« ForrigeFortsett »
courses which I have had the honour of delivering from this place, while in one respect I may be CORsidered as a volunteer, in another view it seems as if I was involantarily pressed into this service. If prizes were to be given, it appeared not only proper, but almost indispensably necessary, that something should be said by the President on the delivery of those prizes: and the President for his own credit would wish to say something more than mere words of compliment, which, by being frequently repeated, would soon become flat and uninteresting, and by being uttered to many, would at last become a distinction to none: f thought, therefore, if I were to preface this compliment with some instructive observations on the art, when we crowned merit in the artists whom we towarded, I might do söthething to animate and guide them in their future attempts.
I am truly sensible how unequal I have been to the expression of my own ideas. To develope the latent excellencies, and draw out the interior prin ciples of our art, requires more skill and practice in writing, than is likely to be possessed by a man perpetually occupied in the use of the pencil and the pallette. It is for that reason, perhaps, that the sister art has had the advantage of better criticism. Poets are naturally writers of prose. They may be said to be practising only an inferior department of their own art, when they are explaining and expatiating upon its most refined principles. But still such difficulties ought not to deter artists who are not prevented by other engagements, from putting their thoughts in order as well as they can, and from giving to the public the result of their experience. The knowledge which an artist has of his şubject will more than compensate for any want of elegance in the manner of treating it, or even of perspicuity, which is still more essential; and I am convinced that one short essay written by a painter, will contribute more to advance the theory of our art, than a thousand volumes such as we sometimes see; the purpose of which appears
to be rather to display the refinement of the author's own conceptions of impossible practice, than to convey useful knowledge or instruction of any kind whatever. An artist knows what is, and what is not, within the province of his art to perform; and is not likely to be for ever teasing the poor student with the beauties of mixed passions, or to perplex him with an imaginary union of excellencies incompatible with each other.
To this work, however, I could not be said to come totally unprovided with materials. I had seen much, and I had thought much upon what I had seen ; I had something of an habit of investigation, and a disposition to reduce all that I observed and felt in my own mind, to method and system; but never having seen what I myself knew, distinetly placed before me on paper, I knew nothing correctly. To put those ideas into
something like order was, to my inexperience, no easy task. The composition, the ponere totum even of a single Discourse, as well as of a single statue, was the most difficult part, as perhaps it is of every other art, and most requires the hand of a master.
For the manner, whatever deficiency there was, I might reasonably expect indulgence; but I thought it indispensably necessary well to consider the opinions which were to be given out from this place, and under the sanction of a Royal Academy; I therefore examined not only my own opinions, but likewise the opinions of others. I found in the course of this research, many precepts and rules established in our art, which did not seem to me altogether reconcileable with each other, yet each seemed in itself to have the claim of being supported by truth and nature; and this claim, irreconcileable as they may be thought, they do in reality alike possess.
To clear away those difficulties, and reconcile those contrary opinions, it became necessary to distinguish the greater truth, as it may be called, from the lesser truth; the larger and more liberal idea of nature from the more narrow and confined; that which addresses itself to the imagination, from that which is solely addressed to the
consequence of this discrimination, the different branches of our art, to which those different truths were referred, were perceived to make so wide a separation, and put on so new an appearance, that they
seemed scarcely to have proceeded from the same general stock. The different rules and regulations which presided over each department of art, followed of course: every mode of excellence, from the grand style of the Roman and Florentine schools down to the lowest rank of still life, had its due weight and value,-fitted some class or other; and nothing was thrown away. By this disposition of our art into classes, that perplexity and confusion, which I apprehend every artist has at some time experienced from the variety of styles, and the variety of excellence with which he is surrounded, is, I should hope, in some measure removed, and the student better enabled to judge for himself, what peculiarly belongs to his own particular pursuit.
In reviewing my Discourses, it is no small satisfaction to be assured that I have, in no part of them, lent my assistance to foster newly-hatched, unfledged opinions, or endeavoured to support paradoxes, however tempting may have been their novelty, or however ingenious I might, for the minute, fancy them to be; nor shall I, I hope, any where be found to have imposed on the minds of young students declamation for argument, a smooth period for a sound precept. I have pursued a plain and honest method; I have taken up the art simply as I found it exemplified in the practice of the most approved painters. That 'approbation which the world has uniformly given, I have endeavoured to justify by such proofs as questions of this kind will admit; by the analogy which painting holds with the sister arts, and consequently by the common congeniality which they all bear to our nature, And though in what has been done no new discovery is pretended, I may still flatter myself, that from the discoveries which others have made by their own intuitive good sense and native rectitude of judgment, I have succeeded in establishing the rules and prineiples of our art on a more firm and lasting foundation than that on which they had formerly been placed.
Without wishing to divert the student from the practice of his art to speculative theory, to make him a mere egunoisseur instead of a painter, I cannot but remark, that he will certainly find an account in considering onee for all, on what ground the fabric of our art is built, Uncertain, confused, erroneous opinions are not only detrimental to an artist in their immediate operation, but may possibly have very serious consequences; affect his conduet, and give a peculiar character (as it may be called) to his taste, and to his pursuits, through his whole life:
I was acquainted at Rome in the early part of my life, with a student of the French Academy, who appeared to me to possess all the qualities requisite to make a great artist, if he had suffered his taste and feelings, and I may add
prejudices, to have fair play. He saw and felt the