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deprived her at once of life, truth, and freedom.”—De Tocqueville, vol. ii, p. 53.
National vanity inhibits the supposition that all greatness and nobleness in art are still transatlantic; yet the tourist critics of a score of years have scarcely discerned the first glimmerings of artistical excellence in America. De Tocqueville discovers the deficiency, not in any lack of genius, but in the peculiar influence of democratic institutions : "the productions of artists are more numerous, but the merit of each production is diminished; no longer able to soar to what is great, they cultivate what is pretty and elegant, and appearance is attended to more than reality; in aristocracies a few great pictures are produced, in democratic countries a vast number of insignificant ones.”—De Tocqueville, vol. ii, p. 52. For the ingress of the age of the heroic in art, if it is destined to come to us at all, we must bide our time. To Rome it never came until the throne of the Cæsars had been exchanged for the pontifical chair. Alexander the Great did personal homage to the genius of Apelles ; patrician and plebeian, in the eternal city, contemptuously styled the knight of the brush “Sir Pictor." Charles Fifth's condescension to Titian has been outdone by the courtly honors, knightly privileges, and university immunities, lavished by England upon artists, native and foreign ; but, in the opinion of many, heroic art never crossed the Straits, if, indeed, it has ever transcended its Alpine boundaries. When and how the poetry of art is to reach the cisatlantic shores, is a problem for the future to solve. The divinities of olden inspiration are not marvelously attentive to American invocation. The muses are wi. thered spinsters, always sufficiently fastidious, somewhat venial in their old age, tinctured, perhaps, with the prevailing acquisitiveness of the times, and doubtless blessed with a feminine aversion to bilge-water, nausea, and confinement in close state-rooms during an Atlantic voyage, if indeed they be not troubled with visions of tomahawks and scalping-knives, the clatter and fumes of the coarser arts, the stagnant level of American character, and the rude jostle of vulgar equality and democratic politics. Future disciples of the epic must allow them the usual freedoms and comforts of honored senility—bohea, maccoboy, and the quiet retirement of the Corycian cave; it cannot be supposed that they longer delight in romping rambles upon the sides of Helicon and Parnassus ; must invent, and, of course, patent, some mode of communication with their haunts, by air-balloons, telegraphic wires, or Mesmerism, and watch the return of those precious intervals of lucidness when reason or fancy replaces for a moment the garrulous follies
of decrepit idiocy, or neutralizes the acidity of hypochondria and decline.
But, genius or no genius, with inspiration or without it, the world, and every age of it, must and will have works of art, such, at least, as will serve the purpose-even if they perish with the age that produces them-of gratifying self-complacency, and of promoting, in the grand total, the happiness of the race. It cannot be supposed that distance from the meridian of art, the intervention of an ocean, and the formidable difficulties arising from the want of genius and its facilities, will induce us, the inheritors of British tastes, if not the possessors of British wealth, to forego the delights of form, or to eschew the luxuries of chiaroscuro. But few of us will ever be gratified with that which is the daily privilege of the Italian lazzaroni—the sight of the great works of the dictators and sovereigns of the realms of taste. Such of the labors of the pencil as are not immovably fixed, like the masterpieces of Da Vinci and Buonarotti, to the walls they adorn, have lodged in churches, in the apartments of the Vatican, in the palaces of kings and nobles, in the halls and galleries of untitled wealth, in the collections of the curious, and in the cabinets of connoisseurs. So perishable are the materials of which the works of the modern grand masters are constructed, that it is hardly to be expected that any considerable number of their transferable productions will survive the rapidly decaying establishments in which they have descended as heir-looms from generation to generation, much less that those which do survive will find place in the tardy accumulations of the western hemisphere. “The Battle of Marathon” survived nine hundred years; “The Last Supper," upon the walls of the Dominican convent, lasted scarcely three hundred; damp and smoke, the tools of artisans, French bullets, whitewash, and the repainting of those virtuosi upon whom the wrathful Barry rained indignation and curses, have condemned the frescoes of Leonardo to the fate of those of Polygnotus. “The Transfiguration" and “The Last Judgment” will ere long have shared destruction with “ The Centaurs” of Zeuxis and “The Iphigenia” of Timanthes; and “ The Titian Venus” will have been entombed in oblivion with “The Venus Anadyomene !"
Thus, between the immobility and the destructibility of distinguished productions of the pencil, it becomes a serious question, “What is the Vespucian continent to do for pictures ?” “We must import them at whatever expense,” says the enthusiast who discerns excellence in naught but the old and the foreign. “We can do without them," cries utilitarianism; "they are a luxury, equally
expensive and useless." “We can very well spare
these Romish incentives to idolatry," groans Puritanism. “We must make them ourselves, and encourage home manufactures," adds restrictive economy. The importation of any considerable number of pictures, unless, by some inconceivable revolutions, the western empires should, within a century or two, become the ravagers and despoilers of the eastern, is out of the question; that we shall dispense with them altogether is equally improbable; and the difficulties in the way of the
progress of high art among us are numerous. A formidable, nay, an apparently insurmountable, obstacle to its advance meets us at the outset, in the want of divino-heroic subjects. "Religion was the motive of Grecian art;" religion was the motive of art in the days of Lco, and it cannot be denied that the grace and greatness of the wonderful works of the former and latter ages are intimately dependent upon and associated with the beauty and grandeur of the subjects that winged the imaginations and imparted Promethean energy to the pencils of their creators. The supernarural of heathenism, as well as the supernatural of the divine oracles, has produced, in representation, its highest effect ; Olympus has done sending celestial grace and heroism to the studio and easel; the sublimities of Christianity have nothing to offer which has not already been successfully treated. Mythology has become fiction to fiction's self; the events of each dispensation have been handled with a life, a freedom, and a power, unattained and unattainable ; the advent, the transfiguration, the agony, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, the judgment, hell and heaven, and myriads of minor subjects in the same sacred chain, have been given to the world in a way to leave artists of greater boldness and power than the self-complacent and daring West to despair of success in fields so often and so thoroughly explored. In these degenerate days, unless they are the undoubted productions of some genius of the olden time, madonnas are as little in request as Venuses, apostles as Apollos, and legends of Popish superstition rank with the hippogriffs and centaurs of the heathen mythos.
Where, then, shall we turn the eye for epic subjects? Poets and painters have ever occupied the same ground. The artists of antiquity modeled the forms and expressed the characters of the same deities and heroes that figure upon the pages of Homer and Lucian, Virgil and Terence; the painters of the fifteenth century dipped their pencils in the sublimities that beam from the pages of Milton and Dante; the artists of the present and future times must seek materials from the same source with the poets whose glory it shall be to revive the fame and greatness of the epic ages.
The philosophy of De Tocqueville in regard to the poetry of democratic ages will furnish a clew to the class of subjects on which the painter may exercise imagination, and build eternal fame. Democratic painters, as well as “democratic poets, will always appear trivial and turgid if they seek to invest gods, demons, or angels, with corporeal forms, and if they attempt to draw them down from heaven to dispute the supremacy of earth.” “Man, springing out of nothing," "crossing time, and disappearing for ever in the bosom of God,” is an object sufficiently poetical. Apply the following to the poetic in art :-"Among a democratic people, poetry will not be fed with legendary lays or the memorials of old traditions. The poet will not attempt to people the universe with supernatural beings, in whom his readers and his own fancy have ceased to believe ; nor will he present virtues and vices in the mask of frigid personification, which are better received under their own features. All these resources fail him; but man remains, and the poet needs no more. The destinies of mankindman himself, taken aloof from his age and his country, and standing in the presence of nature and of God, with his passions, his doubts, his rare prosperities, and inconceivable wretchednesswill become the chief if not the sole theme of poetry among these nations.”—De Tocqueville, vol. ii, p. 80.
Deprived thus at a stroke of the legendary, the supernatural, and the allegorical, the past has nothing to commemorate but a few unheroic national events, a few political conferences, a few distinguished battles fought in uniforms of unmitigated blues and yellows, and the still more unpoetical straight lines of modern infantry tactics, glowing with flame and belching cannon, and murky with smokema great saving, by the way, to the artist, in the study of grouping and expression—without the privilege of seating upon a solitary curl of the sullen vapor that envelops the combatants a single god to watch the progress of events, or decide the fortunes of the battle! Yet, if man, if America, if the world and its destinies, are to furnish themes for the epic poet, man, America, and the world's destinies, must furnish themes for the epic pencil; and we may live to see, by an American Parrhasius, the American demos starting from the canvass. What this picture or series of pictures of a democracy personified could be, none but an imagination sufficient for the creation could with any confidence predict. We are certain that if the demos of the eclectic artist of olden time was not more agreeable in outline and expression than our conceptions of the existing demos, the dragon of the Apocalypse, or a group of Swift's yahoos, would be sightly in comparison.
Man must be imagined much nearer the goal of human perfectibility than a careful survey of his present state would indicate him to be, or the grace of Apelles or Guido, the grandeur of Angelo, the majesty of Raphael, and the coloring of Titian, could never invest the present and its vulgar common-places, much less the future, of which that present is the forerunner and probable type, with the dignity of reminiscence, far less with the power of the supernatural and the sublimity of the divine.
Utilitarianism is uncompromisingly hostile to the progress of elevated art. Some snarling economist has said, and the sentiment has found an echo in the tendencies of the age, and particularly in that spirit of the mercenary “utile” that pervades this republic, that “one pinmaker is worth a dozen Raphaels." We would commend to his perusal the remarks of the writer of the sixth article in the July number of the Foreign Quarterly for 1837, where he dissents from the opinion of the president of the Royal Academy, Sir Martin Shee. “I have no respect,” says the knighted successor of Reynolds, West, and Lawrence, “for the opinions of political economists; for the principle of commerce and the principle of art are in direct opposition to each other.” The writer declares, and every philosophic mind will assent to his opinion, that “the interests of taste in art and those of commerce are identical ;" that “the coarsest calculations of money-getting and the most fastidious refinements of taste are intimately connected with each other;" that "the greater part of our manufactures are proved to owe their merit, their attractiveness, and profitable sale, entirely to the greater or less degree of taste which they exhibit in the arts of design. If the national taste, therefore, be neglected, deteriorated, or perverted, the result is a depression of attractiveness and a limitation of demand, and consequently of profit.” He claims that the works he reviews exhibit “an intimate union between the most homely trades and the highest walks of art;" he shows that “first-rate sculptors and statuaries have been regularly engaged in producing designs for the most eminent silversmiths and goldsmiths ;" that "the celebrated miniature-painter to Napoleon was employed upon the porcelain of Sevres;" that “our own Martin began the career by which he has reached the acme of distinction in his particular line of art, by painting for the coachmakers, by glass painting, and china painting;" and, finally, that “the selfish and exclusive classes who have endeavored to keep back the industrious classes from a knowledge of the principles or refinements of taste, have in reality 'picked their own pockets,' mutilated the resources of those very classes, and impaired the commercial reve