24 APRIL 1852, Page 19


At the meeting of the Society of Arts on Wednesday, Mr. M. Digby Wyatt delivered one of the series of Exhibition Lectures ; being " an attempt to define the principles which should determine form in the decorative arts" • a subject to whose elucidation he brought much serious and well-digested thought, summed up in conclusions provocative of dis- cussion.

Starting from the principle that the sensation of delight is the test of excellence, Mr. Wyatt propounded, as the first requisite for arriving at sound principles, the investigation of the workings of divinity in nature. As the child passes through the three stages of mere sensation, of physical action, and of thought, so are realization, enjoyment, and reflection, ne- cessary to the observer. Infinite variety of form is perceived first : but this form is found to be invariably dependent on and indicative of struc- ture. The simplest line possible is universally to be traced in nature ; complexity being but a combination of simplicity. Neither in nature nor in art can any two lines come in contrast without increasing or les- sening to the eye the angles they lead to ; and an analogy to the optical correction supplied by nature was obtained by the Greeks through a mo- dification of the strict geometrical line—as demonstrated by Mr. Penrose's laborious study of the Parthenon and other monuments. The four elements which unite to produce the feeling of delight are variety, fitness, simplicity, and contrast. Form being in nature the clue to structure, a similar principle should be adopted in practical art. Va- riety is demanded by man ; and the office of simplicity is to limit form to the display of the predominant sentiment. Of all qualities, truth is the noblest and most universal. The effects of the wretched taste of last cen- tury stick to us yet ; and in the Exhibition those whom we are wont to regard as almost savages were found to be infinitely our superiors.

Passing to the more technical portion of his subject, Mr. Wyatt af- firmed that style must consist in selection—tbe distinguishing of art from nature; and that its perfection is attained when the spectator, in

contemplating any apecial form of art, is not reminded of any want to he supplied in some other form or in nature. In architecture—the least imi- tative of arts—the primary requisite is -fitness ; to which succeeds harmo- nious combination. Here all imitation should be conventionalized ; for perfect rendering of form would suggest the absence of colour and other qualities of nature. The Greek honeysuckle and the Egyptian lotus were alluded to as the happiest instances of conventionalizing.

From these considerations the lecturer proceeded to deduce a series of principles,—as that imitation should be aimed at only in an inverse ratio to the capability of the material ; that ornament should be introduced so as to call attention to the most important parts, and to contrast the geo- metrical line ; that where the copy differs greatly in bulk from the original, minutia, of surface and increased approach to natural form may be studied ; and that where the leading lines of a composition are geometrical, a closer imitation, but still an imitation of the ori- ginal in spirit rather than fact, is permitted. As examples from the Great Exhibition, the wood-carving of Rogers was referred to as illustrative of the last axiom ; the Zollverein camellia-plant as neglectful of the third ; and a tribute of high praise was paid to Etex's sculptures, for their fidelity to the noblest essentials.

Regarding sculpture, the opinions of Canova, 'Gibson, and others, were cited, that the perfection of form is to be reached only by comparison of nature with Greek idealization ; and both the power of harmonizing with architecture, and the selection of the best features from a variety of models, was advocated as demanded by the art in its highest form. Metal- work was illustrated by the shield and vase exhibited by Messrs. Hunt and Roskell, and purchased for the Department of Practical Art. In fur- niture, fitness and structure are too often disregarded : Pugin's was good, because judiciously disposed and subordinated in ornament ; the Austrian bed overcharged and vicious. In the manufacture of glass, Mr. Wyatt asserts our decided superiority to any previous age.

For objects in china, terracotta, &c., simplicity is peculiarly necessary; and the pure form of the Indian, Tunisian, and other Oriental examples, puts ours to shame. The Sevres porcelain, however, was in highly refined taste. Paper-staining, textile fabrics, and silks, also received a portion of the lecturer's attention ; the necessity of a merely proximate imitation of nature in the ornamentation of each—such as will not suggest the look, but only •the spirit of the originals in nature—being insisted upon.

In concluding, Mr. Wyatt reminded the audience that our divisions of the elements of beauty are but arbitrary : in nature, contrast, simplicity, variety, fitness, are one.