Зображення сторінки

of a reward for an immortal work, to the splendid gains which had been surely his, had he devoted half the time to the better rewarded but far less honorable exertions of his art.

A very able and well-digested plan for accomplishing this desirable object, with a very small expenditure of public money, was framed nearly thirty years ago, by the now president of the Royal Academy, Sir Martin Archer Shee.* Though I shall have occasion to express my dissent from one or two of the minor and less important features of this plan, yet I can in no respect endeavour to advance the object here contended for, with better chance of success, than by borrowing its general outline,

Sir Martin Shee proposed, that the sum of five Sir Martin thousand pounds should be annually appropriated by for the engovernment to the encouragement of the higher depart- couragement of painting, and the cultivation of a more elevated historical taste in the arts; that this sum should be annually painting,

(1809.) funded, and, with the interest, be applied at the end of every third year to the institution of prizes, divided into three classes, and decreed with public solemnity. In each of these three classes three prizes were to be given:

I. The first class was to be appropriated to those who, by the noblest of all applications of their powers, should most successfully promote the cause of religion and morality, stimulate the growth of public virtue, and commemorate the glories of our country. The subjects were to be chosen by the artists themselves from sacred

* This plan was submitted in 1809 to the directors of the British Institution, and led to their Representation, addressed, in 1810, to the British government, but with the same ill success which had attended the previous efforts of Opie, Flaxman, and West, and which has since attended the exertions of Mr. Haydon and others.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

or British history, each picture consisting of at least thirteen figures of the size of life. The first prize of this class was to be a gold medal and £3,000; the second, a like medal and £2,000; and the third, the like and £1,000.

II. The second class of prizes was to be devoted to subjects drawn from ancient history, poetry, or romance, less extensive, or on a smaller scale; each picture consisting of seven figures at the least of the size of life. The prizes in this class also, were to be medals, and, in addition, the sums of £1,500, £1,000, and £750, respectively.

III. The third class of prizes was to be of a more miscellaneous character than the foregoing, but still to be limited to such subjects as usually come under the description of historical or poetical art, and without restriction as to the number of figures. In addition to the medals, these prizes were to consist of the respective sums of £750, £500, and £300.

It was further proposed to grant smaller but proportionate remunerations, to each of the three candidates in each class, who should be judged to be the most deserving of those not successful in obtaining prizes.

All the pictures presented in competition, and judged worthy of admission by the directing committee, (the composition of which will be spoken of hereafter,) were to be publicly exhibited for one month before, and one month after, the adjudication of the prizes. This adjudication was to be attended with all the circumstances of a public solemnity, and the pictures which should obtain prizes were to become the property of the nation, and be appropriated to the decoration of some of our churches, palaces, or public halls. The residue of the fund it was proposed to devote to the general purposes of the British Institution, after defraying all contingent expenses.

The prizes were to be open to all artists, of whatever rank or country, resident in any part of the United Kingdom, during three years preceding the triennial adjudication. But every artist was to be required to give eighteen months' notice, specifying the class in which he desired to compete.

The examination, for approval or rejection, of all the works offered for the triennial prizes, was to be committed to the directors of the British Institution, assisted by a committee of the Royal Academy.

The main features of this plan appear admirably adapted to attain its object. The interval of three

years would at once afford ample time for the labour of the artist, and would add weight and dignity to the solemn adjudication. The efforts of art to which the prizes are restricted are precisely those efforts which THE STATE ought to encourage, both because they are direct and efficient co-agents in attaining the worthiest objects of good government-RELIGION-CIVILIZATION-50CIAL ORDER, and because they are also precisely those efforts which mere individual patronage leaves to desertion and neglect. The amount of the pecuniary part of the prizes—while paltry in comparison with the highest rewards of the other liberal professions, and besides this, in its nature uncertainis yet sufficient to stimulate the artist's ambition, and to justify him in making some sacrifices in order to its gratification. But

to the end that an ambition so honorable might Lesser renot expose to an irreparable loss of time and reputation, munerathe artist whose efforts were found to evince creditable posed for ability, though they might not suffice to carry off the the most prize, it seemed but reasonable to afford him the proba- guished bility, that if he were not enriched, he would not be among the ruined by his ambition. With this view Sir Martin ful com

petitors. Shee proposed that nine moderate “remunerations”


Annual post of this clan.

should be given in addition to the prizes, thinking, that when to this advantage, “ were added the chance of finding a purchaser for his picture, even at the humblest price, the artist [least favorably circumstanced] would not consider a contention for the national prizes, though at the entire sacrifice of one or even two years' industry, so desperate a speculation as it might otherwise appear to him.”

And at what cost to the British nation might this excellent plan of triennial prizes in painting be carried into effect? The answer is, at the cost of five thousand pounds a year. Surely the most rigid economist of the public resources must blush at the parsimony, as well as the policy, which has withheld such a sum for such a purpose.

Most earnestly do I hope that Sir Martin Shee will yet live, not only to see his plan of 1809 carried into full operation, but also to witness some of the happy effects it is so well calculated to produce.

Not that from the immediate operation of this plan, or of any the most liberal that could be devised, a sudden revolution in English art is to be effected. They that would reap where they have not sown, and gather the fruit where they have not cultivated the vine, must needs meet with disappointment. It will require patient and repeated efforts to give to the artistical genius of England, so long pent within the narrow boundaries of capricious fashion or of mere commercial speculation, that direction to high and enduring purposes which has heretofore marked every great epoch of the arts. culture must be patient and persevering, if the crop is expected to be luxuriant; and although the first growth might appear inadequate to the expense, that is no reason why the husbandry should be discontinued, nor why a richer harvest may not hereafter be produced.” And at least, “let us not condemn those who have the virtue


and the valour of the Greeks, as incapable of acquiring their taste, till we have furnished them with the motive, the means, and the opportunity.”

And, above all, let it be remembered that if we hope to produce artists worthy of enduring honour, we must confer public honours on their art. The plastic arts were held in the highest veneration by the Athenians, long before the era of Phidias and of Parrhasius. And

many have been the artists who have produced works of the highest order, because they have been commissioned to produce them. And many, too, have been found to prefer the simple and dignified reward of public distinction to reward of every other kind. If the circumstances of modern life be greatly different, and if pecuniary rewards have become the indispensable condition of all great exertions, yet let not these be offered alone. Who shall tell the future effect of a public and solemn celebration in honour of the peaceful triumphs of art, upon the glowing aspirations of many a young and unnoticed student? Let the past answer the question, and let the imagination of the reader be invoked to that sacred ground, “decorated with the profusest triumphs of Grecian art--all Greece assembled from her continent, her colonies, her isles,--war suspended,-a Sabbath of solemnity and rejoicing, the Spartan no longer grave, the Athenian forgetful of the forum — the high-born Thessalian, the gay Corinthian, the lively gestures of the Asiatic Ionian ;-and let him turn to the temple of the Olympian god, pass the brazen gates, and proceed through the columned aisles. What arrests the awe and wonder of the crowd ?-Seated on a throne of ebony and of ivory, of gold and gems—the olive crown on his head, in his right hand the statue of Victory, in his left, wrought of all metals, the cloud-compelling sceptre

• Sir Martin Shee, Letter to the Directors of the British Institution,

« НазадПродовжити »