J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

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lauded him to the skies in extempore verse, and prophesied
that he would become the greatest painter of his age. This
fortuitous and unsolicited corroboration of Peckover's testimony
was very satisfactory to the young Quaker, who looked upon
himself thenceforth as predestined to greatness ; he certainly
possessed talent which might have carried him very far, had
other ingredients of his mind been either more liberally supplied
or more carefully assorted.

He came to England in 1763, apparently with no view of
settling there, but his star was in the ascendant, he was intro-
duced to the young king, George III., who took a liking to
him ; West's Quaker sedateness and gravity, the unimpeachable
correctness of his principles, found ready sympathy with the
virtuous monarch, a sympathy which was not likely to be
disturbed by a little general dulness. West was induced to
settle in London, and for nearly thirty years occupied much the
same position at the Court of St James's as Velasquez did at that
of Madrid, with the exception of the deadly Aposentadorship.
Of course he was the object of envy, and consequently of calumny ;
Wilson growled and Barry fumed, and even the great Reynolds


is said to have been nettled and to have complained, or allowed
his friends to complain for him, that though he had the painting
of Church and State, that of Royalty belonged exclusively to
West. West planned a cycle of great works, many of which he
executed for the king. Nothing came amiss to him ; from
Edward the Black Prince to the Recording Angel, he was equal
to them all. He was commissioned, at his own request, to
illustrate " Revealed Religion " in a series of great works for the
king's chapel at Windsor, and would indeed have undertaken
to illustrate anything on earth below or in heaven above, so
strong was his belief that his imagination was equal to any task,
whether it was to depict the battlefields of Crecy and Poitiers
or the supernal grandeurs of the Apocalypse ; and yet he could
do nothing but what he had seen, and that he could do supremely
well. His " Death of General Wolfe," his " Treaty of Penn with
the Indians," his "Battle of La Hogue " and the "Quaker
Family," which must be a beautiful picture, but which we know
only from engravings, are works of a very high order of merit.
He tells his story clearly and with probability ; at the same time
his design is rich and imposing, his drawing truthful and severe,
and his execution precise and scholarly in a high degree. All
the rest of his works, scriptural, historical, and allegorical, only
deserve to be forgotten, a consummation which they have pro-
bably already attained. This infirmity of his judgment went on
increasing, as the scale of his works went on expanding, with
advancing years. The " Christ healing the Sick," in the National
Gallery, which is painted on a canvas 9 feet high by 14 feet wide,
represents the medium size which he affected when only sixty-
four years of age, and was far exceeded later on in his life.

Of what strange stuff are mortals made ! and what is this
passion, disease, or mania which we call ambition? and how
shall it be regulated ? On the one hand it is the special attribute
of great men, and the means which lifts them to greatness ; on
the other it is the ruin and the stumbling-block of fools ; it is
light and it is darkness ; to some it is the beacon which guides


them surely on their course ; to others it is night which over-
takes them and makes them wander from their road, as in the
case of Benjamin West. We are judging by the wisdom which
comes after the event ; during his lifetime he especially, and his
contemporaries partially, thought differently ; there was no sign
of remonstrance, and his professional career was uniformly
successful as long as the king retained his reason. In 1801,
when the first symptoms of his malady showed themselves, there
was a temporary cessation of West's pension and employment ;
when the king recovered he was told " to set to work again," but
it was not for long. After the death of Princess Amelia, dark-
ness and chaos settled over the good king's wits. As Thackeray
says, " All light, all reason, all sound of human voices, all the
pleasures of this world of God were taken from him," and West's
occupation was gone. The fallen favourite, as is the way of the
world, was attacked and slandered. The press joined issue with
him on his emoluments, endeavouring to prove that he had
plundered the king to the amount of ^"34,000 ; to which he
answered, calmly and triumphantly, that he had indeed received
money amounting approximately to that sum, but it was earned
by thirty-three years of untiring labour.

It is curious to think of West's intercourse with George III.,
at whose court etiquette and all humdrum observances were most
rigorously insisted on. Did he keep his hat on, as he had done
before the Duke of Parma, or did he imagine that he had
received a special dispensation from the Spirit, which gave him
liberty to consult his worldly interests and to conform to general
usage in the interests of high Art? On this point we can
arrive at no information from biographers. Perhaps he may
have thought that, because in the community of Springfield, in
consequence of prophecies and the signs of genius which he
showed, he had been allowed to relax the strict rigour of Quaker
tenets, he was therefore free to set their observances at naught
whenever they interfered with his prospects. On these points,
as we have said, we know nothing, but certainly in West's letters


and in his utterances recorded by his friend Gait, there is no
trace of " thee " and " thou " or of other Quaker mannerisms.

Benjamin West was, as we have said, elected President of
the Royal Academy in March 1792, and held the office with a
short interval till 1820. On his election the Duke of Gloucester
called upon him, to intimate to him that the king was desirous
of conferring the honour of knighthood upon him. His answer
is remarkable, as coming from a man of fifty-four, and as show-
ing that in all those years, and with his opportunities, he had
not succeeded in picking up either tact, adroitness, or knowledge
of the world. He wanted a baronetcy and a pension, failing
which he would have been glad of knighthood, but he played
his cards so badly that he got neither.

Allan Cunningham says that " he was the first and last
President of our Academy who found spelling a difficulty " ; and
he also cynically implies that West, by a certain sedateness and
gravity of manner which came of his Quaker training, and by
observing a prudent silence, gained a reputation for latent
wisdom, which he would have sacrificed had he been loqua-
cious. He was certainly a benevolent, generous man, but he
was utterly colourless, unless we accept a strong infusion of
vanity as giving him a characteristic tint ; he was cold and
passionless, and succeeded, probably without any difficulty, in
living up to the virtuous and altruistic platitudes with which his
mind was stored

As President, he appears to have been on the whole decidedly
popular ; he was suave, and worried no one, though on one
occasion, as recorded in the last chapter, he displayed a sad lack
of discretion and temper. He was very popular, too, among
artists generally, as he was always ready to advise, and, when
the occasion arose, to assist with his purse.

When he went to Paris after the peace of Amiens to see the
Musee Napoleon, he lost his head slightly ; he lauded Buona-
parte to the skies, who, like the improvisatore he had met in his
youth, had shrewdly guessed the way to take him. On his


return he was either conscious that he had made a fool of himself,
or he imagined that others thought so ; this, coupled with the
fact that at the annual election on loth December 1804, on ty
twenty votes were given for him, as against seven for James
Wyatt, the architect, caused him to resign the Presidency,
whereupon Wyatt was elected to succeed him, but Wyatt's
election was never formally approved by the king, and in the
following year, 1 806, West was re-elected, and continued to hold
office till his death on the I ith of March 1820.

The story which is told of what happened, according to some
at the election of 1803, and according to others at that of 1806,
viz., that Fuseli voted for Mary Moser, or rather, as she then
was, Mrs Lloyd, on the ground that "one old woman was as
good as another," is ben trovato but non vero, as there is no
record in the Academy minutes of any vote having ever been
recorded for that lady at the annual presidential election.

West was buried in St Paul's, his grave being in the crypt
near that of Reynolds. His body lay in state at Somerset
House, and the arrangements for the funeral, which took place
on the 1 9th of March, were the same as for that of his illustrious


was born at Wigton, near Carlisle, in 1752. He became a
student of the Royal Academy in 1772, and four years after-
wards commenced his long career as an exhibitor. It has been
said that " all Smirke's pictures are of an imaginative character,
and the subjects generally selected from the Scriptures, Shake-
speare, Cervantes, the Arabian Nights, etc." These have
frequently been the sources of works of an "imaginative
character," even unto this day. We are not aware ot any
peculiarly imaginative quality with which Smirke succeeded
in heightening the works he selected for illustration, and, indeed,
we are bound to confess ourselves somewhat ignorant of his



pictures. We know him by engravings after his works, and
even there we find it difficult by an act of memory to differentiate
his contributions to periodical illustration from those of Westall,
Liverseege, and others, all of which seem grouped together,
forming a distinct category. They belong to a period prior to
that when archaeology became a handmaid of painting. The
fundamental tenets by which they were guided in the matter of
costume seem to have been, that all Europeans whatsoever, who
lived before the eighteenth century, wore knee-breeches, padded
round the loins, and that all Asiatics wore dressing-gowns and
slippers. In an age which above all things craves for accuracy,
we may be excused if we demur that this rule must have had

Smirke was elected Associate in 1791, and Royal Acade-
mician 1793. In 1804 he was elected Keeper in place of
Wilton, but the king objected to the nomination, because of
Smirke's ultra-radical principles in politics, and he was not
installed. The entry in the minutes of the General Assembly
of 20th November 1804, reads thus: "The President then
produced the Paper he had presented to His Majesty informing
him of the election of Robert Smirke, Esq., to the office of
Keeper of the Royal Academy, to which His Majesty was
pleased to write as follows : ' Rejected, must proceed to a New
Election.' " Smirke lived to the age of ninety-three, and died
in 1845.


Sir Peter Francis Bourgeois, who was of Swiss descent, was
born in London in 1756. His father was a watchmaker in St
Martin's Lane. The accident of a picture dealer named Noel
Desenfans coming to lodge in his father's house, seems to have
influenced him in the choice of the arts as a profession.

In 1776 Bourgeois travelled on the Continent, and went to
Poland, carrying letters of introduction from Desenfans to King


Stanislas, who conferred on him the knighthood of the Order of
Merit, and this honour was subsequently confirmed to him by
King George III. On his return to England he practised his
profession, and was elected an Associate in 1787 and an Acade-
mician in 1793. He painted landscapes in the style of De
Loutherbourg, whose pupil he had been, and when we have
subtracted from the art of De Loutherbourg what invention
and imagination he possessed, and all his technical dexterity,
it leaves us but a poor residuum wherewithal to furbish forth an
eulogium of that of Bourgeois.

But if not remarkable as a painter, Bourgeois is noteworthy
to us as the donor of the Dulwich collection. The visitors who
frequent that Gallery are probably little mindful of the storms
which drifted those Art treasures into their present haven. To
account for their presence there, they would have to search
backwards into troublous times, to the days of the Great
Frederick of Prussia and the partition of Poland. Their history
is curious and mysterious. They were purchased for Stanislas
Poniatowsky, the last King of Poland, by the picture dealer of
whom we have already spoken, Noel Desenfans. Stanislas seems
to have supplied certain sums of money for this purpose, but he
does not appear either before or after his abdication to have
claimed the pictures, and they remained with Desenfans, and
were left by him at his death, in 1 804, to his friend Bourgeois,
who bequeathed them to Dulwich College, together with a sum
of 10,000 to build and keep in repair a gallery for them and
2000 to provide for the care of them. The gallery was built
by Sir John Soane in 1812, and the remains of Bourgeois, who
died of a fall from his horse in 1811, and of Desenfans were
buried in a chapel attached.

An account of the connection of the Academy with the
Dulwich Gallery is given in Chapter XL



was the most eminent English painter of the eighteenth century in
the department of historical painting ; eminent, that is, not in the
sense that he was the most widely celebrated or the most richly
rewarded, but because he exhibited the most genuine inspiration
and the widest knowledge of the resources of his art.

His life, written by Mrs Bray, should be a very instructive
book, though it is not presumably an entertaining one. There
is something in the nature of the material which would have
presented insuperable obstacles to writers more gifted and more
sparkling than Mrs Bray. The contemplation of undeviating
regularity, of scrupulous probity, of thrift, industry, perseverance,
and of talent triumphing over obstacles, is probably the highest
gratification of the perfect mind ; but it fails unfortunately to
touch the heart-strings, to arouse to music the subtle chords of
sympathy, in the hearts of ordinary mortals.

Stothard was born in London in 1755. His father kept an
inn in Long Acre, under the sign of the " Black Horse," and
continued to exercise that industry until his son had attained
the age of fourteen, when he was called away, leaving his widow
and young Stothard a sum of money barely sufficient for their
maintenance. The boy's share, Mrs Bray informs us, was
1700, upon the interest of which he contrived for years to
subsist He was bound apprentice to a pattern drawer for
brocade silks at Spitalfields, but that employment failed him
after a year, and he tried his hand at drawing illustrations in
the Toivn and County Magazine. Whether by luck or good
guidance the round peg had fallen into the round hole, and
from that date until that of his death, he never lacked employ-
ment as an illustrator. There are five large folio volumes in
the library of the Royal Academy filled with engravings after
his designs ; they are mostly adapted to an octavo volume,
and show great versatility. His contemporary Chodowiecky,
in Germany, was filling every publication of his day with


exquisitely dainty engravings, which are the delight of all
students of costume, and though we are not informed of the
fact that Stothard was acquainted with the productions of a
German artist who was his senior by some years, the internal
evidence points strongly to the fact. Admitting it to be the
case, Stothard is still the better man ; though he was far behind
Chodowiecky in artistic accomplishment, in scholarly drawing,
and in truth to nature generally, he possessed what the other
had not, an elevation of sentiment, and a sense of beauty. To
him had been given " Spiritum Graiae tenuem Camenae," and
that raised him far above his rival.

In 1777, at the age of twenty-two, some years after he had
commenced work as an illustrator, Stothard became a student
at the Royal Academy, and exhibited his first picture, " Ajax
defending the dead body of Patroclus," in the following

His pictures possess all the qualities of his designs, but our
enjoyment of them is marred by a certain sense of luridness
and over-lusciousness in colour. It would have been, perhaps,
more judicious on his part had he introduced the greys of
nature, as a touch of sordid earth, as a foothold to give stability
and probability to his ideal figures ; as it is they float in the
regions of fancy, and of such abstract beauties as those of
crimson and orange, and there is little doubt that in this age
they are too far removed from realism to be popular. But his
art is not cold and pedantic as is that of West, it is warmed by
a genuine touch of inspiration, it is never commonplace or vulgar,
and always graceful ; we are tempted to say, if it is unreal, so
much the worse for the state of things ; that is the way they
should be. Stothard's life was too good for the most of us, but
he lived it, and we know that he followed a true ideal as far as
that was concerned ; may he not have been equally well inspired
in his art ?

The details of Stothard's life are soon summed up: like
nations, he was happy in leaving no annals. Very early in his


life he bought a house, No. 28 Newman Street, out of the
profits of his earnings as an illustrator, and the interest on
1700. There he lived until his death in 1834. Thither in a
very calm and sedate manner he introduced his bride, Rebecca ;
there he laboured unceasingly in a room, which in these days
of palatial studios would appear little better than a garret, and
built up a reputation which we are inclined to think will never
quite cease to be, however times and manners may change, or
fashion shift her motley garb.

Stothard was elected an Associate in 1791, and a Royal
Academician in 1794. In 1814 he succeeded Burch as Librarian,
and held that office until his death. The design hitherto in use
on the reverse of the gold medals awarded by the Royal Academy
is from a drawing by Stothard.


like many other artists, owes his name and place to the fact that
he contrived to supply a demand which arose in the circum-
stances of his time. He, no doubt, often engrossed his mind
with the conception of great works in painting, and occasionally
essayed to give his dreams reality, but these things he found of
no avail, and he became by the necessities of the times an
illustrator of books, such as Crabbe's Poems, Moore's Loves
of the Angels. He also executed several of the designs for
Boydell's Milton and Shakespeare galleries, and a series of
illustrations of the services of the Church of England. As we
have said in the notice of Smirke, it is difficult to distinguish
him from his contemporaries. Naturalism, in England at least,
was not the spirit of his age, and it is difficult now to be judicial,
to affirm that Westall had more grace of a conventional kind or
more grandeur in certain prescribed conditions than others ; to
us they appear all alike in their artificiality. Their lines all flow
in obedience to the same imperious demand for elegance ; there


is no contrast, no rest to the aesthetic faculty, it is surfeited and
tired out.

Westall was born at Hertford in 1765, and after being
apprenticed to an engraver on silver, entered, in 1785, the
schools of the Royal Academy. He was elected Associate in
1792, and Royal Academician in 1794, the same year as his
friend, Lawrence (Sir Thomas), with whom he lived for many
years at a house in Soho Square. Perhaps his chief title to fame
is that he gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria in her early
youth. He died on 4th December 1836.


was born in London in 1758. He bore his mother's name, and
in his childhood toddled about the passages and corridors of St
James's Palace, where he was looked upon as a little chance
person. He became a student of the Royal Academy at the
age of sixteen, and when he started on his career as portrait
painter, he found timely little streams of patronage flowing in
which made matters tolerably smooth for him. Eventually, he
became fashionable, and divided the town with Lawrence, as
Romney had done with Reynolds. He was elected Associate
in 1793, and R.A. in 1795, and lived for the greater part of his
life in Charles Street, St James's, where he died in 1810, at the
early age of forty-nine.

With regard to Hoppner's merits as a painter, what we have
said before holds good here, the art of the English portrait
painters of the latter half of the eighteenth century is peculiar
and unlike any other, its features are very salient and easily
recognisable. It is very dignified, demure, and sober, and also
rich and mellow. If we try to judge of it by the standard of
Bronzino, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, and Van Dyck, we shall
not estimate it fairly, and this process would be more par-
ticularly damaging to the art of Hoppner. He takes his
place, justly, as we think, amongst the four great masters


of the early English school. Reynolds is at the head of it,
Gainsborough towers on another eminence, after them, come
Romney and Hoppner ; we leave our readers to adjust the
balance between them.


was born at Carlisle in 1733. He was sent to London with a
view to a business career, but soon abandoned it for Art, and in
1849 became the pupil of Samuel Scott the marine painter. His
inclination, however, led him to choose animals for his subjects,
and especially horses. Of this branch of his work his diploma
picture is a good example. The scenery in which his horses are
depicted is said to have been often the work of George Barret,
R.A., for whose landscapes he provided the animals, while
Zoffany is credited with some of the figures. He was elected an
Associate in 1795, at the ripe age of sixty-two, and an Acade-
mician in 1797, dying ten years afterwards, in 1807.


was born at Burford, in Oxfordshire, in 1753, and began life,
some say as a house painter, others as articled clerk to a
solicitor. While serving his time in London, he became
acquainted with some Academy students, and, deserting the
law, himself entered the schools in 1772. In 1791 he went to
Norwich, and remained there four or five years, painting
portraits chiefly. Returning to London, he soon obtained con-
siderable patronage and celebrity as a fashionable portrait
painter, and was much in favour at the Court.

He displayed qualities in his art, which, had public apprecia-
tion been guided more by prescriptive canons than by the
fascinations of colour and rich tone, would have raised him to a
much higher rank than he now holds. He was a deft, thoughtful,

rr M\ /.





and scholarly painter, but his work, compared with Reynolds and
others, looks thin and meagre.

He was elected an Associate in 1793, and Academician in
1798, in which year he was knighted by George III. He died
in 1839, at the age of eighty-six.


owed both his birth and his artistic education to Ireland. He
came to England in 1775, and subsequently spent fourteen years
abroad, chiefly at Rome, becoming, thanks to his studies of the
antique and of the Old Masters, one of the most correct draughts-
men of his day, though his colouring left much to be desired.
He also wrote poetry, but we do not know that his poetry has
lived more than his painting. Soon after his return to England
he was elected an Associate in 1791, and was raised to the full
rank of an Academician in 1799. An account of his claim to
take his seat on the Council, and of the subsequent proceedings
in . connection with this claim is given in Chapter XI. In
1807, he was chosen Professor of Painting in succession to Opie,
but, owing to failing health, only held the office for two years.
His death took place in 1814.


was born at Kingston-on-Thames in 1749, and became a student
at the Royal Academy in 1773. His earliest efforts were as a
painter of heraldry, and also of landscape scenery, but in 1784

Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 17 of 35)