NOTES AT AN INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION.* IT is difficult to believe that an exhibition such as the present, which numbers more than two thousand works of art, of which the majority are oil paintings which have been selected from the chief countries of Europe, and in honour of which an in- fluential company of jurors have awarded medals and honour- able mentions right and left, can nevertheless be scarcely worth a visit ; and yet such is the case here. Something of the pro- verbial ill-fortune of the Crystal Palace in art matters, seems to have governed the selection of the works for this so-called Inter- national Exhibition ; and the vast majority of the examples are neither new, interesting, nor good. Even of the best men the work is poor in comparison with their average; as, for in- stance, in the " Mrs. Jopling " portrait by Millais—perhaps the worst he ever painted—or the great pretentious sketch by Herkomer, of "The Gloom of Idwal," which he would fain persuade us to accept as landscape art. And yet, though the amount of rubbish is to that of worth in the proportion of twenty to one, and though the awards seem to have been made with little reference to justice, the exhibition is instructive in its way, for it brings together within the compass of an hour's stroll a great number of examples of European art, and gives the sightseer some idea of the broad differences between various schools of painting.
Crystal Palace, Sydenha.m.
Here may be seen our countrymen's stolid striving after• genre painting ; their solidly good, if somewhat dull, portraiture ;. their faithful studies of little bits of nature, delightful to us as is the poorest photograph of a friend's face. Here may be seen, too, those nomadic Englishmen of Art who try to be
" A Roossian, a French, a Turk, or Proossian, But remain still Englishmen ;"
who wear their foreign " rue with a difference " that betrays their nationality. Here, too, are those laudatores temporis acti who, can find nothing in modern life or lifelessness which is worthy of their powers, and who wander somewhat aimlessly in the " corridors of the past," trying to catch some faint echoes of that fair civilisation which lies buried by the shores of Athens and beneath the ruins of Rome.
Here, too, are our realistic artists of modern life, who deem poetry nonsense, and antiquity rubbish, and who paint us the crown of a shiny hat, or the tip of a high-heeled shoe, or the gleam of a black silk stocking, under the impression that that is all which modern life means or shows. As if the ideal and the- real would ever be separated in Art ; as if there was ever in life a prose which held no trace of poetry, or a poetry which had no touch of prose. And so, leaving our own country and going to France, we find the same varieties repeated in a somewhat different shape,—the same metal run into a different national mould. Portraiture becomes more stylish and less sincere ; the painting is better and the intention is worse. Cleverness abounds, but is so insistent in its declaration of itself, that one almost prays for stupidity—there is so much " chic" and " cheek " as to. be intolerable.
Landscape is treated in a broader, more dignified fashion, as though those who painted it considered that there was a necessity to do more than make little faithful studies of portions of a field or a hedgerow,—an attempt is made to ally nature with mankind and with general ideas, rather than with particulars of one special rood of the earth's surface. And it is somewhat strange to notice in the result that the French landscape artist obtains a truth of result with the aid of the falsification in the painting of particulars, and the English artist but too frequently obtains a false result, despite- the aid of many accurate details. Both have their merits ; at all• events, here we cannot stay to discuss which is the more pre- ferable method. After all, this nation of France takes a far wider sweep in its art than does England, its crudities, follies, and occasional repulsiveness notwithstanding. This is seen more-
especially in its figure-work, especially in its genre painting. Often garish, immoral, extravagant, and bizarre, it nevertheless
covers the whole ground of its subject ; its limitations are no other than those of the artist's own creating. In England— well, in England it is otherwise. The "Handwriting on the Wall " of Mrs. Grundy, startles all the revellers of our artistic feast ; before the pale shadow of that awful female, our painters tremble and despair. For in very truth, we English are a hypocritical nation, and must be respectable in outward seeming, whatever lies hidden in our hearts. No bald, indecently un-clothed truths for us in art or literature. And so comes the orange-peel and water in- stead of wine, and everyone "makes believe a good deal," and finds the vintage superb. Between the Parisian who flaunts his immorality in our face, and half whose figure-painting smells of the theatre or the casino, and the Englishman who tries to- ignore every painful or irregular aide of life, and paints it as if it were a perpetual Sunday-school treat, there is surely some medium in which the artist might go more truly and no less
safely. " Quo diable I we are men, and not schoolgirls !" as Law- rence makes one of his characters say; and artistic speech need.
neither be demoralising nor pernicious, because it touches all the subjects which form a part of our life. Light ! as Coleridge said, even if " it break through a chink in the walls of the Temple."
Shall we find a medium practice in the painting of Germany or the Netherlands ? Alas ! it seems hopeless to expect it.
Holland, indeed, with its insistence upon the domestic virtues, and the nation's national sympathy with the sea, has the germs of a true art ; but it is an art which is excessively limited in scope, which does little more than repeat itself from year to year. The range of intellectual perception in this country in painting has always been of an almost incredibly limited kind ; the darkness of a panelled room, or the pleasures of a genial glass, form about the average height of this almost purely- recording art. A happy nation which has no history now, its painters echo faithfully enough the quiet movements of its domestic life, and give us, as George Eliot once said, faithful records of a homely, monotonous existence. But Germany has gone off on another track,—one which can scarcely lead to any very fruitful land. It has attacked Art, much as it besieged Metz,—beleaguered it with infinite care, surrounded it with in- numerable armies, and sat down to wait the result. Painting in Germany has every merit, except that of being desirable. It is learned, diligent, scientific, accurate, anything you like to name, and yet it amounts to little.
Even we English, with our stolid intention of painting what we see, and our blind belief in the beauty of our country, are nearer an artistic goal than the Germans. At least we do not produce our great pictures by an elaborate quasi-scientific process; our painting may be—nay, it is—dull; it is but rarely pedantic. The painting of Munich, of Dusseldorf, of Berlin, is such as could only have proceeded from a nation which possesses the scientific as opposed to the artistic mind ; the ease and pleasantness of Art are entirely banished from German painting. And this is, perhaps, more fatal to good painting even than the reverse,—a reverse which any one who knows modern Spanish and Italian painting sees well illustrated. For here ease and pleasantness are all, and one is surfeited with too many macrons glaces, instead of being choked with " sausage." Over these petty, pretty futilities of art and life, one yawns drowsily ; they are duller than a Gaiety burlesque, with Terry and Miss Farren absent. Indeed, they are something like one, —plenty of coloured dresses, a good deal of bosom and short skirt ; bright, artificial lights on pretty faces ; a glitter of silk and jewel ; a babel of meaning ; a result of headache.
Even scientific Germany is not so hopeless in her art as are these countries of Spain and Italy ; for by the old rule, out of nothing, nothing can ever come, and so from emptiness and artifi- ciality can come nothing in Art. For in painting of this kind no- thing is true but the adroitness of the artist, and his intention to conjure your money into his pocket. Little need be said here, in conclusion of these rambling notes, of the work which Austria, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden send here ; it is, in the case of Austria, not fairly representative ; in that of the other countries unimportant. Russia and Spain are unrepresented, though there is a school of landscape-painting in the former country which is well worthy of attention. On the whole, the Galleries are worth a visit, less for their individual paintings than for the opportunity of getting some notion of the general artistic atmosphere abroad and at home.