ENGLISH AND AMERICAN ART.*
THE first of these works is very elaborately got up, each of the fifteen numbers in which it is issued being contained in a pale-pink portfolio designed with great daintiness and taste ; the illustrations are executed as photogravures, partly on reparate sheets, making valuable and charming pictures in themselves, partly inserted into the pages of writing. The price of the work complete (limited to 1,000 copies), on Dutch paper, will be 215. There are also to be editions de luxe, at 230, 210, and 250 each. Hogarth, Reynolds, and Gainsborough are the three English artists chosen for the three first numbers of the series. The six pictures of the "Marriage a la mode," Hogarth's portrait of himself with the dog, and the " Sigis- monde," illustrate the first portfolio. These are excellent, and, seen without the photographs from which they were taken, seem nearly as good as possible. But surely it would have been better to have illustrated this work by the photographs themselves. We have always noticed that in the process of reproducing the photographs in photogravures much has been lost. It seems unnecessary to use anything but photographs as illustrations, considering the exceeding beauty of the photo- graphs done by such firms as Messrs. G-oapil, and by such artists in photography as Baum, now that they can be produced in perfectly permanent chemicals. It is doubtless an expensive way of illustrating, but hardly more so, we should have thought, than reproducing the photographs in photo- gravures. Still, we ought not to grumble, considering how very excellent the reproductions are in the work before as.
In the Reynolds portfolio, we have illustrations of" The Age of Innocence," "Dr. Johnson," "Mrs. Mnstors," "Portraits of Two Gentlemen " (Mr. Huddisford and Mr. Bampfylde), "The Banished Lord," "Lord Heathfield," "The Infant Samuel," "Robinette," and the famous "Angels' Heads," all five heads portraits of one child, Miss Gordon. In making a selection of typical works by Sir Joshua, it would have been well to have had a larger choice than among those only belonging to the nation, for it possesses none of his most famous women's portraits ; also we think it a mistake to have reproduced the "Banished Lord." This we cannot think worthy of Reynolds, having a theatrical, stagey element quite foreign to the spirit of his best work. The "Dr. Johnson," "Lord Heathfield," and the "Angels' Heads" are most worthy examples of his genius, and are quite beautifully reproduced. In the choice of the Gainsboroughs we are lucky, the nation possessing some of the finest examples of his genius, the "Mrs. Siddons," for example, and the" Parish Clerk." We are also lucky in finding a brother-artist discoursing on their merits. Mr. W. B. Richmond writes the text, and what a difference there is between the writing of the artist on the artist, and the writing of the professional litterateur on the artist ! Interesting as are some of the remarks on Hogarth by Mr. Austin Dobson, how entirely outside the artistic appreciation of the painter they are when com- pared to Mr. Richmond's spontaneous and happy revellings in a brother-craftsman's gifts. The praise of great artists' work by outsiders seems so meagre, so formal, so purely dictated by in- formation, compared to the delight and sympathy that the fellow- feeling of one artist towards another inspires, let alone that sense of real knowledge of his subject which is found in every sentence Mr. Richmond writes on Gainsborough. Not that we should agree with him in the ultimate place assigned to Gainsborough among artists, or in comparing him with Reynolds. Oar own opinion is that Reynolds is altogether on a higher level, and made, from an artistic point of view, in a much bigger mould ; that his art is altogether greater and deeper ; that his right place might be among the ten greatest artists who ever lived, whereas Gainsborough would barely find a place among the twenty greatest. In Reynolds, the gifts of colour and form are directed towards expressing the general laws of Nature through the noblest and purest sense of beauty, and while stamping his work by the individuality of his own genius, he, like all the greatest masters, seems to elevate Nature
• English drt is: the Patio Hafferiss of London. Illustrated with more than 100 Photogravures by °pupil and CO. Published under the direction of Thomas Elnaphry Ward, M.A. London : Bonzeod•Valadon and Co., New Bond Street.— Book of American Figure Painters. London: John 0. Nimeno.
and fit her to grace the more permanent aspect of Art. Lamentable indeed is it that the methods and pigments he used were often so unsafe and fleeting. His drawing may be careless and faulty at times, but it is never ignoble or flimsy. In his most rapid brushwork there is always traceable the truest sense of beauty inspiring the flight, and in his colouring there are constantly noble qualities to be found, especially in his flesh-painting, which have never been excelled, we think, if equalled, by any master of any school. When we think how few are the painters who have ever really battled with the difficulties of flesh-painting, the excellence in this line which all must admit as existing in Sir Joshua's work when at its best, puts him at once on the highest level among painters. Now, in Gainsborough we feel there is nothing that exactly touches the greatest. There is a very precise rendering of indiviiaal countenance which is most interesting and unique, and makes him very great as a portrait-painter ; but though delicate and brilliant artistic gifts are also present in his work, there is a flimsiness in the carrying-out of the intention, a frivolity in the execution often, which excludes his work, we think, from taking a first place in Art. It possesses a great charm, but it is not the charm of soul ; it is the charm of manners, and of that kind of beauty which seems hung on to certain human beings, rather than to belong to their own essence. And so in the beauty of his colour and tone, and general arrangement of a picture. The beauty he cares for seems to be more the surface decoration of Natnre than its very essence, the outcome of its very core. What makes Phidias Phidias, and all the greatest artists the greatest, is that power of unfolding the secret beauties and truths of Nature, and being, to put it paradoxically, more true than Nature herself.
To return to the first portfolio. We do not think that Mr. Austin Dobson accentuates sufficiently the very fine genius as a painter which Hogarth possessed, though it was used in the ser- vice of a strong desire, above all things, to depict character and the fashions, manners, and vices of his day. In our day, this vein has been expressed by slighter methods, in such illustrations as those by Leech, Da Manlier, and others. Perhaps this slighter method is better fitted for the purpose than the elaborate paint- ing of Hogarth. It must always be remembered that there is a certain amount of curiosity blended with the impression which painted moralities inspire. Hideous vice painted in full does not always influence merely by teaching a lesson ; it may also inspire a curiosity which is not entirely wholesome, and which is increased the more the work is carried out under realistic conditions, colour, Izc. The very great qualities which Hogarth's art as art possessed, seem to have deserved as such a larger field for their development than the small pictures which tell of the follies and vices of his generation. There is a sense of beauty in the quality and colour of his painting with which the ghastly vice which the story of the picture so often depicts seems to jar. Such an effect may assuredly be true to life ; but still, it may perhaps be justly felt that a feeling for beauty in Art is such a rare gift in the extent to which Hogarth possessed it, that had he used it unmitigatedly in the service of a high and elevating art, instead of in that of a didactic and critical spirit, his works of art might have been greater. Still, however this may be theoretically, Hogarth chose his own line, and the power and interest which he wove into these vivid stories of his own creation are perhaps the unanswerable proofs that it was right he should pursue his art in that direction ; for clearly "to be true unto thyself" is the most imperative of all maxims to the artist, above all workers. Still, in considering the work of Hogarth, the really great artistic qualities are apt to be forgotten, so forcible is his power of telling a story and of accentuating different types of character and manners.
We indeed wish all success to this work, which ought certainly to be included in all libraries of art-books. Such a history of the best examples of English art carried out in such a manner cannot fail of being appreciated, for, as far as we know, nothing of the kind existed before. The English school is quite individual and important enough to make such a work almost a necessity to all interested in the subject.
As far as binding, decorative ornament, and all memories are concerned, The Book of American Figure-Painters is among the handsomest we have seen. Its size and weight give it im- portance, let alone the well-designed white-and-gold cover, and the elaborate but well-drawn and delicately tinted lining. All that belongs to the decoration of the volume is good, and the illustrations, as examples of photogravures, are first-rate; and many of those which show least of the figure are, as pictures, pretty. Bat if this work is to be considered as evidence of the power of American artists to draw the figure, we must, in all honesty, say that it is a failure. Never have we seen more distinctly the mischievous results of copying the figure from models without a previous knowledge of the laws of form, or without a principle in the treatment of the nude which makes it right and advisable to treat it at all in Art. We have but little sympathy with French art, as a rule, as it is treated by Frenchmen; but, nevertheless, in it is traceable the strength as well as the weakness of the national sentiment and 'character; we feel that French art is a true outcome of the French mind and temperament, but we fail in seeing anything to admire in the American adaptation of the French feeling. The Americans have not yet found themselves in their art as they have in their literature. Every line they take up suggests an echo of some work or school of European art which has appendaged itself to the artist's mind as the thing to imitate. The American's art, it seems to us, is altogether at present outside his own experience and life of sensation, an accomplishment which he pursues with great expertness and cleverness, but into which no true originality can enter, because it comes from no centre of feeling which creates it and imperatively demands its expression. This, of course, may be truly said of much of the modern art which is manufactured instead of being invented, but in no instances more strongly than in the case of nearly all American art. Exceptions occur to us in the case of the decorative work of Elihn Vedder, and in that of some of the illustrations which appear in the Century and Harper's Magazines. In all the completer paintings by American artists, we find an absence of anything which bears the stamp of a tree national individuality. American art must begin on entirely new lines of its own before it can boast of an American school. The American character has happily, we believe, nothing in it which would account for such a treatment of the nude as we find in some of these designs before us. As we understand American feeling and sentiment, such outrages as some to be found here on that finer taste which borders on a moral delicacy of feeling could not be perpetrated by American artists, were they not authorised by the prestige of the French school of art and by French training. Moreover, the work of those who borrow must exceed, or at least equal in worth, the original, or what can be the use of it ? Now, in these echoes of French figure-drawing the one undeniable excellence which exists in the originals is left out, namely, correct drawing. An extraordinary want of know- ledge of structure and proportion is to be found in some of these illustrations, which is the result of the artist having depended for his form entirely on the changing lines of a model before he had become master of the laws of form, or before his eye was sufficiently sensitive in discriminating between the possible and the impossible in human structure. More than ever does this work prove what we believe firmly to be the case,—that if Art is ever to rise again to be considered among the serious and vital interests of society, it mast get on to very different lines to those on which a great deal of modern art is conducted. Photography will give the beauty of realism more and more completely as the science is perfected ; but no science will ever translate human feeling or human imagination. The human hand of the gifted artist is alone able to render these. To direct such human feeling and imagination so as to suggest impressive truths and noble emotions, is, we think, the true vocation for the art of the future,---we mean, of course, the art which is neither portrait-painting nor caricature, both most useful in their separate ways. In order to carry out really high art, knowledge as well as dexterity is required. No trick of eye or hand, however clever, can work out the creation of an imagina- tive brain. Certain truths and laws of Nature must become part of the artist's own being before he can successfully direct the creative faculty. To acquire such knowledge necessitates an entirely different training to that given in either the French or English schools ; but we are convinced that without-it, high art can only be produced by the individual artists who are strong enough to fight through all difficulties, and so to do the work which is most useful to the whole community, as was the art of Greece and Italy. If America had a genuine art instinct of her own, it might be to her we should justly look for the energy and enterprise to carry out with a young nation's vitality and enthusiasm some real line of study and aim which might give her a school of great art. At present, however, the rechauffe element in her art has a wearying, depressing effect upon us, no mere cleverness in execution being able by itself to stimulate an interest. To return to the work in question, the book seems to us to be too ambitions in its character, con- sidering the want of right sensitiveness in the most essential points ; but as an illustrated gift-book, it is interesting not only as showing the perfection with which a book can be got up in America, but as also showing what.the American figure-painters can do.