HC Deb 14 June 1824 vol 11 cc1316-7
Mr. Lambton

said, he rose to present a petition on the subject of the fine arts, from Mr. Benjamin Robert Haydon, an individual known for his talents as well as his misfortunes. The latter, he believed, were occasioned by no fault of his own, but by an enthusiastic attachment to the branch of art to which he had devoted himself, but which, however, it might lead to posthumous fame, could never, in this country, under existing circumstances, be cultivated with profit. A learned friend (Mr. Brougham) had, on a former occasion, presented a petition from Mr. Haydon, directing the attention of parliament to the art of historical painting; and that which he was now about to present referred to the same subject. He would state the substance of the petition. It set forth, that historical painting was less encouraged than any other branch of the art, although the Royal Academy and the British Gallery were established for the purpose of fostering and encouraging it. It was impossible that historical painting could be cultivated, unless it received public patronage. In Greece and in Italy, historical painting obtained public as well as private patronage: in Holland it received private patronage only. It was unnecessary to point out the difference between the two schools. It was only since the foundation of the Royal Academy, that students in this country had been afforded the means of pursuing their studies to advantage. The late king had been a great encourager of historical painting, having introduced some work of that nature into every church or chapel over which he had any control. But, in the course of time, the want of patronage was so strongly felt, that historical painting had nearly fallen into entire disrepute. In 1804, the British Gallery was established by private subscription, upon the prin- ciple of excluding all portraits from the exhibitions there. An application was made to the then chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Perceval, to grant some pecuniary assistance to the Institution, to enable the governors to purchase historical paintings; but the application was resisted, on the ground, that the country was then engaged in an expensive war. Since that time, historical painting had been left to the patronage of private individuals alone. Private individuals, however, found it impossible to purchase large historical paintings, and therefore confined their purchases to cabinet pictures. The public exhibition of the Elgin marbles and the Angerstein gallery would be an incitement to English artists to emulate the greatness of the works which were comprised in those collections. After observing that in Italy and Greece the purchase of works of art had been directed by the governments, the petition concluded by calling upon parliament to imitate that example, and to vote a sum of money to be expended in the purchase of historical paintings. The hon. member said, that he cordially concurred in the sentiments which were expressed in the petition. He was rejoiced that the House had voted for the buying of the Angerstein gallery, but he hoped that they would not stop at that point. If government merely set those works before our artists, without affording them the means of competing with them, they would only excite hopes that must be disappointed. If the object of government in the purchase of the Angerstein collection had been merely to gratify the sightseeing public, they would stop with what they had done; but if they wished to make British artists emulate the magnificent works which had been placed before them, they would follow up the good work by an annual grant to be appropriated to the purchase of historical paintings.

Ordered to lie on the table.