« PreviousContinue »
THE FINE ARTS.
We have often regretted, in common with many of our fellow citizens, the little attention bitherto bestowed upon the Fine Arts in our city. From whatever cause this has arisen ; whether it has been owing to want of taste in our citizens, or to their exclusive pursuit of mercantile occupations; the fact is nevertheless as we have stated; and as inhabitants of the great commercial metropolis of America, it has often called up a blush upon our cheeks. The importance and utility of a cultivated taste are obvious; and yet, it would seem, that we require to be persuaded of its advantages. This inattention to the Fine Arts cannot be attributed to any parsimonious spirit; for, it is well known that benevolence is the grand charcteristic of the present day. But, whilst innumerable charities, founded in the purest motives, and endowed with munificent liberality, attest the benevolence of our citizens, where shall we look for the evidences of their taste? We have laboured arduously to lay the foundation of the column of our liberties; we have been busily employed in polishing its surface, and reducing it to the most perfect symmetry, and it is now time that we set about adorning it with a Corinthian capital. Amidst this almost universal apathy, we are pleased to observe, that the cause of the Fine Arts has been lately advocated with a zeal and an eloquence that command our warmest approbation. We allude to the address delivered at the opening of the Tenth Exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in this city, by Gulian C. Verplanck, Esq. ;* and whether we regard that address in reference to the classical purity of its style, the fervour of its eloquence, or the liberal and enthusiastic spirit which breathes through its pages, we are disposed to consider it a valuable addition to our stock of national literature. There is an enthusiasm connected with the Fine Arts, which, we are persuaded, every one whose taste has been in the least degree cultivated must feel. This chord has been touched by the author of the address, and it has been touched by a master-hand. Without attempting to analyse the address (for we presume no man who values the literature of his country has neglected to read it) we shall make some pretty copious extracts, which will serve the double purpose of embellishing the pages of our magazine, and also of jus
* An Address delivered at the opening of the Tenth Exhibition of the American Academy of the Fine Arts. By Gulian C. Verplanck. NewYork. Charles Wiley. 1824. 8vo. pp. 45.
tifying ourselves from the charge of over-strained and exaggerated praise into which we may, perhaps, appear to have fallen.
After expressing his regret that the venerable President of the Academy was compelled by domestic calamity to relinquish the performance of that duty, which, at the request of his associates, he had taken upon himself, and paying a deserved compliment to that distinguished artist,' the orator proceeds to speak of the foundation of the academy, and the illustrious men who were its original founders and patrons. He states that various circumstances have unfortunately conspired to hinder it from realizing all the sanguine hopes of its early friends, and to interrupt or destroy that unity of action among our few artists and men of taste, which could alone give to it that wide and lasting utility of which it is capable, and thus render it a deserving object of the pride of our city and state.' But heindulges the hope (in which we cordially join with him) that brighter prospects are about to open on us. He then invites the attention of his audience to the consideration of the uses and value of the FINE ARTS; not so much with reference to the private studies and pleasures of the artist or the amateur, but, as they deservedly recommend themselves to the notice of the patriot and the philanthropist, as they are fitted to add to the comforts, and multiply the innocent enjoyments of life, to adorn and dignify the aspect of society, to give impulse and exercise to the latent talent, and fresh lustre to the glories of our nation, and by their moral influence upon all classes, to animate patriotism, “ to raise the genius, and to mend the heart." ;
The following remarks we would particularly recommend to the notice of those patriotic citizens who graduate every thing by the scale of economy.
" That quick sensibility to the beauties of form and proportion, that relish for purity of design and simplicity of execution, which result from a familiarity with works of taste, have a still wider, and (though less distinctly perceptible in their operation) scarcely a less practical influence, upon most of the arts of civilization, upon commerce and manufactures. The beneficial effect of good taste is to be found, even where you would least suspect its presence. It every where silently excludes wanton superfluity, or useless expenditure in labour or ornament. It inculcates a wise and dignified economy. It prompts art to achieve its ends by the simplest means. It gives to its productions all the durability and elegance of which they may be susceptible, by lending to them those forms, proportions, combinations of colours and agreeable associations, which, because they are most simply and obviously fitted to their peculiar purposes, orare congruous to natural principles of man's physical or moral constitution, have pleased for ages, and will ever continue to please; whilst the caprices of fashion, or the cumbrous splendours of gaudy luxury, are inevitably doomed to become, in a very few years, offensive or ridiculous."
“ Good taste is always the parent of utility. While in works of public dignity it attains the grandest results by the simplest means ; in private edifices, it suppresses false and gaudy ornament, it prevents all sacrifice of convenience to ostentation, it attempts no unattainable magnificence, no combinations of irreconcilable qualities. When it is once firmly established, and good models have become familiar, it diffuses its influence abroad on every side, directs the labours of the mechanic, and, where it cannot appear in positive excellence, is scarcely less useful in banishing all that is unnecessary and incongruous, even to the smallest details."
The author then speaks of the architecture of this country, and says truly, that there is no walk of the elegant arts in which our defects in science and taste are more palpable than in that of architecture. If, as was said by Mr. Jefferson, the genius of architecture seems to have shed her maledictions over this land,' our good city of New-York seems to have received a double share. Whilst some of the neighbouring cities of our country have, within a few years past, erected buildings in pure taste and upon classical models, there is not a single public edifice in our city to which we can refer the inquiring stranger with pride or satisfaction. If any thing can rouse us from our slumbers, it must be such eloquence as the following.
“There is, in fact, scarcely any single circumstance which can contribute more powerfully towards elevating the reputation of a people abroad, than the grandeur or beauty of their public structures, nor is there any manner in which a republican government can so appropriately exbibit its munifi
The tinsel trappings, the robes and pageantry of office, which have been affected by some free states, or states striving to be free, are not in har. mony with the general simplicity of republican manners, and in their own nature are almost as selfish as the show and pomp of patrician luxury. They may gratify or inflate the individual, who, so bedecked, struts his restless hour on the stage of public life, but they add little dignity to the state which bestows them. But a noble hall for the purposes of legislation or justice, or a grand pile of buildings for the uses of learning, is the immediate property of the people, and forms a portion of the inheritance of the humblest citi.
An enlightened patriotism should, indeed, rest upon much more solid ground, but no man, who knows and feels that, even in cur best and wisest moments, we can never become wholly creatures of reason, will object to the aid of local pride and natural association, to strengthen and animate his love of country. The ancient legislators understood the force of such principles well. In the mind of an ancient Greek, the history of his country, her solemn festivals, ber national rites, her legislation, her justice, were indissolubly combined with the images of every thing that was beautiful or sublime in art. Every scholar knows, too, how much the remembrance of the Capitolii Arx alta, the lofty majesty of the capitol, entered into every sentiment of love and veneration, which the Roman citizen, when Rome was free, entertained for his native city. That venerable and vast structure had been reared at the very commencement of the commonwealth, by some of its greatest men, on a scale of grandeur and magnificence, far beyond the needs or the wealth of the times, in a spirit prophetic of tbe future empire of Rome. Unlike the short-lived architectural works of our own country, which scarcely outlast their founders, it stood for centuries, a wit
ness, as it were, and partaker of all Rome's triumphs and greatness, a silent and awful monitor, frowning rebuke upon her crimes and factions.
“ When danger threatened from without, or civil discord raged withinwhen the Carthaginian was at the gates, or brother was armed against brother in the Forum, it was there, that the sublime conception of a great and classical modern painter was again and again more than realized; for the rebellious or the timid remembered that they were Romans, when, in their mind's eye, they beheld on the sacred walls of the Capitol, the armed Genius of their country, followed by Fortune as her faithful and obedient companion, and casting upon them a withering look of reproof."
The orator closes his review of architecture in the following manner :
“I could willingly dilate much longer on this subject. Without pretending to any exact science in this department, I have always found its study full of peculiar charms. In its philosophy it is connected with the most refined and curious speculations of intellectual science; in its theory, it brings together in very singular, yet most harmonious union, the rigid and exact rules of mathematics, and the undefinable and unexpressible, but not less certain, laws of sentiment and taste ; in its history, it is throughout interwoven with that of the progress of society, of national character, and of genius; in its practice, it contributes at every moment to private happiness and public grandeur."
He then passes on to the sister Art of Painting,' and discourses of its beauties in a strain of musical language and elevated sentiment, which constantly reminds us of an author of kindred genius, whose name is dear to every American. We are tempted to make more extracts from this part of the address, but we are conscious that by giving detached passages, we only mar the beauty of the whole. We shall, therefore, content ourselves with quoting the following sentiments, which, we are sure, will find an echo in the bosom of every lover of his country.
“ Foreign criticism has contemptuously told us, that the national pride of Americans rests more upon the anticipations of the future, than on the recollections of the past. Allowing for a little malicious exaggeration, this is not far from the truth. It is so. It ought to be so. Why should it not be so ? Our national existence has been quite long enough, and its events sufficiently various, to prove the value and permanence of our civil and political estan blishments; to dissipate the doubts of their friends, and disappoint the hopes of their enemies. Our past history is to us the pledge, the earnest, the type of the greater future. We may read in it the fortunes of our descendants, and with an assured confidence look forward to a long and continued advance in all that can make a people great. If this is a theme full of proud thoughts, it is also one that should penetrate us with a deep and solemn sense of duty. Ourhumblest honest efforts to perpetuate the liberties, or animate the patriot ism of this people, to purify their morals or to excite their genius, will be felt long after, in a widening sphere, until they reach a distant posterity, to whom our very pames may be unknown. Every swelling wave of our doubling and still doubling population, as it rolls from the Atlantic coast, island, onward towards the Pacific, will bear upon its bosom the influence of the taste, learning, morals, freedom of this generation."
Were we to select all the fine passages, our quotations would Vol. I. No. II.
be swelled to a much greater extent. But we trust we have given enough to justify our favourable opinion of the merits of the address. It is the offspring of a richly cultivated mind, and our only regret is, that the author was obliged to treat some of the topics with so much brevity and rapidity.
We should be wanting in our duty did we omit to notice the engraving on the title-page. It is a fine head of West, by Durand, a native artist, who, if he proceeds in his career with the same rapid strides with which he has already advanced, will soon rival the most celebrated engravers of Europe.
We avail ourselves of this opportunity to say a few words about the present exhibition of the Academy of the Fine Arts. It is decidedly superior to any previous exhibition, and the paintings are, for the most part, arranged with taste and judgment. It gave us pleasure to observe so many paintings of merit, by native artists, which evince an improvement that will always correspond to the fostering care of public patronage. There are also some originals by the great masters of the art; among which the “ Virgin and Child,” by Raffaelle, struck us as singus larly beautiful. We do not know the history of this picture, nor whether its claims to originality are undoubted; but the more we examined it, the more were we convinced that it is at least worthy of the pencil of Raffaelle.
But, to our minds, the principal charm of the presentexhibition consists in the casts of some of the finest sculptures of Canova. Without pretending to be connoisseurs in that nobleart, we frankly confess that it was with no ordinary emotion we first beheld the light, the graceful, the " aërial Hebe," the fine anatomy and muscular power of the “Creugas and Damoxenus," and the nameless, numberless, exquisite charms of the “Graces." If such sensations (thought we) are produced by the casts, what a wonderful effect must not the marble have? The attitude of the “ boxers” appeared to us singular, and totally irreconcilable with our ideas of the science; and it was not till we had referred to Pausanias that we were aware how closely Canova had adhered to the original story. Creugas and Damoxenus were engaged in boxing at the Nemean games, when night came on, and neither of them had obtained the victory. They then agreed that each should stand to receive the blow of the other. The kind of cestus which they used, was composed of leathern thongs, twisted together, and bound around the hollow of the hand, so as to leave the fingers naked. Damoxenus received the blow of Creugas upon his head. He then requested Creugas to remove his hands, when he immediately plunged his straight fingers into the body of Creugas just below the ribs, and actually disembowelled him before all the spectators. Creugas
od on the spot. But Damoxenus did not enjoy any advantage