THE WATER-COLOUR SOCIETY.
THE Society has again been recruiting. Whether this year's addi- tions will bring it strength at all comparable to that gained by the election of last year may be questioned. Mr. J. D. Watson and Mr. F. Shiels, the new associates, are both figure-painters, and without giving much proof of originality both exhibit con- siderable skill in the use of their technical resources ; but the pictures which they contribute to this exhibition do not furnish sufficient material for a conclusive estimate of their merits. They can scarcely yet be said to have made their mark.
Among the elder members none occupy a more distinguished position than Mr. Topham, who has not for some time shown any- thing so good as his Irish " Pattern " (126). A crowd of pilgrim peasants throng round the broken cross that marks a holy well, and seek from its springs a cure for the ills inherited by their poverty-stricken flesh. The subject is worked out with great skill of composition and rich variety of detail ; it is painted with unusual care, and the prevailing tone of not inappropriate sadness harmonizes well with the background of moor and mountain, which, be it added, would not disgrace a professed landscape- painter. The artist's favourite and somewhat over-used type of Irish physiognomy is in this instance more varied than heretofore. Mr. Jackson also has broken fresh ground, and with unwonted feeling paints a solitary churchyard (174), dreary and melancholy, where all solid flesh seems verily to have thawed and resolved itself into a dew. And Mr. W. Evans enriches the screens with an unusual number of drawings in his best manner. In particular " Staiths " (243) must be noticed for ifs purity of colour, its bright sunlight, and glimmering sea.
It is a rare thing to see waves both well drawn and well painted. Form and colour are both needed to give them full effect, and Mr. Duncan gives us only one of these requisites. Yet notwithstanding the great want of fluidity and transparency in the waves of his "Storm at Sea" (24)—a want which is chiefly due to their monotonous colour and the total absence of sky reflections, notwithstanding, too, their preposterous height, which goes near to mar the whole effect by its exaggeration,— there is yet a virtue in the drawing which fairly expresses the driving and heaving vehemence of the ocean in a gale of wind. "A Gale off the Mumbles" (5) is open to similar criticism, but the difference between the free wave rolling in mid-ocean and the breaker dashing against a rocky shore is accurately preserved. In neither picture is there any trace of the crisp, evanescent nature of sea spray. Mr. Duncan's spray is fluffy and viscid ;. his suc- cess is more complete in a subject of very different nature, "Gil- lingham" (236) ; here the silvery atmosphere and, still more, the unforced simplicity of the whole picture, are truly admirable. Is it hypercritical to wish that the boats in the left-hand corner had either been more carefully painted or altogether omitted ?
If in Mr. Duncan's works we sometimes have drawing without colour, what shall be said of Mr. Burne Jones ? Surely he runs into the opposite extreme. True it is that the depth and luminous quality of his colour are undeniable, and makes some of his neigh- bours look pale and ineffectual, and too much should not be thought of this colour being almost arbitrarily chosen without reference to nature, as may be seen by reference to the sky in one (230) and the woman's face in another (18). But where may one find anything either accurate or pleasing in his forms ? Let no one persuade him that quaintness and archaism are signs of genius. Genius is often misunderstood, but eccentricity does not prove its existence. Viewed simply as pieces of decoration his pictures have uncommon value, but it is at least doubtful whether they belong to the domain of fine art proper. Mr. Boyce is another of the younger members possessing rare but one- aided power. His landscape studies exhibit a quality of colour and a fullness of tone compared with which the works of some others are blank and papery. Such especially are the charac- teristics of his "Black Gate, Newcastle-on-Tyne" (96), and in a yet greater of his view "Near Abinger, Surrey" (263) ; but to be at the pains of going to Wotton merely to paint an ugly line of wooden ailing (270) arms either conceit or incapacity to appreciate beauty of outline. It is not by such means that great triumphs are achieved. Beauty (including grandeur) of form are as necessary to make a picture attractive—and the primary duty of a picture is to be attractive—as good colour or accidental truth. All these are found combined in a rare degree in the pictures of Mr. A. Hunt. Always original and refined it is yet no wonder that constantly striving as he is to extort some new secret from nature, his work should sometimes halt between success and failure. His shortcomings, however, become ever less and less in proportion to his merits ; and besides they are mainly due to a boldness and honesty of study without which he could never in his happiest moments have painted such a picture as his " Durham " (37), grand and serene in feeling, broad and almost perfect in treatment. Those who maintain the total unfitness of Alpine scenery for pictorial repre- sentation should look at Mr. Hunt's very poetical drawing of "The Eiger and Jungfrau" (246). More matured and more uniformly temperate than Mr. A. Hunt's is the art of Mr. G. Fripp and Mr. G. Dodgson. In the former especially there is a roundness and finesse of expression which know perfectly how to convey an ex- pression without. apparent effort, as in " Haymaking " (100), and in the ruined tower of " Kinloch Aline " (86), built, one would think, as much for the convenience of sport in the river that meets the tide within mating distance as for defence. Mr. Dodgson is probably the best of our living tree painters. Certainly none so well express their leafiness. Two of his pictures are also remark- able for their carefully studied and tenderly painted skies (34 and 194).
Mr. Whittaker is an artist of whom we do not yet see the end. He makes steady and rapid progress, albeit confining himself to one class of subject—the mountains and broad moorland stretches of North Wales. These indeed never weary, and in looking at them as treated by Mr. Whittaker the imprisoned Londoner enjoys a short dream of freedom and elbow-room. Very remarkable, too, is his preference for the larger and grander forms, and his rejection (probably only half conscious) of the petty knolls and knobs that too frequently break up the sweep of a Welsh hill- side. Mr. Davidson, on the contrary, revels in these very pecu- liarities and drawbacks, and partly on this account, partly from imperfect management of light and shade, fails to give his moun- tain views solemnity or grandeur. In twilight the light and shade manage themselves, and Mr. Davidson's "Evening—Dolwyddelan Valley" (157), is the best of his Welsh views. His success is more unequivocal in lowland and rustic subjects, such as " At• Reigate--Autumn" (296).
Messrs. J. Holland, Glennie, and Palmer are all good colourists, each after his own fashion. The first excels in richness and harmonious variety, as may be seen by several examples on tho third screen ; the second in clear brilliance, of which there is a beautiful specimen in his smaller view of the "Amphitheatre at Pole" (69), in which Mr. Palmer with his artificial palette (less artificial perhaps this year than usual) produces great effects of luminous depth. The name of Goodall is security for nice feeling and good taste. Mr. E. Goodall, too, is no mean colourist, as appears by his " Venice " (200). Mr. W. Goodall over-elaborates his pictures, and does not sufficiently trust himself to a simple idea. Those who are best acquainted with the spirited and masterly sketches which Mr. T. M. Richardson keeps in his portfolio, will be least satisfied with the mannered and lifeless productions which pass for his " finished " pictures. Mr. Willis's highly wrought and ivory-smooth cattle-pieces lack the spirit which is infused into such subjects by a Bonheur, a Landseer, or, to come nearer, a Frederick Tayler. The "Cattle Drovers going South" (156) of the last- named artist is an admirable example of what may be done by a few well-considered touches towards suggesting life, motion, and noise. Mr. Walker has not strengthened his position by his " Autumn " (62).
Lastly must be noticed some of the main-stays of the society, Burton, Haag, Alfred Fripp, and Lundgren,—last, not of course in order of merit, but because it is difficult to say anything that has not over and over again been said before of these thorough artists. They show no sign of backsliding. All their powers of mind and hand are in full vigour, and the absence of either from the walls would be regretted like the absence of a familiar friend. Mr. Lundgren is the newest of these favourites; his picture of an "Arab Girl" (310) has impressed upon it perhaps more distinct character than any previously exhibited by him. It is useless to enlarge on the merits of the works exhibited by the others; they possess all their wonted merit, but do not possess any novel feature calling for special remark. Only it may be permitted to express a hope that the divinity which hedges kings and queens sometimes also protects their attendants, and that the people who in Mr. Haag'a portrait-picture (73) are wading waist-deep across a Highland torrent may thereby be saved from an otherwise inevitable catastrophe. V.