Well, from nursing those portraits so long, I have come at last to have a perfect infatuation for art. I have a teacher now, and my enthusiasm continually and tumultuously grows, as I learn to use with more and more facility the pencil, brush, and graver. I am studying under De Mellville, the house and portrait painter. [His name was Smith when he lived in the West.] He does any kind of artist work a body wants, having a genius that is universal, like Michael Angelo. Resembles that great artist, in fact. The back of his head is like this, and he wears his hat-brim tilted down on his nose to expose it.
I have been studying under De Mellville several months now. The first month I painted fences, and gave general satisfaction. The next month I white-washed a barn. The third, I was doing tin roofs; the forth, common signs; the fifth, statuary to stand before cigar shops. This present month is only the sixth, and I am already in portraits!
The humble offering which accompanies these remarks [see figure] —the portrait of his Majesty William III., King of Prussia —is my fifth attempt in portraits, and my greatest success. It has received unbounded praise from all classes of the community, but that which gratifies me most is the frequent and cordial verdict that it resembles the galaxy portraits. Those were my first love, my earliest admiration, the original source and incentive of my art-ambition. Whatever I am in Art today, I owe to these portraits. I ask no credit for myself—I deserve none. And I never take any, either. Many a stranger has come to my exhibition (for I have had my portrait of King William on exhibition at one dollar a ticket), and would have gone away blessing me, if I had let him, but I never did. I always stated where I got the idea.
King William wears large bushy side-whiskers, and some critics have thought that this portrait would be more complete if they were added. But it was not possible. There was not room for side-whiskers and epaulets both, and so I let the whiskers go, and put in the epaulets, for the sake of style. That thing on his hat is an eagle. The Prussian eagle—it is a national emblem. When I say hat I mean helmet; but it seems impossible to make a picture of a helmet that a body can have confidence in.
I wish kind friends everywhere would aid me in my endeavor to attract a little attention to the galaxy portraits. I feel persuaded it can be accomplished, if the course to be pursued be chosen with judgment. I write for that magazine all the time, and so do many abler men, and if I can get these portraits into universal favor, it is all I ask; the reading-matter will take care of itself.
There is nothing like it in the Vatican. Pius IX.
It has none of that vagueness, that dreamy spirituality about it, which many of the first critics of Arkansas have objected to in the Murillo school of Art. Ruskin.