« PreviousContinue »
as may be seen in pictures by Rurisdael, Everdingen, De Vlieger, and Dubbels, none of them actual imitators of the two first named, and particularly some of the present time.
Rembrandt van Ryn, Anthony van Dyck, and Bartholomew Vander Helst, are thought to be sufficient types of the numerous excellent Portrait painters of Holland and Flanders. The first was imitated with more or less skill by several who had practised under him; the second created a host of scholars, who from being able assistants became eminent masters; the last stands an example without a successful imitator. Frank Hals, had he been more uniform in his practice, might have classed with them.
The productions of the above-named painters form the Synoptical part of this work, in which each branch is represented, and it is to them that the attention of the amateur should be chiefly directed. By making himself well acquainted with their works he obtains a standard by which all others may be estimated; his eye is formed, and he readily perceives what is excellent or defective in the execution of their followers, in whichever department they exercise their talents.
Sir Joshua Reynolds was fully persuaded of the utility, nay, almost necessity, of artists studying the works of the Dutch masters. He
says, “ To a painter they afford instruction in his profession ; here he may learn the art of colouring and composition, a skilful management of light and shade, and indeed all the mechanical parts of the art, as well as in any school whatever. The same skill which is practised by Rubens and Titian in their large works, is here exhibited, though on a smaller scale. Painters should the Dutch School to learn the art of painting, as they would go to a grammar school to learn languages. An artist, by a close examination of their works, may in a few hours make himself master of the principles on which they wrought, which cost them whole ages, and perhaps the experience of a succession of ages to ascertain.” What is so instructive to the artist will, no doubt, be serviceable to the amateur.
In the Analytical part, the artists are classified according to their subjects, and arranged alphabetically for the convenience of reference. The names of many of the masters are repeated in these divisions, and their works more particularly described under each head.
Of every artist, as his name occurs, there is a short account of the time and place of his birth, the master under whom he studied, and the period of his decease; with critical remarks on his works. With regard to the critical remarks, they are not the mere echos of others, as the greater part of the works described have passed through the hands of the writer, or under his observation.
The inquirer will find this portion of the book very useful in assisting to trace the painter of a picture not signed, as the characteristics of style in most are noticed either in direct terms, or by reference to that of a principal master, or an artist in the same class, whose works are more generally known. These are called Analogists, as not being copyists, or servile imitators of others, but approaching them in their style of composition, colouring, or any peculiarity by which the manner of the superior painter is distinguished. Analogists, therefore, frequently rank high in estimation, and sometimes are considered as entitled to claim equality even with masters to whose works theirs have resemblance. It may be objected that the commendations bestowed on the works of painters who are not placed under the head of principal masters is contrary to received canons : but it is well known that many of those now held in the highest estimation were formerly in little request, if not quite disregarded: Cuyp, Hobbema, De Hooge, and several that might be named, were for a long time in this predicament. It is an easy matter to speak in laudatory terms of a painter whose works are in vogue; but the estimated value for the time being is not always a just criterion of the painter's merit, for fashion, as well as affection, often sways the mind to what it likes or loathes. Picture dealers praise what is in request, and it is natural for them to do so, and of course names of established reputation are the most frequent themes of their eulogies; others will share in the panegyrics when their merits are appreciated by the public: the connoisseur's duty is to aid the discovery. But picture dealers, to do them justice, have often evinced taste and discrimination in this respect, particularly those who trade in works of the higher classes, of whom there are several whose judgment and probity are unimpeachable, and who have been the means of bringing into general esteem the pictures of many painters formerly neglected. Whatever censure on picture dealers occurs in this work does not apply to them, but to such only as by trickery bring odium on a profession in itself honourable and suitable to men of cultivated minds. Amateurs should be wary of listening to the opinions of illiterate persons who pretend to connoisseurship because they have adopted picture dealing as a trade; their knowledge too often consists in being able to practise deceit with plausibility, and having acquired the technical terms generally in use, they employ them on all occasions, but seldom with much propriety.
In describing the works of the principal masters under their several heads, some of their well-known pictures were kept in view, so that their general mode of composition and style of execution might be easily recognised by the amateur. The same method has been followed with regard to their more eminent scholars, and those for distinction's sake ranked as analogists. Some of these might have been placed at the heads of classes, but for fear of causing confusion by too many subdivisions.
To facilitate the amateur's acquirement of the knowledge of the works of the most distinguished of the Dutch and Flemish painters, the names of the public galleries and places in foreign countries and in England, where they are located, are mentioned: it is mortifying, in this enumeration, that the English National Gallery should be distinguished only by its poverty. It may boast of a sufficient number of pictures by Rembrandt and Rubens, a capital specimen of Cuyp, also of Vander Neer, and a small portrait of Gerard Dou; a cabinet picture by Berchem, the same of Teniers, subject by Maes, and a few second-rate productions of Dutch masters, not worth specifying as examples in a National Collection. But there are no pictures by Ruisdael, Hobbema, Paul Potter, Adrian van de Velde, Karel du Jardin, Wouwerman ; Ostade, Jan Steen, Mieris, Metsu, Terburg; Van Huysum, Rachel Ruysch ; nor of William van de Velde ; worth naming. Neither are there any of the best scholars of the principal masters. The solitary example of Albert Cuyp, though a fine specimen of his power in landscape and cattle painting, is not sufficient to make the public acquainted with the great excellences of that master. There should, for the benefit of rising artists, as well as the public in general, be examples of his seaports, embarcations, and river views. Of the other masters named there should be two or more specimens, according to the different subjects they painted, and those specimens ought to be of first-rate quality, not deteriorated by frequent cleaning, and what is called restoring; artists might then, without looking abroad, avail themselves of the advice of Sir Joshua Reynolds, as quoted above, and amateurs be better instructed than they are likely to be by what the gallery now exhibits. It is apprehended that the opportunity of obtaining fine specimens of these masters, by purchase, has been suffered to pass, whether from apathy and indifference on the part of those who should have advised, or as some have alleged, from parsimony on the part of the government. Pictures of high quality by eminent Dutch masters which might have been purchased a little more than twenty years ago for comparatively low prices, have in numerous instances quadrupled in value. By way of example, two pictures may be quoted which were sold by auction at Paris, in the Baron de Mecklenbourg's Collection, a few months back. A Rural Landscape by Hobbema, which in the sale of George Watson Taylor's pictures brought five hundred and eighty guineas, sold for 72,000 francs, equal to two thousand eight hundred and eighty pounds sterling. A Horse Fair by Wouwerman, which, when it was in the Collection of the Duchesse de Berri, was estimated at what was considered a liberal price, twelve hundred guineas, sold for 80,000 francs, equal to three thousand two hundred pounds English money. In addition to these prices the purchasers had to pay 5 per cent. towards sale expenses. Such being the case, it cannot be expected that there will be any great accession of fine Dutch pictures to the National Gallery, unless it be by bequest from liberal and patriotic possessors of such, who may compassionate its forlorn condition, or blush for their country. There needs no remark on what has been substituted.
Real lovers of the art, whose wealth enables them to collect the productions of the great masters in paintings, contribute much to the character of their country by the preservation of fine examples ; native talent and public taste are improved by their contemplation. Such noble minds feel their pleasure enhanced by community of en
joyment of objects purely intellectual, and though they may have a just pride in being the possessors of admirable works of art, they have a still higher satisfaction in knowing them to be a source of delight to others of a kindred spirit, and act accordingly. There are many of this character to whose treasures of art access may be occasionally obtained, and rarely refused, on proper application, to persons who have the reputation of being qualified to appreciate them; and one nobleman is eminently distinguished for his liberality in permitting the public in general, on certain days, to visit his truly valuable collection of pictures, rich in the works of Italian and Dutch masters : it is almost unnecessary to mention the name of the Earl of Ellesmere. Others, occasionally, exhibit rare and fine specimens at the British Institution, which young painters may study, and are allowed to copy.
It may be observed, that though this work, in the Classifications where the names of artists are arranged alphabetically, will to a certain extent serve as a Dictionary, it does not supersede that necessary book of reference; many circumstances in the lives of the painters being omitted that are agreeable to general readers, in order to admit more particulars of their works for the satisfaction of those who seek that information.
There are numerous excellent books that treat on Painters and Painting, theoretically and practically, and even philosophically, by which those who adopt the art as a profession may profit largely, and the amateur, if he have sufficient leisure, apart from other pursuits, may be benefited by the perusal; but the greater number of the latter require the example rather than the rule, and to these, it is presumed, this work will be of some assistance. It is the first of the kind which has appeared in the English language, and if approved may embrace a wider
scope. It was intended originally to notice only the Dutch and Flemish masters, whose works are most frequently in request, but it was found that several of the early and most renowned of the so called German painters were so closely connected with the advancement of the art, both in Flanders and Holland, that to omit their names would be a violation of the honour due to them. And this omission at the present