صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

that for some time past the Fine Arts in this country have, more than at any former period, engaged the public attention; many of the first characters in the united kingdom, fully aware of the advantages which the arts conferon mankind, and on commercial nations in particular, have with an equal spirit of liberality and patriotism, nobly stepped forward to encourage those arts, and to rescue British genius from the bonds with which it has hitherto been shackled. While these enlightened men are munificently fostering the fine arts, that our manufacturers may reap that benefit from them which they can derive from no other source, some interested and ignorant individuals, have been busily employed in degrading one branch of them, in order to raise another upon its ruins. Mr. Landseer, Mr. Josiah Boydell, and the Rev. Mr. Forster, have particularly distinguished themselves in their attacks on the chalk, or dottiny manner of engraving; those gentlemen have assumed that most perilous situation, the throne of criticism, have become arbiters of taste, and, to the extent of their power, directors of public opinion. If their criticisms are founded in judgment and real knowledge, they will, if properly appreciated, be of great benefit to inankind; but, if they originate in error, in undigested principles hastily adopted, and unwittingly propagated, and if above all, the propagators of those opinions are placed in such situations as are likely to give them a credit and currency, and if, to add to those evils, they are swayed by interest, or warped by prejudice, the mischief done to true art may be incalculable; then not only their opinions, but their pretensions to give them, become fair matter of public investigation.

The chalk manner of engraving has for near fifty years been a candidate for public favor and patronage, equally with the other methods of engraving, and has most certainly received as great a share of encouragement. Whilst those different modes of art rested on their own merits; whilst they came before the world with neither more nor less than the value the talents of their different professors could give them, they were in their natural and proper state; the highest and last tribunal, the judgment of the public, was to decide on their respective merits; thus engaged in a fair competition the chalk manner of engraving has maintained a firmness footing that has offended the jealous disposition of some,

of

and prejudiced the interest of others. What the graver has found impossible to perform, that readier instruinent the pen is called in aid to effect, and there have been many feeble, though systematic attempts, to write it into insignificance and disgrace. The professors of this art have advanced nothing in its favor, they have silently and studiously pursued their course, resting their pretensions to public support on their legitimate productions only ; they have patiently borne the contumely of the ignorant, the insults of the inalevolent, the invectives of the interested, and without resistance have suffered their profession to be degraded, and their means of existence injured so long, that further forbearance becomes pusillanimity. It is now time that such ungenerous and unjust conduct should be resisted,

In consequence of the appointment of Mr. Landseer to the lectureship on engraving at the Royal Institution, his opinions gained a credit and a currency, that his abilities would never have procured them in any other situation. The man was chosen to be a teacher; and whatever ignorance the electors might have shewn in making such a choice, a eredit and dignity were in some degree reflected on him by his office. In his lectures he asserts that chalk engraving was on its original introduction into England run after with avidity, because it was new, for it was a sort of retrograde and degenerate novelty. “Ryland and novelty (says he) led the way, and fashion and Bartolozzi followed it.”

Mr. Landseer proceeds through four pages, stigmatizing this art in an idle and unqualified way, without adducing one proof in support of his assertions, and then says: “At length this interesting art (of which if I seem, I only seem to make sport,) fetching a few noble bounds, has escaped from the toils of its pursuers, and now roves at leisure, when as a means of translating pictures it is more worthy than ever of being pursued.

Nothing can more fully expose the palpable obscure and the gross contradiction of Mr. Landseer's manner of writing, than the counparison of what we have before cited with this quotation ; we leave the task to him of reconciling “retrograde and degenerate novelty," with “ this interesting art fetching noble bounds." He then goes on thus: "Upon what principles I am led to perceive that this province of engraving has recently disclosed more various, extensive, and richer tracts than it was formerly known to contain, I shall have the pleasure to explain at another time.” Whether Mr. Landseer means that, after having written his four pages to expose this “ degenerate novelty," he discovered those “richer tracts," we cannot determine. It must be remembered that all these contradıctions are contain d in his third lecture; he afterwards delivers three more lectures to his auditors, and publishes the whole of them, without ever noticing those“ richer tracts," and consequently his abuse of this art is sent into the world unqualified by any mention of its merits.

Now let us examine how far Mr. Landseer is competent to talk in this dictatorial and dogmatical manner of any mode of art whatever; and to come to this knowledge we ale naturally led to an examination of the works of art he has produced, and the talents he has therein displayed ; and also how those works of art have been produced. He is only known to artists as a vignette landscape engraver ; in this minor walk of art it must be confessed he has given proofs of some talent, united with much prettiness of execution, and had he confined his lectures to that part of the art which he had actually, and creditably practised, he might have exbibited some claim to attention; but, unfortunately this man, who has spent his time ainong fore-grounds, back-grounds, foliage, and stumps of trees (the mere secondary objects in an historical engraving) with anhallowed hand approaches the human figure, and without putting off his sandals, enters the holy of the antique.

Froin Aristotle and Longinus to Addison and Johnson, every sound critic in literature has been able to write well hinself. Those men could perforin well, and were thence enabled to judge of the performances of others. If this be true in literature, how much more necessary in art! for, the artist has no means of acquiring knowledge, but by the very act of drawing, which is only to be obtained, as Sir Joshua Reynolds justly observes, by a variety of arts. By this indispensible and only criterion, let Mr. Landseer's claim to the elevated chair of criticisin be tried.

Has Mr. Landseer erer as an artist studied the human fagure? Has he ever drawn from the antique ? Will any inan prove that he has ever made one solitary effort? does any work i.. his own art, actually performed by hinnself, prove his knowledge of the insertion, form, or termination of any one muscle in the human framne ? yet he expatiates most learnedly on the anatomical excel. lence of Andrea Mantegna, and with rapture on the pure outline of Mark Antonio.

It is very difficult to prove a negative, but we will give the most presumptive evidence of Mr. Landseer's entire ignorance of those matters, on which with so much con, fidence he holds forth.

In engraving, as in painting, the genuine artist may be assisted by persons of inferior abilities to his own, but in each art the help must come in the middle of the pere formance. Was there ever an engraver possessing the first and most essential requisites of his art, drawing, who suffered another to fix his outline on his plate, or to put the finishing touches to it? No, never. Mr. Landseer, according to the current terms of the day, has engraved historical subjects, and portraits ; at least his name is prefixed to plates of this character, with the addition of sculpsit. Dare Mr. Landseer tell the world what parts of those plates are his own performance? Will he claim any essential part of any historical subject or portrait to which his naine is annexed ? To come to particulars-his Michael from Loutherbourg, in Macklin's Bible-did he etch the outline of the figure upon the plate, or the internal parts of it ? Did he put the finishing touches to it? Let Mr. Landseer r-ply to these questions in the affirınative, and then he shall be confronted. What assistance had he in the intermediate parts ? Alas! no man except the political Mr. Landseer can answer that question.

Some years ago the admirers of the Fine Arts were gratified with an engraved portrait of Buonoparte, froin a drawing by Mr. Craig, after a picture in the possession of Mr. Cosway. As Mr. Landseer had a joint property in this work, interest alone would be sufficient to prompt him to give to the world, in this performance, his best abilities. Directly over the head of this apostle of liberty is seen the full sun of science, darting its meridian rays across the Alps ; striking with lightning the tiara, and other emblems of popish superstition : the whole is blazoned with owls, eagles, and olive branches, which shew how much faith ought to be placed in the predictions of emblematical soothsayers. We will say nothing on this insult to the loyalty and patriotism of the country, but VOL. II.

D

*

at once declare this portrait to be one of the most wretched specimens of art that the age has produced ; and, although it was done covertly, and in a corner, it has long been before the world; therefore, let every man judge for himself, for it is beneath our criticism. If this gentleman has judgment to impart to others, why did he not on this occasion exert it for himself ?-Why did he suffer this lump of inanity to see the light? But he goes farther, he fathers it. He declares hiinself to the world to be the engraver of it. Were we inclined to degrade Mr. Landseer as an artist, we should leave his reputation to sink under the dead weight of this load of stupidity ; but we will be exactly just, we will declare that he did not engrave this portrait. Bad as it is, his powers are not equal to such a production : it was the first essay of a

young man just emerged from his pupillage. Some of the ornamental parts to this portrait bear marks of the prettiness of Mr. Landseer's tooling, for in those inferior walks of art he may boast some elegance ; but taking this ornament as a whole, it is a puny

effort, and bears no marks of the genuine artist.

We have shewn how Mr. Landseer produces historical engravings and portraits; let us now inquire into the source from which he derives his knowledge of the antique, of which he makes such a mighty pother, a pother that doubtless gained the admiration of the young misses at the Royal Institution, but which we can assure him will never arrest the attention of any man deserving the name of artist. He has the honour of Mr. Fuseli's acquaintance, and in hopping about at Somerset House, he may have picked up a few crumbs that have fallen from that rich inan's table; but will this little artifice of chattering by rote, make him a Fuseli, or furnish him with the powers of passing judgment on the works of other men by that classical criterion, the best works of ancient masters ? Such men are followers of Fuseli and the antique as one here in Englande did follow Syr

. Thomas More, who being most unlike unto hym in wit and learnyng, nevertheless in wearing his gowne awrye upon the one shoulder, as

Syr Thomas

* This young man has since produced many things highly creditable to him as an artist, and is now justly ashamed of what this man of judgment was not ashamed to own.

« السابقةمتابعة »