Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

place, nor a history unless composed of likenesses of the persons represented, and are apt to be staggered, confounded, and wholly unprepared to follow such vigorous flights of imagination as would —as will be felt and applauded with enthusiasm in a more advanced and liberal stage of criticism. In our exhibitions, which often display extraordinary powers wasted on worthless subjects, one's ear is pained, one's very soul is rent with hearing crowd after crowd sweeping round, and instead of discussing the merits of the different works on view, as to conception, composition, and execution, all reiterating the same dull and tasteless questions, who is that? and is it like?" Passages such as these would reflect credit on any professor the Academy ever possessed.

On the delivery of his first lecture in the Academy Opie was complimented by his brethren: he was escorted home by Sir William Beechy, and appeared to his wife in a flush of joy. Next morning he said he had passed a restless night, for he was so elated that he could not sleep.

When Opie had finished his course of lectures*. Mr. Prince Hoare requested an article for his periodical paper called The Artist. "I am tired"—such was his answer—" I am tired of writing. I shall be a gentleman during the spring months, keep a horse, and ride out every morning." This vision of happiness, such as it was, he lived not to realize. He was attacked by a slow and a consuming illness, which baffled the knowledge of five skilful doctors: Pitcairn and Baillie were of the number. They were unable to cure or even to comprehend it. When it was known that he was seriously ill, his friends, and they were numerous and respectable, came iound him with affectionate solicitude. Among those that he loved most was Henry Thomson, and to him he confided the finishing the robes of the Duke of Gloucester's portrait. On Saturday, when the pictures were to be delivered for the exhibition at

Vol. II.—Q

Somerset House, the picture of the Royal Duke was placed at the foot of his bed. A fit of delirium had subsided: he lifted his head, and said, " There is not colour enough on the back ground." More colour was added: Opie looked at it with great satisfaction, and, said with a smile," Thomson, it will do now—it will do now: if you could not do it, nobody could." The delirium returned, and took its hue from the picture he had just looked at. He imagined himself employed in his favourite pursuit, and continued painting in idea till death interposed, on Thursday, the 9th of April, 1807. On dissection, the lower part of the spinal marrow and its investing membrane were found slightly inflamed, and the brain surcharged with blood. On Monday, April 30, he was interred in St. Paul's Cathedral, near Sir Joshua Reynolds.

In person Opie looked like an inspired peasant: even in his most courtly days there was a country air about him, and he was abrupt in his language and careless in his dress, without being conscious of either. His looks savoured of melancholy; some have said of moroseness: the portrait which he has left of himself shows a noble forehead and an intellectual eye. There are few who cannot feel his talents, and all must admire his fortitude. He came coarse and uneducated from the country into the polished circles of London; was caressed, invited, praised, and patronised for one little year or so, and then the giddy tide of fashion receded; but he was not left a wreck. He had that strength of mind which triumphs over despair. He estimated the patronage of fickle ignorance at what it was worth, and lived to invest his name with a brighter as well as steadier halo than that of fashionable wonder.

His literary productions have, I think, been overrated; yet they are respectable; I will even allow them to be wonderful for one in his condition, who had a laborious profession to follow. The great defect is what one would least have expected—the want of vigour and energy.

What he thus failed to work into his writings he poured largely into his paintings. There is a freshness of look, and a rude, homely strength in his pictures which belong to the wide academy of nature, and came upon him in Cornwall. He is not a leader, perhaps, but neither is he the servile follower of any man or any school. His original deficiency of imagination no labour could strengthen and no study raise. His model mastered him; and he seemed to want the power of elevating what was mean, and of substituting thu elegant for the vulgar. Opie saw the common but not the poetic nature of his subjects; he had no visions of the grand and the heroic. His pencil could strike out a rough and manly Cromwell, but was unfit to cope with the dark, subtle spirit of a Vane, or the princely eye and bearing of a Falkland or a Montrose. His strength lay in boldness of effect, simplicity of composition, in artless attitudes, and in the vivid portraiture of individual nature.

GEORGE MORLAND.

George Morland, the eldest son of Henry Robert Morland, was born in the Haymarket, London, on the 2Gth of June, 1763. He came of a race of painters. He was lineally descended from Sir Samuel Morland, an eminent mathematician and artist; his grandfather was a painter, and lived in the lower side of St. James's Square; and his father, after the failure of some extensive speculations, which all his biographers have alluded to, but left undescribed, followed the same profession, and painted, drew, and dealt in pictures with such indifferent success, that he became bankrupt, and was compelled to bring up his family of three sons and two daughters in indigence and obscurity.

It is said that the elder Morland sought to repair his broken fortunes by the talents of his son George —who, almost as soon as he escaped from the cradle, took to the pencil and crayon, and showed that he inherited art the natural way. The indications of early talent in others are nothing compared to his. At four, five, and six years of age, he made drawings worthy of ranking him among the common race of students; the praise bestowed on these by the Society of Artists, to whom they were exhibited, and the money which collectors were willing to pay for the works of this new wonder, induced his father to urge him onward in his studies—and his progress was rapid. But it is a dangerous thing to overtask either the mind or the body at these years, and there is every reason to believe that young Morland suffered both of these evils. His father stimulated him by praise and by indulgences at the table, and to ensure his continuance at his allotted tasks, shut him np in a garret, and excluded him from free air, which strengthens the body, and from education—that free air which nourishes the mind. His stated work for a time was making drawings from pictures and from plaster casts, which his father carried out and sold; but as he increased in skill, he chose his subjects from popular songs and ballads, such as "Young Roger came tapping at Dolly's window," "My name it is Jack Hall," "lama bold shoemaker, from Belfast town I came," and other productions of the mendicant muse. The copies of pictures and casts were commonly sold for three half-crowns each; the original sketches—some of them a little free in posture, and not over delicately handled, were framed and disposed of for any sum from two to five guineas, according to the cleverness of the piece, or the generosity of the purchaser. Though far inferior to the productions of his manhood, they were much admired; engravers found it profitable to copy them, and before he was sixteen years old, his name had flown far and wide.

But long before he was sixteen, he had begun to form those unfortunate habits by which the story of his life is to be darkened. From ten years of age, he appears to have led the life of a prisoner and a slave under the roof of his father, hearing in this seclusion the merry din of the schoolboys in the street, without hope of partaking in their sports. By-and-by he managed to obtain an hour's relaxation at the twilight, and then associated with such idle and profligate boys as chance threw in his way, and learned from them a love of coarse enjoyment, and the knowledge that it could not well be obtained without money. Oppression keeps the school of Cunning; young Morland resolved not only to share in the profits of his own talents, but also to snatch an hour or so of amusement, without consulting his father. When he made three drawings for his father,

« ZurückWeiter »