Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

further exhibition of the picture, and from additional subscribers for the print. It is stated, that the amount of re, ceipts in that period, bave more than paid £1,890. to Mr, Charles Heath for engraving the print, and £300. for paper, and pripting the impressions. So that we can refer with tolerable certainty to the sum of £10,956, 3s. derived from the purchase of a single production of Mr. West's pencil in the public style.

Our object being bere merely to show the public feeling excited by this picture, we have not struck a balance between the sum paid for it and the receipts; that can only be done by those who know the whole amount received, We have not bad before as any oflicial account, and our document is continued only to the 10th of June, 1812; but we have received our information from a gentleman, who is pretty confident in his own statement as far as it goes. If he has been deceived, the error on our part is unintentional: we know of no motive which any person could have for misleading him.

We have already showed the powerful revolution wrought in the King's mind in 1768, by WEST'S grand picture of Agrippina landing with the Ashes of Germanicus.at Brundusium ; and we have, in 1812, a circumstancé unparalleled in the history of the arts in any former age or country, (excepting in that of the death of General Wolfe), a sum so important, we repeat it, derived from a single historical picture. We stand bere upon the ground of facts, not in the narrow view of deriving any proof of merit in a work of art from pecuniary considerations, or of complimenting the painter on the result, but to show the power which the highest class of painting has over the bu. man mind. The finest fancy picture in the world could not have produced such an effect upon the public, any

K

more than an affecting elegy, or a beautiful descriptive poem, could produce the same elevation as a noble epic poem on the mind of the hearers. Well bas Sir Joshua Reynolds observed in his Fourth Discourse-"In the hands of one man it (painting) makes the highest pretensions, as it is addressed to the noblest faculties : in the hands of another it is reduced to a mere matter of ornament, and the painter has but the humble province of furnishing our apartments with elegance."

The purchase of this grand composition by the British Jostitution, at the price of 3,000 guineas, a price never before or since paid for a modern picture in this country, fully proves their exalted sense of West's great powers, and their patriotic desire to excite the nation by their munificent example. They bought it with the public-spirited intention that it should form the Polar Star and FOUNDATION STONE OF A BRITISH GALLERY." (See the description of Christ Healing the Sick, sold at the British Institution). This single purchase is a reply to those who have blamed that body for not having worked an impossibility; that is, for not having created a taste in the nation for the public style of history painting. They set a glorious example, but how bas it been followed ? Did it induce any church dignitary to embellish his Church with a British painting from sacred history? No! Did it persuade any corporate body to employ the British historical pencil to decorate its municipal hall?. No. Did it tempt any individual to give West a commission for a grand historical picture ? No! Did it move, or at all effect the great national obstacle, CHURCH EXCLUSION ? No! Were not all the students, whom the directors had encouraged by prizes and applause, obliged (except Hilton) to flee from historical painting, as from a path to disgrace and beggary? Yes! Were not the directors, notwithstanding their just determination in their outset, to encourage only the highest department of painting, obliged, in the end, to confer a premium or prize on a single head or fancy figure, through a want (as we must presume) of historical claimants? We again take our stand upon the strong ground of facts. Is this so, or is it not so? We have been assured that it is, and we believe it is. When the prize, which was intended for epic poetry is conferred upon a sonnet, what can we infer (entertaining as we do, a sincere respect for the efforts of the directors), but that there is no epic poet in the land, or that a Petrarch was the only claimant.

We have shewed that the great national obstacle, church exclusion, was pointed out as threatening the shipwreck of historical painting, by Barry in 1774, by Reynolds in 1781, by Shee in 1805, by the author of “ Cursory Thoughts on Founding the Liverpool Academyin 1810, and by Prince Hoare in 1813. That great national obstacle baffled the combined genius of Reynolds, Gainsborough Wilson, and Hogarth, from 1746 to 1768; it baffled the efforts of the late King, and of the Royal Academy from 1768 to the end of his reign. Why then are we to be surprised, that the great national obstacle has also baffled the efforts of the National Institution in favour of the PÚBLIC STYLE, from 1805 to 1825 ? Church exclusion has baffled all those powers for nearly seventy years, and it will continue to neutralize every other endeavour of genius and patriotism to the end of time, unless the power of the state, that power which formerly crushed and rooted out historical painting in its infancy, be employed to foster and reinstate the PUBLIC STYLE in this country.

By the unanimous voice of the Royal Academicians, WEST was annually elected twenty-seven times to fill the high office of President of the Royal Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture of London. The British artists could give po higher testimony of his distinguished powers than their thus placing him, from year to year, in the dignified public situation of head of the British school, These elections were annually confirmed by the late King, and latterly by his present Majesty, when Prince Regent, and afterwards. Here we have the highest professional proof, if no other existed, of George the Third's correct judgment, when he conferred upon West the title of his historical painter, and employed bis pencil on the sublime series of sacred subjects from the Revelations, for the commencement of the public style, in the intended Royal Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Mr. West's painting rooms were, for more than half a century, inspected by all the eminent foreign artists and amateurs who visited London; and the grandeur, variety, and number of his compositions made an extraordinary impression upon their minds. The extent of his genius was also made known all over Europe by the fine series of prints after his historical pictures. We are not to be surprised, therefore, that he was spontaneously elected an honorary member of all the foreign Academies of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture on the Continent.

These elections by the foreign artists and academies, concurring with twenty-seven elections to the highest honour of his profession, by the Royal Academicians' of London, have placed upon public record their high sense of his merits, with so full a measure of contemporary and professional testimony, as to silence the carpings of envy at his excellence. No higher possible proof of any artişt's superior genius can be adduced, than the general approbation of his professional contemporaries in every part of the

world, where the arts are possessed of a national rank and estimation.

The picture of Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple had been originally designed by Mr. West as a present to the Philadelphia Hospital: but the noblemen and gentlemen of the British Institution, unwilling to let so capital a picture, by a British master, be sent out of the country, purchased it, on a condition that the president should have leave to paint a duplicate from it for the fulfilment of his original intention. The arrival of the duplicate in Philadelphia occasioned an extraordinary sensation. A bill was brought into the House of Representatives, by Mr. John Serjeant, and was passed unanimously by the Senate, to exempt the painting from custom-house duty. On that occasion the name of Benjamin West was mentioned in terms of gratitude and enthusiastic regard in both houses; and this production of bis pencil caused the passing of an act of the legislature, to admit the import of all works of art into America duty free. A room was built for its exhibition, at an expence of eighteen hundred guineas, and the crowds of visitors exceeded all expectation. It was the first painting from sacred history, in the public style, by a modern pencil, that had ever been seen in Philadelphia. The secretary, in his official letter, observed, “ The accommodations we have provided in our young city, for thy painting of Christ in the Temple, are sufficient to demonstrate our high opinion of the artist and his work. No other picture that has ever been seen in the United States could have justified us in going to the expence we have been at, in building the room for it and its furniture."

“The price for seeing thy painting is ten dollars for a full privilege to every subscriber, and 25 cents each time for every other person ; and many have appeared in the

« ForrigeFortsett »