« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
No. XVIII.-VOL. III.]
For MAY, 1805.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF BENJAMIN every useful and ornamental art. We
I celebrated writer, that the gears of would be viewed as an ingustus as well
the arts and sciences hangs on and enervates the arm of the warrior: but nations are preserved or overcome as well with the sword, as by other instruments and means. It is at all times good to contend with the same weapons as the adversary, when they are acknowledgedly powerful. That whatever embellishes a country, and elevates its characler, must ever deserve our praise and admiration none can deny; but there are persons who for a moment night consider a time of warfare as not a proper season to speak of the charmus and attractions, nor to recommend the cultivation, of the fine arts. Athens and Rome did not fall into decay because they engrossed the arts; these were only the concomitants of wealth and luxury, and therefore, were the sufferers in, and not the harbingers of their ruin. Barbarians have not prevailed over polished nations merely because they were ignorant in this respect, or despised the arts. They have always succeeded in their bold designs from their numbers, their precipitation, their contempt of danger, and the insatiable desire of possessing those riches which nourish the arts. Numerous instances may be cited of the existence of nations being prolonged from the knowledge of them alone. With us it cannot be a doubt that the prosperity of the arts, as well as the sciences, is of the highest importance. The arts enrich as well as polish a nation, and in the present condition of the mercantile world, we could not long maintain our rank in it without the product of the arts. The cultivation of the fine and liberal arts improves our taste in every thing; and it is from this source, more than from any other, that we have gained the opinion, allured the favours, and consequently shared the wealth of almost every country on the face of the earth. But there is a circumstance, as new as it is imperious, to dictate the policy of our encouraging and cherishing the growth and improvement of
as an Alexander. By conquest he has obtained possession of the finest models in architecture, painting, &c. and he would invite and draw to Paris, as to another Rome, the assiduous artist and the inquisitive traveller, and thereby, while aiding the pursuits of the one, and gratifying the curiosity of the other, lay every city in Europe under a tax or a degree of subjugation. It behoves us, therefore, to compete with our antago nist in this design, as well as in his more serious one, knowing, as we do, that the arts in a commercial point of view, enrich us in peace, and defend us in war. It is inconceivable what sums of money were formerly sent out of England to purchase pictures and prints, when we began to have a taste and a desire for them, and yet had no artists among us to execute them in a satisfactory style. This eagerness to obtain the works of eminent artists, brought those artists themselves in time to reside with us, thereby exciting an emulation in our countrymen. So great has been the improvement (no doubt from correspondent encouragement) in painting, engraving, and sculpture, in England, that without vanity or partiality it may be said, we are in this respect behind no rival nation whatever. With the fruits of the pencil, indeed, notwithstanding the increase of painters, the demands of the wealthy will always remain to be supplied; but of those of the graver, vast numbers are yearly exported, and thereby they contribute to swell the influx and the sources of the nation's wealth. It is not within the scope of our memoir, to enter into the influence painting may have on the other arts; else might it be shewn how much trade, in a variety of shapes, has been henefitted by the encouragement and improvement in this. It is only meant to have it understoed, how much the British nation is indebted to British artists for increasing its wealth, and enhancing its honour and reputation. Among these, and at the head of them stands Benjamig
Biographical Sketch of Benjamin West, Esq.
West, Esq.; and this station he is enti- deemed worthy of relating. When this
tled to, as well from the vast number piece was finished, numbers of persons and variety of his works, as from their of rank went to see it, among the rest intrinsic value. When we reflect on the the late and highly accomplished Earl saying of Aristotle, "How long is art, of Chesterfield. After he had looked a how short is life!" we consider this great while at the picture, he inquired gentleman as singularly happy, in as far if Mr. West was at home and to be seen. as he may be desirous of living admira- Upon being answered in the affirmative, tion and posthumous glory. If it were he sent in word, that Lord Chesterfield not to be thought bordering on the pro- wished to speak with him. He was fane, we might say, the power of cre- ushered in. “Well,” says he, "Mr. ation has been delegated to his hand. West, I am glad to see that we have The list of his works, which with diffi- such a painter among us, as can proculty has been obtained, we shall pub- duce a picture like that I have been lish at the end of this sketch, as a rare some time viewing. It has, however, instance of what can be achieved by a one fault and you can't mend it: nor man of genius and application. It is a would I have you try." "What can curious record of professional diligence, that be my Lord," said Mr. West, with and ought to be preserved: we believe great curiosity to learn it. Why, the no age, no country ever produced the fault is," said the facetious peer," that like. If a person would ask him how it was not painted a hundred and fifty he has spent his life; he has only to years ago, for then the world would value take the inquirer into one room in his it as it ought to be." This was a great house, and in the words of Sir Christo- and a deserved compliment, as every pher Wren, say, "circumspice." Mi- one will say, who has seen the picture; chael Angelo lived to the age of ninety, which now is in the possession of the Titian to that of ninety-nine: the first personage in the kingdom. It was works of these great painters are de- observed before, that pre-eminence in servedly admired, but we can have no any one, will stir up envy. The great conception they bore any proportion in Phydias was hated for his excellence in number with those of Mr. West. That, the art. Mr. West has in one instance however, is not all. We never have experienced the malignity of this pasheard of his undertaking any subject, sion. The circumstance is no otherwise against which he has been provoked deserving of notice, than as the biolike Nealces to throw his pencil.* grapher is acquainted with the real fact. Merit will always excite envy as well as Mr. West conscious of the uprightness emulation; but we have never heard of of his conduct, thought it unnecessary the envious in his train, endeavour to to make any reply to an insinuation decry any one of Mr.W.'s productions as thrown out by a paragraph in a public destitute of merit. We can of ourselves newspaper, two years ago, that Mr. express our partiality for some one or West was desirous of taking an advanother of his pieces; and while we are tage of the council of the academy, by thinking of his death of Wolfe, his La exhibiting a disguised picture a second Hogue, his picture of the death of the time. No reasonable person could for stag, or the rescuing of Alexander III. a moment suppose that an artist covered his Phaeton soliciting Apollo for the with professional laurel, would have s chariot of the sun, his Thetis and spark of vanity to gratify in a case like Achilles, his King Lear and his daugh- this or that the exhibiting one picture ter, and his Regulus, we are un- more or less, should add to, or lessen able for the moment to take any of his reputation. A groundless imputathe rest into the imagination. Of this last mentioned piece, it is deserving of remark, that it was an early subject of bis labours; it was painted more than thirty-five years ago. On this occasion, an anecdote occurs, which may be
tion is thrown out in a diurnal print; always desirous of calling names, if in any respect eminent: the censure, however unfounded, runs from paper to paper, and truth always slower in its pace than falsehood, does not overtake
We are told by a writer of an after-age, that Nealces laboured in vain on the portraiture of a horse, not being able to satisfy himself in duly representing the foam of his mouth; when his patience being tired out, he took up his sponge, and threw it at the canvas, which falling luckily on the exact and critical part of the picture, effected completely by chance, what he was unable to do by design.
it, till it is tired in its course. The true. We do, we will adhere to this maxim. We will take up no characters of whom we cannot speak the truth. Biography of living persons has some exceptions to it. it has the air of adalation when you praise and of envy or malice, when you condemn. We have cotemporaries, at whose conduct in this respect we blush. The Universal Magazine shall never be the vehicle of incense to those whom we know in our hearts to be worthless. We will select only such characters for our observations, as we think deserve well of their country; such as merit imitation; or deserve public notice for their public conduct.
idea, however, of misleading the judgment of the council, was soon after done away, and the fullest satisfaction offered to the worthy president, for any uneasiness his mind might have felt upon the occasion. More than twenty years 220, a picture was finished for Lord D, the sect Hagar and her sick son: that nobleman's son dying soon after, who was supposed to have a little keness to the young figure in the piece, his Lordship could not bear to look upon it. He exchanged it for another with a picture dealer, and Mr. West availed himself of the opportunity of purchasing it. He made a consider able alteration in it, in above half of its extent, and wholly took out one figure and substituted another. He has done the same thing we understand with many of his pictures, and as well as the date of the first painting on them, has added that of the period of the alteration. Such alterations may be conceived adviseable, some on the score of matured judgment, improved taste, change of costume, or allered fancy: but from whatever motive he may be prompted to do it, a painte- has a right to make what changes he pleases with his own works. Mr. West, it seems, was confined by indisposition, and, therefore, not enabled to explain to the council what he had done to the picture. Envy's green eye had perspicacity to discern the two dates on the canvas, and obtained the rejection of the picture for that season. The true state of the matter was afterwards explained by the artist to the council, and the next year the picture was readily admitted. It would, therefore, be a pity and regret, that any person, whether at home or abroad, to whom the talents of Mr. West are known, should be led to form the unfavourable opinion of his probity, as a man not being equal to his skill as an artist. So far, however, from this circumstance having lessened him in the estimation of those who know him, we are persuaded, that in the qualities of integrity he may be put on the list with another great painter, Metrodorus of old, the Athenian, who was unanimously chosen to bring up the children of Paalus Emilius, as well as to adorn his triumph by the matchless trophies of his pencil. It is a maxim "Say nothing of the dead but what is good," we add, Say nothing of the living, but what is
Benjamin West, though a native of America, is not only claimed by England as her painter, but as her subject also. He was born at Springfield, Chester county, in the province of Pennsylvania. He is from a branch of the family which distinguished itself in the wars of Edward the Third. They settled at Long Crandon, in Buckinghamshire, during the reign of Richard the Second. They embraced the quaker principles about the year 1667, which had not then been long adopted. A Col. James West, one of his ancestors, and who distinguished himself in the battle of Worcester on the side of the republicans, is supposed to have been the first of the family who embraced quakerism. In Seward's Anecdotes is a letter from the renownedJohn Hampden to him. On the second visit of the celebrated William Penn, to his own province in America, denominated by him Pennsylvania, the greater part of Mr. Wes's family went the voyage with him. His grandfather and grandmother had previous'y crossed the Atlantic ocean, having accompanied the benevolent Penn in his first visit to the new colony. The present Mr. West is the son of Mr. Jolin West, and is the youngest of ten children. His turn for painting was discovered while he was very young, and at the early age of sixteen he was allowed by his family to follow it as a profession. It may be said of him, Faber suæ fortuno, for the savings by his diligence in painting portraits and historical pieces in Philadelphia and New-York, by the time he had a tined the age of twenty-one, enabled him to repair to Italy, that sent of the ancient and modern arts, and where genius never fails, like the bee, to lay in its stores for future occasions. In his way to Rome, Mr. West disembarked at Leghorn, and
there from the house of Messrs. Jackson rence, as well as from several Italians of
and Rutherford, at the factory, had the advantage of a recommendation to Cardinal Albani and others of distinction at Rome. Through this honourable channel he was introduced to RaphaelMinges, Pompio Battoni, and many eniinent artists in that capital. From frequent interviews with these persons, and from the kindness of Mr. Robinson, afterwards Lord Grantham, in obtaining for him an easy access to every thing that was new and precious in the art, he was enabled to bring that knowledge of the profession he had already acquired to the Roman standard of taste, which by common consent of the scientific is allowed to be indisputable. This to Mr. West was a kind of Normal school where masters themselves regulate their judgment, and acquire a confidence, which both facilitates their labours, and puts them out of the reach of being disturbed by the fickleness of other persons fancy, and the vascillating opinions of those who are in search of perfection, but know not where to find it. It is said that his mind was so affected and lighted up by the novelty and grandeur of what he saw within the walls of this once proud city, that his health was greatly affected and impaired, and he was advised by his medical friends accordingly to quit Rome for a time, which he did, and returned to Leghorn, once more to benefit himself by the kindness of his friends, and to bathe in the sea. His mind soon recovered its wonted vigour, and he again repaired to Rome to prosecute his studies. Michael Angelo, Kaphael, and Poussin, attracted most of his attention, and it is not difficult to discern that the style of two of these masters has entered considerably into the character of some of his compositions. A second time his health declined, and for the third time he took up his temporary residence at Leghezu, where again recovering as before, he did not think it proper to go back to Rome, but made the gallery of Florence the school of his further instruction. Now a more serious illness than before interrupted his career, and confined him more tian six months to his room and bed, ultimately terminating, by the resolution of a fever, in a tunified ancle, for the cure of which he was obliged to subruit to an operation. During this anxious and painful period, Mr. West received many friendly and condescending attentions from the late Lord Cowper, Sir Horace Mann, the English minister at Flo
distinction. His time, though spent in a sick room, was not wholly lost to him; for be employed a great part of it in reading, drawing, and composing histo rical subjects. As soon as he was able ke tried the effects of change of air, and visited Bologna, Parma, Mantua, Verona, and Venice, which places contain the valuable works of Correggio, Julio Romano, Titian, Caracci, and other cele brated masters of the Venetian and Lombard schools. With an invigorated health, and an enriched mind, he for the last time visited Rome. While here, he completed two pictures, one of Cymon and Iphigenia, which the connoisseurs spoke very favourably of, and affirmed to be full of promise. Not without some apprehensions of a relapse, he resolved to take the first favourable opportunity of seeing the country of his ancestors, In the company, therefore, of Mr. Paltoune, a gentleman of great taste in painting, he commenced his journey to Paris and London, making Parma, Genoa, and Turin, in his way. He was admitted to inspect some of the best pictures in the hotels of the nobility of Paris, where he was much gratified, and reached London in the month of August, 1763. He lost no time after his arrival here, but set about gratifying his desire to behold the best specimens of archi tecture and paintings the country con tains. For this purpose he paid a visit to Oxford, Blenheim, Bath, Fonthill, Wilton, Windsor, and Hampion Court, at which latter place he amply surveyed the Cartoons by Raphael. There was nothing very flattering in the state of the arts at this time, to induce our young traveller to fix his permanent residence in England, and he was actually prepar ing to return to Philadelphia, with the view of fixing himself in that city, and professing the art of which he now bad made himself a skilful master. He was informed, however, that in the following April an exhibition of painting, sculp; ture, and architecture, would be opened at the great room in spring-gardens, to which place he was invited by Mr. Reynolds (afterwards Sir Joshua) and Mr. Richard Wilson, to send the two pieces he had painted while at Rome; as also another portrait of General Monckton, which he had executed during the winter for that meritorious officer. The favourable reception by artists and the public, of these the first European fruits of his pencil, and the assurances
made to him that he could not fail to advance in proportion as he should be known, induced him to relinquish the idea of returning to the other hemisphere. In this same year, a lady of the name of Shewell, of PhiJadelphia, to whom Mr. West had been in a manner engaged, left that city in company with his father, and arriving in London a few weeks after, they were married and settled in London. By this amiable lady, (who has not the happiness, however, to enjoy a good state of health), Mr. West has two sons. Though both draw with ease and correctness, it is in the hand of the eldest only, we have sometimes discovered the pallet. Mr. West, however, will not, like Tintosett, leave a variety of unfinished pictures for his sons to complete. He is methodical, regular, and philosophical, in every thing he undertakes. While his imagination is warm on the subject, he devotes his hands to the lively impulse, and never lays by a work to be forgotten, but preserves it in his mind or under his eye, till it is fi nished. The exhibition at Spring Gardens, already spoken of, was formed in 1760, by artists, and in five years afterwards they became incorporated. Mr. West was elected a member, was soon appointed a director, and constantly exhibited his works there, till 1768, when a plan which had been framed for an institution of greater magnitude and importance, and which had been sub -mitted to the King, was approved of by his majesty. Mr. West was fixed on as one of the four artists named, to receive the royal approbation and instruction for carrying it into effect. To Dr. Drummond, then archbishop of York, Mr. West owed the advantage of having been introduced to the King. He had painted for that prelate, Agrippina landing at Brundusium with the ashes of Germanicus, and this picture which Dr. D. laid before the king, was the honourable passport of the artist to roval favour.
This was the occasioning of his majesty commissioning Mr. West to employ his pencil on Regulus, which work was the first of his exhibitions at the Royal Academy, on its opening in 1769. Mr. West has the best fitle to be named a supporter as well as a founder of the new academy, for there has not passed a year since its commencement in which he has not exposed some of his works
for public entertainment and private instruction. This constancy in his labour, a facility of execution arising from profound skill, together with the enjoyment of good health, since he has resided in England, have enabled him to shew such a list of his own works as we will venture to say was never produced by any master before, ancient or modern. It would seem not only as if he were the child of his art, but the art itself his child. He has an affection for it, no wonder therefore that he has exhibited it at all times in such engaging, such enchanting forms. Asthis pictures are all chaste, so have his manhers been always highly moral. He has never thrown away an hour in noisy riot, nor in die dissipation. He has a charming little viila, in Berkshire, his Tusculum; but he has not much leisure to enjoy it. The duty he has to perform as president of the academy, together with his professional avocations, engross almost the whole of his hours, though many of them "con sume the midnight oil." For what is called pleasure, or pleasurable parties, he has no time to spare. His mind derives recreation by withdrawing a short time from a large painting, a picture of profound and varied composition, to a smaller one, the subject of which is more familiar and easy of execution. His soul is in his profession, which is the reason SO much of it appears in his living figures. When we gaze on his Achilles now exhibiting in the academy, it is not necessary to see Thetis and Petrocius to know they are by him, and occupy his thoughts: in short we may say of him what Charles II. said in character of John Riley's works, he paints both inside and outside."
Mr. West has passed a good deal of his time at Windsor, in the neighbourhood of which place his countryhouse is situated. For many years he has enjoyed the countenance of royalty. If the king is not so fond of this noble art as some of his ancestors were who have filled the throne of England, he at least admires it sufficiently to profess himself the protector of it. His ma jesty's reign has not been a passive one, war has engaged more than one half of it. Peace is the nurse of the noble arts. No painter ever executed half the works for a king as Mr. West has done, and we doubt not to the entire satisfaction of his majesty. It has been no uncoin