28 JANUARY 1882, Page 14


MR. WATTS'S PAINTINGS.* [SECOND NOTICE.] THE larger works of Mr. Watts in this gallery suffer from the- comparative perfection of the smaller ones. There are eight or tem pictures here which could only be appreciated, were they hung in comparative isolation. Take "Time and Oblivion," for in- stance, stuck up above half-a-dozen works, small in size, and of finished execution. Who would care to try to appreciate the large and comparatively slight rendering of such a subject, with his attention wearied, or, at all events, strained, by pictures nearer at hand, more 'elaborate in finish, and more usual in subject ? Hang "Time and Oblivion" by itself, at the end of a large room, and let the spectator come to it with a fresh eye and_ an unoccupied mind, and we will venture to say that there is scarcely one of the critics who now pass it by, who would not "re- main to pray" where they "came to scoff," or, at all events, could not in some measure recognise the power of the composition. Per- haps the fault of this, as of other great works by the same artist, is that they have been executed with a double intention ; they are not quite governed by the artistic impulse, not quite by the- moral meaning, but halt between two objects. A great thought seems to have come into Mr. Watts's mind, and to have impelled him to artistic utterance; and he has begun his work in en- thusiasm, but as he proceeded the artistic impulse has failed ; the thought has not been such as could be adequately expressed in artistic terms, and so the composition has been left off, and remains half a thought and half a picture. And this has taken place many times, till the painter has, we might almost say, got into a habit of half-thoughts and half-executions, and his only hope of adequate expression has been in his finishing a work on the first impulse. Great ideals have great dangers. If a man sets Phidias before him as a standard, one of his pictures dif- . furs so little from another in the approach to perfection, that he- hardly notes the difference between comparative success and ab- solute failure. Always falling short of his own standard, he grows. tolerantof total failure, and seeing the incompleteness of his most finished work, he scarcely sees more deficiency in his unfinished. Pictures like the one "Dedicated to All the Churches," which represents the risen Christ borne heavenward on rolling clouds, supported by cherubim, are of a magnitude of conception and. scale, which would need years for their adequate develop- ment. If a man will paint for us an "angel in a floating violet robe, with a face paled by the celestial fire," he must not mur- mur if we wish him to carry out his vision in no half-hearted. manner, or if we are prone to refuse the name of great art to works which scarcely do more than symbolise the meaning which they should express. Fortunately for Mr. Watts's future fame, he has carried out many of his visions, if not completely, at all events to a point where their beauty can be apparent to all of us. It does not need a dreamer or an enthusiast to dis- cern the beauty of the "Sir Galahad" or the " Paolo and Fran- cesca," while of all allegorical pictures with which we are acquainted, none drive their meaning more closely and clearly

* Grosvenor Gallery.

home than the great work in the east gallery, entitled, "Love and Death."

This picture contains nearly all Mr. Watts's most peculiar qualities—manifests his excellences at their highest, and hints -at his deficiencies. Let us look at it a little closely. Death, a figure, of which we only see the back, veiled in grey robes, is pressing through a narrow doorway, upon the threshold of which a nude, winged Love stands, striving to bar the entrance. There are two distinct motives in the work—the might of Death, and the unavailing struggles with which Love resists that might —and both are perfectly expressed. No spectator of this drama, us Mr. Watts has painted it, could doubt for a single moment how it would end ; how, in a few moments more, there will be nothing left to tell of Love's resistance, save his crushed pinions and the rose-leaves that have been scattered in the struggle. Yet, complete as the work is in beauty of composition and meaning, it lacks very much of completion as a picture. Its colour is ex- cessively fine in places, and in others scarcely admirable. The artist has given to the grey robes of Death a prominence that is in some ways fatal to the total effect of the picture ; and there is an attraction about the large masses of the finely-disposed drapery, which draws the eye from the main part of the composition, which is, as it were, thrust into a corner thereby. But, perhaps, the real secret of the weak- ness of these compositions, when looked at from the

purely artistic point of view, is in their subject. The effort to connect a philosophy of life with a picture, must inevitably take away from it much of the singleness of idea that ought to exist therein. The teachings of Art are very shadowy lessons, given in a sort of Garden of Proserpine, and full of hints of a meaning that never blossom into full significance. -"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever," said Keats. Is it any wonder, if he was right in his assertion, that we should feel a sort of indignation for the artist who weakens his "thing of beauty" by striving to endow it with complex meanings. Push this theory to the end, and it perhaps issues in what is called the "Art for Art's-sake" theory, which we do not hold ; but, like so many others, its truth exists in moderate applica- tion. "Love and Death," of which we have been speaking, -shows the extreme limit of thoughtful Art,—it expresses a single dominant idea with perfect success. The "Time and Oblivion," however, expresses a more complex notion, and one which the endeavour to grasp adequately quite spoils for the purposes of -enjoyment. Suppose any one in the gallery without a catalogue. What could be made of these two gigantic figures,—one with hare 'breast, and wide-open eyes, and the other, whose robes are wrapt round her head, with a passionate gesture of despair ? They might represent ignorance fleeing before enlightenment, or dis- cord before music, or superstition before faith, or, in fact, any- thing which needed to be symbolised as conquered and 'conqueror. One cannot be content with a great picture like this because parts of it are magnificent, as they undoubtedly are. One must take a picture for its total effect, and -the total effect of this is—puzzledom. No one can ad- mire when he is in the throes of guessing an enigma, pictorial or otherwise. Something of the same fault hangs -over the great composition of "The Angel of Death," the largest and, take it altogether, the grandest work in the exhibi- tion. In this case, however, the difficulty of interpretation perhaps mainly depends upon the unfinished state of the work. We content ourselves here with drawing our readers' attention to the strength and dignity of the principal figures. The head -of the old nobleman in the foreground of the picture has all the power of one of Tintoretto's Venetian senators.

Mr. Watts is at his best, however—if by his best, we mean his completest—when his pictorial motive is most simple. The single figures of " Daphne " and " Psyche " leave nothing to be desired ; and the long, low picture of "The Return of the Dove," carries out its subject both pictorially and poetically, to the furthest possible point. It may seem -strange that a composition which consists simply of a flying bird with a twig of olive in its beak, and a long stretch of dull water, can be very pathetic, poetic, and beautiful. But -it is certainly so, and the number of different minds which have been touched by admiration for this simple picture is very considerable. We literally never remember hearing a word spoken of it, since its exhibition in the Royal Academy, that has not been praise. Something of this is, no doubt, due to the -subject—the mind must be dull indeed that cannot paint to it- self some sort of a picture of the Deluge—but much more is due

to the inimitable skill with which the artist has painted the great expanse of water, the sense of almost illimitable space which he has gained by the simple arrangement of the whole work in parallel lines, and the exquisite tenderness with which he has con- ceived and painted the dove, in its slow flight homeward. There is the slightest possible spot of darkness on the horizon, that one hopes is the Ark ; and the eye travels slowly from it towards the foreground of the picture, through plane after plane of atmo- sphere, till we reach the flying bird, and almost seem to share in its weariness. After all, one cannot analyse a great picture to any profitable extent, and this is unquestionably a great and typical work of modern Art. It has only tender harmonies of grey, yellow, and green, in place of gorgeousness of colouring ; it has for its motive disappointment and weariness, but it reflects all the more faithfully upon that account the modern feeling for art and life. It gives another side of the same state of mind that produces such work as the "Chant d'Amour."