13 MAY 1882, Page 14



[FIRST NOTICE.] PRE-RAPIIAELITISM is dying quickly, even in this its latest retreat. The Grosvenor Gallery is approaching the Academy in dullness and ordinariness, and becoming only a sort of edition de luxe of Burlington House. Such, at least, is the general im- pression given by this year's Exhibition, which is tame and un- eventful to a degree. The only pictures which are likely to produce much sensation are a few very bad ones, and save for those who have a fierce delight in fault-finding, lengthened criti- cism of such, is as unpleasant to the writer as it must be un- palatable to the reader and the artist. Here and there, of course, there are pleasant resting-places for the eye, pictorial oases where- the waters lie still and cool in the shadow of the palm-trees, un- mindful of the hot sand-hills beyond. There is, too, an absence- of one species of boredom (one that overweights the Academy gallery), which may be described as the Ruff-and-Jackboot. Boredom,—the satiety that comes from gazing on work whose only meaning is that the artist can paint old-fashioned clothes. Sir Contts Lindsay has, at all events, succeeded• in keeping this out of the Gallery, and even amongst con- tributors who would send such work to the Academy and else- „ where, there is a sort of parole d'honneur not to send it here.. But there is a quantity of more than indifferent painting. There- is a portrait of Mr. Gladstone, which really should not have- been hung at the present crisis, it is as bad as having his effigy burnt by the common hangman ; there is a picture- of " The Shnlamite," by Mr. Spencer Stanhope, which for crudeness of colour and incongruity of design, could scarcely be rivalled ; there is the worst Watts portrait, and one of the worst Millais portraits, that we have ever seen ; and there is, besides, a variety of work which is simply eccentric, and nothing more. And we would suggest to Sir Coutts Lindsay that he should get some one of better judgment, to select and hang the pictures. At present, pretty well half the big room is filled by gigantic contributions from Mr. Whistler and. Mr. Richmond, one of whom sends seven and the other ten works. It is quite conceivable that the large, blue canvas, with a small, blue girl in the midst thereof, which Mr. Whistler entitles " Scherzo in Blue," may have a meaning and a merit that we do not comprehend ; but certainly, one example of such work is all that can be needed ; it is like a two- headed nightingale, or the " Siamese Twins," not beautiful in any way, and only interesting as long as it is unique. Besides,. there is a certain amount of insult to painters like Watts,. Millais, Leighton, Burne Jones, and Holman Hunt, in over- whelming their contributions with masses of confident mediocrity or incompetent eccentricity. No one who cares for poetry would bind Walt Whitman and Tennyson together,. and if Sir Contts Lindsay intends to be a true patron of Art,. he must remember that one first part of his duty is to know good Art from bad, and take care that his actions make such know- ledge more general. In Art, as in life, love of the just, must include hatred of the unjust; and it is as necessary to discourage all vicious or tricky styles of painting, as it is to encourage all sound, good craftsmanship. As we have so often said, one of the bad results of the present fashion for Art, is that those who buy have no real knowledge of, or love for, the art they purchase, and so are at the mercy of any charlatan who can gain access to them. It is no light matter for a man of Sir Coutts Lindsay's influence in the Art world, to set the cachet of his approval upon bad painting, for that is to turn his influence against every true painter, and delay the time when his work will be properly and fairly appreciated.

In our notices of this Gallery, we propose for the first time sinck we have written criticisms, to speak only of such pictures as we consider to be of distinct merit; and though we can hardly hope to notice all of these, we hope to say a few words upon the chief examples. And without professing to assign the actual

place to each picture, we would wish our readers to remember that we shall endeavour to mention the paintings in their order of merit, "from the best of them down to the worst."

On the east side of the west room, hangs Mr. Holman Hunt's solitary contribution, a picture somewhat under life- size, of a child in a bright blue frock, holding an orange in her hand ; by her side a lamb, with a purple ribbon round its neck, behind her a winding road, a red-brick wall, and a background of trees. As a picture we could find many faults here, from the general one of overstrained effect to the particular criticism of the excess of purple in the shadows,—and, indeed, iu the lights also—throughout. The child is, we believe, Mr. Hunt's own daughter, but he has given her a fancy name, and the painting represents one of the Misses Flamborough, of whom seven were drawn, holding seven oranges, " a thing quite out of taste ; no variety in life ; no composition in the world." Such is the -quotation from the "Vicar of Wakefield" that Mr. Holman Hunt appends to his picture, and we must say that it is a marvel- lously apt one. And no one, we think, can look at this child, with her wide-open eyes, and her little fingers spread out in the attempt to hold the inevitable orange, without appreci- ating the youngest Miss Flamborough, and wishing that Mr. Hunt had given us the other six. In truth, though the defects of the picture are patent, its merits far outweigh them. In two ways it is first-rate, and those ways are of the gist of the matter. As a piece of colour, it is magnificent; and as a render- ing of an individual child's character, it is one of the most subtle pieces of painting we have ever seen. It possesses, too, this great merit ; though a portrait of a child, and a good and individual portrait, it is also a picture, by the sheer force of its painting and its amount of expression, and this pictorial quality has been gained, and exists in the picture itself, not in the name given to it, nor in any ornamental accessories, such, for in- stance, as putting. a broom into the child's hand, and calling it Cinderella. And it has, too, this other quality of great art, that the more it is examined, the more beautiful it becomes, and the less its faults grate upon you. Do not let us be misunderstood ; there is no poetry of the ideal kind in the picture what- -ever—there is no meaning expressed by it, except the mean- ing that lies on the surface, of childhood, helpless, wondering, and innocent—but it is the unsparing record of a hand trained to the greatest amount of patient skill, of an eye whose keenness is undimmed by any preference for a particular class of fact, and of a heart which sees and loves beauty in its own way, but still with passionate intensity.

For a change from this undimmed and unhesitating percep- tion, let us go into the east gallery, and look at Mr. Watts's pic- ture of the " Dove that Returned No More." A large, upright, work this, the composition of which is very simple. A tree- stump stretching up the picture, on one branch of which nestles the dove ; while upon another projecting portion, are caught some clothes and a necklace of jewels, relics of the life which the Flood has destroyed. Beyond this, only a grey and watery sky. This, of course, is a companion picture to the well known one of the " Return of the Dove," criticised in these columns, during the exhibition of Mr. Watts's pictures in the winter. It has all those qualities of mystery and poetry which Mr. Hunt's painting lacks, it touches our hearts, rather than our eyes. It is, in fact, incomplete art of a greater kind, immature in many ways ; in its broken hints of colour, in its lack of concentration, in its indefiniteness of meaning. To complete its beauty, we must find some supplement in our- selves ; it only touches us when we succeed in putting ourselves in the special frame of mind in which it was painted. Unlike its companion picture, in which the long stretches of rippling water and soft, grey sky, completed the story of the scene, till it could hardly have been more perfect, we have here only a hint of a picture, an impression of the painter's, which has never been carried into the region of actual fact; it might have been a picture, it is—a dream.

No one has dreamed more dreams in his time than Mr. Burne Jones ; perhaps we might almost say, no one has had more night- mares. What are we to say and think of his pictures this year ? In the first place, they are, we believe, all either old works, or new readings of old works. The "Feast of Peleus" we remember seeing in the painter's studio several years ago, and it was not new then. "The Tree of Forgiveness" is a new edition of the "Phyllis and Demophoon," concerning which there was so much fuss made at the Water-Colour Society, about fifteen years ago. " The Mill " we do not remember to have seen before, yet, if we may judge from 'style, it has been painted some years ; and the others, which are small and comparatively unimportant, have all apparently been executed for some time. None of these are favourable specimens of the master at his best, and for that reason we do not care to enter into many details concerning them, for we have in former years criticised his best work in these columns, with the admiration that, we think, it deserved. The "Phyllis and Demophoon" is not a picture which the painter's admirers will very much care for, if only because in it there is but little of his peculiar beauties. It is perceptible as the work of a colourist, but of a colourist in an unhappy frame of mind. There is about it, if we may use an expression of Mr. Ruskin's, no joyous serenity of colour. The mere manual dexterity shown in the painting is, we think, greater than ever; the grass and flowers and the almond-blossoms are quite beautifully exe- cuted, but there is strangely absent that grace of line of which Mr. Burne :Tones is generally so perfect a master, and the hurried action of the figures has apparently overmastered the painter's powers of expression. Demophoon is tumbling forward, rather than running, and the curves of Phyllis's body and the opening tree-trunk have an unpleasant snakiness about them. If we may trust our memory for fifteen years, the original water- colour drawing, was far finer, both in colour and action ; and though its anatomy was, we daresay, a little doubtful, it was certainly not so rampant as it is here. Certainly, a little error would be preferable, to the way in which these straining muscles of Demophoiin are forced upon our attention ; preferable, even if the latter are right, which we rather doubt. On the whole, we prefer " The Mill," a quiet, unostentatious picture, where girls in long robes stand, rather sadly, hand in hand, in front of some shadowed water ; while in the background we see figures of men bathing, and the walls and wheels of the mill. This has all the regretful melancholy we are wont to associate with Mr. Jones's work, and is pictorially something between the music of an lEolian harp and the dreary, muffled iteration of a bell-buoy in stormy weather. The " Feast of Peleus " we do not like, and shall not criticise.

Let us turn from " these prophets and heroes, sibyls and warriors, to very common, every-day people," and look at the crayon portrait of George Eliot which Mr. Burton has sent here. It may well be that the present writer's affection for the woman blinds his eyes to the deficiencies of this picture, but it seems to be a very fine work of art. Simple, straightforward, and dignified, done in the most plain and unaffected manner, it nevertheless shows an amount of penetration into character and a largeness of style which can hardly be over-praised. And it is impossible to resist the impression that this is exactly what the great novelist was at her best. There is not a single concession made to beauty, in the softening of the irregularities or harshnesses of the features ; but the eyes and mouth have a " serious sweetness " of expression, such as all her friends have told us of; and the brave, thorough nature of the woman, with its shades of sarcasm and lights of tenderness, looks out at us from every line of the face, as it might have done in life.