A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE ROYAL ACADEMY

THE century which forms the subject of this work witnessed a widespread love of art among all classes, and a corresponding increase in the number of its professors, as well as a great change in the relations between the art-teacher and the art-student. The means of studying such art as was practised in England before the time of Lely and Kneller cannot be very clearly traced; but it seems probable from such slight notices as incidentally occur that the youth entering the profession of a painter was formally apprenticed, in the ordinary manner, to some master or artist of more or less eminence. For his master, and with him, the young pupil laboured, and was gradually initiated into all his methods--secrets as they were then deemed. He learnt the mode of preparing his canvas or panel, of grinding and tempering his colours, of mixing his tints, of executing his first and second painting, and the use of the transparent glaze in finishing. He learnt the mechanical part of his profession rather than its great principles, and thus trained, the apprentice naturally followed in the footsteps and the methods of his master.

On the Continent better principles of teaching had long prevailed. The academic system was established in the great Italian cities, where art flourished so early as the middle of the fourteenth century; and both the atelier system and the apprentice system had been used to train and keep up a succession of artists in all the great foreign schools. We have just described the latter system, under which the pupil commenced his teaching in the drudgery which is now the work of the artist's colourman. The atelier system, which arose out of it, became almost a necessity in an age when great works were usually confided to individual artists. It originated in Italy, where the decoration of a church or a palace was the work of one great master, who drew around him many youths, some partly educated, others of more matured proficiency, who were employed, not on their own inventions, but in carrying out the designs of their master. Thus we learn that Raphael had in his studio five or six men of great talent, who not only enlarged his sketches into cartoons, but actually completed them on the walls. In Flanders, also, Rubens with his pupils and imitators forms another remarkable example of the working of

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