The Royal Academy. The real power of the Royal Academy lay in its early days, and the driving force behind its consolidation was not primarily intellectual or social at all. It related to the machinery of distribution and sale. High thinking and good social connections were fine and dandy, but what really mattered, when the Annual Dinner had been cleared away, was the chance of showing new pictures in grand surroundings and under Royal patronage. As far as new pictures went, the R.A. had a monopoly on large scale display. And within its era, that meant big money for a public that had been exposed to the Grand Tour and the ensuing hot flushes of nationalist sentiment brought on by the Napoleonic wars. It was the artist’s natural showroom and this advantage it retained for more than a century, till 1875, in fact, when the modern art world in London began with the Grosvenor Gallery….
…This is the reality behind the great days of the Royal Academy. It could have been said of it in Reynold’s day, as it was later said of the House of Commons, that it was “the best club in London.” An old boys club. Its bias was genuinely of a higher educational sort, but in truth, it owed much of its character to that great English trait, the wish to put a good face on trade, and sit back and enjoy the easy life that monopoly affords. Sort of art as a painterly East India Company. Bejamin West succeeded Reynolds, but all was not well, though the Academy moved into the Victorian age with near unanimous support of the British public. William Hazlitt was not shy about voicing his displeasure of the R.A. being an art factory, concerned with distributing product where the spiritual component of art was reduced to commodity status:
The Academy, from its commencement and up to the present hour, is in fact, a mercantile body, like any other mercantile body, consisting chiefly of manufacturers of portraits, who have got a regular monopoly of this branch of trade, with a certain rank, style, and title of their own, that is, with the King’s privilege to be thought Artists and men of genius, — and who, with the jealousy natural to such bodies, supported by authority from without, and by cabal within, think themselves bound to crush all generous views and liberal principles of Art, lest they should interfere with their monopoly and their privilege to be thought Artists and men of genius. The Academy is the Royal road to Art. The whole style of English Art, as issuing from this Academy, is founded on a principle of appeal to the personal vanity and ignorance of their sitters, and of accommodation to the lucrative pursuits of the Painter, in a sweeping attention to effect in painting,by which means he can cover so many more whole or half lengths in each season. The Artists have not time to finish their pictures, or if they had, the effect would be lost in the superficial glare of that hot room, where nothing but rouged cheeks, naked shoulders, and Ackermann’s dresses for May, can catch the eye in the crowd and bustle and rapid succession of meretricious attractions, as they do in another hot room of the same equivocal description. Read More:http://www.archive.org/stream/cu31924064976966/cu31924064976966_djvu.txt
This Man was Hired to Depress Art.
This is the opinion of Will Blake: my Proofs of this Opinion are given in the following Notes…
Having spent the vigor of my Youth and Genius under the Oppression of Sr Joshua & his Gang of Cunning Hired Knaves Without Employment & as much as could possibly be Without Bread, The Reader must Expect to Read in all my Remarks on these Books Nothing but Indignation& Resentment. While Sir Joshua was rolling in Riches, Barry was Poor & Unemploy’d except by his own Energy; Mortimer was call’d a Madman, & only Portrait Painting applauded & rewarded by the Rich & Great. Reynolds & Gainsborough Blotted & Blurred one against the other & Dividedthe English World between them. Fuseli, Indignant, almost hid himself. I am hid….
…One of the strongest-marked characters of this kind … is that of Salvator Rosa. – Reynolds
Why should these words be applied to such a Wretch as Salvator Rosa? Salvator Rosa was precisely what he Pretended not to be. His Pictures are high Labour’d pretensions to Expeditious Workmanship. He was the Quack Doctor of Painting. His Roughness & Smoothnesses are the Production of Labour & Trick. As to Imagination, he was totally without Any.
I will mention two other painters, who, though entirely disimilar… have both gained reputation… The painters I mean, are Rubens and Poussin. Rubens… I think… a remarkable instance of the same mind being seen in all the various parts of the art. The whole is so much of a piece… – Reynolds
All Rubens’s Pictures are painted by Journeymen & so far from being all of a Piece, are The most wretched Bungles.
His Colouring, in which he is eminently skilled, is not withstanding too much of what we call tinted. – Reynolds
To My Eye Rubens’s Colouring is most Contemptible. His Shadows are of a Filthy Brown somewhat of the Colour of Excrement; these are fill’d with tints & messes of yellow & red. His lights are all the Colours of the Rainbow, laid on Indiscriminately & broken into one another. Altogether his Colouring is Contrary to The Colouring of Real Art & Science.
Opposed to Rubens’s Colouring Sir Joshua Reynolds has placed Poussin, but he ought to put All Men of Genius who ever Painted. Rubens & the Venetians are Opposite in every thing to True Art & they Meant to be so; they were hired for this Purpose. Read More:http://anaba.blogspot.com/2005/04/william-blake-on-joshua-reynolds.html