Page images






Arts of Design, what-General Progress of these Arts-Their state in Europe at the time of colonizing America-Patronage of the Arts in England, in the eighteenth century-Biography of John Watson.

THE author calls this work a history, without presuming to place himself in the rank of professed historians. His history shall be given by a chain of biographical notices, with all the discursiveness and license of biography; but, in the first place, he solicits the attention of the reader to some general remarks on the subjects of which he treats,-the arts of design and their professors.

The fine arts are all of one family; but it is only a part of this family that falls within our limits. "The Arts of Design" form of themselves a field sufficiently wide for us to travel over, nay, too wide, and it will be found that we shall, from necessity, neglect much that would come with propriety under the title. Sculpture, Painting, Engraving, Architecture, and their professors, will occupy us almost exclusively; and the second in the order above given must fill the greater number of our pages.

Poetry, as we are told, excites images and sensations through the medium of successive action, communicated by sounds and time. The same may be said of music; but painting and her sister arts of design rely upon form displayed in space.

Design, in its broadest signification, is the plan of the whole, whether applied to building, modelling, painting, engraving, or landscape gardening; in its limited sense it denotes merely drawing; the art of representing form. Man has fully con

[blocks in formation]

vinced himself that the human is the most perfect of all forms, and has found that its representation is the most difficult achievement of design. The sculptors of ancient Greece alone attained the knowledge of this form in its perfection, and the power to represent it. Happily for us their works were executed in such materials as have defied time, the elements, and even ignorance, more destructive than either: happily the architecture and sculpture of Greece have come down to us, for we have no standard of beauty, but that which is derived from the country of Homer and Phidias. The sculptors and architects of Greece are our teachers to this day, in form; and he most excels who most assiduously studies the models they have left us. This seems to contradict the precept that bids the artist study nature alone. But it must be remembered that we speak only of that form, the perfection of which the ancients saw in nature, and embodied in their religion. That natural perfection which they saw under their bright skies, at the games instituted in honour of their gods, they combined in the statues of those gods; diversified according to their several attributes. The contemplation of these attributes added action and expression to individual form. This appears to be the source from which the wonders of Praxiteles and Phidias sprung-the Jupiter, the Minerva, the Hercules, the Venus, the Apollo. The contemplation of these forms led to the improvement of Egyptian architecture by the Greek colonists of Asia Minor. Slegel has said, that by contemplating the Belvidere Apollo, we learn to appreciate the tragedies of Sophocles. Such is the alliance of poetry and the arts of design.

The arts of design are usually considered as commentators upon history and poetry. Truly they are the most impressive of all commentators. But to consider them only as such, is to degrade them. To invent, belongs to the artist as well as to the poet; and a Sophocles may catch inspiration from a Phidias, as an Apelles may be inspired by an Euripides. The poet is never more a poet than when describing the works of art, and the poetic artist delights to seize the evanescent forms of the poet, to fix them immovably in motion-palpable—in all their beauty brought before the physical eye; but it is no less his to invent the fable than to illustrate it.

The progress of the arts of design is from those that are necessary to those that delight, ennoble, refine. Man first seeks shelter from the elements, and defence from savages of his own, or the brute kind. In his progress to that perfection destined for him, by his bountiful Creator, he feels the necessity of refinement and beauty. In this progress architecture is first in

From Architecture to Sculpture.


order, sculpture second, painting third, and engraving follows to perpetuate by diffusing the forms invented by her sisters.

The mechanic arts have accompanied and assisted the fine arts in every step of their progress. To the sciences they have been indispensable handmaids. In all the ameliorations of man's earthly sojourn, the mechanic and fine arts have gone hand in hand. The painter, the sculptor, the engraver, and the architect, will all acknowledge their obligations to the mechanic arts, and the mechanic will be pleased by the consciousness that he has aided the arts of design in arriving at their present state of perfection.

Of the four arts of design, to which our attention is directed, architecture alone is the offspring of necessity; but before it became one of the fine arts, sculpture, and perhaps, painting, had existence. The first effort of man, in the imitative arts, is probably to model in clay, the second to cut in wood, and then in ivory or stone. The rude efforts of the aborigines of our country may be adduced to prove this. We find specimens of their modelling in baked clay, the terra cotta of Italy, and sculptured figures in wood and stone; but no attempt to represent round objects on a flat surface by lights and shadows. The late travellers, who have penetrated the terra incognita of Africa, tell us of figures sculptured as ornaments to the rude architecture of the negroes, but they saw no painting.

In that extremely interesting portion of the globe, Polynesia, we find sculpture existing in the rude forms of their idols, the elegant ornaments of naval architecture, and on the weapons of destruction; but no attempt at drawing, unless tattooing figures by lines and dots on their own bodies-engraving in flesh-may be so called. The graphic art was unknown, as much in its connection with pictorial form, as it was in that more common and still more precious form to mankind-letters.

In central America, near the village of Palenque, ruins and monuments are found, proving, as is supposed, the existence of a nation or people in a remote age, far surpassing in civilization the Mexicans or Peruvians, when visited by the Spaniards. Statues, and works in high and low relief, ornamented their buildings-but no paintings. The pictures formed by feathers, or otherwise, which were found among the Mexicans, at the time when treachery, bigotry, murder, and rapine put a stop to their progress towards civilization, were not designs representing the round on the flat, but a species of hieroglyphic writing; undoubtedly having a near affinity to the graphic art, and approaching it in the same degree that the people approached the blessings of civilized life. It was not drawing or writing, but was leading to both. At what period the nations


[blocks in formation]

of the East attempted painting, we know not, but doubtless they carved their idols, and daubed them with colours, before they made any pictorial representations of the monsters. To this moment they neither invent nor imitate any thing in painting. They copy. There is nothing in which their barbarism is more apparent than in the deficiency of the arts of design. If the progress of the arts was from Egypt to India, and thence to Greece, they, on their arrival at the latter country, were a chaos without form and void. It required a more perfect state of the human mind to extract form from the chaotic mass. The Grecian sculptors discovered form, and perfected the mode of representing historical events by high and low relief; their painters followed; and although they arrived at the perfection of form, as well as their masters, we believe that they never went much beyond them in that which, in modern times, is the glory of the arts of design-composition. They told their stories as their masters had done, by a line of figures. The Greeks taught us beauty and expression; modern art has added colour, chiara scuro, perspective, compositionall by which distance, space, air, light, colour, transparency, solidity-may be brought before the eye on a flat surface. The painter knows no limits but time and place, and even the last has been burst by Raphael and by Tintoret ; but it is only the author of the Transfiguration, and the Adoration of the Golden Calf, or men like them, that may break through the limit of locality.

Of the many elements of art and science, which must combine to produce these almost miraculous effects, it is not our immediate province to speak; neither to give the history of the progress of painting and her sister arts in Europe. The writers before the public are many and good. We will mention a few, as the names are suggested to memory-Visari, De Piles, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Durer, Du Fresnoy, (with notes by Reynolds,) Winkleman, Mengs, Reynolds, Opie, Fuseli, Pilkington's Dictionary, (with additions by Fuseli, who has, in all his works, immense learning on the subjects of which he treats, though sometimes displayed rather than used,) and we must not forget Shee and Burnet. The remarks of Sir Martin Archer Shee, touching the writings and writers on the subject of the arts, appear to us so just and so essential to the correction of error and prejudice, that we insert them, notwithstanding that there may be an appearance of assumption in so doing. They are addressed to the students of the Royal Academy of England.

"There is, perhaps, no subject so unmanageable as that of the arts, in the hands of those who bring to its discussion only

England once behind other Nations.


the superficial acquirements of amateur taste and mere literary talent. As it is an alluring theme, however, to all who are disposed to wander in the regions of virtu, more flimsy and unsubstantial speculation has been hazarded on topics connected with the fine arts, than is found to encumber the path of the student in any other profession. The tracts of science, of law, and of physic, are too rough and thorny to be frequented by those who would traverse them as an amusement, rather than as an occupation: but the flowery domains of taste invite the approach of the idlest loungers of literature; they are considered as common ground, where all may claim free manor, and range at large, without any apprehension of exposure or punishment, either as pretenders or trespassers. The fine arts appear to be the only pursuit in which the authority of the professor is undervalued by those who derive all their knowledge from his works. But you must not allow yourselves, gentlemen, to be influenced by prejudices of this kind. To the writings of artists alone can you look with any confident hope of obtaining valuable instruction or useful knowledge in your profession."

In our mode of giving the history of the progress of art in this country, principally by a chronological series of biographical notices, we shall undoubtedly speak of men who in no wise aided that progress ; but, we hope, by giving as complete a view of the subject as can now be obtained, to place in the hands of the future historian, many valuable facts, which would otherwise have been lost; and to leave information respecting those professors of the arts who have failed, as well as those who have attained to honourable distinction-information which may guide the present and future student on his way to the wished-for goal.

Horace Walpole gives, as the reason for calling his work "Anecdotes of Painting in England," instead of the "Lives of English Painters," that the greatest men England could boast, as professors of the art in that country, were foreigners. Not so with us. In the commencement of our history as colonies, every painter was from beyond sea; but no sooner did native artists appear than their works exceeded in value immeasurably, the visiters who had preceded them. Although this is strictly true in regard to our painters, it will not yet fully apply to the professors of all the sister arts. We are happy to record foreign artists in our work, and acknowledge their influence on the progress of the arts; but while England claims our artists as her own, because thrown on her shores, or invited by her liberality, we are content to call those only

« PreviousContinue »