Page images



No. IX.-MARCH, 1853.


[ocr errors]



The Prize Treatise on the Fine Arts Section of the Great Ex

hibition of 1851. Submitted to the Society of Arts in Competition for their Medal. By Henry Weekes, A.R.A.

London : Vizetelly and Company. 1852. MR. WEEKES' very clever treatise, written during the period of the Great Exhibition, was submitted anonymously to the Society of Arts, in competition, for the gold medal, which it obtained ; and, being applicable, as well to the Fine Arts generally, as to the particular collection of which it it was the exponent, it has been published by the author ; who modestly pleads in excuse, that “nothing tends more to improvement in the Arts, than a promulgation of their principles, and a familiarization of the public mind, with those general rules by which they are guided ;” and if the rules differ in some respects from what are generally deemed orthodox opinions, he submits that, “the truth may perhaps be elicited by comparing opinions derived from practical knowledge, with what has already been advanced by the mere theorist." In this we heartily concur-we have strong suspicions that of late there is over much theory prevailing.

The work is thoroughly practical, written mostly in a clear intelligible style, for the author being perfectly conversant with all the details of his subject, has had no necessity, either to mystify, or appear excessively learned, in order to conceal the want of such a requisite. It needs no dead men to come from their

graves to tell us that the author is a Sculptor, his partiality to his own branch of Art, is bat too apparent--as also an overweening anxiety to exalt it; this is perhaps natural enough, but a writer should endeavour towards what Locke designates





[ocr errors]

“a state of indifferentism, as to which be the right," or he cannot decide impartially, or instruct to good purpose. It is also most natural, that being an Associate of an Academy, he should have marvellous faith in the utility of such bodies; but those who are in a less interested position may, possibly, question his assertions. Mr. Weekes makes it appear that the Royal

. Commissioners, “essentially, if not wholly, rejected Paintings from the Crystal Palace, and exalted Sculpture to a position it never before occupied." The fact is, the Royal Commissioners were most anxious to have paintings, and solicited the co-operation of the Royal Academy, who replied, that they could only support the Great Exhibition to the neglect of their own Institute-established expressly to sustain Art—and they conceived, very justly, we think, that the Royal Academy had a prior claim. This attempt to unnecessarily elevate Sculpture, at the expense of Painting, pervades the entire work. Such innuendoes, for instance, as “Sculpture, more haughty than her sister Painting, rarely condescends to depict the lower order of beings.” We wonder he would even allow them to be sisters, though he says " Architecture and Sculpture are twin sisters.” The common consent of mankind, has long ago determined the precedence of the Arts, as Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, and Mr. Weekes will scarcely succeed in making an alteration.

In a former paper* it was shown that a Painter has many difficulties to overcome,

and various studies to pursue, with none of which a Sculptor has need to trouble himself-he has only to study form, and very little arrangement, as sculptural compositions are necessarily simple. The Painter has not only to study color, light, and shadow, aereal and lineal perspective, but both form and composition; the latter including the arrangement of middle and extreme distance, whereas, in a sculptural subject there is never any background to be considered, and as the real form of objects, and not their appearance, is imitated, the Sculptor has a much easier task. Sculpture had been practised and brought to great perfection, while Painting was but half developed. Bas reliefs are at best but a barbarous imitation of a picture, and it is probable, that such seulptural delineations, in low relief, when partially colored, first suggested painting ; specimens of

[ocr errors]




both are amongst the Egyptian remains; and it is tolerably certain that the ancient Grecian paintings were without landscape or scenic backgrounds, the figures standing isolated from each other, with, sometimes, a second row over head, to represent what any modern Artist would place in his middle distance: to this day, many of the conventionalities which cling to Painting, are derived from Sculpture.

He has all a Sculptor's antipathy to color, and to sustain his assertion, that color is nothing without form, he makes a comparison of it with sound, which is anything but a happy illustration-for he tells us that

“Neither color nor music can of themselves convey to the eye or ear more than general and indefinite notions or impressions; it is only when the one is allied with form, and the other with language, that distinct ideas are brought forth; whereas by form or outline alone, unassisted by anything else, can be expressed almost all that Art is capable of, whether it be the imitation of physical shapes, the indication of intellectual thoughts, or the depicting the passions or feelings.”

Oh Shade of Mozart ! what would you say to this-oh Music ! that we are told is the only thing heavenly we have on earth, can it give us nothing but indefinite notions, until language is brought to its assistance! Has he never heard any of our beautiful old Irish airs, that excite almost to tears, and which made a celebrated foreign composer say,that it must be the music of a people, who had either suffered great calamity, or were in slavery; or, has he never felt the quick excitement of a lively waltz or gallop; has he not heard of that Swiss air, which awakened such powerful associations of home and kindred, that the bands of the Swiss regiments in the French service were forbidden to play it, as it caused an irresistible impulse to return to their loved country ? Again, has he not heard of the spirit stirring effect which the National airs of the first French Revolution had on that most excitable people? We can detect from various passages in his book, that Mr. Weekes is a most loyal man-has our National Anthem God save the Queen no effect on him-unless words are joined to that glorious air ? For our part, we have always inclined to the idea, that words rather injured than improved beautiful music; and with regard to color being nothing unless united to form, does not a brilliant and cloudless sunset call up other than indefinite ideas of the grand and beautiful ?




and surely there is very little form in the sky; or does the charm of the rainbow consist chiefly in its shape ? are not the most beautiful similes of poets taken from color? Mr. Weekes quotes farther on, “ blue-eyed daughter of Jove

ox-eyed Juno”-not seeing, that in supporting one position he pulls down another. In nature, wherever we see form, there, also, is color; and it is bootless striving to exalt one above the other--they confer a mutual charm; amongst Painters, it is true, color is often studied to the neglect of form, and Mr. Weekes is quite correct in stating this to be a fault of the English school of Art, in which a want of correct drawing is very prevalent; whether he is justified in making Rubens and Vandyke the fathers of this mischief, we know not, but there is some appearance of plausibility in the surmise. Painting has necessarily much conventionality, but Sculpture is nearly all conventional-nothing is represented as it appears, for instance, hair, all kinds of drapery, and small, natural, or ornamental objects, are rendered by a set method, which departs more or less from the exact resemblance. Color is always absent ; we agree thoroughly with Mr. Weekes, that its introduction is to be deprecated; those who visit Madame Tussaud's wax works, will see what effect it produces, and that the closer, or rather the more servile approach to nature which is made by Art the more it deteriorates. He is fond of musical comparisons, for we find another equally farfetched, to the effect, that a Sculptor modelling in clay, with

finger and thumb," has “the same species of feeling as a fine pianoforte player, who draws expression from the instrument, not barely from correctness of note, but from a mental absorption in the music, which imparts itself to his touch, and this affinity between head and hand is interrupted in the Sculptor when the modelling tool intervenes between the surface of his work and the delicate sensation with which his hands are endowed.We have heard of an artist who cast aside his brushes, and resolved in future to paint only with his finger. According to the above, he must have been

a real artist; nevertheless, the success of his efforts was not such as to induce other parties to do likewise. We opine that Sculptors trying their finger and thumb on the marble, would find the mental absorption somewhat intercepted.

The author seems deeply imbued with the national feeling which regards all that is English as excellent, and when any

his 66

thing foreign happens to jar with some favorite John Bullism, he waxes wroth; we do not think he has at all made out his case against the Milanese sculpture room, which he designates as a " sink of Art iniquity," and we think, that having made such sweeping charges and harsh condemna. tions, when fighting what he calls the battle of British Art," (a phrase which denotes a foregone conclusion) he was bound to support them by instances; he only gives one — The Fainting Ishmael; and yet he describes it as "a truthful copy of attenuated nature, but painful the more so for its truth, being so literal as to convey the idea of its being a cast taken after death;” now this seems to us very like commendation; he adds that “by representing the boy alone without the mother, M. Strazza has missed that which in Sculpture must always form the pathos of the story;" this may be true, but nevertheless, the artist has adhered to the text, which is thus

“ And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.”

There are so many representations of Ishmael with the mother, that for very variety one without might be tolerated, and when correctly rendered, as this is, it appears to us, as fit a subject as many others we have heard praised, and that highly; from our recollection of it in the Great Exhibition, we think his remarks on the Milanese sculpture unnecessarily severe, although we do not parade our judgment with such a travesty of infallibility as the following:

“ It would be mock modesty were we to admit the possibility of our being mistaken on this question, viewed generally, for had we not taken credit to ourselves for some power of judgment, as well as some experience in Art, it would have been the height of presumption to have attempted the writing of a general treatise on the subject.

The historical sketch of modern British art, up to the present time, contained in the second chapter is excellent, the critical remarks are most judicious, and it merits, and will repay, an attentive perusal. Also, the observations upon Public Statues are in the proper spirit, and show that Mr. Weekes is a sound thinker, and that, however captivated by the manifold excellencies of ancient sculpture, he will not allow his

« PreviousContinue »