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Five minor pieces are included in this small pamphlet, only one of which, "The Fairies," is at all equal to the poem we have just gone through; the rest might be called tolerable in any other company. The words from Mr. Wordsworth, "a simple song to thinking hearts," affixed as a motto to one of them, led us to expect something more than an ordinary tale of disappointed love. The author of "The Naiad," however, displays so much talent, that we hope to see him affix his name to something of higher aim in its subject, and greater originality in its style.
ART. III.-Letters on the Fine Arts; written from Paris in the Year 1815. By HENRY MILTON, Esq. London, Longman and Co. 1816. 8vo. pp. 255.
MR. FLAXMAN-perhaps the most deservedly eminent of our British sculptors-is recorded to have lamented, before the destruction of the Museum of the Louvre was contemplated, that the great works of Art, particularly in statuary, had been removed from the places which their presence had for ages consecrated, and had been collected in a focus in the metropolis of France: he regretted it, not so much because it was the effect of national spoliation and robbery, as because he considered it injurious to the study and progress of the fine arts. In opposition to French writers, who speciously vindicated this violation of the rights even of conquered countries, on the ground of general advantage, he held the opinion, that the reverse would be the conse quence; and that the huddling together of productions of the chisel or the pencil, which before had been separately viewed and admired, would injure their effect on the minds of the skilful; and with the unlearned and unskilful would produce such a confusion and bewildering, as to render them almost incapable of receiving the delightful impressions these admirable productions would otherwise excite. For ourselves, we can bear witness to the truth of this remark; and we doubt much if most of those who visited Paris in 1815, and who, day after day, with unwearied assiduity, went through the galleries of the Louvre, will not join with us in declaring, after all the panegyrics pronounced upon the Apollo, the Laocoon, the Diana, or the other relics of antiquity, that their expectations were by no means fulfilled by the contemplation of those statues. Not a few of the visitors, we are persuaded, left the halls bitterly disappointed in themselves,-grieved at their own obtuseness,
which could remain almost insensible to the perfections of works that had inspired the eloquence of the ablest writers of the world. The secret, however, is in the opinion of Mr. Flaxman above stated; and happy is it for the cause of justice-and, we may say, of the arts-that these productions have been restored to situations where they may singly receive the homage that is due to them. In the palace of the Belvidere, the Apollo stood, in the centre of a spacious hall, where he presided in single majesty,
and the Venus of Medici, instead of being exposed among satyrs and centaurs, was allowed in private to disclose those beauties which in public she appeared so anxious to conceal. Some persons, looking at the present state of the fine arts in Paris-at the paintings of David or Guerin, and at the few works of any excellence produced by French sculptorshave wondered that, with all the advantages her artists possessed in the Museum of the Louvre, France has not outstripped other countries of the world in the various departments of the fine arts. What we have said in the former paragraph will, we apprehend, partly account for the contrary being the fact; and although apparently paradoxical, it would not be very difficult to shew, that public institutions, and even the powerful patronage of the govern ment of a country, contribute much less to the advancement of the fine arts than is generally supposed. The truth of this position may be supported, in some degree, by looking how little has been done for literature by all the efforts of the French Academy, so severely lashed by some of the satirists of their own nation. Whatever may be the case with painting and sculpture, in poetry it is undoubtedly true, that its noblest efforts have been made under circumstances that seemed least to promise success.
In consequence of this disparity between the works of art collected, and those produced, in Paris, the letters on our table are chiefly devoted to the contents of the Louvre, which, at the time the greater part of the volume purports to be written, were yet undisturbed. Mr. Milton states, that his principal object was to give a more complete account of them than had been hitherto published; and cer tain it is, that very few of the numerous volumes called for by public curiosity on the opening of the Continent, were
sufficiently devoted to this great subject: few of the visitors of the French capital, who were competent to the task, felt inclined to touch upon a subject on which so much had already been said; and those who were incompetent, found that more interest was felt in this country as to the fashions of the people, and the events of the day, than would be excited by any discussion upon valuable and lasting topics. The author of these Letters thus states his design, and the mode in which he endeavoured to accomplish it :
"The chief part of these Letters are devoted to remarks on the principal statues and pictures. In submitting them to the public, some explanation of the writer's intention should perhaps be given.
"Works of art may be viewed either with reference to the means by which they are produced, or to the effect resulting from those means. It is the exclusive privilege of the artist to speak on the former subject; but, on the latter, those who do not possess practical skill may be competent to judge. The labours of the sculptor, the painter, and the architect, would fail of success, if they were only addressed to the artist: they are given to the world: and hence, all will assume to themselves a right to judge and discuss their merits; nor can any production be considered as successful, which gains only the applause of those who view it with reference to the difficulty of its execution, and the accuracy of its parts.
"The argument has, indeed, been carried still further; and it has been employed to shew, that practical skill is detrimental to general criticism; that the artist loses sight of the end in the means; and that his own peculiar style, the turn of his own study, influences his opinion, or at least occupies too great a portion of his attention. But splendid instances might be adduced, in the literature of our own country, disproving these assertions.--In the criticisms contained in this volume, the author has endeavoured not to encroach on the province of the artist." (p. v.-vii.)
We shall omit the introductory matter given by Mr. Milton, because it principally relates to points with which all persons are by this time pretty well acquainted, viz. the manner in which the pictures and the statues were disposed in the gallery and halls of the Louvre. He afterwards proceeds to notice seriatim many of the principal pictures: the Transfiguration naturally first occupies his attention.
"The Transfiguration, the pride of Italy, and the picture of the first fame in the world, can, alas! scarcely be said to exist as a painting by Raphael. We know, that nearly an hundred years ago it had become extremely dark; it is now by far the brightest of all his works in the collection: and not only from my own very minute examination, but from the remarks which I have heard from several
English artists, I am convinced that it has throughout been newly painted. Anxious to obtain certain information of the fact, I addressed myself the other day to a French artist, who was making an iron copy of La Belle Jardinière. He answered my inquiries politely, but did not appear to feel the slightest interest on the subject. Yes,' he said, it had been restored; he did not know by whom ;some of the people employed about the Museum had done it. Yes, it was very dark before; he believed that all of it had been painted over-most of it, at least; that is, all the parts that required it;' ending, by very coolly observing, that when parts of a picture become imperfect, of course they must be restored.This is indeed profanation. The French might have been forgiven for stealing the picture, or even for making it the subject of chemical experiment: but thus to destroy it, is without excuse. The merest wreck of this noble work, genuine from the hand of Raphael, would have been a thousand times more valuable than such a forgery.
"The people employed have, however, done their sacrilegious task better than could have been expected. The expressions of the countenances are admirable; the contours they could scarcely injure; and we may, I suppose, presume that, in the colouring, they followed the original as closely as possible: but the interest of the picture is gone." (p. 45-47.)
Of course, we have no right to doubt the veracity of Mr. Milton; but when we find with what an unfavourable, not to say prejudiced, eye he has looked at every thing that is French, (often with less discrimination than we should have expected from his good sense,) we cannot help thinking that the copy of this story here given has unconsciously received a little higher colouring than the original would warrant : it is most probable that many touches have been given to The Transfiguration, that did not proceed from the brush of Raphael, and it is very likely that formerly it was of a darker hue than at present; but surely Mr. Milton must know that, without the addition of a particle of colour, the mere operation of cleaning, by removing the dirt collected on the varnish of the surface, would considerably enliven the appearance of the canvas. We deny the assertion, that this picture is "by far the brightest of all the works of Raphael in the collection." What does Mr. Milton say to the Belle Jardinière, of which he has just above accused the French artist of making an iron copy? What does he say to the Madonna della Sédia, to The Assumption, or even to the St. Michael?-all of these are much lighter in colour than the Transfiguration in its present state. Mr. Milton does not profess to speak as an artist upon the subject; and it is obvious from his whole work that he has more taste 2 Z
CRIT. REV. VOL. IV. Oct. 1816.
than science; but these hasty accusations rather savour too much of an affectation of knowledge he does not really possess. He goes at length into all the objections repeatedly urged against this mighty work, such as the division of the picture into two parts, (which is a fault Raphael shared with his master, with his pupil, with Dominichino, with Leonardo da Vinci, and many others,) and the improbability that the persons below should not attend to the Transfiguration which was taking place above. To this the answer is quite as obvious as the objection, viz. that the artist left something to the imagination of the spectator: his object was to make a fine, and not merely a correct picture; it was to be adapted to the purpose for which it was designed; and had he not committed these errors, of which he could not be more ignorant than Mr. Milton, he must have separated his grand whole into two parts,-both of which would have been incomplete, and more unsatisfactory.
The observations of Mr. Milton upon the rest of the pictures of Raphael are extremely cursory, and Julio Romano and Leonardo da Vinci are dismissed in a few words; the unequalled picture of the Vierge aux Rochers, by the latter, is not even mentioned. To Titian, Corregio, and some others, he is more liberal of his pen, ink, and paper; and we must admit that his strictures are dictated by a correct judgment, though few attempts are made at novelty either of thought or expression. We will quote some of his observations upon the modern French school of painting, lamenting that they have not more of the liberality and candour which might be expected from a young man, as Mr. Milton evidently appears to be.
"When we parted in London, you requested me to give you some account of the present state of the art in France. I am little qualified to do so; as it is difficu whilst surrounded by a profusion of noble works, to examine with attention what are so decidedly inferior: added to this, many of the paintings on which the French most pride themselves, are at present not visible; the subjects they represent being the victories of Buonaparte, the government has deemed it expedient to cover them with a green cloth. If their merits correspond with their size, they must be the finest pictures in the world.
"In addition to the works by David which I have just mentioned, I have seen two or three of his portraits: they are splendid paintings; and he is highly skilled in all the mechanical parts of his profession: his faces have that strong appearance of individual expression, which inclines you, without knowing the original, to pronounce them to be likenesses. But his portraits are no more to be compared to those