Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: The Times (London)
Editor: John Delane
Date of publication: 1851 May
Volume: 20

The full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.

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(Private View.)

At no very great distance from that colossal fabric whose novelty and splendour are the pride of England and the marvel of Europe, another exhibition claims our notice, with merits differing in every way from those of the vast collection in Hyde Park. There ingenuity and industry have arrayed their conveniences and their wealth, here genius and feeling address themselves more exclusively to the impressions of fancy and the powers of sentiment; there the broad day beam pours its universal light over the miscellaneous produces of the earth, here the ray is refracted and dissolved in the prismatic colours of graphic art. The one is an exhibition first, and yet sole, of its kind—a numbering of the tribes and a gathering of the nations; the other is the 83d display of the works of the Royal Academy of the Arts of Great Britain, which interests us especially by the indications it affords in the progress in the highest branches of taste. It was no doubt a judicious determination of the Royal Commissioners to exclude painting from the halls of the Palace of Industry, although sculpture, which is an art of a more hardy and decorative character, figures to so large an extent in that extraordinary edifice. Painting retains with more propriety her separate abode and her dedicated temple; for although her place be not marked in the turmoil and the contest of national industry, she will be sought for in her appropriate haunts as the complement of that great assemblage of the works of peace.
We therefore entered the private view of the Royal Academy yesterday with more than usual interest and solicitude, and though it would be easy to have brought together a more striking collection even of the works of living artists, to illustrate the peculiar merits of the English school, we look without disappointment upon the result of the past year, which will on Monday be open to the public. A French critic of great experience and ingenuity recently made some melancholy calculations on the fate of the paintings which have now year after year crowded in hopeless array the portals of fame and the walls of the Salon in Paris. One per cent. on the whole number of works exhibited seemed to him a fair allowance for fame, duration, and real success; the rest passes into the shadowy realms of disfigured canvass. Probably such computations were suggested by the exhibition of the present year in Paris, where the merit of the works produced has declined as much as their numbers have increased. By such a standard the exhibition of the Royal Academy may be called a good one, though it certainly cannot be ranked above the average. The English school may be accused of want of elevation and dignity, for it has never reached the heights of ideal grandeur, and its most successful performances are confined to truthful or humorous imitation of domestic life, a faithful and sometimes bold reflection of the accidents of nature, and a reality of sentiment which extends even to the lower animals and the inanimate world. If efforts have of late years been made to raise a more potent historic school, their results must be looked for elsewhere than in this exhibition. Our artists and their patrons are less addicted to paintings of history than to paintings of anecdote; but, without applying the severer laws of criticism to the bulk of such productions, we are content to admit that they succeed since they please.
The present exhibition corresponds to this description. We miss in it those works of inspiration which have sometimes done honour to the Academy. Several of the best painters have not produced their best works, and some honoured names are entirely absent; but without entering on the present occasion in to very close examination or criticism, we shall succinctly point out the leading features of the collection. The place of honour has naturally been assigned to the new president of the Academy, Sir Charles Eastlake, but he contributes only one picture, an Italian female head (No. 135), bearing the name of “Ippolita Torelli,” painted with his usual delicacy of expression. To pass at once to the most striking works of the year, we must place in the first class Mr. Maclise's great picture (No. 67) of “Caxton's Printing-office,” as equally remarkable for vigour of treatment, ingenuity of composition, and amazing industry of detail, which contribute to render it one of the most successful pictures of the master. The scene lies in that ancient almonry of Westminster to which the printing-press of England traces its glorious origin, and the skill of the artist has combined with consummate ability the varied elements suggested by the birth-place of that mighty power—the ecclesiastical character of the building—the magnificence of the mediæval Court of Edward IV., surrounded with personages to whom the genius of Shakspeare has given perpetual life—the jealous aspect of Churchman and Monk—the robust handiscraftsmen, from acute boyhood to the mature vigour of the strong unconscious servants of the art—and in the midst of this varied circle the sedate intelligence of William Caxton, conscious that he is presenting to his Sovereign and bequeathing to his country the greatest discovery of time. The pictorial treatment of the subject has all Mr. Maclise's excellencies with a marked diminution in the ungenial harshness of his style. The drawing is singularly bold and vigorous, the figures have, as usual, too florid a tone, but the endless detail of the composition, equally correct and minute in every part, demands the most careful examination to do justice to the research and fidelity of the artist. Mr. Maclise's portrait of Mr. Macready in the character of Werner (No. 644) has already been privately exhibited in one of the printshops, and is a powerful dramatic impersonation of the great tragedian.
From Mr. Maclise we pass at once to the spot where we last year remember to have seen Mr. Dyce's charming “Jacob and Rachel,” but which is not occupied by a deplorable failure of the same artist. He has converted the dignity of Lear defying the storm into the distraction of an old-clothesman, and the biting jests of the Fool into a bestial caricature of humanity. We can hardly suppose that an artist of Mr. Dyce's taste and delicacy of feeling will sink into the study of the loathsome and the false, which have been deified of late, as we shall see, by some of the younger painters; but his picture this year is a painful blot in a very fair and promising reputation. His colleague, Mr. Herbert, has pursued a different course, and exhibits a finished study of a single figure (No. 84), belonging to a large composition of the Judgment of the Prophet Daniel, now in progress for the new Houses of Parliament, which can hardly be surpassed for force, dignity, and simplicity. It represents the boy Daniel, already armed with a Divine power of judgment beyond his years, and irresistibly condemning the Elder before him. English art has produced nothing of more grandeur and truth than this picture, and though it is but a fragment of a far more considerable work it ranks with the best contents of this exhibition.
Sir Edwin Landseer exhibits six pictures. We have the Monarch of the Forest springing from his lair in Glen-strae (No. 112), being, if we mistake not, the centre of the group of stags which the House of Commons refused to purchase for the New Palace of Westminster; a group of animals' heads (No. 134) synodically employed over a truss of cabbage leaves; a Highland “lassie” (No. 369), and a Highland keeper in the snow (No. 365), illustrating to perfection the Highland climate; and a fox in the last 10 minutes of the “last run of the season” (No. 538); but these are paintings of

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far less originality and skill than Sir Edwin's charming version of the celebrated scene from Midsummer Night's Dream of “Titiana and Bottom with the ass's head and the attendant fairies” (No. 157), which is to form part of the Shakespeare Gallery of Mr. Brunel. It is one of Landseer's happiest efforts—imaginative, fantastical, and elvish, yet full of natural grace and reality. Bottom retains his native stupidity without coarseness; his long-eared head has all the patience of asinine suffering, while the attitude of his legs suggests with extreme drollery the domestic habits of the Athenian journeyman. Titiana is not a fairy out of a melodrama, but the graceful creation of a poet—doating, deluded, but not impure; and the attendant elves, striding on the down of snow-white rabbits or tossing to and from the summer blossoms, are the very creatures of merriment and delight.
Among the pictures which aspire more strictly to the character of history, or at least of historical anecdote, that of Mr. E. M. Ward, representing the Royal family of France during their confinement in the Temple (No. 135), is the most careful and the most effective. The unfortunate Louis XVI. Lies asleep, his figure finely foreshortened and his face in shadow, while the illustrious partners of his captivity watch for him over their humble and unwonted tasks. But what unrest and pain in those broken slumbers! what misery in the clasped hands which have borne the spectre of France! The boy-Dauphin, who sits at the feet of Marie Antoinette, holds in his shuttlecock an emblem of his fate. That fair-haired girl who places the broken lily in the glass still survives, sole heiress of a doomed family, for she bears to this hour the name of the Duchess of Angoulême. The rest are on the brink of the most terrible catastrophe in modern history. If the pathos of Mr. Ward's picture were less complete and the subject less powerfully rendered, we might possibly object to the Hogarthian minutiæ of some of his details; but these enhance an effect though they cannot create it, and they have been introduced with consummate skill and accuracy. Her Majesty was understood to have expressed a wish at the private view to place this picture in the Royal collection. To the same class of paintings we may assign a clever work of Mr. Frith's (No. 204), founded upon the anecdote of “Hogarth brought before the Governor of Calais as a Spy;” Mr. Elmore's “Hotspur and the Fop” (No. 487); and Mr. Egg's “Pepys introduced to Nell Gwynne,” which struck us as coarse and affected. Mr. Frank Stone's Scene from the Merchant of Venice, when Bassanio receives the announcement of Antonio's losses (No. 606) is painted in the customary style of the artist, but with a singular absence of dramatic power, both in the arrangement of the figures and the expression of the personages. Mr. Hook has given us (No. 535) a version of the judgment scene in the same play, by no means deficient in originality. His Shylock is a creation of his own—his Portia, dressed in scarlet doctor's robes, forms an admirable piece of colour, and though the effect of the picture is not entirely pleasing it is novel and meritorious. “The Rescue of the Brides of Venice,” by the same artist, is a work of great and increasingly promise.
Since the death of Mr. Etty, the most remarkable of his immediate followers must be considered to be Mr. Frost. In spite of a tendency to degenerate into softness, there is considerable grace in his composition and beauty in his colour. The “Wood Nymphs” (No. 407) are certainly one of his best pictures, and preferable in some respects to the “Hylas” (560). Of a higher order still, however, both in colour and in expression, is Mr. Cope's large picture of “The Sisters” (No. 161) in the corner of the great room, to which we shall revert more fully in a future notice. We are compelled in like manner to pass summarily to-day over Mr. Poole's classical composition (No. 344) of “The Goths in Italy,” where the rude conquerors of the South are carousing on the shores of Campania; over Mr. Horsley's “Allegro and Penseroso” (No. 592), painted for Prince Albert; O'Neil's “Ahasuerus” (No. 514); and Mr. Unwins' charming little gems of colour, “The Parasol” (172), and “Hop-picking” (175), which make us forgive him for having planted an unhallowed foot on the “Isle of Calypso,” (No. 35). Mr. Goodall's “Raising of the Maypole” (552), is the finest specimen of his talents we have had since the first precious display of them—nothing can be more animated and brilliant, or more carefully and skillfully managed in detail. Among names which are new to us that of Mr. T. Faed, a Scotch artist of promise in the manner of Wilkie, who exhibits “Auld Robin Gray” and “The First Step” (811), deserves to be noticed.
We cannot censure at present, as amply or as strongly as we desire to do, that strange disorder of the mind or the eyes which continues to rage with unabated absurdity among a class of juvenile artists who style themselves “P.R.B.,” which being interpreted means Præ-Raphæl-brethren. Their faith seems to consist in an absolute contempt for perspective and the known laws of light and shade, an aversion to beauty in every shape, and a singular devotion to the minute accidents of their subjects, including, or rather seeking out, every excess of sharpness and deformity. Mr. Millais, Mr. Hunt, Mr. Collins, and in some degree Mr. Brown, the author of a huge picture of Chaucer (No. 380), have undertaken to reform the arts on these principles. The Council of the Academy, acting in the spirit of toleration and indulgence to young artists, have now allowed these extravagances to disgrace their walls for the last three years; and though we cannot prevent men who are capable of better things, from wasting their talents on ugliness and conceit, the public may fairly require that such offensive jests should not continue to be exposed as specimens of the waywardness of those artists who have relapsed into the infancy of their profession.
Among the landscape painters Mr. Stanfield takes, without a rival, the lead in his large work of “The Battle of Roveredo” (196), and in his lesser picture, in the small North Room, of “The Great Tor” (No. 742). Mr. Witherington has several pure English scenes of great natural truth and beauty, from the lanes of Middlesex to the beeches of Knowle and the fells of Northern England. A slight further modification may be traced in the style of Mr. Creswick, who produces nothing quite equal to his large landscapes of last year, but has aimed at certain effects of evening, full of great solemnity and beauty, but more familiar to us from the canvas of other artists. Mr. Danby has several works of extraordinary vividness and dioramic illusion, borrowed from the violent effects which he imitates with so much audacity and success. Lee and Cooper produce, with something of monotony, their sunlit meadows, shallow streams, and stately cattle; Linnell, some English scenes of more than his usual excellence; Redgrave, a delicious woodland glen, where Southey and Wordsworth were wont, it is said, to wile away the sultry days of June; and Roberts, two fine paintings of Dutch churches, with a vast Syrian landscape, somewhat too much expanded for the incidents and subjects introduced on the canvas. Mr. Cook, who has passed the autumn at Venice, exhibits a group of “Bragozzi” or fishing vessels of the Lagunes, and a fine luminous picture of the “Salute and the Dogana.” Mr. Harding has a pleasing picture of the “Tournon on the Rhone” (641). Among the works of men less known in London, two small pictures of Welsh scenery by Mr. Oakes, of Liverpool (No. 186 and No. 208), were much admired.
The portraits of the year have not any high pre-

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tentions to merit, and they have not usurped an immoderate space on the walls; indeed, in female portraits the present exhibition is somewhat deficient. Those of Miss Lygon, Mrs. Philip Myles, and Miss Malin, and Lord Truro, and Mr. Justice Erle, by Mr. Frank Grant; Lord Brougham, by Pickersgill; Lord Overstone, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London, by Eddis; a charming head of Mrs. Richards by herself; and some vigorous Scotch portraits of the Duke of Argyle and Professor Wilson, by Sir Watson Gordon, may be noticed favourably; while it appears that a Mr. Brigstocke has undertaken to avenge the Papal aggression after his own fashion, by hanging up Cardinal Wiseman in such a costume and with such an expression that no greater affront has yet been offered to the Romish prelate. His Eminence, however, who attended the private view, seemed in no way abashed by the painful appearance he is making on the walls.
But in the walks of portrait painting Sir. W. Ross and Mr. Thorburn reign supreme in their own branch, not only over their contemporaries, but over the miniature painters of any age. Nothing can be more exquisitely wrought than the dress, colour, and expression of the Princess Royal in a fancy dress by Sir W. Ross, and several other works of the same artist; while Thorburn aims with success at a style of grandeur and expression never before attempted on ivory. The pictures of Prince Albert, and the Duke of Saxe-Coburg in armour (987), and those of Lady Melbourne, Mrs. Yorke, and Mrs. Upton, are each of themselves masterpieces; and we wish the same perfection were more frequently attained in the larger productions of our school art.
The Sculpture Room is for once not overloaded with marbles, many having been sent to the Exhibition in Hyde-park; but it contains two charming statues of Hebe and Psyche, by M'Dougall, and some admirable busts, especially that of Prince Albert, in a reduced size, by Baron Marochestti—the same eminent sculptor whose Richard Cœur de Lion points his ponderous sword to heaven with such colossal strength and devout energy on the sward at the western end of the Crystal Palace.
We shall take an early opportunity of reverting with greater detail to many parts of the Exhibition of the Academy, which we have passed over too briefly or omitted to notice altogether.
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Some improvement has been effected in the distribution of the cramped and inconvenient apartments now allotted to the annual exhibition of modern pictures by removing the architectural drawings altogether to the Octagon-room, and devoting the north room to paintings of more general interest. In fact this room, which, though small, is well lighted, now contains some of the best works in the collection. The visitor will find in it Mr. Stanfield's fine marine view of the sea breaking upon the mountainous and iron-bound coast of South Wales (743); two works of Mr. Ansdell, “Turning the Drove, with Aveimore and the Grampians in the distance” (692), and a scene of Scotch peasantry (751), in which the study of animal life is carried to great perfection, and the landscapes, though comparatively feeble, are genuine Highland scenes. We are here tempted to notice likewise M. Gudin's “Vesuvius by Night” (759), which, like his bold marine view from Lord Averdeen's cottage at Peterness (500), is remarkable for luminous effect and original power. The “Vesuvius,” indeed, reminds us, by its contrasted lights, of the forced effects of Loutherbourg; but the Scotch scene is full of real grandeur, and will sustain M. Gudin's reputation in both the countries to which he belongs. Mr. Brocky's “Phaon and Venus (714), to pass to another foreign artist adopted by this country, is well placed, and presents a fine female study, with great richness and purity of colour, though the effect is somewhat impaired by an ineffective background and an inexpressive subject.
In the north room will be found, too, Mr. Millar's picture of “the Woodman's Daughter,” from some versus by Mr. Coventry Patmore; and, as the same remarks will apply to the other pictures of the same artist, “the Return of the Dove to the Ark” (651), and Tennyson's “Mariana” (561), as well as to similar works by Mr. Collins, as “Convent Thoughts” (493), and of Mr. Hunt, “Valentine receiving Proteus” (594), we shall venture to express our opinion on them all in this place. These young artists have unfortunately become notorious by addicting themselves to an antiquated style, and an affected simplicity in painting, which is to genuine art what the mediæval ballads and designs in Punch are to Chaucer and Giotto. With the utmost readiness to humour even the caprices of art, when they bear the stamp of originality and genius, we can extend no toleration to a mere servile imitation of the cramped style, false perspective, and crude colour of remote antiquity. We want not to see what Fuseli termed drapery “snapped instead of folded,” faces bloated into apoplexy, or extenuated to skeletons, colour borrowed from the jars in a druggist's shop, and expressed forced into caricature. It is said that these gentlemen have the power to do better things, and we are referred in proof to their handicraft to the mistaken still with which they have transferred to canvas the hay which lined the lofts in Noah's Ark, the brown leaves of the coppice where Sylvia strayed, and the prim vegetables of a monastic garden. But we must doubt a capacity of which we have seen so little proof, and, if any such capacity did ever exist in them, we fear that it has already been overlaid by mannerism and conceit. To become great in art, it has been said that a painter must become as a little child, though not childish; but the authors of these offensive and absurd productions have contrived to combine the puerility or infancy of their art with the uppishness and self-sufficiency of a different period of life. That morbid infatuation which sacrifices truth, beauty, and genuine feeling to mere eccentricity, deserves no quarter at the hands of the public; and, though the patronage of art is sometimes lavished on oddity as profusely as on higher qualities, these monkish follies have no more real claim to figure in any decent collection of English paintings that the aberrations of intellect which are exhibited under the name of Mr. Ward.
We turn with pleasure from these subjects to works like those by which Mr. Cope sustains his reputation. His large picture, “The Sisters” (161), illustrated by some versus which are not very intelligible, represents the unconscious rivalry of his heroines. The treatment of the subject suggests rather than tells its own story. Between these two sisters, seated on the marble basement of an Italian palace, hard by the blue southern sea, there lies a romance which the artist has left to the penetration and sympathy of the spectator. The one all gaiety and hope, fair, joyous, and breathing the pleasure of the hour, hangs upon the neck of the other and bids her join that gay company which is already embarking in the gilded pleasure-barge just pushing from the shore. The other, meditative, and conscious of deeper thoughts and emotions which mingle in her affection, pauses and hesitates with a look which conveys the unseen history and the unaccomplished sacrifice of their lives. It is a masterpiece of expression and of beauty. Perhaps a reminiscence of the well-known German picture of “the Two Leonoras” detracts a little from the originality of the composition, but the attitudes and the expression of the two picture are entirely different. Mr. Cope's colour and drapery are rich without excess, the design flowing and harmonious, the details of the background careful and judicious, and the work deserves to become popular, though the position in which it hangs is not favourable to its effect. In Mr. Cope's second picture, representing three passages in the life of Master Laurence Sanders, one of the English Reformers who suffered under Queen Mary at Coventry (No. 381), Mr. Cope has retained more of the frigidity and grayness of tint which characterized some of his earlier productions, but there is an absence of exaggeration which gives this artist peculiar merit as a painter of historical subjects.
We have already cursorily alluded, in our notice of the private view, to Mr. Stanfield's large picture, entitled “The Battle of Roveredo” (No. 196), which takes the first rank among the landscapes. It is a noble specimen of the artist's treatment of distant mountain scenery. Nothing can be more grand and vast than the huge snow-capped Alps, which look down from their serene and inaccessible heights on the strife and bloodshed raging below. The depths of the valley, the broad flanks of the mountains, on which forests and cliffs are softened into moss-like smoothness by the enormous distance, and the picturesque towards of Roveredo, are finely rendered. This painting, however, claims rank not only as a fine landscape, but as a military and historical picture, and on that ground it invites some further criticism. The foreground is occupied by the passage of a detachment of French Republican troops over water for the purpose of storming the heights, from which their comrades are driving the Austians on the right, and the battle is raging with great fury on the outworks of the castle which crowns the position. It might be remarked that the figures are entirely deficient in the energy of men rushing to battle, and the only blow we see struck is from the uplifted arm of an Artillery driver, one of whose horses has fallen into the river. But we have no more serious objections to the entire composition as a military painting. The stream, or brook, which the French are in the act of crossing, is, in truth, the river Adige, which at Roveredo is imprisoned between two mountain gorges, and forms a very deep and rapid torrent of considerable breadth. The French divisions under Vaubois and Victor did undoubtedly act on both sides of the river, but we can discover no evidence at all that either of them crossed it, and we exceedingly doubt the fact, here represented by Mr. Stanfield, that they could have forded such a river with artillery and in so leisurely a manner. The battle of Roveredo consisted in the successive storming of two gorges, both of which were defended by Davidowich; the lower gorge of San Marco is below the town, and was carried by General Dubois, who was killed on the spot; the town was then entered and taken, and the French army rushed onwards with its usual impetuosity and forced the defile of Calliano, a tremendous pass crowned by the Castle of La Pietra, situated above the town. We are not informed by the catalogue which of these two incidents in the battle Mr. Stanfield proposed to himself to represent—the castle on the right of the picture would seem to be La Pietra, but the relative situation of the town above the pass belongs to San Marco; and at any rate the passage of the Adige, without the least attempt at any of the dispositions such a movement would require, is a military absurdity which in fact never occurred at all. We are thus particular in the examination of this picture, because when military subjects are selected by artists, and designated by names, dates, and places, they are bound to something like historical fidelity, and a battle which is accurately described in every narrative of the campaign of

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1706 cannot be treated as a pure work of imagination.
Among the landscape painters, Mr. Cooke's two pictures of scenes in Venice will repay a second visit, and the treatment of the luminous reflection on the white cupola of the Salute (in the north room) is especially bold and felicitous. The real aspect of Venice itself and of the Grand Canal has never been more faithfully rendered, even by Canaletti, than by Mr. W. Linton (No. 510). We admire the breadth, repose, and sobriety of tone which are so favourable to architectural effect in his pictures, and Mr. Linton never resorts to those artifices of light by which so many modern artists attempt to throw a strained and unnatural interest over their compositions. Mr. Linnell displays from year to year a great increase of power and natural feeling in the style of landscape painting he has latterly adopted. His picture “Woodlands” (No. 559) is an admirable specimen of English scenery; and, though starting from very different points, Linnell and Creswick have reached a great degree of resemblance in their treatment of extended champaign country. On the right of this picture we are detained by Mr. Boxall's slight but exquisite portrait of “the Hon. Mrs. Boyle”—a charming subject, treated with the hand of a master. Nor is inferior praise due to Mr. Boxall's fine portrait of Gibson, the sculptor (180); it is one of the few elevated and intellectual portraits of which this exhibition can boast; and, though still unfinished in parts, and with too youthful an aspect, the head has extreme fire, energy, and thoughtful power. Having touched once more upon the uninviting theme of the portraits, we may here correct an error that we fell into in our former notice by attributing Mr. Frank Grant the very pleasing portrait of Miss Lygon, which is in fact due to Mr. Swinton. It is, we think, the lady's best portrait of the year, and must be restored to its proper author. Though in a different style, we have been scarcely less pleased with the portrait of the “Duchess of Manchester,” by M. Desanges (No. 119). In connexion with this branch we must here point out three or four drawings of heads by Mr. Watts, in the miniature-room, which, though not all equally felicitous in point of resemblance, are really masterpieces of drawing—they have the mingled softness and strength of drawings by the old masters, and are indications of great promise.
Among the painters to whom a secondary rank may be assigned, we have omitted to mention Mr. Lejeune's “Sermon on the Mount” (678), conceived in the spirit of Sir Charles Eastlake's scripture subjects and executed in obvious imitation of his manner, but with a feebleness of expression in the principal figure of the composition which mars the effect of the whole, though the accessory figures are pleasing. Mr. Hook's pictures are also affected by too great a resemblance to the earlier works of the President, and we yet hope, from the vigour of his productions last year, to see him pursue a walk of his own. Mr. O'Neil's “Ahasuerus” is, on the contrary, extremely powerful, and is esteemed by some artists his best work; but it is artificial and theatrical, though not deficient in grace of arrangement, and the glare of the concealed torch, though ingeniously diffused over the Assyrian's tent, is far from pleasing. Mr. Armytage has also pursued the vein of Oriental subjects as illustrated by the late discoveries at Nineveh, and his picture of “Samson in the hands of the Philistines” (631) is very preferable to his strange production of last year. Mr. Horsley has attempted, in a picture originally designed for a compartment in the House of Parliament, and subsequently executed for Prince Albert, to represent in one composition the contrasted groups of Milton's “Penseroso” and “Allegro” (No. 592); we are not sure that the effect is as successful as the idea seemed promising, and at any rate we prefer the playful group which is retiring in the distance to the austere postulants who occupy the foreground like an avenue of cypresses.
A more careful examination of these productions will doubtless serve to discover some works of merit which we have unavoidably passed over in silence, and we leave a more minute discussion of their beauties of our weekly and artistic contemporaries. But upon the whole we are led unwillingly to the conclusion that this exhibition is in no degree above the average, and considerably below the degree of excellence attained in the last two years. We are reminded by their absence of the great and original artists who are no longer among our contributors, for their work is done, and their place will neither be filled by the class of second-rate talents, nor by the extravagance which distorts originality into the loathsome and the grotesque. We may dwell with entire satisfaction on some noble exceptions, such as Mr. Ward's “Royal Family of France,” Sir. E. Landseer's “Midsummer Night's Dream,” Mr. Maclise's “Caxton,” and three or four of the landscapes of Creswick, Stanfield, and Danby; but such exceptions are not sufficiently abundant to reverse our general impression, that this exhibition is not one of the most favourable displays we have witnessed of British art.

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We have received the following remarks upon our criticism of the pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy by Messrs. Millais and Hunt, from Mr. Ruskin, the author of many well-known works on art:—
“Sir,—Your usual liberality will, I trust, give a place in your columns to this expression of my regret that the tone of the critique which appeared in The Times of Wednesday last on the works of Mr. Millais and Mr. Hunt, now in the Royal Academy, should have been scornful as well as severe.
“I regret it, first, because the mere labour bestowed on those works, and their fidelity to a certain order of truth (labour and fidelity which are altogether indisputable) ought at once to have placed them above the level of mere contempt; and, secondly, because I believe these young artists to be at a most critical period of their career—at a turning point, from which they may either sink into nothingness or rise to very real greatness; and I believe also, that whether they choose the upward or downward path may in no small degree depend upon the character of the criticism which their works have to sustain. I do not wish in any way to dispute or invalidate the general truth of your critique on the Royal Academy; nor am I surprised at the estimate which the writer formed of the pictures in question when rapidly compared with works of totally different style and aim; nay, when I first saw the chief picture by Millais in the Exhibition of last year I had nearly come to the same conclusions myself. But I ask your permission, in justice to artists who have at least given much time and toil to their pictures, to institute some more serious inquiry into their merits and faults than your general notice of the Academy could possibly have admitted.
“Let me state, in the first place, that I have no acquaintance with any of these artists, and very imperfect sympathy with them. No one who has met with any of my writings will suspect me of daring to encourage them in their Romanist and Tractarian tendencies. I am glad to see that Mr. Millais's lady in blue is heartily tired of her painted window and idolatrous toilet-table, and I have no particular respect for Mr. Collins' lady in white, because her sympathies are limited by a dead wall, or divided between some gold fish and a tadpole (the latter Mr. Collins may, perhaps, permit me to suggest, en passant, as he is already half a frog, is rather too small for his age). But I happen to have a special acquaintance with the water plant, Alisma Plantago, among which the said gold fish are swimming; and, as I never saw it so thoroughly or so well drawn, I must take leave to remonstrate with you when you say sweepingly, that these men ‘sacrifice truth, as well as feeling to eccentricity.’ For as a mere botanical study of the water lily and Alisma, as well as of the common lily and several other garden flowers, this picture would be invaluable to me, and I heartily wish it were mine.
“But, before entering into such particulars, let me correct an impression which your article is likely to induce in most minds, and which is altogether false. These pre-Raphaelites (I cannot compliment them on common sense in choice of a nom de guerre) do not desire nor pretend in any way to imitate antique painting, as such. They know little of ancient paintings who suppose the works of these young artists to resemble them. As far as I can judge of their aim—for, as I said, I do not know the men themselves—the pre-Raphaelites intend to surrender no advantage which the knowledge or inventions of the present time can afford to their art. They intend to return to early days in this one point only—that, as far as in them lies, they will draw either what they see, or what they suppose might have been the actual facts of the scene they desire to represent, irrespective of any conventional rules of picture making; and they have chosen their unfortunate though not inaccurate name because all artists did this before Raphael's time, and after Raphael's time did not this, but sought to paint fair pictures rather than represent stern facts, of which the consequence has been that from Raphael's time to this day historical art has been in acknowledged decadence.
“Now, Sir, presupposing that the intention of these men was to return to archaic art instead of to archaic honesty, your critic borrows Fuseli’s expression respecting ancient draperies—‘snapped’ instead of folded,’ and asserts that in these pictures there is a ‘ servile imitation of false perspective.’ To which I have just this to answer: —
“That there is not one single error in perspective in four out of the five pictures in question, and that in Millais' ‘Mariana’ there is but this one—that the top of the green curtain in the distant window has too low a vanishing point; and that I will undertake, if need be, to point out and prove a dozen worse errors in perspective in any 12 pictures containing architecture, taken at random from among the works of the most popular painters of the day.
“Secondly: that, putting aside the small Mulready and the works of Thorburn and Sir W. Ross, and perhaps some others of those in the miniature room which I have not examined, there is not a single study of drapery in the whole Academy, be it in large works or small, which for perfect truth, power, and finish, could be compared for an instant with the black sleeve of the Julia, or with the velvet on the breast and the chain mail of the Valentine of Mr. Hunt's picture; or with the white draperies on the table in Mr. Millais' ‘Mariana, ’ and of the right hand figure in the same painter's ‘Dove returning to the Ark.’
“And further: that as studies both of drapery and of every minor detail, there has been nothing in art so earnest or so complete as these pictures since the days of Albert Durer. This I assert generally and fearlessly. On the other hand,
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I am perfectly ready to admit that Mr. Hunt's ‘Silvia’ is not a person whom Proteus or anyone else would have been likely to have fallen in love with at first sight; and that one cannot feel any sincere delight that Mr. Millais' ‘Wives of the Sons of Noah’ should have escaped the Deluge; with many other faults besides on which I will not enlarge at present, because I have already occupied too much of your valuable space, and I hope to be permitted to enter into more specific criticism in a future letter,
“I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,


Denmark-hill, May 9.”
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Sir,—Your obliging insertion of my former letter encourages me to trouble you with one or two further notions respecting the pre-Raphaelite pictures. I had intended, in continuation of my first letter, to institute as close an inquiry as I could into the character of the morbid tendencies which prevent these works from favourably arresting the attention of the public; but I believe there are so few pictures in the Academy whose reputation would not be grievously diminished by a deliberate inventory of their errors, that I am disinclined to undertake so ungracious a task with respect to this or that particular work. Three points, however, may be noted, partly for the consideration of the painters themselves, partly that forgiveness of them may be asked from the public in consideration of high merit in other respects.
The most painful of these defects is unhappily also the most prominent—the commonness of feature in many of the principal figures. In Mr. Hunt's “Valentine defending Sylvia,” this is, indeed, almost the only fault. Further examination of this picture has even raised the estimate I had previously formed of its marvellous truth in detail and splendour in colour; nor is its general conception less deserving of praise; the action of Valentine, his arm thrown round Sylvia and his hand clasping hers at the same instant as she falls at his feet, is most faithful and beautiful, nor less so the contending of doubt and distress with awakening hope in the half-shadowed, half-sunlit countenance of Julia. Nay, even the momentary struggle of Proteus with Sylvia, just past, is indicated by the trodden grass and broken fungi of the foreground. But all this thoughtful conception, and absolutely inimitable execution, fails in making immediate appeal to the feelings, owing to the unfortunate type chosen for the face of Sylvia. Certainly this cannot be she whose lover was—
  • “As rich in having such a jewel,
  • “As twenty seas, if all their sands were pearl.”
Nor is it, perhaps, less to be regretted that while in Shakspeare's play there are nominally “Two Gentlemen,” in Mr. Hunt's picture there should be one—at least, the kneeling figure on the right has by no means the look of a gentleman. But this may be on purpose, for any one who remembers the conduct of Proteus throughout the previous scenes will, I think, be disposed to consider that the error lies more in Shakspeare's nomenclature than in Mr. Hunt's ideal.
No defence can, however, be offered for the choice of features in the left-hand figure of Mr. Millais' “Dove returning to the Ark.” I cannot understand how a painter so sensible of the utmost refinements of beauty in other objects should deliberately choose for his model a type far inferior to that of average humanity, and unredeemed by any expression except that of dull self-complacency. Yet let the spectator who desires to be just turn away from this head, and contemplate rather the tender and beautiful expression of the stooping figure, and the intense harmony of colour in the exquisitely finished draperies; let him note also the ruffling of the plumage of the wearied dove, one of its feathers falling on the arm of the figure which holds it, and another to the ground, where, by the by, the hay is painted not only elaborately, but with the most perfect ease of touch and mastery of effect, especially to be observed because this freedom of execution is a modern excellence, which it has been inaccurately stated that these painters despise, but which, in reality, is one of the remarkable distinctions between their painting and that of Van Eyck or Memling, which caused me to say in my first letter that “those know little of ancient painting who supposed the work of these men to resemble it.”
Next to this false choice of feature, and in connexion with it, is to be noted the defect in the colouring of the flesh. The hands, at least in the pictures of Millais, are almost always ill painted, and the flesh tint in general is wrought out of crude purples and dusky yellows. It appears just possible that much of this evil may arise from the attempt to obtain too much transparency—an attempt which has injured also not a few of the best works of Mulready. I believe it will be generally found that close study of minor details is unfavourable to flesh painting; it was noticed of the drawing by John Lewis, in the old water-colour exhibition of 1850 (a work which, as regards its treatment of detail, may be ranged in the same class with the pre-Raphaelite pictures), that the faces were the worst painted portions of the whole.
The apparent want of shade is, however, perhaps the fault which most hurts the general eye. The fact is, nevertheless, that the fault is far more in the other pictures of the Academy than in the pre-Raphaelite ones. It is the former that are false, not the latter, except so far as every picture must be false which endeavours to represent living sunlight with dead pigments. I think Mr. Hunt has a slight tendency to exaggerate reflected lights; and if Mr. Millais has ever been near a piece of good painted glass he ought to have known that its tone is more dusky and sober than that of his Mariana's window. But for the most part these pictures are rashly condemned, because the only light which we are accustomed to see represented is that which falls on the artist's model in his dim painting-room, not that of sunshine in the fields.
I do not think I can go much further in fault finding. I had, indeed, something to urge respecting what I supposed to be the Romanizing tendencies of the painters; but I have received a letter assuring me that I was wrong in attributing to them anything of the kind, whereupon, all I can say is, that instead of the “pilgrimage” of Mr. Collins's maiden over a plank and round a fishpond, that old pilgrimage of Christiana and her children towards the place where they should “look the Fountain of Mercy in the face” would have been more to the purpose in these times. And so I wish them all heartily good speed, believing in sincerity that if they temper the courage and energy which they have shown in the adoption of their system with patience and discretion in pursuing it, and if they do not suffer themselves to be driven by harsh or careless criticism into rejection of the ordinary means of obtaining influence over the minds of others, they may, as they gain experience, lay in our England the foundations of a school of art nobler than the world has seen for 300 years.
I have the honour the be, Sir,

Your obedient servant,


Denmark-hill, May 26.
[We should find it no difficult task to destroy the web which the paradoxical ingenuity of our correspondent, the “Author of Modern Painters,” has spun, but we must confine our reply within narrower limits than the letters with which he has favoured us. If we spoke with severity of the productions of the young artists to which this correspondence relates, it was with a sincere desire to induce them, if possible, to relinquish what is absurd, morbid, and offensive in their works, and to cultivate whatever higher and better qualities they possess; but at present these qualities are wholly overlaid by the vices of a style which has probably answered its purpose by obtaining for these young gentlemen a notoriety less hard to bear, even in the shape of ridicule, than public indifference. This perversion of talent—if talent they have—we take to be fairly obnoxious to criticism: and we trust the authority of the “Author of Modern Painters” will not have the opposite effect of perpetuating or increasing the defects of a style which, in spite of his assertions, we hold to be a flagrant violation of nature and truth. In fact, Mr. Ruskin's own works might prove the best antidote to any such false theory; for (if we remember rightly) he has laid it down, in his defence of Mr. Turner's landscapes, that truth in painting is not the mere imitative reproduction of this or that object, as they are, but the reproduction or image of the general effect given by an assemblage of objects as they appear to the sight. Mr. Millais and his friends have taken refuge in the opposite extreme of exaggeration from Mr. Turner; but, as extremes meet, they both find an apologist in the same critic. Aërial perspective, powerful contrasts of light and shade, with form and colour fused in the radiance of the atmosphere, are characteristics of Mr. Turner. The P.R.B.s, to whom the “Author of Modern Painters” has transferred his affections, combine a repulsive precision of ugly shapes with monotony of tone in such works as “Sylvia” or “Convent Thoughts,” or distorted expression, as in “Mariana” or the “Dove in the Ark.” Mere truth of imitation in the details of a flower or a lock of hair ceases to be truth in combination with the laws of effect. Nobody compares the pimples on a face by Denner with the broad flesh of Titian. Many of our correspondent's assertions may be more summarily disposed of by a reference to the pictures
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in question than by discussion in this place; but though he has carried the rights of defence to their utmost limits, we submit that enough remains, even on his own admissions, to condemn these unfortunate attempts, and that the mere expression of a difference of taste does not suffice to shake any of those established rules of art and criticism upon which such works have been tried and found wanting. It will give us great pleasure if we find next year that these young painters are able to throw off the monkish disguise in which they have been fooling, and stand forth as the founders of the illustrious school which our correspondent announces to the world.]

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