31 MAY 1940, Page 13

ART British Art Intended for Venice

THERE are strange sights at Hertford House just now. Here at the home of the Wallace Collection are being shown pictures and sculpture that were collected for the Biennale exhibition at Venice. The catalogue explains that they are meant to be " demonstrative rather than representative," and the show turns out to be one of sharp, intelligent contrasts of a kind too seldom seen in London galleries. Seven wood-engravers are represented, one sculptor and five painters. Each of the painters has a room to himself. Two are talented professionals; three are serious imaginative artists. Walking from one room to another one gets some stimulating shocks. To go from the collection of Wadsworths into the Mun- nings room, for instance, is like listening to a band that suddenly stops playing Gluck and breaks into Herman Finck. The open- airy badinage of Munnings can look impressive in the Royal Academy, surrounded by popular work of less talent. Here in a body it seems oppressive. There is too much insistence on the shimmer of trees and the seal-like texture of horses. Mr. Mun- nings may paint for us " the most magnificent cavalry in Europe," but, like the cavalry of the gallant Poles, it has too little relation to present-day life to be lastingly effective.

The late Glyn Philpot, R.A., was a good choice for Venice, for his pictures would have shown that England can still produce, when it wants to, an accomplished painter of romantic melodrama even better than the modern Italian model. Towards the end of his life Glyn Philpot gave the show away by going pseudo-modern and combining acrid colours with arbitrary distortion of forms. He was a painter of talent, if of little taste, and his astonishing competence always shows itself through his tready tones and over-ripe harmonics.

But Edward Wadsworth, after all, is just as accomplished and far less cloying. His language of the crystal, the sextant and the sea-washed cork is the language of a ritualist. He has spent his life perfecting this ritual. His mood may have changed now and again, but he has never been anywhere near losing his belief. How strong it is may be seen here in the (for him) most unlikely essays in pure abstraction such as Composition On a Pink Background, or in the near-surrealism of Visibility Moderate. Shocking as his pictures may look beside the veiled references of Munnings and Philpot, they wear well because it is the clear statement that interests him, not the loud voice. It is a pleasure to see a number of early Duncan Grants again, and to notice how, from the start, he has been influenced by the things he liked, not the things he thought he ought to like. His decorative sense has always been strong; his experiments always intelligent. If anyone doubts his great powers let him look at the small Snow Scene in this show, simple, effortless and acute, and then at the Farm in Sussex, which is none of these things but shows a determination that few English painters muster. Its " popular " look is misleading. It is a painter's picture—and not every painter's at that.

Frances Hodgkins is the poet of the group. Her big oil, In Cornwall, a still life with shells and cliffs curving away beyond, is the best picture in the whole show : a personal memoir in rela- tion to which her water-colours and gouaches are valuable day-to- day notes. Farmyard, Essex is another excellent oil. She finds an unbelievable brilliance in unlikely material, such as that of Ruined Mine in Wales and Broken Pottery. And, unbelievable as it is, she convinces you of the truth of such a vision. What is more, she avoids over-statement, so that her Methodist Chapel keeps its precise character and her Mountain Farm, with a dominating pattern, speaks plainly of bleating sheep and steep paths among rocks.

Frank Dobson is the sculptor. Thinking of his monumental nude;, one too often forgets the simple force of some of his portrait busts. They are well shown here. The seven wood-engravers have a room to themselves. John Farleigh makes the most striking patterns, but his technique, which is what is known as faultless, is more momentous than his matter. Wood engraving is the most difficult of mediums—slow, stylised and of false intensity. Robert Gibbings, Agnes Miller Parker and Gertrude Hermes avoid the trickery that engulfs many artists who work on the wood block, but only C. F. Tunnicliffe in this collection comes near to the necessary objective impersonal approach of a Bewick or a profes- sional engraver working for the Illustrated London News in 016o.

JOHN P1211R.