incident in the novel or the comedy becomes, on the face of it, a main theme. A scene which is a mere link, one link out of many, in the written fiction, becomes, in the painted picture -- as in "A Rehearsal" say, or like the flirtation in "Dawn" -- presumably the whole subject. But then, again, what distinguishes Mr. Gregory from the feebler or shallower painter of similar things is that such a scene is not at bottom his whole subject. Often his real subject is rather the selected combination of colour, line, and light. The novelist and he may have the same story, but they see it in different ways -- treat it for different ends.
The outward aspect, therefore, of the things and persons of the day -- and not so much their inner significance -- has come to be the material out of which Mr. Gregory weaves his work. But he is drawn, I daresay, much more by an unerring instinct than by a recognised conviction, to the outward aspect of the present instead of to the outward aspect of the past. For my own part I see in him about the highest type of painter who addresses himself to the artistic vision of his time. He does it very likely without a parti pris. He painted St. George and he painted Sir Galahad years ago, and, as his is a personality flexible even to changefulness and instability, it would not astonish me in the least if he painted them again to-morrow. But for the last few years at all events, and as I privately believe for most of the years that are to come, Gregory will be found but little devoted to that art which has monopolised the title of "imaginative." Not for him the world of the past. St. George, Sir Galahad, and the Norse pirates of his earlier labours -- for a while he has bid them good-bye.
In the "Norse Pirates" and one or two kindred subjects, exhibited at the Institute of Painters in Water-Colours a few years since, Mr. Gregory passed, so to say, his needed examinations, took his degree, proved his capacity to do, quite as well as other people, what has been done before, and what will be done again. I am not sorry that the strong young painter, with his whole career before him, offered up these respectable sacrifices on the conventional altar of imaginative art. It has, at all events, removed from the opponents of the work to which he has later betaken himself, the opportunity of asserting that his eventual selection of the life of the day is a matter of hard necessity and not of artistic choice. He could have dealt as creditably as others with that which he had never beheld, and, unsupported by experience, could have introduced, with great cleverness, a fictitious art. But by the remarkable picture known as "Dawn," which was shown at Mr. Deschamps' gallery some eight years ago, it became evident that Mr. Gregory's peculiar skill was in the discerning of all that is most artistic and all that is most piquant in the modern life of cities -- in the existence of a society that cannot claim to be unsophisticated, that cannot pretend even to the ambition to be simple. "Dawn" catches the flirtation of a night at its last and most critical moment. The scene, very likely, is some big villa in the Regent's Park; the immediate place is a large bow-windowed drawing-room, in which, through the drawn blinds, the first light of the pale cold morning enters to struggle with the glare of the chandeliers. Tawdry curtains drape the recess. At the keyboard of a grand piano, the paid musician, detained too long from the humble bed that awaits him in his lodgings in Soho or Camden Town, half dozes as he plays, and it seems that nobody dances, for there are but two other figures, and these, standing by the curve of the piano, are now in their flirtation's most violent phase. He is middle-aged; has seen the world; been everywhere; done everything. She is young, but perhaps a trifle too much ereilleé -- or is it only that it is very piquant for intelligent freshness to listen to a superabundance of knowledge? Anyhow his flattery has ceased to be guarded; and the attitude of her attention has ceased to be discreet. If the worn but energetic gentleman had been a little less obviously a roué, and the slim young lady a little less absolutely mundane, the story might have been pleasanter; but in no ease could the story chosen have been more effectively told. And this is the first instance of a faculty of Mr. Gregory's of which so much must be seen hereafter -- his power of giving grace even to the most commonplace of modern raiment. Even the man's trousers come well in the composition, while the dress of the lady, the stiffened yet moderately flexible bodice, the floods of frilling, the long trailing skirts, alternately express and hide the figure in ways that are only at the command of a consummate draughtsman. And here, too, is the first introduction -- and it is at once a prominent one -- of "that sceptre of the world, the fan of a beauty." It is opened here, and held aloft, almost as a first line of defense -- there is still a barrier between the too sudden lover and the too unadvised fair. In the "Rehearsal" it is open, but for the time without significance, for the attention of the figures, merely spectators, is concentrated on the repetition of the play. It has its part though in the composition -- in the wonderful spiral of dress and accessory. And in a third picture, a direct and complete portrait of a quite different model -- of a lady who is the daughter of Mr. Gregory's staunchest upholder and most uncompromising friend -- Miss Galloway, seated at ease after a long waltz, holds it high, with its pale blue feathers against the blond of the head -- it is lightly closed, but ready for service, Mr. Gregory's heroines would never have needed to learn "the exercise of the fan," even out of so pleasant a text-book as Addison's Spectator.
Master, then, of the utility of the fan in artistic design, Gregory is likewise master of the employment of the palette. In Mr. Galloway's house, which is a museum of Gregorys, there hangs on the drawing-room wall the remarkable water-colour, "Last Touches," which appeared at the Institute about three years ago. It shows the same handsome and dissipated and outworn model who is the hero of "Dawn," but this time he is made to be a painter, and in the closing hours of the day he is weary of his work, of himself, of everything. These last touches -- they are the very devil, you know. There is no such thing as being satisfied. Painter and writer, caring for their art, torture themselves over these things. So it is in the drawing.
The man who faces you, near the machinery of the easel -- his chair tilted back, and he looking at his work -- sprawls with wide-opened legs, boots and great knees thrust into the foreground, a brush in one hand and in the other a palette. Behind him, at the remote fireplace of the beautiful studio, stands a young woman in evening dress, not worried like the artist, not tortured at all, but only a little bored lest she should be late for the theatre. The anxious preoccupation of the one person, the trifling preoccupation of the other -- the suggestion of two lives led together, with interests a good deal separated -- has in it enough of the dramatic. It is an excellent subject, even as subjects are estimated by the lovers of story. But I am told I was not wrong in a surmise I made long ago, that the real motive of the picture was the curve of the palette; the foreshortened curve; its place in the composition. Objects in themselves generally allowed to be beautiful are here, as so often in Mr. Gregory's work, subordinated to the due display of that whose interest is more lately discovered. The young woman -- generally allowed to be beautiful, nay, from whom beauty is generally exacted -- she is thrust into the background. The canopy of the ceiling; the decorations of the mantelpiece -- all background. In the foreground are the straight lines of the easel, the palette's curve, the great extended legs.
Then again, the portrait of Mr. Gregory himself. Is not the employment of the palette in that composition as original as it is successful? And the crossed leg again, so close to the spectator: is not that almost as bold and as fresh, in a modern portrait? The muscularity of the thing -- the sweeping and sturdy line of it -- takes us back to the later Renaissance, to the tombs of the Medici, to the sculptures of Gian Bologna. Further, there is a distinct piquancy in the union of this broad and large design with a finish not only so expressive but so dainty as that of which the head gives evidence.
The keen perception of beautiful muscular action and of a fortunate "bony structure" (which is the very foundation of beauty of line) revealed beneath the fold or strain of modern dress -- that keen and alert perception combined with a faultless draughtsmanship, allows the artist we are considering to treat an every-day folk in every- day ways, with a dignity and interest that are at the command of very few of the painters of contemporary life. See, for instance, the latest important canvas, the Academy picture, his "Intruders." There is a tussle of swans -- the "vested interests" of one or other of them to the bounty of the ladies of the boat being threatened by outsiders who would like to share in the expected spoil. And so the water is a-move, the very air seems a-flutter, with the splashing birds and the beating of their great white wings. The scene is by an island of the Thames, opposite Winter's Hill, in the morning hours, in the freshness and the blue of the June weather. In the foreground the fashionable modern dress and the tawdry decorations of the houseboat come to be reconciled with all that is more admittedly paintable. The feat is accomplished. Some of us will see in the picture just a spirited and entertaining record of an incident of the river. Some of us will see, on the other hand, a good deal more and a good deal that is different. For there is visible -- supposing that the Fates have granted us eyes -- the masterly record of a swift impression, and the deliberate pleasure of the capable hand in following the intricate beauty of the figure at rest. The young girl seen from behind, with turned head, with extended arm -- no drawing, even of Watteau's, goes beyond that, in dainty expressiveness. It must have been done with delight: with delight, I say, and with Macduff's "joyful trouble," if with trouble at all. And so with several things at Mr. Galloway's which record the subtleties of pretty or characteristic attitude: the young woman plunging into the piano, for instance, her head pushed eagerly forward, her elbow and bent up arm thrown back, her skirts a-rustle, as the little hurrying mouse scampers through the instrument. And again, the drawing of the ballet girl, with her arm laid along the mantlepiece, her figure relaxed in the lounging rest of the bare green-room; the eyes directed to the friend whose doffed hat, placed on the mantel-shelf, alone intrudes into the picture.
Mr. Gregory has shown in other works than those of genre painting his curious sensitiveness to unconsidered beauties of line. He has shown it where he has also shown a keen appreciation of character -- in portraiture -- but it is evidenced still more completely in those grey visions of the land and river which allow one to think of him sometimes along with Whistler and Wyllie. The gaunt black wooden pier or landing-stage that projects into the grey water; the steamboat lying alongside of it; the water-side sheds, the low flat shore -- these are things which (as a drawing at Mr. Galloway's proves) Gregory sees as sympathetically as he sees the blue stream that hurries down amidst the golden fern and the stones of the moorland, or the stretch of tawny and weed-covered rock that lies under a sky of delicate opal. The very words that we want to describe these pictures or to hint at them, "blue" and "golden," "tawny" and "opal," remind us that we are in the realm of colour. Nay, more, these latter pictures not only include colour but give it prominence: they are dependent upon its harmonies or its fortunate contrasts. Now Mr. Gregory has often been said to be uncertain and unequal in colour. We have had from time to time to register his failures in it, or at ail events the disappointments that he does not invariably spare us. There was the portrait of Mr. Alfred Seymour, for instance, and there was last year's "Piccadilly." We must admit the inequality. Perhaps we must even go so far as to say that he is not a colourist primarily -- that the leaven of the old Adam of the Black and White, the old Adam of the Graphic newspaper, is strong within him. He is a colourist chiefly a ses heures. But then "his hours" come pretty frequently, and when they come they are exquisitely productive. Mr. Galloway's little picture of "The Mouse in the Piano" is beautiful in spite of colour. It has everything else to recommend it: action, vivacity, draughtsmanship, the original and piquant record of a trifling-thing. His picture of the plump blonde a little huddled on an ottoman of striped yellow is beautiful because of colour. Perhaps it is beautiful for nothing besides.
The whole Venetian series -- likewise at Mr. Galloway's -- is notable as showing Gregory's dainty control over pure and lovely hues. But for other things too it is notable, though one's first impression of it may conceivably be disappointing. The dainty little canvases are not peculiar: they are not signed over every inch of them with Gregory's mark. They bear no trace of his having been preoccupied with the remembrance of his earlier methods. They are fresh and new and unmannered, recalling his own work as little as they recall Miss Montalba's broad and masculine transcript, or Mr. Whistler's beautiful and fantastic vision. They are the Venice that if -- everybody's Venice -- just the habitual Venice of midday hours, of steady sunshine and keen light. It is not idealised or changed, it is simply recorded: now the Grand Canal with its rows of palaces; the marble of glowing slab or writhing column; and now the little side-canal with its work-yard where the boat-builder builds the burca of to-day, to which the gondola of old must gradually give place. The strength of it is that it is everybody's Venice, painted with a touch so firm and precise, and in hues so luminous.
Still, the Venetian work is at best but brilliant study; the river work at Eriith and at the mouth of the Medway shows that Mr. Wyllie need not have stood alone -- another has been in his path; the Scottish landscape work, well, that is only another indication of the very wide sympathies of this flexible genius. It is none of these we rest upon. They are the work of bye-hours; they are holiday tasks. In portraiture and in genre painting lies the artist's most real force: in portraiture, from "Mr. Eley" to "Miss Galloway;" in genre painting, from "Dawn" to "A Rehearsal" and the "Intruders." The portrait of Mr. Eley, which was the earliest of his more considerable portraits, was felt, when it was exhibited, to reveal in the artist an originality quite as marked and decisive as it disclosed in the sitter. Yet the "Miss Galloway" went in every way beyond it. Its art was wholly concealed, and the work itself was only the last result of a long observation. Painfully, I believe, and indefatigably the picture was wrought at weary sitting after sitting. Gregory, it seems, is never easy to please, and he knew he had a chance here, and did not intend to lose it. He destroyed one canvas. Then, with the sitter a little exhausted -- since I dare not say she was bored -- with her share of the labour, the artist struck into the business again, with a new energy, and perhaps the most life-like portrait of a woman done in our time was wrought rapidly out of the accumulated knowledge that had seemed for a while to yield so little. Doubtless one might often see the face much prettier, but perhaps it is this good-natured air of sufferance -- this "Well now, this must really be the last of me" -- that gives it its extraordinary appearance of truth. The pose of the figure is one of absolute ease; the painting is as good as the draughtsmanship; it is a triumph of execution. Just because it is a triumph of execution I am told that it will not reproduce without too serious a loss. So we do not attempt a woodcut. But it is well to remember that this masterly, refined, and unaffected work was, three years since, the legitimate sensation of a gallery sometimes a little too indulgent to refinement burdened by affectation, and to ambition unsupported by force. A real and tangible presence was side by side with the ghosts. No wonder, then, that from the eye of the mind the ghosts vanished -- the living presence stayed.
Perhaps no single genre picture thus far painted by Mr. Gregory makes on behalf of its painter quite so unanswerable a claim as that advanced by this portrait. For, hitherto, the "Dawn" is of his genre pictures the most serious and the most ambitious, and the technical equalities of "Dawn" he has now far surpassed. In genre painting it is not so much by a single work that we should be prepared to class him as by the manifestation in many works together of many various gifts and of that comprehensiveness of spirit, that intellectual and artistic toleration, which -- Mr. Gregory's brush being what it is -- is the best guarantee for his future. It may be that we could wish him hereafter a little less tolerant of red mahogany furniture and sordid belongings, and of a Bohemia which is without Bohemia's justification -- that it does at least enjoy itself, and improve each shining hour in its own particular way. And while welcoming Mr. Gregory's treatment of modern attire, we might perhaps ask that his choice should fall even less frequently than it does at present upon costumes that would be voted common in an Oxford Street window -- cheapish silks dependent for their garish effectiveness upon a prodigious amount of dress-making. In Mr. Gregory's best portraits the raiment of his choice has either the simplicity of splendid and lasting material, or the coquettish fashioning demanded by the dance dress of a night. Why is an eye that understands the charm of both indulgent occasionally to that which has the charms of neither? That is perhaps only an exaggeration of the tolerance and comprehensiveness which are Gregory's distinction, and it may be it is to be regretted only because to the weaker brethren it is something of a stumbling-block, preventing them from receiving all that Mr. Gregory's art is excellently fitted to give. If Mr. Gregory had manifested a great dramatic faculty the sympathy of the large public might have been more absolutely his. But as it is, he is dependent practically upon the suffrages of the cultivated; and of the cultivated, many are weak and a few are strong. When he is truest to himself he paints modern themes, but he is far too sincere an artist to treat them meretriciously. Thus -- it has to be admitted -- in a certain measure he escapes wide popularity. Frederick Wedmore.
The Magazine of Art (1878), Volume: 7, Cassell & Co. [contains ocr errors]-
View painter's work: Edward John Gregory, R.A. (1850-1909)