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taire had pointed out its consequences in France, and the sound good sense of Hogarth predicted some of its dangers in England. The following vigorous and spirited sentences are extracted by Mr. Cunningham from his writings; they have been amply verified by the event.
'The institution will serve to raise and pension a few bustling and busy men, whose whole employment will be to tell a few simple students when a leg is too long, or an arm too short. More will flock to the study of art than what genius sends; the hope of profit, or the thirst of distinction, will induce parents to push their offspring into the lecture-room, and many will appear and but few be worthy. Portrait-painting has succeeded, and ever will succeed, better in England than in any other country, and the demand will continue as new faces come into the market. Portrait-painting is one of the ministers of vanity, and vanity is a munificent patroness; historical painting seeks to revive the memory of the dead, and the dead are very indifferent paymasters. Paintings are plentiful enough in England to keep us from the study of nature; but students who confine their studies to the works of the dead, need never hope to live themselves; they will learn little more than the names of the painters: true painting can only be learnt in one school, and that is kept by nature.'
We have, in fact, repeated in painting what had been done for poetry in our universities, and for eloquence by the Academy of Louis XIV.; we mistook the knowledge of art, which academies can teach, for the practice of it, which is only learnt elsewhere.
There is certainly a considerable difference, and there always will be, between the encouragement of artists and the encouragement of art; but in their estimate of the effects of such encouragement, both connoisseurs and students have shown some inconsistency. The Mecsenases of painting and of poetry have ever been laughed at for patronizing mediocrity, while, on the other hand, no single work of acknowledged genius can be cited, the author of which had not, at some time or other, been grievously in want of a dinner, or of something hardly less necessary to his comfort. But who does not see that, in many of these instances, the patronage itself must have produced the mediocrity—the starvation stimulated the genius? Now, in the fine arts, excellence alone is valuable ;—a middling table is better than a bad one, but a middling poem is worse, for it gives less amusement. On the other hand, let us recollect that the arts themselves began almost everywhere in great humility. Pliny tells us that the earliest and noblest schools of statuary in Greece arose among the braziers of Sicyon and Egina; the gates, worthy of Paradise, in Florence, began in the work of the goldsmiths of Pisa; in England, painting was contracted for by the yard, and the German Hunting in water-work, and the slight drolleries for which manors would
now be mortgaged, and volumes written, were only preferred by
But each man's secret standard is his mind;
In the life and history of Reynolds we have the contrast between theory and practice. Unwilling to vaunt the style he himself adopted, and half unconscious of his own excellence, he keenly felt and enjoyed the merits of others, and continued, with characteristic modesty, to enrich his native country with pictures that rival in effect whatever was produced in the Venetian school, while he recommended in his discourses the severer graces o 1 the Roman. For years the town rung with praises of the grand style of art and Michael Angelo, as the Parsonage of Wakefield did with Shakspeare, taste, and the musical glasses, after the visit of the London lady. Of his audience, few were likely to see, fewer still to understand, and perhaps not one to imitate, the illustrious works of the Vatican and the Sistine—but all could talk about them, and fully did they avail themselves of the opportunity.
Milton and Michael Angelo excelled in grandeur of conception, and each had a style peculiarly appropriate to its expression. Rut it is because it is appropriate that the style of either is valuable. The grandeur of the prophets and sibyls, transferred to meaner mortals, becomes that of Glumdalclitch and the court of Brobdignag. W hat would be the effect of teaching the youthful poet to study Milton's or Homer's style when labouring to express his own ideas? We may judge of it, in some degree, by the daily efforts of the cockney muses to travestie the language of Scott, Byron, and Wordsworth. Propriety of style, whether in writing or in painting,—that which communicates with clearness, ness, readiness, and energy the conceptions of the mind,—will always be an invaluable charm; nor let the artist be discouraged who attains it first in its less exalted forms, provided he attains it thoroughly. The Allegro and Penseroso were the prolusions of him who gave us Paradise Lost; and the only man who could describe Achilles and Agamemnon was he who painted Andromache with so much tenderness, Helen with such matchless grace, and Thersites with such bitter truth.
There is no royal road to such acquirements; the student who would possess them must enlarge his mind by general, not exclusive observation,—must see, think, compare, and labour for himself, —must practise by day till he acquires precision and facility of expression, and meditate by night till he enriches his imagination with all the stores of memory. Indeed, when we consider the various qualifications that must combine to form even a tolerably good pamter, our wonder is, not that such numbers fail, but that so many have succeeded. The poet, at all events, communicates his thoughts iu the language he has practised from his infancy; but how shall the painter acquire the facility of design and skill in colouring, which constitute the language of his art? Early and unremitted practice can alone give him the ready power of correct delineation, and the toil of such practice, if he is poor, will not support him,—if he is rich, will probably disgust him almost at the threshold. Would he then launch into historical or poetic composition?—let him reflect that, till he can readily and correctly delineate the things he sees, it is in vain that he will attempt to give shape and substance < to the visions of his fancy. If his portraits are defective, his saints and angels must be detestable. Is he ambitious of embodying the grandeur of his conception on a large scale ?—let him try his faculties by an easier test, and prepare his finished sketch on a smaller pannel. If his design and composition be perfect, he may yet fail,—but if they be bad, he cannot possibly succeed. Till the hand readily and spontaneously obeys the painter's eye, it will mislead the mitid into working at random. This, then, is the true advantage of painting portraits, whatever may be the vanity or stupidity of ordering them. By working on these, the aspirant, while he obtains the maintenance he wants, may perfect himself in surmounting many of the difficulties of his art. Who, indeed, have painted portraits better than Raphael, Titian, and Velasquez? To such study we owe talents of the highest order, and by such practice have they been acquired. With the power of correctly and accurately delineating what he sees, the man of real talent will try to catch the characteristic expression of the speaking countenance; he will thus learn to paint from recollection what
Vol. L. No. xcix. F cannot
cannot long continue in his sight,—unless, indeed, his female sitters 'call up a look when he comes to the eyes.' To make a pleasing picture, he must learn to leave out defects and yet preserve the likeness; a practice which at least will teach him to observe with minute accuracy on what lineaments the main stamp and character of the countenance really depend. There are few things more difficult of acquirement, and yet, in the portraits by some of our own artists, how completely has all this been attained! There is no surer step to the representation of history or poetry if a man has the genius to conceive them. But no! his rooms will soon be crowded by the vanity of the town,—his prices will be raised,—money, the bane of nobler views, will fill his pockets, or at least those of his dependents, while his own desires expand,— he wishes to become a dandy, an epicure, or a gentleman 'd bonnes fortunes;' ruins himself, perhaps, by his own extravagance, —continues to make portraits, and takes three times more orders at half-price than he can live to finish,—executes beautiful heads to which his scholars put bodies, and then leaves his surviving admirers to lament the bad taste of the country that gives no encouragement to the higher branches of the art. We do not wonder much that gentlemen prefer the likeness of their wives, or perchance their mistresses, to the Siege of Troy or even the Day of Judgment, when the picture, like the town, may not be taken for ten years, and the real day of judgment may arrive before its image.
We entirely agree then with our author, (vol. i., page 3i22) that the main doctrine of Sir Joshua's Discourses, elegant as they are, and embracing much sound criticism, corresponds not either with the character of English art, or the determined taste of the country;—but admirably did his practice correspond with both, and raised them to a height which we fear they may not be destined to reach again. We agree with Mr. Cunningham in criticism on his theory, as distinguished from his practice; but we cannot agree with him, that a want of lofty conception was that which disqualified Reynolds, in his own opinion, for the style of Raphael: we should rather attribute the course he took to his consciousness of deficiency in correct facility of drawing, for on this the charm of Raphael's frescoes depends, and this it was now too late for Reynolds to learn.
After he returned from Italy, his talents soon raised him to that estimation which he lived but to justify and increase. Who now remembers Liotard, who, as a novelty and a lion, shared with him for a moment the celebrity of the metropolis? His manners and conversation, his pure and modest life, and unrivalled talent, drew round him whatever was worth courting in the society of London, and beloved in that circle, he continued to adorn it till, in his turn, he descended to the grave. The friend of Burke, of Johnson, and of Windham, wants no vouchers for his private chaiacter; the lovers of art will find his best eulogium in his paintings.
His acquaintance with Johnson began in 1734, and after extracting from Boswell the well-known anecdote about the reading of the Life of Savage, our author proceeds with the following remarks on the Doctor, which we are not sure that we entirely understand.
'The rough and saturnine Johnson was very unlike the soft, the graceful, and flexible Reynolds. The former, the most distinguished man of his time for wit, wisdom, various knowledge, and original vigour of genius, had lived neglected—nay, spurned by the opulent and the titled—till his universal fame forced him on them.'— p. 248.
Johnson, we all know, began life in obscurity; he was poor, and far removed from the intercourse of ' the opulent and the titled.' Can Mr. Cunningham blame them for not discovering his genius before he had published those works by which alone his very existence could be revealed to them? If, indeed, the celebrated ' Duck, which Samuel Johnson trod on,' had introduced him, as an infant prodigy, to some high-born blue-stocking, who would have undertaken his education, and circulated his juvenile poems, 'the opulent and the titled' might have escaped this censure; but we should not have had ' Rasselas,' or the ' Lives of the Poets,' and Johnson would not have a tomb with those that are honoured in the land. But it did turn out that, when the genius was shown, it was most abundantly recognised and honoured—and under circumstances of which Mr. Allan Cunningham does not feel the force.
'When, after life was half spent in toil and sorrow, he came forth at length from his obscurity, he spread consternation among the polished circles by his uncouth shape and gestures, more by his ready and vigorous wit, and an incomparable sharpness of sarcasm, made doubly keen and piercing by learning. His circumstances rendered it unnecessary to soothe the proud by assentation, or the beautiful by fine speeches. He appeared among men not to win his way leisurely to the first place by smiles and bows; but to claim it, take it, and keep it, as the distinction to which he was born, and of which be had been too long defrauded.'—p. 248.
Now, who reads this, without perceiving that the tone, the manners, and peculiarities of Johnson, were powerful obstacles to his reception? It is true that his genius triumphed over them all; that he was not only respected for his virtues, and revered for his piety, but admired and cultivated for his wit and eloquence. But the opportunity of displaying these was probably retarded by
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