Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

bition," writes Dr. Johnson, " was opened the same day, and a book was published to recommend it, which, if you read, you will find decorated with some satirical strictures of. Sir Joshua Reynolds and others. I have not escaped. You must think with some esteem of Barry for the comprehension of his design." These sarcasms of Barry produced a letter bearing in every line the mental impress of Edmund Burke: it was universally ascribed to his pen, though to this moment unacknowledged. The, imagination, the vigour of thought, the varied knowledge and skill of hand which the Six Pictures display, are at the outset admitted, and then the critic quits the eanvass to fall sharply upon the dissertation. Barry had spoken with levity or irreverence of the art of portrait-painting; he had drawn a distinction between the poetic and the merely imitative, which separated them as far as the south is from the north. Burke urges the propriety of uniting both in historic composition, thus:

"Without the power of combining and abstracting, the most accurate knowledge of forms and colours will produce only uninteresting trifles; but without any accurate knowledge of forms and colours, the most happy power of combining and abstracting will be absolutely useless; for there is no faculty of the mind which can bring its energy into effect, unless the memory be stored with ideas or it to work upon. These ideas are the materials of invention, which is only a power of combining and abstracting, and which, without such materials, would be in the same state as a painter without canrass, boards, and colours. Experience is the only means of acquiring ideas of any kind, and continued observation and study upon one class of objects the only way of rendering them accurate. The Jointer who wishes to make his picture what fine lictures must be—nature elevated and improved— must first of all gain a perfect knowledge of nature as it is. Before he endeavours, like Lysippus, to make men as they ought to be, he must know how to render them as they are; he must acquire an accurate knowledge of all parts of their body and countenance. To know anatomy will be of little use, unless physiology and physiognomy are joined with it, so that the artist may know what peculiar combinations and proportions of features constitute different characters, and what effect the passions and affections of the mind have upon those features. This is a science which all the theorists in the world cannot teach, and which can only be acquired by observation, practice, and attention. It is not by copying antique statues, or by giving a loose to the imagination in what are called poetical compositions, that artists will be enabled to produce works of real merit, but by a laborious and accurate investigation of nature upon the principles observed by the Greeks —first, to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the common forms of nature, and then, by selecting and combining, to form compositions according to their own elevated conceptions. This is the principle of true poetry, as well as of painting and sculpture."

The ease and elegance with which these important truths are expressed will be felt by many who are not perhaps aware that it was the theory, as it was the practice, of Barry to extract all that is noble in art from all that is elevated in nature. The shafts of his satire were directed against the regular manufacturers of portraits: but he nowhere insinuates that imagination may fly its own free flight, or that poetic art is any thing else than purified nature. He endeavours to distinguish between painters who can counterfeit only such faces as live before them, and those of the higher order, described so well by Sir Philip Sydney," who, having no law but wit, bestow that in colours upon you which is fittest for the eye to see—as the constant, though lamenting look of Lucretia, when she punished in herself another's fault; wherein he painteth not Lucretia—whom he never saw—but painteth the outward beauty of such a virtue." It was the fashion of the day to claim the honours of historical art for portraiture, and Burke's letter could not be\unacceptable to Reynolds, whose practice the Dissertation of Barry was obviously designed to impeach.

Penny, professor of painting, dying in 1782, Barry was elected in his place; and as this elevation happened during the intensest period of his labour upon the Six Pictures, he was unable for nearly two years to prepare a proper course of Lectures—the man who had to work ten hours a-day for fame, and four hours for bread, was not likely to have much time to spare for works of advice or instruction. Reynolds, as President, made some allusion to this unseemly delay on the part of the new Professor: he was answered with great asperity by the impudent Barry. "If I had no more to do in the course of my Lectures than produce such poor mistaken stuff as your Discourses, I should soon have them ready for reading." It is reported that these intemperate words were uttered with his fist clenched, and in a posture of menace.

At length, on the second day of March, 1784, he delivered his first Lecture on painting. Much was looked for from his knowledge and talents; and the audience was very numerous and very attentive. Barry's manner was eager, his utterance impressive; and, on the whole, expectation was not disappointed.

Of these Lectures he delivered six—they embrace all that is included in the word Art, and discuss with abundance of boldness the threefold mystery of conception, composition, and colour. They are the echo of his letters and of his conversation, their one great object being to impress on the minds of the students the utter vanity of all art below the historical. As literary compositions they exhibit neither strict propriety of expression, nor perfect developement of thought; but these defects are far more than atoned for by an earnest feeling for whatever is noble in art, and that readiness of illustration, which can only arise from extensive and matured knowledge, and rapid apprehension. They are, throughout, deformed by sarcastic allusions to modern works and living artists. Barry was a man of severe deportment, who seldom smiled, and conceived a jest beneath the dignity of human nature; his sarcastic remarks, therefore, were expressed and uttered with a deep and cutting air of solemnity— "he placed his life," as the poet says, "in the wound." The turbulent, uneasy, fierce temper of the man was ever and anon breaking out—nor is it possible to deny that envy was occasionally the inspiration of his periods. His Lectures spared few of his more successful brethren, and could not, therefore, be expected to pass over the President himself, who was observed, it is said, to avoid the pelting of the storm of invective, by moving the trumpet from his ear, and even seek refuge in a real or pretended nap. Of those ungracious allusions Reynolds often complained—and sarcastically excused his frequent nodding by saying that he fell as] eep only at the personalities. Nor did Barry himself in after-life look back upon them with pleasure. "Sir Joshua, to say the truth," he observed—but this was when Sir Joshua was no more—" acted somewhat weakly with respect to me; and, on the other side, I was much to blame with respect to him: my notions of candour and liberality between artists who were friends were too juvenile and romantic for human frailty in the general occurrences of life. Disappointed in not finding more in Sir Joshua, 1 was not then in a humour to make a just estimate

of the many shining qualities I might have really found in him."

Critics were not wanting who found personalities in his paintings as well as in his Lectures. In the emaciated limb which belongs to the garter of one whom he precipitates into Tartarus in the Adelphi Paintings, some one detected the noticeable leg of a nobleman who had given griewous offence to the artist. He defended himself with warmth. "What I particularly valued in my work," he said, "waa a dignity, seriousness, and gravity, infinitely removed from all personality." As he had admitted his friends freely to the joys of Elysium, it continued to be supposed that he was very capable of pushing his enemies as unceremoniously into Tartarus.

Barry thought so well of the Adelphi Series, that he resolved to engrave them, and accordingly began to etch them on copper with his own hand. But he was unequal to an undertaking which required nice delicacy of finish; and his subscribers were astonished when the rough offspring of his graver were put into their hands. They had expected something, probably, superior to the works of mere engravers, and one of them expressed surprise at the coarseness of the workmanship. "Pray, sir," said Barry, "can you tell me what you did expect V "More finished engravings, sir," was the answer. Nollekens recommended them to his patrons, and these were not few—but Barry was not always disposed to be thankful for acts of kindness. The sculptor, a blunt, straight-forward man, without any sense of delicacy, offended the painter's pride by calling out in the presence of others, " Well, Jem, I have been very successful for you this week—I have got you three more subscribers for your prints." Barry bade him, with an oath, mind his own affairs—if the nobility wanted his engravings they knew where he was to be found. The Six

« ZurückWeiter »