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without it, he seems never to have ventured to dispense with it; and therefore never to have achieved that undimmed clearness of perfect daylight, which is our grand desideratum in landscape. Neither Wilson nor Gainsborough seem to have attempted to carry the experiment very far. Among recent artists, we have seen this effect most successfully expressed in some of the few, too few, paintings of which we have not been deprived by the untimely death of Bonnington; and amongst those still living, sometimes in the works of Collins, Callcott, Constable, and Lee. The last-mentioned has succeeded, perhaps, better than any other in expressing the fresh clear natural mid-day tint of English scenery, and approximating in his oil-pictures to the brightness and pearliness of a water-colour painting. Still it is only approximation; and all that we have yet seen inclines us to think, that, in the representation of land, sea, and sky, the art of water-colour painting which has so recently begun to be cultivated, and is probably so little advanced towards its possible perfection, is superior to the long-established art of painting in oil. The depth, strength, and richness of the latter, it cannot emulate; but it is more applicable to those subjects which demand clearness, vividness, and airiness of effect.
The claim of any kind of superiority for water-colour over oil will, we doubt not, seem strange and unpalatable to many of the admirers of art. It seems to be regarded as a settled point, that oilpainting is the superior branch. Art has its etiquettes and its titles of precedence, and the painter in oil is held to stand higher than the drawer in water-colour. What is the ground of this assumed superiority? It is a more difficult art, say some. Perhaps it is; but enamel painting is more difficult still. If difficulty is to be the true criterion, let painters in enamel take the lead. It is more durable : very true; but painting in enamel is more durable still-so is painting on glass-so, too, is mosaic. The painter in enamel and on glass, and the worker in mosaic, would be entitled to preeminence on the ground of durability. But these distinctions are vain and puerile. Those only who take a grovelling and mechanical view of art can attach importance to the mere material with which it works, and can consent to investigate seriously the respective dignities of canvass and pasteboard, oil and water. As for durability, it is, unquestionably, an important merit; but we cannot allow art to be measured by this standard as exclusively as Napoleon did. A fine immortality!' said he contemptuously to Denon, when he told him a picture would last 500 years; and he preferred the statue solely because it might probably last as many thousands. The conqueror regarded art, not as a source of present gratification, but as a means of transmitting the
fame of his exploits. Viewing it as he did, he was justified in his preference; but to the generality of the lovers of painting, who regard it as a source of present pleasure, durability is a consideration of less vital importance. Still it is not to be denied that even present pleasure may be much affected by the want of durability; for an impression that the work we are viewing is of a very frail and perishable nature, will cause a feeling of regret to be mingled with our admiration, painful in the same proportion as that admiration is strong. Durability, however, is not an essential quality in art, nor to be taken into account in our estimate of the abilities of the artist. Canova might have modelled a figure of snow, as beautiful as some of those models formed in clay, which he afterwards transferred to the more durable marble. The figure melts and disappears, but, during its brief existence, it might as plainly have borne the stamp of the creative genius of the artist, and conveyed to those who saw it an impression of his skill, as if it had been cast in brass. Durability is highly to be prized; but it is to be prized upon grounds entirely distinct from an abstract admiration of art; and we must not fall into a too common confusion of ideas, by blending together considerations so different. The more durable work of art is of course more valuable as a possession ; but considered simply as a work of art, it is neither better nor worse than that which may possess the quality in a minor degree.
The durability of painting in water-colours remains to be tried. No really good ones have been painted long enough to afford any satisfactory proof. The purchaser of a water-colour painting can only rest assured, that, with tolerable care, it will probably remain unimpaired during his own lifetime. Whether his children's children are likely to view it unfaded and undecaying, is more than he has the means of judging. The question is deserving of much attention among artists; for if it be proved that the colours are not permanent, and no means can be discovered to obviate the evil, it is unquestionable that the encouragement of the public would be considerably withdrawn from this very beautiful branch of painting. Many of its admirers will be unwilling to purchase that which they know will quickly fade, and it will then cease to be cultivated with equal success.
It is difficult to speculate upon the prospects of painting in this country. It must be evident to whoever looks back upon its history, that it is greatly dependent upon chance. Encouragement and demand may do much; but they cannot create the genius which is a fortuitous and spontaneous gift of nature, and which is essential to the production of real excellence in painting. For two hundred years there had been demand sufficient to have call
ed forth a great painter, if any such had happened to have been born amongst us; and when, at length, Reynolds, Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Wilson, shone forth about the same time, it was not in consequence of increased encouragement, but in spite of that deadening apathy towards native talent which the long absence of it had naturally produced. The appearance of great painters will be in a considerable degree accidental; yet it is not to be denied that the stimulus of demand will effect much. We must, however, look for its effects less in the production of pictorial excellence, than in the determination of the line it is to follow. A talent for painting is a gift of nature; but the selection of that branch of art in which this talent is to display itself, is greatly influenced by the public taste. If, therefore, we seek to know what species of painting is most likely to be successfully cultivated, we must enquire in what direction individual patronage will most probably tend. First in request will be portraits; landscapes, sea-pieces, and paintings of animals, will occupy a prominent place; then what, in the language of art, are called conversation pieces,' -subjects such as have been so beautifully illustrated by Wilkie, and in various agreeable styles by Newton, Leslie, Knight, Landseer, Collins, Inskipp, and M'Clise. Historical painting, of the old academic style, is not, and will not, be popular amongst us. Some pieces there will be of which the intrinsic excellence will force their way into public favour; but they must either descend from their epic dignity, and partake a little of the domestic interest of the conversation piece,' like Wilkie's Knox preaching,' or 'Russell's trial' by Hayter, and some paintings by Allan and Cooper,—or they must attract, like Etty's, by the graces of colouring, or they must be such as, by their poetical power, take a strong hold upon our imaginations, like Danby's Passage of the Israelites,' and Martin's Belshazzar's Feast.'
We are often told that historical painting ought to be encouraged. We ask, Why?' We are informed by some, 6 We are informed by some, because it is the 'highest branch of art.' Now, in this there may be some truth; because, unquestionably, the production of a first-rate historical painting is a very high-if not the highest-exercise of pictorial genius; but nevertheless, in the sense in which it is commonly made and accepted, much error lurks in this assertion. The error lies in the application of the word high' rather to the subject, than to the manner in which it is treated-in attaching to classification an undue importance-and in giving to the accidents and accessories of painting that preeminence which is due only to the essential qualities inherent in what is universally good in art. If 'high' means difficult, an historical picture is
doubtless always a high exercise of a painter's skill; and even so, an epic poem is a high exercise of the powers of the poet. But there is no better reason for forcing the production of historical pictures, than for giving premiums for epic poems. Happily, we believe, the time is past when an epic poem was held entitled to precedence, merely because it was an epic-when it was regarded as the greatest exertion of poetical genius, not on account of the genuine spirit of poetry which it contained, but chiefly by reason of the vast amount of unpoetical labour, ingenuity, and arrangement, which had been expended on its composition. No British successor to the Blairs of the last century would now marshal our epics in the front ranks of his poetical array, and attempt to settle the respective claims of different countries, according to the number of these literary giants which they could bring into the field. Critics have agreed that the fine and subtle spirit of poetry cannot easily be weighed and measured; and that form, bulk, and dimensions, may be omitted in their estimate. The vital spark of poetry, if embodied in a sonnet, will outlive the uninspired bulk of twenty cantos. The lamented author of an elegy on the death of Sir John Moore, has gained as sure a renown by those few stanzas, as if he had turned a hundred gazettes into verse,described the retreat in Spain with allegories and machinery in twelve books,' and called it 'The Corunniad.' An improved spirit of criticism equally prevails with respect to historical painting. It is not the subject, but the manner of treating it, which is held entitled to estimation; and though perhaps less than usual is now said about the propriety of encouraging historical painting, we believe that at no time would an historical picture, really well treated, be so thoroughly appreciated by the public at large. There is, however, no reason to believe that historical painting will be much encouraged in this country by private patronage-the only patronage which it is necessary to consider; for it would be useless to take into account the very small patronage that can be expected from the Government, or from corporate bodies. That individuals will not buy pictures of a size unsuitable to the scale of their rooms, must be obvious almost to a child; but it may with equal truth be said, that there is no probability of an extensive demand for historical paintings, even of moderate dimensions. In the first place, the number of those who can relish the excellence of a really good historical painting, is much smaller than that of those who can comprehend the merits of portrait, landscape, animals, or still life.' Historical painting is addressed to persons of cultivated and imaginative minds, and these are comparatively few. The majority would rather see the likeness of something they have seen before, than stretch
their faculties to understand a story told on canvass, or try to imagine whether a great event in history is adequately represented in the picture before them.
But if it is difficult to attract and inform the unimaginative, it is also difficult, in the next place, to satisfy the imaginative. Persons of a lively and powerful imagination, the highest class of those to whom this branch of art is peculiarly addressed, are apt to form in their minds a visible image of a recorded event, to which no representation will appear comparable. Like the scene, or the music of a dream, which seem more beautiful or sublime than any scene or music that was ever viewed or heard in reality, their unembodied impressions will have a force and splendour, compared with which, the actual picture set before their eyes will probably appear tame, mean, and cold. Even if not inferior, it will at any rate be different; and this will cause a certain feeling of disappointment. How rarely do we see the imaginary representation of some great personage, real or fictitious, without feeling that it is a very inadequate personification of those great attributes with which he is invested in our minds! Though the picture is still a fiction, yet it is, as compared with our impressions, a substantial truth; and we feel the sort of disenchantment which, to every imaginative person, a descent from romance to reality too often produces. Some artists are aware of this difficulty, and prudently avoid the dangerous combat with preconceived impressions, by selecting subjects that are little known, or have hitherto excited little attention, and of which few persons have previously attempted to form to themselves a distinct image. Those artists are most safe who can grapple with subjects which scarcely any have ventured to figure to themselves,-who can far outsoar the imaginations of others, and leave spectators wondering at a distance. But those are the possessors of a rare gift,-exceptions in art, and not to be circumscribed by common rules. Such were Fuseli and Blake ;-such, each different, and in a higher degree, are Martin and Danby-of which two, the former overwhelms with the vastness of his conceptions, the latter dazzles and surprises with the magic light of a poetical fancy.
In speculating upon the prospects of art, it is, perhaps, not immaterial to consider whether it is likely to be more widely cultivated; and whether there is reason to hope that its practitioners may be supplied from a more extensive circle than they are at present. as Mr Cunningham says with truth, has not yet become with us a fashionable profession for the gentleman and scholar.' The parents of the best born among our artists have belonged scarcely to the class of gentry, and many have