Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

was begun at twenty years of age, he said with some humour, that 'nothing could be more easy; he had only to take off a ringlet, and add a wrinkle for each intervening year, and the likeness continued as progressive as the lady.' We did not hear whether she herself was satisfied, or encouraged him to complete his work, after this candid exposition of his resources.

Sir Thomas's conversation was often lively and entertaining, and always inoffensive, his manners smooth and courtly, but evidently assumed and professional. To complain, as some did, that they were artificial and insincere, would only evince that want of knowledge of the world, which Lawrence had acquired probably before he left Devizes. Who ever retained a really natural manner, during compulsory or unavoidable intercourse with five or six hundred strangers of all ages, ranks, and tempers, when popularity and even subsistence depended on pleasing? Wre own that Sir Thomas had not acquired the perfection of the art, that of concealing entirely its exertion. He was one of the most attentive of listeners, and one of the smoothest of talkers, but still it was rather like the polished obsequiousness of an inferior, than the natural and unconstrained even bearing of an equal.

In the letters of Lawrence we may certainly trace a degree of lurking vanity, which, though his good sense concealed it in the general intercourse of the world, still left him at heart somewhat of a coxcomb. He indited sundry bad sentimental verses, and made or talked of love to the two daughters of Mrs. Siddons, till the small gossips, who deal in such information, found out and declared that he deserted one of them for her sister; and that this infidelity cost the life of the damsel. It was scarcely worth while to record this little romance so solemnly; as Mr. Cunningham immediately avows his own disbelief of the story, and displays its absurdity, by reminding the reader that Lawrence still continued to enjoy the intimate friendship of Mrs. Siddons herself, and of John Kemble, her brother, the two persons, whether from character or connexion with the lady, of all others the least likely to forget such an injury and insult. It appears certain, in our author's own words, that the poor girl 'died of disease and a doctor;' and surely, under these circumstances, we needed no such apology for the painter, as that which Mr. Cunningham produces from the MS. of ' a lady with compassionate tenderness of heart, and a disposition more than merciful:'—

'His character was beautiful, and much to be loved; his manners were likely to mislead, without his intending it. He could not write a common answer to a dinner invitation, without its assuming the tone of a billet-doux; the very commonest conversation was held in that soft low whisper, and with that tone of deference and interest,

o 8 which

whioh are so unusual, and so calculated to please. I am myself persuaded that he never intentionally gave pain. He was not a male coquet; he had no plan of conquest.'—vol. vi. p. 191.

Since the days when Lady Pentweezel and the charms of Blowbladder-Street succumbed to the insidious allurements of Mr. Carmine, no painter appears to have maintained such a reputation for gallantry as Sir Thomas. He painted the portrait of our late Queen Caroline, then Princess of Wales; was admitted as a visiter to Montague House, and involved in the well-known * Delicate Investigation.' The commissioners of his majesty's council acquitted the lady, and consequently the artist; but Lawrence, conscious of his own consequence, thought it necessary to revive the public confidence, by voluntarily making oath before a magistrate, that his attentions to Her Royal Highness were entirely Platonic.

Nor was this the only delicate affair which his biographer feels it a duty to dwell upon. A very pretty Mrs. Wolfe, the separated wife of a Danish consul, ' having no domestic duties to perform, and much leisure to bestow on others,' bestowed a good deal of it on Lawrence. She was 'young, beautiful, and had a soft low voice like Sir Thomas himself.' As our friend Falstaff says, 'Would you desire better sympathy?' 'He called Mrs. Wolfe his Aspasia, and exclaimed Pericles! Pericles! Pericles!' Mr. Cunningham, because the lady after a time retired to Wales, and from other private but unassigned reasons, believes also in the Platonic priority of this interesting flirtation. As the consul did not institute any investigation, and Sir Thomas made no affidavit on the subject, we are compelled to leave the question in obscurity, but it is important to the dame's honour, that a lady (unnamed, but 'who knew Lawrence well') has assured Mr. Allan Cunningham, that ' his love lay all in talking.'

Sir Thomas was, it seems, beset by as many temptations as ever befel St. Anthony; nay, even on the verge of threescore years, and after the decease of Mrs. Wolfe, 'he was still exposed to the designs of the fair.'

'A young lady of beauty and accomplishments confidently requested a matron, one of the earliest and latest friends of the painter, to inquire what he meant by his soft and persuasive speeches; in a word, if he desired to marry her or not. When this was mentioned to Lawrence, he made answer, " Why, yes, I admired her once for her beauty and cleverness, and thought of marriage; but I soon discovered that she would not suit me as a wife, and ceased to pay her any attention. She has often pained me by her remonstrances and inquiries since; if women will go such lengths, who will pity them?" A man of mature years can have no excuse for tampering, however lightly, with the affections of any woman. One of his female defenders says he gave no wilful pain—never trifled with feelings to please his

own own vanity; and that, amidst all his soft looks, speeches, and billets, his views rarely went beyond the indulgence of a sort of romantic civility, is more than probable; but he might have known that ladies, whether lovely or otherwise, are not apt to put figurative constructions on compliments and attentions.'—vol. vi. p. 256. These tender tales are of course illustrated with a description, somewhat romantic, of the face and figure, which occasioned such wild ravage among the softer sex; and we think all this alarming in a volume meant to form part of a Family Library. Must we not also tremble at the effect which such indiscreet disclosures may produce on future exhibitions, and the progress of the ai ts we love? The learned world, we know not why, have, like Mr. Cunningham, taken much pains to ascertain the nature and precise degree of passion with which great men have been inspired by their mistresses. Interesting, however, as such discussions appear to be, we do not observe in our fair countrywomen any ambition to become the topics of similar speculation, and even if they indulged such a wish for posthumous celebrity, it might be checked unpleasantly by the erroneous vigilance of husbands and fathers, ordained, as every dinner at the Crown and Anchor reminds us, ' with manly hearts to guard the fair.' How many lovely faces, on which enraptured artists are now allowed to gaze, may be withdrawn when the scrupulous papa shall have pondered on the life and loves of Sir Thomas Lawrence! What lovely bride, or blooming matron, will be allowed to transmit her smiles on canvass, or immortalise the favourite poodle, turban, and bird of paradise, if, in addition to the stipulated payment for the representative, the original itself, it is surmised, may be only too apt to become the prize of the fortunate Apelles, and her susceptible tenderness to be recorded in the pages of some future Allan Cunningham, with a minute disquisition on the result, and a balance-sheet of probabilities as to the return it niet with?

The loves of Lawrence, it is to be observed, seem, unlike those of Raphael and Titian, to have had little influence on his pencil; at least few here recorded are immortalized in poetical or characteristic pictures. Considering this fact, and also the great undecided question raised by Mr. Cunningham, as to the nature of the love itself, on which we should take no evidence post mortem short of an affidavit, we doubt whether the historian of this great painter's life ought to have indulged the world with so many quite unprofessional disclosures. However, we trace in these abstracts only a very brief and modest compliance with the fashion of the time :—if Mr. Cunningham had thoroughly imbibed the,spirit of some of our late books of reminiscences, nothing

would would have been so easy as to have given, in the lives of his artists, those of all the people of fashion in England who either sat for their portraits, or left their cards, or might have been expected to do so.

Whatever Lawrence may have been in the boudoirs of Mayfair, as a painter, and in his intercourse with men, he was guided by good sense and that knowledge of the world, which his early vocation acquired for him. He came to the Academy with a selfconfidence that prevented him from adopting the style of others, or bowing to the criticism of the school. He was encouraged by Reynolds to study nature, and no one ever did so with a more unmeasured eye. He early acquired the first and great desideratum, the power of catching and retaining the characteristic and transient expression, and could stamp it on the speaking countenance iu durable lineaments. He could, and often did, add to this the natural and unforced action or attitude peculiar to the person whom he portrayed. At the same time, he could generalize or soften all that was unpleasing, or counter to the main impression. He painted well, clearly, and with great knowledge of colour, though in this his eye was less discriminate than that of Reynolds, and his imagination and invention were both less fertile and less select iu composition of attitudes and accessory details. There is more dignity and more poetic feeling, as well as more richness, glow, and harmony, in the compositions of Reynolds than in those of Lawrence. Where the tone of Sir Joshua's colouring has been preserved, his pictures cannot be hung near the other's without making them look comparatively feeble and cold. They are both of them, however, far superior in strength and in facility to the artists who were their rivals or contemporaries, and the later works of Lawrence attested still a progressive improvement, —the happy effect of his more extended observation of the great fathers of the art and the masterpieces of Italy.

We have often reflected, during the perusal of these volumes, and of those which treat on similar subjects, on the advantages and disadvantages derived by artists from the contemplation of the Italian models. As on the similar question touching foreign travel, no general proposition can be affirmed: the whole depends on the previous acquirements of the individual. Had Titian and Correggio been sent early to study under Michael Angelo, the result would, iu all probability, have been that the world would have never seen the Notte, the St. Jerome, or the Martyrdom of Peter. Reynolds and Lawrence carried their own skill already attained to Rome, and enriched their minds with the treasures they had learned both to value and apply. The less proficieut students, like our raw boys from the university,

♦ Travel

* Travel Europe o'er, Lose their own language, and acquire no more.' We will not cite living names, but we may safely say that those artists amongst us have been uniformly the most successful, who have formed their own style for themselves, and drawn it directly from the nature around them. We have a school of landscape already as superior to the rival efforts of foreign academicians, as their glowing climate is superior to our clouds and showers; but while our painters are sketching and tinting in the fields, theirs are meditating on Claude and Caspar in their galleries. Had Claude himself pursued their plan, his success would have been like theirs, but though his composition is artificial, its parts were all studied from actual scenery, and his matchless lights and skies, the evening and morning shadows, the rich or pearly atmosphere he loved, were transcripts of those daily viewed from his Pincian Villa, and such as still illuminate the magnificent view which it commanded over the domes and towers of Rome. To us the lights and colouring of Italy appear ideal, but in fact the gleams of Callcott, Collins, or Copley Fielding are not more true to nature than the lights of Claude and Caspar. Has the successful portrayer of English life, in its more rustic forms, been neglected or unrewarded; or have the skill and style thus attained by the careful observation of nature been found incompatible with the display of higher talent, and a more extended range of art, when those, who had already enriched us with original and native excellence in a humbler shape, acquired new objects of emulation by judicious travel, or tried execution on a larger scale?

To conclude—originality, even in a small way, is better than the cleverest imitation. We prefer a simple ballad to the most crack prize poem; and we cannot help preferring Gainsborough even to Wilson, and Hogarth to a thousand I3arrys and Fuselis, except, indeed, when he meant to be sublime in his turn. Such a genius as another Reynolds might indeed revive or create a taste for the higher branches of the art, but while London is the scene, and its verdict the reward of his professional labours, we warn him against Cockney sublimity, and trust that he will not, without great caution, study grace in Drury Lane, or rural simplicity at Highgate. There is more reason for this caution, than many will be mduced to believe. Amongst the numerous able men whose lives are here recorded, and the still more numerous candidates for fame, who direct their ambition to this branch of the fine arts, few indeed have been of such rank and education as might at once ensure their reception into the really enlightened society of the metropolis. It is true, that in our mighty Babylon

exists

« ElőzőTovább »