PALGRA.VE'S ESSAYS ON ART..
IT is a fit retribution for Mr. Arnold's censure of Mr. Palgrave that these Essays on Art should form a companion volume to the Essays in Criticism; and Mr. Palgrave must have chuckled in him- self when he wrote that the well-meaning patrons of -Theed and Marochetti would consider his remarks about them highly "pro- vincial." Yet in all the essays save one there is much greater moderation of tone than in the "famous Handbook," and the reason is one that somewhat excuses the "shower of amenities." The Handbook was written for the uneducated public. The Essays on Art are addressed to a more cultivated audience. Visitors to the International Exhibition who strolled by chance into the Fine Art galleries, and wanted to know what they might look at without exposing their ignorance, would have been utterly at a loss to comprehend the polished ivory of Gustave Planche, and would at best have tried to lift up Marochetti's drapery to see if there was a body under it. We may question if the existence of an Academy would have helped them. But Mr. Pal- grave's downright sarcasms were plain and simple to them ; they knew all about the frog and the bull ; they could appreciate the pun on the verb " puff " in the active and passive, and whether the criticism was formidable or not, it attained its object. Now that Mr. Palgrave writes for a higher public, he writes more temperately. His essay on "New Paris" shows that he does not mix up, as Mr. Arnold accused him of mixing up, the
true architecture of Paris with the false architecture of London. His essay on "Thackeray in the Abbey" proves that he can " satisfy
the reason and the taste" as well as if he was writing under the literary influence of an Academy. We do not think it would be easy for recent French art-criticism to match the following passage :—
" To gain the amount of likeness specified, the visitor will find that a double process has been cleverly followed. The forms of the salient features—mouth, nose, and forehead—with the forward set of the chin, have been coarsely exaggerated ; the minor details have been altogether suppressed. Nature generally puts her fine intellects into a comes,- pending framework ; and in a man who had reached even the years at which this great genius was prematurely taken from us, all the region of the forehead above and around the eye, and all that lies round the mouth, are carved and channelled with the memorials of a thousand thoughts and impulses ; in the beautiful phrase which Wordsworth applied to the mountains, they look 'familiar with forgotten years ;' they record a life's experiences. Only the detail about the eye diffeng greatly from that about the lips in quality ; the former being mainly a tense surface over bone, whilst the lips have of course a much. greater softness and mobility of texture."
Nor is it only in his criticism of sculpture that Mr. Palgrave
• &saps on Art. By Francis Itunitt PAIVITO, WO Fella; a; ***A ceuage, Oxford. London : Macmillan. -Shows himself capable of such subtlety and such power. We commend-his "Essay on Sensational Art " to all-who were puzzled by Mr. Lefanu's attempt to justify his worst novel by appealing to the precedent of Scott. It is no slight merit in Mr. Palgrave to have arrived by an independent train of thought at a conclusion in which he has been anticipated by Leasing. Mr. Palgrave says of Ward's "Last Sleep of Argyle "that "the main point, the nodus -of the design, was to paint the tranquil rest 'enjoyed upon the verge of death by a patriot conscious he had played his part as a man. This the artist has tried to give, not by the expression of Argyle himself, but by the contrasted figure of a courtier, whose attitude is that of vulgar surprise, which the slipping down of his at is intended to render emphatical." The very same criticism runs through that admirable passage in the Laocoon, where Leasing
Contrasts the province of poetry with that of painting. He tells us that Homer never describes Helen, but makes the effect of her "beauty testify to her beauty. But a painter, he says, who does not paint Helen herself, but paints people looking at her, fails in his art ; because it is the province of painting to show us what poetry cannot describe.
We think Mr. Palgrave would have done well to exclude from this volume pieces of merely transient interest, such as the de- scription of the Academies of 180, 1864, and 1865. Where such a mass of paintings has to be criticized, the effect of the whole essay must be rather confused, and the details cannot but be fragmentary. We may apply Mr. Palgrave's own words about the crowded state of Trafalgar Square to the essays, in which that crowded state is only too apparent. To us it seems almost impossible that justice can be done to such an astonishing picture
as " Enemy Sowing Tares" in eighteen lines. But even if justice could be done to the picture, it cannot be done to Mr. Palgrave ; we must go without that nicety of discri- mination which we have commended already, and which needs a freer scope for its expression. And even these eighteen lines contain four which might be spared, and which brings us up to one of our remonstrances with Mr. Palgrave. Why is he always answering objections? Why should criticism that Is valuable, and probably will be enduring, embalm foolish com- ments which will not outlive the season ? The result of this cus- tom in Mr. Palgrave is that many of his essays read like speeches in the House, where a cheer from Mill or a " no " from Bright entails a fresh departure from the argument. Not only this, but Mr. Palgrave is provoked out of his moderation by the absence of it in others, and puffery generally leads him into injustice. No doubt the fulsome laudation bestowed on Frith's "Railway Sta- tion" was enough to turn the stomach of a true critic. But does that excuse Mr. Palgrave for lumping together Frith and Denner ? No doubt it annoys thoughtful lovers of poetry to hear Professor Aytoun spoken of in the same breath with Tennyson. But does that justify Mr. Palgrave in a comparison of Aytoun with Sir Richard Blackmore? In one instance Mr. Palgrave must himself have been conscious of the wrong he was doing ; we allude to his criticism of Herbert. We do not of course maintain that the picture of Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law is equal to the greatest works of the same order in any part of the world— a phrase which, as Mr. Palgrave shows, would include the chief 'works of Raphael and Michael Angelo, of Giotto and Ghirltuadajo —but even we remember that Mr. Herbert's work was the first that conquered the national indifference to fresco, and perhaps the only English work that ever called forth such general admiration from the most opposite quarters of an assembly not usually given to promoting national extravagance, and we cannot but view Mr. Palgrave's praise as grudging. He admits that all, save the very greatest, might have failed in the task ; that Michael Angelo and Tintoretto might prudently have declined it, and that Christendom has hardly yet produced the painter who could do it full justice. Yet all he can say for Mr. Herbert is that he has been diligent and conscientious, that there is much in the picture that does him credit, and tkat "it is no doubt a considerable performance." No one can see better than Mr. Palgrave that there is something between this faint praise and egregious puffery, and we believe, if Mr. Palgrave would con- sider it, he would see that this something was justice.
In one essay we think M. Palgrave sins even more than in this article on Herbert, and we have particularly excepted this one essay from those to which we gave the praise of moderation.
We firmly believe that when Mr. Palgrave reads this remonstrance he will either alter his view of Thorwaldsen, or withdraw the accusations he has made against him. And with this belief we will state our objections as temperately as possible, although our love for Thorwaldsen's works, which we have studied carefully in
the only place where they are to be seen, would justify a con- siderable flow of indignation. Mr. Palgrave thinks that Thor- waldsen was a worthless man and an indifferent artist ; mean, money-loving, and licentious; without one solitary trace of intellect or feeling for art ; jealous and disparaging to his contemporaries ; a bad son, and base and callous as a lover. Now these are very serious charges against the man, and they become still more serious when we find them used as a makeweight against Thorwaldsen's powers as a sculptor. But let us see how Mr. Palgrave substantiates them. It is rather significant that when he wants to account for Thor- waldsen's lack of artistic training he is severe on Thorwaldsen's father. But two pages on, he wants to prove that Thorwaldsen was a bad son, and the father at once becomes an interesting cha- racter. He tells us that no sooner did Thorwaldsen begin to succeed in Rome, than he sanctioned the removal of his father to an asylum. But the biographer from whom this fact is quoted states that even then Thorwaldsen's weekly outgoings considerably exceeded his receipts. In another place Mr. Palgrave says that Thorwaldsen "bundled a sick child out of doors because the coward thought she had the cholera," and adds, by way of emphasis, that this act was in perfect artistic keeping with the rest of the man's character. The truth is, that during an epi- demic in Italy, when the feelings of all the country were so excited about cholera that whole towns were barricaded against travellers, Thorwaldsen had a model to work from, and finding her indisposed, got her out of the house as quickly as possible. This may be in artistic keeping with his character, as the greatest men have often shared in the popular panics of their time, and Luther thought a cripple possessed. But when we find another of the things in artistic keeping is that Thorwaldsen "broke his word [which the biographer calmly surmises he never meant to keep] to the Crown Prince," we are bound to be more particular. How, then, did Thorw-aldsen break his word? The Crown Prince of Denmark urged him velar strongly to visit Copenhagen, and he promised to visit it during the summer, in order to relieve him- self from the Crown Prince's urgency. And this is to stagger the devoutest hero-worshipper in Great Britain
When Mr. Palgrave comes to the artistic side of Thorwaldseres character he is full of similar statements. To show that Thor- waldsen had no feeling for art, he tells us that he "grumbled at the honourable work of restoring the marbles of Bgina as a thankless task.'" It is true that Thorwaldsen used these two words, but it was in no grumbling spirit. "It is a thankless task," he said, "to restore antique works, for if it be not well done it were better left undone ; and lilt be well done, it is as if nothing had been done." And he did it so well that a little time after he was unable to point out his own additions. Of Thorwaldsen' s own works Mr. Palgrave says that they are Lempriere at second hand. Be it so, but we have heard of a poet who took his classical mythology from the same source, and yet contrived to write about the gods of Greece much as they might have been supposed to speak. Mr. Palgrave instances so few of Thorwaldseu's works that we presume he has not made the acquaintance of the greatest, except through the fallacious medium of engravings. He half mentions the two " Ganymedes," never once the "Night and Morning," "The Hebe," or " The Triumph of Alexander." Yet if we take the first of the " Ganymedes," it is impossible to look on the "light limbs" of the graceful boy, the lithe, almond form, the young muscles swelling under the waxen skin like buds of spring roses, as he holds the long-necked pitcher over his head, without a feeling that the sculptor of that figure believed at least in beauty, or had that genius which enabled him to impart belief.
It is because we admit Mr. Palgrave's claims to rank as our best critic on sculpture that we have entered this protest. We do not wish even to record against him the verdict which, if another man had been before us, we should have delivered unsparingly. But having done this, we think ourselves entitled to claim a hear- ing, to appeal from Mr. Palgrave reviewing a book for a paper which values spicy articles more than critical appreciation, to Mr. Palgrave weighing the life-long labours of an artist, and to demand that Thorwaldsen may be sheltered from that "shower of amenities" which no longer beats on the head of Marochetti.