Art in The Quarterly Review.

Author:Jones, Tom Devonshire
Position:Critical essay

The runaway success of the Whig Edinburgh Review (1802-1929) was hotly pursued by its Tow competitor and rival (1809-1967). The art content of the newer Quarterly Review came to be no less in extent than that of the Edinburgh (explored in The British Art Journal, IX, 3, 2008) but it was to project different values and interests. Quick off the mark, the Quarterly published its first article on the arts as the third to be encountered in the very first issue, appearing March 1809. The portraitist John Hoppner, carefully chosen by William Gifford, who was to be editor for the review's first 15 years, contributes an article with the running title Anecdotes of Painters, calculated to pluck in the reader the strings of tradition, stability and patriotism, while noting and airing some contemporary, even fashionable matters en passant. These 20 pages deserve study, for they plunge us immediately into the world of the Quarterly: the volume under review is Anecdotes of Painters who have resided or been born in England; with Critical Remarks on their Productions: by Edward Edwards, deceased, late Teacher of Perspective, and Associate in the Royal Academy; intended as a Continuation of the Anecdotes of Painting by the late Horace Earl of Orford. London, 1808. The earlier book, which this one 'continues', is no less a source book than Horace Walpole's Anecdotes of Paintings in England (1762-5), itself drawing on some 40 manuscript notebooks of the engraver and antiquary George Vertue (1684-1756).

The trail of tradition is surely laid, and now the reviewer's task is to comment: John Hoppner was bracketed at the time with painters such as Reynolds, Lawrence and Opie, and he finds no difficulty in criticising the author (albeit recently deceased) for the random opinions he holds of his contemporaries, but also for 'his whining confusion of morals and taste' (vol I, p37). The Society of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce, with which Edwards was involved from early on, had been founded in 1750, and both author and reviewer note the benefits derived from it by painters, architects and sculptors, as also from the Royal Academy, founded in 1768. Edwards (whose sister was to receive a pension from the RA) appears to praise the institutions too much for Hoppner, and he reminds readers that Hogarth, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Wilson, West, Barry and many others had established reputations well in advance of the advent of these institutions, and without their help. Hoppner finds it typical of Edwards's weakness that he fails to commit himself to praising Wilson, who, Hoppner thinks, deserves better. Gainsborough too he finds undervalued by Edwards, whereas the estimate of the 'once formidable but now breathless monster Barry' in the Quarterly is found to be a 'tissue of ignorance and spleen'. The review closes rather hurriedly, following this damaging criticism, by pulling up short to name Sir Joshua Reynolds who, readers are assured, will receive fuller treatment at a future date, being 'ONE with whom the arts rose and set in this country ... who cannot be discussed in few words'.

As for Royal Academician John Hoppner, the reviewer himself, he was now nearing the end of his life, one now crowded with 'elevated' portrait commissions coming to him and his rival Lawrence following the death of Reynolds in 1792. Hoppner, whose family later promoted the rumour that he was a natural son of George III, had been born in London (1758) of German parentage, and he received an allowance from the king to study at the RA. Royal commissions were to follow, and in 1789 he was appointed Portrait Painter to the Prince of Wales. The hapless author of the book reviewed, Edward Edwards, whose relationship in employment with Walpole at Strawberry Hill had been broken off for unrecorded reasons, had worked for John Boydell, the print publisher, and had concluded a wide range of commissions--for the Society of Antiquaries, for Lord Bessborough at Roehampton, for the Hon Charles Hamilton at Bath, and theatre scenes at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At the Royal Academy in 1788 he had been Professor of Perspective.

Meantime the Quarterly's editor appears to have either commissioned, received or otherwise prepared manuscripts in pairs, and so Hoppner's 'companion piece' is an essay on Gothic Architecture, including a notice of the writings of his fellow academician, the Dublin-born Sir Martin Archer Shee, who was destined to be an influential voice in the art controversies of the first half of the century and President of the Royal Academy. The frequently expressed estimate of Gifford, that the editorial task at the Quarterly was beyond his abilities, may perhaps not extend to the art coverage: here, for his 31 volumes, he cast his net wide for reviewers, to include artists, bishops and antiquaries as well as the less unexpected barristers, politicians and essayists. His successor editors, as will be seen, greatly extended this range to include travellers, administrators and notable women writers--the uncommon matching of writer to subject often resulting in reviews presenting art in new ways.

The immediacy of the periodical's popular impact can be visualised in the account of readers jostling outside the premises of the publisher to acquire their latest number of the Quarterly from Murray's, its London founder and publisher: so thick and fast was the selling that the crowds could not enter the front door, but made their purchase through the front window, from the pavement. The pace of publication was further agitated by the editor's chronic failure to adhere to the advertised dates of publication.

As for the larger, troubled, political background against which the Quarterly was launched, the centenary number, volume 210, recalled the situation of its 1809 start: 'The previous autumn at the Congress of Erfurt, Napoleon's star had reached its zenith ... in alliance with a complacent Tsar, his power extended from the Sound to the Straits of Messina, from the Tagus to the Dardanelles, and even threatened our dominion on the Ganges.' The men chosen and employed to steer the Quarterly Review through the 19th century brought to the task a variety of formation and experience, and they held differing expectations of the role of art in the publication. The following account of the Quarterly examines successive editors.

William Gifford (1756-1826) was appointed first editor by Foreign Secretary George Canning and his friends in the Portland Administration (1807-9). Charged with countering the Whiggery of the Edinburgh Review by deploying Tory arguments, Gifford received support from John Murray the publisher, Walter Scott the novelist, and the poet Robert Southey with his vast scope of reading and writing. Even with this powerful triumvirate in support, Gifford's reputation was posthumously to suffer at the hands of Disraeli, who cast him as the objectionable Rigby in Coningsby (1844). Gifford came from a dramatically deprived family and, despite having poor health and a puny frame, nevertheless edited the quarterly's first 60 numbers, successfully attracting writers to raise the Quarterly up to rival the Edinburgh. The first of his art writers was the artist Hoppner, as we have...

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