Friday, 10 August 2012

Monks and Marriage

As most of you know by now, I seem to spend a goodly part of my life drifting about the nineteenth century. Well, taste-wise anyhow.  However, it may come as a shock but I happen to quite like some twentieth century artists.  I know.  Who'd have guessed?  Anyway, one of my favourites is Stanley Spencer, who I think shows medieval sensibility with a  wicked twist on modernism.  However, this post is not about Spencer, but the artist I'm going to talk about brought him very much to mind.  One of Spencer's habits was to take the people he knew in Cookham (the village where he lived) and use them as his models, no matter how sacred the scene.  Apparently, there was a Victorian artist who did something very similar.  His name was Walter Denby Sadler.

Friday (1882) Walter Denby Sadler
Born in Dorking in 1824, Sadler was a contemporary of the Pre-Raphaelites, but his art bore more resemblance to latter period Millais than to the depth of feeling of early PRB. Similar to Millais, Sadler was a precocious child artist who chose to pursue painting at the age of 16 and went off to study at Heatherly's School of Art in London and then to study in Germany.  He exhibited from 1872, in the Royal Academy from 1873, and became known as a master of the domestic genre.  Sadler infuses his scenes with a clarity of light that encourages you to think that each of the monks above has his own personality.  I really shouldn't have started with Friday though, I should have started with Thursday...

Thursday (1880)
Thursday is the monks catching the fish they go on to eat in Friday and is one of the first pictures in Henry Tate's rather splendid collection.

No Enthusiast (1877)
Sadler's monks are jolly, pleasant, if foolish fellows, and were very popular as engravings, building up Sadler's reputation.  These images are comic, gently mocking authority, making them out to be stereotypical 'Friar Tuck' types, led by greed and laziness.  But if pleasant if silly monks are not to your taste, Sadler also seemed to run a line in social commentary of a sharper nature.

Married (1880s)
Not a ringing endorsement of married life if you judge by the wife's bored expression, and the husband has popped open a book, with the badminton equipment cast aside.  I could make a tacky comment about discarded shuttlecocks, but I'm better than that.

For Fifty Years
Again, I'm not convinced this is the warmest scene of married life, one description of the painting described the grey haired wife as 'blank faced and bored' after 50 years of marriage to the man offering his arm.  Nice.

Darby and Joan (1889)
That's better.  When I saw this picture it occurred to me that I had no idea of the origin of 'Darby and Joan' which appears to be  a Georgian poetic conceit meaning an old married couple still as devoted as they were when they were young.  In Sadler's work, the early nineteenth century couple are backgrounded by Georgian era portraits that seem to gaze loving at each other, as the old couple at the table do.  Not a discarded shuttlecock in sight.

Played Out (1882)
Sadler chose the Georgian period as a setting for a great number of his works, adding an extra dimension of pale elegance, like in Played Out, where exhausted young dandies relax after a game in the garden, possibly not with a happy outcome, judging by the body language. Again, you won't catch me mentioning neglected balls. This is where the neighbours of Sadler came in, elaborately posed by him for his images. In this way, his figures have a element of realism, a truth to their posture and positioning that the PRB would have been proud of (which also makes me think of George Leslie Dunlop).

A Prisoner of the State (1885)
Not all of his work was Georgian, and this medieval gem is certainly reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite concerns.  The old man, obviously not a threat to anyone, is a prisoner, an action which is hinted at as folly (in the persona of the fool).  Armed guards watch the old man being assisted on a roof-top walk by presumably his daughter, who also doesn't seem to be too much trouble, but there is something in the presence of the guards that makes you wonder the couple's significance.  The richness of costume is superb in this picture and you get a real feel for the period.

Widow at Home
So here we have Mr Sadler, gentleman artist with a wicked twinkle in his eye.  He is a pleasant blend of romance, cynicism and jolly monks.  Oh, and discarded shuttlecocks.  That's quite a combination.


  1. The more I look at Prisoner of State, the more I wonder if it references Thomas More and Margaret Roper

  2. Yes, I think you may have a point. I think it is a very beautiful image and possibly one of the best that Sadler painted.

    Thank you for the comment!

  3. i see you whole blog , every painting has uniqueness and speciality.

  4. Thank you. Part of the joy of writing this blog is finding pictures to use. I'm glad you enjoy it!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx