THE ALTHORP PICTURES.
TN the spacious gallery of the South Kensington Museum in
which the pictures lent by Earl Spencer during the repairs at Althorp are exhibited, the visitor feels himself at once in good old-world company, very exclusive, of the highest ton, and not too numerous. None of the crowding and none of the glare of an ordinary "exhibition" disturb the leisurely contemplation with which one may fall to a perusal of many famous and some fair faces. Passing through the wide halls, with their prim rows of art-treasures in glass, and potters' ware, and precious metals, with a side-walk which is a grove of musical instruments, seem- ingly resting against the walls until the hands that have so long been dust take again to tuning and thrumming them, one becomes ✓ ather oppressed by the multitude of objects and their lifelessness. The first glimpse of the portraits, so living, and yet so mellowed by time, —not, like the National Portrait Gallery, put away in a series of condemned cells upstairs, with an approach about as cheerful as the underground passage at Clapham Junction, but easy of access, and as it were, looking on,—is very pleasant. The beautiful or curious lifeless things outside associate themselves with many of the pictures, and social and historical elements of interest blend with the artistic. One may walk backwards through a couple of centuries, and even stray over the borders of a third, followed by the smiling or the serious eyes of those old-world men and women whom the great painters have set upon their canvas in perpetual memory, and even see certain among them doubly in the faces of the painters themselves, who keep them company upon the walls. John Churchill and Sarah Jennings regard each other from oppo- site sides of the gallery, the one with the graceful repose of Vanloo, the other with the conscious smirk of Kneller, and it is hard to look at them and believe that the Duke could ever have sunk to the level of Macaulay's description of him, or of his own pathetic lamentation over himself ; or the Duchess have been the -avaricious, strong-minded, coarse, scheming, bullying, powerful woman whom nothing ever conquered save the dull obstinacy of Queen Anne. The "prince of commanders" is young and hand- some in his portrait,—though he has the pouting mouth which seems to have come into fashion with the periwig of the period ;— with ardent eyes, and an air of easy authority. His well-worn breastplate sits easily upon him—the artist had too much taste to dress him in the brand-new clothes which form the glory of modern portraiture—his dinted, dingy helmet lies on the table, the blue ribbon which crosses his breast is faded ; no accessory is permitted to injure the importance of the man.
It is difficult to feel much confidence in Kneller's portraits, because one cannot believe that all the men and women of his time had button-hole mouths with scarlet lips, any more than one can believe in Sir Peter Lely's languishing beauties ; or looking at Sir Peter's own curled and majestic portrait, that he sat painting in that heroic attitude, with drapery for four disposed impossibly about his imposing form. Here are two portraitsof Duchess Sarah, divided by one of her mother, a lugubrious, ugly old lady, with a penurious expression, a long, thick nose, and wisps of dry-mud- coloured hair, whom no good-fortune has been able to elate,— not a pleasant mother-in-law, one feels at a glance. The two portraits differ in many particulars ; several years lie between them. In one there is infinite sauciness and self-assertion ; the tossed head, the tilted nose, tell of "potentialities," and we can-
not rely on the rest of the face. The second portrait, fuller, fairer—but Sarah Jennings is no beauty in either—is sedate and confident, full of assured power ; and it displays the profuse long hair which the Duchess cut off, in one of her frequent fits of rage, to vex her husband, and which was found, after his death, care- fully preserved in a cabinet, —a more agreeable form of fidelity than that which his daughter's assumed, when she tended the waxen effigy of the deceased Congreve's gouty foot. That future silly Duchess, heroine of a hundred battles with her redoubtable mother, and object, no doubt, of her supreme contempt, looks prim and pretty in her portrait, which hangs above those of the mother and grandmother, where the child in satin petticoat and chain of pearls simpers primly at a stiffly-held flower, for the amuse- ment of the baby Lady Anne. The Lady Henrietta's high, straight forehead and large, dark eyes resemble her father's. The six portraits form a curious group, with a crowd of associations, grand and mean, glorious and shameful, sublime and ridiculous, about the most realisable of the great people of the past. The arrangement of the pictures is pleasantly desultory ; one has not to think and remember according to dates. Here is Angelica Kaufmann, with her fibreless character and her ill- fortune writ large in her face. If there be any truth in Miss Thackeray's pretty fancies about Angelica, and if Sir Joshua was in love with her, he must have been a singularly honest lover, who resorted to none of the flatteries of his art, for her portrait is that of a plain young woman, with a feeble expression and a con- tracted lower jaw. The "Beautiful Duchess" (of Devonshire) is represented in several stages of life, from that lovely pic- ture of the child dancing on her mother's knee, delighted with the gambols of her pet dog, and the more quaint but less attractive one of the prim little maid, in mob-cap and pink ribbons, with slim, folded arms, and anxious air of sitting for her likeness, to the florid Sir Joshua portrait, painted when the fame of her beauty was at its height ; and the out-of-door Gains- borough portrait, in which the artist achieved his most difficult, daring, and successful feat. It is singular that while all these portraits of a woman whose name is a spell to conjure with are supremely charming, not one of them is positively beautiful, and they are all different. The Reynolds portrait, in which the Duchess, splendidly attired, with rouged cheeks and elaborately- dressed hair, plumed and jewelled, pauses at the top of a flight of steps she is about to descend, is wonderfully brilliant. The queen of society beams on the beholder in all her grandeur, splendour, and vivacity ; but the radiant face is not by any means faultless, and it is not the same—or Sir Joshua did not see it se—as the brightly pensive, fascinating face, with slightly smiling lips and musing eyes, which Gainsborough has painted, and of which one could never tire. His picture, whose simplicity is a triumph of skill, is a feast for the eyes and the imagination, which follows the fair woman in her hour of sylvan leisure, and sees her pause in her stroll among the trees to rest against the stem of one of them, in an attitude of incomparable, easy grace, while she is full of her own thoughts and fancies. She wears not a single ornament, not one of those haphazard jewels which only Gainsborough among English painters knows how to drop by happy accident about his sitter's dress ; Sir Joshua's sitters take "sets" out of their jewel-boxes and put them on, of formal purpose—the exquisite figure is draped in a gown of no texture that ever was woven, of no tint that ever was dyed, and without the slightest hint of mantua-maker's interference. The Reynolds is a little pretentious ; the Gainsborough is the perfection of grace ; and the portrait by Pine of the Duchess, then Lady Georgiana Spencer, aged sixteen, cannot be like her, for it gives her blue eyes, while in the other portraits the conquering orbs, irre- sistible alike by dukes and dustmen, are dark. A cluster of Spencers, the Countess with her two daughters (the beautiful Duchess, and the Countess of Bessborough), painted by Kauf- mann, and "Charles John, Viscount Althorp," a sturdy boy, with a frank, happy face, and a brown hand thrust into a blue sash, form a group inferior in interest only to that of which "Malbrook " is the centre. Here are the first Countess Spencer, with such lovely creases in her speaking face; and the Lady Henrietta, with sly eyes and a humorous mouth, who looks as if she knew all about every one in the gallery, and might be easily coaxed into telling. Then there is a Viscount Althorp in a Vandyek costume, with long hair, who is much too modern for his dress ; Countess Lavinia, in a delicious mob-cap, and nestling among furs ; and a perfectly delightful portrait of the Honourable William Poyntz, whose features remind one of 'Thornhill's portrait of Jack Sheppard, but have a thoughtful and trustworthy expression. He
leans against a tree, in an elegant attitude, and the completest of shooting-costumes, according to the notions of his time; his crossed feet are daintily clad in soft, close-fitting, thin boots; his gun rests easily in his clasped hands, and he is speckless from head to foot. He has apparently taken out his dog and his gun to help him in hard thinking. Here is Richard Burke, who died at six-and- thirty, and was immortalised by his illustrious father's grief,— handsome, and refined, with set, stern mouth, irresponsive to his fine, dark, smiling eyes. In the range of pictures above these, and beyond them, a far different epoch reproduces itself. Walker's Cromwell, with his gloomy face and the historical warts, is being buckled into his armour ; and Dobson's Earl of South- ampton wears a lady's scarf, rich in gold and colours, with grace- ful knotted fringe, across his mailed breast. Lady Dorothy Sydney laughs at us, through roses, over a door-way ; she would be more effective if her bat-brim were not apparently lined with blue paper, and caught in the picture-frame. Charlotte de la Tremouille, Countess of Derby, ugly, buxom, and brave, looks resolutely from her stinted square of canvas, reminding us in an instant of Peveril of the Peak ; and not far from her is a superb portrait of Sir Andrew Cuyp, in a steeple-crowned hat and a black doublet, which might have been expressly made for Colonel Bridgenorth.
Can that fine portrait of Philip II. of Spain, by Sir Antonio Moro, which represents him with dark hair and beard, be genuine ? The painter gives Philip an unpleasant face, but the figure and the dress are elegant and refined. We have but to glance across the room, from the slayer to the victim, and a crowd of associa- tions gather upon us as our eyes rest upon Lucas de Heere's portrait of Lady Jane Grey,—a most disenchanting picture, for the "Epiphany Queen," who sits stiffly, reading, in a red velvet gown cut straight across her cheat, with the hard line, and defici- ency of tucker common to the men and women of the "low-necked" Tudor period, is affected, self-conscious, and,—fat. These are not the only paintings in this choice collection which recall the tragic side of history ; there is much in the air as we pass along their ranks beside the rustle of Court trains and the nodding of plumes. A painting, "after Vandyck," of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, as he lay dead, his handsome face still and peaceful, with the love-locks spread out upon the pillow, and the white sheet smothed over his breast, is one of the most beautiful. King James's "dog," Prince Charles's " Steenie," looks little like a murdered man ; there is awfulness indeed, but no distortion in the face. Again we look across the gallery, and find a link of association in the portrait of Anne Carr. A fair, sleek, blue- eyed, sweet, placid-looking woman was the Countess of Bedford, the daughter of the vilest of all King James's favourites, Robert Carr, and of the wont woman of all his depraved Court.
'The Painters have a quiet corner to themselves, with only beautiful Benvenuto Cellini to intrude on them, as he exultingly handles the torso, which is reproduced many times outside. No one would find himself more at home in the Museum halls than the gifted and intractable artist in the precious metals. Vandyck, painted by himself, handsome, elegant, weak, and dissolute ; the "Prince-Painter," by Vandyck, much refined by the nobler and purer artist, and bedecked with his Chamberlain's key ; Joas van Cleeve, painted by himself, with a crafty, calculating countenance ; Verrio, who writes "The Painter "across his canvas, with a pain- fully-studying face, and almost skeleton hands ; Sir Peter Lely, with the smirk of all his portraits ; Hogarth, making his sketches in the Green Park, and with such undue importance given to his legs that one suspects they were in reality his weak point ; Sir Joshua as a youth, and in his prime. These are all full of interest and association, but they are eclipsed by two, which, in certain senses, are the gems of the whole collection. One is a portrait of Watteau, with a wonderful, light, cynical smile on the face, which is finely cut and perfectly trivial. He is apparently tuning the the instrument to whose music his hooped and powdered im- possible people are to dance—" never to leave off dancing, tra, la is " — and he presents an astonishingly artificial appear- ance, as of unending fete ehampetre and never-ceasing fancy- ball. The other is the portrait of himself which Murillo painted for his children. This is a picture never to be forgotten, grave, living, full of colour and expression, a revelation of the man to his fellows for all time. Standing slightly sideways within the oval of n picture-frame painted on the canvas, one perfect hand laid lightly and easily upon the ledge of it, the large face of the painter, with full, mobile lips, and black, contemplative eyes, looks seriously at the beholder, with a quiet realism of which no words can give any idea. At a first glance, one fancies that the calm man in the black-velvet doublet is going to speak ;
when one has looked long at the wonderful portrait, it is difficult to believe that he has not spoken.