Portrait of King William III
by Mark Twain
I never can look at those periodical portraits in THE GALAXY magazine
without feeling a wild, tempestuous ambition to be an artist. I have seen
thousands and thousands of pictures in my time—acres of them here
and leagues of them in the galleries of Europe—but never any that
moved me as these portraits do.
There is a portrait of Monsignore Capel in the November number, now COULD
anything be sweeter than that? And there was Bismarck's, in the October
number; who can look at that without being purer and stronger and nobler
for it? And Thurlow and Weed's picture in the September number; I would
not have died without seeing that, no, not for anything this world can
give. But look back still further and recall my own likeness as printed in
the August number; if I had been in my grave a thousand years when that
appeared, I would have got up and visited the artist.
I sleep with all these portraits under my pillow every night, so that I
can go on studying them as soon as the day dawns in the morning. I know
them all as thoroughly as if I had made them myself; I know every line and
mark about them. Sometimes when company are present I shuffle the
portraits all up together, and then pick them out one by one and call
their names, without referring to the printing on the bottom. I seldom
make a mistake—never, when I am calm.
I have had the portraits framed for a long time, waiting till my aunt gets
everything ready for hanging them up in the parlor. But first one thing
and then another interferes, and so the thing is delayed. Once she said
they would have more of the peculiar kind of light they needed in the
attic. The old simpleton! it is as dark as a tomb up there. But she does
not know anything about art, and so she has no reverence for it. When I
showed her my "Map of the Fortifications of Paris," she said it was
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
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.
COMMENDATIONS OF THE PORTRAIT
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.
The expression is very interesting. J.W. Titian.
(Keeps a macaroni store in Venice, at the old family stand.)
It is the neatest thing in still life I have seen for years.
The smile may be almost called unique. Bismarck.
I never saw such character portrayed in a picture face before. De
There is a benignant simplicity about the execution of this work which
warms the heart toward it as much, full as much, as it fascinates the eye.
One cannot see it without longing to contemplate the artist.
Send me the entire edition—together with the plate and the original
portrait—and name your own price. And—would you like to come
over and stay awhile with Napoleon at Wilhelmshohe? It shall not cost you
a cent. William III.