PRINCIPLES OF DECORATIVE ART.
WE invite attention to the following valuable and well-timed communi- cation from Mr. HAYDON : it enunciates clearly and forcibly the true principles that should govern the practice both of decorative-painting and high art ; and points out the end to be aimed at in the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament, and the way to attain this end.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
Loudon, 5th December 1842.
SIR—If the law be a sound one, that thought in art is conveyed by the imitation of things, and things are best imitated, not by selecting every detail investigation may develop, but by planting the leading points of objects in their right places, leaving atmosphere to unite the abstraction; then, no school on the Continent, for two hundred years nearly, has been in a sound condition of imitation ; and the great principles were first revived in Europe by REYNOLDS, IIOOARTH, WILSON, and GASNSBOROUGH, who were the first sound imitators by touch which appeared in the art since GIORGIONE, TITIAN, RUBENS, REM- BRANDT. VELASQUEZ, MURILLO, and TESLER& It is, therefore, a fact, that the British have given proof of being gifted with the power of seeing objects as a whole through the medium of atmosphere, at the given point where the whole can be taken in by the eye ; but, being without a regular education in form, which is the sure guide to render this gift a means of attaining the perfection of the great masters, they have always been justly open to the remarks of the Continent of not being able to draw, whilst the Continent has been also justly open to their remarks, of being able to do nothing else. In Spain, when WiLicte pointed out to the Academy President the different mode of imitating nature by VELASQUEZ, from the mode of the present Spanish school, and when he used to maintain the mode of VELASQUZZ was the sound one, " No," replied the President; " those touches were not on principle ; Velasquez was always in a hurry, from the demands of the Court." " But," said WILKIE, " were Georgione, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Murillo in a hurry?" What applies to Spain, applies to Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, and did apply to France; but France has so much improved in colour, touch, light and shadow, and impasto, that in a few years it will apply no longer, and the French will again revert to the sound art of their CLAUDE, their Niccoco, and their GASPAR.
It Milt be granted that imitation is the basis of decoration as well as of high
It Moot be denied that in proportion as decoration swerves from sound art it goes wrong, and in proportion as it keeps within its boundaries it goes right.
Though decorative art be abstractive and reproductive, it is not more so than high art ; and imitation being the basis of both, the French, with sound sense, make decorator and and painter start together.
In France, the decorator begins to acquire a knowledge of fitness, proportion, beauty, colour, light and shadow, and imitation, where they can best be got, via. " from the human figure"; and thus having begun by sound art, he goes to ornament, and carries sound art to decoration.
In Germany, the decorator begins by ornament,' where there is no standard, and then goes to the figure, which is the highest : the French, therefore, correct the evil tendencies inherent in decoration, whilst the Germans corrupt the sound tendencies of art, by translating the evil ones ; and this is not only visible in all their decorations, but this unsound system in the education of their decorators absolutely taints their high art. With the excellent example of the French before us, and its successful re- sults in the opinion of the world, when our school of decoration was founded— unfortunately as it will turn out—the German system was preferred to the French : and though its exclusiveness has been greatly ameliorated, the antique introduced, and the decorator allowed to study the figure if he please, he is not yet compelled to do so, as at Lyons, by law ; and till he is, I consider the art iu England to be in very great danger. The facility of admission being great, the mechanic has no sound principle of imitating things inculcated; he proceeds, in defiance of all the laws of optics, to obtrude equalities to a degree which if • See DYCE.11 Report. carried into art, as they will be, will destroy it, for already the eye of the c practised artist is shocked to a pitch of pain. A school sanctioned by the State, and which must influence the branch- schools, ought to be warily conducted, and always checked when it starts principles inconsistent with the long experience of the world. If the sound doctrines of the great masters be proclaimed inconsistent with decoration, it must become offensive, glaring, and detestable to the eye: but if sound art be combined with decoration, it will be executed always under the guidance of those laws, based on human sensibilities to repose and variety, recession and projection, reality and deception in the imitation of the objects selected, which will be totally forgotten as they are already, if the decorator do not start like the artist, and decoration become, as it is becoming, Chinese where every thing is obtruded that every thing may be seen, and the mind and eye are wearied by an incessant obtrusion of equalities. Whatever quantity of space be decorated—however numerous soever be the series of chambers to be adorned—intellectually as regards choice of subject, and pictorially as regards effect and imitation, the law of regulation should be to consider all parts of each chamber but as parts of a whole, and all chambers but as parts of one great whole—in expression, in story, in colour, in effect, in composition. Decorate the walls, the halls, the ceilings, the floors, the windows, the beam- ends, the coves, the chimney-pieces, the hearth-stones if you like; but let each chamber be like one picture, and the whole series be parts of a vast one, to tell one great moral story, in which each separate story shall be but a link in the great development. I have never been able to ascertain from any decorator, why the lowest objects of decoration should not be conducted on principles of art: he can give no reason why fruit and flowers, satyrs' heads or tigers' faces, should be stuck on a white ground, like the botanical beauties of an album : surely the most exquisite decoration in any chamber in fruit and flowers would be height- ened by an appropriate background? Why, because objects must be distinct, they are to be offensive—why they are not to be united at some points and re- lieved at others, as in a picture—no one can telL If all decorative objects were executed like REYNOLDS'S picture of the "Theory of Painting," it would be an immense advance in that species of beautiful art- To conclude, let the decorative art of England, then, be combined with the great imitative doctrines of the great masters, and what is good in British art will not be lost, and what is wanted will soon be found : but I maintain, if English art be cut up to the roots like a cancer by this German colony at Somerset House, and an offensive system of decoration be introduced in oppo- sition to all its acknowledged beauties, then I predict, what is good will soon be lost, and what is wanting will never be found till it be too late to attempt it.
With every apology to you, Sir, and your readers, B. R. 11 AYDow.