Mr. Ward began by saying that every one in recent years has come in contact with the world of art. Interest in art has rapidly increased, especially in the paintings of the English school. Twenty-five years ago the much-coveted paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Romney were ranked with the works of third rate artists. Today no pictures are so popular as those of the old masters; and the highest price ever brought at Christian's was for a Sir Joshua. In landscape painting we look back from the present school to Corot and Daubigny, and from them to the Englishmen, Bennington and Constable. These painters were the leaders in the great movement against Romanticism and Classicism.
Going back still further we notice the predecessors of Reynolds and the vicissitudes through which they must have passed. Jean Rouquet in his "State of Art in England" shows how precarious was the condition of painters in those times. No encouragement was offered by the government, while the stern doctrines of the puritans forbade the decoration of churches by religious paintings. It was portraiture that came to the rescue and stood as the medium between failure and success.
Sir Godfrey Kneller was the first English portrait painter to achieve a great reputation. He left behind him a substantial fortune and five hundred unfinished portraits. Grace rather than likeness characterized his work. William Hogarth succeeded Kneller. He was at first an apprentice to a silver-smith and then an engraver. In 1727, then in his thirtieth year, he painted his first portrait. He became famous by his satirical representations of vice and folly. His picture, Marriage a la Mode, which now hangs in the National Gallery is his masterpiece.
Perhaps no work of Hogarth's is more worthy of praise than his earnest efforts in forming an organization of artists, which grew into the present Royal Academy.