15 MAY 1880, Page 13




THE Grosvenor Gallery is rapidly losing the high place amongst picture exhibitions which it at first held, and becoming, with each successive year, less representative of the best Art of the day, and more the home of divers eccentricities. That amateur element, which was always "the little rift within the lute" in Sir Coutts Lindsay's exhibition, pervades the Gallery with its spirit as well as its presence, seeming to seize hold, in some instances, of artists who should be safe from such infec- tion. The works exhibited, too, are noticeable, for the most part, as imbued with a certain flavour which is anything rather than the quiet good work of strong painters. The pictures are either bizarre, affected, or insipid, and all (or at least nearly all)

have a dreadful sort of high-art simper on their faces, and seem to murmur slowly and softly of the sanctity and mysteriousness of Art.

It is a pity, a great pity, that this should be so, for the Grosvenor Gallery might have held a very worthy and useful place, had its director kept himself clear of all cliques of artists and amateurs, and opened his exhibition partly to the best art of the day, partly to the best art of the young painters. It may be that the present phase is one which the Gallery will grow out of, in time; but if not, its fate is sealed. It will, unless its censorship be conducted in a much more thorough and impartial manner, dwindle in public and art value from year to year, and its productions, like the tittle-tattle of what are called the" Society Papers," will have tobe constantly spiced to a greater degree, to snit the jaded senses of its patrons.

Whatever may be Mr. Burne Jones's artistic faults or excel- lences, there can be no doubt that it is his work which, as a rule, forms the great feature of the Grosvenor Gallery, and hitherto the artist has certainly done his best for the exhibition. Three such works as "The Days of Creation," the "Lana Veneris,' and " The Annunciation" have, perhaps, never been exhibited in rapid succession by an artist of our own time, and these of themselves have made interesting the first exhibitions of the Grosvenor Gallery ; but the picture sent by Mr. Burne Jones this year, can only be spoken of with praise by those who are unacquainted with the artist's power. It is, in the fullest sense of the word, a failure, if it be judged by comparison with the former work of its author. The subject is a number of maidens clothed in white, with musical instruments in their hands, descending a spiral stair, which winds from the lower left-hand corner of the picture to the upper corner of the same side. The stairs are coloured a pale gold, and give the name to the picture, which is called "The Golden Stairs."

When we say that this picture is a failure, we do not mean that it fails in technique, nor, indeed, in anything save the pos- session of those beauties of colour and depths of feeling which those who are well acquainted with Mr. Brune Jones's work have come to look upon almost as their right. In The Golden Stairs' the colour is not nnpleasing, but simply absent. There is no reason why the picture should not have been painted by a great colourist ; but if so, it has been painted at a time when colour has simply ceased to exist for him, when his consciousness of it was wholly gone. And it is a curious thing to remember that the beautiful series of Pygmalion pictures exhibited at this gallery last year by Mr. Jones, seemed to show the painter giving up his colour faculty, or at all events, ignoring it for the time. In this year's picture of the staircase, the colour has gone as completely as if it had never existed; a perfect har- mony of pale tint remains, but colour, as it is properly under- stood (and as Mr. Jones has shown us over and over again that he understands it), there is none. And much the same might be said of the intent, the feeling, the motive, the sentiment, or meaning of the picture,—using any of these terms to signify what there is in the picture, and what one gets out of it beyond the mere animal pleasure of the eye. A group of beautiful girls are descending a golden staircase, graceful in design, and painted as, perhaps, no one but this artist can paint at the present time, with a mingled solidity and delicacy very hard to explain. And yet what does it all come to ? Nothing, as far as we can see, that is worth making out. Now, it must be remembered that we cannot help expecting from artists, as from other people, that of which we know them to be capable. If Mr. Brune Jones means to bid for popularity, then, probably, this picture will fulfil his purpose; but if he wishes to be true to himself, and true also to those expectations with which many people look forward to his work, then he mast not sink below his accustomed level of intense feeling, nor devote his magnifi- cent powers of painting to the glorification of white linen, like Mr. Albert Moore, or the modelling of a woman's back, like Sir Frederick Leighton. Be it remembered, however, with regard to this last illustration, that Sir Frederick does other and much greater work. Witness those large frescoes at South Kensing- ton Museum, to the examination of which we hope soon to be able to devote an article.

Turn from Mr. Burne Jones's picture to the right hand, and there hangs before you the large picture of the "Song of Miriam," by Mr. Richmond, the Slade Professor at Oxford. This picture is hardly to be criticised fairly, as it is still un- finished, Mr. Richmond having sent it for exhibition at the pre- sent time because he could not do so. afterwards, as he informs us in a somewhat naïve note to the catalogue. It is to be pre- sumed from this fact, that the author thinks it would be a loss if the public had no opportunity of seeing this work, and that he, therefore, does violence to his feelings by exhibiting it in an immature state. What can be truly said in its favour is that it exhibits a great amount of industry, and a careful study of the work of Sir Frederick Leighton. There are very many figures in the composition, and all of them have been drawn with that careful but essentially unlovely drawing of which Mr. Richmond gives us such frequent examples.. Looking at his men and women, and their anatomical developments, produces a feeling of thankfulness that in the present day the abdominal muscles are covered by at. least two layers of cloth and linen, and no longer withdraw our attention from more interesting concerns. In much the same way, it seems to us, in which an ambitions tradesman com- bines carefully three or four Latin and Greek words into one- unutterably hideous compound signifying hair-oil or tooth- powder, so does Mr. Richmond with great care and industry take all the muscles, veins, limbs, &c., of a human being, and_ build up in front of us something,—not a man. In very truth,. a composition like this is hardly a picture, can hardly grow to- be a picture, with any amount of added finish; it is to a picture' much what a Spanish olla is to a dinner at Vefours—something,. that is, which has all the elements of good eating, but cast into. a pot anyhow, stewed to rags, and then a little classical oil poured over the whole. We hope our readers will be able to disentangle the last illustration. Mr. Richmond has, in the next room, how- ever, a portrait, which is really dignified and good, of Mr.. Darwin, a gentleman whom we heard described yesterday by an explanatory clergyman as "a very good writer." We shall hope to mention this portrait in a later notice.

With the mention of the two big landscapes by Mr. Cecil Lawson, which occupy the end of the great west gallery,. we shall conclude this our first notice. These pictures of the Weald of Surrey and another landscape whose name we have forgotten, are quite the worst things which Mr.. Lawson has yet exhibited, and show very clearly that the' artist is being, like most successful young artists, spoilt.. The picture of Surrey is a dusky moonlight scene, very large and dark and misty, but without any beauty other' than that of a big scene-painting,—a nice effect boldly treated, but not a great picture, and hardly worthy of a place. in the gallery. It would have been just as bad or as good, if it had, been a tenth part of the size. The picture of the two. yellow sisters standing amongst the meadow-sweet in a pastoral landscape is simply unsightly. Mr. Lawson has presumably been trying to blend figures and landscape into unity, but he has only produced an unpleasing picture, which is neither one- thing nor the other. The eye struggles from the big, awkward figures, to the big awkward landscape in which they stand,. and from the landscape back to the figures again, and finds no, resting-place and no enjoyment.