Studio: international art — 17.1899

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The Lay Figure

The lay figure.

“ I advise you to give it up as a bad
job,” said the Lay Figure. “You’ll
never get a beautiful London by taking
thought about it. What of beauty you do get will
be due to accident and to—decay.”

“ I don’t know what you mean,” said the County
Council Aesthete, with some warmth. “ Surely,
it’s all a question of organisation, and I maintain
that if you give the few men of taste in authority a
free hand, they’ll make you a beautiful London in
a generation or so at the most.”

“I suppose, then,” answered the Lay Figure,
scornfully, “ to your mind Paris is entirely a beauti-
ful city, and Vienna ? ”

“Not entirely, perhaps; but they’re not bad
models to go upon. Still, it will be a disgrace to
modern England, which has become so essentially
the home of art, if she can’t improve on both.”

“ Let us waive Paris and Vienna,” interjected
the Man with a Clay Pipe. “They confuse the
issue. For my part, they’re good enough for me.
But clearly that’s not the point. The point is that
neither the County Council, nor any other power,
temporal or spiritual, will be able to do for London
what the municipalities of Paris and Vienna have
done, respectively, for their cities. Our cursed
independence bars the way.”

“ Exactly,” said the Lay Figure. “ We may
leave Paris, in any case, out of the question. The
colossal schemes of Baron Hausmann owed more,
doubtless, to a commercial than to an aesthetic
impulse. No matter. This is beside the mark. In
Paris you can, for an artistic or outwardly artistic
purpose, get unity of aim. In England you’ll
never get unity of aim so far as an aesthetic enter-
prise goes. Moreover, does not every attempted
improvement in our streets and public buildings
resolve itself into a matter of jobbery? The
Englishman thinks first of all, not of the beautiful,
but of business. Any schemes for beautifying
London would undoubtedly resolve themselves
into sordid schemes of personal enrichment, or at
all events into schemes on the part of the authori-
ties to subserve the pecuniary interests of friends.
Whether the men selected were artists or not would
not weigh for a moment.”

“ Certainly,” adventured the Journalist, “history
bears you out. From the days when Christopher
Wren wanted to make a beautiful London until
to-day, vested interests and monopoly have always
proved omnipotent.”

“ Do you mean to say, then,” said the County

Councillor, “London has nothing of beauty to
show ? How about the Embankment, with Somerset
House and Waterloo Bridge; how about Piccadilly
and the Green Park ? ”

“ Entirely,” interjected the Lay Figure, “the result
of accident. Moreover, if some big syndicate,
with sufficient interest to carry the House of Com-
mons, were to lay its soiled fingers on the Green
Park and Piccadilly, or on to Waterloo Bridge and
Somerset House, they would be sacrificed, not with-
out a protest from a small section of the people,
it is true, but too small to prevent the mischief.
Westminster Abbey itself may be safe, but it nar-
rowly escaped being dwarfed and smothered up by
one of your precious money-making syndicates the
other day.”

“ But surely,” exclaimed the R. A., “ there is some
hope of beautifying London when the Academy
has set the example of devoting the liberal bequest
of our late President to the erection of artistic
memorials, monuments, drinking-fountains, public
seats ?—we have even remembered the lamp-posts.”

“ Bah ! ” growled the Art Reformer, “ what’s the
use of talking cant? You’ll give the commissions
for these things to your own nominees, men who
had become thoroughly commercialised before
they were in the position to receive them, and if
you’re building your hopes of beautifying London
on any humbug of this sort, you’re doomed to dis-
appointment. Look at the Royal Exchange busi-
ness. There’s a solemn warning for you ! And
mind, what I say applies to any official and sta-
tionary organisation—even the County Council.
Your precious organisations for the advancement
of art have already to my knowledge stunted, and
in some cases killed outright, some of the most
sensitive and promising art growths, both in the
abstract and in the personal sense.”

“ It comes to this, then,” summed up the Lay
Figure, with the decision of conviction : “ London
will never be beautified by design, because before
any body of men, however much they might possess
the genius and enthusiasm for such an enterprise,
could hope to be entrusted with it, they would
have to learn the ways of business; to have
clipped the wings of enthusiasm, and docked the
ears of genius in the pillory of public opinion and
commercial usage. What you will have of beauty
in London will creep into it unawares, like a thief
in the night. And for the rest, you must now, as
heretofore, trust to the kindly offices of Nature,
which abhors ugliness, and if you give her time,
will make beautiful the most hideous inventions of
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