28 SEPTEMBER 1844, Page 20


" Panto:is wanted" was the cry of the artists a little while ago—a cry BO loudly and so lugubriously reiterated that one would have supposed there had been a galaxy of genius darkling in obscurity, awaiting the call of munificent taste to burst forth in a blaze of splendour ; only that greatness is not clamorous for recognition of its claims. But now the tables are turned, and "Pictures wanted" is the universal cry. It is sent forth by a Royal Commission, is taken up by Art Unions, and finds an echo in a Parish Workhouse! The first specimen of parochial patro- nage of painting is worthy of particular attention ; it is unique of its kind.

A legacy of 500/. was lately left by a Mr. Jon:: HARCOURT to pur- chase an altarpiece for St. James's Church, Bermondsey. As no suit- able picture has been found, the Trustees advertise a competition for one, in the following terms—‘• They are prepared to receive finished sketches," thirty-six inches high by seventeen inches wide, for a pee- tore of the Ascension of Christ, eleven feet in width by twenty-three feet in height, including the frame. The painter is to be paid 5001., pro- vided that the picture be completed by Midsummer-day 1846, and that "two persons of competent judgment pronounce it to be of that value." The "finished sketches" are to be sent in to the Workhouse, by the 4th December next. The advertisement is signed "By order of the Trus- tees, B. and G. DREW, Clerks," and dated September 1844. The incongruity of the whole proceeding is so ludicrous that it looks like a joke : but we acquit both the Trustees and their Clerks of any intention to jest ; they are doubtless unconscious of the oddity of the affair. It never occurred to them, we dare say, that they require a pic- ture about as large as the Transfiguration by RAFFAELLE, and nearly twice the height of the Raising of Lazarus by SEBASTIAN DEL PIOMBO, the largest picture in the National Gallery. The sublimity of the subject could not have escaped their consideration ; but they must have supposed that an artist could conceive a supernatural event ex- tempore, and produce "a finished sketch" in as short a time as it would take to draw a group of the twelve Apostles and the ascending Saviour. The mental process of invention and composition cannot have entered into their calculation. What they mean by a "finished sketch" would perhaps puzzle them to define : it is to be presumed that they have a vague expectation of seeing something in little that shall give them an idea of the picture in large ; therefore the sketch must be co- loured. The term "finished" implies that the forms and expression shall be distinctly made out, and the execution neat and careful : in- deed, as no cartoon is required, the sketch had need be elaborate in alt its details. Why, the "finished sketch" alone would be worth five hundred pounds, if it were worth any thing; for none but a painter of great powers of mind and mastery of his art could produce a picture of such a scene calculated to excite reverential feelings ; and six months would be a short time to mature such a grand design and execute it Sa- tisfactorily. Even supposing that by a "finished sketch" the Trustees mean a sketch in oils of the composition and effect of the proposed pic- ture, two months is hardly time enough for some slapdash designer to throw together in a taking shape a heap of plagiarisms or stock com- monplaces of painting ; which we fear is what the intended altarpiece will turn out to be. Such a performance, moreover, would be no more a test of the artist's ability to paint a picture twenty-three feet high, than the heads of an argument would be of a man's power to make an eloquent speech. A cartoon the size of the picture is indispensably ne- cessary to the artist himself, as well as to enable the "two competent persons" to decide upon the respective merits of the candidates. But the cartoon and coloured sketch would be worth all the money ; and twelve months ought to be allowed the competitors for producing them. That time is given by the Royal Commission for similar labour ; and the Art Union allow more than that for a cartoon six feet by four-and-a- half, in order to insure well-digested and matured efforts. Mr. JOHN HARCOURT'S liberality is honourable to his memory ; and the stewards of his bounty are doubtless desirous to fulfil his intentions in the best possible manner. But either he or they want too much for the money—more than they can get of what is worth having. The di- mensions of the picture are too large, in the first place, putting the sum out of consideration : two-thirds the size would be ample. Five hundred pounds would be little enough for a picture fifteen feet high by seven wide, even though the upper part of the composition would have only the figure of Christ in a blaze of light; and though a young painter desirous of distinguishing himself might be found willing and able to execute such a commission. But in order to secure the choice of the best talent available, the Trustees should amend the terms of their invitation. Let them allow six months for sending in designs ; and require a cartoon as well as a small coloured sketch of the effect—for only from a drawing the size of the picture will the judges be enabled to estimate the powers of the competitors to grapple with a grand subject and fill a great space. A composition may look well on a small scale and slightly done in colours, that when amplified would appear feeble and flimsy. All com- positions improve by diminution, owing to the concentration of effect: none but the grandest works lose by it. We throw out these hints in the hope that they may lead to some modification of the arrangement for carrying into effect the posthumous- munificence of Mr. HARCOURT, so as to do justice to his good intentions. and secure for the church a picture fit for an altarpiece.