« ForrigeFortsett »
the most open manner without any qualification or reserve whatever. After baving most humbly presented a copy of these “Observations,” to the gracious acceptance of The King, as the paternal Protector and munificent Patron of the British School, they will do themselves the honour to present a copy to each member of the two Houses of Parliament, with a ticket of invitation to view the gallery of pictures, and to judge impartially for themselves. This judgmept they respectfully solicit. In these measures of due reverence to the memory of their father, they trust faithfully, and with a deep sense of unfeigned deference, to discharge a solemn duty to their country.
It would be a vain delusion for any individual to flatter himself with a thought of being able to influence a public question, where the wise and munificent efforts of his late Majesty, of the present King, and of Parliament, in their well-selected and liberal purchases of statues and pictures from “ the great masters of the renowned ages," have been hitherto ineffectual. It is our pride to agree in the great principle of this subject, with all that is high and dignified in the State, and with those collective bodies which comprehend the most eminent for learning, talents, and sound thinking in the country: but we are not so sanguine nor so visionary as to indulge an expectation beyond a candid perusal, where the influence of Royalty, the weight of the Legislature, the exbortations and the liberal patronage of the British Institution, have in vain been exerted for so long a period, to move or counteract the great national obstacle which has for two hundred and eighty years, with a few rare exceptions, excluded British genius from attaining to the highest excellence in that department, in wbich painting is employed as a great moral instrument of national
improvement and renown. We are prepared for the issue, when we know that the most illustrious and powerful authorities of Government, seconded by a succession of eloquent and enlightened advocates, have not been able to change the hereditary apathy, or anti-historical prejudice of nearly three -centuries, into an adoption of the public style, or into a sense of its power to command the homage of other nations, when the pencil and chisel are directed “to produce these intellectual and virtuous feelings which are perpetually alive to the welfare and glory of the country.” But far from having been disheartened by this view of the difficulties before us, it has only served to redouble our humble endeavours. We have reduced the question to its simple pacific elements, by stripping it of all those exasperations which have too often been permitted to trouble the discussion and darken the truth. We have showed that there is no just reason for casting a blame upon any of the living, or to look for secondary causes, when the great cause and impediment has existed during so many generations before
We have drawn many circumstances out of the false light in which they have been placed, and have set them in their proper date and connection. We have respectfully enforced a truth, which future writers cannot too often repeat, that although all subordinate efforts to encourage British genins, and to give it a praise-worthy direction are highly commendable, and deserving of a zealous support, we must still remember, that, as the power of the state under Edward VI., Elizabeth, and their immediate successors, was employed to overthrow the PUBLIC STYLE of painting and sculpture in this country, so, no inferior power, nothing but the same power, the HEARTY EARNEST POWER OF THE STATE under the mild and happy reign of GEORGE IV. is equal to the task of rebuilding the demolished fabric: THE STATE alone, we repeat it, is in possession of power to effect the desired restoration.
It has been remarked, that he who writes in haste finds much to amend at his after leisure. We assent to this truth, and greatly fear that we have too often incurred the common lot. But, unwilling that any of our opinions should be imputed to others, we hope, that whatever little force of reason may be found in our views, may be attributed to the justice of the question itself, and to the merits of the great master to whose works we have adverted. We are quite willing, and it is just, if any passages in these pages be deemed blameable, that the blame shall be cast wholly on our shoulders. We make this declaration with respect to Mr. Raphael and Mr. Benjamin West as a point of truth and honour. Beyond the communication of their intentions to offer, with respectful deference, the collection of the late President to the wisdom and liberality of his Majesty's Government, and their subsequent wish to have their offer thus publicly made known, these gentlemen have not interfered in the preceding Observations. From the day of that death, which, in the feeling words of Sir Thomas Lawrence,“ was felt as a NATIONAL CALAMITY,” we were of opinion, that upon the fate of the late
President's unsold collection depended much of the great national question, whether the PUBLIC STYLE of history painting introduced and patronised by his late Majesty, would sink altogether or flourish. We mentioned this opinion in St. Paul's Church on the day of the funeral. We are concerned to own that we entertain this opinion unaltered still. We are convinced, if West's unsold pictures, with all their acknowledged merits, be abandoned to the contingencies of the anti-historical and anti-contemporarian spirit, that the PUBLIC STYLE must be endangered as to any purpose of reputation; and with it, we greatly fear, the domestic style may gradually fall into self-imitation, and become materially enfeebled. With these serious impressions, when we were informed by Mr. Raphael and Mr. Benjamin West of their intentions, we were impelled more by our anxious good wishes than any hope of influence, SPONTANEOUSLY to offer our GRATUITOUS exertions for the purpose of setting the question on the broad grounds of reason, truth, and the imminent choice between national honour or the unavailing regret of a lost opportunity. We bave endeavoured to do so without any personal interest whatever. We have had but one object in view, that of producing a general conviction of the truth for the benefit of the public, the patronage of British genius, and the advancement of the fine arts. To leave po possibility of further halfthinking, or misconception of the real cause which threatens the extinction of historical painting in this country, we have anxiously gone round the case on every side, and illustrated it by recapitulation, in a variety of views, all terminating in the same indisputable conclusions: by which it is plain; FIRST, that, with the domestic style, in all its branches of poetical and dramatic composition, landscape, familiar life, and portraiture, in a highly flourishing state, with the finest materials in the world for raising historical painting to its highest excellence, and with the most liberal dispositions in the breast of his Majesty, of the Government, and Parliament the field of THE PUBLIC STYLE is walled up against the exertions of British genius by the exclusion of painting from churches, and by its exclusion from other buildings :-SECOND, that this NATIONAL OBSTACLE bas operated for two hundred and eighty years as a prevention of British genius in that field; that it is now, with respect to its injurious effects, as direct a prevention and extinguisher of the pnblic style, as it was in the reign of Edward VI. and Elizabeth; and that, as the power of the STATB was employed to overthrow and root out that source of patronage in this country, oo inferior power, nothing but the power of the Government, can restore or rebuild it. If we would rival Greece, we must act upon the same high national principle on which Greece acted. Her whole system of painting and sculpture was in every sense Greek : it emanated from her own mighty heart and lofty spirit: it was all national, all Grecian in body and soul. Nothing that she saw in other countries had power to abate her pride in her own: she felt a national glory in the excellence of her native artists : they enjoyed a splendid public patronage, and she exulted in giving them a high place in public estimation : to be the work of a Greek artist, was, in her eyes, a merit: to be a work of excellence by a Greek artist, was a still higher claim upon her rewards and honours: but to be the HEAD OF THE ARTS IN GREECE, THE GREATEST GREEK HISTORI. CAL PAINTER OF THE AGE, was one of the surest claims to wealth and bonour among that great and glorious people. WEST WAS SEVENTY-TWO years old when the heavy national calamity that sent him forth upon the world, without a provision, fell upon him and the empire ! We ask, for his memory and his works, as the ACKNOWLEDGED HEAD OFTHEARTS in the British empire, no more than an extension of that great pational principle