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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 • &
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 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
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 indi.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 irregularly 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,