15 MAY 1880, Page 12



Sia,—Your Art critic, in his first notice on "The Royal Academy," speaking of Mr. Prinsep's Indian picture, says :— "It is impossible to do much more than laugh at the pompous title or the pretentious performance of Mr. Prinsep. Serious criticism would be out of place, if bestowed upon this half-acre of canvas, which tries, as Mr. Ruskin said of the Renaissance Sculpture, to be grand by bigness.' Perhaps it was almost an impossibility to make a good picture out of such a subject, but certainly it need not have been so crudely coloured, so coarsely painted, and so discordant in its general effect." I should be grateful to you if you would allow me a little space in which to protest against, what seems to me, an unfair and inadequate criticism of the execution of this work.

Your many readers and admirers must feel that in the tone of the Spectator, as a rule, there is a conscientiousness which is at once generous and elevated; but in ridiculing and dismissing Mr. Prinsep's picture, as one below contempt, I cannot think your critic has been either fair or generous. Obviously he is not, judging from his wise and appreciative criticism on Mr. Dicksee's work, one of those Art critics who put themselves out of court altogether by hitting hard blows, because in so doing alone they find something to say about Art; but I think in this instance he has failed in seeing the amount of success which has been achieved in a most difficult under- taking,—an undertaking which required courage, industry, and power of endurance to bring to anything like completion. These qualities alone surely ought to secure for the picture a certain amount of respect, but I :think many will agree with me in think- ing there are artistic merits in the work which, though not those

most easily seen or which are most popular, show a power which deserves anything but contempt. The faults are obvious, the chief fault being the subject, which was not Mr. Prinsep's choice; also a want of finish and delicacy in the execution. It may be that the whole effect. of this Anglo-Indian scene is strikingly in accordance with the flashy tone of the " gunpowder- and-glory " policy, but this is only saying in other words that the performance carries out the feeling of the subject. The most striking merit of the picture appears to me to be, that in the _gloom of an English climate a vivid representation has been painted of a scene in India in which the Oriental sense of light and rich brightness of colouring has been given most forcibly -on an enormous scale, and in which a vast number of portraits have been painted with reference to individual likeness,—the truth of the scene as it book place, and yet with a grouping of the masses which is, in an artistic sense, good. The fact of the size of the canvas being huge, adding to the suggestion of Oriental quantity and size, is also, surely, a merit in the pic- ture, though it must have added immensely to the difficulties. To have criticised severely the idea of the picture, the desire to have the portrait of such a scene painted, all, probably, would -agree in thinking legitimate; but to dismiss the performance with contemptuous ridicule, without recognising any merit, I cannot think criticism worthy of the Spectator. It is one of those criticisms (fortunately growing rarer every year) which do harm and no good, which divide the sympathies of the painter and the writer, and which embitter the feelings of artists against critics.

Most of our best artists, I feel convinced, would be of opinion that Mr. Prinsep has accomplished a most difficult undertaking in a very creditable manner, and that considering the special difficulties he had to contend with, there is, perhaps, no other artist who could have accomplished it so creditably.—I am,