the melancholy, yet tranquil and cold physiognomy of Charles, and the grace of Henrietta Maria, the visions of history revive, and, as in the pages of Shakspeare and of Scott, her characters resume their freshness, and her shadows the lineaments in which they lived and acted. Many would be sorry to exchange these for works of loftier pretension; and we have often, in the deep interest they excite, forgotten or neglected the more ambitious glories of the Italian school. So did Lely, Kneller, and their successors, who continued, with far inferior talent, to mimic what they could not excel, and to degrade the art into a fashionable mannerism, retaining little interest beyond the occasional celebrity of the beauties and statesmen who employed it. The only English names which deserve attention in this long succession of painters were Cooper and the two Olivers, who, precluded from becoming mere imitators by the small size of their productions, stamped on their miniatures the originality of conception, without which no artist has maintained reputation with posterity. When at length Hudson and his rivals had mimicked the imitations of Vandyke, till the style of that master could undergo no lower degradation, one great and original genius, who thought for himself, and painted immediately what nature taught, revived the honours and interest of the pencil.

This innovator was Hogarth; the masterly sketch of whose life by Walpole, left little for Mr. Cunningham to do beyond gathering in some scattered anecdotes and personal adventures from Nicholls and Ireland. A compilation from these sources has furnished us with renewed entertainment in the present publication; but his respect and affection for his subject have, we think, misled Mr. Cunningham into some needless controversy, and into some injustice. Walpole, after a well-merited and discriminating eulogium, in which he assigns to Hogarth the character of ' a great and original author, expressing comedy by colours more successfully than others did by words, the inimitable rival of Moliere'— says, 'that having thus far considered him as an author, it is time to speak of him as a painter;' and that ' as a painter he had slender merit.'

* Now,' exclaims his present biographer, 'what is the merit of a painter? If it be to represent life—to give us an image of man—to exhibit the workings of his heart—to record the good and evil of his nature—to set in motion before us the very beings with whom earth is peopled—to shake us with mirth—to» sadden us with woful reflection—to please us with natural grouping, vivid action, and vigorous colouring; Hogarth has done all this—and if he that has done so be not a painter, who will show us one? I claim a signification as wide for the word painter as for the word poet.'—vol. i. p. 193.

So So perhaps did Walpole, and might in turn have asked whether the prose or even the rhymes of Moliere were poetry? The verbal dispute might be variously decided, but Walpole would at least have had on his side the Latin critic, who defines what he so nobly studied and practised :—


* Ingenium cui sit, cui mens divinior atque os Magna souaturum—des nomiuis hujus honorem.' It is obvious that Walpole here understood by painting, the mere technical art of drawing and colouring pictures, in what artists call handling and composition. In these, surely Hogarth's merit, if not slender in itself, is so, compared with the transcendent qualities of his comic wit, and unrivalled moral drollery. It is accordingly in his admirable engravings that we best appreciate him. He indeed began his career as an engraver, and, with great talent of conception and design, his execution deserves the praise his biographer bestows.

'Hogarth's style of engraving is indeed rough, but it is vigorous and free. He accomplishes his aim by one or two fortunate and happy strokes, not by a multitude of small and timid touches which diminish the natural freedom of the original.'—vol. i. p. 101.

The same praise certainly cannot be applied to his pictures, without much modification. They are indeed well drawn, and scientifically and vigorously coloured, but there is a heaviness and opacity in the treatment, far from that freedom of touch, and consequent clearness of effect, which characterize his plates. In this technical part of painting, he has undoubtedly been excelled, not only by Rembrandt, Teniers, and his Dutch rivals, but by Wilkie, Leslie, William Allan, and other modern English masters, in their domestic pieces. With all his excellence, it is with reluctance we turn our attention, though called by his biographer, to his attempts in a loftier style. Where natural, they are ludicrously natural; when differing from nature, they are rather below than above her simple standard; and the technical merit which an artist or a connoisseur may acknowledge, will never alone redeem such compositions from the censure of Walpole or the neglect of the public.

Mr. Cunningham quotes the following highly wrought, but essentially just strictures of Walpole, on the Sigismunda.

'He determined to rival the ancients, and unfortunately chose one of the finest pictures in England as the subject of his competition. This was the celebrated Sigismunda of Sir Luke Schaub, said to be painted by Correggio—probably by Furino—but no matter by whom. It is impossible to see the picture, or read Dryden's inimitable tale, and not feel that the same soul animated both. After many essays, Hogarth produced his Sigismunda, but no more like

Sigismunda Sigismunda than I to Hercules. Not to mention the wretchedness of the colouring, it was the representation of a maudlin strumpet just turned out of keeping; and, with eyes red with rage and usquebaugh, tearing off the ornaments her keeper had given her. To add to the disgust raised by such vulgar expression, her fingers were blooded by her lover's heart, that lay before her like that of a sheep for her dinner.'

'This,' Mr. Cunningham adds, 'is severe, pointed, and untrue. The Sigismunda of Hogarth is not tearing oft" her ornaments, nor are her fingers blooded with her lover's heart.' As an accusation of malice and injustice is raised on this assertion, which in fact is a repetition of a criticism of Nicholls', we hope Mr. Cunningham was not aware that it had been long ago answered by Walpole himself, who has the following note on this very passage :—

'In the Biographic Anecdotes of Hogarth, it is said, that my memory must have failed me, for that on repeated inspection it is evident that the fingers are unstained with blood. Were they always so? I saw it when first painted, and bloody they were. In p. 46 it is confessed, that upon the criticism of one connoisseur or another the picture was so altered, that an old friend of Mr. Hogarth's scarce knew it again.'— tTalpolc's Painters, fyc., p. 460, 4to., 1798.

Surely a charge of direct falsehood against a critic so judicious, and an historian of art so discriminating and laborious as Walpole, recoils with double force when hazarded on such slender and superficial examination, after the grave has closed on his remains !— Again, a supposed necessity of vindicating his hero from whatever was the topic of contemporary animadversion, has, we think very unnecessarily, led this amiable biographer into a most chivalrous and paradoxical defence of Hogarth's learning. That Hogarth was justly described by Walpole as illiterate cannot well be doubted: it is clearly proved that in the use of his own language he was deficient in orthography and grammar, and that he understood no other. Those who detracted from his merit as a painter on such a ground were certainly malicious and absurd; but still less can we understand the following vindication, by which, indeed, the charge is at once admitted and denied.

'His grammatical accuracy and skill in spelling have been doubted by men who are seldom satisfied with anything short of perfection; and they have added the accusation, that he was gross and unpolished. Must men of genius be examples of both bodily and mental perfection? Look at the varied works of Hogarth, and say, could a man, overflowing with such knowledge of men and manners, be called illiterate or ignorant? He was of no college—but not therefore unlearned; he was of no academy—yet who will question his excellence in art? He acquired learning by his study of human nature—in his intercourse with the world—in his musings on the

changes changes of seasons—and on the varying looks of the nation and the aspect of the universe. He drank at the great fountain of information, and went by the ancient road; and till it is shown that his works are without knowledge, I shall look on him as a well-informed man.'

Is not Mr. Cunningham aware that illiterate merely means 'devoid of literature,' and that knowledge is a different thing from learning? The Duke of Marlborough was 'illiterate,' although victorious in a hundred battles, and the ablest statesman of his day ;—he had studied human nature, and knew something of the world he lived in, but had hardly a tincture of reading.

Truth compels us to observe, that throughout the whole of this memoir there is an apparent wish to controvert the assertions and depreciate the authority of Walpole, whose contemporary statements are certainly most likely to be correct, and whose discriminating eulogium has in fact conferred more honour on Hogarth than more wholesale panegyrists will ever be able to bestow. The Sigismunda is a bad picture; Hogarth was unlearned; and though Walpole was not an artist, he was a judge, a scholar, and a mau of genius.

A keen and exquisite perception of whatever is ludicrous or defective is rarely, most rarely, united with a lofty or poetical sensibility for elegance and beauty; and Hogarth's mind, essentially comic, and familiar with awkwardness and affectation in all their varying shapes, could only conceive beauty through the cold medium of a false and narrow theory, for such it is, however ingeniously developed, in his Analysis of Beauty. Whatever may be said in praise of waving lines and graduated tints— if these are its essential constituents, the Quadrant is more beautiful than the Parthenon, and the Flemish dames of Rubens are more lovely than the angels of Raphael, or the goddesses of Praxiteles. The conclusion is inevitable, for those who palliated its absurdity, by advocating the introduction of Contrasts or Propriety, or Utility, in fact give up the principle, and only show that they feel the inevitable necessity of resorting to a different standard. Such plausible generalities have misled men more accustomed to disentangle sophistry than Hogarth.

This was the first native name worthy of distinguished notice, and with this accordingly began the complaint so often reiterated against the ignorant cognoscenti, who waste their money on pictures brought from Italy, and imposed on the world by dealers and virtuosi as genuine and valuable works of ait, instead of purchasing the home commodity from the complaining parties. On the whole, we are inclined to believe, that but for the prevalence of an humour thus unskilfully indulged, the taste for English art might have been dormant much longer. The first attention to excellence attained by a foreign nation is excited by good sense,

. but the efficient stimulus is given by fashion. When Tilburina went mad in white satin, her maid went mad in white linen; and when Charles I. and Lord Pembroke imported into England, with general applause, the masterpieces of Titian, Raphael, and Correggio, we have no doubt the nobility and gentry purchased taste and judgment ready made, from professors and picture-dealers.

Our early collections bear witness to the imposture; and when we see the pleasure often expressed by modern virtuosi at findingblack Titians at a pawnbroker's, or purchasing undisputed Correggios for a few pounds, at a cheesemonger's, we understand the process by which gentlemen were taught to value themselves, on detecting latent beauties in dingy daubs, and discovering the hand of the master where even the subject of the painting was invisible. The ridicule of Foote was a more appropriate castigation than the indignation of Hogarth. We read of the exquisite colouring of the school of Titian; their works abounded in our catalogues,—and in most of these the skies were absolutely and indisputably green, the ladies cream colour, and the men like mahogany.*

In Hogarth's time the idea of establishing an Academy of Art in England began to be entertained; the acuteness of Vol

* In fact, we had then in England, with few exceptions, only spurious or damaged works, and none but second or third-rate pictures of the greater masters. But the storm was at hand which brought them to our shores ; and after the exhibition of the Orleans gallery broke the spell that so long blinded us, the convulsions of Italy, and the consequent distress of her nobility, made our cloudy and smoky cities as rich in monuments of real art—

• As is the oozy bottom of the sea In sunken wrecks and sumless treasures.' The homebred artists and amateurs alike could now see the truth of all that they had heard about Italian perfection, and learned to appreciate more justly the phantom which they had worshipped in its stead. The works of Reynolds stood the test, and rose in price and in public estimation. So did those of Gainsborough and one or two others; and modern art became, in consequence, a subject of enlightened attention. Loud was the competition for awhile, and fierce the war, which raged between unprofessional criticism and academical students, and many were the stories of eminent connoisseurs, who mistook copies for originals, which were promulgated by angry and neglected artists, and enjoyed by the laughing world, who knew and cared little about the allair. This obvious and hackneyed ridicule is degenerating into cant,—the real absurdity lies not in making the mistake, but in defending and persisting in it against conviction. There is in many a natural and perhaps inevitable tendency to prefer, on this and other subjects, the technical judgment of the professors to that of the mere admirers of art, and great has been the triumph over our stupid and ignorant cognotcenli. Quam temere in notmct! We happen to recollect that a picture, now in the National Gallery, was purchased by Mr. Angerstein at a considerable price, on the faith of its originality, which was vouched for by West and Lawrence,—and not by the connoisseurs or dealers,—as a work of Correggio; the well-known original was afterwards found by the Duke of Wellington in Joseph Buonaparte's carriage at Vittoria, and is now at Apsley House. The copy was since put up to sale, and bought in we believe for 30/. West, to his dying day, was so sore about it, that he stoutly maintained, in spite of its manifest palpable inferiority, that it was a duplicate by the master's hand,—as if such a duplicate could have existed so long unknown. Lawrence showed more tact as well as candour. When taxed with the mistake he smiled, and answered in our hearing,1 Well, the picture was exactly like moil of the other Corrcggius that I had seen when I vouched for it.'

« ElőzőTovább »