16 MARCH 1878, Page 21


IT is to be regretted that the Royal Academy did not think fit to send a representative of England to the Rubens tercentenary

* Art, Revue Hebdomadaire Jilusfre. Troisreme Anode. Tome III. Paris and London.

festival at Antwerp last August ; it can do no harm and must be some good to join in any recognition of a genius who belongs not to his own country merely, but to the republic of Art and the world in general, and to rejoice with those that do rejoice in the patriotic enthusiasm of the Flemings. The series of articles on this great painter and his works, contributed by known connois- seurs, and illustrated by engravings and fac-similes from drawings, forms, without disrespect to the annual exhibitions of Paris and London be it spoken, the chief feature in the quarterly volume of L'Art now before us. M. Alphonse 1Vauters gives us a concise and in- teresting memoir of the master, while MM. Xavier Reul and Henry Hyman discuss his works and the engravings of them made in his own school. Three towns, Antwerp, Cologne, and Siegen, lay claim to the honour of having been the birthplace of Rubens ; but though it seems now to be clear that not Antwerp, but ISiegen, may rightly boast itself the favoured spot, yet there is no question of the propriety of celebrating his birthday on its three-hundredth anniversary in that city, where he lived, worked, and lies buried ; which is also the historical centre of Flemish patriotism, and the most appropriate scene for national glorification.

Like many great men, Sir Peter Paul seems to have had a remarkable woman for his mother, whose hand can be traced in the admirable education of her sons (judging by results), and who was also quite an example of feminine devotion to a hus- band whom it would not be going out of one's way to call a ; scoundrel, whose life she saved by her devotion when it was im- perilled by a criminal intrigue with Anna of Saxony, the wife of William the Silent. Born, then, at Siegen, June 29th, 1577, Peter Paul Rubens passed his juvenile life between that town, Cologne, and Antwerp, where, after his father's death, his mother finally settled, and where he was first placed under the instruction of Adam van Noort, with whom he remained four years, after which he passed four more in the school of Otho Vennius, the prince of contemporary Belgian painters. At the same time his general education cannot have been neglected, as we find him in later years understanding seven languages, with a keen intellectual interest in many subjects not specially connected with art. From under this master's bands he went to Italy, and during his eight years' residence there was intrusted with a mission to the Court of Philip III. of Spain by the Duke of Mantua, after which, on his return, he was appointed painter to that prince (Vincent Gonzaga), with whom he was a great favourite, and whom he only left when recalled to Flanders by the death of his mother, in 1609. Soon after his first marriage he painted "The Elevation of the Cross," and from that time his renown and his work went on increasing, his time being divided between painting and many diplomatic and ceremonial missions, some of which, as all know, brought him to England, and for which his elegant person, agree- able manners, and Court accomplishments well fitted him.

The amount of work which he produced in spite of all these distractions is amazing, even allowing for the necessary assistance of pupils ; and perhaps certain qualities, or rather a want of certain qualities in his work may be traced to the effects of the exuberant life, lived in the world and for the world, which im- pressed its own effect too vividly to leave room for the contempla- tion of an ideal beyond and above that life. It may be said that Leonardo da Vinci also lived in the world, and spent his mighty powers in many ways ; but his works in painting are comparatively few, and may almost be counted on the fingers, so that we know he gave much time and thought to the patient elaboration of an ideal in each, and to searching for the beauty which he found the best. Immense and overpowering as is the genius of Rubens when con- templated as a whole, we cannot agree with M. X. Reul that his works were equal to those of the great idealists, with the addition of a " life " which they had not, and that if he copied Michelangelo's works when in Italy, " c'est qu'il voudrait

agrandir donner le secret de la vie h ce qui n'est, pour lui, qu'un eloquent vraisemblance." We doubt whether the master himself would endorse this statement. Does M. Reul really mean that Rubens's admirable portraitures of fleshy humanity, full of fire and force as they are, realise a grand ideal of beauty, un- attained by the supreme figures of the Sistine ? We lay stress upon beauty, because after all, beauty in the highest sense is the end and aim, the sole raison tretre of Art ; and in so far as a picture, otherwise fine, leaves on your mind a sense of want of beauty somewhere, so far that picture is inferior to a work equally expressive of power and emotion, with the addition of beautiful form. And by ideal beauty we do not mean any refined imagination of something outside and superior to Nature, for it is obvious that "what can we reason from but from what we know ?" and there is in the reality of Nature an ideal, that is the possible selection of the finest developement of natural forms by which a given emotion or scene can be expressed, which ideal when sincerely sought and found is at the same time more truly real, because more universal, and so to speak typical, than the exact portrait of any one face picked up for picturesque expression, without regard to fineness of form. This ideal Rubens was far from seeking,—life itself had too strong a hold on him ; "le pittoresque eat son point de depart," says M. Reul, and in this consisted his immense originality, that he sublimated the picturesque, and made it grand by splendour of colour and force of drawing. He could not get above his surroundings, and from these he derived that touch of vulgarity which Sir Joshua Reynolds complains of in his criticism on Rubens, else so enthusiastic and full of admiration.

"The pictures of Rubens have this effect on the spectator, that he feels himself in nowise disposed to pick out and dwell on the defects," he says in his Tour in Flanders ;" and continues, "his style ought no more to be blamed for not having the sublimity of Michelangelo, than Ovid should be censured for not being Virgil." Let us be thankful that we have a Rubens, and not wish him Michelangelo, for from the latter we should never have got what the former gives Us ; but at the same time, when compari- sons are made, we must look to a high standard, and remember what is the true object of art. Reynolds continues However, it must be acknowledged that he wanted many excellences which would have perfectly united with his style. Among these we may reckon beauty in his female characters ; sometimes, indeed, they make approaches to it ; they are healthy and comely women, but seldom, if ever, possess any degree of excellence. The same may be said of his young men and children ; his old men have that sort of dignity which a busby beard will confer; but he never possessed a poetical conception of character. In his representations of the highest characters of tho Christian and fabulous world, instead of something above humanity, which might fill the idea which is conceived of such beings, the spectator finds little more than mere mortals, such as he meets with every day."

To this it may be objected that persons in ancient days looked much as they do now, and so very likely they did,—and if we met a hero walking in the street, and not striking a heroic atti- tude, we should not know him ; but the painter's business, who, as it were, monumentalises a lifetime in a moment, is to give not merely the character, but a concentration of all the finest attri- butes of the character to his hero, and to his accessories, human or other, so as to raise the whole every-day scene to a heroic level for ever. The Panathenaic procession may have been but a big Lord Mayor's Show, though probably the Greeks, who did all things well, did that well too ; it is certain at least that it was human and liable to failures of all sorts, but Phidias has made it heroic for ever, by treating it in the noblest possible style. It is the same with Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel,—the simplest actions performed by the accessory figures are made noble by treatment.

In this same volume is an interesting paper on the Platonic ideal in Art, in which M. Veron maintains that because Plato held the human conception of an ideal type of beauty to be derived from a reminiscence of a former state of existence, there- fore the conception of the ideal falls to the ground so soon as the former state of existence ceases to be believed in. This does not, however, follow, for it is perfectly possible to arrive at the con- ception of a type without any previous notion of a former world in which such types were the only existences. Many who know nothing of Plato have formed this idea for themselves, from study of great art and the various developments of the human and other forms. A botanist will tell you that there is a perfect form of flower in each species, which few individuals ever reach ; and developments of human beings are practically as infinite as developments of flowers, each with a perfect type attainable for every development. Add to this that all such theoretical perfec- tion, in Art at least, is relative—relative to fitness of time and place, according to the circumstances of pictorial and plastic representation—and we have a fair, workable theory of "the ideal" by which to guide our steps.

M. Millet's work, realistic as in a certain sense it is, shows how much may be done by a high poetical view of the subject ; that is, if we may take as correct M. Jules Buisson's view of him, as quoted in L'Art :—"11 a raison de se plaindre, quand on l'accuse de ne pas voir lea charmes de la campagne ;' non seulement ii lea volt, mais il les voit en homme et a travers l'homme, et il ecoute ' le cri de la t,erre.'" A la campagne, M. Buisson supposes 'Millet to say, in vindication of himself :— " La late de l'homme contra lea dle-ments de la metier; avec sea &Romances de servitude et de conquete, eat le plus sonvent solitaire,

n'ayant pour temoin, apres Dien, que des serviteurs mnets, les bates domestiques et familieres. La terre eat si vaste, l'homme soul est ái petit, qua l'andace et la persistence de son attaque prennent, dans Is silence des champs, tan caractere august/. De la, sans dente, is naturelle solenniti de anon mange, et de sues tableaux. Les mots de lutte et de conquete expriment d'ailleurs, un fait le plus sonvent inconscient

ment line intention. Do mama quo notre action sur lea bates travail- louses a pris Fair d'une alliance qui se perdrait dans la unit des temp; de mama notre combat avec la terra, censure' par an ordre divin, no s'appelle plus qu'un manage. Le marine de is Terre et de l'Homme, manage parfois rude et violent, pas plus exempt de querelles quo lea autres manages faits an ciel, mais toujours d6bordant d'amour,—voills en real le sujet de ma peintnre."

This is a noble suggestion of what landscape art may express, worthy of notice in these days, when costume-peasants are pain- fully prevalent.

In conclusion, we would suggest, as L'Art is so severe, and rightly so, on English inaccuracies, that there is such a proverb as "Medecin, gueria-toi toi-meme," and that a careful editor should not have let slip a mistake like " l'Amour et lea jeunes files" for "Love and the maiden ;" such a mistranslation as "La rave magique de Merlin" for "the beguiling of Merlin," and the careful quoting in a French sentence of the English word "speech" as "le speech."