Propsal For A National Gallery Of Copies
( Originally Published 1869 )
For the general improvement of the public taste it is highly desirable that galleries of works of art of superior merit should be established in the nation, which might be open to the public, where the finest productions could be viewed, works which are fitted to form a true standard of excellence by which to judge. For this end it also appears on every account to be expedient that copies of all the best pictures on the Continent, as also of those in several private collections in this country, should be procured, and placed in one collection in the metropolis, for which, as a national object, there could be no difficulty in obtaining leave from the possessors of the original paintings.
A national gallery of really good copies made from the orieginals by artists of eminence, of all the most renowned paintings, together with a corresponding collection of genuine casts from the most celebrated statues, would constitute a most valuable school, not only for artists but for the people at large, whose notions of art would be greatly raised by this means. Indeed, the entire collection thus formed, would, both in an intellectual and an artistical point, be one of the most attractive most useful and most complete in Europe; while the en-tire cost of it would not exceed a sum which is very trifling for a national object. There can be no doubt, moreover, that for the purposes of study and instruction, good copies of great works are far preferable to undoubted originals by second-rate masters. Besides which the generality cannot discern the difference between an original and a copy; and with respect to some ancient works of art of considerable merit, the question of their originality is undetermined by the highest authorities on the subject. Indeed, in certain cases, it may happen that the copy is not only equal, but superior to the original. As for instance where the copy was made by a skilful artist soon after the completion of the original work, and the original,—which was the case with many of Sir Joshua Reynolds' works, —has subsequently faded, or has been injured by damp or re-painting; as happened to the famous picture at Milan of ' The Last Supper,' by Leonardo da Vinci, a copy of which, made by a painter of talent soon after the completion of the work, is in the possession of the Royal Academy, and is of course now of more intrinsic value than the original. It is of great importance, moreover, in case of accidents of this kind, that good and correct copies of great works of art should be always made.