THE ROYAL ACADEMY, 1924.—I.
FUNDAMENTALLY the Academy is the same as it has always been, and probably will continue to repeat itself interminably each year—even to the occasional absorption of the slightly foreign elements which help to provide the irritation necessary to keep the organism aware of itself. Last year one room was devoted to irritable " modern " works ; this year fraternization his taken place between the camps, and the " moderns " are sharing the same walls as the " academiai." Their respectability is consequently vouched for. Of this exhibition one cannot say that the standard is higher or lower than that of any other year, for, by its very nature, the Academy is a mechanism which depends for its unity and its life on the equilibration of its units. Artists as units are inclined to be dull ; yet for the sake of the Academy we must accept their dullness, and console ourselves 'by watching their antics out of school. Nevertheless, the Academy has certain qualities which most of the advanced exhibitions lack. On an average more well-constructed pictures are to be seen there than in any of the other collective exhibitions. Its pictures also exhibit a more adequate and finished technical ability. There is no lack of construction in the majority of this year's exhibits, but as usual a sameness of structure, depressingly dull, and rendered futile through having been done' and felt so much better in the past. The pictures seem to emanate from conceptions which have become devitalized. Conceptive will has been replaced by safe formulae, culled from the obvious structural traits of past accepted masterpieces which were, originally, vitally felt and expicssed. One feels that now even composition can be taught. In the more advanced - exhibitions, however, there is a deplorable deficiency of - construction of any kind in the work, due to the fact that the younger artists, besides lacking inspiration, delude themselves
• into the belief that by striving after a new grammar a new ' conception will be evolved. The new conception must first be sought. The new grammar will follow as a natural conse- quence. There is little difference, after all, between • " academic " art and " modern " art in the collective exhibi- - tions except that, while the academic artists have poached • in the conceptive preserves of the past, the more advanced are still engaged in clambering through the technical hedge surrounding those preserves of a less remote period.
One of the best academic compositions is that of Mr. Pickett's Jephthah's Daughter (162) in gallery No. 111. It has an architectural solidity of organization which is slightly destroyed by a treatment which is thin—which is applied rather than determined. After looking at the many examples of portraiture one comes to the conclusion that Sir William Orpen is the only painter who can be trusted to compete with the camera, even if one includes the time element, for there is a cleanness, accuracy and seeming rapidity of execution which suggests the analogy. It is futile to mention any one portrait in particular. One says an " Orpen " as one might say a " Hoppe " or an " Elwyn Neame." Painting has become to Sir William Orpen an automatic process—a habit. In sheer juggling with pigment his work has never been surpassed by any artist, living or dead. He does retain, however, a certain quality of paint which makes the com- parison with photography less appropriate, and has, in the past, hinted at a greater potentiality of conception than his present development shows.
In a much different category is Mr. Augustus John. That early impulsive barbarity of outlook which at times revealed something vital and fundamental seems to have become gradually destroyed by time (or success perhaps) till now all that remains of a care-free naiveté is a somewhat careless incompetence. His portrait of the Princess Antoine Bibesco (No. 27) becomes, in the company of its more dexterously treated neighbours, impressive through its utter incompetence.
It has no `virtues that I can see. In colour it is messy and unclean, in handling it is insipid, in design it is weak. It may possibly be a good likeness: But since I am unacquainted - with the sitter I cannot form any opinion either on the exactitude of the likeness or on any psychological truth that
• may be revealed by the one static visual impression depicted.
The portrait of Robert Fleming, Esq. (127), is more successful. The head is well modelled and has good carrying power although the colour is, again, crude and dirty.
Mr. Sargent's portrait of Sir Philip Sassoon (47) has good tonal values, but the posed arm, while it gives a certain design to the picture, does so in such an elementary way that it was hardly worth while introducing this note of artificiality.
Mr. Greiffenhagen's portraits always possess a strongly decorative structure. His best in this respect is Dr. Reginald Macan (199), where he has made quite a conscious and wilful pattern of the robe. Had the background been utilized for the purpose of extending this pattern instead of being painted with a fiat tone, a more co-ordinated design would have resulted.
The portrait of H.M. the King (No. 132), by Mr. Charles Sims, is more efficient than, and as conventional as, the usual official portrait.. The paint has been kept luminous and clean—the drapeiies have conformed to their usual habit of arranging themselves in languid folds around His Majesty.
• Mr. Lavery's topical painting of The House of Commons, - 1924 (94), has no real pictorial values. Its interest lies in • " spotting " the thumb-nail portraits which range from fair to bad as likenesses. Although Mr. Munnings paints volume • admirably he seems to have no reason whatever for doing so, for his pictures contain no suggestion of three dimensional design nor have they any degree of design in them at all.
They consist of very ably painted horses and riders disposed lethargically and haphazardly on the canvas. In Gallery No. 11 there is one picture at least which should attract • attention—The Violinist (89), by Mr. Alexander Gerhardi.
• Although the colour is raw and the texture sticky the design here has been felt. Any distortion which enters, - as in the hand holding the.violin, for instance, has been resorted to, not for its own sake, but to disclose more fully the unity of the rhythm in the whole. It is not a nice picture, however, and may consequently meet with adverse judgment at first sight. No. X is the most interesting Gallery in the exhibition, in so far as it contains four good pictures. Mr. J. Blair Leighton's group, While Two Converse One Fidgets (574), is one of the best pictures of the year. Although the main structure of the design is conceived three dimensionally, starting from the position of the boy on the floor and working inwards towards the figure in yellow, its beauty is mostly that of the flat pattern. It has a quality which is closely allied to the Japanese print. The textures are those of paint, and the artist has not attempted imitative realization of textures which can never be expressed by pigment. This frank accept- ance of the medium at its true value has given the picture a quality which makes it unique amongst the display of futile attempts to reproduce silks and satins which are so much better in the drapers than in pictures.
Another picture of interest in this room is Mr. Ernest Procter's The Merry-go-round (602). His use of comple- mentary colours has enlivened the colour scheme, and the upright posts have resolved the recession of the volumes which are well simplified and organized to gain a dynamic unity. The other two good pictures are Mr. George H. Day's The Channel Boat (598), with its fascinating relief of straight lines in the design, and Mr. Cosmo Clark's little study of receding rails in Stamford Brook (594).
Of the pictures which follow the decorative convention the best are Mr. Cayley Robinson's Pastoral (111), Mr. Harold Speed's Daphnis and Chloe (170) and Mr. Harry Morley's Apollo and Marsyas (226). That Impressionism can be utilized as a means of acquiring a greater intensity of light without losing respectability is evidenced by the inclusion of works like The Family (116), by Dorothea Sharp, and The Culprit (178), by G. Vernon Stokes. The latter is well bal- anced in the masses of light and shade. Mr. Colin Gill's Venus and Cupid (75), Mr. Sydney Lee's Amongst the Dolomites (192), Mr. A. A. Wolmark's Ecclesiastes (392), Mrs. Dod Procter's Two of Them (650), Mr. Max Martin's Witchcraft (660), and Mr. Vivian Forbes' People of the Nile (628) are pictures which would have received more adequate notices had space been less limited. They are all above the Academy's average, and with the exception of Mr. Sydney Lee's, belong to the irritant section.
The water-colours and etchings are, generally speaking, uninteresting. Only one water-colour, No. 689, Soir a Cerese, Val di Rabbi Trentino, by E. Zanon, shows any real