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Ramsay was painter in ordinary to the King and Queen , in fact, it has been remarked, that their Majesties never gave Sir Joshua a commission for a single picture, and sat to him only once, when their portraits were required for the Royal Academy.* In 1766, however, Reynolds was selected to paint the portrait of the Queen of Denmark on her marriage. He was wont to complain of the difficulties of the task, since during the hours of sitting, that ill-assorted and unhappy Princess had been for the most part in tears.f
Romney was another painter of high reputation in his day. There are not many things in biography more striking than the tale how, at the age of twenty-seven, he forsook his young wife at Kendal, and went forth to seek his fortune in London — how, after seven-and-thirty years of desertion, he returned to her, rich indeed and famous, but worn out in body and in mind—and how, with patient forgiveness, she nursed him during his remaining span of decay, and at last of imbecility. When in full possession of his powers, he had been deemed a rival to Sir Joshua himself, and it is by no means to the credit of the President, that Romney never was elected even an associate of the Royal Academy. Indeed, whenever Reynolds had occasion to refer to him, he would call him only " the man in Cavendish Square." In those days Lord Thurlow had said: "There are two "factions in Art, and for my part I am of the Romney "faction." But, as Mr. Southey observes, time has reversed the Chancellor's decision.J
The true rival of Reynolds, in our eyes at least, was Gainsborough. Born and bred in Suffolk, he had not the advantages of academic education or foreign travel; bul from his earliest years he manifested an inborn passion for art. A beautiful wood near Sudbury is still shown, where Gainsborough, in his school-boy days, used to sit and fill his copy-books with pencillings of flowers and trees.§ With Wilson he divides the honour of founding
* Memoirs by Northcote, p. 259.
our school of landscape; with Reynolds the honour of restoring our school of portrait-painting. Below Sir Joshua in the taste and composition of his portraits, it may be questioned whether he does not excel him in a still more essential quality—the true and life-like delineation of the countenance portrayed.
At this time the name of British sculpture was worthily upheld by Bacon and Nollekens. To the former Westminster Abbey owes the great monument of Chatham; the latter was good in statues, but excellent in busts. In their literary attainments they differed greatly. Of Bacon we are told, that he showed some skill in composition, while Nollekens was wholly ignorant of grammar and spelling.* Of both it is pleasing to find, that their profession brought them wealth as well as fame. Bacon at his death left 60,000/., and Nollekens, whose career was much longer, no less than 200,000/.
An Academy comprising men like these, men of every variety of birth, of education, of character, and of creed, (thus, for example, Bacon was a Methodist, Nollekens a Roman Catholic, and Flaxman a follower of Swedenborg,) was often discordant and disturbed. Some complaints from those whom it excludess some quarrels among those whom it admits, are, perhaps, in any such institution unavoidable. Certainly they have not been avoided. Even at the present day the war, at least from without, is waging. But there is one day in the year, when, by common consent, all strife is hushed, all rivalry suspended, when on the first Saturday in May the Exhibition Rooms, rich with the well-wrought toils of the preceding year, are opened by the President and his brother Academicians to a chosen company of guests. There all ranks, all professions, and all parties — intellectual pleasure being for that day a sufficient bond between them — are assembled to commune with artists and do homage to Art. There the Ministers of the Crown, forgetting the Parliamentary battles of the night before, exchange a cordial greeting with the Ministers who were, or the Ministers who will be, as in emulous admiration they throng around some stag or sheltie of Landseer, or a sunlit lake by Stanfield. There the
* Cunningham's Lives of the Sculptors, pp. 195. and 200.
poet may behold the visions of his fancy bodied forth in living hues. There the historian may acknowledge his own descriptions far exceeded.* There as the banquet ceases, and the shades of evening close in, the gaslights that were kept ready burst into a sudden radiance, and illume the pictured walls at the very moment when the health of the Sovereign is proposed, and the name of Victoria is pronounced. Nor will any former guest forget how in the speeches, throughout that evening, the common interchange of compliments was graced, and, as it were, exalted, by the skill and taste and diction — such as on no similar occasion have I heard surpassed,—of Sir Martin Shee.
The contemporaries of the first Academicians speak with little respect of the taste for art which then prevailed. Goldsmith, in his Vicar of Wakefield, observes that there are two infallible rules by which any one may acquire the name of connoisseur among the English; the one always to assert that the picture might have been better if the painter had taken more pains; and the other to praise the works of Pietro Perugino. Foote, in one of his plays, aims many a bitter jest at the ignorant enthusiasm so readily imposed upon by new-made antiquities of Herculaneum, or spurious works of Guido and Raphael. He goes on to a complaint of the admiration for these great old Masters, as though it must involve some injustice to the livingf—a complaint, however, which any real artist, or real friend to Art, will be slow to make. By experience the very reverse is shown. As with the artist himself a growing admiration of the painter "sires of "Italy" becomes a sure test of his own progress, so with the patron of Art that admiration, if heart-felt and unfeigned, leads to no slight or disparagement of the present
* May I be allowed to express my warm appreciation of the genius and success with which one passage of this History (" A Scene in "Change Alley in 1720," vol. ii. p. 11.) has been illustrated by Mr. E. M. Ward. (No. 291. in the Exhibition of 1847.)
f In his play of "Taste," a picture of Pharaoh's Daughter and Moses being much commended :—
Brush. Lack a day, 'tis but a modern performance; the Master is alive, and an Englishman.
Lord Dupe. Oh 1 then I would not give it house-room! school, but rather to a more thoughtful and indulgent appreciation of its labours —not requiring from it that it should approach the unapproachable, but only that its principles should be tried, and its path the true one.
It is not arrogance or harshness, but, on the contrary, a gentle and a reverent spirit, a sense of our own brief span and fleeting pleasures, that are fostered by a frequent contemplation of the works of the departed great. Once, as Sir David Wilkie (Mr. Washington Irving and myself being then his fellow-travellers in Spain) was gazing on one of Titian's master-pieces — the famous picture of the Last Supper in the Refectory of the Escurial — an old Monk of the Order of St. Jerome came up to him, and said, "I have sate daily in sight of that picture for now "nearly threescore years. During that time my com"panions have dropped off one after another — all who "were my seniors, all who were of my own age, and many "or most of those who were younger than myself— "nothing has been unchanged around me except those "figures, large as life, in yonder painting—and I look at "them till I sometimes think that they are the realities "and we the shadows!"
Far, therefore, from joining in the shallow sarcasms of Foote, we shall see reason to lament and wonder that a public collection of the works of the great old Masters was for so many years delayed amongst us. More than half a century elapsed between the establishment of the Royal Academy and the establishment of the National Gallery. Even now the latter collection has by no means attained the number of pictures, nor the degree of merit, which in such a country as ours it should have long ago. The lack of it has been, in many cases, supplied by what indeed no future excellence in it can ever wholly supersede either to artist or to connoisseur — a pilgrimage to Italy. It may be truly said that Rome in this age is as renowned for the concourse of English in the cause of Art, as for objects of devotion it was in the days of the Lombard Kings.*
* His temporibus multi Anglorum gentis nobiles et ignobiles, viri et fceminse, duces et primates, divini amoris instinctu, Eomam venire consuererunt. (Paul Warnefrid, De Gest. Langob. lib. vi. c. 37.)
The progress of good taste in England during the last hundred years has been in nothing more signally shown than in gardens and pleasure grounds. There is a striking remark of Lord Bacon on this subject. "Further, a man "shall see that when ages advance in civility and po"liteness, men come to build stately sooner than to "garden finely, as if gardening was the greater per"fection." Yet Bacon himself may be considered to afford an instance of the inferior taste which he commemorates; when in his Essay on Gardens he goes on to recommend for his model a perfect square, intersected by trimmed hedges. Later in his century the examples of France and Holland led us to still more fantastic ornaments, and still more formal symmetry. But the early years of George the Third beheld a great reaction. So complete has it proved, that at present throughout the whole of England there remains, perhaps, scarcely more than one private garden presenting in all its parts an entire and true specimen of the old designs. This is at the fine old seat of Levens near Kendal. There, along a wide extent of terraced walks and walls, eagles of holly and peacocks of yew still find with each returning summer their wings clipped and their talons pared. There a stately remnant of the ancient Promenodjs — such as the Frenchmen taught our fathers, rather I would say to build than plant — along which, in days of old, stalked the gentlemen with periwigs and swords, the ladies in hoops and furbelows — may still to this day be seen. Some traces of the same taste may also be explored elsewhere. But happily, in the vast majority of cases, the time has long since gone by when the beauty of trees was thought to be promoted by the assiduous use of the shears, or when a close connexion was sought to be established between the sciences of mathematics and of gardening.
This improvement, like several others, was at least in some degree promoted by the example of George the Third. His Majesty honoured with his favourable notice, and admitted to his familiar converse (sometimes on politics also), the principal designer of gardens in the new taste, Mr. Lancelot Brown. That gentleman had been from his boyhood a servant of the House of Grenville, and rose by his merit to be head-gardener at Stowe, until,