OLD SOCIETY OF WATER - COLOUR PAINTERS.
VIEWING this exhibition as a whole, we feel the lack of human interest to enliven the mass of scenic representations : these, however pleasing, are not of themselves sufficient. DEwarr's harvest-fields, COPLEY FIELDING'S falling showers, and Cox's dewy meads, are delightful in their way, but one wants something else besides endless repetitions of the same natural scenes in the same manner year after year. HUNT'S rustics, to be sure, are not only human, but interesting ; yet they are mere groundlings—" of the earth, earthy." Not but that HUNT shows all that there is in these clods of humanity : he plumbs the depths
of the standing pool of their intellect. What we desiderate is some- thing more than mere imitations of nature, whether of earth and sea, man and animals ; pictures that tell a story, in short. CATTERMOLE, one of the few members of this Society who is able to do such things, does
not exhibit this year : it is said that he has left water-colours and essayed the vehicle of oil-paint Another, JOHN LEWIS, has sent from Rome two splendid and powerful pictures, in which national character and habits, climate, and costume, are portrayed with the utmost force of painting and richness of colour : yet even these do not altogether supply the one thing wanting, lively emotion. Mr. LEWIS'S large picture, Easter Day at Bonze, (141,) represents the scene in front of St. Peter's, with the crowd of pilgrims and pea- sants assembled to receive the Pope's blessing : the action is here in suspense ; even the feelings of expectation and devotion are passive : all that is going on is by way of episode; such as love-making and jesting. So far as the main incident is concerned, the prevailing senti- ment is repose : the tired wayfarers stretched asleep on the hot pave- ment, basking in the burning sun, the dog watching the sleeping infant, the wily priest scanning the credulous multitude, the amorous gallant whispering soft words to the dark-eyed coquette, the thrifty peasant counting his gains, the merry boy showing his white teeth, and the de- vout pilgrim watching for the advent of the Pope at the diaperied bal- cony—all combine with the heat of a noon-day sun and cloudless sky, and the intense hues of the dresses, to produce a sense of lassitude and languor. This indeed was the painter's intention ; and he has succeeded to admiration: no one can express better than LEWIS the indolence and sensual characteristic of Southern climes. His other and smaller work, Devotional Procession—Toledo, (296,) represents a train of priests pre- ceded by boys bearing banners, passing amid kneeling peasants under an oriel window, from which some lovely women and haughty cavaliers are looking down : here there is movement, but no mental action ; and the downcast eyes of the whole party have a heavy look of dreamy listlessness characteristic of Spanish life, but any thing rather than stimulating to the attention. We make these remarks not in a spirit of objection, but in order to explain how it is that with two such striking figure subjects the exhibition should lack human interest. In point of execution, the smaller of these two pictures is the most finished ; it has less of that opacity of colour and rigidity of form which are even yet defects of LEwis's style : moreover, it is the most picturesque design ; the banners and the architectural forms relieve the figures, and as little more than the heads are shown, the costumes are subordinate to the faces. The difficulty of treating such a subject as confused groups of people clad in the brightest colours, scattered about under a fervent sun, with an architectural background as hot as the people, is very great : and, by the way, it ought to be observed, that the deep colour of the marble of St. Peter's is correct ; in proof of which, we may quote TURNER'S expression, that on looking up the façade on a sunny day, the building appears the colour of cheese : perhaps it is too much like wood in the painting. In respect of study of character and composition, and elaboration and power of execution, these productions of Mr. LEWIS stand alone, unapproached by any others : they are indeed complete pictures, among a collection of drawings and sketches. T. W. WRIGHT has only some studies of female character, which, however, are very sweet and graceful: Rosalind and Celia, (3190 are not unworthy of their names, though we cannot accept them as represen • tations of the ideal originals, for they are deficient in depth and strength of character. These and other delicate delineations of womanhood by the same artist, The Contrast, (2370 and A Day-dream, (328,) are cha- racterized by a tender sentiment that is very charming. F. STONE, who has shown that he can do something more than paint piquant studies of costume, such as The Selected Flower, (238,) would seem also to prefer the medium of oil-colour. W. HUNT has this year essayed the power of water-colours in life-size portraiture, and with complete success : the transparent tints of flesh, both fair and dusky, have never been represented with more glowing warmth than in the two heads of a Masquerader, (178,) and a Mulatto Girl, (249); in which last the vitality of look in the eyes and the san- guineons substance of the lips are remarkable : moreover, the utmost depth of tone, breadth of effect, and force of colour, are attained. The countenance of An Irish Pilgrim-Boy, (126,) is radiant with faith and devotion : his soul is uplifted to heaven : the rapt sublimity of ex- pression gives ideal grace to the ragged locks and frieze blanket tied over his shoulders, without interfering with the rustic simplicity of the
character and attire. This head is painted in the spirit of the great masters : it is as fine of its kind as the St. Catherine of RAPHAEL, in the National Gallery ; and the kneeling boy, with downcast eyes— Devotion, (284)—is worthy of MURILLO. The same earnestness of purpose and intensity of expression of another sort give life to the quiet humour of Hurres drolleries : in the look of the ploughboy Giving himself (H)airs, (105,) the lurking self-complacency of the hobbledehoy
shaving for a beard, with an assumption of the matter-of-course air of a man shaving one off, is plainly evident. In the Winter Effect, (88)— an urchin in an agony of distress at having dropped from his numbed grasp the basket, and scattered its contents : the bodily pain of cold shown by the red frost-bitten fingers thrust helplessly out, and the apprehension of consequences in the blubbering face, heighten the ludicrous image of petty misery by the combination. There is no grimace or affectation in HUNTS studies of character : they bear the stamp of truth, impressed with the force of genius. It is this strong veri- similitude that gives a value to his imitations of the meanest objects : the fallen pot and the mould are as forcibly represented as the flower in this Cockscomb (193). Hewes flowers and fruit are in the freshest bloom of nature, and have both substance and colour : the pine-apple in 198 invites the knife ; and the spray laden with Damascenes, (281,) would, like the grapes of PARRHASIUS, lure the birds to peck at them. His interior of A Laboratory, (166,) is almost illusory : the brick furnaces and pottery are ruddy with the sun's rays, that streaming through the skylight cast strong shadows on the face of the old man seated at the mortar ; while the open door shows in the distant perspective a glimpse of the shop of a well-known chemist in Oxford Street, and a great lover of art.
F. TAYLER'S sporting scenes, with horses, dogs, and huntsmen, are dashed off with a vigorous and glowing pencil : his loose free handling suits these rustic subjects well ; and he has attained greater solidity without losing any brilliancy of tone: his large picture, The Highland Keeper's Bothy, (117,) with a group of fashionable sportsmen resting, and the gudewife pouring out the mountain-dew, is a powerful and pleasing picture, though deficient both in animation and originality.
Of JOSEPH Ness's sumptuous interiors of English mansions in the olden time, The Cartoon-Gallery at Knowle, (1570 is the only large and finished picture ; it is a beautiful example of the cheerful elegance of a chintz-like combination of colours in decoration, and is bright with a flood of daylight atmosphere. In a small sketch of The Presence- chamber, Hampton Court, (3020 Mr. Ness has introduced the splendid entertainment of the French Ambassadors by Cardinal Wolsey ; and the characteristic manner in which the quaint magnificence of the time is represented, gives it an historical interest that deserves to be brought out more strongly in a picture on a larger scale.
St. Mark's, and the Piazzetta, Venice, during the Carnival, (169,) by LAKE PRICE, is a fine subject spoiled by overcharged, discordant colour- ing and a coarse exaggerated style : the gorgeous effect of the barbaric architecture of St. Mark's is well depicted; but it is overpowered by a solid wall of ultramarine doing duty as a sky, and a pattern-card of gaudy hues, intense, bard, and opaque, intended to represent the motley crowd. If this ambitious young artist would learn how to give the full brilliancy of local tints, with a pure tone and harmonious effect, let him look at HOLLAND'S view in Venice, (98); which is glowing with colour, yet is chaste in its richness. HOLLAND, indeed, affords this year a lesson in landscape-painting which any artist may study with advan- tage: his view of Milton Church, (83,) is the perfection of art as regards the representation of a rural English scene : the modest sim- plicity of the style is in accordance with the sentiment of the subject, and the verdant freshness and daylight brightness of the landscape are depicted with a sober truth that shows a fine colourist, even in the absence of all garish hues. No two scenes can be more opposite than these treated by HOLLAND, yet nothing can be more beautifully true than the painting of each : the reason is, that the painter's art is subdued to the quality of nature in both instances. J. VARLEY affords a notable instance of the converse of this golden rule : how completely he sub- dues nature to the quality of his art, is seen in a score of little and big smudges, splotched with brown and shining with gum. These compo- sitions seem to be produced by means of a picture-making kaleidoscope ; putting in a parcel of details culled from some old master, and turning the tube round and round, copying each "pattern" in succession : one "effect" and one "tone" suffices for all ; and, as practice makes perfect, Mr. VARLET can execute orders at his manufactory to any extent, at the smallest possible notice. There is no necessity for looking at nature — quite the reverse : Mr. VermEr might say with FUSEL', "Nature puts me out."
COPLEY FIELDING, DEWDIT, Cox, and BARRETT, have each one way of treating landscape, and they adhere to it ; but they at least present us with some phase of nature. We will merely instance one little picture by each of these four popular artists, as exemplifying the peculiar ex- cellence of their respective styles : View on the Downs, (65,) with a falling shower ; A Barley Field, (135); A Heath Scene, (275) ; and Twilight, (287): the very subjects bespeak the painters, without refer- ence to the order of names, and suggest the style in which each is treated. We must point out another sweet little bit by Cox, Valle Crucis Abbey, (315,) for the sake of the silvery gray ruin half hid by the trees steeped in the dewy freshness of "incense-breathing morn.' %wises view of Powis Castle, (46,) rich with his russet tints, and of Ingthorpe Grange, (93,) nestling in a fragrant hay-field, cannot be passed unheeded ; his view of the West Front of Lincoln Cathedral, from the Castle-hill, (I75,) is also remarkable for the sober brightness of its tone and the power of local colour in giving value to a commonplace scene in a country town—for the Cathedral looks like paper. Contrasted with this, F. MACKENZIE'S elaborate and accurate view of the Market- place, Cambridge, forcible as it is appears tame. IlenDmis's three pictures, though his vigorous style is at once re- cognizable, are as different as the subjects. In his Distant View of Loughborough and Charnwood Forest, (29,) the prospect stretches out wide, the clouds float high above in air, and the trees in the middle distance conduct the eye gradually from the stubble-field with its shocks of corn in the foreground, over the open country to the far-off town : the painting of the harvest-field is masterly, but the group of sports- men are not worthy of the ground they tread on. The rolling in of the waves on the beach is admirably represented in his coast-scene, Boats going dr—Haetings, (144): the water is fluent and in motion ; and it is evidently the salt sea. Very different is the flood and foam of the fresh water in his Falls of the Tunnel, (121); in which, however, there is too much of handling in the spray of the cascade : we see the white paint too plainly. NESF/ELD, who is a devotee of the spirit of the waterfall, has treated the same subject, and introduced a rainbow, (vide 17); but though a gayer and more elaborate drawing, it wants force : the tumbling stream only is finished. W. EVANS is similarly gaudy and flimsy in a river-scene, Caversham on the Thames, (102,) with a rainbow after a shower : his view of Windsor, (820 is grand ; the un- sightly buildings forming part of the Castle being veiled by a burst of sunlight, while the smoke of a barge unites with the rays to screen the details, and the noble pile is seen in the mass only. W. CALLOW has greatly increased in strength, variety, and vividness of effect; though the purply brown tint of which he is so fond too often takes the place of local colour : this incongruity is strikingly evident in his Venice, (156,) which is deficient in keeping ; and it is slightly visible in his best production, Naples, (90), where the rippling waves of the bay are fresh with spray. BENTLEY'S sea- pieces are much brighter and more pure in tone than before ; his Fishing-boats, Wicklow Bay, (730 are in motion on the waves, and the atmosphere is clear and full of daylight: his large picture, Fishing. boats running into Harbour, (194,) is in his old, heavy, exaggerated style : the huts on the shores and the stone of the pier seem to be in motion as well as the waves.
Space fails us, but we cannot conclude this notice without a recogni- tion of the promise given by a member of the Society, G. A. TRIPP, in several modest landscapes remarkable for truth and painstaking neat- ness; of which the best are Tivoli, (113,) and two Views on the Avon, (139 and 218.)