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THE NATIONAL MUSEUM, AND ITS Effects. The English people generally have little feeling for the higher classes of painting and sculpture. This is a fact confirmed by everyday experience. Those branches of the fine arts which are immediately useful, those which flatter self-love and are convenient for embellishing the apartments of our fragile houses, are in good request ; but these are not regarded for the sake of art itself. In forming private collections, ostentation goes a great way; and thus far art may be benefited. Many individuals, on obtaining an accession of fortune, or having just come of age, hear that my Lord so and so, or Mr. A. or B. is much extolled for his grand collection of paintings, and having a desire to attain the same notoriety, and a strong inclination to pass for cognoscenti, they pick up a competent agent to make purchases for them; or, if it so happen that a collector is deceased, purchase in the lump the whole of his gallery, which, perhaps, forms the nucleus for a yet more extensive collection. They buy some convenient house in town, or alter their own so as to display their pictures to the best advantage, allow a few persons by special permission to visit them, never refusing the request from a gentleman of the press ;" and in a short time the superb gallery is trumpeted from mouth to mouth. Such a treasure could not have been in the possession of any one, select as it is said to be, without immense cost. The devotion to the fine arts, and the unsparing magnificence displayed in these purchases, give the reputation of exorbitant wealth, the possession of which, in England, takes precedence of every thing else. Then self-love is flattered by the praises bestowed upon the exquisite taste in art of the possessors, judging from their pictures; and they become at once, in name at least, patrons of artists, (a term now, thank God, without a meaning in our literature); deficient as many of them may be in every qualification required to form a correct judgment of painting, and consequently without one particle of true discriminating feeling for art itself. Academicians flock to the tables of such ; and they are vain of the compliments and eulogies which some artists know so well how to lavish upon great men, to the derogation of the dignity of art, and at the expense of their own independence. Not to be thought too sweeping in my censures, I must observe that there are distinguished exceptions among noblemen and gentlemen who possess collections in this country; that I advert only to a proportion; and that I thus discriminate, because the possession of works of art may not be thought, as it too generally is, a proof of a genuine and correct feeling for it. Every good collection of painting and sculpture, when the public can have access to it, even occasionally, * does good. It makes the eye accustomed to the truth of nature, to correct forms, and to images of beauty, which will ultimately tell well. There is a fashion, while making collections, productive of great benefit, and that is, the rage for paintings by great masters, or the desire to have great names without regard to the excellence of the execution, whether the best or worst, finished or unfinished, of such masters. This has had the effect of bringing here an immense number of fine subjects, in every state of finish, for the study of the artist. Sir John Leicester, I believe, has almost the only choice collection by British masters alone, and has enabled us to contrast it
with the numerous foreign collections we possessma most judicious and patriotic use of his wealth. Government, from watching the progress of this spirit for private collections, might add, at a comparatively small expense, to its late noble purchase of Mr. Angerstein's pictures, by arranging the buildings now raising, or to be raised in the Museum, so as to have a suite of rooms to receive collections bequeathed by individuals ; each of these rooms, when the collections were worthy of it, to bear the name of the donor, and to be ornamented with his bust or statue. For instance, if the Marquis of Stafford were to present his magnificent collection to the public, a room sufficiently ample should be devoted to its reception, and bear the name of the “ Stafford Gallery,” and so on. In this way, playing upon human vanity, where patriotism might have little sway, accessions of immense value might be gained at a small expense to the public. A grand national gallery in this country is essential to aid the great work of refinement, to benefit our manufactures, and establish that true taste and feeling in the public from which alone great things can arise.
The infusion of a true feeling for art among a commercial people will be a work exceedingly slow in achievement. The wealth of the merchant enables him to obtain possession of pictures; but his children and descendants will receive most profit from them on the score of improvement. A vast proportion of our higher and middle classes are yet to be trained in and habituated to the principles of the correct and beautiful, before the proper feeling can be established in the nation which will lead to grand results in art-works that may rival the best of other times and nations. Let' not the reader suppose that I would depreciate the knowledge and illumination of mind which these classes now possess far beyond those of any other nation in the world; I only intend my observations to apply to the arts of sculpture, painting, and architecture; in a true discernment of which, with isolated exceptions, it must be allowed they are not equal to their attainments in other respects. To prove this to be correct, it is sufficient to examine what department of painting, for example, is most common and carried to the highest perfection, and, consequently, most encouraged; for in despite of the arguments which have been so much used of physical and constitutional inability in the people of a northern climate to excel in the higher walks of art, which are mere idle declamation, it may be considered that wherever there is an extensive knowledge of any peculiar branch of art, that branch will attain a great degree of excellence. This, in England, is portrait-painting ; our present skill in and execution of which has never been surpassed in any age or nation. Personal vanity and wealth have effected this; and the artist being encouraged and emulous, has gone on increasing in power and skill. It was not the public regard for art which carried it up to its present perfection; for the same causes would not, perhaps, produce the same effects in any other order of painting, because the desire of possessing a landscape, (unless it be one's own country seat,—and such views, painted for their owners, have done no little for landscape-painting in England,) a scripture scene, or a battle piece, do not originate in amour propre, but must spring from the principles of taste and an admiration of the work for its own sake; and cannot, therefore, become general till the mass can feel and discriminate their value. Where it is not so, the buyer of pictures is no better, as regards his love of the arts, than the buyer of a toy, a carpet, fine chairs, or a china screen.
There has always appeared to be a concatenation of causes favourable to the production of the greater artists; for they have, in modern ages at least, appeared as it were in groups. In the darkest times a mighty star of literature has shone out here and there at intervals ; but it has not been so with the arts, which seem to depend more upon society, a kindly feeling towards them among the more discerning of the people and among the great, upon wealth, patronage, and fashion. The times of the Medici and of Leo X. were without a preceding example of the kind, and have never since, perhaps never will again, be equalled. The taste for the fine arts seems to have kept pace with the luxury and wealth of Italy, which were never so great as in 1490. Commerce, improved agriculture, and a government well adapted to the character of the people, existed at that moment. Between the years 1.452 and 1494, were born Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Giorgione, Michel Angelo, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, Julio Romano, Correggio, and others. Yet it is remarkable, that for fifty years after the last-mentioned period, turbulence prevailed throughout that country; the tranquillity in which these great men had been born, and some of them reared, was no more. But did not the world owe the developement of their talents to the auspicious period which preceded 1790 ? This question is worth examining. It is most just to suppose that the era of tumult commencing when many of those artists had arrived at the conclusion of their first studies, it could not have contributed to that high regard for art which must have existed before, and for which the Medici prepared the country, and which it was a work of considerable time and a variety of causes to effect; indeed Leonardo da Vinci was full thirtyeight years old in 1490, Michel Angelo nearly twenty; and soon after that time first-rate artists disappeared, and an inferior race arose.
If a feeling for the higher order of art generally existed in England, it would expand itself now, when external circumstances seem so favourable to it. Our national history and that of neighbouring countries, have furnished for ages subjects of no ordinary interest. The recurrence to Scripture for subjects, every saint and patriarch having been painted over and over again, does not seem agreeable to the national taste ; but other subjects of interest have not been wanting; and where they have been occasionally tried, as in the death of General Wolfe, by West, they have succeeded. The establishment of a national gallery at this moment is peculiarly auspicious for British art. It will excite the pblegmatic, and attract the idle and wealthy to a subject most essential to our national greatness. At last, for we are sluggish in our movements, we have begun, and let us not turn back. The present period of peace, which it is hoped may be long, may allow us to become as glorious in art as we have been in literature, war, and commerce, if we properly improve it. The first step is to make the bulk of the people feel the impression of the great and beautiful, to prevent gaudiness of colouring, and bad drawing from escaping detection, blocks of allegorical and nondescript marble and image-making from being looked upon as sculpture, and brick walls with plaster ornaments, or Grecian porticoes, covered with turrets and spires, from being deemed sublime VOL. X). NO. XLVII.
chefs-d'cuvre of architecture.* Then our bad sculptors, painters, or architects would begin to mend, our good ones be more encouraged, and the meed of talent be paid where it is due. Interest would be of no avail, nor petty intrigue for the erection of monuments and public buildings operate against sterling merit, as it frequently does now.
That a feeling for the elegant and beautiful in art should be infused into the mass of the people, in order to promote a pure taste, even in the most humble of our manufactures, will be admitted as highly desirable. The Roman culinary utensils discovered in Herculaneum are of the most chaste forms, in bronze, and ornamented exquisitely. It is not for the mere pleasure of looking at works of true taste, or of admiring them alone, however great the gratification they thus afford may be, that we should estimate them. There is a sympathy, a union between mental and external or material things-between that which we see and feel, which takes a colour of refinement from the finish and beauty of objects around us. If we dwell amidst elegance and fashion, our ideas will invariably derive a colouring from them; though a gentleman may have no better perception of external objects than a clown, he will not describe them as the latter does. The effect of living in more polished society causes this difference ; and so the mind accustomed to see only shapes of beauty will, from insensible habit, become accustomed to them, and imbibe their correct impressions and a portion of their refinement. It is not enough that a part only of the community, the rich, in their utensils, in their saloons, in their dinner-tables, or in their gardens, should dwell among fine forms, but, as Etruscan or similar forms may be manufactured with as much facility in the common earthenware used by the lowest classes, as the present coarse and clumsy models, they should be invariably adopted, in order that no eye may miss them, from the lord to the peasant. This generation of feeling for external beauty will contribute to the creation and perfection of taste. As well might a Haydn or Mozart tolerate a discord in their melody, as a master in painting or sculpture applaud the figure of a Dutch boor, or ornaments and figures of ugly and disproportioned outline. A story is told of an Italian artist, (whose attachment to the Romish religion there is no reason to disbelieve) that when he was nearly at the last hour of life, an ecclesiastic held before him a'crucifix of such illfavoured workmanship that he could not bear to behold it, but pushed it away from him even in articulo mortis. That the feeling for the high and beautiful is natural may be judged from all nature's works, which are sublime, beautiful, and full of figures noble and harmonious when in union, and graceful and pleasing when separated.
* In architecture we seem to retrograde, though we can shew the noblest streets in the world in brick and plaster. The churches of Queen Anne beggar beyond all comparison those which have been lately erected. Of the latter, near London, the gothic church at Chelsea is an exception, and the new church at Brixton shews that the architect would bave done better had he been allowed to place the belfry in a different part of the churchyard, apart from the church. Unfortunately, a place of worship of the establishment is considered not to be orthodox without a tower and belfry; and as this seems a point of faith, it is in vain to endeavour to change it. St. Martin's in the Strand is worth all that our church-building architects have done, from the compounded toy of St. Pancras to the extinguisher and turret in Langham Place. Waterloo Bridge is the only public building of our time worthy the nation,
It is then in the infusion of a taste for high art into the bulk of the nation, that the national collection which has been begun by Government, will do most for art. It is the public who may be induced to visit the Gallery, to make the visiting it a fashion, and to imbibe from it a discriminating judgment and a knowledge of what is correct, that will effectually encourage art by the taste it may acquire from the establishment. Artists may travel and see collections of the first paintings. They may study at Rome, and return with all the professional knowledge they can imbibe, but on arriving in their own country they will find no remuneration for their incessant toil, unless the mass of the people can see and feel the excellence of their productions, which at present only a few, comparatively a very few, are capable of doing. It is to the public rather than to the artist, in the higher walks of art especially, that we must look for the beneficial results of this national undertaking. There can be no fear of the progressive improvement of the artist if he have an adequate stimulus to urge him on. This need not be the love of fame only,—the instances are very rare where artists, solely for the love of art and the hope of a future name, have laboured through life, contented with no other reward. In one respect it is evident that even excellence in art cannot be obtained by the most enthusiastic student in poverty and obscurity ; high art has this disadvantage, that even to learn its rudiments requires expense. Models which must be inces, santly studied will be paid; travelling from country to country demands a purse of no light weight; the artist must in the carly part of life see and know all he can see and know relative to art, and this cannot be done for nothing. The great Italian artists did not want it so much ; they were in the centre of the circle in which all of art that had survived from antiquity, and the best that living nature could furnish, were to be found ; still they never refused the just profit of their labours. How then are young men in northern countries, with very
limited means, to reimburse themselves for their little all, expended in travelling and in study, but by receiving a proper price for their works? There are enthusiastic and wild students, who talk of fame and glory as a satisfactory reward. Though this may be fine in theory, yet even on the principle of reciprocity it is most fallacious in practice. The art must ingross the whole man and his pecuniary means. Artists must not set up for philosophers, and pretend to despise what the philosopher may, but they cannot do without, either as artists or members of that society in the midst of which they must labour. Nothing can be more odious than a grasping love of money in one by whom money, like marble to the sculptor, should be looked upon only as an instrument towards attaining excellence. But while an ingrossing thirst for money must be condemned, the acquirement of what is necessary for the comforts of life by the chisel or the pencil, is neither derogatory to the dignity of the artist nor of his art, the latter being but the fruit of a refined species of labour of hand, linked with high intellect, and by no means above pecuniary compensation even in the best. To look on money as a necessary mean in life and for study, is the way a high artist should regard it-to love money is beneath him. Barry's disregard of it was noble, yet who but Barry would live as he did ?-greater men than he would not if they had the power to live otherwise! The poet and the philosopher may live out of society if they please to do so, in solitude, in the