THE ROYAL ACADEMY.
BY general consent the Exhibition is allowed to be much above the usual standard. Nearly all the members of the Academy have contributed, and some have exerted themselves with unusual success. Then there have not hitherto been many complaints of unjust rejections, and the Arranging Committee, though their own pictures are well placed, have miraculously escaped the accustomed objurgations. "Want si space" is the new cry, and in the prospect that the Academy may at no distant time possess double their present room, the world of artists descries a probable millennium. Whether this be so, or whether the rest of the world will benefit by the change, is another question. Double the present number of pictures does not necessarily imply double the present amount of talent and interest : and assuming, as we must, that the Academy has generally taken the cream, what will be the effect. upon the Exhibition of an indefinite increase of respectable medic t rity ?
Of tie three new Associates Mr. Calderon sends nothing. Illness; it is sal I, has calmed this very serious loss to the Exhibition. Mr.E. B. Stephens also is a defaulter, but as he is scarcely known to the public, except by his mosaic of Isaiah in St. Paul's Cathedral, this default will not be much felt. Mr. Leighton, the other new mein1 ber, his never appeared to better advantage. His conceptions are alwaya definite and always picturesquely expressed. He hail also a certain largeness of treatment too rare in the present day. The fault of his conceptions is a want of seriousness, of dignity, and of high moral significance. The treatment is too often in advance of the idea, so as to produce an impression of unreality and affec- tation; and one seldom loses sight of the paint-box. His " David " is not fairly open to this reproach. The King is vigorously and worthily conceived, and one is made to feel that he was also a poet. The strong contrast of colour in the sky has been objected to as unnatural. It might be sufficient to say that the treatment does not pretend to be naturalistic ; but a close observer of nature, remembering how often he is puzzled to explain natural effects, will scarcely venture to call the contrast unnatural. For cora- pleteness, however, and thorough fitness of means to the end, the "Mother and Child" (120) is most remarkable. The composition has extraordinary grace, the child in form and action is beautiful and child-like, and the single (and rather serious) blot lies in the insipidity of the mother's face. The background is pretty and fanciful, but in parts its quaintness is a little overdone. In strong contrast to Mr. Leighton's somewhat artificial grace is the homely and rugged pathos of "The Last of the Clan " (150), by Mr. T. Feed, one of the new Academicians. This picture, With' many of the artist's merits of expression and execution, is Open to much criticism. The eye has no resting-place, the composition wants cohesion. The eye finds relief in Mr. Phillips's picture which hangs near (156), which, although richer and more various in colour, yet possesses that subtle charm of repose arising from a carefully-balanced composition, grandeur of line, and breadth of colour which no picture can safely dispense with. The young Murillo studying "the life' in the market-place is accosted' and his painting scrutinized by some Dominican friars, while the gipsies that have been his models stand round, peering with only half-satisfied eye over his canvass, or simply staring with indolent and lack-lustre eye. The critical expression of the Domini- can with half-shut eye, who thinks he has found a new artist to
decorate his monastery, and the stupid gaze of the peasant who sits on his mule munching coarse bread, are given with equal care and penetration of character, and amid the profusion of fruit, pottery, and other accessories that crowd the foreground, some carelessness of drawing almost escapes observation.
Mr. F. Goodall exhibits a large picture, "Rising of the Nile" (8), with the inhabitants of an inundated village seeking refuge on the higher ground, painted (like all this artist's pictures) as if he was thoroughly fond of his profession. It is a noble work, and (to specify particulars) a more noble, yet withal more beautiful, group than that of the mother and child cannot be desired. A certain prettiness of colour which may sometimes be noticed in Mr.
Goodall's work is less observable here than usual. The destruc- tion of Pompeii has provided subjects for two different pictures.
One by Mr. Poole (162) shows a family of old and young, horror- stricken and helpless, soon to be buried under the showers of ashes that have killed the birds and overthrown the houses ; this is painted in Mr. Poole's best manner. The other, by Mr. Poynter (542), grander in subject, yet scarcely so perfect (though still careful and impressive) in execution, represents the episode which is on record of the sentinel at the Ilerculanean gate who, forgotten in the general terror and confusion, "had received no order to quit his post, and while all sought their safety in flight remained faith- ful to his duty," and was found buried at his post. _ In force of colour none surpass, and few approach, Mr. Millais. His "Joan of Arc" (208) is a noble and devout, if not very enthu- siastic, maid, and her steel corselet gives the artist an opportunity of showing his consummate skill in treating ancient armour. The dress of a more modern young lady is equally well painted in 391, and still more masterly is the painting of the arm-chair on which she rests : but the picture lacks interest. The landscape in "The Romans leaving Britain" (294) is the only piece of painting in which, of late years at least, Mr. Millais can be said to have really failed. The failure is the more to be regretted, since the grief of Roman soldier and British wife at parting is strongly and feelingly expressed. Mr. Webster reminds us of his best days in his picture of "Village Gossips" (77), a tea party of old women where "at every word a reputation dies." Marvellous is the character conveyed in one old woman's back ; she is evidently the most spiteful of the lot. One turns with a sort of pleasure from this scene of malicious tittle-tattle to the broad, manly face and cheerful aspect of Sir E. Landseer, painted by himself (152).
He is at work crayon in hand, and attended by two faithful dogs, who look over his shoulders, and dog-like take an interest in their master's occupation, though they understand it not. More will have to be said of the portraits hereafter, but meantime this may be mentioned as one of the most life-like and most suggestive of individual character. Sir Edwin sends two companion pictures, each representing the same horse, in the one with all the pride of youth and high keeping, in the other fallen into the cab-jobber's hands, broken-kneed and swollen-jointed, his withers raw and no rack to empty.
To illustrate a moral lesson by a parable drawn from some familiar event or action is proper to the preacher and intelligible to his hearers. Comprehension is quickened and memory strength- ened by a novel mode of applying well-known facts, and by giving them an unexpected meaning not apparent on their surface.
But painting has to do with the surface only, and no force of the pencil can represent the inner meaning. Any attempt to paint a parable must necessarily therefore be a failure. The attempt, however, is not unfrequently made. Thus Mr. J. R.
Herbert would have us see in "The Sower of Good Seed" something more than a Syrian husbandman in a Syrian field ; for on his frame he writes a reference to the Gospel of St. Matthew. Yet but for this reference (which is indeed evidence of the conscious inability of painting to deal with the subject) the picture could not possibly have stood for anything more than it is,—a well- composed, brightly-painted representation of every-day life in the East. Mr. Millais, again, takes for his subject "The Parable of the Tares," and so far as he departs from the literal meaning of it, and gives the " enemy " a diabolic aspect, he manages to hint a meaning beyond the literal one. But if the popular description of this picture, viz., the devil sowing tares, be just in its apprecia- tion of the figure represented, then the picture becomes absurd ; for it must be understood that the tares sown by the devil are moral tares, tares only by metaphor ; and how shads man paint a metaphor? However, not to object too minutely, the artist has indulged his whim with his usual ability and force, and has eked out the natural with the necessary adjuncts of green-eyed monster and loathsome snake. Being in the vein for Scripture illustration, he dignifies a splendid study of his great-grandmother's wedding dress by a quotation from the book of Esther (522).
If Mr. Hook's pictures should ever come to be collected together and exhibited in a single gallery, it is to be feared his fame would suffer a heavy penalty for his present popularity in the manifold repetitions of one sort of picture. He has crossed the Channel and gives us now Breton instead of Cornish coast and fishermen. But ecelum non animum; he sees only what he saw before, and but for the catalogue it were hard to distinguish the black spits of rock, the green seas, the huts, boats, and people that he found on one side from those he painted on the other. It seems ill-natured to carp at pictures so undeniably beautiful as Mr. Hook's, but frequent repetition even of the most beautiful things will tire at last, and we would rather see his great power and ability occupied in working out some new thought than in the perpetual, however pleasing, embodiments of an old conception. "The Sea Weed Gatherer' (567) deserves particular notice, on account of its comparative freedom from those faults of composition more than once regretted in these columns. In his early years Mr. Hook was known for his careful, sometimes over-studied and conven- tional, compositions. Now he seeks simplicity to the verge of affectation ; his greatest hate sprang from his greatest love. He should trust himself better than to think that to be natural he