London, Volume 6
CXLIII.-Exhibitions of Art.
CXLIII.-Exhibitions of Art.
If Art in this country, since the days of Hogarth, Reynolds, Wilsorn, ...- borough, and Barry, has been raised to no higher elevation than was then given to it, it is something to reflect that it has not been stationary--that steadily increasing numbers of disciples have made up for the absence of a few commanding intellects--that we have been at least busy about the base of the building, widening and strengthening the foundations; perhaps, in the truest wisdom, preparatory to a new advance upwards: above all, that we have made Art familiar to the people, and thereby unlocked new sources of strength to aid it in all future endeavours. In our account of the Royal Academy, we have already described the earliest in point of time, and most important in respect to results, of the agencies by which all this has been accomplished, the Academy Exhibitions; in the present number, we propose to notice such other exhibitions as have most powerfully contributed to the same end.
And the glance of the building shown in p. reminds us of a debt of gratitude due to , who, but little of an artist himself, by his enlightened and munificent patronage of artists, obtained, and deservedly, of the most honourable of earthly titles, that of a public benefactor. That building is the original edifice raised by Alderman Boydell, for the exhibition of the Shakspere Gallery; which, like Barry's pictures in the , originated in a desire to repel, in the noblest way, the contempt of foreign critics, and set at rest at once and for ever their peculiarly obliging and flattering speculations as to the causes of the unfitness of England and Englishmen to produce great artistical works. And Barry was not more successful in his way than Boydell in his. Throwing wide his doors, with but condition of entrance, indisputable talent, and selecting as a truly national subject the works of Shakspere, Boydell spared no cost to achieve his truly glorious object of establishing a school of English historical painting, that should have at least all the vigour and originality of youth, if with something also of its immaturity. Reynolds, West, Opie, Northcote, Fuseli, were among the labourers in this goodly field, and the result, as shown in several successive years, with universal admiration and delight, in the Gallery here, must have surpassed even the most sanguine anticipations of the projector. Unfortunately, Boydell, at the age of , became involved in difficulties through the wars of the French Revolution: it appears that, by his own unaided exertions, he had, prior to the commencement of the Shakspere Gallery, completely turned the current of importation of France France, simply through making our best engravings as superior as they had previously been inferior to those of the Continent. He now determined to dispose of his Gallery by lottery. In the interesting memorial laid by him before Parliament, he stated that in his enthusiasm for art he had constantly expended all his gains in further engagements with unemployed artists; that he had laid out, with his brethren, in the course of his career, , and accumulated a stock of copper-plates which all the print sellers in Europe together would be unable to purchase. The lottery was of course granted; and Boydell just lived to see the last ticket disposed of. He died in . of the most magnificent books that ever delighted the eyes of connoisseurs in prints and printing remain in memorial of this gigantic undertaking; the consisting of the superb engravings made under Boydell's patronage from the paintings, a volume measuring feet by ; and the other of a no less superb edition of the great poet, to accompany the plates, printed in folio volumes. None but a caricaturist could have made such a man a subject for ridicule, as did Gillray in his large print of the Shakspere Gallery travestied; which excited so much attention, that it is said even the artists who were most actively engaged under Boydell could not rest till they had each obtained a copy. Boydell day called on of them, an R.A., who had a lay figure before him, from which he was studying for of the great works that afterwards adorned the Gallery, and pinned to the figure was Gillray's caricature.
said Boydell, feeling for his spectacles,
But an accident relieved the troubledR.A. from his dilemma. Boydell had sat down upon a palette nicely prepared for the day's work, which the servant at the moment discovering, called his attention to; so while the attendant
| scraped away, and Boydell pleasantly observed,
the obnoxious print was hurried into obscurity and forgotten.
need not wonder at the difficulties attending the discovery of the true origin of ancient institutions, when we see the uncertainties that grow up frequently about modern ones, even during the life-times of the very men who have aided and assisted in the formation. When West re-assumed the presidential chair of the Royal Academy, after his temporary retirement, he endeavoured to form a national association for the encouragement of works of dignity and importance, and importuned minister after minister, Pitt, Fox, and Perceval, to listen to and support his plan; and but for the death of each, just when matters looked most promising, he would probably have succeeded; as it was he failed; and from the wreck of his magnificent scheme rose the British Institution. Such is Allan Cunningham's statement. But if we look into the pages of that very agreeable miscellany, published, for a short period, about years ago, the Gazette, it appears, that poetry may claim some honour in the matter. The writer, having alluded to the indifference and apathy-among the great, who in their prejudices in favour of our old masters entirely overlooked the claims which living talent had upon their consideration, adds,
[n.274.1] Lastly, we are told, and this is the general statement of the case, that the immediate cause that gave rise to the Institution was the impossibility of doing justice to large historical subjects, among the miscellaneous multitudes of pictures at the Royal Academy exhibition, and in consequence that the British Institution was founded in , on a plan by Sir Thomas Bernard, for the encouragement of art and artists, by an annual exhibition of the works of the old masters, borrowed for the occasion from whatever quarter they could be obtained; and by an another annual exhibition of the works of living British artists, for sale. The truth, no doubt, is, that the British Institution is a result of all the causes enumerated; its very constitution implies a conquest over a variety of difficulties that time, and many separate agencies, must have aided to achieve. It is hardly possible to imagine an Institution better calculated, under vigorous management, to accomplish its professed purposes. Here is a body of noblemen and gentlemen of the highest rank, combining to lend their own best pictures, for the study of the artist and the enjoyment of the public; secondly, to collect together yearly, without respect to names, or invidious distinctions, as many of the best productions of the native school, in painting and sculpture, as their gallery will hold, for sale; themselves again by that very practice declaring their readiness as individuals to purchase; and, thirdly, adding to these weighty advantages, the still more direct ones of occasionally rewarding the best works exhibited by valuable premiums and bounties. Such, in brief, were the views, such the modes adopted of developing them, by the patriotic founders of the British Institution, when
| they purchased the Shakspere Gallery and commenced operations. The benefits rendered by it to art since that time have been truly great; and a history of the Institution would form a valuable as well as a most entertaining work. With our limited space, to notice here and there a salient feature is all that can be attempted. Among the years that have been marked by circumstances of extraordinary interest, we may mention , when Reynolds' works, collected at a vast expenditure of time and money, from all quarters, made England more than ever proud of its greatest painter. Reynolds once remarked that fine paintings were walls hung round with thoughts: the remark, it may be said, derived fresh force and significancy from this assemblage of his own works. Of the popularity of such an exhibition it is unnecessary to speak; the present President of the Academy, in of his poems, says of it-
This glorious and truly national exhibition was followed, in , by a similar collection of the productions of Hogarth, Wilson, Gainsborough, and Zoffany, which was indeed wonderfully rich: there were no less than paintings by Hogarth, by Wilson, and by Gainsborough. But the gratification was not altogether unalloyed. There were few to whom Wilson's history was familiar, that could avoid a sense of pain and humiliation at the recollection of the cruel neglect with which of that noble trio had been treated; how pawnbrokers had refused the merest trifle to poor Wilson for works which since his death would be cheaply purchased for hundreds of pounds. There has always seemed to us something very unaccountable in this, considering Wilson's acknowledged reputation among his contemporaries; an apparently well-informed writer in
() partially explains the causes. Barret, who came to London in , was received with open arms by the fashionable world, and at once demanded and received prices or times higher than Wilson had ever asked; Lord Dalkeith, for instance, gave him for pictures, the largest only the size of a whole length, guineas. Wilson's proud spirit from that time would not stoop to his former prices; he advanced them, and in consequence became more neglected than ever. But the most serious injury to his prospects arose from a little incident, in which he carried his independence of feeling and expression into his dealings with royalty.
says the writer we have mentioned,
[n.276.1] This spirit, his quarrel with Reynolds, and the popularity of Barret and Gainsborough, combined altogether to depress the greatest landscape-painter to such a position, that he called day on a brother painter, and asked, in a tone of the deepest bitterness and despair, if he knew any who was mad enough to employ a landscape-painter, and if so, would he recommend him? for he had, then literally nothing to do.
What a. question to be put by such a man, and to-Barry!
Following these exhibitions of the English school came, in , Rembrandt, Vandyck, Rubens, with their Flemish and Dutch successors; and, in , the Italian and Spanish masters. Then, in , there were the deceased British masters; in , the portraits representing the most distinguished persons in the history and literature of the United Kingdom; and since that time, among others of great interest, the exhibition together of the works of the Presidents, Reynolds, West, and Lawrence, of the works alone of the last-named after his death, and of Wilkie's after his. There is something peculiarly fine in this custom of bringing together the works of a man's life-time, when, alas! he can no longer add to their number. They form a monument to his memory better than stone or brass; they are calculated to call forth more spontaneous and genuine regrets for the departed than the most eloquent epitaph ever penned. And what a study does such an exhibition become to the young painter; what strength may he not derive from it for the prosecution of his own career! Take the Wilkie exhibition, for instance. Why, on those walls the great artist's history, written by his own hand, lay before our eyes. There, for instance, was his remarkable work, the
which he brought with him to London, and exposed for sale in a shop-window at , with the price of attached to it, and for which sum it was speedily sold. There, too, was the
painted from the
in the ballad of
by Macneil, which at its exhibition startled artistic London from its propriety, Northcote denouncing it as the
and Fuseli, a more enlightened critic, observing to the young painter,
which of the it turned out to be we need not state. There too, belonging to the very culminating period of Wilkie's powers in his own peculiar walk, was the
his greatest work, for which he received from the Duke of Wellington guineas. Then, again, there were a whole host of works belonging to his later style, his pictures of Monks and Guerillas, his
telling not in subject only, but in their entire treatment, of the impression made upon his mind by his study of the Spanish painters. Of course, his noble
were not missing; nor his Oriental subjects, which forcibly spoke to us of the scenes in which his last hours were spent, and in returning from which he found so poetical a grave.
The exhibitions at the British Institution of modern works, of course, are also
| a most interesting field for comment and reminiscence, but into which, for various reasons that will be sufficiently evident, we must not enter, further than to notice the exhibition of , when such an extraordinary sensation was made by the appearance of Martin's
not only on account of its general grandeur of conception, but for the technical skill, unequalled, perhaps, in the history of art, which had been brought into the service of a truly sublime conception; we allude to the hand-writing on the wall, the letters of which appeared to be really blazing with light, and illumining the whole scene around. There was at an impression among artists that the effect was the result of some kind of:transparency; we need hardly say the almost magical result was produced by the ordinary means, disposition of colours, and of light and shade. At that same exhibition was another picture, which at once took rank among our chief English historical paintings, Bird's
a picture having for its subject a passage from that fine old ballad, which stirred the heart of Sir Philip Sidney like a trumpet, and which Ben Jonson said was well worth all his dramas. And the picture is steeped in the poetry and feeling of the antique verses. The history of its production is not without interest. The writer of a memoir of Bird, in
says that he, whilst
The circumstances attending the production of Bird's next picture, and its exhibition at the British Institution, are also interesting, and have been described by the same writer, evidently from personal knowledge. The success of the
for guineas; of which last named sum, according to Allan Cunningham, Bird received but , the picture having been painted on commission for gentlemen of
| Bristol, who, he says, pocketed the difference, and then offered a fresh commission to the artist, which he declined; but the story above narrated seems to show that this is an error, arising probably from the circumstances attending the production of the
as already stated by of the parties concerned.
Besides the annual exhibitions we have mentioned, there is a of the copies made by students from certain pictures by the old masters, left for that purpose after the exhibition to which they belonged closes. To this the public are admitted free-at each of the others, the admission fee is . It would be a noble thing in the Directors of the British Institution to throw open the doors of these exhibitions for or days of the week, during the season, or for or weeks after, to those who are unable to spare a shilling; let us trust that that unfortunately large class of the public will yet have to thank them for such a boon. Of the Gallery itself we may observe that the interior is well fitted for its uses. The exterior is decorated with a piece of sculpture, by Banks, executed for Boydell, as we may guess from the subject, which represents Shakspere accompanied by Poetry and Painting; and in the hall is a colossal statue of Achilles mourning the loss of Briseis, also by Banks, and esteemed of the noblest efforts of his genius. But that statue is scarcely a less honourable memorial of the fortitude than of the grandeur of the sculptor's mind. It was sent by him to the Royal Academy exhibition soon after his return to England, from Russia, whither he had gone half in despair, at his want of success among his countrymen. Upon this work Banks had expended all his power, in the hope of making his appearance a more successful than his ; what then must have been the anguish of the unfortunate artist when the statue, whilst on its way to , was accidentally thrown from the car, and broken to pieces? Banks, however, returned home, said nothing to his wife or daughter of what had happened, and with the assistance of his brother set to work to restore it, if possible. They were successful in their most difficult task: the Achilles appeared before the public, and was received with universal admiration.
of the most interesting features in British art is the sudden growth of the school of painting in water-colours; there are those living to whom it must seem as it were but yesterday, when to say a man was a water-colour painter was to give the idea of his fitness to make correct topographical drawings, and-nothing more. Nay, when artists arose who thought proper to make it something more, and who laid the foundation of a department of British art, in which the native artist should be unrivalled; when these men arose, and at last formed themselves into a separate society, under the designation of the Society of Painters in WaterColours, their brother artists actually treated the assumption of the title as a most unwarrantable act, denying the right of the mere draughtsman and tinters to rank under the same lofty name as themselves of painters. We have changed all that now; and it is but justice to mention that no inconsiderable portion of the change has been owing to the exquisite productions of Turner, who, with Girtin, and in a minor degree, the late John Varley, founded the art. It is curious to contrast this position of the water-colour painters, so short a time ago, with the fact that water-colour painters were in reality almost the only old
| English artists, or limners, as they were formerly called.
[n.280.1] and so the matter may be said to have remained, as far as art was concerned, till about the commencement of the present century, when water-colours again came into use, for kind of subject, then another, until at last, if we step into of the water-colour exhibitions of the present period, we may reasonably wonder whether there is any department of art for which it is not admirably adapted--from the smallest landscape to the largest historical subject;--fresco, be it remembered, now in all probability again coming into extensive use, is a department of water-colour painting. Of Girtin, of the founders of this modern school, a curious story is told by the author of the anecdotes before mentioned, who states that Girtin himself was his informant in . When Lord Elgin was about to set out as ambassador to Constantinople, Girtin, it appears, had a great desire to accompany him, naturally fancying the position would be at once delightful to him as an artist, lucrative, and honourable. After many visits, and a good deal of delay and uncertainty, his lordship offered him a-year (of course, we presume, including his board, &c.), adding, that as Lady Elgin had a taste for drawing, he wished to know whether he would engage to assist her in decorating fire-screens, work-tables, and such other elegancies. Girtin, who probably was at too much surprised at finding his services estimated at about the same rate as his lordship's butler's to treat the proposal as it deserved, replied that for that department he feared he was not the fit man, and that he must add the salary was too small. His lordship remarked he was poor.
With that Lord Elgin and the artist parted; of course neither feeling the smallest desire to renew their conversations on the subject.
Of the founders of the Water-colour school, Varley alone appears to have been connected with the society, which was formed in order to get rid of the serious disadvantages attending the exhibition of water-colour drawings among paintings in oil, the strength and body of the colours in the last naturally overpowering the more delicate hues of the . societies were in consequence formed, of which soon died; the other lives and flourishes to this day, under the name of the (Old) Society of Painters in Water-Colours. The founders were
|Samuel Shelley, a miniature painter of celebrity, and a proteg of Reynolds, at whose house the early deliberations were held, Hills, Wells, Glover, of whom a distinguished portrait-painter used to say he was the only landscape-painter who had conveyed to his mind a perfect idea of the immensity of a mountain, and-Pyne; to whom were added by the time of the exhibition, among others, Barret, Cristall, Gilpin, Rigaud, and W. Havell, whose naturally rich style was greatly enhanced by Mr. Turner's discovery of the process of taking out the lights of a picture with bread, which produced an effect perfectly marvellous to the unaccustomed eyes of his brother painters. The exhibition took place in Lower , and among those who crowded the rooms the Royal Academicians, to their honour be it said, were conspicuous. From Lower the Society in progress of time moved to . We may here observe, that among the pictures of Sir John Swinburne is a small purchased at of the exhibitions in , which that liberal patron of art is, we believe, accustomed to show as the earliest exhibited production of Mr. Edwin Landseer, and the circunstance is referred to as a proof of the young painter's ignorance of the difference between the exhibitions, his work being in oil; but we presume the fact has been overlooked, that it was at the water-colour painters became dissatisfied with the principle upon which they had established themselves, and allowed oil-paintings to be exhibited among their other productions. This, no doubt, was owing to the circumstance that some, perhaps most, of the members of the Society painted in both ways, and that the popularity of the new or revived mode was not altogether satisfactory to them. A division took place; but, in , the members wisely reverted to their former system, and exhibited watercolour paintings only in the Egyptian Hall; where they remained till they built themselves a Gallery in , at which place they have gone on increasing in prosperity as in years; till apparently they began to feel themselves getting too prosperous, too rich, and so imposed restrictions on their wealth, or what we should call their wealth; they would only have so many members, no matter what amount of talent might be waiting to join them. As none but members were permitted to exhibit, the result was inevitable, the formation of a new society of painters in water-colours, which accordingly was accomplished in , though not on a firm basis till , when the exhibition took place in Exeter Hall. This, too, has enjoyed a rapid course of prosperity; and will doubtless continue to advance just so long as the members recollect its origin, and give no cause, either by limitations or invidious distinctions which pure Art will not acknowledge, to other men to follow their example. The Gallery of this Society is also in . The charge for admission to each of the Water-Colour exhibitions is a shilling. The only other metropolitan Society of British Artists is the known by that designation, which was established in for the exhibition of paintings, sculpture, architecture, and engravings, and which possesses the finest gallery for exhibition in London; containing about feet of wall, well lighted. Here also the numbers are limited; though at the outset that point was of the less consequence, inasmuch as that all works were admitted free, whether the productions of members or no. We may here pause a moment to mention a very admirable institution that exists
|among artists, and which deserves to be generally known and imitated. They have a society established by themselves, at under the name of the Artists Joint Stock Fund, now generally called the Artists' Annuity Fund, founded on the principle of securing each other against distress, either during sickness or in the decline of life, when the hand may be no longer able to inscribe on the canvas the busy thoughts that yet people as of yore the brain. Grafted upon this, subsequently, we find the Artists' Benevolent Fund, to which the public largely contribute. The result of the is that an artist, who subscribes whilst in health to the institution, receives during sickness a-week, and when superannuated an annuity of per year; whilst there are other important benefits also secured to his widow and children on his decease. How inestimable would be the blessings of such an institution to literary men!
Turn we now to a different class of exhibitions that have also in their way helped to diffuse a taste for art among the million, the Panoramas, Dioramas, Cosmoramas, and we know not how many other pictorial shows with similarly terminating designations. Of these the Panorama takes precedence in point of time. This is of national origin; its invention being due to Robert Barker, an Englishman, who exhibited at about . The process of painting is distemper; but applied in a peculiarly ingenious way. The principal existing Panoramas are Burford's, in , and that of the , in the , the last the largest painting of the kind ever attempted, covering, in short, nearly an acre of canvas; there, ascending a flight of steps in the centre of an immense rotunda till we reach the platform on the top, London suddenly bursts upon us, with all the freshness and reality of life-giving us almost the same sensations of being placed on a giddy height that we feel in standing on the spot from whence Mr. Horner took his view, namely, the top of . The picture is lighted all round by the skylight which is over our heads, but hidden from us, and although the lower part is somewhat dim from the immense height of the picture, that circumstance almost helps the general illusion. Indeed, in looking at this panorama, it requires an effort to weigh as they deserve all the difficulties that must have been surmounted. In such works the artist can neither concentrate his light, nor adapt its direction to suit his own purposes; he must take the sun's beams as they come, now strong upon this side of his picture in the morning, now on that in the afternoon. Then, again, he has to represent horizontal buildings on a curved surface; above all, he has no single point of sight, the spectator must turn as he pleases, and everywhere find a grand and harmonious whole. The is at present closed, but will shortly, we believe, re-open. The Diorama is a still more delightful piece of artistical illusion, and of very recent origin; the authors are M. Daguerre, since so famous for his discovery of drawing by the agency of light, and M. Bouton. When the Diorama was exhibited in the French capital, the Parisians were in an ecstacy, and in London its welcome was scarcely less enthusiastic. This took place in , when the building in the , erected from the designs of Messrs. Morgan and Pugin, was opened. The interior consists of a rotunda feet in diameter, for the spectators, with a single opening, like the proscenium of a stage on side. Surrounding this is
|another rotunda with a similar opening, through which,--as the inner rotunda revolves till the openings in the rotundas correspond,--the spectators behold the picture in the picture-room beyond. For convenience there are in fact openings in the outer rotunda, revealing different picture-rooms, in order that paintings may be exhibited to the visitors, by merely turning the inner rotunda from opening to the other. Those who have not beheld the extraordinary scenes that open upon the eye, with each gyration of this platform, can hardly credit the extent to which illusion is here carried. The spectator stands in almost total darkness, till through the proscenium, the picture is revealed to his gaze, which is placed at such a distance, that light can be thrown upon it in front at a proper angle from the roof, which is here too, of course, hidden from him. He sees, therefore, nothing but the picture, which, under such circumstances, acquires an extraordinary beauty and reality of appearance. And as the glazed roof will admit a great deal of light, whilst but little is needed merely to show the work, the exhibitor may be said to have an almost unlimited store of light at his disposal, enabling him from time to time to subdue or increase it, and suddenly or gradually, at his pleasure, by means of folds or screens of different kinds attached to the glass roof; and which also enable him at the same time to imitate the most subtle and delicate atmospheric effects. But there is even yet another advantage possessed by the painter in this very beautiful exhibition. He can make parts of his picture transparent, and with different degrees of transparency, thus obtaining a brilliancy impossible to be obtained by the ordinary mode, whilst he possesses all the strength and solidity of that mode in the more opaque
|parts of his picture. With this preliminary explanation let us pay our in the vestibule of the exhibition, ascend the stairs, and submit ourselves to the guidance of the attendant waiting to receive and conduct us to a seat through the darkness-visible of the theatre, into which we enter; a precaution rendered necessary by the transition from light to gloom, which at almost incapacitates us for the use of our own eyes. In front opens, receding apparently like the stage of a theatre, a view of the beautiful basilica or church of St. Paul, with its range of delicate pillars and small Moorish-like connecting arches at the top, over which again the entire flat surface of the wall appears covered with beautiful paintings, now lit up by the radiance of the moon streaming in through the windows on the opposite side. This is the church erected by Constantine the Great, over the supposed resting-place'of St. Paul, and which was burnt down in ; since which period great efforts have been made for its restoration; the work, we may add, is still in progress. But as we gaze-the dark cedar roof disappears, and we see nothing but the pure blue Italian sky, whilst below, some of the pillars have fallen--the floor is covered with wrecks the whole, in short, has almost instantaneously changed to a perfect and mournful picture of the church after the desolation wrought by the fire. A bell now rings, we find ourselves in motion; the whole theatre in which we sit, moves round till its wall closes the aperture or stage, and we are in perfect darkness; the bell rings again, a curtain rises, and we are looking on the time-worn towers, transepts, and buttresses of Notre Dame, its rose window on the left, and the water around its base reflecting back the last beams of the setting sun. Gradually these reflections disappear, the warm tints fade from the sky, and are succeeded by the cool grey hue of twilight, and that again by night-deepening by insensible degrees till the quay and the surrounding buildings and the water are no longer distinguishable, and Notre Dame itself scarcely reveals to us its outlines against the sky. Before we have long gazed on this scene the moon begins to emerge slowly-very slowly, from the opposite quarter of the heavens, its faint rays tempering apparently rather than dispersing the gloom; presently a slight radiance touches the top of of the pinnacles of the cathedral-and glances as it were athwart the dark breast of the stream; now growing more powerful, the projections of Notre Dame throw their light and fantastic shadows over the left side of the building, until at last, bursting forth in serene unclouded majesty, the whole scene is lit up, except where the vast Cathedral interrupts its beams, on the quay here to the left, and where through the darkness the lamps are now seen, each illumining its allotted space. Hark! the clock of Notre Dame strikes! and low and musical come the sounds--it is midnight-scarcely has the vibration of the last note ceased, before the organ is heard, and the solemn service of the Catholic church begins-beautiful, inexpressibly beautiful- forgets creeds at such a time, and thinks only of prayer: we long to join them. And yet all this is illusion (the sounds of course excepted)-a flat piece of canvas, with some colours distributed upon it, is all that is before us; though where that canvas can be, it seems, to 's eyes at least, impossible to determine; cannot by any mental processes be satisfied that buildings, distance, atmosphere are not before them--to such perfection'has the Diorama been brought.
But none of these Panoramas, Dioramas, or Cosmoramas, the last a pretty little exhibition, embodying in a minor degree the principles of both the former, can equal after all De Loutherbourg's famous petite stage, the very name of which is almost enough to make lift up 's hands in wonder-Eidophusikon-yes, that's the word-Eidophusikon. If we say that this stage was of the extraordinary dimensions of feet wide, by deep, the reader will be apt to smile at the idea of the performances thereon, and certainly find it difficult to believe the marvels wrought in that space, as recorded by the agreeable author of
who says that
The stage was lighted from the top of the proscenium, in a natural manner; the clouds in every scene positively floated upon the atmosphere, and moved faster or slower, ascended or descended, apparently in obedience to the ordinary laws that regulate their movements; the waves, carved in soft wood, and highly varnished, undulated, and threw up their foam, when at comparative rest, but as the storm began to rage grew more and more violent, till, at last, their commotion appeared truly awful; the vessels, exquisite little models of the craft represented, rose and sunk, and appeared to move fast or slow according to their bulk, and distance from the eye; rain, hail, thunder, and lightning descended in all their varying degrees of intensity and grandeur; natural looking light from the sun, the moon, or from more artificial sources, was reflected naturally back wherever it fell on a proper surface; now the moonlight, for instance, appeared sleeping on the wave; now the lurid flash lit up the tumultuous sea; and all these, and a variety of other imitations of natural phenomena were brought into the service of landscapes, and other scenes from nature, of the most exquisite kind. Loutherbourg, we need hardly say, was a fine painter, but here, no matter how small the canvas, he was absolutely great. His whole heart and soul indeed were wrapt up in his Eidophusikon. The opening subject, it seems,
Scenes of a more absorbing nature followed. A
was exhibited with all its characteristic features, and with almost incredible effect ;--old mariners could hardly persuade themselves they were not once more surrounded by the most imminent danger, and that they ought not themselves to reply to the signal- , guns of distress, which in the pauses of the terrific gale were heard vainly asking for assistance, and replying with melancholy significance to each other; whilst with the spectators generally the illusion was so consummate that it was a common thing for some to cry out,
But the grandest of all the exhibitions of this most perfect of theatres was the last scene, in which was represented, from Milton, Satan arraying his troops in the fiery lake, and the rising of the Palace of Pandemonium. Here,
Such an exhibition, would suppose, could hardly fail to be popular, and whilst new it was so-every who beheld it admired, and none more than artists. The dread Sir Joshua himself, who ruled his little world with a power scarcely less potent than Jupiter's, though after a somewhat more benignant fashion, camne again and again, not merely to nod approbation, but to look on with a pleasure that he desired to make contagious: he recommended the ladies among his acquaintance to take their daughters, who studied drawing, to see it, as the best artificial school in which to study the beauties and sublimities of nature. But the Eidophusikon-we love the word--was half a century before its time; so seasons sufficed to reduce its audiences to so low a point, that the painter was induced to dispose of his exhibition; and, in so doing, we should fancy, must have half broken his heart. His enthusiasm once reached an almost ludicrous height. The author of the account from which we have borrowed our facts and extracts, speaks of
| an opportunity he enjoyed of comparing the effect of the awful phenomenona thunder-storm, with the imitative thunder of De Loutherbourg's.
A party, however, moved to the gallery, and, opening a door, stood upon the landing-place, where they could compare the real with the artificial, when it seems the last bore the comparison remarkably well. But the writer does not mention De Loutherbourg's own opinion as to such a comparison, when he and Gainsborough watched, in a similar manner, the real and the artificial phenomena; and when the delighted painter so far forgot himself as to call out,
[n.274.1] Somerset House Gazette, No. XX., 1824.
[n.276.1] Anecdotes of Artists, Arnold's Mag. 1832.
[n.280.1] Penny Cyclopaedia, --Water Colours.