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“Whether pictures and statues are not in fact so much treasure? And whether Rome and Florence would not be poor towns without ther?”– BERKELEY – The Querist, § 71.
“The great examples of Art are the materials on which genius is to work, and without them the strongest intellect may be fruitlessly or deviously employed. By studying these authentic models, that idea of excellence, which is the result of the accumulated experience of past ages, may be at once acquired, and the tardy and obstructed progress of our predecessors may teach us a shorter and easier way.”—REYNOLDS— Discourses.
“The best means of forming the taste of the people is by the establishment of accessible collections of the most remarkable monuments of antiquity, and of the middle ages.” – Wangen.
OF THE MAINTENANCE AND MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC
GALLERIES AND MUSEUMS.
That it is only from the government we can expect any adequate provision of National Galleries of Art, coextensive with the wants of the people, is an opinion in which all who have displayed any interest in the subject seem now to be fully agreed; and in this respect the present branch of enquiry is free from a difficulty attaching, in the minds of some, to that regarding schools of design.
No country has more cause than our own to be proud of that munificent spirit of liberality which leads private individuals to present or bequeath to the community valuable collections, which it has been the labour of their lives to form ; but to give due effect to this liberality, and to make that effect permanent, it is necessary that the state step in, and contribute its sanction and its assistance. And in many cases the very munificence of spirit which has formed an immense collection, and given birth to the wish to make it national, has, by its own excess, made that wish powerless without the active aid of the legislature. The actual cost, and still more the inherent value, of the collections of Sloane, Elgin, and Angerstein made them in reality gifts to the nation, although they could never have been acquired (without gross injustice to the descendants of the large-minded collectors,) had not Parliament made certain pecuniary advances on account of them. Whilst but for the foundation of the British Museum and of the National Gallery, the collections of Cracherode and Holwell Carr, of Beaumont, of Sir Joseph Banks, and of King George III., would have continued in the hands of individuals.
In addition then to the broad principle that public funds can never be better employed (the extension of pure religion always excepted) than in the establishment of institutions tending at once to refine the feeling and to improve the industry of the whole population, there is the subordinate but yet important ground of inducing and enabling private persons greatly to benefit the public by contributing towards the same end.
But if we proceed to enquire what England—with so many advantages-has actually done in this respect, the answer is far from satisfactory.
There is in the United Kingdom' but one National Gallery of Pictures, but one National Collection of Sculpture, and but one National Library; and of these the collection of Sculpture (at the British Museum) which owes its origin to the taste and patriotism of Lord Elgin, and (less in degree, though earlier in point of time,) of the late Mr. Charles Townley, is the only one of which we have any cause to be proud, due regard being had to those national advantages.
To any collection of pictures capable of leading the student from the early dawn to the glorious and consummate noon of Painting, of pointing out to him the successive steps of its ascension, and of its decline, we have scarcely made any perceptible approach. And of the production of those men, who, in later times, have conferred distinction upon our own country, and who honour it still, we have not even the smallest beginning of a public collection, to which we might refer the foreigner who, having heard of their fame, enquires after their works.
Or if an earnest student of Art, marking how many rich natural gifts are utterly wasted in the pursuit of excellence through illusory and barren paths, were to devote his life to the task of tracing the history of Art through all its various phases, and of developing the causes which assisted its progress or brought about its decline,—a task yet to be accomplished, and which never can be accomplished but by the union of artistic knowledge with a thorough acquaintance with the history of literature and of social progress,—if such an one were to undertake this task in the hope that he might help to give a better direction to the efforts of his countrymen, we have not one national library rich enough to supply him with the half of the accessible books indispensable to his undertaking.
It is needless to add, that of public collections of works of Art in our great manufacturing towns, fitted to elevate the taste and to develop the capabilities of our artisans, we are wholly and absolutely destitute.
Yet such collections, besides their immediate results, are intrinsically “so much treasure, but for the possession of which Rome and Florence would be towns."
kind of col.
The suggestions which I have to offer on this subject relate, first, to the nature of the collections which are most wanted, and to the means of establishing them; and secondly, to the improvement of those which we already possess.
With respect to the nature of the collections most 1. What wanted, I quote the following from the evidence of well
lections are informed witnesses before the Commons' Committee on most wantArts and Manufactures, so frequently referred to already. I apprehend that, under existing circumstances, the wants of the manufacturing towns ought, beyond all doubt, to be first attended to. In London, and as respects the productions of the highest order of Art, the
beginning has been made: in the former, almost every
thing has yet to be done. Mr. Cock
“I have seen,” says Mr. Cockerell, R.A., the architect of the Bank erell, Evid.
of England,—“I have seen and watched with very great interest the Arts' Com, 1. 1478. establishment and growth of voluntary institutions for the encourage.
ment of the Fine Arts in Dublin, Edinburgh, Bristol, Birmingham, and many other places; these have been raised by the subscriptions of individuals, often manufacturers themselves, very enthusiastic for the honour and for the real improvement of their native towns; but the means being very small, they have been obliged to support them by the attraction of fine art and annual exhibitions; they have not been able to bring them to bear more directly on manufactures to such an extent as they otherwise might have done; and I doubt not that if those institutions were in a situation to add to their means, by the encouragement and aid of government, afforded under proper conditions, and were enabled to give rewards, and to hold out premiums for works wholly applicable to manufactures, that the original promoters of these institutions would be gratified and stimulated, and the ultimate objects of these interesting schools would be fulfilled; a permanent solidity would be given to those occasional and fluctuating efforts of enthusiasm or prosperity, of which we see so many examples, and the legislature would obtain the desired effect at a much cheaper rate and more effectually, than by any other means I have been able to contemplate for general improvement in the application of art to
manufactures." Mr. W.
“In towns such as Sheffield, and Birmingham, and Manchester," Wyon,
says Mr. William Wyon, R.A. (of the Mint,) “ they should have Ibid. 1717.
museums, if you may so call them, of the works that are particularly
applicable to the manufacture that flourishes there." Mr. Pap
Mr. Papworth recommends exhibitions of works of Art, such as worth, vases, casts, bronzes, and works of decorative architecture, &c. disIbid. 1286. tinct from the higher works of painting and sculpture, fearing (in
common with others, as we have seen,) that from mixed exhibitions, Ante,
"young men might be tempted to leave the intended object to pursue that which is more accredited and honoured, to the disadvantage of
the manufacturing Arts.” Mr. G.
“It is very desirable,” says Mr. George Rennie, speaking chiefly Rennie, of plaster casts from statues, original ornaments, &c., “that there Ibid. 959, should be a central museum in London, and branch museums in the
provincial towns, where every species of casts and models, and means by which design might be promoted, should be transmitted from London to the provinces, and vice versa."