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FRANCIS CHANTREY, SCULPTOR.
A MAN of genius and taste, Gray the poet, lamented that his native country had made no advance in sculpture. This reproach has been removed, and removed too by a masterly hand. Those who wish to trace the return of English sculpture from the foreign artificial and allegorical style, to its natural and original character-from cold and conceited fiction to tender and elevated truth, will find it chiefly in the history of Francis Chantrey and his productions. Of him, and of them, we shall try to render some account. For it is instructive to follow the progress of an original and powerful mind, from the rudeness of its early conceptions, till it comes forth with native and unborrowed might in creations of grace, and beauty, and dignity.
Francis Chantrey was born at Norton, a small village on the borders of Derbyshire, on the 7th of April, 1782. His ancestors were in respectable if not opulent circumstances, and some heritable possessions still belong to the family. He was deprived of his father very early in life, and being an only child, was educated by his mother with abundance of tenderness and solicitude. He attended the school at Norton-but of his progress there, we have been unable to obtain any particular account. Education and agriculture shared his time between them till his seventeenth year; and a farmer's education is not always the most liberal. About this time he became weary of the pursuits of his forefathers, and resolved to study the law under a respectable solicitor at Sheffield. Whether this was his own choice or that of his relations we have not learned, and it matters not, for another destiny awaited him. To accident, we owe much of what we are willing to attribute to our wisdom; and, certainly to pure accident, we owe whatever delight we have received from the productions of Mr Chantrey.
During the hours of intermission from labour at the farm, and instruction at the school, he had amused him VOL. VII.
self in making resemblances of various objects in clay, and to this employ ment he was much attached. But his affection thus early shown for art was but a matter of amusement-he calculated as little of the scope it presented to the ambition of genius, as he was unconscious that it was the path which nature had prepared for his fame. The day named for commencing his new profession arrived, and with the usual eagerness of youth for novelty, he reached Sheffield a full hour sooner than his friends had appointed to meet him. As he walked up and down the street, expecting their coming, his attention was attracted by some figures in the window of one Ramsay, a carver and gilder. He stopped to examine them, and was not without those emotions which original minds feel in seeing something congenial. He resolved at once to become an artist; and perhaps, even then, associated his determination with those ideas and creations of beauty from which his name is now inseparable. Common wonder is fond of attributing the first visible impulse of any extraordinary mind to some singular cir cumstance, but nothing can be better authenticated than the fact which decided the destiny of his talents. What his friends thought of his sudden resolution it is useless to inquire-we have heard that they did not condole with him, like the illustrious Burns over the pursuits of Fergusson:
"Thy glorious parts
Ill suited laws dry musty arts." The labours in which Ramsay employed him were too limited for his powers; his hours of leisure were therefore dedicated to modelling and drawing, and he always preferred copying nature. He had no other idea of style but that with which nature supplied him-he had his own notions of art and of excellence to rough-hew for himself, and the style and character he then formed, he pursues with success now. These we have learned were much more pleasant speculations to him than to Ramsay, who, incensed A
either at the enthusiasm with which they were followed, or the success with which they were executed, defaced them, and ordered all such labours to be discontinued in future. For this conduct, it is difficult to find either an excuse or a parallel. But true genius, no power on earth can keep back-it will work its way to distinction through all the obstructions of folly or envy. It loves to expatiate in secrecy over its future plans-it contemplates its growing powers with silent joy, and prepares to come forth on the world, in the fulness of might and the freshness of beauty.
It is related at Sheffield, that during the intervals of ordinary labour, Mr Chantrey was not to be found amusing himself like other young men— that he retired to his lodgings, and light might be seen in his window at midnight-frequently far in the morning and there he might be found working at groupes and figures with unabated diligence and enthusiasm. Of these early efforts, little is visible -except the effect they wrought. It is said, that his mother took great interest and delight in his carly productions; and this venerable woman enjoys the unspeakable felicity of living to rejoice in her son's reputation.
He continued nearly three years in the employment of Ramsay, and the clandestine labours of his leisure hours began to obtain notice. Judicious counsellors seldom fall to the lot of early genius, and Mr Chantrey found friends who, in the warmth of misjudging zeal, wished to obtrude him on the world before his talents were matured, or his hand or his mind disciplined. Others, of more discernment, confirmed him in his natural and correct notions of art, and directed his enthusiasm. Among the latter, was Raphael Smith-himself a man of no common talents. He soon discovered that the young artist's powers to excel in art equalled his ambition-and he encouraged him to pursue the attainment of excellence; for in sculpture, as in poetry and painting, no one is charmed with mediocrity, though all are doomed to endure it.
Sculpture is a profession infinitely more laborious than painting, depending on shape and expression for its fascination-demanding an acquaintance not only with varied nature-but with curious and delicate mechanical operations, and with that rare talent
of combining the conceptions of genius with the niceties of acquired skill. The march therefore of the sculptor to distinction is a long one-and with much of this mechanical knowledge Mr Chantrey had to become acquaint ed when he went to London. He had also other obstacles to surmount-the artificial and unnatural style imported from Italy and France, and which had been supported by the ablest Sculptors of England.
Our sculpture, till lately, never sought to free itself from the absurditics and allegorical subtleties of the fo reign school. Nature was working her own free way with art, and working successfully, till our literature, as well as our sculpture, was overwhelmed by a flood which accompanied Charles II. to his throne. Art then fell off from reflecting nature-began to speak an obscure language-full of dark conceits and remote personifications. The common figures of poetry or speech were exalted into monumental heroes and heroines, illustrated by symbols as unintelligible as themselves, Nor did allegory remain pure and unmixed-Death was made to extend his figurative dart at the substantial bosom of a lady, whose husband endeavoured to avert it with an arm of flesh. And the conceits of the sculptor were worse than his allegory-the Duke of Argyle expires on his monument, while the pen of Fame is writ ing him Duke of Greenwich-a title that awaited him,-turning the monument of a hero into the record of a contemptible conceit: and these are favourable specimens.
On a mind unschooled in the conceited pedantries of art, the impres sion must have been curious and bewildering. Art must not pretend to instruct nature-what is not of nature cannot be of art-nothing better can be found to be imitated, and those who wish to excel can only collect the members of beauty together which nature has scattered over creation. The true beau-ideal is only a speculation of man on the perfection of nature-its beauty must be tried by nature, and by her permission must it stand, or by her sentence it must fall. poetry, our philosophy, and our actions, reflect the might, and the bold and peculiar character of the people. Should the nation pass away, her works and her deeds will always command admiration and awe, and will
tell to future ages the national mind and the national might. Sculpture alone has refused to receive this strong and original stamp-it speaks with no native tongue, it wears no native garb. It grows not out of our minds and souls, nor does it claim limb or linea ment of the heroic islanders.
In his twentieth year, Mr Chantrey purchased the remainder of his engagement from Ramsay, and the separation gave mutual pleasure. In the month of May 1802, he went to London, and began to apply himself with ardent diligence to the study of sculpture. But those who expect this ardour to continue unabated must consent to be disappointed, for in June the same year, we find him on his way to Dublin, resolved to make a tour through Ireland and Scotland. With his motives for this journey, we profess not to be acquainted; these are not regions eminent for the productions of art, and likely to attract young artists. A dangerous fever arrested his progress at Dublin, and he did not entirely recover till the ensuing summer. His illness cured him of love for travelling; he returned to London in autumn, and, with his return, his studies were recommenced.
His application was great, and his progress was rapid and visible. He had already conceived the character of his works, and wanted only opportunity to invest them with their present truth and tenderness. One of his earliest works is a bust of his friend, Raphael Smith, created with a felicity at that time rare in bust sculpture. Surrounded, as it now is, with the busts of more eminent men, it is usually singled out by strangers as a production of particular merit. Akin to this is his bust of Horne Tooke, to which he has communicated an expression of keen penetration and clear-sighted sagacity. A colossal head of Satan belongs to this period; and, in the attempt to invest this fearful and undefined fiend with character and form, he has by no means lessened his own reputation. Eclipsed, as it is now, with more celebrated works, its gaze of dark and malignant despair never escapes notice.
Sometime in 1810, he fixed his residence in Pimlico, and constructed a study of very modest dimensions. The absolute nature and singular felicity of his busts procured him immediate and extensive employment. Their fidelity
to the living image, and the power and
Not so with sketches and drawings. Simplicity is the presiding star of art-a simple design has a mean look, and a man may make imposing sketches on paper, who has not the capacity to follow them to finished excellence. Gentlemen, whether of the city or the plain, may be imposed upon by handsome sketches, as Fluellan was by the valour of ancient Pistol ;"He spoke as brave words, look you, as a man would wish to hear on a summer day." In truth, genius must feel reluctance at thus measuring its might in the dark with inferior minds, and the field of adventure is usually occupied either by men of moderate or dubious merit, or youths, who are willing to risk a chance for distinction. Thus an inferior hand has been perA statue of the mitted to profane the dust of the illustrious Robert Burns. inspired peasant from the hand of his fellow-plowman, Chantrey, was what his fame deserved, and what Scotland, had she consulted her fame, would have given.
A curious circumstance had nearly deprived London of the fine statue of the king. To the study of sculpture, it seems Mr Chantrey had added that of painting, and some of his pictures are still to be found: of their merits, we are unable, from personal inspection to speak, but we have been told, by one well qualified to judge, that they do his sculpture no discredit. His pencil portraits are esteemed by many as admirable as his busts, and are still more difficult to be obtained. When he presented his design for the king's statue, it was approved of in preference to others, but a member of the Common Council observed, that the successful artist was a painter, and therefore incapable of executing the work of a sculptor. Sir William Cur
tis said, "You hear this, young man, what say you are you a painter or a sculptor."-" I live by sculpture," was the reply, and the statue was immediately confided to his hands-a statue of equal ease and dignity will not readily be found.
He had made some progress in this work, when he was employed by Mr Johnes of Hafod, the accomplished translator of Froissart, to make a monument a very extensive one-in memory of his only daughter. This was a congenial task, and confided to his hands under circumstances honourable to English sculpture. It has long been finished, and is a production of beauty and tenderness-a scene of domestic sorrow exalted by meditation. Invention does not consist in investing abstract ideas with human form-in conferring substance on an empty shadeor in creating forms, unsanctioned by human belief, either written or traditional. Much genius has been squandered in attempting to create an elegant and intelligible race of allegorical beings, but for the want of human belief in their existence, the absence of flesh and blood, nothing can atone. No one ever sympathised with the grief of Britannia, or shared their feelings with that cold, cloudy, and obscure generation. Mr Chantrey's talents refuse all intercourse with this figurative and frozen race.
A statue of President Blair, a judge of singular capacity and penetration, and a statue of the late Lord Melville, were required for Edinburgh, and Mr Chantrey was employed to execute them. He has acquitted himself with great felicity. The calm, contemplative, and penetrating mind of Blair is visibly expressed in the marble. It must be difficult to work with a poet's eye in productions which the artist's own mind has not selected and conse crated. During his stay in Scotland, he modelled a bust of the eminent Playfair, in which he appears to have hit off the face and intellect of the man-and they were both remarkable ones-at one heat. Many artists obtain their likenesses by patient and frequent retouchings-Mr Chantrey generally seizes on the character in one hour's work. Once, and but once only, we saw a bust on which he had bestowed a single hour; the likeness was roughed out of the clay with the happiest fidelity and vigour. We saw, too, the finished work-his hand had
passed over it in a more delicate manner-but the general resemblance was not rendered more perfect. His bust of the lady of a Scottish judge belongs to this period-Nature furnished him with a beautiful form, and his art reflects back Nature.
On his return from Scotland, he was employed by the government to execute monuments for St Pauls, in memory of Colonel Cadogan and General Bowes, and afterwards of General Gillespie. These subjects are embodied in a manner almost strictly historical, and may be said to form portions of British history. Though the walls of our churches are encumbered with monuments in memory of our warriors, no heroes were ever so unhappy. Sculptors have lavished their bad taste in the service of government. Fame, and valour, and wisdom, and Britannia, are the eternal vassals of monotonous art. A great evil in allegory is the limited and particular attributes of each figure-each possesses an unchangeable vocation, and this proscription hangs over them as a spell. art, too, of humble talents is apt to evaporate in allegory-it is less difficult to exaggerate than be natural, and vast repose is obtained among the divinities of abstract ideas. Simple nature, in ungifted hands, looks degraded and mean; but a master-spirit works it up at once into tenderness and majesty.
Amid a wide increase of business, Mr Chantrey omitted no opportunity of improving his talents and his taste. In 1814, he visited Paris, when the Louvre was filled with the plundered sculptures of Italy, and admired, in common with all mankind, the grace, the beauty, and serene majesty of these wonderful works. Of the works of the French themselves, his praise was very limited. In the succeeding year he paid the Louvre another visit, during the stormy period of its occupation by the English and Prussians. He was accompanied by Mrs Chantrey, and his intimate friend, Stothard the painter. He returned by the way of Rouen, and filled his sketch-book with drawings of the pure and impressive Gothic architecture of that ancient city. It has been said that acquaintance with the divine works of Greece dispirits rather than encourages a young artist. Images of other men's perfections are present to his mindideas of unattainable excellence damp