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ing its picturesque beauties, and inspiring them with what the skilful in art call the sentiment of the scene. Wilson had a poet's feeling and a poet's eye, selected his scenes with judgment, and spread them out in beauty and in all the fresh luxury of nature. He did for landscape what Reynolds did for faces—with equal genius, but far different fortune. A fine scene, rendered still more lovely by the pencil of the artist, did not reward its flatterer with any of its productions, either of oil, or corn, or cattle; as Kneller found dead men indifferent paymasters--so inanimate nature proved but a cold patroness to Wilson.
It was the misfortune of Wilson to be unappreciated in his own day—and he had the additional mortification of seeing works wholly unworthy of being ranked with his, admired by the public and purchased at large prices. The demand for the pictures of Barret was so great, that the income of that indifferent dauber rose to two thousand pounds a-year; and the equally weak landscapes of Smith of Chichester were of high value in the market-at the tiine when the works of Wilson were neglected and disregarded and the great artist himself was sinking, in the midst of the capital, under obscurity, indigence, and dejection. He was reduced, by this capricious ignorance of the wealthy and the titled, to work for the meanest of mankind. Hogarth, as we have seen, sold some of his plates for half-a-crown a pound weight-and Wilson painted his Ceyx and Alcyone for a pot of beer and the remains of a Stilton cheese! His chief resource for subsistence was in the sordid liberality of pawnbrokers, to whose hands many of his finest works were consigned wet from the easel. One person, who had purchased many pictures from him, when urged by the unhappy artist to buy another, took him into his shop-garret, and, pointing to a pile of landscapes, said, “Why, look ye, Dick, you know I wish to oblige, but see! there are all the pictures I have paid you for these three years." To crown his disappointments in a contest for fame with Smith of Chichester--the Royal Society decided against Wilson.
To account for the caprice of the public, or even for the imperfect taste of a Royal Society, is less difficult than to find a reason for the feelings of dislike, and even hostility, with which Wilson was regarded by Reynolds. We are told that the eminent landscape-painter, notwithstanding all the refinement and intelligence of his mind, was somewhat coarse and repulsive in his manners. He was in. deed a lover of pleasant company, a drinker of ale and porter; one who loved boisterous mirth and rough humour: and such things are not always found in society which calls itself select. But what could the artist do? The man whose patrons are pawnbrokers instead of peers; whose works are paid in porter and cheese ; whose pockets contain little copper and no gold; whose dress is coarse and his house ill-replenished; must seek such society as corresponds with his means and condition-he must be content to sit elsewhere than at a rich man's table covered with embossed plate. That the coarseness of his manners and the meanness of his appearance should give offence to the courtly Reynolds is not to be wondered at ; that they were the cause of his hostility I cannot believe, though this has often been asserted. Their dislike was in fact mutual; and I fear it must be imputed to something like jealousy.
In those moments of irritation and animosity the cold, calm temper of Reynolds gave him a manifest advantage over an opponent irritable by nature, and soured and stung by disappointment and misfortune. The coarse and unskilful vehemence of poor Richard was no match for the cautious malignity of the President, who enjoyed the double advantage of lowering his adversary's talents in social conversation, and ex cathedrà in his discourses. Reynolds seems to have been a master in that courtly and malevolent art ascribed by Pope to Addison, of teaching others to sneer without sneering himself, and “ damning
with faint praise." As a specimen, I transcribe the following passage from one of the President's discourses :
“ Our ingenious academician, Wilson, has, I fear, been guilty, like many of his predecessors, of introducing gods and goddesses, ideal beings, into scenes which were by no means prepared to receive such personages. His landscapes were in reality too near cominon nature to admit supernatural objects. In consequence of this mistake in a very admirable picture of a storm which I have seen of his hand, many figures were introduced in the foreground, some in apparent distress, and some struck dead, as a spectator would naturally suppose, by the lightning, had not the painter injudiciously, as I think, rather chosen that their death should be imputed to a little Apollo who appears in the sky with his hent bow, and that these figures should be considered as the children of Niobe. The first idea that presents itself is that of wonder in seeing a figure in so uncommon a situation as that in which the Apollo is placed, for the clouds on which he kneels have not the appear. ance of being able to support him."
This criticism was uttered, indeed, when Wilson was in the grave, and when it could not hurt him personally; it nevertheless proves the insinuating nature of the critic's hostility; and that long and rooted dislike had made him shut his eyes on excellences to which he could not otherwise have been insensible. The man whose landscapes obtained him a high name for poetic feeling and ele. gant nature, was not likely to select a common scene for the tragic representation of the death of Niobe and her children; and as that mournful story was his subject, it was necessary to people the landscape with the proper historical actors. Niobe. and her offspring are on earth-their destroyer is in heaven; and as the scene is very grand and magnificent, I cannot conceive that any thing is out of place or out of character. The Apollo is propor.
tioned in the picture, and seems too buoyant and aerial to need even the support of a cloud; neither is he kneeling, but floating majestically away on one of those boding clouds which accompany thunder. While accusing Wilson of introducing gods and goddesses, Sir Joshua forgot that he himself was in the practice of baptizing the living ladies of England after heathen goddesses, and that he was a dealer in the commonplace flattery of raising ordinary mortals to divine honours. He was aware, when he wrote his criticism, that Wilson had had a hard contest with fortune for existence, and that he died heart-broken by poverty and disappointment; it was therefore unkind and ungenerous to attempt to interrupt the quiet progress of his works to the fame which he could not but know awaited them.
It is related that, at a meeting of the members of the Academy on a social occasion, Reynolds proposed the health of Gainsborough as the best landscape painter ; on which Wilson added aloud, and the best portrait painter too. The President pretended not to have been aware of the presence of Wilson, and made a courtly explanation. Wilson, who received the apology with a kind of dissatisfied growl, was afterward accused by his companions of wanting a proper spirit of conciliation-by which, said they, he might have profited, for the President could endure to be flattered, and was kind to those who submitted to his ascendency. Reynolds had never experienced any reverse of fortune--the applause of the world was with him, and much of its money in his pocket; he might therefore have afforded to be indulgent to a man of genius suffering under the want of honour, and even the want of bread.
Nor was the President of the Academy the only person who distressed him with injurious opinions. A certain coterie of men, skilful in the mystery of good painting, came to the conclusion, that the works of Wilson were deficient in the gayer graces of style, and sent Penny, an academician whom Barry worshipped as one of the chief painters on earth, to remonstrate with the artist, and inform him, that, if he hoped for fame or their good opinion, he must imitate the lighter style of Zucarelli. Wilson was busied on one of his works when this courier from the Committee of Taste announced himself and delivered his message. He heard him in silenceproceeded with his labours—then stopped suddenly, and poured forth a torrent of contemptuous wordswhich incensed the whole coterie, and induced them to withdraw any little protection which their opinion had extended over him.
As the fortune of Wilson declined his temper became touched-he grew peevish-and in conversation his language assumed a tone of sharpness and acidity which accorded ill with his warm and benevolent heart. Some men are raised to stations where the meanness of their nature shows but the more deformed and repulsive by the contrast; while others, originally of amiable character, soured by neglect, and stung by undeserved insult, forget by degrees dignity in despair, and allow their minds to become as squalid as their dress.
Wilson had, nevertheless, spirit enough at all times to resent impertinence. When Zoffani, in his satiric picture of the Royal Academy, represented him with a pot of porter at his elbow, he instantly selected, like Johnson on an occasion little dissimilar, a proper stout stick, and vowed he would give the caricaturist a satisfactory thrashing. All who knew Wilson made sure he would keep his word; but Zoffani prudently passed his brush over the offensive part, and so escaped the cudgelling. On one occasion, Jones, a favourite pupil, invited him to see a large landscape which he had painted-he looked, and exclaimed, “ How, Mr. Jones, what have you been doing? you have stolen my temple !' 56 Is it too dark, sir?" said Jones. “Oh, black enough of all conscience !" answered the other, and instantly retired