THE EXHIBITION SYSTEM.
THE painter's purgatory, the exhibition-season, has commenced : the artists are now undergoing the annual torment of being suspended upon the tenterhooks of Hanging-Committees, uncertain whether they shall fall to the ground or be hung up to the ceiling ; and almost inclined to prefer to either alternative that total exclusion which is the lot of many. The works for exhibition at the British Institution were sent in to the gallery this week ; and all but the favoured few, whose names are passports to the best places "on the line," are now suffering the pangs of doubt and fear as to the fate of their productions, in addition to their natural anxiety as to the success of their efforts. The rejected pictures—and the catalogue will doubtless contain the stereotyped ex- pression of regret at the number of works of merit returned for want of room—have some chance of being received at the "Refuge " in Suf- folk Street, though the companionship and treatment to be encountered in that limbo of conceit and arrogance can only be endured by the desperate ; but for pictures badly hung there is no hope : such as were condemned to the "black hole" at the Academy last year have a chance of being brought to light at the British Institution, though but a small one ; this failing, the Pantheon or a shop-window is the only resource. Artists cannot expect always to sell their performances, but they may reasonably hope to get them seen ; which, since there is a Royal Academy, none can be sure of but members of this Academy, or of the two or three little " societies " of exhibiters, who form a very small proportion of the great body of artists,—always excepting the privileged few who enjoy, as if by purchase, fee-simple of the walls in the British Gallery.
Exhibition is the means of existence to art : public galleries are the lungs, where the life-blood of genius, exposed to the atmosphere of public opinion, is vivified and purified, making its current flow with a healthy and vigorous action. A work of art unseen has no being to any but the producer ; and even the artist himself is not sure of his work till it has stood the test of exhibition. " Well, I'm come to see your last new-born," said a friend to a painter ; who replied, "I don't regard my bantling as born till it has seen the light in the Gallery." What publication as to the author, and performance to the musical com- poser, exhibition is to the artist : it is the arena where he tries his strength i
th against others, and ascertains the progress he has made ; re- ceiving a fresh stimulus to exertion. By knowing what others think of his work, he is enabled to see excellences and defects in it that would not otherwise have struck him: "I always detect the faults in my pic- ture," said a painter, " when any one comes to criticize it, before a word is said." There are some artists who assume a sort of superiority on the ground of not exhibiting their productions : they are wise in their generation.
The artists complain, and with reason, that there are-not sufficient facilities for exhibiting their works ; while the public aver that the quantity of pictures at the Royal Academy show is fatiguing. Both evils are remediable, and by the same means—more frequent exhibi- tions. During " the season," when the public and the press are dis- tracted with the various claims on their attention, there are five annual collections of works of art, besides incidental exhibitions ; but from July to January there is not a single display of modern pictures visible. Why not have two sets of exhibitions in the year? The autumnal ones might be a sort of rehearsal ; consisting of "studies " as well as complete works, and of pictures and sculpture that had been seen before • and the admission might be gratuitous, by tickets obtainable from the exhibitors. The spring exhibitions should then be made more select, and none but finished productions be admitted.
The proposed free and perennial exhibition, where every artist might rent by the year a space of wall, whereon be could place his own pic- tures as he pleased, and to which the public would have free access as at the National Gallery, is a better plan; because the performances of each artist would be together, and not only would the heterogeneous jumble of styles be avoided, but the merits of the respective painters would make.. a stronger impression seen in the mass. Mr. PYRE, the landscape-painter, has suggested an ingenious plan for increasing the available space in the existing galleries, and providing for a perfect view of every picture exhibited : his plan, which is given at length, accompanied by an illustrative diagram, in the Art- Union for this month, is briefly as follows. He proposes the erection of a platform raised five feet along the middle of the gallery, from which the upper range of large pictures would be viewed ; the platform to have two sets of brackets along its outer sides, and a stand down the centre for small pictires : the sides of the platform being twelve feet from the walls, there would be room on the floor for seeing the pictures on and below the line ; those next the floor being placed, slanting, on a step, and having a row of seats immediately before them. The diagram shows that by this arrangement all the pictures would be equally well seen in a gallery lighted from the roof, and without inconvenience to the visiters. An arrangement so admirable for its simplicity and efficacy, and which might be adopted with small expense, will surely meet with the atten- tion it deserves from the Royal Academy. The gallery of the British Institution is too narrow for the introduction of a platform; but the pictures on the floor might be raised on a step and inclined towards the eye, and the large pictures be placed above the line instead of on it as some are.
The policy of affording free admission to exhibitions, under certain restrictions, has not been sufficiently considered : the crowds of visiters that throng to the gratuitous display of the Art-Union prizes* show that the public would not be insensible of the value of such a boon ; and the number of those who can appreciate works of art, but are deterred from seeing modern pictures by the admission-shilling, is much greater than may be supposed. " But they are not buyers." True ; yet, even in an interested view, the frequent visits of lovers of art to an exhibition might increase the number of pictures bought, by the descriptions given to those who have full purses. But it is a shopkeeping notion, un- worthy of a liberal profession, to look only to the pounds, shillings, and pence. Many who are content to go once to an exhibition would make
* It appears from the Report of the Committee for obtaining free access to Public Monuments, that 72,000 persons were admitted last year, in the three weeks during which the prize-pictures were exhibited.
repeated visits but for the shilling ; and that shilling, even to the wealthy, is a consideration. Suppose it were reduced to sixpence each person, or that each visiter received a pass to admit him again ? or the gallery might be thrown open gratuitously on certain fixed days towards the end of the exhibition.