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HINTS RESPECTING THE FINE ARTS.
THE long expected print the death of lord Chatham by Sherwin, &c. from Copley, was finished in September 1790, and has been ever since at the rolling prefs for the subscribers who are to receive proofs in the order of their subscriptions.
This is, perhaps, the greatest work, in the line of historical portrait in engraving, that was ever published. It contains sixty actual portraits of persons of eminence or rank, who were present when lord Chatham was seized with a fit, after having exhausted the powers of his enervated body in replying to the Duke of Richmond.
Chatham is supported by his son, the present premier, his eldest son being then in Canada. The figure of the Duke of Richmond occupies, perhaps, too much the attention of the spectator; and in the picture, the glare of the robes is very adverse to the good keeping and repose of the piece.
But these defects are concealed in the print by its want of colour, which gives an additional value to the engraving. Subscription tickets for this print, of an early date, entitling the holders to first proofs, have been, it is said, frequently sold for fifteen guineas, being five times the original subscription.
The Voyage Pittoresque de la France, par l'Amy, in eight volumes folio, lately published, and dedicated to the Constituting Afsembly of the nation, is a most splendid and interesting work, and worthy of general attention, though its price puts it out of the power of the poor admirer of elegance. The plan of the late worthy John Knox, which proved abortive by his death, would have matched this noble work, in Britains
Jan. 11. and it is to be hoped, Knox's collections now sold, may still find their way to the public. This is the æra for great doings in England, while the pagodas and lacks of rupees are flowing into our island, and before we are quite smothered by Burks and Bishops, and all taste extinguished, but that for royalty and boxing, for pitts and cockfighting.
Mr Tafsie, that wonderful pupil of nature improved by art, in modelling and sculpture, has lately made. a confiderable stay in Scotland to visit his relations at Glasgow, where, and at Edinburgh, he has modelled several portraits of eminent persons, and taken imprefsions of curious gems, not yet executed in paste. This extraordinary man, who has done more than any man in Europe, by the multiplication of fac similies of the beautiful gems of antiquity, to improve the taste of the middling ranks of people in Britain, by making them cheaply acquainted with the ftores of clafsic elegance in sculpture, has now verified above fifteen thousand originals of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art, whereof near twelve thousand were purchased for the cabinet of the Czarina, and deposited in a cabinet for her imperial majesty by Mr Rafpe, who wrote a catalogue ex-, plaining the nature of the various emblems and subjects, which has been lately published for the use of collectors, and the instruction of the curious. These ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, convey many useful lefsons of morality and politics, as well as gratify the eye of the virtuoso. I fhall exemplify this observation, by the description of a seal now lying before me, the original of which is, I believe, in the collection of the grand duke of Tuscany.
To the first blush of remark, it exhibits no more than a portrait of Alexander of Macedon, preposterously, but commonly called the Great, on account of his
having butchered an uncommon number of men; but who is only worthy of being called Great, on account of his patronage of literature and the fine arts, and his scheme for facilitating commerce.
Upon a closer inspection, however, you perceive that the head, though denoted by a B. A. king Alexander, is a head of Pallas or Minerva, ifsuing from the head of Jupiter.
Jupiter, it was said, at a celestial banquet, fell in love with Metis the goddefs of counsel, who being afterwards pregnant, his godfhip took her up, and quaffed her off with a goblet of nectar. Soon after, in the course of celestial affairs, he found himself to be, as gods would not wish to be, who love their characters, in a state of cephalic pregnancy. His head ached accordingly most consumedly, and, in despair, he ordered Vulcan to give him a stroke with his fore hammer. The smith did his part, and out sprung Minerva, the goddess of perfect prudence and wisdom.
Now the moral of all this is pretty.
If a first magistrate or king takes counsel, he is to smuggle the author, make the upshot of it, if successful, tend to his own honour, and conceal the matter altogether if he fails.
We ought not to omit mentioning Mr Wedgewood on this occasion, who has perhaps done more for improving the taste, and perfecting some of the manufactures of this country, than any other person. Having studied with great attention the fine Etruscan vases, and other beautiful models of ancient art, introduced into Britain by Sir William Hamilton, he soon gave to his earthen vases, and other vessels, an elegance of form till then unknown, and to the figures with which they were adorned, a delicacy and perfection that had never VOL. Vii.
been seen in this country. Other inferior artists have imitated him in this respect; so that at the present time, the meanest mechanic has it in his power to contemplate figures, on the most common implements he uses, of surprising beauty and elegance. Thus is the taste of the most illiterate improved.
The portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds, now generally known by every one through the medium of prints, and the delicate designs of Cipriani, rendered familiar by the same means, have also contributed their share towards the forming a national taste. Owing to these and other lefser causes co-operating, no nation, perhaps, ever made such rapid advances in the elegant arts, as Britain has done within the last twenty or thirty years. Boydell's Shakespeare.
Thirty years ago it was retailed in every book
on painting, that the climate of Britain was such, as to prevent her from ever being able to indulge the hope that ever he would be able to produce one painter who could be deemed eminent in his profession; and though we cannot perhaps yet boast of artists who have attained, in every respect, the utmost degree of perfection, yet it will be pretty generally admitted, that there are at present a greater number of excellent artists in Britain, or of that school, than in any other country whatever.
The superb edition of Shakespeare by Boydell, is, perhaps, the noblest enterprize that ever was attempted by an individual in the line of the fine arts, and will be a monument to future ages, not only of the taste of the times, and the stage to which the fine arts had arrived at this time in Britain, but also of the energy that naturally results from freedom, and a perfect security of property. Most of our readers probably know, that
this very splendid edition of Shakespeare is to be accompanied by a set of prints, copied from original paintings by the best artists in Europe, done for the purpose. One copy of this book, with the prints, costs a hundred guineas. The paintings are to be preserved in a hall built on purpose, called Shakespeare's gallery, which is now open for the inspection of the public. Some numbers of the work are already delivered to the subcribers; and as the prints are to be given exactly in the order of the subscriptions, so eager are the public for obtaining the finest imprefsions, that those who subscribed early, have it now in their power to obtain a very considerable premium to part with their copies to others.
Boydell's Milton and Thomson.
Encouraged by the succefs of this undertaking, no lefs than two proposals have been already offered to the public, for an edition of the works of Milton, and Thomson on the same plan. One of these was proposed by a set of artists of considerable eminence. The other by Meffrs Boydells, the editors of Shakespeare. Which of the two will succeed, time will determine.
These works will exhibit to future ages, perhaps the fairest specimen of the present state of the fine arts in Britain, that ever was produced in any nation; as it does not contain only the works of one artist, chiefly, and his school, like the gallery of Farnese, and several others in Italy, but will exhibit specimens of the performances of all the artists of eminence in this country, who are thus stimulated to yie with each other for present emolument, as well as futu.e fame. Nor is it the painters alone, but the engravers also, whose works and names will thus be perpetuated. So that future ages will be able to judge very exactly of our present attainments in these respects.