Walter   Dendy   Sadler

(Dorking, Surrey, 12 May 1854 - 13 November 1923, Hemmingford Grey, Huntingdonshire)

Born in Dorking, a market town in Surrey in southern England, and brought up in Horsham, West Sussex, England, where he showed a precocious talent for drawing. At age 16 he decided to become a painter and enrolled for two years at Heatherly's School of Art in London, subsequently studying in Germany under Burfield and Wilhelm Simmler. He exhibited at the Dudley Gallery from 1872, and at the Royal Academy from the following year through to the 1890s. He was a member of the RBA, he also exhibited at the RA (Royal Academy). He painted contemporary people in domestic and daily life pursuits, showing them with comical expressions illustrating their greed, stupidity etc. One of the true masters of domestic genre along with his contemporary Frank Moss Bennett. His subjects were usually set in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries with sentimental, romantic and humorous themes. Before painting a scene he would create elaborate settings in which local villagers would often pose as models. Indeed, as he often used the same props and models, these can sometimes be seen repeated in successive paintings in different guises. The home, the inn, the lawyers office, the garden and the golf course all provide subjects for his wit and clever social observation. Also known as: Walter-Dendy Sadler

Genre painter, his brothers George and Thomas and sister Kate also became artists. Trained at Heatherley’s in London and with Burfield and Wilhelm Simmler in Dusseldorf, Germany 1871-1875; exhibited at Dudley Gallery from 1872, and at Royal Academy 1873-1914; success with a scene of friars fishing in 1875, led to a sequence of typically humorous and well-studied figure groups, including "Thursday" (1880; Tate) and "Friday" (1882; NM Liverpool); other hunting, feasting and domestic scenes of ‘olden days’ were reproduced as popular prints; member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and St John’s Wood Art Club; moved to Hemmingford Grey, Huntingdonshire 1897, where he died.

Woodruffe, W.L., ‘W. Dendy Sadler’, Magazine of Art, 1896.


Among that crowd of English humorous and satirical painters which includes such masters as Hogarth, the first and greatest of the body, and Mr. Haynes-Williams, our able contemporary working in the Hogarthian strain, the only one who -- avoiding politics, "Sport," personalities, and sentimental themes -- has succeeded in bringing into daylight again "the tea-cup times of hoop and hood," as well as those of the Regency, and confined himself to the bourgeois, is Mr. Denby Sadler, is whose honor a numerous exhibitions of pictures is now open in King Street, St. James's.

Mr. Haynes-Williams delights in those gallantries of the Assembly Room of Leamingtons, Brighton and Cheltenham, which had succeeded the braveries of "The Bath" of Gainsborough, and Harrogate's health-giving springs. Not so with the subjects of Mr. Denby Sadler's canvases, most of whom actually belong to our grandfather's later days, when George the Fourth was King.

In another way our present subject differs from his forerunners. Gillray, Rowlandson, Bunbury, Woodward, Cruikshank, Seymour, the Doyles, Leech, H. K. Brown, R. Caldecott and C. Keene have followed each other into those happy shades where satire has no sting, nor sardonic wit a sigh. The cruel bludgeon and stabbing knife, the infamous suggestions, coarse abuse of caricature itself, and the backbiting, had in turn yielded to better taste, and the days when Pope himself dared no attack Horgarth were gone by. Each satiric artist became more gentle, not to say humane, than his immediate forerunners, and provinces of the satiric realm were appropriated by one artist or another, and each kept to his own.

Among those who employ types, rustical, homely, and pathetic, and who for their subject affect the ways amusements, and homely doing of a hundred years ago, none is more eminent that the artist, some of whose best pictures are reproduced in these pages. He too, like Leech and Keene, can lay his hand upon his heart and boast that his pencil has defamed no woman nor maligned a man. We see how faithful to his nature his types are, and yet nobody needs to be pitied as the victims of Pope and Churchill are always pitied. Nor, on the other hand, are his men and women nearly so impersonal -- not to say unreal -- as those generalizations of character Caldecott gave us for models and patterns, so to say, of the genus huntsman, but not huntsmen individually at all. Besides the points of difference, Mr. Denby Sadler's range of subjects, choice of which implies great resources, is, as we shall see, much wider than Caldecott's, while as a painter of pictures in oil, each demanding months for its execution, he cannot be compared to Charles Keene, Richard Doyle, or John Leech, who, at the rate of hundreds every year, made innumerable drawing on wood by a much simpler process. It would be fair to compare a dozen Denby Sadlers with a similar number of the works of either of the men he in art or inventive power most resembles; and in no other way can his position be discovered and established. Such a comparison would not be to the disadvantage of the living artist. As a painter he comes near, on the one hand, to Leslie, that prince of artists, humorous designers, and painters of comedy; and, on the other hand, he approaches Mr. Orchardson, a capital master, who has never attempted to cover so wide a field as Mr. Denby Sadler, but triumphs as a sardonic illustrator of some of today's vices; he is still less remote from Mr. Marks, who is great in touching lightly the ridiculous side of certain enthusiasms; while Mr. Yeames has sometimes, but not too often, done admirably where modern moods, fancies, and follies were in question.

Like Mr. Marks, when he painted those prime pieces of humour: 'Toothache in the Middle Ages,' 'The Franciscan Sculptor,' and similar works, Mr. Denby Sadler has opened new vistas in that, to us, dim and cloudy region -- the monastic and civil life of mediaeval times, touched its records with ne light, and, with vitalizing spirit, mad some of the men of old to live anew. Again, like Mr. Marks, whose masterpiece is 'The Three Jolly Post-Boys,' Mr. Denby Sadler has more than once revived the old-fashioned humours and quaint incidents of travel by stages, vans, and those more stately "machines," as during the last century they were called -- splendid vehicles which, all gleaming in scarlet and gold, carried His Majesty's mails and about a dozen passengers besides. Not less a a master of character than the famous Roy Academician we have just named, worthy to be compared with him as a humorist, and in repeatedly and powerfully touching, profoundly tender chords of sorrow, which Mr. Marks has avoided altogether, our present subject stands as much apart from him on the one side, as on the other he is remote from the elegant amenities, somewhat hot-pressed courtesies and urbane graces of Mr. Haynes-Williams's pleasant and comely realm. Our artist's exact place as a designer as well as a student of character is midway between Mr. Marks and Mr. Haynes-Williams, and, strangely enough, he is, as an artist, in a similar position. Thus, as a real master of composition, he is superior to the R.A., and not, technically speaking, quite so deft and clever as the "outsider."

His touch is not so hard as Mr. Marks's, nor are the surfaces of his pictures so polished as those of the gentler genre painter, while, as to finish, neither of his compeers is equal to him. A better painter of the carnations than either of them. Mr. Denby Sadler's representation of the human face and form are truer, because less adust and arid than that of the Academician: more brilliant and solid and less quaint-like that that of the "outsider," whose flesh painting, at its best, is defective in limpidity, and, above all, is lacking in the inner gold and greys of the Venetians and their followers, Mr. H. Cook. These are the general characteristics and qualities of our painter's art. How they were developed, and which of his pictures represent them best, may, with so much of his biography as the theme requires, be told as follows.

The son of a solicitor settled at Dorking, a member of a family originally from Horsham, and, if the name they bore goes for anything, of old English blood, Walter Denby Sadler was, in 1854, born at the pleasant town so celebrated for poultry and for lime. At Horsham he went to school, and there, after the manner of many incipient artists, illustrated his primers and dictionaries with sketches and studies of a sort such as moved the ire of his teachers, who, nevertheless, thought so well of the artist that they invariably captured and preserved these exercises of a vagrant scholar. Remaining at Horsham till he was sixteen years of age, and determining to become a painter, the tyro, after some lessons from a local artist, came to London and entered Heatherly's Art School in Newman Street, where he remained till 1871. Then, going to Dusselforf, he mad further studies under Herr W. Simmler, a man of note at that time and place, who, being much impressed with the abilities of his pupil, offered to teach him for nothing. Young as he was, Mr. Denby Sadler's progress must have been very honourable; and so rapid that, in 1872, being then barely eighteen, he made his debut in Dudley Gallery with No. 279, a picture called 'A Partial Critic,' the pretensions of which, as thirty guineas was asked for it, must have been greater that ordinary. Mr. Denby Sadler continued to exhibit at this gallery -- a place made memorable by poor Haydon's disasters within its dungeon-like-walls -- till 1881, when 'A Feast Day' appeared there.

The Royal Academy first knew Mr. Denby Sadler as an exhibitor in 1873, when he sent to Burlington House a small picture called 'The Deciding Game.' The next work of note from his hands marked his true and original sense of the domestic side of conventual life during the Middle Ages, when his brethern had to depend upon their fish-ponds for their Friday's dinners; and, in 1875, he illustrated 'Steady! Brother; steady!' the warning of a brown-frocked Franciscan to his brother monk, who had just hooked a mighty salmon and was a little flurried by his responsibilities. As the notes before us describe the picture: "Breathless the speaker utters his warning and stimulating counsel to the captor of this wily monster, and both men are rapt, the one beginning to lose his head lest he should lose his fish, the other trembling lest he should become a spectator of defeat." Of the fate of the third party there is no record. It was upon this work our painter's reputation was very honourably founded. It was the first of the monastic subjects, and had for its complements: ' 'Tis always the largest Fish that's lost,' of 1881; 'Friday,' etched in The Art Journal, 1885, or the sorrows of fast days, with the resentful regret of a disappointed angler, 1882, now in the Liverpool Gallery; 'Recreation,' jolly monks playing at Blind Man's Buff, 1883; 'Thursday,' which is in the Tate Gallery, and etched in The Art Journal in 1888, and represents some monks, mindful of to-morrow's fast, fishing in a rapid stream, 1880; 'A Visit from Brother Dominic,' 1881; 'Brother Francis, the Monastery Cellarman,' 1880; Brother Ambrose, the Monastery Gardner,' 1880; 'A Stranger in the Monastery,' 1883; and 'A Good Story,' in which a travelled friar relates a laughable anecdote to a high dignitary of the Church; 'Habet!' triumphant fishers from a convent rejoicing in a capture, was the latest of that category of monks fishing which is here referred to, but by no means, as we shall soon discover, the latest of our artist's piscatory subjects. When we consider that 'Steady! Brother; steady!' was the work of a youth of twenty-one years of age, who had already exhibited six pictures in public galleries, two of them at Burlington House, it is easy to imagine how rapid the painter's progress has been.* (*The most important of the six examples here referred to were, besides 'A Partial Critic,' which was in the Dudley Gallery in 1872, 'Safer than the Bank,' 1874, and 'The Deciding Game,' R.A., 1874. Mr. Sadler did not contribute to the Society of British Artists' Exhibition until 1878. 'The Postillion's Wooing,' a highly characteristic subject capitally painted, was in the first-named gallery in 1875, and was followed by 'When we were Young,' 1877, with which the artist opened that which may be called a retrospectively pathetic series of subjects, such as the title of the picture suggests, and illustrated a new and deeply-touching element in his mood of thought, or rather, in his sympathetic fancy. His latest work at the "Dudly" was 'A Feast Day,' 1884.)

As time went on we find the artist devoting more and more attention, energy, and skill to secondary parts of his compositions, besides the landscapes, and including interiors of extraordinary richness of character and opulent in accessories of furniture, bric-a-brac, and what-not, all of which are in keeping with the themes of the pictures. The result of this extreme care, and the research it implies, are manifest in our blocks, which reproduce treasures of details and include the shape of the wine-glasses, decanters, cupboards, and wine-coolers in 'Darby and Joan,' ' 'Tis Fifty Years Since,' and 'Returning Thanks,' as well as such extreme minutiae as the pattern of the bandana handkerchief (veritably Indian as it is) on the knee of a guest on our left of the last-names group of feasters, and the portraits of Darby and his Joan when they were (it was about 1760) young enough to sit to Mr. Gainsborough at his fine house in Pall Mall. Ever pathetic, the ideas of Mr. Denby Sadler recall by such means as these the days when Darby was a young bridegroom and Joan a fair and blooming bride. There are sympathetic touches, too, of the subtler sort in making the likeness of the young lover look tenderly and ardently toward the portrait of his charming mistress. She, all compact of happiness, and hardly conscious of her charms, looks down because he gazes at her. The very dog leaping at her knee is significant of their faithful and happy loves, while still blossoming winter of their lives is aptly alluded to by the chrysanthemums piled in a silver vase upon the table.

Except the veracity and aptitude of the expressions and attitudes of all his figures and the appropriateness of their actions to which we shall come presently, no elements of Mr. Denby Sadler's pictures are more interesting, quaint, and fresh than such details as the above. They are important, too, with regard to his system of painting, and, as concerns his technique, that is, his handling and remarkably accurate views as to finish, which are quite characteristic and original, they may be said to rule. Accordingly, as only a precise, crisp, and very firm touch, brilliant and searching handling and the utmost attention to the effect of light, could succeed in treating multitudinous details of the kind in question, it speaks for itself that our artist must needs work with touches, handling, and light-rendering of an exacting and exact kind. Not a picture of his painting but affirms this much, from the modeling of the foliage in his background of 'A Doubtful Bottle,' which is our headpiece, and including the lustre of the glass and silver equipage on the table in 'Darby and Joan,' the somewhat worn and faded state of the old-fashioned Brussels carpet upon the floor in that work; the reflections of the room and its appurtenances in the convex mirror in 'Over the Nuts and Wine,' and the extraordinary crispness of the fast-fading hydrangeas in those big tubs which are conspicuous in 'A Doubtful Bottle.' So stringent and self-exacting is the art of Mr. Denby Sadler in regard to these technical qualities that his productions often suffer through his unrelenting methods, and his exactitude tends to become metallic while his unflinching concern for detail such as the above gives to his works some excess of hardness, and goes far to reduce their homogeneity as well as to weaken that unity of their colours and tones which is essential to good chiaroscuro, so much prized by artists. As examples of that superfluous stringency to which we refer the student may, if he has the picture in view, notice the over-definition of the stripes of the wall-paper and the partial obtrusiveness of the black frame behind the lady's head* (*The print enclosed by this name is Lucas's 'Salisbury Cathedral,' after Constable.) in ' 'Tis Fifty Years since.' With regard to the excess in question, and its results on the breadth and simplicity of his pictures generally, it is right to say that the large collection of those which are now on view in Mr. Lefevre's gallery proves that time by reducing their higher keys of light and colour, is actually harmonizing the works, and, by thus massing their tones and tints, improving there chiaroscuro.

Having thus, so far as his choice of their subjects is concerned, referred to Mr. Sadler's piscatorial comedies, an important section of his artistic "output" which is not represented in the blocks attached to this essay; and, in general terms, described his methods of painting, his technical aims and their characteristics successes as well as that which seems to be their only shortcoming which is worth considering, the reader's attention may be now asked for the pictures which blocks before him represent. These subjects belong to those categories of Mr. Sadler's productions which followed the piscatorial group, which is indeed almost a regular sequence. The second group may be described as the jovial one; the third as the pathetic one. Of late years the painter, so ample and diversified are his resources, has entered upon a fourth and humorous sequence of subjects which chiefly deal with the follies and weaknesses of men and women, and does so in a thoroughly good-natured way to which even those men and women themselves can hardly object; while some of the number might be expected to be grateful to the genial satirist who, not unkindly, has held before them that mirror of humour in which they may "see themselves as others see them." Our present limits forbid more than the names of the leading examples of the new category which is now referred to; these include 'The Widow's Birthday,' R.A., 1889; 'The Widow at Home,' 1890; 'Where the Widow lives'; 'Scandal and Tea,' 1892; 'The New Will,' 1893; 'A Meeting of Creditors'; 'A Breach of Promise,' a capital instance; and, lastly the unusually large 'London to York,' which shows how travellers by coach halted at country inns. It is now in the King Street Galleries. The artist's contributions to the current Academy belong, one of them to the jovial sequence, the other to that which is pathetic. They need not delay us now.

The earliest of the jovial series is the 'Old and Crusted,' of 1888. Here three "old boys" are seated in the garden of a country inn, trim, sunlit and glowing with old-fashioned flowers, while their host, himself an antiquity, brings to them, with a delightfully reverential air, a magnum of wonderful port, which to use the phrase of the late Laureate's "Will Waterproof," was then "As old as Waterloo," and deserves the honours due and paid to it. The reader will notice that the very dog is not only old and rather lazy, but of an old-fashioned breed; the glasses on the table belong to his younger days, and so do the very flowers that bloom in the garden. The second sequel to this picture is 'A Doubtful Bottle,' which, painted in 1892, gives with infinite humour the reception of that questionable wine by three cognoscenti, two of whom follow the manifest opinion of their leader, who, holding the wine to the light, is ready to condemn anything. The apologetic and protesting vintner in his shirt-sleeves is a first-rate instance of the painter's insight and sense of fun. The garden house are charming, apt, and quite historical.

To 'Darby and Joan,' painted in 1880, the reader has been already referred as one of the most tender of the artist's pathetic and anecdotic designs. The companion, though not the sequence to this picture, is still more pathetic ' 'Tis Fifty Years since' (R.A., 1894), the most tender of all Mr. Sadler's sardonic pictures in which a second Darby gallantly offers his arm to a second Joan, a somewhat infirm old lady, as witness the crutch-stick on which she leans while rising to accept her spouse's courtesy. Her grateful looks, brimming with the kindly memories of half a century's love, are of Mr. Sadler's best. Notice her gown of old brocade -- assumed, of course, in honour of this the golden anniversary of her wedding, her peculiar cap and its laplets of invaluable lace. The aged butler waits in an inner room, ready to attend at the repast which is to celebrate the anniversary here so sympathetically illustrated.

Another very pathetic picture, having for it subject an incident of "Love that never found its earthly close," is 'The Sweethearts' (R.A., 1892), where we have, in a shadowy garden -- part of Penshurst Place, in Kent -- two ancient lovers, not as yet nor ever to be wed, seated vis-a-vis, with a weather-beaten sun-dial between them, which stands in the path -- a point of the sublest sympathy -- is like the pair, deserted by the almost sunken sun, whose latest beams linger, so to say, for a moment upon the old lady's form, and upon the crest only of the gnomon of that dial which declares that "the day is done," and silently records it blank "Nevermore." In 'Over the Nuts and Wine' (R.A., 1889), it is only needful to point to the fan of the lady of the house, fallen to the floor when she left "the gentlemen to their wine"; to the half-empty decanter, the Gainsborough upon the wall, the Chippendale chairs and the convex mirror and it hovering eagle. The story-telling old "beau," withered and be-wigged, belonged to the Regency. The champagne glasses are empty, but there is port in the other glasses. 'Returning Thanks' (1892), tells its own story so successfully we see at once the speaker, who is "on his legs," is a bachelor; and that the farthest guest on our right is really deafer that he chooses to admit; that his younger neighbour, who plays with a fruit-knife, is a little bored by the speech, as, indeed, though less obviously, are some of his companions.

The Art Journal, July, 1895, F. G. Stephens.

View painter's work: Walter Dendy Sadler (1854-1923) [new window view]