27 NOVEMBER 1886, Page 17


Ma. QUILTEIt'S judgments on Art have appeared for so long a time in this journal, that a good deal of this volume will be in substance familiar to our readers, and not a little of it familiar even in form. We shall not attempt, therefore, to criticise the volume from the artistic point of view, because any such criti- cism, if it were independent and in any sense hostile, would make the Spectator appear a house divided against itself ;—and for this reason it seemed not inappropriate that it should be reviewed purely from a literary point of view by one who would not be at all competent to pass judgment on matters involving any technical knowledge of Art. To that certainly the pre- sent reviewer has no sort of claim. It is only as a " picture- lover " that he can even pretend to be one of those for whom the Sententice Artie has been composed. The book, we should say at once, is for all "picture-lovers," whether they be painters or not, a very interesting and a very amusing one, full of good things, sometimes carelessly said 80 as to seem less true than the thought, sometimes very carefully and eloquently said ; while oftener than there should be, occur very commonplace things said with an aggressive or epigram- matic air that annoys the reader by the apparent effort to be smart and telling. We refer to such sentences as those in which a young artist is warned against following the advice of 4‘ Tom or Nelly " in painting; or taking in "ideas of colour from your maiden aunt ;" or copying "sporting subjects from your bachelor uncle,"—a warning wholly needless to any person of good sense, and useless to any one so destitute of geese as to be in need of it ; or the remarks explaining "what papa thinks" of an over-testhetic house,—a passage conveying the most common- place sense in the most depressingly and even excruciatingly jocose manner. Indeed, we could produce several passages for which, if Mr. Quilter had written nothing else, we should have been tempted to condemn his writing as writing of the gilt-gingerbread style, in which a common kind of wholesome enough article is spoilt by the attempt to make it look attractive with tinsel or lacquer. Still, for the most part, the judgments found in this book, so far as one can judge of them without a • Sententike Adis. First Prineiplel of Art for Painters and Picture-Lovers. By Harry Quitter, M.A. Londin ; W. Isbister (Limited). 1856.

special artistic training, are both sound and thoughtful. And considering how much that is aggressive,—even needlessly and mistakenly aggressive,—Mr. Quilter has written, we are relieved to find how much lucid and hearty appreciation of great work this book contains. We will venture to say that for one artist who is attacked or treated coldly in this volume, there are at least six or seven who are criticised with apprecia- tive and discriminating sympathy, and not a few who are so criticised as to awaken a quite fresh interest in them, even in

those who have always known and admired their works. Alfred

Stevens, Richard Doyle, Charles Keene, Caldecott, Gregory, Frederick Walker, Pinwell, Holman Hunt, Watts, Rossetti, and Berne 'Tones, are all so criticised that even those who admired them before, are likely to admire them with more earnestness and more intelligence in future. On many of our older artists, like Gainsborough and Reynolds, Mr. Quilter's criticisms throw new light ; while of a great number of other painters, he speaks with so much skill and justice that the remarks which show you their shortcomings enhance the value of his appreciation.

Finally, though Mr. Quitter's book is not one which would have suggested to us its second title, " First Principles of Art for Painters and Picture.Lovers,"—for " first principles" suggest something which, if well studied, would bring the student to the very threshold of his art, with a distinct understanding what Art may venture to present, and what is beyond its province, —we do think that his book impresses very powerfully on us that the province of Art is commensurate, so far as the means at its disposal go, with life itself ; that it is its function to do, so far as sculpture and painting have the means of doing, all that Poetry does, when it depicts life good or evil, in the aspect thrown upon it by any illuminating idea,— when it helps us, for example, to discriminate better noble from ignoble life, happy life from miserable,beautiful life from ugly, and quickens our power of interpreting for the future the various signs of good and evil, nobleness and ignobility, happiness and misery, beauty and ugliness. We rather think, however, that Mr. Quilter might have helped us more than he has done to distinguish what Art can and cannot do in this direction, from what Poetry can and cannot do ; that he might have shown us more at large where the power of Art is greater and where the power of Poetry is greater; what Art must fail in that Poetry may succeed in ; what Poetry does feebly which Art can do effectually. But his general contention that Art is not limited to dealing with beauty ; that it may even give the deepest artistic significance to ugliness itself, if it select rightly the point of view ; that it is often bound in practical life to subordinate beauty to use, and, indeed, misses beauty in practical life when it does not subordi- nate beauty to use,—all this he teaches us eloquently, and with all sorts of the most various applications, while steadily resisting the notion (which at bottom is quite as false) that the object of Art is to inculcate moral lessons. What can be better than such a sentence as this :—

",Humanity can only be improved, taught, or comprehended by humanity itself, by which I mean, by those who acknowledge the imperfections, as well as the achievements and beauties of human life, and hence it comes to pass that an artist who sets himself to be always beautiful—first and chiefly—is not unlike a man who Beta himself to be always gay ; his laughter must often jar upon us, and there must be many truths which he does not understand. His work becomes in this respect, at least, not altogether human."

Or than this, but for the "jam," which hardly helps the drift ?— " It seems as if some admixture with the rough-and-ready crude motives of the work-a-day world was needed to preserve the due balance between the emotional and intellectual faculties. The cul- tivation of the inithetic side of life exclusively or chiefly blinds the eyes to the simple verities of life, and when the faculties are raised to their highest power of sensitiveness it too frequently results that they are used simply to minister to sterile fancies or morbid passions. Beauty is in some way like jam ; not good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and tea ; a little now and then is best appreciated. A. little ugliness despite Mr. Morris, is a desirable thing; desirable not in itself, but for what it brings ; for its connection with rough, ugly deeds, and motives which we cannot wholly disdain or ignore while we live in the world, which is made tolerable to us, not by angels and heroes, but men and women of imperfect nature, like ourselves. I confess that there was to me a certain beauty in some ugly rooms that I remember in my childhood whioh was in a way inseparable from their ugliness. They represented the mixed good and bad taste of people I loved, and who seemed to me to be fitly represented by such an environment. One could trace little domestic histories in the pictures on the wall, and even the chairs and tables bad a special relation to the household. Think for a minute whether such ugliness is not more full of what really renders life beautiful than the most perfect room ever designed by an tosthetio decorator ; for beauty is of many kinds, and exists in the heart and its sympathies, as well as in the pleasures of the eye."

Once more, another aspect of the same idea is expressed power- fully in the following passage, though, we think, a little too broadly :—

"There is a distinction which is not always sufficiently borne in mind by the artist, between subjects which are beautiful in them- selves, and those which are beautiful in spite of themselves, as, for instance, the curvature of a leaf, and the line of a breaking wave, and the aspect of the same leaf when it is fallen and withered, or the lines of the same wave when they have been shattered upon a rocky shore. The last kind of beauty being that which depends on the circumstance under which the object is met with, or the sentiment by which it is affected. And especially in drawings of architecture is it necessary to keep this distinction in mind, since if it be at all forgotten, the artist will almost inevitably attempt to combine those contradictory elements, to mar the grace which he should preserve, by introducing hints of ruggedness and decay ; and weaken the force of things which derive their beauty from their usefulness and their endurance, by covering them with the thin mantle of the picturesque. In other words, in the repro- duction of things which are ugly but useful, as in that of those which are beautiful, the chief virtue consists in sincerity. For we gain by that in each case the beauty which befits the subject, and if we dare to express with perfectly literal truth any series of facts which have a real connection with, and significance to, the life of man, it is almost certain that we shall render them interesting, since the elements of use and of beauty are so closely allied."

Surely it cannot be said that "any series of facts which have a real connection with, and significance to, the life of man" have, as such, an artistic right to expression, even though they

admit of such expression. Manufacturing processes have a real connection with, and significance to, the life of man, but the fine arts, as such, have no business with them. A picture giving faithfully the details of soap-boiling or of screw-making would not have much right to the epithet " artistic " in the sense in which Mr. Quilter uses it, any more than verse on such subjects would have a right to the name of poetry. Though neither Poetry nor Art need busy themselves mainly with beauty, and may rightly busy themselves mainly even with deformities or perversities in human nature, if they try them by a high standard, yet they must, on the whole, limit themselves to spheres in which human emotion or passion is excited in its larger forms, either imaginative or moral or spiritual, and exclude both the sciences, as such, and the mere routine of the world, however useful.

As regards Mr. Quilter's many vigorous criticisms on pictures, which the present writer would not presume, on artistic grounds, to question, they seem to us for the most part admirable statements of the point of view which he takes up. As a poet, we are persuaded that he greatly overrates Rossetti, whose sensuousness seems to us as cold in a moral sense as it is morbid and introspective ; but it would be difficult to exaggerate the beauty of this description of one of Rossetti's masterpieces :—

"Take, as an example of this, the picture of the painter's wife, done after her death, and entitled ' Beata Beatrix.' The subject is simple enough—a three-quarter-length figure of a woman, whose head has fallen slightly backward upon her shoulders in sleep, which we feel will soon be that of death. Fluttering in front of her is a crimson bird, bearing a poppy in its mouth; behind her a sun-dial; while in the distance of the Florentine streets stand Dante and the Angel of Love watching. Descriptions of pictures,' as some one says, are stupid things at the best ;' hut here they seem to me even more than usually inadequate. No amount of description could convey any hint of the intense and beautiful peace which marks this painting. It is like that of summer woods at early dawn, before the first bird has begun to sing, and the last star faded. Nor is it only that the face and its expression are perfect ; the whole picture tells its story with an emphasis only the more clear because of its intense quietude. Like the whisper of a great actress, we hear and feel the weight of every syllable. And technically it is as fine as it is emotionally, for curiously enough, in this, probably his finest picture, Rossetti shows little or none of that wilfulness which is so frequently present in his works. The drawing, if not very markedly good, is unobtrusive and unobjectionable; the disposition of the drapery (always a strong point with this artist) is simplicity and dignity itself, the position full both of grace and suggestion, and represented with the utmost ease ; while of the colouring it is impossible to speak in terms of too Ugh praise. The picture is suffused with a misty sunshine, and all the hues therein are somewhat low in tone ; but into their transparent depths the eye looks down and down as through the still waters of a lake ; and the effect of the whole is that of some very marvellous piece of quiet music played at a great distance."

And for wide and sober criticism, we can hardly give better examples than such criticisms as those of Prout, of Samuel Palmer, of Sir F. Leighton, or Sir E. Landseer.

We wish Mr. Quilter would take more pains to verify his quotations. They are often incorrectly quoted, and sometimes incorrectly printed as well. Even in the dedication, the quota- tion from Alfred de Musset is misprinted so as to give a false gender—scale for seal. One of the most celebrated of all Words-

worth's lines is misquoted, as also is Omar Khayyam. We do not dislike careless quotations from memory when made viva voce, for they at least prove that they are not got up for the occasion. But when they appear in a book, they should be looked up and corrected. Still, these are small shortcomings. The book as a whole is excellent reading, often very powerful, and sub- stantially sound and wise in its literary teaching.