30 JUNE 1866, Page 15


EXHIBITION OF FRENCH AND FLEMISH PICTURES. A FEW pictures only redeem this otherwise mediocre Exhibition from a perilous insipidity. It is scarcely sufficient in its thirteenth • year that its walls should be hung almost exclusively with works of second or third-rate artists, or with the inferior productions of even the best men. And though even in such as these may be discerned many of the points of distinction that separate the French and English Schools, the thoroughness of professional training in one, and the almost total absence of it in the other, yet if the lesson is to bear fruit, it must be enforced by some better examples than (with but few exceptions) can be found in the present Exhibition. E. Frere and Duverger, for instance, are doubtless artists of the first rank, but the reputation of neither is advanced or even sustained by what is here seen of their work, and though their subjects, drawn from the inex- haustible source of peasant life, have lost none of their English popularity, another and even greater artist than either From or Duverger, who deals with similar subjects, is never represented at this gallery, namely, J. Breton. It is the same with the landscapes. Lambinet and Lamoriniere are familiar to us (thanks, indeed, to this very gallery), but Corot is a name unknown, or known only as a name, to the general English public, though it belongs to one of the most poetical landscape painters of the present time. The interest of the Ex- hibition centres undoubtedly in Gerome's remarkable picture of Phryne accused of impiety. The moment selected for illustration is when the defenders of the accused, mistrusting the force of other arguments, have plucked off her robes, and appealed to whatsoever of pity or admiration may thus be aroused in the Court. The judges, scarlet-robed and white-filleted, are ranged in a semicircle, and before them stands Phryne in an attitude rather of offended dignity than of outraged modesty. Between, as symbol of the spirit which should direct the decision of the Court, is set a small brazen statue of Athene, with her helmet, her spear, and flowing raiment. The subject is one requiring extreme delicacy of treatment, one indeed which probably no English artist would have ventured to paint. But a glance at Gerome's work is enough to show that the subject contains nothing that necessarily unfitted it for pictorial representation, and that its treatment required only one modification to make it as little shocking to English as perhaps it actually is to French taste. There should have been nothing that betrayed the prevalence in the Court of an impure mind. The leering gaze and sensual expression which are displayed in the most prominent of the judges should have been confined to one or two of the obscurer personages, and not permitted to attract the eye and occupy the thoughts as an index of prevailing levity. There is scarcely a single head to serve as a relief. Either they leer, or they are indifferent. Goethe, under somewhat similar Circum - stances, left it to a discreet silence to be his most favourable interpreter. The painter has no such refuge, and must indicate in no doubtful lineaments the enthusiastic admiration for beauty as beauty and the thrilling pity for weakness, which should redeem such a picture from undue voluptuousness. Apart from the serious blemish here dwelt on the picture is a masterpiece. It is highly dramatic, yet quite free from grimace ; simple and effective in composition, with adjuncts that aid and not impede the meaning and action, and wrought throughout with a knowledge and mastery of technicalities that can be expected only of a few living artists. Two points may be particularized. The painting of the blue robe as it is torn from the shoulders of the accused, and the modelling of the naked form, accurate and refined, and nowhere seeking to display its own clever- ness. There is yet another picture by M. Gerome which deserves no less study than the Phryne. This is the " Cleaar Dead," a large canvas, with the figure of the dead Dictator lying alone in the deserted Capitol. The overturned chair of state and the bloody marks of a struggle on the pavement are at first sight the only visible signs of violence. But presently the gashes on face, arm, and hand, and the dark crimson pool spread like a carpet under the fallen trunk (subdued with fine artistic feeling), reveal themselves, and add horror to the tragedy. This picture has been called unattractive ; and upon the assump- tion that therefore nobody will care for it except the select few, a homily has been preached upon the dull moral sense of those who would desire to have only trifling events painted and smooth things preached to them. Surely it is a new canon in art that the terrible, the very back-bone of tragedy, is not attractive, and one which this very picture, that enchains the attention far more than the many prettinesses which surround it, proves to be untrue.

A large landscape by Daubigny, of a village by the sea, must be classed fully as high after its kind as the pictures already noticed. Under a grey and windy sky, upon a broken slope facing the sea, lies a knot of huts—a bit of common, but not of "ignoble, nature." It is broadly painted, with the local colours sufficiently indicated through the prevailing grey, and is cast in large lines, giving an air of both grandeur and simplicity. In feeling it is not unlike the work of our own Crome, though lack- ing the tenderness of his colour. There is another landscape sketch by Daubigny, freely, as is his wont, and (if the expression may be allowed of oil painting) sloppily painted ; it only requires to be looked at from the proper distance, and then it comes out as a most pleasant and peaceful river scene. Not far off hangs an agreeable little picture by Lambinet, "The Banks of the Seine."

The sky and right hand of the picture are sunny and good, but the picture is shattered by the coarse brown shadows of the mid- distance. Lamoriniere's landscapes are altogether overladen with blackness. A stormy day on a Norwegian fiord or sea loch by Leu contains some very good painting, but is not happily fitted with a foreground.

There are one or two pictures by Meissonier, remarkable, as usual, not so much for the minuteness (however great) of their painting, as its exceeding verve, but showing little sign of an escape from its besetting coppery hue ; some tenderly coloured bits by Plassan ; a baby-girl by Frere, giving her doll equal benefit of the wash-tub with herself—most charmingly natural ; and some unaffected scenes from cottage life by Michael, which err, however, in the excessive cleanness of the flesh painting. The graceful "Jeanne la Foils" of Gallait is apparently a reduced repetition of his picture at the International Exhibition, and there is nothing besides by that great artist. There are two by Heil- buth, "Absolution of the Venial Sin," known through the photo- graphed copy; and "Almsgiving," slighter in execution, but more varied in expression of character.

The Exhibition is not wanting in specimens of mean and ugly people, painted by Leys, and endeavouring to stand on ground which slopes too suddenly towards the frame to give them an easy footing ; nor in works by his pupil and imitator, Lagye. Light and shade has no place in the art of these men. Verboeckhoven, too, is, as usual, numerously represented by productions of the superior tea-board kind, one of them professing to represent Scotch sheep in a Scotch landscape, with no more apprehension of the realities than is displayed in Chardin's " Deerstalking in the Highlands." It is to be feared, from the frequent appearance ofs his works, that Verboeckhoven is popular in England. V.