17 MAY 1884, Page 16




IN our first notice we spoke only of the four works which were of such merit as of themselves to render this year's exhibition of special interest. We must now perform the ungracious task of saying that were it not for these examples the Academy would indeed be a painful exhibition to all those who care for the future of English painting. Those also who were mainly responsible for the hanging of the pictures have this year much to answer for ; their sins of omission and commission have been such as are scarcely tolerable even to their Academic brethren ; and it would be well if Sir Frederick Leighton, instead of polish- ing polite periods about the "carpenter's hammer and the clink of the mason's chisel," would do something to prevent such stupid blunders as those which this year has witnessed in the hanging and rejection of pictures. It is quite time that the Academy should learn that it exists for the good of the community rather than the good of its own coteries, and understand that it possesses privileges for the object of helping artists to do good work, and the public to see that work when done, rather than for the sake of filling its members' pockets with dollars, and their friends' stomachs with annual dinners. With charming frankness, a celebrated Academician once explained to the present writer his conception of the duties and privileges of his position. "You see," he said, "the Academy's a club. Of course we don't want any unpleasant fellows ; I grant you he paints well, but, after all, that's not much to do with it." And so it was that the artist in question was kept out of the ranks for about fifteen years, till at last all artistic England howled, and for very shame he was tardily made an Associate. Take another instance—two other instances. In each Academy, for the last ten years certainly, two of the chief attractions to all folk who know about pictures, have been the works of Albert and Henry Moore. The first is an artist of exquisite accomplishment in a line wherein there is scarcely another Englishman who is tolerable. He is a fignre-painter who has studied the beauty of curve and varied lines of thin drapery till he has, quite literally, not only no rival in England, but one is puzzled to think of a second. He is, moreover, a fine draughtsman and a delicious designer, and it is ten years since Ruskin wrote of one of his minor works in

terms of the very highest praise. Praise, be it remembered, of its technical perfections in painting and design. And yet year after year goes by, and we see little Venetian street painters, and unknown architects, and audacious Scotchmen, and veteran engravers elected, and still Mr. Moore remains an outsider.

Look at his brother, Henry Moore, who is now the greatest sea-scape painter in England, both in oil and water-colours—as faithful to Nature as Mr. Brett, without being so mechani- cal, and with an amount of force in painting the fury of the sea, and depths of sympathy with its wilder moods, such as no other English artist has evinced since Stanfield. Why is he year after year unrecognised ? Literally, no answer can be given. No member of the Academy, from Secre- tary Eaton at one end of the list, to President Leighton at the other, dare raise their voice and say that there is a conceivable reason in the interests of art and justice why these men should not have been Associates for the last ten years at least. Will Sir Frederick Leighton tell us whether it is the deliberate opinion of himself and his brother Academicians that these men do not paint well enough, are not good enough, do not take art sufficiently seriously, to deserve election ? Why, the very question is absurd to those who know their work. Why, then,— and we have asked this question repeatedly during the last five years, without getting a reply,—why are they still outsiders? We want to see the official Academic eye open, and the great Academic hand stretched out to the merit which all but them- selves acknowledge,—and even to the merit which is as yet only struggling for acknowledgment. We want to see less of a Club, bounded by St. John's Wood on one side and Holland Park on the other ; we want to see the stamp of Academic approval set firmly upon all good work ; we want to see something more nearly approaching the French system of medals of honour for young painters, and to see substantial help given them towards prosecuting their profession. For the present, we want chiefly to have this simple question answered by some member of the Academic body,—" Why are Albert and Henry Moore not elected ?" -

We did intend to say something about the " skying " of Fantin's great picture, and of Mr. Shaw's sea-scape, and the rejection of other good works, but we have already tried our readers' patience with a long preamble, and will proceed to notice the pictures. And first of Millais. It is always a sad thing to see a painter whose power is very great, losing all the subtler qualities of his work, and, the grace and charm of it being gone, only displaying the hard, naked, faculty. That is what has been taking place with Mr. Millais's painting gradually during the last ten years, and now it has culmi- nated. The power of painting and drawing is there still ; the charm and the beauty have alike disappeared. Here, in the second room, there is a portrait of Fleetwood Wilson, Esq., a middle.aged man with a gun under his arm, and a bright, resolute, country-air sort of face, which has a touch of the artist's old manner ; but all his other work here has scarcely a trace of beauty. Anything more unpicturesque, unattractive, and un- admirable than the portrait of Henry Irving we can scarcely imagine. The artist has subtracted the actor, and not even left the gentleman. This is a successful linendraper that Mr. Millais has given us. Look, again, at the large work which is called "AD Idyll,1745,"— a little soldier playing the fife to a group of children. This precious work has, we are informed, been sold for the great sum of five thousand guineas, and our admiration is challenged for it partly, we suppose, on that account. It appears to us to be simply a thoroughly unreal and unpleasant piece of painting,. with little grasp of character and no idyllic quality whatev-er. This is surely not Millais who paints these clayey-looking,

girls ! Millais, whose colour used to be a by-word for beauty and strength ! Surely this cannot be Millais, again, who is straying into the paths of Mr. Hodgson and Mr. Story, and painting semi-comic costume pictures ! It is a far cry from such work as this to "The Huguenots" and "The Carpenter's Shop." But little more need be said than that whoever did it, whoever praised it, whoever bought it, the pic- ture is poor,—poor in colour, weakly humorous in conception, wooden and awkward in drawing, laboured and dull in paint- ing, and utterly unworthy of a great artist.

Let us mention another painter who has done good work,. and will perhaps do it again, but who has of late been spoilt by overmuch success. Mr. Briton Riviere sends three or four pictures here, all of which are distinguished by the same defect—an attempt to import an unfelt theatrie claptrap sentiment into the painting of animal life. The best of these, with all its absurd defects of proportion— defects upon which the daily and comic press have fastened eagerly—is "The Lion and the Jackals." The lion is bad, unlike a lion, about ten feet high, and backed like a camel, and the jackals are the size of guinea-pigs. But omitting the proportions, the jackals are good and powerfully conceived. There is one in particular which is turning round to snarl at his neighbour, which is a wonderful bit of natural action, just attuned to the spirit of the scene. Another of these works is a man in armour entering a cave, as guardians of which stand two leopards very well painted. We only see the back of the man, but Mr. Riviere has somehow succeeded in making the picture profoundly comic. There is a sort of " come- along-and-let-us-have-a-whack-at-you " air about the knight which is profoundly ridiculous, and which quite spoils the effect of the picture. The truth is that figures are not Mr. Riviere's strong point. His " Actgeon " would be very fine were it not for ActEeon himself, who has the muscles of a blacksmith, and does not at all realise the conception of the "hunter of the deer." The grouping of the dogs about the man is fine. The picture is, if we remember right, an adaptation of an old design by the same artist.

Onless's portraits this year are very good—the finest of them, perhaps, being that of Mr. Hodgson, R.A., though the smaller head of Mr. Bancroft is exactly like the actor. Henry Woods is smaller than usual, and consequently better ; his vivacious, sparkling street scenes are just the things to be painted about the size of the lid of a cigar-box. On a larger scale, their absence of motive, their forced prettiness, and their insincerity (if we may use a technical word) are too apparent. With him we must mention his master, Van Ha.anen,—his master only in the sense of being the fountain whence Mr. Woods drew his in- spiration. Van Haanen sends this year a largish work of a Venetian interior, called "Afternoon Coffee,"—a lot of girls in a workroom, done in his usual manner. It is very complete and masterly,—very fine in one sense, if taken, that is, from its own point of view ; but it presents to us that side of art which is least attractive,—the side in which all !qualities of beauty, grace, and meaning are eurrendered to "chic," audacity, and technical qualities. With all ,its drawbacks, the actual painting of this picture is very fine. Frank Holl is another painter whom success has done much to spoil, and one whom we very much grudge to see spoilt, for we admired him for many years before he became famous, —before the days of "I am the Resurrection and the Life," and "The Lord Gave and the Lord hath taken away.". Those who remember the strength and true deep pathos of those works will feel half ashamed and half angry before such a picture as his "Did you ever kill anybody, Father?" A girl in black silk stockings- (by-the-way, half the Academy this year has painted girls in black silk aockings)—holding the ancestral sword across her lap and gazing up at an unseen "father." It is all very well, and will make a nice little double-page plate for the Graphic or the Illustrated, which is, of course, its ultimate destination ; bat why can not Mr. Holl leave such work to feebler artists ? We do not have a man, as well as an artist every day, and when we do, let him leave the babies alone ! And, talking of babies, look at Mr. P. R. Morris's nine-hundred-and- fifty-seventh child, in silk and feathers, sitting, red-cheeked and month-opened, on a bank. Here is an apotheosis of infancy, indeed, a sort of living advertisement of Swear's and Well's "Lilliputian Warehouse." Two years ago the desire of paint- ing babies seized this artist, and since then he has produced more and bigger babies, more apple-cheeked, more brightly and expensively clothed, and altogether baby-er babies, than anyone painter we have ever seen.

Look for a little bit of strong, unconventional painting—a little heavy, perhaps, and a little dirty in the shadows, but lifelike, powerful, and good—at Mrs. Collier's portrait of her sister, Miss Nettie Huxley. It is so simple, unaffected, and strong, that if one goes into the next room and looks through the doorway towards it, the picture kills its surroundings utterly. Mrs. Collier's work is improving very much,—would, perhaps, improve still more, if it were wholly uninfluenced. May we suggest to her that there are plenty of fine subjects in the world, and that she should give us one in her next picture. Perhaps Mr. Leslie has never• been more abiolutely successful than he has in the little single figure subject of a girl sitting in a window-seat against a fresh landscape. She is literally " as sweet as English air can make her,"—a little precise, old- fashioned, and, in the slang of the town, " slow," but alto- gether delightful. The work is Meissonier-like in its perfection, but it is a Meissonierism of feeling and sympathy as well as workmanship. Last in this notice, to get rid of disagreeable subjects, let us mention the "Romeo and Juliet" of Mr. Frank Dicksee, a young artist who four years ago painted a good picture, and has been going down the hill ever since. This is quite the worst he has produced. The lovers are parting at dawn she, in her night-dress, clinging to her sweetheart ; he, with one leg over the window-sill, in the regular stage attitude. The painting is careful, dull, and smooth, the drawing fair, the colour like that of the Munich school—that is to say, execrable ; but the whole picture is absolutely uninteresting and con- ventional.