HL Deb 25 March 1878 vol 238 cc1937-46

asked Her Majesty's Government, What reply had been given to the Memorial presented by the Duke of Westminster to the First Lord of the Treasury, recommending the establishment of a Museum of Casts from the Antique, according to the scheme proposed by Mr. Walter Perry at a meeting held at Grosvenor House on the 16th of May, 1877,andwhe-ther they would be prepared to ask for a Vote for that purpose; also, to ask what Treaties existed as to the exchange of Casts with other Governments? The noble Earl—who was very imperfectly heard—was understood to say, in sub- stance, that the meeting at Grosvenor House, at which the Memorial referred to had been drawn up, was attended by a large number of persons eminent in Literature and Art, and included Earl Granville, Earl Spencer, and the Earl of Carnarvon, who had been Commissioners of the International Exhibition of 1851; Sir Coutts Lindsay; Mr. Newton, the head of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum; Mr. Burton, head of the National Gallery; Mr. Poynter, of the Art Department, South Kensington; and Mr. Leighton, E.A.; and such well-known artists as Legros and Boehm, and Mr. Doulton. The Memorial represented that, while they had the National Gallery and the Gallery at South Kensington, where the masterpieces of painters—ancient and modern — could be studied, and drawing was taught in the Government schools all over the country, the omission that they had no central place for Sculpture was a great drawback to the progress of that Art in this country. In this they were behind almost all foreign nations. There were to be found National Museums of Sculpture in nearly every capital of the Continent—at Paris, Munich, Florence, Borne, Naples, and other great cities; and it was to these places that the English student was compelled to travel to complete his higher education in Art. They had, indeed, in the British Museum, some of the finest examples of Sculpture, in the Elgin Marbles and other works of Greek Art. The noble Earl was understood to say that what he conceived to be required for the purposes of Art Study, was a chronological arrangement of Casts from the Antique, displaying the style and progress of the nations of antiquity. For instance, a small selection of Egyptian and Assyrian Sculptures; of early Greek work, of the Archaic period of the Art before Phidias, and of works of the age of Pericles—of which noble examples from the Parthenon and Erechtheum were in the Sculpture Galleries; also from the Temple of Nike Apteros, or Wingless Victory, and the Theseum; the later Attic works would be illustrated by casts of the Niobe, Barberini Faun, and from the Mausoleum at Caria; the age of Alexander and his successors, by Casts from the Farnesian Bull, Laocoon, Apollo, Belvedere, and Dying Gladiator; whilst the time of the Caesars, up to Trajan, would furnish examples in Venus de Medici, and in busts, reliefs, and architectural details in arches, at Rome; the sea-gods would be represented by Neptune, Amphitrite, Tritons, and Nereids; the forest-gods by Fauns, Pan, and Satyrs; and Animals by Casts of Boars, Dogs, and Stags. It was not to be forgotten that the lectures of the Professors at their Art Institutions would be doubly effective if illustrated by Casts selected as he had indicated. The taste of the people of this country, also, must improve under the influence of the silent teaching of such works, and the manufacturing prosperity of the country depended much on the capacity of their craftsmen to compete with those of foreign countries in taste as they did in handywork. He thought that the object recommended in the Memorial might be fairly completed in four years, and for a sum of £10,000 spent over that period. This was but a small sum for so considerable an advantage, and could not be grudged considering the large sum which had been spent on the South Kensington Museum. There was already much space there devoted to Art, and a Museum of Sculpture added to the already invaluable collections, would afford to the student a complete curriculum of Art. Nor need there be any fear of competent assistance. To such men as Mr. Perry, the work would be a labour of love. It might be said that it was no part of the business of the Government to undertake work of this description. Other nations and other times had not thought so. Look at the example of Greece, where Pericles and Alexander had been great teachers of Rome; under Hadrian of Italy; under the Medici, Leo X., and the Republie of Venice; of the French under Napoleon, and of the Sovereigns of Bavaria and Prussia in their own days. He thought, then, he had said enough to justify him in calling on the Government to take this matter in hand, to follow these good examples, and to found a Museum of Sculpture worthy of the country.


thanked the noble Earl for having brought this subject under the notice of their Lordships. The Memorial to which the noble Earl had referred was signed by Mr. Newton, the Keeper of the Greek and Ro- man Antiquities at the British Museum, by Sir Francis Grant, the President of the Royal Academy, by Mr. Leighton, R.A., and many other gentlemen of the highest rank in Art. He concurred with the noble Earl as to the influential character of the movement in favour of a Museum of Casts from the Antique. In fact, the greatest interest was taken by people conversant with the subject in the establishment of such a Museum. The noble Earl had alluded to the position of this country with regard to this matter as compared with other countries. In Germany there were no fewer than 14 such Museums, which were to be found in all the great centres of education and in all the large capitals. And, in order to take advantage of the excavations made at Olympia, Germany, since they were prevented by the agreement from carrying away the sculptures they might discover, had sent large sums of money to the Greek Government that it might have the exclusive right of obtaining Casts of the statues that might be found. That was another proof of the importance attached by Germany to having Casts of the chefs d'œuvres of antiquity. At Rome and Paris, also, great efforts had been made for the establishment of such Museums. By the statues being arranged chronologically, students would be able to trace the progress of Greek Art from its Egyptian origin to the School of Phidias, and its decline from the time of Phidias down to the Rhodian School. Such a Museum he believed to be very much wanted, not to supersede, but to supplement, existing institutions. The noble Earl had stated that the cost would not be very great; he (the Earl of Morley) thought the chief expenditure would be in the buildings. In the Memorial presented to the Prime Minister, it was estimated that a building of 350 feet by 30 feet or 40 feet wouldbe sufficient to begin with, and that the cost of a Museum not so large as the one at Berlin would not exceed £67,000— so that £10,000 a-year spread over a few years would be all that should be required. With such an institution for the instruction of artists, London might ere long become one of the great Art-centres of the world. He hoped the Prime Minister would be able to hold out hopes of a small sum being granted next year by way of preparation, if nothing could be done this year.


said, that the collection in the British Museum was one of the noblest in Europe; but, at the same time, it could not be regarded as a complete exhibition of the whole history of statuary. He had been for many years more or less conversant with this matter as one of the Commissioners of 1851, and his noble Friend opposite (Earl Granville) would remember that Mr. Perry laid before them a scheme which, speaking from recollection, he believed was favourably entertained by the Commissioners. The advantages of a Museum of Casts were, in an educational and artistic point of view, very obvious. His noble Friend had alluded to the cost; but really there could be no question of money here. It was not the want of a small sum of £10,000 a-year for a few years that ought to stand in the way. The real difficulty, as he apprehended, was the difficulty of space, and the more it was considered, the more that difficulty would present itself. There were statues, groups, busts, and reliefs to be taken into account, from the Egyptian period down, he might say, to the time of the Antonines. That involved a comprehensive illustration of the plastic art formany centuries, and a very large number of specimens. And if to these were added Casts of the remarkable discoveries now being made at Olympia and elsewhere, considerably more than a gallery of 350 feet by 40 feet would be required. His opinion was that double the space now assigned to sculpture in the British Museum would be insufficient. It was not enough to have a large number of statues or groups; there must be sufficient space in which they could be seen; that, from the artist's point, was quite as essential as the number of the statues. Therefore, he thought the question would arise very early whether it was desirable to make their collection very comprehensive or select. He thought that a comparatively few statues well chosen would be worth 500 crowded together in a manner which would make it impossible to examine them artistically and critically. Then there was another point. There were good Casts and bad Casts, and it needed a very skilful expert to be able to distinguish the one from the other. It was possible that we were on the eve of considerable improvement in the material itself; and everyone would admit that Casts in plaster were very unsatisfactory. It bad been said that clay was life, plaster was death, and marble resurrection. But anyone going into the British Museum at this moment would see that a very great improvement was being made in the mode of treating the Casts. Other expedients in place of the oil or paint which had till now been used were in process of trial, and with more or less success. The effects of the London atmosphere had been found very deleterious, and various experiments had been made with this view; but even where the largest success had been gained, it had been found necessary to protect the Cast with glass. The present question was brought before a Special Committee of the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851, and he thought he might say that it was favourably entertained by them. There could be no doubt that, if the scheme were to take effect, South Kensington would be of all the places which could be named the most likely to be successful. There was at the present moment gallery room at South Kensington which, he believed, was available for this purpose; and, if he were not mistaken, there was also a nucleus of Casts which, with judgment, might be developed into a better collection. His object in these criticisms was not in any way to throw cold water on the scheme, which he thought was likely to be attended by very salutary results as regarded Science and Art. Still he thought it was a scheme which ought to be proceeded with very cautiously, especially at the present moment, when very large buildings were being erected at South Kensington for the Natural History Collection. The selection of Casts was a matter which required very great discrimination—the fractures, twisting, and straining to which plaster Casts were subjected were points which made the selection a matter of great difficulty. He observed that his noble Friend (the Earl of Wharncliffe) had also asked whether there were Treaties with Foreign Powers for the exchange of casts. There might be, although he had never heard of any, and should be inclined to doubt the advantage if such there were. But there was, though not a Treaty, a Convention on the subject, signed by the European Princes who met at Paris in 1867, and possibly it was this Convention which was present to the mind of his noble Friend opposite when he asked the Question. He believed that there were at the present moment some objects of mediaeval art at South Kensington which had been sent over in consequence of that Convention.


hoped a favourable answer would be given to the Question, as the subject was one in which he had for some time taken the greatest interest. Of course a room of the size mentioned would not hold all the statues which ought to be represented; but still it would be large enough to contain a representation of all the important Schools. At all events, a room of the dimensions now proposed would be big enough to make a beginning. He need add nothing to what had been said respecting the enormous advantages a school of this kind would confer on sculptors. It was a disgrace to this country that a man who desired to be a sculptor was obliged to go abroad in order to study his Art. The proposed Museum would likewise be useful to everybody who had even a smattering of classical education; and perhaps, by degrees, some of the lower classes might be able to appreciate the beauty of the forms which would be exhibited. He did not see what objection could be raised to a National Museum for Casts from the Antiques, since the principle had been admitted in the establishment of the South Kensington Museum.


My noble Friend who opened this question asked me three Questions, to which I will now reply. First, he asked me whether Her Majesty's Government had given any reply to the Memorial presented by the Duke of Westminster recommending the establishment of a Museum of Casts from the Antique, according to the scheme proposed by Mr. Walter Perry at a meeting at Gros-venor House on the 16th May last year? I may say, in reply, that I had the honour of receiving personally the Memorial presented to the Government by the Duke of Westminster, and that there was, of course, an acknowledgment of courtesy, but no formal answer was sent to it; and I told the noble Duke at the time there would be no official answer until I could give it to him in some practical form. Well, it is not so easy a matter to settle the question as my noble Friend, who has in so interesting a manner introduced it to our notice, seems to suppose. At the first blush, everything seems to be in favour of the proposal. It is charming in its design, economic in its establishment, and there are no difficulties when the tastes of all classes are to be gratified; but the truth is, when we come to practice, there is, particularly at this moment, immense difficulty in dealing with what are called Museums. The number of Museums— some in esse and some in posse; some with a local habitation, but without a name; and some with a name, but without a local habitation—that are pressing on the Government is now very large. They all require that some order shall be drawn out of chaos; and the convenience of the public in these respects must be considered imperative. It appeared to the Government that much inquiry was necessary on these subjects, and they have thought it best to appoint a Committee which shall examine into the question of Museums generally, and to that Committee the Museum which has been brought under our notice tonight will be referred. I regret there has been some delay in appointing the Committee; but the difficulties of detail have been so very considerable that we have not effected our object so soon as we could have desired; but my noble Friend may rely upon it that the subject is one which has engaged the attention of Her Majesty's Government, and that it will not be neglected. My noble Friend also asked whether the Government will be prepared to ask this year for a Vote to carry this purpose into effect? But the few remarks which I have just made will have prepared my noble Friend for the reply that we shall not be prepared to ask for a Vote for this purpose this year. The plans have not been arranged; and, although the sum may not be considerable, yet, unless I have much more information on the subject than we have yet received, I cannot for a moment believe that the sum which has been mentioned will be sufficient to carry into effect the design which has been sketched out. My noble Friend next asked what Treaties exist as to the exchange of Casts with other Governments? No Treaties with that object exist. Allusion has been made to what may be described as a Convention, into which this and other countries entered through the influence of an illustrious Prince (the Prince of Wales), who is a Member of this House, and who takes a leading part in everything connected with the encouragement of Art. The first movement in that direction was therefore given by the illustrious Prince. But a Memorandum was drawn up, I think, in the year 1868, under the influence of the Prince of Wales, and it was readily signed by 15 Princes of reigning Houses, who bound themselves —and they have acted upon that honourable engagement—to facilitate as much as possible the obtaining of accurate and fine artistic copies of all works of the description to which my noble Friend has referred-—and not merely classical, but also mediaeval works. To a certain degree that purpose has been attained; but there are no Treaties on the subject, and I should myself think that the object can be brought about by diplomatic influence without any formal Treaties. I can assure my noble Friend who introduced these questions that he has my entire sympathy on the subject; and I hope that before next Session means may be found for carrying into practical effect the views he has introduced to the House this evening.


said, that he could not help thinking that what the noble Earl had said was quite reasonable. It was desirable that the subject of Museums should be considered by the Government; but he was not quite sure whether the Committee to be appointed should be an official one or a Select Committee of either House of Parliament. Whichever it might be, there was one suggestion which he would make. It was perfectly true what the noble Earl had said about there being a number of qualifications in regard to Museums, and he would suggest that there should be some preliminary inquiries in other countries which should be laid before the Committee, to enable them the better to judge of the matter, and which would not commit the Government to any particular course. Those inquires could be made at an expense of a few hundred pounds. He would not ask for any answer to this Question that evening.


in reply, was understood to express his satisfaction at the statement of the Prime Minister, and to point out that, as the National Portrait Gallery would soon be removed, the rooms which the National Portraits now occupied would be available for other purposes.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.