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vanity; and, as might have been expected, it has been more than once assailed, and with not a little bitterness.
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 proved by number 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 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 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.
Sess. 1835, 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 merely the lower and the middling classes, but a great portion of the upper classes have not had their taste cultivated in proportion to their education.”
Mr. Samuel Smith, of the firm of Harding, Smith, and Co., of Pall Mall:
“In this country, the manufacturers in the fancy trade have no means of obtaining designs, excepting by copies from the French, for the most part. .... The finer fancy goods are almost exclusively French. The Scotch shawl trade has been very much injured by the introduction of the French shawls within the last few years,.. owing to the superiority of the pattern and design. Colours are better blended in the French manufactures than in the English.
There are many articles we are importing from France which, were we in possession of designs, might be equally well manufactured here. ... I do not think a French article would sell without reference to its peculiar merit, merely because it is French."
Arcbitectural 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:
“ I have felt the want of the power of procuring good designs in p. 43, seqq. sufficient number. .... When I have had designs, it has frequently
been a matter of great difficulty to get workmen to enter into the proper feeling of them.
Our native designs, generally speaking, are not at all equal to the foreign."
Architectu Mr. Charles Robert Cockerell, R. A., architect to ral decora- the Bank of England: tion generally, in bronze, “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
ority of foreigners in that respect. I have visited the manufactories and iron.
Sess. 1835, of this country with a view to this question, and I have exceedingly.
p. 101, seqq. lamented the want of instruction I have found there. .... I have found 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 bave 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
contemporary English Art be, for the most part, truly
As to our criticism on Art-making two or three exceptions, as honorable as they are rare—who ever detects in it a coherent reference to principles, or a simple and high purpose? I imagine it would be difficult to name any subject on which the public tolerate, or would tolerate, so much vague nonsense (to say nothing of bitter prejudice) as is continually poured forth under the name of " criticism," on works of art.
But I shall here confine myself to a brief quotation or two from the Report before me.
Historical John Martin, the Painter:
“So long as portrait painting is patronized as 'the only true p. 72, seqq. historie, so long must historic painting be dead as an Art, for
artists paint to live, and it is too much to expect any one to die a
It is obvious to
Idem, p. 88, seqq.
B. R. Haydon:
“ All the world desires to see the exhibition, as it is a spring show of little pictures, portraits, and little pieces of furniture ; such works become the object of every person to purchase and artists to produce.
From the native vigour of the English character, and its constitutional habits, it has contrived to obtain a high reputation in every species of Art, except historical painting ;
the three kinds of painting; epic, dramatic, and historic, are popularly included under the term historical painting."
• “The prevalent characteristic of the English school of painting, at this moment, is the MATERIAL. You see bold execution and glaring colours, but there is an absence of sentiment-nothing rouses, elevates, touches, or addresses the soul in the vast majority of our artists." -England and the English, book iii. chap. ii.
Frederick Hurlstone, * President of the Society of British Artists:
“In no nation that bas attained so high a degree of prosperity and civilization, and in which the elegancies of life are so generally cultivated, as England, are the superior departments of Art in so low a state."
Sir J. D. Paul :
“ In common with everybody else, I am much struck with the Of Archivery low state of Architectural taste in this country. I think it is tecture : impossible not to be astonished at the very little taste exhibited in
1836, p.176. the number of new churches which have been built.”
Mr. Cockerell, R. A., on the same subject:
“ Architecture, considered as the science of building, has greatly improved; but, as an Art, I apprehend it has by no means gained; on the contrary, I do not believe that its principles, as a Fine Art, are so well understood as formerly: ...it matter of caprice
at present, our taste in Architecture is purely one of imitation and not of invention;
.. it is much more under the control of fashion than the direction of principle.”+
I submit then that there is really sufficient warrant for the statement of the Committee, that in the application of artistic skill to manufacturing industry, we are much behind some of our continental neighbours, and that, in the words of the Report, “ from the lowest connexion between design and manufacture, up to the highest branches of poetical design, the Arts have received little encouragement in this country.'
• The painter, it will be remembered, of “The Prisoner of Chillon,” and “Peasants of the Abruzzi" in the Exhibition of the British Artists in Suffolk street, of last Year.
† Mr. Bulwer has an excellent observation on this subject: “Greek Architecture," he says, even in its purity, is not adapted to a gloomy and chilly climate; all our associations connect it with bright skies and 'a garden life;' but when its grand proportions are omitted, and its minute details of alien and unnaturalizable mythology are carefully preserved, we cannot but think that we have adopted one at least of the ancient deities, and dedicated all our plagiarized blunders in stucco to-the Goddess of Laughter."-England, &c. 2d Edit. vol. ii. p. 210