« ForrigeFortsett »
size, ten ; a half-length, twenty; and for a whole length, forty guineas : but on his removal to Newport Street, he raised his charge to twelve guineas for a head, twenty-four for a half, and forty-eight guineas for a full size portrait. Such, however, was the rapid increase of his fame and business, that, at the beginning of 1758, according to a letter of Johnson, he raised his price for a head to twenty guineas; to which two years afterwards he added another five; in 1770 his charge was thirty-five guineas; not long after which he made a further advance to forty, and before he quitted the pencil, his price was sixty guineas for a head, and the other sizes in proportion. It was not to be expected that the success of Reynolds should escape the malevolence of envy; and accordingly, they who could not rival him in art, endeavoured to depreciate his merit, by undervaluing that department of painting in which he excelled all his contemporaries at home and abroad.
The calumniators are now forgotten, but that such existed is evident, from the admirable defence of portraiture, and the elegant compliment paid to Reynolds, contained in the forty-fifth number of the Idler, by Dr. Johnson. “ There is in many winds,” says that excellent writer, “a kind of vanity exerted to the disadvantage of themselves; a desire to be praised for superior acuteness, discovered only in the degradation of their species, or censure of their country. Defamation is sufficiently copious. The general lampooner of man. kind may find long exercise for his zeal or wit in the defects of nature, the vexations of life, the follies of opinion, and the corruptions of practice. But fiction is easier than discernment; and most of these writers spare themselves the labour of inquiry, and exhaust their virulence upon imaginary crimes, which, as they never existed, can never be mended.
“ That the painters find no encouragement among the English for many other works than portraits, has been imputed to national selfishness. "Tis vain, says the satirist, to set before any Englishman the scenes of landscapes or the heroes of history; nature and antiquity are nothing in his eye; he has no value but for himself, nor desires any copy but of his own form. Whoever is delighted with his own picture, must derive his pleasure from the pleasure of another. Every man is always present to himself, and has, therefore, little need of his own resemblance; nor can desire it, but for the sake of those whom he loves, and by whom he hopes to be remembered. This use of the art is a natural and reasonable consequence of affection; and though, like other human actions, it is often complicated with pride, yet even such pride is more laudable than that by which palaces are covered with pictures, that, however excellent, neither imply the owners' virtue nor excite it. Genius is chiefly exerted in
historical pictures, and the art of the painter of portraits is often lost in the obscurity of his subject. But it is in painting as in life, what is greatest is not always best. I should grieve to see Reynolds transfer to heroes and to goddesses, to empty splendour and to airy fiction, that art which is now employed in diffusing friendship, in reviving tenderness, in quickening the affections of the absent, and continuing the presence of the dead.”
There can be little doubt that the former part of this paper was aimed at Hogarth, who is well known to have beheld the rising genius of Reynolds with extreme jealousy; a striking proof of which he gave in exalting Francis Cotes above that great artist as a portrait painter.
The favour rendered by Johnson to Reynolds, was amply repaid by the latter, in three papers written for the Idler at the close of the same year. The subjects of these interesting essays are, No. 76, “ False Criticism on Painting :" No. 79, “ The Grand Style of Painting :” and No. 82, “ The true Idea of Beauty.” In the first of these papers, a critic who judges every thing by a set of rules, is described with great force of humour, which would apply equally well to pedantry in other arts as well as painting. The second essay is more of an original character, and examines the maxim of imitating nature with great acuteness; and, in a true spirit of philosophical discrimination, shows that there is a sublimity in painting as well as in poetry; of which Michel Angelo, who is called the Homer of the art, is adduced as an example. The principle of the third essay is this, that the works of nature, if one species be compared with another, are all equally beautiful, that the preference of one to the other is the effect of custom, or the association of ideas; and, that in creatures of the same kind, beauty is the medium or centre of all various forms. The ingenuity of the paper cannot be denied, but that it is paradoxical and fallacious, will easily appear to him who has read the admirable disquisition of Burke on the same subject, in which that great writer has very clearly shown, that beauty does not depend upon any thing so capricious and uncertain as comparison, but that it is a quality inherent in bodies acting mechanically upoa the mind by the senses. It would seem, that at this time these two great men were strangers to each other, and that the treatise of Burke was then unknown to Reynolds; who, we are told, wrote these papers at a very short notice. Soon after this respectable appearance as an author, which was in conjunction with the two Wartons, under the broad banner of Johnson, Mr. Reynolds found it expedient to remove from Newport Street to a more convenient house in Leicester Fields, where he continued for the remainder of his life. It was at this period that he painted
the portrait of Lord Ligonier on horseback, a performance that may very fairly be placed in competition with the noble equestrian figure of Charles the First, at Blenheim, which is one of the finest pictures in that kind, of Vandyck. Such now was the influx of his business, that he found it necessary to keep a list of the names of those who waited, and to take them in the order there set down. Many of these portraits were even sent home before they were dry. We are told that he kept a portfolio in his painting room, containing all the prints that had been engraved from his portraits ; so that those who came to sit had this collection to look over; and if they fixed on any particular attitude, he would repeat it precisely, both in regard to drapery and position, which greatly facilitated the execution, and gave little trouble. He now kept several assistants employed to paint the draperies, the principal of whom were Peter Toms and Marchi. Of the apparatus of this great artist, when he settled in Leicester Fields, we have the following account, by one who resided with him some years. The painting room was octagonal, about twenty feet in length by about sixteen in breadth; the light was received from a square window, of a moderate size; the chair for the sitters, which was raised a foot and a half from the floor, turned upon castors : the palletté used by our artist was held by