18 DECEMBER 1880, Page 15


THE SOCIETY OF PAINTERS IN WATER-COLOURS. (THE WINTER EXHIBITION OF SKETCHES AND STUDIES.) SONE dozen or so years ago the present writer, iu company with several friends, was looking over a collection of water-colours, when one of the number, stooping down to examine a small drawing which stood in an easel-frame somewhat in the shadow, said, in contemplative tones, "That's a good drawing." All turned to examine the picture and the speaker, and the daughter of the house said with a good-natured laugh, " Why, that's one of your own pictures, Mr. Dodgson ; don't you recognise it P" The artist murmured something or other expressive of surprise, but added instantly, and with great decision,—" It is a good, a very good, drawing." All laughed, and agreed with him. The writer never saw. Mr. Dodgeou before or since, but this incidents dwelt in the mind as probably typical of the artist's character; and looking at the collection of drawings by the deceased painter, which the Old Water-colour Society have, with a good-feeling that does them honour, appended to their annual exhibition of sketches and studies, we seem to be able to trace in them something of the quaint forgetfulness and simplicity which were evident in the remarks above quoted. I n all these compositions, Mr. Dodgson does not appear to have represented Nature, or even interpreted her, so much as to have absorbed her into his indi- vidual consciousness, and produced therefrom a result of his own. It would be, in our opinion, as incorrect to say that these pictures are unnatural as that they are natural, and more incorrect to say they are artificial than either. They seem to be the result of a mind working in a peculiar way, and imbuing with one spirit whatever material was set before it. Speaking roughly, the

chief elements of beauty to which Mr. Dodgson shows himself susceptible are the sense of mystery and the brightness of light.

On one or other of these, most of the pictures here are founded, and depend for their attractiveness. And in the former quality, that of mystery or strangeness, Mr. Dodgson had scarcely a rival amongst his contemporaries, who were, it must be remembered, artists of whom but few are now living. The picture alluded to above by the artist himself as being "good" was a capital example of this power ; it was called the "Haunted House," and the painter had so successfully imbued sky, dwelling, and landscape with the sense of desolation and eeriness, that one's first idea. on looking at the picture was to endeavour to make a ghost out of the shadows of cloud and wreaths of mist surrounding the old house. Mr. Dodgson was, iu fact, an artist of curiously in- tense and yet defective imagination, and in most of his works we seem to have many elements of meaning jumbled up together, as if the artist himself could not quite arrange them.

Many of the pictures look, with all their beauties, as if they were but intended for experiments; whatever feeling one gets from them has to be extracted from a mass of chaotic surroundings, and the last state of mind they would suggest is repose. Techni- cally speaking, the colour is harmonious and even powerful, but lacking in tenderness, and frequently in depth ; the paint seems to have been laid on sharply and clearly with a very dry brush, and there is something very unsympathetic in many of the pictures, arising possibly from the lack of clear intention in the mind of the artist. For it is tolerably clear that though an unsparing realist may, perhaps, in some measure dispense with human sympathy and strong personal feeling ; yet, an idealist without these can hardly expect to gain us to his view of the universe, as shown in his paintings. If his ideal is not sympa- thetic and emotional,—well, pictorially speaking, he'd better have had none at all.

However, we must not linger over the qualities of Mr. Dodgson's work, for there is the whole exhibition of studies and sketches to notice, and this we proceed to do as briefly as possible. The collection is a fairly representative one, being good all round, without any very striking excel- lences. The predominance of landscape over figure sub- jects grows more and mere marked every year, and the majority of the members calmly ignore the title of the exhibi- tion, and send finished works, in lieu of " sketches and studies?' The older members especially do this, and such elaborate compo- sitions as Mr. Oswald Brierley's " Autumn Squall in the Lagoon at Venice," Mr. W. C. T. Dobson, R.A.'s " Silvia," and Mr. Samuel Read's " Burgos Cathedral," are quite beyond the pro- fe3sed scope of the exhibition ; so, too, are Mr. E. K. Johnson's elaborate garden, farmyard, and sea-beach pictures, each telling some little, unimportant domestic incident, in the pleasantest and most el ',borate manner.

It is no discredit to the older and better-known members of this Society that the chief interest of the exhibition is to be found in the work of their younger contemporaries. Sir John Gilbert, R.A., Mr. Birket Foster, Mr. George Fripp, Mr. T. M. Richardson, Mr. Edward Duncan, Mr. Frederick Tayler, Mr. David Cox, Jun., and Mr. Collingwood Smith have had long days of assured success and praise, and we should be badly off, indeed, if we had no young artiste in this Society whose work could not interest us more in its fresh power, than does the accustomed and somewhat monotonous ex- cellence of the elder generation. And more than this, it is a fact hardly to be disputed that the present, and, as far as we can now see, the future prospects and direction of land- scApe art, will depend upon a different conception of its method to that of the elder water-colour painters whom we have just mentioned. Great as is the individual ability of each, they are undoubtedly, taken as a whole, artists of a period of decline in water-colours. They stand between Cox and De Wint, on the one hand, and Walker, Pinwell, and Boyce, on the other. Their work is founded upon the conception of Nature as a pretty, picturesque plaything ; and they possess neither the rough truth of the old water-colour men, nor the thought and delicate beauty of the new school. No one who knows what English men and English homes are truly like, will believe in Mr. Birket Foster's cottages and cottagers ; no one now-a-days can care, off the boards of Drury Lane Theatre, for Sir John Gilbert's theatrical war ; and no one who loves animals will accept Mr. Tayler's purple chargers and orange dogs as satisfactory types of the brute creation.

Directly truth began to be sought for in landscape art, all such representations as these were practically doomed, and it is only from the feeling which prompts the kindly reception of old stage favourites, that they are allowed to linger among us, and gain from toleration what they once demanded as a right. It is by the work of the younger members that the Society lives, and it is their work to which we shall principally confine the few general remarks we have yet to make, detailed notice of pictures being practically out of the question, when many artists send ten, twenty, or thirty examples, of which the subject is generally little more than some picturesque bit of English scenery, some episode of rustic life, or some stretch of calm river or sunny sea.

Mr. J. W. North has at last returned to England, and his work is, on the whole (though often badly hung) the most interesting in the exhibition ; and this for several reasons, of which his intense sense of beauty is the most powerful. The examples (72 and 164), entitled " Autumn " and " A Bit of Southern England," leave nothing to be desired. In their humble, perfectly unpretentious way, they could hardly be better. The single fault which it is possible to find with them is that Nature seems to have slightly deadened the artist's feeling for anything else. Those who want more in a landscape than perfect atmospheric truth and very subtle and beautiful colouring, will hardly find it here ; but we may be thankful to get as much, now-a-days. Mr. Albert Goodwin's work shows in this exhibition a sense of despondency and restlessness which we are sorry to see. A year or two ago, his pictures were the gladdest of all glad things, delighting in blue seas, purple heather. and brilliant sunshine. Now we have the " English Cemetery at Rome," with cypresses wavering drearily against a stormy sky, and a most painful picture of dead bodies washed up by the tide at sunset. And even the other examples of quiet English and Dutch towns and shipping seem to be touched with the same spirit, and though they are beautiful, as Mr. Goodwin's pictures apparently must always be, are beautiful in spite of the painter, rather than from his choice. It is pleasant to be able to note a painter's work as showing very distinct improvement, and such can be seen in the pictures by Mr. J. Parker, which though affecting a somewhat artificial prettiness of colour, ap- proaching to that of the sweetmeat-box, show much nice feeling, and are very caref ally and delicately worked out.

The best sketch—qua sketch—in the gallery is Miss Clara Montalba's pulpit in St. Mark's,Venice, a piece of gloriously sug- gestive colouring, as true as it is powerful, catching, too, the spirit of the church,—its dimness, richness, and quiet. At the oppo- site end of the scale to this sketch is the elaborate, very highly- finished " Study of Burgos Cathedral," by Mr. Samuel Read, in• which every stone seems to have been laid with a builder's care- exactly in the right place, and there is nothing left for the spectator but to wonder at the artist's infinite patience. Yet this, too, is a fine picture of its kind, and has evidently been a labour of love. Mr. Herbert Marshall has at length got "beyond the radius," and sends sketch upon sketch of woods,. meadows, and streams, of which we can say no more at present than they hold out considerable promise, and are well and carefully painted. H.R.H the Princess Louise must not be forgotten, for in the intervals of presiding over Society in the Dominion and composing waltzes, she yet finds time to paint gigantic water-colour portraits. The works are meritori- ous and singularly untricky, are touched, indeed, with a mascu- line rather than a princess's hand, and rely for their attractive- ness solely upon their merit as likenesses, as all accessories have been neglected and bright colour banished from the picture. Mr. Edward Brewtnall sends a painstaking and clever picture of the imaginative kind, entitled "The Frog Prince," iir which the only thing to regret is the somewhat wooden appear- ance of the arm and hand of the startled Princess. The- work is elaborate, fanciful, and pleasant, and is about the only example in the exhibition of a figure-painting of any consider- able size. Mr. Buckman's work seems to be gaining that interest which it lacked so much, namely, beauty, many of his little examples this year being as pretty as they are quaint, Take, for example, the sketch of the gleaner, or that of the sailor and his sweetheart descending the cliff-path, both of which are thoroughly attractive, without being in the least common- place. Mr. Francis Powell only sends one contribution,, but that represents him at his best—a yacht becalmed, lying with all her sails vainly set, in a haze of grey an yellow light. Why is it, we wonder, that Mr. Powell's paintings always remind us of Mr. Black's Scotch stories ? Perhaps, because the former hold much the same rank in Art that the latter do in fiction,—something, namely, which is pretty, clever, individual, but hardly natural. Mr. Walter Duncan's work this year seems a little perplexed between two styles,—his own and his father's. Might we hint to this clever.• young artist, that there is no security for a painter in trying to. work in any way but that which comes natural to him. The sketch by this artist of the fountain (385) at Hampton Court is a delighful little bit of colour.

Mr. Henry Wallis's two small figure compositions, called, " A Marriage Settlement" and " A Manuscript," do not, in our opinion, show this earnest and conscientious painter at his best. They lack vitality and interest, and appear a trifle over-laboured. The colour, however, is pleasant throughout, and the drawing as careful as usual. Space fails us to notice more individual works, and we must sum up the remainder of the contributions in a few words. Mr George Fripp's work is'as pleasant, though not perhaps as im- portant, as usual. Messrs. Holman Hunt, Alfred Hunt, George P. Boyce, and Alma Tadema (take them all in all, the four best members of the Society), are conspicuous by their absence. Mr.. W. M. Hale, Mr. C. Davidson, Mr. E. Waterlow, and Mr. Cuth bert Rigby are doing good and original work in the department of English landscape painting, and are well represented. Mr.. Carl Haag only sends comparatively unimportant examples, and Mrs. Allingham the same, though her work is, perhaps, prettier than ever. Mr. F. Shields has two large semi-classical designs, with drapery very carefully studied ; and Mr. H. S._ Marks has a humorous drawing of two penguins, which is a good example of his work. On the whole, the exhibition is a good one, its chief merit being excellence of workmanship, its chief defect tameness of spirit.