Page images

than Satan's unwilling burst into manifestation, and the contrast which the malignant tension of his faculties presents to the calm and affectionate slumber of the pair below. The precipitous flight of Satan from the solar orb, while Uriel, seated on a cloud, looks down with a calm royaliy upon the headlong descent, unites fine conception with a beauty very rare in this artist-a dignified simplicity. But the Lacar-House was the triumph of his genius ; it told what he could do, and what he ought always to have done. In the whole range of painting it would be difficult to discover a wilder and yet more natural piece of the terrific, than the dying maniac, who at the very moment of receive ing the sacrament has escaped with a prelernatural strength from his bed, and is pursued by the priest and his attendants. Fortunately for students the beauties and deformities of Mr. Fuseli are equally prominent; and while the former tend to elevate the fancy, the latter as materially serve to warn them against extravagance, and to repress a mere confidence in that fancy. By what I can discover in the Exhibition, his style bas but one solitary imitator; and as this imitator seems a young man of talent, and otherwise capable of thinking for himself, he will probably grow wiser as he grows older, and not mistake the absurdities of genius for the genius itself.

As the president's chair was filled a short time since by a housebuilder, it is not easy to say who will sit there next: but the most proper successor to Mr. West, both on account of his freedom from gross faults, and his attainment, in one respect, of an excellent simplicity, seems to be Mr. Stothard. This gentleman is well known to readers by his innumerable designs for books; and in these designs, as in Mr. Fuseli's, and, indeed, as in those of all artists who condescend or are compelled to design for books, there are specimens of his worst style-large hands and eyes, rawboned faces, stiff attitudes, and dislocated limbs. They abound, however, in delicate beauties, and the engravings from them by Heath and others are so much valued, that I understand they are bought up on the continent at a considerable expense. The paintings of Mr. Stothard are sometimes patchy and meager; and he is apt to leave his faces with an air of being unfinished in his best works ; but it is no small praise to say that he is one of the very few painters who have been able to manage with effect the richness and the scattered lights of Rubens; and what is still greater, and forms his unrivalled excellence, is the exquisite air of simplicity which be can give to females. In Mr. Heath's edition of Shakspeare, there is a design from Twelfth Night, representing the detection of Viola in boy's clothes. Never, perhaps, since the time of Raphael bimself, was feminine modesty so unaffectedly sha. dowed forth under circumstances so provocative of effect. The gentle figure shrinking almost imperceptibly, and involuntarily lifting a finger to its lip, respires consciousness of its sex, without the least consciousness of its beauty of the Procession of Chaucer's Pilgrims, the engraving of which has been left unfinished by the lamented Schiavonetti, it is sufficient to say that the late Mr. Hoppner published a long panegyric. Mr. Stothard's genius is not confined to serious subjects, and perhaps he is the only painter, not only in England, but in the whole history of painting, that ever joined a real talent for the serious with a taste for bumour. In Sharpe's British Classics he has two humorous designs of great merit, from the Spectator; one, representing the celebrated Scaramouch beaten by an old Horse officer for taking too large a pinch of snuff;--the other, a scene at a West Indian Ball between two rival Sisters, the youngest of whom thinking to out. shine the other by coming there in a stuff of a new fashion, is suddenly thrown into a swoon by seeing the elder walk in dressed in black, and accompanied by a female slave, whose petticoat is a piece of the identical cloth. The former, from the nature of the subject, approaches to caricature, but is excellently national and explanatory: Scaramouch is his own name personified, and all is French manner, to the very shopman in the back-ground, who is obsequious with an air of naiveté. The latter is of a purer hu. mour; and it is pleasing to see, in the calm face of the triumphant lady, and the more conscious loks of the servant, that Mr. Sto thard can carry his simplicity into the very reverse of his usual walk.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, though he made such an inpression on his countrymen, left but one direct pupil who has attained any character. This is Mr. Northcote, an artist with little seduction of manner, and less fancy, but sensible, vigorous, and master of a strong though coarse expression. Like his instructor, he sometimes betrays a want of drawing, but is generally more correct, and has nothing else in common with Sir Joshua, either of fault or beauty. His designs for the tragedy of Richard the Third are well known, and I believe have been popular. Their power of pleasing, however, seems to arise from the subject rather than its execution. The face of Richard when he meets the young prince is forcibly marked with cunning: but the attendant bishop in his canonicals is an ill-drawn blotch; and the children, particularly in the smothering scene, belong too much to the nursery. A picture in the last Exhibition, representing the Earl of Argyle sleeping in Prison, a few hours before his execution, while his enemy is contemplating him with mixed rage and remorse, combines the principal features of Mr. Northcote's style. The gaoler's figure is disproportioned, and Argyle wants the heroic character: we should say, in familiar life, that he was not the gentleman. Bat the soundness and quiet conscience of his sleep are excellently expressed, and as finely contrasted with the devilish agitation of his enemy, who suddenly bites his lip, and strikes his forehead, with mingled hatred and despair. The meanness of this expression has been censured, but it appears to me to be its chief beauty: for what can be meaner than baffled malignity ?–Mr. Northcote is not confined to history. His aniinals are excellent, and have all the intelligence, if it may be so called, that their nature will allow, without exhibiting a fanciful or humanized expression. In Sir John Leicester's Collection of English Paintings, which does 80 much honour to the Baronet's public spirit, there is an Eagle of his grasping a Serpent, and looking out from the top of a mountain into a turbid atmosphere. It is one of the finest specimens of the style existing. The idea of height is admirably given; and the lightning of the bird's eye, and the air of power and defiance with which he thrusts out his head amidst the storm, form a truly Pindaric combination. Mr. Northcote does honour to the English school; and there is a good sense reigning throughout his pictures, which tends to divert the student from vitious and affected manner.

It is a pity that the same praise cannot be given to Mr. Westall, who is an artist of much taste and feeling, and has a poetical luxuriance of fancy. But without severe study and a continual attention to nature, taste and feeling will inevitably degenerate into affectation. Mr. Westall's females are lovely, his heroes dignified, and his youth sometimes frank and impassioned; he colours voluptuously, and can pierce into the bowers of poetry or beauty with an Arcadian spirit of enjoyment. But in so doing be takes leave of nature. Like Mr. Fuseli, he has a world of his own; and like him be chooses to live there in general, not because it is a more bonourable sphere, but because he can manage it more easily. Mr. Fuseli's is a world of absurdities: it is Ariosto in his dotage. Mr. Westall's is precisely that sort of smooth-faced and shepherdized creation, which boyish fancies live in at fourteen or fifteen. His beautiful faces are all of one monotonous cast, whether young or old; his dignity steps into the theatrical; and his colouring is worked into fritter and gaudiness. His favourite affectation seems to be a lifted eye; and this Magdalen expression he bestows on all that come-ladies, grandsires, boys, and peasants. What he does with peasants in other respects may easily be inagined; they are pure Arcadians in leathern breeches. For complete examples of his attractions and defects it is sufficient to mention the Bowers of Pan and of Venus. One of his most rational performances is the Alfred kneeling before his Mother, and listening lo her inspiring stories : the boy has great spirit, and the queer is impressive and royal; but all is theatrical. There are en

VOL. IV. Nero Series. 64

gravings, I see, from this artist, in a late edition of Mr. Walter Scott's Marmion; and it is well that two clever men, so given up to a similar affectation, should go hand in hand, and help to ilJustrate each other's faults. The young students, both of poetry and painting, should, of all styles, beware of that seductive one which, while it throws an indolent sunshine over their fancy, melts down the power of labour and reflection, and incapacitates them for all noble endeavour.

Our sculpture does not yet outshine the reputation of Ronbilliac, and the other foreigners who visited us. The late Mr. Banks was a man of genius, but he had no opportunities of working on a grand scale, which is sometimes absolutely necessary to an art wanting the aid of perspective. It is on this account that the best specimen of his talent, the Giant overwhelmed by Rocks, in the Council Room of the Academy, contradicts its own beauties; the Giant is excellently sculptured, and his attitude is desperate and ruinous, but the few inches allotted him and the rock destroy the general effect, and, in spite of the attempt at comparative size in the back ground, he looks like a Lilliputian Hercules knocked down with a stone. Mr. Bacon was a graceful sculptor, and left a good business to his son. Mr. Westmacott is much employed, but is feeble and incorrect; his Duke of Bedford, in Russel square, an attempt at ease, has an air of indecision and awkwardness; and the Muses round the pedestal of Addison's statue in Westminster Abbey want expression and proportion. Mr. Nollekens occasionally executes whole lengths from fancy, and does them with much elegance of form; but his excellence is in busts, of which the masterly turn and thinking spirit are justly celebrated. Our best sculptor is Flaxman, whose style, together with that of Rossi, is seen on the outside of the new theatre in Covent Garden. The figure of Tragedy, by the latter, is neither new nor forcible, and the drapery is cut up into pettiness; that of Comedy, by the former, has perhaps as little pretension to originality, but it is executed in a masterly manner, and the drapery is broad without heaviness. Much objection has been made to the quiet expression in the face of Comedy, which, we are told, should be gayer and more comic. Sir Joshua, it is true, represented Comedy with a laughing face, and the word comic has passed into an epithet of drollery; but this is confounding the effect with its cause. It is not necessary that Comedy should laugh in order to produce laughter: in fact, the best comedies are not those which laugh most; that is the strongest humour which produces the greatest effect with the most quiet face. Why the figure should have been represented with the attributes of the early Greek comedy is not so clear; but it is Mr. Flaxınan's great fault to carry his love of the antique to an excess. The figures in relief, representing scenes from the Greek and English drama, though partly executed by Mr. Rossi, are all designed by the former, and do great credit to his taste and composition. The lady from Comus is particularly graceful and feinivine. Mr. Flaxman is said to be a great admirer of Mr. Stothard's design, and if he is like that artist in certain faults, as for instance, in the relief before us, an occasional thicksetness in his limbs, he resembles him also in his simplicity, of which his group of Instruction, in the last year's Exhibition, was a very engaging example. It cannot be denied, however, that there has yet arisen no great inventive genius, who, by displaying a masterly familiarity with form and its accidents, joined to a vivid apprehension of character and a command of expression, could give sculpture that creative renown among us which it has enjoyed in Greece and Italy. There is still, therefore, a noble opening for English genius, in an art, too, which, if it is inferior to painting in vivacity and general power, is more capable of embodying a perfect grandeur and beauty, and has a presence about it, which, alike removed from the idea of surface and from the waking lifelessness of wax work, is more fitted to inspire reverence and awe.

In humorous painting we are now confessedly unrivalled. Stothard has been already mentioned as an artist of considerable observation in this walk. He is also the most refined of our painters of humour, which, by its familiar habits, is always apt to degenerate into vulgarity Mr. Smirke, who is a respectable but not very pleasing painter in serious subjects, is a broad humorist, with considerable freedom of pencil. He expresses forcibly; you always know what touch of quaintness he would strike off, and the burst of laughter is ready to.welcome it. But his characters are all actors, and actors too of very manifest farce. Sometimes he is not content while any temperance remains, as he has particularly instanced in his picture of the Examination before Dogberry and Verges, from Much Ado About Nothing ; a scene which has of itself enough farce to satisfy any reasonable giggler. Its natural touches Mr. Smirke broadens into farce; the farcical ones are trebly exaggerated; and that nothing may be left of probability, the faces of the whole company, except Conrad and Borachio, are not only marked with the humour of the scene, but have each a distinct set of odd features, as if the persons present must all have been what is vulgarly called characters. Low humour, therefore, so excellently moralized, but loosely drawn by Hogarth, was still left open for a nicę observer, who should describe it with a natural fidelity. Mr. Wilkie, the only painter of talent that Scotland has produced, came to London in the 18th year of his age, and by displaying a Dutch nicely of finish, united, for the first time, with variety and delicacy of humorous expres

« PreviousContinue »