Studio: international art — 22.1901

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The Lay Figure


" I can illustrate my point," said the Critic,
"with a story that is told about Thackeray and
Millais. When Thackeray was editing the 1 Cornhill
Magazine,' he asked Millais to write a paper on
art. The painter did not rise to the occasion,
for he feared that his grammar and his spelling
had retained a certain freakishness of youth. But
Thackeray laughed at this excuse, and, with a mild
oath and a little common sense, tried to get rid of
it. He had several fools in his office who could
spell and write correctly, and what he needed was
a man who had something good and fresh to say.
May not this be applied with justice to the
Victorian Memorial ? "

" Certainly it may," said the Man with the Briar
Pipe. " The nation's real need is to find a some-
one whose ideas on this question of a Queen
Victoria Memorial are the very best that can
be obtained by a general appeal to the whole
Empire. It is not for us to consider the status
or the age of the person from whom the ideas
may come. He may be a venerable artist like
Mr. G. F. Watts, or an architect of known name,
or a student still in the schools, or some young
soldier in the war of art who at the present
moment is down-at-heel in spirit owing to debts
and disappointments. Whatever he may be,
the chief and necessary thing is to find him by
open competition. Once found, it will be no
difficult matter to add to his scheme, if necessary,
as much architectural grammar and spelling as
may be deemed requisite."

"I am quite of your opinion," cried the Archi-
tect, warmly. "The whole question is one of
justice both to Queen Victoria and to the memorial
love that would commemorate her for all time in a
noble realisation of itself in art. To do this, un-
doubtedly, is a thing of extreme difficulty, and it
has been made the more difficult by the unwisdom
shown in the first decisions of the executive
council. The first practical step ought to have
been taken by the Government, without the least
influence from the prejudices of any society of
• painters or of architects. The Government, as the
trustee of the Empire over which Queen Victoria
ruled so well and so long, had no right to shelter
itself behind the likes and dislikes of an executive
council. Its plain duty was to invite the art-workers
of the whole Empire to prepare schemes and sug-

gestions, and plenty of time should have been
allowed for this all-important gestation of ideas.
Yet I cannot but remember that all the most pro-
gressive races of men have been hasty, irrational;
they have reaped their experience in rough-and-
ready actions, and not in well ordered trains ot
completed thought; and we British have had to
pay the price of this in art, as scores of public
monuments bear witness. We not only com-
memorate in haste, but, as a rule, we feel ashamed
very much at our ease and leisure."

" Pessimism ! " laughed the Journalist. " Too
much thought is as bad for a nation as it was for
Hamlet. It leads to wrong actions, as in the case
of the executive council of the Queen Victoria
Memorial. This good council has thought itself
into the comical belief that it is infallible. Having
made choice, after due consideration, of a sculptor
and a handful of architects, not one of whom belongs
to the young generation, the council prophesies
thus: ' From these men alone we shall get the
very best that the Anglo-Celtic genius can give
us in the way of a National Memorial.' Genius,
as we know, like Una's beauty, can and does
make a sunshine in a shady place, but we do not
know every one of the shady places that are
thus illumined. All the genius in a country
does not discover itself at once, not even to the
self-assumed omniscience of a highly respectable
executive council."

" You may go further than that," said the Critic.
" Even if England possessed at the present time a
Michel Angelo, there are two reasons that should
induce the public to make the Victorian Memorial
an open competition. First of all, very great men
have proved themselves second-rate in subjects
imposed upon them ; and, secondly, strong
incentives of a national kind are now so rare in
art, that it is lamentable folly not to make the
utmost of their productive influence. To stir into
healthful rivalry at the same moment all the
creative genius in art that a far-scattered Empire
possesses, this without doubt is worth more than
many scores of annual exhibitions; and who can
say that of any competition restricted to a few
men ? Such competitions, quite justly, produce
infinite discontent, for they rob thousands of their
just claim to the privilege of doing their best in
a national movement."

" In an open competition," said the Architect,
"even the least capable not only does no harm,
he benefits himself; and the best talent is certain
to rise to the top, like cream."

The Lay Figure.
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