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proof corrections by Margaret Bonar
2. Second draft.
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Created: by Thomas Davis (1844)
Beatrix Färber (ed.)
Beatrix Färber (ed.)
Beatrix Färber (ed.)
Margaret Bonar, Dublin (ed.)
Audrey Murphy (text capture)
Art Unions are a substitute for State patronage. The State can do much for art. It can furnish teachers and models to a large class, and it can enable an artist to live by great works. Private patronage does not encourage great works. They require much time, and occupy a larger space than suits the size of private dwellings. Their price is immense, not only from the labour they require, but because of the rarity of men able to execute them. Wherever the arts have flourished the State has been their chief patron. So it was in Athens where art was a branch of public business. In Rome, the patronage was even more liberal, if not quite so just. When arts revived, they were sustained by the monarchs and ecclesiastical corporations of all Europe. But, amongst their earliest, firmest, and wisest friends, were the little republics of Italy and the corporations of the Low Countries. Even now there is more art of a high order called out by the patronage of the little court of Munich than by any people in the world. When we speak of high art, we mean art used to instruct and ennoble men; to teach them great deeds, whether historical, religious, or romantic; to awaken their piety, their pride their justice, and their valour; to paint the hero, the martyr, the rescuer, the lover, the patriot, the friend, the saint, and the Saviournor is it confined to expressing moral excellence. It expresses intellectual and physical mightthe poet,
p.141the orator, the sage, the giant savage, the falling angel. Whatever can be painted or sculptured, of strength or sweetness, of grace or terror, of piety or powerthat belongs to high art.
In prizing State patronage so high, we do not assume it sufficient to produce great artists. Public passions, strong thoughts, condensed and deep education must exist (along with facilities to learn, and State patronage) to produce great artists. The perfect success of the little states of Greece, Italy, and the Low Countries in art, was owing less to their patronising art than to the strong passions, the public spirit, the concentration and earnestness of character produced by local government. Polygamy is not more unnatural and debasing than central government. We do not hope to see art advance much till national character is restored by the break up of two or three of the huge and hateful empires.
Latterly a substitute for state patronage has been found, or supposed to have been found, in Art Unions. The clubbed guineas of thousands form a sum large enough to buy the costliest pictures. We do not think these Unions can realise all their more sanguine friends look for. Some people subscribe to encourage art, most people to get pictures and prints. There is therefore a strong inducement among the managers of these institutions to have as many prizes as possible to distribute. Their motive is excellent. Their desire is to serve artists and satisfy the public. They are all gratuitous labourers in this excellent work. But the effect is to break up the fund into small sums, and to prevent Art Committees from buying great, and, therefore, costly pictures, and thus to discourage them.
p.142Perhaps even in this respect these committes are blameless; a petty style existed, and has not been got rid of, and it may be many years before they have the opportunity of buying a picture great in design and execution.
Still these institutions do and have done a great deal. They have given the guineas of tens of thousands to support artists who might otherwise have starved or painted portraits. They have put hundreds of pictures and thousands of fine prints into houses where a catchpenny London engraving, or nothing at all, would have reached. They have created an excitement about art. Men talk of it, read of it, think of it, and recommend it, who, ten years ago, would not have heeded its existence. Artists thus encouraged and honoured are improving, and there is every hope that by the continuance of such support, and by the increase of public spirit, a school of eminent Irish artists will be created to illustrate their country's history and character, and to associate their fame with her's.
We speak thus of the Art Union's prospects because we regard the declaration of their illegality as trivial. Some of our readers may not know that on the 12th of April 1844 the Solicitor of the Treasury wrote to the Secretaries of the London Art Union, stating that the law officers had given an opinion that art unions were illegal under the Lottery Act, and that if the distribution, then about to take place, were made, the parties would be liable to prosecution. A deputation from the Union subsequently saw Sir George Clerk of the Treasury, represented the public interest in the Union their service to art and artists, their legality in the
p.143opinion of several eminent lawyers, and their presumed lawfulness from the fact that several State officers subscribed to them, and that many of the Irish judges were officcers of the Irish Art Union. Nothing, however, was done, though Sir J. Clerk made several sweet speeches on Sir Robert Peel's part. Sinking as the Government is under other business, they will naturally, and without much blame, neglect this unless roused. We feel sure that Peel will not object, if urged to it, to bring in a short bill legalising Art Unions under guarantees against their being used for trading speculation, as they have been in London. For this purpose we recommend the Irish Art Union to petition at once, and to get that petition backed, as they can, by a joint deputation of the Conservative, Whig and Repeal members for Ireland.