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question should have been so frequently carried on in a spirit of exaggeration and of bitterness. Due honour was paid to the high character of the present academicians, and the fullest confidence expressed in the purity and disinterestedness of their intentions. But it was contended that the present constitution of the academy, including as it does several distinct functions, the combination of which is incompatible with the due discharge of each, precluded it from answering the reasonable expectations of the public in the existing state of the arts.
41. The Royal Academy is at once an assembly of honour for artists, a school of instruction for artists, and the chief (and only privileged) medium for exhibiting the works of artists to the public. It was contended that to give to an assembly of honour an uncontrolled power over the exhibition or non-exhibition of an artist's works is at once to give temptation to an abuse of power, and then to take away all appeal from such abuse.
42. The object of an honorary distinction, such as R.A., is to stamp a man's pretensions as an artist with the sanction of those who are best qualified to judge of them. But as no imaginable associations for conferring such distinctions can be made to work unerringly, their existence becomes an evil directly they are made indispensable conditions to the favour of the public. The object of an exhibition is to afford every candidate for this favour the opportunity of obtaining it, by desert, altogether irrespectively of such distinctions. But to unite the control of honours and of the chief public exhibition in the same hands, is to place not alone the professional distinction, but also the very means of subsistence of the rising artist, at the absolute disposal of a body of men at once his competitors and his judges.
43. If this argument be in itself sound, it is no answer to it to say, either that the present members of the academy are too honorable to abuse their power, for this may not be true of their successors; or, that if such abuse should occur, the artist who conceives himself injured may appeal to the public through another exhibition, for a professedly 'Royal' institution lodged in a public edifice, and favoured with the prestige of fashion, will ever possess great advantages over the most meritorious private body.
44. A rapid review of the past course and present position of the Royal Academy made it apparent, on the one hand, that its means were altogether inadequate to its professed objects; and on the other, that it had failed to make the exertions which it might have made to procure
the increase of those means. 45. On the whole, it was contended, that the reform which would most extend the public usefulness of the Royal Academy would consist, first, in the separation of its functions as assembly of honour, and as school of instruction, from those connected with the annual exhibition, confining it wholly to the former; secondly, in the removal of the limitation as to the number of its members, the recognition of engravers as full members, and the abolition of the class of associates; thirdly, in the appropriation of such a sum from public funds as shall be sufficient, when added to the proceeds of the funded property at present possessed by the academy, to provide for the liberal increase of its means of instruction, and for its permanent maintenance as assembly and as school ; and fourthly, in adequate provision for the official inspection of the schools, and for the publication of periodical reports of its general proceedings.
46. The annual exhibition it was proposed to intrust to an elective committee, uninvested with any exclusive privileges of 'painting up' or 'varnishing,' undisturbed by other duties, and free to take the most efficient measures to promote the sale of the works exhibited. Such
a body, it was hoped, would both increase the immediate rewards of our artists, and contribute to bring about a more liberal and enlightened appreciation of the arts by the public at large.
47. Whatever the vicious effects of academies involving distinct and heterogeneous functions, in other times and places, an institution so limited and so endowed might, it was hoped, greatly subserve the progress of the arts towards the attainment of their legitimate objects, the intellectual and spiritual culture of the nation in its widest sense.
48. But it must ever be remembered that academies are but one link in the chain of means to this end. It were vain indeed to educate artists, and to confer on them the marks of distinction, if such employment be not afforded them as is calculated to call forth their
Encouragehighest powers. This employment, on any extensive ment of
historical scale, can only be afforded by the State.
art by the 49. And in glancing for a moment at one of the State. gravest characteristics of our existing state of societythe enormous disparity of conditions, and all that such disparity involves—we therein perceived another powerful reason why the arts should be employed for purposes of public and general enjoyment and magnificence, in which even the poorest should have their right of property. Happily, we found that the very means by which this end may best be attained are precisely those most powerful in aiding to dispel that ignorance of the masses which lends to social disparity its most alarming aspect.
50. The arts of painting and sculpture may be thus employed by the State, chiefly in these three ways: First, by national commissions to artists of approved ability, for pictures of religious and historical subjects, to be placed in our public buildings and galleries, and for
works of sculpture, as public monuments to our illustrious men, and for the adornment of our national edifices; secondly, by judicious purchases from the public exhibitions, wherever they contain works calculated to do honour to the nation; and thirdly, by prices offered to unlimited public competition for works of the same class as the national commissions.
51. Each of these means should without doubt be employed by a powerful nation, recognizing them all as contributive to the building up of an orderly, civilized, and religious people. But in entering on a yet almost untrodden path, it might be wise to select one of them as the means to be at first chiefly employed. And in this view the third perhaps would most quickly and most extensively attain its end.
52. Attention was therefore called to a well-digested plan, capable of being employed for this purpose with a very small expenditure of public money, long since framed by the now President of the Royal Academy, Sir Martin Archer Shee. By this plan it was proposed that the sum of five thousand pounds should be annually funded, and, with the interest, be applied at the end of every third year to the institution of prizes for sacred and historical pictures, divided into three classes and decreed with public solemnity. Surely five thousand pounds a year will not much longer be refused for an object like this.
53. The appropriate decoration of the Houses of Parliament now in course of erection would afford a noble opportunity for the employinent of the genius of our best artists on historical and national subjects. When we observe what has been recently done in this department in France, and still more strikingly, in the magnificent capital of the small kingdom of Bavaria, we may well blush for Britain, if this opportunity, like so many preceding ones, should be altogether neglected.
54. The strange objections which are sometimes ex. Pictures pressed to the admission of altar-pieces into churches ments in appears to be traceable to that superstitious dread of churches. everything supposed or alleged to be “Popish,” which is still not uncommon amongst us. But for this, one can hardly imagine that so efficient a means of awakening and cherishing religious emotions should be so little employed. It was well said by the Synod of Arras, that pictures are the books of the ignorant, who know not (or care not) to read others.* Books, indeed, have become more accessible since, but still the inclination to read “to religious edification” is not so general as that the older and often far more impressive means of instruction can be readily dispensed with.
55. Nor let it be supposed that the subjects of sacred art are trite or exhausted. Even amidst the comparative darkness of pagan antiquity, the hopes of an undying existence hereafter, to which humanity in its proudest as in its most abject condition has ever fondly clung, were found to admit of almost inexhaustible modes of expression. By the forms of an edifice, as by the rites of the worship within; by sculptured symbol, as by sacrificial emblem, this great truth seems dimly but unceasingly to struggle into the region of undoubting belief.
56. The christian artists of the middle ages, animated by a devout and humble spirit of gratitude to God, and of love to Christ for his great mission of reconciliation and redemption, seem ever to have kept in their remembrance that “besides the examples of virtues which we may learn of Christ, we may be also many ways provoked to remember his painful and cruel passion, and also to consider ourselves when we behold his image, and to condemn and abhor our sin, which was the cause of his
* Illorum quod per scripturam non possunt intueri hoc per quædam picturæ lineamenta contemplantur.