Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chantrey's Studio

This morning I have been to Chantrey's to see the equestrian statue of Sir Thomas Munro, which is to be packed up for Madras in a few days. I am much pleased with it, but cannot agree with those (my uncle is one) who calls it the finest equestrian statue in the world. Without going so far as Rome to the unrivalled horse which Michael Angelo bade go on, I am not sure that, in my private opinion, a better may not be found at Charing Cross.

I was at first struck with the thickness of the jowl and set on of the head; this I was told was modelled from a beautiful Arab which had been sent as a present to George IV. The man added that other parts had been copied from other horses, and then I found out what it was that was not pleasing to my eye. These separate beauties do not accord to form a beautiful whole ; the legs seem to me those of a powerful English hunter, quite out of keeping with the small Arab head and tail. Probably this effect is increased by the nearness of the legs to the eye of the spectator, and may, to a certain degree, be removed when the statue gets on its proper pedestal, which is to be very much higher than that on which it is pro tempore fixed.

I was much interested in hearing from an intelligent workman some of the details of the foundry, and in seeing the wonderful effects produced by English machinery. After having seen at Munich every part of comparatively small statues cast separately, so that I suppose they are in about fifty pieces which are afterwards to be riveted together, it did seem very extraordinary that this immense mass was cast in four pieces only. I wanted to see more of the furnace, but there were so many people about that one could not question the workman, comfortably; but he told me that he frequently went into it to see that all was right when the thermometer is at 370°. This seems almost incredible when one considers that this is much more than half as hot again as boiling water; and into this they go without any of the previous preparation of increasing temperature, which in the Eastern baths enables a person to endure heat very far inferior to this, but which would not otherwise be endurable.

Here the workman goes from the atmosphere of a cold room into this, or rather first into a sort of chamber; and there, as he told us, is the great suffering, the first shutting the outward door. In this furnace the metal remains many months, and I fancy always at the same temperature.

Chantrey's Horse was, it seems, originally modeled for a statue of George IV., and he is to ride it. Flatter him as highly as possible, still the difference between his pasty-pudding features and the fine bold line of those of Sir Thomas Munro will be severely felt.

Quiet seems to be the characteristic of Chantrey's sculpture, exactly the reverse of Canova, who always offends by a sort of nutter. I am not sure whether Chantrey is not in the contrary extreme: in looking down his gallery a want of action struck me; perhaps the eternal monumental sculpture does in some degree lead to this, and I should have thought that he would have been glad to gallop away from it. Instead of that his horse stands still. I understand he piques himself upon having executed the first equestrian statue with a horse in repose, and his admirers tell you, ' You see he is just going to move.'

I am perfectly aware of the absurdities that have been committed in the attempt to give motion and action to sculpture, but I own it seems to me that Chantrey has cut the Gordian knot which he was perhaps capable of untying.


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