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The great feature in these recommendations and proposed metropolitan, national improvements, is fresco painting. And a leading question occurs, Is there ability, character, and nationality, equal to the opportunity, so as to make the most, the best of it? Several things unite to mar our hopes; and yet we see some grounds for a strong anchoring. First of all, let it be borne in mind that we have our Eastlakes, our Haydons, and Martins--men who have capacity, in every view that can be taken, for immortalizing the history of British art, and planting the British pame on as high a pinnacle in the temple of artistic fame as her arms have won. There is no deficiency of native artists,-masters, in every department that can be desiderated. Then, with regard to the mode and opportunities of discovering and proving the merits of the artists, we have only to look to the obvious and simple mode of having their designs and models,- let them be upon paper or in clay,--submitted to a competent tribunal. But, alas! we have this fear before us, Englishmen,—the British public, have not soared higher in their aspirations than portrait admirers; there is no appreciation of the style or the execution of works of high art on a grand scale. And another unfortunate fact is, that our painters, as a class or body, have not had the means and occasions of instruction necessary to the achievement of the high designs under consideration.
But to return to broader views,--some kind of colouring and of painting, is essential, according to Mr. Barry's authority, and the taste of all eminent artists, to every style of architecture, whether it be classic or any other different mode of art. This is illustrated and demonstrated by the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Byzantines, the Romans, the Moors, and, above all, the Goths. And not only was this the case in sacred edifices, but in the domiciles of our barons and gentry, down to the era of the Reformation, when blank walls and dingy cold stone began to characterize the notable edifices of the land, instead of the sculptures and the tapestries of the middle ages.
Fresco painting, as we have said, is the great feature in the decorations recommended,--the most durable and the chastest, the most expressive, and dignified of all sorts of pictures. It is done with water-colours on fresh or wet plaster, requiring neither glass nor any choice of light or time to be seen to the fullest or best
preserved advantage. But then the very fact that water-colours are to be substituted for oil opposes the prejudices of English painters, so perverted and opinionative is the school of this country in regard to design and effect.
Great skill is required to the accomplishment of fresco painting; for not more decided are its capabilities and powerful results, than are the requisitions which it imposes. For instance, it does not admit of retouching; therefore it must be done at once, grandeur and broad effects being studied in preference to nice details. There is also this difference in regard to it as compared with oil-painting, that it must be executed bit by bit, requiring not only a sure and decisive hand, but a previous study and arrangement of composition and colouring in a cartoon. The artist, besides, has to calculate upon the different tints that will arise in the course of drying.
One great advantage to which we have already alluded, in the nature of fresco painting is, that its full effects can be appreciated and felt, in all lights, even such as are artificial, and from all points of view. The objections to it are that the wall may crack in the progress of settling ; that dampness may destroy the colours; and that in the case of fire removal is impossible. Mr. Barry stated that some years ago the wall at the back of the altar of the Roman Catholic chapel in Moorfields, was painted in fresco by an Italian of the name of Aglio, but that for some reason with which he was unacquainted, the fresco had suffered very materially; so much so indeed as in many parts to be entirely defaced. It should however be borne in mind that the frescos in Italy and other continental countries, which have been injuriously affected in the course of time, have either been, for the most part, much exposed to the action of climate, or have been painted in oil
. Draining and warming are operations next to unknown in Italy.
But two important points remain to be noticed, after considering the expediency of decorating the Parliament houses internally, and fixing upon the modes and kinds of decoration,-viz., Is there talent in England sufficient for the achievement? and, What are the means by which such talent can be best secured?
With regard to the first of these inquiries, it does not appear to us that there can be much doubt. Indeed we understand that some of our most distinguished artists have not only set themselves zealously to work as fresco painters, but that, although with trembling diffidence and anxiety, their first efforts have astonished themselves, and elicited the admiration of connoisseurs. But then what are we to say of the plan by which the best talent may be secured? Is that of competition the most promising? We shall not stop to offer any remarks relative to Mr. Eastlake's opinions. These in their connected and completed form, as already quoted, will be best understood and tested. We must observe, however, that Sir Martin Shee, although with singular inconclusiveness, endeavoured to persuade the committee that fresco was objectionable, not merely because it was not consistent with the taste of the country,” but that the system of competition would deter artists of established reputation from coming forward. “My general impression," he said, “ with respect to the promotion of the fine arts was, that competition was the best means of forwarding their improvement; but experience has proved that the means of obtaining a competent tribunal to decide upon the merits of the competitors are not easily to be found in this country; so many difficulties stand in the way, so many obstructions, so many interests to be considered, and so many persons are to be consulted, that I think it is hardly possible to obtain a competent tribunal under any circumstances. Again,
Competition will not succeed in this country, because artists of established reputation will not risk that reputation by coming before a tribunal which they do not think competent to decide upon their merits, and which may very materially injure the reputation which they have obtained, by selecting persons of inferior capacity and incompetent to the object required.
But Sir Martin Shee does suppose and admit, in the course of his examination, that a competent tribunal may be obtained and may take place; although it was after he had been closely pressed by members of the committee. When Sir Robert Inglis asked,
Does it not follow that competition cannot be applied to painting in fresco ?” The reply was," I should think so." Yet immediately, to a question put by Mr. Ewart, “You think competition cannot take place in the case of fresco painting ?” the response now was, “ That does not follow.” And when Mr. Blake pushed the inquiry still further home, “ Do you not state it as an objection to the plan of competition, that it would be difficult to obtain a tribunal that could judge competently? and would not that objection apply equally if the tribunal is appointed to select one artist, or a few artists out of the whole number?" Answer,—“If any work is to be executed, it follows that some one must be appointed for that purpose; and if somebody is to be appointed, some one must choose: the difficulty is unavoidable.” Now surely this is confusing the matter. Altogether the evidence of the President of the Royal Academy is unsatisfactory,-like that of an unwilling, if not a jealous witness. Our painters must betake themselves to the study of fresco, and if the old and the highly reputed deem that competition will injure their reputation, why then they must stand still and behold the younger members of the craft, among whom neither zeal, talent, nor generous rivalship is extinct, outstripping the timid and the suspicious.
The proposal is, that Westminster Hall be appropriated for the first attempts at fresco by artists who are considered most competent for the important task; and several were mentioned as having given high promise of superiority in that department of art. The Germans have taught themselves, and why may not the English, doubly stimulated by that success? Mr. Barry recommends as absolutely necessary that the roof of the Hall should be "pierced” in various places, so as to admit of an increased quantity of light; the paintings to be either in fresco or oil, as in the houses of Parliament, and the designs also to be taken from the most prominent features in British history.
The superfices of the buildings available for painting are thus cstimated by Mr. Barry.
Besides, the Speaker's house, and a variety of minor portions of the new Houses, it is proposed, shall afford scope for native talent. What need, after the table of figures just given, and a consideration of the nature of the buildings, to expatiate upon the grandeur or the importance of the scale? But there is one fortunate circumstance which must also be kept in mind, -the walls will not be in a fit condition to be painted for three or four years. Now here is a space of time that affords ample room for the eager and the able
udy and practise a branch of such acknowledged eminence and dignity, but hitherto so little prized in this country. The length of time, too, which the whole scheme of decoration will require suggests hopes that maturely and systematically will be the arrangements both of Commissioners, who may be appointed to superintend the choice of artists, and of the Committees of artists themselves, towards the adequate achievement of the national triumph.
In conclusion, we cannot but express our hope that the new Parliament will not be less earnest than the last to seize an opportunity, such as may perhaps never occur again, of reaping national glory, stimulating art, and elevating the taste of the country. Nor can we entertain any doubt of Sir Robert Peel's hearty efforts and glad countenance towards this metropolitan, this British improvement. The premier's patriotism and his patronage of the fine arts, forbid a question on the subject.
Art. II. - The Canadas in 1841. By Sir R. H. Bonnycastle. 2 vols.
London : Colburn. Were it for nothing else than the moderate tone which Sir R. H. Bonnycastle maintains in these volumes, we should hold them to be worthy of especial attention at the present moment. But when we add, that the “ Lieutenant-Colonel, Royal Engineers, and Lieutenant-Colonel in the militia of Upper Canada," has given us a book devoted to colonies which are deserving of much consideration, not only in respect of themselves as settlements, but of their relations and prospects; and that the book is crammed with information and a diversity of sketches, which are as lively and pleasant as the subject is broad and various, our readers may expect more that is useful as well as entertaining than has been written relative to our North American possessions of late years. In short, this shall be our book upon the Canadas, not only for the coming winter nights, but as a judiciously popular work concerning a period and a country that must stand prominently out in the history of colonization and of Great Britain. Good sense and right feeling have in these volumes rendered a hackneyed, and, as generally of recent years treated, a repulsive subject, — fresh, agreeable, and instructive. Unaffected, charged with healthy sympathies, and bearing the impress of many and minute observations, with a sufficiency of professional evidences, “ The Canadas in 1811” will be oft and long hence read with satisfaction and profit.
Sir Richard has for many years been personally acquainted with •Canada; not merely in consequence of an extended residence, but of travels, journeys, and tours, numerous and ramified, --sometimes for the sake of pleasure and adventure, and often in the capacity of an officer of engineers, or of one high in military command. He may be said to have traversed every part from Labrador to Lake Huron, and was also busily engaged in the late civil war, when not only Canadians, but citizens of the American states threatened to subvert British authority in Upper and Lower Canada. Professional-like, his notices of canals and roads, and other engineering capabilities of the country described, are manifold and suggestive. His sketches of scenery, and his anecdotes, though light and easy, are excellent; only to be surpassed where his sympathies for the Red Indians, his notices and descriptions of them, prevail.
We know only of one way of reviewing a work of the present kind, viz., by first indicating generally its character, and next by exhibiting its spirit and matter as discoverable in a few selected and varied passages. We begin with some of the graver subjects, although, as already hinted, Sir Richard does not lose himself in political squabbles, but avoids all strongly expressed one-sided