Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

concerning this singular man; they are chiefly ludicrous tales of privation and pride; such as are gladly remembered by those who love whatever lowers genius to their own level, and who are as incapable of honouring amid eccentricities what is high-minded and noble, as a pocket loadstone.is of picking up an anchor. Barry was the greatest enthusiast in art which this country ever produced—his passion for it almost amounted to madness; and but for his works, his words and actions might have been gravely cited in proof of mental alienation. He hungered and he thirsted, not figuratively, but truly, for its sake; and from boyhood to the tomb devoted all his faculties to establish a School of Painting, which, avoiding common or familiar subjects, should imbody only what is dignified, magnificent, or sublime. To this high task he brought an imagination second only to that of Fuseli, a strong love of the poetry of nature, an intimate knowledge of the works of the great masters, a deep feeling for their excellences, fine skill of hand, and unequalled fortitude and perseverance. That he failed to reap the harvest which such qualities and attainments promised, must be imputed mainly to his infirmity of temper, but partly also to what he so often complained of, the unawakened taste of the country for works of an historical nature. He wanted that graceful spirit which conciliates and persuades—which, like the fabled Cestus of the goddess,

“Can from the wisest win their best resolves.”

There were few at that time to patronise historical painting, save his Majesty; and West monopolized all subjects for the palaces, both sacred and profane. Portrait painters were the prosperous in British art; and few, save themselves, found the way to the tables and to the confidence of the great. Nor, findeed, little as it was then, has the love of historical painting much increased among us since; all the efforts of his present Majesty, of Sir George Beaumont, Sir John Leycester, Sir John Swinborne, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Egremont, the Duke of Bedford, and a few others, have been nearly in vain. Other reasons, however, may be assigned for Barry’s want of success. His first picture, the Legend of St. Patrick, was right—it was one of his own island's traditions—in it he heard the voice of Nature, and he who obeys her will seldom err. But afterward the miracles of Greece and the Vatican oppressed and enthralled his fancy. The artist who diodains to work in the spirit of his own country will rarely work well in the spirit of any other. The names of Barry's pictures will tell where his heart was—Pandora, or the heathen Eve; the Conversion of Polemon in the presence of Xenocrates; the Birth of Venus; Philoctetus in Lemnos; Jupiter and Juno—and many more. Affection for such subjects had long since fallen asleep, and it was not in the power of Barry to awaken it. To be truly classic he should have done for Britain what the artists of old did for Greece : their works are classical—not from being the offspring of a classic land, but because they were the imbodied poetry of its actual beauty and sentiment. He turned, when it was too late, to the pages of Milton. The subjects which he sketched from the Paradise Lost were made when he was advanced in life, and he never finished them. They were as follows:—Satan rising from the fiery, gulf; the Temptation of Adam; Satan meeting with Sin and Death; Adam and Eve after the Fall; the Triumph of Michael and Fall of the Rebel Angels; Satan in Paradise; the Descent of the Guardian Angels; Satan detected by Ithuriel; and Adam's Vision of the Misery of his Posterity. On several of these subjects Fuseli also tried his hand. They are such Vol. II.-L.

as require powers of an Epic order, and some of them seem to be above the grasp of our painter. But he shared largely in that kind of intrepidity of spirit which belonged to West and Fuseli: subjects of ordinary emotion had no charms for him: he loved to contemplate what was solemn and terrible; and his mind teemed with magnificent undertakings, which he wanted time or talent to realize. The multitude of his sketches, and the small number of his finished works, attest his immoderate ambition, and his deficiency in some of those high qualities which, like the key-stone to an arch, are necessary to the completion of whatever is vast and grand. His treatises, like his paintings, are distinguished by their vigour. Of the light and shade of language he was an indifferent master; nor was he fastidious in neatness of arrangement, or nice in accuracy of reasoning: nevertheless, his earnestness of manner renders his writings very readable. His enthusiasm for pencils and chisels knows no bounds: a painting with him is the first of human works, and a painter the noblest of God's creatures. Poetry, he assures us, requires little knowledge, and “the most perfect verse is no more than the animated account or relation of the story of a picture.” Poetry, too, he says (and with more truth), is limited by its language to a particular country; while Painting speaks all tongues, and is readable to all nations. Northcote, in his life of Reynolds, reechoes Barry, and proposes to detect the presence of true poetry, by trying if it will turn into shape with the pencil . There is, however, much of our finest poetry that would slip like quicksilver from the pencil of a greater than Mr. Northcote. If a o be only the animated account of a picture, ow many thousand pictures must that man paint who shall give us Shakspeare, or Milton, or Spenser, or Scott, or Southey, or Wordsworth, on canvass: and if poetry be only good when it presents such images as painters can copy, how many passages have age after age admired in vanity and in ignorance . No one but a wild enthusiast, like Barry, would claim, for any artist that ever breathed, an equality of mind with Homer, or Shakspeare, or Dante—men who have influenced the world from its centre to its circumference: and as for Mr. Northcote's test—the winged rapidity of poetry gives us, no doubt, in its lowest, as well as in its higher moods, many pictures, which the genius of art can imbody; but at the same time it presents us with images so vivid and yet elusive, so distinct and yet so shadowy, as to set all art at defiance. Who shall paint Elijah's Mantle of Inspiration—the Still Small Voice—the War-Horse, whose neck is clothed with thunder, and who snuffeth the battle afar off—the Magic Girdle of the Fairy Queen—or the Cestus of Homer's Venus, so exquisitely rendered by Cowper—

——“An ambush of sweet snares, replete
With love, desire, soft intercourse of hearts,
And music of resistless whispered sounds.”

WILLIAM BLAKE.

PAINTING, like poetry, has followers, the body of whose genius is light compared to the length of its wings, and who, rising above the ordinary sympathies of our nature, are, like Napoleon, betrayed by a star which no eye can see save their own. To this rare class belonged William Blake.

He was the second son of James Blake and Catherine his wife, and born on the 28th of November, 1757, in 28, Broad Street, Carnaby Market, London. His father, a respectable hosier, caused him to be educated for his own business, but the love of art came early upon the boy; he neglected the figures of arithmetic for those of Raphael and Reynolds; and his worthy parents often wondered how a child of theirs should have conceived a love for such unsubstantial vanities. The boy, it seems, was privately encouraged by his mother. The love of designing and sketching grew upon him, and he desired anxiously to be an artist. His father began to be pleased with the notice which his son obtained —and to fancy that a painter's study might after all be a fitter place than a hosier's shop for one who drew designs on the backs of all the shop bills, and made sketches on the counter. He consulted an eminent artist, who asked so large a sum for instruction, that the prudent shopkeeper hesitated, and young Blake declared he would prefer being an engraver—a profession which would bring bread at least, and through which he would be connected with painting. It was indeed time to dispose of him. In addition to his attachment to art, he had

« ZurückWeiter »