HC Deb 29 March 1883 vol 277 cc1032-7

in rising to call attention to the unfinished state of the Central Hall of the Houses of Parliament, said: I very much wish, Mr. Speaker, that I knew, or could imagine, what there is that can be said against the Notice of Motion which stands upon the Paper in my name. It would then be easier for me to make a speech in moving it, and I should also, perhaps, be able, at the same time, to do something towards shortening the discussion to which it may give rise. As it is, I feel myself very much in the position of what the French call "preaching to the converted;" for I never yet met anyone, either in this House, or out of it, who denied that the decoration of the Central Hall must some day be completed, or who seriously maintained that having been begun in mosaics, it could be finished in anything else. What is it, then, Sir, that hinders its completion? Well, as I understand my right hon. Friend the present First Commissioner, simply and solely the want of an expression of opinion on the part of this House in favour of the decoration by mosaics; and this it is the object of the present discussion to elicit. It will soon, Sir, be 11 years since the decoration of the Central Hall was seriously debated in this House, and at that time there was a remarkable "concensus" of opinion in favour of mosaics on the part of all whose opinion was entitled to weight upon a question of the kind. Perhaps, the House will allow me to give them a few brief extracts from the speeches made on that occasion. The debate, Sir, took place on the 1st of July, 1872, and is reported in Vol. 212, of Hansard, pp. 444–5–6–7–8— Mr. BERNAL OSBORNE: With respect to the representation of our patron saint, we were in what the Americans would call 'a tarnation tight fix.' In the Central Hall we had got St. George and the Dragon in mosaics up near the roof, and he believed it would he found more expensive in the end to take down that patron saint, than to put up the other three patron saints under this Mosaic Dispensation. Lord JOHN MANNERS: There would he a certain incongruity in having one panel filled with a mosaic, and the other three with frescoes. At any rate, the panel opposite to St. George ought to he filled with a mosaic. As a matter of congruity and harmony, it would he better to have all the panels filled with mosaic, of the enduring qualities of which there could be no doubt. Lord ELCHO: Under all the circumstances; the best course to take would he to complete the whole of the panels in the Central Hall in the same style of decoration as had been already begun. Mr. ALFRED SEYMOUR: It would be a thousand pities to destroy almost the only indestructible work of art in the House, and nothing could be more foolish than to put up three other frescoes, when those which they already had were tumbling to pieces. Mr. COWPER-TEMPLE; It was important, however, to avoid any retrograde movement, and as they had begun with mosaics in the Central Hall, it was advisable to go on with the work. The mosaic decoration being in its infancy, was capable of much improvement, and was admirably suited to large buildings; and, therefore, he hoped the decoration of the Central Hall would he finished in the style which had already been adopted, Mr. BERESFORD HOPE must protest against the idea that in striking out this item, they would be substituting mere decoration for fine art; they were simply preferring one process of fine art to another. If it was supposed that the mistakes made in the frescoes might be avoided, was there not ground for expecting that the mosaic might also be improved? Mr. CAVENDISH BENTINCK understood that Mr. Salviati was not satisfied with the execution of the work; therefore the most reasonable thing seemed to him to be that before they discontinued it they should try if it would not succeed when the work was better executed. Let them see whether on the Continent, and more especially at Borne, improved methods could not be found of dealing with the subject. Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


continued: I have also the authority of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland (Mr. Gerard Noel) for saying there was nothing he desired more, during his term of Office, than to have associated his name with the completion of the Central Hall in mosaics. But my right hon. Friend fell upon evil times; his years of Office were the "lean years" of Lord Beaconsfield's Administration, and, in a word, he could not get the money. But I know that objection is taken to the mosaic picture of St. George, which is already in its place. In the first place, hon. Members say that they cannot see it. That is due, by day, to the effect of painted glass in the windows; and the remedy is to remove the painted glass, and glaze the windows en grisaille; and, by night, I think it not improbable that the electric light may be tried with advantage for the illumination of the Hall; and here I should like, with the permission of the House, to read what Sir Henry (then Mr.) Layard thought it would be necessary to do, in order to give a fair trial to the decoration which he was then proposing to adopt. Speaking on the 28th June, 1869, he said— What he was about to do was undertaken at the suggestion of the architect himself. The hall was exceedingly dark for the greater part of the year, and even during the day it was necessary to burn gas. The lantern would be altered so as to admit more light.…The architect suggested that a mosaic surface, which would reflect light, might be applied to the panels; and the two artists selected for preparing cartoons for this work wore well known for their ability. Another part of the expenditure was for a change in the windows—such as had been advantageously effected in the gallery between the Queen's robing room and the House of Lords, when the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) was in Office."—(3 Hansard, [197] 684.) In the next place, I am aware that fault is found with the design of St. George, and I quite understand that hon. Members would have preferred the effigy with which they are familiar on the sovereigns of Her Majesty; but the artist had to remember that he was about to place the patron saint of England in the company of an apostle and two bishops of the 6th century, who are not known to have shared his equestrian tastes. So Mr. Poynter set him upon foot, gave him two female supporters, and wrote underneath—"St. George of England." Well, then, as to the expense, the original cost was £150 for the design of St. George, and £500 for the mosaic. Both will cost more now. Mr. Poynter, having risen to eminence in his Profession, makes no more designs for £150, and mosaics, I believe, are dearer. But, in any case, a sum of from £3,000 to £5,000 will finish the Hall, which Sir Charles Barry always intended to be the principal feature of this stately pile. And the thing. Sir, once done is done for all time; while, for the cost, the sum required has been wasted ten times over on telegrams and printing, since the present Government has been in power. Mr. Speaker, I must be allowed to express my surprise that it has been left for an English Member to raise this discussion. I remember, it is not so many years ago since Society was convulsed with the wrongs of the Scottish Lion. But now, forsooth, the patron saint of Scotland is "left out in the cold" for a dozen years and more, and when Notice is given of a Motion on his behalf, Scotch Baronets are clamorous to know his name! Sir, there is no secret about the names of any of these holy men. They may always be had on application to the policeman on duty at the Central Hall. I, therefore, Sir, do hope that Scotch and Welsh and Irish Members will atone for their neglect in past years by supporting this Motion in debate, and that my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner will seize the opportunity, which will otherwise be snatched from him by a Conservative Successor, of associating his name with the completion of a work which will redound at once to his credit and to the taste of Parliament and of the nation.


said, he hoped that the First Commissioner of Works would not launch into any expenditure of this description. He would take his stand on two grounds. He would say either that it must be shown that the work proposed to be executed would be an excellent work of art, or else it must be shown that the employment of the country's money in this particular form would be an advantage to Art generally, and tend to its advancement. With regard to the mosaic work, not only in the Central Hall, but in connection with the Albert Memorial, it had been pronounced a failure by nearly all competent judges. It was impossible in the present day to obtain satisfactory results in mosaic. Artists in mosaic in the present day did not dis- tinguish themselves as their predecessors had done in the last century, or the century before. For this reason, among others, the Dome of St. Paul's was standing unfinished. A year or two ago an attempt was made to establish a School of Mosaic at South Kensington; but it was found impracticable to do so, and the attempt was abandoned. If the panels in the Central Hall were to be filled up, in his opinion it should be done with paintings in oil, and they would stand the climate well. The hon. Member would, he supposed, go to Venice for his mosaics. He was himself tolerably familiar with Venice, and he ventured to say that there was no artist in Venice at this moment who had the slightest pretensions to mosaic work, even of a third or fourth rate order. The plan was not one calculated to encourage art in this country, and he hoped such an expenditure of public money would not be sanctioned.


said, that this question was discussed in the House not only 10 years ago, as the hon. Member had said, but also two years ago, and on that recent occasion the hon. Member failed to receive support from any quarter of the House. Even the Scotchmen, and Irishmen, and Welshmen to whom he had appealed did not think it necessary to say a word in favour of the Motion. He could say no more than he said on that occasion. He fully sympathized with all the hon. Member had said as to the beauty of the Central Hall, and he believed it would be desirable to complete it in a manner that would be worthy of the House, and would stand the criticism of art. If he could have seen his way to the attainment of that result, he would not have hesitated to recommend any expenditure that might be necessary; but he was bound to say that, in the present state of opinion upon the subject, it would not be possible for him, with any chance of success, to make any proposal to the House in that direction. The mosaic which now filled one of the panels had been condemned by almost all the highest authorities on art. Mr. Ayrton, when First Commissioner of Works, had a Committee appointed on this subject, which was composed of well known artists, and they unanimously condemned the picture, and did not recommend that the remaining panels should be filled with mosaics, but strongly recommended the adoption of frescoes. Mr. Ayrton submitted a Vote for that purpose; but so hostile was the general feeling to any expenditure on frescoes that he was compelled to withdraw the Vote. Since that time no action has been taken in the matter; and, in all probability, if he were to follow the advice of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Schreiber), and propose an expenditure of £5,000 for filling the three panels, he should also fail to carry the Vote. Under these circumstances, he could not hold out any hope that this expenditure would be incurred. The hon. Member was wrong in supposing that the work could be executed for the sum he had named, because, as had been pointed out, the School of Mosaic set up in South Kensington had already ceased to exist, and they should have to go to Venice or some other place abroad for artists to execute the work. Under all the circumstances he could only repeat what he said two years ago—namely, that no good purpose would be served by entering into the question until he could obtain a general concurrence of opinion on the part of hon. Members as to what ought to be done. He believed, indeed, that it would be wise to complete the decorations of the Central Hall at some future time. But it was undesirable to fill the three vacant panels with works of art which would not be worthy of them.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.