The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

James Sant

James Sant

A carte-de-visite portrait of the artist James Sant (1820-1916).

From James Sant's obituary in The Times (Thursday 13th July 1916).

'Mr James Sant CVO, RA (retired), died yesterday at his house in Lancaster-gate aged 97.

'The most remarkable fact about the art of Mr Sant was the length of his working career, and the vitality he showed in his pictures at an age when most men, if they happen to have survived at all, have long since laid aside the tools of their trade. If we disregard the traditional, and perhaps mythical precedent of Titian who is said to have been painting just before his death at the age of 99, Mr Sant came very close to establishing a record for long-lived activity amongst painters; indeed of English artists he was only rivalled by the late Sidney Cooper, the animal painter, who inscribed one of his pictures with the fact he painted it at 95. Mr Sant showed a picture in the Academy in 1915, and though it had been begun some years before, it was only finished just in time for sending-in day. Five years before he told an interviewer that he worked steadily for three hours per day, and painted with pride in the fact that he was showing two finished pictures and five sketches in the exhibition that year. "All My Fancy" he painted in bed entirely from memory, allowing it to take shape itself until it took the form of an Italian Villa and Garden.

'In years long gone by he had attained great popularity with two classes, neither of them it must be admitted very severe in the cannons of art. As Painter-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria, a post in which he succeeded Sir George Hayter in 1871, he impressed that large public which in those days took their ideas of art from the court rather than from the critics; but before that time he had been favoured with commissions for portraits by a very large aristocratic circle led by Lady Waldegrave, whose gallery at Strawberry Hill was filled with his portraits of her friends. Among them were Duchesses and Countesses in abundance, for these great ladies and their husbands were pleased with Sant's somewhat flattering touch in the sense of the becoming dress. But he himself, and a world of admirers were better pleased with his idealised pictures of children and young women-especially those that had Biblical or religious associations. His first success in that line dated from 1853; it was the picture first known as "Speak Lord for Thy Servant Heareth," but afterwards when Cousins made of it one of the most popular of engravings it was renamed "The Infant Samuel." It was a very English Samuel and we can imagine that Holman Hunt and the other Pre-Raphaelites who were endeavouring at the time to give a minute archaeological accuracy to their Biblical pictures must have thought very little of it; but it satisfied the British middle-class and was in perfect harmony with the Low Church sermons they were in the habit of hearing every Sunday. The other picture by which Mr Sant is still known in hundreds of homes was that called "The Soul's Awakening"-a picture of which the sentimentality delighted the public.

'Mr Sant who was born in Croydon in 1820 was first taught by John Varley whose watercolour landscapes are still much admired; afterwards by sir Augustus Callcott, and when he was 20 years old buy the schools of the Royal Academy. He began to exhibit at once, and since that time has rarely missed an exhibition showing quite 300 pictures in all. He was elected ARA in 1864 the year of his "Little Red Riding Hood." He became a full Academician in 1870 the year he showed his Diploma picture "the Schoolmaster's Daughter." On his Royal appointment, he was commissioned to paint Queen Victoria and the three eldest children of the Prince of Wales and a state portrait for the Turkish Embassy. Among others he painted it is enough to mention those of Archbishop Tate, Lord Russell, and Adeline Patti. He retired from active membership in 1914 from the praiseworthy motive of wishing to afford the opportunity of full membership to an Associate, and in the same year was created CVO. His wife, whom he married in 1851 died in 1907, was the daughter of R M Thompson Staff Surgeon in Bengal. By her he had one son Captain M I Sant, Chief Constable of Surrey, and four daughters one of whom was married to the late Colonel J Mount and another to Judge Bolten.'

Photographed by Camille Silvy of London on 21 April 1861.

Code: 124664
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