As already announced, the President of the Royal Academy died, on the 25rd ult., at Pisa, whither, at the commencement of a long and painful illness, he had repaired, intending to winter in Italy. In our Number for May 12, 1860, we gave a full biographical notice in connection with a Portrait of Sir Charles; therefore, in this obituary record we shall, for the most part, simply recall the principal facts of his remarkable career. Charles Lock Eastlake was the youngest son of a highly respectable solicitor and Judge Advocate of Plymouth, where he was born, on the 17th of November, 1793. Part of his education he received at Plympton Grammar School—the same which, as wo said last week, boasts among its roll of scholars the names of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Joshua's biographer, Northcote, and Haydon. Thence the young Eastlake went to the Charterhouse, but quitted that foundation at a comparatively early age, resolving to devote himself to the study of art, his own natural Inclination in that direction having been stimulated, it is said, by the success of the first-exhibited picture by his fellow-townsman, friend, and, afterwards, his instructor, Hayydon. He was, however, allowed to take this step only on condition that he should for a time continue his classical studies with a tutor—that the love of art did not lead him to neglect those studies will be readily inferred by those acquainted with the writings of the learned painter.
After going through the usual course of study at the Royal Academy (where he was favourably noticed by Fuseli), be sold his first picture to Mr. Jeremiah Harman, one of the leading patrons of the day; and by the same liberal amnteur he was sent to Paris to copy someof the numberless treasures of art then collected by Napoleon, which occupation, however, he was compelled suddenly to relinquish by the return of the Emperor from Elba. The young artist was next employed chiefly in painting portraits in his native town; and on the arrival at Plymouth of the Bellerophon, with the exiled Emperor on board, he managed to make sketches of him, from which he executed a full-length lifesize portrait as Napoleon appeared at the gangway of the ship. In 1817 Mr. Eastlake first visited Italy. A year later he proceeded to Greece, commissioned by Mr. Harman to make sketches of the most memorable remains and scenes of that classic land; being accompanied by the late Mr. (subsequently Sir Charles) Barry and Mr. Brockedon, the painter.
After a tour in Sicily during the following year he returned to Rome, where he settled for several years, and whence, in 1820, he sent the first pictures he exhibited at the Royal Academy—viz., Views of the Bridge and Castle of St. Angelo, the Coliseum, and St. Peter’s. Then came a long series of pictures illustrative of Italian life and costume, especially in the neighbourhood of Rome. A more important effort was a large composition, commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire, the subject of which was derived from Plutarch’s story of the Spartan Isidas appearing in a battle armed but undraped, and being in consequence taken for a god; the exhibition of which picture, in 1827, procured the artist’s election an Associate of the Academy. This was succeeded in the following year by, perhaps, his finest picture,technically, “Pilgrims Arriving In Sight of Rome.” The Duke of Bedford’s original, we believe, of several repetitions of this subject was exhibited in the Art-Treasures Collection, Manchester, 1857. One of his pictures of banditti and oontadini led to an engagement at a handsome income to paint only for the firm of Hurst, Robinson, and Co., the printers and publishers, who succeeded to the business of Alderman Boydell, but by the time two or throe had been engraved the house failed. In 1830 Mr. Eastlake was made a Royal Academician, and in that year he returned to England and established himself in London.
Subjects from materials he had collected in Greece, and generally illustrative of the Turko-Greek war, now diversified those from Italy, and gradually works of far higher aim than his graceful but tame costume pieces appeared. Among the best examples in each department may be named “Greek Fugitives,” “Arab Selling his Captives,” “ Gaston de Foix,” “Escape of Francesco di Carrara and his Wife,” an Illustration of Byron’s “Dream,” “Christ Lamenting over Jerusalem” (the original! or repetitions of the last two are in the Vernon Collection), “Christ Blessing Little Children,” and “HIagar and Ishmael.” The artist’s religious pictures testify to the influence of the attempted revival under Overbeck and other Germans at Rome of the spirit of Christian art; and in feeling they partake rather of German purism than of the truly naive earnestness of the early Italians; in colour, however, they have, unlike the oold and negative works of the Germans, a warm and agreeable, though conventional, Venetian character.
Eastlake's love of beauty, combined with the utmost refinement, was further shown in a series of lifesize female bust studies, by which alone the painter was for some years represented before he ceased to exhibit at the Royal Academy. The elaborate “stippled” but rather too vaguely generalising finish of these heads was evidently founded on the practice of the purest Italian masters, and was probably adopted as a protest against the too slavish imitation of the showy brushwork of the seventeenth-century masters, to the neglect of higher qualities. As an R.A. Eastlake soon became generally known, not simply as an artist, but as an accomplished gentleman, a learned and clear-headed writer also, and possesssed of excellent business aptitudes. This union of qualities (unfortunately too rare among artists) secured his appointment, in 1841, as secretary to the Royal Commission of Fine Arts authorised to conduct the decoration of the New Palace of Westminster, and this delicate and responsible post he filled with honour as long as the Commission remained in existence, and distinguishing himself further as a contributor of most valuable papers tending to check the present tendency to ultra-realism in monumental painting and the “formative arts” generally.
In their last report (1863) the Commissioners offer a warm testimony to the “long and meritorious services of Sir Charles Eastlake,” and seem to hint that some special acknowledgment should be made him, which, however, was not acted on. We have reason to believe that, contrary to what is generally affirmed, if Eastlake erred as secretary to the Commission, it was on the side of reticence, and not on that of advising and directing. In his position, a more impulsive temperament would certainly have urged the more liberal scale of payment of the Westminster painters which ultimately it was found just and necessary to adopt. In 1847 Eastlake published a really important literary work, though under the modest title of “Materials for a History of Oil-Painting.” In this book he appears as a linguist deeply versed in the literature of Northern art; and his researches into the discovery or invention of the Van Evcks, and those methods of the early Flemish oil painters which have proved of such remarkable permanency, are of the highest value to artists. A similar work on the technical processes of the Italian painters was promised, but has not appeared. The scholarship, and, more probably, the courtesy of Eastlake—more, certainly, than his moderate distinction as a painter—marked him as a fitting successor to Sir Martin A. Shee. Accordingly, on the death of Sir Martin, in 1850, he was elected President of the Royal Academy; and, on the confirmation of the election by her Majesty, he received the honour of knighthood customarily given on the occasion. Who his successor may be in the presidency it seems hard at present to say.
Meanwhile, Eastlake's extensive knowledge both of the theory and practice of art, qualifying him in a peculiar degree as a trustworthy guide to the acquisition and preservation of a public collection, he was appointed Keeper of the National Gallery, on the death of Mr. Seguin, in 1843, a post which he resigned in 1847. In 1850, at the Invitation of Sir Robert Peel, he accepted an appointment, as one of the trustees of the Gallery, and subsequently, under the new arrangement, he became director, at a salary of £1000 per annum, with a secretary, Mr. Wornum, at £800 per annum. In the early part of Eastlake's connection with the National Gallery he is believed to have made some mistakes and angry discussions took place respecting the cleaning of certain of the pictures; but on the whole, making allowance for the rivalry of public and private collectors, and the tricks of dealers. Sir Charles must be considered to have acted judiciously; unquestionably he brought a kind and degree of knowledge and taste to the discharge of his duties as keeper, trustee, and director of the National Gallery, which again it will not be easy to replace. The severe taste which he displaced in purchasing early Italian pictures in preference to those of other schools must be unreservedly commended. Besides the “Materials,” etc., Eastlake published a series of papers under the title “Contributions to the Literature of the Fine Arts,” containing essays written for the reports of the Fine-Arts Commissioners, and for the Quarterly Review; he also translated “Goethe on Colour,” and annotated Küglcr’s “Handbook of Painting.”
In 1849 he married Miss Elizabeth Rigby, a lady of eminent literary ability, author, among other works, of “Letters from the Baltic;” credited, also, as a contributor to the Quarterly Review, and whose last literary- labour was the completion of “The History of our Lord," commenced by the late Mrs. Jameson. The remains of Sir C. Eastlake were on Wednesday week consigned to their final resting-place in the English cemetery, Florence. The body was conveyed at an early hour by- railway from Pisa, and was accompanied by Lady Eastlake, who was met at the station by many sympathising friends who followed the body in a long cortege to the cemetery.
Last modified 28 May 2019