Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/437

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Prout
Prout
425

Place, Stockwell. He exhibited at the Associated Artists in 1810-12, the Society of Painters in Water-colours in 1811-12, the Royal Academy in 1812-14, at the Bond Street exhibitions in 1814-15, and at the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-colours in 1815-20. His drawings of this period show that he had been as far south as the Isle of Wight, and to the north as far as Durham, Jedburgh, and Kelso. He added to his income by giving drawing lessons, and by circulating designs as 'copies for beginners.'

Besides the engravings from his drawings which appeared in the 'Beauties of England and Wales' (23 plates, 1803-13), the 'Antiquarian Topographical Cabinet,' 'Relics of Antiquity' (W. Clarke of New Bond Street, 1810-11), and other works of the kind, a series of educational books was published by R. Ackermann, 101 Strand, with designs etched on soft ground or in aquatint by Prout. Among these were 'Rudiments of Landscape, with Progressive Studies,' 1813; 'Prout's Village Scenery,' 1813, plates coloured; 'A New Drawing-book for the Use of Beginners;' 'Studies of Boats and Coast Scenery;' 'A Series of Easy Lessons in Landscape-drawing,' 1820; 'A New Drawing-book in the Manner of Chalk,' 1821 ; 'A Series of Views of Rural Cottages in the North of England,' 1821. Ackermann also published a number of detached etchings by Prout of marine, architectural, and rural subjects, mostly boat studies, and a number of drawing and model books too numerous to mention. The 'Rudiments' (1813) and the 'Series of Easy Lessons' (1820) also contained some pages of sound and simple instruction to students. The plates of the latter showed the process from chalk to finished colours.

Down to this time Prout had made no special mark as an artist, and his subjects had been mainly confined to simple shore and rustic scenes ; but in 1818 or 1819 he paid his first visit to the continent, which ad for many years been closed to artists by the wars. He went from Havre to Rouen, and brought back sketches of the old picturesque architecture of Normandy, some of which were utilised for his contributions to the Water-colour Society's exhibition in 1819. He had now found his true vocation. In those old streets of gabled houses, paved with cobble stones, in the market-places crowded with quaint costumes, in cathedral and church with crumbled masonry and time-worn sculpture, he found an inexhaustible field of the picturesque. Though he was not the first to discover it, for Henry Edridge [q. v.] had been before him, he soon made it his own. His broad and effective treatment of light and shade, his broken touch with chalk or reed-pen, so valuable in suggesting atmosphere and rendering the picturesqueness of decay, helped greatly to his success. He had also a fine sense of scale, which enabled him to give the true value to the bulk and height of the buildings he drew. Neither as a draughtsman nor as a colourist did he belong to the first rank, but he drew surely and effectively, and he was skilful in the arrangement of his tints and in enlivening the general tone with sparkling touches of local colour. It was a maxim with him that an artist painted in colour, but thought in chiaroscuro. His figures individually were poor, but he knew how to group them naturally and to introduce them with effect. They admirably perform their function of aiding the composition and filling it with life, and no one has preserved for us so fully the aspect of continental streets in the early part of the century before modern architecture and modern costume had seriously impaired their picturesque charm. The withdrawal of members from the old society in 1820, when they again decided to exclude oil pictures from their exhibitions, would have been still more serious than it was but for the efforts of a few men, of whom Prout was one. In 1821 Prout showed nineteen drawings, and in 1822 half the collection was supplied by four artists — Prout, Fielding, Robson, and Barrett. This and next year his drawings showed that he had been to Belgium and the Rhenish Provinces, and in 1824 he exhibited some large and boldly sketched scenes in Bavaria. Except that he in 1824 included Italy in his wanderings, there is little to add to the history of this artistic progress. He remained till his death the most popular painter of continental streets, and one of the most important members of the Water-colour Society. To its exhibitions (1816-32) he contributed 547 works in all — thirty-six as an exhibitor, and 511 as a member.

In 1835 Prout moved from Brixton Place to 2 Bedford Place, Clapham Rise ; but in the following year he had a pulmonary attack, and went to Hastings, where he resided for several years, in a depressed state of health and spirits, mourning his absence from 'dearest and sweetest London.' From 1840 he was well enough to go to town in the summer, when he took up his quarters at 39 Torrington Square. At the end of 1845 he came to 5 De Crespigny Terrace, Denmark Hill, Camberwell, where he lived till his death. He was now a near neighbour of his friend,