20 JANUARY 1877, Page 15


THE OLD MASTERS AT BURLINGTON HOUSE. [SECOND NOTICE.] 'TERRE is a drawback in criticising the works of what may be called the Old Masters proper—i.e., those of the ancient Flemish and Italian schools—and that is the difficulty which the critic under- goes when he has to mention works described in a catalogue as by such and such a master, knowing almost to a certainty that the description is erroneous. If, on the one hand, he declares the picture to be spurious, he offends, and perhaps causes actual loss to the owner, who has lent the picture for the pubic benefit ; and if, on the other hand, he speaks of the work as being a genuine product, he lays himself open to the imputation of not knowing ids business. In these annual collections at Burlington House there are always several (we might almost say many) spurious pictures, by well-known masters of the Italian schools, and we think it well to say once for all that of such we do not care to speak, and shall avoid mentioning any of the pictures which appear to us to be of doubtful origin.

In our last notice we mentioned the chief figure and portrait subjects of the English school, and now turn to the land- scapes, of which there are but very few calling for notice. There is in the first room a view of the Lake of Geneva, taken above Vevey, looking towards the Castle of Chillon, which appears to us -to be one of the hardest Turners everexhibited. This is the more curious, as it is not apparently a very early one. Whether from the fading of the white used, or for some other reason, the colour seems to have lost all Turnerian glow and transparency, and the whole foreground, with its dancing figures, is hard and heavy to the last degree. Next to this is hung a fine view of the Thames, with Greenwich Hospital in the background, by George Vincent, a favourite pupil of Old Chrome. It is a fine, vigorous painting, the drawing and grouping of the boats being first-rate, and the sky also exceptionally good. It will be a surprise to many that Vincent ever painted so fine a picture. Near this hangs a classical landscape by Wilson, like nothing in the world but a classical landscape,—the antipodes of nature in colour and everything else. The moonlight scene by Old Chrome, also in this first room, is not a good one, and calls -for little comment. On the opposite side of the room hangs the one specimen of Constable sent this year, a picture of Dedham Vale, the valley where Constable was born and passed the early part of his life. It is ,a large, upright picture, with clumps of trees and foliage on the right hand and the left, and the valley lying below, and giving a vista of winding stream, red-roofed >houses, and green fields, with thesquare village church rising above the cottages in the grey distance. There is a fine Turner in the large gallery, lent by the Duke of Westminster, which will repay attention. It is one of the dark, yellowish-brown pictures, of which Turner painted so many at one period, and quite unlike the gorgeous colouring of his later works. The most entirely satisfactory landscape in the exhibition is No. 278, by John Cotanan. It is a river scene, probably in either Norfolk or Essex, with two stone-barges on the right, and hills in the distance. It would be difficult to describe the charm of this homely little pic- ture. Perhaps much of its powerlies in the fact that the painter was -delineating a scene which he might have beheld every day on the -Stour or the Orwell, within a few miles of tie own home, and which he probably had beheld scores of times. The colour of the painting is, of a warm reddish brown, the barges, windmill, and stream being all mellowed by the soft evening light, and the prevailing impression left on the spectator's mind is one of peace ; the calm river, the slow barges, with their heavy sails drooping, the cloudless sunset, sky, all alike suggest the feeling.

The Flemish school this year is especially strong in Vandykes ; -there are three here in the large gallery of Quite first-class merit. These are portraits of Charles -I. and his wife, Henrietta

Maria ; and one of James Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox. The two last, indeed, are as fine as any of this painter's works that we have ever seen. Henrietta Maria is a three-quarter portrait of large size, and repre- sents her standing by a table, in a white-silk dress with red bows. Perhaps some of the very beautiful colour of this picture is owing to the medium used having changed the white dress into a very delicate greenish hue, which harmonises wonderfully with the red trimmings. But however this may be, it must always have been a most pleasing portrait. The one of Charles I., though very strong, is a little bit stiff, probably from the fact of the painter having chosen to represent him in armour. The Duke of Richmond and Lennox is a brighter portrait than either of the above, and represents a young man, with long, curling fair hair, standing with his hand on the head of a deer-hound. The elaborate manner in which Vandyke has painted the untidiness of the Duke's stockings is almost worthy of a pre-Raphaelite. There is a rather curious equestrian portrait of Charles I., in the manner of Velasquez, which should be noticed in passing. There are two specimens here of Nicholas Maas, both of first-rate quality, though the one lent by the Queen is so very excellent as to sink that of Mr. Roberts into com- parative insignificance. " The Listener " is well known, and has been engraved over and over again. The subject, as is usual with this painter, is remarkable only for the skill with which it has been treated, and is a woman descending a winding staircase with finger on lip, apparently intent on surprising a group of persons who are seated drinking in the dim kitchen below. We should imagine that as a specimen of chiaroscuro this picture has never been surpassed. No. 86, in the same room, is a good, vulgar example of Ostade,—a man leaning out of window with a jug in his hand, and a leer on his excessively ill-favoured countenance.

The great gems of the Italian school, and consequently of this exhibition, are the four Paolo Veroneses, lent by the Earl of Darnley, and evidently intended for ceiling-decoration. They are not remarkable for the usual colour of this painter's works ; in- deed, the colour is almost monochrome, though very delicate and harmonious. Curiously enough they have no names, being simply

headed Allegorical Subjects. There can be little doubt but that the four are illustrative of some series of episodes, but what these can be we confess ourselves at a loss to imagine. There are some names suggested in the catalogue, which M. Crozet, who engraved these works, invented for them, but they are so singu- larly inappropriate that they rather make the matter worse. In fact, pictures like these hardly require names or bear descrip- tion. It is only by actual sight, and that intense and long continued, that their beauties can be appreciated. Two or three nude or semi-nude figures, and a few sprays of leaves and folds of drapery, would answer well enough for the subject of all of them ; and then the main question would remain untouched, as it would also after the most elaborate description, whence come the grace and the beauty which render these works so superior to anything in the-exhibition ? Where does the charm lie ? We do not care, as a rule, for naked women or men lying about on ruined temples, or little Cupids leading them by the hand to unknown destinies. We all know that the usual sentiment inspired by allegorical paint- ings is one of extreme depression. Well, the truth is that the main question in works of art must always remain untouched ; we may admire drawing, we may admire colour, we may admire composition, and yet all theme things may be present, and the picture fail to stir in us the slightest emotion. Look at the great Rubens in this room of Queen Tomyris and her generals. There are colour, and drawing, and composition, and all by a great man, and we would give the whole gladly for the spray of bay-leaves in the first of these Veroneses. And yet it is no special beauty which inspires us with this feeling ; it is not the rounding of this limb, the glow of this flesh, or the sweep of the drapery, before which we stand in admiration ; these are but aids— instruments, so to speak,—used by the hand of genius. The highest in art is for ever the• unexpressed, the nnexpressible, and while, before talent of however high a kind we stand and admire calmly each separate perfection, in the works of genius all individual beauties disappear unheeded, burnt up in the sacred fire. There is an example of Giorgione in this room which should be noticed for what some critic has unwisely called its " unlovely back- ground." The background is, as a matter of fact, a very early struggle against the conventional backgrounds in use at the time, an attempt to render literally an actual scene, and is not altogether unlike in some respects pre-Raphaelite work of our own time. The figures in front, two women and a man playing the guitar,

are somewhat awkward. In this work, a sort of scene from Boccaccio, the colour has somewhat faded, but enough is left to throw all the surrounding paintings into comparative dullness ; and in No. 189, another work by Giorgione, representing St. George and the Dragon, the glow of the armour is as rich as it is possible for painting to be, quite overcoming the insignificance of the face, which has apparently sustained some injury, as the features are nearly obliterated.

Of Rubens there are many examples, but we shall only mention two of superlative excellence, omitting all notice of the large picture of " The Wolf-hunt," No. 55, and of "The Woman taken in Adultery," No. 75, and several others. These two are " Cymon and Iphigenia," No. 45 ; and " Portrait of a Gentle- man," No. 65. The first of these is a small cabinet picture, and the most highly finished Rubens that we have ever seen. It represents a group of nude figures asleep under some forest trees, through whose thick branches glimpses of the blue sky beyond are seen. On the right-hand side, Cymon leans upon his shepherd's staff, struck, as the old story has it, with the sudden sense of his brutish condition by the beauty of Iphigenia. Whether Rubens had it in his mind to illustrate the sudden awakening of the soul under the influence of love, or only the simple rendering of the subject, is doubtful, but at least there is in this picture less coarseness than is usual in his works, and the colour is very beautiful, glowing with scarlet and purple and deep browns and greens. "The Portrait of a Gentleman," No. 65, is a figure in a sombre black-silk dress, covered with a pattern of intricate curves, wrought with great skill. The neck is con- cealed by a large ruff, over which the pointed beard projects. The dress is actually black, without being in the least heavy, and the whole tone of the picture pearly and bright.