EXHIBITION OF THE WATER COLOVE SOCIETY.
LANDSCAPE, as usual, predominates in the gallery of the Society of Paint era in Water Colours; with a considerable addition of social sketches.. The workmen who have given this exhibition its name for being in its kind something very near perfection, are at their posts. The visiter at once recognizes De Wint, with his heath-scenes and his fresh nature, rugged but delicately imitated; Copley Fielding, with his smooth ideal of nature; David Cox, and his gusty atmosphere; Bentley, his boats and wa- ter; Prout and Callow, their civic landscape; Joseph Nash, his buildings and figures that enliven the scene, the whole conveyed with the vivid- ness and solidity of scene-painting. William Evans, of Eton, borrows for his moor and forest scenes the association of Royal history; contributing "A Day at Blair Atholl," and "The Return to the Castle, Blair Atholl." Among the landscapes, one of the most remarkable is Mr. T. M. Richard- son's view of "The Neckar, from the Konigstehl, Heidelberg"; not that it is without faults in the handling, but a very striking prospect is con- veyed to the spectator with a force of distinctness and a unity not often combined.
Bartholomew's flowers still flourish in their wonted brilliancy. None but be could have painted the blue bloom on a set of dark poppies; mock- ing the brightest and most transient effect.
Although landscape predominates, many standard workmen still derive their interest from living objects. Frederick Tayler has several groups of animals; the chief one being a very animated scene, in which a huntsman and a few assistants keep a "Stag at Bay," in a rocky glen. The stag is hem- med in at the bottom of a steep rising by dogs; the huntsman, dismounted, is crossing a torrent, to come closer; and on the other side a boy is holding back two hounds, who strain against the leash, bounding hither and thither in their impatience. The wild scene, the unconstrained and fortuitous move- ments of the actors, the varying lines and textures of the objects, are feli- citously caught, with vigour and exactness, delicacy and freedom.
The painted population of Cristall's rural districts goes on multiplying— his gleaners and rustic girls working at cottage-doors.
Mr. Alfred Fripp brings the experiences of the tourist in sketches of Scotch and Welsh girls. In his "Irish Rusticity," we see that union of natural beauty and social deformity which is so characteristic of the Green Isle. A young woman of comely person is suckling a child; to do which, she stands leaning against a bank, stooping forward, one foot resting against the other knee,—just the posture of the Apollo in Correggio's little picture of Silenus teaching Music: but the woman, beautiful and graceful by na- ture, is covered with squalid rags, that convert her into a dowdy of the fish- fag genus. In "The Hallowed Relic," Mr. Fripp has made an attempt be- yond his power: the scene is a churchyard, a girl kneeling before a cross, which seems to mark a grave; a brilliant sunset bathes all things in mel- low splendours,—which as to the reflected light is well done, but the original source of light, the sun, although veiled, is more than Fripp can do.
Hunt is abundant and various. There are two companion pictures, "A Hermit" and "A Monk,"—most powerfully painted beads, though scarcely of the true monastic stamp: "A Tramper "—a young woman, tall, lusty, good-humoured, not unwomanly, yet almost brutal in the reckless dogged- ness of her face: the same, with a sister, "At Home,"—in a kind of shed, one pealing a piece of fruit, the other preparing small wares for her trade of half-selling half-begging: "Devotional Offerings,"—a different version of the same, telling her beads; but belonging rather to some " godless " class of England than to the pious peasantry of any Roman Catholic country: "A Page,"—a boy in a suit of yellow, who has fallen asleep over the toil of waiting in the antechamber; sleek and pretty, almost too sleek for the rough manner which the artist chooses: two pictures of birds-nests, in which the painter has followed out with admirable sharpness of perception and skill every shred of the woven structure, and a sprig of white-thorn in one of the pictures is marvellous in truth of expression—for flowers have their expression, and Hunt is the man to find that out wherever it lurks: several fruit pieces, including plums that rival the orchard itself: two lamp- light effects, one of which is called "Drawing by Two Lights,"—a girl drawing beer in a cellar, with the daylight pouring in from a leafy case- ment; as pleasing as it is dexterous: and two of his jolly boys,—one just about to attack a Christmas pie, with the glistening smile of triumphant anticipation; another in the blue toga virus of mature butcherhood, carry- ing a pig—laughably real.
A glance round the gallery, where so many masters in their craft are as- sembled in one view, is instructive on the much-abused subject of "manner." The manner is as various as the painters are many; and if there is not the same variety in the degrees of success,—since few are left at a very low point, and a few again stand out more prominently than the rest,—there is quite enough to illustrate the relation between manner and matter.
There prevails among artists an impression that manner is a kind of ab- stract thing, almost good or bad in itself, and constituting an example for imitation or avoidance. A little consideration as to what it is, aided by a survey of this water-colour exhibition, would correct that impression. Every natural object painted by the artist is, or ought to be, not simply copied, but thoroughly and distinctly conceived in his own mind, and so transferred to the picture. Its conception and use depend in a great mea- sure on the artist's purpose. It is seldom if ever necessary to make a literally exact and complete copy of the natural object: there is some truth which it is the purpose of the picture to convey—possibly a partial truth; and those things in the view which are essential to the conveyance of that truth should be transferred to the picture with distinctness and =- curacy: but acceseories may be more slightly indicated in proportion as they are remote from the special truth to be conveyed. Every picture, therefore, derives its nature from the nature of the truth which it repre- sents and of the mind through which it is transfused; and the artist finds same modes operandi suited to his model, his purpose, and his peculiar turn of hand: that is his "manner." When the truth, however partial, is well conveyed—when the artist is skilful—it is interesting to note his modus operandi, to analyze his manner; but, apart from him and his pur- pose, the manner is a nullity. It may convey instruction, it may suggest hints; but it is not a thing to be copied. Every artist's manner ought to be original,—developed by his special purposes and his peculiar turn of mind or hand.
Manner, indeed, even in real masters, is sometimes a kind of trap for indolence or self-copying. The painter who has succeeded in rendering some traits of nature in a happy manner, seduced by the ease of repeating the process mechanically, or by vanity at the praise which it has elicited, forgets to let his manner in each case spring naturally from his purpose, and treats it as a substantive thing; the purpose being merely an occasion for the display of the manner. Whether through indolence or that perverse vanity, the result of the work cannot fail to be seriously injured. The spectator's attention will be drawn from the truth of nature, from the in- tellectual purpose, to the manner—from the essence of the design to a tdviality. Two pictures in this collection, side by side, both by very able artists, strongly illustrate this fact by opposite examples. Copley Fielding has great nicety of conception for treating that lawn-like smoothness which distance lends to landscape—making a distant down as delicate as the surface of a pale thin-rinded apple: be had a " manner " for conveying that truth; and perpetual resort to that manner has betrayed him into some mechanical exaggeration of its use. Thus, his view of "Arundel Castle, from the upper part of the Park," is like nature, but still more like Copley Fielding: the manner obtrudes itself. C. Bentley has a strong feeling for the breezy freedom of our coasts: he has a " manner " for conveying such impressions by "a free style of handling,"—as in his "Ferry-boat—Storm clearing off": but here he is too free and easy; he does not take enough pains to digest his mate- rials, the paper and pigments, into a real counterfeit of the natural aspect which he seeks to represent; hence, they still remain paper and pigments; and the "manner" obtrudes itself on the attention in the shape of a de- fect. Stronger examples might be found; but we have selected these pic- tures partly because the juxtaposition struck us, partly because both painteta are men who can well bear the pressure of close criticism. The manner, which is a facility while it is merely a short process for sufficiently conveying a truth, is a hiuderance as soon as it becomes sub- stantive and obtrusive. In the works of William Hunt, it sometimes stands between the spectator and the truth, admirably as that is conceived and expressed. Hunt is, among living artists, in whatsoever medium working, one of those who possess the keenest conception of truth and the greatest command over materials. He is one of the very few who know what "good colouring" is—who know that it is not a mere ingenious as- sortment of tints in arbitrary juxtaposition according to some fantastic anzl mechanical notion of "contrast," but that it is the true representation of tints as they are seen in nature, reflected and refracted upon and through each other, in endless interchanges. Hence the variety, and force, and "naturalness" of his colouring. But he has got into a way which, at times, for want perhaps of care, or of a. sufficient will to attain his end by such means as his absolute judgment might choose, he suffers to come between him and the spectator. To this we impute the imperfect understanding of his works which is sometimes reflected in disparaging criticisms. It is a defect not essential to the truth that is in him. Hunt's manner is naturally de- vised, powerful for his purpose, but occasionally somewhat too powerful— not quite under command. His more delicate or minute works, however— interiors, and little sketches of still life—show that he is independent of this peculiar manner. He can cast it off when he chooses, or rather, can thoroughly subdue it to his purpose; and the student of manner will be in- structed by observing how completely Hunt can conquer his own idiosyn- crasy.