2 OCTOBER 1942, Page 11


C.E.M.A. Exhibition. (National Gallery.) Victorian, and Earlier, Paintings. (Victoria and Albert Museum.)

A GROUP of paintings and drawings bought for C.E.M.A. by means of a Pilgrim Trust grant to form a travelling exhibition, are at the moment on show at the National Gallery. Not more than twenty pounds has been spent on any picture, and works by official war artists have not been included ; so there has been no attempt to make the collection representative of the whole of contemporary British painting. Owing to the price limit, there is nothing very large or imposing ; but the artists have come up to scratch very well, and the committee has been wise enough—and lucky enough— to buy, particularly good works by several of the artists, and repre- sentative works (at the least) by all of them. Edward Le Bas's Girl With Violin is surely as good a picture as he has painted. Ivon Hitchens' Flowers adds much grace to the inner room, and bears closer inspection in triumph. Rocks, by Ceri Richards, is a good work in a rhetorical manner, less in the mesh of Picasso and Ernst than anything in his recent show, and the better for it. Lawrence Gowing's 7ulia Strachey shows Euston Road portraiture in its best light. There are some excellent water-colours and draw- ings ; especially by Edward Burra, Katharine Church, John Maxwell and Kenneth Wood. When it travels this show will provide plenty of enjoyment, if rather too little argument. To their credit, the authorities at the Victoria and Albert Museum have arranged an exhibtion (Room 74) of Nineteenth Century British Paintings that belong to the museum, but have not been seen for many years—a few of them have never, been seen before. They are difficult enough to see now with their brown Victorian aura, their too-thick varnish, and their over swagger frames. But they repay trouble. " Believe it or not, as you may there has not been so low a level of thought reached by any race, since they grew to be males and females out of star-fish, or chickweed, or whatever else they have been made from, by natural selection— according to modern science." (Ruskin, of the British, in 1871.) In spite of that, on the downward path, British painting still flickered into flame here and there. Mulready's Landscape With Cottages is pretty enough, and Etty's three Nudes remarkable enough. The Hermit, by De Wint, is a surprising, if unpleasing, experiment in picturesque,drama. Wilkie is seen overworking his gift for colour and design in The Refusal, C. R. Leslie and Alexander Farner making better uses of lesser gifts in costume pieces. H. Howard, RA., in Pygmalion, is shown putting the stock-in-trade of Blake, Fuseli, Barry and Romney to base uses. Only the dimmer Pre- Raphaelites are represented. There are pictures by Frith, Collins and Witherington of some interest. If the View at Hampstead, by Corbould (1757-1831) is, with its bigness, a fair sample, he deserves a better reputation than he has. There are charming works by g. W. Cooke and Clarkson Stanfield, and important works (for him) by Thomas Barker, of Bath. All these pictures were worth bring- ing up from the vaults—even the worst of them. JOHN PIPER.