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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Francis Danby

Shipwreck, Francis Danby
Very few creative individuals choose to become artists. Still fewer do so for the money (try to restrain your laughter). Although the money may be a part of any such incentive, the more common reason is a deep-seated personal need to create. Other motives may involve a hope for praise and recognition of ones work, and perhaps some degree of fame (which, of course, is the least likely of all to be realized). Anyone choosing to become a professional artist who doesn't ponder these career factors is quite naïve and almost certainly destined for failure. Relying on natural talent, seeking academic training in some art form, and exhibiting a dogged persistence in the face of adversity are all important. But taken alone, none of these advantages and attributes are sufficient to guarantee success. I think I can safely say that the most important item in an artists lifetime success is simply, daring to be different...VERY...different.
A View in Wales, 1826, Francis Danby
Every day I search through dozens of biographies of artists of every era and type. Again and again I see this one, single, personal attribute (or its lacking) standing apart as the key element as to where an artist resides in the pantheon of greatness. Those lacking it get trod under foot on the front steps--a law of nature, as it were, carved in the stone of those temple steps. Moreover, it's not enough to simply be "different." Most artist are a little odd, either personally or through their work. The glue that binds talent, training, hard work, and all the other artistic success factors together resides in the one word boldly printed above--VERY.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Real America, 1970, Jim Lane. Different, yes, but not VERY different.
Dutch Windmill, 1828,
Francis Danby
The British painter of the early 19th century named Francis Danby, despite his best efforts, was one of the steps leading to the art pantheon who was trod under foot for the very reason I mentioned above. I must confess, I re-present one of those well-worn steps as well. I like to think my work has been both technically proficient and creatively "different." However, for various rea-sons, some due to my own lacking and some not, my work has not been different enough. It has not been VERY different. Danby was mostly a landscape painter painting in a Rom-antic style, but of insufficient means to be able to ignore his family's financial needs in order to break free from the norm as did his far more successful peers, J.M.W Turner, John Constable, John Everett Millais, and those of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who were VERY different, each in his own way.

The Delivery of Israel--Pharaoh and his Hosts
overwhelmed in the Red Sea, 1825, Francis Danby

Francis Danby, 1860
Francis Danby was Irish, born in Killinick, County Wexford, in 1793. He moved with his family to Dublin during the 1798 Wexford Uprising. After being left penniless by the death of his father in 1807, he went on to study land-scape painting at the Royal Dublin Society art schools. At the age of 20, he visited the Royal Academy Exhib-ition in London with his artist friends George Petrie and James Arthur O'Connor, and was much impressed with Frosty Morning by J.M.W. Turner. However, this expedition was under-taken with such inadequate funds, it quickly came to an end. The three ended up having to walk back to Bristol. They paused at Bristol when Danby found they were unable to pay for a single night's lodging. Danby managed to raise the cost of their room and board by selling two sketches of the Wicklow mountains for eight shillings. Later, he continued to get trifling sums for watercolor his drawings. He remained there working diligently, sending to the London several exhibitions pictures of some importance. There his large pictures in oil The Delivery of the Israelites (above) from 1828 quickly attracted attention. In fact, it and others gained him election as an associate of the Royal Academy. He left Bristol and moved to London in 1828. Danby was well on his way to greatness. His work was different, though not VERY different from that of other landscape painters of the era.

View of a Lake in Norway, Francis Danby
Francis Danby suddenly left London around 1829, declaring that he would never live there again. For one reason or another Danby felt that the Academy, instead of aiding him, had used him badly (the exact details have never been made known). Then an insurmountable domestic difficulty overtook him (his wife ran off with the painter, Paul Falconer Poole). For the next eleven or twelve years Danby lived an impoverished Bohemian lifestyle in Switzerland on Lake Geneva painting only now and then. He returned to England in 1840, when his sons were growing up. Danby exhibited his powerful (15-foot-wide), The Deluge (below) that year with great success, which served to revitalize his reputation and career.

The Deluge, 1840, Francis Danby
Considered to be one of the great Irish artists of the 19th Century, Danby spent the last 15 years of his life in Devon, where he died an unhappy man, aggrieved by a life of financial insecurity and lack of acclaim. Both of Danby's sons became landscape painters. The elder, James Francis Danby, exhibited at the Royal Academy. Like his father, he excelled in depicting sunrises and sunsets. The younger son, Thomas Danby, specialized in watercolors of Welsh scenes. In 1866, the latter was nominated as an Associate of the Royal Academy, but missed election by one vote. Francis Danby died at his home in Exmouth in 1861 at the age of sixty-seven. As a man Danby lived and died under a cloud, made deeper because the imputations against him were never made public. It is doubtful, however, if he would have gained much by publicity. The steps leading to a pantheon, are largely anonymous.

Shipwreck, 1858, Francis Danby.
A symbolic self-portrait perhaps?


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