30 DECEMBER 1882, Page 15


THE GROSVENOR GALLERY.—(MR. CECIL LAWSON.) [THIRD NOTICE.] Ma. LAwsoN's landscapes, wherein do they differ from those of contemporary painters; what is the peculiar flavour, artistic,

moral, or mental, which they possess ? At this season, similes drawn. from eating and its results occur most readily to our ininds ; and to choose the simplest of these, it may, perhaps, be

allowed us to say that Mr. Lawson's landscapes smack of in- digestion. It is thirty or forty years since Tennyson, putting an old truth in a pleasantly new shape, said that,— "Every man who walks the mead,

In bud, or blade, or bloom may find, According as his humours lead, A meaning suited to his mind,"

But ho never told us the other half of the problem, which is that for many people, the bud, blade, and bloom have no meaning at all, and that for a good proportion of others the meaning is never sufficiently recognised to produce a

vivid impression. For these last, the web is tangled, as that of which George Eliot tells us in the passage which describes Romola's meditations before her flight from Florence : "No radiant angel comes across the gloom for them ; they never see angels, nor hear perfectly clear messages." Of such was Mr. Lawson, speaking of his artistic capacity ; a man " who believed falsities as well as truths, and did the wrong as well as the right ;" a man of capacity, too unregulated to be called talent, however; of intuition which just paused before it became sympathy, of great industry which often wasted itself in trivialities. In much of his work we seem to hear the echo of some " clear message," and catch a last glimpse of the fleeting, " radiant angel ;" but before we can construe sound or sight, both have passed away. Will this, we wonder, be thought an over- strained account of the general impression conveyed' by Mr. Lawson's work,—a too " liberal interpretation " of a pos- sible fact ? If it be, we can only say that we know no other way of describing the peculiar strength and weak- ness of this artist, than that of saying that he was always seeing and seeking after truths which h. was not capable of fully delineating. Two outside characteristics of his work, visible to every one who looks at it even carelessly, are its grasp of a landscape as a whole, and its curious mingling of ideality and realism. The first characteristic is very marked, and goes far to separate Mr. Lawson's work from that of all living English landscapists ; speaking broadly, we doubt whether there are more than one or two of our artists who can at all rival him in this respect. At the time when his large picture of "The Minister's Garden : a Tribute to the Memory of Oliver Gold- smith," was first exhibited, it was commonly said amongst artists and critics, " Of course, he's trying to imitate Rabens." It is so easy to catalogue a young man's work like that, and think the label is an explanation. Besides, it may possibly be some satisfaction to those artists who have not hitherto been able even to imitate Rubens. And a little later, Mr. Lawson was supposed to be imitating Turner ; and later still, Rem- brandt ; and it was during this last stage of his work, that he died. Not a bad judge apparently this young land- scapist in the models he selected for imitation, and per- haps it may be a little to his credit when we come to think of the matter, that folks should be unable to criticise his works, without referring to such names as Rabens, Rem- brandt, and Turner. The three elder painters are diverse enough in many respects, but there is one characteristic which they possess in common. Each has to a most considerable extent what is known as grandeur of style, resulting, no doubt, from many various qualities of mind and hand, but expressed to the student of their pictures in the unity of impression contained therein ; the perfect absence of any niggling pettiness of parts, as distinguished from the whole. Rabens obtains it on twelve feet of canvas, and Turner can do it equally on twelve feet or twelve inches, or, for the matter of that, three inches, for his vignettes are as large in style as his " Hesperides " or " Poly- phemus ;" and Rembrandt, again, shows it equally in large pictures or tiny etchings. But—and it is worth while to notice this especially, for in this lies much of Mr. Lawson's merit—the modern practice of landscape is essentially opposed to this treat- ment of any given scene as a whole, rather than in part. We have, practically speaking, no landscapists in the Royal Academy; the art, we suppose, is not considered to be sufficiently refined or dignified to justify election to so august a body ; but amongst the outside painters, we find that all our best men in this line, with but one or two exceptions, are specialists of the most determined kind.

We cannot stop here to justify our words, the fact is patent enough for any one who is interested in the matter to prove for himself; but we wish to impress upon our readers, that though the revolt from Romanticism to Realism may be a good thing on the whole, in art, as in literature—may be the necessary return of Antaeus to earth—yet from Realism itself we cannot hope for much ; it is at best but a medicine, not a diet. And that Mr. Lawson, living in the midst of what may, perhaps, be called the Realist Renaissance, was able, without quitting fact, on the one hand, to grasp at and nearly master great qualities of style, on the other,—this it is which makes his rank so high a one, and this is the reason why so many of his pictures exhibit a certain discordance between their aims, and the means by which their aims were sought to be attained. If you compare a landscape of Lawson's with one of Turner's, one sees with how comparatively strict a subordination to detailed natural

fact the younger painter worked ; and one sees, also (leaving out all question of colour) how his detail fettered him, and yet. how obstinately he clung thereto. Yet there is in both painters' that impression of earth and sky and the relations between, them which mark great landscape,—the pictures are not details, of scenery, they are scenery combined with phases of atmo- sphere, or modified by strongly emotional conception. The painter does not say to you that this special day of June, 1882, a red-brick wall caught the light at four o'clock of the afternoon, just in this manner, and the trailing shadow of the creeper fell thus, and there was a little loose mortar between the bricks here, and a little green lichen there, and,— are not all these things lovely, when put down truly ? That is• pre-Raphaelite Art, full of pleasure to many of us, perhaps. productive of more delight to minds that enjoy it at all than any other orm. The truth, but not the whole truth. Pre- Raphaelitism has many sides of intellect and emotion, besides this negative acceptation of details. But it is not the speech of great landscapists. These would rather say something after this kind :—" Do you know what is the beauty of a river at sunset, or a breezy heath at dawn ? Have you ever noticed a country lane on a frosty morning, or a wooded valley in the twilight P Do you know what the Thames or the Severn are like, or what is the general difference of the country between Kent and Surrey P" We are not trying to show that one painter is right and the other wrong, but only► that they try after different things. But Mr. Lawson's art, we reiterate, at the risk of wearying our readers, did not so en- deavour. He wanted to do everything. He wanted atmo- spheric truth, as much as a Frenchman does ; he wanted grand classical composition ; he wanted detailed fact; ho wanted breadth of style; he wanted colour; he wanted chiaroscuro ; he wanted poetry of feeling. It is a fine example to young painters, that this artist, who died quite young (at thirty-two, if we remember right), did actually obtain many of these things, and having• aimed at the highest qualities, has left behind work which,. even in its imperfection, is more delightful than most of the irreproachable but conventional works, which are produced by many talented painters. The truth that high aim produces; better work, even when it is not wholly successful, than low aim, which perfects itself in one narrow groove of feeling and execution, was never so little recognised in Art as now. And at this time, when pictures fetch prices which seem to imply that there has to be a certain Abracadabra in their con- ception, there is no more common cry for a young artist who- has made a success, than that he cannot afford not to reproduce himself. Were the real fact known, he cannot afford, if he is an artist, to reproduce himself. That is the one insuperable- obstacle to his progress. When that happens, his development stops. We are talking now, of course, of conscious reproduc- tion, deliberate imitation for motives of the market, of previous successes. It was to Lawson's great honour that he was free from this reproach, that he worked on steadily for years with no- public recognition, that his great landscape of "The Minister's Garden" was- rejected from the Royal Academy, and that at the time of its exhibition by Sir Coutts Lindsay at the Grosvenor Gallery the artist was in considerable straits. We have spoken a good deal about the general character- istics of Mr. Lawson's art, but we have said scarcely any- thing as to its singular freedom from all vulgar or meretricious; qualities. We hardly know how to explain our meaning with- out a comparison, which in this case would necessarily be more- or less offensive, with the works of other landscapists. But we may, perhaps, be understood, when we say that it is least of all the painting which is suited to chromolithography.. Its delightful qualities depend upon very subtle grada- tions of colour, and a certain mystery of impression which would defy reproduction, except, perhaps, in the most skilful) line engraving; and a certain imperfection of line, which. is little noticed in the painting, becomes ragged and un- pleasant when colour is subtracted, and the work reduced to small dimensions. Nor have we at present done at all justice to the imagination and poetry which these works contain, though. perhaps that is as well left to our next article, in which we intend to notice some of the best. In closing these intro- ductory remarks, we must repeat our conviction that Mr. Law- son was a genuine and most talented artist. He had in him al) the seeds of greatness, and the power and will to cultivate them• That in his short life he attained to so much that was great, 1 far more wonderful, than that he showed shortcomings such as those which we find here.