Men I Have Painted/Cosmo Monkhouse

Hamilton Men I Have Painted 144f Cosmo Monkhouse.jpg


THE last time I saw Cosmo Monkhouse was in the garden of George F. Watts, in Melbury Road. "Signor" was entertaining, and as I descended the steps, leading from the studio to the garden, the first person I met was Monkhouse, who greeted me with, "Isidora Duncan is dancing my poems!" The dear old man was brimful of joy and merriment, because the graceful American was following the measure and rhythm of his verse in harmonious movements of the body, as they were read slowly, in musical cadences.

Isidora's languorous undulations among the rhododendrons and under the deep purple clematis that hung in flowering festoons above her, against a background formed of the eager faces of the gaily dressed guests, made a picture to thrill a poet; and the sensitive eye of Monkhouse gathered in the vision with the greater emotion because he felt that he had inspired it.

"Signor" stood watching, his fine profile, white beard, and half-mediæval dress adding to the quaint and unusual picture a note in form and colour that raised the scene far above the conventional level of a full-dress garden party. I had seen Isidora dance years before, and I have seen her since, imitating the movements of the Greek dance as depicted on the old vases; but the pleasure I received in Watts's garden was enhanced by the frankly expressed new joy of my old friend, whose song was being danced as well as sung.

I enjoyed painting Monkhouse, because he was a good sitter, a good and sympathetic talker, and he had an interesting head. And I am glad I painted him, because this tale can be told.

The portrait was done, years before the above garden scene occurred, in the oak-panelled room at Murestead, where I also painted William Richards, the American sea painter, Croal Thomson, and where I should have painted Phil May, as he came in one day, all booted and spurred from a ride in the park. A little incident in connection with this portrait is worth telling. At a crowded entertainment, where Onslow Ford and I were jammed in among a number of Academicians, Herkomer squeezed through the crowd to where we were standing and said to me, "I like so much your little portrait of Monkhouse; I will give it a good place," and then passed on.

When he was out of hearing, Ford said, "He should not have told you that; it is contrary to the etiquette and rule of the Academy. Just imagine what you would think, if your portrait did not get a good place, or even was not hung." I had not been surprised by Herkomer's frank praise and promise; but I was very much surprised and even hurt by Ford's attitude and his censure of Herkomer. I would not have missed the open compliment for all the secret etiquette in the world. And Herkomer was quite sure of himself and true to his word; for the Monkhouse was given a centre in the gallery allotted to small canvases.

But it is painful to have to tell that some years after this a similar thing happened, and I had to suffer the consequences that Ford had prevised. I had sent in the last portrait I had made of Mr. Gladstone. Some time before the opening of the Academy, Edwin Abbey said, "I like your portrait of Gladstone, and will get it a good place." It was hung high against the jamb of a door, where it could not be seen!