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in the next some rooted prejuudice which had braved for a thousand years the battle of reason and the breeze of ridicule. The letters of Peter Plymley bear the greatest likeness to his conversation; the description of Mr. Isaac Hawkins Brown dancing at the Court of Naples in a volcano coat with lava buttons, and the comparison of Mr. Canning to a large blue-bottle fly with its parasites, most resemble the pictures he raised up in social conversation. It may be averred for certain, that in this style he has never been equalled, and I do not suppose he will ever be surpassed.'
ART. V.- Report from the Select Committee on the National
Gallery ; together with the Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence, Appendix and Index. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, 4th August [issued Decem
ber], 1853. ANTICIPATING that the National Gallery would, ere long,
attain an amount of public interest hitherto denied to it, we, a year ago, offered to our readers some account of the principal Art collections abroad ; and, in tracing the progress of our own, we directed attention to various short-comings in its management, which have prevented a satisfactory development of what had at first been fairly inaugurated. The subject has since made very rapid advances, and it is now our intention to inquire how the Select Committee of the House of Commons, to whose recent appointment we could then merely refer, has discharged its duty of obtaining information, and under what circumstances it has arrived at conclusions in some respects opposed to those suggested by the mass of evidence reported by itself.
A word as to the origin and constitution of the Committee. The cleaning operations to which certain pictures had been subjected in the autumn of 1852, were denounced through the daily press in unmeasured terms; and, when Parliament met, notice of a motion for inquiry was early given by Mr. Francis Charteris, now Lord Elcho. But before it came on, he had accepted office in the new administration, and the conduct of the inquiry was undertaken in his stead by Colonel Mure. In order to include other Members, who had already taken part in analogous inquiries, the usual limit of Select Committees was extended, and seventeen gentlemen were named. Several Members of the Committee had distinguished themselves in the field of literature, and had more or less given a tone to public feeling in philosophy and poetry, in history and science, in antiquity and art. On the whole, we may admit that the selection was
well and judiciously made, and that it would have been difficult to bring together a body of accomplished gentlemen more worthy of public confidence. Should they have failed to earn it, the blame may fall rather on the nature of the tribunal than on its individual members. Indeed, no Committee of Parliament perhaps has grappled with a subject new to most of its members, and singularly involved in technicalities, in a spirit of more earnest investigation, or has more faithfully discharged the duty of hearing all sides with patience and impartiality. Nor were
these did, a vocabulary of terms by no means fixed in their signification, and the apprehension of means, appliances, and processes, as to which professional experts proved often at fault or at feud.
The Committee has certainly done its work in no perfunctory spirit. It sate thirty-five days, and, although several of its seventeen members served simultaneously on other committees, their daily average attendance was from ten to eleven. They examined sixty witnesses, fourteen of whom were called up more than once, besides obtaining written opinions or returns from many influential quarters and competent parties at home and abroad. Their Blue-book exceeds 1000 folio pages, and contains answers to 10,410 questions. The result is a mass of evidence, a body of assertions and opinions, such as has never before been brought together on matters of Art; its value and importance being limited only by the consideration, that many of its assertions are impugned, its opinions contradicted, either by the authors themselves, or by other witnesses of apparently equal weight. In almost every page facts cease to be stubborn things; and a glance at the Chairman's draft report (pp. XXV.—xxvii.), will satisfy any one of the obstacles which opposed any definite result to the investigation.*
In dealing with their subject, the Committee have divided it under four heads : 1. The Constitution and General Management of the Gallery; 2. Its Management as regards PictureCleaning; 3. Proposed Changes or Improvements of the System;
* We can here only refer to the mass of curious returns obtained from twelve foreign Galleries, in answer to a long and exhausting series of questions carefully prepared and circulated by Colonel Mure. It occupies a large space in the Appendix, and will prove of value for reference under any future management of our Museums. The country has incurred a debt of gratitude to Baron von Klenze, for much important information which he came purposely from Munich to communicate. VOL. XCIX. NO. CCII.
4. The most advisable site for the Gallery, and the Expediency of centralising some of the great National Collections. The bulky Blue-book before us may well suggest a doubt whether, on some of the various points thus brought under consideration, evidence has not been so accumulated as to overlay the inquiry. This seems especially the case as regards picture-cleaning; all mistakes committed in that way being obviously the result of some fault in the general management. Seeing that these mistakes were, to a certain degree, matters in dispute, and that they possessed additional importance as forming the basis of the whole inquiry, it was necessary that full opportunity should be afforded, both to impugners and defenders, of establishing their respective cases; and, further, that the public should learn from authority which of the two views was well-founded. But, by hearing a series of witnesses whose opinions differed in no important respects from those already recorded, including several volunteers of testimony on subjects which they had taken no pains to investigate, the Committee have clouded rather than cleared up the points which they were selected to solve; and thus, borne down by accumulated crudities and contradictions, have in the end shrunk from so marked a deliverance on the merits of the cause as was confidently looked for at their hands.
In the observations which we have to offer upon the Report and Evidence, we propose to follow a somewhat different order from that adopted by the Committee, and so reduce the picturecleaning question to proportions consistent with the relative importance of other branches of the entire system. We shall accordingly arrange the subject as follows:- 1. The Nature of the Management under which the affairs of the National Gallery have hitherto been administered; 2. The Results of that Management generally; 3. Its Effects upon the Preservation of the National Pictures; 4. Its Effects upon the Acquisition of Pictures; 5. The Remedies suggested or required; 6. The Questions of Site and Centralisation of Museums.
I. With respect to the existing management of the Gallery,
the evidence of Lord Aberdeen is peculiarly important, not only from his long-tried habits of business, but as, with one exception, the only original trustee now alive. From him we learn, that some time after the purchase of Mr. Angerstein's gallery, Lord Liverpool, then Premier, verbally appointed a * few gentlemen' to look after it, without any official status or name, with no prescribed duties nor any responsibility, beyond seeing from time to time that the pictures were safely kept. Farther, that the Treasury passed no instructions or regulations whatever regarding the collection; and that he, though an
from that adopte propose to follove to offer upon
original trustee, knows of no authority by which it was vested in the Treasury, nor of the relations between the Treasury and Mr. W. Seguier, when named Keeper of the National Gallery. Lord Aberdeen distinctly avows that no system was inculcated on, or pursued by, the Trustees ;--- indeed, from there being so little for them to do, this was then of no consequence.* It is true that so anomalous a position of matters (which is amply confirmed by returns to Parliament), belonged to the infancy of the collection; but we have no indication from his Lordship that it has, in any material degree, been changed during the lapse of twenty-nine years, while the pictures have increased from 38 to about 400. And although we find witnesses referring loosely to regulations, nothing of the sort is found to exist beyond vague understanding on a few matters of usage. The six gentlemen' have gradually become seventeen, and have long been designated as . Trustees.' For nearly four years at first, they seem never to have met at all; afterwards their Minutes bear one to four meetings annually; and it was only in 1840 that they resolved to assemble monthly during the sittings of Parliament. In this state of things, it is not surprising to find discrepancies of opinion between different Trustees. Thus, while Lord Aberdeen views his colleagues as visitors, controlling, when necessary, the general management, Lord Monteagle considers the primary authority to be vested in the Treasury, and the Trustees as merely the medium through which its instructions are conveyed (No. 5288, 5362.). Lord Overstone, again, though doubting whether there was originally any definite object or purpose in their appointment, looks upon them as representing the Treasury, and acting in its name and behalf; while Mr. William Russell regards their duties and responsibilities as too vague for him to define them, admitting, however, that his coadjutors have never considered that they have any clear or * peremptory duty imposed upon them.' (No. 8077-8.) The officers of the Gallery are still more at variance on such points, and their evidence, if sifted, amounts pretty nearly to an abnegation of all responsibility whatever. Sir Charles Eastlake, when appointed Keeper by the Treasury, was merely enjoined to place himself under the direction of the Trustees, and conform to their orders; he addressed himself for instructions to the Assistant-keeper, and had an impression that he was accountable for all purchases and picture-cleaning, as well as for the general management and state of the collection and establishment: he also considered it his duty to make spontaneous suggestions to
the Trustees, as occasion might require. (No. 4392-5, 4414). But Mr. Uwins, who succeeded Sir Charles as Keeper, and took verbal instructions from him, entertains a much narrower view of his duties and responsibilities; disowns entirely the right to act without specific orders, unless in cases of emergency when no Trustees are in London; and denies that it lies with him to recommend picture-cleaning, even when that appears desirable (No 11-14, 33, 2862). His testimony on these points, and the view he takes of his position, are questioned by several Trustees; while his admission that pictures entrusted to Mr. Seguier's manipulations were under his charge or control, is pointedly denied by the latter. (No. 239-40, 276, 443–5.)
It thus would seem that the Trustees, installed without specific powers or instructions, acting on no fixed principles, for no defined purpose, and apparently unconscious of any responsibilities, occupy an anomalous and unintelligible position, in advance of the Treasury, which retains all real authority even over matters inferring a minimum of outlay. Yet, although unable to engage a door-keeper, or remove a stoker, without reference to that department of the State, the Trustees, ex proprio motu, accept or refuse gifts or bequests, and authorise wholesale cleanings of the pictures. Upon the rationale of such manifest inconsistencies, their Minutes throw no light, being generally brief, far from lucid, and quite useless as records fixing the responsibility of particular acts. Indeed, matters of moment, such as habitually dusting the pictures, and the discontinuance of oilvarnish, have been settled by verbal orders of a single Trustee, without formal approval or minute. Supposed regulations in some instances turn out to be merely usages; at other times rules appear in the Minutes, or are placarded on the Gallery door, which the Keeper ignores, or the Trustees disregard, and which are habitually departed from. Again, the late Keeper, Sir C. Eastlake, always understood it as necessary that there should be three Trustees to constitute a quorum, and that it
would be always incorrect, or at least always irregular, for • one, or even for two Trustees to transact any business what• ever. Yet the returns show, that at twenty-five meetings, affairs of more or less importance were disposed of by two, and on four occasions by even one Trustee. Sir Charles farther admits that in the Minutes the wording is sometimes
loose;' and thus the Committee are at length brought to • infer that, from the general mode in which both the regula
tions and the Minutes have been made out, there was no system of intelligible or generally recognised regulation in • force, under the late system of the Trustees, which could be