T7rIE EXHIBITION OF CARTOONS IN WESTMINSTER HALL. THE Cartoon exhibition in Westminster Hall is to be regarded not as an ordinary display of the relative skill of a certain number of artists, but as a demonstration of the talent of the country in one and that the most popular of the arts of design. The justness of the award is a quidnunc 's question, which we do not care to discuss ; being satisfied that it was made conscientiously, by competent and disinterested judges, and that it is as equitable as the distribution of a limited number of fixed prizes could well be among a host of competitors, whose productions, where they are worth attention, have not widely different degrees of merit. The question to be determined by this display is the important one of the fitness of the present race of painters to be employed in the decoration of the New Houses of Parliament. In this point of view, the cartoons become an object of interest to a class of persons for whom the annual exhibitions have but slight attractions—who, regarding the fine arts as a medium for recording great events, expressing lofty truths, and preserving the memory of noble characters, require on the part of the artist the mind to conceive and the skill to portray them with adequate power and dignity. From observers of this stamp we would rather know the impression made by this exhibition on their minds, than hear from artists their opinion of the merits of the designs : not only because artists and connoisseurs are apt to consider the technical excellences and defects of a work more than the ideas it conveys—to regard the means rather than the end—but also because those whom the future frescoes are intended to impress will estimate them according to the qualities of thought and feeling manifested in the pictures. It is to the mind more than the eye that monumental painting appeals. Our own impression is favourable to the pretensions of the best of the competitors ; though in a moderate degree. The evidences of talent are such as make us hopeful of the result ; and, taking the highest ground, we are of opinion that the artists of England have made good their claims to be intrusted with the adornment of the Palace of the Legislature. This response to the first call made by the country upon their exertions is, we think, very creditable to them as a body, considering the small encouragement there has been for the pursuit of high art, and the imperfect education provided by the Royal Academy. Moreover, it is well known that several painters, whose talents for design are of a superior order, have not entered into the competition ; whilst the successful competitors are mostly young or hitherto unknown.
Putting out of view the many lamentable failures and ludicrous abortions that evince the folly and incapacity of their authors, and taking into consideration the small proportion—about one-fourth of the whole hundred and forty—that is entitled to attention, we find evidences of thought, feeling, and study, betokening a sympathy with noble actions and exalted characters in history, that implies a power of expression greater than is here demonstrated : for much allowance must be made for the novelty and difficulty of the task of designing on a scale to which few English artists are accustomed, and in a material that exhibits defects of drawing conspicuously, yet is not susceptible of minute delicacies of expression; while it entirely precludes the charm of colour. The one thing wanting is grandeur of conception : in standing before any lone of these cartoons, the mind is not elevated to the "height of the great argument," nor thrown back into the age of the event. The persons have mostly modern physiognomies ; and when an Alfred, a Cassar, or a Caractacns is attempted, the artist commonly finds refuge in a conventional idea: we do not recognize in the image the character of the noble barbarian the patriotic lawgiver, or the imperial conqueror. This limitation Of imaginative power is a capital defect, and conclusive as to the absence of inventive genius of a high order ; but it is atoned for by other qualities of no ignoble kind: these are, the expression of human emotions in the look and action of individuals, and the representation of an event by their combination with the accessories of costume and scenery. Though the sublimity of ideal elevation is not attained, the force of a homely reality is sometimes given by the earnestness of the artist's intention : the subject is rarely degraded, though there may be a falling short of its demands and the ideas it awakens. These general remarks may be best exemplified by passing in review the prize cartoons. We take them in numerical order, according to the catalogue ; which expressly states that the only gradations of merit recognized by the judges are the three marked by the amounts of the premiums. Nor shall we make invidious comparisons, but speak of each from the impression it made upon us.
64. Cesar's First Invasion of Britain, by EDWARD ARMITAGE, conveys a lively idea of the confusion and excitement of such a scene ; and the resolute determination and energetic action of the combatants are powerfully expressed : but there is no physiognomical distinction between the Romans and the Britons ; all the faces are modern in character, and their looks are mostly characteristic of quietude, not of the violent exertion of the bodies. Ciesar is conspicuous by position, but his figure is insignificant, and he has neither a commanding air nor a noble presence : he is only worthy to be the standard-bearer who leaped into the sea to set his comrades an example. This incident, which should be a principal part of the design, is not represented: we see a standard hearer about to mount the side of the galley, but he is not conspicuous, and his look and action express alarm rather than animated courage. The drawing is vigorous and masterly ; both it and the composition are extraordinary, considering that the designer is a young man of two-andtwenty : his style is, however, too strongly tinctured with the peculiarities of the French school, in which he has studied; and the outline is more strongly marked than is necessary. 84. Caractacus led in Triumph through the Streets of Rome; GEORGE FREDERIC Werra. Caractaeus, with port erect, gazes on the splendours of Rome, and the crowds of citizens around, with the air of a man who rises superior to ill-fortune, and an expression of mingled wonder ana indignation in his gesture as well as his look ; but he seems rather standing in fixed contemplation than walking in a procession, and the attitudes of his son and his wife with her infant are stationary, not progressive : the group, however, is very beautiful. Caractscus has not the physiognomy of a barbarian, though the animal character of the forehead is so strongly marked as to give to his face a leonine aspect : his head is too small, in proportion to his hands if not to his whole stature. The crowd of spectators on one side, the trumpeters heralding the procession on the other, and the group of captives behind, convey an idea of the scene, and make up a very impressive design : so finely is the sentiment of the subject expressed, that the fate of the fallen chief, and the sorrows of his family awaken deep sympathy, and his noble bearing commands admiration.
105. First Trial by Jury ; CHARLES WEST COPE. The subject is represented with distinctness, simplicity, and pathos : a youth, kneeling over the dead body of his father, is describing the deed and pointing to the murderer, with a significant earnestness that is touching; while his mother bends over the corpse in an agony of grief. The scene is in the open air; the twelve men constituting the first jury are seated under a tree, in two rows, on one side ; and on the other sits the presiding judge on a raised seat, attended by two counsellors; the prisoner stands in the background, held by two officers. The calm attentiveness of the jury denotes the dispassionate earnestness of men whose office it is to investigate truth and administer justice ; and their physiognomies, though too much alike and too uniformly refined, are marked with traits of individual character not inappropriate to a rude age : the judge is wanting in official dignity and importance ; but his attention is, perhaps, more characteristic of the times. There is in this design a spirit of humanity, which, being expressed in a dramatic shape, without any exaggeration or artifice, takes strong hold, of the mind and feelings : it is a work of sterling excellence and lasting interest. The first premiums of 300/. are worthily destowed upon these three cartoons ; they are unequalled in merit by any others. We come now to the second class ; to which premiums of 2001. each are awarded. 100. St. Augustine preaching to Ethelbert and Bertha, his Christian Queen ; Jona Cam.corr HORSLEY. A design quite inadequate to the subject ; wanting both grandeur and elevation of sentiment. St. Angustine is a common monk, with less earnestness of purpose than if he were pleading for his monastery ; and without the look of devotional fervour and commanding dignity with which such a mission would inspire the humblest priest. The King looks perplexed rather than impressed ; and his Queen turns towards him as though she thought he was unwell : the Druid is a good figure. The drawing is careful, and the composition is arranged with simplicity and propriety ; but this is not an example of the grand style. 124. The Cardinal Bourchier urging the Dowager Queen of Edward the Fourth to give up from Sanctuary the Duke of York ; Jona Z. BELL, School of Design, Manchester, (not Liverpool, as was erroneously stated.) The expression of the Queen is that of a mother excited by grief and indignation ; and the action of the boy and the looks of the attendants bespeak the danger that is menaced : the Cardinal is deficient in dignity and importance—rather like a messenger receiving his dismissal than a delegate enforcing his commission. The composition is scattered, and the interest is not concentrated upon the principal persons. The costumes are accurate, though the management of the draperies is not felicitous. 128. The Fight for the Beacon—Descent of Pirates on the English Coast in the reign of Henry the Sixth ; HENRY J. TOWNSEND. A design characterized by extraordinary vigour and energy, and largeness of style. The pirates are savage and ferocious barbarians; and the surprise of a sudden descent is indicated, as well as the deadly nature of the.struggle. The composition is peculiar, but not inappropriate to the subject : there is no opportunity for the display of any thing beyond physical power ; for the expression of which the decision and grand gusto of the artist's manner are expressly adapted. The third-class premiums of 100/. are five in number, and awarded as follows 10. Una Alarmed by the Fauns and Satyrs; W. E. FROST. This cartoon is remarkable, we had almost said unequalled, for beautiful drawing of the figure and skilful grouping. The expression of joyous merriment in the look and action of the wood-gods is animated; and their sensual characteristics are visible in their faces, though these have a modern aspect. Una we consider an utter failure, notwithstanding the liveliness with which terror and alarm are depicted in her countenance: she is not the impersonation of innocence, grace, and beauty, described by SPENSER ; nor do her looks express the feelings of one "twist fear and hope amazed," but rather sudden astonishment and apprehension. 70. Joseph of Arinwthea Converting the Britons; E. T. PA.RRIS. This design has neither character, unity, nor originality : it is a compilation of incongruous figures culled from various sources. A venerable patriarch, with an Adam and Eve kneeling at his feet, linmost's " Nature" reclining on the ground with an infant at her breast, and some grimacing Druids pointing to the celebration of their rites in the distance, are the principal persons. The groups are well enough composed ; but the whole is feeble and unimpressive. 78. Boadicea Haranguing the Iceni ; H. C. SELOUS. An elaborate composition, with some clever drawing, but better adapted to display the skill of the artist than to represent the subject. The confused groups of half-naked men and women, some in violent action, others in repose, and the furious steeds of Boadicea's chariot, have no distinct meaning or purpose : we seek in vain in the faces for any clue to the object of their assemblage. The action of Boadicea is intelligible,—though it has more energy than dignity, and is, moreover, constrained: but neither her form nor face are noble ; her expression is that of an infuriated virago. 104. Alfred Submitting his Code of Law8 for the Approval of the -Witten; Jona BRIDGES. A well-considered design, carefully composed; and conveying a good idea of a deliberative assembly in the elder times, when legislators were few and impressed with a sense of the responsibility of their duties. Alfred, seated on the throne, with his Queen and their youthful son beside him, is attentively listening to the comments of a monk, who stands forth, while the rest of the little assembly seem weighing with grave earnestness the matter in discussion. Alfred is not the beau ideal of the great lawgiver ; and the members of the Witan have RD air of depression and feebleness, anything but characteristic of the vigorous intellects and roblut frames of a rude age and primitive habits : yet there is so much thought and feeling in the work, as in a great measure to atone for the feebleness of the style.
Ill. Eleanor Saves the Lffe of her Husband, (afterwards Edward the First,) by Sucking the Poison from the Wound in his Arm ; JOSEPH SEVERN. There is a feeling for the beautiful manifested in this cartoon ; which redeems its defects. The composition is straggling, and the drawing somewhat stiff and meagre, notwithstanding the gracefulness of the forms themselves; nor is the story affectingly told : there are too many figures "to let." The sufferer reclines like a man asleep, and his devoted wife scarcely touches the wound with her lips ; as though the artist feared to spoil the contour of her profile by representing the action of sucking : in effect, the aim of the designer seems to have been to make the incident a theme for the introduction of pretty faces rather than to represent the subject.
Our review of the prize cartoons has extended to such a length that we have no space left for a mention of some ten or twelve others that merit attention : we must therefore postpone further remarks till next week.