When a Stranger seeks to form a Correspondence, or desires to draw near unto Worth & superior Talents, it is natural to expect something of him corresponding; but Sir, I appear before you without pretensions of any kind, except a warm & sincere heart: relying on time & circumstances, to make their own developement – & on the liberality & nobleness of your Character – as transmitted to all parts of the Globe & by no individual hailed! with more enthusiasm & delight, than by my self. – Being the close friend of the greatest Painter now known, “Washington Allston” my heart has long beat with delightful anticipations of becoming acquainted with the only being whom I rank his Superior in Art – “Mr. Albert Thorwaldsen”. – Our Sensibilities, like our sensitiveness – are acute & therefore for my sake – I pray you, do not let any sudden & unfavorable impression prejudice you agt. me; arising from the very aukward & singular circumstance of an address from one so totally unknown! – When I visited “Canova’s” Studio in 1800. I was young – in bad health – having just finished my studies for the profession of the Law – & not having yet commenced life: nor then did I dream I possessed any power for his Art – nor indeed until a few Years since – & that discovered, this the request of my friend “Allston” that I wd. make an effort. – The last year your Studio was visited by Dr. John Edwards Stolbrook & his Lady – friends of mine: under the Dr. I took my lectures on Anatomy, his Bust was the first I modelled; – after that the Bust of an American Hero, from a portrait of my own painting: – then a fancy head – “Modestia” – next a Bishop of my own Church from Memory – also a great literary Man of our State after death at the request of the Faculty of our Medical College: next I modelled a group abt. 18 or 20 Inches high – the Subject suggested by my friend “Allston” viz. Hagar & Ishmail in the desert. – I managed it thus: The Mother kneels on her left knee – on the right; the head of the languishing Boy rests, She with her right hand, tenderly sustaining it, & a little inclining her person to the left: to resist the pressure of his Weight – her left hand with a part of her flowing mantle about it, raised to her left cheek, she appears taking the last look at her expiring Boy – he is seated and reclining in front of the Mother, his knees drawn so as to be in front the right shoulder is pressed agt. the thigh & leg of the Mother – the hand under his right thigh: the left arm is brought over in repose across the left thigh & finds with the hand agt. the right knee some support for the Body – the right leg & foot pass, under the left leg, by which I have shown all his limbs – read what follows from the Pen of “Allston” who now has the
Group & will exhibit it at the Atheneum in Boston. – “Dear Cogdall, Cumbridge Port, 27 Febr 1832: “It gives me great pleasure that I can bestow sincere praise on yr. group of “Hagar & Ishmail”. It is decidedly yr. best work & much exceeds, what I had expected: it really does you great honor. and though it has a good many faults they are by no means of a kind to outweigh its merits. The attitudes of both Mother & Child are well conceived & they group well together. Perhaps, however the group might have been improved had the Boy’s body been a little farther off. & his head resting where it is: I think it wd. have presented a better Profile view. But its chief merit lies in the general conception & the expression, wh. are certainly the principal points in a work of art. It has indeed great power of expression. The helpless extremity of the Son is very touching, & his physical suffering is affectingly contrasted with that of his Mother. She seems to have just said “let me not see him die” & to be taking a last look: the deep, silent, maternal agony of that look is of no common order. The calmness of her Action too is finely conceived; it is the Effort of one who strives not to look into the fearful future; who stands on the brink of an Abyss, into which she must fall, but will not look. This is indeed great. I will now point out the faults. But You must not be frightened at the list – since they are only the faults of inexperience. the chief is the disposition of the drapery – the lines are too often repeated & too abrupt. 2 the costume, the puffs on the arms & the folds on the breast are modern. 3o. The right shoulder of the Boy is out of its place – it could not be so far projected without dislocation. 4 The Protrusion of his Tongue is not in good taste, further this may be physically true of one dying of thirst – it is one of these unpleasant truths wh. shd. be avoided in Art. 5 The Mothers leg is a little too short. These faults as I have already observed are the faults of inexperience & such as more practice & the Study of good models would very easily enable you to avoid”. After these remarks apprehending from some reports that I meant to go to Italy to follow modelling &c as a profession – “Allston” is warm in his advice against it – unless I had means to reside there for a time without depending on Art for my bread – I replied from the misfortune I had sustained of more than half I owned, this the improper conduct in New York of one pretending to be a friend: I was unable to go to Rome – where I had been Mentally every day of my life since 1800 – that if my Govenmt. wd. be so kind as grant me some appointment – I wd. go immediately, or if my means shd. still be found to answer – this my dear Sir, will be one of the topics I will endeavour to interest you with – because I feel on You all reliance is safe and holy. My partner – the Wife of more than 20 years: & without whom to me life would be a blank; is so passionately fond of the Arts, tho’ exercising them not: that she is ready at a moment to fly with me – to England – France or Italy, the last she prefers: the impressions from so many years repeated later – & recitals & of late the very interesting accounts of talented Artists & chief among them yourself, makes her feel much of my enthusiasm & she is very much delighted with my efforts in modelling, casting & sculpturing: – altho’ I have never yet seen a modeller & altho’ I am whithout experience & all is done “con amore” as an amateur, there being neither Taste, nor liberality, nor demand in this State for anything either in painting or sculpture – beyond a mere miniature or 30 or 40 dollars Portrait – & very few of these. – Altho’ like yourself Protestant I was highly honored as a youth when in Rome – the head of the College of “St. Issidoro” Father James MCormick, met with me & became dearly attached to me and saved my life – when all but gone from the Effects of newly expressed wines – at a vineyard at which we spent the thy with Mr. & Mrs Stone (a Banker) their daughter & Mr & Mrs. Lepré – all these of Rome. but alas! Mr & Mrs. Stone my adopted mother & my dear Father James – now rest from their labors & I trust repose in the bosom of the Saviour. It was my privilege to be introduced to Pope Pius the 7th. by my beloved Father James – my heart young & warm I felt all gratitude. – I procured from one of the prelates at the Palace on Monte Cavallo when I kissed his toe; one of his slippers & my own Mother here (now dead.) made two pair of splendid slippers wh. I sent to the Pope – they were u+. but not until they had been so fumigated at the Lazzarette – in Leghorn, with brimstone & that they were yellow & unfit for public display. a return of kindness was meant & directed to the Popes Consul at Philadelphia, whom I saw afterwards & he informed me the ship had been wrecked. – In the last illness of the same Venerable – Pope Pius the 7th. /1823/ a friend of mine Mr Thomas D. Cendy visited Rome & took a letter to His Holiness from me – to which I red. a reply this the pen of Cardinal Consalvi. – you may yet see that very reply: & all my long correspondence between Father James & myself & Mrs. Stone – & the Popes Slippers. – I have now trespassed too much with what I meant as infallible circumstances to make you feel there are strong inducements again to treat upon the Veil of the “Eternal City” – in the lesser creft of whose celebrated Dome may be found my name, put in with all the power of my own hand – with Pure Knife. – Your friend Mr: Bowman the Painter spent the winter of 1830 & spring of 1831 in this City. we of course became intimate & if his three quarter length of you, is a correct likeness – I shall be able to know you, see you where I may. – Now my dear Sir. to the points – which I hope may draw us near by correspondence or otherwise. – At this time I am the second Officer in the Customs for this place under the appointment of the Government of the United States: this is my chief dependence here – when I yield up this I wd. not be able to calculate at present on an income of more than from Nine hundred to one thousand Dollars per Annum – will you be so good as to give me as satisfactory an opinion as may be in your power – whether with this amount a family of two, with Economy – might reside comfortably in Rome or Florence or Naples ? and have the Mind free from anxieties about support – while it might be permitted to indulge in the Arts of Painting or Modelling &c&c ? all that may occur to you as likely to instruct us on this point you will inform me of: House – Restorateur Servants &c&c – next is there not good English or American Society with which we sd. hope to become intimate as well as the Italian Society of Rome ? and more important to me than all – shd. I be able to go to Rome – might I indulge in the hope of your friendship & your hints & direction, in that branch of Art to which my mind has so strong a bias – I dare not [papiret mangler] the word Talent, altho’ my dear friend “Allston” has [papiret mangler] Is the travelling from France frequent & is that the most expedeting mode of getting into Italy ? has it of late years been safe ? & how is at this time the tranquility of Rome ? do the political perturbations of Europe disturb the Clay in the hand of the quiet Modeller or silence the secret musick of the Chisel ? When I hear how the Pope is annoyed the following lines come to my Memory: I know they are familiar to you:
”Se a ciascun l’interno affanno,
Si legesse in frento scritto
ZucuXti mai, che invidia fanno
Ci farebbeio pieta.”
Literary townsman Mr. Hugh S. Legare, has been appointed + Charge to Belgium, his sister spent her Evening with us recently, all spirits wre. going with her Brother – they will probably visit Rome & Naples, are they not down at Belgium – I have charged her to see you & say all her heart may dictate to pave the way for a favorable reception of us; when we may make ourselves known to you in your Attelier or Studio. – This letter goes by the way of Havre (France) & is to be forwarded by the House of “ Petray & Viel ” & they will pay all possible postage on this & on your reply at Havre; which I beg you will address to their care. – I modelled for the Centennial Anniversary of the birth of the Father of our Country “Washington” – his Bust from the Portrait of my decd. friend “Stuvart” & I venture to say to you, I have never seen in Plaster or Marble a Bust I tilted so much as to resemblance of Washington: I am abt. sculpturing one to send to Philadelphia & if it shall be there approved, the City authorities will patronize it. I have a letter from “Sully” to that Effect.
My Health is at this moment bad – too much confinement to figures & an office the opposite of the studio in its charms for the mind. From the accounts which by the by are rather freely written, by travellers – who think they confer honor, by their ephemeral productions I suspect you and “Allston” & myself – are near of an age – you have I think several years the advantage of us, as you assured by have in every thing Else. – I wish you knew “Allston” you wd. love him, as should one Brother another. – I now reluctantly leave you – & shall anticipate the happiness of receiving a chearing communication from you in French, in Italian or English. I know your kindness to Artists near you – you will not be less so to an amateur & an American. Mr. Morse is a personal friend of mine I hope you have seen him.
With the greatest veneration for your character & talents, I remain your obede. & humble Sert.
John Stephano Cogdell
of Charleston South Carolina
|24 April 1832||United States|