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meaning compliments. WILSON died an indigent dependent in 1782. Gainsborough did not die until 1788; and during his life-time, with a few exceptions, his landscapes and rustic figures were without purchasers, and their beauties passed over with neglect.
These facts are not noticed here as any derogation from the genius, or the honourable ambition of Reynolds, Gainsborough, Wilson, or Hogarth. They did more than any other artists ever did before, under such peculiar disadvantages. Their glory is not lessened, by their not having had the power to effect an impossibility. Nor is this impossibility mentioned to cast a reflection on the British nobility and gentry, their contemporaries, who, in every other point of high-minded feeling, in talents, attainments, munificent public spirit and expanded views, may be justly described as the flower and nobility of the civilized world. The IMPOSSIBILITY is noticed here with something like an idolatrous reverence for the four great masters mentioned, and with a British sense of deference for the
in which they flourished: it is stated, as a signal proof of the utter distaste for British historical painting, originally produced by the total overthrow, rooting out, and banishment of painting and sculpture from the churches, and from these islands, above two centuries before the year 1763, when WEST commenced his career, as an historical painter, in London. How far this general distaste and aversion for the exertions of British genius, in the public style, or highest department of the arts, has or bas not been lessened or removed, by the gracious patronage of his late Majesty, by the flourishing annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy, and by the patriotic efforts of the British Institution, in the interval between 1764 and 1825, is a solemn question for after consideration,
We now return to the year 1763, when Mr. West commenced his professional career, in London, eleven years after the final establishment of Reynolds in this city. WEST exhibited at Spring Gardens, in 1764 and 1765, some small poetical subjects and portraits; but in 1766, he exhibited two historical pictures, Pylades and Orestes, and the Continence of Scipio. The repelling circumstances, which attended the first, are thus narrated by NORTHCOTE, in his supplement to the life of Reynolds: " As any thing in history was, at that period, an almost unexampled effort, this picture became a matter of much surprise. His house was soon filled with visitors from all quarters, to see it; and those among the highest rank, who were not able to come to his house, to satisfy their curiosity, desired his permission to have it sent to them; nor did they fail, every time it was returned to him, to accompany it with compliments of the highest commendation, on its great merits. But the most wonderful part of the story is, that, notwithstanding all this vast bustle and commendation
this justly admired picture, by which Mr. West's servant gained upwards of thirty pounds, for showing it; yet no one mortal ever asked the price of the work, or so much as offered to give him a commission to paint another subject.” (Supplement, xlii.) This picture was afterwards returned from the ex bibition in Spring Gardens, unsold! In 1767, West exhibited, Pyrrhus, when a child, brought to Glaucus, King of Illyria, for protection; and four other historical subjects. Dr. Drummond, Arch. bishop of York, was so struck by the merits of the Pyrrhus that he gave the young painter a commission to paint the landing of Agrippina, with the ashes of Germanicus, at Brundusium. The profound sentiment, the historical truth and grandeur of this picture, when finished, made so powerful an impression upon the archbishop, that he mentioned it with patriotic exultation to the King, as a triumph of the British pencil over anti-contemporarian and anti-British prejudice. His Majesty signified his pleasure to see the picture and the painter. The interview, which took place in Feb. 1768, not only decided the fortune of WEST, but had a more important influence, in advancing the Fine Arts, in this country, than any circumstance that had ever before occurred in England.
If Mr. West bad produced the finest fancy picture in the world, it is very probable, that the King would have been pleased with the imagination displayed in the inven. tion, the taste in the disposition, and the power of the execution : but no more. It would be vain to expect the same effect from the Idylls of Theocritus, the elegies of Tibullus, or the sonnets of Petrarch, as from the Iliad of Homer, or the Paradise Lost of Milton. If VIRGIL had written only his Georgics and Eclogues, he would not now rank as one of the three greatest poets in the world. A fancy picture, however exquisite in taste or execution, can only fulfil its end, that of delighting the fancy, or touching the domestic sensibilities.
If Greece bad produced no other poetry but the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides, the odes of Anacreon and Sappho, that country would not have been immortalized by the paintings of Apelles, whose fame has survived their existence, or by the sculpture of Phidias, which still excites the admiration of the world. It requires the highest powers of genius, employed on the highest class of subjects, and applied to the most powerful living interests, to produce the highest moral influence on society. But we must not set a Hercules to play at china taws, and then express our wonder that he does not put forth his strength. If
Homer had only written the Battle of the Frogs and Mice, and the Hymns attributed to him, his name would never have reached posterity. His lofty imagination ascended to the highest sublimity and beauty in his personification of the heathen divinities in the Iliad, and the Grecian painters and sculptors formed the Jupiter, the Neptune and Apollo, the Juno, the Venus, Minerva, and all the the other gods and goddesses, with their different charac. teristics of Homeric sublimity and beauty. The poet imbued his deities with the gross passions of mortals, and elevated his heroes, by conferring upon them saper-human powers, and the grand ideal forms of celestials. If the envious carpings of his critics have blamed him for bringing down his gods from heaven, they cannot deny that he has exalted his warriors above the earth. But all this imaginative power would have failed to impress a sublime character úpon his poem, or to affect mankind to the end of time, if he had employed his deities and heroes, on subjects foreign from the national pride, and dissevered from the living interests of his country. He chose for his subject a memo. rable war of Greece, signalized by the wisdom of her sages, the valour and victories of her kings and heroes, and the awful interference of her conflicting deities. A subject so national, so heroic and elevated by the alternations of divine wrath and favour, was knit into the heart of every Greek: it fired him with the love of country, and inflamed him with a pious reverence for the ministers of religion and the gods: it formed the very soul of all his living interests, and of all the living interests of the state. Here we have the true source and the great end of the epic style in poetry, and of the grand style in painting and sculpture. In the Iliad, we have a mighty power of genius, employing the religion of the country, and the national pride, as its
moral engines, successfully directed to the mighty purpose which formed the mind, the manners, and imitative arts of Greece. It was this divine poem which inspired that great and glorious people with their love of liberty, and conferred upon them their pre-eminence in arts and arms. It was the enthusiastic national pride, excited by the lyre of Homer, that offered up the holy sacrifice of self-devoted patriots at Thermopylæ, and that triumphed over Persia at Marathon, Salamis, Platæa, and Mycale. The influence of that divine poem did not expire with the conquerors of Xerxes. The glory of their arts did not perish with their liberties. The spirit of Homer, the ruins of their ancient temples and sculpture, the genius of their ancient artists, surviving in sublime and melancholy grandeur, forms the spirit of the Greeks at this day. It is this spirit which has roused them to their present beroic struggle, and which animates every generous breast in the civilized world in their behalf. Could Homer ever have obtained this mighty influence if he had been compelled by the fashion of the day to crowd his Iliad into a dozen pages ? Could Michael Angelo, or Raffaelle, have worked all the wonders of the Vatican in a private apartment? We need not any further argument to show that the country, which would excel in this style of poetry, painting and sculpture, must employ the Fine Arts to decorate her churches with the noblest subjects of sacred bistory, and her other principal public buildings with representations of great national events. She must do all this, besides laudably calling forth genius to furnish the splendid apartments of private persons with elegant embellishments. We are of opinion, that any discouragement or abandonment of the domestic style, would not create a power in favour of the public style, and must prove a diminution of the national glory. We rejoice