HC Deb 29 July 1846 vol 88 cc187-96

moved that the Art Unions Bill be recommitted.


objected to the Bill as conferring on the Crown the power of giving persons by charter the right to distribute sums by way of prizes, which was nothing more than a lottery. The defence put forward for the measure was, that it would benefit peculiar classes, who would be benefited in no other way except by allowing these lotteries, and that it was limited to a useful object—the encouragement of art. It was, however, a great question of principle; for if they might raise a sum by way of lottery for the encouragement of art, where were they to stop? The Bill itself was very general: it referred to "paintings and other works of art." Did it apply to those processes of manufacture, such as making porcelain, plate, furniture, and various other articles, in which though the parties engaged were not usually considered to come under the term "artists," those parties showed a degree of skill and ingenuity which it was equally desirable that the public should encourage, and which, for the interest of the public, if encouragement was to be given by these lotteries, ought not to be excluded? They were by this Bill trying to avail themselves of one of the vicious propensities of our nature to engage in games of chance, and to make them available for an object which was not of itself objectionable; but if it was useful or proper to raise money by such means, the rule ought to be extended to other objects which were equally desirable. To show the manner in which these lotteries worked, he held in his hand a prospectus from Mr. Boys, setting out that certain public works of art would be disposed of by lottery, and which was as much like the laudatory addresses of the old State lottery time as could be; and the encouragement given would produce the same results. There was to be one prize of 2,000l., and there were others of smaller amount, down to twenty-five of 100l. each; and at the end it was stated that there were to be "no blanks;" each person would therefore at least gain something worth a particular price. "Cromwell's Family," and some pictures by Landseer, were to be thus disposed of. The scheme was open to the same objection as the State lotteries. He had also received a great variety of communications on this subject, in which he was told what had happened with respect to prizes given by the art unions which had already existed. One gentleman, of a respectable station in life, said that the fortunate holder of a prize among the class of shopkeepers and mechanics having made what they called "a hit," transferred the pretended advantage to a public house, where it was raffled for at 1s. a head, and the winner put it into another raffle at a sum still less. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman in his Bill prohibited this mode of disposing of works of art, except to the original subscribers; but did the right hon. Gentleman think that the middle classes would not consider themselves subjected to hardships if they were not allowed, when they were in difficulties, to dispose of their property by the same mode by which, according to the morality of this Bill they would be perfectly justified in acquiring it? He complained that in this Bill they took advantage of the national taste for gambling, to give one class an advantage which they denied to others; and he did not think the House ought to encourage such a measure. The right hon. Gentleman moved, therefore, that the Bill be recommitted that day three months.


could not concur in the indignation aroused in the right hon. Gentleman against the principle of lotteries; he did not think them so objectionable as was supposed. When they were put down, the people were scarcely prepared for the step; and if they were now appealed to, he doubted whether they would dellberately confirm the decision of the House. But the right hon. Gentleman was carrying even that principle to an injurious extent; and his own kindheartedness would make him admit that this was a quixotic attempt to carry out his rule of morality to an extreme. The question of the encouragement of art in this country was a painful subject for those who seriously considered it. When he saw the small sums contributed by the higher classes in this country, and when he saw genius, unable to restrain its high estimation, suffering from want and penury because it received no encouragement, it would cause him pain to give a vote to throw again into penury and privations those artists who had been relieved and elevated in consequence of art unions. He trusted especially that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, who had shown so generous a feeling on a recent sad occasion connected with the arts, would not join with the right hon. Gentleman, and sacrifice for the shadow of a prinple a real benefit to deserving men, and a general benefit to the artistic education in this country. The objections to the Bill were somewhat far-fetched. Did the right hon. Gentleman really expect that the evils which flowed from State lotteries could follow from this measure? Could he conceive that men would ruin themselves and their families to acquire a few paintings, or that there would be any of the other unfortunate results which followed the State lotteries? He should give his hearty support to the Bill.


had felt no wish to take part in this discussion; and thinking it probable that as the Government were about to support this Bill, any opposition would be ineffectual, he should have been content to have rested the expression of his concurrence in the general views of his right hon. Friend on the approving "hear, hear" which he had given; but after the appeal made to him by the hon. Gentleman, if he were not to address the House, the inference might be that he agreed with that hon. Gentleman, and not with his right hon. Friend. He thought the course now about to be taken was an exception to right principle, and that, like all exceptions from right principles, they would reap much practical inconvenience from it. The principle of lotteries was not the question they had then under discussion: the hon. Gentleman, however, declared that he had no objection to the principle of lotteries; that the people were taken by surprise by the Acts of the Legislature in putting them down; and that if an appeal were now made to their deliberate judgment they would not sanction the decision to which the House had come. Upon this great question he did not think that there had been any reaction, or that the public mind had changed; but if they were to re-establish them, let them be re-established for public purposes, though they were avowedly wrong purposed; for it was admitted that the revenue would be benefited by this encouragement of the spirit of gambling; but they were not about to do this, or to gain any pecuniary benefit by the encouragement of lotteries; all that the promoters of the Bill did was to come and ask the Legislature to relax the rule with respect to art unions, and they said that the artists were in favour of the Bill. Why, of course they were in favour of what would benefit themselves, though it would not be permitted in other cases. [Mr. M. MILNES: It was permitted in races.] Of course it would be said that this ought to be done to encourage the breed of that noble animal the horse, and if they allowed picture unions they might as well allow also horseracing unions. [Mr. M. MILNES: They received the sanction of the Crown, and Queen's plates were given, which led to betting and gambling.] The Legislature could not prevent betting at races, and he hoped there would be nothing in their legislation which would descend to such a subject as that; but they ought to adhere to a principle, and not to depart from it in the hope of promoting art, or any one department of art. The question was, however, whether if they did depart from the rule, it would be of advantage to art? He doubted it. He was aware of the pressure to which Members of the Government and of the Legislature were subjected on this question. There were persons in several towns who, influenced not by the love of art, but by the love of gambling, had established these art unions, and held out prizes of 500l., 400l., and 300l., thus creating all the excitement of gambling. These people then said, "We are patrons of art." Not at all! They were patrons of gambling. He entertained great doubt whether these art unions had a tendency to encourage a high style of art. If they adopted the principle of encouraging this particular branch of art, by making it an exception from the general rule prohibiting lotteries, he did not think the ultimate effect of that course would be the advancement of art—at least of what was valuable in art. It might, indeed, lead to an increased demand for inferior productions; but he did not think it would encourage any productions which might not be dispensed with without any great detriment to the interests of the arts. If, however, they made this exception in a particular instance, in favour of one branch of art, he thought they would do great injustice if they did not extend the exception to other branches of art, persons engaged in which might wish to avail themselves of this system of gambling for the sake of gain. Who, he would ask, did not receive every day a proposal for a raffle? There was hardly a man who had a bad picture which he could not dispose of by ordinary sale, who did not seek to get rid of it by means of a raffle. If any person had a production he could not dispose of in a legitimate way he said, "Let me have a raffle; let me have a lottery for the purpose of getting rid of this article; let me take advantage of the love of gambling and speculation to get a better price for my property than I could otherwise obtain." The case was much the same with regard to art unions. He must say he thought it disparaging to art when patronage was sought from such sources; and it was unjust to deprive other persons who wished to dispose of their property by the same means of the opportunity of doing so.


regretted that the right hon. Baronet should have taken the course which he seemed to have prescribed for himself; because upon a recent occasion when he had the honour of waiting upon the right hon. Baronet with a deputation, his opinions did not appear to be so strong either in a legal or moral point of view, upon the merits of the question. There were two considerations: one was, whether this Bill were a violation of a great moral principle; and the second, whether the violation were not justified by the particular circumstances of the case. It was true that the distribution of paintings by art unions was by means of a lottery; but it was a lottery which involved no violation of the principle which prohibited gambling. In the case to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, an eminent legal authority, upon its being submitted to him, drew a distinction between it and art unions. In that case the returns went into the pocket of the individual; but in the case of art unions the contributions raised from the subscribers were distributed in works of art to the benefit of each member of the association, There was, therefore, a distinct and marked difference between the case of an ordinary lottery, and the lottery of art unions. The Legislature had sanctioned the same principle in other associations. In all building societies the members were allowed to draw by lot for this or that building, of which particular building all the members but one were deprived; and why not allow the same principle to be introduced in the case of art? And as to the morality of the question, the right hon. Baronet ought to remember that many Gentlemen, some belonging to his own Government, Judges on the bench, Senators in that House, and noble Lords in the other, had sanctioned for years, and given every encouragement to the continuance of art unions. A strong imputation was thus thrown upon those Gentlemen of not knowing the morality of the question. The right hon. Baronet admitted, however, that the objections to art unions would not be so strong if they were found favourable to art. Excellence in art was a matter of taste; and there would necessarily be some diversity of opinion upon it; but the proof that the objection was unsound, was in the fact that there had been a great advance in taste. The right hon. Baronet said they did not encourage high art. On this point two considerations arose, not only whether particular artists were to be encouraged, but whether taste was to be diffused among the population at large. Taste for art could only be created by diffusing among the population a love of art; this again could only be done by means of engravings; for it was not every man who could procure pictures of the highest excellence, unless he had the large fortune as well as the excellent taste of the right hon. Baronet. It was recommended in the Report of the Committee on Art Unions to apply a certain portion of the annual receipts to the encouragement of statuary, painting, and engraving of the highest character; it was recommended specially not merely to collect the works of living artists, but to engrave after the best masters; the immense advantage was also urged which would arise from cultivating a taste for medals, cameos, and gems. And when the public at large were found willing to subscribe 40,000l. annually, in sums of one guinea, by which these results might be obtained, would the Legislature step in upon a mere scruple, and stop all the benefits of all these societies? These societies had been the means of expending 100,000l. in objects of art. It was objected, in the first instance, they would be the means of preventing patronage, especially in Ireland; but the effects in Dublin had been far otherwise, for at the exhibitions there, from which formerly not more than 50s. was received, 1,000l. a year was now obtained, with every prospect of the amount increasing. On these grounds he wished the Bill to pass, and to pass as rapidly as possible, because the Protection Bill of last Session expired at the end of the present month.


said, on a former occasion when this subject was discussed, he had differed in opinion with a late lamented Member of that House, Mr. Gally Knight, whose superior taste and judgment in all matters relating to the fine arts would be universally admitted. That hon. Gentleman had contended that the cultivation of the fine arts tended to improve the character of the people. He then denied that it improved their moral character: he still held the same opinion; and in proof of the fact he might refer to the state of Greece, Rome, and Italy, at periods when the fine arts were in the most flourishing condition in those countries. Twenty years ago the Legislature declared, by assenting to a Motion of Lord Lyttelton's, that lotteries were immoral in themselves, as rendering private vices subservient to the public advantage. He concurred in that opinion; he held that lotteries were utterly immoral. Those schemes had been declared illegal; and it was for the promoters of this Bill to show that any special exemption should be afforded in favour of the fine arts. If the House were called upon to name one more enlightened friend of art and artists than another, it would have pointed out the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth, even if his name had not been brought before the public in connexion with his endeavour to alleviate the sorrows and wants of a recent distinguished professor of the arts—the right hon. Baronet having almost at the moment before the death of Mr. Haydon contributed that large and liberal sum which came so opportunely. His right hon. Friend's opposition to the Bill went far to decide him; and he concurred with his right hon. Friend that the House would not only encourage a wrong principle in the mode by which they proposed to support art, but that the art so encouraged was not the highest. If the system were found to encourage Raphaels and Michael Angelos, he should still object to it; but he believed they were only producing a lower kind of art. If the Spitalfields weavers came to the House to ask leave to dispose of their productions by way of lotteries, he did not see how the House could refuse to pass a Bill giving them permission. He concurred in the Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.


would also support the Amendment. He believed the art unions were very injurious to the trade, and that they inflicted an injustice upon those engaged in the trade. It had been said that the higher classes did not encourage the arts in this country; but he would assert that they encouraged the arts more liberally than the higher classes in any other conntry whatever. He was delighted to hear that large numbers of the paintings shown at the Royal Academy exhibition went to Liverpool and Manchester. The commercial interests of the country were, in fact, the great patrons of the art at the present moment. He thought it a matter of just regret that no money had been given lately to the National Gallery for the purchase of pictures, and that a sum of money was not voted annually for this purpose. It often happened that pictures of a high class were sold in September, or at a period like the present, when the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was engaged in matters of finance; and, owing to there being no fund at hand, the opportunity of obtaining these pictures was lost. The sum of 5,000l. or 6,000l. would be very well set apart for the encouragement of art, and the purchase of pictures in the National Gallery. He hoped the House would not pass the Bill in its present form.


supported the Bill. He contended that it would by no means encourage gambling. If it would so encourage gambling, how was it that art unions were still allowed to exist in Germany, France, Hamburg, Saxony, and other continental countries? In Belgium the law against gambling and lotteries was extremely stringent, yet in Belgium a special exemption was made against art unions. In addition to this their late Solicitor General had declared that art unions did not come under the definition of lotteries. Adam Smith, M'Culloch, and a Select Committee of the House of Commons, also had sanctioned that opinion.


concurred in the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Oxford in his opposition to lotteries; and, with all respect to the opinion of the late Solicitor General, he could not agree that art unions did not come within the definition of "lotteries." It was quite clear, if they did not, that there would be no necessity for any Bill upon the subject. It seemed, however, that there was a necessity for the Bill: first, to remove any doubt whether they did come within the lottery law or not; and then, if they did, to subject them to such wholesome restrictions as to prevent them being converted into gambling purposes. The Committee of 1844, which was renewed in 1845, stated as the result of their inquiries, that they doubted whether some art unions had not had a gambling tendency. They then set themselves to inquire whether the evils which existed might not be remedied; and they reported that they believed the evils were not inherent in the system, or without remedy; and they suggested certain precautions which they thought would be ample remedies against such abuses. The recommendations of that Committee were embodied in the present Bill; and his hon. Friend, in bringing forward that Bill, had only acted in accordance with the views of that Committee. It was merely intended to exempt art unions from the operation of the lottery laws, and under these circumstances he should assent to the further progress of the Bill. He did not feel himself competent to give an opinion as to the effect which art unions would have upon art; but he could not refrain from calling the attention of the House to the opinion of so able an artist as Mr. Eastlake, who stated before the Committee that though he at first concurred in the opinions against art unions which had been advanced by their opponents, yet upon further consideration and reflection he had come to the conclusion that their tendency was to direct the attention of the public to art generally, and to inform and instruct them on the subject of art.


thought that if the Government were inclined favourably to entertain the provisions of this Bill, it should also extend these lotteries to books. Books which publishers could not sell would not then be a dead loss. Something had been said about the Spitalfields weavers. He would ask, were not looms as necessary to be purchased by the weavers as pictures? Why, then, not have a loom lottery? The system might be carried out to food or anything else. If the principle was admitted to be a bad one, their infringement was ten thousand times worse than the establishment of the principle itself. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was against lotteries, and yet he was willing that the Crown should sanction that which was considered to be a vicious system. If they once commenced they would be bound to continue in the same direction, and therefore he was very glad to see an opposition to the Bill.


did not think the hon. Gentleman was justified in saying that it would be necessary to proceed further. They were only anxious to adopt certain precautions, in consequence of there being a doubt as to whether art unions did or did not come under the definition of lotteries. He thought the best argument in favour of the Bill was the circumstance that a general impression existed in the country that art unions were not illegal.


had been a Member of the Committee referred to; and his opinion was, that hundreds of poor artists in this town would be reduced to beggary if it were not for art unions.

The House divided on the Question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—Ayes, 50; Noes, 18: Majority, 32.

Report agreed to. Bill recommitted. House resumed. Bill reported to be read a third time.