Page images

sion, was soon acknowledged as the first low painter on record. His pictures are too well known and estimated to need any description here, which, to be just, ought to be minute. Spirit and correctness of drawing, propriety of colour, expression chaste as significant, and the happiest seizure of circumstance, are bis distinguishing characteristics; but his pictures and success instantly created a sort of humorous school, and painters of landscape and portrait began to try whether nature had not intended them to be droll. Mr. Bird, who lately appeared, and was said to be

formidable rival, has a considerable turn for humour, but as a designer he is far inferior, and his humour is of a more partial kind, belonging rather to situation than to character. The best artist whom Mr. Wilkie's genius seems to have roused, is Mr. Sharpe, who, with a delicate eye for colour, and a pleasantness of social feeling, has displayed considerable merit in what are called humorous conversation pieces; that is to say, in domestic groups with some accidental circumstance of drollery, as a Girl shutting her ears at Bad Music, a Boy convulsed with a Pinch of Snuff, &c. The foreign costume in which he indulges himself has been censured, but it is not easy to see why. What he loses in point of familiar appeal, he gains in elegance, richness, and variety of dress; and as to the essential humour of the pictures, a foreign girl may certainly be as much annoyed with discord as an English one, and a young Fleming take as overwhelming a pinch of snuff. Mr. Sharpe, however, is not a low painter; he has not sufficient humour, and at the same time he has too much refinement; for it would almost seem an axiom in painting, that these two feelings can never come together, at least in their natural strength. In Mr. Davison's Collection of Paintings from English History, there is a picture by Wilkie, of Alfred letting the Cakes burn, in which the humorous circumstance is excellent, but the Prince mean; Mr. Devis has painted the same subject, and in his picture the humour is mean and the Prince excellent.

Mr. Devis is one of the most universal painters we have, and is the link between history, fancy-pieces, and portrait. His ta. lent consists in ease, and an apprehension of natural circumstances. or his skill in the more familiar parts of history, his Death of Nelson, in the Cock-pit of the Victory, is a very just specimen; and, on account of its ease and adherence to fact, is more valuable than that of West. The general fault of Mr. Devis is want of effect, and a dingy colouring ; but he latterly seems aware of these great defects, and his whole-length Portrait of a Lady in batin, in the last Exhibition, was a masterpiece of ease, lightness, and delicate brilliancy. In small narrative, and other light pieces, we have two or three artists, besides Mr. Devis, of much elegant taste and of superior fancy. Mr. Howard can enter into the most graceful flights of poetry, as he has evinced in several small pictures from Shakspeare and the Classics, particularly his Hylas borne away by the Water-nymphs, and a piece in the last Exhibition of the British Institution, in which he happily personified, by Venus and Mercury, the certain Stars that

Shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea-maids' music.

Midsummer Night's Dreat...

For a man of so much taste as Mr. Howard, he has a singular fault, that of chubbiness in his faces and figures. He seems not to have studied drawing sufficiently. Mr. Thomson is in the same line, though he is also a pleasing portrait-painter. He has not Mr. Howard's fancy, but his figures are much better executed; and his colouring, when it acquires a little more body; promises to be masterly. Mr. Owen appears to be inferior to both these gentlemen in fancy, but he has a better eye, and a greater taste for simplicity. In the natural attitudes and repose of Children he is now unrivalled ; and some of his later Portraits display a knowledge of grouping and of delicate accident, that belongs to the highest rank in that department of art. His colouring is peculiarly harmonious, of a gray and agreeably sober tone. This gray is, however, too prominent in the flesh, rendering it somewhat dingy. Mr. Lawrence has for some time past been reckoned the first in this line, but if it was too great a compliment to Sir Joshua and Vandyck to attribute to them a genius for history, it is the merest flattery to Mr. Lawrence. He is an artist of considerable talent, draws well, and catches a prominent expression with a vivid spirit of translation : but his colouring, which might be otherwise mas. terly, he renders too gaudy and imposing, and his attempts at an historical spirit are theatrical, as may be seen in his well-known picture of Rolla bearing off Cora's Infant :~if it be objected that this is a portrait of Kemble, and that Kemble's manner is very theatrical, one may observe that it is not the business of Mr. Lawrence to copy a vitious manner, and that the very child on Rolla's arm is as theatrical as the Peruvian himself. Portraitpainting has lately sustained a severe loss in Messrs. Hoppner and Opie, artists of no great refinement, but highly useful in their respective merits—the former a very natural colourist, the latter a just, though dry, painter, and a lecturer of much sound sense.

The Abbe Winckelmann, who saw in our humid climate nothing but barrenness of taste, might have condescended to inform himself that such climates are essentially favorable to two branches of art-Landscape-painting and Architecture. The former it supplies with scenes of perpetual verdure ; the latter it advises to he well built, and of a lasting solidity. In England, the drawing of landscape has long been an ordinary accomplishment, and our water-colour Exbibitions are daily crowded with ladies who go there to study and to criticise, as our students do to the others. The drawing masters in this line have consequently had their activity roused, and the productions of Girtin, Haveli, Varley, Christall, &c. have gone considerably beyond those of the late Mr. Sandby, Mr. Farington, and others of the old school, and begin to contest the palm with their elder sister, oil. The latter branch, however, is decidedly capable of more richness and grandeur, and has the powerful advantage of durability. Of this art we have professors of every description-painters of flat and mountainous scenery, of barren and of picturesque, of Italian and of Egyptian, of the banks of the Ganges and of the solitary mud banks of Chelsea. Freebairn, an elegant but flimsy painter, gave us the classical scenery of Italy, as Daniel does that of the East; and both hare beep valuable to men of literature. Mr. Callcott is correct, tasteful, and has a fine feeling for aërial effect: he has introduced a classical story into his last landscape, a practice that should be encouraged like historical portraiture, inasmuch as it tends to bind the different branches of painting together, and to give each a proper respect for the other. The Messrs. Barkers are bold in scenery and perspective, with much freedom of penciling. Mr. Arnald's productions are chaste, tasteful, and natural: the Reinagles, particularly the junior, are artists of considerable power and varieiy; and Miss Goldsmith possesses a vigour of touch, and an eye to common nature, not often seen in a fernale professor. Chalon is a man of talent, but he should rely more upon his own powers. Loutherbourg, a foreigner, wants the English cast of judgment; he is highly picturesque, and occasionally sublime, particularly in his Al pine scenery; but his luxuriance is apt to become mere flutter and tawdriness, and he works his colour up to such a glow that his landscapes sometimes appear lit up with a conflagration. This gentleman also paints history in a style that, generally speaking, has the flutter of his landscape without its grandeur. He is in the habit of designing battles and military landings for the engraver, but his sailors have a kind of sturdy caricature about them that is not English; and of such landings and battles-array it may generally be said, that they are only a pitch above the monotony of seafights. Our first landscape-painter is Mr. Turner, who has the same fault in his drawing as Sir Joshua, that of indistinctness of on line ; but this fault, which is so obnoxious in human subjects, and baffles Mr Turner's ragged attempts at history, becomes very different in the mists and distances of landscape ; and he knows llow to convert it into a shadowy sublimity. "Mr Turner's invention generally displays itself through this medium, whether disturbed or placid, His Whirlwind in the Desert astounded the connoisseurs, who, after contemplating at proper distance an embodied violence of atmosphere that seemed to take away one's genses, found themselves, when they came near, utterly at a loss what to make of it, and as it were smothered in the attempt. Of his calmer style there are two exquisite specimens in Sir John Leicester's Collection, one representing a Seat belonging to the Baronet in Cheshire, the other the Demolition of Pope's House at Twickenham. The former is a towery mansion, seen on a fine April morning from beyond a large sheet of water, and looks as if it were dipped in moist air :--the latter is a picture of rich decay, a poet's house in a state of demolition, contemplated upon an autumnal evening, with other attendant circumstances, that have all the meaning without the affectation of allegory.

In architecture we are at present, I believe, without jompetition; but what has been said above on this subject is, perhaps, still more applicable than formerly to the works of our artists. Our later edifices are upon the Greek models; and where this is not the case we have more eccentricity than originality. The proportions of architecture, we are told, are fixed; its orders are perfected; and by what we can discover, its harmonious' combinations are exhausted :-what then remains for invention ? Somerset House is light and elegant, but it is said to be ill built, and, in a word, what beauty has it that is new? Mr. Soane, a theoretical master of his art, wished to be original when he repaired the Bank; and how did he effect his purpose ? Merely by giving his edifice the look of a different object-merely by giving us a title-page contradictory to the contents of the book; the Bank has the air of a mausoleum, as if its builder intended to be ironical on our departed gold

To show by one satiric touch
No nation wanted it so much.

SWIFT, 'on Endowing his Irish Bedlam.

Dr. Wyatt builds excellent houses, replete with snugness; but where is his invention in architecture ? Mr. Dance is said to be a clever artist ; but where is his invention ? The New Theatre, built by Mr. Smirke, jun. is undoubtedly an ornament to the metropolis ; but does it exhibit any thing beyond tasteful copying ? What it possesses of beauty has been seen a thousand times in arcades and porticos; and where he has diverged from the ordinary agreements he is said to have been wrong—as in the bareness of the sides, their want of uniformity, aud the unseemly arches on the root. The architect with the greatest appearance of genius is Mr. Gandy ; but he has not exhibited this genius in any new modes of building, though it is possible he might do so, had he a proper opportunity. What gave the public a high idea of his taste and imagination was the drawing of Pandemonium, exhibited a few years since-a most poetical production certainly, and glowing with the preternatural fire of the original ; but did the building in itself display invention, abstracted from its poetical circumstances, the extent, the burning ground, and the ghastly illumination? It is certainly not for the REFLECTOR to decide; but either the architects have for centuries past had no acquaintance with invention, or invention has been entirely shut out of architecture.

With the exception of this art, the objections to which apply of course to the rest of Europe, the English school of design has manifested a decided character of originality; and it has been its good fortune to be followed and animated in its endeavours by an excellen' succession of engravers :- but of Engraving more hereafter. It is strikingly worthy of remark, that this originality is individual as well as general, and that our artists imitate each other much less than the other existing schools. The general dotage of the Italian school has already been mentioned. The French painters, making a superficial use of the plundered stores of Italy, and servilely imitating David, who now leads the taste by his imperial office as well as his genius, have turned the old love of flutter into a sculptural stiffness and affected classicality, that promise little rivalry in invention. It would seem, therefore, that the same spirit of thinking which has given freedom and variety to the English character, and enabled us to exhibit our humours as men, has entered into our composition as artists. Our principal painters above mentioned have each their striking peculiarities; and the two most promising of our young students, Messrs. Haydon and Hilton, have their's also the former a fine eye for correctness and colour, with an ambitious vehemence of style that promises grandeur of character but not refinement;—the latter, a gentler taste, suceptible of pathos and various elegance, but inclined, unless he takes great care, to prefer show to substance, and become theatrical. May these young men fulfil the hopes entertained of them. If to a spirit of rational independence in art, our growing school shall add the same spirit as men and as a body-a spirit alike removed from the misanthropy of Barry and the courtliness of his enemies—the Fine Arts of this country will soon be worthy of its poetry and philosophy.

« PreviousContinue »