J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

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" That you had just subjects of indignation always and of
anger often, I do noways doubt ; who can live in the world
without some trial of his patience ? but believe me, my dear
Barry, that the arms with which the ill-dispositions of the world
are to be combated, and the qualities by which it is to be
reconciled to us, and we reconciled to it, are moderation, gentle-
ness, a little indulgence to others, and a great deal of distrust of
ourselves." If space would allow of it, we could continue
stringing his precious words like jewels on a chaplet, but we
must forego the pleasure and be brief. Barry was quite incor-
rigible, and Burke foresaw and prophesied his ultimate ruin and
disgrace. It must have been a sore grief and disappointment
to the good man, and a sorry requital of all he had done for

Barry, in London and in middle age, was the same man as
Barry in Italy and in youth. Success of a certain kind he did
achieve. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy on
2nd November, 1772, and in three months, on 9th February, 1773,


advanced to the full rank of an Academician ; but that was not
the sort of success he cared for. The world looked coldly on
his merits, and he turned upon the world with fierce invectives
and rancorous abuse.

Allan Cunningham is indulgent ; he credits Barry with
genius, intellect, and culture. He had nothing of the sort ; he
had only sham genius, intellect, and culture. Artistic genius
works from feeling and imagination, Barry painted by receipt ;
intellect surveys the whole field of vision, Barry saw only one
narrow segment of it ; culture enlarges sympathies, Barry had
none for any one but himself.

The situation will be best understood if we explain what it
was he proposed to do, and then what he proposed to do it with.

He assumed, as a starting-point, that there was but one form
of Art, all the rest was fit only for anathema maranatha. The
Greeks had come near that art in sculpture, but in painting,
none, none whatever. For Michael Angelo, Raphael, and
Titian he had the supremest contempt, though he allowed them
a certain modicum of credit for having attempted it. That Art
he proposed to practise. He did not expect the besotted idiots
who compose the world to understand it at first, but he expected
that, in the meantime, every facility should be given him in the
way of large wall spaces and ample payment ; that the world
should look on wonderingly and admiringly at his performances,
although they understood them not, until such time as they be
educated up to the point of acknowledging him as the great
regenerator of Art. So far for Barry's point of view. From
our own, these are the qualifications with which he proposed
to do it. A very slender artistic endowment, a singularly
limited intellect, which seems to have been quite incapable of
grasping more than one side of a question, and in no single
instance we have seen, could formulate any proposition logically ;
a violent temper quite beyond control, an utter contempt of the
usages of society and the feelings or opinions of others ; the
manners of a clown, and the language of Billingsgate ; and, in


addition, an abnormal sensitiveness and an insane tendency to
suspicion. The equation is a simple one, and Barry's fate is
the mathematical solution of it.

But we must also give him credit for certain qualities.
There was a sort of Stoic dignity in him ; he had the courage
of his convictions and never wavered. He bore poverty proudly,
and scorned to borrow. He resolutely curled himself up in his
tub like Diogenes, and railed at all the conquerors who chanced
to pass. Few lives are more full of melancholy interest, but we
must divest ourselves of the idea that his was an instance of
great gifts and a noble intellect gone astray ; his life was only
an illustration of the truism, that you cannot produce great
results with insufficient means.

We have already mentioned Barry's election as an Associate,
and his rapid promotion to Academical rank. The high opinion
entertained of his talents by Reynolds is shown by his having
been chosen in 1773, the year of his election as an R.A., as one
of the artists to carry out the offer made in that year by the
Royal Academy to decorate St Paul's Cathedral with a series
of scriptural subjects. The offer was rejected, but a proposal
from the Society of Arts in the following year to certain
members of the Academy, of whom Barry was one, to paint a
series of pictures for the decoration of the great hall of the
building in the Adelphi, though declined by them, was sub-
sequently, in 1777, taken up by Barry alone, who executed six
pictures designed to illustrate the theory that human happiness
is dependent upon human culture. Barry ceased to exhibit at
the Academy as early as 1776, but his abstinence does not
appear to have been caused by any quarrel with the members,
but because the public declined to admire his picture of " The
Death of General Wolfe," in which all the figures were repre-
sented nude. That he continued to be on good terms with the
Academy is shown by his having been elected Professor of
Painting on the resignation of Penny in 1782.

From that moment, however, his troubles began. First of


all he insulted the President, who had been obliged to remon-
strate with him on the delay in delivering his lectures, he
having allowed two years to elapse before commencing them.
" If," he replied to Reynolds, " I had only in composing my
lectures to produce such poor mistaken stuff as your Discourses,
I should have my work done and ready to read." On another
occasion he brought forward, in the General Assembly, a
proposition that the votes of the members should on every
important matter be taken on oath, as only in that way could
they be trusted to give an honest and truthful expression of
opinion. Once when he was robbed of some money by burglars
he posted up a placard to the effect that the Academicians were
the thieves. He took every opportunity, both when Visitor in
the schools and as Professor of Painting, of abusing the members
of the Academy, and endeavouring to excite contempt for them
in the breasts of the students.

At last, in 1799, Wilton, the Keeper, wrote a formal letter
to the Council embodying all the charges against Barry, and
subsequently, at the request of the Council, attended in person
and gave evidence in corroboration of these charges, as also did
Dance, Smirke, Daniell, and Farington, the latter further draw-
ing attention to Barry's published Letter to the Dilettanti
Society, containing a number of false and derogatory statements
about the Academy. It was resolved to refer the matter to the
General Assembly, and a letter was written to inform Barry of
the course proposed. The General Assembly was held on
1 9th March 1799, Barry himself being present, when it was
resolved to appoint a committee of eleven members : George
Dance, James Wyatt, Thomas Banks, Sir F. Bourgeois, Joseph
Farington, Robert Smirke, John Hoppner, Thomas Lawrence,
William Hamilton, Richard Westall, and Thomas Stothard, to
investigate the charges and report. Barry having demanded a
copy of the charges, it was refused him on the ground " that in
the present state of the investigation a compliance with his
demand would be premature," a decision which seems open to


question. On I5th April 1799, the Assembly met again to
receive the report, Barry being present, and after hearing it
read and disposing in the negative of a motion by Copley that
" Mr Barry have sent to him a copy of the charges contained in
the report," and another by Gilpin to postpone any decision on
the report, resolved by 2 1 Ayes to 3 Noes, " that James Barry,
Esq., Professor of Painting, be removed from that office," and
then by 19 to 4 to ballot "Whether James Barry, Esq., be
suspended from all the functions of an Academician or expelled."
On the ballot being taken there appeared: For Expulsion 13,
For Suspension 9. The whole of the proceedings were then
laid before the king, and on 24th April the President reported
that His Majesty, " after a long and minute inspection " of every-
thing relating to the matter, had signified his " approbation of
the proceedings of the Council, of the Committee, and of the
General Assembly of the Academicians on this occasion, as
having been agreeable to the spirit and intention of the laws of
the Institution," and that His Majesty to further show his will
and approbation had struck his pen through the name of James
Barry as signed on the parchment containing the Obligation,
and had written on the margin, '*l have struck out the adjoin-
ing name in consequence of the opinions entered in the minutes
of the Council and of the General Meeting which I fully approve.
George R." A letter was then written to Barry acquainting him
with the decisions of the General Assembly and the action of
the king. And so ended a sorry business. Whatever excuses, if
any, may be made for Barry, it would be affectation to pretend
that he had not gone out of his way to meet the fate which
ultimately befell him.

His last years were passed in penury, and although an effort
was made at the instance of the Earl of Buchan, and a subscription
amounting to 1000 was raised to purchase him an annuity, he did
not live to benefit by it, being taken ill suddenly and dying on
2 1 st February 1 806. He was buried in the crypt of St Paul's, near
the graves of Sir Christopher Wren and Sir Joshua Reynolds.




The name of William Peters is associated with no definite
artistic impressions. Few have seen his pictures, and fewer still
remember them ; but the bare outline of his career, which is all
that exists in printed documents, is very suggestive of romantic
interest. In reading it we become conscious of a human soul,
possibly of a noble type and with fine instincts, struggling there
in the dim distance of the eighteenth century ; and we ask
ourselves vainly, were peace and clearness vouchsafed to it
ultimately, as the guerdon of its struggles and sufferings.

Peters was born in the Isle of Wight somewhere in the first
half of the eighteenth century, the exact date is not known, but
received his early art education under Robert West in Dublin,
where his f-ather held a post in the Customs. Showing great
promise as an artist, he was sent to Italy, where he copied
pictures, which were bought by English noblemen : he came
back, and painted for Boydell's " Shakespeare," also portraits
in the natural course of things. In 1771 he was elected an
Associate, and in 1777 an Academician. That is all very
intelligible, very respectable, and also very commonplace.
What is unusual and romantic is that, in 1784, we find him
elected chaplain to the Royal Academy, he having, in the
interval, abandoned painting as a profession, entered Exeter
College, Oxford, taken a degree, and been ordained. He had,
in fact, developed into a pluralist, holding livings at Woolstorp,
in Lincolnshire, and Knipton, in Leicester, besides a chaplaincy
to the Prince of Wales. His chaplaincy to the Academy he
resigned in 1788, and his Academicianship in 1790.

It is said that this change of front was brought about by
the destitute condition in which he one day found Richard
Wilson, the greatest landscape painter of that day, who refused
to accept a commission from utter inability to procure canvas
and colours. However the change may have been brought


about, once it was effected, and the motley garb of the artist
finally and definitely exchanged for the black stole of the priest,
we might expect things to flow on in the ordinary way. Not so,
however, with Peters. In the year 1810 or 181 1 we find him in
dreadful trouble and agony of mind, which well-nigh brought him
to his end. He had continued practising his art, probably only
as an amusement, when a certain sketch, and the incidents con-
nected with it, aroused the indignation of the British matrons of
his parish. As we gather, the storm was so violent that he had to
fly before it, taking refuge at Brasted Place, in Kent, where he
lived his troubles down, supported and encouraged by a good
wife, who had, in 1811, been his partner for twenty-one years,
and who probably understood all about the customs of studios
and thought nothing of them. There he finally found rest and
peace in 1814.




though his artistic work was not of a high order, deserves notice
from the fact that he probably executed more works of sculpture
during the last quarter of the eighteenth century than any of
his contemporaries. He was born at Southampton in 1740, and
began his career as apprentice to a porcelain manufacturer.
From modelling and burning little ornamental figures to sculp-
ture was a natural transition, and in 1769 he entered the newly
established schools of the Academy, and obtained that year the
first gold medal awarded for sculpture for a bas-relief of "^Eneas
escaping from Troy." In the following year he was made an
Associate, and in 1778 an Academician. From that time until
his death in 1799 he was incessantly employed, chiefly on public
and private monuments, of which perhaps two of the best-
known are those to the Earl of Chatham in Westminster Abbey
and the Guildhall.


the father of Lord Lyndhurst, was born in Boston, U.S., on
3rd July 1737; and when the great picture of the "Death of
Lord Chatham," which is now in the National Gallery, had



spread abroad his name and fame, and when the American
colonists had declared themselves an independent nation,
Copley was claimed by Washington and John Adams as an
example of American genius; but his father, John Copley,
and his mother, an Irish lady, only emigrated a very short
time before the painter's birth.

He was a very illustrious example of that large class of
artists, who spring up as soon as Art instruction has become
systematised and regularly conducted in any country. We
may define that class as composed of men who have no
peculiar vocation towards Art ; who feel no imperious neces-
sity to express themselves by forms, lines, and colours ; who
in presence of Nature, are not overmastered by any one -peculiar
set of impressions ; who are never possessed by an artistic
idea which riots madly within them until it finds its vent on
canvas. They are men of intelligence and observation, who,
by dint of industry, comparison, and analysis, create a style
of painting which is their own which, as in the case of
Copley, satisfies the understanding, in no wise offends the
strictest taste, but leaves the imagination of the spectator
unmoved. Copley's extraordinary ability enabled him to
unravel all the complicated problems which present themselves
to the artist, just as the same ability, when transmitted to
his son, enabled the latter to clear away all the entanglements
of circumstance and casuistry which beset a legal question.

Such art as his is the result of an elaborate education,
and accordingly we find that after learning the use of his
brushes in Boston, where he painted portraits, he spent three
years in Italy studying the various schools, and that sub-
sequently he visited other parts of the Continent for the same
purpose. In 1775 he settled in London at 25 George Street,
Hanover Square. The following year he was elected an Associ-
ate, and, in 1779, a ^ u ^ member of the Royal Academy. From
that time, almost uninterruptedly until his death in 1815, his
brush was occupied with large historical compositions, or with


portrait groups, with which he generally contrived to associate
some historical event, as in the picture we have already
mentioned, and the " Death of Major Pierson," also in the
National Gallery. This last is probably his masterpiece. It
would be improper to apply to it the epithet of great, but it
is, unquestionably, a very fine picture. It is thoroughly and
elaborately studied, the conception is dignified and in keeping
with the importance of the subject, there are no conspicuous
faults or blemishes, such as are often present in great pictures ;
and it may be said that nowhere, either in conception or
realisation, in design or execution, in any part or passage,
does it fall below a very high level of excellence and attain-
ment. The picture at Buckingham Palace, of the Royal
Princesses, daughters of George III., is also a very pleasing
specimen of his art.

Such an artist does honour to a school, and whatever rival
claims between the respective governments of Great Britain
and the United States may yet remain for adjustment, we
trust that no ministry or minister will ever consent to surrender
our claim upon John Singleton Copley as an English artist.


was born at Strasburg in 1740, studied in Paris and Italy, and
came to this country an accomplished artist in 1771. English
Art was only forming in those days, it was still in a plastic state,
and apt to receive impressions. Van Dyck and Watteau, the
Venetians and the Dutch, had imprinted an indelible mark upon
it ; the arts of Greece, of Tuscany, and Rome had affected it also,
though less deeply, and De Loutherbourg, though the fact is
much overlooked by critics, unmistakably left his impress
upon it.

There is little doubt that Garrick's acting spread abroad the
appreciation of Shakespeare ; and while Garrick was acting, the
public nightly gazed on the art of De Loutherbourg, who had


painted the scenes. In the art of the scene-painter, of all other
arts, the means appear least adequate to the results. From
beyond the footlights, by the aid of strong illumination, he is
able to produce an illusion which counterfeits nature, even in
her dimensions. Seen near, and by ordinary daylight, his
pictures are coarse, unintelligible daubs ; they are mere flimsy
screens, destined to destruction when the play has had its run,
and the reputation they bring the artist is as ephemeral as their
existence. Their success depends upon certain qualities, on
composition and the opposition of light and dark ; qualities
deemed essential in all forms of pictorial art, but which are
often bartered away for others more popularly understood.

All De Loutherbourg's scenes have perished, and we know
nothing of the pictures he painted before his connection with
Drury Lane ; but those we do know him by, such as " Lord
Howe's Victory," excel in the qualities which make fine scene-
painting, namely, strong light and shade, impressive design, and
finely balanced composition. These qualities he imported and
engrafted on English landscape Art. His influence on Turner,
for instance, seems obvious and unmistakable. If we can with
certainty discern the influence of Claude in the " Crossing the
Brook," and of Van de Velde in the sea-piece of the Ellesmere
collection, we can with equal certainty trace the influence of
De Loutherbourg in the " Spithead." After having passed
through Turner, we recognise the same influence asserting itself
in the works of Sir A. Callcott. De Loutherbourg's painting is
deficient in surface qualities, things which do not hail from the
banks of the Seine and the Upper Rhine, but his learned com-
position and fine light and shade were, for all that, valuable
ingredients absorbed into English Art.

De Loutherbourg was elected an Associate on 6th November
1780, at the same time as Stubbs ; and on I3th February, in the
following year, they were both raised to the higher rank, Stubbs
on each occasion being the first chosen. The latter, however,
never took up the Academicianship.


In 1782, De Loutherbourg produced a curious exhibition
entitled " The Eidophusikon, or a Representation of Nature,"
showing the changes of the elements and their nature by means
of highly illuminated transparent gauzes. Towards the end of
his life he took to being a prophet and healer of diseases. He
died at Hammersmith in 1812.


was one of the first Associates elected in 1770, but he did not
reach the rank of R.A. till 1783, when his election in preference
to Wright, of Derby, who came up to the ballot with him, is
supposed to have been the cause of Wright's declining the honour
which came to him very soon afterwards, and his requesting to
have his name erased from the list of Associates. He was huffed
that a " painter of gentlemen's seats " should have been preferred
to him. Garvey, however, was something more than that, his
landscapes being possessed of considerable merit He died in


born in 1742, also one of the first twenty Associates, the date of
his election being 1772, was of French or Swiss origin, and painted
chiefly historical subjects. He was one of the artists chosen by
Boydell to illustrate Shakespeare, and his works have been very
much engraved. Leonardo's Treatise on Painting was translated
and illustrated by him. He was elected R.A. in 1784, and also
received many honours from abroad. In 1810 he was appointed
deputy librarian, but died the same year.


the first eminent English sculptor, was born in Lambeth in 1753.
His father placed him under Wm. Kent, architect, sculptor, and
painter, who was so remorselessly satirised by Hogarth and on


the foundation of the Royal Academy he became one of its
students, carried away several prizes, including the gold medal
for sculpture in 1770 for a bas-relief of "The Rape of Proser-
pine," and finally was awarded the travelling studentship which
enabled him to go to Rome where he lived for seven years.

The works he executed there and after his return called forth
much applause and some genuine appreciation, but the times
were not ripe for them. A cloud hung over this land at that
period, how caused it is hard to say. The reign of the Puritans
in the seventeenth century was no doubt inimical to Art, but its
effects, if it was indeed the cause, only showed themselves in the
next generation. Architecture lived through it all. As late as
the reign of Anne every building erected in this land, to the
humblest, the cottage and the barn, was beautified by an
exquisite sense of proportion ; and then the dismal night of
churchwardenism overwhelmed the land ; darkness set in in
every department of Art, out of which it emerged slowly, cling-
ing to portraiture, to the one unchanging and enduring fact of
human vanity, as its support.

And Banks was an idealist. He had conceived the Greek
synthesis of the human form working for beauty, and the
English public was not prepared to understand him. In 1784,
the year of his election as an Associate, he went to Russia, of
all places in the world, to try his luck therein. The great Em-
press Catherine received him hospitably. His statue of " Love
pursuing a Butterfly " tickled her fancy, and she purchased it for
her palace at Tsarsko Selo, and then wishing, perhaps, to have
all sides of her complex nature illustrated, she commissioned
him to execute an allegorical representation of the "Armed
Neutrality." This was too much for Banks, and he fled back
precipitately to his native country, where, in 1785, he had been
elected a full member of the Academy. He produced some fine
things, and designed many he was not encouraged to carry out.
He languished for want of sympathy, and we can only infer from
the evidence of u A Falling Titan," his diploma work, and of the


bas-relief of "Thetis and Achilles," in the National Gallery,
that under liberal patronage the name of Banks might have
become as familiar to the world as those of Thorwaldsen and

We admire Banks, and we gladly credit him with virtues
which he omitted, as we think him capable of them. It is
painful, therefore, to associate his name with certain monuments
in St Paul's which are an outrage on common sense, and on
what may be called common taste. There is no law in Art
which can sanction the representation of a naval officer dying at
the Battle of the Nile attired, or rather not attired, puris
naturalibus, and being crowned with laurels by a lady carefully
dressed in the costume of the third century, B.C. The highest

Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 12 of 35)