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A portrait! You should not show such things:-what's that upon her head-a dish-clout ?" The student retired in sorrow, ' and did not touch his pencil for a month.' How skilfully is this told! How well are our sympathies enlisted on the side of the young and trembling practitioner! How ably is our indignation excited against the brutality of Reynolds! How dexterously is our disapprobation ensured by the unfortunate result! Mr Cunningham does not give his authority for a statement so little in conformity with Sir Joshua's general character; but we presume he must have had authority, or he would not have made such a statement: we do not, therefore, dispute the fact,—we only admire the manner in which Mr Cunningham has introduced it. We will give one more instance of ingenious depreciation. Reynolds sometimes asked Burke's opinion about his paintings— 'it was given readily. Sir Joshua would then shake his head and ́ say, “Well, it pleases you ; but it does not please me ; there is ' a little sweetness wanting in the expression, which a little pains 'will bestow. There! I have improved it." This,' adds Mr Cunningham, when translated into the common language of life, means, "I must not let this man think that he is as wise as myself; but show him that I can reach one step at least higher than his admiration." We have seldom witnessed a more elaborate and wanton endeavour to affix an unfavourable construction to a very natural and innocent speech. Again, after saying that Reynolds had the singular art of summoning the mind into the face, and making sentiment mingle in the por' trait,' he concludes, and neutralizes his eulogy, by adding, that ' he was a mighty flatterer;' and, had Colonel Charteris sat to him, he would,' Mr Cunningham doubts not, have given him an 'aspect worthy of a President of the Society for the Suppression of Vice.' We know not if Charteris looked the scoundrel that he was, or if he could assume the appearance of amiability. If he could, it was Reynolds' part to portray that appearance, and not to enquire if the sitter's private character corresponded with his benignant countenance. If Charteris could not help looking like a scoundrel, he could not have been painted with the countenance of a good man, except at the expense of likeness; and we are not told that Sir Joshua ever sacrificed likeness to this imputed disposition to flatter. Nay, it might have been remembered, that in the case of Johnson, to whom Reynolds surely would have been as much disposed to administer flattery as to a Colonel Charteris, that the rigid fidelity of his delineation piqued the vanity even of the Doctor, who protested against being handed down to posterity as Blinking Sam. We therefore see no good ground for this assertion, on a point respecting which
Mr Cunningham can know no more than anybody else; and which serves only to convey the impression, that Reynolds was willing to prostitute his pencil to the despicable work of investing moral turpitude with a delusive charm.
We may here observe, that there is much confusion of thought in the verbiage lavished, both in this and other works on art, in praise of what is called an honest pencil.' Some persons speak as if portraits were painted for the public at large; as if any want of the most rigid fidelity of representation was a dereliction of duty towards that public; and as if the painter was bound to be as accurate as an historian. Now, though portraits may come historical,' they are almost invariably painted originally for some private individual-for the person represented, or his friend or relation; and their tastes must necessarily be consulted respecting pictures which are to become their property, and which they are about to purchase at considerable cost. This seems
a very plain way of viewing the subject; yet, somehow, in the warmth of declamation, persons of very respectable acuteness contrive to lose sight of it altogether.
We find other instances of confusion of thought into which Mr Cunningham's imagination leads him. The painter,' he says, 'who wishes for lasting fame, must not lavish his fine colours and 'his choice pictures on the rich and titled alone; he must seek 'to associate his labours with the genius of his country.' It is painful to be obliged to interrupt this eloquence, to intimate the homely facts, that portrait-painters do not select their subjects, but must paint those who may choose to sit to them; and that if they are dependent on the profits of their profession, they must paint those who can afford to pay them. But let us listen again to Mr Cunningham, and we shall be informed, that the most 'skilful posture, and the richest colouring, cannot create the repu'tation which accompanies genius; and we turn coldly away from 'the head which we happen not to know, or to have heard of. 'The portrait of Johnson has risen to the value of five hundred guineas; whilst the heads of many of Sir Joshua's grandest lords ' remain at the original fifty.' We should be glad if we could draw any appropriate conclusion from this tissue of truisms. Far from questioning the concluding facts, we will imagine a still stronger case of a similar description. The vilest daub, if it could be ascertained by indubitable proof to convey a faithful representation of the features of Shakspeare, would probably bear a higher value than the most exquisitely painted portrait of an undistinguished person from the hand of Vandyke. But what would this prove? Would it place the dauber, who was so fortunate as to have Shakspeare for a sitter, on a level with Vandyke? Would
it prove any thing with respect to painting? Just as much as the undubitable circumstance, that a lock of Shakspeare's hair would be infinitely more prized than a lock of one unknown to fame; and if Mr Cunningham had said that an autograph letter of Johnson's had been sold for a considerable sum, whilst the autographs of 'many of Sir Joshua's grandest lords' were held comparatively valueless, he would have adduced a fact as incontestable, and at the same time just as apposite, as that with which he has favoured us.
The portrait of a distinguished person may be valuable and admirable as a picture, but it is valuable chiefly as a memorial or relic; and the value which it thus acquires, belongs wholly to the subject. Mr Cunningham writes as if it had not occurred to him, that a portrait could be regarded in more than one point of view-that it could be valued on more than one account-and as if all the interest and estimation arising from the distinguished subject, was a clear addition to the reputation of the artist. Far from this being true, the reverse of it is the case. The tenfold increase in the case of Johnson's portrait was a tribute, not to Reynolds, but to Johnson. When the subject is eminently distinguished, we feel, while contemplating the portrait, that the fame of the artist is completely merged and lost in that of the eminent person he has painted; and, in fact, we can attend to the merits of the artist, and do full justice to his ability, chiefly while looking at the portraits of those who interest us comparatively little. We find many other instances of this want of correctness of thought. Thus he says, the capital old paintings of the Venetian school which Sir Joshua's experiments destroyed, ' were not few ; and it may be questioned if his discoveries were a ' compensation for their loss. The wilful destruction of a work of genius, is a sort of murder committed for the sake of art, and the ❝ propriety of the act is very questionable.' The exercise of a little plain sense might have relieved the work from this last sentence. To attach any sort of moral guilt to what Reynolds did is absurd. The expediency of the attempt depended, of course, upon the probability of a successful result. It cannot be supposed that Sir Joshua would destroy valuable paintings, without the confident hope of a valuable discovery; and if his hope had been fully realized, and if the secrets of Venetian art had been so elicited, as to be thenceforward practised by him, and communicated to others, surely it would be as wise to say, that sowing wheat is shameful waste, as to complain, in a tone of sentimental regret, of the murder committed for the sake of art,' which was to bring forth fruit an hundredfold.
Of Mr Cunningham's partialities in favour of some artists, we
are inclined to speak much more indulgently than of his dislikes; for excess of praise is an amiable error, and to be visited only with our mildest censure: but we must observe, that partiality is a little shown even in the selection of some of those who have been recorded among eminent' British painters ;-that Cosway, Runciman, Ramsay, and perhaps Bird, are hardly entitled to the appellation of eminent—that Blake, the able, but, alas! insane author of some very striking and original designs, could scarcely be considered a painter and that Sir G. Beaumont's highly commendable patronage of art, and presumed natural talent for painting (if fortune' had not rendered the gift unavailing'), cannot, in the absence of higher practical proofs of his talent than the world is acquainted with, quite entitle him to a place in these volumes. Still more leniently will we advert to symptoms of a national partiality towards the late excellent and accomplished Raeburn (in which, peradventure, we are fellow-culprits); and of a literary leaning towards artists in whom literary talent was more evident than pictorial merit-as, for example, Fuseli and Northcote. We must not, however, omit to state, that there is an evident partiality towards those who were coarse, unrefined, and repulsive in their habits, in preference to those who were polished and refined. We have seen how Sir Joshua's rebuke to a 'trembling' student, is made to appear harsh and odious. But when we turn to the life of Wilson, who was a drinker of ale
and porter, one who loved boisterous mirth and rough humour '-things not always found in society which calls itself select' it is curious to mark, how that which had been condemned in Reynolds is not merely described in milder terms, but actually made matter of commendation. Such was the blunt honesty of 'his (Wilson's) nature,' says Mr Cunningham, that when draw'ings were shown him which he disliked, he disdained, or was ' unable to give a courtly answer, and made many of the students 'his enemies.'
Having noticed these faults, we gladly return to the more pleasing office of commendation. We think that Mr Cunningham has not only collected, with commendable diligence, whatever was worthy to be recorded respecting the various subjects of his memoirs, but has portrayed them in a lively, picturesque, and attractive style-skilfully avoiding whatever was dull or unimportant, and introducing, easily and naturally, much pertinent and pointed remark.
The retrospect of British art is not a glorious and inspiriting theme. Horace Walpole assuredly erected no monument to the fame of his country, when he composed his Anecdotes of Paint
'ing.' It is an elaborate record, not of our pictorial affluence and successes, but of our poverty and failures. There is no work by which we are more inevitably led to draw an inference as unfavourable as we now know it to be unjust. An examination of the history of painting in England, from the earliest times to the commencement of the reign of George I., would lead us only to this conclusion, that there was such an inaptitude in the English people, a spirit so uncongenial with the growth of art, that patronage, and example, and rivalry, and the presence of foreign competitors, and the sight of the collected treasures of foreign art, could not stimulate our sluggish natures to even a creditable aspiration after excellence in painting. If any one in the reign of George I. should have held it to be impossible that Englishmen could become painters, he might be considered excusable for an assertion which we should now hear only with pity and derision. Perhaps in no other art or calling was the supply so inadequate to the demand. Perhaps in no other branch, whether of art or manufacture, was the English public so long and so largely indebted to foreigners, and so sparingly to native skill. Of painters in England, from the commencement of the art, to the beginning of the reign of George I., Walpole enumerates 255. Of these, only 103 were English; and even this small number cannot be made up without including amateurs; and the list is swelled by some professed artists of such signal obscurity, that the diligent annalist who has recorded their names, could not even ascertain the kind of subjects which they painted. But the insignificance of this list (the harvest of two centuries) will be better understood, if we enquire who among the 103 had the slightest pretensions to celebrity. Unless we attach a very humble meaning to the term celebrity, it will be necessary to deny that there were any; for there were only seven English artists whose names will even be noticed -Hilliard and the two Olivers, painters in miniature—Dobson, who produced a few second-rate portraits, and fewer third-rate historical compositions-Barlow, a respectable painter of birds—and two portrait-painters, Walker and Riley. These were the most eminent native artists whom England produced during two centuries! Nor were there symptoms of improvement; on the contrary, the art declined. We are now,' said Walpole, in speaking of the reign of George I., arrived at the period in which the arts were sunk to the lowest ebb in Britain.' The two best who appeared in that reign were Richardson, better known as a writer than as a painter; and Sir James Thornhill, scarcely remembered but as the father-in-law of Hogarth, and the painter of some bad frescoes in the cupola of St Paul's, for which he was remunerated as if he were only a plasterer of a