A Passage in the Life of Perugino Potts Page 01
A Passage in the Life of Perugino Potts
Originally appeared in Bentley's Miscellany, February 1852. This inventive comic sketch features an arch narrator typical of Collins' early non-fiction and travel books. The painting background derives partly from Collins' own early experiments as a visual artist, but mainly from observation of his father and brother. Never reprinted.
December 7th, 18-- I have just been one week in Rome, and have determined to keep a journal. Most men in my situation would proceed to execute such a resolution as this, by writing about the antiquities of the 'Eternal City': I shall do nothing of the sort; I shall write about a much more interesting subject -- myself.
I may be wrong, but my impression is that, as an Historical Painter, my biography will be written some of these days: personal particulars of me will then be wanted. I have great faith in the affectionate remembrance of any surviving friends I may leave behind me; but, upon the whole, I would rather provide these particulars myself. My future biographer shall have P.P. sketched by P.P. I paint my own pictures; why should I not paint my own character? The commencement of a new journal offers the opportunity of doing this -- let me take it!
I was destined to be an artist from my cradle; my father was a great connoisseur, and a great collector of pictures; he christened me 'Perugino,' after the name of his favourite master, left me five hundred a-year, and told me with his last breath to be Potts, R.A., or perish in the attempt. I determined to obey him; but, though I have hitherto signally failed in becoming an R.A., I have not the slightest intention even of so much as beginning to perish, in compliance with the alternative suggested to me by my late lamented parent. Let the Royal Academy perish first! I mean to exist for the express purpose of testifying against that miserably managed institution as long as I possibly can.
This may be thought strong language: I will justify it by facts. For seven years I have vainly sought a place in the annual exhibition -- for seven years has modest genius knocked for admission at the door of the Royal Academy, and invariably the answer of the Royal Academicians has been, 'not at home!' The first year I painted, 'the Smothering of the Princes in the Tower,' muscular murderers, flabby children, florid colouring; quite in the Rubens' style -- turned out! The second year I tried the devotional and severe, 'the Wise and Foolish Virgins'; ten angular women, in impossible attitudes, with a landscape background, painted from the anti-perspective point of view -- turned out! The third year I changed to the sentimental and pathetic; it was Sterne's 'Maria,' this time, with her goat; Maria was crying, the goat was crying, Sterne himself (in the background) was crying, with his face buried in a white cambric pocket-handkerchief, wet through with tears -- turned out! The fourth year I fell back on the domestic and familiar; a young Housemaid in the kitchen, plighting her troth, at midnight, to a private in the Grenadier Guards, while the policeman of the neighbourhood, a prey to jealousy and despair, flashed his 'bull's-eye' on them through the window, from the area railings above -- turned out! The fifth year I gave up figures, and threw my whole soul into landscape, -- classical landscape. I sent in a picture of three ruined columns, five pine-trees, a lake, a temple, distant mountains, and a gorgeous sun-set, the whole enlivened by a dance of nymphs in Roman togas, in front of the ruined columns to be sold for the ludicrously small price of fifty guineas -- turned out! The sixth year, I resolved to turn mercenary in self-defence; and, abandoning high art, to take to portraiture. I produced a 'portrait of a lady' (she was a professional model, who sat at a shilling an hour -- but no matter); I depicted her captivatingly clothed in white satin, and grinning serenely; in the background appeared a red curtain, gorgeously bound books on a round table, and thunder-storm clouds -- turned out! The seventh year I humbly resigned myself to circumstances, and sank at once to 'still life,' represented on the smallest possible scale. A modest canvas, six inches long by four inches broad, containing striking likenesses of a pot of porter, a pipe, and a plate of bread and cheese, and touchingly entitled, 'the Labourer's best Friends,' was my last modest offering; and this -- even this! the poor artist's one little ewe-lamb of a picture, was -- turned out! The eighth year was the year when I started in disgust to seek nobler fields for pictorial ambition in the regions of Italian Art! The eighth year has brought me to Rome -- here I am! -- I, Perugino Potts! vowed to grapple with Raphael and Michaelnbsp;Angelo on their own ground! Grand idea!
Personally (when I have my high-heeled boots on) I stand five feet, three inches high. Let me at once acknowledge -- for I have no concealments from posterity -- that I am, outwardly, what is termed a little man.