J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

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function of Art is to elevate the mind to the perception of the
sublime, and none know but those who have tried that difficult
ascent how many snares there lie on either side, how many
turnings there be which mislead to the ridiculous.

Thomas Banks died in 1805. As a man he was in every way
admirable ; God-fearing, earnest, and industrious, a devoted
husband and father, kindly, generous, and charitable, and there
was none to say an ill word of him.


was perhaps the most fashionable architect of the eighteenth
century. Born in 1748, a native of Staffordshire, he went to Italy
at the early age of fourteen, and returning to England six years
afterwards, was, in 1770, when only twenty-four, elected an Asso-
ciate. He had already commenced the work which first brought
him into notoriety, the old Pantheon in Oxford Street, and from
that time till his death he was constantly employed on public
and private buildings. Among the former perhaps the best
known is the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and among
the latter Fonthill Abbey. He succeeded Sir William Chambers
as Surveyor-General, and in that capacity was employed at


Windsor Castle and elsewhere. He was elected R.A. in 1785,
and in 1805 he rilled for a few months the office of President,
having been elected when Benjamin West resigned owing to
some temporary disagreement with the members. His election
never received the approval of the king, and he cannot be con-
sidered as having any claim to be enrolled on the list of
Presidents of the Royal Academy. He died from the effect of
a carriage accident in 1813.


the son of a clergyman, in Lancashire, was born in 1747, and
studied landscape painting under Richard Wilson. He was one
of the first admitted students of the Academy in 1769, and
became an Associate in 1783, and R.A. in 1785. His reputation
in the Academy, however, depended less upon his skill as an
artist, than upon the zealous and active part taken by him in
the government of the institution, and especially in the manage-
ment of its finances ; in fact, so great was his influence and
authority that he was called by some who did not altogether
approve of him, " dictator of the Royal Academy." It was not,
however, until the presidency of West that he came so con-
spicuously to the front. His artistic reputation rests chiefly on
views of the scenery of Cumberland and Westmoreland, which
were engraved by Byrne and others. He died in 1821.


We think of Devon and Cornwall as remote from the great
centres of thought and activity, and yet these two fair counties,
basking under a more genial sun, and washed by more tepid
waves than the rest of Britain, have produced more than their
fair share of notable British worthies. Amongst these was John
Opie, or Oppy, as he was hight in St Agnes, near Truro, his native
parish. Born in 1761, he came to London in 1789, escorted by Dr


Wolcott, not yet " Peter Pindar," was introduced to the town by a
flourish from that gentleman's brazen trumpet, and was received
with acclamations. Out of the remote west, from the land of
rude fishermen, and tin miners ruder still, there had come a
native genius, a self-taught artist. Every one was struck with
amazement, and the " Cornish wonder," as Opie was called,
became the rage. The facts were not exaggerated ; Opie had
had no artistic training, the skill he showed had been acquired
by observation, and by painting under no other guidance than
his own innate taste. His father was a carpenter, and appar-
ently fit for nothing better, but John, the son, was of a different
stamp ; at ten he mastered Euclid, and at twelve set up a
school ; he saw some pictures, was possessed by the noble rage
of emulation, procured brushes and colours, and travelled about
painting portraits. On one occasion he came home in a new
suit, with ruffles to his shirt, and poured twenty guineas into
the maternal coffer ; all which things were noised abroad, and
naturally attracted the attention of a world which is ever more
solicitous to discover genius than to encourage it when found.

Dr Wolcott, as stated above, brought him to London, and for
a time Opie's doors were besieged by eager sitters. For a brief
spell he became the fashion, and the Cornish wonder, having
lasted his nine days, was then neglected. These things have
happened before, and had Opie been as the majority of men,
they might never have been recorded. But he was no ordinary
man ; he was strictly an extraordinary man. He saw at once
that Art had a wider significance than the rendering of a man's
likeness, that its scope could not be understood without general
culture, and that the speech and manners of a peasant were not
fitted to get on in the world. These defects he set about to
remedy. He read deeply, he studied Art earnestly, he observed
men and manners, and gradually he won round to himself the
good opinion of the discerning.

How much farther Opie might have got, had his life been
prolonged, is an open question. Few artists have ever succeeded


in overcoming the deficiency of early training ; Claude Lorraine
and Hogarth are the only striking instances which occur to us ;
and Opie, it must be borne in mind, when he came to London
at the age of twenty-seven, knew nothing of Art beyond what
Jonathan Richardson quaintly calls "face painting." He
possessed the enthusiasm, the industry, and the perseverance
necessary to success, and he seems also to have had the artistic
temperament ; his rendering is never deficient in vigour, but it
lacks the tenderness and subtlety which are also necessary ; he
never mastered the use of those difficult semitones which are
intermediate between black and white, and without which a
picture is only the scaffolding of a work of Art. Nor had he,
when he died, learnt to penetrate that domain of beauty in
which Reynolds and Gainsborough disported themselves, as
their own peculiar pleasaunce ; the region of the evanescent, of
the lost and found, as it is technically termed. It was no doubt
a less difficult achievement to learn to think justly, and to
express himself elegantly and forcibly, as he has done in lectures
and other writings ; less difficult, because that peculiar sensitive-
ness to impressions which Art requires is an attribute of youth ;
but he was a man of extraordinary vigour of mind and energy
of character, and he might have ultimately conquered the greater
difficulty also.

He was elected an Associate on 6th November 1786, at the
same time as Northcote and Hodges ; and on I3th February, in
the following year, again with the same two artists as com-
panions, to the full membership of the Academy.

In 1800 Opie brought forward in the General Assembly a
proposal for erecting a monument to the glory of the Navy of
Great Britain, in accordance with a plan which he had set forth
in detail in a letter to the Editor of the True Briton. The plan,
which involved the erection of a huge building to contain
pictures of naval battles, and portraits and statues of naval
heroes, was warmly supported by Flaxman, and eventually a
Committee was formed who drew up a report which was ordered


to be presented in an address to the king. This report went
beyond the original idea inasmuch as it proposed the erection of
" a Dome or Gallery of National Honour consisting of various
apartments fitted to contain pictures representing our achieve-
ments by sea and land, Navigation, Commerce, Colonisation
and all other distinguished Native Excellence, with portraits
and statues of the most celebrated worthies." All the artistic
and material advantages to be derived from the carrying out of
such a scheme were duly set forth in the address, and it was
reckoned that this result could be achieved by an annual
expenditure of ^5000. But alas for this magnificent project,
nothing more seems to have been heard of it.

On Fuseli's retirement from the Professorship of Painting in
1805, Opie was appointed to the post. Two years later, on 9th
April 1807, ne died rather suddenly of a cerebral malady, at the
age of forty-six, and was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathe-
dral near the grave of Reynolds. Opie had had many sorrows to
bear, and not a few anxieties ; the wife of his youth had proved
faithless, and he had put her away ; friends had become
estranged, and patrons had deserted him ; but all things had
righted themselves. He had found a second partner in every
way worthy of him, and he had attained to fame and independ-
ence ; he was happy at last ; life was going as merrily as the
marriage bell which united him to Amelia Alderson. Did he,
like the fool in the parable, say to himself that now he would
enjoy himself? We cannot tell. His soul was required of him
in the midst of well-earned enjoyment, and we close the life of
Opie, which is pleasant and instructive reading, with a sigh of
regret that there are no more pages to turn over.


another celebrated Devon man, was born in Plymouth in 1746 ;
he was emulous of being an artist from very early youth, though
his father opposed his wishes. To a youth of eighteen, a native


of Plymouth and enamoured of Art, the name of Reynolds must
indeed have been awe-inspiring ; and when the great painter
revisited his native country with Dr Johnson in 1762, young
Northcote pressed through the crowd to touch his garment, as
Hogarth had done in the case of Pope. Eventually he was made
known to Reynolds, and his father's opposition having been
overcome, was admitted into Sir Joshua's house, with the rare
privilege of working in his studio. There he remained five
years, working at the same time as a student at the Academy,
and then repaired to Italy, and spent another five years in study
at what was in those days the recognised capital of Art. On
his return he commenced painting historical pieces, and was
employed by Alderman Boydell to contribute to his " Shak-
speare Gallery." The scheme of that gallery was suggested by
Fuseli at BoydelPs table, and though it ultimately proved
ruinous to its promoter, there is no doubt that it had a powerful
effect in stimulating the productions of a more ambitious form of
Art than that in general request. Like all organised and
systematic forms of patronage, it had the effect of developing
what may be called an eminent mediocrity. Whether the world
is the better for that or not, is not a subject we propose to dis-
cuss here. The spectacle of energy, activity, and effort must be
stimulating to the world in general, and to the individual artist
there is no doubt that a steady stream of patronage is unspeak-
ably grateful. It enabled Northcote, by the exercise of penuri-
ous habits, only second in comprehensiveness to those of
Nollekens, to accumulate a large fortune, which was of no use to
him, and which he bequeathed to a maiden sister who had
superintended his household arrangements for fifty years.

Northcote painted many elaborate historical compositions,
which are respectable productions, though they are not very
exciting to the imagination. He was elected an Associate in
1786, and a full member of the Royal Academy in 1787, sharing
the distinction on each occasion with Opie ; and from that time
until his death in 1831, he was rather a prominent figure in that


society. To have been the pupil of Reynolds no doubt gave him
considerable prestige, in addition to which he was a lively,
sarcastic, and somewhat intolerant little man, of whom the silent
members were afraid. He was an author, had been the friend
of Hazlitt, and had written lives of Sir Joshua Reynolds and of
Titian. His portrait, drawn by Dance, would have interested
Fuseli's friend, Lavater ; it seems to us a typical head for the
physiognomist. There is certainly physical contraction in all
the features, and the theorist who might insist on its correspond-
ence with the narrowing of the spiritual faculties, would find an
appropriate example in James Northcote.


a landscape painter, was born in London in 1744. His father
was a blacksmith in Clare Market, Drury Lane. He first
studied at Shipley's Drawing School in the Strand, and there
became a pupil of Richard Wilson. In 1772 he accompanied as
draughtsman, Captain Cook, in his second voyage round the
world, and his drawings were published in the account of the
expedition. On his return he was employed by the Admiralty
to paint some pictures, but subsequently went to India and made
a considerable fortune there. It was not till after he came back
from India in 1784 that he was made a member of the Academy,
being elected an Associate in 1786 and an Academician in
February of the following year. He died in 1797.


was born at Guildford, the son of a bookseller, in 1744. He
became a pupil of Francis Cotes, and afterwards, in 1770, entered
the schools of the Royal Academy. He soon obtained a con-
siderable reputation as a portrait painter in crayons, and was
made an Associate in 1772, his election as an Academician,
however, not following till 1788. Some idea of the vogue his


portraits obtained may be gleaned from the fact that there were
no less than twenty-two of them in the Exhibition of 1790 He
died in 1806.


was born in Chelsea in 1751, his father being an assistant to
Robert Adam the architect. He became a student of the
Academy in 1769, but subsequently went to Italy with Antonio
Zucchi, and after some years' residence in Rome returned to
England and soon made himself a name as a painter of his-
torical subjects and of portraits, and also as a book illustrator.
Many of his works were engraved. He was elected an Associate
in 1784, and an Academician in 1789. His death took place
rather suddenly in 1801.


though we cannot call him a great artist, was a great personality
in Art. It accorded with his temperament and the turn of his
mind to assume a prophetic mission, to stand forward boldly in
a frivolous age, and to bear witness to the highest sublimities of
human thought ; and though it fared with him as it does with
prophets generally, and though he had to sojourn in the waste
places of the earth, his courage never lagged behind his convictions,
and he never sacrificed his principles to suit his convenience.

Instances abound in the history of Art of men who have
elected to play a great part with insufficient endowment, and
though we may pity their fate, we scorn their presumption.
But in Henry Fuseli's case we feel only admiration and regret ;
his endowments were so vast, and his fortitude so unshaken, that
his failure, as failure it was, excites our surprise and sets us to
search for its secret cause. That cause may be guessed from a
perusal of his history.

He was born in Zurich in 1741 : the family name was
Fuessly, altered by the subject of this memoir to Fuseli. His
father was a painter, but destined his son for the Church, and sent



him to the University of Zurich, where he graduated, and was
ordained in 1761. But the calling was not to his taste; and
though he was very intimate with Lavater, and travelled with
him, he did not imbibe any of his friend's religious sentimentality.

Fuseli was evidently a strong, restless nature, haunted by the
desire of some great achievement, and consumed by energy
which could find no vent or opening. He tried preaching ; he
set up as a reformer of abuses ; he wrote, and he dabbled in Art,
to the extent of making fancy sketches and copying prints after
Michael Angelo, but seems to have had no particular determina-
tion in this latter direction till after an interview he had with Sir
Joshua Reynolds when he visited London in 1766, and conse-
quently in his twenty-sixth year. That determined him to
devote himself to painting, and in 1770 he set out for Italy, and
remained there nine years. Most of his time was spent in the
Sistine Chapel, and he succeeded in imbuing himself with a
taste for the " terrible style," and with a desire to reproduce it.
What he, however, neglected to acquire was the technical accom-
plishment, and the profound knowledge even to minutest details
of form, which make Michael Angelo pre-eminent amongst
artists. In his pictures, in his writings and utterances, in every-
thing that came from Fuseli, we can trace the same fundamental
mistake ; he makes conception the sole criterion of Art ; he had
no other aim than to make painting visible poetry ; he seems to
have denied that it had its own peculiar laws, and that it
ministered to needs other than those of written poetry.
Equipped after this fashion, he began his professional career in
London in 1779. The boldness, and even extravagance, of his
conceptions, procured for him what the French happily term a
succes d'estime. But it went no farther.

The Royal Academy elected him an Associate in 1788, and
R.A. in 1790, the latter election being the cause of Sir Joshua
Reynolds' quarrel with the Academy, of which an account has
already been given ; and in 1799, on the expulsion of Barry, he
was appointed in his place as Professor of Painting. It was in


the same year that he started the " Milton Gallery," where he
exhibited forty-seven pictures from the works of the poet ; but
though he obtained many marks of distinction from persons of
note, and some of the Academicians gave a dinner in his honour
to celebrate the opening of the gallery, the public would not be
drawn ; the bolt had missed its mark. Still the painter never
wavered or showed sign of doubt, but continued to his life's end
industriously producing after his fashion, though he reaped no
substantial success, at least by the practice of his art. That his
comrades, however, thought well of him, both as a man and an
artist, is shown by their having elected him Keeper in 1804, a
post he retained until his death.

From the unanimous testimony of his contemporaries, we can
discern that Fuseli was a very imposing figure, both physically
and intellectually. He was very handsome ; his portrait by
Dance, and still more so one by Harlow, presents a fine Jove-
like head, which reminds one somewhat of Goethe. The fair
sex was evidently not insensible to his attractions ; Mary Moser
pined for him in secret, and wrote gushing but ineffectual
letters to him ; and Mary Wollstonecraft fell desperately in love
with him when he was fifty. He was highly accomplished, was
master of nine languages, and, as he tells us, when irritated by
professional troubles, he would find a mental solace in swearing
in all of them. His classical attainments were very considerable ;
he had read widely, had a fine memory and ready wit, and was
quite untrammelled by timidity. His imagination, as shown
in his pictures, was strictly of the Miltonic type, but, unlike
the poet, he took no counsel of facts. In his flight he left
mother earth behind him, and never returned to her, not even,
as with Milton, in the shadowy semblance of a mirage at sea.
He remained suspended between hell and pandemonium, and
his Satanic legions contort themselves in a murky atmosphere,
which has nothing of our world in it except its bitumen. He cut
clean away from facts, notably those of anatomy, a department in
which his creative fancy found an apparently inexhaustible field,


And here we are reminded of an anecdote given by Knowles
and repeated by Cunningham, to the effect that Reynolds, one
of the shrewdest men of his day, on seeing his drawings, ex-
claimed, " Were I the author of these drawings, and were offered
ten thousand a year not to practise as an artist, I would regard
the proposal with contempt." Reynolds, we may feel certain,
quite sufficiently understood the value of ten thousand a year ;
we must suppose, therefore, if we accept this anecdote as true,
that he over-estimated Fuseli's talent at least tenfold ; he may
have been misled by his theoretical craze for Michael Angelo,
or, more probably, appearances were specious enough to deceive
even him. Tacitus says of a Roman emperor, " Consensu
omnium dignus imperii nisi imperasset," and in like manner
the talents of young Fuseli may have impressed Reynolds and
others with the conviction that he would become a great painter,
which was only dispelled because he painted. As an author,
Fuseli showed the same audacity as he did as a painter, but it is
tempered by a more cultivated taste. His Aphorisms on Art,
published by Knowles, are very impressive for the extensive
culture they reveal, but as they treat Art almost exclusively
from the point of view of conception, and enunciate principles
common to both poetry and painting, they are not of much use
to the practical student. Allan Cunningham says of him that
" the sketches and drawings of Fuseli were of a higher order
than the works of his pen ; " and we have heard from an earnest
student and critic of Art a similar proposition, but with the
terms exactly reversed. If the reputation of Fuseli as an artist
rests on the verdict of literary men, and as a writer on that of
artists, it must appear to the reader that it rests on shaky
foundations ; and possibly it may occur to him that the entire
edifice would have fallen ere this had it not been supported by
two props instead of one. He died in 1825 in his eighty-eighth
year, and was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, between Sir Joshua
Reynolds and Opie.



shares with Burch, the sculptor, the honour of being the first
alumni of the Academy who served their alma mater in an
official position, the latter as Librarian, the former as Treasurer.
Yenn was one of the first admitted students in 1769, was elected
Associate in 1774, R.A. in 1791, and on the death of Sir W.
Chambers in 1796, was appointed by George III. to the
treasurership, which he held till his resignation in 1820. He
died in 1821. Of his works but little can be said. He gained
the architectural gold medal in 1771 for a design for a "Noble-
man's Villa," and to buildings of that description his subsequent
efforts seem to have been altogether confined.


the son of a Swiss sculptor, was born in London in 1752. He
was sent to Paris for the first part of his artistic education, and
on his return in 1775 entered the schools of the Royal Academy.
Soon afterwards he was appointed draughtsman to Captain
Cook's last expedition to the South Seas, from which he returned
in 1780, and after superintending for the Admiralty the engrav-
ing of the prints from the drawings he had made, he published
a series of views of the principal places he had visited. His
drawing of the death of Captain Cook, which he had witnessed,
was engraved by Byrne and Bartolozzi. He was elected an
Associate in 1785, and an Academician in 1791. His landscapes,
to which class of painting he confined himself, were always very
accurate in drawing and carefully finished, but somewhat crude
in colour. He died in 1793.


was the son of a tailor, and born in London in 1747. He was
one of the first admitted students of the Academy, but was not


elected an Associate till 1790; his promotion to R.A. rapidly
following in 1791. In his early life he was engaged in
decorative painting, and also in the production of small full
length portraits, but he subsequently acquired a considerable
reputation as a painter of rural and domestic subjects, many of
which were engraved. He is said to have led a very irregular
life, and to escape some of its consequences went off to Dublin
and remained there for a time. Certain it is that for the last
few years of his life he was in very distressed circumstances, and
received frequent assistance from the Royal Academy. He died
in 1801.


Of the artists who flourished under the presidency of Reynolds,
no less than five came like him from the west country. Opie
from Cornwall ; Hayman, Cosway, Northcote, and Humphrey
from Devonshire. The last named was born at Honiton, in
1742 ; at the age of fourteen he came to London to study
Art, subsequently returning to Devonshire, and then learning
miniature painting under Samuel Collins at Bath. It was as a
miniature painter that he first made his reputation in London on
his return there in 1764; but an accident having rendered him

Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 13 of 35)