HC Deb 21 July 1862 vol 168 cc602-14

rose, pursuant to notice, to move an Address to Her Majesty that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the present position of the Royal Academy in relation to the Fine Arts, and the circumstances under which it occupies a portion of the National Gallery. He did so because he looked upon the subject as of very considerable importance, and because, in the absence of more exciting topics, the present time seemed well fitted for its consideration. The question of the accommodation of the national collection of pictures was one which had frequently occupied the attention of Parliament. The combination of the national collection with the Royal Academy in the same building had led to a great want of space, and there had been frequent Votes of the House to remedy the deficiency; but, notwithstanding, there still remained a lack of accommodation for the national collection of pictures. With the money so voted the pictures might have remained well hung in the present buildings, had it not been for the recent legal opinion given relative to the Turner bequest. The late Mr. Turner left a collection of pictures, his own works, to the nation, upon condition that they were to form a distinct portion of the national collection. The pictures had been exhibited at Kensington, and in Marlborough House; but it had recently been said that unless those pictures were removed and hung in accordance with the terms of Turner's will in the National Gallery, the bequest to the nation would be invalid. In consequence, this large collection of pictures had been suddenly thrown into the National Gallery, and had been hung without attention to propriety. Next year, consequently, Parliament must decide what was to be done with the National Gallery. Great difference of opinion existed as to where the National Gallery should be situated. Some years ago no less than thirteen different sites were suggested. A Royal Commission was appointed on the matter, and they reported in favour of its remaining in London, and in the present building. Next year the House would have to determine one of two things—whether the pictures in the National Gallery should be removed elsewhere, or whether the Royal Academy should leave the National Gallery to make room for them. Now, although strongly in favour of retaining the National Gallery in London, he doubted whether the best course, in the interest of the pictures, would not be to remove them from the present building to Burlington House—whether that would not be preferable even to removing the Royal Academy. That, he thought, would be the most economical course, while the situation would have all the advantages of being central. With regard to Burlington House, they could build it back from the present front without running into what the right hon. Gentleman might call "bloated Art Estimates," and thus be able to accommodate the national collection. As to the question of space, he found that the present area of the National Gallery was 13,000 feet, exclusive of the new rooms. There was a similar amount of space in the Royal Academy, so that there would be together 26,000 feet of space, and the new rooms would augment the area to from 30,000 feet to 40,000 feet. If they could get the workhouse at the back and the barracks—though it was questionable whether they would be able to get the barracks—there would be 165,000 feet of ground. But it must be borne in mind that the purchase of the workhouse and barracks, and the consequent enlargement of the present building, would involve an excessive outlay; while at Burlington House there was already a large building and a space of 150,000 feet at once available for the national collection of pictures. He could not, then, help thinking that it might be best to leave the Royal Academy where it was, with a condition that they should improve the building, and perhaps also the fountains in Trafalgar Square. The Royal Academy were first located in Somerset House, and afterwards removed to the present building, the National Gallery; and in 1839 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Spring Rice, now Lord Monteagle, distinctly stated that the Royal Academy occupied the building without any legal right of property, and subject to the risk of being removed whenever public convenience might render such removal expedient. He further said, that though their occupation of Somerset House had given them a moral right to accommodation, it would not do to convert that moral into a legal right. With reference to Academies in general, many persons were of opinion that these institutions, instead of being beneficial to Art, were very injurious. Such was rather the opinion expressed by the Committee of 1836, who said that Academies rather tended to fetter genius by introducing a sort of mannerism in Art. The Royal Academy had practically a monopoly of Art in this country, and it would be something Quixotic to attempt to break it down. He therefore treated the Academy as a great fact, and it was in that spirit that he approached it with a view to its improvement, and to make it generally useful in the promotion of Art. The Academy originated about a century ago out of a split amongst the artists of that day, and it was incorporated by George III. under a Royal instrument. It originally consisted of forty Academicians and nineteen Associates, and five Honorary Associates. The exhibition of their pictures was originally intended to be free; but shortly after its establishment a shilling admission was charged, in order, it was said, to exclude improper persons; and that fee had continued to be charged. The sums received since 1769 to 1859 amounted to £267,583; and the receipts from all sources amounted to £384,680. The sums spent in instruction, in the purchase of books, prints, pictures, &c. amounted to £218,469, and in relief of distressed artists and their families to £61,511, leaving a balance in favour of the Academy of £104,000. That was up to 1859. In the last three years probably a sum of £11,000 a year had been added to that amount. So that the Academy should have a balance of £130,000 or £140,000 at its banker's. The number of students between 1769 and 1859 was 2,774, or an average of thirty per annum; and during that time there had been twenty-two travelling students, at a cost of £78 per annum each student. The Royal Academy, therefore, combined four things—it was an academy of honour, an academy of exhibition, a charitable institution, and a school. There had been great complaints as to the ma- nagement and conduct of the institution. Such men as Martin and Haydon formerly, and Watts and Holman Hunt in the present day, were not members; and great favouritism and cliquism had always been manifested in connection with the association. It had in addition very generally been complained of that the instruction was deficient in quality and in quantity; and with regard to the charity, it was said that the artists did not receive their proportion. There had always been a strong feeling in the profession with regard to the Academy, and these complaints had sometimes been urged in language of extreme bitterness. One artist examined before the Commission of 1836 described the Academicians as despots, and the Associates as sycophants; another declared that the Academy possessed every power to do evil. Haydon, in his evidence before the Commission, said, "the Holy Inquisition was controlled by the Pope, but this is an Inquisition without a Pope." They had been called a den of thieves, and on one occasion a caricature was published in which the President figured as an animal with very long ears. But the Academicians were well able to defend themselves. Sir Martin Shee compared the late Mr. Hume to a Red Indian covered with paint and flourishing his tomahawk, simply because he endeavoured to improve the constitution of the Academy, and speeches in that House had been described as "a farrago of folly, vanity, and egotism." He did not mention these things to cast ridicule upon the Academy, but to show that there was ground for inquiry. If on such inquiry grievances were found to exist, let them be removed: if there were no such grievances, then the charges would recoil on the heads of those that made them. No one could doubt that the present mode of election was defective, and it might be a question whether in future the elections should take place on the direct nomination of the Crown, or whether, as the outside artists themselves desired, there should be a constituency formed of those who had exhibited for a certain number of years. Nor was the instruction given in the school exactly what it ought to be. The lectures were too few in number, and were not of the best quality, and the whole system of teaching, conducted, not by well-paid men who devoted their whole time to the duty, but by relays of what were called "visitors," was manifestly wrong. The "visi- tors" each took a month in turn; so that sometimes the visitor was an animal painter, sometimes a landscape painter, and sometimes an historical painter. That could not be a good system of instruction. Now, he did not say that all the complaints urged against the Academy were well-founded, but he thought there was sufficient ground for them to justify inquiry. Some believed that remedy would be found in having an Academy of Teaching and an Academy of Exhibition as perfectly distinct institutions; but, perhaps, a more practicable reform would be to add effective non-professional members to the Academy. At present there were five honorary members of the Academy,—the Bishop of Oxford, who was Chaplain; Mr. Grote, Professor of Ancient History; Dean Milman, Professor of Ancient Literature; Earl Stanhope, Professor of Antiquities; and Sir Henry Holland, who was Secretary and Foreign Correspondent. He did not believe that any of these Professors ever gave a lecture, or that the Bishop of Oxford ever acted as chaplain, unless it was in saying grace at the Academy dinner given on the opening of the Exhibition; but here was the principle already established for the extension of which he contended. He believed the addition of non-professional members to the Council would give them an active interest in the institution, and afford security to the artists outside that the elections were properly conducted, that the best men got "the blue riband" of their profession, and that no pictures were rejected which were entitled to a place in the Exhibition. The system was adopted in Paris, and also in Berlin. There was another branch of the subject to which he wished for a moment to direct the attention of the House—whether the Royal Academy could not also be made useful in improving and developing public taste. If there was one thing more generally admitted than another in this country, it was that our public monuments and statues were egregious failures. It might be said that these statues were erected many years ago; but he need not go far back to prove the fact. Havelock was no improvement; Jenner was so little of an improvement that the right hon. Gentleman was obliged to find for it some retreat, he did not know where, but happily remote from Trafalgar Square. This was really a serious question. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for War knew well what importance the ancient Greeks attached to their public statues, which were always placed in the most public places, and challenging the admiration of their wives in order that they might have beautiful children. But whether or not the character of our public statues would have any effect on the symmetry of the next generation, he thought it very desirable, if possible, to establish some better system with regard to our public monuments. His belief was, the evil arose from the want of an artistic or architectural control in these matters. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Henry Lennox), who in an earlier part of the Session made a very excellent speech on this subject, suggested that the Minister of Public Works should be responsible in these matters. But he very much doubted whether that alone would be sufficient to effect the object. The Minister appointed to the Department of Works was not selected for that office because of any special qualification for its duties. He was the creature of a political necessity or convenience; and even supposing the best man was appointed, a change of Government removed him from the office, bringing with it also a change of system—Gothic succeeding Palladian plans, and monuments raised by one Minister being pulled down by his successor. But he thought that in the Royal Academy, reformed, enlarged, reconstituted, as he proposed, by the extension of the nonprofessional element, they might find a Committee of Advice, which would be of immense use in all questions of art and public monuments. This was no novelty with the Royal Academy. At the beginning of the present century three public monuments, proposed to be raised to Lord Nelson, Lord Cornwallis, and Mr. Pitt, were referred to the Royal Academy, and the only reason why this system broke down was that they appeared rather inclined to job and keep the work entirely in their own hands. But the larger infusion of the non-professional element would be a complete check and bar to anything like jobbing. This system also prevailed abroad. He brought forward this Motion in no spirit of hostility to the Royal Academy. Far from it. He only wished to extend its usefulness. He hoped this inquiry would be granted. It might indeed be opposed on two grounds—first, that the Royal Academy was a private body with which they had no right to interfere; and in the second place, it might be said that Commissions never led to any result. It was absurd to call the Academy a private body. Sir Charles Eastlake, in consequence of his position as President of the Royal Academy, had been appointed to many important posts in reference to art in this country. The Royal Academy was certainly not regarded as a private body by the Committee of 1836; and he had yet to learn that that which was lawful and right in that year was ultra vires in 1862. The annual dinner which they gave on the 1st of May, on the opening of their Exhibition, and which was usually attended by the magnates of the land of all shades of politics, also showed that they were not a private body. It had been said that when they wanted anything from the State, they claimed to be public; and when the public asked anything from them, they claimed to be private. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the appointment of Royal Commissions led to no result; but an examination of the records in the library, so far from supporting that assertion, would prove that during the last twenty years between twenty and thirty Commissions had sat which had all led to important legislative enactments. Those Commissions had inquired into the Poor Law of England and Scotland, the rural constabulary, the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, episcopal and capitular estates, the Universities, popular education, the reconstruction of Westminster Bridge, the manning of the navy, the national defences, and various other questions. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would grant the Commission for which he asked. Many of the most important names connected with the Royal Academy were in favour of its appointment, among them being Mr. Grant, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Maclise, Mr. Herbert, and others. He believed that its appointment would be the means of doing much for art. It had been said by foreigners that in England, from its foggy atmosphere, and the constitutional temperament of its people, art could never flourish as it did in sunnier and happier climes; but in the days of our Edwards and Henrys art was further advanced in this country than it was at the same period in Italy. No doubt it fell to a very low ebb at the time of the Reformation, and again in the days of the Puritans; but in the last century it attained a new life under a Hogarth and a Sir Joshua Reynolds; while the present century had also produced a Turner, an Etty, and many other distinguished artists. In following the course which he now ventured to suggest, they would, he thought, further promote the progress of art in this country, give a proper turn to that taste which certainly existed, but which, perhaps, wanted developing, and thus take care that those Estimates which were so freely voted by Parliament were not wasted, as they were in a great measure at present.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the present position of the Royal Academy in relation to the Fine Arts, and into the circumstances and conditions under which it occupies a portion of the National Gallery, and to suggest such measures as may be required to render it more useful in promoting Art, and in improving and developing Public Taste, —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that his noble Friend had disclaimed all hostility to the Royal Academy and professed to have a desire only to render it still more useful than it now was for the purposes for which it had been founded; and his noble Friend had stated reasons in favour of his Motion which would certainly indispose him from offering any opposition to its adoption. Undoubtedly it would not be a tenable proposition to say that the Royal Academy was to such an extent a private institution as not to be liable to the inquiry of a Royal Commission. That body had the freedom of a voluntary association, but it had also the responsibility of a public corporation. It was founded by the Sovereign for public purposes—for the promotion of art and the diffusion of taste among the community at large; and it had received from the State the benefit of the galleries and apartments which it had occupied for the last ninety years. He was sure the Royal Academy would disdain to claim any exemption from public inquiry, knowing that they could submit their proceedings to the most searching examination without apprehension, and that the results of an investigation would not be in any way to their detriment, but would show that in the main they had attained the objects for which they were originally established. His noble Friend had alluded to the oppo- sition which had on many occasions been made to the Royal Academy. But although he did not agree with the severe strictures on the Academy that had been quoted by his noble Friend, he did not mean to say that their proceedings had attained such a degree of perfection that no good could result from the proposed inquiry. He understood that the Commissioners would have to inquire, not as to the propriety of the existence of the Academy, but as to the means of making the Royal Academy most efficient for the important purposes for which it was instituted. He would not discuss whether the Academy should be abolished, and complete free trade in art established, because the effect of free trade in art could only be to lower art to the level of a trade. If we were to trust to the effect of private demand for paintings and sculpture, we should obtain that which might be produced cheaply and sold cheaply, but we should soon lose the higher excellences of art. The Royal Academy was intended to provide schools for the instruction of students, to exhibit deserving works of art, and to confer honorary titles and rewards of merit. Those purposes could only, in the present state of affairs, be carried out by means of a corporate body. In former times great sculptors and painters were accustomed to surround themselves with young men who learnt of them the technical details of the art, and imbibed the spirit of their masters, the students in return aiding in the production of the master's works. In the present day it would be impossible to renew these relations between mature artists and young men who were commencing a career of art. Experienced artists were busily engaged in the production of works for which they found a ready sale, and were unwilling to devote their time to the instruction of students; and young men would not now be content to imitate artists even of the highest genius, but were eager to set up for themselves, and to be original. If art was to be taught at all, it must be in schools, and he should regret to see those schools dependent upon private enterprise. The demand for such instruction was so limited, that unless gratuitous instruction were afforded in public schools, art must rapidly decline in this country. He admitted that upon some points the schools of the Royal Academy were open to improvement. The Professors were underpaid, and the singular cus- tom of having a series of teachers in rotation did not aid systematic teaching, although it might prevent mannerism or conventionality in the works of the students who derived instruction from such different sources. He thought it desirable that there should be more sound, practical elementary teaching in the schools. If in these schools the elementary branches of art were more carefully inculcated, he believed a much sounder foundation would be laid for future progress than had hitherto been the case. With regard to the exhibitions, he must say that he thought the Royal Academy did confer a great benefit upon the public by the manner in which it conducted those exhibitions. The Committee of the Academy which undertook the invidious task of selecting the works to be exhibited might sometimes err; but they did perform a great public service in discharging the invidious duty of limiting the exhibition to works of merit. With regard to the other purpose for which the Royal Academy was established—the rewarding merit and granting honorary titles—he thought the mode at present adopted by the Academy was the best. If honorary titles were to be conferred by a large constituency open to canvassing and accessible to party spirit, there would be less impartiality in the awards than at present; and if those rewards were to be conferred by some branch of the Government, the decisions would produce still greater complaint and discontent. He hoped a Commission might do good in closely investigating the details of the management of the Royal Academy, and might be able to devise some means by which the great purposes for which the Academy was founded might be best carried out. He agreed that the present moment was not inappropriate for appointing a Commission. It was twenty-seven years since the last inquiry was instituted, and it was desirable that whenever the question as to the final arrangements of housing the Royal Academy came before the House, they should have the benefit of any inquiries and report which the Commissioners might make. The temporary arrangement by which the building in Trafalgar Square was jointly occupied by the National Gallery and the Royal Academy could not long continue, as the building was not large enough for both. Very soon a larger space would be required for the national pictures; and if it should be determined to erect a National Gallery upon the three and a quarter acres now occupied by Burlington House and gardens, in order to accommodate all the pictures now belonging to the nation, and also those that might be acquired for a considerable number of years to come, then it would be necessary to come to some arrangement with the Royal Academy for their permanent occupation of the premises now in their possession. If, on the other hand, it should be decided to enlarge the building in Trafalgar Square, a site would be given to the Royal Academy, on which to build its own gallery. When those questions came before the House, it would be well to have the results of the inquiries by a Commission before them. He did not anticipate that among the subjects considered by the Commissioners would be included the permanence of the office which he (Mr. Cowper) had the honour to hold. In Prussia, to which his noble Friend had referred, though the director of the gallery was permanent, the head of the public works was a member of a Government dependent upon a vote of the Chambers. The old system of election by the suffrages of exhibitors, which existed in the institution prior to the Royal Academy, was not found to answer, because it led to party spirit and jealousies. He did not think that any advantage would arise from a recurrence to that system, and he was very sceptical of the advantage of introducing non-professional persons into the Council. The action of the Royal Academy had become essential to the development of art, and it was possible that suggestions might emanate from a Commission by which art would be still further promoted, and that taste for painting and sculpture, which was so rapidly increasing in this country, would be still further fostered and encouraged. While assenting to the Motion, he would ask his noble Friend not to press it this evening, so that it might be agreed to without interfering with Supply.


said, he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had assented to the appointment of a Commission, and he was also glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman was at some pains to explain that there was no intention of joining in the criticism, which was sometimes of a most unfriendly and unjust character towards the Royal Academy. He thought no hon. Member would manifest such a spirit of criticism on this occasion. Their labours were to be judged by the fruit; and when the works of so many distinguished foreign artists were now exhibited in this country, it was gratifying to find that the works of British artists, to say the least of it, held their own by the side of them. His noble Friend said that in point of economy it would be advisable to build a new National Gallery on the site of Burlington House, and leave the Royal Academy in possession of the building in Trafalgar Square; but his noble Friend would remember that in the arrangement that was come to between Lord Derby's Government and the Royal Academy it was expressly stipulated that the Royal Academy should be at the expense of the building themselves, and he was bound to say that the Royal Academy made the offer. That offer was wisely accepted by Lord Derby's Government, and he did not know why it had not been carried out by their successors. He trusted that on the appointment of a Commission there would be a full and satisfactory examination of the various plans which had been proposed for the separation of the National Gallery from the Academy; and if so, he believed that the Commission which his noble Friend now asked for would be attended with very good results. He was afraid, however, that his noble Friend set rather too high a value upon the labours of the Royal Commission, and was disposed to attach too much importance to the system of control over works of art. His noble Friend had found fault with our modern statues, and seemed to be under the impression, that if the Royal Academy were officially intrusted with some power of vetoing the erection of public statues, the taste of the people might be improved. His noble Friend, however, totally overlooked the fact that a great many of our public monuments were the productions of private munificence, and did not come from public grants at all; and probably so long as it was found convenient in this country to erect monuments to public persons by private munificence and liberality, it would be impossible to establish any tribunal which should have the power of vetoing the erection of any statues, whatever might be their deficiency in point of merit as works of art. He was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he had no intention of proposing that the office which he now held should be a permanent one; and this was the more satisfactory as the right hon. Gentleman had, if he remembered rightly, given contrary evidence before the Select Committee. [Mr. COWPER: No!] He was glad that his memory had deceived him upon this point, and should be ready to co-operate with the right hon. Gentleman in defeating any such proposal. He believed that this Commission would be of the greatest public service, while it would be one more proof of the deep interest his noble Friend took in everything that concerned the department of art.


, wished to explain that he had never advocated the permanence of the office, and thought it would be a most absurd proposal.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment, and gave notice that he should move it as a substantive Motion tomorrow.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.