THE WATER-COLOUR INSTITUTE.
AMONG the causes which produce the lifeless and empty repetitions which year after year claim attention at the picture galleries, not the least potent is the supposition that when an artist has once gained eminence and notoriety in one class of subject, he ought to adhere to it, and not make hazardous experiments with strange materials. This course is greatly encouraged by buyers, who, in seeking for characteristic pictures by an artist (which is right), look exclusively to the subject, and not at all to the treatment wherein the character (if there be any) really lies. Artists are but men, and however needful a lofty aim may be for true excellence, swift success of a substantial kind has its attractions for them, as for others, and it is fortunate when arguments drawn from the exalted views of their calling, which artists are so often exhorted to entertain, can be reinforced by considerations of a more practical nature. Now it is certain that by being con- fined to one set of objects, the mind rapidly becomes indolent and inattentive, the familiar object recalls the original im- pression, and the original interpretation of it is accepted again without reconsideration ; and so the edge of observation becomes blunted, and the artist (if he have not forfeited the name) finds himself more at ease in his studio, where he can prac- tise his hastily formed..methods with facility and profit, than in the presence of new forms of nature, where his notions are per- petually convicted of shallowness and imperfection. " Whenever I find myself getting particularly well satisfied with work done in my studio," said Dewint, "I know there is something wrong ; it is high time to go to Nature and be knocked down." That was the feeling of a genuine artist. The knocking-down process is not always agreeable, but it is wholesome. These thoughts are sug- gested with more than usual force by the present Exhibition of the Institute, by the lamentable paucity of original readings from nature, and by the backsliding of some artists who in former times " appeared to be something." Not to advance is to recede, as well in art as in all other pursuits, and of this the evidence is here only too conclusive.
Notwithstanding the agreeable effect produced by a first sight of the room (an effect in great part due to uniformity in framing the pictures), the impression which after fair consideration finally remains is, that the credit of the society rests on the works of a very few artists, who might be counted on the fingers—Hine, D'Egville, Mogford, Reed, Farmer.
Mr. D'Egville, for all that he is one of the oldest, is yet one of the most improving of the society's members. Always distinguished by unaffected simplicity and good taste, his drawings are remark- able for breadth of treatment, freshness and purity of colour, ful- ness of tone, and thoroughly careful workmanship. These qualities are seen to great advantage in the " Venice " (252), with its broad stretch of water and sunny atmosphere. The details of this picture are well selected and truly painted, and haven natural and ac- cidentalair which it is the proper provinceof the true artist to secure. In this they contrast favourably with Mr. Leitch's Italian views (58 and 226), which, notwithstanding certain good points, especially the middle-distance mountains and sky of the former, are very artificial, and have their adjuncts of boats and figures very care- lessly painted. As in last year's Exhibition, so again in this, Mr. Hine's drawings exhibit a mastery which few can match. Serenity is still their characteristic sentiment, though his " Gale on Brighton Beach " (59), with the sun blinking hazily across the sand-stained breakers, shows that he need not confine himself to it. "The Fishmarket at Eastbourne" (316) is probably the most perfect picture exhibited by him. The effect of sunlight streaming down
on the sea is as true as it is beautiful, and the little flecks of cloud chasing each other across the sky are painted with the most charming ease and crispness. A little more of this quality is all that seems wanting to lift Mr. Hine's drawings beyond the need
of criticism. He is almost too painstaking throughout. A little occasional ruggedness in workmanship would the better set off the smoothness of the rest. Mr. Mogford is an undoubted acquisition to the gallery. His election seems to have put him on his mettle, for never before has he exhibited drawings of such excellent quality. They are conspicuous for bright daylight effect, and the crudity of colour which has sometimes marred the artist's work has in great measure disappeared. Some occasional heaviness in the sky has still to be remedied. " Staithes, Yorkshire " (194), is, however, an excellent drawing, and deserves unqualified praise.
Mr. Reed has made a very perceptible advance since last year. He is a determined student, and is gradually freeing himself from the heaviness and crudity of colour which were also his most obvious faults. His two large Welsh pictures (30 and 57) are largely and nobly treated, with variety of mountain forms well expressed. This variety of forms is all the more necessary to distinguish when the forms are so nearly alike, as in the terraced hill-side on the left of the first-mentioned picture. Such recur- rence of similar forms with slight modifications is characteristic and effective, but care is needed to prevent monotony. The brown leaves of late autumn are well and tenderly painted in (117), but in (77) Mr. Reed has admitted into his distance some of that coarse and raw green which annihilates space. Mr. Deane is another of the junior members who show signs of improvement.
His " Corner of the Rialto " (93) is a beautiful bit of harmonious colouring. His brush has in it a more reverent (if more hesi- tating) method than another popular draughtsman of architec- tural subjects, Mr. C. Werner. This gentleman's brush seems to move by receipt somewhat in this fashion—first, a flat wash ; then the courses of stone and other lines are carefully ruled ; and, lastly, the whole is powdered with " texture" by dragging over it a brushful of dry colour. His drawings, however, claim, and probably merit, the praise of accuracy, and display considerable topographical skill, unalloyed by pictorial drawbacks. Mr. Simonau sends only one sketch, but that one manly and pleas- ing (6), and Mr. Penson's is almost equally short measure. His little twilight picture (39), pure in colour and placid in feeling, makes one wish for more.
Mr. Sutcliffe is not one of the indolent-minded ones, seldom failing to exhibit something which has a genuine and impressive air of nature about it. This quality is possessed in an eminent degree by his " Showers, Honister Pass" (198), a wild and solitary scene in the heart of the Cumbrian hills, over which great swathes of rain are swept in changing curves. But, as usual with this artist, the execution of his well intended subject is both imperfect and unequal, the mountain beck (so capable of effective painting) being especially feeble and woolly. It is a more venial defect to have failed in accurately representing the bright glitter of the lately wetted rocks under the returning sunshine, yet it was worth trying for a little more resolutely. The steep slopes, strewn with boulders from the ever crumbling hill-tops, are ably given, and show that it is more from wilfulness or inattention than from inability that Mr. Sutcliffe does not give his really poetical ideas that fulness and adequacy of ex- pression, without which his works can never proceed beyond bare and ambiguous suggestion. Suggestiveness is itself hampered and hindered by imperfections in the mechanism of art. His " Mid-Day Sketch" (97) may possibly remind him of something he has himself seen, but few besides will see in it anything but a sheet of paper daubed over with ill considered blots of impure colour.
It would be difficult without help from the catalogue to guess that Mr. Bennett's drawings had been suggested by the Alps. They are flimsy and ill drawn, and totally without distinctive character. He can do better things, and ought not to be satisfied with such careless sketching. Mr. M'Kewan's large picture of the " Val Anzasca," (38), is equally unworthy of the subject. It is impossible to give the effect of size and grandeur in high moun- tains without some more substantial foundations to carry their
z great mass and weight than is afforded by the boneless structure of the lower hills in this picture. In another of Mr. M'Kewan's pictures (55) there is a well painted mountain stream, with the light gleaming from its ripples.
The figure painters play, as usual, a subordinate part, subordinate at least in merit, if not in place. Mr. Lucas does not maintain his last year's credit, but that is said to be owing to illness. Mr. Absolon, Mr. Corbould, and Mr. Tidey are all too far gone to be within ear-shot of the critic ; and Miss Farmer is the only figure artist whose drawings give any hope or promise. She should endeavour to overcome her tendency to sharp-cut outlines. The careful drawing and modelling of her figures, and the agreeable colour of her pictures, would be all the more effective. V.