10 MAY 1935, Page 21


The Royal Academy TILE founding of aciideniies of Fine Arts, whether in Italy, France or England, has always coincided with the final accept-

ance' in the country in question of the idea that painting, sculpture and architecture are intellectual pursuits, that they are liberal arts and not mechanical crafts.- That this was emphatically the case in the foundation of our own Royal Academy is shown by the remarks of Gwyn in his Proposals for Erecting a Public Academy, published in 1749, in which he speaks- of the importance of distinguishing true artists who are "men of liberal Education" from "the common class of mechanics" such as "Sign-Post Daubers, Stone-cutters, and Bricklayers." But in England the artist's claims went a stage beyond those of his French or Italian colleagues. In the 18th century he began to pose not only as an intellectual, but as a gentleman. The same situation had occurred earlier in- literature. Voltaire had been shocked by Congreve's desire to be considered as a gentleman and not as a dramatist, and a parallel tendency is among the less attractive characteristics of Reynolds.

From its inception, therefore, the Royal Academy has been an institution catering for, and in general admirably satisfying the demands of, a particular class. In the 18th Century it was supported by the intellectual Whig aristocracy and in the 20th it has been supported by the conservative classes. But there are signs now that the situation is beginning to change. Not that the level of gentility is seriously altered, but I had the impression on visiting this year's exhibition that there are more "cad's paintings" and therefore more serious works of art on view than usual. In general they have to be sought high up on the wall. There is still some similarity between the phrases " above the line "and " beyond the pale."

The Academy itself does not seem to be wavering yet, and it is perhaps relevant• that the most typically gentlemanly exhibits in the whole of Burlington House are by the R.A. elect of the year, Mr. Cadogan Cowper. His evident scorn for the mechanical (or technical) part of his art, and his talent for the most blatant methodi of reducing his sitters to wax- models are perhaps most apparent in -the portrait of the Grand Duchess Kira of Russia (348), though his other two portraits differ from this rather in size than in quality. Mr. Campbell Taylor's Silver Wedding Day (19) is one of the few examples in this year's exhibition of the unreal kind of portrait group, of which Mr. Munnings' My Wife, My Horse and Myself (420) is a more up-to-date, and Mr. Fleetwood-Walker's Mr. and Mrs. Robert Butler (105) a better specimen.

However, even among the portraits there are signs of life. It is perhaps a little greedy of Lord David Cecil to have made himself the subject of the two best portraits of the year, but he is evidently a text which allows of various interpretation. Mr. Henry Lamb has made him meditative, austere and monumental, whereas Mr. Augustus John has given a rendering equally true, but gay and lively. But the essential point about both these portraits is that in each the artist has apparently set out to state his view of the sitter without conscious reflection on how the sitter would like to be presented. In his portrait of Mr. T. Barclay, Mr. John has shown that it is even possible to make an honest statement about a 'sitter while at the same time producing a portrait acceptable to any City Company. Mr. A. K. Lawrence has achieved something of the same sort in his mural painting of Mr. Montagu Norman, if we allow for the slightly false dignity of the panel, imposed no doubt by the purpose for which it was executed, namely, the decoration of the Bank of England. Among the other portraits which show that their artists are possessed of both technical effi- ciency and honesty of intention are Mr. Glyn Philpot's Cecil Higgins (74) and Mrs. John Howeson (158);which depend for their 'effect largely on beauty of colour, and Miss Ella Griffin's Reuben (404), which appeals by sheer directness. Perhaps the most arresting painting in the whole exhibition is Mr. Siekert's portrait of Lord Castlerosse (477). Mr. Siekert's methods defy analysis more and more completely every year. It is impossible to see how so much idea of a sitter's character can be conveyed by such limited means, almost- without the use of line, with the utmost restraint of colour, with, in fact, nothing but a snapshot-like natural- ness of pose and, for setting, an atmosphere charged with light.

In general the lowest level is reached by the still life and landscape sections of the exhibition. Among the former there are too many purely decorative and fantastic panels, of which

the best is Miss Waters' Bird of Paradise (583). Much More serious in intention and considered in execution are Mrs. Robertson's Still-life (768) and The Mirror (771), and Mr. Adrian Allinson's more forcible, if less subtle, My Window (165). The group of landscapes has several remarkable characteristics: It contains no pictures of sheep, Mr. Far- quarson having apparently found no successor. It contains, as far as I recollect, only one painting of a sunrise, though that one; by Sir George Clausen (66), is a' prize piece. It contains very few, paintings of Scottish moors (Sir David Cameron's The Heart of Perthshire (140) can stand for many of its kind), but, what is far more astonishing, it Contains one on this theme which is novel in its method and successful in result, namely, Mr. Frank Ormrod's Western Highlands (750). Apart from these, there are some pleasant exercises in the Impressionist tradition, such as M. Fernand Mercies Mailly la Ville (241) and Mr. Miles Sharp's Kettlewell (282). Most beautiful of all, however, are Mrs. Sinclair's infinitely retiring Regent's Park (146) and Mrs. Fitton's subtly modulated Face at the W indow (732).

It is unlikely that any good mythological paintings should be produced at the present time. Classical mythology is too remote from us and has become too much an object of archaeo- logical respect for it to be likely to inspire an artist at all intensely. Those who have attempted themes of this kind in this year's exhibition have been forced in one way or another to dodge the problems which they present. Mr. Barnes, in his Apollo (180), has fallen back on a very elaborately mannered style, which carries us away from the present but only to a world of complete unreality. Mr. Russell Flint has used the opposite method, and having tried to make his Judgment of Paris (249) up-to-date, has only succeeded in making it as unclassical and also as unreal as his gypsy' scenes like Maruja the Strong (223), correctly described,. I believe, as colourful.

The great merit of the present exhibition lies in the relatively large number of successful paintings which are in one way or another comments on contemporary life. There arc fewer than usual of those slightly facetious renderings of Cockney life, which have recently become quite a feature of the Academy, and far more direct and serious versions of everyday episodes. Mr. Longstaffs chalk studies of Unemployed (1211-1212) make us regret that he has no paintings in Burlington House. Mr. Nisbet has set about his 1935 A. D. (221) in the right way, but the result is a little dry. Mr. Gerald Cooper expresses himself with perfect clarity on farm life in his Hay Wagon (267), and I believe that his Winter (173) is also good, though this is largely an act of faith, since it is hung too high to be visible. Mr. Dring has more obviously twisted the figures in Sun bathing (182) into an elaborate and coherent design, but not in such a way as to destroy the convincingness of the scene. Mrs. Fitton's Room with a rine (342) must rank as the best rendering of an ordinary room in the present exhibition, and in his Side Show (213) Mr. James Fitton has succeeded in com- menting on circus life in a way that is witty but not facetious. In his Ere (322) he has achieved even more and has produced the one painting in the Academy equally moving by its human and its technical appeal.

"To him that hath shall be given," and since Mr. Stanley Spencer has been more discussed already than any other exhibitor this year, let hint have this last paragraph to himself. His case is peculiar, but he has certainly made the most of it. Since the Academy unflinchingly hung his Parents' Resurrec- tion last year it is difficult to maintain that the rejection of his two paintings this year is a gesture of anti-modernism, as his style has not perceptibly changed in the interval. We must rather conclude that the Selection Committee ccinsidered the two rejected paintings as less good of their awn kind than the other three, and personally I find their decision hard to challenge. If I had to choose one of the five I should take Scarecrow (30), since I still cannot see the advantage of Mr. Spencer's particular method of distorting the human figure.