« PreviousContinue »
ture-his figure of the daughter of Sir Brooke Boothby is the first of that kind of domestic sculpture, or rather it is a revival in a better taste of the old vatural monuments in our churches, Were such a figure produced now it would be forgotten in a day, but a work which was the forerunner of such excellence as Flaxman and Chantrey have exhibited, merits a different fate. Of his statue of Achilles mourning the loss of Briseïs he was justly vain: it merits to be in marble. But the English people should not be reproached for want of taste in not admiring it. Achilles cannot force himself on our affections, and our sculptors have themselves to blame for not having discovered the fact long ago.
The bust sculpture of Nollekens is deservedly.esteemed. This popular branch of the art, when confined to legislators, warriors, orators, and poets, becomes the handmaid of history; but the calls of vanity bring a thousand heads to the sculptor's chissel, which have no other claim to distinction than what money purchases, while a man of genius contents himself with the fame of his productions, and is either too poor or too careless to confer a marble image of his person on posterity. Nollekens, like Bankes, had the ambition to introduce a purer and more tasteful style of art, but the works on which he expended his invention and employed his skill, promise to make but an ungrateful return. which he considered as the mere small change that enabled him to buy his marble and
men, will alone preserve his name. In his well known Venus he strove hard with the antique—iu his statue of Pitt he aspired to give an bistorical image of English mind, and in his monument to the three Captains, Manners, Bayne and Blair, he sought to outdo the works of Roubiliac and Bacon. He has not succeeded in any of these attempts. His Venus wants the great charm of original thouglit and natural propriety of action. A handsome limb and a fine body will not carry a sculptor through without bigher qualities. The goddess is dropping incense on her hair from a bottle, and looking aside. Had he made her comb her locks like the ladies in the old ballads, she might have done with her eyes what she pleased; but in pouring out liquid the eye must aid the hand. We see that the action requires such attention, and the absence of it has spoiled the statue. Pitt is too theatrical—he is standing and looking with all his might—the action passes the bounds of self-possession and clear-headed thought. "By the judicious use of the university gown—the statue belongs to Cambridge-the more incurable parts of modern dress are concealed, and Nollekens has fairly earned the rare praise of having used modern costume like a man of taste. His monument to the Three Captains has all that art in the absence of genius can give. Britannia does all that Britapnia can do to show ber sorrow for her sons; and Neptune fishes tbeir bodies out of the sea that Fame may fly over them with her laurel. The workmanship only wants a good subject. When Nollekens ceased to make busts he ceased to interest us-, he is feeble and unimaginative—but place the head of a man of sense before him, and all that nature had given, and no more, he could transfer to his marble. He studied at Rome, but a man who takes moderate genius thither cannot expect to bring much excellence away. Young artists are all eager to have an impulse given to their minds at the ancient school of sculpture; and perhaps they are right--for our noblemen and gentlemen often give commissions to talent when they find it in Rome, which they would allow to starve at home.
In Flaxman's mind the wish to work in the classic style of Greece and the love to work in the original spirit of England have held a long and an equal war, sometimes forming natural and beautiful unions, and often keeping purely and elegantly asunder.' To the aid of his art he brought a loftier and more poetical mind than any of our preceding sculptors—and learning unites with good sense and natural genius in all the works which come from his hand. He has penetrated with a far deeper sense of the najesty of Homer, into the Iliad and Odyssey, than Canova, who dedicated his whole life to the renovation of the antique, nor has he failed to catch the peculiar inspiration of whatever poet his fancy selected for illustration. We do not mean to say that he has entered into all the minute graces—the more evanescent and elusive qualities, those happinesses of thought and elegant negligences of nature which are subordinate to the ruling sentiment whether of heroism or of pathos. But we feel that he has never failed to reflect a true general image of the great original-we see the same grave majesty and the same simplicity, and we own the group at once as the offspring of the spirit of Homer, ÆschyJus, or Dante. These works have spread the fame of Flaxman far and wide-for they fly where marble cannot be carried; they have given the world a high idea of the present genius of England. On the bulk of his works in marble he has impressed the same sereve and simple spirit—he always thinks justly, his conceptions are all inspired by strong sense and by the severer part of poetic feeling. But his workmanship is often slovenly and his draperies heavy. His statues trust entirely to the sentiment they visibly express, they can have little fame from the subordinate graces of careful execution. The sculptor's conception triumphs over the negligences of his hand, and possessed, as he is, of the loftier part, he seems unsolicitous about the lesser. · But in all the works of great minds he will see, and we are sure he has
seen, that though they have often dashed off at a lucky hit, at one heat of the fancy, many of their finest designs, yet they have never neglected the charms of finished workmanship. Michael Angelo and Flaxman are the only two sculptors who, with genius for the minute as well as the grand, have dared sometimes to be remiss, and leave sentiment to make its way without the accompanying graces of skilful labour. Like other artists of his time our countryman deals in Britannias and Muses, and Historys and Minervas, but his learning and bis poetry enable him to confine allegory to its own proper employment. His abstract ideas at least labour in character—Valour buries not the slain, Victory digs no graves, and Ocean never comes far inland. He makes such figures the quiet, the thoughtful occupants of a monument, looking sentiment rather than acting it. But these are labours too cold for genius like his :-to express one thing by means of another is a way of getting rid of a difficulty which invention such as Flaxman's ought to despise. The sculptor, who speaks by means of ideas done in marble, works with very limited materials. What can Valour do but win a battle?-Victory can only hover over a general or perch on a standard—Wisdom can at the best sit still and look wise. The fancy of Flaxman is prolific, his works are scattered largely abroad, and, though far advanced in life, he still works with all the eagerness and enthusiasm of youth.
Westmacott has shared largely in public and in private favour, and some of the most expensive of our monuments have been confided to his talents. He has in so far profited by the wise example of West and the good sense of Flaxman, obeyed the ad. monition of our cold climate, and respected the blushes of our ladies—and clothed some of his works in the costume of the country. He has tried the allegorical, the natural, and the poetical, and to which of them he is most devoted it is impossible to guess. His nature is rather heavy, his allegories somewhat startling, and his poetry deficient in elegance and simplicity. We like his nature the best. In his Hindoo Girl there is a certain wildness of eye; the stamp of a remote land is upon her : and in his Widowed Mother and Child he has attained the pathos of truth. A little more, not of workmanship alone, but of genius, and those works would have been excellent. We would advise him to go to Westminster Abbey, and instantly remove the stick and bundle of rags from the feet of his Widowed Mother: they mingle vulgarity with her look of sorrow, and spoil the sweetest group he ever executed. His allegory we cannot endure-no man can be much gratified with what he cannot well understand, and even when we have pondered out Mr. Westmacott's meaning, our toil has no reward in pleasure. We stood and looked on his CollingVOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVII.
wood stretched cold on the deck of that ship which had so often borne him to victory, and watched, as we imagined, by the guar: dian angel of his country; and said in our hearts - This is poetical. But we were mistaken. It is a Fame and not an Angel that guards the admiral's' body, while a large figure, a Neptane or a Father Thames, lies dry and comfortable on the sea-side gazing on the melancholy spectacle. This poverty of invention is not redeemed by any particular beauty of workmanship.
His poetical work from Horace was made rather in ignorance of the limit of his art. The vision of the poet was bold and graphic, and the images which made it glow in verse were objects beautiful for their varied colours rather than their form. But it is by form and sentiment alone that sculpture lives : the winding motion of a snake with its vivid hues, its glittering eye and poisonous tongue are all matters for poetry and not for marble; the snake of the sculptor is no longer the snake of the poet, when stript of its gorgeous emblazonry. But human character is the same in both, and men can recognize in marble the female beauty which they have felt in verse. The severity of sculpture rejects all that owes its importance to colour. A lady arrayed in gems and jewels, and all the pride of elaborate dress, shines on the painter's canvass : but transfer ber to marble, and all those accessories become deformities. Her rings, rubies, diamonds, her Vandyke capes, her clasps, tags, tassels- we make sad work, we are afraid, among these toys, but we shall be understood—all these are converted into lumps of dull stone which sparkle no longer, but only pull the fair form of the lady down. She is no longer a breathing figure of flesh and blood-her diamonds catch no lustre from her skin, nor communicate any to it: the rubies in ber ears no longer glitter as she goes, and the pearls and gold glance no more' amidst her ringlets:-woman, woman alone, with all her pomp laid aside, is the study for the sculptor.
The statues of this artist merit some attention ; they are numerous, and they are all historically correct with regard to portraiture; but their costume is of a mixed nature, sometimes of a Roman, sometimes of an English character, yet neither the one nor the other in perfection. The antique part wants graceful simplicity, the modern is inclined to be coarse; he is unable to vanquish the obstinate flaps, lappels and kneebands of English dress. The statue of Addison'is not ill imagined: yet it wants somehow the general air of a gentleman, and the feet are, we fear, too heavy to be moved by the legs without pain. Of his Pitt we cannot judge ; it-stands so high in Westminster Abbey and in so dark a place as to be secure from criticism. The statue of Fox is a dull and clumsy performance. That of the late Lord Erskine has a
manly air; but the drapery is frittered into too many folds, and the feet are shapeless. Sculptors are unskilful in the managepient of a human foot in a shoe. They make what they call historical feet, very broad and very flat, and think them good enough for standing upon...
The renovation of the statue of Achilles in honour of Wellington and Waterloo surpasses all imaginable absurdity. By what perversity of fancy the cast of an antique figure was thought a fit visible record of English glory it is impossible to say. The statue of Achilles (if Achilles it be) had already told its story to the world, and it was a strange piece of tyranny to, press it into the British service; but in our service it cannot abide; remove the inscrips tion and the Greek is a Greek again. We hardly blame Westmacott for this: it is honourable enough to make money in an honest way, and we are obliged to the hand which extends our acquaintance among works of genius. But who would dedicate a translation of the Iliad as a national trophy to the honour of the heroes of Waterloo ? We wish the cast so well as to wish it exchanged for a statue of our own great captain : and Mr. Westmacott himself has shown, in his Sir Ralph Abercrombie, that no antique mould is necessary when a British hero is to be cele brated by a British artist.
England may justly be proud of Chantrey; his works reflect back her image as a mirror; he has formed his taste on no style but that of nature, and no works of any age or country but his own can claim back any inspiration which they have lent him. He calls up no shapes from antiquity: he gives us no established visions of the past; the moment he breathes in, is his; the beauty and the manliness, which live and move around him are his materials, and he embodies them for the gratification of posterity. He seems to work as if he were unconscious of any other rival but nature—the antique is before him, but he prefers flesh and blood, and it would certainly cost him far more labour to imitate the work of another school, than to create an image from the impulse of his own feeling
Robert Burns said, that the muse of his country fouud him as Elijah did Elisha, at the plough, and threw her inspiring mantle over him-and the same may be said of Chantrey: it was in a secluded place, a nameless spot, into which art had never penetrated, that the inspiration of sculpture fell upon him : the desire of the art came over bim before he knew to what toil he was tasking his spirit. Nature had taken possession of his heart and filled it with forms of English loveliness before he knew that the works of Greece existed; and to this we: attribute his success and his fame.' An air of freedom and ease