25 MAY 1867, Page 12


THE second in the series of National Portrait Exhibitions, so auspiciously commenced last year, is now open at South Ken-

sington. The period illustrated by it lies between 1688 and 1800, from Claverhouse and John Churchill to Arthur Welleslei, from Lord Chancellor Somers to Lord Chancellor Eldon. "The Exhi- bition is specially designed to illustrate English History and the progress of Art in England." The few remarks which follow will refer chiefly to the latter part of this design. Beginning with 'a solitary Rembrandt, William HI. as a boy (18), which, in spite of its shameful usage at the hands of the unworshipful company of "skinners," does not belie its imputed authorship, and an anonymous portrait of Claverhouse as a young man (13), * head of immense beauty and significance, with fiery eye and feminine mouth, we come to Sir Godfrey Kneller, the fashion- able portrait painter of his time. Kneller was the immediate successor of Lely, and the principal characteristics of his portraits are pretty well known. He was the reverse of an enthusiast in art, which he practised without disguise only to enrich himself, an object in which he succeeded, while hastening the decadence of art. Generally speaking, his portraits are artificial, made after a settled pattern, with little, if any, attempt at recording individual traits of character. They have, however, a certain spirit, and are so painted as to suggest that the technical knowledge of the time was much greater than has generally prevailed since. Some few pictures are here which stand much above his average work ; such are the portraits of "Betterton" (67), a direct and masculine head; of " Steele " (111), manly, but more polished, with some indication of mobility and humour about the brow and mouth ; and of "Jacob Tonson " (147), a keen but not unkindly man of business. Special notice should also be taken of "Members of the Kit-Cat Club" (145), a group of well-known personages painted with admirable rigour. Buthere, again, the cleaner has been at work, and has ignorantly robbed the work of its harmonizing and refining touches. Pictures of this and preceding periods appear to have been painted with a regular method, and exaggerations of contrast such as we see in this picture were left to be dealt with by subsequent glazing,s of

transparent or semi-transparent colour, one effect of which appears to have been to heighten the warm lights (e.g., of the flesh)

in comparison with others, and thereby to gain for the heads a fitting superiority of attractiveness over the accessories of a pic- ture. At present the members of the Kit-Cat Club are too much the accessories of their tea-kettle. The same artist has left a good portrait of "Christopher Catt " (137), in whose tavern" the club used to meet, and from whom they took their name.

From Kneller to Hogarth is a dull time, during which, however, there lived and painted at least one man of originality and sterling ability, Jonathan Richardson. In his portrait of " Willitun Cheselden " (237), "one of the greatest operators of the time," we can read well enough in the clear calm eye, in which there is no disquietude or hesitation, the foundation of the surgeon's emi- nence. The scarlet coat is thoroughly well painted, so that you know there is a body inside it ; and in the unexaggerated expres- sion of the colour reflected from it on to the shaded side of the face lies a useful lesson for our own times. The three-quarter length by the same artist of "Lady Mary W. Montagu" (250) is too lank : but the beautiful face, more remarkable for cleverness than simplicity, must surely be a likeness.

Hogarth is little known as a portrait painter ; portrait painting formed indeed but a small part of his work ; and, perhaps, with his strong antipathy for fashion and conventionality, coupled with an insistence on character amounting often to caricature, he could not have won popularity in the art. There is for us exquisite pleasure in looking at such portraits as that of "Hooper, Bishop of Bath ind Wells" (229), with its quaint, amused aspect, and small twinkling eye; of the old "Lord Lovat" (320), whom no man would like to trust out of his sight ; and of the artist " Monamy " (345), with self-complacent air exhibiting his picture to a customer, who seems prepared to assent to all that is said, without perhaps understanding much. But these are scarcely the points of a man's character which he desires to have recorded ; he prefers a portrait more flattering to his self-esteem, however inferior as a work of art. As a work of art the Hooper is admirable in every part, head, hands, and background, and the ill effects of the cleaning which it has obviously undergone are somewhat miti- gated and mellowed by the glass which has since been fitted to it. Then there is "Miss Rich" (344), most simple and most beautiful, 7

-sketched on a green-gray ground, a perfect specimen -tatEriglis

beauty ; the well-known firm* oA the artist by himself (352) ; and another portrait, on*a_smaili_a_(lale, of himself painting at his easel ($04);:remarkable as well for the .character and gesture as for the excellent painting of the head or face. Nor should any one omit to look at Goldsmith (374), writing hard at a table, or at-the singular and somewhat repulsive head of Chatterton (810).

Sir Joshua Reynolds and Gainsborough, of course, occupy a very large proportion of the apace ; and never was there a better opportunity of studying the respective merits and defects of these great contemporary rivals. Time indeed has dealt more leniently • with Gainaborough than with Reynolds ; so that in comparing the two, some allowance must be made in favour of the latter, on account of his perished colour. But apart from the consideration of its being the artist's duty to paint with materials that shall endure as well as temporarily please (for indeed no one can accuse Reynolds.of indolence in the pursuit of a right method), it is open to doubt whether any -of the methods or materials ever, adopted or used (and often again abandoned) by Reynolds were capable of such refined beauties and true gradations as Gains- borough obtained, and which to this day stand an enduring charm in his pictures. The modelling of a forehead or the roundness of a cheek, are produced in a Gainsborough (489) by means and grada- tions hardly perceptible except by the effect produced. Reynolds could feel the want of such effects, but in the effort to produce them would be guilty of obvious exaggeration. Compare a Reynolds (487) with. a Gainsborough (489). The relief of the forehead in the latter is admirably natural; in the former the like effect is sought to be produced by excessive blackening of the shadows. So much for the technical part of these men's art. It is far more difficult to institute a comparison between their respective powers of seizing on a character or their taste in expressing it. In female portraiture Gainsborough never fails in imparting to his figures a sweet and womanly reserve. This quality is equally observable in all ; in the youthful "Mrs. Graham" (463), in the "Lady Lincoln" (436), whose special characteristic, one would think, was unselfishness ; in the more energetic "Lady Spencer" (468), and lastly in the charming "Nancy Parsons" (454), with her beautiful face and quietly mirthful expression. Of the men, the "Lord Mendip " (489), already referred to, must be specially noted as a splendid and luminous picture ; and the "Rev. Sir H. B. Dudley" (831), as the impersonation of an unaffected English gentleman. Shrewd is the look of "Lord Chesterfield " (326), mingled with an artificial courtliness, and perhaps a grain of stupidity. Still more shrewd is the "Benjamin Franklin" (643), and even lees amiable. This is a truly remarkable portrait. It bears upon it an unmis- takable stamp of truth, and will correct some notions of his appearance which the sentimental portraits of him common in France and America have made current. Let it suffice to have specified these, but all the Gainsboroughs are good.

Reynolds had far greater play of fancy than Gainsborough. He had also a singular faculty for seizing a transitory, and (as it has been well called) momentary expression. This faculty is exemplified at its height by the " Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy" (594). The expression on the great actor's face is inimitable and almost indescribable. The contest between solemnity and mirth continues ; but yet the comic is growing over the tragic mask, and the event is already foreshadowed. " Comedy " is said to be a portrait of Mrs. Abington, but there are others by the same artist which are probably better likenesses (601, 604). No exhibitiortof Reynolds' pictures would be complete without the famous portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire, and her child : and here it is (773). Fortunately it is well known. Still more fortunately it seems to have escaped the hands of the cleaners. It is quite- perfect as a picture of mother and laughing infant. The, three daughters of the second Lord Waldegrave (152) are set on the canvas with consummate grace and naturalness. What couldbe bet- ter than the turn of the head of Lady Horatia, working at the tam- bour? Similar qualities may be traced in "Lady Cathakrt and Child" (303), mere wreck though it be. The dog in this picture, jealous of the attentions lavished on the child,, deserves a passing notice. " Nelly O'Brien" (606) is but a shadow of her former self, yet still fascinating. How comes it that the carnations have flown from Sir Joshua's pictures, yet still bloom in the works of the Venetians? Reynolds is also unrivalled for a certain nobility which he casts around his men. Of this there are here several good instances, the first, "Lord Camden" (480), "Markham, Archbishop of York " (717), "Lord Lifford " (849), and "Lord Rokeby " (710). All these are grandly designed, but the last- named has been literally flayed by the picture-cleaner. Won- derfully lifelike and characteristic are the "Dr. Burney" (690), torian- --"-Gibbort-' (617)L-ard -"-ThoYnis 1Varton, the (593). ZotanY has hardly Obtained die credit which he deserves. On the whole he is inferior to ReyeOlils : yet his " Queen Charlotte" (458) gives a more distinct idea of the individual than Sir &Ana's (444), and,. is admirably painted too. A very inter- esting picture also is his " Royal Academy in 1778" (546), including most of the original members. The heads are full of character, and the colour throughout is good and excellently pre- served. Romney's portrait of himself (528) will be looked at with great interest in connection with hie somewhat unhappy history ; while disagreeable colour alone prevents his portrait of a "Boy and his Sister" (699), , charmingly natural as they are, from taking first rank.

As it requires several days to become acquainted with and thoroughly to relish this Exhibition, so it is impossible to attempt more in one article than to hint at what is contained in it. The following are but specimens, of diverse kinds, of what there is to be seen and studied :—by Hayman, a portrait of "Sir R. Walpole" and " Himself " (262), quite Hogarthian in character, easy in action, and agreeable in colour ; by Allan • Ramsay, a "Flora Macdonald" (312), which may easily be distin- guished as the true resemblance, in preference to another by Hudson (314) ; by J. S. Copley, vigorous portraits of "Lord Heathfield" (486), and "Admiral Barrington" (739) ; a life-like portrait of "Garrick," by Nathaniel Dance (602), and one of