THE OLD WATER-COLOUR SOCIETY.
Niagara offer Long Drought. By Alfred W. Hunt. I have never seen any representation of Niagara which gave an impression of magnitude at all commensurate with what is reported of its unusual size. Attempts to figure its enormous- ness produce obstinately the effect of something trivial. How much of this is due to Nature it would be impossible to say with- out having seen the Fall; it may be that in contriving this, her most stupendous accident of the kind, she was satisfied with the gross quantity of water that slips over the cliff, and neglected such disposition of scale in the setting as should have proved that fact upon the vision. But something also must be laid to the account of the painter ; for it is easily within the scope of his artifice to suggest enormousness on a much less enormous occasion ; the most trumpery spout of water can be so arranged as to do it. It must be rather that an idea restrains them from employing pictorial artifice, that, in presence of the panorama, a misplaced respect seizes them for the vast extent and detail of the scene, and that they give us this vast actual extent and detail instead of an effect of vastness, which is a very different thing. A waterfall, when one is near it, impresses by its overwhelming rush and its plunging sound, and not to give compensation in the picture for the absence of these sensations, is to leave out the impres- sion and convey only a topographical statement. Now, Mr. Hunt's work is never without pictorial intention ; but the pictorial intention is often complicated with an anxiety to do homage to history, and the historical statement at times weakens the pictorial emotion. Thus, if I understand the workings of his mind, he would feel, in presence of Niagara, a desire to rise to the occasion of this celebrated American event, whether or not the fact was by itself an irresistible or inviting occasion for a picture; and perhaps even a feeling of courtesy would have its share in making him do what he could for this strenuous piece of scenery on the part of .a young and more or less friendly people, though Niagara, churlishly enough, was at the time short of water. And Mr. Hunt nearly made a beautiful quiet picture of a cloud of rosy vapour, forming itself against the sky of evening. If only be had forgotten the waterfall, or masked its insignificant features ! But history or courtesy, or some other interest or virtue, made this impossible, and only allowed of minor com- positions of the difficult material.
Mr. Albert Goodwin is an artist one would fain deal with tenderly, because of a merit his work used to have,—the feeling for eerie and haunted places of the earth, coasts where the rocks and pools hold the threat of an impending story. But the gap becomes too wide between his mannerism and either beauty of colour or truth of illumination. The blue is not the beautiful blue of dusk ; the red is not the red of sun- set, and we are left with a shell of composition, not without art, but somewhat formalised in the obsequious arrangement of the shapes. Mr. Arthur Melville also seems to be settling into mannerism. He had, what is rare in the Society, a sense of the material, and a direct execution. But in the view of Tangier in the present exhibition only the mechanism of an effect survives. The flat patches of tint, without modelling or value, represent nothing, and the drawing splits pictorially where the heavy blue of the sea comes against the white of the town. If the art is to be reduced to flat spots of variegated tint, these ought to arrange themselves decoratively. Mr. Robert Allan is a disciple of Mr. Melville, and the falsity of the mechanism is still more glaring in his work.
There are few mediums to which Mr. Herkomer has not done violence, and perhaps this well-known versatility is more strongly exemplified in the water-colour medium than in any other. But it is curious to find his demonstrations in this gentle old Society, who are so timid about their medium that they can hardly be said to employ it at all; where the use of body-colour is alluded to in whispers like the morphia habit, and a vigilant stipple effaces anything like expression in the paint. I suppose they look on at those sports with an awful truant satisfaction, or feel that it is an entertainment like the Oxford lectures where the Professor is reported to keep up a fire of jokes and anecdotes while he paints before innocent dons. A rumour goes round that these works are painted on the kind of paper least suitable to water-colour. And this surely must be the " technique " that we hear so much about, this vigorous rumpling of the paper for the hair and beard! Why does it relax and falter among the mahoganies of the features P
There are few other intruders. Mr. Lionel Smythe's larger drawing seems to be touched with the infection of the place ; the smaller is better and more like himself. Mr. Wegnelin shows a clever sketch of pretty models, and is at the trouble to call them Venetian. Miss Montalba sends her familiar pictures. There are others who follow recent fashions, but few that attain results worth mentioning. The charm of the place is in what lingers of a bygone artlessness, not in more modern and more disagreeable forms of the same quality. Water-colour, as the grand-aunts of our generation understood and practised it, is still practised here; but too soon the last bonnet will: have flitted from our fields and lanes, and from the foreign streets and squares. The mixtures recommended by David. Cox for warm foregrounds will have gone the way of the tree- touches prescribed by Harding ; the old-maidenly water-colour- will be dead, and the grand-nieces will be upon us with horrible new tricks learned in French studios, and executed in