6 JANUARY 1912, Page 26


THE WINTER EXHIBITION AT THE ACADEMY. Tnn first room of the present exhibition is devoted entirely to the works of Reynolds, and in it are to be seen a group of pictures, which represent various aspects of the painter's activity, produced at different stages of his career. Perhaps the first thought that strikes the observer is how dependent a portrait painter is upon his sitters, not so much on their looks or their characteristics, as upon the expectation of the person painted that a certain style of work is to be produced. When Sir Joshua painted a great lady he was expected to produce a picture which would advertise to the world the distinction and grandeur of the sitter. The number of artistic failures resulting from aristocratic vulgarity in the case of Reynolds alone is great, and the present exhibition contains a notable example of this in the portrait of The Hon. Mrs. Tollemache (No. 11). Here we see all the painter's powers in operation, his skill in building up a grandiose composition, the sweeping lines of the dress, the balance of the masses of light and dark, and all the pars pbernalidof scenic dignity achieved with ease and power But it is all in vain : the painter to please his sitter was pretend- ing a grandeur he did not feel, and the result is merely dull. It is a relief to turn from this inflated style to the charming small portrait of Lady Charlotte Fitzwilliam, (No. 8). This is a com- paratively early work, and in it the painter shows the style of the first half of the eighteenth century brought to perfection. But in spite of its refinement and beauty it remains an example, though a delightful one, of its epoch : it marks a period and is essentially of its own time. But Reynolds was destined for greater things, and on the opposite wall bangs a picture in which he shows that he could rise above the fashionable picture making of his day, and while painting a realistic portrait yet produce a work for all time. The splendid John Crosse Cooke (No. 15) has in it those qualities so hard to define in words, but so easy to recognize when seen, that raise it at once to the level of a masterpiece. The whole thing looks so simple, every part so exactly takes its place in the general harmony, that we ask no questions and desire no modifications, and we are left to enjoy without hindrance a real work of art. The pictures which Reynolds painted as designs for the New College Chapel window, except that they are unusually narrow for their height, have nothing about them to suggest that they are not ordinary easel pictures. Strong light and shade, lost outlines, and full modelling are not the qualities we now associate with cartoons for stained

glass, and these works must be considered apart from their origin. The finest of tits figures is that of Faith (No. 14), which has a vitality and significance of design in advance of the others. The picture of Keppel (No. 1) as an old man shows us the true Reynolds, as does the portrait of himself (No. 17); in neither of these is the artistic sincerity clouded as it was in the grandiose picture of the lady or in the forced charms of the Brummell children (No. 6).

If certain qualities oppress us in Sir Joshua, how much more do they in the works of lesser men like Romney, Opie, Beechey, and Hoppner. Among the English pictures in the present exhibition are to he found works by these painters which show the desire to cultivate meretricious effects regardless of the higher aims of art. Perhaps Romney was the worst offender, and his technical incapacity serves only to emphasize his faults of taste. Too many portraits of pretty ladies which have disgusted us in recent years in the summer exhibitions held in these rooms have been derived from the sugary graces of such works as Romney's Miss Popo (No. 121), Hoppner's two portraits (Nos. 92 and 123), or the pretentious full-length by Beechey (No. 119). Perhaps the worst Romney here is the Earl de la Warr (No. 97), with its heavily modelled head and absurd, insubstantial body. It looks like a doll with a highly coloured wax head attached to a calico body.

The works by the old masters shown this winter are not, if we make one or two exceptions, of very great interest. The lesser works of some of the Venetians which would be finely decorative in their proper places look forlorn on a gallery wall. It is not difficult to imagine the circumstances in which the Bonifazio (No. 103) and the two Tintoretto allegorical groups (Nos. 103 and 107) would enhance the splendour of a palace, but under the chilling light of a gallery their charms are dimmed. Few of the earlier Italian pictures are of much interest, though a Virgin and Child (No. 40), by Bottioelli, is a charming little work, with its expressively modelled virgin's head. The St. Francis, by Bellini (No. 41), is a picture which has hitherto been little known. Its preservation is good and its complicated landscape background a maze of curious and beautiful things.

Many of the pictures we have been accustomed to believe to be by Velasquez have of late been shown by the experts, at least to their own satisfaction, to be really works by his son-in- law, Mazo. It is therefore interesting to see something by this painter under his own name. The Marianna of Austria (No. 91) is just what we should expect of a clever man who was in close touch with a genius. It is well planned and in good taste, but quite tame. If the painter of this meritorious work was also the artist of the Venus and of the Admiral he certainly had a strange power of at times rising above himself.

There is one picture by Rembrandt, The Cradle (No. 51), which is wholly delightful alike on poetic and technical grounds. The play of the light on the walls and shutters of the room, which comes from the lamp concealed by the reading figure, is most beautiful. There are no violent con- trasts, but a caressing illumination which steeps the whole scene in poetry. This is one of those works of suppressed emotion of which only Rembrandt knew the secret.

Three rooms and the central ball have been devoted to the works of the late Mr. Abbey. It is impossible not to be struck by his great command over the material side of his art : pen, pastel, water colour, and oil paint all obeyed his hand. Great numbers of the original drawings for illustra- tions are exhibited, and show Mr. Abbey's resource and ingenuity, as well as the care and research he employed in his work. Of the four large pictures illustrating Richard III., Hamlet, Lear, and Henry VIII., which are hung in the central hall, the earliest, the Richard III., remains the best. Not only have the principal figures more life than in the other works, but the crowd is painted with great mastery and fine decorative effect. This picture is the least naturalistic of the four, but at the same time it is the most living. H. S.