« AnteriorContinuar »
sa regular ation. As a net late system,ibility, and parent indi
mito a concentratederstanding byuties or individuo.
* a regular and constant guide to the conduct of the business of
the institution. As a natural corollary from all this, the late Keeper admits, that the late system of management, partly * from want of a concentrated responsibility, and partly from
the want of a distinct understanding by the different indi6 viduals or bodies of their respective duties or individual
responsibilities, is defective and requires improvement.' (No. 6089, 5991-3, and 5943-72.) With this avowal, which may satisfy the most eager assailant, we proceed to consider,
II. The general results of such management. - Among these we find,-meetings at distant intervals, sparingly and irregu. larly attended; business conducted without unity of aims or action; contradictory orders emanating from different sets of Trustees; the late Keeper habitually acting upon Sir Robert Peel's individual sanction, when most of his colleagues were out of town; a general doubt or misapprehension throughout the entire establishment as to the nature and objects of each one's duties, and a complete absence of common understanding regarding the amount of individual responsibility, or the quarter where it is placed. And among many specific inconveniences which might be mentioned,' there appear to have arisen doubts concerning gifts or bequests to the Gallery, in consequence of the non-corporate existence of any body as recipients of the national pictures, and an uncertainty whether the Trustees or the Treasury are their proper holders and administrators. In short, the evidence of the Gallery officers from p. 158. to p. 177., which must be absolved from all suspicion of preconcerted defence, contains a mass of inconsistencies, a series of misunderstandings, an amount of ignorance and confusion, of looseness and mystification, such as, — apart from other statements of these gentlemen, and the admissions of the Trustees, - ought to satisfy Parliament that a change in the existing system of management is indispensable.
III. We have now reached the results of the present management upon the preservation of our pictures. — The evidence affecting this branch of the investigation occupies a large portion of the huge volume before us, and we have neither space nor inclination fully to analyse its contents, or balance its startling contradictions. The Committee had to investigate whether the Keeper was empowered to clean pictures, or not? Whether he was consulted before the late cleaning, or not? Whether the pictures, one and all, required cleaning, or not? Whether they had been properly cleaned, or not? Whether by friction, or not? Whether entirely stripped of varnish, or not? Whether thereby damaged, or not? Whether the glazings
have been disturbed, effaced, or left pure? Whether these glazings were local, or consisted in a general toning ? Whether the old masters did glaze, or not? Whether the pictures have, on the whole, been improved, or not? Whether they will yet improve, or not? Such were some of the moot points raised on this one division of the inquiry, and similar incongruities meet us at each subsequent stage, until the received rules of evidence become inapplicable, and baffled inquirers are tempted to exclaim with Pilate, “What is truth?' This state of doubt demands some forbearance. That artists should differ as to the best processes in painting, or cleaners uphold their respective nostrums for renovating pictures, is quite natural: nay painters, restorers, and amateurs may well discuss with keenness supposed technical expedients of ancient artists, which none of them ever saw practised; or they may dispute whether certain works have or have not been injured by solvents and friction : but surely all this might be done apart from dogmatism, and without maintaining that, upon questions rather of degree than of fact, and liable above all others to varieties of conviction, and delicate distinctions in belief, . there can be but one right opinion.'
The Royal Academy question has been freely dragged into this discussion, a morbid jealousy of that body, its actions and motives, being expressed by several witnesses : and as some gentlemen who come forward to impugn the cleanings are equally desirous of a tilt at the Academy, while those who most approve of the results are Academicians, it is difficult to throw off an impression that the affair partakes of a professional or sectarian wrangle. But, apart from such extraneous elements, and notwithstanding a strange discrepancy in technical views of Art and its processes, much sound criticism may be disinterred from the farrago of loose and irreconcileable statements which confuses the evidence. Unsatisfactory and disappointing as are such contradictions, it is not difficult to account for them. Picture-painting and picture-cleaning are in truth empirical processes, wherein many artists possess or pretend to secret methods. The vehicle which enabled the Van Eycks to leave their panels protected by an indurated and almost iminoveable surface; the absorbent ground which received, and the lustreless varnish which protects, the tempera work of early Italian masters, the glazings that impart transparency and depth to the tones of Paul Veronese or Titian, are all vexed questions which many vainly long to solve. Those experiments whereby the ingenious Sir Joshua, and the wayward Turner, aimed at new or startling effects have often baffled imitators. Since then there exists no canon for painting, there can be no absolute rule for cleaning, especially where varnish is to be removed. Expedients, on some occasions innocuous, become on others destructive; the solvent or friction which effaces delicate passages in certain pictures, leaving their colours crude, or even the grounding bare, has no perceptible influence upon works executed on a different principle. In this way we can explain many unhappy mistakes in practice, and may partly account for such wide diversities of opinion regarding the state of the pictures, or the fact of injuries having been committed, as meet us in this Blue-book. Before dealing, however, with these, let us see how the cleaning question stands.
The condition of the pictures purchased from Mr. Angerstein, and of those contributed by Sir George Beaumont and Mr. Holwell Carr, was sufficiently guaranteed by the taste and knowledge of these gentlemen. The works: slowly added by the Trustees belonged almost necessarily to the same category. As most of its important canvasses and panels thus came to the Gallery in fine condition, the conservative duties of its Guardians were limited to occasionally refreshing the varnish. During Mr. William Seguier's keepership we accordingly hear little or nothing of cleaning : but as time wore on, a great change became gradually observable on a number of those paintings which had been longest in the Gallery. Although that gentleman had stated to a Parliamentary Committee in 1836, that they were generally in a very good state,
not disguised by dirt, varnish, repaint, or other defects, yet, on his death, seven years later, their dulled surfaces so immediately attracted his successor's attention, that during 1844-5-6, seven of the most important were subjected to what we may call a thorough cleaning, in contradistinction from the occasional removal of superficial impurities. It is not easy to discover whether this sudden and extensive innovation on previous practice was the result of a systematic discrepancy of opinion between the two successive Keepers, as to the most desirable condition and treatment of such pictures, or if it is rather to be accounted for from the let alone' policy having been so long followed as to authorise sweeping and energetic remedies for a tardily admitted evil. However this may be, a plan was then, apparently for the first time, introduced, of cleaning, before admission to the Gallery, pictures purchased at very high prices. After the usual autumnal vacation of 1846, the public found some of their old favourites with new faces; and, although to most visitors this was matter of no moment, several connoisseurs came forward to impugn, through the daily press, such tampering with important monuments of
rather to long follordily admily for the allery, pienna
art. No very general feeling was however elicited in favour of a movement which, from the terms adopted by some of its supporters, appeared to be directed against the Royal Academy, through the Gallery Keeper, quite as much as pointed at the Trustees' management: but the cleaning operations, having become the subject of parliamentary interference, were virtually suspended until last autumn, when the wholesale and hurried manipulations inflicted upon nine capital works during a six weeks' vacation led to the present inquiry.
Whence comes it that pictures brought to the Gallery in fine state become, within a few years, dull or dark, as if covered by a thick film ?' Such persons as favour a removal of the collection to another site ascribe this appearance to foul atmospherical influences, and ring the changes upon soot and smoke from without, dust and animal effluvia from within. The best answer to this is, that such paintings as never have received a coat of Gallery varnish present no dingy or opaque aspect, and stand in need of no scarifying process. The question thus becomes one of damage rather by systematic dirtying than by wanton cleaning, for had the Trustees only let well alone, and been careful to preserve the pictures with ordinary prudence, another generation at least might have enjoyed their beauties before the latter operation became necessary. It is now admitted that for many years the Gallery varnish has contained boiled oil, a mixture notoriously apt to produce exactly the bad effects here complained of; and, holding as we do its adoption as a serious mistake, it becomes important to look somewhat closely into the matter.
There is a tendency of pictures in this country, after being varnished in the usual way with gum-mastic dissolved in turpentine, to become covered with a filmy coating, such as that thrown by the breath on polished metal or glass. This film, when recent, may be wiped off without leaving any bad effects, or it may be prevented by mixing oil with the varnish, à practice found to be pernicious, in so far as oil not only darkens rapidly by exposure to air, and is peculiarly susceptible to atmospheric impurities, but also renders the varnish more difficult of removal. The Committee have not been able to trace how or when oil varnish was first introduced at the Gallery, and have received no distinct account of its composition. The Trustees seem never to have considered this matter at all; and even when, on the private suggestion of one or two of their number to Mr. Seguier, the varnish was recently abandoned, no report or minute appears of the change. Mr. Seguier, the restorer usually employed, avows ignorance of the ingredients or process of making the varnish he uses; he cannot tell by whom it is prepared, as his porter always goes for it.' (No. 2954.) These facts are startling, but they are only a sample of the lax way in which the national pictures have been looked to.
Having thus accounted for the dull and discoloured state into which many of the pictures had fallen, and in which Mr. William Russell found them, while acting on the Commission of Inquiry in 1850, and when subsequently appointed a Trustee, we arrive at his evidence, which is rendered important by his ready admission that the recent cleaning was done in a great measure at his suggestion. Being satisfied, during the inquiry of 1850, that a number of them were no longer in a state creditable to the country and the Trustees, he was desirous, on the eve of the Great Exhibition of 1851, that some remedy should be found before they were seen by the numerous foreigners, then likely to visit the National Gallery. His proposal to this effect was negatived in April 1851, by a resolution postponing the cleaning of two pictures then under consideration. But, in the belief that matters had become worse from the influx of unusual crowds during that year, he brought forward other suggestions the following spring *, the result of which was that, besides superficially washing many of the paintings, Mr. Seguier, during the autumn vacation of six weeks, cleaned twelve important ones, and thereby occasioned the present inquiry.
Reserving for the present the merits of that gentleman's operations, let us see how they were authorised by the Trustees. So far as can be gathered from the Minutes (loose regarding important matters, while most precise as to others of trifling and incidental character), Mr. Seguier had reported specially respecting certain pictures from which he wished to remove the varnish before reyarnishing them ; yet no such report, nor any list of the pictures, is engrossed in the proceedings of the Trustees. Neither is there a specific enumeration of the pictures committed to his care in the autumn of 1852: and although a list is afterwards given of those on which he actually had wrought, the nature of his operations is scantily indicated. Under these circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that the Trustees are at issue among themselves, whether the paintings cleaned were really those which Mr. Seguier had been instructed to undertake, nor that the list (whose existence is both affirmed and denied) is not forthcoming. This remissness at head quarters
* Minutes of February 9th, April 5th, and July 5th, 1852.