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who mark every step of its progress, and can measure its height when it has reached the extreme limit of its efforts. With all the honors and praises which have been bestowed upon Mr. Allston while among us, his final appeal for judgment cannot be considered as yet fully answered. It must be left, not, we hope, to “ foreign nations,” but to “his own countrymen when some time is passed over.” indeed, some few among us fitted by nature and trained by long study to speak with authority upon our artists and their works. It is by their silence, rather than by any forwardness upon our part, that we have been led to venture upon a task we should have gladly seen committed to other and abler hands.
The sketches of his own life given by Mr. Allston, and to be found in Mr. Dunlap's entertaining volumes, delineate his real history more vividly than many long biographies have done for their subjects. He mentions his early tendency to the imitative arts, but without attaching too much importance to so common a trait. From his fantastic images and miniature landscape-making he passed to drawing from prints, and then to original compositions of the scenes in romance that interested his boyhood. Becoming acquainted with the famous miniature painter, Malbone, he made some attempts in this branch, but, in his own words, “ could make no hand of it.” He succeeded better in oils about the same time (this was early in his college life), and even at this period painted a landscape with figures, which was afterwards exbibited at Somerset House. An old landscape, by an uncertain hand, at a friend's house in Cambridge, the pictures of Pine in the Columbiar Museum, and Smibert's copy of the head of Cardinal Bentivoglio after Vandyke, in the College Library, were his models. It strikes as a little singular, that our painter of love, and peace, and purity, and solemn story, should have shown an early fondness for comic scenes and banditti combats. A few years later, and Mr. Allston turned his attention to Scripture subjects, and produced two heads of Apostles, having thus run through in a natural order the various departments of painting, as yet wandering with little instruction and little apparent certainty of aim.
At the age of twenty-two Mr. Allston embarked for England, where he studied his art for three years. This was the first time he had fairly found instruction, and it may not be idle to glance at the condition of the English school of painting at that period. Sir Joshua Reynolds had now been dead about ten years, and his distinguished contemporaries, Wilson and Gainsborough, some years longer. From them the rise of painting in England may fairly date its origin. The first by his magnificent portraits, full of individuality and spirit, and glowing with rich coloring, had elevated this branch of painting almost to historic dignity. His clear and noble views of art as taught in his lectures, his dignified and amiable character, bad reflected new lustre upon his name as an artist. It seemed at times as if, to the less ambitious department in which he shone unrivalled, he might have added equal triumphs in the loftier department. The “ Tragic Muse” in the National Gallery, although a portrait of the great actress of his time, is invested with a kind of abstract grandeur, that idealizes the real lineaments and outlines. Mr. Allston himself speaks of two of his pictures, which we have never seen, as showing what he “ might have done in history.” If the Holy Family,” which we have seen in the National Gallery, is an exhibition of his powers in this department, he sinks immeasurably below the purer standards ; and, unhappily for his glory, at ihe side of this very painting, is the Venus instructing Cupid, of Correggio, to shame with grace and sweetness the wholly unpoetical representation of so much more holy a subject. But we suppose posterity has decided, that Sir Joshua was the Vandyke rather than the Raphael of rising art in England.
Of the two eminent landscape painters we have mentioned, Wilson, beyond question, was of the higher order. He sought in foreign lands for the subjects of his pencil, and, following in the steps of Claude and Poussin, endeavoured to find in the skies and scenery of Italy the same source of inspiration. But the nobility of his country wished for pictures of their country seats ; and guineas were more indispensable than glory, and what he got hardly, he spent wrongly; so that Wilson, the first of English landscape painters, left no school behind him but that of his own masters.
Gainsborough was a thorough Englishman, who painted from nature, and nature in her simple aspects ; aiming at no great effects of composition, but content with a hill, a cottage, a clump of trees, a market-cart, a peasant girl, and such familiar objects. His legacy to his countrymen was the same nature from which he painted, and little beyond this.
Such were those whose fame still rested over the land where the young pilgrim was to be initiated in the first mysteries of his calling. They left behind them an improved state of art, but they had not created any thing like a standard, to which the student could look for models in the loftiest range of his profession. If the “ English School,” which Sir Joshua supposed might gradually form itsell, and of which he thought Gainsborough would be remembered as one of the most eminent founders, bad followed in the steps of the three artists we have mentioned, it would have aspired only to moderate triumphs. It was destined to grasp at a higher dominion under ihe reign of their most distinguished successor, one of our own countrymen.
When Mr. Allston arrived in England, Benjamin West, the successor of Reynolds as President of the Royal Academy, and the first painter in the country, must have been at the height of his glory. His welcome to his young countryman was marked with all the kindness that belonged to his amiable character. Or his excellent personal qualities, Mr. Allston has spoken warmly, but we do not know that he has publicly expressed bis opinion of his inerits as a painter. To West, at least, belongs the credit of having nobly dared, if not of having greatly accomplished, all ibat art can compass. A competent critic, Sir George Beaumont, has said ; “When we consider the determined perseverance he showed to persist in the high walk he had at first chosen, though there was not a grain of taste for it in the country at that time, it does him the bigbest honor, and I am ashamed of the recent ungrateful neglect of my countrymen.” He was too ambitious in his aim, and too successful in his career, not to have made bitter enemies; he ventured into the field which long ages had filled with genius, and was measured by the side of their colossal champions. Prolific almost beyond modern example, crowding his vast canvass with every image of human passion and superhuman majesty, his very failures were redeemed by the grandeur of his efforts. His deficiencies in some of the accessories, especially in color, are familiar to those who have studied his works. But beyond this, so far as our opinion may be hazarded, there lies a deeper and more fatal cause for the neglect which his works have suffered. The spirit of the portrait painters, the same spirit which made Reynolds represent his Madonna with the aspect of an English farm girl, and carried Copley away from his courtly sitters to paint the House of Lords, with its peers and periwigs, and flamed out in the scarlet regimentals and crimson faces of Trumbull's heroes, — was still to be seen in the classic and sacred compositions of West, under the Roman's wreath, under the martyr's circlet, under the Magdalen's veil ; reducing all alike to the common national likeness of the living London model. In this he led the way for feebler successors, who still worked over the same material, patching and mending from year to year, until at length, when the last spark of expression had expired upon the pencil of Westall, the English artists returned to more congenial pursuits, and the public smiled once more for Wilkie, and Turner, and Lawrence. If Raphael, in the midst of Italian beauty, complained of the deficiency of the “belle donne,” and was forced to look inwardly for what he did not find about him, how much more must this necessity be felt in the midst of the less glowing and expressive types after which the English people have been fashioned. It is not enough to equal nature as we see it habitually. The great Italian painters knew this well, and they went to crypts and ruins to trace the lineaments, which, in broken and faded colors, had outlived the race that wore them. The Flemish masters thought otherwise, and therefore, with all their wonderful powers, they have given us for angels and cherubs the plethoric wives and pursy children of their worthy burgomasters. The ancient order has been often reversed ; seven fair women were moulded into one fairer image of old, but it has been oftener true in modern times, that one tolerable model bas been multiplied into twenty intolerable pictures.
We have but imperfect means of determining what was the direction of Mr. Allston's studies during the three years he spent in England. He began by drawing from plaster, the usual discipline, we suppose, of the Academy, and appears to have been a ready scholar. We see no evidence of his having made any attempts in the higher branch of his art during this period. A comic picture, and a Rocky Coast with his old favorites the banditti, and another landscape which he had painted in college, were his contributions to the annual exhibition at Somerset House. His comic picture found a purchaser, and he painted another for the owner to match it. In what other labors these years were passed we know not ; whether he imitated or avoided the example of the leader of the English school, or, taking from him only the ambition of hereafter excelling in the historical department, confined himself to academic studies and efforts of the humbler kind we have mentioned. Originality is never so absolute as many are fond of supposing, and our artist himself has rebuked the arrogance of self-taught genius and its worshippers with too much earnestness to let us suppose he could be sensitive in hearing it mentioned, that he had imitated one or another master during his progress to the fullness of his own powers.
When a youth, we have said that he caught the passion for miniature painting from Malbone. In a few of his early sketches of the comic kind which we have seen, it is not hard to trace the influence of Hogarth, and we are as little disposed to regret that he relinquished the one as the other. We have not seen any attempt of this kind by Mr. Allston, which carries the mark of the pencil which his maturity has wielded.
It seems to us an exceedingly interesting circumstance, that, during his first residence in England, he should have given no more decisive evidence of the path he was to follow. Whether it were diffidence, or wisdom, or good counsel, that taught him to reserve his powers until he had broken from the world of English art, and sought the original fountains whence it first flowed, the fact is certain, that he escaped to a wonderful degree the effects which might bave been anticipated from the example of his celebrated countryman, to whom, as an American, and as a kind friend, he must naturally have been strongly attracted. Now, although West himself was a man of great powers, and the best painter of his time in England, it would be hard to point out any very eminent example of success in those who have followed in his footsteps. The master who filled acres of canvass with so rapid a hand was of all models the most dangerous, the qualities in which he excelled, conception and general design of his subject, tending much more to lead the student