HC Deb 22 July 1844 vol 76 cc1246-53
Mr. Hume

said, he had been anxious to bring under the notice of the House the state of the Fine Arts in this country. In no country in the world had artists been treated as they had been in this country—in no country had rising genius received less protection than in England; and he attributed this entirely to the manner in which the Royal Academy had been pre-eminently favoured by Royal patronage. He wished to know what funds were at the disposal of this favoured society, as no other patronage was given to the other artists in the country. But the right hon. Baronet had refused that Return. He was anxious to see the artists have a building of their own, removed from the depository of the works of art, as the present building was not fire-proof. The patronage of the Crown had been so used as to be a damper on rising genius. The cartoon exhibitions had been of more avail in developing the talent of the country than all the proceedings of the Royal Academicians. He thought, too, that they acted most unjustifiably in excluding the public from free access to the exhibition, and he should be glad to learn what was the opinion of the House as to the propriety of enlarging the basis of the institution. He moved— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That, as Patroness and Comptroller of the Royal Academy of Arts, She will be graciously pleased to take into consideration the Laws and Regulations of that Institution, with a view of rendering it more conducive to the advancement of the Fine Arts, better suited to the spirit and circumstances of the present age, and more consonant with the original intention of its Royal Founder, George III.

Sir R. Peel

expressed his regret that the hon. Gentleman had not had an opportunity of pressing the question at an earlier period of the Session, in order that he (Sir R. Peel) might have seized the occasion of acknowledging the gratitude due to the Institution on account of the great benefit which it had conferred upon the arts. What was the presumed departure from the original intention of George III.? The exhibition was freely open to all artists—its funds were applied solely to the promotion and support of art; and he did say, that it was to the Royal Academy, and not to Parliament, that the merit was due of founding in this country a National School of Art. All that the Royal Academy received from the public favour was the use of the apartments in Trafalgar-square. The public gave nothing towards the payment of professors of painting, anatomy, and architecture. All this was provided for by the Royal Academicians. That body, too, supported, and liberally supported, from its funds, decayed members of the profession when in the decline of life, little or no public sympathy was shown, and in many cases it also made provision for their widows. When he considered the names which had adorned the Royal Academy, he could not hesitate to say, that he found in them the strongest proof of the success of the Institution. What great masters had it not numbered amongst its members? No doubt some had been disappointed of attaining its highest honours; no doubt many were unable to exhibit within its walls; but this arose rather from a limited space, than from any want of liberality amongst the Royal Academicians. Did they come down to that House to ask the public for large sums of money to defray their expenses? Why, even the solitary dinner which was given once a year to bring together in friendly communion the patrons and the professors of art—even the cost of the solitary dinner, to which no doubt the hon. Gentleman would object, was defrayed by the professors. As for artists themselves, speaking of them as a body, he was bound to say, that in the course of a life in which he had been brought into frequent communication with them, he had ever looked upon them as men of honour and as Gentlemen who shed a lustre upon the British character. He hoped the House would not concur in the assault thus made upon them by the hon. Gentleman. If there were any artists prompted by motives of disappointment to find fault with the management of the Royal Academy, why they could take their revenge by exhibiting elsewhere; but as far as Parliament was concerned, he trusted that by resisting this Motion they would show that they deprecated this annual interference, and that they were disposed to permit the Royal Academy to pursue the even and honourable tenor of its way.

Lord J. Russell

said, that if a large sum was to be voted for the purposes of the Royal Academy he could have conceived that the hon. Member might fairly have made these remarks, and even then there could scarcely have been a better reply to them than that the management of the Royal Academy now afforded. As far as he could see, that Institution was conducted in no grudging or envious spirit towards artists; no talent was ever kept in the back ground, no proper advantage appeared to him to be in any way denied it. He thought there were no grounds for the Motion, and he strongly advised the hon. Member not to persist in it.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that as far as he could judge, there was no country in Europe in which was provided such a school for art at so small a cost to the Government, nor did he believe that there was any Government which contributed so little to the encouragement of art. There was only one point upon which he rose to offer a suggestion. Every one who had visited the exhibition now to be seen in Westminster-hall must have been struck with the superior character of the sculpture, and every one who visited the exhibition in Trafalgar-square must have been struck with the inadequacy of the space allotted to that display of works in that branch of the art, and with the utter impossibility of ever exhibiting in the little room allotted to sculpture, such works as were now to be seen in Westminster-hall. He hoped the inefficiency of this room for the purpose for which it was designed might receive consideration either from the Government or the Royal Academicians.

Mr. Hume

replied: he said he might have adduced many other arguments had he pleased, and, he remarked, with regard to the free admission of the public to the Royal Academy, that up to the twelfth exhibition no money had been taken at the doors.

Sir R. Peel

said, he could explain that circumstance. Up to the twelfth exhibition of the Royal Academy the Academicians received from King George III., the liberal annual grant of 5,000l. a year out of his Majesty's private purse. The Royal Academy very properly declined, after the Academy was once established, to receive a continuance of this donation, and in order to enable them to carry out their design the very moderate charge which was now made was first imposed.

Amendment negatived.

House in Committee of Supply.

On the question that the sum of 8,000l. be granted to defray the cost of completing the Nelson Monument, in Trafalgar square.

Mr. Wyse

begged to know whether the Government had not received an offer from an artist of the name of Park, to complete the monument at his own expense, if he were suffered to undertake and finish it in conformity with his own taste and judgment.

Sir R. Peel

said, it was true that the Government had received such an offer, but had not thought proper to accept it, as a monument like that erected to Nelson ought to be the subject of competition to artists, and it would be establishing a bad principle if such a proposition as that referred to by the hon. Member were to be accepted. The best way was for the Government to pay the expense attendant on completing the monument upon such a plan as might be deemed proper, and not to accept the money of private individuals in such a matter.

Mr. Wyse

did not disapprove the conduct of the Government in this matter, but thought the present occasion was the fittest opportunity for bringing the offer that had been made to the notice of the House.

Mr. H. G. Knight

said, that before this vote was granted he must inquire whether it was intended that the granite steps and lions, which were to serve as a base to the column in Trafalgar Square, should be executed on the same scale on which they were originally designed? Because it was very well known that the column (in his opinion most unfortunately) had been made twenty feet shorter than was intended by the architect, and, consequently, if the base were now to be made on the same scale on which it was originally designed, it must of necessity be disproportional to the column as it was, and give it even a less satisfactory appearance than it had at present. He could not be supposed to wish to stand in the way of any mark of respect to the immortal Nelson. It was because he wished to see Nelson honoured as he ought to be, that he regretted to behold such a testimonial as the one now erected in Trafalgar Square — a truncated column with a statue at the top of it, which, instead of resembling a hero, resembled nothing but a figure of fun. Before that testimonial was commenced, he had done his utmost to prevent such a column from being placed in such a situation; and now that the work was finished he had the melancholy satisfaction of finding himself justified by the opinions of all those whose opinions were worth having—the opinions of all men who had eyes to see. The Nelson Testimonial, as it had been executed, was another architectural disgrace to this metropolis—not only a disgrace in itself, but it was most injurious to every thing in its vicinity, and did as much harm as possible to the finest situation in the world; that magnificent square which had been obtained at so vast a public expence. He had hoped that that square would have been made a sort of British forum, decorated with statues in bronze of our great Naval and Military heroes—but that unsightly column would now reduce everything in its neighbourhood to insignificance. There appeared to be a curse on the architecture of London. Vast sums were expended, and nothing satisfactory was produced. What a congregation of bad taste did that one spot exhibit with the National Gallery behind, and the Nelson Testimonial infront—such a column capt with such a statue, in such a cocked hat! His only consolation was, that Frenchmen, as he had been told, when they came to London, mistook the statue for that of Napoleon, and he had been credibly informed that this imaginary generosity on the part of the British nation had considerably allayed the irritation against this country which had recently prevailed in France. He was aware that, as the testimonial was erected, such it must now remain. He only hoped that it would not be rendered more unsightly than it was by receiving the addition of a disproportionate base.

Sir R. Peel

begged to assure the hon. Member that the size of the lions should be an open question.

Mr. B. Cochrane

observed that he had seen it stated in one of the papers that the Emperor of Russia had bestowed 500l. towards the completion of the Nelson Monument, and that this sum had been accepted. He considered that if this statement was true, the fact was extremely disgraceful to this country, for a national monument ought to be paid for by the people alone, and not to be the result of foreign assistance. As the Government had now taken charge of the structure he begged to express his entire satisfaction with this proceeding; but he thought that if this had been done before the length of the shaft had been reduced twenty feet in consequence of the falling-off of the funds, it would have been much better. Would it be disputed that the monument was twenty feet shorter than it was intended to be, and that this was occasioned by the inadequacy of the sum subscribed to erect it. Why, there was still a sum of 12,000l. required to finish the pedestal, and how therefore would it be denied that the sum required for the shaft, as originally designed, had not been inadequate for that purpose? The whole progress of this and of many other public buildings proved to him the necessity that existed in this country for creating a Minister of Public Works, whose attention would be directed to objects of this nature, and which were of such vast importance.

Sir R. Peel

said, the House should beat in mind that this design of a monument to Lord Nelson was originally a private affair. It was proposed to erect a monument to Lord Nelson exactly in the way in which two memorials of the Duke of Wellington were about to be erected, one in the east and the other in the west part of the town, not by Government, but by private subscription. He could not help thinking that memorials in honour of a great general must be more acceptable to his feelings when erected by the spontaneous offerings of his fellow subjects, than if erected by a vote of Parliament. In like manner it was determined to erect a monument to Lord Nelson, and the design of the monument originated entirely with individuals. A sum of 20,000l. had been subscribed, but the Committee of Management had expected that a considerably larger sum would have been raised. In the progress of the proceedings connected with this monument the Committee thought it desirable to take the opinion of an architect and engineer as to its height, and the parties consulted, Sir R. Smirke and Mr. Walker, considering the height of the fluted Corinthian column, which was also to have a bronze capital and statue on the top, declined to answer for its safety, strongly advising that the shaft should be curtailed by twenty feet. The curtailment was injurious to the effect, but it arose entirely from considerations of public safety, as it was thought that it would be extremely inconvenient should the monument fall in that crowded part of the metropolis where it was now erected. This consideration alone, and not one of expense, led to the curtailment of the monument. When the Emperor of Russia gave 500l. towards the completion of the monument, the Government had not the charge of the monument, and the Committee accepted the gift, which was not given towards the expense of a public monument erected by public money, but in aid of private subscriptions already collected, the Emperor of Russia being willing to mark his sense of Lord Nelson's merit, and show his gratitude for the courteous reception he had experienced in this country, by this subscription of 500l. With the same feelings the Emperor subscribed towards the Wellington Monument. Though the Government had now the charge of the Nelson Monument, he hoped the hon. Member would not advise the Government to return the subscription of the Emperor of Russia, which was presented before the monument came under the charge of the public, and when it was to have been raised by private subscriptions.

Vote agreed to.

Several other Votes agreed to. The House resumed.