18 MAY 1878, Page 16




WE did not mention Watts's pictures in our first notice—though they are hung in that West Gallery to which we confined our remarks—for they are manifestly out of place there, and it is a stretch of fancy to think they seem to regret their com- panions of last year, the Burne Jones's and imaginative works generally, which are now hung in the East instead of the West Room.

There are five pictures by Watts here, all of first-rate quality, though perhaps No. 60 is less successful than his portraiture is usually. No. 61, "Mischief," a semi-nude female figure entangling a youth who follows her in a bramble-thicket, would, anywhere else, be a remarkable work ; and even here shines out with a glow' and variety of colour which ruins Mr. Lawson's landscape oh the one hand, and makes Mr. Halle's weak nymph on the other, look as if she was gradually fading into the nothingness from which she came. But, nevertheless, " Mischief " will hardly detain any one a moment from the large work which hangs by its side—No. 62, "Time and Death." We are bound to say that the first impres- sion this picture made upon us, and is, we think, likely to make upon others, was not a wholly satisfactory one. The great size of the figures, the almost passionate strength of colour, the peculiar hue of Time's body, and the ghastly face and ashen. robes of Death,—all these strike one at first sight so vividly, that the impression produced is rather a distressing than a pleasing one. It was not till we had been to the Gallery four or five times, not till we had examined this picture in many lights and in dif- ferent moods, that we knew it for what it undoubtedly is,—the most marvellous and beautiful picture of the year. One other picture there is of which the painting must be ranked as high, and the beauty, perhaps, even higher ; but for sustained, lofty purpose, for a grand conception worthily rendered, even the " Laus Veneris " of Burne Jones must give place to this. It is reported that Watts was so dissatisfied with its appearance when first hung here, that he wished to take the picture away, and work at it for two years longer ; and there are, no doubt, places where further work might be added with advantage, but we doubt very much whether any material alteration could be an improvement. The composition is a very simple one, as is the case with most consummate works of art. Time and Death move hand-in-hand through the landscape, while above them hovers a shadowy Fate. Time, a man in all the vigour of life and youth, with large blue eyes gazing eagerly into Futurity, presses forward to discovery and change ; Death, with closed eyelids and bent head, indifferent even to the gathered flowers which lie heaped together in the folds of her grey robe, keeps pace with him, apparently without effort or consciousness. We are not concerned to praise this picture or to defend it ; its existence is a praise sufficient for the artist. No critic's words can much enhance the joy of having done great work, and added one more triumph of beauty and thought to the treasures of mankind.

Looking back through the last century at the works of those artists who have raised English art to its present position, think- ing of the Reynolds, the Gainsboroughs, the Hogarths, the Mulreadys, and the Wilkies, mho, each in his separate manner, has done worthy work in figure-painting ; considering carefully all these, we cannot remember a single example which combines, in so high a degree as the work before us, worthy subject, worthy treatment, and intense feeling. The picture grows upon the spectator like the " Temeraire " of Turner, or the " Bacchus " of Tintoretto, till the subject is almost disregarded in the feeling which the work excites, and in the words of George Eliot:—" Our emotion in its keenest moment passes from expression into silence, our love at its highest flood rushes beyond its object, and loses itself in the sense of divine mystery."

Let us turn to the East Gallery, and speak of the only other work which is at all worthy to be named with this one (No. 106), the "Lam Veneris " of Mr. Burne Jones,—Venus reclining in a richly ornamented chamber, hearing her praises sung by maidens

"lily-like a-row." In execution and perfection of glorious colour, this work is unsurpassable ; it does not matter by what standard of painting it is tried. The early religious painters of Italy could not have interwoven gold and crimson, flame.colour and blue, into a more perfect harmony. Van Eyck or Matsys could not have rendered texture of robe or tapestry with more consummate strength. Never on English soil, that we are aware of, has anything like this picture been seen in the perfection of its work. So much we can say in favour of its technique without fear of objection or denial. But regard- ing the picture as a whole, we seem to miss something of which we seldom have to regret the absence in Burne Jones's work. It seems to us that for once the painter has not been possessed with his subject, that his work, therefore, however wonderful, has failed to be great. The meaning of the painting is not quite evident, nor does it grow clearer with examination ; indeed, without the help of Swinburne's poem, which it was evidently intended to illus- trate, we think we should hardly have understood the motive of the picture ; and when we do arrive at the meaning, it is not one which we would care to explain or dilate upon to children or wife. The weariness of satisfied love, and the pain of unsatisfied longing, is hardly a theme, perhaps, to expend such magnificent painting upon. This, however, is possibly beside the question. The picture is beautiful, if with a sad, discontented beauty; the painting is superb, worthy of every epithet which could be lavished upon it, and if the meaning be that "all is vanity," it is still a better one than that "vanity is all," which would describe the point of three-fourths of modern figure-paintings.

On the other works by this artist, "Le Chant d'Amour," and the single figures representative of the seasons, we have left our- selves no space to speak adequately, and so will leave them un- mentioned, calling, however, our readers' attention especially to the first-named work, as being in some respects more complete a picture, a more thorough conception than the " Laus Veneris " itself. The remaining picture by this artist, No. 109, "Cupid and Psyche," deserves more than the cursory notice which we

alone have time for. It is throughout one of the most tenderly beautiful pictures we have ever seen, and for expression of feeling we do not know where, in modern work, to find its equal. The half animal kindliness with which Pan lays his hand pou Psyche's hair, and the dumb entreaty of her eyes, as she asks his help, are perfect as realisations of the incident in Morris's story of which this is an illustration (" Cupid and Psyche,—Earthly bradise"). Nor is the painting of flesh and landscape less to be praised ; it is, throughout, beautiful, the blue iris in the foreground. alone being worthy of the hand of an old master. In conclusion, let us say that we are glad to hear that the recognition of this master's work, so long denied to him, has at last taken place, and that for once consummate genius of an unpopular kind, going on its way steadily, without paying attention to ridicule, or changing its methods through desire of applause, has vanquished trium- phantly its detractors and justified itself.

We are glad to be able to mention a marked improvement in the works of a painter of whom we had occasion to speak in terms of severe dispraise last year. The works of Mr. Stanhope in the first exhibition were of such infinite pretension and such miser- able quality, as to call forth strong censure or ridicule, according to the mood of the spectator. But this year the artist, though still pretentious enough, has notably improved on his former work, and his picture of "The Shulamite Woman feeding her kids before the shepherd's tents " is an interesting one. By the way, we don't understand why " kids " should be so much like sheep, but that is a mere detail, which is no doubt easily explained. The picture, it is true, is little more than a copy of bits from various old masters, but they are cleverly put together and fused, so to speak, into a homogeneous mass, and the landscape seen between the tree-trunks is really a skilful and almost beautiful imitation of the works of the early Italian painters. Do not let us be misunderstood. We do not for a moment mean that Air. Spencer Stanhope wilfully copies or imitates anybody, but only that he is apparently so imbued with the spirit of, say, Botticelli, that he unconsciously treats his sub- jects in a similar manner. It is, however, a mistake, if not an affectation, and really mars all the originality of this artist's work.

There are two beads by Leighton here which are as beautiful as dreams, and like dreams in some other respects. Much too bright and good for human nature's daily food are these women that Mr. Leighton has given us lately. He is apparently begin- ning to think that he can improve upon nature ; for instance, he would have preferred a new species of wax to the human skin. Curious fallacy, how artists can think that all beauty is to be found in smoothness and sunlight. We should have thought that they best of all men would have understood the loveliness of hands rough with toil and faces seamed with care, would have learnt the simple truth that in a world where everything alike was fair and smooth, fairness and smoothness would cease to be attractive, —that beauty consists not alone in delicate textures and bright colours, but in the tender expressions which soften the most rugged faces, and the eyes which shine brightly with sympathy and love.