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English Metal Work

English Metal Work

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Excerpt from English Metal Work: Ninety-Three Drawings

Among the many little-known collections in the British Museum is a very large series of drawings, bound in thirteen folios, and a number of smaller volumes, by William Twopeny, presented by his brother and executor in 1874. They are all drawings of architecture, furniture, woodwork and ironwork, made from buildings in various parts of England during the first half of the last century. They were made from the point of view of an enthusiastic antiquary, with knowledge and discrimination. Their value as a record is therefore great, and it is increased by the fact that much which is recorded by them has since disappeared. But their value as drawings is also considerable. The entire self-effacement of the draughtsman, merely bent on recording with loving precision the beauty made by English builders and craftsmen in the past, is in itself so artistic a quality that these unpretentious studies give one far more pleasure than those of similar subjects by much more famous hands.

Drawings of this class are liable to two dangers. When made by architects they are always apt to be bald and cold and tame; when made by painters, they incline to sacrifice overmuch to the picturesque. I am not now speaking of the work of such artists as Piranesi and Meryon, where architecture has been made the material of splendid imaginative design. I mean rather the work, produced so copiously in England towards the end of the eighteenth century and in the beginning of the nineteenth, the professed end of which was a record of the building drawn. Every one knows how this patient draughtsman's work was transformed by Girtin and Turner, in whom the designer's instinct soon overcame the methods of the mere delineator. From that time the drawing of architecture branched off into two lines: that so profusely illustrated by the picturesque pencil of men like Prout and Nash, and that continued to our day by professional architects. Only one or two men, hampered by no public, because working for their own pleasure, produced drawings neither bald nor picturesque, nor disabled by the effort at a compromise between two ends. Such were the studies of Ruskin.

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