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for his country. This picture was designed to be conspicủously placed in one of the royal palaces; and it was the first commission to paint an historical picture, for a royal palace, given by a British king to a British historical painter, during many hundred years before.
Thus the commencement of a memorable re-union took place between two long divided national interests, if the term may be applied to the Monarchy and the Fine Arts : the paternal pride, the good taste, and public spirit of George the Third ; the historical works and the genius of WEST, indisputably formed the golden links of this most fortunate reconciliation.
The national effect was rapidly conspicuous in the establishment of the Royal Academy, towards the close of 1768, a few months after this memorable reconciliation. This unexpected revolution was wrought by the influence, and under the patronage of the King. Sir Joshua Reynolds has expressly stated, from his own fruitless efforts, and the many failures of others, the “IMPOSSIBILITY” of founding that institution, “but by THE INFLUENCE OF MAJESTY." He added, “But there have been times, when even the influence of Majesty would have been ineffectual." (See First Discourse). It is certain that the AGRIPPINA by WEST, a picture, which at once placed England far beyond all contemporary history painting on the Continent, and was unequalled by any of the great masters of Italy for two hundred years, was the immediate cause of this royal patronage, after all the power of the domestic style, in its glory, bad failed. West's personal interviews with his royal patron, when submitting his sketches for the Regulus to his Majesty's inspection, enabled him to second the strong impression in favour of the Fine Arts produced by the Agrippina. In one of these interviews he laid the plan for the Royal Academy before the King, for his gracious advice and sanction. VOLTAIRE has remarked, that the history of a public man is, in certain seasons, the history of the time in wbich he flourished; and his movements, although apparently in the ordinary, course, are so frequently connected with public changes, that to omit the one in any public record, is to conceal the real cause of the other. The force of this sound observation applies directly to some parts of Mr. West's professional career at this period, and to the important influence which his works and his conduct have had in the advancement of the British School. We do not mention these facts as a compliment to his memory, but as circumstances essentially necessary for a true understanding of the present imminent danger to the highest department of the arts. We advert to a particular instance of Mr. West's disinterestedness, which had an immediate effect in the professional elevation of his great contemporary Reynolds, and also in the national restoration of painting and sculpture in England, in 1768.
The associated artists, from 1760 to 1768, in their elections of a president, had uniformly passed by Reynolds, and chosen very inferior artists to fill their chair, although the unrivalled beauty of that great master's portraits had formed a principal attraction in their exhibitions. His professional brethren had thus set an example to the King for passing over Reynolds, in the appointment of a president to the Royal Academy. Their several elections plainly implied that Reynolds, who conferred honour on the association, and dignity on their profession, was not acceptable to them. This was more unaccountable, because he was on their roll as one of their original members. When they elected GEORGE LAMBERT and FRANCIS
HAYMAN their president and vice-president, they had only appointed Reynolds to the subordinate office of one of their directors, with a number of artists of noisy pretensions but little capacity. Disgusted at this undeserved treatment, Reynolds never acted with the directory; he had “long withdrawn bimself from the meetings of the association, and had declared publicly that he was no friend to their proceedings.” (Northcote's Mem. of Sir J.R.p.97.) From 1752, he had been a constant resident in London, excepting on short visits to particular friends ; but, in September 1768, when the associated artists were in the height of their divisions, he manifested his determination to avoid all co-operation with them, by taking a journey to Paris with Mr. William Burke; from whence, on the 10th of November, the latter wrote, stating that he and Reynolds were there, and proposed to return in a few days.(Northcote's Memoirs of Sir J.R. p.98.) After his return, Reynolds refused his signature to the proceedings of either party, and declared his resolution not to act with them.(Ib. p. 100, and Strange's Inquiry, p. 99.) Farrington confirms the fact of the neutrality which Reynolds, on account of the inconsistency of the association, observed at this crisis ; and he also alludes to the opportunities which Mr. West enjoyed, of obtaining the influence and sanction of the king: “ Although he (Reynolds) left to others, who were better situated, the more active part of planning and proposing to his Majesty the establishment of a Royal Academy, he still highly approved the measure.”
-“ Happily there were artists among the seceding members, who, in the situations in which they were placed, had opportunity to state their sentiments to his Majesty."-(16. 54.) These were WEST and Chambers : and the latter, unwilling to run the hazard of opening a proposition to the
King, declined the task, which Mr. West executed without delay, with the happiest results. The associated artists had just then added to their gross ingratitude, and widened the breach with Reynolds, by electing for their president Joshua Kirby, a teacher of perspective! There was, therefore, not the slightest prospect that, if left to themselves, they would have elected Reynolds.
These repeated elections of Lambert, Hayman and Kirby, bad set an example to the King, of nominating an artist free from their objections. As West was honoured with the King's patronage and personal favour, and as his Continence of Scipio, his Pylades and Orestes, Young Pyrrhus, and Agrippina, were in the highest department of painting, and were, confessedly, superior to any historical pictures since the schools of the Caracci, all the artists expected that Mr. West would have been elected president." But Mr. West, who was then only in his twenty-ninth year, diffident of his own claims, and conscious of the anti-historical spirit of the age, with great modesty exerted his influence to procure the election of Reynolds, and to have his election' confirmed by the King, although his Majesty had never honoured that great master of grace and harmony with an interview, had never purchased a picture by his hand, nor given employment to his pencil.
Thus George the Third, in 1768, the eighth year of his reign, with a paternal zeal for the improvement and honour of the empire, auspiciously commenced the restoration of those arts which had been crushed by the exclusion of painting and sculpture from the churches, in the reign of Edward VI., Elizabeth, and their successors.
The first salutary effects of this royal and national institution, were experienced by the students. Reynolds, when thus raised to the rank of president of the Royal Academy,
was sensible, that being in that dignified office, as the head of a national institution, he had new duties to perform, and a character to sustain, not only in the opinion of England, but of Europe. He bad, when Dr. Johnson was writing the Idler, in 1759, contributed three papers to that publication. Malone mentions them as our author's first performances, and with them had begun and terminated his communications with the periodical press. He was then so sensible of the anti-historical spirit of the age, produced by the church exclusion of painting, that he abstained from any attempt in those three papers to reason against it. During the next ten years, from 1759 to 1769, he had not resumed the pen, nor bad he delivered any lecture or discourse to the associated artists or students at their meetings. Fortunately for the arts, for bis own fame, and for the honour of his country, bis elevation to the president's chair suggested to him, for the first time, the idea of delivering a discourse or lecture to the students of the Royal Academy, and those immortal precepts owe their existence to the powerful impression produced upon the King's mind by the Agrippina of WEST, the first historical picture in the grand style which had ever been painted by a British artist. The personal favor with which bis Majesty was graciously pleased to honour WEST, from a view of that noble composition, and the commission to paint the Regulus, enabled him, as we have already noticed, to obtain the royal sanction for the plan of the Royal Academy, and for the election of Reynolds to the chair of president.
Here, again, we are solicitous to show the high power of history painting, not anxious to pay merited or unmerited compliments to Mr. West, who probably never foresaw that the president would deliver discourses to the students. Malone mentions—" the æra of the establishment of that