THE GROSVENOR GALLERY.
[EMT NOTICE.] "THE Grosvenor Gallery does not improve ; it does very much the reverse. Not only is it losing its special character, but the general quality of the work is distinctly deteriorating. Whereas a few years ago the average was considerably higher than that at the Royal Academy Exhibition—as indeed would naturally be the case when the works exhibited were the offspring of specially selected artists—the average is now at the best equal; and there is hardly one painter who sends to the Bond Street Exhibition this year, who has not a better picture at the greater gallery in Piccadilly. Perhaps it is a greater tribute to Mr. Burne Jones than the greatest panegyric on any of his pictures, that his absence from this Gallery should seem, as it does, to take away the last little bit of distinctive flavour. How much the Grosvenor owed to this artist's pictures, we discover this year in their absence.
One is tempted to consider a little what is the reason for this show being EC/ comparatively inferior ; for be it noticed that nearly all the causes which operate to reduce to mediocrity the Academy Galleries, are inoperative here. Here there is no large body of artists, some of them of declining years, whose pictures must still be hung in honourable places ; here there is no necessity to exhibit an incongruous mass of work, the Brown, Jones, and Robinsons of the artist community; here there is no pressure of numbers brought to bear upon those who select the pictures. On the contrary, in comparatively small galleries, as well-arranged and lighted as galleries can be, and consequently as favourable for the sight and sale of pictures, a small number is taken from picked men. Why, then, should not the exhibition be better ? There are two -causes,—one is the semi-fashionable and amateur element in the proprietorship and administration ; and the other is, if the truth must be told, the artistic incapacity of the two men who are in the main responsible for the selection of pictures. A jury of artiste may be, and, indeed, almost inevitably is, unjust in many minor cases; but at least it does, roughly speaking, know a good picture from a bad one, and a bad one from one which is not a picture at all. But it may be doubted whether those who select for the Grosvenor have even this elementary knowledge. The consequence is that the pictures for this Gallery are either not selected at all, as when certain painters are invited by Sir Contts Lindsay to send, and send what they like; or they are chosen by men who have not sufficient critical knowledge to keep up the character of a great gallery.
After the works of Mr. %roe Jones, the chief feature in the large room here has generally been one of the allegorical works of Mr. Watts; and there is this year, also one of these in the place of honour. It is called "Love and Life," and represents two nude figures, the male one having wings, and a mountain background. The man bends over the woman as he leads her towards the summit of the mountain. She looks tremblingly up in his face, and hesitates in her upward path. This is a picture of diverse merit, incomplete even for a Watts, almost equally exasperating and beautiful. The figures and the landscape are beautiful both in drawing and composition, and so is the soft sunshine which spreads over the picture. To say that the figures are bathed in this light is no mere phrase, but exactly expresses the fact. But in the heads the painter has failed, and failed so distinctly that he has spoilt his picture. Allegorical art, always a difficult weapon to handle, cute its worker's fingers badly if the actors in its drama are not .equal to their parts; and this is the case here. The woman is simply a little snub-nosed girl ; her expression is only one of scared impertinence ; while the man's head, with its mechanically-arranged curls, seems copied rather poorly front an inferior statue. When we think of this artist's "Love and Death," which was in the same gallery, we cannot rank "Love and Life," which is in some sense a companion. picture, in anything like the same category. It is open to the worst objection that can be made to a work of its kind,—that it leads us a small way towards an ideal composition, only to dash us rudely down again in the most important portion of the work. We, who have always been great admirers of Mr. Watts's splendid genius, venture to say to him here that this latest allegory is unworthy of his powers. Despite this, even in its failure there is more beauty than we can find in any other work of the year.
We alluded to the little Tadema of " Expectations " in our last article, and will only now add that it grows upon our liking. It is, as an artist said to us, "even more beautiful than nature "; and in that, perhaps, lies (though we did not intend to convey such a meaning) its condemnation. All who have been in Southern and Eastern climes know that where there is such strength of light there is never the richness of shadow such as we see here. Where sea and sky are as blue and deep as in Tadema's work, land and foliage and marble are greyer, lighter, dustier than these. It is "more beautiful than nature;" but, after all its extreme look of truth, is untrue. Marble in sunlight and shadow could not be more beautifully painted than Tadema paints it, as we said last week; but marble in that sunlight could not look half as beautiful. When sea and sky have that depth of colour, the land lies under and against them glittering, misty, and almost phantom-like.
Opposite to Mr. Watts's " Love and Life" hangs a huge picture of a nude woman, by a young painter named Mitchel. It is called "Hypatia," and a quotation from Kingsley'e book of that name is appended to its title. It is supposed to be the moment before Hypatia's death, when she has struggled free from her murderers, and stands beneath the statue of Christ, to which she appeals with uplifted arm. We will speak of this picture in detail another day, as we wish to look at it again. Suffice it to say here, that most of our contemporaries have made a great fuss about the picture, and that it is undoubtedly a fine piece of work for a very young man to have done. At present our impression of its merits does not go beyond the above. It is transparently incapable as a suggestion of Hypatia, for there is not only no nobility, but no anguish of any sort, in the woman's face ; the spirit of the scene is entirely lacking. As a nude study, however, it demands consideration for its pluck, and a certain cold strength which it displays. Fancy a painting which is in character something between Mr. Poynter'e " Diadumene " and Mr. Paruell'e speeches, and you will have the impression conveyed by this work.
One portrait here by Millais is very fine, that of Mr. Gladstone, in red robes, so good in colour and expression that it could hardly be better as a painter's tour de force. It is worthy of notice, however, that Millais has here been forced to endow Mr. Glad stone with a rosiness of check and freshness of complexion which are singularly untrue at the present time. This, of course, is because of the strength of colour in the rest of the picture ; but it renders the portrait somewhat unreal, and we almost feel that in so great a subject the painter should hardly have taken the liberty. On the whole, we think that the earlier portrait by the same artist, exhibited some years ago at the Royal Academy, where the Prime Minister was painted in a plain frock-coat, was more dignified and more characteristic. It was certainly a much more impressive picture. To see how bard to overcome is the difficulty of the red robes in a portrait, a look may be taken to the opposite side of the room at the picture of Mr. Browning, by his son. Mr. Browning, junior, is a young man who excels, or at least, exhibits, in every style of subject and painting, but we confess that we like this essay in portraiture least of all.
Look for a pleasant change, even though the work be but an echo of Burne-Jonesian malady, at Mr. Strudwick's "Golden Thread," one of those variations on the melancholy woman which the weaker members of the pre-Raphaelite brethren have copied from their master. The spirit of the picture is feeble and futile, it is true ; the lady wants airing and the garden air ; her drapery would not let her move ; her eyes would weep on the slightest provocation ; she lives in a brown world, and stands in a brown study. All this may be granted freely. But what
a pleasure it is to see the quietude and fineness of this work ! Every little leaf has been touched with care, almost with tenderness. On each fold of the gown, or morsel of the background, the artist has left the mark of his endeavour and the energy of his hand. A little, perfect piece of imperfection ; the best thing that an imitator could do, done with all that there was in him. This and the other pictures of Mr. Strudwick's have their own value, if only as showing the results of a strained theory in the hands of weaker men than those whose genius has availed to conceal the imperfection of their ideal.
One other large picture there is in this gallery which we must mention here, if only because of its size and its effort at producing an important work. This is the "Greek Audience" of Mr. Richmond, a painter who is to the Grosvenor Gallery much what Aristides was to a certain section of the Athenian populace. No less than ten portraits, besides this huge
Audience" picture, has Mr. Richmond here. He prevails like water—" Non vi, sed saepe cadendo." Let us look at the large picture. It represents the audience of a Greek theatre, seen from the stage, with a landscape background seen above the ranges of seats. The audience, clad in various-coloured—chiefly red and blue—robes, sit facing the spectator ; and it is the study of their faces and attitudes—we suppose—on which Mr. Richmond intends the interest of his work to rest. As this work has been greatly taken up by a certain section of the Press, it is worth while to say that it is not a great, not even a good picture. It is a work of very mediocre merit, as far as its technical accomplishment goes, and from any narrative, dramatic, or intellectual point of view, dull to the last degree. It is easy to see why this should be so, for the subject and its treatment are both almost impossible from a pictorial point of view. An audience, quci audience, is an eminently uninteresting and undramatic thing, and an audience who are all sitting in much the same position, looking the same way, ranged in semi-circular rows, dressed in the same red and blue robes, are little more interesting than the rows of soldiers one sees on a field-day. One's eye seeks for some centre to the composition, some woe gm, as it were, on which to rest the lever of one's interest ; and one seeks it in vain. "I don't see no p'ints about that frog differin' from any other frog," said Mark Twain's friend ; and the same remark applies to this audience. They are simply a rather dully painted lot of models, doing nothing—and helping each other. To our minds, at any rate—we do not pretend to infallibility—there is no trace of Greek feeling in this picture in any sense, no touch of the beauty and unconsciousness of early classical times, nothing which makes the work alive for a minute. This is Greece seen from the point of view of the ladies' seminary, and restorations of the Grecian architecture by a German architect. Or more simply, it is not Greece at all. We wonder, by the way, as a matter of detail, where Mr. Richmond gets his authority for the minute size of his theatre. One would fancy that the representation of the " Agamemnon " in Athens would be rather an important event, and not be held in a place which is apparently half the size of the Royalty in Dean Street. We have seen a gcod many Greek theatres—or rather, what is left of them—but we do not remember one which was of such minute dimensions as this, though there is a little tiny Roman theatre up above Frascati which is about the same size. As a rule they are not only very much larger, but very much shallower in form than this, the seats not rising so directly above one another, but sloping back gradually. However, that is unimportant, comparatively speaking. What does matter is that the artist has not succeeded in entering, or causing his spectators to enter, into the spirit of the time he has endeavoured to depict. And so his picture is, in plain words, a failure. It is one more added to the many pseudo-classical works which are a weariness in our galleries. In this connection, look for a moment at another classical work which has many of the qualities which Mr. Richmond's lacks. It is not specially Greek, though it is called "In the Time of Phidias ;" but it is full of life and action, and a certain simple, fresh delight in free limbs and looselyhanging draperies, such as Phidias himself might have felt. It represents a sculptor modelling a little clay figure, the model for which stands on a " throne" by his side, while behind him his wife or sweetheart bends over to see the work; all around are the chips of marble and unfinished statues of the studio, while a half-lifted curtain shows a glimpse of bright sky. The picture marks an advance in Mr. Hale's art ; it is unmistakeably the most complete thing he has done. A certain touch of the Beaux Arts has hitherto been evident in his
renderings of Grecian life ; but there is hardly a trace of it here, and the picture is especially noticeable in the Grosvenor for the truth of its relative tones. It is perhaps in this respect, more than any other, that it shows the deficiency of Mr. Richmond's work, in which there is not a single "value," in the French use of the term.