« PreviousContinue »
of abuse. The sordid dealer was enraged at the loss of a cheap and profitable workman. The glow of happiness which Northcote felt at residing with Reynolds was kept up to the end. The result was hardly proportioned to the vehemence of his zeal. Though he was a shrewd and quick observer, his love of art was far in excess of his skill, and he does not belong to a high class of painters. He is yet a memorable instance of the success which attends upon tenacity of purpose. There hardly appeared a hope that he could ever be emancipated from his father's calling. In his aspirations to become an artist he had everything to do for himself, and could effect so little that he was twenty-five years old before he could raise the ten guineas which enabled him to go to London. His miserable subsistence on a shilling a day did not abate his resolution to maintain the struggle. To paint was sufficient luxury for him, and his whole career was an exemplification of the same perseverance. He never composed his pictures with facility, and to the last he might be said to carry on a contest of will against power. Happily, in art, as in literature, there is room for many grades of proficiency, and he gained both reputation and fortune.
In 1773 Reynolds exhibited his best historical picture, the • Ugolino.' " It leaves nothing to be desired,' says Mr. Leslie, except that it had never been painted; for it passes beyond the bounds of the pathetic into the horrible. • I can conceive,' Mr. Leslie proceeds, 'no finer treatment of the subject. In looking at it we are entirely absorbed in the story, and yet the art, the whole arrangement, whether of form or colour, of light or shade, is the best possible. The criticism of Allan Cunningham is widely different: The lofty and stern sufferer of Dante appears on Reynolds's canvas like a famished mendicant, deficient in any commanding qualities of intellect, and regardless of his dying children who cluster round his knees.' Mr. Cunningham has missed the thought which was in the mind of the painter. *Every being,' says Fuseli, seized by an enormous passion, be it joy or grief, or fear sunk to despair, is absorbed by the power of the feature that attracts it. Ugolino is petrified by the fate that swept the stripling at his foot, and sweeps in pangs the rest.' Reynolds was familiar with the principle. He adopted it in the portrait of Lady Scarsdale to express the highest measure of maternal tenderness and thanksgiving, as he adopted it in the Ugolino to depict the extremity of paternal desperation. He exhibited a larger historical picture in 1779. This was the Nativity, which he painted as a design for the chapel window at New College. The original was burnt at Belvoir Castle, and was a masterpiece of colour. Sir Joshua borrowed from Correggio the idea of making the Saviour the source of a supernatural light, but his execution,' says Northcote, both in manner and circumstance gave it the effect of novelty. Though radiant with splendour, Reynolds, says Farington, had managed the colour with such exquisite skill that the
whole appeared a scene of holy mystery; nor could the imagination have been more powerfully affected if the same scene had been illustrated by the forins of Michael Angelo and Raphael.'
Sir Joshua continued to produce historical pictures at intervals. The labour he bestowed upon them was a contrast to the ease with which he struck off his portraits, and he himself said that they cost him too dear.' Fuseli mentions that he witnessed the * weekly progress of the Dido, which was exhibited in 1781, and ‘knew the throes which it cost its author before it emerged into the beauty, or was divided into the powerful masses of chiaroscuro, which strikes us now,' The loveliness of the dying queen excited universal admiration. “Riveted,' says Fuseli, 'to supreme beauty in the jaws of death, we pay little attention to the subordinate parts, and scorn, when recovered from sympathy and anguish, to expatiate in cold criticisms on their unfitness or impotence. The Infant Hercules, which Reynolds painted for the Empress of Russia, gave him more trouble than the rest. Crabbe, the poet, visited him in his studio while the picture was in progress, and Sir Joshua told him that he was then engaged upon his fourth attempt. The final effort was exhibited in 1788, and had, says Northcote, the most splendid effect of any picture I ever saw. • It possesses,' says Barry, “all that we are accustomed to admire in Rembrandt, united to beautiful forms and an elevation of mind to which Rembrandt had no pretensions. The prophetical agitation of Tiresias, and Juno, enveloped with clouds, hanging over the scene like a black pestilence, can never
* Reynolds designed some admirable allegorical figures, which are now in the gallery of Lord Normanton, for the lights below the central compartment, and among them were the three Christian virtues,-Faith, Hope, and Charity-eujoined by St. Paul in his first Epistle to the Corinthians. •The Charity,' says Haydon, may take its place triumphantly by the side of any Correggio upon earth. The personification consists of a lovely woman, with a child hanging to her neck, and two elder children, a boy and a girl, who stand at her feet. The central figure was called by an anonymous critic the mother, and Allan Cunningham, who evidently confounded charity with almsgiving, from forgetting at the moment that it was used in our authorised version of the Corinthians in its primitive sense of love, asks, Where is the charity in a mother taking charge of her own children?' Reynolds may have intended to represent a mother and her children as the type of the strongest and purest love which earth can afford, or he may have selected the children for the objects of a maidenly affection, as being from their innocence the most loveable part of mankind. Whichever way the design is understood, the sentiment conveyed by the picture is that of a love devp, beautiful, and holy.
be too much admired, and are indeed truly sublime.' The opinion of Dr. Waagen, who has seen it in recent years, is little less favourable. He praises,' according to Mr. Taylor, the dramatic life of the whole composition, and says that the picturė need not fear comparison with Rembrandt for the depth, warmth, and golden-toned clearness of the colouring. The child in the act of strangling the serpents was the gem of the piece. Fuseli, who looked upon the surrounding personages as a 'motley mob' asserts that there is no Infant Hercules in ancient or modern art which can bear comparison with the tremendous superiority of conception and style' in the Infant Hercules of Reynolds.
Like the infants,' he says, "of Michael Angelo and the ancients, it teems with the man, but without the sacrifice of puerility observable in them.' He thought that it would be difficult to imagine anything loftier or more appropriate than the magnitude of form, irresistibility of grasp, indignant disdain, and sportive ease of action,' which denoted the demigod. The heroic contempt, the superfluity of strength, were marvellously rendered, and entitle this figure to a high rank among the masterpieces of Reynolds.
In spite of superb colour and partial beauties, the historical pictures of Sir Joshua are seldom satisfactory as a whole. He has remarked that a single figure should be as much as possible a complete composition, which will never unite with a group; as, on the other hand, no figure of a well-designed group will stand by itself. From want of practice, he lacked facility in the arrangement of complicated pieces. His imperfect acquaintance with the human form in its varied positions increased the embarrassment; and he often met the difficulty by culling readymade bits from the old masters. Hence, as Northcote
the groups "frequently consist of borrowed parts, which are not alwavs suited to each other.' Even his magical power of depicting grace, dignity, and mind were apt to forsake him. He had been accustomed to portraiture, and when he endeavoured to keep clear of personal peculiarities and draw typical countenances they became, as he said of Rubens's heads of St. Peter and St. Paul, “neither a good representation of individual or general nature. The expressive details were fined away, and sentiment and character disappeared in the process.
The University of Oxford offered its tribute to the illustrious President by conferring on him, in 1773, the degree of D.C.L. He was one of a batch of fifteen; and Sir Joshua and Dr. Beattie were the only persons out of the number who were loudly applauded. He frequently painted himself afterwards in his academical dress, partly, perhaps, for its pictorial effect, and partly Vol. 120.-No. 239.
and I go
because he prized honorary titles. Distinction,' he said, 'is what we all seek after; and the world does set a value on them,
with the great stream of life.' When Ferguson, the self-educated astronomer, was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, he exclaimed, “Ah! I do not want honour; I want bread.' Reynolds replied, that “to obtain honours was the means to obtain bread :' which is commonly true when the badge is held in estimation by the public, and he who receives it has proportionate merit. A compliment which Sir Joshua rated higher than his degree was paid him the same year. He was chosen Mayor of Plympton. He told the King, who met him walking in Richmond Gardens, that it gave himn more pleasure than any other honour he had ever received. As he uttered the words he remembered his knighthood, and added, except that which your Majesty was pleased to bestow upon me.' When he was elected an alderman the year before, Northcote's brother expressed his surprise that the great painter should wish to diversify his pursuits with the corrupt transactions of a dirty borough.' 'He perhaps retains, continued Samuel Northcote, “somewhat of the ideas he had of a Plymouth alderman when he was a boy, looking up to them all as persons of dignity. This was the simple solution of the mystery. “Every man,' said Johnson, 'has a lurking wish to appear considerable in his native place, and the exaggerated impressions which remain from childhood are the cause. On his accession to the mayoralty, Reynolds presented his portait to the corporation, and requested that it might be hung in a good situation. He was informed in reply that it had been put between two old pictures, which acted as a foil, and set it off to great advantage. The two old pictures were portraits of naval officers which he himself had painted before he went to Italy. Wilkie, who saw them in 1809, said, that ‘for composition they were as fine as anything he ever did afterwards.'
The art of Reynolds was in full bloom at this date, and it was the period when he was exposed to the severest competition by the arrival of Gainsborough in London in 1774, and the return of Romney from Italy in July, 1775. Romney had acquired considerable reputation before he left England for the Continent in March, 1773. When he got back he became the fashion and divided the town with Reynolds. The supremacy of Sir Joshua, we learn from Farington, was never for an instant questioned by the profession. The opposition was composed exclusively of people ignorant of art. The parents of Miss Bowles intended that she should sit to Romney, and Sir George Beaumont advised them to go to Reynolds. •But,' they objected, ‘his pic
tures fade. No matter,' replied Sir George, 'take the chance ; even a faded picture from Reynolds will be the finest thing you can have.'* Sir George Beaumont spoke the sentiments of the
* enlightened part of the world. Much of the custom of Romney with the uninstructed was due to his cheapness. In 1785 his charge for a head, half-length, and whole-length was twenty, forty, and eighty guineas; whereas Reynolds could venture in 1781, when the race was the closest, to raise his prices to fifty, one hundred, and two hundred guineas, or considerably more than double the scale of his antagonist. The contest at last was decided by acclamation in favour of Sir Joshua.
• One by one,' says Farington, ‘his rivals dropped into their true situation, and before the conclusion of his life it was universally acknowledged that he had no equal.' While the two factions disputed he looked on with his usual serene wisdom. “He proceeded calmly and unruffled,' says Farington, “to correct the errors of his professional practice, and left others to debate upon his merits and deficiencies. Whether his popularity was greater or less, whether his pictures were more or less in request, it seemed to be unnoticed by him.' According to Edwards, in his · Anecdotes of Painting,' Romney did not preserve equal composure. The second premium of the Society of Arts had been awarded him in 1763 for a picture of the death of Wolfe. Reynolds, with the unanimous concurrence of the profession, contended that Mortimer was entitled to the prize, and the original decision was revoked. • The circumstance,' says Edwards, . fixed a lasting impression of disgust upon the mind of Romney against Sir Joshua. This may be doubted, for Romney himself told Hayley that Mortimer's picture was strikingly the superior and that Reynolds advocated its claims with great justice.' When Romney rose to celebrity his language continued to be generous. A knot of his intimate friends criticised the Infant Hercules in his hearing. 'Gentlemen,' interposed Romney, 'I have listened to all you have said: some observations are true, and some nonsense, but no other man in Europe could paint such a picture.' He was assured that his portrait of Mrs. Siddons was thought finer than the portrait by Reynolds. The people,' he answered, know nothing of the matter, for it is not.' His general praise of Sir Joshua's works was lofty in the extreme, and his reputed aversion to the man was probably a false inference from his morbid habits in shunning the companionship of his brethren.
* The portrait has stood perfectly, and may now be seen in undimmed beauty in the collection of the Marquess of Hertford. It is a matchless work,' says Mr. Leslie,' and would have immortalized Reynolds had he never painted anything else.'