By decorative painting, I mean moral figure-painting. Ornamental designs
are a very important factor in all decorative work, but as this branch
of the art is out of my province, I shall say nothing about it.
The great mistake most artists make when they have a large wall-space to
decorate with figures, is to proceed in the same way as they would for
an easel picture. Elaborate finish, powerful light and shade, expression
and individuality in the heads, are all excellent qualities in an easel
picture, but they are by no means necessary in decorative work.
On the other hand, a well-balanced and harmonious composition, a pure
and grand style of drawing, and great breadth and luminosity of coloring
are absolutely essential for good decorative work.
These are all qualities which are never got by dexterity of hand, dodges
about color, or chance, to which much of the fascination of oil-painting
on canvas must be attributed. They are only attainable by patient and
laborious work. I will endeavor to show you, step by step, what the
nature of this work is.
It is always advisable for decorative work of any importance to make a
cartoon of the size of the painting, and, if possible, after the
completion of the cartoon, to have it put up _in situ_, so that the size
of the figures, the arrangement of the groups, and the general effect
may be judged of.
If the result is satisfactory, the work may be considered three parts
done. Should there, however, be any alterations required, they should be
carried out on the cartoon. Nothing which requires alteration should be
left knowingly. There will always be plenty of unforeseen changes
suggesting themselves during the progress of the painting, without
complicating matters by having an imperfect cartoon.
For fresco-painting a cartoon is absolutely necessary.
In the course of this lecture I will describe the process of
fresco-painting. Before, however, proceeding to speak of the different
methods of painting, we will first consider the preliminary operations.
The first thing to be done, even before a stroke of charcoal sullies the
spotless purity of our cartoon paper, is to get an idea of the kind of
arrangement which it will be best to adopt. This pursuit of an idea for
the general arrangement of our subject is of course entirely brain-work,
but as soon as an idea is got, the hand comes into play; not, however,
with charcoal on the big cartoon, but with pen and ink or pencil in the
I always think the clearest way of describing any process is to take an
example. We will therefore take an example, and suppose that we are
lucky enough to have the decoration of a town-hall or some similar
building in a large seaport town entrusted to us, and that it has been
suggested to us by our employers that groups of figures representing all
countries would be appropriate.
Very well, we don’t at once seize a stick of charcoal and begin drawing
promiscuously. We think first how we can best fit our subject into the
space allotted to us.
How are we to arrange our personages? Shall we group them irrespective
of their nationality, like the figures in Delaroche’s “Hemicycle”; or
shall we adopt a kind of geographical arrangement? Shall we have a
centre figure or group? Shall we introduce architecture into the
background, as Raffaelle has done in the “School of Athens”?
These and a dozen other questions of vital importance to our design have
all to be settled before the cartoon is begun, and we must be guided in
our settlement very much by the nature of the building, the shape of the
panel, the height of the work from the ground, etc. The decorative
painter ought always to bear in mind that his work is supplementary to
that of the architect. Inattention to this self-evident truism has been
the cause of many failures. In an easel picture we order the frame to
suit the picture. We don’t paint the picture to suit the frame; but in
mural painting the reverse ought always to be the rule. Of course, there
are cases–as, for instance, in museums and picture galleries–where the
works of art are the jewel and the building the setting; but these works
of art are not decorative. The very word decorative implies subserviency
to that which has to be decorated.
To return to our imaginary work; I will suppose we have decided that a
central group of figures is desirable, and that England, as the greatest
maritime power in the world, ought to occupy the place of honor.
Moreover, not being of the “Perish India” school, we think that she
ought to be supported by her colonies. We will, therefore, surround her
with figures representing Canada, India, Australia, etc.
Having so far settled our scheme of composition, we must abandon our
idea of a geographical arrangement. We find that it is more logical to
arrange our figures according to the importance of the countries they
represent, than according to their latitude and longitude. We will
accordingly place in the immediate vicinity of our central group,
representatives of France, the United States, Germany, Italy, etc. We
then gradually descend to less civilized countries, until finally we
reach the remote corners, which we reserve for barbarians like our late
enemy King Coffee.
The next point for our consideration would be, ‘How are we to represent
England?’ Certainly not as a pseudo-classical Minerva with a trident in
her hand, and the British lion at her feet; still less as an obese,
ill-tempered John Bull. We may leave this venerable joke to the comic
We must try and invent something new, which shall be characteristic of
England, and yet neither commonplace nor grotesque.
We may, however, leave the costume and action of our Britannia for
future consideration. We have made up our minds that Britannia must be
typified by a female figure, but farther than this we need not go at
present. Having got the key-note (as it may be called) of the
composition, we shall have no difficulty in determining that all the
other civilized countries must also be represented by female figures.
It will not probably be advisable to clothe these figures in their
respective national costumes; such a mode of treatment would be
incompatible with a grand style of decoration. It will, nevertheless, be
quite allowable to vary their features and complexion according to the
nationality they represent, and to give them something, either flowers,
fruit, grain, or produce, which will help to identify them.
Having got thus far, we may begin to map out our groups on the cartoon.
We do not engage models until we have approximately decided on the
various attitudes we wish our figures to assume.
Some must be standing, some sitting, and very possibly some kneeling or
reclining. We try these various attitudes on the cartoon, sketching them
in very lightly with soft charcoal. We transfer and shift them about
until we get an harmonious and pleasant arrangement of line, not too
symmetrical, and yet sufficiently so to give an air of grandeur and
repose to the work. These figures need not, of course, be more than
indicated, but they ought to be tolerably correct in proportion, and the
attitudes should be natural, or at any rate possible.
It is here that a knowledge of anatomy is especially useful to the young
artist. When a man has been drawing figures for forty years he ought to
draw the human form very much as he forms the letters of the alphabet
when writing; but until long experience has given him this kind of
facility, he will find his studies of anatomy and proportion of the
greatest benefit to him. He will save many a long and profitless
morning’s work from a model, and save his pocket too.
It is when the cartoon is in this state of progress–that is, when the
size of the figures, the general arrangement of the different groups,
and their relative position have been settled approximately–that it is
so desirable to hoist it up to its place on the wall. Any alteration
can be made now much easier than later; certain figures or even whole
groups may want to be shifted a few inches, certain actions modified,
the line of heads may require revisal, and so on; and it is obvious that
what can be done now with a few lines of charcoal, would at a later
period involve a great amount of rubbing out and a great waste of labor.
Having at last decided on the proportions and positions of the various
groups and single figures, we may now begin to work from the living
model; and here it may perhaps not be out of place if I give you some
advice about the selection of your models.
I would strongly advise you to engage those who are intelligent and apt,
rather than those who may be better proportioned, but who are stiff and
awkward. What you want in the present stage of your work is natural and
graceful action, and with some models it is hopeless to struggle in this
When I was a student in Paris, there were some three or four models who
were so intelligent (and I may say so artistic) that they naturally put
themselves into the attitudes wanted, and even suggested and assumed
other positions which were often adopted by the artist.
In violent and spontaneous action suitable for battle pictures these
models were invaluable, and the decline of many a great reputation in
historical painting dates from the death of these humble assistants,
some of whom could neither read nor write. I am afraid the race is
extinct, but even in the present generations of models some are far
superior in artistic feeling to others. In our present cartoon, however,
we do not require any violent action; all we need is perfect ease and
As our personages are to be clothed, it will be unnecessary to make
careful nude studies. Nevertheless, it will be well to get rough outline
drawings from the nude of all the figures, just to correct and verify
the proportions of our personages.
Two or three of these nude studies can be made in a day. If the artist
is an experienced draughtsman, there may not be much to correct on the
large cartoon; but let him be ever so experienced, there is always
something wrong about the attitude of figures drawn without models, and
occasionally very gross mistakes are made.
I knew a very clever draughtsman in Paris who made the mistake of giving
one of his figures two right hands, and he did not find it out until he
began to work from nature.
In an outstretched arm, the twist of the radius and ulna makes all the
difference about the position of the thumb, and if the thumb be placed
on the wrong side of the hand, you immediately make a right hand of what
ought to be a left, and _vice versâ_.
I will assume now that we have corrected the drawing of our cartoon
from our small nude studies.
We are fully aware that the drawing of every figure will have to be
perfected from nature, that is, the head, neck, arms, hands, and feet;
but we are satisfied that the attitudes are all possible, and that there
is no great fault in the proportions. _Now_, therefore, we may look out
for models for the heads, arms, feet, etc., and work with chalk or
charcoal (if it can be fixed) on the cartoon itself.
And here let me caution you against ever working from a model whom you
know to be unsuitable. If, as often happens, you engage a model, and
find when you have got him into position that he won’t do, pay him his
sitting and send him away. It is better to lose five shillings than to
lose five shillings and your morning’s work into the bargain.
At this stage of progress we ought to be draping our figures as well as
drawing the heads and hands.
Whatever may be said about small easel pictures, I am quite sure that
for large mural work a lay figure is indispensable. In adjusting
draperies on a lay figure a good deal of ingenuity, and, above all, a
good deal of patience, are necessary.
Nothing is so stupid as a lay figure, and many artists prefer studying
their draperies on the living model; but the studies thus done will very
seldom have the precision and finish of those done from the lay figure.
They are, therefore, less suitable for large cartoon-work.
I will now suppose that all our figures are draped, and the heads and
hands finished. There still remains the selection of the different
symbols or attributes which are to give nationality to our personages,
and here we must endeavor to reconcile truth with pictorial fitness. We
have the whole vegetable and animal kingdom to choose from, and it will
go hard if we cannot fit each female figure with some flower, fruit,
bird, or beast, which shall be typical of the country she represents and
at the same time ornamental and graceful.
The cartoon is now at last finished, and the next thing to be done is to
make a colored sketch. I need not go through this process at length.
Every one knows that the scheme of color intended at first is often
abandoned, and minor changes are innumerable. At last, however, we get
what we think a good result, and all our preliminary work is over. Not
quite, however, for we have to trace the cartoon on transparent paper,
and prick the tracing.
Some artists omit the tedious process of pricking the tracing, but the
labor that is thus saved is fully counterbalanced by the trouble of
following all the lines of the tracing with a point before an impression
can be got, whereas with a pricked tracing a bag of pounded charcoal
does the work at once.
* * * * *
I will now give a short account of the different mediums principally in
use for mural painting.
The first medium I shall notice is oil, or some modification of oil. The
great objection to oil for mural work is the impossibility of seeing the
painting when it faces the light. An absorbent ground will to a certain
extent mitigate this evil. The use of spirits of turpentine, benzine,
and other essences, will also contribute toward giving a flat surface;
but do what we will, we can never get in an oil-painting the pure, clear
qualities of water-color or fresco.
The compound known as Parris’ medium and sold by Roberson, is not a bad
thing for diminishing the shine of oil-painting. It is made of white wax
dissolved in spirits of lavender, but I am inclined to think that an
absorbent ground prepared with parchment size and whiting is the best
preventive of the greasy surface inseparable from oil-painting. The
great desideratum in all mural and decorative oil-painting is that every
part should have an equal amount of shine.
Take an ordinary oil-picture and place it opposite the light. The
lighter parts will be tolerably well seen, but the oily or gummy darks
will reflect the light of the sky and spoil the effect completely.
All we can aspire to, in decorative oil-painting, is to give to the dark
parts as little shine as there is in the light ones, where white lead
and opaque colors generally have been freely used.
I cannot say as much in favor of wax as a medium for grinding the colors
in. It is neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring; that is, it has
neither the richness of oil nor the luminosity of fresco. Most of the
modern decorative pictures in the Paris churches are painted with this
medium. The colors are much the same as for oil-painting, but the
blacks, browns, and lakes have a very dull appearance. The fluid medium
used for painting is a kind of essential oil of lavender, so that this
method, if somewhat deficient in light, is at any rate overflowing with
I have found that to use the ordinary oil-colors diluted with a medium
composed of wax, mastic varnish and turpentine, is by far preferable to
legitimate wax-painting. The colors are much more manageable and dry
brighter, without having any more shine than when actually ground with
What is called encaustic painting has also wax as a foundation, but is
quite a different process to “_peinture à la cire_.” “Encaustic” implies
burning, and in this method of painting the colors are laid on rather
thick, and when the work or any portion of it has to be finished, a hot
iron is applied to melt the wax and allow the brush to do its softening
and finishing work.
The Pompeii paintings are mostly done in this way, but it is very
unfitted for large figure-painting.
Distemper has many excellent qualities, but its want of durability will
always prevent its being used for costly and important work.
It might, however, be made much more durable than it generally is, by a
careful selection of materials.
Distemper is generally associated with scene-painting or some temporary
work, for which any rubbish can be used; but if care were taken about
the size and the colors, and above all if some coating of silica were
floated over the finished painting to protect it from damp and
atmospheric changes, I see no reason why this very pleasant method
should not be generally used.
The so-called silica method has been much used in Germany under the name
of Wasserglas. I have no experience in this method, and therefore cannot
enter into detail. Speaking generally, the process consists in painting
on a dry surface with colors simply ground in water, and fixing the
colors afterward by the spray of silicated water. I believe that after
this silication the work can be retouched and even repainted; subject,
however, to another fixing by silication.
We now come to the best and grandest style of decorative work; namely,
legitimate fresco. People who don’t know much about painting are very
apt to call any picture on a wall a fresco, but I suppose I need hardly
tell you that oil-or wax-paintings on walls are no more frescoes than is
an oil sketch on paper a water-color.
In all the methods of painting I have mentioned, some medium is used to
fix the color. It is either oil, copal, wax, size, or silica, but in
fresco no vehicle of any kind except water is used. How then is the
color fixed? How have Michael Angelo’s and even Giotto’s frescoes lasted
to the present day? We all know that if some powdered color is mixed
with water and applied by a brush to a wall, it will stick as long as it
is wet, but as soon as the water evaporates, the color returns to the
powder it was before, and falls off, or brushes off with the slightest
friction. The reason that frescoes can be dusted and washed without
effacing the color, is that they were originally painted on _wet_
mortar, and the lime of which the mortar is composed has the property of
retaining and fixing the color.
I will now describe the whole process of fresco-painting.
The first care ought to be the wall. A brick wall is the best, but stone
will do very well, provided every precaution has been taken against
damp. On this wall there ought to be a coating of strong rough mortar
about half an inch thick. The surface ought not to be smoothed with the
trowel, but left rather uneven. As soon as this mortar is thoroughly
dry, the fresco may be begun. I have already told you that all real
fresco is painted on wet mortar, but the mortar, or _intonaco_, as the
Italians call it, is not the rough stuff which has already been used for
coating the wall. The composition of this intonaco is all-important, and
I am perfectly convinced that the rapid decay of our modern frescoes is
due entirely to the bad quality of the intonaco.
The lime should be thoroughly slaked, so as to deprive it of its caustic
properties, but it does not follow that it should be twenty or thirty
years old. Lime can be kept in a slaked state and skimmed until it
almost ceases to be lime at all, and this worn-out material is unfit for
fresco. Then the sand should be gritty and hard to the touch. Clean
river-sand collected in a granite country is very good; ground lava is
used by modern Italian fresco-painters.
I do not know where the sand supplied to the fresco-painters of
Westminster Palace came from, but it was a great deal too fine and soft
to the touch.
The older and more worn-out the lime is, the sharper and more tenacious
ought to be the sand.
Having got some well-slaked but not worn-out lime and some good hard
sand, the mortar that is required for the day’s use should be made fresh
every day, or at least as often as twice a week.
When I was painting some frescoes at Islington, I got my intonaco from a
man who had had great experience. Instead, however, of sending me the
lime and sand separate, he sent me about twenty small barrels of
ready-made mortar. My work took me nearly two years, and every morning
my plasterer had to go with a pick-axe and hack a piece of dry mortar
out of the barrels.
This he beat up with water and spread it for my day’s work, smacking his
lips as if he had got a most delicious compound on his trowel. I knew no
better then, but now I am surprised, not that the frescoes should be
decaying, but that the decay should not be more rapid. Improper colors
and the omnipresent gas may have had something to do with the decay of
all frescoes painted in London, but from experience I can assert with
confidence that the main cause has been the weakness of the lime and
We will suppose in our imaginary decoration that we don’t fall into this
mistake, that we get lime of the proper strength and clean granite sand.
We will also suppose that we don’t get a dozen barrels of mortar made
up, but have our intonaco mixed fresh every other day.
The first thing to be painted is the sky or background, whatever it may
be. We mark out on the wall with charcoal the extreme extent of this
background. We don’t trace the outline of the heads, but make our black
mark well beyond where this outline should be.
The plasterer ought to be an early riser, so that by nine or ten o’clock
when we arrive we may find the mortar all ready for us, even in surface,
and tolerably firm or “set” as it is called.
I never could get an English plasterer to _throw_ the mortar against the
wall, as is done by Italian and French workmen. When spoken to about it
he always seemed to think he ought to know his own trade best, or
perhaps the Union forbids him to make the mortar stick too close.
His way of smearing or buttering the wall answers pretty well on a very
rough surface, but on smooth stone or tiles it would not do at all. In
Italy it is not at all uncommon to see marble columns coated with
frescoes more than four hundred years old. The intonaco in these cases
is very thin, not above one eighth of an inch in thickness.
As a rule the thinner the intonaco the better it will stick.
We will suppose now that we have painted our flat background and
finished our first day’s work. We now get our pricked tracing, and
holding it so as to fit the panel, we apply our charcoal bag to the
outline of the heads. When we remove the tracing-paper we find a black
dotted line which gives us the outline against the sky. With a knife or
a sharp spatule we cut away the superfluous mortar. The cut should not
be at right angles with the wall, or the outline will be sure to be
injured next day when the fresh mortar is joined on to it.
It should be inclined at an angle of fifty or sixty degrees. I always
make a point of doing this cutting job myself. The dotted line is
sometimes indistinct, and I have to cast a glance at the cartoon. Where,
therefore, there is any complication of outline or the least
indistinctness, this operation ought to be done by the artist.
Before leaving, we make a charcoal mark as before, which will completely
cover our next day’s work and leave us a remnant to cut away. Our
plasterer fits in the new mortar up to the charcoal mark the next
morning, and so we proceed bit by bit as if we were putting together a
puzzle, until the whole is completed.
It is hardly necessary to say that it is very desirable that each
cutting should correspond with some natural division of the work. Thus,
in painting a female head, we might paint the hair and diadem the first
day, and go on with the face and neck the next, stopping at the
necklace. In real fresco nothing can be retouched. Every day’s work must
be finished and complete in the minutest detail.
I will now say something about the colors and execution of fresco.
In fresco (as in distemper) the colors in drying become of a much
lighter shade. It is, therefore, very desirable to have a piece of some
very absorbent material at hand to try the tints on. There are two
distinct modes of painting fresco. One is the solid body-color method,
as practised by M. Angelo, Raffaelle, and all the other masters of that
period. The other is the thin water-color method.
If we adopt the first mode, we get a porcelain or metal palette, and
set the colors on it just as we do for oil-painting. Lime takes the
place of white lead. The only yellow it is safe to use, at least in
England, is raw sienna; probably, however, Mars yellow, which is derived
from iron, might be used with safety. Light red of various kinds and
burnt sienna are the principal reds. Oxide of chromium is the green. Raw
and burnt umber are quite safe, as is also black. Blue is a very
difficult color to manage in fresco.
It seems very antagonistic to lime, and it is almost impossible to paint
a blue sky properly graduated. On the other hand, raw umber takes very
kindly to fresco. Lakes and all vegetable colors are to be strictly
The brushes ought to be hog’s hair tools, but long and soft, so as not
to disturb the surface of the wet mortar.
Painting fresco in this opaque, solid method is a very similar process
to oil-painting. It is best to begin with the shades and work up to the
lights, no scumbling is practicable, but at the end of the day, when the
surface is becoming too dry for solid painting, thin washes of color may
be used with great advantage.
The Italian terra rossa, burnt sienna, raw sienna, and even vermilion,
may be of great service for these light glazings.
It will take three or four days (and often more, if the intonaco is
thick and the weather cool) before the colors begin to lose their dark,
The beginner must not be discouraged if the colors seem to be drying not
as he intended. Some colors take a longer time than others, and it is
well to have a little patience. The old masters generally retouched
defective parts with what was called _fresco secco_ (dry fresco), but
which was simply some compound of white of egg, vinegar, and garlic; but
it is much better to cut the defective portions out, to have fresh
intonaco laid on, and to repaint them. If once you begin to retouch, the
whole work seems to require it, and you never know where to stop.
The second method of painting fresco is totally different. I very much
prefer it, as the work is done more rapidly, and the colors hardly
change at all in drying. Besides (as far as my experience goes), the
result is more durable.
As soon as the fresh intonaco for the day’s work is sufficiently set,
you mix some lime with water very fluid, something like milk (good milk,
I mean, and not milk and water).
You float this over the intonaco, and in about ten minutes you may give
it a second coating of lime-water. This ought to smooth the surface, and
remove any little grains of sand.
You now trace your outline as before with the tracing paper and the bag
of charcoal. You have no palette, but half-a-dozen small tumblers.
Into one of these you put a small lump of raw umber and about the same
quantity of oxide of chromium. You add water, and mix them well
together. The result is of course a brownish olive green. You pour
half the mixture into another tumbler, and add water, thus getting a
weaker solution of the same mixture. You repeat the process into a third
tumbler, and get a still weaker tint.
With these three or more tints you begin to model your head, beginning
with the dark parts and working up to the light. You must bear in mind
that no rubbing out is possible; you cannot wash or sponge out as in
You must therefore be very careful in approaching the light parts, and
copy the cartoon as carefully as possible.
You continue thus to draw and model with your green color until the head
looks like a finished drawing. This operation will take from two to four
hours, according to the nature of the head.
You now take three clean tumblers and put a small lump of light red or
terra rossa into one of them, add water, and mix as before; you make
weaker solutions, just as you did with the green. If the head is that of
an old man or a bronzed warrior, you ought to add raw sienna to the
light red, but for ordinary complexions the light red is quite
sufficient. You apply this flesh tint in washes with a very broad and
soft brush, using the stronger solution for the lips and cheeks, the
medium for the intermediate parts, and the weakest for the high lights.
No modelling is required; the modelling has already been done, and this
tinting is very soon accomplished.
You now take either burnt sienna pure, or burnt sienna and umber, and
with a fine sable give strength and precision to the darkest parts, such
as the nostrils, the division of the lips, the inside of the ears, etc.
If a little black is necessary for the eyebrow or eyelashes, you now
give these little finishing touches, and your head is complete.
You have not used one grain of lime or of any solid color; the wall is
stained rather than painted, and you have none of those strange and
capricious changes of color to fear which are so constantly occurring in
the solid method, where lime is used freely as a pigment.
* * * * *
I have now gone through the whole process of fresco-painting as far as I
know it. I shall conclude with a few general observations.
The fresco-painter ought to be of a nature capable of continued
exertion. Whatever the work is, whether head, torso, or drapery, it must
be finished in a day. He must not, on the plea of headache or
seediness, give himself a half-holiday. He may of course abstain from
work for a whole day, or for a week if he likes, but those little
snatches of rest, involving a game at lawn-tennis, a good lunch, or a
look at the papers, to which many artists are rather partial, are denied
He is always working against time, and although this is trying at first,
he soon gets accustomed to it.
Secondly, he must be a man of fixed purpose. He has got his cartoon and
his colored-sketch, and he must turn a deaf ear to all suggestions of
alterations when once these preliminaries are settled.
An alteration in the turn or size of a head, or a change in the action
of a figure, are very easily carried out in an oil picture, but in a
fresco it is a very serious matter to begin alterations.
Thirdly, he must not mind a bit what the workmen and people about the
building think of him. I believe that the upper ten thousand (at least
the æsthetically inclined amongst them) do not hold mural decoration in
contempt, but the working class invariably take the fresco-painter in
his blouse and on his scaffold to be one of their own fraternity.
If they were to see the same artist in a handsome studio painting
somebody’s portrait in a gilt frame, they would at once suppose he was a
gentleman, but coloring a wall is a very ungentlemanly occupation.
When I was painting a large monochrome work at University Hall, there
were some plumbers and glaziers employed in repairing gas-pipes and
mending windows. One of them came down into the hall where I was at
work, and began to look about for something amongst the pots and colors
on my table. Apparently he did not find what he wanted, so he turned
round and called to me, “I say, governor, you don’t happen to have a bit
of putty in your pocket?”
Fourthly and finally, the mural painter ought to be satisfied with
At the Tercentenary Rubens Festival celebrated at Antwerp, last year, an
Art Congress was held, at which I assisted.
The principal question proposed for discussion was an eminently
practical one. It was; “How can monumental and decorative painting be
best encouraged and revived at the present time?”
In answer to this practical question I gave what I thought a practical
answer. After passing in review various difficulties with which modern
artists had to contend, I summed up by saying that the real impediment
to the development of mural painting was its enormous cost, and I
pointed out that it was only by the artist accepting very moderate pay,
and having at his command a staff of efficient pupils who would be
willing to work under him for little or no remuneration, that such works
as were executed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries could again
become common. I said a good deal respecting the costliness of large
mural paintings done by modern artists of any repute, and on the other
hand gave examples of modern work, which, with the help of efficient
assistants, had been done not only well but at a moderate cost.
At the conclusion of my paper, up jumped a gifted orator, who knew no
more about painting than a cobbler, and in a torrent of eloquence swept
away the few grains of common-sense I had ventured to import into the
It was a sacrilege (according to him) to profane the temple of high art
with a dirty question of pounds, shillings, and pence.
Art was a subtle essence, a delicate perfume. Art was a religion. Art
appealed to all our higher sympathies, and it was only by educating
people up to a kind of art-millennium pitch that we could hope to see
our public buildings decorated with historical paintings. He sat down
and mopped himself amidst loud applause, and I felt considerably
humiliated. We had a great deal more of this sort of thing at the
congress. The few artists who were present sat dumb, and the high
æsthetic gentlemen had it all their own way, so that the congress, which
might have served some practical end, finished in vapor and smoke.
In spite, however, of this termination of the discussion, I am still
convinced that until mural painters have sufficient love for their art
to accept a small remuneration, decorative work of a high class will
For the mural painter’s work, Manchester millionnaires do not vie with
each other. No spirited and enterprising dealers beset his studio, eager
to secure whatever he has on the easel. All of what Dr. Johnson called
the “Potentiality of becoming rich beyond the dreams of avarice” is
denied him. Pay of course he must have, but his patrons are generally
committees or corporate bodies of some kind, who seldom give fancy
Let him therefore console himself with the thought that his is the
highest and noblest branch of the profession, and that whilst
high-priced easel pictures are relegated to private galleries and
dining-rooms, only to reappear at intervals at Christie’s salerooms,
_his_ work is a fixture, and can always be seen by the public.
With the hope that it may be admired as well as seen I shall conclude my