Abbildungen der Seite


but as the rudiments of future excellence, and looked forward with the hope that some happier Hogarth would arise, and raise on the foundation which he had laid a perfect and lasting superstructure.

“As a painter," says Walpole, “Hogarth has slender merit.” What is the merit of a painter? If it be to represent life; to give us an image of man; to exhibit the workings of his heart; to record the good and evil of his nature; to set in motion before us the very beings with whom earth is peopled; to shake us with mirth; to sadden us with woful reflection; to please us with natural grouping, vivid action, and vigorous colouring-Hogarth has done all this; and if he that has done so be not a painter, who will show us one? I claim a signification as wide for the word painter as for the word poet. But there seems a disposition to limit the former to those who have been formed under some peculiar course of study, and produce works in the fashion of such and such great masters. This I take to be mere pedantry; and that as well might all men be excluded from the rank of poets, who had not composed epics, dramas, odes, or elegies, according to the ules of the Greeks,


Or the life of Richard Wilson little more is known e than what is related by Wright; whose account,

iniperfect and unsatisfactory as it is, was sought for in many sources, and procured with difficulty and fatigue. As the remembrance of the artist himself faded on men's memories, the character of his works began to rise in public estimation. Then, and

not till then, the lovers of art perceived that the proÁ ductions of an Englishman, who lived in want, and

died broken-hearted, equalled in poetic conception

andesplendour of colouring many of the works of For those niore fortunate painters, who had kings for

their protectors, and princes and nobles for their companions.

He was the third son of a clergyman in Montgomeryshire, whose family was of old standing; and his mother was one of the Wynns of Leeswold -a name of great antiquity, and enriched with the blood of the kings of the principality. He was born in the year 1713. His love of art appeared early. How this came upon him, in a place where there were no paintings to awaken his emotions we are not informed; but a slight cause will arouse a strong natural spirit. He loved, when a child, to trace figures of men and animals with a burnt stick upon the walls of the house; and his father seems to have been willing to encourage, rather than repress, this unprofitable propensity. But he must have carried his experiments much farther, and put them into a more alluring shape before he succeeded in impress

ing a sense of his talents on his relation, Sir George
Wynn, who took him-I know not at what age
to London, and placed him under the care of one

Wright, a painter of portraits, too obscure even for the notice of Walpole. His progress under such a master could be but little; and no better account can be rendered, than that he lived by portraits, and was distinguished among his wretched contemporaries so far as to be employed to paint a picture of the prince of Wales and the duke of York for their tutor, the bishop of Norwich. This happened in 1748, when Wilson was thirty-five years old.

Wilson's portraits, whether numerous or not, are now forgotten with the annual thousands which were then, as now, produced to meet the demand of new faces; nor were they marked, according to all but universal opinion, by any of those happy and grace. ful touches which please us so much in his land. scapes. Edwards, indeed, in his anecdotes of painters, asserts that in drawing a head he was not excelled by any of the portrait-painters of his time - that his treatment was bold and masterly, and his colouring in the style of Rembrandt : but Edwards is alone as to this matter.

A great and salutary change was soon to be wrought in the character of his productions. In his six-and-thirtieth year he was enabled, by his own savings and the aid of his friends, to go to Italy, where his talents procured him notice, and his company was courted by men of sense and rank. He continued the study and practice of portrait-painting, and, it is said, with fair hopes of success, when an accident opened another avenue to fame, and shut up the way to fortune. Having waited one morning, till he grew weary, for the coming of Zucarelli, the artist, he painted, to heguile the time, a scene, upon which the window of his friend looked, with so much grace and effect, that Zucarelli was astonished, and inquired if he had studied landscape. Wilson replied that he had not. “Then I advise you,” said the other,“ to try—for you are sure of great success." The coursel of one friend was confirmed by the opinion of another. This was Vernet, a French

painter; a man whose generosity was equal to his reputation, and that was very high. One day, while sitting in Wilson's painting room, he was so struck with the peculiar beauty of a newly-finished landscape that he desired to become its proprietor, and offered in exchange one of his best pictures. This was much to the gratification of the other: the exchange was made, and with a liberality equally rare and commendable, Vernet placed his friend's picture in his exhibition-room, and when his own productions happened to be praised or purchased by English travellers, the generous Frenchman used to say, “Do n't talk of my landscapes alone, when your own countryman, Wilson, paints so beautifully.”

These praises, and an internal feeling of the merits of his new performances, induced Wilson to relinquish portrait-painting, and proceed with landscape. He found himself better prepared for this new pursuit than he had imagined; he had been long insensibly storing his mind with the beauties of natural scenery, and the picturesque mountains and glens of his native Wales had been to him an academy when he was unconscious of their influence. He did not proceed upon that plan of study—much recommended -but little practised-of copying the pictures of the old masters, with a hope of catching a corresponding inspiration ;-but he studied their works, and mastered their methods of attaining excellence, and compared them carefully with nature. By this means he caught the hue and the character of Italian scenery, and steeped his spirit in its splendour. His landscapes are fanned with the pure air, warmed with the glowing suns, filled with the ruined temples, and sparkling with the wooded streams and tranquil lakes of that classic region. His reputation rose so fast that he obtained pupils. Mengs, out of regard for his genius, painted his portrait; and Wilson repaid this flattery with a fine landscape. After a residence of six years abroad, he returned

to England to try his fortune with his own country men; and the commencement was promising. On his arrival in London, he took apartments on the north side of Covent Garden, where Lely, Kneller, and Thornhill had lived and laboured, and associated with all men distinguished for taste and talent. His picture of Niobe confirmed, if it did not increase, the reputation which had followed him from Italy, and his View of Rome raised him to a distinction not surely difficult at that time to attain—that of the ablest landscape-painter of his country. The Duke of Cumberland bought the first, and the Marquis of Tavistock the second of these pieces: the prices have not been recorded, but they were probably low He assisted in instituting the Royal Academy; and on the death of Hayman solicited and obtained the situation of librarian-a place of small profit, but not to be despised by one who had to inspire his countrymen with a new taste, before he could expect to have a succession of purchasers.

The love of landscape-painting spread very slowly -so slow, that after the sale of a few of his works among the more distinguished of the lovers of art, he could not find a market for the fruits of his study -and had the mortification of exhibiting pictures of unrivalled beauty before the eyes of his countrymen in vain. He soon began to feel that in relinquishing portrait-painting he had forsaken the way to wealth and fashionable distinction, and taken the road to certain want and unprofitable fame. The appeal which his original pursuit made to individual vanity was felt, and through it he had acquired a decent livelihood, which his present employment seemed to deny him. To paint the varied aspect of inanimate nature-to clothe the pastoral hills with flocks, to give wild fowl to the lakes, ring-doves to the woods, blossoms to the boughs, verdure to the earth, and sunshine to the sky, is to paint landscape it is true--but it is to paint it like a district-surveyor, instead of group

« ZurückWeiter »