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most illuminated, and that they had declined both in Greece and Italy, as the ancient splendor of those countries passed away. Reflecting thus on their stations when in prosperity, and their movements in decline, it led me to reflect on the civil and religious rights which the several charters had given to the then existing people of North America; and from those circumstances it appeared to me, that country was more likely to possess both empire and the fine arts. What I then anticipated has since been realized in one respect, and is about to be accomplished in the other, by the establishment of the academy at Philadelphia.
When that wise and excellent man, William Penn, planned his infant city of Philadelphia, he established public libraries for the use of the people: the opportunity of reading became habitual to them; this opportunity matured into a habit, gave a philosophical turn to their mind, and a passion which soon distinguished them from other citizens on that continent; and I am of opinion, that those mental endowments in the people will, in time, render that city the seat of refinement in all accomplishments, and make her as the Athens of the western empire; the seed is sown the soil is fertile
and I am persuaded their growth to excellence will be the result. In this opinion I became more confirmed when I saw the fine arts were degraded in Italy, as well as in France, owing to the decline of that dignified patronage which had raised them to splendor in the two preceding centuries in both countries. In
gland I found the fine arts as connected with painting and sculpture, had not taken root; but that there were great exertions making by the artists to prepare the soil, and sow the seeds. It was those artists who invited me to appear among them, with a few essays of my historical compositions in their annual exhibitions of painting, sculpture and archi. tecture. Those exhibitions became an object of attraction to men of taste in the fine arts; the young sovereign was interested in their prosperity; and the artists were by his royal charter raised into the dignity, the independence, and,
as it were, the municipal permanency of a body corporate; in which body I found myself a member, and a director; but party and jealousy in two or three years interrupted the harmony and finally dissolved that society. At this period his majesty was graciously pleased to signify his commands to four artists, to form a plan for a royal academy, in which number I had the honour to be included.
His majesty was graciously pleased to approve the plan, and commanded it to be carried into effect. Thus commenced the institution of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. An institution of proud importance to the sovereign; and to this, as a manufacturing country, of more real and solid advantage than would have been the discovery of gold and silver mines within her earth; as it taught delineation to her ingenious men, by which they were instructed to give taste to every species of manufactories, to polish rudeness into elegance, and soften massiveness into grace; and which raised the demand for them to an eminence unknown before in all the markets of civilized nations throughout the world.
At that time the breast of every professional man glowed with the warmth and energy of genius, at the establishment of the royal academy; and at the pleasing prospect it held out in the higher department of art-historical painting. The experiment was then to be made, whether there was genius in the country for that department of art, and patronage to nourish and stimulate it. The sovereign, the artist, and a few gentlemen of distinguished taste were solicitous for its
With respect to genius, I have to speak from observation, that the distinguished youths who have passed in review before me since the establishment of the academy, in the three departments of art which constitute its views, would have been found equal to attain unrivalled eminence in them: and I know of no people since the Greeks so likely to attain excellence in the arts as the people of England; if the same spirit and love for them were diffused and cherished among them, as it was among the subjects in the Grecian states.
Reflecting on patronage his majesty, by his regard for the arts, gave a dignity to them unknown before in the country, many of the dignitaries of the church were friendly to them by patronage; the nobility viewed them with a supercilious air of indifference as to patronage; the law showed them no respect; and the monied men saw no charms in any thing but loans and subsidies. In the commercial part
of this wealthy nation, the halls of the several companies were places capable of receiving works of art, and massed funds to reward them; however, they felt no complacency to the arts, but as they might bend to commercial views. The navy and the army being made up of the younger branches of established families, are from their infancy compelled to fight their way to elevation, and to fortune ; while the general mass of society is engrossed by buying and selling; and the views of the landed interest are too remote from the fine arts, to become acquainted with them. The government has rendered them no aid by patronage—the bitterness of political contention left no room for the more tranquil and domestic pursuits of an enlightened legislation; and thus in the midst of profusion, and in the mouth of those very channels through which the exuberance of national wealth was daily circulating, the arts were slighted and discountenanced, and not suffered to gather up the crumbs of the public board; if the liberality of the government had cooperated with the patronage of his majesty and the professional gentlemen's efforts to maintain the dignity of the arts for the last forty years, England would have by this time yielded her preeminence in the arts, to no nation since their revival in modern Italy. But the experiment has been made-genius has not been wanting, and except some unforeseen change should take place in the minds of the various classes of men in this country which make the aggregate of the nation in favour of the arts, it requires no extraordinary sagacity to predict, that the arts have attained their zenith in the reign of his present majesty.
It affords me great pleasure to find that your efforts to bring the fine arts into notice at Philadelphia, have been countenanced by the legislature of Pennsylvania, in granting you a part of their house of assembly as a repository for your museum. It is a circumstance highly honourable to you, and is a lasting record of the munificence of that respectable body, and satisfies the opinion I had previously entertained of their zeal to cherish useful knowledge among their fellow citizens.
These are, my dear sir, the characteristics of a wise people, and I hope, that the fostering hand, and liberal direction of that wisdom, will be extended to every degree of useful and popular ingenuity. It is by such acts that a nation is transmitted to posterity with an elevation and distinction of glory, that renders its memory honourable to future ages.
Your communication respecting your son being about to embark again for France, and to study painting, and collect the portraits of eminent men in that country as well as in other parts of Europe, gives me sincere pleasure; I honour his enterprise; but I hope he will, when surrounded by the great examples which are now at Paris, of Grecian and Italian art, I hope he will direct his mind to what are their real, and immutable excellencies, and reflect upon the dignity which they give to man, and to the countries where they were produced. Although I am friendly to portraying eminent men, I am not friendly to the indiscriminate waste of genius in portrait painting; and I do hope that your son will ever bear in his mind, that the art of painting has powers to dignify man, by transmitting to posterity his noble actions, and his mental powers, to be viewed in those invaluable lessons of religion, love of country, and morality; such subjects are worthy of the pencil, they are worthy of being placed in view as the most instructive records to a rising generation. And as an artist, I hope he will bear in his mind, that correctness of outline, and the justness of character in the human figure are eternal; all other points are variable, all other points are in a degree subordinate and
indifferent-such as colour, manners and customs: they are the marks of various nations; but the form of man has been fixed by eternal laws, and must therefore be immutable. was to those points that the philosophical taste of the Greek artists was directed; and their figures produced on those principles have no room for improvement, their excellencies are eternal. All other things form a humble part; to speak with due reverence of that moral fabric which the hand of Almighty Wisdom has designed ; and which is destined to be coeval with inanimate nature, so long as years are permitted to the works of man; and so long as the reverential care of posterity can preserve them; such objects in art will ever be held by a wise people, as the ultimatum in art, and of human capacity, and cherished to the latest posterity as such.
The foregoing observations on the importance of patronage to cherish the fine arts—and of their high importance of distinction in civilized nations, I have a satisfaction in laying before you, as my observations on them for the last fifty years. And I am with every mark of respect for your distinguished exertion to promote useful knowledge,
My dear Sir,
Your greatly obliged friend,
Mr. CHARLES W. Peale.