SPANISH PAINTING AT THE GRAFTON GALLERY.
THE activity of the National Art Collections Fund has enabled us to survey Spanish painting from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, and not only enjoy masterpieces, but form some opinion of general characteristics. There can be no doubt that the first impression produced by a survey of the pictures at the Grafton Gallery is one of gloom.
Positive colour seems everywhere avoided ; even the early works show no delight in radiant hues. Black, brown, and dull yellows and reds everywhere predominate. The sombre aspect of Spanish painting seems to come largely from a lack of interest in the sky, which is noticeable in both early and .late art of this country. Neither is there any delight in the magic of distances and spaces; joy in flowers and trees, the colours and shapes of distant mountains, nor of the delicate or massive forms of trees against the sky. The Spanish artists seem only to be preoccupied with things close at hand, and their vision to be bounded by the walls of their rooms. The term " realism " has generally been applied to these painters, but it was realism of a most limited kind that most of them practised. Strongly modelled figures emerging from black backgrounds are as a rule quite as artificial in lighting as any of the other conventions. The preponderance of darkness in Spanish painting must be attri- buted to preference and not to any logical necessity of realism. The love of dark tones has had the unfortunate result of accelerating the decay of the pictures in which they were used, for in oil colour light touches painted into dark become swallowed up, leaving in time only the extremes of light and dark. Another peculiarity in these pictures is the rare use of cool colours, and frequently a picture across the room attracts attention by the possession of a piece of blue drapery which a nearer look may show to be its sole claim to notice.
Spanish art, as shown here, is open to many objections which inevitably place it on a lower level than the much more universal art of Italy ; but it has great qualities of its own, and has pro- duced one supreme master, Velazquez, as well as other painters of great distinction and interest.
The first room, in which the early pictures hang, contains a St. Michael by Vermejo (18), which was exhibited here two years ago. It is a late fifteenth-century work, painted with minute detail of a rather uninspired description and of no particular interest in colour. More pleasing to look at are the saints on a gold background by Alexo Fernandez (8). The Pieta by Vasco Fernandez (13), though Portuguese, is entirely Flemish in feeling, and shows an appreciation for the sky and for strong colour generally which is quite exotic in Peninsular art. Unfortunately the surface of this work has suffered greatly, and only its general colour and composi- tion can be enjoyed. Another picture shown here recently, but again welcome, is the little Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine (21), attributed to a late fifteenth-century Portuguese painter. If this guess is right, the painter must have bad close acquaintance with the Low Countries, for the architecture in the background is that of Bruges, and the draperies follow a northern pattern in their folds. The large gallery contains no fewer than twenty-nine pictures attributed to Velazquez. It is needless to say that only a limited number of these can be ascribed to the master with any certainty. Which pictures are to be considered authentic must largely depend on the standard of comparison set up by the critic. If only works of the very finest quality are taken as the touchstone, we are in danger of ascribing works to pupils merely because they are not quite so good as those of • the painter at his best. The danger of this method is seen in the case of Bereute, who adopts this method and for some fancied weaknesses attributes the Admiral in the National Gallery to Mazo. If this judgment is accepted, many pictures now attributed to the son-in-law pupil must be ascribed to someone else, on the ground of their inferiority to the Admiral. A large picture here, The Angels appearing to the Shepherds (41), is believed by its owner, Mr. M. H. Spielmann, to be by Velazquez. The picture is not without force, but its technique seems to make it uncertain as a work of the master. Even in his early and tenebrous stages Velazquez avoids such ugly transitions from black to white in flesh without intervening tones. Velazquez's sense of modelling was far too fine to allow him to produce such crude effects. There are several early works, such as The Kitchenmaid (41), An Old Woman Frying Eggs (47), The Wafer-Seller (49), which,though they have strong oppositions of light and dark, are never without half- tones ; indeed, the charm of these pictures largely depends on the subtle manner in which the shadowed parts of the flesh retain luminosity. The Beggar (37) is a picture which used to be attributed to Velazquez. The painting • of the head, bears a curious resemblance to the head and 3iand of the sleeping man on the right of Mr. Spielmann's
picture. In both there is the same rather forced and stolid modelling and the same mannered curved touches. Nor is it possible to accept as authentic the portrait of a Lady with a Mantilla (53), belonging to the Duke of Devonshire. The picture bears an obvious relationship to the splendid work in the Wallace collection, but is of inferior quality. It has been suggested that the lady who is seen in both pictures, and was the only,woman not of high rank painted by Velazquez, may have been his daughter and the wife of his pupil Mazo, to whom the picture 53 might be attributed. If we only look at some parts of the dress in this work, we are tempted to see in them the hand of the master. This, however, is often the case ; the pupil can paint stuffs and patterns well enough :to deceive us, but when it comes to heads and, especially in this case, to hands, the difference is overwhelmingly clear. The Spanish Gentleman (62) from Apsley House shows the artist in the plenitude of his powers. The modelling of this head is astonishing ; the way in which the further side of the nose disappears into the cheek and yet stands out with full solidity is a veritable piece of magic.
The portrait of Innocent X. (59) has been supposed to be a study for the great portrait in Rome, but some critics doubt its authenticity, preferring to consider the Hermitage version the study made by Velazquez before painting the picture in the Doria Palace. It is to be regretted that the picture which• the artist painted for practice before painting the Pope, now at Longford Castle, is not here. Even if we reduce the number of authentic works to a small number, there remains no doubt as to the dominating character of Velazquez. He has that temperance which makes him avoid the exaggerations of his national school, while he remains the representative of all that, is best in it.
After Velazquez the most remarkable personality, as revealed by the pictures of this exhibition, is that of El Greco. This painter was not a Spaniard, and in many ways was antagonistic to the national art. A Greek, born in Crete and educated in Venice, where he absorbed a good deal of the spirit of Tintoretto, El Greco came to Spain and settled there, producing pictures which were varied though indi- vidual in style. His works cast a ray of light upon the darkness, for he had learnt in Italy not only the rich tones of the later Venetians, but also the value of clear, high-toned colours, which he uses in a manner suggestive of an acquaint- ance with early Italian frescos. The peculiarity of the later works of El Greco is that they seem to have been painted during a state of excitement, and the artist is everywhere seeking for forms and colours which will convey the agitation of his mind. In such a work as the Supper at the House of Simon (121) all thought of the representation of natural forms is cast aside in the desire to express a mental state. The long drawn-out figures, the elusive modelling, and the sharply divided colours, all are used apparently for this purpose. Even more arbitrary is the way in which colour is used in the Ci.rist led to Calvary (122). The central figure is emphasized by the violence of the contrast between the red dress and the ash-coloured flesh tones. A portrait of the painter by himself (127) shows a fine and sensitive piece of portraiture, full of nervous force, and far superior to the imitation of Tintoretto seen in 114. It is interesting to compare the two pictures of St. Francis (130 and 93), the former by El Greco and the latter by Zurbaran. The latter makes one realize the hopeless inadequacy of realism as a method of expression. Both painters represent the Saint in ecstasy against a sky, and El Greco, by avoiding naturalism, makes it possible to believe in his picture. Zurbaran merely shows us a commonplace monkish model suspended in mid air in an impossible position.
There is only one Murillo here which is at all interesting, and it is an early work, representing. St. Giles before Pope Gregory IX. (156). What a-contrast its fine solid painting and unaffected bearing of the figures present to such a dreadful picture as the painter's large work, The Prodigal Son's Return (83)! Surely this picture plumbs the depths of commonplaceness and vulgar sentimentality. Although the figures are large and, of course, painted with great ability, they make no appeal to our sense of reality.; they never had an existence anywhere, and are mere confections of paint in front of a pasteboard background. Thin: is the worst side of Spanish art, and there are many dreary examples•of it herea Pereda's Immaculate Conception (101) and the Assumption by. Antolinez (155), fit only for the decoration of a café, are painful' specimens of what was possible in Spanish art. •
It was noted at the beginning of this article that the Spaniards seemed to have very little feeling for the beauty of spaces in their pictures. There is one exception here, however—the Belshazzar's Feast (104) by Francisco Rizi. The painter had come under the influence of a Florentine, Carducci, who' had settled in Spain. In this work we see a fine appreciation of the music' of spaces made evident by light= and shade, to which the figures are entirely subordinate.
'Goya is represented by several pictures, but not by anything' of great importance. The large Duchess of .Alba (181) is unpleasantly fiat and smooth, and has not that convincing vitality which the painter could employ at times. It is to be seen, however, in the Portrait of a Lady (182), which is a work full of charm, with the warm flesh tones of the expressive face framed in the black mantilla. Equally delightful is the portrait 183, with its skilful arrangement of tones. How beautifully balanced are the masses of the dark grey back- ground, the pale grey shawl, the face, and the black hair! Neither of these portraits shows the impish side of Goya; this is seen in the large Duchess of Alba and in La Maison des fous (176).
In taking leave of this interesting exhibition, mention must be made of the catalogue, which is a model of what such a. work ought to be. Not only has Mr. Brockwell written an admirable introduction, and has given the history of each picture as far as it can be ascertained, but he has also given' extracts from the authorities concerning the authenticity of the various works. It is to be hoped that in future the winter, exhibitions at the Academy will profit by so excellent an