23 DECEMBER 1854, Page 31


Mr. John Zephaniah Bell, the painter, delivered a lecture upon this subject on 'Wednesday, at the London Institution, Finsbury Circus. His object was to vindicate the paramount claims of character as the quality which makes art, whether pictorial or decorative, worthy of interesting a human being. Whenever we are earnestly attentive to any object, we instinctively ascribe character to it. Animals serve as the first example ; but some inanimate objects are understood as expressing character in an almost equally marked degree. Attitude and proportion should be the first aims of a draughtsman—the first giving character, the second beauty —an axiom in which Wilkie had concurred with the lecturer. Character is the principal excellence of the Elgin marbles, of Turner's works, of Danby's, of Constable's. It confers value on flower-painting. At the Great Exhibition of 1851, Mr. Bell had compared British and foreign works: the first indicated labour without attainment, and left him at a loss as to the worker's intention ; the second, the Indian and Moorish for instance, had a meaning perceptible to every one more or less clearly. Here the lecturer called attention to some examples after various styles of decoration, Classic, Pompeian, Medireval, Egyptian, Ancient British, Saxon, and Rhenish of the Carlovingian period, pointing out the cha- racter of each ;—to our notions, with more than due praise to the Pompeian specimens, and even to the Medimvid, unless the gorgeousness of colour be a great point in the latter. The spread of good taste is to be en- deavoured for on high ground as an advantage to society. Mr. Bell's attention has been turned to the subject of decoration for thirty years; he has been master of the School of Design at Manchester, and his ad- vice is that we should remit geometric studies for ornament, and get character, and then our ornament will yield to that of no other nation. The want of proper education hitherto has kept us back.

We conceive that Mr. Bell is manifestly right in naming character, the intellectual and interesting part in all art, as the great desideratum. But it is also the part which stands the least in need of education for its de- velopment—invaluable as education of course is for all things. Let men of superior mind engage in decoration, and we shall have character if nothing else. The education is most needed by the public to enable them to appreciate the character; and perhaps Mr. Bell meant this as much as the other.