PICTURES AND ARTISTS.
INSTEAD of the selection of pictures by the Old Masters, usually ex- hibited at the British Institution, Pall Mall, we have this year one of the Paintings of the three Presidents of the Royal Academy, Sir JOSHUA REYNOLDS, BENJAMIN WEST, and Sir THObIAS LAWRENCE; which severally occupy the three rooms forming the gallery of the In- stitution. We are sorry to lose the treat, which we annually look for- ward to, of seeing some of the immortal productions of the great mas- ters of painting ; but we will not let our disappointment prevent us from enjoying the beauties of the present display. The idea of collecting together the best works of some of the eminent painters of the British school, is good ; and we hope to see it followed up, though not to the exclusion of the works of greater geniuses. We would have both. The Royal Academy should take upon itself the duty of keep- ing up in the public mind the recollection of the fame of its deceased members, by an annual exhibition of their works. We should like to see a collection of JACKSON'S Portraits, for instance. The merits of a painter are best exemplified by a numerous display of his works. By only seeing one here and there, the public are apt to form an imperfect and erroneous estimate of his powers. Why not make arrangements for a series of such exhibitions, and give us one year, all WiLson's works, another year all GAINSBOROUGH'S, and so on ; or club the pro- ductions of two or three less prolific geniuses together? By announc- ing beforehand what painter's works it was intended to exhibit in a cer- tain year, the possessors of them would be prepared to contribute specimens, so that a nearly complete collection of the works of each British artist could be formed with little difficulty. In the present case, we miss some of the most celebrated productions of the three Presi- dents ; and the exhibition is, on this account, less valuable as a demon- stration of their powers, than as a contrast of their different styles. It is not always fair, and seldom favourable, to judge of the works of dif- ferent artists by contrast. The Suffolk Street Society last year put an extreme case in proof of this, in the instance of their olla podrida of the works of dead and living. Whereas, by collecting together all the pro- ductions of an individual painter, you, as it were, bring his powers to a focus. You have ample ground upon which to form a sound judgment. You are enabled to analyze the quality and to measure the capacity of his genius. It is a trophy which, though soon to be scattered, is not the less an enduring monument of his fame. Such was the exhibition a year or two since of LAWRENCE'S Portraits. Such should have been this of
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS'S PICTURES.
As it is, we have only a few of the spolia opium of his art. Of these, the Cymon and Iphigenia (39), is the most resplendent. In glowing richness of colouring, it is almost equal to TITIAN'S pictures. Iphi- genia is reposing in a natural and graceful attitude that displays all the luxuriance of her charms, which are enhanced by colours of the dra- pery upon which she reclines ; while a burst of sunlight through the trees burns like a star above her head. The action of the little Cupid who leads Cymon to the spot, and the character of the head of the demi-savage, are excellent. The drawing also is better than in almost any other of his pictures. In short, it is a perfectly beautiful work of art. In Contemplation (4), we have a fine example of that warmth and richness of tone which constitutes one of the great beauties of REY- NOLDS'S paintings ; with a solidity and relief which is not always obser- vable in them. The attitude, the expression of the eyes, and the re- flected light on the face of the Laughing Girl (44), are beautifully true= there is a great deal of tenderness also in the action of the figures in the Virgin and Child (9), though, as a painting, it is incomplete. The Infant Samuel (43) is one of Sir JOSHUA'S best-finished works : there is no trick in it ; the reverential awe of the child is well depicted in the face ; this, and the charming simplicity of the attitude, render it a perfect picture. The Strawberry Girl (18), is a delicious combination of natural character and refined art. It is quite Rembrantish in its tone of colour. In these sweet little studies of children, Sir JOSHUA delighted, and therefore excelled. This is worth half-a-dozen such showy mistakes as the Death of Dido (19). The delighful union of truth, grace, and simplicity, in his female portraits, is particularly evi- dent in those of Miss Hickey (11), Lady Camden (12), Nelly O'Bryea (24), and Lady- De Clifford (50). In this last he has given the roseate tinge which belonged to the nasal feature of the lady, and has imitated the powder in her hair; - yet it is a charming face and a pleasing picture. Of the male portraits, that of Lord Rodney (13), is one of his finest; as a painting, perhaps the best. The drawing and colouring of the face and its expression, the treatment of the costume, and the tone of the picture, are admirable. It alone would stamp the fame of Sir Josue as a great portrait-painter. Nothing can be finer or more im- pressive. The portrait of Master Crewe, as a miniature Henry the Eighth (17), is also a fine painting. There is in these two pictures ne slobbering of megilp, no daubing of colour • all is fair, sound painting; . the costume is well made-out is all, its details, yet kept subenimate tar the flesh and subservient to the general effect. Among other interest. ing portraits are those of Dr. Johnson (46), Dyer the poet (27), the Penn Family (6)—an early work—and the painter himself (1). Of Sir JOSHUA REYNOLDS'S powers as a Historical painter we have a much less high opinion than that generally entertained of them by artists. In truth, he did not possess the inventive faculty. His con- ceptions of ideal persons want individuality ; and their expression is only physically forcible. The dying Cardinal Beaufort—which, how- ever, is not exhibited here— is a hideous matter of fact representation of an agonized maniac. The Ugolino (14), is his finest attempt of this kind; at least in the instance of two of the sons, one of whom drags forward his half-expiring brother to the knees of their father. Ugo- lino's visage is that of any prisoner : the blank stony look of despair is fine in itself, but it is not the face nor the look of the Ugolino of DANTE. The well-arranged and curled hair is an obviously absurd as well as unpicturesque anomaly. The appealing look of the elder son, and the sinking of exhaustion in the dying boy, mixed with an expres- sion of pain in both faces, are finely portrayed; and the action is bold and natural. These figures prove that Sir JOSHUA possessed the skill to depict expression, though he had not the imaginative power.
We now proceed to the room appropriated to the PICTURES OF BENJAMIN WEST.
This display of his works will, we think, disappoint the admirers of WEST as a History painter. It does not include any of his large paintings ; and therefore it is less calculated to impose upon the sense of the unlearned visitor. It is astonishing how a big picture, like big looks, awes the uninitiated, who do not look beyond the surface. People are naturally apt to suppose that a painter of large pictures must be a great painter. George the Third supported WEST'S reputa- tion by his patronage, but that cannot endow the dead painter with fame beyond his merits. Latterly, indeed, it was by appealing to the reli- gious feelings of the community that WEST propped up his reputation. The instance of WEST is a proof—and proof of a self-evident proposi- tion is sometimes needful as well as useful—that genius is not created by patronage. WEST'S Historical pictures were classical common- places,—French figures and antique draperies with bust-like beads. His faces in some of his later works changed from antique to modern ; and vacant and characterless they are. His mode of portraying expres- siOn—for he went about his work very methodically—was the drawing- master's recipe. His virtuous people were handsome-featured, un- meaning persons, with smug looks of goodness ; and his villains were properly fierce and scowling. His painting, which was always dry, thin, and flat, latterly got washy, and tea- board-like. Perhaps the best picture that WEST ever painted is that of Pylades and Orestes, in the National Gallery ; which is also one of his earliest. Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple, which is also there, is one of the best of his Scriptural pictures. The Christ Rejected was the most popular. Death on the Pule Horse was a well-meant mistake. No. 5 is a similar subject, from the Apocalypse, which is simply ludicrous. The Landing of Mentor and 7'clemachus in the Island of Calypso, is a very pleasing and graceful composition ; and An- gelica and Medora (10), has the additional merit of feeling. In composition, WEST possessed great facility ; the result rather of dili- gent study of N. POUSSIN and the French painters, than of original genius. The Departure of Regulus (15), and Hamilcar swearing Hannibal (18), are two good specimens of his style in classical subjects. They are distinguished for academical propriety. The look of Alex- ander at his physician, in 19, is expressive, but not characteristic. The physiognomy and figure of Belshazzar, in 25, are good ; the serpentine look and attitude of the king is well imagined ; though the huge and burly form and heavy features which REMBRANDT gave to Belshazzar seemed more characteristic of the brutal sensualist and despot. The prophet Daniel looks like a draped clothes-horse, or finger-post. This shows that WEST worked by rule. He has here proceeded upon the principle that straight lines in drapery give severity to the figure ; and we have them sure enough, but we have nothing else. Thetis and Achilles (30), is like one of WESTALL'S designs amplified. It is a col- lege theme in painting. How much more interesting is this Group of Family Portraits (28), painted in a style as plain and Quakerish as the persons themselves. A simple fact is better worth than a feeble fancy. The Golden Age (37), is a nice, homely, family party. WEST had no feeling for depicting sentiments : as his Bclisarius (21), and The Dead Ass, and The Captive, from STERNE (27 and 29), testify. The hero of these two last pictures is Sir JOSHUA'S Ugolino with his hair on end. There is a brilliant effect of colour in The Wise Men's Offering (41) ; the picture is very much in the style of TINTORETTO. But we com- mend those who would see nature painted by Wen' not to Penn's Treaty with the Indians (42), nor to The Death ofWolfe (17); which are cold, artificial, and mechanical representations of real events, and destitute of the feeling and interest belonging to the scenes themselves; but to two Landscapes, with evening effects of sunlight, 35 and 47. WEST should have been a landscape.painter. We think he mistook his talents.
We have left ourselves little room to speak of LAWRENCE'S PORTRAITS;
and there is less need for our entering upon his merits, because we have before endeavoured to do justice to them, upon the occassion of the exhibition of the greater number of his works. The present se- lection contains a very few that were not included in the former. The best female portraits by LAWRENCE in the gallery are those of Lady Dover, Lady Blessington, and Mrs. Ashley. Among the male por- traits, is that of Sir Walter Scott (26), which is to be engraved. It is a portrait of the genius and the gentleman ; but if Sir THOMAS had done such poetical justice to Sir Walter Scott as he has done to Lord Londonderry, in this portrait of him as a young Hussar (25), we should have had a beau ideal picture of the Author of Waverley, in- stead of a gentlemanly one of Sir Walter Scott. But LAWRENCE, who was skilful to flatter a lord and a woman of fashion, by making them look handsome, courtly, and high-bred, could only make the man of genius look more genteel and comely than he really was. He could not paint " The rapt soul sitting in the eyes."
He would have made the poet Shelley look like a drawing-room
seraph ; not have conveyed the really spiritual expression of Shelley's countenance, radiant with intellect and instinct with sensibility. LAW... RENCE would have painted Robert Montgomery,. the Dandy Poet, after • his own heart. Here is the Duke of Bedford—the best male head, we think, that LAWRENCE ever painted ; Lord Aberdeen and Lord Durham, both admirable also for likeness and character. Mr. Hart. Davis (7), is one of his most vigorous and characteristic heads, and the best specimen of his first matured style, before he began to paint so flimsily. The portrait of George the Fourth, we cannot think was painted by LAWRENCE: it must be a copy. The whole-length of Queen Charlotte is a fine example of his early manner; it is simple, chaste in style and colour, and devoid of affectation. The flattery is most imperceptibly administered. Some of the portraits look weak and superficial, and chalky and crude in colour; and the draperies, especially those of Mrs. Ashley and Lord Dover, very slight and slovenly ; but there is an elegance in the style of all, and the drawing is careful, though often faulty in form. For instance, he makes the bosoms of his frmales flat, and the shoulders round ; Lady Dover looks almost bump-backed. These instances prove how much truth painters are apt to sacrifice to affectation and conventional mannerism.