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Wir such institutions, and artists themselves, of later thrs, have more than doubted them. . . . . . thny concur in the opinion, that academies ought properly to be schools only, wherein such instruction may be given as is not attainable in the studio of a private master. When academies go beyond this, their proper province, they degenerate into mannerism and fetter genius; and when they assume too exclusive and oligarchial a character, they damp the moral independence of the artist and narrow the proper basis of all intellectual excellence-mental freedom.
.... “Our own ROYAL ACADEMY, .. The Royal as it now stands, is not a public national institution,
an Academy. like the French academy, since it lives by exhibition, and takes money at the door. Yet it possesses many of the privileges of a public body, without bearing the direct burthen of public responsibility.
"The artists, examined by the Committee, frequently concur in admitting the eminence of the present and of former members of the Royal Academy; but they com- Charges plain of the exclusive nature of its rules, of the limitation aga of its numbers, and of the principle of self-election which pervades it. . . . . . Of the privileges its defence. objected to, some have been denied to be exclusive; others have been claimed by the Academy as essential to the nature of such an institution. “The exclusion of ENGRAVers from the highest rank State of
Engraving, in the Academy, has often called forth the animadver- and claims sions of foreign artists. In the French Academy, of Engravengravers are admitted into the highest class of members; so they are in Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome. In England, their rise is limited to the class of associates. This mark of depreciation drove such eminent men as Woollett, Strange, and Sharpe, far from the Academy, Such a distinction seems the more extraordinary, because British engraving has attained a high degree of excel
lence: foreigners send pupils hither for education; a the works of British engravers are diffused and admirl
throughout the continent. Occupation “The plan annexed to the evidence of Mr. Wilkins
Na- will explain that fully one half of the new NATIONAL tional Gal
GALLERY has been given up to the Royal Academy. Against this apportionment of the national building, a large number of artists have remonstrated; and two bodies of painters have petitioned the House of Commons on the subject. They declare their inability to compete with an institution so favoured at the public expense. It is true that the Academy can be compelled to quit the National Gallery whenever the public convenience requires their removal; but the great body of nonacademic artists contend, that a society which possesses not only this but a great many other public advantages, ought to be responsible to those who contribute to their exhibitions, and whose interests they are supposed to represent. A strong feeling pervades the artists generally on this subject. They are uneasy under the ambiguous, half-public-half-private character of the Academy; and they suggest that it should either stand in the simple position of a private institution, or, if it really represents the artists of Great Britain, that it should be responsible to, and eligible by them.
Public competitions in Art.
“The composition of our Commissions for deciding on plans for public works has also been, with great apparent justice, complained of. In France, the tribunal which decides between competing artists is less limited and more professional. The opinion of the public is also there called in aid of the tribunal."
Such is the substance of the Report on the more important of the topics treated of. It certainly does not present a picture at all gratifying to national tity; and, as might have been expected, it has in more than once assailed, and with not a little Xterness.
But I apprehend that every one who bestows any serious attention upon the subject, will, after all, admit that the two leading facts asserted by the Committee are perfectly indisputable.
The first is, that a cultivated taste for the great and First point the beautiful in Art is the possession of a very small
the Comnumber of persons in this country; and that this num mittee: that
a cultivated ber is small, not in comparison with any vague nume- taste in Art rical standard (which would indeed open a field for is more rare
in England endless disputation), but in comparison with the than in degree in which such a taste is seen to be diffused in
countries, some other countries.
Perhaps this fact is most clearly displayed in these two particulars: first, in the application of design to our manufactures; and, secondly, in the character of those branches of art which receive the largest share of patronage amongst us. I shall quote, but very briefly, from the mass of evidence extant, on each of these points; and from unexceptionable witnesses. James Morrison, Esq., M.P., of the firm of Morrison Evidence in
proof: and Company, says:
First, in “I have been well acquainted with the manufactures of this
with the country for more than twenty years. ...... I have found generally silk manuthat we have been very much superior to foreign countries in the facture,
Evid. general manufacture, but greatly inferior in the art of design. .... 5 We are now, and have long been, obliged to resort to the continent p. 13, seqq. for the purpose of purchasing their new designs; and, in fact, our manufactures have been greatly benefited by the opportunity of purchasing foreign art in that shape. .... We have generally copied the French patterns, and if we have attempted to alter, we have only injured them. .... The superiority I speak of applies more particularly to the silk trade; but it applies also to woollens, and generally to all articles in which there is a figure. .... Also to metals. .... The public are always ready to purchase our own goods, if they are really equal to foreign.
“The great mass of the community in this country, not
Fancy ma- Mr. Samuel Smith, of the firm of Harding, Smith, nufac
. and Co., of Pall Mall: bons, &c. Id. p. 21,
“In this country, the manufacturers in the fancy trade have no seqq. means of obtaining designs, excepting by copies from the French,
for the most part. .... The finer fancy goods are almost exclusively
Architectural ornaments in stone. ld. p. 43, seqq.
Mr. Charles Harriott Smith, sculptor of architectural ornaments :
“I think ornaments are as well designed in England as in any country; but the French workmen, collectively, are better educated in art than the English workmen; consequently the French artist has a greater facility of getting his designs well executed. The French people, as a body, seem not to be so satisfied with inferior performances as the English are."
House de. Mr. George J. Morant, of Bond street:
been a matter of great difficulty to get workmen to enter into the
Architectu- Mr. Charles Robert Cockerell, R. A., architect to
the Bank of England:
“I have experienced great difficulty in procuring able assistants steel, plate; in decorative architecture..... Having resided a great deal abroad,
I have been piqued as an Englishman at seeing the great superi
ral decoration generally, in bron
llo Iof foreigners in that respect. I have visited the manufactories and iron. Lithus country with a view to this question, and I have exceedingly
w Sess. 1835,
p. 101, seqq. me nted the want of instruction I have found there. .... I have mund that from ignorance of the true principles of design, there has been a constant waste of capital in the capricious and random endeavour to catch the public taste. I have freely commented upon this deficiency, and have generally found it confessed."
Evidence, clear and decisive like this, might be adduced to almost any extent. But upon a point so much within the range of common observation, I should apologise for quoting even thus much, were it not that a vain and idle jealousy, calling itself “ English” feeling, has been busy with attempts at qualifying and explaining away a truth, which cannot be openly denied, instead of earnestly looking at it to see whether it might not contain—besides a reproach upon the past and the present some useful lesson for the future.
With respect to the character of those branches of the Fine Arts which receive most patronage in England, I might content myself with appealing to our annual exhibition rooms, and to the general tone of our artistic criticism.
I might ask, if such great and varied talents as are constantly displayed in the former, were ever before productive of results so mean;—so mean, that is, if it be the true purpose of the Fine Arts—to please indeed, but to please, while elevating and refining. There are, it is most true, not a few pictures very cleverly painted; but in how many of them is the subject, and the aim, worthy of the execution ? And even as respects the last, how often do we see fine powers wasted in the production of harsh contrasts and glaring colours, and in all the strugglings after meretricious effect. Have we not, for one picture, or one statue, telling of the lofty inspirations of the Artist, a score which tell of nothing but the vagaries of capricious fashion? And may not