THE ANCIENT MASTERS.
ALTHOUGH it was a good innovation upon the old rules of this Exhibition to introduce a few pictures by deceased British artists, it is not desirable that these should form a very large proportion of the works exhibited, or that the same names should recur too frequently. Nothing but good perhaps can come of thorough acquaintance with the works of Sir J. Reynolds. Such an ac- quaintance, it may be hoped, will by degrees restore the stand- ard of taste in portraits to a healthy condition. But on the whole there is more to be learnt from the Ancient Masters (pro- perly so called) than from British artists, and it would be a subject of great regret if many years were to pass without a better show of works by the great Italian masters than has been afforded for the last two years. It must not be forgotten indeed that we owe everything to the kindness of those who lend their pictures. But that very kindness has taught us what to ask for, and, be it repeated (without, it is hoped, any breach of good man- ners) a better show of Italian pictures is now a desideratum.
A portrait of John Bologna (or John of Bologna, as the cata- logue calls him, in spite of his Flemish birth and Florentine domicile) is credited to the great Moretto (56), but displays little of that artist's qualities. It represents a man of some vivacity but little weight of character, whose age appears to be forty years at least. Now, the commonly received biographies give 1530 as about the year of the sculptor's birth, and 1560 as the year of Moretto's death. In other words, Bologna was thirEy years old when Moretto died. What do the connoisseurs say about the authenticity of the picture? Another picture (66), of far greater interest as a work of art, is a portrait attributed to Masaccio, but which, owing to the extreme rarity of works by that great genuis, one hesitates to accept as authentic. Knowledge and style far in advance of his age would not raise the doubt, for Ilasaccio unquestionably possessed both. But then come the care- ful authors of the new History of Painting in Italy, and after enumerating some of the pictures that have been assigned to the master, they sum up. " Other works without a claim to his name abound in various galleries, and may be passed over." Neverthe- less, by whomsoever painted, this " Portrait of One of the Aldo- brandini Family" (66) cannot but arrest the attention of any who value life-like expression of character and masculine (albeit stern) simplicity of colour.
Bronzino's portrait of a Grand Duchess (82), dressed in the rich costume which, in spite of his inferiority as a colorist, he was so fond of painting, is a fine picture, and gives a good notion of the grand lady of the period. There is a well painted " Head of the Saviour " (3), by A. Carracci ; a " Madonna" (74 qy. Magdalen ?) by Guido ; and the wreck of a P. Veronese (54), with a finely posed Christ. " St. Catherine with Angels " (57), by Luini, a pupil of L. da Vinci, is chiefly remarkable for the likeness in fee.
ture between Luini's St. Catherine and the Christ in Da Vinci's " Dispute," in the National Gallery. A " Virgin and Child " (147), by our own Dyce, has caught a fair portion of the simple earnestness of the early painters.
The French school is indifferently represented by a " Holy Family" (29) of N. Poussin, brightly painted, but with little appa- rent enthusiasm for the subject ; a Claude (68) and a G. Poussin (73), neither of them of much comparative merit ; and some heads of young girls by Greuze, one of them (8) very pretty, and free from the voluptuousness into which fashion often betrayed him. Among the Dutch and Flemish pictures (which are not less numerous than usual), " A Dinner Party " (33), by Jan Steen, is an excellent example of a homely subject dignified by skilful treatment. The dinner party is in the background, a musician with bagpipes eking out with his " noise" what the company lacks in conversation. In the foreground is a motley and not over quiet assemblage of gossips, waiting, it may be, for the broken meat. Pick the picture to pieces, and the component parts are suffi- ciently vulgar. The art of the painter is displayed in their dis- tribution and in massing them together, so that there is an air of good manners thrown round the otherwise Unpolished party. A portrait by Sir A. More of Isabella of Valois (90) is a fair specimen of his cosmopolitan style, formed by ubiquitous study in his native country, in Italy, and in Spain. The drawing is very careful, especially of the hands. By Mabuse there is a snub-nosed mer- chant making up his accounts, full of honest, though somewhat hard painting (70) ; and in thorough contrast with it " A Lady " (61), by Rubens, free in execution, but not overburdened with individual character. "The Elevation of the Cross " (23), by Rubens, a sketch in three compartments, is a very tempest of vehement action. And movement is well expressed in " The March of an Army " (87), by Borgognone. " The Cavaliers du Mange" (15), by Wouvermans, is also to be noticed for the same quality, as well as for its sunny atmosphere. " Fruit " (67), by De Heem, is a masterly piece of imitation, with wonderfully juicy and transparent grapes. And Steinwyck's "Interior, with St. Jerome" (18), is a good study of light reflected about a room. The St. Jerome is merely an old man reading, with a tame lion instead of a pet dog lying on the floor. It seems an odd fancy to represent the saint in this manner. But it was a fashion, and Cuyp followed it when be painted a landscape with figures curiously clothed in raiment part Turkish, part Moorish, greater part fanciful, and called it " St. Philip Baptizing the Eunuch " (63). The landscape is a fine one, the sun shining through a moist haze, and glinting on the dewy leaves of the water plants. The smaller "Landscape with Travellers" (69) is almost equally beautiful, but the sky appears to have suffered by cleaning or other ill treatment ; Cuyp would never have left the lightly tra- velling clouds of that dull iron-grey colour. " Landscape with Cattle" (5) is also true sunshine, the air in this instance keener and more transparent.
Ruysdael is best known by his thousand-and-one times repeated " Landscape with Waterfall " (22). These are generally much darkened by time, and though a genuine love for nature shines through the darkness, a great portion of their original charm must be lost irretrievably. Moreover, the " waterfall" is generally man- nered, and its uniform leaden colour lacks the qualities due to the transparency and reflecting power of water. Far nobler are his stormy coast scenes, with their rolling clouds and driving seas (28). Here, too, there is a monotone of lead, but it is in great part accounted for by the clouds, not to mention that the attention is pre-occupied by the stir and life among the fishing craft running for port. Rarest, and perhaps noblest of all, are his views of open country, with a town or village on the horizon, and over all the great sailing clouds (9). Breadth of treatment (including herein great largeness of line) and a certain severity of colour, which has hitherto escaped the blackness that overspreads his close woody scenes, are their main characteristics. Breadth and simplicity are equally the distinguishing marks of the Englishman Crome. His pictures retain also the advantages of greater youth in their exceeding freshness and tenderness of colour. Their thorough naturalness exactly snits the taste of the present day, and since the exhibition of his great picture of " Moulsey Heath" in Captain Fowke's gallery at Kensington, the owners of his works have dis- covered that they possess treasures hardly dreamed of before. Two of his coast scenes are among the principal attractions of this Exhi- bition (144 and 161), the one grey and breezy, with drifting piles of cloud, the other reposing in a sweet calm of morning sunshine. " A River Scene with Boats" (182) is a beautiful flowing composition, the tall-sailed barges looking quite stately against the sky. It is given to Crome, but is more like Cotman, both in the flow of its lines and in the manner of painting. In this latter particular it may be compared with a similar subject confessedly by Cotman that hangs in the same room (153). Norfolk claims both artists, and has reason to be proud of them. " A River Scene," by Wilson (obviously the Thames near Twickenham), is simple and pleasing, though its freshness of colour borders on crudity. A small " Landscape with Figures Fishing " (134), by Morland, is no less fresh, and far mellower.
Sir J. Reynolds may be studied at various periods of his career.' Scarcely a single picture by him is here exhibited which may not be identified and assigned to its proper date by reference to the life by Leslie and Taylor. In drawing attention to the most remarkable of them, no attempt will here be made to repeat the chronological information so well conveyed in that book, but it may be remarked generally that the latest are not always the best. The thoughtful beauty of the portraits of Lady Crewe and Lady Robert Spencer (126) give to this picture a charm and a significance which no other English portrait painter, not even Gainsborough, ever attained ; qualities which remain, though the colour by which they were originally enforced is sadly impaired. Compare this picture and its faded carnations with the splendour of flesh painting in Sir P. Lely's " Lady with a Lamb " (122). Some beauty of colour might well be spared from the latter, if in its departure it would carry away with it a portion of the affec- tation depicted in the lady's face. One can hardly imagine Lely painting a child's portrait. But for Sir Joshua, with his candid, honest nature, it was possible ; and how he did it may be seen in " Mary Isabella, Duchess of Rutland" (162). Poets have from time to time sought by periphrasis to heighten the description of a daisy ; Shakespeare calla it simply " a daisy." And so of this portrait by Reynolds. No description can interpret its qualities of expression beyond saying it is thoroughly a child. The execution appears to be in Sir Joshua's best manner, better than that of the same lady's portrait in after life (118), in which, however, are unmistakably seen full grown the handsome features nascent in the child. " A Child in a Black Hood " (110) is alto- gether, but for the colour of her hood, the Red Riding Hood of the story. You see by the way she carries the basket on her arm what a careful little body it is. "Master Crewe as Henry VIII." (108), is a fine-spirited boy, aping the straddle conventionally attributed to the merry Ring. How near to Reynolds Romney sometimes comes in the unaffected and womanly grace of his portraits is apparent in that of " Susan Jouenne " (167), and in " A Lady Reading " (149). But either his colour has greatly lost in tem- pering greys, or he sought to make his portraits "beautiful for ever " by coarser, if more permanent, pigments than Sir Joshua's evanescent carnations. Gainsborough's method, if it produced less brilliant effects at first, secured much greater permanence of delicate flesh tints—witness his portrait of " Ann Horton," afterwards Duchess of Cumberland (160), an eapiegle beauty, with stratagem sparkling in her eye and playing about her mouth. It has often enough been regretted that Wilkie ever went to Spain, but the real regret is that he did not survive his Spanish visit long enough to arrive (as he no doubt would have done) at a just estimate and just use of what he there saw and learned. He would never have rested content with such artificial effects as he has given us in " Not at Honie " (174), but would gradually have digested his newly acquired knowledge and re- turned to nature as his great instructor, with a mind, however, made capable of new impressions by the study of Spanish Art. V.