A Rogue's Life HTML version

allowed themselves to be rather attracted by his pictures, self-distrustfully bought
one or two of them at prices which would appear so incredibly low, in these days,
that I really cannot venture to quote them. The picture was sent home; the
nobleman or gentleman (almost always an amiable and a hospitable man) would
ask the artist to his house and introduce him to the distinguished individuals who
frequented it; but would never admit his picture, on terms of equality, into the
society even of the second-rate Old Masters. His work was hung up in any out-
of-the-way corner of the gallery that could be found; it had been bought under
protest; it was admitted by sufferance; its freshness and brightness damaged it
terribly by contrast with the dirtiness and the dinginess of its elderly
predecessors; and its only points selected for praise were those in which it most
nearly resembled the peculiar mannerism of some Old Master, not those in which
it resembled the characteristics of the old mistress--Nature.
The unfortunate artist had no court of appeal that he could turn to. Nobody
beneath the nobleman, or the gentleman of ancient lineage, so much as thought
of buying a modern picture. Nobody dared to whisper that the Art of painting had
in anywise been improved or worthily enlarged in its sphere by any modern
professors. For one nobleman who was ready to buy one genuine modern
picture at a small price, there were twenty noblemen ready to buy twenty more
than doubtful old pictures at great prices. The consequence was, that some of
the most famous artists of the English school, whose pictures are now bought at
auction sales for fabulous sums, were then hardly able to make an income. They
were a scrupulously patient and conscientious body of men, who would as soon
have thought of breaking into a house, or equalizing the distribution of wealth, on
the highway, by the simple machinery of a horse and pistol, as of making Old
Masters to order. They sat resignedly in their lonely studios, surrounded by
unsold pictures which have since been covered again and again with gold and
bank-notes by eager buyers at auctions and show-rooms, whose money has
gone into other than the painter's pockets---who have never dreamed that the
painter had the smallest moral right to a farthing of it. Year after year, these
martyrs of the brush stood, palette in hand, fighting the old battle of individual
merit against contemporary dullness--fighting bravely, patiently, independently;
and leaving to Mr. Pickup and his pupils a complete monopoly of all the profit
which could be extracted, in their line of business, from the feebly-buttoned
pocket of the patron, and the inexhaustible credulity of the connoisseur.
Now all this is changed. Traders and makers of all kinds of commodities have
effected a revolution in the picture-world, never dreamed of by the noblemen and
gentlemen of ancient lineage, and consistently protested against to this day by
the very few of them who still remain alive.
The daring innovators started with the new notion of buying a picture which they
themselves could admire and appreciate, and for the genuineness of which the
artist was still living to vouch. These rough and ready customers were not to be
led by rules or frightened by precedents; they were not to be easily imposed