Vandover and the Brute
In the afternoons Vandover worked in his studio, which was on Sacramento Street, but in
the mornings he was accustomed to study in the life-class at the School of Design.
This was on California Street over the Market, an immense room partitioned by
enormous wooden screens into alcoves, where the still-life classes worked, painting
carrots, grapes, and dusty brown stone-jugs.
All about were a multitude of casts, the fighting gladiator, the discobulus, the Venus of
Milo, and hundreds of smaller pieces, masks, torsos, and the heads of the Parthenon
horses. Flattened paint-tubes and broken bits of charcoal littered the floor and cluttered
the chairs and shelves. A strong odour of turpentine and fixative was in the air, mingled
with the stronger odours of linseed oil and sour, stale French bread.
Every afternoon a portrait class of some thirty-odd assembled in one of the larger alcoves
near the door. Several of the well-known street characters of the city had posed for this
class, and at one time Father Elphick, the white-haired, bare-headed vegetarian, with his
crooked stick and white clothes, had sat to it for his head.
Vandover was probably the most promising member of the school. His style was sketchy,
conscientious, and full of strength and decision. He worked in large lines, broad surfaces
and masses of light or shade. His colour was good, running to purples, reds, and
admirable greens, full of bitumen and raw sienna.
Though he had no idea of composition, he was clever enough to acknowledge it. His
finished pictures were broad reaches of landscape, deserts, shores, and moors in which he
placed solitary figures of men or animals in a way that was very effective—as, for
instance, a great strip of shore and in the foreground the body of a drowned sailor; a lion
drinking in the midst of an immense Sahara; or, one that he called "The Remnant of an
Army," a dying war horse wandering on an empty plain, the saddle turned under his
belly, his mane and tail snarled with burrs.
Some time before there had come to him the idea for a great picture. It was to be his first
masterpiece, his salon picture when he should get to Paris. A British cavalryman and his
horse, both dying of thirst and wounds, were to be lost on a Soudanese desert, and in the
middle distance on a ridge of sand a lion should be drawing in upon them, crouched on
his belly, his tail stiff, his lower jaw hanging. The melodrama of the old English "Home
Book of Art" still influenced Vandover. He was in love with this idea for a picture and
had determined to call it "The Last Enemy." The effects he wished to produce were
isolation and intense heat; as to the soldier, he was as yet undecided whether to represent
him facing death resignedly, calmly, or grasping the barrel of his useless rifle, determined
to fight to the last.