THE WATER-COLOUR SOCIETY.
UNLEss the doctrine said to have been lately propounded by a Royal Academician, that landscape painting is fast dying out in England, be accepted as true, some surprise may be permitted that all the late vacancies at this society should have been filled by figure painters. Perhaps the existing members are chiefly anxious to be in the fashion, and therefore follow the Academy in despising landscape; or perhaps no landscape painter has applied for admission. Some may be disposed to add that perhaps the figure painters actually admitted are of super-eminent merit. But considerable as is the ability displayed by them, it is insuffi- cient to account for their exclusive selection, upon any probable estimate of the qualification of their landscape-painting rivals. The society would of course dispute the right of any public complaint of their proceedings, but the penalty upon any institution that becomes eminent is that its actions are watched with jealousy. And though they are bound by no legal obligation, they have yet a moral and professional duty to dis- charge to the body of outside artiste. The newest Associates are Mr. Lamont and Mr. E. K. Johnson, both (it must be confessed) men of ability and promise. Mr. Lamont was already known by his Picture of '‘ Bored to Death," and perhaps his present fame rests more securely on that picture than on his " Echos du Temps Passé" (11) exhibited here. The latter, however, is a very well composed work, and the expression of the old cures face, as he resigns himself to the pleasant memories evoked by the young lady at the spinet, is most praiseworthy. Of Mr. E. K. Johnson's pictures the most successful is a single figure of a "Girl Reading a Play-bill" (254), which by its simplicity and freedom from affec- tation recalls work of that class by French or Flemish artists. In putting together a number of figures he has yet much to learn : and is it a fact that gentlefolk of one hundred years ago looked so very like stablemen and housemaids of the present time? (89.) The colour of the latter picture is out of harmony. There is some power- ful painting in his "Study of Yew Trees" (274). Mr. Johnson, like many other of our young artists, has hitherto been known only as an illustrator of magazines, a somewhat perilous school. Mr. J. D. Watson, who, it will be remembered, exhibits a remarkable pic- ture at the Academy, sends here a clever drawing called "Something Wrong" (2), a picturesquely attired musician anxiously examin- ing his violin. Some of the difficulties of painting flesh in water colours may be gathered from an inspection of this man's face. Mr. Watson's second picture (207) has less of real life in it, but is nevertheless well conceived in colour and line. There is much that is good in Mr. Smallfield's " Girl with Raspberries" (19), especially in the painting of the dress : but it is not very clear what is pass- ing in the child's mind, and the flesh colour is somewhat opaque. The glow of the skin comes chiefly from the blood that is beneath, and in suggesting this no one excels Mr. Haag, who may this year be congratulated on having been allowed his own choice of sub- ject. All his figure pieces (6, 12, 23, and 182) possess the charm that is given by thoroughly good drawing. And nothing can be prettier than the action of mother and child, for whim the father of this family of wandering Arabs (123) makes music while he leads their camel. Mr. Haag never overlooks the accidents of reflected or transmitted light ; in his large architectural drawing (149) he has even laid too uniform stress on the dull red reflected lights, giving a too mannered appearance to a drawing in other respects excellent. There is remarkable force, got by no exaggeration or heaviness in painting, in Mr. A. Fripp's three children who- mount the hills overhanging some sea-side village in the Isle of Purbeck, and bring their father's dinner with them to the quarries (317). "La Campagna " (213) is an Italian goat-herd fallen asleep in a shady nook, while his goats butt each other unreproved —a pleasant bit of pastoral life. Mr. Fripp is never common-place, and appears above all things to shun the more ordinary tricks of the "shop." Mr. W. Goodall's "History of the Cross" (84), a nun clad in black serge telling the history to two attentive children whose mother (with baby in arms) stands at a Breton farm- house door, is a well composed and unaffected picture, distinguished by great largeness of treatment. It is drawn and painted with the artist's usual knowledge and tasteful care, and is on the whole the beat work he has ever exhibited. His " Evening " (312), is chiefly remarkable for the justness of the relation in point of tone between the young woman's head and the evening sky behind. Mr. J. Gilbert's "Venetian Council" (129), with its broad masses of scarlet and black robes and gray-gold tapestry, has nothing very new in it, but is not the less pleasing. His " Agincourt " (137) is a mere peg, on which to hang old armour and flaunting banners ; in a way, however, that only himself can do it. Mr. Topham's " Gipsies' Toilet" (128) is gracefully posed, and Mr. Shields has a clever picture with a catchpenny title (259) of a girl bird-keeping. The success of Mr. F. Walker's " Phillip " appears to have made him indifferent to further fame. There is at least no discoverable point of view from which his coarsely painted " Bouquet " (25) appears worthy of its place.
The awkward and the ludicrous are sufficiently obvious in Mr. B. Jones's pictures, and require no interpreter. They go far to prevent a due appreciation of the remarkable beauty and lumi- nous quality of his colour and of his power of genuine expression, which is visible through all the bad drawing and (worst of all) the affectation which deform his pictures. "La Chant d'Amour " (72) is evidently highly valued by the members of the society who, in giving it an honourable position, have also taken care to surround it with the most harmless and washed-out of drawings. It possesses indeed, in a high degree, all the artist's good qualities ; but it is also marred by all his worst faults, and the question will at last suggest itself, what is the value of a kind of art which thinks not at all of nature, but only of some of the qualities of certain bygone artists? " Zephyrus and Psyche" (304) is quite a monstrosity.
They who live among the mountains certainly have an advan- tage over those who merely visit them for a season. They see
many things that the latter can at most but vaguely guess at ; they actually witness the storm and hurricane which the summer tourist traces only in the furrowed face of the mountain side. To him indeed the bad weather of summer rambles is generally a trouble, too bad for out-door sketching, not bad enough (because too tame) to inspire him with any lively impression of the fury and grandeur of a great mountain storm. Mr. Whittaker has done what too few of our landscape painters do; he has familiarized himself with his favourite Welsh hills in their winter as well as in their summer garb, and now exhibits a "Snow Storm" (27), which he surely must have studied (though he could scarcely have painted it) on the spot and in the winter. Painting "on the spot" is un- doubtedly a necessary part of an artist's work, but it is not his whole business ; equally important is it to observe without brush in hand. This by the way. Mr. Whittaker's picture is remarkable not only for the novelty of its subject, but also for its intrinsic truth and vigour ; its atmosphere bleached by the driving snow, its desolate and ragged stretch of moor and inky torrent. The tender and sunlit grays of summer-day light are excellently painted in his "River Llugwy " (214), and give a true atmospheric appear- ance to the landscape, a result not necessarily flowing from the use of much gray or neutral tint ; for these, like others, may be opaque and unsuggestive of space, if not opposed by true and lively contrast of colour. To some such cause is due the compara- tive ineffectiveness of gray tints so abundantly used by Mr. Duncan. His pictures are generally skilful in arrangement, his forms generally large and well drawn, but his colour is insipid. His pictures used to possess more of the silvery quality of veritable daylight, and more frequent instances of that nice observation which in his picture, "Overtaken by the Tide" (120), displays itself in the prismatic light that plays round the sheep and shepherd on the right hand. They are stand- ing in the rainbow, and of course partake of its colour. At the same time he betrays a want of observation regarding the rainbow common to most landscape painters, from Turner downwards. A person looking at a rainbow has the sun • directly at his back, and the shadows of all objects in front of him converge (in perspective) towards the centre of the bow, or more properly towards the centre of its chord. But in this gallery, though there are several rainbows painted, this simple fact is invariably neglected, and shadows are cast in such direc- tions as would make the rainbows impossible. True, a right direction given to shadows will not of itself make a picture, but there is a certain standard of general information from which the artist cannot depart without offence.
Mr. (I. Fripp when he paints mountains most frequently paints them under sunshine ; but he knows by experience, or instinctively divines, what they endure at times from wind and rain and the pelting of the pitiless storm. He understands therefore the signifi- cance of the deep scoring on a mountain side, of the boulders and debris scattered about its foot, and the cap of snow that covers the topmost crags. They plainly speak of what has been, and of the slow ruin that follows perpetual warfare. By dwelling on these characteristics Mr. Fripp imparts a sentiment of melancholy to his mountain drawings ; a sen- timent none the less pronounced for • being accompanied by rich colour and golden sunshine, as in "Glen Rosa" (131), and in the smaller and similarly treated picture of "Loch Callater " (320). One is tempted to attribute to these mountains a certain personality, and to see displayed in them a patience and calm en- durance of never ceasing hostility. A noble breadth of treatment and a skilful use of chiaroscuro distinguish these pictures ; and in a yet greater degree two Thames drawings by the same artist, "Near Shiplake " (280), and " Streatley " (36). The former looks like an unstudied fragment taken at hazard, an appearance to be secured only by great art ; the latter has the true silvery gray of daylight, and shows how the essential beauties of a corn- field are to be rendered without tormenting the eye with unavailing attempts to paint each separate ear.
After all Mr. A. Hunt is the most progressive of the society's members. He has apparently studied Turner to some purpose, digested him, and made him his own. Thus, in his " liarlech " (160), the bold and original composition, the full and tender colour, the spatiousness of the sunny atmosphere, recall not unduly the older artist. And the reminiscence is even stronger in the masterly sketch founded on the poem in which Browning dreamed a meaning for Edgar's song, " Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came." A beautiful gray drawing of Durham (252), another called "Climbing Shadows" (309), the very soul of calm seclusion, and a third, " Tynemouth Pier" (281), with its pale glare of cloudy twilight on the face of the tossing ocean, all deserve special notice and careful study. The two last are thoroughly poetical. Space fails to do more than call attention to Mr. Dodgson's very sunny and tenderly felt " Pastoral " (125) ; Mr. Glennie's " Pola " (144), and others, all good in colour ; Mr. Boyce's "Nook on the Thames " (292) ; Mr. W. Evans' " Eton" (65) ; a spirited sketch by Mr. D. Cox (5) ; and Mr. J. Holland's masterly and