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The subject was the conversion of St. Paul; of which he proved the authenticity, in opposition to all the objections and doubts of infidelity. Called on Mrs. Baillie, and left my card. Called at the Admiralty, and was sorry to find that Miss Phipps was no better. Mem. The delicacy which is the offspring of power is always superior to the softness of a mind which cannot rise above the petty and the delicate. Painted from ten till four, and put into my little picture the small ship on the chair, and finished the floor and the small pieces of wood upon it. Called on Liston and Bannister; who proposed to me for a subject, “The Opening of a Will;" which I consider an excellent idea, and I am obliged to them for suggesting it.
Wilkie's painstaking finish, minute and elaborate study, in his earlier and more characteristic style, were often exemplified by remarkable instances. Mrs. Thomson reports that while he was employed on the “Chelsea Pensioners," she lived on his road from Kensington to Chelsea College, and that his toilsome walks to Jew's Row,-a low Teniers-like region of extremely mean public-houses, lodging-houses, rag-shops, and huckster-shops, on the right hand as you approach Chelsea college,"-were frequent, in order to sketch an old projecting house, under the shadow of which some of his groups were placed. It was his habit too, on calling as he returned, to take out of his portfolio bits of tinted paper to "show us his progress, a very slow progress indeed. Such a small portion of the scene was visible on the paper, that I used to say to him, “Mr. Wilkie, I fear you will never finish your picture.' His customary answer was,
Indeed I am awkward and slow at anything like landscape, but when that is settled, I have all the rest here,' pointing to his forehead."
It would be easy to cull from his journal, begun in 1808, a long and striking list of minute entries, 'illustrative of his truthful and almost mechanical finish. He records, for instance, that he has "got a good way on with the carpet in. The Sick Lady.'
He puts a bird-cage “ into the corner" of the same picture, with a cloth over it, as if to prevent the bird from disturbing her with its song." He relates similarly of “ the small chips on the chair in • The Cut Finger, and so on; giving multitudes of curious instances illustrative of his character, as well as precious in an artistic sense.
We have had no design to trace Wilkie's career, either as a man, a painter, or as a writer and critic, with any degree of regularity or attention to sequences. The events in his personal history, apart from his success as an artist, as has been already remarked, were not extraordinary. It may be mentioned that he was elected Academician in 1811; that the good minister of Cults lived to see this honour conferred on his son; that his mother and sister joined him in 1813, when he established himself at Kensington ; that his fame from that period was so great and universal, that while the rich, the noble, and the royal vied with one another to own his pictures, the poor dearly
loved them. He was not without his losses and crosses amid all his triumphs and earnings of patronage. Il health, in part from extreme exertion, more than once overtook him. In 1825, family troubles and immoderate labour brought on a nervous complaint that incapacitated him either for continuous reading, writing, or painting ; when it was deemed absolutely necessary that he should travel. He remained on the Continent for three years, visiting Italy, Germany, and Spain. He returned to England in 1828, and his forty-third year, with enlarged views of art, but also unfortunately smitten with a taste for a now to him ungenial style of subject, composition, and cxecution. His journals, remarks, and correspondence, abound with highly valuable and interesting notices of the specimens and collections which he examined during his foreign tour; forming an equivalent to the history of the stages by which he attained to his own peculiar and national excellence. We need not further allude to his career, either as a portrait or historical painter, from the period of his coming back from Spain,—the whole being familiar to the world,-further than to say, that in accordance with a mistaken theory, he repaired to the East, and thus hastened the termination of his days. It needeth not to visit Scripture scenes and localities in order to be imbued with the ideal of their sublimities, even supposing the artist to be endowed with a genius for these sacred themes.
By the bye there has just appeared a volume of lithographic facsimiles of a selection from the sketches made by Sir David during his tour in the East, which are interesting, not merely on account of these sketches being among the latest productions of his pencil, but because they exhibit the Scottish national painter on a new field for the exercise of his genius, and on which he entered with a deep religious feeling. The sketcres, of course, were intended as studies for a series of paintings from Sacred History, the artist being of the mind that the most renowned pieces of the old masters laboured under a serious disadvantage, in not representing their subjects with literal truth, so as almost exactly to give the physiognomy, the costume, the architectures and the scenery of the people of the East. We have already slightly alluded to this mistake,-quite natural to the matter-of-fact mind of Wilkie,-confounding the ideal with the actual. Many of the specimens turn us back to the best and first style of the painter, and are in his characteristically high-finished
This, however, is an encomium belonging rather to the sketches as portraits, or as groups adapted to his dramatic power of representing common life, than to great historical pictures; and practically rendering his theory more manifestly unsound, when he imagined that national and local peculiarities, closely adhered to, are essential to the production of profound sentiment and impressive grandeur, in the representation of sublime subjects.
Wilkie's history as an artist presents two phases; the one when he followed the impulses of his own original but sober mind, working upon the ordinary events and appearances of life, for the most part as witnessed among the humbler walks. Here his eye was ever ready to catch the picturesque in costume, and the dramatic in thought as well as in action ; so that every one of his figures and pictures told their own energetic story as distinctly as if it had been set down in a plain and forcible narrative by the pen. The keen and eager genius which he displays in his search for the perfect types of his subjects; the power and delicacy of his delineation and grouping; and the perseverance with which he worked up and developed his perfect conceptions of character, place him on an unrivalled eminence in modern art, and entitle him to the honour of having created a perfectly new walk and era in its history. It is only necessary to recal to mind the “Blind Fiddler,” the “Rent Day," the “ Village Alehouse,” “ Blind Man's Buff,” “Distressing for Rent,” “Chelsea Pensioners," “ Reading the Will,” to understand the natnre of his mastery and the style of his excellence. His great fame arises and will be for ever sustained by the achievements which mark the first phasis of his labours.
The second character in which he came out, exhibited a change both in the nature and matter of his subjects, and the manner of execution. The great works which he studied during his continental tour and sojourn, must needs now be his models,—the historical, the religious, and the heroic he attempts; and all these too with a rapidity of composition and a slightness of execution, which, however illustrative of his disposition to elevate his contemplations and to enlarge the sphere of his conceptions, proved a failure, strangely perplexing his chief admirers. A greater number of pictures annually and larger pecuniary profits followed; but the sure foundations of his lasting celebrity were laid when his mind was quite independent, and when he worked like a man unpoetically prudent, and with a sort of untiring mechanism.
It consists well enough with the variation in the history of the painter, that a change should take place in the character of the man. Of course we speak of him in his more public capacity; for in his private life he appears ever to have been one of the most steadfast, honourable, and prudent of the human race. With respect, however, to his bearing to the world, we find him, during the earlier phasis of his carecr, as independent and manly in feeling as it is possible for an artist to be, who is poor, uncertain of success, and whose dealings must often take place with persons who look upon themselves in the light of patrons. But after Wilkie had the ear and unlimited admiration of the great ones of the earth, he aped in some measure the airs of a man of fashion and courtier ; adopting a sort of cringing tone and appearing to be afflicted with a continual sense of the
condescension of magnates. No man stood less in need of kingly patronage, and no man's elevation was less indebted to it for immortal fame. Upon no man could any thing of a meretricious nature sit more awkwardly; and no one profited less by the countenance of transitory pomp and pride.
One word more ere we dismiss these portly volumes : within their boards the distinguished subject of them affords materials and evidences sufficient to enable the reader to arrive at a clear conception of his character and genius, and also to comprehend satisfactorily the progress of his developinent both as an artist and a man.
The style and substance of his letters and writings are of themselves sufficient to lend a conplete insight into his progress,-a progress which led to a consummation of the most enviable and enduring description that can attend human worth and unaided personal efforts. We close with two passages, extracted from the painter's remarks on departments of art that, we hope, will one day find the most popular as well as the highest and most learned patronage in this country. The first paragraph relates to fresco, and is remarkable not merely for its suggestiveness and anticipating results, which at his death would have been deemed visionary, but as containing in little, and in plain and unpretending language, the substance of the subject.
The wonders accomplished here in fresco suggest the question whether it should not be tried in England ? Damp climate is objected, but Italy is damp too; and the difficulty of the work is stated, but this vanishes when we see the artists here doing it with perfect facility. Several Germans, namely, Overbeck, Fight, (Veit) Schadow, and Schnorr, have painted two palazzos, in the early German manner, imitating not Raphael, but Raphael's masters, and with great cleverness and research. But they have not hit the mark: their style, wanting so much of modern embellishment, cannot now be popular, and can neither be admired nor followed, as Pietro Perugino and Ghirlandajo were in that early day. This has given occasion to the wags to say, that Overbeck had overreached himself, that Fight is shy and timid, that Schadow has neither depth nor softness, and that Schnorr is without repose! With all this, however, in our country of novelty and experiment, why do those whose aim in the higher walks is so cramped and confined by a measured canvass and a limited commission, not try at once to revive the art of fresco ?
Again, and with relation to young German art :
One object of interest in Rome is the school of art it presents to the whole of Europe. Sculpture has of late years been in the ascendant; but Canova is gone, and Thorwaldsen is now a sort of Roman dictator in his stead. Sculpture is believed to have gained by the severity these have introduced, having suffered ever since the fifteenth century by imitating painting, which since the revival of art, has of the two stood the highest. In our day we have seen this partly reversed; the painting of the French being an imitation of the qualities of sculpture---a homage the one art can only pay to the
other at a severe cost. Our own countrymen here, have by their studies, done us credit; and though some arrived unprepared for study, and ignorant of what to study, others have acquired what may hereafter be useful at home, if they can resist the prevailing taste and tendency of our exhibition. But the German artists appear to form a class both new and distinct-are more of a sect than a school. They have abjured all the blandishments of modern art, and have gone back to the apostolic age of painting : have begun where Raphael began, by studying Raphael's master, in hopes the same schooling may a second time produce an equally successful scholar. They affect the dress of that early period, and in their pictures imitate the dry simplicity of its improved taste; and such is their devotedness, that two of them have changed their religion from Lutheran to Catholic, to feel with more intensity the subjects of the Italian master, making their art a religious profession rather than a wordly occupation.
These are samples of his valuable criticisms ; common sense and a matter-of-fact mind displaying a deep current of enthusia m quietly expressed.
Art. IX.--Letters from Madras, during the Years 1835–1839.
By a Lady. Murray. These Letters profess to describe the manners and society in India, as noted down during a three years' sojourn in various parts of the presidency of Madras; the lady's experience, during her residence, having been to a considerable extent confined to parts where Europeans are but few, and where consequently their modes and principles can have made but a comparatively slight impression.
The lady accompanied, when she was still but young, her husband to the East, who ere long was appointed a District Judge; his station being on the banks of the Godavery. At length he obtained promotion, it becoming necessary, however, for her, on account of the state of her children's health, to return with them to England. But it happened that she was able and willing to make the best of her time and opportunities, both while on the outward passage, and when at the Presidency, as an observer, and also as a correspondent with her family.
During her brief Indian experience she not merely directed a keen eye to every thing around, but exerted her influence with an activity and a zeal rarely to be met with among Europeans, when similarly situated. She studied the language, assisted by native teachers. Along with her husband she took a deep interest in the religious condition of the people; and even superintended a school, preparing also books for the instruction of the scholars.
Her inclinations and exertions brought the lady into frequent contact with the Indians. The occasions that were consequently offered