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While West was painting the Departure of Regulus, the present Royal Academy was planned, and in its first exhibition appeared the Regulus. A change was now to be effected in the character of British Art; hitherto historical painting had appeared in a masking habit; the actions of Englishmen seemed all to have been performied, if costume were to be believed, by Greeks or by Romans. West dismissed at once this pedantry, and restored nature and propriety in his noble work of “The Death of Wolfe.” The multitude acknowledged its excellence at once. The lovers of old art, the manufacturers of compositions called by courtesy classical, complained of the barbarism of boots, and buttons, and blunderbusses, and cried out for naked warriors, with bows, bucklers, and battering-rams. Lord Grovenor, disregarding the frowns of the amateurs, and the, at best, cold approbation of the Academy, purchased this work, which, in spite of laced coats and cocked hats, is one of the best.of our historical pictures. The Indian warrior watching the dying hero, to see if he equaled in fortitude the children of the deserts, is a fine stroke of nature and poetry.
West had now obtained the personal confidence of the king, and the favor of the public. His majesty employed him to paint a series of historical pictures for the palace, and when the king grew weary of these sub jects, he took new ground and appealed to the religious feelings of the royal patron.
He suggested to the king a series of pictures on the Progress of Revealed Religion. He selected eighteen subjects from the Old, and cighteen from the New Testament. They were all sketched, and twenty-eight executed, for which in all West received upward of twenty-one thousand pounds. A work so varied, and so noble in its nature, was never before undertaken by any painter.
When the war broke out between England and her colonies, the feelings of West were sorely tried. His early friends and present patrons were involved in the bloody controversy. He was too much in the palace and alone with his majesty, to avoid some allusion to the strife. It is to the credit of that monarch that he never allowed the political opinions of West to interfere with his admiration of him as an artist, or his friendship for him as a man.
Professor Morse relates an interesting anecdote about West and George III. The professor found West copying a portrait of the king. ture," said the old painter, " is remarkable for one circumstance: the king was sitting to me for it when a messenger brought him the Declaration of Independence.” It may be supposed that the question, “How did he receive the news?” was asked. “ He was agitated at first,” said West; "then sat silent and thoughtful. At length, he said, 'Well, if they cannot be happy under my government, I hope they may not change it for a worse. I wish them no ill.?" If such was George III, we find no difficulty in reconciling his attachment to Benjamin West, with the American's honest love of his native land.
When Sir Joshua Reynolds died, the choice of the Royal Academy fell on West, and he was elected president with the "ready assent of the king." British writers seem to have had but one opinion on the propriety of this choice-there was no man in Great Britain whose title to the honor was so
" This picclear. The king offered him on this occasion the honor of knighthood. Every American will rejoice that he rejected the nick-name. It had been the custom to confer this honor on the most distinguished painter in England. West was the only man who declined the title. Englishmen still call this American “Sir Benjamin.” Well, as long as they do not know how such a “nick-name" belittles a man like West, we must overlook it.
The new president delivered many discourses, all more or less distinguished for plain practical sense. He pressed upon the students the value of; knowledge and the necessity of study, and the uselessness of both without a corresponding aptitude of mind and buoyancy of imagination--in other words, genius. He advised them to give heart and soul wholly to art, to turn aside neither to the right nor to the left, but consider that hour lost in which a line had not been drawn, nor a masterpiece studied. Observe,” he said, “with the same contemplative eye, the landscape, the appearance of trees, figures dispersed around, and their aerial distance as well as lineal forms. Omit not to observe the light and shade in consequence of the sun's ráys being intercepted by clouds or other accidents. Let your mind be familiar with the characteristics of the ocean; mark its calm dignity when undisturbed by the winds, and all its various states between that and its terrible sublimity when agitated by the tempest. Sketch with attention its foaming and winding coasts, and that awful line which separates it from the heavens. Replenished with these stores, your imagination will then come forth, as a river collected from little springs spreads into might and majesty. If you aspire to excellence in your profession, you must, like the industrious bee, survey the whole face of nature and sip the sweet from every flower. When thus enriched, lay up your acquisitions for future use, and examine the great works of art to animate your feelings and to excite your emula- . tion. When you are thus mentally enriched, and your hand practiced to obey the powers of your will, you will then find your pencils or your chisels as magic wands, calling into view creations of your own, to adorn your name and country.”
So regular were West's hours of labor, and so carefully did he calculate his time, that to describe one day of his life is to describe years. He rose early--studied before breakfast-began to work on one of his large pictures about ten--painted with little intermission till four-washed, dressed, saw visitors, and having dined, recommenced his studies anew. His works were chiefly historical; he dealt with the dead; and the solitude of his gallery was seldom invaded by the rich or the great clamoring for their portraits. Visitors sometimes found their way to his inner study while he had the pencil in his hand; he had no wish to show off his skill to the idle, and generally sat as silent and motionless on such occasions as one of his own apostles. His words were few, his manner easy; his Quaker-like sobriety seemed little elevated by intercourse with nobles and waiting gentlewom On the Windsor pictures he expended much study, and to render them worthy of their place, he “ trimmed,” as he told the king, "his midnight lamp." So closely was he imprisoned by their composition, that his attendance at the burial of so eminent a brother artist as Gainsborough was mentioned as something extraordinary. West lived to a great age. Elizabeth Shewell--for more than fifty years his kind and tender companion--died on the 6th of December, 1817, and West, seventy-nine years old, felt that he was soon to follow. His wife and he had loved each other some sixty years--had seen their children's children and the world had no compensation to offer. He began to sink, and though still to be found at his easel, his hand had lost its early alacrity. It was evident that all this was to cease soon; that he was suffering a slow, and a general, and easy decay. The venerable old man sat in his study among his favorite pictures, a breathing image of piety and contentment, awaiting calmly the hour of his dissolution. Without any fixed complaint, his mental faculties unimpaired, his cheerfulness uneclipsed, and with looks serene and benevolent, he expired 11th March, 1820, in the eighty-second year of his age. He was buried beside Reynolds, Opie, and Barry, in St. Paul's Cathedral. The pall was borne by noblemen, ambassadors, and academicians; his two sons and grandson were chief mourners; and sixty coaches brought up the splendid procession.
West was the pioneer and father of American artists. Cunningham in his lives of eminent artists, thus gives the character of West, and his judgment upon his merits as a painter. How true or just this criticism, it is beyond our knowledge or province to decide ; but the late Sir Martin Archer Snee, President of the Royal Academy of England, certainly a competent judge, said of him, that in his department-historical painting-he was "the most distinguished artist of the age in which he lived." Sir Thomas Lawrence also gave commendations equally strong. Says Cunningham :
Benjamin West was in person above the middle size, of a fair complexion, and firmly and compactly built. His serene brow betokened command of temper, while his eyes, sparkling and vivacious, promised lively remarks and pointed sayings, in which he by no means abounded. Intercourse with courts and with the world, which changes so many, made no change in his sedate sobriety of sentiment and happy propriety of manner, the results of a devout domestic education. His kindness to young artists was great-his liberality seriously impaired his income--he never seemed weary of giving advice-intrusion never disturbed his tempernor could the tediousness of the dull ever render him either impatient or peevish. Whatever he knew in art he readily imparted—he was always happy to think that art was advancing, and no mean jealousy of other men's good fortune ever invaded his repose."
“As his life was long and laborious, his productions are very numerous. He painted and sketched in oil, upward of four hundred pictures, mostly of an historical and religious nature, and he left more than two hundred original drawings in his portfolio. His works were supposed by himself, and for a time by others, to be in the true spirit of the great masters, and he composed them with the serious ambition and hope of illustrating Scripture, and rendering Gospel truth more impressive. No subject seemed to him too lofty for his pencil; he considered himself worthy to follow the sublimest flights of the prophets, and dared to limn the effulgence of God's glory, and the terrors of the day of Judgment. The mere list of his works makes us shudder at human presumption-Moses receiving the Law on Sinai-the Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Saviour in the Jordan--the Opening of the Seventh Seal in the Revelations--Saint Michael and his Angels casting out the Great Dragon--the mighty Angel with one foot on. Sea and the other on Earth-the Resurrection-and there are many others of the same class! With such magnificence and sublimity who but a Michael Angelo could cope?
In all his works the human form was exhibited in conformity to academic precepts his figures were arranged with skill the coloring was varied and harmonious--the eye rested pleased on the performance, and the artist seemed, to the ordinary spectator, to have done his task like one of the highest of the sons of genius. But below all this splendor, there was little of the true vitality--there was a monotony, too, of human character-the groupings were unlike the happy and careless combinations of nature, and the figures seemed distributed over the canvas by line and measure, like trees in a plantation. He wanted fire and imagination, to be the restorer of that grand style, which bewildered Barry and was talked of by Reynolds. Most of his works-cold, formal, bloodless, and passionless--may remind the spectator of the sublime vision of the valley of dry bones, when the flesh and skin had come upon the skeletons, and before the breath of God had infused them with life and feeling.
Though such is the general impression which the works of West make, it cannot be denied that many are distinguished by great excellence. In his Death on the Pale Horse, and more particularly in his sketch of that picture, he has more than approached the masters and princes of the calling. It is, indeed, irresistibly fearful to see the triumphant march of the terrific phantom, and the dissolution of all that earth is proud of beneath his tread. War and peace, sorrow and joy, youth and age, all who love and all who hate, seem planet-struck. The Death of Wolfe, too, is natural and noble, and the Indian chief, like the Oneida warrior of Campbell,
“A stoic of the woods, a man without a tear,"
was a happy thought. The Battle of La Hogue, I have heard praised as the best historic picture of the British school, by one not likely to be mistaken, and who would not say what he did not feel. Many of his single figures, also, are of a high order. There is a natural grace in the looks of some of his women, which few painters have ever excelled.
West was injured by early success; he obtained his fame too easily-it was not purchased by long study and many trials—and he rashly imagined himself capable of anything. But the coldness of his imagination nipped the blossoms of history. It is the province of art to elevate the subject, in the spirit of its nature, and brooding over the whole, with the feeling of a poet, awaken the scene into vivid life, and heroic beauty ; but such mastery rarely waited upon the ambition of this amiable and upright man.”
GILBERT CHARLES STUART.
That most eminent of American portrait painters, the eccentric. GILBERT CHARLES STUART, was once asked at an English inn, in “what part of England he was born?” “I was not born in England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland.” "Where then?" "I was born at Narraganset.” “Where's that?" "Six miles from Pottawoone, and ten miles from Poppasquash, and about four miles west of Connonicut, and not far from the spot where the famous battle with the warlike Pequots was fought.” “In what part of the East Indies is that, sir?" "East Indies, my dear sir! it is in the State of Rhode Island, between Massachusetts and Connecticut river.” This was all Greek to his companions, and he left them to study a new lesson in geography.
An anecdote of Stuart is given, in which he pretends to describe the kind of building in which he was born. As it is related in his characteristic style as a story teller, we give it.
A few years before his death, two artists of Philadelphia visited Mr. Stuart, at his residence in Boston. These gentlemen, Messrs. Longacre and Neagle, had made the journey for the sole purpose of seeing and deriving instruction from the veteran. While sitting with him on one occasion, Mr. Neagle asked him for a pinch of snuff from his ample box, out of which he was profusely supplying his own nostrils. “I will give it to you,” said Stuart, “but I advise you not to take it. Snuff-taking is a pernicious, vile, dirty habit, and, like all bad habits, to be carefully avoided." "Your practice contradicts your precept, Mr. Stuart.” “Sir, I can't help it. Shall I tell you a story? You were neither of you ever in England--so I must describe an English staye-coach of my time. It was a large vehicle of the coach kind, with a railing around the top to secure outside passengers, and a basket behind for baggage, and such travelers as could not be elsewhere accommodated. In such a carriage, full within, loaded on top, and an additional unfortunate stowed with the stuff in the basket, I happened to be traveling in a dark night, when coachee contrived to overturn us all---or, as they say in New York, dump us-in a ditch. We scrambled up, felt our legs and arms to be convinced that they were not broken, and finding, on examination, that inside and outside passengers were tolerably whole (on the whole), some one thought of the poor devil who was shut up with the baggage in the basket. He was found apparently senseless, and his neck twisted awry. One of the passengers, who had heard that any dislocation might be remedied, if promptly attended to, seized the corpse, with a determination to untwist the man's neck, and set his head straight on his shoulders. Accordingly, with an iron grasp, he clutched him by the head, and began pulling and twisting by main force. He appeared to have succeeded miraculously in restoring life ; for tho lead man no sooner experienced the first wrench, than he roared vociferously, “Let me alone! let me alone! I'm not hurt-I was born so! Gentlemen,” added Stuart, “I was born so;" and, taking an enormous pinch of snuff, "I was born in a snuff-mill.”
This was partly true. His father, Gilbert Stuart, was a Scotchman, and erected a snuff-mill on the Narraganset, which was the first built in New England. He married a very handsome daughter of a Rhode Island farmer, by name Anthony; and the year 1754, their son, Gilbert Charles, was born.
He was a very capable, self-willed, and over-indulged lad. At thirteen years of age, he began to copy pictures, and soon after succeeded in making likenesses in black lead. When he was about eighteen years of age, a wandering Scotch artist, by the name of Alexander, came to Rhode Island, and being pleased with the talents of the lad, instructed him in his art, and finally took him with him to Scotland. Alexander died soon after, leaving