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And woe to me whene'er the dart,
heart.” Thus spoke the Wren, and more she tried, But in her throat the accents died, Sunk in a low and plaintive cry, A short but pleasing melody; She left her perch, and soaring high, Vanish'd amid the cloudless sky. But her last accents left behind A dreadful weight on Gawaine's mind; That fatal day, without relief, Gave him to glory, but to grief, For, scatheless, (tho' he win the fight) No man may cope with fairy might.
WILLIAM OWEN, ESQ. R. A.
Mr. Owen was a native of Shropshire. He was born in the year 1769, and was educated at the grammar-school of Ludlow, where he very early gave indications of that genius which in after-life raised him to eminence. He was frequently seen, out of school hours, sketching the beautiful scenery of that neighbourhood; and the first finished drawing he ever made was a view of Ludlow Castle, which we, believe, he presented to the dowager Lady Clive.
The late Mr. Payne Knight, whose mansion was in the vicinity, having noticed the dawning genius of young Owen, he was, by the advice and recommendation of that accomplished scholar, sent to town, about the year 1786, and placed under the tuition of Charles Catton, the Royal Academician. Here he had the good fortune to attract the attention of Sir Joshua Reynolds; and having some time after made an exquisite copy of Sir Joshua's picture of Mrs. Robinson (Perdita), he had the unspeakable advantage of the president's advice and instruction for the remainder of the life of that great master.
Strongly encouraged and aided by this circumstance, Mr. Owen applied himself with extraordinary assiduity to the study of his profession, in which he soon made considerable progress. In the year 1797 he exhibited at Somerset House a picture of the two Misses Leaf, by which he gained great credit, and in the latter part of the same year he married the elder of those ladies. The only issue of the marriage was one son, who was educated at Winchester and Oxford, and who is now in the church.
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Not long after his marriage, some embarrassments of a pecuniary nature (incurred from a train of unfortunate events, in the production of which Mr. Owen had no participation further than that of his having become responsible for a friend) pressed heavily upon him, and he was unexpectedly burdened with a considerable debt, which, however, he eventually paid off to the full amount. This circumstance must have necessarily rendered Mr. Owen's up-hill path to fame and independence more steep and rugged; and yet, perhaps, it may be questioned whether, acting upon a powerful and honourable mind, such as his, it did not stimulate him to a still greater degree of industry and exertion.
In the year 1800, Mr. Owen settled with his family in Pimlico, but carried on his professional avocations at his rooms in Leicester Square, in the house next to that in which Sir Joshua Reynolds formerly lived. At this period he made great advances in his art, and was in constant intercourse with many persons of the highest rank and consequence in the country
It would far exceed our limits to enumerate the portraits which were painted by this accomplished artist, or to attempt to comment on their varied excellence. One of the earliest was a powerful resemblance of Mr. Pitt, who took great notice of Mr. Owen, and invited him to Walmer Castle. This portrait made a great impression on the public, and a print from it was soon afterwards brought out. Mr. Owen's whole length portrait of the Lord Chancellor is also one of the most faithful and characteristic likenesses that the art of painting ever produced. The composition is exceedingly good, the colouring natural and harmonious, and the general effect admirable. His portrait of Lord Grenville, too, is marked with energy and truth, and the attitude of the figure is at once animated and easy. Nor can any one who was so fortunate as to see his portrait of the Duchess of Buccleugh, which was the principal ornament of the great room at Somerset House in the year in which it was exhibited, ever forget the placid dignity of the figure, and the exquisite tone that pervades the whole canvas. Many dignitaries of the
church were from time to time the subjects of Mr. Owen's pencil; and in several instances, the acquaintance which commenced in the painting-room was afterwards improved into sincere friendship. In particular, that learned, grave, and apparently austere, though really amiable and excellent man, Dr. Cyril Jackson, the late dean of Christ-church, of whom Mr. Owen painted a most spirited and vigorous half-length, took much pleasure in his society. The late Bishop of London also showed him much kindness; and the present Bishop of London has appointed his son, the Rev. William Owen, afternoon preacher at the Chapel Royal, Whitehall.
In catching the interesting character and expression of childhood, Mr. Owen was also exceedingly happy. His portrait of Lord William Russell's infant daughter, may be classed with the best of Sir Joshua's productions of a similar nature.
Mr. Owen occasionally relieved the monotony of portraitpainting, and gave an agreeable relaxation to his mind, by employing his pencil on subjects of fancy; although even in works of that description he never failed to have recourse to nature as his model. Among the earliest specimens of his taste and skill in compositions of this kind are, “ The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green,” and “ The Village SchoolMistress;” both of which have been the subjects of highly popular prints. “The Road-Side,” painted for Mr. Lister Parker, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1807, also excited general admiration. In speaking of this beautiful picture, a judicious critic* observes, “ Adherence to the simple elegance of untutored nature, unstudied ease and gracefulness of attitude, beauty of face and form, charm the heart of the spectator. The maternal tenderness with which the parent presents the nectarean repast to her child, the · sound repose of the infant girl, the tranquil and amiable expression of the eldest boy, excite gentle and agreeable sympathy. The drapery has a graceful carelessness suitable to the humble characters it adorns. There is scarcely a
In “ The News” of May 17, 1807.
painter in the Academy who can vie with this excellent artist in the force with which he relieves his objects, while he preserves the mellowness and harmony of his colouring and effect. Sir Joshua appears to revive in this pupil of nature. He indeed has more firmness and precision of outline and drawing than that famous painter; and equally captivates by his faithful delineations of the lovely objects of humble life.” An exquisitely-finished “ Cupid,” executed for the late Sir Thomas Heathcote, and “ The FortuneTeller," painted for that patriotic encourager of the arts of his own country, Sir John Leicester, are likewise among the most pleasing and interesting productions of the British school. In all these, and similar works from Mr. Owen's pencil, the most striking characteristics are breadth and simpļicity. The parts of the composition are few and large; and the chiaro-scuro is admirably managed. It was the peculiar merit of Mr. Owen, and distinctly proved the union of modesty and good-sense in his character, that he never attempted subjects to the execution of which he did not feel himself perfectly competent. From the sight of how many abortions would the public be saved, if his example in that respect were generally followed !
In landscape, Mr. Owen displayed great taste and feeling, both in his private studies, and in the “ bits” which he occasionally introduced in his portraits. The writer of this little memoir well recollects a picture of “ Hawarden Castle, in Flintshire,” painted by Mr. Owen at a very early period of his life, and purchased by a gentleman at Chester of the name of Berks, which, in united depth and splendour, would almost stand a comparison with Rembrandt's celebrated 66 Windmill." From this branch of the arts Mr. Owen always expressed himself as having derived the purest gratification.
On the 10th of February, 1806, Mr. Owen was elected a Royal Academician. At this period, he was enjoying the fruits of long study and perseverance in the full practice of his profession. Among the many friends whom he had now