3 DECEMBER 1954, Page 12



Eighteenth-century European Masters. (Burlington House.) WHEN the eighteenth century began Velasquez had been dead for 40 years, Rembrandt for

31, Claude for 18. In England Kneller, a knight but not yet a baronet, was about to embark upon the Kit-Cat seriea. In Catholic Europe Baroque had reached its culmination and a burst ofextravagantcrea t ion swept every field of art and design from stucco work to park and town planning. Court• and church grew more sumptuous than ever before. Fancy ministered to vanity and art con- trived to make of the first half of the century a pleasure garden. Cupids were unleashed in flocks; pillow and counterpane were dis- arrayed; love, ardour and desire seemed to hang upon the very air. What was playful in Paris grew ecstatic, theatrical, decayed elsewhere. The rococo fluttering of night- gown and fichu turned into rags and torn sails in the Venetian lagoons, and even Paris turned against make-believe and gallantry, tired of its erotic cabinet pictures. 'When centuries grow old', wrote the Goncourts, `they become sentimental; their corruption melts.... A sweet and warm emotion floated in the atmosphere of these troubled, trembling years, during which arose the dawn and storm of a revolution.' Gaining ground throughout the second half of the century was a new sense of truth, of charity, of morality, which triumphed, in the revolu- tion when it came, as an austere neo- classicism. The century went out with Fragonard's discovery of his son making a bonfire of his father's collection of prints as an offering to 'good taste,' with Turner nearly an RA, and Goya's sardonic realism casting a shadow over the generations to come. In 1799 Delacroix was born. The exhibition at the Royal Academy expressly refutes any claim* to balance or comprehensiveness in its presentation of Eighteenth Century Masters. There is no David, no Turner, no Blake, no Magnasco, for example; a mere token of Goya. What it does contain is over 40 works each by Guardi and Canaletto and Watteau ; over 30 each by Tiepolo and Boucher; strong representation of Fragonard and Gains- borough. A very high proportion of paintings and drawings have come from overseas—Australia, Austria, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, the United States, with no less than 140 from France, including 15 provincial museums. A number of exhibits have never been shown before. As usual the gargantuan scale of the collec- tion has resulted in a hanging that appears at times more wilful than arbitrary. Once the absence of any didactic aim is accepted, however, certain galleries must be conceded considerable charm.

What we have then this winter is a magnificent opportunity to enjoy the work of certain artists, not a map of the pattern

a of the century. (Unless through the Tiepoldt from Melbourne, the Banquet of Cleopatra, which once belonged to Catherine the Great, or Fragonard's Fete de St. Cloud, or . the Boucher tapestries loaned by HM the King of Sweden, one would scarcely guess, for example, that this was a century of great decorative schemes.) Nevertheless, of course, patterns do emerge. Even such a concourse of splendour can scarcely convince us that the eighteenth century reached the stature of the seventeenth. Behind Boucher and even Watteau towers the figure of Rubens; behind Chardin stands Vermeer; behind Canaletto and Guardi Claude and Poussin; behind Goya Velasquez. La peinture morale produced Hogarth and Greuze, but no morality like a late Rembrandt self-portrait.

Watteau overshadows the early part of the century. As always, the enchantment of his spell is complete. How is it that a girl's back, the spread of a dress, the turn of a head can move us so deeply? How is the melancholy sweetness of the evanescent moment distilled in the apparent objectivity of a small chalk drawing? In none of his followers, the Lancrets, the Paters, is the magic present. Boucher and Fragonard are much more uneven. Here, however, is the

Stockholm Venus, glowing like a bowl of fruit in the sun, surely one of the finest Bouchers in Europe, and the great Fragonard from the Banque de France, radiating a golden light of joy.

But the century turned its eyes also to street and field. It was just half spent when

Hogarth sold the six paintings of Marriage a la Mode for 120 guineas. It would have been interesting to have compared some of.

Greuze's moralities with those of Hogarth (though his children have been described as no more than 'Boucher's cupids dressed up as chimney sweeps'). That he was capable of a strong yet sensitive realism is shown by his admirable portrait here of Wille (who pushed him, publicised him and introduced him to the German market). No less than ten examples of Luis Menendez' super- realism are shown, but the most penetrating effect of truth is conveyed by the Chardins, so tender in colour and tonality, like wood smoke against the sky, yet strong and rich with a sort of luminous opacity like burnished pewter. Chardin's painting, wrote the Goncourts, 'escaped the corruptions of the eighteenth century and preserved intact something of the health and sincerity of bourgeois virtue.' And the homely sobriety of the three Chardins from Stockholm and Glasgow may be compared with the wonder- ful Stubbs here—so simple, touched with provincial naIvete yet hinting at a hidden poetry.

This was the century in which Englishmen began to discover the drama in the weather and the seasons. There are honourable things to be seen by Lambert, Devis, Scott, Wright (look out for his rainbow); the architectural room is notable for its Cozens.

But in the last quarter of the century no fewer than 40,000 Englishmen were living in or visiting Italy every summer and the

vedute of the Venetians—Carlevaris, Canal- etto, Bellotto, Guardi—have always had a special place in our affections. The Canal- ettos are mixed. They include little drawings which have the precise charm of Lear, broadly painted canvases from his earlier years, the dry and mannered shorthand of middle life, and late capriccios in a high key. His English views are always fascinat- ing from a topographical point of view, and the Duke of Bucckuch's Whitehall Looking North, painted with a greater density than much of his later work, is one of the most impressive. The most remarkable, if not the best, Guardis are two immense, `cinerama'-like canvases lent by Mr. James de Rothschild. These are by far the largest of Guardi's known views of Venice: to study them at close range is to be physically present in that wildly romantic pageant of., decay. Two views belonging to the Earl of Iveagh may be thought to be finer pictures.

So, with Gainsborough, Reynolds, Ramsay and Raeburn establishing the English por- trait, Goya painting Don Leandro Fernandez de Moratin, Luisieri forecasting the Pre- Raphaelite Brotherhood with his topo- graphical records for the British Ambassador in Constantinople, the exhibition expires. A wonderful exhibition, the pleasures of which can only be hinted at.