A Fine Evening after Rain
Maker: John Linnell , British, 1792-1882
Date: ca. 1815
Dimensions: 16 1/2 x 25 7/8 in. (41.9 x 65.7 cm.)
Medium: oil on panel
Credit Line: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds from the Art Collectors' Council
Object Number: 98.8
Label Text: Linnell's aspiration to paint "poetic landscapes" placed him within an established art historical tradition, but the radical naturalism that he adopted as a means to that end distinguished him from his precursors. He embarked on the first of several sketching trips at the age of twenty-one, making a month-long tour through northern Wales in late summer 1813. His expectations had been formed by other artists' depictions, which tended to homogenize the scenery by accommodating it to generalized rules for composing landscapes. He was therefore utterly unprepared for the unfettered majesty of the expansive, mountainous terrain. Linnell had recently undergone a religious conversion, and the awe-inspiring vistas overwhelmed him as palpable evidence of God's presence. The experience convinced him of the impudent error (both aesthetic and moral) of forcing God's creation into compliance with man-made artistic conventions. Instead, he resolved to bear faithful witness through accurate documentation of the material facts of the natural world. By the end of his Welsh trip, he had produced over 100 outdoor sketches. He retained most of these for the rest of his life, using them as the raw, empirical data on which he based his paintings, placing "an emphasis on those qualities of nature which give us ideas of sublimity and beauty." According to Linnell, A Fine Evening after Rain was "exactly copied from a water color study made in Wales, near Dollydellan [sic], with figures introduced." He considered it "one of my best subjects, which I afterwards repeated several times.... It was much praised, and has been a favourite subject since." Indeed, Linnell produced more replicas of this subject than any other; at least seven can be documented, executed between 1820 and 1873. In addition to the original 1813 watercolor, Linnell probably relied on a small oil-on-panel sketch that remained in his studio until his death. The Huntington landscape is almost certainly Linnell's original version of A Fine Evening after Rain, which he is known to have painted on a 17 x 26 inch panel and exhibited in 1815 at the Society of Painters in Watercolours. The present painting matches the dimensions and support of that work. Moreover, an old, partly illegible label adhered to the verso of the present panel bears the inscription: A View of the mountains looking westward upon the road from/ ... Dolwyddelan North Wales...1815.../ 185[8?]. The first date corresponds with the 1815 exhibition, and the second seems to indicate that the panel was retouched by Linnell four decades later, a hypothesis supported by physical evidence of repainting. During the 1850s Linnell was frequently called upon to rework his earlier paintings, either by bringing them up to the minute level of precision made fashionable by the Pre-Raphaelites, or by texturing them with the diffuse, flickering brushwork that he adopted in his later career. A Fine Evening After Rain demonstrates the profound effect that Linnell's 1813 Welsh tour had on his development as a landscape artist. In it, he eschewed the generalized conventions that British artists tended to impose on nature and instead sought to respond directly to the local topography, light, and atmosphere. In the distance, he has faithfully observed the subtly variegated contours, tones, and textures of the radiantly illuminated peaks, as well as the drama and variety of the cloud formations that lend the sky a spiritual presence. Without over-elaborating the foreground detail, he has documented the rough texture of the pitted ground and the pools of rain water that collect here and there. Linnell sustained this fine sense of detail while conveying the vast, epic sweep of land and sky. By adopting a low vantage point, he placed the viewer on a level with the nearby sheep, so that we seem to be following along in the same curving track. The sheep provide a unit of measurement that Linnell dramatically exploits in the distance by representing a seemingly innumerable flock receding into pictorial depth, with the individual forms ultimately dissolving into nondescriptive dashes of white paint. Other tiny features further aggrandize the vastness of the space and the monumentality of the enveloping peaks. Despite his concern with the facts of the scene, Linnell has imbued it with imaginative resonances. In the left foreground, a shepherd in a brown smock pauses to speak to a girl who balances a clay jug on her head. Through color and texture, Linnell melds these bucolic figures with their surroundings so that they appear as organic elements of the timeless, pastoral scene. The figures help to articulate the primordial quality that the artist associated with Wales. He later recalled, "So thoroughly did some of the valleys, near Snowdon, carry me away from all former associations with modern Art, that I could almost fancy myself living in the times of Jacob and Esau--and might expect to meet their flocks---so primitive, so beautiful, so wild." The poetic detachment of such scenes from the harsh realities of nineteenth-century industrialism helps to account for the phenomenal demand for Linnell's pastoral subjects, which made him one of the wealthiest artists of his day. The Huntington painting is one of the few landscapes in oil to survive from Linnell's early career. The financial responsibilities incurred through his marriage in 1817 coincided with a slump in art prices, and he thereafter concentrated on the more lucrative practice of portrait painting. It was only in the mid-1840s that he was able to focus his energies once more on idyllic scenes of nature, continuing to draw inspiration from his 1813 sketches of Wales. In 1853 he summed up the philosophy of art that underpins A Fine Evening after Rain, observing that the vivid perceptions of a poetical landscape are to be gleaned from "those qualities in nature which most affect the mind with emotions of moral sympathy, sublimity and beauty."