I never can look at those periodical portraits in the Galaxy magazine without feeling a wild, tempestuous ambition to be an artist. I have seen thousands and thousands of pictures in my time –acres of them here and leagues of them in the galleries of Europe –but never any that moved me as these portraits do.
There is a portrait of Monsignore Capel in the November number, now could anything be sweeter than that? And there was Bismarck’s, in the October number; who can look at that without being purer and stronger and nobler for it? And Thurlow and Weed’s picture in the September number; I would not have died without seeing that, no, not for anything this world can give. But look back still further and recall my own likeness as printed in the August number; if I had been in my grave a thousand years when that appeared, I would have got up and visited the artist.
I sleep with all these portraits under my pillow every night, so that I can go on studying them as soon as the day dawns in the morning. I know them all as thoroughly as if I had made them myself; I know every line and mark about them. Sometimes when company are present I shuffle the portraits all up together, and then pick them out one by one and call their names, without referring to the printing on the bottom. I seldom make a mistake–never, when I am calm.
I have had the portraits framed for a long time, waiting till my aunt gets everything ready for hanging them up in the parlor. But first one thing and then another interferes, and so the thing is delayed. Once she said they would have more of the peculiar kind of light they needed in the attic. The old simpleton! it is as dark as a tomb up there. But she does not know anything about art, and so she has no reverence for it. When I showed her my “Map of the Fortifications of Paris,” she said it was rubbish.
Well, from nursing those portraits so long, I have come at last to have a perfect infatuation for art. I have a teacher now, and my enthusiasm continually and tumultuously grows, as I learn to use with more and more facility the pencil, brush, and graver. I am studying under De Mellville, the house and portrait painter. [His name was Smith when he lived in the West.] He does any kind of artist work a body wants, having a genius that is universal, like Michael Angelo. Resembles that great artist, in fact. The back of his head is like this, and he wears his hat-brim tilted down on his nose to expose it.
I have been studying under De Mellville several months now. The first month I painted fences, and gave general satisfaction. The next month I white-washed a barn. The third, I was doing tin roofs; the forth, common signs; the fifth, statuary to stand before cigar shops. This present month is only the sixth, and I am already in portraits!
The humble offering which accompanies these remarks [see figure] –the portrait of his Majesty William III., King of Prussia –is my fifth attempt in portraits, and my greatest success. It has received unbounded praise from all classes of the community, but that which gratifies me most is the frequent and cordial verdict that it resembles the Galaxy portraits. Those were my first love, my earliest admiration, the original source and incentive of my art-ambition. Whatever I am in Art today, I owe to these portraits. I ask no credit for myself–I deserve none. And I never take any, either. Many a stranger has come to my exhibition (for I have had my portrait of King William on exhibition at one dollar a ticket), and would have gone away blessing me, if I had let him, but I never did. I always stated where I got the idea.
King William wears large bushy side-whiskers, and some critics have thought that this portrait would be more complete if they were added. But it was not possible. There was not room for side-whiskers and epaulets both, and so I let the whiskers go, and put in the epaulets, for the sake of style. That thing on his hat is an eagle. The Prussian eagle–it is a national emblem. When I say hat I mean helmet; but it seems impossible to make a picture of a helmet that a body can have confidence in.
I wish kind friends everywhere would aid me in my endeavor to attract a little attention to the Galaxy portraits. I feel persuaded it can be accomplished, if the course to be pursued be chosen with judgment. I write for that magazine all the time, and so do many abler men, and if I can get these portraits into universal favor, it is all I ask; the reading-matter will take care of itself.
COMMENDATIONS OF THE PORTRAIT
There is nothing like it in the Vatican. Pius IX.
It has none of that vagueness, that dreamy spirituality about it, which many of the first critics of Arkansas have objected to in the Murillo school of Art. Ruskin.
The expression is very interesting. J.W. Titian.
(Keeps a macaroni store in Venice, at the old family stand.)
It is the neatest thing in still life I have seen for years.
The smile may be almost called unique. Bismarck.
I never saw such character portrayed in a picture face before. De Mellville.
There is a benignant simplicity about the execution of this work which warms the heart toward it as much, full as much, as it fascinates the eye. Landseer.
One cannot see it without longing to contemplate the artist.
Send me the entire edition–together with the plate and the original portrait–and name your own price. And–would you like to come over and stay awhile with Napoleon at Wilhelmsh:ohe? It shall not cost you a cent. William III.