12 APRIL 1856, Page 14


STAMESMEN who employ the public money in giving salaries by favour are just as much guilty of misappropriation as clerks who embezzle;' and when public property is intrusted to persons of approved incapacity to guard it, it is breach of trust. The majority which the indifferentism of the Commons gave to Ministers on Mr. Otwars amendment does not exonerate the responsible officials from charges of misappropriation and breach of trust. The National Gallery is in their keeping. Some time since, a Select Committee of the Commons reported evidence which showed that Sir Charles Eastlake had sanctioned the " cleaning " of pictures in a mode that was destructive to pic- tures, and the purchase of pictures in themselves worthless or bear- ing forged authorship : Ruliens was flayed, and a daub was bought as the work of Holbein. According to the blue-book quoted in the debate, Sir Charles admitted that the mistake origi- nated in a want of a knowledge of the master, and "he could hardly assume that such a Director as he thought fit for the National Galle- ry would. make such a mistake." Yet, after making those confessions in word as well as act, Sir Charles was promoted from being Keeper at 2001. to be Director at 1000/. a year. From these simple facts we might have anticipated the sequel. Some pictures have been bought under the new regime; one of these pictures has been exhibited ; it purports to be by Paolo Veronese ; it is the sole ascertained fruit of expenses amounting to 1977/., and it could have been bought some time back for 50!.: it is worthless.

A travelling agent has been appointed at a salary besides tra- velling expenses. We for the moment say little of Mr. Otto Miindler's ability, for we have yet to see the fruits of his appoint- ment. But it is well known that the employment of such an agent is more likely to stimulate the intrigues of one of the most intriguing of trades, picture-dealing, and to raise prices in the market wherever the agent appears, than to secure good works of art. We missed the beautiful Lawrence collection of drawings by Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, and other masters : we are enriched with the spurious Holbein and the worthless Veronese. These results naturally follow from a system which leaves the management of our public picture-gallery to cliques and the nominees of cliques. The House of Commons knows little about art, and presumes itself incapable of knowing more : it is here that the root of the evil is to be found. Noblemen and gentlemen amuse their leisure hours by dabbling in picture-buying; they pick up the jargon of the studio, and pass for authorities ; and "practical men," unable to reply in the same authorized jargon, conscious that they cannot talk like a Colborne or paint like an Eastlake, assured by a Premier that it is all right, "vote with the majority," and leave the future to confirm the worst warnings of an Otway. Now this is worse than throwing away public money ; it is destroying the pictures we have, and losing those we might have. Judgment in the estimate of pictures is not a mat- ter of taste ; it is a matter of fact. The grounds for accounting a picture good are as tangible as the grounds for testing a cotton- manufacture, and are as easily explained to ordinary under- standing, though not so rapidly. Much of our current criticism, printed as well as oral, is vague slang, treating judgment as if it were nothing more definite than "taste." But Reynolds, Fuseli, Bell, like Da Vinci, knew better : Ruskin knows better. It is quite possible to give a matter-of-fact account of the merits of every painter of real ability. It is therefore quite possible to test the qualifications of any person who is to be curator or purchaser of pictures ; for he, at least, ought to be able to give as clear an account of the principles for choosing a picture as Sir George Stephen for buying a horse or Mr. Youatt for stabling it. Such a man would not let a horse be skinned, nor purchase a screw for an Eclipse—would not flay a Rubens, nor allow a daub to be bought as the work of Holbein. If he could not give a good ac- count of his own principles of action, he would not be appointed Inspector-General of Horses to her Majesty's Forces, or Head Keeper of the Stables. Nor would the House of Commons tolerate payment of salary to such a man, on the score that, if he had bought a screw and lamed an Eclipse, there are diversities of " taste " in the fancies of the stable.