ROYAL SOCIETY OF PAINTERS IN WATER- COLOURS.
TICE present exhibition of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours is nominally, as usual, one of sketches an studies ; but this classification has long since ceased to point to any real distinction between the works exhibited at this season and those shown in the spring. Many, perhaps most, of the drawings here are highly wrought and essentially studio works, and are, to the utmost of their artists' capacities, finished water- colour pictures. This is especially true of such works as the very pretty rustic scenes by Mr. Tom Lloyd ; the minute, if rather finicking landscapes of Mr. Pilsbury ; the elaborate Eastern pictures of Mr. Charles Robertson ; and Mr. Charles Gregory's almost overcrowded compositions, which might be in some ways likened to Christmas-trees, so many pretty and diverse things are to be found therein.
The collection as a whole is, we regret to say, below the average merit of the Society, and this chiefly through the absenteeism of many of the best members ; and it is worth while noting in this connection that a Society gains but little, if at all, in strength by electing to its body members who do not contribute regularly. From the present exhibition there- are absent entirely Messrs. Albert Moore, A. H. Marsh, Poynter, Alma-Tadema, Buckman, Alfred Hunt, Ruskin, J. D. Watson, John Burr, Frank Roll, George Fripp, Boyce, Lamont, Lock- hart, of the Scottish Academy, and Wainwright, the cleverest of the younger figure-painters in this Society. Besides these absentees, several of the best landscape men are only repre- sented by one or two small and comparatively unimportant drawings, and amongst these are Messrs. North, Henry Moore, Alfred Fripp, and the veteran Fred Taylor. On the other hand, ten members send between them 128 drawings out of a total
of 361, or, in other words, contribute slightly over a third of the collection ! It is not, in our opinion, of any use to blink the significance of the above facts ; they point -clearly to two or three matters of essential importance to the Society, matters which the members must deeply consider for themselves, if they wish to prevent their good old ship sticking high and dry on the sandbank of popular neglect It is an absurdity in a little exhibition like this, where every inch of space is valuable, and where repetitions are intolerable from their necessary proximity to each other, for one artist to be allowed to send seventeen drawings ; and it is almost equally absurd for a Water-Colour Society to elect members who are essentially "oil men," and who simply send once or twice in half-a-dozen years, and then send work which is not, in the technical qualities of water-colour drawing, good. Nowadays, unless the public are interested by the variety as well as the excellence of artiste' works, they will not go to exhibitions ; and where the public refuse to go, sooner or later the dealers and connoisseurs refuse to buy,—and when that happens, the end is near. Where there were ten water-colour painters of average excellence thirty years ago, there are nearly a hundred now; and pictures nowadays are in the main, though we admit frequently -erroneously, judged on their merits, and not from the fact of their artist belonging or not belonging to a given body. No dealer cares twopence if he can get a picture which will sell (or, better still, will sell if reproduced in one or other of the numberless modes 120W in vogue), whether its painter belongs to the Royal Insti- tute, or the Royal Society, or even the Royal Aeademy ; it is all one to him whether R.I., or R.W.S., or RA., or R.S.A.,
R.H.A., come after the artist's name. It seems to us a matter of public concern that the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours should set itself to consider and act upon these facts ; for it is a painful thing to see what should be a great national Society losing its foothold, in the endeavour to with- atand the stream of modern life and altered circumstance with which it must swim, if it would not perish entirely.
We will now look quickly round the Gallery, taking the pictures chiefly in their catalogue order. Mr. Goodwin's first work, "A Sunset," seems to be intended half for a stndy
of natural effect, half for an imaginative landscape of *Golgotha. At all events, there are three crosses on a slight -eminence to the left of the composition, and a landscape behind which the red light of the sunset shines dully through a veil of mist. More to be praised is this painter's "Lucerne" and "La Certosa," in their delicate brightness of drawing and colour, and these seem to be two genuine sketches, though they are perhaps too elaborate in detail to give the impression of fresh out-of-door work. Technically, Mr. Goodwin's greatest defect is painting a thin, rather scratchy kind of world, in which foreground, middle-distance, and distance alike have the same lack of substance. There is hardly one accurate "value" in the whole of his sketches. Besides, the attempt to follow Turner and listen to Ruskin takes away mach of his in- dividuality. Mr. Stacy Marks has gone back to his long- legged and short-legged birds, and sends four compositions in which these are the chief features. The best of these is No. 200, a girl in a blue dress standing "Waiting and Watching," with a couple of long-legged tuft-headed fowls by her side. Not a new style of subject this, for Mr. Marks has been at it, with slight variations, for a dozen years at least; but executed with all his skill and thoroughness, and of its semi- humorous kind, good. The best sketches of landscape in the exhibition this year are by a new member, and one who is chiefly known by his oil work, Mr. David Murray; and of these, his first, " Setting the Nets, Picardy," is a good example. A painter who is not afraid of colour, and who tries not only to represent Nature faithfully, but to impart some pictorial and poetical motive to his composition, Mr. Murray is a distinct acquisition to the Society, and his "Setting the Nets" is full of delicate, easy drawing, and seems to possess that first merit of a sketch,—the obtaining of as much troth as possible in the swiftest and simplest manner. Another work of his, "In the Valley of the Somme," should be looked at for its poetical -quality and its good tree drawing.
Miss Clara Montalba sends many contributions, of which the majority show but the ghost of former excellence; but one little study of " Auribean " should be excepted from this, for its beau- tiful colour, and for a delicacy of handling which this clever lady too often disdains. Mr. H. M. Marshall's works may be counted by the dozen (there are fourteen) ; but many of them are good, and all interesting. The best is probably a view of Winchester, a fine and important drawing, done from an almost impossible point of view,—impossible, that is, except for a panorama. Like so many artists whose chief work is found in architectural sub- jects, Mr. Marshall becomes every now and then a little tiresome ; it is not every building that has a soul for artistic purposes. Mr. Richardson and Mr. Collingwood Smith are both here in force, and in their usual manner; but their thin picturesque renderings of Nature look strangely now old-fashioned; for good or ill, art of that kind has said its last word,—at all events, for the present. Sir Oswald Brierley has a good many sketches (most of them in- jured by reckless use of body-colour) of ships and seas ; and Mr. Andrews sends the largest picture we remember to have seen from his hand for some years, of the "Defeat of the Spanish Armada." This last is a very ambitious, crowded composition, possessing many fine qualities, but giving, on the whole, a muddled, unnatural effect, and full of very crude and exaggerated colouring. Indeed, it is now many years since Mr. Andrews abandoned the simplicity which was one of the great charms of his earlier work. Mr. Carl Haag's contributions are this year of but little importance; but he has been rivalled, and in several respects excelled, by the new member, Mr. Robertson, whose picture of " Alnaschar " is the largest, and perhaps the most important work in the Gallery. It is, indeed, a triumph of patience and skilful workmanship, full of Eastern brightness of light, and glowing with rich and carefully gradated colour ; elaborate in its detail, vivid in its rendering of the scene, care- fully and sufficiently well drawn, and effective as a whole no less than in part. With all these merits, it were ungracious to dwell upon the "little rift within the lute" which many spectators will probably find out for themselves. Of Mr. Tom Lloyd it is difficult to say anything new ; he has been painting for many years now, and is distinctly the pleasantest of those artists who combine the rustic model and English landscape. On the whole, his is good work; and this year it seems happier in its subjects than ever. The reaper stands picturesquely as usual, with his wife and baby by his side ; the young lover pokes his head over the wall towards his shy sweetheart; the little rough calves are as blunt-nosed, and pleasantly, awk- wardly comic as of old ; the country is yellow with corn and overspread by skies, and the skies of a tender opal ; the hedges gay with flowers, the air warm with summer; everything is for the best in the bast of all possible worlds,—and the artist's wisdom, too, in so thinking is amply justified, since there is a little label in the corner of most of his frames, which is the surest proof of his pictures' popu- larity. There is a little study by Edward Brewtnall low down on one of the screens, called "Sand Martins," which is genuinely good, and deserved a better place ; and a round dozen or so of Mrs. Allingham's village children stand about in field, or by hedge and cottage, as attractively as ever. Mr. Holman Hunt has several small sketches and studies, but none of much importance; the most attractive probably being an autumn study at "Ivy Bridge," full of exaggerated colour, but also full of sunlight; and the best, a black-and-white study of a woman called " Will of the Wisp." Mr. Da Manlier has a black-and- -white drawing of a priest at sunset, the original drawing for a woodcut which appeared in the English Illustrated Magazine; and there is an old-fashioned sketch by Mr. Cuthbert Rigby of "Sunset after a Storm," which is fresh and true in all except the colour of the near sand, which is too purple. Mr. F. Shields' "St. James the Less" must not be overlooked, since it is the only attempt at serious figure art in the Gallery ; but the cartoon does not show that earnest, and too little appreciated artist at his best, so we shall not dwell upon it. Mr. Arthur Hopkins has a pretty young lady gathering lilac ; Mr. Brewtnall, one combing her hair; and Mr. E. K. Johnson several, of whom the one in the picture entitled "Autumn Leaves" is, We think, the best.