THE WATER-COLOUR INSTITUTE.
Tart Exhibition of sketches and studies at this Institute reveals qualities in some of the members which could scarcely be inferred from the works they have generally shown at the summer exhi- bitions. Mr. A. Penley, for instance, is well known as a skilful manipulator of his materials, and as a teacher of those little arti- fices of washing, sponging, and scratching, which amateurs so much affect as short cuts to the excellence they admire, but will not be at the pains of honestly attaining. He has, besides, always exhibited an attention to composition and the careful " ordon- name of parts," which it is too much the fashion in these days to despise. His chief strength, however, has not lain in this latter quality ; still less has it appeared to lie in a literal study of the facts of nature, or a controlling respect for her modesty and sobriety. Such, however, are the characteristics of the sketches which he has contributed on the present occasion, and of which "The Buttermere Lake" (255) may be taken as the principal example. Here is most excellent mountain drawing, and a strength and fulness, yet withal a sobriety, of colouring which is all the more remarkable, for the contrast it affords to the sickliness com- monly associated with the artist's palette. literally, too, as the details of the place appear to have been painted, and easily as one may trace the well known crags and gape of that most picturesque of English lakes, yet the drawing is raised far above mere topo- graphy by the spirit that pervades it, the mountain solemnity which the artist has so well apprehended and translated. It was painted (says the catalogue) on the spot ; and to this may be due what appear to be one or two faults of composition and distri- bution of "quantities." Who knows exactly what he has got upon his paper till he brings it home and looks at it quietly in his studio? Miss Setchell, again, is best known as a figure-painter but here she appears as a landscape-sketcher of no mean preten- sions. Her sketches, though small in size and slight in point of finish, are generally well designed, and all display a truthful quality of colour which is entirely remote from paintinees. Here and there may be observed a tendency to blackness, a vice of which more presently. Miss Setchell sends, also, some interest- ing studies in pencil.
Among sketchers properly so called, but not now to be for the first time recognized as such, Mr. D'Egville holds high rank. He is one of the very few who still practise the art as it was under- stood by such men as De Wint and Midler, not only, or chiefly, for the sake of recording topographical facts, but also and more especially to seize and note down some of the many natural beauties, whether of form, colour, or light and shade, some rare and transient, others common and frequently recurring, but requiring the observant power of an artist for their recognition and interpretation. Mr. D'Egville's sketch of Frankfort (378) is a singularly truthful representation of a very beautiful effect of morning sunshine. The warm light glowing tenderly through the grey shadows is given with masterly feeling and certainty. The limpid clearness of a summer's twilight is also very successfully suggested in his freely " blotted " sketch of Lucerne (41), and in the " Rotterdam " (477), the purple shades of evening, as they deepen among the tall gables, are no leas feelingly sketched.
Mr. Leitch's contributions, where they are not finished draw- ings, are rather studies of composition than sketches from nature. The latter he would seem to secrete from public gaze as jealously as the older race of artists already alluded to, whose performances in that kind became generally known only after their deaths, and who would no more have sold them in their life-time than a car- penter would sell his rule. But in Mr. Leitch's studies (139, 360, and 368) we have some of the most instructive as well as the most charming works in the gallery. However slight in execution, there is not one where colour or light and shade has been thought- lessly placed, or where linear composition has not been so dealt with as to produce an impression of vigour and strength. There may lurk in this artist's style a tendency to become scenic or arti- ficial. In art, as in other spheres, the highest virtues are the most difficult to cultivate without degeneracy or excess; are those "Whereof a little
More than a little is by much too much ;" but they are not therefore to be neglected ; and if Mr. Leitch is not always at his best, if he does not always succeed in concealing his means, yet such means arc in their degree essential to a good picture. His error would rather appear to be that of keeping in in his mind's eye for imitation the work of some other artist, and not trusting sufficiently to his own independent readings from nature. There is at all events a lesson to be learned from the centre study in frame (360). Here a dark sail comes in strong relief against the glowing light of an evening sky. It is the very pivot of the drawing. All possible force is required of it. Yet it is not therefore made black ; nay, it is therefore that it is not made black. Blackness would have made the picture flat and comparatively feeble ; and this has, in fact, happened in a sketch, otherwise excellent, by Mr. Hine (4). The comparison may the more readily be made, became in each drawing the time of day is the same, and the object brought against the sky is also the same. Lovers of Turner will remember how he avoids bringing his strongest darks against his strongest lights; as in the " Norham Castle" and "Kirkstall Abbey," both in the "Rivers of England." Another sketch'by Mr. Hine, " Sunset " (76), is full of light, and remarkable for its total freedom from what it is here ventured to consider a fault in the first-named drawing. His "Near Swanage" (316) and "Old Parsonage, Eastbourne" (326), are excellent sketches, having a good share of that largeness of style which dis- tinguished the earlier water-colourists.
It is such sketches as the foregoing that stamp the present exhibition with a specific character, and keep it from being a mere repetition of the summer exhibitions. The contributions of some of the members differ in no respect from those which they gene- rally exhibit as finished drawings, save only in the framing. And here the white mount gives flimsiness a greater proportionate value than the more full-bodied painting, which often positively suffers by the substitution of white for gold. Such, one may be sure, is the case with Mr. line's " Thunder-Clouds " (465), which, in their present setting, look over-brassy and over-leaden. 'The " motive " of this drawing is a good one, and might furnish material for a large and finished picture. Perhaps a reason why an exhibition of sketches is so like an exhibition of finished draw- ings may be found in the nearly total disuse of old-fashioned sketching, and the practice which has now taken its place of close study of details. The pictures of many artists are their sketches, and their sketches are their pictures, their pictures being nothing more than a topographical study of some given place. The change is not all for the worse ; tree-twigs and grass-blades are proper things to be well acquainted with. But it is impossible to avoid noticing that this fashionable worship of detail leads to the neglect of a thousand nobler beauties. We have now great industry of hand, but scarcely enough mental activity ; considerable talent.for imitating individual objects, but little power of combination ; and the best advice for many of the present school of artists on their next sketching tour would be to keep their eyes open, but their hands in their pockets. There is another class, who have never honestly applied themselves to the task of mastering the essentials of form or colour in any of the objects which they assume to represent, and have rested satisfied with certain tricks of the brush which pass for clever execution. It is sad to see how great ability has in some cases been thus arrested in its progress. The more agreeable task is to pursue the notice of works which have some touch of nature and some show of promise.
Mr. Deane is a careful student, and makes decided progress. "On the IAugvry " (25) is a good study, modest and painstaking. The fault of Mr. Deane's grey studies is a proneness to be dirty in colour, as in (75). This appears to arise from a difficulty in deal- ng with a particular scale of colour. In his Venetian sketches, of which there are here several examples, there is no lack of bright- ness. Mr. Mogford is unequal. "Hastings' Beach" (458) is sunny and bright, and "Pilot Boat, &c." (249) has much of that rare quality of daylight up to which Mr. Mogford appears to be gradu- ally struggling from the cruder and somewhat metallic colouring of his earlier drawings. His sketches are not unfrequently marred by excessive heaviness and opacity in the sky and shadows ; and "Sea Mist" (256) misses its due effect, owing to the excessive blackness of the rock in front. " Benfleet Creek" (322), by Mr. Whymper, is an excellent sketch ; the sloppy pools are well drawn, but the sky is poor. This poverty of sky- painting is inveterate with the artist. A blue-black cloud, with a large space of white paper, commonly serves his turn ; but the paper is seldom in thorough harmony, and its vacuity expresses no space. "Carrying Bark" (93) is very picturesque, but (as it is as finished as anything the artist ever exhibits, it is allowable to add) spotty in effect ; and here certainly no sort of respect has been shown for tree-twigs. More careful and truer to nature is Mr. Pidgeon's "Haunt of the Moor-Fowl" (107), fresh in colour and in good keeping throughout. Mr. Penson's charcoal sketches, of which "St. Briavers Castle" (80) is the principal, are broad and masterly in treatment. One sees much too little of this artist's work. Three sketches by Mr. Boys (210), and the two lower of the three by Mr. Sutcliffe (402), deserve notice, as also do Mr. M`Keeran's effective sketches from picturesque Stokesay (392, 417).
No mention has been made of the figure-sketches ; in fact, they are in no way remarkable, unless Mr. C. Green's cart-horse (489), carefully done, but too purple in the reflected colour, may be classed as a figure. This notice shall conclude with an expression of great admiration for Mrs. Duffield's flowers, especially " Roses " (439) and "Blackberry Blossom" (159). The latter especially is very beautiful in colour, and only a little stiffness or " tightness " in parts mars in some degree its perfect beauty. V.