THE OLD WATER-COLOUR SOCIETY.
IT is difficult to be pure critic at the old Water-Colour Society, so gentle an air of antiquity broods in the place. To bring in an outside standard of painting seems an outrage. And one stands a moment with a kind of awe before the ancient vigour of Sir John Gilbert's stampeding horses.
But it is difficult to be quite so patient when one turns from the veterans to consider the deplorable quality of the rank and file of the Society, and of most of the recruits. There is no want of patient execution, but the eyes are at fault ; colour is gaudy, or pretty, or dull ; form is seen piece- meal, not in large pictorial relations, so that labour is thrown away on finikin elaboration of something that should have been thought differently from the outset. The Society, how- ever much it may still gratify a ,public of amateurs that delights in the second-best, in the echo, in styles made down. in beauty domesticated into prettiness, runs every risk of having very little part in the future of English painting.
It is pleasanter to deal with one or two notable exceptions. Mr. Arthur Melville's view of Henley Regatta is not so com- pletely successful as his nocturne of the same scene at the Scottish Water-Colour Society's exhibition; the blue and white of the foreground have a suspicion of crudity; but it is wonderful work for all that ; the resolution, in the dazzle of the sun, of boats and crews into spots of parti-coloured light comes near the miracle of a real impression of a lovely sight. The same artist's Procession of Corpus Christi at Toledo shows the same power of rendering the impression of a complex scene ; but the picture in this case is less happily chosen ; the large composition tends to fall to pieces. Miss Clara Mon talba harps throughout on one colour-note, but take any one of her sketches, and it tells as a decoration among neighbour § that are too careful about many things to provide for the one thing needful. There are one or two cases where the pictorial note is present, but is so hustled by the superfluous that one longs to have it isolated and precised, if an awkward word may be allowed. Take, for example, Mr. Napier Wmy's large sea-piece at the end of the gallery. In this there are one or two lovely passages of silvery-green sea, and the side of the boat, again, is finely observed and given ; but the interior of the boat and the sailor only spoil these hints of pictorial schemes. So with Mr. Herbert Marshall's sunset behind St. Paul's. .A. fine orange note is struck, but does not get its own way ; .things well enough singly, come in to spoil the piece by distraction in the foreground. So with Mr. North's huge woodland scene; compression to six inches would have rendered,the effect -with more emphasis,— the opposition of green and brown ; particularity on so large a scale hinders it. Mr. Henry Moore has found in the Lowes- toft Fishing Fleet, with its crowd of sails, a most impressive subject, if one could think away his colour, and have it in black-and-white. The delicacy, again, of Mr. Alfred Hunt, in some examples this time, is spent on oppositions of green and pinky-red that seem doubtfully harmonious. Mr. Albert Goodwin has gone over, let us hope not irretrievably, to a strange rivalry with the chromo-lithograph.
At the British Artists', one or two respectable pictures may be picked out. One of the best, Mr. Nelson Dawson's An Impression, is hidden behind a screen ; of other water-colourists, Messrs. Nisbet and Reginald Jones deserve notice. Mr. Dudley Hardy's work is extremely clever, but his powers at present seem turned toimitation : he is too good a parodist. Mr. J. R. Reid and Mr. Edwin Ellis are refreshing by their force and brightness in such company as they have here. There are good passages in Mr. Olsson's Still Dale. Mr. Brangwyn is better represented by his sketches at the Arcade Gallery in Bond Street than by anything here. One or two of them promise a colourist in a painter who has been so far rather leaden in his tints, and for the make and action of a ship he has a seaman's eye.
Mr. Menpes has opened an exhibition at Messrs. Dowdes. well's. It consists of a green silk hanging, on which a number of picture-frames are irregularly dispersed. The two new designs for picture-frames are unhappy thoughts.' The green hanging seems to deprecate attention to anything but itself ; but it may be added that in the frames are sketches which a catalogue identifies, under lyrical titles, with scenes in India, Burmah, and Cashmere. The level of these sketches is that of the coloured photograph ; the colours in one or two cases are pleasing. It seems a pity that a painter who at an earlier period showed a genuine, if narrow, vein of talent, should attempt an enterprise so much beyond his powers, and invite unfortunate comparisons by the form of his exhibition.