Imagens da página

Return to England.-Opposition.

The truth is, that if these works had really been what I expected, they would have contained beauties superficial and alluring, but by no means such as would have entitled them to the great reputation which they have borne so long, and so justly obtained."

"He contemplated with unwearied attention and ardent zeal the various beauties which marked the style of different schools, and different ages. It was with no common eye that he beheld the productions of the great masters. He copied and sketched in the Vatican such works of Raphael and Michael Angelo as he thought would be most conducive to his future excellence, and by his well-directed study acquired, while he contemplated the best works of the best masters, that grace of thinking, to which he was principally indebted for his subsequent reputation as a portrait painter." After an absence of nearly three years, he returned to England; and, after visiting Devonshire for a few weeks, he established himself as a professional man in London. He found such opposition as genius is commonly doomed to meet with, and does not always overcome. The boldness of his attempts, the freedom of his conceptions, and the brilliancy of his colouring, were considered as innovations upon the established and orthodox system of portrait manufacture. The artists raised their voices first; and of those, Hudson, who had just returned from Rome, was loudest. His old master looked for some moments on a Boy, in a turban, which he had just painted, and exclaimed: "Reynolds, you don't paint so well as when you left England!" Ellis, an eminent portrait-maker, who had studied under Kneller, lifted up his voice next: "Ah! Reynolds, this will never answer! Why, you don't paint in the least like Sir Godfrey." The youthful artist defended himself with much ability, upon which the other exclaimed in astonishment, at this new heresy in art,

Royal Academy.-First president.--Public discourses. "Shakspeare in poetry, and Kneller in painting!" and walked out of the room. The contest with his fellow-artists was of short continuance. The works which had gained him celebrity, were not the fortunate offspring of some happy moment, but of one who could pour out such pictures in profusion. Better ones were not

slow in coming.

The Royal Academy was planned in 1768. A list of thirty members was made out; and West called on Reynolds, and succeeded in persuading him to join them. He ordered his coach, and, accompanied by West, entered the room where his brother artists were assembled. They rose up to a man, and saluted him president. He voluntarily imposed on himself the task of delivering discourses, for the instruction of students in the principles of their art. They were delivered during a long succession of years, in a manner cold, and sometimes embarrassed, and even unintelligible. A nobleman, who was present at the delivery of the first of the series, said: Sir Joshua, you read your discourse in so low a tone, I scarce heard a word you said." "That was to my advantage,” replied the president, with a smile. The king, to give dignity to the Royal Academy of Great Britain, bestowed knighthood on the president; and seldom has any such distinction been bestowed amid more universal approbation. He died in 1792, in the sixty-ninth year of his age. Sir Joshua has a three-fold claim on posterity: for his discourses, his historical an poetical paintings, and his portraits.

The portraits of Reynolds are equally numerous and excellent; and all who have written of their merits, have swelled their eulogiums, by comparing them with the simplicity of Titian, the vigour of Rembrandt, and the elegance and delicacy of Vandyke. Certainly, in character and expression, and in manly ease, he has never been surpassed. He is always equal; always natural,

[ocr errors]

Style of portraiture.-Portraits of eminent personages.-—Poetic subjects. graceful, unaffected. His boldness of posture, and his singular freedom of colouring, are so supported by all the grace of art, by all the sorcery of skill, that they appear natural and noble. Over the meanest head he sheds the halo of dignity; his men are all nobleness, his women all loveliness, and his children all simplicity; yet they are all like the living originals. He had the singular art of summoning the mind into the face, and making sentiment mingle in the portrait.

The admirers of portrait painting are many, and it is pleasant to read the social and domestic affections of the country in these innumerable productions. In the minds of some, they rank with historical compositions; and there can be no doubt that portraits, which give the form and the soul of poets, and statesmen, and warriors, and of all whose actions or whose thoughts lend lustre to the land, are to be received as illustrations of history. The most skilful posture and the richest colouring cannot create the reputation 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, while the heads of many of Sir Joshua's grandest lords remain at their original fifty.

Of historical and poetic subjects he painted upwards of one hundred and thirty. They are chiefly in England; and in the galleries of the titled or opulent. The names of a few of the most famous may interest the reader: Macbeth and the Witches; Cardinal Beaufort; Holy Family; Hercules strangling the Serpents; The Nativity; Count Ugolino; Cymon and Iphigenia; The Fortune-teller; Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy; The Snake in the Grass; The Blackguard Mercury; Muscipula; Puck; Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse; The Shepherd Boy; Venus chiding Cupid for Casting Accounts, &c.

Gainsborough.-Early sketches.-Tom Peartree's portrait.


Thomas Gainsborough, the celebrated landscape-painter, was born at Sudbury in the year 1727. In his case also, "the boy was father of the man." At ten years old he had made some progress in sketching, and at twelve he was a confirmed painter. A beautiful wood of four miles in extent is shown, in Suffolk, whose ancient trees, winding glades, and sunny nooks inspired him, while he was but a schoolboy, with a love of art. Scenes are pointed out where he used to sit and fill his copybooks with pencillings of flowers and trees, and whatever pleased his fancy; and it is said that those early attempts of the child bore a distinct resemblance to the mature works of the man.

On one occasion he was concealed among some bushes in his father's garden, making a sketch of an old fantastic tree, when he observed a man looking most wistfully over the wall at some pears, which were hanging ripe and tempting. The slanting light of the sun happened to throw the eager face into a highly picturesque mixture of light and shade, and Tom immediately sketched his likeness, much to the poor man's consternation afterwards, and much to the amusement of his father, when he taxed the peasant with the intention of robbing his garden, and showed him how he looked. Gainsborough, long afterwards, made a finished painting of the Sudbury rustic-a work much admired among artists—under the name of Tom Peartree's portrait. He loved to exercise his powers in those hasty things: and from the unembarrassed freedom of mind and hand with which he produced them, they take rank with his happiest compositions.

Of those early sketches made in the woods of Sudbury, few now exist, though they were once very numerous. No fine clump

His first drawings.-Duchess of Devonshire.

of trees-no picturesque stream-no romantic glade—no cattle grazing, nor flocks reposing, nor peasants pursuing their pastoral or rural occupation-escaped his diligent pencil. Those hasty sketches were all treasured up as materials to be used when his hand should have become skilful; he showed them to his visitors and called them his riding-school. As his reputation rose, he became less satisfied with those early proofs of talent, and scattered them with a profuse hand among friends and visitors. To one lady he made a present of twenty; but so injudiciously were those precious things bestowed, that the lady pasted them round the walls of her apartment, and as she soon after left London, they became the property of the next inhabitant. His first drawing was a clump of trees—he long retained it, and one of his biographers says it was a "wonderful thing."

At an early age he married and settled at Ipswich, thence he removed to Bath, and in his forty-seventh year he removed to London, where he continued his career in portraiture and landscape, with fresh feeling and increasing success. Among those

who sat to him was the Duchess of Devonshire-then in the bloom of youth, at once the loveliest of the lovely, and the gayest of the gay. But her dazzling beauty, and the sense which she entertained of the charms of her looks and her conversation, took away that readiness of hand, and hasty happiness of touch, which belonged to him in his ordinary moments. The portrait was so little to his satisfaction, that he refused to send it to Chatsworth. Drawing his wet pencil over the mouth which all who saw it thought exquisitely lovely, he said, "Her grace is too hard for me." The picture, it is supposed, was destroyed. Among his papers were found two sketches of the Duchess,-both exquisitely graceful.

He had customers who annoyed him with other difficulties

« AnteriorContinuar »