"Curiosity is the only good quality which I ever possessed"
After a period of study in Florence, Savage Landor made his first trip outside Italy. He went to England where he met a number of interesting persons among his grandfather’s friends. From London he decided to travel to Holland together with Harry Jones Thaddeus (1859-1929) a young Irish painter he had known in Florence. Thaddeus was a fashionable portrait painter, a genre in which Henry Arnold also succeeded. Some of the paintings Savage Landor made in The Netherlands are today known, such as a beautiful portrait of a girl. After that experience, he went for a brief period to Paris to attend lessons of painting at the Académie Julian. His professors were Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888) and Jules Lefebvre (1836-1911), who had in their repertories also the Orientalist theme.
As a young painter, Savage Landor was not inclined to follow the academic rules uncritically. He felt himself a free spirit, and this is the main reason why, after his brief experience in Paris, he left for a long journey which would take him first to Spain, then to Morocco, Malta and Egypt. We know from his memoirs that he painted a lot during this first extra-European travel but, unfortunately, very few are the paintings survive from that period.
After a brief stay in England, in 1888 Savage Landor left for his first oceanic journey. He arrived in New York, October 26th. Then he went to Boston, Montreal, Washington and Chicago, meeting important persons and above all making and selling paintings, mainly portraits of wealthy people who liked him not only for the vividness and brightness of his works but also because he was able to execute a large-size portrait in a very short time, saving the person portrayed exhausting sittings. This ability, his velocity in finishing the painting, was very useful to him in the following years, throughout the course of his career.
In 1889, on August 8th, Henry Arnold left from Vancouver to Japan. He arrived in Yokohama on August 25th. He remained in the Asian archipelago for sixteen months. According to his Memoirs, the experience in Japan was one of the most exciting in his life. He visited the most important cities and places of interest of the country where he could admire the beauty of that ancient culture, especially in Kyoto, the old capital with its wonderful monuments. His main activity in Japan was painting. He produced a large amount of paintings, some of which he sold to wealthy people, both Japanese and the many foreigners settled there to make businesses in a country only recently reopened to the rest of the world after nearly two centuries of self-imposed isolation.
During his stay in Japan Savage Landor decided to make a journey to Hokkaidō, the archipelago’s northernmost island. Hokkaidō was (and still is) a very cold and harsh land, daily beaten by wind and rain. Also Japanese people didn’t know it very well. Henry Arnold travelled alone, carrying hardly any luggage, except for a revolver and ample supplies of painting materials. In six months of difficult travel, using horses and walking, he managed to visit a great part of that hostile territory.
He was also able better to understand that still-mysterious population, the Ainu, who had inhabited the Hokkaidō for a very long time, before the Japanese conquered it in the 15th century. At the time of Savage Landor’s journey, the Ainu still lived in a very primitive way, dwelling in very poor huts and continuing to use very ancient traditions, such as the tattooing of lips by women.
In Hokkaidō Henry Arnold not only produced a great amount of paintings, most of them of very small dimensions (about 6 x 12 cm each), landscapes and portraits, but he also made written notes of his experiences there. He described in detail every adventure he had and every place he visited. Furthermore, he scientifically illustrated the main characteristics of the Ainu people, as he was an anthropologist and ethnographer.
Following his stay in Japan, Savage Landor travelled to Korea, one of the first Europeans to visit the Asian peninsula. The memoirs of that trip were published in a book entitled Corea or Cho-Sen. The Land of the Morning Calm (London 1895). Korea was then in a very difficult period of its history: Henry Arnold describes very well the poor Korean population, exhausted by hunger and cold and, furthermore, in the usual precarious position of being the object of contention between China and Japan. Among the paintings he realized in Korea there is the one depicting a cruel decapitation he attended in that country, a painting that is still now in a private collection in Florence.
After Korea, Savage Landor visited some of the most important Chinese cities
(Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau) before proceeding to Australia and then to Ceylon, the last stage before to come back to London. Apart from the publication of the book about the Ainu, in England Savage Landor had the time to became a member of the Royal Geographic Society, to design and patent his first airplane, and to made the knowledge of the famous painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) who, according to what Savage Landor wrote in his autobiography, appreciated the young Anglo-Florentine not only for his recent experiences in Asia but also for his talent as a painter. Despite the age difference, the two artists became closely acquainted. In that same period – and very probably thanks also to his friendship with Whistler, at that time a leading art figure in London – he organized an exhibition of his paintings in the Old Grosvenor Gallery in Bond Street.
Despite a number of more sedentary activities, Savage Landor always felt the irresistible desire to leave again for a new adventure. After his first trip in Asia, he finally was able to organize a new expedition with the help of the Royal Geographic Society. In 1896 he left for Tibet, a country that he had long wished to visit. His aim was to solve some geographical enigmas, such as to discover the principal sources of the Brahmaputra river. This time he could not face the challenge alone as he did in Japan, because too many were the dangers to overcome. First, the only way to enter Tibet was to cross the Himalayan mountains, the Roof of the World, an arduous passage with climate conditions at the limit of human endurance. Secondly, at that time while India and Nepal were under the direct influence of Great Britain, Tibet still resisted Western pressures, continuing to be a Chinese protectorate, refusing to receive any foreigner coming from south.