HC Deb 14 July 1835 vol 29 cc553-62
Mr. Ewart

rose to bring forward the Motion, of which he had long given notice, for the encouragement of the Fine Arts. He would first allude to the evidence of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Dr. Bowring), given before the Committee last Session in support of his views on the subject. That hon. Member had stated, that France had enjoyed the benefit of institutions for the encouragement of the Fine Arts ever since the days of Louis XIV, and their good effects were manifested every day in the reverence that prevailed for the Arts in all classes, and the good taste exhibited in all branches of manufactures. The great features of those institution were the number of the schools—the gratuitous nature of their instruction, and the popular character of their exhibitions. By their means a taste for the Fine Arts was infused into the people of France, and it was in the hope of effecting a similar object for the people of England that he submitted his Motion to the House. He admitted that it might be very much doubted which was the best mode of infusing into the people of this country a reverence and taste for the Fine Arts. He believed that the best mode was the opening of all the means by which a knowledge of the Arts was to be acquired. He was of opinion, that arts, like commerce, ought to be essentially free. However, all those were questions for the consideration of the Committee. It could not be forgotten that a great benefit had been already derived from the labours of Wedgwood and Hamilton, who, by introducing superior models, had been enabled to improve several of our manufactures, which had disseminated among the population a superior taste, and gradually extended itself to the higher branches of arts. It might be a subject of consideration for the Government, whether they should not encourage the higher branches of art, by holding out certain advantages for their professors, and by exhibitions. All these were, however, questions which would come before the Committee, and he should rejoice, he must confess, if the Committee for which he intended to move, were instrumental in extending among the people of this country a taste for the Arts (which they yet much wanted), and, at the same time, raising the character of the artists in this country, which, he was sorry to say, stood in a lower degree than that of almost any other country whatever. He must express his regret that neither literary men nor artists acquired that distinction in this country which their very names bestowed on them in every other country of Europe. He felt the necessity of relieving them from what he must deem an unfounded stigma, and he did hope that the means he should recommend would have the desired effect. As the Motion with which he should conclude had the approbation of his right hon. Friend below him, he did not feel himself justified in trespassing longer upon the House. He had given a tolerably ample scope for his Committee, and his apology for the unusual number was, his wish to have as many practical and professional Gentlemen on the Committee. The Committee, he proposed, should restrict themselves, during the present Session, to preliminary arrangements—such as the examination of witnesses about to leave the country, or the inspection of documentary evidence in the possession of the country, and if their constituents were propitious (in case the House did not survive the present Session), the Committee would resume their labours next Session. He begged leave to move, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the best means of extending a knowledge of the Fine Arts, and of the Principles of Design among the people—especially among the manufacturing population of the country; and also, to inquire into the constitution of the Royal Academy, and the effects produced by it."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

would not throw any obstruction in the way of the Motion, and he believed the hon. Gentleman would find on the part of the artists every disposition to facilitate his views, and to afford all the information in their power. He would only say, that he did not concur in the observation, that artists were estimated at a lower rate here than in foreign countries. He knew that there were instances of some celebrated men having been neglected, as for example Flax-man, but, in general, that arose from some peculiarity, or negligence, or fault of the artist himself. Generally, however, talents, in this country, obtain a certain and a large reward.

Mr. Wyse

had the honour of seconding the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, and could not but express his wonder and regret that a question so nearly allied, not merely to the arts, but the manufactures of the country, should have been so long left untouched. It was true, as the hon. Gentleman had stated, that in the combination of the arts and manufactures, England stood the lowest perhaps in the scale of Europe. It was one of the earliest efforts of the French government to bring forward those two great objects of intellectual culture. It was a remarkable feature in the numerous schools of that country that it was recommended by a great philosopher of that country that the elements of linear design were as necessary subjects of instruction as reading and writing; and it was to the credit of Napoleon that he adopted the suggestion, which had since been carried into effect in every school in France. In the late instructions for public education issued in 1834, it was made an essential article that linear design should be taught in every school. The remarkable effect of this was, that in every canton, however remote they might be from the capital, a taste for the arts was perceptible in the pursuits and the general feeling of the inhabitants themselves. Let any one go to Boulogne, to Calais, or any portion of the South of France, and they would discover that feature in the national character. And it was observable that all these schools of art were carried on for practical purposes, and the designs were connected with the labour of silversmiths, upholsterers, sculptors, &c, including every manufacture that came under the cognizance of taste. The result was, that in France there was a general taste for the antique, a common feeling for the beautiful in the people which the population of this country aimed at in vain. None of our manufacturers could go to Italy, or France, without being made the subject of ridicule. He (Mr. Wyse) had himself witnessed it a thousand times. They had said, "Here is a nation, rich in all the means necessary for the indulgence of their taste, without sufficient education to use them." Another consequence of this want of cultivation in the people at large was the general complaint that the middle classes of this country when they go into a gallery of paintings or sculpture, despised and sometimes destroyed the works of art exhibited, merely because they were not early accustomed to a cultivation of those arts. It had been apprehended, in consequence of evidence given before the Committee on the British Museum, that such would be the result of a free admission, and restrictions were represented as necessary, which would be altogether uncalled for, if they had commenced at an early period in educating the people. He could not understand why, as they put the works of great prose and poetry authors into the hands of the people, they should not have put what was of equal importance before them; viz., the illustrations of their sentiments and feelings in the cultivation of the fine arts. There was another observation of the hon. Member for Liverpool in which he (Mr. Wyse) entirely concurred; viz., that artists in this country were not sufficiently appreciated, and he preserved that opinion notwithstanding the assertion of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was true that some branches of the art of painting received from the public perhaps their fair reward; such as portrait, miniature, or even landscape painting. But it was not the love of art which prompted that encouragement; it was merely vanity in individuals or some other causes equally unconnected with a due appreciation of the arts. The House might judge of that by the encouragement given to historical painting; which every one would admit was strangely deficient as contrasted with that given in other countries. Only look at the case of Flax-man—it was a strange matter of reproach to this nation that that great man, before whose genius the Continent was, as it were, prostrated in adoration, should be almost unknown in his native land. At least he was not appreciated as he justly deserved to be. Prints copied from his admirable works were to be got much cheaper and more abundant on the Continent than in this country, which proved the truth of his observation. It was also to be observed that there was not in England sufficient facilities for preparatory study in the higher branches of art—that the English nation, unlike the French, which had numerous academical schools, was destitute of any means almost for giving its youth the first rudiments of art. At Rome, he (Mr. Wyse) had witnessed the fact, that almost all other nations, the French, and Germans, and Italians had schools there, for studying the great works of art in that capital. The English had not provided any means for the accommodation of the youth of this country who went out for the purpose. He rejoiced with other hon. Members in the House that there was at length a hope held out of a more just appreciation of this important branch of public education. He trusted, that from communications with artists, a feeling of that kind would be brought about, and that a different style of cultivation of the arts would take place. He trusted that the Committee would give them at least the documentary evidence at the end of the Session, that they might judge, in the meantime, what further measures might be adopted. For himself he could only say, that every exertion in his power should be employed to facilitate its inquiries.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that a great part of the speech of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Wyse) consisted of a depreciation of the manufactures and taste of the people of this country. ["No, no" from Mr. Wyse.] Why, one of the last words of that speech was the "rudeness" and "barbarism" of this country; and the hon. Member had stated that in substance several times. He said he had seen the manufactures of this country ridiculed. He wished to ask the hon. Member how it came to pass if its taste and manufacturing skill were so bad, that those productions were carried all over the world? Was anything, for instance, equal to our pottery? And when the hon. Member talked of this country not rewarding the fine arts, he (Sir Robert Inglis) asked him whether the circumstances of one great artist dying neglected in England, or of another being killed by carrying home some 7s. worth of copper in exchange for one of his best pieces, as in Italy—was sufficient to stamp either the one nation or the other with neglect of talent. He (Sir Robert Inglis) could point out many artists of eminence, who, in addition to the applause of Europe, received in this country those more substantial rewards which their talents deserved; and he felt assured that the inquiries of the Committee would produce many proofs that this country had not so far neglected talent as the hon. Member supposed. With regard to foreign countries, notwithstanding the profession of attachment to art in France, he (Sir Robert Inglis) believed there was at least as much real attachment to it in England. He knew with respect to the works of art at Paris that no applications were made for taking castes of those great works which were taken from the Vatican, till they were in the possession of the Allied army, and about to be removed—proving that they were valued, not as fine works of art, but as trophies of victory. Under those circumstances he trusted that the result of the Committee would be to prove that works of art had been much more encouraged in England than hon. Members had been induced to suppose.

Dr. Bowring

thought the opinions of the hon. Baronet and the hon. Member for Waterford, were not irreconcileable. Art was in France more popular, in England more aristocratical. When his attention was first directed to the commercial interests of this country with France, he found there a people acquainted with the works of art, and with the elements of drawing. In the great cities, schools of art were established; the children of the weaver studied botany, the elements of architecture, and even physiology; and the instructions thus communicated to the mind, were brought to bear in the workshops of common life. He (Dr. Bowring) did every justice, and he was bound to do every honour to the manufacturers of this country, he did not think his hon. Friend had quite done justice to them. Their defect was this—that they were wanting in what art could do to instruct them—as to beauty of form, and beauty of coloring. The people of France had become artistical by habit; while the people of England had acquired a capacity which had grown out of their mechanical appetite (if he might use such an expression). The other day, when sitting on the Hand-Loom Weavers' Committee, he (Dr. Bowring) inquired of the Representative of a large manufacturing town in England, how many artists the manufacturers of the town were accustomed to employ for those works of which a very large number was exported? and that Gentleman told him, that there were only two ambulating artists who came into the town from time to time, once or twice a-year, who brought very miserable figures—very wretched models, for which manufacturers paid six or seven guineas each. He would just mention that in the town of Lyons, there were between 200 and 300 professional artistes, acquiring an honourable subsistence by turning their knowledge to the use of manufactures. How could the superiority of France in that particular be denied? France produced 120 millions of francs value of silk goods, of which 100 millions' worth forced their way into foreign countries. This country, in one of its most brilliant manufactures produced eighty millions' worth of cotton goods [Lord Sandon eighty millions sterling?] Certainly eighty millions sterling, of which only one-half were exported. The people of France lived (if he might so speak) in an atmosphere of taste; and the same result might be obtained in England if the Go- vernment here pursued the same course. The hon. Member concluded by saying, he would give his cordial support to the Motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Liverpool.

Lord Sandon

looked more into the improvement of manufactures than of the arts in the appointment of this Committee. Without a single encouragement being given to the arts by the establishment of a public school our artists exceeded those of other countries who were petted and fostered in national academies. He preferred the landscapes of British artists to the stiff and academic figures and designs of Rome and Milan.

Lord Francis Egerton

expressed his general concurrence with the views entertained by the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this subject, and thought that much advantage might be derived to the manufactures of this country, by the adoption of some of the measures contemplated by that hon. Gentleman. He could not, however, estimate the merits of our professors at a lower degree than those of foreign artists, nor could he admit that there was any want of encouragement of art in this country. This observation applied generally to all branches of art, historical as well as portrait and landscape, although the size of historical pictures generally precluded them from private galleries.

Mr. Ridley Colborne

expressed his satisfaction that this subject was to go before a Committee, although he regretted that the Motion had not been made in an earlier part of the Session. It was true that encouragement was given to the arts in this country, but it was by private individuals. It was a fact, that in England alone not a shilling was given by the Government for the encouragement of art; unless the 5,000l. which was given by George the 3rd to the school of painting might be regarded as a public gift.

Mr. Potter

supported the Motion, and expressed a wish that the public might be allowed to see the specimens of the fine arts in Westminster Abbey on a Sunday.

Mr. Borthwick

said, our artists, in the higher departments of the arts, were as much superior to those of France as Italy was superior to England in the fine arts. In confirmation of this remark it was only necessary to mention the names of Wilkie, Martin, Lawrence, and others equally distinguished. He could not think, therefore, that in painting we yielded to any country. And with regard to sculpture, if Gentlemen stepped over the way and looked at the statue of Canning by Chantrey—he meant the statue in Westminster Abbey, not in Palace-yard—they would find it such as would bear comparison with the production of any country. He cordially concurred in the appointment of the proposed Committee. He wished to rescue the character of the lower orders in this country from the charge of barbarism in disfiguring statues and works of art such as were respected in other countries. The difference in this respect arose not so much from any insensibility to the beauties of form and colour in the people of this country as from other circumstances; in Spain and Italy form and colour were rendered sacred by their association with religion, and on that ground the people respected them, but in England the case was different, and this difference accounted for the distinction in the habits and feelings of the people.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the most marked difference between this and foreign countries consisted in this circumstance—that in other countries the poorer classes of the people had habitual opportunities of seeing works of art, by which their taste was refined, whereas in England the opportunity of viewing such works formed only the exception to the general rule of exclusion. The nakedness of Churches in this country as contrasted with the splendid exhibition of works of high art in the churches of the continent was enough to strike the mind with sorrow, especially when it was considered that churches were the only buildings which were capable of holding large pictures; and further, that they were open to the poorest classes. The effect of contemplating works of high art in the continental churches was to raise and soften the public mind, religious enthusiasm becoming mingled with an admiration of art. Who could go into the City and view the exterior of the magnificent pile St. Paul's without admiration? It was to be lamented that the interior was a dreary solitude, with the exception of some banners. Would it not be better if fine paintings replaced those emblems of war, and an opportunity were afforded the people to admire within that splendid building some of the noblest specimens of the art?

Mr. Hume

said, that the inferiority of our workmen to those of France in point of taste must be admitted, as in the case of the silk manufacture. He recommended the conversion of the school at Chelsea into a school of art, with a view to the improvement of our population in the arts of design, &c.

Mr. Warburton

thought that it was necessary to exhibit to the people fine specimens of painting and sculpture, and improve their taste generally, before attempting to apply the fine arts to the improvement of our manufactures.

Motion agreed to, and Committee appointed.