William Daniels
the Rembrandt of Liverpool

Daniels' Index Page

Liverpool Lantern essay

Some paintings

William Tirebuck essay

Photographs of places

Source Book of obituaries and other notes

Liverpool Journal 16th October 1880
A local notability

In that late William Daniels, the artist, Liverpool loses one of her men of mark, whose talents and eccentricities have made his name somewhat of a familiar household word beyond the recollection of the majority of the present and rising generation. His most prominent works are included in the following list:-that recluse, said to rank with some of Wilkie's happiest efforts; "The Last Puff of the Bellows"; "Shylock"; "Excelsior", a rough sketch reputed to have been completed within two hours; "Macbeth"; "Lear"; "Titania"; "The Prisoner of Chillon"; "Charles Kean as Hamlet?, a portrait; "George Stephenson, the engineer"; "The Family of the late Sir Joshua Walmsley"; "The Friar of Orders Grey"; "The Goree Piazzas", a fine sunlight effect, a portrait of the late John Stuart Dalton, the well-known Liverpool school master, and first librarian of the Free Library, Duke-street and William Brown-street, said to be a highly characteristic and successful piece of portraiture. Daniels has been aptly termed a local Rembrandt, his style more nearly resembling that famous artist than any other to whom he might be likened. The anecdote respecting Daniels and the Iron Duke will be familiar to many of our readers. Some of the artist's friends having interested themselves to induce the great Duke to sit to him for his portrait on the occasion of his visit to Liverpool, at the appointed time the Duke was there, the artist not. Again, when engaged in painting our greatest tragic actor of the old school, Barry Sullivan, a friend of the actors dropping in offended the susceptibilities of the painter, were dashed his hand through the canvas and departed. In the life of Daniels, as in his paintings, there were many lights and shadows, the dark tints prevailing. He closed a chequered career at the age of sixty-eight, at his residence, Cresswell-street, on the 13th inst. Many of his finest paintings were portraits of himself; and one of his happiest efforts was a portrait of the celebrated John Ward, a well known celebrity of many years ago.

Obituary in the "Liverpool Mercury"


DANIELS-Oct. 13, at his residence, 85, Cresswell-street, Everton, aged 68, ‘,Wi;;iam Daniels, artist

And thus the end has come. "The fever” -to quote a not unkindred genius, Edger Allan Poe - "called ‘Living’ is conquered at last,” and William Daniels, artist, has gone hence, leaving behind as his strange message to what mortal futurity he may have the canvases on which he told his sad imaginings - scattered here and there in the treasure-houses of those who knew his worth, stood his rebuffs, paid him, or, rather, awkwardly tendered to him, their coin, and - to employ a word which he, like Dictionary Johnson, abborred - patronised him against their wills, and against his own. A wonderful artist, surely, in an epoch of patronage and of gold, who could, and did, stand aloof, except when imperial necessity decreed otherwise, from the galleries, the patron "£. s. d.,” yea; and from what are regarded as the higher comforts of life-stand aloof, and simply paint. And, except in a few instances, painted, not to this or that man’s fancy, to suit the latest in, wall papers, but what was most within the artist himself, most at his core when the frenzy for work was upon him. He and his untrimmed trappings up in that strange, nondescript room of æsthetically perverse whitewash, working the soul out of himself and fleetly upon the expanse of his canvas, regardless of all but what he then and there wanted; letting purchasers take or leave at his whim or price, as he liked or disliked, with a predisposition towards the dislikes. Why this was so the idiosyncrasies of an unfathomed bit of humanity leave unexplained but I think that in some indefinite way Daniels had a half belief that bargains were unwritten treaties of war rather than of peace He seemed to hate with all his native fervour - artificially fired at times - the cut and dry precision of cash down, three months after date 80 inches by 20 inches at an much per inch. No; leave him his fee in golden instalments at the most convenient corner of the mantelpiece and let him call until the fee became exhausted and the subject completed. That was his arrangement, at least, in one instance, and though it may not be similar in detail it is in spirit to his general mode of wedding, or, rather, divorcing, finances and art, as though he would take the evil necessity in simple fractions, and thus avoid the brazen acceptance of the bribe in the compound. Bribe is here an apt term. His bright black eyes, judging by his own portraits, looked with flashing suspicion upon gilded pills. Good opinions, even, were hazardous, and as for indifferent or bad ones - a human Etna fired up at them and sent forth exclamatory lava with emissious of oral heat to scorch the critic at the Etna’s base. We can picture him up in that room of his, often in the dead of night, when all else but this ardent, effect-seeking man, the flicker of his candles, and his own shadow - all else but these still; and his own shadow - the gauntest of the lot, hovering like a nocturnal spirit along the ceiling and down the wall to where he worked at the easel - worked, his face kindled as his genius. found some highroad to expression. And yet, sad to think, in the very immediate background, he and the world out of joint. He fevered with inconsolable dissatisfaction with a something not always recognisable, though that something was himself, and finding at times a prospect, only, of satisfaction in his work.

There is a custom of sardonically smiling and winking wisdom behind the weaknesses of notable men during their lifetime, and of not mentioning them after death, or, if referring to them at all, in such a way as to transpose vices into half virtues - which is nothing but hypocritical, dishonest wavering towards vice under the much assumed virtue of good feeling. If death is to make a difference at all, if it is to falsify the history of human strife by implied if not by fully - told falsehood instead of fact, let it be a complete difference, a complete fabrication, by entire silence, and not deceive ourselves into prattling a tattered fragment, to the incongruity of what we knew and what the unlying work shews to have been the whole. I therefore do not hesitate to dwell upon this phase of the deeply touching life of Daniels and make, proportionately, as much as his being made of it. All that this extraordinary man inwardly knew and felt of himself, expressing it in pictorial soliloquies, is indeed painful to reflect upon, but there is, as a happy climax, infinite and inexpressible satisfaction in the great fact, chronicled elsewhere, that "he died a penitent man, happily and calmly.”

And so Daniels has had his last touch, his last quaff of that hallucination to which he paid the logical and inevitable physical penalty, and has gone away as though in a momentary hush when the world was not heeding, at sixty-eight, instead of in his seventy and odd years, with a glory about his exit commensurate with his very highest powers at their best. There seems something demoniac in this ignominious transmission of an ungreat great being from the face of things, as of a divine theft of humanity ere it made itself, by another lifetime, right with the world. Poor Danials! - with his idiosyncrasies, his pride without vanity, his strength at times rendered weak, and his unquestionable passion for and devotion to his noble and ennobled art. The impulsive at last subdued’ the wakeful asleep; the wearied and heavy-’ laden finally at rest - and those lips, so often pithy with the pith of Shakspere, dumb; and that voice, merry with the old songs, silenced - singing only in the memory of a few, and these following him into the voiceless shade. Dead! One doubts Life, and asks if this inexorable Death is not the great fact and this Life only a panting moment sustained upon thin air. If dying is reality - and the buried result says it is - then, it is we in this transient mortality who seem he, in immortal Death, verily is. Our lisping pens about his tomb are yearnings after that full speech of silence which is his; our hieroglyphics but outward and visible signs of that inward emotion found in the blank where he once stood and worked, while many knew not and but few heeded.

Letter from Walmsley Junior to ?

If there was one of peculiarity, more marked than any other in my father's character, it was the pleasure he took in trying to educate an unfortunate man from trouble whether worthy or unworthy did not matter in the least,-this trait was the cause of his meeting Daniels and trying to reform him.-

It happened thus - in the seventies my father invited to stay with him his old grammar school master, who had also been master of a then promising young musician who had settled in a Liverpool and who has since who has since combined music with theology (with what amount of success, I leave others to judge). The old gentleman got my father interested in tthis young townsman of his, whom he found in very low water and this young musician was a great friend of Daniels’ who used to give his young wife painting lessons. Finding in my father so useful and kind a friend, "Andrew and Philip like”, - he brought Daniels to him at that time in dire circumstances. -

The first thing was to give him something to do, so he started him on a portrait of a friend of his - a Mr Craddock who was also my tutor and I think gave him £60 for it. The picture is 24” x 20” and I still have it. He then installed him in respectable lodgings and did something for the poor wife who was I believe along-suffering soul. - This picture was followed by a portrait of my father which I also have because no one else in the family will have it. It is well painted but I have to hang it in the dark because it was more like Daniels himself than my father. - These pictures were followed by the fisherman and his wife (painted from his wife) - two of the best pictures Daniels ever painted - then two pictures of nuns - one of which I have and is much admired by my friends - though I don’t care much about it myself - the colour being too conventional. Then there was a picture of gamblers playing cards in a pot-house. My father then gave him a commission to paint a picture of himself surrounded by his old friends of his native town. - This was rather amusing as I think death presented the possibility of all meeting together as was to be portrayed in the picture. A very early friend - a musician who had died years back - could on no account be left out, and the only likeness procurable was a very excellent tinted drawing made just before his death by the the late Sir John Feniel. - To make the picture more consistent, my father asked Daniels to paint him as an older man - "No Sir, I can’t” he replied, "God only can do that.”, and in the man went without alteration. The coat was in the fashion worn by Sir Rob. Peel, the rest were dressed in fashions less marked. - But it was very funny. -

This picture was of great trouble to poor Daniels but as he got paid handsomely at so much a head he struggled on and finished it to the delight of my father and all the friends alive & who were not in the background. - Where the picture is now I do not know but it was a curiousity. After my father’s death we gave it to my father’s coachman, (?) have it still. He certainly prized it. -

All this time my father was looking after old Daniels’ moral welfare trying to maintain him & his wife in decency & trying to limit the amount of alcohol he used to imbibe. - Daniels never denied his weakness that way; he used to say, "When I was a little boy my father who was a brick maker he used to make me get up between 4 & 5 o’clock in the morning & look after the (?) of the bricks & made me take some whisky to keep out the cold. Is there any wonder I cannot leave off now.” - On another occasion when out with Mr. Craddock, the most abstemious & proper of men, "Do you Sir never want a drink? No? Wonderful! I cannot understand it. Well you must excuse me I can do without no longer” & in he would dive into the next public.

Daniels I believe had hardly moved out of Liverpool all his life. My father thought that a little travel would enlarge his mind, so amongst other journeys he sent him with W. Craddock - as his custodian, so to speak, - to Cambridge when I was there. You can imagine my delight, (I used to think myself a young swell in those days) at the visit. I refused to conduct him about the place. My tutor being an old Cambidge man himself, I said could do it as well as myself & I was busy reading for an exam, but I would have them to breakfast & meet them at the station & show them Ely - I shall never forget the rapture of the old fellow at one of the small stained glass windows in the cathedral. He said he had never seen one before. - He stood gazing & gazing at it, he would paint a picture of it, which he did, with a nun in front of it. One of the family has still got it I believe, but it is not very superior.

I must say - & Daniels dined several times at my father’s house, -he always behaved decently in company & never took a liberty, - fundamentally except for ill-treating his wife in his cups was naturally a gentleman. -

I will conclude by relating what set him drinking worse than ever & finished him off. It was the last commission of my father - a picture of him surrounded by his Liverpool friends. There were then about a dozen. The other commission was bad enough for the poor fellow, but this he fretted & frowned over & swore at, it never got very forward - drink interfered - advances ceased & whether my father died first or Daniels (their death happened about the same time) I do not remember, but it was his last picture. Our family destroyed it - on account of its general hideousness particularly of my father. Just before this Daniels painted for my father Macbeth - a brother has it. It belonged to me, but my wife would not have it in the house, so you can understand, it is at least a powerful picture.

The late W S Caine of teetotal fame but a great lover of pictures, when he heard my father had taken in hand Daniels exclaimed "Well does he really think he can reclaim that old reprobate?”

My father did not but at least he made the last years or two of the wife happier & more comfortable, & he certainly never did harm to anyone by his eccentricities of kindness. In all Daniels had many hundred pounds from him & I am afraid most went in drink. -

As a critic, Daniels knew what good painting was, he made my father buy a picture of Geo (?) which would please Copnall in the manner in which it is painted. -

Early correspondence from Jonathan Binns to his daughter about Daniels, who was painting them.

Clay Cross, First day.
My dear Rachel,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Daniels is going on as usual, he has fixed various times for my attending on him, but something has prevented, he is proceeding in the quarry. Charles and I were down with him yesterday and in a difference of opinion between Charles and him, he threw himself down on his back on the walk to ascertain the width this he did twice with surprising agility. He says I was quite right about the perspective and has painted out the arm of the chair at my right hand. I do not think thy mouth is right, but I shall not say anything yet.
(Signed) Thy affectionate father Jonn. Binns

Clay Cross, 4th day.
(undated, but enclosed in an envelope post-marked Aug. 19 1867.)
My dear Rachel,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I am glad that Mr. Daniels has finished with me and I have got my hair cut by a clever tight little man from Clay Cross. He has been doing thy dress which he has much improved and Gipsy he is also said to have improved my face and made it less severe. Charles is also getting tired of him.
(Signed) Thy affectionate father Jonn. Binns

Letter from Joseph Boult to P. Cowell Esq

D 17 Exchange building
14th March, 1883

My dear Sir,

Accept my thanks for 30th annual report of your admirable institution: and pray take in a good part corrections and of two clerical errors. On page 8 the pamphlet on "The necessity of Englishman's lives” is ascribed to some individuals of the name of Somers.The author is the great Lord Somers, William the Thirds favourite minister to whom at the country is so much indebted for its constitutional liberties and whose memory should ever be held in honour. I think he is now represented by an Earl Somers.

On page 32 the name of Daniel the artist is printed Daniels, with an S at the end. When I was cataloguing the works for one of the Society of Fine Arts’ Exhibitions the artist was very anxious I should avoid that error, and expressed himself not a very pleasantly towards those who fell into it. Perhaps you could have the kindest to draw Mr Dyalls attention to this; I should not like to hear he was haunted by Daniel’s ghost, like another Scrooge, was it not who was similarly afflicted?

Yours sincerely

Daily Post Liverpool June 1908

William Daniels: Artist.

William Daniels died on October 13th, 1880 and five days later William Tirebuck wrote in our columns, "If ever painter was genius Daniels was; if ever a life was surrounded with what we call fate his was; if ever death was the culminating crisis of a life that seemed to those who knew its best, continuous death, the death of this man Daniels is”. This is ‘tall writing’, and Tarbuck was only a youth when he wrote it; but his generous enthusiasm for the dead artist did not lead his judgment astray.

Daniels was in truth a great genius. W G Heardman, who wrote for us the notice of the Autumn Exhibition of 1871, speaking of Daniels’ "Orange Girl” exhibited that year, "respectfully” advised the painter to go and spend a couple of months among the galleries of Holland and Belgium. If he will do this, continued the distinguished critic, he may become one of the greatest painters England has produced. This eminence is within his power.

And a greater than Heardman was of the same opinion, for in the artist's lifetime it was stated and believed that Ruskin had described him as "the English Rembrandt”. We do not know where the phrase occurs, and it would be interesting to learn whether it was to be found in connection with Daniels in any of Ruskin's published works.

In any case, the comparison was not an absurd. The Englishman lacked much of the Dutchman's tremendous virile strength, and nearly all his skill in composition, but he mastered as no other artist ever did the secret of Rembrandts chiaroscuro, and he had a double portion of his amazing productive industry. In spite of the weakness that made his later years a barren tragedy, he is said to have painted and sold no fewer than 4000 pictures. A certain unfortunate facility and impatience of temperament were corrected by a remarkably stringent self-criticism. In spite of a poverty that sometimes approach the starvation point, he never condescended to produce potboilers; even the uninteresting portraits which his friends sometimes wrung from his necessities he dignified with qualities of high art.

At his best he was good indeed. Let anyone stands 30 or 40 ft from his big "Shylock” in the present Historical Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, and note the deep and intense luminosity of the work. The tragic figure of the Jew, probably suggested to Daniels by the remembrance of his friend G V Brooke, stands out in an atmosphere aglow with iridescent sunlight falling through the stained-glass windows. Daniels was shut up for some weeks in the crypt of Chester Cathedral studying the light effects of this picture, and his realisation of them is a secret that he and Rembrandt took to the grave with them.

Chester Cathedral was not the only place in which Daniels was confined. In the bad old days of imprisonment for debt he once was detained in Walton Prison. The indomitable pluck of the man is shown by the fact that while he was there, he produced some of his best work. He had a room to himself, and was allowed to receive models and to paint. The boy blowing bubbles and the carter asleep before the fire in the present exhibition were both painted in Walton.

Daniels was born in 1812, the child of a poor brickmaker, and he began to work in the brickfields as soon as he was big enough to carry a brick. On wet days he amused himself by modelling subjects in clay. One of these subjects was a fat little man who frequently walked past the brickfield. This little man, fortunaely for Daniels, was Alexander. Mosses, art master of the Royal Institution and a member of the Liverpool Academy. Mosses happened to see the child’s models, and he was so struck by their cleverness that he persuaded the elder Daniels to let his son attend the classes in Colquitt-street. There the child speedily came to the top, and won the first prize with a black and white drawing of the Dying Gladiator. A pathetic story is told of the little brickmaker borrowing from a young gentleman, a pupil in the school, a pair of boots in which to go on to the platform to receive his prize.

Mosses wished to apprentice the lad to the wood-engraving business, but Daniels longed to be a painter, and practised the art, self-taught, at home - painting candle-light pictures and selling them for five shillings each. He was passionately fond of firelight effects, and one of his characteristic sayings was that "he should like to go on a painting tour in hell for the sake of the light and shade.”

Luck came to him with his engagement to a pretty girl named Mary Owen. Daniels, as usual, was penniless, arid to raise money for the wedding he painted his sweetheart as a gipsy pedlar. This beautiful work caught the eye of Sir Joshua Walmsley, who bought it before the paint was dry, and at his death bequeathed it to the national collection at South Kensington, along with portraits by Daniels of Sir Humphry Davy, George Stephenson, and Charles Kean.

Walmsley was a staunch friend and generous patron, and the world was soon at the feet of the young artist. Alas he kicked it away. The great Duke of Wellington heard of this remarkable painter, and commissioned him to paint his portrait. Daniels went up to town, put up at a little public-house in the Strand, got very drunk, broke all the front windows of the house, and when he should have kept his appointment with the duke, was sleeping off the drink in bed. It is said, but for this we cannot vouch, that he had a similar commission from the Prince Consort, with similar results.

It must not be thought that Daniels was a besotted brute. Drink with him was a disease rather than a vice, and though it ruined his career, it never degraded his character. Even in his cups he was a courteous gentleman, especially in his behaviour to women, and his worst escapades were usually redeemed by the sense of humour and his pagan delight in his enormous physical strength. His curling black hair and strangely piercing eyes suggested the presence of a gypsy blood in his veins, and his ways and disposition often reminded one of George Borrow.

In his irresponsible moments Daniels spoiled many fine pictures. While at work on a masterly portrait of Barry Sullivan, the chance remark of a bystander annoyed him, and he put his fist through the canvas. About 40 years ago he paid a beautiful picture, which he called "Byron Farewell”, in which the poet was seated at the bulwarks of a ship with the sunset on his face. A more glorious sunset effect has rarely been seen on canvas. But the artist came home one night very drunk, and seizing his palette, scumbled over the picture with a horrid mixture of burnt sienna and raw umber - which was, by the way, his favourite ground work for a painting - and in that state the picture still remains.

Daniels was a big man, and had a big man's generosity for beginners. If a struggling tyro showed real ability, Daniels was always ready and willing to teach him his little secrets of art as far as such things could be communicated to another mind, and it may be mentioned that at least one man now more famous than himself, W L Windus, owed his first lessons in the arts and technique of painting to William Daniels. He was a man of powerful intellect, and though he never had a days scooling in his life, he mastered a wide range of literature and his views of the English poets, illustrated in many a powerful painting, always interesting and well worth hearing.

We may conclude with the sentences which young Tirebuck, with the generous and perhaps wordy enthusiasm of youth, wrote the day after Daniels died:- "We can picture him up in that room of his, often in the dead of night, when all else but this ardent effect-seeking man, the flicker of his candles and his own shadow, all else but these are still; and his own shadow, the gauntest of the lot, hovering like a nocturual spirit along the ceiling and down the wall to where he worked at the easel - worked, his face kindled as his genius found some high road to expression. And yet, sad to think, in the very immediate background he and the world out of joint. He fevered with inconsolable dissatisfaction with a something not always recognisable, though that something was himself and. finding at times a prospect only of satisfaction in his work.”

Note by G. J. Binns, 5th July, 1928.

The above was sent by Mr. H. T. Kemball Cook with a letter dated 19th June, 1928 and addressed to J. B. Binns. in reply to a query from me, Mr. K. C. wrote on the 3rd July, 1928:-

"You will gather that I cannot give you references line by line but I got my information from a short notice in Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers (Geo. Bell and Sons 1903); from a short notice in Picton's Memorials of Liverpool 1907, and (by far the most important) from a long unsigned article in Cassell's Magazine of Art, June 1882.

To-day I found this in the Life of Sir J. Walmsley by his son: 'There is a portrait of Mr.(George) Stephenson in the collection given by Sir J. W. to the Kensington Museum. It was taken some years after their first acquaintance by Mr. Daniels an artist from whom Sir Joshua expected great things. '"

Copied by G. J. Binns, 25/6/1928.

Note by G. J. Binns to the Walker Gallery, 29th August, 1931.

The Lawn, Dunstable,Beds,Tel. 147 29th August 1931

To:- The Director, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Dear Sir,
If the enclosed is of no interest to you, please accept my apologies.

I have a painting by William Daniels, of the existence of which you may be unaware.
It was painted in the autumn of 1867, and contains portraits of Jonathan Binns, my Grandfather, and his daughter Rachel.
The work was executed at Clay Cross Hall, Chesterfield, the residence of Charles Binns, son of Jonathan B., who C.B. married a daughter of Sir Joshua Walmsley: thus the introduction came about.
I saw it being done. (the picture)
The enclosed was sent to me by a friend - Mr Kemball Cook, & may be old news to you: I have added extracts from two letters by my Grandfather, who says in another letter:

"Daniels is still at work in the quarry & he has not yet finished with me. It is very tiresome. He is so unpunctual about his appointments; but I suppose artists mostly are so. Charles is somewhat tired of him & says he will give him notice to quit. He thinks he has not done uch in landscape & is learning at his expense, indeed Daniels told me that his practice here would be of very great use to him.
I am nearly tired of sitting to him, altho’ he is good company, he has had a good deal & has an excellent memory, quotes freely from Shakespeare, Byron, Goldsmith &c. He is also pretty well acquainted with history.”

My picture is very bautiful, but the mouth referred to is not right. Apart from sentiment, I would not swop mine for all the examples in the V.&.A. Museum. I have not seen the Liverpool pictures, but hope to do so about the end of next month.
May I, to prevent misapprehension, state that I am not a seller.
And now, if I am intruding where I am not wanted, accept my renewed apologies.
Yours faithfully, George J. Binns.

Liverpool Post? 13-10-30

50 years ago today died a famous son of Liverpool, and one who rose from humblest beginnings. He was William Daniels, born in 1813, the son of brickfield workers on the north shore. His remarkable modelling in clay arrested the attention of a wood-engraver, who employed him seven years. But it was Daniels’s ambition was to paint portraits, and his first notable portrait was of his pretty fiancee, Mary Owens.

He was of the Rembrandt school, and a skilful painter of candle and firelight scenes. Thrice he painted gold fish with remarkable portrayal of light. In one case there was the ball alone; once a child gazed at the gleaming swimmers; and then the child was displaced in favour of the shining eyes of a black cat.

A bequest

The cat and a goldfish picture was first shown in Liverpool in 1876. Robert Crompton, the artist’s friend, says that the hanging committee, having no notion of the distinction of a great work of art, treated it according to their appraisement of its value. One of the goldfish pictures - perhaps this - was acquired by Dr William Oulton, afterwards Lord Mayor, and on his death it passed to his son, Mr W. H. Stow Oulton, formerly assistant recorder and deputy Stipendiary, and now Metropolitan Magistrate. It is, I understand, still in his possession.

It must not, however, be thought that Daniels is still without honour in his own city. The Walker Art Gallery now possesses nine of his paintings, including "The Prisoner of Chillon”, his study from Byron, which is probably his masterpiece.

Birkenhead Corporation also owns a Daniels picture, and one or two are in private possession locally.

Liverpool Post? 16-10-30

Apropos of your note on the work of Will Daniels, some of your readers may be interested (writes a correspondent) to know that there are two nice examples in Mayer Hall at Bebington, one a self-portrait, the other a study of an old man smoking. Also ther is a sketch for a portrait of the Joseph Mayer. This portrait, now in the museum at William Brown-street, depicts Mr Mayer in his Egyptian Museum, formerly in Colquitt-street.

The painting, as shown in an etching by R W Buss, done for Mr Mayer, shows his father seated by him, but in a fit of pique upon being told that the father's portrait was not a good one, Daniels painted it out.

Apollo September 1951

WHILE William Daniels' "Self Portrait" (Fig. I) displays the assurance of pose and competent modelling to be found in most of his work, it is marred, to some extent, by fondness for heavy shadows. The artist wears a black coat and black trousers, his cravat is black, and a dingy background provides no relief. There is little colour to the picture. The pigment which he has placed on his palette and that which adheres to the tips of several of the brushes he is using are the only bright notes of colour in the composition. But to suggest thus that the portrait lacks an easy charm is not to deny its worth.

Indeed, had Daniels not possessed great natural talent and determination he never would have overcome the youthful difficulties which confronted him (the consequence of humble birth) so as to be in demand as a portrait painter in his native city when still a young man.

It is probable that his dark manner of painting and his addiction to forced and artificial effects of lighting derived not from any study of Rembrandt or of Italians of the XVIIth century but from the fact that he was compelled by a hard necessity to teach himself to paint in the evenings, often by the light of one or two candles. In later life irregular hours of work unfortunately made convenient the continuance of the habit.

Fig. I Daniels: Self Portrait

Fig. II Alexander Mosses: The Savoyard

During his lifetime Daniels was sometimes accounted to be of gipsy blood. Dark, lustrous brown eyes and a bold, swarthy appearance made feasible the supposition; and gossip dwelt, too, on his fondness for depicting scenes of vagabondage. Incidentally, he rarely, and then not from choice, used male models other than those who, like himself, were dark and swarthy; he disliked men of fair complexion.

He was the son of a brickmaker of Liverpool (a one-time soldier); his mother had served in a public house in the city. He was apprenticed when young to his father's trade and is said to have attracted the attention of Alexander Mosses, 1793-1837 ("The Savoyard," Fig. II, is an example of the latter's work), by a habit of modelling in clay in his spare moments in the brickyards. Mosses had, for his part, received little instruction in painting, and was, at first, prone to sympathise with the struggles of the boy and to give help. Daniels was taken into Mosses' studio and set to follow the craft of wood engraving. He was able to profit to such good effect by some additional instruction in drawing which he received at the schools of the Royal Liverpool Institution that he set up as portrait painter at the end of a period of apprenticeship, which proved, apparently, dismal and uninspiring.

In all, Daniels exhibited seven pictures at the Royal Academy-three in 1840 and four in 1846. Some time after this latter date, still a young painter, Daniels abandoned, in effect, his efforts to rise in his chosen profession and was content to exhibit frequently at Post Office Place, Liverpool.

In Sir Joshua Walmsley, Daniels had a good patron. Three portraits of the Walmsley family, together with those of George Stephenson and Charles Kean, were acquired by the nation and deposited at South Kensington late in the last century.

Yet opportunities were neglected in London, whither at one time he went supplied with good introductions. It may be true that a commission to paint the Duke of Wellington at Apsley House was lost by unpunctuality or intemperance, and that he received a curt "Good morning, Mr. Daniels" from the statesman in answer to proffered excuses. However that may be, the promise of a London career came to naught. Daniels returned to Liverpool, where he apparently followed a course careless, at least as to money matters, feckless and convivial, and for nearly forty years, or the best part of his working life, made no further spectacular progress. It may be hazarded that he was by nature "a rough diamond," a generous, kindly but self-willed man. It was perhaps just as well in view of his improvident habits that he was physically tough and that the alternation of plenty and want in his affairs did not seriously affect his well-being. To judge by near contemporary account he was reserved but nevertheless well disposed to the company found in public houses; he enjoyed sparring with such well-known professional pugilists as Jem Ward (whose portrait he painted and which hung for some years in a billiard saloon in the city), Jem Mace, Mat Robinson and, in later days, with Tom Sayers. Harry Boleno, the clown, was his friend. Beggars, ballad singers and pedlars were often the models of his "fancy figure subjects." The tone of these pictures is usually gloomy and, as one might perhaps expect, their method of painting direct. He is said to have refrained from the use of bitumen (asphaltum), to have neither glazed nor scumbled.

Fig. III Daniels: The Card Players

"The Card Players" (Fig. III), sold for sixty guineas at the Dawbarn sale of 1881, exemplifies both the merits and defects of a system, simple probably both by inclination and by lack of training. It is a comparatively early work. Noticeably, it is unfinished or, at least, not highly finished. Daniels has painted himself in the ill-lit interior of some tavern. He is wearing a wide-rimmed hat and, seated at cards at a rough table, is seemingly about to be "rooked" by the smiling blacksmith and a knavish confederate- the spectator who stands by Daniels' chair. The execution is hasty, but free and extremely talented. The head of the blacksmith, his forearm and hand and the sleeve covering his upper arm, are skilfully painted, and the posing of all figures is capably done. But by the typically unpolished composition it may be believed that Daniels was averse to making preparatory studies for his paintings.

Fig. IV Daniels: The Chess Players

If comparison be made with "The Chess Players" (Fig. IV), which is a work to which Daniels gave more sustained effort in the painting, the same awkward, unattractive disposition of the figures is apparent. Daniels has here shown a "patron," Mr. Breeze, a warehouseman of means, who is playing at chess with his brother-in-law. Mrs. Breeze completes the family scene. One small peculiarity may be remarked: the chess men on the table are thinly and manneristically painted so as to be now almost invisible and, as in "The Card Players," the impasto accenting and defining the shapes of glasses and decanter is laid down so as to give them likewise an insubstantial and ghostly air. Until a dispute arose between the men, Breeze was in the habit of buying numbers of Daniels' pictures, but it may be assumed that "The Chess Players," recorded as Lot 181 in the sale of the artist's effects held in December, 1880, was not taken by him. Were it not for the quarrel, this would be curious. "The Chess Players" is, for Daniels, an unusually urbane performance, a polished scene of Victorian middle-class plenty. The colour is pleasing: the blue-grey of the woman's dress and the pink and white bow which she wears at her neck contrast favourably with the rather rich dark red of the warehouseman's waistcoat and of the wine on the table, and relieve the considerable areas of shadow which would otherwise make the whole dull and unpleasant. One feels that the portraits of these persons, grouped in this small room, so heavily hung with pictures, are "speaking" likenesses, painted with a naturally accurate touch. Daniels' reputation in Liverpool as a portrait painter was quite considerable and not unmerited.

A departure from his normal style is yet more marked in the "Portrait of a Girl with a large Hat" (Fig. V), in which the affected grace of pose, accessories and indeed of colour would appear to be foreign to Daniels and perhaps to have weighed somewhat heavily on his model. It would be interesting to be able to date this work with exactitude. The dark, glossy ringlets of the girl and her rather heavy features ill accord with the light blue tint of apron, pink bow and a touch of pink to her hat. She clasps a posy in her right hand and rests sturdily against a pedestal. The foliage is lightly touched, and delicate tendrils fall from an ornamental vase. She is standing in a garden, in the open-air of the evening, but nevertheless surrounded by heavy shadowed background, and the marked folds of the material of her dress are overemphasised.

Fig. V Daniels: Portrait of a Girl with a large Hat

Fig. VI Daniels: Master Edmund Kirby

Similarly, with the "Master Edmund Kirby" (Fig. VI), an early work painted c. 1844, Daniels' modelling is forced; the accents at the nostrils, the cleft of the chin and the eye sockets are firm but coarse. It is, moreover, a large picture which would probably have gained by reduction in scale. The colour is uninviting and again tends to be gloomy, but the painter has made a nice distinction as to texture and has contrasted with skill the inanimate and rigid quality that pertains to the wooden rocking horse and the warm flesh and garments of the living child. The head is perhaps large, but is lively and sympathetically painted.

While Daniels was held in a mistakenly high regard at his death and, in 1881, designated as "of the Rembrandt school," was compared with George Morland- largely by reason of the intemperate habits of both artists- it may fairly be said that his pictures, "dark and rather old-fashioned," have the "vigour and force" of the natural painter and will repay attention by the collector.

(One doubts if 'Apollo' magazine would take such a sniffy attitude in 2001. Ed.)

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