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Institutions of Dublin (Author: Thomas Osborne Davis)


Institutions of Dublin: No. 1

Judged by the Directory, Dublin is nobly supplied with institutions for the promotion of Literature, Science, and Art; and, judged by its men, there is mind enough here to make these institutions prosper, and instruct and raise the country. Yet their performances are far short of these promises, and the causes for ill-success are easily found. We believe these causes could be almost as easily removed.

In the first place, we have too many of these institutions. Stingy grants from Government and the general poverty of the people render economy a matter of the first consequence; yet we find these societies maintaining a number of separate establishments, at a great expense of rent and salaries.

The consequence, of course, is that none of them flourish as they ought—museums, meetings, lectures, libraries, and exhibitions are all frittered away, and nothing is done so well as it might be. Moreover, from the want of any arrangement and order, the same men are dragged from one society to another—few men do much, because all are forced to attempt so many things.

But 'tis better to examine this in detail, and in doing so we may as well give some leading facts as to the chief of these bodies. Take, for example, as a beginning,

And first there is the Hibernian Academy.


It was founded in 1823, received a present of its house in Abbey Street, and some books and casts, from Francis Johnston1, a Dublin architect, and has the miserable income of £300 a year from the Treasury. It has a drawing-school, with a few casts, no pictures, bad accommodation, and professors whose pay is nearly nominal.

It undoubtedly has some men of great ability and attainments, and some who have neither; but what can be done without funds, statues, or pictures? To aggravate its difficulties, the Dublin Society has another art school, still worse off as to casts, and equally deficient in pictures. As a place of instruction in the designing of patterns for manufactures and the like, the Dublin Society school has worked well; and many of the best-paid controllers of design in the English manufactories were educated there; but as a school of fine arts it does little; and no wonder. Another branch of the Hibernian Academy's operations is its annual exhibition of pictures. These exhibitions attract crowds who would never otherwise see a painting, promote thought on art, and procure patronage for artists. In this, too, the Hibernian Academy has recently found a rival in the Society of Irish Artists, established in 1842, which has an annual exhibition in College Street, and pays the expenses of the exhibition out of the admission fees, as does the Hibernian Academy. We are not attaching blame to the Society of Irish Artists in noticing the fact of its rivalry.

There are three other bodies devoted to the encouragement of art. One of these is the Art


Union, founded in 1840, and maintained entirely by subscriptions to its lottery. It distributes fine engravings from Irish pictures among all its members, and pictures and statues, bought in the exhibitions of the Hibernian Academy, and of the Society of Irish Artists, among its prize-holders; and it gives premiums for the works of native or resident artists. Its operation is as a patron of art; and, in order to get funds for this purpose, and also to secure superior works and a higher competition, it extends its purchases to the best foreign works exhibited here. It has no collection, and has merely an office in College Street—in fact, its best permanent possession is its unwearied secretary. The Society of Ancient Art was established last year for the formation of a public gallery of casts from classical and mediaeval statues, and ultimately for purposes of direct teaching by lectures, &c. It obtained some funds by subscription; but under the expectation, 'tis said, of a public grant, has done nothing. Lastly, there is the Institute of Irish Architects, founded in 1839 ‘for the general advancement of civil architecture, for promoting and facilitating the acquirement of a knowledge of the various arts and sciences connected therewith, for the formation of a library and museum,’ &c.

To us it is very plain that here are too many institutions, and that the efficiency of all suffers materially from their want of connection and arrangement. Some, at least, might be amalgamated with great advantage, or rather all, except the Art Union. That is only a club of purchasers, and any attempt materially to change its nature would peril its funds. Some such plan as the following would accomplish all that is


vainly attempted now. Let the Government be pressed to give £2,000 a year, if the public supply £1,000 a year. Let this income go to a new Hibernian Academy—the present Hibernian Academy, Artists' Society, Society of Ancient Art, the Art Schools of the Dublin Society, and the Institute of Irish Architects being merged in it. This merger could be easily secured through the inducements secured by the charter, and by accommodation, salaries, and utility of the new body. The present property of these bodies, with some moderate grant, would suffice for the purchase of a space of ground ample for the schools, museums, library, lecture-room, and yards of such an institution.

At the head of it should be a small body governing and accounting for its finances, but no person should be a governing member of more than one of its sections. These sections should be for Statuary, Painting, Architecture, and Design Drawing. Each of these sections should have its own Gallery and its own Practice Rooms; but one Library and one public Lecture Room would suffice for the entire. The architectural section would also need some open space for its experiments and its larger specimens A present of copies of the British Museum casts, along with the fund of the Ancient Art Society, would originate a Cast Gallery, and a few good pictures could be bought as a commencement of a National Gallery of Painting, leaving the economy of the managers and the liberality of the public gradually to fill up. Collections of native works in canvas and marble, and architectural models, could be soon and cheaply procured. The Art Library of the Dublin Society added to that of the Hibernian


Academy would need few additions to make it sufficient for the new body.

Such an Institute ought not to employ any but the best teachers and lecturers. It should encourage proficiency by rewards that would instruct the proficient; it should apply itself to cataloguing, preserving, and making known all the works of art in the country; give prizes for artistical works; publish its lectures and transactions; issue engravings of the most instructive works of art; and hold evening meetings, to which ladies would be admitted. It should allow at least £400 a year for the support of free pupils. In connection with its drawing and modelling schools should be a professorship of anatomy, or, what were better, some arrangement might be made with the College of Surgeons, or some such body, for courses of instruction for its pupils. The training for its pupils in sculpture, painting, and design should include the study of ancient and modern costumes, zoology, and of vegetable and geological forms. For this purpose books should not be so much relied on as lectures in gardens, museums, and during student excursions. Of course the architectural pupils should be required to answer at a preliminary examination in mathematics, and should receive special instruction in the building materials, action of climate, &c., in Ireland.

Were the buildings standing, and the society chartered judiciously, the sum we have mentioned would be sufficient. Four professors at from £200 to £300 a year each, four assistants at £100 a year each, a librarian at the same rate, with payments for extra instruction in anatomy, &c., &c., and for porters, premiums, and so forth, would not exceed£ 2,000 a year. So that if £400


were expended on free pupils, there would remain £600 a year for the purchase of works for the galleries.

At present there is much waste of money, great annoyance and loss of time to the supporters of these institutions, and marvellously little benefit to art. The plan we have proposed would be economical both of time and money; but, what is of more worth, it would give us, what we have not now, a National Gallery of Statuary and Painting—good Exhibition Rooms for works of art—business-like Lecturers and Lectures—great public excitement about art—and, finally, a great National Academy.

If anyone has a better plan, let him say it; we have told ours. At all events, some great change is needed, and there can be no fitter time than this for it.