Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

which, a few seasons since, deliberately set at nought all pictorial proprieties. There are indications in all directions that the leading men of the movement are ready to surrender their cherished eccentricities, and to content themselves, like the best artists in all times, with mere honest, straightforward study of nature, in her simplicity and modest truth. But the storm just passed over the troubled sea of art has not been weathered by the weaker craft; and here and there the bark, which once was buoyant with hope, may be seen as a wreck upon a neglected strand. Mr Brett, one of Mr Ruskin's favoured protegés, has, we are sure, sufficient talent yet to save himself. But his picture of the present year, "Warwick Castle," betrays lost anchorage should the work haply be found to pertain to genius at all, it is of genius beating about on the uncertain sea of doubt, no harbour of refuge yet in sight. Mr Hughes is also another of those misguided men, who seem destined to pass out of chaos into anarchy. His "Home from Work" is a strange medley of common nature and the commonlyreceived medieval. Awkward peasants in angular attitudes, with brick walls and brick-dust hair, is a receipt for picture-making which has been repeated ad nauseam. If these men, and others of their class, would but once and for ever throw aside the crotchets with which they have been indoctrinated, and simply trust to their own plain good-sense, there is, we are persuaded, plenty of sterling stuff within them to make an enduring reputation.

In our detailed survey of the Royal Academy, it may be most convenient to commence with landscapes. We shall, then, proceed to what the French term genre pictures, and complete our criticism with that higher class of works which may lay some claim to the historic. We have just spoken of the PreRaphaelites-let us glance for a moment at the so-called Pre-Raphaelite landscapes. There are three works,

which may serve both as examples and as warnings, by three painters Messrs Whaite, Raven, and Davis

clever but misguided men. Mr Whaite's "Leaf from the Book of Nature" is true to the text it is nature in the guise of a child's spelling-book-small thoughts dotted in monosyllabic forms, spelt over letter by letter. Such artists betake themselves to the grandest scenery in the kingdom, and the result reminds us of the traveller who in the Alps crossed the Splugen, and brought home from the summit a daisy as his reward! Mr Raven's "Valley of the Conway" is another instance of talent and labour thrown away. As usual with such works, the mind of the artist, lost in the infinitude of detail, has wholly failed to grasp the subject in its grand general effect. The picture thus at a fair distance looks a mere first "rubbing-in"-all vague confusion. In colour, too, the work is a strange extravaganza: the painter, in fact, is a victim to the distemper formerly designated in the pages of Maga as "Turner's yellow-andscarlet fever." The picture of Mr Davis serves as a crowning example of ability and industry squandered upon trifles. When Blondin's feats on the tight-rope shall rank as flights of genius, such pictorial feats of artists' fingers may possibly be classed with the landscapes of Claude, of Danby, and of Turner. Still, however, a curious public does not show itself disinclined to marvel at and to applaud these acrobat and artist exploits of the foot and hand. In previous years we have had stones presided over both by live and dead stonebreakers-and in response to the touching appeal of an eloquent and well-known critic, we have seen crops of apple-blossom make the Academy gay as a spring orchard! And now Mr Davis, with a generous profusion never surpassed by any of his predecessors, treats us, in "Rough Pasturage," to a marvellous crop of thistles! The scattered flock of sheep look thin, as if they

did not thrive. An air of restless discontent is upon their dumb but anxious countenances. This, we presume, is meant for that touch of nature which, as the poet says, makes the whole world kin! The "Pasturage" is certainly none of the most inviting. In one corner of the picture we have counted upwards of two hundred thistle-heads -some budding, some blooming, and others going to seed! On a rough estimate, we can assure the spectator that, from the slightly elevated position to which the painter has kindly raised him, he can command little short of one thousand thistle-blooms! And this is art! Is it possible for the most lively imagination to require more? Should any of our readers desire to betake themselves to this promising sketching-ground, we add with great pleasure the address-"Pas de Calais !"

As antidotes to these clever absurdities, we would recommend the landscapes of Mr C. P. Knight and Mr MacCallum-favourable examples, it must be admitted, of socalled Pre-Raphaelite influence, when free from excess. In Mr Knight's "Stone Walls of England," with the dark-blue sea in the depths beneath, it is evident that the mind of the artist has been at work no less than his hands. So far it is a marked contrast to a neighbouring picture, "The Old Lizard Head," by Mr Naish-an ill-digested study, wanting the well ordering and the due subordination essential to a work of art. Mr MacCallum's "Burnham Wood" and "Sherwood Forest," under the two aspects of "Spring" and "Winter," are not able examples of the victory which may be obtained over nature, not through any power of imagination, but by keen eye, steady hand, and a loving truth. These two pictures, in their special province, have never been surpassed. They are art, but art concealed; detail, but a detail made subject to general effect. They are perhaps the most favourable examples that the year affords

of the purely literal school, which is content simply to hold the mirror up to nature. . Not until the longsought-for impossibility be attained a coloured photograph-need such works fear competitors.

Three Royal Academicians represent, on the walls of the Academy, the landscape art of EnglandWitherington, Lee, and Creswick. The staid, careful pictures of Mr Witherington change not with the revolution of the times: they belong to a past generation, and serve, by a certain academic propriety, to which nature herself was formerly expected to comport, at least for a landmark whereby to measure the extent of that transition through which our English school has passed. Mr Lee we have generally ranked in the same category; but in the present year, taking his stand on the Rock of Gibraltar-a tower of strength-he shows himself as a giant refreshed. "The Signal Station," on the utmost verge and highest crest of the sentinel watching fortress-a bold and novel subject

[blocks in formation]

Mr Lee has gained in power and spirit by the exchange of the lanes and streams of Devonshire for rockbuilt Gibraltar. The rock itself, and especially the clump of palmettos, are painted with mastery; the sea and the distant mountains, however, are thin even to poverty, and yet heavily opaque. The works of Mr Creswick belong to that express type, and have long reached that standard, which seems always, as by right, to claim "the line" of an English Academy. In the first place, they are essentially English in subject and in sentiment. And then, moreover, in the best sense of the word, they are academic-free from all false pretence and affectation-free from clap-trap effects, and from those lower pictorial tricks by which inferior artists seek popular sensation. They are

academic also in quiet, unobtrusive propriety of manner: nature comes before us with a modest bearing no black thunder in the sky or tumultuous earthquake on the ground, but a landscape placid in deportment-the sun smiling on the lea, and the brook murmuring among moss-grown stones. Thus, in Mr Creswick's "North Countrie" we have a subject after his usual wont a broken lane, a pebbly stream, trees all quiet and simple, in mood meant for meditation. His pictures often recall to our mind the sonnets of Wordsworth. little pastoral is, for example, in the spirit of the following lines:

This

[blocks in formation]

And flies their memory fast almost as they

The immortal spirit of one happy day
Lingers beside that rill, in vision clear."

The men whom we have just enumerated belong to the solid earth. Three other painters, of whose works we shall now speak, are, if we may be permitted the expression, more amphibious in their habitats. They stand, as it were, with one foot upon the land and the other on the sea. Mr Stanfield, in such works as French troops dragging guns across the Magra, exhibited in the Art Treasures at Manchester, shows himself almost the pure landscape-painter; in a later picture, "The Victory towed to Gibraltar," he again takes to the sea, and, as an Englishman, he is equally at home on either element. Mr Cooke also, like other painters of our coast scenes, is sometimes afloat and again ashore: last year, as a memorable compromise between states fluid and solid, he

66

gave us that awe-inspiring work, The Ship Terror ice-bound in an Arctic Winter." The genius of Mr Roberts is more accustomed comfortably to house itself in a sumptuous interior, or to set itself, as in "The Piazza of St Mark" in the Academy of last year, before some rich façade. In Venice, however, so completely is this painter at home, that he can take to ocean, float out in gondola upon the Grand Canal, and paint the water-front of the Ducal Palace, casting its shimmering reflections in the sparkling sea. Of these three masters of the elements, Mr Roberts this year shows himself the greatest. He exhibits two works, "Baalbeck" and "St Peter's," which, for spirit and power, have never been surpassed. "The Ruins of the Temple of the Sun"

columns broken, entablatures in confused overthrow, a camp for the Bedouin of the desert, with "sainted Lebanon" soaring in the distance is one of those grand dramas of nature and of history, over which, as on the banks of temple-strewn Nile, Mr Roberts has of yore shown the mastery. "The Interior of St Peter's," again, is a bold, and in most respects a successful, attempt to paint, in full splendour, the mosaics, sculptures, and marbles of this most gorgeous of interiors. In colour, and in suggested richness of material, this work of Mr Roberts's certainly outvies the famed but more sober productions of Panini. Mr Cooke's "Dutch Galliot running into the Port of Aberdeen in a Heavy Gale" has much motion and spirit. We have, however, seen this artist to better advantage. Mr Stanfield is, perhaps, scarcely in full force in his "Capture of Smuggled Goods on the Old Antrim Road," the largest of his present works. The sky, as usual, is grand in form and rapid in motion, storm-clouds sweeping in thick rain across the troubled heavens, with fitful sunshine streaming in amid lowering darkness. But the best picture Stanfield gives us is "Mazorbo, one of those inlet hamlets of the

sea, quietly anchored, as it were, along the island-shore of Venice, with the brimming ocean tranquil as a lake, reflecting bridge and crumbling palace on the water's verge. Of the works of Creswick, Stanfield, and Roberts, the world will never tire. They outlive the changes of a day, and, like Nature, with her cool refreshing shade, and smiling sunshine, and ocean of dashing wave and playful breeze, seem to make both mind and body the healthier and the happier.

Our English school, as we all know, has made itself famous for the painting of animals, no less than for the treatment of landscape and marine subjects. In Belgium, Verbockhoven is renowned for sheep, and in France, Troyon for cattle; but Landseer rules above all, king over the brute creation; and our own Cooper, we believe, has never been surpassed as a shepherd among flocks. Last year we were among the few who ventured to pronounce Sir Edwin Landseer's "Flood in the Highlands" a falling-off, and therefore it is with greater pleasure that we now declare at least his drawings in the present Academy, as a return to his former self. "The Shrew Tamed"--a high-bred horse of soft silken coat, dappled with play of light and shade as on velvet -subdued by a "pretty horsebreaker," is certainly unfortunate as a subject. This picture has been made the more notorious by "The Belgravian Lament," which took the well-known rider as a text whereon to point a moral. We hope it will now be felt by Sir Edwin Landseer and his friends that the intrusion of "pretty horsebreakers" on the walls of the Academy is not less to be regretted than their presence in Rotten Row. Landseer, however, regains his innate refinement in his three beautiful drawings, "Deer in the Highlands." His poet-eye for beauty, his deep sympathy for the animal creation, into whose soul of sorrow and sense of joy he enters with tenderest intuition, is best seen in these crayon

sketches taken from "The Marquess of Breadalbane's Highland DeerForest." In a companion-drawing— "The Fatal Duel"-the monarch of crowning antlers stands over his fallen foe, sinking into the snowfield with glazed eye and gored nostril. These studies are marvellous for facile, dexterous executionthe rough texture of the deer-coat given by a mere dusty drag of the crayon; the drawing, and even the anatomy, of head and limbs, indicated by a few strokes firmly put in just where wanted. Passing to Mr Ansdell, his picture of the year comes as a contrast to the Landseer refinement. His manner is uniformly loud and melodramatic. Last year he tore passion to tatters in his treatment of "The Lost Shepherd;" this time he intends to be still more heart-rending in the horrors of "Slaves Hunted" by bloodhounds. There is, it must be confessed, a rude, telling force in all that he paints. His pictures are free-spoken: they seem to exclaim, "Murder will out, the more blood the better; here goes for the whole truth at its very worst; he who shrinks is a coward." There is to us something brutal in all this, and we think that Lord Raynham, without much stretch of his wellknown sentimental charity, might include artists of these fierce propensities in the next bill for suppressing cruelty to animals. Landseer himself, we are sorry to say, would not be safe against indictment. We will conclude the present paragraph with a notice of the picture in which Mr Cooper follows up the success of last year. The first work wherein he exchanged the sunny fields of summer for the snow wastes of winter will be long remembered―

66

Crossing Newbiggin Muir in a Snow-Drift, East Cumberland." In this second picture, equally impressive, "Drovers Collecting their Flocks under the Fells," he is still in a snow-drift, and once again in East Cumberland. It were indeed hard upon artists to inhibit the telling of a story twice over. Of

the first work we spoke in full; we shall not venture so far to imitate the painter as to repeat our thoughts for a second time. One thing, however, did strike us, which we did not record on the former occasionthe value of mere black and white as a cool retreat for an eye suffering from the satiety of colour. The white winter of Mr Cooper is forced up by the gay summer-flowers of the Misses Mutrie hanging side by side; and in the same room is seen the golden autumn of Mr W. Linnell. In the loud clash of orchestral sounds which, in modern exhibitions, are not always concords, pictures such as these by Mr Cooper have the value of "brilliant flashes of silence."

Treating of colour, it is not casy to escape the immediate mention of two consummate masters in the art, Mr Hook and Mr William Linnell. All that is superlative in terms of praise has been lavished upon these names, as if critics determined to outvie in written words the intensity of the painted picture. Mr Hook has long sought to translate Venetian hues into the dusky tones suited to our clouded skies. The boatmen on our English coasts he dresses in russet shades, compatible with the rough work of northern British tars, yet not wholly repulsive to the refined intuitions of a southern eye. The class of subjects in which he glories is well indicated by the titles chosen for two among his present works-the one, "Compassed by the Inviolate Sea," the other, "Sea Urchins." He loves to stand on the rocky walls of our wave-worn shores, and to paint the sun-burnt tenantry who dwell upon their waters. Rude humble life he subdues into quiet refinement, and the shadowed face of deadening toil and care he illumines by the warm glow of affection. And yet in his art there seems no artifice, and his compositions, even to a fault, are guileless in simplicity of arrangement. In this, indeed, his works are singular, and well reward the

trouble of analysis. Incontinently he wanders through his subjects, without caring for symmetry or system, till his pictures often take on the aspect of a detached episode cut out from a larger work, so that the spectator is tempted, as it were, to turn round the corner, or look to the other side, for the further continuance of a half-told story. This assumption of carelessness, or rather of incompleteness, is part of the present reaction against the classic school, which was studious, perhaps even to excess, in all that pertained to balance and proportion.

Among works supreme in colour, perhaps the most intense and the most successful is Mr W. Linnell's "Collecting the Flocks." There is, necessarily, some sameness in the landscapes which proceed from the father and the two sons in this gifted family. But we are glad to note from time to time the bold attempt to solve some new and difficult problem: each master-work bears indeed the mark of studious thought. In the landscape of last year, entitled "Atop of the Hill," Mr J. T. Linnell swept across the horizon a deep-blue range of mountains, which he treated in the manner of a Titian distance. In the present work, his brother introduces a bank of purple heather, which, likewise, has the value of an emphatic passage-gathering, by force of contrast and harmony, all surrounding colours to a climax passage in exact complimentary balance to the golden orange clothing Arcadian peasants, placed precisely in the spot where the weight of contrasted colour was wanted. Το all students of art it becomes as instructive as it is pleasurable to mark the profundity and the exactitude of the science which, in such compositions, is brought to bear on a complex, and yet apparently simple, result.

-a

We cannot conclude this criticism on landscape - painters and colourists belonging to the English school without some tribute to the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »