Studio: international art — 30.1904

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The Lay Figure


" Do you painters imagine there will be any
result from these violent criticisms of the methods
of the Chantrey Fund Trustees ?" asked the
Barrister a little maliciously.

" Certainly," replied the Young Man with the Red
Tie ; " it is impossible that even the Royal Academy
can hold out long against the storm of disapproval
which is gathering about it. The Trustees, or in
other words the President and Council of the
Academy, will have to climb down this time.
Public -opinion is too strong for them : they must

"Anyhow, there is not much sign of it," broke
in the Probable Associate; "the Academy is not
so easily influenced by outside clamour as you
think; and so far its readiness to confess its sins
and throw itself on the mercy of its opponents is an
amusing dream of yours for which I can discover
no justification. Besides, of what do you accuse it ?
You must admit that it has kept quite correctly to
the terms of Chantrey's will, and has done nothing
that is forbidden in that document. Where is the
justification for the storm that you expect?"

"Oh! of course," sneered the Young Man,
"you always were a defender of the Academy. I am
tired of the plea that it is only doing what Chantrey
proposed. Do you suppose, if he had known
that his money would go only to exhibitors at
Burlington House, he would have handed it over to
a body of men who think only of themselves and
their friends ? What about his stipulation that none
but works of the highest merit should be bought ?
Partisan that you are, could you honestly plead that
most of the Chantrey pictures are not the worst
kind of commonplaces ?"

" I think we had better talk about something
else," replied the Probable Associate with dignity.
"Everyone who will not swallow all your prejudices
in a lump is, in the jargon of your party, a
' defender of the Academy.' After all, why should
I not defend it when it is unjustly attacked ? I
have never said that it has no faults ; but this
agitation against it seems to me to be unfair, and
to be neither sincere nor disinterested."

" Don't get so excited," said the Barrister ; " try
to discuss the question in a more judicial spirit.
The only point to be considered is whether or not
the Academy has fulfilled its legal obligations with
regard to the Chantrey Trust. For an artist, Chant-
rey seems to have been unusually business-like, and

he has provided the trustees of his fund with ample
directions for its administration. I do not under-
stand that anyone charges the Academy with having
committed a breach of trust; if it has not, what is
the use of attacking it? The members of the Council
are directed to buy works of art of the highest
merit which have been executed within the shores
of the British Isles, but it is left entirely to their
discretion to decide what is of the highest merit.
If they have an honest conviction that the best
things are only found in the Academy exhibitions,
they distinctly ought not to buy elsewhere. What
evidence have you that the public, or even many of
the artistic experts, quarrel with the way in which
the Trustees have done their duty? Most of the ob-
jections made by our young friend's party are, I think,
answered by the fact that the National Gallery
authorities—though, as you know, they have refused
many offers of works by well-known artists—accept
all Chantrey Fund purchases without question."

"At last!" said the Critic, who had been listen-
ing while the others were talking ; "at last we have
got to the one thing that is really important. All
this talk about the iniquities of the Academy in its
dealings with the Chantrey Fund, and all these
suggestions that its policy can be changed by
agitation, are simply futile. No one seems to
perceive that the extraordinary position which the
Academy occupies has been created solely by the
persistent folly of the public in accepting it as the
head and centre of British art. Of course, the
great mass of people in this country think the
Academy is the supreme artistic authority; the
Academicians say so themselves, and the outside
agitators by incessantly imploring them to do their
duty as leaders merely indorse a claim which has
no actual foundation. Any other art society could
be just as powerful if it were as consistent in study-
ing the popular likes and dislikes. If half the
energy which has been expended during the last
hundred years in agitations which advertise the
Academy had been devoted to educating the
popular taste, we should now have a critical
public capable of discriminating between the
masterpieces which are fit to be treasured in
the Tate Gallery and the pot-boilers which have
got into it simply because there is no one in
authority with knowledge enough to keep them
out. We might even have a Board of Trustees
at the National Gallery with the courage to refuse
a Chantrey Fund purchase on the ground that it
was not sufficiently good for a national collection.
Think what that would mean !"

The Lay Figure.
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