THE ART-UNION SYSTEM.
TO THE EDITOR OP THE SPECTATOR.
12:h October 1841.
Sen—In your remarks upon a letter signed S. R. H., in the Spectator of the 9th, you state an opinion which, if I understand it right, appears to be some- what paradoxical ; viz. " We confess that the money bestowed upon the en- graving of pictures seems to us little better than thrown away, so far as re- gards the advancement of art." If you intend this to refer only to the prints which have hitherto been produced by the Art-Union there may be truth in it, but the truth of it is not so evident Ryon intend it to refer to the general principle of appropriating a certain proportion of the funds to the engraving of a picture for the Society : I cannot see how there can be a (petition as to the benefit which must remit to the cause of art by the circulation of a good en- graving from a picture of sterling merit. In the announcements of the Art- Union, if I remember right, considerable stress has been laid upon the circum- stance that each subscriber would receive a print equal in value to the amount of his subscription: Now I have never yet seen a print issued since the com- mencement of the Art-Union which I should consider worth as much as one of BURNETT'S four-shilling Cartoons. Will a committee of such a society, esta- blished as they state purely for the promotion of art, be satisfied to let an indi- vidual outstrip them in enterprise? If they engage to give a print of a defi- nite value, let them see that it is rather above than under their promises : it will undoubtedly tell better for the institution, as well as the cause of art, in the event. If they profess to be judges, let them prove that they are really capable of judging well, and that they are worthy of the trust reposed in them : let them fix upon a good picture, have it well engraved, and then say to the subscribers-" If you don't like, you must learn to like it ; it is our duty to raise rather than to lower the standard of taste." Every pedagogue knows, or at least ought to know, that in order to maintain proper discipline and com- mand respect, he must not consult the whims and fancies of his scholars. I feel convinced that if you would take up your pen in good earnest, you might do much good in the matter. If the Committee were to lay out one or two hundred pounds more than they have on an engraving, there is not the least doubt that it would speedily bring an increase of subscribers far more than suf- ficient to meet the extra outlay. There is another part of the arrangement, the inefficiency of which I can bear personal testimony to-the want of a sufficient number of agents for procuring subscribers. No little of the success of such a project depends upon presenting as much temptation, or at least affording as much facility for sub- scribing, as possible. Last year, I believe the only regularly-appointed agent in the town nearest to which I reside, one of the largest provincial towns in England, was a surgeon : now if, instead of, or besides him, some of the prin- cipal booksellers, or such persons as are connected one way or other with those who take interest in works of art, Lad been appointed, 1 have no doubt that a greater number of subscribers might have been obtained in this neighbourhood. J you think these remarks downright stupid, remember that there is a vast amount of stupidity in the world ; and as the representative of so bulky a constituency, they may perhaps be deemed worthy of some regard. With much respee,471r your efforts in the cause of art, and for the talent you bring to bear upon it I am yours, A COUNTRY READER. iThe rem4alluded to by our correspondent had reference to the prints hitherto issued oy the Art-Union subscribers, and to the system under which the engravings are produced : unquestionably, much benefit to the popular taste would accrue from the distribution of print, of high excellence, and we agree with our correspondent's view of the duty of the Committee in this par- ticular. But the very constitution of the Society is calculated rather to gratify the liking of the many than to advance art by elevating their ideas of its power and influence. We doubt, if the Committee were disposed to select one of BURNETT'S four-shilling Cartoons in preference to a smooth mezzotint from a modern picture, whether the majority of subscribers would approve of their choice or acquiesce in their judgment : a really fine work of art of that high finish which the many are so fond of, could not be produced without a much larger outlay than the Society contemplate; and the production of a choice engraving annually for so large a number of subscribers is no easy matter. A first-rate engraving once every other year would be preferable to a trashy print annually. Meanwhile, the subscribers should bear in mind, that they have part of their money's worth in a chance of gettin.' a picture : if they would delegate their choice to a committee, so much the better for them and the cause of art. But the plain fact is not to be disguised, that the Art-Union is a society for cheap patronage of painters ; which is supported mostly by persons whose principal inducement to subscribe is the anticipated benefit they themselves will derive from it. Those who have more enlarged notions and refined taste, should liupport the Society for the Encouragement of British Art; which was established on the principle of promoting the advancement of art, and by carrying its purpose into effect lost the support of the public.]