ON our first visit to the Modern Paintings exhibitiog at
the Gallery of this Institution, which opened on Monday last, we let our eye %vender
at will over the array of pailited visions ; turning away from the less agreeable spots, and allowing it to rest only where some pleasing piece of effect or rich colouring, or, still better, where a beautiful transcript
of nature in scenery or character, or an incident well portrayed, con- centrated the attention. The result. was a more pleasurable enjoy- ment and a favourable first impression ; which in pictures, as well as persons, is no small matter. Certainly, if our modern artists do but rarely satisfy the mind, they gratify the outward senses more than any body of painters in Europe ; and to those who seek no deeper delight than entertainment for the eye—who lounge through a gallery of pictures, as in a garden of flowers, lingering before such as attract the most, just as one stops to look and smell a dower more sweet than the rest, and then pass on—an exhibition of modern pictures fresh from the easel, their burnished frames combining with the bright colours to excite the eye in the most agreeable manlier, is one of the prime luxu- ries of the season. Nor will the more scrutinizing observer be unre- warded ; though in proportion to the intellectuality of his view will his gratification be diminished in extent, while it is increased in in- tensity. We have viewed this display in both ways—have basked in the broad blaze of colour, and examined minutely its individual points of excellence.
This year's exhibition, as a whole, is below the average in point of merit ; it has fewer works of the higher class than usual, and none in the highest—historical painting : but then, the mass of pictures dis- plays an increasing amount of executive skill, and a smaller quantity of those abortions which it is at once ludicrous and painful to see. We are here speaking only of those pictures presented for the first time ; several, as is usual only at this exhibition, and some of the best, were shown at Somerset House last year. Of these, the principal are HILTON'S " Editha and the Monks searching for the body of Ilarold (473)—a masterly and powerful picture in many respects ; " Una entering time cottage of Corecca " (sai)—one of the same painter's graceful and poetical scenes from SPENSER ; PATTEN'S " Cymon and Iphigenia " (449); Buinus's " Romeo and Juliet " (65) ; " A Nun taking her last embrace of her Parents," by Uwiss ( 186); W000's portrait of the venerable Stothard (87), here called " The Lila/aim," which office lie held in the Royal Academy ; CHARLES' LANDSEER'S " Pamela" (91); WrrniatiNGToN's delightfully true and natural picture of " Harvest" (339); and STEPHANOFF'S lively scene from Figaro (477)-811 of which were spoken of in our account el the Academy Exhibition.
Of the five hundred new pictures, we cannot number more than a score of successful attempts in design—that is, where some story is told dramatically; the great majority are scenic pictures. This class of subjects snits best the genius of the British school, where every thing depends upon the general effect, and there is less need of detail, which exacts more knowledge, skill, and.labour, than our artists com- monly possess or care to bestow. Our climate and country, too, invite the pencil by the ever varying aspects under which the scenes of homely loveliness with which our island abounds appear to the painter's eye. None of the modern schools can compare with the British in representations of external nature; and in no branch of art do our native artists evince more feeling and talent. But the superior intel- lect, skill, and labour, required to delineate charaeters and scenes in history, poetry, and romance, must ever place this class of pictures above mere imitations of inanimate nature, however true mid bsautiful. We have always nature to go to, and the best copy cannot but fall sian t of the original. Not so in scenes drawn from past events: here the painter embodies the shadowy creations of the poet, or revivifies the bygone events of history, and thus adds to our stork of ideas, bringing fleeting scenes before us in a permanent shape. Of the imaginative power and pic- torial talent requisite to delineate ideal or non-existent characters, to stamp them with the seal of truth, and present them under the influence of the passion of the moment, our artists possess comparatively but a small share. Genius such as this task requires, must always be rare ; but in the British School, unfortunately, the want of it is too sensibly felt ; and, what is worse, such as there is too often fails in its develop- ment for want of more technic skill—a knowledge of the human figure and its anatomy, and the power to draw it. But the artists are not without their excuse: they complain of want of encouragement to de- vote tune sufficient to attain the requisite degree of skill. " We would paint more pictures of this class," say they, " if there were any one to
buy them." There would be more weight in this argument, if there were more genius and skill displayed in their attempts. If there were a few more painters as complete masters of their craft as EDWIN LANDSEER, this excuse would hold good supposing the ground of complaint existed, which we think it would not. Pictures of
this class, whose execution is equal to their pretension, and their conception worthy of the subject, rarely want a purchaser; un- less indeed they cover a space of canvas too large to be taken In by the eye in a moderate-sized room. Doubtless an increased demand would bring a larger and better supply, by tempting minds to pursue painting who seek readier and loftier paths to fame. We are glad to hear, however, that public patronage of art—it is a vile term.—
is corning from quarters whence it was not looked for ; while the old channels are becoming dammed up. It is a good evidence of a health-
ful development of taste, when a plain country gentleman, with no pretensions to colinoisseurship, nor reputation as a " patron of art," gives a celebrated painter a commission for a picture of an historical event—not for the painter's name, but for the sake of the subject. Artists complain that the majority of persons, and even some of the professed " patrons of art," prefer to see reflected in the canvas some- thing of their own,—me and may dog, my house and grounds, my wife and children, my library or picture-gallery. And why not ? Those %rho desire to see perpetuated scenes and faces familiar and dear to them, will next like to have others which are strange. The person who values a picture for its own or the subject's sake, has a far truer taste than one who prizes it for the name of the painter. It is this rage fir names that diverts the golden stream from unfriended merit to swell the tide of fortune that waits on the popular idols. Bearing this in mind, we are careful to note the defective points of favourite artists, to counteract the baneful tendency of undiscrimimiting praisy, and to bring out the modest promise of rising talent. Not that we would depreciate merit in the most exalted : we desire to do justice to good qualities wherever they are found.
With this feeling, we cannot avoid adverting to the loud and general complaints of partiality on the part of the persons delegated by the Governors of this Institution to hang the pictures. We know what allowance is to be made for the complaints of disappointed artists ; but we have Seen flagrant instances of what, to use the mildest term, is in- sensibility to merit. We will only mention one striking example in the present exhibition. A cabinet picture of that class of which there are so few, " The Appointed Hour," a subject from a Venetian MS., by T. R. HERBERT (CF), is placed, not only in the " condemned cell"—as the South room is called, from its deficiency of light—but in a corner where it has little light beyond that which the genius of the artist sheds over it. We do not mean to say it is a faultless picture ; but it has no superior in the dramatic force with which the story is told, and the talent and skill evinced in the executive part. The scene is in Venice : a girl is descending the steps of a house to meet her lover; he had been serenading her, but has just fallen by the hand of a bravo ; the murdered youth lies weltering in his blood on the pavement, and the assassin has just gained the canal. The attitude in which the victim lies huddled up, as it were, is very characteristic ; the foreshortening and drawing of the figure are masterly ; the powerless bands, relaxed from their grasp of the lute, show how instantaneous and miseless has been his death, and dams give probability to the unconsciousness of the lady. Her face might have beamed brighter with love and expectation, but her gay smiling look of security is quite sufficient to make us anticipate the horrible shock that awaits her. It is a painful subject ; but such a picture deserved a first place in the exhibition, instead of being thrust as it is into a corner. The " noble " and " honourable " Governors should look into these things. As regards jnxta-position. of which artists say so much, occasional injury must be done to the effect of a picture by a more powerful being put beside a weak one, and a bright beside a dull painting.; but a good picture, however low in tone, will always vindicate itself: it is not quan- tity or intensity, but purity, transparency, and harmony of colouring, that stands out the brightest. TURNER'S wonderful picture of the " Burning of the Houses of Lords: mid Commons " taken from the opposite bank of the River, throws into shade " The Lute-player" (52), by Erry—ii group of fair damsels at a window, attired and surrounded with drapery of the most gorgeous hues ; but which look as if mild bad been the vehicle of the pigment. The brilliancy of TURNER'S picture is not owing to the mere fiery hue : if there be any doubt of this, a glance at CHALON'S picture of the smile scene, taken from Parliament Street (273), will suffice. There is fire enough, but the pictures about stiffer nothing ; the colouring is muddy and opaque. TURNER'S picture transcends its neighbours its the sun eclipses the moon and stars. The burst of light in the body of dame, and the flood of fiery radiance that forms a luminous atmosphere around all the objects near, cannot be surpassed for truth as well as burning brightness. It calls to mind the same painter's picture of the " Fiery Furnace of Nebuchadnezzar." The shower of sparks falling, the crowds on the river, the bridge and time shore, the vastness of dm bridge, and the transparent whiteness which the light gave to the stone- work, and the breadth and colour of the river, are imitated to the reality. There is :in effect of daylight in the picture, however, which is not countabalauced by the gas-lamp in the foreground ; and as to the crowds, whether they are Christians or Pagans, fine ladies or coal- heavers, we cannot tell any more than the painter : they are too bud. The execution of the picture is curious: to look at it close, it appears a confused mass of daubs and streaks of colour ; yet we are told the painter worked at it within a few inches of the canvas for hours toge- ther, without stepping back to see the effect. Tuasnut seems to paint slovenlily—daubing, as one would say., yet what caller painter pre- serves equal clearness of colour? Not that we like this scene-paintiog manlier; we should prefer being stile to look at a picture near as well as at a distance ; but such a one :is this we arc content to look at in any way the artist chooses—with all its faults.
But TortNER's picture is not the only one that " kills" its neigh- bours: one as opposite to it in tone, colour, execution, and subject, has equal power in attracting the eye in preference to those around it,
though the transition from it to them is easier. We mean the " Sleep- ing Bloodhound " (73), by EDWIN LANDSEER ; a finer piece of paint- ing, and a more living imitation of nature, never was produced. by ancient or modern. For simplicity, truth amounting almost to illusion, power, and grandeur—for what is grandeur but "greatness opposed to minuteness ?"— this picture is unrivalled. The limbs are asleep : there is no forced look of relief, no over-elaborate finish as in "
life " pictures; a defect which lessens the living look of his other picture, " The Retriever" (165)—a spaniel with a duck in his mouth :
but the broad general effect is united with the due degree of minuteness. Our space fails us. In resuming the subject, we shall notice the, rest of the pictures under their respective classes.