Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

fairy land. The triumphs of the Palais Royal were, in the times immediately succeeding the Restoration of the Bourbons, and farther back than even that epoch, during the first republic. Its garden was then crowded with the jeunesse dorée, and the incroyables, attired in that strange melange of costume which partook of the old court dress, and that which the revolution inaugurated, to last, through various modifications, down to our day. The incroyables were the fops of the reign of terror. Even the guillotine originated a mode, and the dandies wore their hair in an affected disorder, à la victime, as the phrase was. The incroyables were specially remarkable for omitting the pronunciation of the letter r and others, but principally that, in conversationen ve'ïté c'est inc'oyable-qu'elle est samante! (charmante) ma pa’ole doneu! (d'honneur) Sexa? you may, probably, require to be apprised that Sexa? meant with these mincing gentlemen, qu'est-ce—que c'est que cela? After the fall of Robespierre, they swarmed like butterflies, when the reign of winter is passed, and fluttered through the Palais Royal in the extravagant costume of the time, their long tresses secured by a tortoise-shell comb at the back of the head, as with women, or trained into long braids falling down at each side of the face, les oreilles de chien. It was then that the ado'ables of the inc'oyables, the fair devotees of fashion, attired themselves in filmy robes, designed after the model of the antique, which hardly concealed their figures, flitting along in veritable sandals (not shoes) fastened to the feet with red ribbons, their hair simply confined by a fillet, such as Greek or Roman ladies wore a thousand years before. Levity will ever be the heir of terror, and the departed guillotine left a progeny of ephemeral follies, such as, in these sober times, we may find only at a masqued ball, or in the old pictures which still exist to chronicle the manners of the Revolutionary era.

The Louvre is another famous haunt of the foreigners at Paris, but far more worthy of their attention than the Palais Royal. If the latter be better calculated to feed the physical, the latter claims to offer a carte of the first pretensions to the intellectual man. The origin of the Louvre has not been agreed upon by the various antiquarians who have devoted their studies to the illustration of the monuments of Paris. Some will have it that there existed, on a portion of the present site of the Louvre, a building of that name in the time of Dagobert, one of the Frankish Kings of the first race; others again assert that it was founded even before Dagobert, under

Childebert in the sixth century. Louis le Gros surrounded it with ramparts, and received there the homage of his vassals. It was Francis the First who formed the project of removing this first edifice, and constructing a nobler one in its stead, with the aid of all the appliances which advancing civilization had then placed at the command of European Sovereigns. The King sought out an Italian artist, Sebastian Serlo, to construct the new palace, (not long after destined to be termed the vieux Louvre) but the Italian, with a rare frankness, declared that the plans of a native artist, Pierre Lescot, were superior to his own, and, under the direction of this latter, the building was undertaken. It received many accessions under the succeeding reigns, and during that of Louis the Fourteenth, its history presents us with a circumstance of considerable interest. The minister Colbert threw open to public competition the enterprise of completing the intended improvements. At the exhibition of the models and plans furnished by the artists of the day, one design attracted, by its superior merit, the attention of all. It bore no name; but it was soon discovered that it was the work, not of an architect, but of a physician, Claude Perrault. The French artists squabbled with one another, and condemned the man of drugs. To terminate the lutte, Bernini, a celebrated Italian architect, was summoned to France, and his passage through the Kingdom more resembled the progress of a Sovereign, or triumph of a general, than the journey of an artist. He received the homage of the authorities in all the towns through which he passed, and the provinces loaded him with presents. The officers of the royal household served at his table, and, at his approach to Paris, the steward of the Palace waited on him to receive his commands. These distinctions turned the head of our friend, who did not take sufficient pains to avoid a conflict with the susceptibilities of native artists. He trod upon the corns of the French architects; en revanche, they kicked his shins (metaphorically speaking.) Eight months of this rowing were enough for the proud and refined Italian, who was finally hustled out of France, covered with honours and pensions, but leaving the field in possession of the enemy. Colbert swore by the medicine-man, but though an ardent admirer of his plans, he thought it prudential to associate with him practical men, with less genius certainly, but with more professional experience than the amateur, Perrault. A committee, presided by the minister, was speedily formed, and the fortunate projector devoted his energy to the progress of the works, but they

were interrupted by the war, and had been previously interfered with by the expenditure at Versailles, then in course of erection. Since then, the fortunes of the Louvre have alternately flourished and suffered reverses, and, at length, it has been given to the Emperor, Napoleon the Third, chosen for the purpose by fate from amidst many princes and governments, from Louis le Grand to our day, to complete the architectural adornment of that spot, whereon it is asserted that one of the Kings of the Frankish race had erected an edifice twelve hundred years ago. The first stone of the new constructions at the Louvre was laid in July 1852, and the buildings are rapidly progressing to completion under the superintendence of the architect, M. Visconti. The greatest attraction, perhaps, at the Louvre is now, and has been for some time past, the picture of the Conception by Murillo, which was purchased at the sale of the effects of Marshal Soult for the incredible sum of 615,300 francs or £24,300 and odd pounds sterling. It is disgraceful to the age, that such a sum should have been given for such a picture. Notwithstanding the mob of sensible people who are ecstatic according to the prevailing fashion of the day, and fly with terror from the expression of independent opinion, it is now admitted that the picture in question is not one of Murillo's best. The features of the Madonna, as represented in this over-rated picture, are positively mean, nor can the expression of the eyes, a merit possessed in common with a hundred paintings on sacred subjects, redeem its too patent defects. Such is the truth. You will be able to judge for yourself next summer. There is a Madonna, by the same artist, quite close to it, which possesses more merit than that which cost so enormous a sum. It is, at least, free from that surprising meanness of feature which strikes you at once, on seeing the famed Conception, for the first time, and painfully clings to you on seeing it for the last. One turns away from it with a feeling which the word disappointment cannot describe. I have seen this picture repeatedly, and noted it carefully. The man who can succeed in showing it to be worth £24,000 will deserve that sum for recompense.

Directly opposite the Murillo, is a magnificent picture, on an immense scale, by Paul Veronese, the subject of which is the marriage feast at Canaan. The costume is that of the period of the painter, and is painted with a minuteness of detail which in no way interferes with the general effect. The eye revels in all the fancy and luxury of the often fantastic, but never ungraceful, costumes of the great

age of Italian painting, a time when art had only to turn her eyes on the world of every day life around her, to find there whatever might be worthiest of her regard. She cannot be quite so content with the hat and tails of the nineteenth century. The figure of our Lord forms an exception to those which cover the rest of the canvass. He is represented in the conventional costume which is ascribed to him in all paintings in which his person is introduced-the loose robe, with its numerous folds. Costume is, strictly speaking, an essential feature in a picture, or, if that be saying too much, to assert that it is a mere accessory of little importance is saying too little. The anachronism which represents the contemporaries of our Lord in the attire of the middle ages, is open to grave objection, but it is a fault to which we become speedily reconciled, by the pic. turesque forms, and richness of colour, which seem rather to have been devised for the purposes of the painter than for the convenience of the public, or the wear and tear of every day life. You remember a splendid picture at the Irish Exhibition last year, "Peter denying Christ," by Gerard Segers, in which the figures were painted in the costume of the age and country of the artist. An anachronism, truly, yet who could have wished it otherwise? We wish that every artistic freak could be as easily pardoned; but what will you say of this:-after ascending the staircase of the Louvre, turn to your right, and, in the first salon you enter, you will see a number of busts of distinguished artists and others, one of which, that of a modern personage, exceeds in absurdity all that it has been my lot to see of the ridiculous, on canvass or in stone, in England or in France. The sculptor has faithfully and accurately represented, in marble, an indurated tumour on the cheek of his subject, and this unsightly protuberance, the effect of which is to pull the mouth to one side, and disfigure the face in a manner which would be ludicrous, were it not painful to the spectator, has been exactly reproduced by the chisel of the artist. This work-are we to say of art?-is but one example amongst many of the tendency to extremes which has afflicted France so frequently in matters of more consequence, and of greater influence on human progress and human happiness, than even the arts. "Paint me as I am," said Cromwell, the command of a great man, which might have been well obeyed by a great artist. But Cromwell well knew, as did the painter to whom he sat for his portrait, that his features, though not comely, were not unsightly. Homeliness of feature is one thing; deformity, whether natural or

the result of disease, quite another. The former may be dignified by, or even impart worth to, the productions of art; as amply witness many, I might say most, of the paintings of the Flemish school. But, surely, to represent the suspension by disease of the laws of nature, as we see them interrupted in exceptional cases, is widely different from fidelity to the truth of nature in its normal manifestations. The cultivation of "High Art," it must be admitted, has been attended by some evils. Is that a reason for the pursuit of Low Art? And, can anything be more vulgar, degrading, low, in art, than the minute representation of an immense tumour occupying the cheek, and the corner of the mouth, on one side of the "human face divine"?

Amongst the paintings of the French school, I was most struck by those of Joseph Vernet, whom your readers must not confound with Horace Vernet. The latter is famous for his battle-pieces, and is still living. The former flourished in the last century, and painted all the principal sea-ports of France. These pictures are all of them most carefully finished, and some of them remind one of the ever-glorious Claude. Desportes has been a successful painter of animals, but I have been spoiled by Landseer. Once you become accustomed to his pictures, you are ever after dissatisfied even with excellent merit in the school of animal-painters. As for David and Lebrun, I never could cotton to them. People here in France were classic-mad during the era of these painters, and modern art appears almost always pretentious and vulgar when it departs-and how often does it not depart from the national life and manners of modern times, of that Europe which rose upon the ruins of the Roman Empire. Despite of David, and of the Convention, it is not natural to modern people to act, think, speak, or dress as the Greeks and Romans did.

A regular notice of the Louvre would be impossible in the limits of this paper. It would require, indeed, a paper to itself, and yet I can still find room to notice some curiosities of the greatest interest which adorn the museums of the Louvre, amongst them the sword, sword-belt and spurs of Charlemagne, his sceptre, and a crown, said to have belonged to him, which Napoleon wore at his coronation. There is a curious anecdote of Charlemagne, and his times (upwards of a thousand years ago) to which we are indebted to a contemporary historian. The Emperor of the West, left, by will, his Empire to his three sons, bequeathing (if, indeed, it were in his

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »