The Approaching Storm

Oil on canvas, signed & dated lower right ‘1870’
Image size: 29 x 39 inches (74 x 99 cm)
Original gilt Watts frame

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John Linnell (16 June 1792 – 20 January 1882) was an English landscape and portrait painter and engraver. Linnell was a naturalist and a rival to John Constable. He had a taste for Northern European art of the Renaissance, particularly Albrecht Durer. He also associated with William Blake, to whom he introduced Samuel Palmer and others of the Ancients.

Linnell was born in Bloomsbury, London. His father was a carver and gilder and Linnell was brought into contact with artists from an early age, and was drawing and selling portraits in chalk and pencil at the age of 10. His first artistic instruction was received from Benjamin West, and he spent a year in the house of John Varley the water-colour painter, where he had William Hunt and William Mulready as fellow-pupils, and made the acquaintance of Shelley Goodwin and other men of mark.

In 1805 he was admitted a student of the Royal Academy, where he obtained medals for drawing, modelling and sculpture. He was trained as an engraver, and executed a transcript of Varley’s “Burial of Saul.” By 1808, Linnell moved into the house of painter William Mullready, whose wife had accused him of infidelity with both other women and boys. It appears Linnell’s association with Mulready caused the breakup of Mulready’s marriage.

In later life Linnell occupied himself with the burin, publishing, in 1833, a series of outlines from Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, and, in 1840, superintending the issue of a selection of plates from the pictures in Buckingham Palace, one of them, a Titian landscape, which he engraved in mezzotint.At first he supported himself mainly by miniature painting and execution of larger portraits. Several of his portraits he engraved in line and mezzotint. He painted many subjects like the “St John Preaching,” the “Covenant of Abraham,” and the “Journey to Emmaus,” in which, while the landscape is usually prominent the figures are of sufficient importance to supply the title of the work. But it is mainly in connexion with paintings of pure landscapes that his name is known. His works commonly deal with some scene of typical uneventful English landscape, which is made impressive by a gorgeous effect of sunrise or sunset. They are full of true poetic feeling, and are rich and glowing in colour.

Linnell commanded large prices for his pictures, and about 1850 he purchased a property at Redhill, Surrey, where he lived till his death on 20 January 1882, painting with unabated powers until within the last few years of his life. He devoted himself to painting landscapes notably of the North Downs and Kentish Weald. His leisure was occupied with a study of the Bible in the original, and he published several pamphlets and treatises of Biblical criticism.

Linnell was one of the best friends and kindest patrons of William Blake. He gave him the two largest commissions he received for single series of designs—£150 for drawings and engravings of The Inventions to the Book of Job, and a like sum for those illustrative of Dante Aligheri.He was a friend of the painter Edward Thomas Daniell. A blue plaque commemorates Linnell at Old Wyldes’ at North End, Hampstead.The plaque mentions that William Blake stayed with Linnell as his guest.