THE NEW ARRANGEMENT OF THE NATIONAL GALLERY.
GERMAN civilization, which appears to consist principally in the art of throwing bombs on undefended places, has had the unexpected result of causing the National Gallery to be rehung. When the authorities were able to bring their incomparable treasures from the lowest deep in which they had hidden them safely, the questions of fresh arrangement, new rooms, and different-coloured walls naturally presented themselves. With considerable courage the problem of showing the pictures to what the Trustees consider to be their best advantage has been attacked. But so difficult a thing is this to accomplish that no one could reasonably expect perfection. Neither can there be any hope of complete agreement when matters of taste are con- cerned. But taking the portion of the Gallery now open, and always remembering that until the whole collection is displayed there may be temporary arrangements and further revisions, with what feelings does the passionate lover greet the objects of his adoration on their return from the underworld ? I for one must record a feeling of deep disappointment in so many instances as to take away the pleasure of the few successes of the new departure. This disappointment comes from a feeling that too often the preoccupation of the hangers has been not the pictures but the Gallery which holds them. The pictures have sometimes been treated as material for the effects of the upholsterer. To justify this extreme statement, consider the first room at the top of the stairs, where are hung the works of the early Florentine masters. When we push open the doors we find ourselves in a room full of space and light, with brilliant dead-white walls, a bright band of blue running round below the ceiling, and pictures in dull gold frames. Here is just the effect we have all admired in the last years in suburban houses where simple furniture, whitewash, and some few brightly coloured curtains have produced a pleasing and inexpensive result. But why do we come to this room in the National Gallery ? Is it to receive a pleasant general impression, such as we may find arranged for us in the various departments of large furnish- ing establishments, to tempt us to reorganize our own homes ? No; we come here to revel in certain great works of art, and we want to see them displayed so that they may look their best. Now in this room are congregated pictures dating from the quattrceento. Nearly five hundred years have passed since somo of these were painted, and even the supreme craftsmanship of the early Italians has not been able to keep its bloom and fresh- ness from devouring time. Take, for instance, that wonderful picture, Piero della Francesca's Baptism. In this painting the dominant note is the early morning freshness, the white light, and pale colours of mother-of-pearl. How beautiful are all the tones of white and pale blue and pink, shining in their relief against the solemn umbers of the hillsides of the background!
How do these ethereal beauties look now ? They have vanished. On all hands a cold dead-white wall and a hard blue band above it shout down the delicate hues which time has, alas ! dimmed and reduced. There is only one way for the lover of this picture, and that is to shut off the offensive wall with his hands and gaze uncomfortably through his isolating fingers. Now turn to that splendid effort in decoration, Paolo Uce,ello's battle-picture. What did the painter wish to make the key to his pattern, and where did he wish to rivet our attention ? Obviously, by the lines and arrangement of light and shade, on Malatesta, seated on his white horse. But who does not know the discouraging and dingy effect produced by an old white horse standing in the snow ? And this horse, having done duty by dominating his surroundings for something like five hundred years, might have expected a little consideration.
There is one joy which the Umbrians give us, and which it is next to impossible to find elsewhere in ancient or modern art.
It is the wonderfully hypnotizing effect they are able to evoke by means of the magic of a sky merging gradually into a clear and luminous horizon. Perugino possessed this gift to the full, and was only excelled by his pupil Raphael ; but the glory of the great triptych is dimmed, for the mystic light on the horizon cannot compete with massed white-lead, any more than could the end of the canzona in the Lydian Mode of Beet- hoven:a posthumous quartet survive a cab-whistle blown in the soncert-room. Some pictures bear the white wall remarkably well. Botticolli's portrait of a young man takes no harm, and for a good reason. There are no delicate whites and pale tones in the picture to be affected ; all is strong, dark, and clear-cut.
The subtlety is in the drawing, not in the tone or colour, and the
IMMO may be said of 'the new Massed°. To sum up this room briefly, we may say that on entering the general effect is pleasant,
but the arts of the Tottenham Court Road have been purchased at the sacrifice of some of the greatest works of the art of painting in existence, and I cannot help thinking the price excessive.
A good many of the new rooms of the Gallery are exceedingly ill lighted. This is the result of their being small but at the same time as high as the large galleries. So, as the light necessarily comes from the roof, the feeling of being at the bottom of a well is produced, with the consequent effect upon the pictures.
This is most noticeably the case in Rooms 27 and 29. In the latter Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne and Tintoretto's Milky Way are made to look positively dingy. The Titian needs a bright direct light and a rich background to bring out the dark-blue lapis lazuli hills and "the flesh that burns like fire in alabaster urns." Let us feed on the hope that the second-best wall of a dark room is not the final resting-place of one of the greatest of our national possessions.
Many experiments have been made with the colours of the Gallery walls. Originally these were of a material with a raised pattern but of one colour. Some of these walls have been painted grey and have broken out into red spots ; others have irresponsible little bits of aluminium-leaf stuck all over bricky red. These tentative attempts to produce a Ilfoken surface of colour are very unhappy, especially as the original raised pattern asserts itself through the new paint, and has no connexion whatever with the spots. Some pictures look well on those grey walls, but others are badly affected by the coldness of the background. The lividness of the Vermeer lady's face,
-which the catalogue tells us is due to over-cleaning, is accen-
tuated, and the two splendid De Hoochs with the Rembrandt near by are made to look of a bilious yellow. Perhaps the most unhappy result of all has been reached in Room 26, where the walls have assumed the awful colour arrived at when milk is mixed with blackberry-tart. It is doubtless a difficult thing to find a background which will suit a number of different pictures, and therefore the greater the number of small rooms the more chance there is of success. But a small room must be proportionately low or the skylight is too far off the pictures for real daylight to reach them. Some of the best results have been attained in this respect by making the ceilings and parts
of the walls high above the pictures white, and this procedure might be extended with advantage. In Room 25 is hung a group of small pictures which the largeness of the room reduces to mere insignificance, while large pictures hang in small rooms near by. The pedant may have something to say as to the keeping together of schools and epochs, but if a gallery is to be a museum of mere classification, delight, the real reason for which pictures exist, has been deliberately set aside.
A desire has often been expressed that some of the national pictures should circulate through provincial towns. There is of course much to be said for this plan, but also something against it. Some of the pictures now show terrible scars from their late journeyings. The great Catena of the warrior adoring is scraped and scratched in places down to the gesso ground, and in other pictures cracks have widened, and paint has flaked off. What would happen if these frail old pictures took frequent railway journeys ? The cry for dispersion comes, too, from people who would rather see a few pictures well hung than be bewildered by crowded walls ; and who will deny that they are right ? But if the best rooms are to be reserved for the enter- tainment of the spectacular masterpieces, there must be a back. stairs and attic for the lesser, but by many dearly loved, masters. These must remain always accessible. The aim of this criticism is not to discourage the idea that a gallery ought to be made human and beautiful, but to prevent the pictures being sacrificed to the appearance of the rooms. My ideal would be that we should plunder all our museums to make a true place of delight. Why should not South Kensington disgorge its sculpture, furniture, and majolica, which together with the pictures would make an Italian palace worthy of the Medici ? Those doors and window- frames and detached pieces of panelling, which look so forlorn by themselves—such mere specimens—would naturally take on again their old life if they became tho backgrounds to Reynolds and Gainsborough ; and so too could Spanish, Dutch, and French works of art have their beauties enhanced by asso- ciation. But this is an unrealizable dream in a world where jealous and devoted officials catalogue and arrange glorious works of art as if they were beetles or minerals, for the benefit of the majority, who regard these things chiefly as "interesting examples" of such-and-such an artist or school. H. S.