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in the decline, but in the rise of the arts in Italy. Sir. Joshua Reynolds, in bis Fifteenth Discourse, adverts to this strange circumstance. “It is impossible not to express some surprise, that the race of painters who preceded Michael Angelo, men of acknowledged great abilities, should never have thought of transferring a little of that grandeur of outline which they could not but see and admire in ancient sculpture, into their own works; but they appear to have considered sculpture as the later schools of artists look at the inventions of Michael Angelo, as something to be admired, but with which they have nothing to do: quod super nos, nihil ad nos. The artists of that age, even Raphael himself, seemed to be going on contentedly in the dry manner of Pietro Perugino; and if Michael Angelo had never appeared, the art might still have continued in the same style.”
These facts show, that if all the wonders of art that ever existed in Greece or Italy were at this moment in one national gallery in London, although we are quite sure that they would be prodigiously extolled and admired, we have reason to fear that they would have little or no effect upon the public taste in the grand style, so long as the great national obstacle, the exclusion of pictures from churches is opposed to them. That obstacle has formed the spirit of the age and nation, and it has hitherto mastered every effort to subdue or mitigate it. The painters who feel impelled to practice in the public style, know by bitter experience, that their performances in that department will probably be left unsold, and slighted upon their hands; they are, therefore, necessitated to comply with the times, and with all their admiration of the Elgin Marbles, and of Raphael's Cartoons, and the Angerstein collection, they are compelled to paint such light, agreeable, fancy, or familiar
subjects, as are in demand, and for which they have something like a certainty of finding purchasers. We have already quoted Sir Joshua Reynolds's remark, that “ NO PROTESTANT COUNTRY EVER PRODUCED AN HISTORICAL PAINTER,” for the palpable reason, that pictures being excluded from churches in Protestant countries, there is no other soil in those states for the PUBLIC STYLE to strike a root in. This it is that has bitherto opposed an impossibility to the persevering patriotism of the British Institution. Church exclusion having closed every field in England against the public style, it is quite clear that nothing can be done for it until the Government will be pleased in its wisdom, on broad public grounds, to establish a NATIONAL GALLERY of BRITISH HISTORY PAINTING, and to open a field for the patronage of the public style, by embellishing the interiors of a certain class of public buildings, with historical pictures by British artists. Surely to afford forty or fifty thousand pounds in the outset, and an annual fund of a few thousand pounds to enable her artists to vie in the highest excellence of the arts with the ancients, can weigh but as a feather in the expenditure of an empire, which in time of war has raised £60,000,000. in taxes; has maintained 6 or 700,000 soldiers and seamen in arms; has subsidised all the great military powers, and comprehends territories in Europe, America, Asia, and Africa, of greater extent, and infinitely greater resources than ever Rome was possessed of at the height of her grandeur.
Until the Government, in its better judgment, will be pleased to adopt some such efficacious measures, experience from 1746 to 1825 proves, that there are at present as few motives for a young British painter to study the public style, as there are inducements for a fashiopable
London tailor to make up the Roman costume iu the time of Coriolanus, or the Grecian garb in the days of Pericles, for bis Bond-street customers. Our great consolation in the mean time is this, that the domestic style is introducing fresh candidates for fame to public favour in every exhibition, and every year reaping large increase of honour and reputation for the British school.
That we may not be considered to differ in our view from the most competent authorities in this country, wo again refer to the passage in the publication of the British Institution in 1813, in which it is stated that WEST'S picture of “ Christ Healing the Sick," was purchased " through the generosity of the subscribers, to stand as the polar star, or FOUNDATION STONE OF A BRITISH GALLERY." The same important fact is thus mentioned by MR. PRINCE HOARE. Finally redeeming the neglect of the age, and OFFERING TO THE STATE an example of patronage, the Directors purchased of ONE GREAT HISTORICAL PAINTER one of his best and latest works, at the splendid price of 3,000 guineas; PROPOSING, AT THE SAME TIME, that it shall form the COMMENCEMENT OF A GALLERY of the ENGLISH SCHOOL.” (Epochs of Art. p. 208.)
We have to add to the above testimony our own knowledge, received from the late President himself, in 1819. “ It is the great pride of my mind, to think that my picture of Christ Healing the Sick is to be the commencement of a BRITISH HISTORICAL GALLERY. This assurance from the directors was the greatest gratification to me, when they did.me the honour to purchase that picture."
We have here showed that the most public-spirited, enlightened, and dignified amateurs in the empire, deter
mined in favour of a Britisk historical gallery fourteen years ago ; and that they then looked to THE STATE for the accomplishment of their great national object. We shall now show that our ideas of the GRAND STYLE, and its elevated objects, as an instrument of moral culture and national glory, are precisely the same as those already promulgated by that distinguished body. “Convinced that the pre-eminence which the imitative arts attained in certain distinguished periods of ancient Greece and modern Italy, was produced, not by fortuitous circumstances, but BY GREAT AND SPLENDID PATRONAGE; and
persuaded that our own countrymen are capable of the same excellence in the arts as they have attained in every branch of science and literature, we solicit that they may be encouraged to consider those excellent and immortal examples of the Grecian and Italian schools as the objects, not merely of IMITATION, but OF COMPETITION. In a country where native energy is most abundant, we ask that professional taste and talent, and national patronage, be no longer confined to INFERIOR OBJECTS ; but that our artists may be encouraged to direct their attention to HIGHER and NOBLER ATTAINMENTS; to paint the mind and passions of man, and to ILLUSTRATE the GREAT EVENTS which have been recorded in the history of the world.”
The above is an extract from the circular letter printed and issued by the original Committee of the British Institution. It will be found, page 23, in their proceedings, published by John Hatchard, Piccadilly, 1805.
At a crisis, when facts show that the PUBLIC STYLE is tottering on the brink of extinction, we may be pardoned for inserting another extract from the same invaluable document.—"And it is in this respect worthy of observation, that, IF WE DO NOT ADVANCE, WE MUST RECEDE; and that when WE CEASE TO IMPROVE, we shall begin to DEGENERATE. These considerations are of increased importance at the present moment, when it appears to be the object of other powers, to form great establishments for painting and sculpture, and to extend, by the arts of peace, the influence which they have acquired in war. We feel, however, no apprehension, but that the spirit of the British artist will be awakened and invigorated, whenever a free and fair scope shall be given to his talents ;—whenever he shall be stimulated by THE SAME PATRONAGE as that which raised and rewarded the Italian and Grecian masters ;-a PATRONAGE, WITHOUT WHICH, if we refer to historical evidence, we shall find that NO HIGH EXCELLENCE IN ART HAS EVER BEEN OBTAINED in ANY AGE, or in ANY COUNTRY."
We agree most fully in the direct meaning and truth of the above. Unfortunately, there is no public patronage whatever in this country for the grand style, which Sir Joshua Reynolds bas designated by the significant statement of a fact_" No GREAT HISTORICAL PICTURE is put up." As the exclusion of pictures from churches has suppressed all that public source of patronage which raised and supported the Grecian and Italian artists, we join most earnestly with the reasonable and manly declaration of the Committee of the British Institution, in their description of that public source, as “ a patronage, without which, if we refer to historical evidence, we shall find that no high excellence in art has ever been obtained in any age, or in any country.”. In the latter part of the sentence, their meaning evidently seems this ;-without which, the highest excellence in art has never been