6 FEBRUARY 1886, Page 12


SIR JOHN MILLAIS" [SECOND NOTICE.] IN our first article on this Gallery, we dwelt chiefly upon the change that had taken place in Sir John Millais's work since his early days of pre-Raphaelitism, and expressed our opinion that it was, in the main, a change for the worse, although the painter's native genius was so great, that even upon this worse method of later times his pictures still remain in many respects admirable; for, in truth, the contrast is not rightly expressed if we ask whether we should prefer such pictures as "The Hugaenot " and the " Ophelia," or such as "The Beefeater" and "The Idyll of 1745," but whether we should prefer such pictures as the man who painted the " Ophelia " and "The Huguenot" at three-and-twenty would have produced thirty- four years later if he had continued in the same method of work. That is the crux of the matter. If, in all his boyish immaturity, his pre-Raphaelite work was so admirable, what would it have become with the increasing power and knowledge which every year would have brought, had the change which every one knows so well not taken place ? As Ruskin put it long ago, though in other words, what might not an artist have done who could paint like this when he was a boy P We should be the last to deny the crudeness and harshness of much of Sir John Millais's pre-Raphaelite work. The blue in the " Huguenot's " coat, rich as it is, narrowly escapes setting one's teeth on edge ; the yellow on the slashed sleeve in the same picture is almost like a slap in the face in its sharpness of emphasis. The green paper behind the "Black Brunswicker " is anything but lovely ; and even the celebrated white satin gown of the lady in that picture is hard, rigid, and cold, and of an almost metallic lustre. But all these, and many similar blemishes, were not defects of the painter's method, but deficiencies in his mastery of the method. He was, as it were, swallowing his formulm in gulps, like most of us at a similar period. All that, however, would soon have disappeared, and we might have had, every year for the last thirty-four, instead of these portraits, trivial sentimental episodes of modern life, and occasional landscapes,—a series of pictures which had all the brilliancy and truth of the early work, and only a fuller development of its spirit. On this head it is useless to say anything further.

Let us turn to another point of the subject, and examine some of the characteristics of this painter's later work. It is notable, first of all, that the one quality which gave Millais's pictures much of their power and most of their attractiveness—the expression of emotion—is the one which he has succeeded in retaining to the present day. As we wrote in these columns some two or three years ago, this artist is absolutely unequalled in painting the expression of the human eye. It is this which gives his faces such unique attractiveness, which renders his portraits so lifelike in the strictest sense of the word. He has the supreme power of catching the varying expressions of character, and, as it were, implanting it in the eye. If we look at any of his more famous pictures, we see that the chief part of the emotional interest is derived from the eye, not, as is far more customary with painters, from the accentuation of the month. The same look which makes the face of the girl in "The Huguenot" pathetic, may be seen in one of his latest pictures, entitled, "Sweetest Eyes ever Seen," which is one of the many character-studies for which Miss Lucy Backstone sat. And, indeed, in nearly the whole series of these —" Caller Herrin's," "Dropped from the Nests," " Cinderellas," "Mistletoe-gatherers," &c.—the same look is repeated. It is instructive also to trace it not only in these single-figure sub- jects, which were no doubt almost entirely executed for purposes • Exhibition of Sir John Millais's Works, Grosvenor Gallery.

of popular reproduction, but to find it in the large works of the "Idyll of 1745" and "The Ruling Passion." Indeed, in a corner of "The Ruling Passion," Miss Lucy Buckstone sits with her cheek on her hand, and her pathetic far-away gaze, just as she might have done in " Cinderella " and Co. ; and there is no reason why this figure should not have been repro- duced by itself in the same way, entitled, let us say, "A Young Dreamer," or "The Step-daughter." Our meaning is this,— that with regard to this power of expression, Sir John Millais now-a-days can and does repeat it so often, and rely upon its attractiveness so entirely, that we almost come to con- sider it a trick, and it wholly loses its fascination. These young women and children, who are equally pathetic over a basket of violets, a piping drummer-boy, a sick father, a bunch of mistletoe, or a bloater, have a very unreal effect. We do not feel inclined to follow the painter with a whit of sym- pathy when we once come to be aware that he can be equally pathetic on any and every occasion. And the worst of it is that the mischief does not entirely stop with the later pictures them- selves, but throws a long shadow backward till it almost touches the finest of the early pictures. One begins to have a doubt whether the emotion were as deep as it seemed even then.

Somehow, the landscapes do not look well in this Gallery. Perhaps the figure-subjects are too strong in colour for them ; for it is notable that Sir John Millais paints in a considerably higher key in figure-pictures. Perhaps it is that they are for the most part rather badly hung ; but the fact is undeniable. "Chill October " seems especially to suffer ; but still, when every deduction is made, what a beautiful picture it is ! Com- pare the painting of the reeds in this picture with that of the spiked rushes in the" Over the Hills and Far Away;" notice how perfectly, in the first instance, the painter has given us all the detail, and yet merged it in the general effect ; and how, in the second, he has unduly forced our attention towards his dexterity of hand, and thereby given to a comparatively unimportant part of the picture a prominence which destroys the repose of the work. The one landscape which does look thoroughly well in this Gallery is the "Flowing to the Sea," the celebrated work with a Highland soldier in the foreground whom Punch irreverently burlesqued at the time as having his boots blacked. On the whole, this is perhaps the pleasantest of all Sir John Millais's landscapes. The broad, blue-grey river, the cool extent of distant land- scape on its opposite shore, the bright sky, and the sparkling dash of vivid colour in the soldier's coat, form a whole which is delicious in its simplicity and freshness. Of all this artist's works with which we are acquainted, this is the one which seems to have been most easily and happily done. There is a feeling of power and a sense of mastery, over the whole picture ; and yet it has no trace of that bravado which mars so many of this painter's later works. A delightful English scene, delightfully painted, suggesting health, thick boots, and a tramp across country,—and, as Mortimer Collins would say, "a flagon of nut-brown ale" to wind up with.

"The Fringe of the Moor," which hangs in the entrance hall, looks, perhaps, worst of all the landscapes. Whether the light is too strong, or whatever be the reason, it certainly does not do itself justice; and one is almost tempted to remember Ruskin's harsh and somewhat unjust speech about its "rude and motive- less veracity." But it is a wonderful piece of colouring, and. should be looked at carefully, if only because it is the last land- scape Mr. Millais painted which shows his old pre-Raphaelite feeling. "The Deserted Garden," which hangs opposite to it, and was exhibited in the same year, is wholly different in char- acter, and much more akin to the painter's later method.. But though it has none of the other's faults, none of its harshness, bravado, and crudity, it is, in our opinion, very far inferior. It is a weak, namby-pamby picture, with a lot of confused details insufficiently wrought out, meaning nothing clearly, and except perhaps for the little bit of softly-bright distance, showing us little that is beautiful. We should like to turn, for a contrast to this mawkish rendering of Campbell's somewhat mawkish poem, to the little bit of plain, every-day prose, called "Sleeping," a child in bed with a nurse working beside it. Here we see our great painter at his very best, making a quite ordinary fact so beautiful that we seem to see it for the first time ; and touching it so brightly, so gently, and yet so strongly, that it is difficult to find words for the picture's grace, tenderness, and truth. Look at the "Little Miss Maffet " which hangs close to this, and draw what conclusion you may as to the blessings of colour. printing and Christmas numbers. This little dressed-up actress

of three or four years old, in a stage attitude of fright, at the entrance of a palpably artificial wood, seems to us to be just ds incompatible with Nature and really fine art, as the picture of " Sleeping " is consistent with both. And yet we suppose this is a work that the British public like ; at all events, this is what they ask for.

There are a few of the drawings, chiefly pen-and-ink and pencil, for the illustration of the Parables, in one of the smaller rooms here, which will repay careful examination ; there is an Indian-ink study for the "Vale of Rest," a picture which is not included in this exhibition ; and there is also here a finished water-colour study for the Ophelia," very delicate and beautiful, though showing marked inferiority to the finished oil. Certain slight differences in the colour of the dress, the quantity of the surroundings, the mass of floating weeds in the foreground, and the shape of the picture, which Sir John Millais seems to have originally intended to be oblong, deserve attention.

We must wind up this very incomplete notice with the mention of our old favourite, "Autumn Leaves," three girls standing above a great pile of many-coloured leaves in a dark landscape. This is one of the works, it appears to us, which hint at a depth of power in this painter for rendering the tragical side of human life, such as is hardly to be found else- where. There is nothing in it of conventional pathos, and no trace of effort at a definite tragic ititention ; but the colour of the picture has a dark splendour resembling that of Giorgione, and it is absolutely in unison throughout.