A School for Animal Painting–Lenore Van der Veer (August 1901)

William Frank Calderon, the head of the animal painting school, lived until 1943, and wrote a well regarded manual on the painting of animals.



Mr. Frank Calderon, the artist, enjoys the distinction of being at the head of the only school for animal painting in the world. Some six years or more ago this school was founded by Mr. Calderon in most primitive surroundings off Baker Street, but it so grew in popularity that in recent years the town school has found its way during the summer months into the most delightful country atmosphere, where models are of the real country-born variety and backgrounds as rustic as you please.

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The spot chosen for the school is at Headly Mill Farm, three miles from Liphook, Hants, and while some few changes have been made in adapting it to the purposes of painting, the general effect is practically what it was when answering the requirements of farm life.

There are the quaintest of thatched-roofed barns and old ricks left standing, and it is in this rick-yard that the easels are pitched and work done. The place is well shaded by trees, and when the day is unusually warm there is shade also for the models, though the workers prefer always the effect of full sunlight. The old farm-house itself has been turned into a most delightful home for Mr. Calderon, while the students are given lodgings amongst the country cottagers thereabout.

In one of the barns Mr. Calderon has fitted himself with a first-rate studio, which is quite roomy enough to afford background for horses, cows, or whatever he may wish to paint. There are two large rooms in fact, and  last year one was used for dancing frequently, but this summer is seen only as a part of Mr. Calderon’s studio.

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In the larger barn the students work when the days are stormy and make merry when work-time is over and the dusk is on. Special lights have been arranged by way of great plate-glass windows, and there are first-rate places for the models inside also, so that, no matter what the weather may be outside, there is perfect comfort within, and students find it quite pleasing sometimes working away to the music of falling rain. The old barn proves not half bad as a ball-room, either, and there are plenty of banjos and fiddles that twang out jolly tunes o’ evenings.

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Cricket is as popular at Headly Mill Farm as at Lord’s, and there are few days when the students do not take a turn at the bat. Models are called from nine to one and again from four to seven, and between these hours there is an absolute freedom to do and go as one pleases, and one may be sure that an art student knows as well how to enjoy leisure as happily as work-time, and the days are very bright ones for both master and student. To those who paint animals there is a great charm in being able to do so out in the open, d’après Nature, for it is quite unlike the sitting in a town workroom working at the selfsame model even, for there is always the question of local colour cropping up, and it is such a comfort to have a real true country setting to work from. No artist perhaps copies a background as it is afforded him by Nature; still, he is very awake to her possibilities, and is always happily pleased to accept her suggestions; and to get a glimpse at this little colony of student artists working diligently in the old rick-yard, with its rustic settings and distant fields, is something of an inspiration to even the most matter-of-fact mortal.

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Among the illustrations of the students at work it will be seen that much of the charm lies in the rustic backgrounds afforded the sketchers, and it is interesting to know that these very sittings in our illustrations have figured in many Academy pictures of the past three years, both from the brush of the master and his pupils.

There are many delightful spots away from the grounds, immediately about the barns, where students pitch their easels and big sun umbrellas on Saturdays, or between the regular hours for work, and do a bit of landscape on their own account. It is not infrequent for a stroller to come upon some dozen or more solitary easels, pitched here and there among the daisy fields or beside a softly running stream; for Old England affords almost everything beautiful by way of trees and sky and water for her artists to work from.

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Models are got from the country folk, and there are men experienced in their handling to insure the proper conduct of the “critters”; for sometimes when a cow or other animal is first requested to “stand still and look pleasant” she shows distinct proclivities to do as she likes, to the discomfiture and often embarrassment of the painter.

A young foal that was being sketched with its mother, and was allowed to stand at liberty beside her, used to show an appreciative interest in the progress of the painting by making sudden and unexpected jumps into the midst of the paint-boxes and easels. This is a not infrequent desire on the part of dogs, either, especially as the work assumes to a pronounced likeness, when they attempt to pay the artist the tender compliment of wishing to “go” for the dog on canvas.

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So it is easily understood that a man must always be in attendance, and few models are ever done at liberty, for it is seldom that any animal learns to “pose” in the real sense of the word, no matter how many times he may figure as a model. The cow is really the most patient of all animals to paint from, and if supplied with a comfortable armful of clover will stand and munch contentedly for hours at a time. Occasionally she will take it into her head to lie down, which makes it advisable to engage models in pairs, so if one lies down or becomes obstreperous, the other may be used to better advantage.

On very warm days a small boy is employed to stand near the models and wave off the flies with a green bough, and new models are usually tied to a stake driven into the earth; and if they show tendencies to move about much and are restless there are ropes stretched on either side of them from other stakes, so they quickly learn to keep their position.

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The two charcoal drawings which we show, by Mr. Calderon, were done by him to demonstrate to his pupils the amount of drawing which is required before the use of paint, and that it is necessary that a fairly good sketch of the animal should be upon the canvas before it is touched with the brush. Then should be shown the life and feeling which are to come out later in the finished work. All this is hard for a student to believe, for he is very apt to think that with paint he can accomplish his result, without giving time to the charcoal and pencil drawings.

A favourite study with the students is an old rustic with an easy-going mare and cart. This picturesque turn-out is, in fact, the staple study to work from at any and all times. The rustic himself is everything to be desired by way of looks and attitudes, while the old cart and sleepy horse could not well be improved upon from the artist view-point of sweet rusticity.

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Sometimes an additional charm is added through one of the feminine students, or perhaps a half-dozen of them, climbing into the antique vehicle and taking a turn at posing for the benefit of the class. Mr. Calderon has a number of fine dogs, and it is needless to tell of their figuring to a great extent in the work of the school. One of them, a beautiful greyhound, is seen in Mr. Calderon’s well-known picture, “The Cavalier’s Return.” Patrick, an Irish wolfhound, served as the model in “Orphans,” the most  popular Academy picture Mr Calderon has ever shown. He is seen with two very small and disconsolate-looking puppies tenderly held between his great paws, while his intelligent face is filled with sympathy and compassion.

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Poor Patrick died a year ago, and there was much sorrowing amongst the students, as well as in the home, for he was almost human, and it speaks well for his merits as a model to know that a life-size cast of him, in bronze, occupies a conspicuous place in the class-room.

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Sometimes, as a variety, there are goats worked in for models, and unless Billy is well fed every minute he makes frantic attempts to lunch off paint rags and colour tubes; this he has never accomplished as yet, though one pretty girl student has had occasion to lament the painful disappearance of a picture-hat, pins, roses, and all. At another time a bulldog of high degree, which had been kindly sent over from a neighbouring kennel for the students to paint, watched his chance when the attendant was napping and went tooth and nail for a canvas against a near-by tree, on which his trained eye caught sight of two demure-looking tabbies, apparently napping in the sunlight. He had torn out a goodly bit from both figures by the time the picture was rescued, and displayed the greatest ill-temper during the remainder of the sitting.

These are trifling incidents, to be sure, but go to show that there are many ways in which the monotony of work in a class for animal painting may be relieved most unexpectedly.

There is no little interest taken in the discovery of fresh subjects to paint, and both master and students are always on the lookout for something new. After work hours there is much of interest to be seen about the country which surrounds the old Mill Farm, and it is on these jaunts of pleasure that the models are come upon. Some horse or cow or donkey is discovered to possess some quality which the workers have found wanting in others. Perhaps the fascination will lie in some trick of colour or demureness of mien; at any rate, there is something “taking” in the creature from the point of an artist, and straightway the school begin to ply questions as to the owner, and when located the negotiations are gone through whereby that particular beast is to be immortalized on canvas. Sometimes the farmer-folk themselves are persuaded to sit: a man driving in a rickety waggon, perhaps, or a buxom girl feeding the calves, all help to make a variety of interesting studies and afford delightful ideas for outdoor sketching.

So pleasing is the life in these surroundings made possible for the artist that many of Mr. Calderon’s friends, well-known painters, make a point of spending several days every summer at the farm, when they paint and rusticate to their best liking, and in fact there is some likelihood of a colony of studios being arranged by Mr. Calderon, where nearly fledged artists may spend the summer days and work with the same freedom as the students. This is merely an idea, of course, which Mr. Calderon has up his sleeve, but it is likely to develop into the real at any time.

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In the barn where the students work on wet days are seen any number of casts and skeletons of different animals as well as anatomical charts, for to paint a dog requires a knowledge of canine anatomy; but one need not study the individual anatomy of each breed or even of each species, for if an artist know that of a horse, for instance, he is pretty sure to hit upon the right ideas for a cow or dog. But know the anatomy of some animal he must, and then couple it with keen and quick observation, and he has it.

In studying horses for action the students are not supposed to spend the time in sketching as well, but are taught to observe closely, and when they come to work they find they have the memory of it to work from. One cannot well sketch a galloping horse with him galloping before one, though with the students it is often that the study is made to gallop toward and away from them now and again during the hours of work.

Mr. Calderon has been a painter of animals since a mere boy, and is happily fortunate in never having had a picture refused when sent to the Royal Academy. His first picture was shown there when but a boy of sixteen, and was bought by Queen Victoria. The subject was “Feeding the Hungry,” and showed a small boy feeding some puppies on the deck of a ship. Since this success he has been a regular exhibitor.

His understanding of animals and unusual appreciation of their qualities as models make him thorough master of the art of teaching, and many of his pupils have worked their way into the Academy.

The whole atmosphere of the school at the old Mill Farm is so essentially natural and restful that it is a pleasure to work, for one is not only given the happiest opportunities for advancement in one’s art, but a first-rate outing at the same time, and what art student would ask for more? The days are all too short for most of them, in truth, and when the weeks have slipped by, and it is time to return to the work in town, there are no end of regrets at leaving the old rick-yard, the cows, and the freedom of work in the country.

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Both of the paintings by Mr. Calderon, shown in our illustrations, have been exhibited in the Royal Academy, and are among the most popular done by this artist. The one called “The Crest of the Hill” was purchased for the National Gallery of Queensland, while the other, “The Flood,” belongs to a private collector. Both pictures were done from real life, the models for the former being the finest type of the “dray horse” variety, the sort of horse, by the way, which best delights a painter of animals. They possess much more character, they believe, than the trim, high-bred horse of long pedigree, and there is such strength and power to be brought out.

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There is as much individuality shown in the study of a horse as in the portrait of a person, and the delight of the work lies in finding a model that simply bristles with his very own personality; and in these stolid, powerful, steady-going horses the artist eye sees much strength of character to individualize and stamp each one of them.

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