Reminiscences of the late John Faed, R.S.A.
Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser – February 12, 1926.
Just over a score of years ago it was my delightful privilege to be closely associated with the eminent artist, John Faed, one of the talented family of painters whose names are deeply engraved in the annuls of Galloway. During the four years of our intimate acquaintance, four years of whole-hearted confidence and interest, I learned for the first time in my then twenty years of life how truly marvellous a thing it is to bask in the wonderful rays of genius. Many men have reached the heights of efficiency by emulating the works of others or by others’ teaching, but not so John Faed or any of his illustrious family. The divine gift of art synchronised with their nativity, was part of their very being in the hour of their birth. From their earliest youth the Faeds showed the unerring power of portraying nature in all its ever-changing moods, finding amid the unrivalled haunts of their childhood the very birthplace of Beauty unstained and unadorned.
At the time of which I write, John Faed had passed the eightieth milestone of his life’s journey but scarcely looked his years. Tall and of prepossessing appearance, invariably garbed unassumingly, his alert figure was one to command attention and respect wherever the gifted artist appeared. Much though his genius had triumphed over opposing adversity, and success had richly rewarded his unfailing efforts, of his early struggle he was never ashamed to speak. Fortune’s cornucopia, emptied so generously at his feet, contained no false pride or vanity among its well-merited favours. Countless were the obstacles in the way of his youthful aspirations and endeavours. Yet genius ever finds it so. No glorious array of necessary colours, no fine camel-hair brushes, found their way to these youthful, longing fingers. The crude palette presented a wonderful appearance with its heterogeneous display of far-fetched, far-sought hues. Many and varied were the stones and flowers that, crushed and pressed, supplied in a meagre enough fashion this wonder child of art with the colours those enchanted eyes and touch of his required so soulfully. “How often” to quote his own words, “have I felt like the alchemist who has found by patient research some new and wonderful discovery when a rarer flower or stone than usual rewarded my long hunt full many miles afield.” Are not such words emblematical of whole-hearted, whole-souled determination, proclaiming, as it invariably does, the secret of success?
No endearing canvas recorded those early portrayals of ever-varying scenes around, or gave to admiring eyes of approval a marvellous glimpse of youthful achievement in the artist’s customary way. The whitewashed walls of Barlay Mill alone offered willing ground for the reception of colourful efforts that only the favoured child of art can give. I have looked on a miniature portrait of John Faed, portrayed by himself, when he had scarcely reached his tenth milestone. I have looked upon its beauty and marvelled. Its charmful technique cannot be expressed in words alone. And yet when so long after his boyish endeavour of so wondrous a miniature I gazed enthralled on some of his manly works, I felt deeply how exceptionally endowed had been this truly inspired artist I had learned to honour and love.
Well I recall the feeling of awe that held me fast in its embrace when first I stood in the studio that knew his presence to almost the very last hour of his sojourn on earth. Upon one of the two large easels that proudly faced the western light stood a noble painting nigh completion called “The Poet’s Dream.” By the side of a brook that gaily winded its way between lofty rocks lay a Bardic figure arrayed in pleasing velveteen. His flowing locks and his whole form showed unerringly the serenity of repose. Above the subject of his dream was depicted with a master hand the warring of the spirits of Right and Wrong for victory. Plainly the celestial side was triumphing over the spirits of the under-world whose hideousness and apparent savagery dwelt long in my memory. Upon the other easel was a half completed painting of Gatehouse, the replica of the famous one so much admired of visitors in the Town Hall. Regarding this well-known work of art I may truthfully record a few facts that are in all probability unknown to the majority of “K.A.” readers in general and Gatehouse ones in particular. During our conversation one day anent this beautiful gift to the burgh I chanced to ask its value in gold and he smilingly answered – £1,400. To behold it is to fully appreciate its worth. Full often have I surveyed the original statuettes on that well-remembered dining room mantelshelf from which those life-size, majestic figures on either side of the painting were copied, as often have I lingered, loth to part, with the painter himself on the doorstep of his Ardmore residence from which the imperishable scene was given to canvas and to Gatehouse.
Despite his success and its attendant luxuriance no ostentation or overweening trait found the smallest place in John Faed’s existence. On one occasion I found him more than usually jovial and was soon to learn the reason why. That very day a certain baby, now a robust and loveable young man, had had the honour of being given his name. This and the baby’s own family cognomen constituted a somewhat lengthy “handle” and. In consequence, caused the aged artist to remark with an assumed doleful shake of his hoary head – “I don’t hold with such things as burdensome and unwanted names. A name is what you make it. Why, you and I are only plain John.” What exemplary manliness.
Next to his love of art came his love of music. Often during his hours of loneliness the services of his venerable neighbour, Mr Moodie, were solicited in order to cheer and comfort him with pleasing strains from his violin. How clearly I recall the appraising looks from those fast-dimming grey eyes and the rhythmical beat of his foot and hand as the music progressed from grave to gay.
As already stated the artist clung with unabating fervour to his brush, haunting that magical studio where his soul seemed to dwell eternally. Never had I thought that one could be so divinely wed to his life’s work. Among the various subjects on which he was engaged during his declining days was one entitled “Still Life,” representing the portrayal of a dead pheasant on a silver platter. The complex diversity of the bird’s magnificent plumage called for all the artist’s master-ability and ablest touch. I regret to say those magic fingers failed ere this beautiful work was done. Soon the patient eyes began to weary, and the patient spirit to realise the weariness of the end. No longer the willing flesh responded. The artist lay dying. All too surely the dread reaper drew nigh. Came the hour, when I looked tearfully down on that worn and feeble form. Vainly he strove to rise as he softly murmured a greeting. “I’m finished, John, Goodbye,” were the last words he spoke to me on earth. Shortly afterwards John Faed, master and friend, had passed from Death to Life eternal and sublime –
There where no shadow ‘thwart the study strays
But light eternal from the Throne on high,
Fondly he roves adown God’s peaceful ways
Ever the song of angels trembling nigh.
Music he loved on earth, in Heav’n ‘twill be
For him one long, unbroken symphony..