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" 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.” (Circular Letter of the Committee of the British Institution ; published by John
Hatchard, Piccadilly, 1805.)
“ 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.”-(Ibid.)
“ Your Committee cannot dismiss this interesting subject, without submitting to the attentive reflection of the House, how highly the cultivation of the Fine Arts has contributed to the reputation, character, and dignity of every government by whom they have been encouraged, and how intimately they are connected with the advancement of every thing valuable in science, literature, and philosophy."
(Report of the Select Committee on the Elgin Marbles, 1816.)
“ Looking at the connection of the Arts with the glory of the nation, and with every thing that dignifies and ennobles man in his individual capacity, he deemed it consistent with the principles which a great nation ought to adopt, to stand forward as the Patron of the Arts, and to give largely to their support: (cheers.) -Ministers felt, that where A LARGE COLLECTION OF VALUABLE PICTURES WAS OFFERED FOR SALE, there were many motives of liberal policy inviting the FORMATION OF A NATIONAL GALLERY.
(Speech of the Rt, Hon. Frederick Robinson in the House of Commons, Feb. 23, 1824.)
“ But, though unnoticed by the Public, the Gallery of Mr. West remains FOR YOU, Gentlemen; it exists for YOUR INSTRUCTION.”
(Sir Thomas Lawrence's Discourse to the Students of the Royal Academy on
presenting the Prizes, 1823.)
THE death of the late Mr. West occasioned an extraordinary sensation, and was followed, at his public funeral, by a signal testimonial of regret for his loss and of respect for his memory and genius. The celebrity of his works, the high rank, which that artist filled in the British School as the Founder and Father of Historical Painting; as the President of the Royal Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture; and as the first British Historical Painter, who had the honour to enjoy the personal favour of a British Sovereign, and the title of Historical Painter to the King, were circumstances, which, alone, justified the deep and general feeling. But there were other important circumstances attendant upon a life so full of years, and of professional honours, which increased the public concern.
The primary and distinguished share, which the late President had, in establishing the superiority of the British School in Historical Painting, the highest department of the Arts, over the contemporary Schools on the Continent, was one of those additional causes for national reflection. There was, also, much reason for melancholy apprehension, in the afflicting and well-known fact, that the chief part of the meritorious labours of bis long life, forming a splendid collection of pictures from the works of the poets, from bis own original fancy, and from sacred and profane history, remained unsold, in the venerable Artist's possession, at the time of his decease. The certainty that this magnificent collection, subject to all the contingencies of public apathy and neglect, is the sole inheritance which he bad to bequeath to bis family, is sufficient to alarm and intimidate every student, who might otherwise have looked up to historical painting as an honourable field of exertion, fame, and reward. The whole of the preceding circumstances, but chiefly, the last, and the uncertainty that awaits the magnificent collection of his unsold works, constitute the links, which, in a national view, inseparably connect the fate of West's GALLERY and the celebrity of that great British Master, with the highest interests of the British School, and the glory of the British Empire. A mighty and long existing cause, alone, could have produced an effect so distressing and discouraging to British Students, and so likely to be converted into a lasting imputation upon the taste of the nation, by our foreign rivals and enemies. If it be a proveable fact of recorded notoriety, that the bighest powers of the State formerly produced this cause of discouragement and national discredit, then it is fair to reason that every subordinate means and influence, although meritorious and praiseworthy, must prove ineffectual; and
that no power, but the power of the King, the Government, and the Legislature, can remove the long existing obstacles to the successful cultivation of Historical Painting in the British Empire.
If a life so marked by enthusiastic application, so full of high performance, and so rich in celebrity as that of the late President, although constantly regulated by a wise and dignified economy in every branch of expenditure, has terminated in embarrassment, and has left to his sons no other property but the magnificent collection of his unsold pictures, subject to a continuation of disappointed hopes and accumulating uncertainties; a fact so humiliating to the British name and so appalling to British Artists, demands immediate and deep consideration. This is po season for general compliments. Mistaken compliments and flattering generalities have, already, produced much delusive and mischievous congratulation. The nation has been deceived, by the constant repetition of well-intended applause, into a belief that a liberal patronage of the domestic style, which includes our splendid triumphs in portraits, and in every branch of fancy painting, is a liberal patronage of the public style, which comprehends historical painting only. We have a right to be proud, and to exult in our rapid advancement in every department of the domestic style, because, in every variety of that style, the Public have afforded a competent encouragement for exertion: the leading professors did not stand in need of support from the Government, and have signalized their genius. But compliments on our advance in historical painting, are utterly destitute of foundation, if the speakers and writers mean to imply that there has grown up, within the last hundred years, such an improved state of patronage, as to afford a certainty, or even any reasonable hope, of reward, to the exertions of British genius in that high department of the Arts.
We must have done with that erroneous classification, which has, bitherto, confounded the DOMESTIC STYLE with the PUBLIC STYLE, and which has passed off, upon the unthinking, our triumphs in the former, as a triumph in the latter, at the very season when the want of patronage was withering and blighting the noble scions of genius in that field, and fast closing it against all future exertion. We must have done with self-congratulation and compliment; and must look the real state of things fairly and manfully in the face. Notwithstanding the munificent patronage of his late Majesty, and of our gracious Sovereign, in their personal character; notwithstanding the bappy change in the public taste, produced by the noble show of British Genius, in nearly sixty annual exbibitions of the Royal Academy; notwithstanding the generous emulation excited in favour of British pictures in the domestic style, and the incalculable advantages to the British School, resulting from the taste, liberal prizes and persevering patriotism of that public-spirited body, the British Institution; notwithstanding all of these fortunate combinations, which we enumerate with sincere delight, we must admit the mortifying fact, that the insufficiency of private and national patronage for historical painting in this country, is so palpable as to render it unwise and unsafe for any young man of genius, or his parents and friends, 10 devote the prime of his years to study, in that bigh department of the Arts, with no other prospect but a life of public neglect and difficulties, and a failure of any certain provision for his family, at his decease.
This important subject has been generally touched upon in the best informed circles: but the constant succession