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The Exhibition at Somerset-House.
In this age of absurd scepticism, it has become the fashion to doubt the value of Exhibitions, as auxiliaries to the progress of the Arts. But we should first doubt the value of competition, of publicity, of purchase, of the comparison of styles, of public criticism, and of the assurance of a fair trial of merits. An exhibition on the scale of that at Somerset-House comprehends all those advantages; and to its annual display may be at tributed at once the increased popular feeling for the Fine Arts, and the increased general excellence of the British School. Exhibitions do not create genius; but they cherish it; they give it the immediate power of attracting the public eye; they render it superior to cabal, and place in the first rank the man who deserves to stand in the first rank, without delay, and without difficulty. The English School has now thrown all those of the continent altogether out of competition. The French is learned, accurate, laborious, and meagre; the Italian, dry, loose, and feeble; the German, a compound of the French and Italian; the English, in its vigour and simplicity of conception, its adherence to nature, and its command of colouring, has had no superior since the days of
In the present Exhibition, there are about a thousand pictures. The great majority are portraits. These are, of course, almost beyond observation. Of the others, I mention only those which catch the general eye.
No. 21.-The Solar System, by Howard. This artist has distinguished himself by the study of the more fanciful parts of fable, ancient and modern. His Pleiades, a delicious composition, first brought him into notice; and he seems never to have exceeded that early effort. His Solar System represents the planets by male and female figures, floating in a circle round Phœbus, and drawing light in urns from the Sun. The conception is from Milton,
"Hither, as to their fountain, other stars Repairing, in their golden urns draw light."
But the execution, partially beautiful, is partially embarrassed and unnatural. Phoebus sits in the centre, touching his lyre, but with the face of a fat milkmaid. The Sun is by his side, a clumsy reservoir of light; and the floating gatherers of the radiance seem perplexed between the double service of filling their urns, and sailing round their ring. The Sun lies beside Phobus, like a beer-barrel. Light and the God of Light should not have been disjoined.
No. 22.-The Dawn, by Fuseli. The subject is suggested by the lines in Lycidas,
"Under the opening eye-lids of the morn, What time the gray fly winds her sultry
A youth is asleep on the foreground. The air is filled with rolling mists; the grass is deep and dewy; a long pyramidal flash of pale purple shoots up from the verge of the horizon. The youth is profoundly asleep, and the general expression of the picture is touching and true.
No. 34. John Knox remonstrating with Queen Mary on her intended marriage with Darnley.
This is one of the most spirited pictures in the room. Knox, with the Bible in his hand, and in an action of great force, bends towards the Queen. His countenance is remonstrative and imperious. At the opposite side of the picture stands Erskine, leaning over Mary in an attitude of conciliation. Mary sits at a table, with her head supported by her hand. She is in tears, and the youthful freshness of her countenance forms a striking contrast to the withered and acrid physiognomy of her persecutor. Mary's face is the chief failure of the picture. It altogether wants the romantic and lofty beauty that tradition has given to the Queen. The breadth of the cheek is rustic and heavy, and the colour is neither the flush of indignation, nor the floridness of early beauty. The details of the furniture and architecture are minute and accurate; but the subject is, on the whole, repulsive. Mary's sufferings
⚫ Such is our correspondent's opinion, and much may be said on both sides. Our own opinion is, that Allan is right throughout-that he has made her cheek-bones broad, because she was a Scottish Beauty, and because coins (better authority than vague tradition) give Mary the characteristic outlines of her country's physiognomy-and that Allan has not painted the Queen as in the full glow of natural passion, simply because he had adopted Dr M'Crie's belief, that, throughout the whole of this scene with Knox, she was acting a part. The picture of Archbishop Sharpe's death, however, is still the best that has been painted from the History of Scotland. C. N.
are less forgotten than her errors, if she had any errors beyond those of inexperience, and the natural impulses of a confiding and loving heart. The Scotch Novels have made the Covenanters distasteful to the multitude, and, sincere as they might have been in their conventicles, the artist should look to other times and men for the most popular exercise of his genius. The days of Scottish magnificence and chivalry, her court celebrations, her huntings through her picturesque and mountainous districts, the adventures of the Bruce, the Wallace, and the Montrose, offer a succession of subjects of the richest character to an aspiring national artist. The world are weary of the bitter mixture of politics and religion.
No. 78.-Portrait of the Duke of York, by Phillips.-The Duke is painted in the full robes of knighthood, the likeness is striking, and the arrangement of the robes at once stately and graceful. Phillips is one of our first colourists, and he has exhibited all his powers on this picture.
No. 131.-Portrait of the Duke of York, by Wilkie.-This picture is of the Cabinet size. The Duke is looking over some papers. The light is thrown from a window behind the figure, and the Duke's costume, and the furniture of the apartment, are admirably treated. But the face has escaped Wilkie, and the resemblance is lost in a mass of a heavy and featureless shade.
No. 151.-Arthur Lord Capel defending Colchester, in 1648, by Cooper-This artist has obtained reputation by painting battle-pieces of cavalry. He has spirit and general fidelity to nature and costume. But if he be emulous of the fame of Wouvermans, he must follow him in the selection of a noble and generous class of the horse. Cooper's horses are, almost without exception, the rudest models of their kind; the short hackney, or the rough and crabbed mountain horse, with more vice than blood, and more hair than sinew. His heavier chargers are mere dray-horses. In this picture his knights are stately, though clumsily mounted, and the attempt to express the stirring business of the time is nearly a failure. His battle has the composure and gravity of a pageant.
No. 196.-Comus, with the Lady in the enchanted chair, by Hilton.-The VOL. XIV.
Enchanter is offering the cup, the lady shrinks from him, and a whole host of fauns and satyrs are gambolling round them both. This picture is inferior to the Una of the same artist, though the manner is remarkably and injudiciously similar. The lady is a feeble and heavy figure, with a countenance totally the reverse of captivating. Comus is colossal, and thrown into an attitude of awkwardness and distortion. But the surrounding groups are highly animated, their general colouring luxuriant, and the depths and green alleys of the forest painted with a rich and verdurous beauty.
No. 261.-L'Improvisatrice, by Pickersgill;-A rising artist who seems to possess a peculiarly fine conception of female loveliness, one of the rarest facultics of painting. The poetess is young and handsome, her dress is Italian, her hand is resting on a guitar, and her large eye and glowing countenance, fixed upon a brilliant southern sky, are full of inspiration.
No. 272.-Shakespeare's Jubilee ; with portraits of the performers of Covent-Garden, by Sharp.-This picture represents its groups forming a procession to the temple of Shakespeare. The arrangement is tasteful. But the merit of a work of this kind is to be looked for in the fidelity of the likenesses; and here lies the weakness of the picture. The portraits are traceable in general with difficulty, and in some instances they completely evade the eye.
No. 135.-The Parish Beadle, by Wilkie.-The Beadle is arresting an Italian boy with a monkey; the whole family of adventurers are following him in great indignation; the father, a pale, nervous, strong-featured gipsy, is on the point of attacking the Beadle; the mother is in the full tide of scolding. A youth behind leads their bear; two boys of the rabble hooting at the Italians, complete the group. Wilkie has done nothing since his Rent-day, superior to this picture. The story is told with perfect clearness, the characters are fully sustained, and the colouring is probably the happiest effort of his pencil.
Canova's Danzatrice is the principal sculpture, and is unworthy of his name; it curiously combines the vulgarity of a rustic, and the affectation of an opera girl.
Haydon's misfortunes have been
made so public, that there is no inde licacy in the topic. It directly arose from two things: his idle scorn of following the common courses of his profession, and his determination to paint only Scripture-pieces, and those on the most colossal and hazardous scale. Much may be forgiven to the errors of an ambitious spirit, resolved on freeing itself from what had been, however childishly, called the degradation of its art. But cooler sense would have taught him, that exclusively to paint subjects, for which none but cathedrals and churches could be purchasers, and which, from the custom of the country, neither would purchase, was a hazardous speculation. The mere size of his pictures puts them beyond all hope of admission into private collections; for what could be done with three or four hundred square feet of canvas, covered with whatever majesty of prophet or apostle? Even if he must paint Scripture-pieces, his choice of subjects was injudicious. The New Testament was his selected field. But the character of the New Testament is beyond the power of painting. The highest grandeur clothed in the most extreme simplicity; prophets and apostles wearing the aspect of fishermen and peasants. All magnificence of mind under all humility of body, even a Deity veiling himself under the semblance of a harassed and outcast man, are all beyond the reach of an art which speaks only to the eye. No force of the pencil can make, or ought to make, those beings look otherwise than men, whom we yet know to be more. The nearer the painting is to probability, the farther it is from reality. The little artifices of huloes and glories round saintly and divine heads, are at once repulsive to truth, and evidences of the conscious inability of painting. Yet these unconquerable disadvantages Haydon undertook to combat, and to combat with the addition of a difficulty entirely his own. He conceived for himself a head of the Saviour, repugnant to all those fine imaginations of the Italian school which had already established the countenance. The result was total, undeniable failure. For the combined loftiness and suavity, the mild superiority, and the dignified sorrow, that alternately predominated in the pictures of Raphael, Corregio, and Guido, he gave us a head modelled on some fantastic conception of craniology, and a visage as dull as a
mathematician's. The countenance in which the first painters in the world had given their finest impression of the united nature of God and man, and which had become by habit identified with the name, was profaned; and a heavy and repulsive physiogno my substituted for the features of manly beauty and celestial virtue. This palpable fault degraded his picture of the Entry into Jerusalem, a work of great design, and vigorous execution. The physiognomy of the principal figure was fatal to the popularity of the powerful groups that filled the canvas; and piety and taste alike turned away.
If Haydon had selected the Old Testament, he might have found the congenial field for his boldness, originality, and breadth of design. The Hebrew kings and warriors, the gorgeous ceremonials of the Hebrew rituals, the mighty events of a history illustrated by human pomps and divine glories, the united crownings and consecrations, the magnificence of Persia, Egypt, and India, in the midst of the scenery of Palestine, the perpetual miracles, the intercourse of men and angels, the ascent to heaven, have all formed the most sublime efforts of the pencil. They all address the eye. Where there is grandeur of purpose, there is grandeur of person. Acts worthy of kings and prophets are done in palaces, or in the presence of classes and companies of magnificent shapes, mortal or immortal, that relieve the mind from all doubt of the nobleness of the agent, and invest him with a magnificence suitable to the minister of God, or the ruler of nations.
Haydon has petitioned the House of Commons to extend its patronage to History-painting. One of the objects of this petition may have been to bring his case before the country. It is to be hoped that this object will not be disappointed, and that a man of his ability will not be suffered to linger under the depression of hopeless ill fortune. But when Haydon shall re-appear, he must altogether change his conception of the way to fame. He must be undone, or listen to the advice which tells him, that no individual can triumph by resisting the taste of a civilized age; that if he expect to sell his pictures, he must restrict them to the size of sale; that if he will live by the public favour, he must consult the public taste in the
choice of his subjects; and that if his patrons are weary of historical pietures, he must, like Lawrence, and Phillips, and Shee, or like Rubens and Rembrandt, occasionally stoop to paint portraits. He is a man of talents, from which much may be hoped for still. The severity of his present lesson, however to be regretted, may have the advantage of forcing on him
the salutary conclusion, that his past progress has been constructed upon erroneous principles; and if the hour that sends him among the world again shall send him out as a new man, to commence a new career, young with the experience of years, and vigorous from the excitement of new hope, he may yet rejoice in his temporary calamity, and do honour to his age.
THERE is some old and absurd attraction in all that relates to Spain. Nous Anglois talk of it in a universal spirit of romance; and it is the only topic on which we do not ridicule and scorn romance in word and deed. But, something mingled of Moor and Chris tian chivalry, as theorbos touched to Sultanas, and bowers and alcoves fretted over with Arabesques and Saracen poetry, the remnants of the manners of a brilliant, fierce, jewelled, and mailed people haunt our imaginations; and it is thenceforth allowed and allowable for every man to be an enthusiast for Spain, for its beauty and valour, gallantry and guitars, the luxuriance of its valleys, and the proud brows of its sierras, provided he has never been within the borders of the land. Romance in an actual traveller is beyond all mercy. In our closets, and with a volume of Gongora or Calderon on the table, we may be forgiven for the folly of dreaming the Spaniard of the 19th century into the bard, the hero, and the enthusiast of the 15th. But the testimony of the eye should be fatal; and he who resists it is equally desperate of cure and pardon. The Spanish war is already extinguished, cast away, gone down with its whole revolutionary cargo. But some pamphlets have been brought out by it, descriptive of features and adventures that deserve to survive the Cortes, their Constitution, and their burlesque war. One of these gives a few curious details of the frontier, when the French kept watch, during the past year, over the plague and the revolution together. The writer, Thiers, is a Frenchman, and is what would once have been a philosopher, and would have been worshipped in the Pantheon, but that fashion has passed away, “nous avons changè tout cola;" and M. Thiers is now a respecter of
the rights of independent nations, and swears by Monarchy and la Charte. His work is written with some ingenuity, with the eye of an artist, and with a profound admiration for France, the great man now no more, and himself. But his descriptions are better than his politics. His coup-d'œil of the south is graphic.
"The soil of Provence, though covered with mountains, is essentially different in character from that of the Alps and Pyrenees. It does not present continual heights and defiles, like the great mountainous countries, nor moderate eminences, gradually declining to the plain, as we see on the north side of the Pyrenees. There are plains, hills, and, above all, some stray ridges of the Alps, which terminate in the Mediterranean. Hence the prospect over this diversified soil, is not always bounded by masses of rocks, confined within valleys, or lost in immense plains. It alternately contracts and extends over a soil which is sometimes level, sometimes covered with perpendicular mountains, and sometimes loses itself over the expanse of a sea, when the darkest azure is contrasted with sparkling light.
"In the midst of an immense opening between two great chains of rocks, which stretch into the sea, lies Marseilles. When a traveller arriving from the north reaches the first chain, he suddenly perceives this immense basin, and is astonished at its extent and dazzling brilliancy. Soon after, he is struck with the structure of the soil, and its singular vegetation. An immense mass of grey and bluish limestone forms the first enclosure; lower branches diverge from it, and extend into the plain, composing an unequal and very varied soil. On every eminence there are tufts of Italian pines,
The Pyrenees, and the South of France, during the months of September and December 1822. By A. Thiers. 8vo. Treuttel and Wurtz, London, 1823.
which form elegant parasols of dark, and almost blackish green. Pale green olive trees, of a moderate height, descend along the hills; and, by their paleness and little round masses, contrast singularly with the slender stature, and magnificence, and dome of the pines. At their feet is a low, thick, and greyish vegetation; it is the sage, and the odoriferous thyme, which, when trodden on, emits a powerful and agreeable perfume. In the centre of the basin, Marseilles, almost concealed by a long and straggling hill, appears in profile; and its outline, sometimes hidden in the vapour, sometimes appearing between the undulations of the ground, terminates in the blue of the sea, with the handsome town of St John. Indentations of the coast are washed by the waves of the Mediterranean, which extends to the west, with the Isles of Pomegue, Ratonneau, and the fort of If. It is under those beautiful pines, and in these innumerable country houses, that the Marseillese come every Sunday to forget the bustle of the quays, their disputes with the officers of the customs, and the business of the countinghouse.
"As the tourist approaches the Spanish frontier, he is reminded of the state of things by groups of Spanish Monks flying into France, by aidesde-camp filling the inns, by waggons and droves of mules choking up the roads, and all the bustle of fugitation and war. He reaches Perpignan.
"I immediately walked through the town. It is an ancient place, which was always fortified, because it is the passage between Roussillon and Catalonia. It is situated in a beauti ful plain, bounded on the west by Mount Canigou, one of the highest of the Pyrenees; to the north, by the mountains of Corbieres; to the east, by the sea, hidden behind fertile hills; to the south, by the road to Catalonia. The temperature of the climate is entirely southern. Some leagues from it, the orange grows in the open air, and in the very basin in which it stands, there are immense plantations of olives, which extend to the foot of Canigou. Thus, while the summit of this mountain is buried under the snow, its base is covered with the finest productions of the south.
"The fortifications of Perpignan are of brick, and their form and system are ancient. A skilful engineer has lately
repaired a considerable part of them; he has replaced most of the towers by bastions; protected the ramparts by means of terraces or excavations; has made covered ways and outworks. The citadel is now very strong; a triple enclosure renders it able to resist three attacks; and, by its position, it commands the town. The works were carried on with extreme activity during the latter end of the autumn; almost all the batteries were armed; the supplies of powder, cartridges, and provisions, were completing; wood was cutting in the country for making gabions, and a park of field-artillery was forming in a plain to the east of the town. A considerable number of waggons was already collected, and twenty, or twenty-five, pieces of cannon, were placed on their carriages. Though these preparations are not so considerable as had been reported, it is nevertheless equally desirable that the same were done in the fortresses on the Rhine; for it is probable that our real enemies are rather in the north than on the south. However, the works of Perpignan are said to be nothing more than the completion of plans long since made, for the repairs of our fortresses; and the expense does not perhaps amount to above 150,000 francs.
"Perpignan is certainly not of so much political importance as Toulouse. The latter city, with its Trappist, its two journals, and its pious souls, is the centre of vast projects. However, Perpignan is, for the moment, a place of great interest, if not political, yet picturesque; and I often wished for the pencil of M. Charlet, to paint the numerous fugitives with which it is filled.
"The monks, who are the forerunners of every emigration, swarmed at Perpignan, and preceded the Regency. At Narbonne, I had already met the Capuchins, with their ample brown flowing robes, their large hoods hanging down to the middle of their backs, their rosary, and their bare head and feet. At Perpignan, I saw monks of all colours; black, blue, white, grey, and reddish brown; the Curés, in large surtouts and immense French hats. I remarked a singular habit in them when I met them; they followed me with their eyes, as if ready to answer a question, and their extended hands, as if ready to give the benediction. In Spain, they bless all the peasants; and