The Atheneum Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture by Margaret Fuller

The gallery of paintings has been well worth visiting this year, if only to see the very beautiful copy of the Madonna, and the heads of Raphael, Guido, and the Fornarina, each of which unlocks a treasury of fine suggestions. The Fornarina shows to great advantage between Newton’s two pictures, so excellent in their way, the Dutch girl and Spanish girl. These are such pretty pictures of modern fine ladies in costume, and seem to represent the idea which a highly cultivated fashionable society entertains of grace and romance, while the Fornarina represents the wild luxuriant growth of real romance, and suggests Wordsworth’s lines—

“O, lavish Nature, why
That dark unfathomable eye,
Where lurks a spirit that replies
To stillest mood of softest skies,
Yet hints at peace to be o’erthrown,
Another’s first, and then her own.”

  ”The Dream” is a fine picture in the romantic style. It is one of those works which, if not themselves of commanding excellence, waft to us the sweet breeze from an age capable of all excellence. Among the pictures by modern artists, we notice with great interest, several by Page. This artist has a fine eye for nature, and a contempt for all show and exaggeration. His pictures are always full of character. He does not seem born particularly for a portrait painter, inasmuch as these heads are not new revelations, but persons such as we have seen and known them. But all, that we do find, is true, full of life and freshness. His heads of children are excellent, in a style of great naiveté and sweetness; they are not well dressed little cherubs, but rich in the promise of sincere and natural manhood and womanhood. Should this artist ever be able to unfold his powers in a congenial element, he is able to go a great way and may turn over a new leaf for America. Two little landscapes by Miss Clarke deserve greater attention than from their size and position they are likely to receive. They show a profound and quiet feeling of nature, perfect chasteness and delicacy of taste. They are deficient in freedom and fulness of expression, but give reason to hope for the attainment of these also. Several other pictures seem to claim our stay; but the present limits oblige us to hasten into the hall of Sculpture, which demands our special attention now from its novelty; the opening of which, indeed, forms to us quite an important era in the history of Boston.
We reflect with great pleasure, that these calm and fair ideals, manifested in this spotless and durable material, have for the most part adorned for some years the houses of our citizens, and, doubtless, have been the sources of love and thought to a great number of minds. But that the, public should be sufficiently interested in such objects, to make it worth while to collect them yearly for exhibition, is none the less an important event. It is very pleasing to see how this influence has gone forth from the private to the public sphere. The movement has been gradual, genuine, and therefore has meaning; and it is of no trifling significance when men learn to love to see thoughts written in stone. They must look to a noble futurity; they must know how to value repose.
It is never so pleasant to see works of art in a collection, as when they are the ornaments of a home. Each picture, each statue, claims its niche, to be seen to due advantage. And yet, in this hall, there-is an almost compensating pleasure in walking as it were amid a grove or garden of beautiful symbols, taken from the ages of mythus, and of beings worthy the marble, from, the days of action. We can see many of them on all sides and study the meaning of every line.
And here are many objects worth study. There is Thorwaldsen’s Byron. This is the truly beautiful, the ideal Byron. This head is quite free from the got up, caricatured air of disdain, which disfigures most likenesses of him, as it did himself in real life; yet sultry, stern, all-craving, all-commanding. Even the heavy style of the hair, too closely curled for grace, is favorable to the expression of concentrated life. While looking at this head you learn to account for the grand failure in the scheme of his existence. The line of the cheek and chin are here, as usual, of unrivalled beauty.
The bust of Napoleon is here also, and will naturally be named in connexion with that of Byron, as the one in letters, the other in arms, represented more fully than any other the tendency of their time; more than any other gave it a chance for reaction. There was another point of resemblance in the external being of the two, perfectly corresponding with that of the internal, a sense of which peculiarity drew on Byron some ridicule. I mean that it was the intention of Nature, that neither should ever grow fat, but remain a Cassius in the commonwealth. And both these heads are taken, while they were at an early age, and so thin as to be still beautiful. This head of Napoleon is of a stern beauty. A head must be of a style either very stern or very chaste, to make a deep impression on the beholder ; there must be a great force of will and withholding of resources, giving a sense of depth below depth, which we call sternness ; or else there must be that purity, flowing as from an inexhaustible fountain through every lineament, which drives far off or converts all baser natures. Napoleon’s head is of the first description; it is stern, and not only so, but ruthless. Yet this ruthlessness excites no aversion; the artist has caught its true character, and given us here the Attila, the instrument of fate to serve a purpose not his own. While looking on it, came full to mind the well known lines—

   “Speak gently of his crimes.
Who knows, Scourge of God, but in His eyes those crimes
Were Virtues.”

His brows are tense and damp with the dews of thought. In that head you see the great future, careless of the black and white stones ; and even when you turn to the voluptuous beauty of the mouth, the impression remains so strong, that Russia’s snows, and mountains of the slain, seem the tragedy that must naturally follow the appearance of such an actor. You turn from him, feeling that he is a product not of the day, but of the ages, and that the ages must judge him.
Near him is a head of Ennius, very intellectual; self-centered and self-fed; but wrung and gnawed by unceasing thoughts.
Yet even near the Ennius and Napoleon, our American men look worthy to be perpetuated in marble or bronze, if it were only for their air of calm unpretending sagacity. If the young American were to walk up an avenue lined with such effigies, he might not feel called to such greatness as the strong Roman wrinkles tell of, but he must feel that he could not live an idle life, and should nerve himself to lift an Atlas weight without repining or shrinking.
The busts of Everett and Allston, though admirable as everyday likenesses, deserved a genius of a different order from Clevenger. Clevenger gives the man as he is at the moment, but does not show the possibilities of his existence. Even thus seen the head of Mr. Everett brings back all the age of Pericles, so refined and classic is its beauty. The two busts of Mr. Webster by Clevenger and Powers are the difference between prose, healthy, and energetic prose indeed, but still prose, and poetry. Clevenger’s is such as we see Mr. Webster on any public occasion, when his genius is not called forth. No child could fail to recognise it in a moment. Powers’s is not so good as a likeness, but has the higher merit of being an ideal of the orator and statesman at a great moment. It is quite an American Jupiter in its eagle calmness of conscious power.
Of the groups many are our old friends, and have been noticed elsewhere. The sleeping Cleopatra cannot be looked at enough, always her sleep seems sweeter and more graceful, always more wonderful the drapery. A little Psyche, by a pupil of Bartolini, pleases us much thus far. The forlorn sweetness with which she sits there, crouched down like a bruised butterfly, and the languid tenacity of her mood are very touching. The Mercury and Ganymede with the Eagle
by Thorwaldsen are still as fine as on first acquaintance. Thorwaldsen seems the grandest and simplest of modern sculptors. There is a breadth in his thought, a freedom in his design, we do not see elsewhere.
A spaniel by Gott shows great talent and knowledge of the animal. The head is admirable; it is so full of playfulness and doggish knowingness.
But it is impossible in a short notice to particularize farther. For each of these objects, that claims attention at all, deserves a chapter to express the thoughts it calls out. Another year we hope to see them all again, and then to have space and time to do them such honor as feeling would prompt to-day.
We hope the beauty of the following lines, suggested to a “friend and correspondent” by a picture now in the Atheneum Gallery, called “The Dream,” may atone for the brevity and haste of our little notice.

A youth, with gentle brow and tender cheek,
Dreams in a place so silent; that no bird,
No rustle of the leaves his slumbers break;
Only soft tinkling from the stream is heard,
As its bright little waves flow forth to greet
The beauteous One, and play upon his feet.On a low bank beneath the thick shade thrown,
Soft gleams over his brown hair are flitting,
His golden plumes, bending, all lovely shone;
It seemed an angel’s home where he was sitting;
Erect beside a silver lily grew;
And over all the shadow its sweet beauty threw.

Dreams he of life? O, then a noble maid
Toward him floats, with eyes of starry light,
In richest robes all radiantly arrayed
To be his ladye and his dear delight.
Ah no! the distance shows a winding stream;
No lovely ladye comes, no starry eyes do gleam.

Cold is the air, and cold the mountains blue;
The banks are brown, and men are lying there,
Meagre and old. But what have they to do
With joyous visions of a youth so fair?
He. must not ever sleep as they are sleeping,
Onward through life he should be ever sweeping.

Let the pale glimmering distance pass away;
Why in the twilight art thou slumbering there?
Wake and come forth into triumphant day,
Thy life and deeds must all be great and fair;
Canst thou not from the lily learn true glory,
Pure, lofty, lowly? —Such should be thy story.

But no! I see thou lov’st the deep-eyed Past,
And thy heart clings to sweet remembrances.
In dim cathedral-aisle thou’lt linger last
And fill thy mind with flitting fantasies.
Yet know, dear One, the world is rich to-day,
And the unceasing God gives glory forth alway.

Source: The Dial (October 1840) pp. 260-264