Pictures of Picture Galleries by M H Spielmann, FSA
[The illustrations are not here included]
In the Old Masters Exhibition at the Royal Academy of 1910 was a curious picture, conceived in a rather journalistic sort of spirit, belonging to Captain H Heywood-Lonsdale, and entitled The British Institution, Pall Mall. According to the catalogue, ‘this may be the picture by J Scarlett Davis, exhibited at the British Institution in 1830 under the title Interior of the British Gallery’. This certainly is the picture by Davies—or Davis, as he usually called himself. The fact that the size now given, 43 in by 55 in, appears not to correspond with that of the picture exhibited eighty years ago (60 in by 72 in), is due to the custom that then prevailed of giving the outside measurements of the frame. This was intended as a very practical method of facilitating sales, by setting forth to possible purchasers the amount of wall-space required.
We should in any case have dismissed at once the ill considered suggestion made that this is the Interior of a Picture Gallery which was painted by Pieter Christoffel Wonder, of Utrecht, in 1829, and exhibited by him at the British Institution in 1831—the year after Davis’s appearance. The four studies presumably made for that picture which are now in the National Portrait Gallery (792-795), including the portraits of several of the Directors and Governors of the Institution and of the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery—several of these gentlemen identified themselves with both—prove that it is an entirely different work. Moreover, Wonder, who was a member of the Amsterdam Academy, was a far better painter than Davis, and his handling could not be mistaken for other’s. His sojourn in England extended from 1824 to 1831, at which date he returned to Amsterdam, he died in 1856. The pictures he exhibited in England at the British Institution consisted mainly Dutch scenes and figures; his Gallery, here alluded
to, was the last work he produced and exhibited in this country, and is the only one of its class. A couple of portraits were all he contributed to the Royal Academy (1824). Wonder was a very capable artist, an example of whose work is in the Rijks Museum, and his superior technique was entirely dissimilar from the heavier facture which we see in the picture under discussion.
As no sketch of Davis’s life has appeared correct in all its details, I may, with the utmost conciseness, set forth here the main facts of his career. He was born in 1804 at Hereford, and was the son of a shoemaker. He became a student at the Royal Academy, and then worked in the Louvre. At the age of eighteen, in 1822 (not, as the biographers say, in 1825) he first appeared at the Royal Academy with A Landscape. Three years later he contributed, My den: ‘That scull had a tongue in it, and could sing once’, and a portrait of a friend. In 1830 he began his series of interiors: to the Royal Academy he sent Interior of a Library, and to the British Institution Interior of the British Gallery, and in the same year he went to Italy. He had, however, already completed his Interior of the Painted Hall, Greenwich Hospital, which was shown at the Institution in 1831, and was bought there by Lord Farnborough (as Sir Charles Long, the Vice-President of the Institution), and had also produced his known views of Bolton Abbey, and from 1829 to 1833 made the drawings by which he is represented in the Print Room of the British Museum. Halting at Paris in 1831, he executed the drawing of The Porte St Martin, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In that year he is said to have received a commission from Lord Farnborough to paint for him the interiors of the Vatican and the Escurial; the latter seems never to have been carried out, but in later years he exhibited an Interior of St Peter’s, which he did not succeed in selling. In 1834 he stayed on his return journey at Abbeville, whence he sent to the Royal Academy the Interior of the Gallery at Florence, and to the British Institution his Interior of the Louvre—a large painting 5ft 3in by 6ft 3in. Two years later The Interior of the Church of St Bavon, Ghent (about 3ft by 4ft), was seen at the Institution, together with his Florence Gallery, 5ft by 6ft. The Institution, it must be remembered, had no objection to showing pictures which had already been seen at the Academy. In 1841 he was at Amsterdam, but the subjects of his contributions to the Academy were one English and one French—Jack after a successful cruise visiting his old Comrades and Interior of the Cathedral at Amiens. In 1844 he made his last public appearance with his Interior of St Peter’s, Rome, the largest work he ever painted; it measures 7ft 2in by 9ft 10in, and was shown at the British Institution.
Redgrave, and others following him, inform us that Davis ‘married early in life, became drunken and of demoralized habits—got into prison, and died before the age of thirty’. This estimate of his age, we see, is absurd. He was at least forty when he died, probably forty-one. At his death-sale in 1846 the Interior of Rubens’s Picture Gallery was knocked down for £85 10s, and in 1848 his great St Peter’s, at the J Hinxman sale, fetched no more than £56 14s. His work in lithography is well thought of, and his heads after Rubens show skill. Davis, indeed, was well esteemed in his own day: a contemporary critic (Library of the Fine Arts, Vol I, 1831), dealing with the exhibition of the British Institution, says: ‘Mr J S Davis also has but one, The Interior of the Picture Gallery, Greenwich Hospital: a picture of beautiful effect, most skilfully and delicately touched. The subject is one difficult to be well executed; but Mr Davis has performed it so as to demand our unqualified approbation. We feel great pleasure in stating that he is at present on the Continent, having been commissioned by Lord Farnborough to paint the Florence and several other celebrated galleries’. (The writer’s pleasure at Davis being on the Continent might have been more felicitously expressed.)
The identity of the British Institution in the picture before us is sufficiently established by the peculiarity of the rising staircase opening directly into the centre of the middle room and by the arched openings between the three galleries. This was originally Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, and was taken over and adapted by the distinguished body of the Directors in December of 1805, at the cost of about five thousand guineas. Until 1813 the exhibitions were devoted to modern art, and were held in the winter; in that year summer exhibitions of Old Masters were added, and were maintained at an extraordinarily high level of excellence. On two occasions the King filled the galleries with the whole of his private collection of Old Masters from Carlton House Palace. The initial exhibition—which was held in 1813—consisted of a hundred and forty-three of the best works of Reynolds. In 1830 it comprised the works of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and the entire proceeds, amounting to three thousand pounds, were handed to the ten nieces of the deceased President. In 1842 the exhibition was devoted to the works—a hundred and thirty in number—of Sir David Wilkie. It will thus be seen that the general scheme of the Institution was the model which has since been closely followed by the Royal Academy.
The exhibition of 1829 which Scarlett Davis celebrated in paint was of special significance. So much, indeed, may be concluded from the picture itself. Prominent among the leading works shown are the pair of Van Dycks which Wilkie brought back from Genoa, portraits traditionally, but without any evidence to support the contention, supposed to represent the Genoese senator, Bartolommeo Giustiani, and his wife. These pictures, which are known to have been in the Palazzo Giacomo Balbi in 1773—as they were seen there by the author of Genoa and its Environs, published in that year—were acquired by Sir Robert Peel, and, the year after the sale of the Peel heirlooms in 1900, passed finally into the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, where they now hang. Exhibited under the titles Full-length Portrait of an elderly Gentleman and Full-length Portrait of an elderly Lady (Nos 18 and 23), they were lent to the Institution by the Rt Hon Robert Peel, MP.
The original of Nicholas Maes—Interior: A woman pumping—which is cleverly represented in the picture, was curiously enough hanging in the Water-Colour Room at the Old Masters at the same time as Davis’s canvas appeared in Room V. This Maes, of course, is No 12 in Smith’s Catalogue Raisonné, wherein it is recorded that the work was sold from the Bernal sale in 1824 for £80. In the Adrian Hope sale in 1894 it fetched 2,860 guineas, and passed into the collection of the late Lord Swaythling. It was exhibited here as The inside of a kitchen (No 111), and was lent by Thomas Hamlet, Esq. The coincidence of the exhibition of this picture is the more interesting as it had never before been seen in the winter shows of the royal Academy. The Rembrandt hanging on on the left of the inner archway is, of course, the signed and dated picture (1666). The portrait of a woman, No 237 in the National Gallery, to which it was bequeathed by Lord Colborne in 1854. It was lent to the Institution (No 73) by N W Ridley Colborne, Esq, MP. The picture above it (but it must be understood that Scarlett Davis’s picture does not represent the true hanging of the canvases in 1829—the artist merely selected those which appealed to him more directly) is a not too accurate rendering of Ribera’s Shepherd with a Lamb, No 244 in the National Gallery, also bequeathed in 1854 by Lord Colbome, who had been a member of the Fine Arts Commission of 1841-1863. It was exhibited, under Ribera’s name of Spagnoletto, No 110, by N W Ridley Colborne, Esq, MP. Davis could copy the subjects and colouring of the pictures he painted into his gallery-views with sufficient accuracy to be recognizable, but he lacked the extraordinary facility, the sympathy and the assimilated touch with which Teniers, Gonzales Coques, and the other Flemings and Dutchmen produced veritable masterpieces in this curious and amusing style of art. It is, therefore, difficult to determine whether or not the cattle-piece, shown beneath Reynolds’s Holy Family, is Cuyp’s River View with Cattle (No 81, lent by Abraham W Roberts, MP), or Cattle on the Banks of a River (No 25, lent by Sir Simon H Clarke, Bart). It is probably the latter. The Venetian scene is either the Distant View of the Doge’s Palace, Venice, by Canaletti (as he was at the time most often called), lent by the Rev Sir Samuel Clarke Jervoise, Bart, No 137, or View of the Paget Palace, Venice (No 150), contributed by the Hon G Agar Ellis, MP—probably the latter.* The Dutch street scene, on the right of the further arch, is possibly Van der Hey den’s Buildings on the Banks of a Canal, with Figures (No 50), lent by the Duke of Wellington, KG, while above it hangs a very truthful rendering of Murillo’s St John (No 85), from the collection of Earl Grosvenor, at Grosvenor House, and still in the Duke of Westminster’s collection. This is the beautiful picture that was brought from Genoa by Andrew Wilson, and was acquired from him by Robert Earl Grosvenor. The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, seen above the archway, must be the picture of the Venetian school contributed without the artist’s name by H Howard, Esq (No 55), for the two other pictures of this subject, one by Titian (No 129, lent by Sir J Rae Reid, Bart), and the other by Garofalo (No 132, the property of the Duke of Buccleuch), cannot acceptably be identified with it. The large study for a ceiling picture, seen beneath on the wall of the furthermost gallery, is the Design for a Ceiling (No 84), by Pietro da Cortona, lent by the Hon G Agar Ellis, MP—probably one of his many designs for the ceilings in the Palazzo Barberini and in the Pitti Palace. His works in this class are fairly numerous.
But the pictures which at that day rendered the exhibition an epoch-making one were of the Holy Family, Riposo, by Reynolds, and The Market Cart, by Gainsborough, owing to the fact that they were shown in the gallery just after having been patriotically bought, for what was then an enormous sum, for presentation to the National Gallery. The Holy Family (77 in by 69½ in) had been painted by Reynolds for Macklin, the printseller, and Boydell’s rival, and sold by him to Lord Gwydyr. When the Gwydyr pictures came to the hammer at Christie’s in 1829, Seguier, acting for the directors, bought it for £1,995. The Market Cart (72½ in by 6o½ in) was secured at the same sale and by the same agent for £1,182 18s. This picture, of course, is not the replica which was in Lord Northwick’s collection. The prices, however, here quoted from Redford’s ‘Art Sales’, do not quite tally with those in the Institution records, which give nineteen hundred and fifty guineas and one thousand and fifty guineas respectively. Thomas Smith was probably inaccurate in giving the date of the sale as May, 1829; Redford’s date, ‘March 10-20’, is more likely to be correct. In any case, the catalogue is incorrect in saying that the Reynolds had been sold by Lord Gwydyr’s executors to the Institution. These pictures were duty presented to the National Gallery; and it may be added that in the same year Lord Liverpool, ‘in conformity with the intentions of my late brother’, whom he succeeded to the title, presented to the Committee of Directors Copley’s Death of the late Lord Chatham to be placed in the National Gallery. An interesting work, prominently placed in Davis’s picture, is the only sculpture of any importance. This, it appears, is the bust of the enthusiastic President of the Institution, the Marquess of Sutherland, who, a couple of years later, was to be created Duke of Sutherland—the year of his death. The bust, a rather cadaverous representation of the man whose features we know by Lawrence’s portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery, was executed by Sir Francis Chantrey, and was acquired for two hundred guineas to be placed in the middle room. It had been exhibited at the Royal Academy six months before, when it brought forth the charge that in his modelled portraiture ‘Chantrey is the Lawrence of sculptors’. Perhaps it was meant for a compliment. The Directors, it may be added, had similarly purchased the bust of Reynolds by Banks, and that of West by Nollekens in 1813.
Few of the pictures in Scarlett Davis’s canvas now remain for discovery, but it is unlikely that they will reveal further secrets. The wonder is that the artist did not make a still better selection from the wonderful gathering of the masterpieces that constituted the exhibition—the like of which has rarely, if ever, been surpassed at the Royal Academy. It may be said that of the one hundred and eighty works shown, fourteen came from the King, sixteen from the Duke of Bucclouch, five from the Earl of Carlisle, nine from Mr W Wells, and seven from Mr W Wilkins.
Of the five living figures three can be identified for certain. The first is James Northcote, RA, who sits in the chair contemplating the portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds, by himself, as President of the Royal Academy, in whose possession it now is. We are told, in the catalogue of the Old Masters that Northcote’s interlocutor is Benjamin West, and that the likeness ‘appears to be taken from that by Lawrence in the, National Gallery’. So it undoubtedly does; even the attitude of the figure and the outstretched right arm are the same. But as that venerable President had died nine years before, in 1820, the reason for the blazing anachronism is not apparent. Northcote himself was eighty-three at the time the picture was exhibited, and died two years later; West was eighty-two at the time of his death, and was Northcote’s senior by eight years. Why should Davis, in rendering a contemporary event, indulge in such an absurdity as to introduce a long defunct personage in lively conversation?
The other group appears to be a family party. Miss Alice Harford, in the Art Journal made the interesting statement that the central male figure and the seated lady represent John Scandrett Harford, DCL (Ox, 1822), FRS (1823), by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and his wife, and has proved it by reproducing the portraits in question. These two half-lengths have been followed loyally enough by the painter, but more successfully in the lady's case than in that of her husband. It is not unreasonable to assume that the young lady with them is their daughter. Why they should be introduced at all is not quite clear, for Mr Harford was neither a Hereditary Governor nor a Life Governor of the Institution nor a subscriber to its funds, nor had he lent a picture to the exhibition. It may, therefore, be supposed that it was he who had originally commissioned the picture which, as we have seen, was shown at the Institution in the following year, or perhaps he was otherwise a patron of the painter. Harford, of course, was the biographer, whose Life of Michael Angelo appeared in 1857, and who, we are told, employed the architect C R Cockerell, RA, in 1832 to add the picture-gallery to Blaise Castle, the home of the Harford family, at Henbury, Bristol, of which place the present Canon Edward Harford was formerly curate and lecturer, and where Mr Frederic Dundas Harford, CVO, our Minister-Resident at Caracas, had his early home.
These pictures of current exhibitions have their value, independently of artistic merit, for they are illuminating records of the art movement of their day. Ramberg’s drawings, and his pictures of the Royal Academy in 1784, with Sir Joshua Reynolds escorting the Prince Regent around the show, have, with the aid of the Academy catalogues, settled many a knotty point in the history of our eighteenth-century art in England. The German and Flemish pictures of picture-galleries are otherwise interesting, as illustrating for us the pictures of which the great collections of the day were composed, and the manner in which they were hung. Of the chief painters of them Van Haecht was probably the earliest, Heimbach the second, and Teniers, Coques, Biset and Corneille de Baellieur followed.
*I see that Mr E G Cundall, in a contribution to the Art Journal—which was not published till after this paper was written—supports this view.
From The Connoiseur, August 1912