17 MAY 1884, Page 17


[FIRST NOTICE.] THE strength of this summer's show at the " Institute " con- sists rather in the variety than in the uniform excellence of the drawings. Here and there, it is true, are works of great excel- lence, and these are not specially few or far between ; but, for the most part, the average of merit is somewhat lower than that of the "Old Society,"— as people will still call the Institute's Pall. Mall rival. And this is necessarily so ; for not only is the number of works more than treble, but the admission is free to all corners, and a good proportion of the drawings are the wcirks of comparatively young and unknown artists. This being so, the gallery possesses an interest which is neces- sarily absent from that of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours, as we are able here to see side by side the work of two generations of artists, and watch the change from the old to the new. We can spare their work but a brief notice, and so will ask our readers simply to accompany us as we stroll round the first of the three galleries and say a word here and there upon the pictures which strike us as most pleasing. Mr. Walter Wilson has painted Mr. Linton (the President of the Society) engaged in working upon his Academy picture, and• painted him very well. The work is in beautiful tone through- out, the likeness is good ; the studio and its accessories of armour, easels, &c., are cleverly drawn, and just sufficiently insisted upon, —in short, the work is thorough, unpretending, and satis- factory, and if Mr. Linton is to be known in future days as the nineteenth-century Velasquez, as some of his friends tell us, why, this will be a very interesting picture. A little "Fairy-Tales," by A. Glendenning, deserves a passing glance for its freshness and prettiness ; and those who like Arthur Severn's painting will perhaps like, as we do, the "View from the Nelson Monument, Edinbro',"—like it, and yet be a little puzzled, a little annoyed by it. Why should a painter take such a dismally impossible subject as the tops of these houses and long streets full of every variety of nasty angle, when he has all the world to choose from ? A bird's-eye view may be nice to a bird—not ahuman being. Perhaps the most unfortunate influence of Mr. Rnskin's teaching—we should say the unfortunate part of Mr. Ruskin's influence upon artists—is shown in the choice of subject. He is apt to get them to paint skies and landscapes from a somewhat meteorological point of view, which is ruinous to their artistic effect. Mr. Frank Cox's "A. Frog he would a-wooing go" only deserves notice for its nttt r vulgarity. An artist's ability only irritates us when he gives us work so insincere and so " cheap " as this. Mr. Topham Davidson's "Moonlit Harbour" reminds us of Arthur Severn's work, and is nearly as good, though the waves are poorly drawn. Nos. 70 and 90, by Messrs. Wilfrid Thompson and Keeley, are the promising and intelligent works—we imagine, by young men. What is to be said for Mr. H. J. Stock's "Love is Stronger than Death," and the other similar pictures which he sends here ? There is a certain amount of imagination in them, but it is a strained feebleness of imagination, which is perhaps more prosaic than prose. These weird figures, reclining in red garments or rising from encircling flames, or stamping upon the heads of allegorical personages, are somehow neither sublime nor beautiful. The truth is that if allegory in a picture is not redeemed by its perfect beauty and rightness, it is simply intolerable—and this for perfectly evident reasons, upon which we cannot stop to dwell here—and that Mr. Stock's allegories are not so redeemed. Parts of them are beautiful, and parts comic; the ideas are good as far as they go, but have little depth, and are not fully realised. And so, while honouring the evident sincerity of the artist, and the manner in which he year after year toils on after the best he can conceive, we can only pass by his pic- tures with the feeblest of praise,—that due to good intentions. A little head of Winifred, by L. Blake, is not exactly good, but arrests us for a moment by the pathetic look in the dark eyes of the model ; there is a touch of thought about it, and the 4' values " are better than in most English portrait-painting. Mr. Aumonier is not at his best, and Mr. Joseph Knight is ; the latter sends an evening glow, which is a first-rate example of his very limited and very indoor style of art, but which is wonderfully true to the general effect of the kind of yellow sunset which this artist has been painting for— how many years ? Nor do we care very much for Mr. Holloway's "Old Wellesley," the regular stock subject nowadays with painters of shipping. The artist has done this kind of thing before, and done it better. Besides, he is a better sea-painter than he is a draughtsman. Mr. Wyllie beats him easily in the latter capacity. And even of Mr. Wyllie's "Funeral March of a Hero" we feel somewhat suspicious. Is it not an attempt at rivalling the "Old T6meraire "- a bit of pictorial claptrap ? Mr. Wyllie, when he is natural, is a perfectly strong, unaffected, and really—because uncon- sciously—pathetic painter ; but he has not got a single atom of chance when he becomes didactically sentimental, if we may use such an expression. Let him stick to life and labour, and leave his spectators to supply the "funeral marches" and the " heroes " for themselves. Still, the work is a good one, and there are several other little studies of ships and shipping in the gallery by this artist which shordd be looked at for their exquisite drawing. The work on these is perfectly accurate and unexaggerated ; no artist with whom we are acquainted has ever drawn boats with greater grace and freedom. Mr. Nash's "Satisfaction !" is one of the most powerful drawings here,—a single figure dressed entirely in black lying face downwards amongst some sand- hillocks, with a discharged pistol in his hand—not a pleasant subject of contemplation, but telling its story clearly. The pictures of this first gallery, however, are two in number—one of which is, and will be, very popular, and the other probably as little noticed. The first, the most popular one, is Mr. Walter Langley's "Among the Missing ;" the second is Mr. George Wilson's "Summer and the Winds."

"Among the Missing" is a scene at a Cornish post-office, to which news has apparently just been sent of some fisher's ship- wreck. The treatment of the picture is simple and natural enough, with largish, well-drawn figures, of which the two chief, those of a young and an old woman, are very finely conceived. The power of the composition is evident, and is made greater by the apparent sincerity of its purpose, and the curiously slight surrender of the facts of the case to pictorial artifice. In this it compares very favourably with Mr. Herkomer's treatment of a somewhat similar subject, the scene at the Dockyard gates of Portsmouth Harbour when the announcement of some vessel being" missing" had just been posted. Mr. Langley may be congratulated upon a distinct advance in his art. He has escaped from the lime-light kind of chiaroscuro into which, we suppose, his admiration of Mr. Frank loll had led him, and he has painted a work which promises even more than it performs. This is by no means a perfect picture,—the tints are rather scrubbed on than painted ; there is a great lack of transparency about the work, and but little beauty of colour ; the expressions of the figures and faces, though fairly good, are not very remarkable, and the covering of the face of the principal actor in the little tragedy is a conventional and somewhat shallow ex- pedient to escape a great difficulty. It is essentially a blunder in art, to give us only one quite principal figure and to hide her face. All this and much more might be easily said against the work,—the fact remains that here is a true significant figure-subject of our own day clearly and forcibly rendered, without affectation and with a good deal of power.

Mr. Wilson's work is of a wholly different kind, and as is so often the case, has the very qualities which Mr. Langley's work lacks. In the first place, it is an allegorical treatment of its subject—one which is entirely in the realms of fancy instead of fact. Again, it depends for its attractiveness entirely upon its drawing of the semi-nude figure, and its beauty of curved lines and full, strong colour. It is the work of a colourist and a draughts- man, and it is not the work of a man who is a thorough master of his method. Parts of it are magnificent in colour and very fine in drawing; parts, again, are weak and almost childish.

Summer is personified as a maiden round whose crouching form male figures representing the winds are whirling, with the thin- nest of draperies flying about them. They have upset Summer's big pot of roses, and the impression of restless and resistless move- ment in their figures is frilly expressed. We spoke in the beginning of this article of allegory which did not justify itself ; this drawing is an instance of allegory which does. The picture is so beautiful in its swift motion, its delicate fancies, its bold broad manner of work, its splendour of colour, its grace of line, that all its crudities and imperfections are easily forgotten and condoned. For, and this is the gist of the matter, this is genuine artists' work, imperfect and erroneous as it may be. This could never have been instilled into any one at academy, or developed in studio, bad it not been theirs from the beginning,—that little touch of artistic fire, that "sole spark from God's life at strife with death" which turns the facts of our existence, the fancies of our intellect, and the passion of our senses, to some diviner uses.