BOOKS OF THE MOMENT
BIOGRAPHY IN LINE [COPYRIGHT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY THE New York Times.] Catalogue of Oxford Portraits. By Mrs. Reginald Lane Poole. (Oxford. Clarendon Press. 2 volumes.) MR. ROTHENSTEIN'S folio is a very interesting mixture of con- temporary history and biography recorded' in line. In- cidentally it is a piece of autobiography by the artificer of
the aforesaid biographies. It not only contains a hundred and one very attractive collotype plates which portray Mr.
William Rothenstein's Sitters, but has a printed record of the vast number of drawings executed during the painter's working life, from 1888 to the present time. What I mean by saying that this is an autobiography is to be found in the fact that Mr. Rothenstein tells us in line of the people with whom he has associated at the various stages of his career.
To turn the pages of his "plates is almost like reading a diary. For instance, when the artist was living in Paris at the end of the 'eighties he made a large number of drawings of dis- tinguished Frenchmen—M. Daudet, M. Verlaine, and M.
Charles Bonnier. Next comes the period when the artist was working at Oxford, and we see Dons like Professor Robinson Ellis, well known to all Oxford men of forty.years ago. Then come the London portraits, which, of course, are predominant in number. Among them we find politicians, men of science, literary men, and fellow-artists.
The very interesting illustrated Catalogue of Oxford Portraits
has been grouped by me with Mr; Rothenstein's book, because
it affords a very striking contrast. It shows us how in the Middle Ages, and even in Tudor times, a portrait of a man was not so much an attempt to make a likeness of him as to present us with a kind of symbolical and biographical memoria technica. For example, in the fifteenth century and the early part of the sixteenth, when the professions -of this country
were as much differentiated in dress as they are in many parts of the East at the present time, the painter was preoccupied with the costume and accessories which would exactly explain to the observer the kind of man commemorated. For example, the habit and insignia of a Bishop on the one hand, or of a Doctor of Law on the other, or, again, of a DOCtor of Physics, or of a Prince, or of a Courtier, differentiated each " subject '! from his fellows. The painter, or wielder of the pen or pencil, suggested the man's age by grey hair or wrinkles, and by some background or other device often showed us the country, or part of the country, to which he belonged. A cathedral, a town hall, a castle, or a tower, were not only indications of the man's calling, but showed us where he lived, and what was his status in life. No doubt a good many of these early artists
would have refused to admit that they not keen on making a likeness also, but it is hardly too much to say that as a
rule this was the thing which came last, and almost least, in the category of portraiture requirements. The proof is to be found in the fact that many of the people who made, or rather manufactured, protraits worked with no attempt to get sittings from the person portrayed. They painted, we must suppose, from a description, or rather a specification of the type required—bishop, lawyer, prince, or doctor.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Italy, and by the beginning of the seventeenth century in England, arose the idea of making the likeness the important feature of the picture. Realism held the day for three or four generations, and then Ithpressionism gradually edged out realism. The artist was 'fired 'to put a criticism of life and character into his line. He aimed attelling the man's character
or, at any rate; his characteristics, by means of suggestion.
He did not strive to make an imitation or reflection, as in a glass, but to put his thoughts about the sitter into the mind of the observer. In a painter like Goya you see the two views of portraiture striving with' each other. - Some of Goya's Duchesses and Royalties are pieces of inspired realism. In
other cases, as in his drawing of the Duke of Wellington, you get Goya's turbulent thoughts of the great man so passionately; portrayed that one hardly wonders that when the Duke made his commonplace criticism about the length of eye, or nose or whatever it might be, the artist reached in a rage for rapier and, if he had not been 'restrained, would have run the!
Duke through as the reward for his mental impenetrability.
. parallel with the portraiture ideas of men like Goya, and no derived from him, ran the art and tradition of the carlicaturists. Gradually during the eighteenth century men' found out that by exaggerating certain features of a man's' facial or bodily configuration you might produce what the public- love to call " a speaking likeness." The caricaturist' may be very unjust and unfair, but if he is to succeed, he
must make his caricature instantly call up the man portrayed
and with him his " ruling passion."- Gilray on one side and Maclise on the other afford examples of what I mean.
But the caricaturists could not have it all their own way.
The more serious portrait painters soon realized how much could be learnt from the caricaturist and, adopting part- of his method,' produced anticipations of the drawing in which Mr. Rothenstein has shown himself a master.
I will take an example almost at random, from Mr. Rothenstein's book—the drawing of Sir Edwin Lutyens,
dated 1922. Nobody who mixes in the world of London certainly nobody who has the .personal acquaintance of Sir Edwin Lutyens—could fail for a moment to identify the
picture, or, again, to note the particular view of the dis- tinguished architect which has been blazoned -for us by the artist's crayon. Fastidious students of physiognomy may, for all I know, say that the chin is wrong, or that the nose and eyes are mistakenly aligned ; but if instead of metictilously criticizing we look at the picture as a whole we must admit how good is the characterization and interpretation. There is alertness, there is vitality, there is a touch of cynicism, prevented by humour from turning into any saturnine quality.
These may be- perfectly wrong qualities to attribute to Sir Edwin, and I shall not attempt for a moment to discuss. whether they are or not ; but, at any rate, the painter puts
them into our minds when he gives his lightning pencil biography of his sitter. • Another very successful line drawing which I have chosen at randoin is that of General Smuts. I am "not so foolish as
to suggest that a person who has not seen the distinguished Soilth Afriean statesman and soldier would be able to name offhand the qualities which fit both the 'picture and. the sitter ; but anyone Who krienis 'both the General's 'face and his Career will not fail to see that he has been well interpreted. It is the face of a bold man and a firm man, bid also of an essentially reasonable man—the man who refusea to be 'a fanatic even in a cause to which he hai given his Wholibetirt.
Less successful are Lord Reading and Mr. Walldey, becanse in both instances we Seem ' 'to get only -a part rendering of the character. It Would seem as if the painter had said, " There are many things about these men about which I cannot make up my *mind ; but there are one or two things about them which I can, and on these I shall insist."
Before I leave the book, which is as fascinating to turn over as it is difficult to review, I must note the excellent way in which the work is presented by Mr. John Rothenstein, the painter's son. Admirable also is the introduction by Mr. Max Beerbohm.
It is a pleasant piece' of biOgraiihy and autobiography, and begins with the story of how Mr. Rothenstein and Mr. Max Beerbohm met at Oxford. With the proof sheets of the present book before him he writes :—
:1" The reason why these lie before me is no shock to me. Never parted, from myself, I am. well aware that am quite old enough to be invited to write a few words for _such a volume. My bother is that the years in their passage have not at all qualified me to perform the task worthily. Perhaps indeed the years' failure is the reason why I was chosen. The choice of introducer cannot have been an easy one. I imagine the son saying, Father, does the Archbishop. of Canterbury know much about graphic art and the father replying, ' My child, there must ever be value in any opinions held on any subject by a man of wide spiritual expert. ence. But already the massiveness of the temple that you have reared in my honour oppresses me rather. Get that frivolous young thing, Max Beerbohm, to come and throw some somersaults on the steps of this great edifice.' I imagine the son pointing out that I am no. longer frivolous or young or agile, and the father realising the truth of this, but saying, No matter. At any rate he's undignified.' So here I am. But fuller of awe than ever.".- J. ST. LOE STRACHEY.