Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: The London Daily News for 1856
Author: Bradbury and Evans (publisher)
Date of publication: 1856
Publisher: W. Bradbury and F.M. Evans
Volume: 11

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We were present some days back at the private

view of Mr. Madox Brown pictures, some of which

have since been sent to the Exhibition of the Liver-

pool Academy for 1856. The two principal pictures

are works of great power, and one in particular,

entitled “The Last of England,” possesses such

national interest in the subject, in addition to its sur-

passing merits as a work of art, that we cannot let it

pass even at present, without some record, as it

has not yet been publicly exhibited in London.

The false relations of artists and the pub-

lic produced by the mismanagement of existing

exhibiting bodies in London, must surely be evident

enough when we see works of real genius produced

here, and in which the London public have a prior

claim of enjoyment, finding their way by preference

to a provincial exhibition. Former cases indicative

of honourable impartiality displayed by the Liver-

pool Academy have assured artists that there is a fair

field open for them in that town.
“The Last of England” is an historical picture in

the truest sense of the term. It is a contemporary

chronicle of the year of the great Australian emigra-

tion, the results of which are even now matter of

anxiety and expectation to all of us. The most pro-

minent figures of the numerous groups in the picture

are a young married couple of the middle class. Young

as they are, life appears before them now with all

its stern reality. He is seeking a sphere for his

energies in a new land—a happy home for the

dear one who clings lovingly and anxiously to him.

An ocean which may whelm them in its treacherous

depths lies between them and their future. For the

moment, however, these aspirations and anxieties are

silent. Those white receding cliffs are to their eyes

“the Last of England[.]” It is of that only that he

thinks. It is with that and with him that her

thoughts are occupied. There are disappointments

and resentments in the look of bitterness which the

thoughtful and active man bends on the land that he

is leaving. His hand dark with cold lies in that of

his wife, who, with the other, holds the baby close to

her, under her great grey shawl. They sit together

at the poop muffled up carefully as a protection

against the wind, with an open umbrella

tightly tucked under the man's left arm, the hand of

which is thrust into his breast. The spray standing

on the umbrella spreading over the lady, and on the

tarpaulin which protects her knees, is wonderfully

painted. Indeed there is no point of expression or

effect of colour, from the anxious look on her beauti-

ful countenance to such details as those just men-

tioned, that is in the slightest degree slurred over.

It may here be observed that the whole picture—we

mean not merely the accessory parts but the figures

themselves—has been painted under the open sky.

This is a labour much greater than would readily be

imagined. It involves immense forethought and

preparation to insure success, and has hardly

ever been attempted before, even in the pic-

tures of the new naturalistic school. Never-

theless, without this, neither strong mind nor

skilful hand would have availed the artist to obtain

that “everlasting wash of air,” as Browning calls it,

the effect of open-air daylight. It enters every fold

of the thick shawl, and within it, where in warm corners

we discern the little baby's cherished hand or foot. It

creeps round the green and purple cabbages, swaying

at the lee-side round the weather-quarter boat, to

the expanse of green sea and the distant steamer.

It finds its way between the figures that crowd the

deck behind the young couple, revealing every detail

of expression and costume in the blackguard who,

hugging his bottle, shakes the free fist at the mother

country fast fading away, and who would shake it as

soon at the mother who bore him, and who is now

trying to drag down the arm from its position of

impiety. The daylight shows us everything

in these and many other figures—work-seekers, and

work-shunners, and helpless children. Not one of

these is a mere stock personage, a lay figure. Each

one comes living from the painter's mind. We dwell

especially on the admirable truth of out-door light

because it is a quality which can only be got, to this

degree, by really painting each figure and accessory

from nature, and out of doors. Contrast this with the

conventions of studio light and asphaltum, into which

even such a painter as Wilkie coud fall in his open-air

pictures, and then say whether the extra labour of

the painter is not repaid by the increased delight of

the spectator. This picture is, we understand, al-

ready sold to Mr. Windus, of Tottenham, the pos-

essor of many leading works of the English school,

both old and new.
We shall not dwell upon the other picture to which

we have alluded, although it is in some respects more

important than that which we have described. This,

the subject of which is “Christ washing Peter's

feet,” was exhibited some years back, and was the

subject of much attention at the time. Although

very unfairly hung, it attracted much admiration as

a work of great originality and deep as well as bril-

liant colour. The author has bestowed further

thought and labour upon it, and has removed the

grounds for some objections made to it. The tri-

umph of the picture is the noble embodiment of a

powerful and reverent nature in the figure of Peter.
We have not spoken of Mr. Brown's landscapes,

two of the most exquisite specimens of which we saw

in his studio. They are thoroughly English in their

character, and are finished with a degree of truthful

elaboration which we have never seen surpassed.

The works we allude to are entitled, “A Hayfield

after Sunset,” and “An English Autumn Afternoon.”

The former of these works, which is the smaller of

the two, is remarkable for the accuracy of its details,

the evident approach of the twilight, the deep repose

which is stealing solemnly and slowly over the whole

scene. The sun has set, but his light has not yet all

departed, and the cold bright moon in the blue sky

has not yet taken the lights and shades entirely under

its own keeping. The effect is perfect. The “Autumn

Afternoon,” painted during two autumns in the open

air, is distinguished for the richness of colour and

abundance of all the elements of a land-

scape perfectly English. The sun-light effect is

peculiarly admirable. The way in which the painter

has managed large rich flashes of brilliant colour is

artistic in the highest degree. Scarcely less worthy

of remark is a “View of Windermere.” The large

mass of green in the foreground is dotted with cattle,

and the waters of the lake spread smoothly away in

the distance, almost blending with the sky. One of

the leading features of these pictures is their intensely

English character.
The Liverpool Academy, to which the works first

alluded to have been sent, may be congratulated on

its present position in relation to the rising art of the

day. Its independent homage, in the award of its

prizes, to the merits of some of our younger artists—

such as Holman Hunt and Anthony—at a time when

the tide of prejudice seemed to have set in against

them pretty strongly in London, has directed atten-

tion to the Liverpool body as possessing both judg-

ment and fairness, and will serve no doubt, as in the

case of Mr. Madox Brown, to draw annually to

their exhibition some of the best works produced

among us.
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