ENGLISH DECORATORS AND THE ROYAL COMMISSION.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
London, 18th August, 1845.
Sur—The proceedings of the Royal Commission have hitherto been charac-
terized by so much judgment and fairnear their treatment of painters and sculptors has been so handsome—that one is reluctant to assume the possibility of their acting otherwise towards decorative artists. It can hardly be supposed that a body of noblemen and gentlemen, with the Prince Consort at their head, would dis- honour their high station and official responsibility by breaking faith with any one— even were he the humblest artisan: yet it would appear as if the only alternative to such an imputation were that some irresponsible person is setting at nought the authority and frustrating the intentions of the Royal Commission.
There are at this time some sixty or eighty decorators—wood-carvers and or- namental-painters—at work upon the enrichments of the Chamber of Peers in the new Palace; and among them, I believe, are only one or two of those artists whom the Commissioners expressly recommended for employment. Certain it is that the most skilful and experienced practical workmen among the carvers and painters thus recommended have not been engaged; and what makes this still more extraordinary, is the statement of Mr. Pugin, who superintends the interior decorations, that for want of competent assistance from Englishmen he is com- pelled to send for foreigners.
When the Royal Commission in 1843 invited the English decorators to send in specimens of their ability in the various branches of ornamental art, no premiums were offered; it being understood that the prizes for successful competitors would be employment. In pursuance of this arrangement, a Committee was appointed to inspect the specimens exhibited in the spring of last year at the St. James's Bazaar, and to report on the merits of the artists. These reports—from which I shall presently quote—are printed in the Third Report of the Commissioners. That the oruamentists whose specimens were approved have been officially recom- mended to be employed in preference to others, I kno.*; for certain; having seen letters signed by the Secretary to the Commission, Mr. t.'astlake, and sent for the information of the parties. 1 can also state of my own personal knowledge, that the artists in question have applied to Mr. Barry for employment, and are both willing and able to enter upon the work, but have been put off with smooth words and promises. Not being aware of any but wood-carvers and ornamental- painters being employed at present, I confined my inquiries to these two branches of decoration. Six carvers—namely, Messrs. Cummings, 011ett, Ringham, Freeman, Browne, and J. Thomas—were favourably noticed in the leport of the Committee; and another, Mr. Rogers is especially mentioned in these terms---" It is the opinion of the Committee, that among the carvers whose works have been exhibited he holds the first place; and they consider him as the person best qualified to be intrusted with those parts of the wood-work of the House of Lords in which great richness of effect and delicacy of execution are required." Nothing can be stronger or more explicit than this. And that the Commission adopt the recommendation of the Committee, is proved by a letter from the Secretary, directing Mr. Rogers to communicate with Mr. Barry. Mr. Barry says there is nothing for him to do at present; and bows out the ap- plicant with this flattering excuse--" There is nothing worthy the exercise of your talent, Mr. Rogers, in the House of Lords"! So that the doors, for which designs were especially required, the stalled and canopied seats of the Peers, and the throne, are all to be left to common workmen. The soffits of the ribs of the ceiling—though they are of pierced carving, gilt and relieved upon a coloured ground—cannot be considered very important, since they are cut out of Canadian pine, the commonest and most fragile wood that could be chosen, and a favourite haunt of insect vermin. Of the other six carvers I have only heard of one being employed; and be only as a journeyman; and two individuals might be named who have suffered serious loss and disappointment by leaving their business in the country in consequence of the Committee's recommendation.
"In the department of arabesque painting, the artists noticed in the detailed report of the Committee are Mr. Coltman, Mr. Goodison, and Messrs. F. and J. Crace, say the Commissioners; and they add the opinion of the Committee; that the specimens sent by Mr. Johnson "evince considerable taste and ability."
The following significant hint was appended to their report--" The Cemmissioners, having had reason to suppose that some of the persons who have eahibited works of decorative art may hare employed other hands, or even the assistance of foreigners, in the execution of each works, have resolved that those persons who maybe selected for employment in those branches of decoration sbalf, if the COM- misstoners think fit, be required to produce specimens of their art, to be completed under such conditions as the Commissioners may think necessary." The meaning of this is, that the Commission will employ none but practical men—working artists. Mr. Coltman is an architect, and employed German painters to execute his design. Messrs. Cram are very respectable shopkeepers, who undertake decoratione and employ artists to execute them; but they are men of business and taste, not working artists. Of themselves they are incompetent to the production of the spa cimen they sent in; on which various artists, French and English; were employed. Mr. Goodison and Mr. Johnson were the only successful competitors in arabesque, painting who designed and executed their specimens themselves; yet neither of them is employed; while Messrs. Crane have both the honour and profit accruing from the painted decorations of the House of Lords; which are being executed by foreign and English artists, from designs furnished by Mr. Pugin and under lus direction, to the exclusion of the only two artists who were quOified for employ- ment according to the decision of the Committee. To the application of Mr. Goodison the same flattering answer was given by Mr. Barry— that there was no scope in the House of Lords for the exercise of his talent; it was mere journey- man's work. If this injustice be suffered, the inference is inevitable, that Royal Commission either wants the will or has not the ixaver to enforce its recom- mendations. In either case, the artists, whose labour has been taxed, and whose hopes have teen disappointed, will have good ground to complain of a breach of faith. The country also will have reason to be dissatisfied that the best native talent has not been engaged on a national work, that is intended to exemplify the highest state of perfection to which British art can attain in this age. The pecu- niary loss to several omamentists, through their being thrown out of employment by competing against their masters, or their giving up private business in the country to come to London, has been almost ruinous. But, taking a wider view of the matter, tIrre is great cause for regret that such a grand opportunity as this for calling out any original talent in ornamental design that exists in the country. should be suffered to escape, by excluding from. employment all but mere mecnanical copyists of Gothic patterns. Mr. Pugin, is indisputably the greatest master of Gothic in the present day; and as he fur.... Dished architectural details for the exterior, it is quite proper that he should do the same for the interior; Mr. Barry in both instances exercising the controlling now of selection and modification of the ornaments. But the interior decorations of such a vast pile of building afford so aide a field for the invention of wood- carvers, arabesque-pLir,ters, gInce-stainers, and metel-nakers, -that not all the. stores of quaint old ornament which Mr. Pugin has at command should bet allowed to stifle the fresh fancies of new designers who can enter into the spirit and character of the Gothic style. Moreover, Mr. Pugiu's predilections for the cramp„ stiff, dry manner of early English ornament, and his avowed and almoat exclusive preference for the ecclesiastical style—however they may be restrained by Mr. Barry's modern taste—are likely to approximate the details nearer to the Norman than the Tudor period; to which last the architecture of the building belongs. I have heard instances of the sectarian spirit displayed by Mr. Pugin in his fana- tical zeal for Catholicism in ornament, that, however amusing they are as limo dotes, ought to be gravely considered in relation to the influence of such bigoted. preferences on art. Far from wishing to revive the "No Popery" cry in the realm of taste, I should be sorry to see ecclesiastic symbolism intruded into a se- cular edifice, especially any of a Popish character. There is an impression abroad that Catholic workmen are preferred to Protestant in the decorative department of the House of Lords' which, however preposterous, should be counteracted. But when known talent is pointedly excluded, it is not surprising that strange
guesses should be made at the cause of such exclusion. • * [The writer is known to us.—En.]