20 JULY 1844, Page 18



THE Royal Commission has adjudicated on the specimens of Fresco in Westminster Hall ; and the decision is in favour of native artists. The new Palace of the Legislature is to be adorned with paintings in fresco and in oil by British painters. This decision denotes the advent of a great and glorious sera in the annals of English art. It is not IO be re- yarded merely as a matter in which a few painters are concerned; we view it in a much wider scope. A style of art, the grandest that ever em- bodied the conceptions of genius, is now to be called into existence in this country for the first time. The energies of the national character are evoked, by the summons of the Stare, to show the world what English artists can do in the way of monumental painting. Hitherto they have been "cabin'd, crihb'd, confined," by the limitations of easel- practice : shut out from churches, admitted to public buildings only on sufferance as face-painters, they have been fain to subsist on portraiture or starve on history ; falling back on Art-Union patronage as a pis oiler. But now they are afforded the opportunity of emulating the example of the great painters of Italy, who for centuries were fostered by the wealth of the church and the taste of a people nurtured in an atmosphere of fine art. It is not to be expected that a crop of Raffaelles and Michael Angeles should spring up at the bidding of Parliament. It is sufficient to vindicate the genius and skill of the new-born British school, that a few of the present race of artists are found worthy to be intrusted with commissions for great works. Another competition for premiums offered by the Royal Commission, to he awarded next June, will doubtless develop fresh talent. An impulse has been given to painting that cannot fail of directing higher powers of mind into the field of art than any that have yet appeared, and of ennobling the aim and vocation of the labourers as well as extending and elevating the sphere of their operations.

Meanwhile, by way of beginning this great work, six painters have been selected, and commissioned to design cartoons of given subjects to be painted in fresco on the walls of the new House of Lords. The six compartments to be thus filled up measure each 9 feet 3 inches wide by 16 feet high to the top of the Gothic arch which encloses them. The subjects chosen by the Commissioners are "illustrative of the functions of the House of Lords, and of the relation in which it stands to the Sovereign." Three of them are to be "personifications or abstract re- presentations of Religion, Justice, and the Spirit of Chivalry "; and the other three are to represent historical incidents " expressing the relation of the Sovereign to the Church, to the Law, and (as the fountain of honour) to the State." The subjects have been assigned as follows.



Chivalry DANIEL MACLISE, R.A. The Baptism of Ethelbert WILLIAM DYCE.

Prince Henry (afterwards Henry V.) ac- knowledging the authority of Chief Justice Gascoigne RICHARD REDGRAVE, A.R.A. Edward the Black Prince receiving the Or- der of the Garter from Edward the Third CHARLES WEST COPE, A.R. A.

The selection of the artists, the choice of subjects, and their appro- priation to each painter, are very judicious. The artists are at liberty to exchange subjects with each other ; but we think their peculiar powers would be developed most advantageously by the themes allotted to them by the Commissioners. The fitness of the three emblematical subjects to the style and sentiment of the respective designers will, we think, be adknowledged by all acquainted with their works. Our only doubt is as to the effect of the ensemble : bearing in mind the total dissimilarity between the conception and mode of treatment of these six painters, we fear their frescoes would not harmonize well in the same chamber. The flaunting gayety of MACLISE'S colouring would contrast painfully with the sculpturesque severity of Thomas's style and the chaste simplicity of lloEsLev's; while the want of repose and breadth in Mac- use's painting would be rendered more conspicuous by the deep chia- roscuro of COPE'S and the grave solidity of DYCE'S art. This dissi- milarity of styles, too, would be rather increased than diminished by the difference of subject. Unity of impression in the general effect is a very essential point to be regarded; and this, we think, can only be secured by associating artists whose conception and execution are ac- cordant; as is the case with COPE and REDGRAVE, with whom also DYCE and Hoyt/a.m. would assimilate in spirit and style. MACLISE is snigeneris ; he wants a room to himself. THOMAS, too, is alone in his style of drawing, composition, and colouring.

Each artist is to prepare a cartoon of his design, the full size of the intended fresco ; a coloured sketch of the effect of the picture, not less than eighteen inches wide ; and to execute part of the work in fresco, not less than three feet wide. These are to be sent in to Westminster Hall for exhibition the first week in June next year. The artists thus commissioned are to receive 4001. each for their productions ; which will become the property of the nation. The Commissioners do not, however, bind themselves to employ the artists to execute these designs in fresco ; for the same subjects are open for general competition, not only to the six who are commissioned, but to all who choose to try. Premiums of 2001. will be given for the three best designs with frescoes by painters not commissioned.

Besides the Fresco competition, one for Oil Paintings is announced to take place at the same time. Three premiums of 5001. each, three of 3001. each, and three of 2001 each, will be given for the best pictures in oil, of sacred, historical, and poetical subjects, including representations of battles, marine and landscape scenes. Every competitor may send in two works, which must be painted expressly for the occasion. Their dimensions are left to the discretion of the painters ; but the nearest figures in all but the scenic pictures are to be the size of life. The paintings to which prizes are awarded will remain the property of the artists ; but any picture in which an appropriate subject is treated in a suitable style, and distinguished by a high degree of merit, will be ell.- tible to be purchased for the Parliament Houses. The Commissioners reserve to themselves the right of excluding any performances not pos- sessing merit sufficient to be worthy of exhibition ; and the judges, who will consist partly of artists, may if they think fit require any artist to whom a premium shall be awarded to execute another painting as a proof of his being entitled to the reward. Nor have the sculptors been overlooked ; though the Commissioners have only recommended three out of the number for employ ment,— namely, W. CALDER MARSHALL, JOHN BELL, and JOHN HENRY FOLEY. This selection is limited on aecouut of the poverty of the present display e sculpture in works suitable to the decorations of the Houses of Par- liament.; but it does not imply the exclusion of other sculptors, whether they Jaye or have not sent in specimens. There are several of the pre- sent exhibiters whose talent will be found available when they shall have devoted their powers in the right direction. The announcement of subjects required, and the places for them, would doubtless elicit pros& of ability to supply them. At present, however, the Commissioners say they are " not in possession of sufficient information as to the ex- tent of the decorations in sculpture which may be considered desirable."

This new competition—so comprehensive in its scope, so judicious in its details, and so liberal in its rewards—is calculated to develop all the available talent among the artists of the present day no one possessed of a respectable amount of invention and skill in the treatment of any class of subjects above mere portraiture and still life need despair of being able to contribute to this grand display of art. The invitation to landscape-painters will bring into play talent superior to any that the Continent can boast of: TURNER, CALLCOTT, and STANFIELD, may perhaps enter the arena. Among the veterans in oil-painting whose pictures will enrich the old ball, we may hope to see the names of EAST- LAKE and ETTY, LESLIE and MULREADY ; DOT need EDWIN LANDSEER be missed. Such an exhibition of painting as this is likely to be will beggar the Academy : the portrait-painters may reign paramount there next year, with impunity ; and while the shillings come slowly into the show in Trafalgar Square, people will flock by tens of thousands to witness the new birth of British art in the cradle of Westminster Halj, and do homage to the infant genius of Painting.

The present exhibition of Frescoes, Cartoons, and Sculpture, in West- minster Hall, is now open free to the public every day but Saturdays, when the admission is a shilling.