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Monday, February 13, 2017

Cecil Aldin

During his lifetime, Cecil Aldin was described as one of the leading spirits in the renaissance of British sporting art. Following the death of Henry Aiken in 1851, sporting art had been in the doldrums—the comic art of John Leech aside—until the emergence of Aldin and Denholm Armour (1864-1949) towards the end of the 19th century. Between them, they founded a school of realistic portrayal of country pursuits which not only appealed to sportsmen but to the broader public.

He was particularly noted for painting of horses, dogs and hunting scenes—a hobby he particularly enjoyed. The anonymous writer of Aldin’s obituary in The Times noted, “Criticism was possible against his drawings of horses: landscapes and architectural studies have been done better by others. But there never yet has been a painter of dogs fit to hold a candle to him. Of all his immensely diverse interests the study of dogs came foremost. as an artist he had the ability to portray the character of his subject: as a man he understood that subject with the sympathy that enabled him to show us our very friend himself … Somebody once complained that his drawings of dogs were ‘too human’; they were not, but often showed character that even their owners had not noticed.”

Cecil Charles Windsor Aldin was born in Slough, Buckinghamshire, on 28 April 1870, the son of Charles, a well-to-do builder and contractor, and Sarah Aldin. From an early age he was keen on sketching animals and the countryside and he was encouraged in his artistic aspirations by his father, who readily agreed to his studying art. At first a boarder at Eastbourne College, he later attended Solihull Grammar School before studying anatomy at South Kensington and animal painting at Midhurst, Sussex, under W. Frank Calderon, who went on to found the School of Animal Painting in 1894 and later produced a definitive book on the subject, Animal Painting and Anatomy (1936).

The Aldin family, which also included Cecil’s siblings Arthur Reginald (1872-1937), Percy Charles (1874-1956), Mildred Lilian (later Dunn; 1876-1931), had moved to Clapham and lived in a house called Windemere on the south side of Clapham Common. Cecil Aldin continued to live with his family until he began selling his artwork regularly, his first sale—a drawing of a dog show to Graphic—appearing around the time of his 21st birthday.

From this small beginning, Aldin rapidly established himself as a versatile and productive artist. He moved first to Chelsea and then to Bedford Park, Chiswick, where he found himself in a brotherhood of artists which included James Pryde and his brother-in-law William Nicholson—the Beggarstaff Brothers—and John Hassall, who was to become a very good friend. Aldin’s other associates included Phil May, Dudley Hardy, Lance Thackeray and many others; this wide range of friends and colleagues led to much cross-pollination of ideas and techniques.

One of his earliest commissions came from a Master of Foxhounds who wanted a portrait. The M.F.H. then asked for a portrait of a horse, an old polo pony, with the horse itself as payment, which Aldin housed in a bicycle shed. Before long, he could be found hacking on his own mount from Bedford Park to meets at Esher. Over a short period he accumulated a second horse (again in exchange for a portrait of a hunter), a Shetland pony, a donkey, two monkeys and thirteen dogs.

It was an early ambition of Aldin’s to hunt, and from his early associations with mainly Metropolitan packs, he went on to hunt with his own pack of harriers, beagles; for five seasons during World War I he was Master of the South Berkshire Foxhounds, resigning in 1919; he later hunted with Godfrey Heseltine’s pack of Basset hounds. Aldin hunted in upwards of 30 counties. Even in his early days such was his passion that he was able to persuade a leading sporting paper to employ him as a hunting correspondent.

His artwork sales paid for his sporting hobbies and there was no shortage of magazines and newspapers who wanted Aldin’s work. He found early success when he was asked to illustrated Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Stories’ in Pall Mall Budget (1894-95). He produced numerous sporting colour prints as well as a series on old inns of England (1919-20), illustrated R. S. Surtees’ famous hunting character Jorrocks (Jorrocks on ‘Uniting, 1909; Handley Cross, 1911), Dickens’ Pickwick Papers (1910) and many other books, as well as contributing to Ladies Pictorial, Illustrated London News, Sketch, The Gentlewoman, Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, The Queen, Penny Illustrated Paper, The Sphere, Country Gentleman, Printers’ Pie, Windsor, Cassell’s Family Magazine, Ludgate Monthly, Royal Magazine, Black and White, Good Words, Boy’s Own Paper, The Captain, Animal World, Land and Water Illustrated, The Poster, Pearson’s Magazine and Punch, amongst others.

In his autobiography, Aldin claimed: “I may as well state here and have done with it that I have no pretensions to Art. Art for the true artist should have a capital A. For me, I am ashamed to say, it has had a rather small one for my painting has always been founded on substrata of hunting possibilities, that is to say, it has had to provide me with the wherewithal to enable me to hunt, and has been tainted with this aftermath of sporting commercialism.” Commercialism (beyond obvious advertising, as he produced many posters, particularly for Cadburys) was not especially evident in his work and it was argued that his realistic portrayal of sport was appreciated by those with “little appreciation of art with a capital ‘A'” because it showed the audience the things they knew and things as they were really done. Aldin’s talents did not go unrecognised: he was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists, the London Sketch Club and had many paintings exhibited.

Cecil was married to Marguerite Dorothy Morris, daughter of merchant Frederic Hall Morris, on 18 June 1895 at Ascension, Balham Hill. The newly married couple lived at ‘The Limes’, Flanders Road, Bedford Park, where their son Dudley Cecil Aldin was born in 1897, and, from around 1898, at 41 Priory Road, Chiswick, where daughter Gwendolene Mabel Aldin was born in 1899. He subsequently moved to Henley-on-Thames.

Aldin was said to be a man of great charm. He organised various shows, including childrens’ pony shows at Cloutsham Ball and Dunster, le Touquet, and dog shows which were not always serious (with awards for the ugliest dog, for example). In 1919, he co-wrote (with Adrian Ross) a play for children entitled The Happy Family, produced at the Prince of Wales Theatre and later at The Strand, in which three children learn the language of the animals around them.

Aldin wrote numerous books in the 1920s, including Ratcatcher to Scarlet (1926), Dogs of Character (1927), Romance of the Road (1928), An Artist’s Models (1930), Mrs. Tickler’s Caravan (1931) and an autobiography, Time I was Dead (1934).

Aldin suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, aggravated by falls in the hunting field, which forced him to give up the sport. He retired to the Balearic Islands, taking all his dogs with him (horses were left behind with approved new owners) and made his home at Camp de Mar, Andraitz, Mallorca. Fortunately, he made many new friends amongst the visitors to the islands and was able to continue to work, despite his indifferent health.

He died at 20 Devonshire Place, Marylebone, London, on 6 January 1935. He was survived by his wife and daughter, his son having been killed in action whilst serving with the Corps of Royal Engineers in 1916.

1 comment:

  1. I became the owner of one of his prints when a friend was running a flea market for charity, and this print was one of the items left over at the end. She thought it would look nice in our cabin, so donated it to us. It was not until a year or so later that I found out who he was. It now has a place of honor in our log house over the wood fireplace. Unfortunately it has a little water damage.