Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

tial things, portraits of dogs, landscapes, See—-things which the mind, which is the soul of art, having no concern in them, have hitherto served to disgrace us over all Europe." It is in his own house that the Englishman has set up the images which he loves to worship. The annual multitudes of paintings, all of a social and domestic character, which the Academy exhibits, are to be viewed with respect, since they bear witness to the general cultivation of homebred happiness: but Barry regarded all such compositions as no better than unblushing indications of insular stupidity. He resolved to lend no countenance to this domestic heresy in art, and determined to endure every privation in the exaltation of his profession. "I have taken great pains," he said, "to fashion myself for this kind of Quixotism: to this end I have contracted and simplified my cravings and wants, and brought them into a very narrow compass." There is no doubt but he would have enjoyed all the luxury of privation, had he painted a few twenty-feet square pictures for the cathedral of St. Paul's, since they were to be done at the proper cost, not of the church, but of the Academicians. The subject which Barry selected, was the Jews rejecting Christ When Pilate entreated his release—he probably made no progress in the sketch, and allowed the picture to lie embodied in his imagination till the sanction of the hierarchy should let his pencil loose.

The obstinacy of the Bishop of London, to which we have already alluded, made all this enthusiasm vain; and great and stormy was Barry's indignation.

While the project concerning St. Paul's was yet in suspense, he found time to execute his Chiron and the A-chilles, a work of classical beauty and simplicity—which was purchased by Mr: Palmer at the singular rate of twenty guineas per figure. This mechanical mode of calculation seems to have been the artist's own invention, for in a letter to the Duke of Richmond, concerning- a picture which his grace had commissioned, there occurs the following characteristic passage. "My finances are pretty low at present therefore, if your grace should thmk proper to send me any part of the price of the picture, it would come very opportunely. I count upon six figures in it, and I had twenty guineas a figure for the picture I sold to Mr. Palmer, of Chiron and Achilles." The answer of the nobleman is in keeping with Barry's letter. "If I recollect right," said his grace, "the picture of Stratonice has but four capital figures in it, the other two being only companions; however, I do not mean to value the picture by the number of figures. On the other side of this paper I send you a draft on my banker for a hundred guineas, which I should hope you will think a sufficient price for the picture; but if you do not, I will immediately send you another draft for twenty more." • When the Bishop of London at length rejected the offer of the Royal Academy, it occurred to the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, that they might avail themselves of this spirit of liberality, and have their rooms at the Adelphi covered by the surplus talent of the land, free of all expense. The passions of the painters, like those of the poet, seemed raging like so many devils to get vent in historic composition, and Valentine Green, the Secretary of the Society, was authorised to open the doors of the great rooms of the Adelphi for their accommodation: but ere this happened the Academy had taken another view of the matter, and they refused the offer. Barry, whose hopes had been raised high, was

imagined that he saw in it the extinction of all his dreams, and that the grand historic style had bowed its supremacy for ever before that domestic idol, portraiture. Having failed in painting the nation into a love of the historic art, he resolved to make

[graphic]

second disappointment; he a last effort, and, if possible, write them into it: —and hence his "Inquiry into the Real and Imaginary Obstructions to the Progress of Art in England."

A work of this sort had been long in his fancy. It was suggested while he was at Rome by the ignorant taunts of foreigners, that the genius of the British isles was too cold for works of fine imagination. Talent had been set down in the strange theories of Montesquieu and Winkelmann as the product of latitude, and the ardent fancy and delicacy of feeling which went to the composition of noble works, were compared to vines, which, producing rich and luscious clusters in the sunny vales of France and Italy, yield only hard, sour, and starveling buds in the cold, moist climate of England. The Inquiry of Barry had a twofold purpose: the refutation of these visionaries, and a vindication of his own theory, that art, before it could be honourable to England, required to devote itself fully to historic composition.

His answer to Winkelmann was triumphant, if the victory which common sense obtains over absurdity can be called a triumph. He refused all help from scientific reasoning, and proved by the evidence of history, that whatever influence the sun might have on the fruits of the earth, the rise, the glory, and degradation of nations had come from moral causes, in which neither climate nor season had any share. In Greece the warmth of the sun was ever the same, and the recurrence of the seasons also; corn, wine, and oil, all excellent in their kinds, had been produced during all periods, and are now produced, yet the fine arts are extinguished, and national capacity gone. If Greece had her day of glory, the same had happened to modern Italy— her long line of illustrious artists had come to an end; yet the land yielded as richly as ever its annual crop of fruit. Having crushed the principle on which this exclusive system of genius is founded, he handled with indignant vigour the insulting inference that the capacity of England was unequal to high art. He claimed superiority for the British in works of mental grandeur and loftiness of imagination, and pointed out Spenser, and Shakspeare, and Milton, as abounding in the finest pictures, and in the noblest and loveliest images of beauty.

Of a work which may be considered as the first literary production of the Royal Academy, the offspring of a mind full of knowledge, and animated by more than common enthusiasm, it may be proper to transcribe some specimens. "It is a misfortune," says Barry, "never entirely to be retrieved, that painting was not suffered to grow up among us at the same time with poetry and the other arts and sciences, while the genius of the nation was yet forming its character in strength, beauty, and refinement: it would have received a strength and a polish, and it would, in its turn, have given to our poetry a greater perfection in one of its masterfeatures, in which, Milton and Spenser excepted, it is rather somewhat defective. But the nation is now formed, and perhaps more than formed, and there is cause to fear that it may be too late to expect the last degree of perfection in the arts, from what we are now likely to produce in an age when, perhaps, frothy affectations, and modish, corrupt, silly opinions, of foreign as well as of domestic growth, have but too generally taken place of that masculine vigour and purity of taste so necessary both for the artist and for his employer. Let us suppose ever so many fortunate circumstances to concur in leading an artist into such a tract of study, among old stones and old canvass, as that he may be able to assimilate the pure, rigid, beautiful, simple taste of the Greeks and the old Italians with his own substance and observations on nature; yet afterward, if he should unfortunately happen to find that the era of those qualities has either not arrived, or is long since passed away, among the people who are, generally speaking, to be his employers, and that they have but little of that grandeur of idea and elevation of mind which will encourage him in the pursuit of extraordinary things, what is he to do? His great advantages over meaner artists will infallibly lie by, mouldering away through disease, and he must content himself with a contest of little value, mere matters of execution."

He laments, like a greater man, that he has come an hour too late, and fallen on evil and ignorant times, when common transcripts of nature and fine colours were triumphing over historic art; and he imputes the discouragement of native works of genius to the admiration of all that is of foreign growth—to the ignorant enthusiasm of the rich, who, while pouring out their money and their praise on the rubbish and offal of the easel, devoutly believed they were buying and worshipping Raphael, Titian, and Correggio. His words are strong, and near the truth. "Artful men, both at home and abroad, have not failed to avail themselves of this passion for ancient art, as it afforded a fine coverlet for imposition—for vending, in the names of those great masters, the old copies, imitations, and studies of all the obscure artists that have been working in Italy, Flanders, and other places for two hundred years past. These things are to be had in great plenty, and may be, as I have often known at Rome, baptized 'first thoughts,'' second thoughts, with alterations,' 'duplicates,' and what not. It would be endless to give an account of all the various ways in which our antiquaries and picture-dealers, both at home and abroad, carry on the business of imposition. The Pope and the States of Venice, and other Italian communities, have set their seals upon all pictures worth keeping, and not one can be moved by means of either persuasion or bribery. This ill-fated country of ours is therefore

« ZurückWeiter »