THE GROSVENOR GALLERY.
Pzitusrs the Grosvenor Gallery gains from the comparative dullness of the Royal Academy ; at all events, the collection is a pleasant one, after the long round of Burlington House. The very absence of the nursery element, and the eccentricities of several of the artists and amateurs who exhibit here, give a pleasant flavour to the Exhibition,—.a flavour which seems at once more spontaneous and less commercial than is ordinarily the case. But when this first feeling of gratification is over, and the Gallery is viewed dispassionately as a whole, we are forced to acknowledge that here, too, the depressing Art in- fluences of the time are clearly manifest ; there are very few striking pictures, and the majority of the contributors are, if not below their usual average technically speaking, certainly below their average of interest. Besides, the old gods are somewhat deposed here; the Gallery has to a considerable extent lost its special character, and is now only a good average collection of English pictures, with a strong dash of the dilettante element. In this first article we propose only to look quickly round the rooms, reserving detailed criticism for a later period.
Two of Berne Jones's pictures, both small, are here, though the artist's chief work is naturally, now that he has the honour to be an Associate, at the Royal Academy. One of these, a single figure, entitled " Flamma Vestalis," has some of the old feeling, but in both the interest is chiefly of the technical kind. The second picture, which is a " Noli me Tangere," we shall criticise later; suffice it to say here, that it is with regret we motice again in this artist's work the falling-away of his very exquisite sense of colour. Both the above-mentioned composi- tions run over-much to purplish tints, and neither of them, par the one in the Academy, possess any of that glory of colour which made all the earlier work of this artist so admirable.
Who is this black, rugged-skinned woman, with eyes like flame, who is fledged " with plumes on brow and breast," and appears in a sort of fiery mist? This is Mr. Watts's idea of "The Soul's Prison," derived, or rather constructed, from a sonnet by Mr. Walter Crane describing that dwelling-place. A most extraordinary picture this, in which the allegory has toppled the art over, almost to its extinction. But, though we say it with the greatest reluctance, there is much evidence this year that Mr. Watts's mind is running too entirely in the direction of symbolism to produce good artistic work. Even the most beautiful thing in this Gallery, which is, we are glad to say, his work (a figure of Hope), has its effect imperilled by the position of the figure on a sphere, presumably intended to represent the world. We say imperilled, because this straining after metaphysical or religious conceptions, this introduction and embodiment of primeval forces, amid more or less super- natural surroundings, is attempting to give to Art the province of literature and religion. There is a conscious didacticism about much of Mr. Watts's later painting, which takes away from our enjoyment, and this is not the more tolerable because the painter's mind is imbued with rather indefinite ideas as to what it is he desires to teach. However, this figure of Hope singkg to the stars to the accompaniment of the
last remaining string of her lyre, is very beautiful in pose, expression, and colour, and shows that noble conception of form which is, perhaps, Mr. Watts's greatest artistic gift. A little "Circe and Scylla," by Mr. Strudwick, hung near this, takes us at once to "the other side of the moon," and shows us a good little pupil of Mr. Burne Jones, echoing very faithfully, though in rather brown tints, his master's work. A weird figure, dropping poison into a spring from which a viper rises to meet her hand, and a little girl in the background, tripping down over impossible mountains to bathe in the poisoned water,—such is the mise en scene. The work is elaborate, fanciful, and neat, with a touch of imaginative power, and shows great patience and skill, but it has no reference to Nature, and its dreams are those indefensible ones,—the dreams of others. If a man will paint nightmares, at least they should be his own. Notice, too, near here, a pleasant little picture by one of the cleverest of our lady amateurs, Miss Tennant, and a rather poor example oi Mr. North's landscape,—always pretty, but feebler than of old. Here, too, is the first work of Mr. Burne Jones, junior, illustrating a scene from Henry James's "Madonna of the Future," but illustrating it only in name. The work is careful, and that is practically all that can be said for it. Mr. Philip Barrie Jones must get out of that mustard-pot style of colour if he hopes to become a colourist; at present he is only weakly imitating the least admirable qualities of his- father's work. Mr. David Murray's " Peat-gatherers " is fresh and stirring as ever, but hardly so quaintly pleasant as his usual landscapes; and of this "Greek Dancers" by Mr. Hale, which hangs hard by, we can only regret that Mr. Tadema should have gained another follower, we will not say imitator, in an artist like Mr. Hale, the character of whose work is wholly modern. Athens, painted from the point of view of the "Beaux Arts," is not likely to give good subject-matter for modern pictures. How is it, we wonder, that so many artists forget that there were more things in Lacedeamon and Sparta than thin robes and open-air festivals? The largest picture- here is Mr. Orchardson's "Master Baby," a huge work repre- senting a woman clapping her hands to amuse a chuckling infant, who lies kicking about on a sofa. A capital picture for' the nursery, and most interesting, no doubt, to the proprietors- of the baby, but scarcely fitted for exhibition. It is, we confess, with a somewhat mingled feeling of pleasure and vexation, that we see that Mr. Keeley Halswelle's work is becoming every day more theatrical,—of vexation, since one can ill afford that a clever artist should throw himself away ; of pleasure, since it is in one way satisfactory to see that even for a clever artist, the- result of treating Nature as if she had only one aspect, is to- render one incapable of representing her at all. There is nothing in this Gallery more flashily brilliant and more destitute of truth than Mr. Efalswelle's " Scaur na Gillian ;" and the- same remark might be made with little qualification of his large water-colour drawing at the Institute. Mr. John Collier's portrait of Henry Irving is, like all his portraits, exceedingly faithful, and most carefully painted. It is a little dull, and just a little too respectable ; but as it is the great point now a-days for an actor to look, off the stage, as if he were a cross between a Cabinet Minister and a churchwarden, perhaps the latter point is a merit rather than a drawback.
Sir Coutta Lindsay's "Paolo and Francesca," is, as far as the- characterization of the lovers is concerned, but feeble; in other ways, it is very far the best picture he has painted, and reminds- us of Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, and others, all rolled into
! Probably Sir Coutts Lindsay's memory of the old masters is slightly too good to allow his work to be wholly original. Notice, however, that the colour here is thoroughly pleasant.
But the nicest picture in this large room, and the one- with the mention of which we shall close our notice, is Mr. Leslie's "Garland," two girls weaving a garland .of roses in summer-time, in a tent on an English lawn. "Eng- lish girls by an English painter," as Ruskin once said (hitting the nail on the head, as usual), and the very breath of England and summer, is over this painting. And good as the atmo- sphere, mentally and physically, and sweet as the smell of the roses and the breath of the summer afternoon, is the technical part of the picture ; its brushwork, its composition, and its colour. After all, it is something to have even one painter who gets inspiration from innocent beauty, sunshine, and fresh air, and who can prove to us that these are really artistic subject- matter, just as much as Circe's poisoned spring, or Mr. Watts's tremendous allegories. "Thank Heaven !" one says, on looking at this picture of Leslie's, "the summer is coming ;" nay, for a moment the summer has even come, and the bitter winter is forgotten.