J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

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sort of literary historical genre painting of which Carlyle's
" Diamond Necklace " is so masterly an example. It passed
through a great crisis in our history, greater perhaps than we
are now aware of, and in the calm environments of its close it
suggests the blessed relief from discord which this country
attained to, more perhaps by luck than good guidance, in the
last quarter of the eighteenth century. Thomas Sandby is by
no means such an obscure personage as Henry Pitman, who is
memorable as having left authentic records of his personal
contact with great events, with the rebellion of Mon mouth
and the " Bloody Assizes." Sandby came in personal contact
with the invasion of the Pretender in 1745, an d had he
written his autobiography giving all the details of his life,
from the stormy scenes which surrounded his youth to the


final peaceful seclusion as Deputy Ranger of Windsor Park,
he would have left a book of more permanent interest to
mankind than his lectures on architecture, which were found
too costly for the Academy to publish, are at all likely to
have been.

He was born in Nottingham in 1721, and is said to have
been attracted to the profession of architecture by the fascina-
tions of the science of perspective ; fascinations which about the
same time were impelling the son of a Devonshire schoolmaster
towards the profession of painting. In 1743 he was in London
and was appointed draughtsman to the chief engineer in Scot-
land. This brought him to Fort William, at the foot of Ben
Nevis, in 1745. It would be worth many lectures on architecture
to know what he saw there ; to have brought before us the
tumultuous gatherings of tartaned ruffians, to hear the wild
pibrochs, and the clashing and clattering of claymores, targets,
and Lochaber axes. All we positively know is, that he was the
first person to convey to the government authentic tidings of the
landing of the Pretender in Glenfinnan. In return for this
important political service he was taken good care of ever
afterwards. H.R.H. William, Duke of Cumberland, appointed
him his peculiar draughtsman ; though what the duties of a
peculiar architectural draughtsman to a successful military
commander of royal blood may be, we are not able to conjec-
ture. And in the following year, when all the disturbances
were over, when Lord Balmerino had wiped his spectacles for
the last time and laid his poor foolish old head on the block
on Tower Hill, as the last of the long series of decapitated
traitors, Sandby was appointed Deputy Ranger of Windsor
Great Park, where he created that placid expanse of tranquil
water, belilied, if such a term is admissible, with white blossoms,
whose banks are littered with shreds of morning newspapers,
exuvice of picnics, known as Virginia Water. Freemasons' Hall,
where whilom Art and Benevolence united were accustomed to
exchange their festive greetings, was designed by him, as was


the elaborate wainscotting around the altar of St George's
Chapel, Windsor.

The various abortive efforts which were made by the artists
of England to form a properly organised institution for the
encouragement of Art have been already described. Thomas
Sandby had taken a part in the agitation, he joined the Incor-
porated Society, and after the schism by which it was rent
asunder he passed into the newly-formed Royal Academy as
one of its foundation members.

He exhibited great zeal in carrying out his duties as Pro-
fessor of Architecture. His lectures were largely illustrated by
beautifully executed drawings, many of which are still preserved.
As we have already mentioned, they have never been published.
The MS. was offered for that purpose to the Council of the
Royal Academy, but declined on account of the great cost of
reproducing the illustrations. It has since been presented by
his descendant, Mr William Sandby, and is now preserved in
the library.

Towards the close of his life Sandby became incapacitated
by ill-health from the labour of delivering his lectures, and for
two years they were read by Edward Edwards, A. The even-
ing of his life was passed in the peaceful retirement of the
Deputy Ranger's Lodge in Windsor Park, and there he died,
aged seventy-seven, in 1798, fifty-three years after the fortui-
tous circumstance to which he owed his fortune and his social


At the date of the foundation of the Royal Academy, its
promoters found themselves somewhat in the position of the
lord in the parable who had to search for wedding guests
amongst the hedgerows and byways. There was no neglected
talent pining for lack of recognition, no claims likely to be
overlooked ; the difficulty was to fill up the ranks with repre-
sentative artists when none such could be found ; men who


practised any description of industry which could plausibly be
included in the category of Art were considered eligible. Such
a one was Samuel Wale, first Professor of Perspective. He
decorated ceilings, illustrated books, painted signs, and in a
promiscuous way turned his hand to anything which required
a certain skill in drawing and a knowledge of the mechanism of

Those who pay attention to such things, must be familiar
with a peculiar phase of water-colour art which is often found
decorating the staircases and bedrooms in English country
houses. Who does not know the dingy landscapes which the
host points to apologetically as an old-fashioned picture which
has been in the family for years and years ? It probably
represents an old ruined castle, drawn in outline with a reed
pen ; there is pretty sure to be a bridge spanning a river, and
some men engaged in drawing a net in the foreground ; on
each side is a tree trunk with rugged boughs, drawn more or
less in a series of hooks with thick strokes of the pen, the whole
washed over with a thin film of colour.

Such was the water-colour art of the middle of the eighteenth
century, the rude germ which developed into the magnificent
works of Girtin, Turner, De Wint, and Copley Fielding. Samuel
Wale practised that form of art largely, and exhibited his works
at the Royal Academy. As an assistant to John Gwynn, the
architect, he acquired a good knowledge of perspective, and was
appointed to profess it on the foundation of the Royal Academy.
At first it appears to have been the practice to deliver lectures
on the subject ex cathedrd, a practice which Wale was obliged
to discontinue on account of ill-health, and to resort to the
much more practical system of giving a series of lessons at a
table, which has since been universally adopted. Perspective is
nothing if not precise, and its principles, to be understood, must
be put into practice with the scale and parallel ruler.

Wale, who was born at Yarmouth, was much employed
in designing illustrations to books ; his best-known works



in this line are the engravings in the 8vo edition of Walton's
Complete Angler, published in London, 1760, which are
probably very familiar to all readers of the worthy old
piscator's book. "The Morning Greeting," "The Milkmaid's
Song," and " The Three Anglers at the Inn Door "
giving the hostess the chub to cook, are things which we
remember to have seen in our youth, and never have forgotten.
In addition to these Wale illustrated an abridgment of Sacred
History, 1766; Fables, by William Wilkie, D.D., 1768; and
Raymond's History of England ; besides a number of other
works. His historical plates are very curious in our eyes ; they
show the utter carelessness and ignorance of appropriate costume
and accessories which prevailed in the eighteenth century, when
Garrick as Macbeth, in a bag wig with a small sword, made his
audience tremble at the spectacle of " the ruin of a crime-
entangled soul." There are two plates after Wale in Raymond's
History ; one represents Canute reproving his courtiers, in the
background of which there is a church with a spire of fifteenth-
century architecture ; and another of Richard I. taken in dis-
guise by Leopold Duke of Austria, where the Crusader is in
knee-breeches, with a small sword at his side.

In 1782, on the death of Richard Wilson, Wale was appointed
Librarian, and held that office, in conjunction with the professor-
ship, till his death in 1786.


though his fame is cast into the shade by the singularly brilliant
genius of his younger brother, John, must have been a very
distinguished physiologist and physician, to judge only by the
honorary degrees which were conferred upon him both in this
country and abroad. And, from the testimony of his contem-
poraries, we may surmise that the Royal Academy was both
fortunate and discerning in having the opportunity of securing
him as Professor of Anatomy, a post which, as we have seen, in


its early days conferred the right of attending at General
Assemblies, and made the holder in a manner an ex-officio
member of the body.

William Hunter was born at East Kilbride, in Lanark, in
1718; he studied for five years in the University in Glasgow,
afterwards in Edinburgh, and finally at St George's Hospital in
London. He early distinguished himself for his knowledge of
anatomy; and when at the age of twenty-eight by a mere
chance he was called upon to take the place of Mr Samuel Sharpe,
and to deliver a course of lectures on operative surgery and
anatomy, he brought to light, in addition to great knowledge, a
peculiar aptitude for exposition, and great oratorical ability. It
is said that his lectures differed from those of his contemporaries
in the fulness and thoroughness of his teaching, and in the care
he took to provide for his hearers the best possible practical
illustrations of his discourse. His lectures were simple and yet
profound, minute in demonstration, and by no means tedious,
and he had a happy knack of enlivening them by anecdotical
illustrations. He thoroughly enjoyed lecturing, and used to say
that "a man may do infinitely more good to the public by
teaching his art than by practising it," an unselfish sentiment
which does honour to his heart, but which cannot logically be
said to run on "all fours."

Hunter also contributed many papers to medical journals.
These were accused of being too controversial in tone, and he
excused himself by saying that anatomists naturally got into
that way, having been so " spoiled by the passive submission of
dead bodies" that they are unable to brook any resistance.
Like his brother, he was a collector : his house was a museum,
filled with splendid anatomical and pathological preparations,
ancient coins, medals, minerals, shells, and corals, together with
a fine library of Greek and Latin classics. After his death, in
1783, these passed into the possession of the University of


FOR more than a century and a quarter exhibition has suc-
ceeded exhibition at the Royal Academy ; each returning
spring during the whole of that long period has brought with
it its special cares and anxieties to the artists of the country,
its high hopes sometimes destined to be realised, its vaulting
ambitions which missed the saddle and ended in the dust and
ignominy of the other side. What a strange record it is of mad
strivings after the unattainable, of futile efforts on the part of
weak, inarticulate, human nature to express the unutterable,
of hopeless struggles to vivify the material atoms of stone and
pigment and to make them live with the life of the spirit of
man ; a record of high aims gone astray, of sordid cares, of
unavailing groans and blank despair; and perhaps more
pitiable still, of inane vanity satisfied with half achievement,
and revelling in its fool's supper of worthless praise. During
those years, how many have been the reputations made ! in
charity let us not count those that have been lost. False,
partial Fame has stood blaring on her trumpet in the market-
place, proclaiming, now this, now that as the greatest name
in Art, and she is at it still ; and yet how stands the account ?
Taking reputations at their current worth, at their market
price both in amount of recognition and coin, and turning a
deaf ear to the din of our mountebank's trumpet, it stands
simply thus : the two greatest names are those of men whose


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Art was formed and whose glory was built up in tns eighteenth
century, namely, Reynolds and Gainsborough.

Their names are printed in large letters on the title-page
of British Art History, as those of Raphael and Michael Angelo
are on that of the Italian Renaissance; and like these last
they are indissolubly linked together by a conventional
hyphen. In ordinary parlance the name of one is hardly ever
mentioned without the other. They live in public estimation as
the great Dioscuri, the unconquered heroes who have been
translated to Olympus, but whose influence still guides the
destinies of British Art. They mark the extreme limits of
two opposite poles of thought and feeling, between which for
more than a century and a quarter that Art has oscillated

Their resemblance is wholly superficial, the result of the
costume and the manners of the age in which they both
lived. The difference between them is vital and radical. One
vital point of resemblance they certainly had, each of them was
"a reality, not an artificiality, not a sham." They were both
in earnest, they knew what they wanted and sought for it,
one by the way of formulas, the other outside them. But in
their lives, their occupations, and their friends and associates,
they differed with a difference not of degree but of kind.

The life and doings of Reynolds, his Art, his utterances,
and the turn of his mind, belong properly to the domain of
philosophy ; his biography has been adequately written, and
may be rewritten, amplified, and made still more instructive
by any man of judgment and sound sense. The events of
Gainsborough's life, his Art, all that he ever did or said,
belong in a certain sense to the domain of romance ; to
do justice to the theme would require a poet.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sepulchre Street, Sud-
bury, in Suffolk, in 1727. His father, John Gainsborough, was
a wool merchant, prosperous once, but not unto the end ; of
whose five sons three were men of genius. John, called


g- J-ac?k M in Sudbury, made many mechanical inven-
tions but carried none of them out ; the Rev. Humphrey,
who had a cure of souls at Henley-on-Thames, invented a
steam engine which according to Fulcher was nefariously
robbed from him by Watt ; and Thomas, who did carry
things out, and of whose inimitable inventions none has yet
learnt the secret or been able to steal the charm. What
we read of him as a boy answers all the well-recognised
requirements of boys of genius ; he was quick, observant,
very ardent, impressionable, and very fond of sketching and
music ; he spoke and acted on the impulse of the moment,
because things came to him that way, without suspecting that
biographers had their eyes upon him ; at school he was very
idle at his lessons, sketched a great deal in his copy-books,
played truant to go and amuse himself his own way, and
did things which are characteristic of boys of genius, and
quite equally so of boys of a very different kind. There is
in fact nothing in the meagre, and, as we suspect in some
cases, apocryphal, anecdotes of his early years related by
Fulcher which is at all instructive or worth repeating.

At the age of fifteen Gainsborough seems to have done with
education, we may almost say with books, and went to London
to study Art, at first under the French engraver Gravelot,
afterwards under Hayman, who became member and librarian
of the Royal Academy. This man was a poor painter, but
at all events in his Art he tried to imitate good examples,
whereas in his conduct he did quite the reverse, and it may
have been from him that young Gainsborough imbibed a
certain moral taint which he never quite shook off, and which
affected his speech to the later periods of his life. After
three years under Hayman and one of independent practice
at a lodging in Hatton Garden he returned to Sudbury. He
had by that time done with Art-education, and henceforth
knew no master but Nature, and acknowledged no other
authority than his own impressions of her. In the course of


his artistic life he came under the influence of Dutch painters,
of Rubens and Van Dyck, and his practice was modified by
that influence, but he never ceased to refer to Nature as his
true guide and to get his inspiration from that source.

In 1746 the year when Reynolds, who was his senior by
four years, was entering upon the most unprofitable and barren
period of his career, namely, his residence at Plymouth Dock
Thomas Gainsborough, a youth of nineteen, was beginning
the education which made him a great man, and which has
given the stamp of truth and originality to his art. Amongst
the hedgerows of Suffolk, and on the banks of its sluggish
streams, he was watching Nature intently and learning to
understand her and to love her. Reynolds was saved by a
deus ex machind, in the shape of Commodore Keppel, who
carried him off in the Centurion to Italy and the Old Masters.
Commodores and Centurions, Italy and Old Masters, could have
done nothing for Gainsborough but to spoil him, and make
him other than what he was ; which none but pedants, men who
regret, for instance, that Robert Burns did not have a University
education, could wish for.

Gainsborough at this period is said to have been a hand-
some youth, but the portrait by himself which is in the possession
of the Royal Academy, does not exhibit a face to which we
should be inclined to apply that epithet, or, we should say,
to which the sex which particularly claims authority in such
matters would be inclined to apply it ; and yet if we examine
it attentively and imagine what it was without the signs of
age, and disfiguring traces of toilsome, anxious years, if we
try to set those features in a bright and youthful face, and add
the lustre of health and colour, we must surmise that Thomas
Gainsborough was a lad who would not pass unnoticed, even in
a crowd one whom we should turn back to take a second look
at. Romance, as we have said, was the atmosphere which sur-
rounded his life, his character, and his art ; the first important
incident recorded teems with it. A tall, handsome youth, he


is wandering in the fields, sketching or sitting musing under the
shade of trees, when, lo ! there comes to him a beautiful maiden,
more beautiful it was said than even Mrs Kedington, the reign-
ing belle of Ipswich. Her name was Margaret Burr. Margaret
thinks herself a princess in disguise ; her father is a prince in
some foreign land, or perhaps even in England ; but that is a
mystery. What is a palpable fact is that he sends her annually
two hundred pounds, and this young Thomas, with his large
eyes and handsome face, he is surely a young prince in disguise
of nature's nobility, a genius like none other. They loved each
other, and they wed. Life at nineteen and eighteen is like a
fairy tale, but the fairy tale of Margaret and Thomas was a real
one. She was a loyal and true princess, and her two hundred
pounds never failed ; and he was a true genius, and he had a
magic palette which he had only to rub and beautiful things
rose up, more beautiful than any the world had ever seen.

But we have been anticipating. Thomas and Margaret
began their wedded life in a small house in Ipswich. Fourteen
years later, at the recommendation of Philip Thicknesse, they
removed to Bath. The said Thicknesse was a very zealous
friend, who developed into a bore, as very zealous friends some-
times do, and after another fourteen years the Gainsboroughs
fled to London to escape him. It was not till 1774 that Gains-
borough established himself in Schomberg House, Pall Mall,
and he died there of a cancerous affection on 2nd August 1788 in
his sixty-second year. On his death-bed he wrote to Reynolds,
between whom and himself there had been always more or less
estrangement, asking him to come and see him. The letter,
which is endorsed on the back in Sir Joshua's handwriting,
" Gainsborough when dying," is in the possession of the
Academy. It runs thus :


" I am just to write what I fear you will not read after
lying in a dying state for six months. The extreme affection,


which I am informed of by a friend, which Sir Joshua has
expressed, induces me to beg a last favor, which is to come
once under my Roof and look at my things, my woodman
you never saw. If what I ask now is not disagreeable to your
feeling, that I may have the honor to speak to you, I can from
a sincere Heart say that I always admired and sincerely loved
Sir Joshua Reynolds.


It was at the interview which followed this pathetic appeal
that Gainsborough uttered the well-known words : " We are
all going to heaven, and Van Dyck is of the company." In
his fourteenth Discourse Reynolds erected a monument to
Gainsborough, which is likely to be cere perennius. It is
a model of cautious analysis, of thoughtful, philosophical
criticism ; but to us, at least, it appears cold and unsym-
pathetic, and utterly unappreciative of the true greatness of
the painter, who is commonly called his rival, but who worked
on totally different lines and followed a totally different in-

There could have been but very little real sympathy between
the two men. To Reynolds, Gainsborough must have appeared
a somewhat questionable and enigmatical person, not a little
contemptible even. His own life had been regulated on incon-
trovertible principles ; he had walked circumspectly, guided by
prudence and sagacity ; diligence, economy, punctuality, order,
method, and duty were his watchwords ; in the whole course of
his Presidency, as already stated, he was only twice absent from
his chair at the council table of the Royal Academy. Though
too busy a man for much reading, he loved knowledge and lost
no opportunity of acquiring it ; he chose the best and wisest
men as his friends and associates, Johnson, Burke, and Gold-
smith being his constant companions ; he never began anything
without reflection, and what he began he carried out ; and
finally, with each succeeding year, his contact with the great


world had added additional polish to his manners and his mind.
It must have been difficult for him even to understand such a
character as that of Gainsborough, who did not walk circum-
spectly : with whom, as far as we may judge by the evidence
before us, prudence, sagacity as applied to worldly matters,
economy, punctuality, order, and method were not ; who had no
sense of duty ; who never once attended a meeting of the Royal
Academy, though frequently elected into the Council ; who did
not care for any knowledge except that which appertained to
his art ; who chose for friends and associates only men who
amused him ; who constantly began pictures and never finished
them ; who was guided by impulse and not reflection ; who was
highly incautious, blurted out the most unpalatable things in
conversation and writing, made the most absurd bargains, and
offered impossible sums when the whim was on him. His was
not a serious, and, from certain dark hints, we may gather not
altogether a respectable, character ; he was a bright, amiable,
whimsical, and lovable man, who revelled in the joys of genius,
of exquisite sensibilities and exuberant spirits; he was the
grasshopper of the fable, and his life was one long summer
day of love and song and revelry. He worked hard, but not
laboriously ; what he did he did without effort, in a fit of
enthusiasm; his art was music to him, it delighted his senses
and his imagination, and he stopped short when it became

The German epithet " genialisch " exactly applies to every-
thing he said and did, and would be quite misapplied to the
acts and sayings of Reynolds. We may plausibly surmise that
no permanent friendship was possible between them, that they
irritated each other, and that neither could do the other full
justice. Reynolds possibly despised Gainsborough for his want
of worldly wisdom, prudence, and seriousness. Gainsborough
may have hated Reynolds because he always did what was

Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 7 of 35)