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... “The woes of Troie, towers smothering o'er their blaze,
OF VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATIONS FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT
OF THE ARTS OF DESIGN ;-THEIR AIMS, AND THEIR
It has been objected to societies, such as the Art On certain
otin objections Union of London and the Association for the promotion to of the Fine Arts in Scotland, that they “do nothing tions upon
S the plan of for the encouragement of high art,” and tend rather to the Artincrease the number than to develope the genius of our artists.
There is much room to doubt whether, if the indirect as well as the direct results of such associations be regarded, these censures could be maintained. But there is another objection to them which lies more upon the surface. They seem to proceed too much upon the confusion of a lofty subject and a large canvass, with a great work; and to forget that the true artișt can produce a picture worthy to live, though his subject be humble and his canvass small.
If this confusion were not somewhat common, we should less frequently see considerable, but not surpassing talents wasted by misdirection. A man who may possess too deep a sense of the dignity of his art to be content to trifle away his abilities in producing
mere toys, may yet want that rare combination of powers which enables an artist to pourtray for a nation the grandest events of its history. Surely such a man would be better employed in painting the many subjects which lie well within his reach, and for which appreciation may be more readily found. The illustration of our own dramatists and poets, for example, presents him with an immense field, in the cultivation of which he will find ample scope for the most earnest and truthful sense of the capabilities of his noble art.
History, indeed, as it has been commonly both written and painted, deals too much with the battle-plain and the council-chamber, and too little with the field and the loom; busies itself in depicting the dazzling exploits of the successful general and the shifty diplomatist, while it almost wholly neglects the peaceful triumphs of the patient inventor and the solitary student, whose unnoticed labours were to change the aspect of all future time. Well may the poet-while regarding the comparatively unenduring results of some even of the most brilliant of those careers which so dazzle and engross the historian-exclaim,
“ Juliet leaning
The immediate tendency of societies, such as we are now regarding, is to increase the cultivation of this wide and fruitful field of poetical art, by bringing its productions within the reach of many who have been hitherto altogether debarred from them. They aim at adding to whatever individual patronage may already exist, or be hereafter called into existence, a new amount of collective patronage, which but for them would not have existed at all.
That, at the outset, such societies as these will do nothing for the highest branches of art is therefore confessed; to do so is at present no part of their object. But it should be remembered, that at every step of their progress they are helping to prepare the way for the enlightened cultivation even of those highest branches, by exciting and strengthening a love of art which cannot fail to be progressive. That hereafter, when these societies shall have attained the growth and importance which characterize their predecessors in many parts of Europe, they may come to have other duties to perform, directly bearing on the employment of the arts of design for the highest national and social purposes, I, for my own part, distinctly anticipate.
I proceed to retrace, very briefly, the history of these associations, and then to consider their present aspect.
About forty years ago M. Hennin, a distinguished History of amateur of the arts residing in Paris, issued proposals for ciations. the formation of a society, having for its object to bring Franc together the unsold works of artists, in order to exhibit them to the public at a moderate admission fee,—the produce of which, together with the subscriptions of the members, were to be applied to the purchase of a selection from those works, made by a committee chosen from amongst the members themselves.
At this time lotteries were strictly forbidden by the French laws. In order, therefore, to the disposal of the works thus purchased, recourse was had to the following plan: the names of all the subscribers having been thrown together promiscuously, lists were formed of them as they appeared, and then divided into hundreds; the first name on each list received in succession the works of highest value; the second names the works next in value; and so on, until all the works purchased were disposed of. By this plan every annual
subscriber would receive some work of art, sooner or later, supposing the society to continue its operations for an indefinite period. The subscription was fixed at 36 francs yearly; the value of the works purchased extended from 72 francs to 2000, and upwards; the subscribers had a perpetual free admission to the exhibition; and a periodical conversazione was formed, chiefly for the purpose of promoting friendly intercourse between artists and amateurs. *
The plan led to much good, although, as may readily be imagined, there were many difficulties to be surmounted. The sanction and assistance of the then minister of the interior, François de Neufchâtel, was obtained, and a committee chosen, composed of artists and amateurs in equal proportion. Eventually this society merged into the existing institution, known as the “ Société des amis des arts," of Paris.
This society received its present constitution in 1816. Within twenty years from that period it had purchased, directly from the artist, and more especially from the young artist-rich in talent, but poor in friends—more than 1200 works of art, including pictures, drawings, marbles, and bronzes, with the outlay of more than £22,000 sterling. Among the artists who thus received a wise and liberal encouragement in their season of comparative obscurity, are to be numbered Xavier Leprince, Gudin, Bonnington, Eugène Isabey, Revoux, Hubert, Coignet, and many others who have since achieved fame. In addition to these purchases, and within the same period, this society caused 28 pictures to be engraved, exclusively for its members, at a cost of about £9,000. Many of these plates possess merit
* See “Etablissement pour assurer aux artistes le prix de leurs travaux.” 8vo, Paris, an. 7, (1799.)