Copyright
J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

. (page 16 of 35)
Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 16 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


withdraw it after it had been hung. The result of all this was
a further washing of dirty linen in public. Tantcene animis
ccelestibus ires. The whole story is an unpleasant one, and
redounds to nobody's credit

As has been already stated, the finances of the Academy,
thanks to the liberality of George III. in the first years of its
existence, and to the careful management of Sir William
Chambers, were, on the accession of West, in a very flourish-
ing condition. On the death of Chambers in 1796, and the
appointment of his successor, John Yenn, a consideration of
the state of the exchequer showed that there had been an
average saving for the last ten years of .400 a year, and that
the interest derived from invested property, some 300 a
year, was sufficient to guard against any probable deficiency
in the annual income. It was accordingly resolved to devote
all the future savings, after payment of necessary expenses,
to increasing the charity fund, which already amounted to
.6000, and as soon as the fund reached 10,000, to give
pensions out of the interest derived from it to Academicians,
Associates, and their widows, who should produce satis-
factory proofs of their circumstances being such as to make
them require it ; each claim to be investigated by the Council,
and proper discrimination made " between imprudent con-
duct and the unavoidable failure of professional employment "
as regarded the members, and satisfactory evidence obtained
" in respect to the moral conduct of the widows." The amount
of each pension was very small : to an Academician, a sum not
exceeding 50 a year, provided the annual sum given did not
make his annual income exceed 100 ; to an Associate, the
maximum was 30, the total income not to exceed So ; the

M



178 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

widow of an Academician received the same amount as an
Associate, under the same conditions as to income, and the
widow of an Associate 20, the annual income not to exceed
50. These amounts were to be increased when the fund
reached 15,000, to 60, 36, 36, and 25 respectively, the
total income remaining in each case the same as before ; and
when it reached 20,000, to 70, 50, 50, and 30 respectively,
no change being still made in the total amount of each income.
Any Academician or Associate who did not exhibit in the
Royal Academy for two successive years was to have no claim on
the Pension Fund. The 15,000 was reached in 1809, and the
20,000 in 1817. It was never added to, and was some years
after merged in the general funds. The amount of the respec-
tive pensions, however, has been increased on four subsequent
occasions, and they now stand, for an Academician, a sum not
exceeding 300, and for the widow of an Academician, a sum
not exceeding 200, provided the sum given does not make the
total income in either case exceed 400; for an Associate, a
sum not exceeding 200, and for his widow, a sum not exceed-
ing 150, provided the sum given does not make the total
income in either case exceed 300.

The charities of the Academy had been by no means limited
to members of their own body. From the first, grants were made
annually at the close of the exhibition to indigent artists, their
widows and children. 157, ios. was the amount given the first
year, one of the recipients being Mrs Hogarth, widow of William
Hogarth. Subsequently the gifts were confined to those who
had been exhibitors at the Royal Academy, their widows and
children. Grants are now made twice a year, in February and
August, and their average annual amount has been 1200.
The same person cannot receive a grant more than once in
any one year, nor can a larger sum than 100 be given to any
one applicant.

In connection with the finances of the Academy, it may be
mentioned that in 1799 the General Assembly voted 500 to



CHANGES IN THE SCHOOLS 179



the Government as a contribution towards the heavy calls made
upon the public purse by the French war and other causes of
expenditure. A similar grant of 500 in 1803 towards the
subscription for the relief of the sufferers by the war, to which
allusion has already been made, was vetoed by the king, on the
ground that the moneys of the Academy could not be given for
such a purpose. It is difficult, however, to see why, if the former
grant was allowed, this was forbidden. George III. continued
to the last to exercise a more than nominal control over the
Academy finances, and always considered himself, as indeed the
sovereign still is nominally, responsible for any debts contracted
by the Academy which it might not be able to pay. This is
shown by the terms of the Royal warrant appointing Venn
Treasurer, which have been quoted in a former chapter.

The Academy, however, was not quite so dependent on the
king and his special officer, the Treasurer, after Chambers' death.
Up to that time all moneys received were paid to Chambers,
and even the investments stood in his name until 1792, when
the first trustees were appointed. On Venn's nomination as
Treasurer, the Academy opened a banking account of its own,
Messrs Drummonds, of Charing Cross, being appointed bankers
by the Council on 7th May 1796, and the same firm have
continued to hold the post down to the present day.

During Benjamin West's long tenure of the Presidency,
many matters of interest occurred both in connection with the
Academy specially, and also affecting the prospects of Art
generally. To the Professorships of Painting, Anatomy, Archi-
tecture, and Perspective established at the foundation, was added
in 1810 a Professorship of Sculpture, the first holder being John
Flaxman, R. A. The period of studentship which had originally
been fixed at six years, and increased in 1792 to seven years,
was in 1800 further extended to ten years ; and, to continue the
story, at that it remained till 1853, when it was again reduced
to seven years; in 1881 it was further reduced to six years,
divided into two periods of three years each ; and subsequently,



180 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

in 1890 to five years, divided into two periods of three years
and two years, the second period being dependent on passing
an examination; while the privilege of life studentship which had
been granted in 1853 to a ^ students who had obtained medals
was abolished.

The number of works contributed to the exhibition had
risen from 856 in 1793 to 1248 in 1819. Some changes were
made in the printing of the Catalogue in 1796 and 1809, and in
the latter year the price was raised from sixpence to a shilling.
The so-called "Varnishing Days" were established in 1809, at
least for members of the Academy. They continued till 1852,
when they were abandoned, but were subsequently renewed and
the privilege extended to non-members, for whom a special
day is now set apart, the members having two or three days
to themselves.

When the Royal Academy attained what would now be called
its Jubilee in 1818, it was proposed to celebrate the occasion by
the preparation of a history of the Institution with an account
of all its members, illustrated. The idea, however, was unfortu-
nately abandoned, and much interesting information of various
kinds thereby lost. An attempt had been made a few years
previously by Prince Hoare, who had been appointed Honorary
Secretary for Foreign Correspondence in 1799, to provide some
of the materials for such a history by the publication in 1804 of
a small quarto volume called Academic Correspondence, giving an
account of " the principal occurrences and transactions relative
to the Royal Academy" in 1802 and 1803, together with some
correspondence between him and the Academies of Vienna and
St Petersburgh on the subject of the Fine Arts, and a description
of the public monuments erected to distinguished sailors and
soldiers since 1798. This was followed in 1805 by a similar
volume on an enlarged scale published with the authority of
the Academy under the title of Academic Annals, A subsequent
volume similarly entitled, issued in 1809, did not on account of
the war contain any correspondence with foreign Academies,



THE BRITISH INSTITUTION 181

but gave the transactions of the Academy from 1805 to 1809,
a list of the public monuments, and an account of the recently
established " British Institution." For some reason which does
not appear, these Annals were discontinued, and it was not until
1859 that the series of Annual Reports from the Council to the
General Assembly, which are now regularly issued, was begun.

The British Institution just mentioned was founded in 1805,
" for promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom," by a
number of distinguished amateurs, with the purpose of " encourag-
ing Art by exhibitions of both living and deceased artists, by
buying pictures, and by giving premiums." A project of a
similar character had been advocated by Benjamin West two or
three years before, to be called " a National Association for the
encouragement of works of dignity and importance in Art," and
he had applied to Pitt and others for Government support ; and
Martin Archer Shee, in his Rhymes on Art, had done the same,
but the times were not just then propitious. The idea,
however, eventually bore fruit in the foundation of the British
Institution under the patronage of George III., a patronage not
extended until the king had been convinced by West that there
was no intention in any way of interfering with the objects of
the Royal Academy. The founders subscribed a sum of nearly
;8ooo, purchased Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall,
and opened their first exhibition in January 1806. Subse-
quently, two exhibitions were held annually, one of works for
sale by modern artists in the early part of the year, and the
other a loan exhibition of works by old masters. A school was
also instituted to which students were admitted for the purpose
of copying the old pictures lent, and prizes were also given for
original works both in painting and sculpture ; and from time to
time at a subsequent period the founders purchased pictures and
presented them to the national collection. In 1870 the Institu-
tion practically ceased to exist, and the funds in the hands of the
trustees remained idle till 1885, when they were handed over to
the Charity Commissioners, who drew up a scheme for founding



182 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

and maintaining scholarships for young British artists to be
called " British Institution Scholarships." The loan exhibitions
of old masters' works were taken up and continued by the Royal
Academy.

Another institution founded in 1 805 was what was known as
the " Old Society of Water- Colours," now the " Royal Society of
Painters in Water-Colours." Water-colour painters felt that
their works, which had not then the solid rich colouring now
in vogue, suffered by comparison with oil-painting, and they
decided on forming a Society which should exhibit nothing but
water-colour drawings exclusively by its own members. It began
its career in some rooms that Van der Gutch the engraver had
built in Lower Brook Street, and after moving first to Bond
Street and then to Spring Gardens, finally settled in its present
abode at Pall Mall East.

The foundation of the Dulwich Picture Gallery is men-
tioned in the account given of its donor Sir Francis Bourgeois,
who died in 1811. In addition to the pictures which he had
inherited, subject to Mrs Desenfans' life interest, from the
picture dealer Noel Desenfans, he left ; 12,000 for the purposes
of the Gallery. This amount was supplemented during her
lifetime by Mrs Desenfans with 6000, and the Gallery was
completed and opened in 1814, just before her death. In her
will was the following clause : " .... And whereas it was the
intention of Sir Peter Francis Bourgeois to direct that the
President and Academicians of the Royal Academy of Arts
should be invested with the power of ascertaining from time to
time that the collection of pictures, frames, and prints bequeathed
by him to the Master, etc., of Dulwich College was properly
preserved and kept, and for that purpose that the President and
Academicians should be requested to visit the collection once in
every year on St Luke's Day, and give their opinion as to the
state and preservation of the same, and that on their annual
visit a dinner be given to them in the gallery at Dulwich College.
Now, approving as I do of the propriety of such annual visitation,



DULWICH PICTURE GALLERY 183

and being desirous of carrying into effect the intention of my
said dear friend, I give and bequeath the sum of five hundred
pounds to the said Master, Warden, and Fellows of Dulwich
College, upon trust to invest the same in Government or real
securities at interest, and apply the interest to arise therefrom for
ever, towards the entertainment of the President and Acade-
micians ; and in order that the said annual dinner may be
properly and suitably given, I do hereby bequeath the following
articles to the Master, etc., of Dulwich College, which I direct
shall be preserved by them and never be used on any other
occasion for any other purpose whatsoever. . . ." And then
follows a list of the articles, including silver, glass, cutlery, linen,
china, etc. The first of the dinners thus provided for was given
on 1 8th July 1818, and seems to have been a sumptuous affair,
costing considerably more than one year's income from the
bequest, but this scale was not maintained every year, more
modest entertainments being substituted. The custom still
continues, and every summer the President and Council pay a
visit of inspection to the Gallery, and are hospitably entertained,
the entertainment in late years having taken the more modern
if less sociable form of a garden party.

Immediately on the completion of the Gallery the authori-
ties of the College requested the advice of the Academy as
to its arrangement and management, and offered to grant
facilities to the students for studying and copying the
pictures. It was decided that the best way of accomplishing
the latter object would be for a certain number of pictures
to be lent to the Academy from time to time, to be
copied by the students, and accordingly for this purpose the
Academy instituted a School of Painting, the schools up to this
period having consisted only of an Antique School and a School
of Drawing from the living model. The new school was opened
on 8th January 1816 with a curator and visitors, as in the
Drawing School. Many changes have taken place in this
school since that date, and at the present time copying old



184 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN WEST

pictures forms a very small part of its curriculum, but the loan
of pictures from the Dulwich Gallery still continues, and is looked
upon as a valuable privilege. There was a short break in the
custom for a few years, the Governors of the College having
decided in 1867 to discontinue it and to substitute a day in the
week on which the students should study in the Gallery. The
Academy, however, did not see its way to avail itself of this
alternative, and happily, in 1878, the old arrangement was
reverted to. It may be added that in the Scheme (1882) now in
force of the Charity Commission for the administration of
Dulwich College and the Picture Gallery, provision for the
preservation and custody of the pictures and works of art is to
be made by the Governors " with the sanction of the President
and Council of the Royal Academy " ; and that the expenses
of management include "those of the annual visitation as
directed by the will of Margaret Desenfans." By the scheme,
too, one of the Governors is nominated by the President of the
Royal Academy.

It is significant of the estimation in which the Academy
was held that in 1798 the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury
requested its aid in the preparation of designs for a new coinage,
and the General Assembly appointed a committee to prepare
drawings and models, and to discuss the matter with the
representatives of the Government.



CHAPTER XII

BENJAMIN WEST AND THE ROYAL ACADEMICIANS ELECTED
DURING HIS PRESIDENCY

THE second President of the Academy and the fifty-five artists
elected during his tenure of the office now claim our attention.
Of these fifty-five, forty reached the rank of Academician,
including two future Presidents, Lawrence and Shee, with
whom, however, it is not proposed to deal till the period of
their election to that office is reached.

BENJAMIN WEST, P.R.A.

The election of a successor to Reynolds was, as those
who have followed the course of these chapters will readily
acknowledge, a thing by no means easy. Men like Reynolds
make the task of their successors unpleasant, and the Academy
acted wisely and selected the only possible man in Benjamin
West, who was one of the foundation members of the body ; he
was in high favour at court, he was universally respected, and all
the geniuses being dead, he became eligible as perhaps the most
eminent in a secondary rank.

He came of a family which traced its descent from the Lord
Delaware who fought under Edward III. and the Black Prince.
It was settled at Long Crendon, in Buckinghamshire, and in the
seventeenth century produced Colonel James West, who was a
friend and companion in arms of John Hampden. Buckingham-



186 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

shire, at that period, was the headquarters of the Quakers ; all
their chiefs, Fox, Penn, Burrough, Penington, Ellwood, and
Whitehead, were natives of the county, and in the dismal
persecutions which followed the passing of the Act of Conformity,
the gaols of Aylesbury, Wycombe, and Uxbridge were filled
with stubborn sectarians whose indictment rested solely on the
grounds that they refused to take an oath or to take their hats
off.

At the side of a by-road near the village of Seer Green,
equidistant between Chalfont and Beaconsfield, there stands a
square unpretentious and also very ugly building ; before it is a
lawn trimly kept, and behind it are beech and cherry whose
crimson and orange leaves in late autumn flutter downwards, and
bestrew the graves ranged in long rows, where sleep the earliest
fathers of the Society of Friends. It is known as Jordan's
Burial Ground, and is still revered by the remnant of that once
numerous sect as their Kaaba, their most sacred temple.

West's family became Quakers. John West, the father of
the President, accompanied William Penn on his first voyage to
America, and on his second transported himself with his family,
determined never more to suffer persecution for conscience' sake
so long as there was a wilderness where the savages were unruly
only in carnal matters. How it fared with them there we know
not precisely. They seem to have been comfortable and well-
to-do. Mrs West had borne nine children to her husband, and
when the tenth came into the world, the parents christened him
Benjamin, in the hope probably that he would be the last, a hope
which was happily fulfilled. As the boy grew up he ran about
the settlement with others of his age, he picked hickory nuts, eat
corn-cobs, and learnt to understand the speech of the red men
round about. Those wild fellows would often come in to barter
skins for weapons and fire-water, and it is said that when his
propensity for drawing had shown itself, it was from a band of
Cherokees that he learnt how to prepare red and yellow ochre
for painting with. When he visited Rome years later, and was



WESTS BIRTH AND ANCESTRY 187

shown the Apollo Belvidere, he exclaimed, " It is a Mohawk
warrior " ; which exclamation is suggestive of a great deal that
might have been, but which was not unfortunately.

The aborigines of America have always been treated sub-
jectively ; with one class of writers they are the type of unsullied
humanity, brave, generous, and eloquent ; with another they are
skulking, thievish, drunken rascals ; and we have no longer
materials for judging between these two opinions. In West's
day the great Five Nations were still flourishing : the Delawares,
Mohawks, Hurons, Algonquins, and Iroquois. They styled
themselves Leni Lenappe, the men of men, and from all testi-
mony we must suppose them to have been a race apart, nobler
and more civilised than the Prairie Indian ; but they have passed
away, and no vestige of them remains. The crouching figure in
West's picture of the " Death of General Wolfe," and those in
his " Treaty of Penn with the Indians," are the only authentic
representations extant which can give us information of the
aspect of this bygone people. Catlin came later, when the Five
Nations were scattered, and he deals only with Prairie Indians.

Does it not appear that here was a great opportunity wasted,
an opportunity for historical painting in the strictest sense of
the word ? What more beautiful or interesting subject could an
artist desire than those naked Mohawk warriors, graceful as the
sons of Latona ? But they have been permitted to pass away
without a record, and the one man who could have left us that
record, who knew them and had lived amongst them, preferred
to follow the beaten track which had been trod by hundreds
before him. On the evidence of three or four of his pictures, we
know that West could paint admirably things which he had
seen, and it is vexatious to find him wasting his talent and his
time in trying to paint things which he had not seen and was
powerless to imagine.

West was born on loth October 1738, at which time European
immigrants were only settled on the verge of the Atlantic sea-
board. Behind them was the primeval forest, still teeming with



188 ACADEMICIANS ELECTED UNDER WEST

mystery and romance ; and young Benjamin, if he wandered
abroad, must often have found himself in a forest glade where
the sunlight glinted down between the parted stems of hickory
and maple, and have seen there, like a bronze statue, the figure
of some wild native of the woods, a Cherokee or Mohawk, with
eagle plumes drooping from his shaven crown, his eyes alert,
and his sinewy arm grasping a bow or tomahawk. What an
education was there for a painter ; and if we can imagine such a
creature as a Hawthorne in painting, what a world of mystery,
of weird interest, would he have cast around that primeval
forest and its wild denizens ! But West had nothing of the poet
in him. He had all the outward seeming of a native-born
genius, and in the little world of Springfield, Pennsylvania, was
looked upon as such. He hid himself in lofts, and painted
pictures with brushes made of hair filched from poor pussy, his
mother's pet cat, and these strange ways invested his person
with respectful interest. A certain Peckover, at a prayer-
meeting, had felt so powerful a visitation of the Spirit, that the
thunders of his oratory and the terrors of his prophetic denun-
ciations had brought West's mother prematurely to bed ; and
the preacher prophesied that the child born under such unusual
circumstances would be invested with an unusual show of grace,
and turn out a very remarkable man. A high-wrought condition
of spiritual excitement naturally brings with it a belief in
prophecy, as in the case of Savonarola ; and there can be no
doubt that the Quakers, who left their country and their homes
to settle in the wilderness for conscience' sake, were in such a
high-wrought condition.

When West's parents were hesitating as to the propriety of
allowing their son to follow his bent and become a painter, they
summoned a meeting. After a lapse of silence a certain
Williamson spoke, and declared his conviction that though an
unusual calling for a Friend, the boy ought to be a painter.
This was looked upon as an authoritative message from the
Spirit ; the case was settled, and he was formally dedicated to



WESTS EARLY LIFE 189

the profession. He was then presented with two books, the
only volumes he had ever seen besides his Testament Du
Fresnoy's Art: of Painting and Jonathan Richardson's Essay
on Painting two books which, by a singular coincidence, are
closely connected with Reynolds, who annotated the one, and
was moved to become a painter by reading the other.

In course of time West was sent to Italy to study, where he
was well received, and looked upon as a wonder. There was a
combination of novel attractions about him which were no doubt
very fascinating. He was a good-looking youth, and a Quaker
who would not take his hat off even in the presence of Princes ;
he showed an uncommon talent for painting, had come from the
wilds of America, and knew all about Cherokees and Mohawks.
A certain mendicant improvisatore with whom he came in
contact, and who judged his man shrewdly, as such folk do,



Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 16 of 35)