Annals of the Fine Arts: James Elmes (1782-1862), architect: from youthful editor to aged gospeller.

Author:Jones, Tom Devonshire
Position:Critical essay

The earliest popular art periodical in English, edited by James Elmes (Pl 3), has received little of the attention and analysis warranted by its contents. Published in the years following the victory of Waterloo and of the regency openness to the arts, Annals took a different aim from that of Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1813) in his Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions and Politics founded a little earlier in 1809 (1809-29). The readership of the latter and its title's old associations with museum and sepulchre, and its undoubtedly large format and classy production, including hand-coloured aquatints and tipped-in textile samples, will have picked up in Annals a less expensive product, but one closer to the artist's and the patron's studies, politics and finances.

The time-conscious choice of title for Annals suggested narrative, movement and direction, and the editor James Elmes (1782-1862) delivered on all three. Annals may also echo Annales, for his review was open to art and art education in France, and perhaps felt challenged by Germany's earlier start with Johann Daniel Herz Die reisende und correspondierende Pallas oder Kunst-Zeitung (Augsburg 1755) and the more serious art-historical approach of Johann Georg Meusel in 1779. Austria's earliest art-only periodical too was named Annalen der bildenden Kunste (1801-2) by its editor, the Swiss-born Johann Heinrich Fussli (RA 1790 as Henri Fuseli, elected Professor of Painting 1799 and Keeper 1804). Annals, while far from unaware of Europe's other centres of art, speaks from within a proudly British and royalist position, proclaiming loyalty to the Prince of Wales in each volume's frontispiece, the final one (1820) blossoming into a paean to the newly acceding George IV (Pl 1).

The frontispieces are a good starting point for gaining a sense of the contents. Never at a loss for an appropriate quotation, Elmes identifies the Classics as the foundation of his enterprise with this exclamation from James Thomson:

OH Greece! Thou sapient nurse of finer arts; Which, to bright Science, blooming Fancy bore, Be this thy praise, that thou, and thou alone, In these hast led the way, in these excelled, Crowned with the laurel of assenting time. While the Prince Regent's feathers surmount the garter in the first four volumes' frontispieces, Jonathan Richardson's claiming of the significance of a British national school appears at the head of volume two and thereafter (Pl 1):

I am no prophet, nor the son of a prophet; but I will venture to predict, that if ever the ancient, great and beautiful taste in painting revives, it will be in England. Heavy with message, the garter underneath the Wales feathers is at first inscribed with the aspiration of 'UNANIMITY' (PI 2), Elmes knowing enough about the rivalries and jealousies bedevilling the art community, as we shall see, to convince him that Annals needed to be a rallying point for artists, architects, sculptors and engravers. Second only to this was his concern with patrons. The 1820 frontispiece juxtaposes the British and French attitudes. The latter appear in the French King's own words, its English counterpart is the rather awkward Parliamentary report of Lord Castlereagh standing in for any direct statement of George the Fourth:

"As far as his Majesty had already presided over the councils of the country, the result had been glorious. He (Lord Castlereagh) trusted and was persuaded, that his Majesty would have the gratification of adding a new page of lustre to the English history; and that, as there was nothing left to achieve, his Majesty would snatch the only remaining laurel, by cultivating the arts of peace."--Lord Castlereagh's Speech on the Address of Condolence, February 17, 1820.



"The Fine Arts continue to ornament and to illustrate France. I collected around me their numerous productions; the same advantage was given to the useful arts: public admiration has equally encouraged them."--King of France's Speech from the throne, November 29, 1819.

The 'Unanimity' call later gives way to inscribing in the garter history's the names of three pre-eminent patrons: Pericles (whose Parthenon Marbles' arrival in London pulsate through the later Annals) flanked by the renaissance popes Julius II and Leo X (Pl 1).

Elmes went to a great deal of trouble to secure weighty dedicatees for successive volumes. Volume one bore the name of the Viscount Sidmouth (Henry Addington), Home Secretary 1812-22, and a former Prime Minister. Volume two was dedicated to the directors of the British Institution in respect of their 'services to the cause of legitimate art, by the exhibition of the Cartoons of Raffaele' (Pl 4), and volume three to Thomas, Earl of Elgin, and 'his 'energy and perseverance in rescuing splendid remains of GREEK GENIUS from the hands of the barbarians'. J Fleming Leicester, Bart. heads the fourth volume (Pl 5): he had 'had the good sense to despise the prejudices against his countrymen, and the courage to form a gallery of their works'. The fifth--and last--volume's dedication reconciles Annals, after some disputation, with the Royal Academy 'in respect for its recent symptoms of improvement, and in hopes of its continued reformation, till it be restored to the original intention of its august founder, GEORGE THE THIRD, namely the the cultivation of historical painting'. The dedication echoes that enduring complaint of Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) (Pl 6), who had been a prominent contributor from the start. Annals, published first in 1817, addressed the fine arts in the twelve months previous, which was the year following Waterloo. Elmes's frontispieces and the choice of dedicatees make clear some of his prejudices, ambitions and methods. The post-war era was opening up continental Europe to travellers, so that British painters found themselves competing with Dutch and Italian imports; architects vied for patronage, but there was a boom in church building; in sculpture the great Nollekens and Flaxman were in danger of being overshadowed by the European reputation of Canova and Thorvaldsen, and by the impressive arrival of the Elgin Marbles.


Annals opens with an article setting out its concerns with the arts both visual and verbal, and such big names as Haydon and Keats were among its contributors. This initial article was entitled 'On Painting and Writing', in fact a prize essay at Oxford 1779 by Home Secretary Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth. Not yet two years after the resounding victory, John Galt's topical piece on A Waterloo Monument' then touched on a matter for which Elmes himself had already proposed a solution in the form of a palace on the commanding heights of Primrose Hill, London NW1. Another theme dear to its editor's heart was the comparative neglect of architecture among the sister arts, both in society at large but especially in the Royal Academy. Elmes himself had enrolled there as one of only two architecture students in his year, 1805 being the same year in which Benjamin Robert Haydon (the two men began a life long friendship) also enrolled. He was one of the year's twelve painters, in a total intake of twenty A near-contemporary note is struck with mention of Eastlake's Bonaparte on board the Bellerophon, the...

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