CHAPTER XI. Painting in Seoul - Messages from the king - Royal princes sitting for their portraits - Breaking the mourning law - Quaint notions - Delight and despair - Calling in of State ceremony - Corean soldiers - How they mount guard - Drill.
I had made so many sketches in Seoul, that at last a rumour reached the Court of the rapidity with which I portrayed streets and people. The consequence was that both king and princes were very anxious to see what "European painting" was like, as they had never yet seen a picture painted by a European; so one fine day, to my great astonishment, through the kindness of Mr. Greathouse and General Le Gendre, I was able to induce one of the Queen's nephews, young Min-san-ho, to sit for his likeness in his Court dress. The picture, a life-size one, was painted in the course of an afternoon and was pronounced a success by my Corean critics. In Cho-senese eyes, unaccustomed to the effects of light, shade, and variety of colour in painting, the work merited a great deal of admiration, and many were the visitors who came to inspect it. It was not, they said, at all like a picture, but just like the man himself sitting donned in his white Court robes and winged cap. So great was the sensation produced by this portrait, that before many days had passed the King ordered it to be brought into his presence, upon which being done he sat gazing at it, surrounded by his family and whole household. The painting was kept at the Palace for two entire days, and when returned to me was simply covered with finger marks, royal and not royal, smeared on the paint, which was still moist, and that, notwithstanding that I had been provident enough to paste in a corner of the canvas a label in the Corean language to the effect that fingers were to be kept off. The King declared himself so satisfied with it that he expressed the wish that before leaving the country I should paint the portraits of the two most important personages in Cho-sen after himself, viz.: the two Princes, Min-Young-Huan, and Min-Young-Chun, the former of whom was Commander-in-chief of the Corean land forces, and the other, Prime Minister of the kingdom, in fact, the Bismarck of Cho-sen.
No sooner had I answered "yes" to this request than the sitting was fixed for the next morning at 11 o'clock. The crucial matter, of course, was the question of precedence, and this would have been difficult to settle had not the Prime Minister caught a bad cold, which caused his sitting to be delayed for some days. Hence it was that at 11 o'clock punctually I was to portray prince Min-Young-Huan, the commander-in-chief of the Corean troops.
General Le Gendre, with his usual kindness, had offered me a room in his house, in which I could receive, and paint His Royal Highness. The excitement at Court on the subject of these pictures, had apparently been great, for late at night a message was brought me from the palace to the effect that the King, having heard that I preferred painting the two princes in their smartest dark blue gowns of lovely silk instead of in their white mourning ones, had given Min orders to comply with my wish. The grant of such a privilege was, indeed, remarkable, when it is remembered how strict the rules as to mourning were, not only at Court, but all over the country; for so strict are the mourning rules of the country, that the slightest exception to them may mean the loss of one's head. The precaution, however, was taken to bind me to secrecy, on the ground that a bad example of this kind coming from royalty might actually cause a revolutionary outbreak. It was naturally with the greatest pleasure, at my success, and the courtesy shown me, that I went to bed, not, however, without having received yet another message from General Le Gendre, asking me to be in attendance punctually at 11 A.M.
It was just 6.30 in the morning, when there was a loud tap at my door, and the servant rushed in, in the wildest state of excitement, handing me a note from General Le Gendre. The note read somewhat as follows: "Dear Mr. Landor, Prince Min has arrived at my house to sit for his picture. Please come at once."
That is punctuality, is it not? To make an appointment, and go to the place to keep it four-and-a-half hours before the time appointed!
In less than no time I was on the spot. Le Gendre's house was, as it were, in a state of siege, for hundreds of armed soldiers were drawn up, in the little lane leading to it, while the court of his compound was crammed with followers and officers, in their smartest clothes. The warriors, who had already made themselves comfortable, and were squatting on their heels, playing cards and other games, got up most respectfully as I passed, and, by command of one of the officers, rendered me a military salute, which I must confess made me feel very important. I had never suspected that such an armed force was necessary to protect a man who was going to have his portrait painted, but of course, I am well aware that artists are always most unreliable people. When the real reason of this display was explained, I did indeed feel much flattered.
The Prince had, in fact, come to me in his grandest style, and with his full escort, just as if his object had been to call on some royal personage, such as the King himself. The compliment was, I need hardly say, much appreciated by me. I was actually lifted up the steps of the house by his servants, for it was supposed that the legs of such a grand personage must indeed be incapable of bearing his body, and thus I was brought into his presence. As usual, he was most affable, and full of wit and fun. So great had been his anxiety to be down on canvas, that he had been quite unable to sleep. He could only wish for the daylight to come, which was to immortalise him, and that was why he had come "a little" before his time.