Very bad pictures may be divided into two principal classes -those which are weakly or passively bad, and which are to be pitied and passed by; and those which are energetically or actively bad, and which demand severe reprobation, as wilful transgressions of the laws of all good art. The picture before us is of the last class. Mr. Maclise has keen sight, a steady hand, good anatomical knowledge of the human form, and good experience of the ways of the world. If he draws ill, or imagines ungracefully, it is because he is resolved to do so. He has seen enough of society to know how a Duke generally sits -how a young lady generally looks at a strange youth who interests her; and it is by vulgar choice, not vulgar ignorance, that he makes the enthroned Duke straddle like a village actor, and the young lady express her interest by a cool, unrestrained, and steady stare. It is not worth while to analyze the picture thoroughly, but let us glance at the two opponent figures Charles and Orlando. The spectator can certainly see nothing in this " Charles " but a grim, sinister, sinewy monster, wholly devoid of all gentleness or humanity. Was Shakespeare's Charles such an one? So far from it, that into his mouth is put the first description of the love of Rosalind and Celia "The Duke's daughter, her cousin, soloves her, being ever from their cradles bred together, that she would have followed her exile, or have died to stay behind her never two ladies loved as they do." So far from it, that he comes to Oliver especially to warn him against allowing his brother to wrestle with him. " Your brother is but young and tender; for your love, I would be loath to foil him." Then, on Oliver's execrable slander of Orlando, poor honest Charles is "heartily glad I came hither; if he come to-morrow, I'll give him his payment"; this being not in cruelty, but in honest indignation at Orlando's ascribed villain; nevertheless, when the trial comes, although flushed with victory, and haughty in his supposed strength, there is no bitterness in his question "Where is this young gallant?" Poor Charles is as much slandered here by the painter as Orlando was by his brother. Well, but what of Orlando himself? He folds his hands, and turns up his eyes like a lover in his last appeal to his lady's mercy. What was the actual fact ? Orlando had been but that instant called before the princesses; he had never seen them before in his life. He is a man of firm, calm, and gloomy character the sadness having been induced by injustice; he has no hope, no thought of Rosalind or her love, at this moment; he has challenged the wrestler in quiet resolve to try with him the strength of his youth little caring what comes of it. He answers the princesses with deep and grateful courtesy, but with a despairing carelessness of his fate "If I be foiled, there is but one shamed that was never gracious; if killed, but one dead that is willingto be so. I shall do my friends no wrong, for I have none to lament me; the world no injury, for in it I have nothing." Imagine the calmness and steady melancholy of the man who would speak thus, and then compare the sentimental grimace (as of a fashionable tenor in a favourite aria) of the Orlando in the picture.
Next to pass from imagination of character to realization of detail. Mr. Maclise is supposed to draw well and realize minute features accurately. Now, the fact is, that this work has every fault usually attributed to the Pre-Raphaelites, without one of their excellences. The details are all so sharp and hard that the patterns on the dresses force the eye away from the faces, and the leaves on the boughscall to us to count them. But not only are they all drawndistinctly, they are all drawn wrong.
Take a single instance in a simple thing. On the part of the hem of the Duke's robe which crosses his right leg are seven circular golden ornaments, and two halves, Mr. Maclise being evidently unable to draw them as turning away round the side of the dress. Now observe, wherever there is a depression or fold in the dress, those circles ought to contract into narrow upright ovals. There is such a depression at the first next the half one on the left, and that circle ought to have become narrowed. Instead of which it actually widens itself! The second is right. Then the third, reaching the turn to the shade, and all those beyond it, ought to have been in narrowed perspective but they all remain full circles! And so throughout the ornament. Imagine the errors which a draughtsman who could make such a childish mistake as this must commit in matters that really need refined drawing, turns of leaves, and so on!
But to pass from drawing to light and shade. Observe, the light falls from the left, on all the figures but that of the two on the extreme left. These two, for the sake of effect, are in "accidental shadow." 1 Good; but why then has Oliver, in the brown, a sharp light on the left side of his nose! and on his brown mantle? Reflected lights, says the apologist. From what? Not from the red Charles, who is five paces at least in advance of Oliver; and if from the golden dress of the courtier, how comes it that the nearer and brighter golden dress of the Duke casts no reflected light whatever on the yellow furs and red hose of the wrestler, infinitely more susceptible of such a reflex than the dress of Oliver? It would be perfectly easy to analyze the whole picture in this manner; but I pass to a pleasanter subject of examination.
[Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) was the popular artist of his time; his vogue may be gathered alike from the acres of canvas which he was commissioned to paint, and from the appreciation of contemporaries (see, e.g., Mr. Frith's Autobiography, vol. i. ch. xi.). He was elected A.R.A. in 1834 and R.A. in 1840 ; in 1865 he declined the Presidency. Ruskin was not among his admirers ;' 'nothing," he wrote in Modern Painters, "can more completely demonstrate the total ignorance of the public of all that is great or valuable in Shakespeare than their universal admiration of Maclise's 'Hamlet'" (Vol. III. p. 82 n. ; see also pp. 51 ., 619 n.). Maclise is represented in the Tate Gallery by Nos. 422 and 423 ; in the National Portrait Gallery by a portrait of Dickens; and by three pictures in the Victoria and Albert (South Kensington) Museum. For a notice of his work in the Houses of Parliament, see below,pp. 473, 488.]