RANDOLPH CALDECOTT'S WORK.
LAST Friday week there died (of consumption, in Florida), in the height of his power and the prime of his life, an artist who deserves more than a passing word of mention. This was Randolph Caldecott, a humourist as genial and kindly as John Leech himself, a magnificent animal draughtsman, and an artist whose work combined very happily a feeling for beauty with one for the broadest fun. Amongst the work of other book illustrators of our day, even the most famous of his contemporaries' pictures seem dull, intricate, and artificial. Nothing, for instance, could condemn a Du Manlier drawing as far as its intellectual, moral, and even spiritual effect was con- cerned, more than to put it side by side with even the poorest of Caldecott's designs. For the first would be a record of a highly wrought, intensely artificial civilisation, gaining its end by a "fine smile" at some instance of fatuity, folly, or snobbishness. It would depend for its effect, upon the spectator believing in certain manners, certain classes, certain accepted conventionalities of society, and would then say,—" Come, all ye who with me understand and appreciate these eternal verities, and see what happens to the ' outsider ' who rashly touches the sacred vessels." But Caldecott's design would have another sanction, and give a different pleasure. Its power would come from the artist's delight in quite other matters than frills and fashions,—it would come from his broad laughter at really comic incidents, his satire of really contemptible pre- tensions; from the fresh faces of his girls, and the strong limbs of his men ; from his understanding the broad, simple aspects of life, rather than his diving into its pettier eccentricities ; from the way in which he could laugh with people at the same time that he laughs at them ; and the manner in which he could draw incidents such as we have all known, and show us in them little touches of burlesque, and hints of loveliness, such as were of the essence of the matter.
No artist, perhaps, who ever lived—certainly no artist who is alive now—was ever able in so few touches to get at the heart of a simple subject so well as this comparatively little-known man. For Mr. Caldecott, despite his fame, was by no means successful in the worldly sense of the word. When his popularity came, it came too late ; and to the end of his life he was never able to relieve himself of drawing for illustrated periodicals and papers, such as the Graphic. We can hardly regret this, how- ever, for his work thereby gave pleasure to thousands instead of tens; and it will be long before those Christmas numbers which contained his little dramas of love and misfortune, are forgotten in the country-side. To return, however, for a minute to his peculiar artistic power of expressing much with little (apparent) labour,—above all characteristics, one which marks a true artist. Perhaps the most perfect example of this was in his "House that Jack Built," where such little things as the appearance of
the rat above the boards of the granary, the back view of the dog as he waits round the corner for the appearance of the cat, and perhaps above all, the figure of the Irishman when he first catches sight of the "maiden all forlorn," and promptly hops over the stile to kiss her, remain in one's memory as absolutely perfect adaptations of means to ends. They are entirely satis-
factory,—entirely, as far as they go, right. One can be perfectly certain that this is art, whatever else may or may not be. The
tale is told with an amount of incisiveness and ease, such as words can but feebly express, and, besides that, it is told as kindly and brightly as it is told well ; it takes the matter and puts it into clear sunshine and fresh air. In these pictures, we feel that the dawn has come, "and the shadows flee away."
Is this a small merit ? Come for a moment to the Salon Parisien, in Bond Street, and see whither modern art is leading us, —what the first nation of the world in art matters has to tell us of the good, the noble, and the true. Here are Mr. Van Beers and all his artistic brethren, gorgeous with pomp of velvet hangings and bronze ornaments, with fountains plashing in circular basins, with one-half of the pictures in light and the other in shadow, with all kinds of devices of peep-shows and gilt masks through the eyes of which we view the various compositions, and dimly burning lamps and perfumes, and everything that ingenuity and money can procure to enhance the effect of the work. What does it all result in ? A lot of little compartments hung here and there with pictures of half-dressed women, whose
profession is—well, not to live in the fresh air ; or with ghastly, chalked faces of white-robed clowns grinning in the
glare of the footlights. The abominable degradation of feeling and imagination displayed in these works, is such as no phrases we can use would do justice to. Pass, however, under a curtain, in answer to the courteous re-
minder of the custodian that there is "one picture you have not seen, Sir," and we find at last Mr. Van Beers's
masterpiece,—a nude woman stretched upon a couch of
fleecy skin, by which her face is half hidden, while in front of her lie her cast-off clothes, high-heeled shoes, discarded
novel, &c. The present writer has seen a good many thousand pic- tures, but can state quite plainly that he has never seen exhibited in England, and never expected to see, a picture which to him is
so offensive as this. And on the other side of the partition which holds this work, what do we find but a gigantic picture of the Crucifixion, lighted in the same theatrical manner, and hung in a dark room, with a lamp burning dimly. Here, then, we may be said to have everything that modern art can give us
The alpha and omega of art, and of life also, with this partition of coloured canvas between. This is the point to which civilisation has brought poor Art,— to treating our holiest and our basest feelings from the same point of view, and with equal respect.
Let us come away into the fields again, and ride a brief space- down the muddy lanes with some of these red-cheeked hunts- men, or follow in the wake of that trimly habited damsel whom Mr. Caldecott is so fond of putting in the "first flight.' After this atmosphere of patchwork, pastilles, and pearl- powder, what a relief to have a jorum of punch round a tavern fire, and smoke a "long clay," whilst the wind roars down the chimney ; to laugh without a sneer as our rival tumbles into a brook, or steal a march upon him whilst our sweetheart walks round the garden after dinner ! What a relief to punch his head if we can, and be punched if we cannot; to take our falls and our fun, gaily and stolidly, after the English manner ; to love a pretty girl when we get the chance, as many have done and will do while the world goes round ; and to live again, if only whilst we look at these pictures, as simply and strongly as the actors therein ! In this, and in several other aspects which we have had no time to touch upon, there is no one to take Mr. Caldecott's place. A genuine, original, and essentially English artist, who has given pleasure to tens of thousands, and done harm to none, we may fittingly conclude this notice of his art and his untimely death, with Ruskin's words, as to the effect upon the artist's own life of good work :—" Happiest at the close of life, when the eye begins to fail, and the right hand to forget its cunning, if he can remember that there was never a touch of the chisel or pencil which it wielded, but has added to the knowledge, and quickened the happiness, of mankind."