« ZurückWeiter »
poetry of the nation, which is full of graphic images of homely, as well as heroic, life. These conclusions, and his constant admonition to study the “ grand style,” and think of nothing but what is heroic or godlike as a subject for the pencil, have helped to misdirect the minds of students, and beget a monotony of composition, through which nothing but strong and decided genius can break. Few men are born with powers equal to the divine grandeur of such works--and many a good painter of domestic life may attribute the laborious dulness of his historic compositions to the incessant cry of all academies about the study of the “ grand style.” Hear how Reynolds commends the absence of nature
6 Suppose a person while he is contemplating a capital picture by Raphael or the Carracci, while he is wrapped in wonder at the sight of St. Paul preaching at Athens, and the various dispositions of his audience-or is struck with the distress of the mother in the Death of the Innocents-or with tears in his eyes beholds the Dead Christ of Carracciwould it not offend him to have his attention called off to observe a piece of drapery in the picture naturally represented?”
What is it that drapery ought to resemble—and wherewithal shall a man be clothed that his garments may not look too natural ? The living St. Paul himself was under no such apprehension; nor is it recorded that he failed in any of his missions because the heathen paid more attention to his clothes than his eloquence. The sentiment and character of the figure will dictate the drapery, and when these are strong, and true, and natural, they will always predominate over the accessaries. Had.
he advised to clothe a figure gayly or gravely ac. Mi cording to the style of the countenance and gesture,
Reynolds would have spoken more in keeping with his own practice.
He seems to have employed his time at Rome chiefly in studying all the varieties of excellence, and in acquiring that knowledge of effect which he was so soon to display. The severe dignity of Angelo or Raphael he had no chance of attaining, for he wanted loftiness of imagination, without which no grand work can ever be achieved: but he had a deep sense of character, great skill in light and shade, a graceful softness and an alluring sweetness, such as none have surpassed. From the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Fra. Bartolomeo, Titian, and Velasquez, he acquired knowledge, which placed fortune and fame within his reach ;-yet of these artists he says little, though he acknowledges the portrait of Innocent the Tenth, by the last named of them, to be the finest in the world.
Few original productions came from the hand of Reynolds while he remained at Rome. He painted a noble portrait of himself, and left it in that city: and he also painted a kind of parody on Raphael's School of Athens, into which he introduced about thirty likenesses of English students, travellers, and connoisseurs, and among others that of Mr. Henry of Straffan, in Ireland, the proprietor of the picture. “ I have heard Reynolds himself say," remarks Northcote, “ that it was universally allowed that he executed subjects of this kind with much humour and spirit, yet he thought it prudent to abandon the practice, since it might corrupt his taste as a portrait-painter, whose duty it was to discover only the perfections of those whom he represented.”
During the period of his studies at Rome, Rev. nolds was the companion of John Astley, who had been his fellow-pupil in the school of Hudson. This was an indifferent artist and an imperfect scholar-for he would rather run three miles to deliver a message by word of mouth than write theshortest notc-but his person attracted the notice of a lady of noble hirth who moreover brought him a
very handsome fortune. Before ois marriage he was poor and nearly destitute; yet he had a proud heart and strove to conceal his embarrassments. One summer day, when the sun was hot, and hc, Reynolds, and a few others were indulging themselves in a country excursion, there was a general call to cast off coats-Astley obeyed with manifest reluctance, and not until he had stood many sarcasms from his friends. He had made the back of his waistcoat out of one of his own landscapes, and when he stripped, he displayed a foaming waterfall, much to his own confusion, and the mirth of his companions.
From Rome, Reynolds went to Bologna and Genoa. He was not one of those artists who see -or think they see-through all the deep mysteries of conception and execution at a glance; he perused and reperused, and considered and compared with the assiduity and anxiety of a man ambitious to be counted with the foremost, and resolved not to fail for want of labour. He was more frugal of his remarks while at these cities than when he was at Rome; nor are the few which he did set down of any value, either to students or travellers. From
Genoa he went to Parma, and this is his memo· randum respecting the painting in the cupola of the cathedral.
“ Relieve the light part of the picture with a dark ground, or the dark part with a light ground, whichever will have the most agreeable effect or make the best mass. The cupola of Parma has the dark objects relieved, and the lights scarcely distinguishable from the ground. Some whole figures are consi. dered as shadows; all the lights are of one colour. It is in the shadows only that the colours vary. In general, all the shadows should be of one colour, and the lights only to be distinguished by different tints; at least it should be so when the back ground is dark in the picture."
From Parma Reynolds went to Florence, where he remained two months, observing much, but com. mitting few remarks to writing ;-and from thence he proceeded to Venice, where his stay was still shorter. This is the more remarkable, since the Venetian school influenced his professional character far more powerfully than all the other schools of art put together: and his silence concerning the excellences of the famous masters of Venice, and his short abode there, have occasioned some curious speculations. It has been observed that Reynolds admired one style and painted another; that with Raphael and Michael Angelo, and “the great masters” and “the grand style" on his lips, he dedicated his own pencil to works of a character into which little of the lofty, and nothing of the divine, could well be introduced. To have explained by what. means and by what studies he acquired his own unrivalled skill in art, would have been more to the purpose than comments upon Correggio, or Raphael, or Michael Angelo. He has chosen to remain silent, and artists must seek for the knowledge which made the fortune of Reynolds elsewhere than in his counsel.
“ After an absence,” says Malone,“ of near three years, he began to think of returning home; and a slight circumstance, which he used to mention, may serve to show that, however great may have been the delight which he derived from residence in a country that Raphael and Michael Angelo had embellished by their works, the prospect of revisiting his native land was not unpleasing. When he was at Venice, in compliment to the English gentlemen then residing there, the manager of the Opera one night ordered the band to play an English ballad tune. Happening to be the popular air which was played or sung in almost every stand just at the time of their leaving London, by suggesting to them that metropolis with all its endearing circumstances, it immediately
brought tears into Reynolds's eyes, as well as into those of his countrymen who were present." " Thus nature will prevail,” adds Northcote, “and Paul Veronese, Tintoret, and even Titian were all given up at the moment, from the delightful prospect of again returning to his native land.” On his way over Mount Cenis, he met Hudson and Roubiliac hasting on to Rome. At Paris, he found Chambers, the architect, who afterward aided him in founding the Royal Academy. Here he painted the portrait of Mrs. Chambers, who was eminently beautiful. She is represented in a hat, which shades part of her face. The picture was much admired, and must have raised high expectations.
He arrived in England in October, 1752, and after visiting Devonshire for a few weeks, obeyed the solicitations of Lord Edgecumbe and his own wishes, and established himself as a professional man in St. Martin's Lane, London. He found such opposition as genius is commonly doomed to meet with, and does not always overcome. The boldness of his attempts, the freedom of his conceptions, and the brilliancy of his colouring, were considered as innovations upon the established and orthodox system of portrait manufacture. The artists raised their voices first; and of these Hudson, who had just returned from Rome, was loudest. His old master looked for some minutes on a Boy, in a turban, which he had just painted, and exclaimed, with the addition of the national oath—“ Reynolds, you don't paint so well as when you left England !” Ellis, an eminent portrait-maker, who had studied under Kneller, lifted up his voice the next—"Ah! Rey. nolds, inis will never answer. Why, you do n't paint in the least like Sir Godfrey." The youthful artist defended himself with much ability, upon which the other exclaimed in astonishment at this new heresy in art—" Shakspeare in poetry-and Kneller in painting, damme !"-and walked out of