THE Academy walls present us this year with much matter for curious speculation, or rather for careful and earnest forecasting of the probable course of our schools of art in this their transitional stage of effort. Accidentally, there are no leading pictures, and the rooms are filled with more or less successful works by the disciples of the Pre-Raphaelite school, which, as I stated five years ago it would,* has entirely prevailed against all opposition ; sweeping away in its strong current many of the opposers themselves, whirling them hither and thither, for the moment, in its eddies, without giving them time to strike out; and tearing down in its victory a few useful old landmarks, which we shall have to build up again by-and-by. But the main question forced upon our thoughts this year is the result of the new modes of study on minds of average or inferior power. For what was done in the first instance by men of singular genius, under intense conditions of mental excitement, is now done, partly as a quiet duty, partly in compliance with the prevalent fashion, by men of ordinary powers in ordinary tempers―resulting, of course, not in brilliant, but only in worthy and satisfactory work; respecting which commonplace completeness there are several points of interest for our consideration. For a year or two considerable disappointment may be felt by the disciples of the new school. Conscious in themselves of an entire change in their modes of thought, and a vigorous advance in powers both of sight and execution, they will be necessarily mortified to find that the advance is unrewarded by distinction; that their pictures, which before were unnoticed in the midst of others as wrong, are now unnoticed in the midst of others as right; and that they have become no more conspicuous in reformation than they were in heresy. There is, however, this comfort for them (without counting the comfort in the mere consciousness of being right, whether noticed or not), that the kind of painting which they now practise is capable of far more extended appeal to the popular mind. The old art of trick and tradition had no language but for the connoisseur; this natural art speaks to all men: around it daily the circles of sympathy will enlarge ; pictures will become gradually as necessary to domestic life as books; they will be largely bought though little wondered at ; the painter will have to content himself with being as undistinguished as an author, and must be satisfied in this unpraised usefulness.
*Edinburgh Lectures on Architecture and Painting, 136 [Vol. XII. p. 160].
Secondly, the pictures of the rising school will in a few years be much more interesting than they are now. In learning to work carefully from Nature, everybody has been obliged to paint what will stay to be painted; and the best of Nature will not wait. Moreover, a subject which must be returned to every day for a couple of months must necessarily be near the house door; and artists cannot always have their lodgings where they choose: many of them, unable to quit their usual residences, must paint the best thing they can find in their neighbourhood; and this best accessible bit, however good as a study ―(anything will do for that)― will usually be uninteresting to the public. The evil is increased by affectations of Wordsworthian simplicity; also by a good deal of genuine simplicity; and of more or less foolish sentiment. Formerly, when people were forced to draw by rule, and were never allowed either to think or feel, we were at least untroubled by foolish thoughts and weak feelings; now, when the rage is for sentiment, and everybody is encouraged to tell us all that is in or near their hearts, we must not be surprised to find that naivete' may sometimes be tiresome as well as formalism, and the exaggeration of sensibility as offensive as the pedantry of science. The compensation is in this case greater than the evil : we are sure that whatever thoughts or passions truly possess the painter, will be truly expressed by him ; while in old times they would have been silenced or constrained. The extent of these two adverse influences, however, is curiously shown in the present Academy. Because it is necessary to paint on successive days from the same object, in order to realize it to perfection, we have hardly a single interesting sky in the whole gallery― 'Mr. Dillon's sunset on the Nile (273) and Mr. E. W. Cooke's at Venice (557)(1) are almost the only pictures of merit which acknowledge the existence of clouds as a matter of serious interest― and because the humblest subjects are pathetic when Pre-Raphaelitically rendered, the two pieces most representative of the school in the rooms are both of stonebreakers : one (Mr. Brett's) of a boy hard at work on his heap in the morning, and the other (Mr. Wallis's) of an old man dead on his heap at night.(2) Taking which facts in their full significance, it is pleasant to think what this new school of ours will do when it once gets fairly to work on materials worth its while. Here we have literally only experiments and early lessons: trials of strength on fragments of landscape in serene weather; quiet little mill-streams and corners of meadows, slopes of sand-hills, farmyard gates, blackberry hedges, and clumps of furze. But what shall we say when the power of painting, which makes even these so interesting, begins to exert itself, with the aid of imagination and memory, on the splendid transience of Nature, and her noblest continuance; when we have the courses of heaven's golden clouds instead of squares of blue through cottage casements; and the fair river mists and mountain shrouds of vapour instead of cottage smoke pine forests as well as banks of grass, and fallen precipices instead of heaps of flints. All this is yet to come; nay, even the best of the quiet, accessible, simple gifts of Nature are yet to come. How strange that among all this painting of delicate detail there is not a true one of English spring!(3)― that no Pre-Raphaelite has painted a cherry-tree in blossom, dark-white against the twilight of April ; nor an almond-tree rosy on the blue sky; nor the flush of the apple-blossom, nor a blackthorn hedge, nor a wild-rose hedge; nor a bank with crown-circlets of the white nettle ; nor a wood-ground of hyacinths;* no, nor even heather, and such things of which we talk continually. Nobody has ever painted heather yet, nor a rock spotted richly with mosses; nor gentians, nor Alpine roses, nor white oxalis in the woods, nor anemone nemorosa, nor even so much as the first springing leaves of any tree in their pale, dispersed, delicate sharpness of shape. Everything has to be done yet; and we must not think quite so much of ourselves till we have done it, even though we have got to be so profoundly moral that we make everybody who looks at our work the wiser for it. We must take care not always to make them sadder also. Indeed, I look with deep respect and delight on the steady purpose of doing good, which has thus in a few years changed the spirit of our pictures, and turned most of them into a sort of sermons;― only let it always be remembered that it is much easier to be didactic than to be lovely, and that it is sometimes desirable to excite the joy of the spectator as well as his indignation.
* That is to say, so as to bring out their beauty for a principal subject. Mr. Inchbold painted some wood hyacinths and gentians, but too few, and half hidden in a litter of other flowers. Mr. Oakes painted a beautiful lichened rock, but obscured with furze and rubbish not brought out in its power. [See above, pp. 96 and 115.]
(1)[273. "Emigrants on the Nile." 557. " Sunset on the Lagune : San Giorgio in Alga and the Euganean Hills in the distance."]
(2)[1089. "The Stonebreaker." See below, p. 171. 562. "Thou wert our Conscript." See below, p. 170.]
(3)[For some remarks on this criticism, see above, Introduction, p. xxiv.]
What, however, I have to say this year of particular pictures will cast itself, to my regret, a little into the form of carping; for now that nearly all are careful and well intended, there is no possibility of praising the universal care, or describing the universal intention; while, on the other hand, there are no leading pictures of the class that silence fault-finding, but several which just miss of being leading pictures, owing to faults which it therefore becomes a duty to find. I hope it will be understood that in my statement of these blemishes, I do not in general fix upon them because the picture in question has more faults than others, but because its merits make them more to be regretted
IN a temperate and candid critique which appeared last year in the Economist(1) and expressed, as I have since found, the feelings of many readers respecting this publication, complaint was made of its imperfection as a record of the art of the season; and it was truly alleged that many pictures of merit were passed without notice, and many of demerit without blame. But the writer surely could not have considered what would be involved in an endeavour to give a complete account of the Exhibitions of the year. If there is any truly original power in a picture―nay, if it shows even any considerable quantity of good work and effort, it takes me at least half an hour to form judgment of it; and if it is a great picture, I want the half-hour twice or three times over on different days: and the time so spent is laboriously spent―in finding out as far as I can, first, what the painter is trying for, then in comparing his way of trying for it with this and the other condition of art already existing, and considering what likelihoods of success or error are involved in his present mode of work; determining not so much what the real facts are about the picture, which 1
[Economist, June 13, 1857. "Mr. Ruskin's Notes have by this time attained a degree of popularity that renders their verdicts of extreme practical importance to all exhibitors. They are in almost as universal use as the catalogues, and to many must serve as sole guide to the excellences of the yearly Exhibitions. Such success entails great responsibility upon their author. An incomplete and careless review of the pictures is as likely to damage individual artists as an unfair one, and a more elaborate and painstaking critique has therefore become a duty, not only for the sake of the public whom it undertakes to instruct, but also for the artists whom it has the power of drawing into notice." In writing to his father from Switzerland in the following year, Ruskin again referred to this criticism: "BELLINZONA, June 18 . Fine work I should have in May, instead of walks among the spring blossoms, if I did as the Economist would have me at the Royal Academy. Besides, one would get dull with writing so much of the same kind of thing, and then nobody would read at all."]
I can generally tell pretty soon, as how many of those facts the painter or the public ought to be told. Often a picture of merit is passed without notice, because it has heavy faults which, if I spoke of it at all, it would be necessary to point out in a way which might discourage and harm the painter more than the idea that his picture had been overlooked by chance. Often pictures of great demerit are passed silently, because there is no hope for their painters, and the kind of error they have fallen into may be pointed out quite as usefully in other cases, without multiplying offenceSometimes I pass over names of great reputation, because my estimate of their work is in opposition so direct to the public estimate of it that such influence as I might otherwise possess would only be weakened by expressing it; and sometimes I permit myself silence about personal friends who are doing the public little harm by their pictures, and whose friendship I should be sorry to lose. But the real and chief reason for my not speaking of such and such pictures is my not having had time to look at them. This pamphlet must, if it is to be useful, be printed within seven or eight days after the opening. Two of those days are needed for press correction and binding; five remain―that is to say, three for looking and two for writing.(1) I can neither look nor write for more than eight hours a day; which, allowing an average of a quarter of an hour to each picture, enables me even to look at no more than a hundred out of the thousand in the Academy; and the first choice of this hundred, out of which those to be written of must be finally chosen, of course depends, in some degree, on accident: the eye is often caught by something bright or energetic, with semblances of right, and it takes a minute or two to make quite sure there is nothing in it and many minutes in the aggregate are thus lost; or a noble and quiet picture may have got entangled in a company so contemptible that one passes it in a fit of indignation about its neighbours. But all this is unavoidable; nor is it to be regretted. It is precisely this losing sight here and there of a really good picture which permits me to lose sight also of the bad ones, when it is desirable to do so―nobody knowing whether the picture has been disliked or overlooked. Take the pamphlet simply for what I stated it to be in the preface to the first that was issued a circular letter to my friends about the pictures that most interest me in my first glance at the Exhibition―and it will be found serviceable; view it in any other light, and it will be wholly inefficient. Its value consists only in being trustworthy as far as it reaches; and guiding safely, though not guiding everywhere. I trust that I shall not often overlook any truly great and consummate picture; but it is better to lose sight of ten than to pass false judgment on one ; and I strive so to look and so to write, that the repentances which must necessarily follow all hurried work may be of my silences only, not of my words.
I am at a loss to know why this picture is in a central position; it possesses no special merit of any kind. The face of Margaret is pretty, but wholly untouched by the feeling which prompts her first sharp answer: "I am neither a lady, nor pretty, and can go home by myself." For the rest, it is simply a stage dress and a stage stride; and the colouring is more false and crude than that of almost any picture in the room. The red of the cloak, for instance, is daubed about at random, coming bright in the shadow or dirty in the light, as chance will have it. I entirely dislike Faust,(2) and am sick of illustrations of it; but I wonder whether any painter will ever do it so much justice as to represent Mephistopheles with the face of a man who could either tempt or deceive.
(1)[Sir Frederic William Burton (1816-1890), Director of the National Gallery (1874-1894), elected Associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy, 1837, enjoyed a large practice in Dublin as a portrait-painter. Member of the Old Water-Colour Society, 1856; his drawings a feature of its exhibitions till 1870. His well-known portrait (in chalk) of George Eliot is in the National Portrait Gallery. One of his subject-drawings is in the Dublin National Gallery. For a reference by Ruskin to Burton's management of the National Gallery, see The Laws of Fesole, ch. iv. 16 n.]
(2)[See Vol. V. p. 330 n.]
Works (5, 330): “And, first, I think it probable that many readers may be surprised at my calling Scott the great representative of the mind of the age in literature. Those who can perceive the intense penetrative depth of Wordsworth, and the exquisite finish and melodious power of Tennyson, may be offended at my placing in higher rank that poetry of careless glance, and reckless rhyme, in which Scott poured out the fancies of his youth ; and those who are familiar with the subtle analysis of the French novelists, or who have in anywise submitted themselves to the influence of German philosophy, may be equally indignant at my ascribing a principality to Scott among the literary men of Europe, in an age which has produced De Balzac and Goethe”.(1)
(1)[The first paragraph of 23 here is the first paragraph of 13 in Frondes Agrestes (1875), where Ruskin added the following note:― "I knew nothing of Goethe when I put him with Balzac; but the intolerable dulness which encumbers the depth of Wilhelm Meister, and the cruel reserve which conceals from all but the intensest readers the meaning of Faust, have made him, in a great degree, an evil influence in European literature; and evil is always second-rate." For other references to Goethe, see Time and Tide, 96 (where Wilhelm Meister is mentioned); Munera Pulveris, 87; Aratra Pentelici, 12 (Faust); and Catalogue of the EducationalSeries (where it is said that " Goethe has formed, directly or indirectly, the thoughts of all strong and wise men since his time").]
Works (36, 422) To Lady Trevelyan (1862): “I feel so like one, and like a morning cloud, without the sunshine ―yet better a little― even of a few days' peace but more still of the resolve to have peace―at any price if it is to be had on any Mont du Reposoir, and not only under the green little Mont du Reposoir―or out of any "Saal" but that which is "auf kurze Zeit geborgt Der Gläubiger sind so viele."(1) Have you ever looked at the second part of Faust? It is a perfect treasure-house of strange knowledge and thought inexhaustible but it is too hard for me just now.”
(1)[See the "(Gral. legunz“ scene, at the end of the Second Part of Faust (for which compare Vol. XX. p. 208).]
Works (20, 208): And the whole science of aesthetics is, in the depth of it, expressed by one passage of Goethe's in the end of the second part of Faust;― the notable one that follows the song of the Lemures, when the angels enter to dispute with the fiends for the soul of Faust. They enter singing―"Pardon to sinners and life to the dust." Mephistopheles hears them first, and exclaims to his troop, "Discord I hear, and filthy jingling"― "Mis-töne höre ich: garstiges Geklimper."(1) This, you see, is the extreme of bad taste in music. Presently the angelic host begin strewing roses, which discomfits the diabolic crowd altogether. Mephistopheles in vain calls to them ―"What do you duck and shrink for―is that proper hellish behaviour? Stand fast, and let them strew"― "Was duckt und zuckt ihr; ist das Hollenbrauch? So haltet stand, und lasst sie streuen." There you have, also, the extreme of bad taste in sight and smell. And in the whole passage is a brief embodiment for you of the ultimate fact that all aesthetics depend on the health of soul and body, and the proper exercise of both, not only through years, but generations. Only by harmony of both collateral and successive lives can the great doctrine of the Muses be received which enables men "jairein ortos"― " "to have pleasure rightly;"(2) and there is no other definition of the beautiful, nor of any subject of delight to the aesthetic faculty, than that it is what one noble spirit has created, seen and felt by another of similar or equal nobility. So much as there is in you of ox, or of swine, perceives no beauty, and creates none: what is human in you, in exact proportion to the perfectness of its humanity, can create it, and receive.
(1)[Compare Eagle's Nest, 62, where this passage is again quoted; and for other references to the second part of Faust, see Munera Pulveris. 149 (Vol. XVII. p. 272 n.).]
Winter Sunset, by C. Branwhite.The picture doesn't match the description.
Society of painters in water-colours 1857
This painter has, for some time back, shown considerable ability; but he must not hope to reach any sterling qualities without much closer study of Nature. It is really high time, considering how many treatises are written on perspective and optics, that our painters should understand, once for all, the difference between shadows and reflections; and that as some five or six hundred pictures of pretension are painted annually with reflection of sun or moon in water, it should be generally understood that the reflection of the sun does not radiate, any more than that of a white ball or a white wafer radiates ; but that it is either a circle (in absolutely calm water), an oval, more or less elongated (in partly disturbed water), or, under certaincircumstances, especially when the sun is low, a vertical pillar, more or less broken; each of these images spreading in flakes to right and left when there is much agitation in the water, but always rather narrowing than widening to the spectator's feet.(2)
(1)[Charles Branwhite (1817-1880) was elected an Associate of the Old Water-Colour Society in 1849. For some account of him, see the History of that Society, vol. ii. p.336. He was a pupil of W. J. Muller.]
(2) [On the subject of reflections in water, see below, p. 474.]
Photo: Dawn on Patacona Beach (Valencia), by Rafa Vives
THE REFLECTION OF RAINBOWS IN WATER(1) TO THE EDITOR OF THE LONDON REVIEW
SIR, I do not think there is much difficulty in the rainbow business. We cannot see the reflection of the same rainbow which we behold in the skybut we see the reflection of another invisible one within it. Suppose A and B, Fig. 1, are two falling raindrops, and the spectator is at S, and X Y
is the water surface. If R A S be a sun ray giving, we will say, the red ray in the visible rainbow, the ray, B C S, will give the same red ray, reflected from the water at c. It is rather a long business to examine the lateral angles, and I have not time to do it; but I presume the result would be that if a m b, Fig. 2, be the visible rainbow, and x Y the water horizon, the reflection will be the dotted line c e d, reflecting, that is to say, the invisible bow, end; thus, the terminations of the arcs of the visible and reflected bows do not coincide.
The interval, m n, depends on the position of the spectator with respect
to the water surface. The thing can hardly ever be seen in nature, for it there be rain enough to carry the bow to the water surface, that surface will be ruffled by the drops, and incapable of reflection. Whenever I have seen a rainbow over water (sea, mostly), it has stood on it reflectionless; but interrupted conditions of rain might be imagined which would present reflection on near surfaces.
Always very truly yours,J. RUSKIN.
7th May, 1861.
(1)[This letter appeared in the London Review, May 16, 1861, and was reprinted in Arrows of the Chace, 1880, vol. i. pp. 299-301. The London Review of May 4 had contained a critique of the Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, which included a notice of Mr. Duncan's "Shiplake, on the Thames" (No. 52), for which artist, see above, p. 81. In this picture the artist had painted a rainbow reflected in the water, the truth of which to nature was questioned by some of his critics. Ruskin's was not the only letter in support of the picture's truth. On the general subject, see the Introduction, above, p. xxxvii. The reflection of rainbows is discussed (to the same effect as here) at pp. 21-24 of Sir Montagu Pollock's book there referred to.]
(Ver página 186 de mi edición de Arrows of the Chace)
THERE is a general character manifested in the pretty and richly-decorated room of this Society, which appears to me deserving of some serious consideration before we take note of any of the drawings separately. Here are three hundred and four drawings by forty-seven*painters, many of them elaborately finished, all showing that the artists have given their complete energy to them; and among the three hundred and four there is not one which expresses, or summons, a serious thought. There are, indeed, a few love passages; but they reach no further than an anxious look, or a joyful hesitation. There are the children in the wood, shown by gaslight in the middle of moonlight; and there is a tearful pilgrim, with a superb scallop, and a staff which it is to be hoped, as he is an old man, that during most of his pilgrimage somebody else has carried for him. There is an angel under great difficulties in appearing to the shepherds, in consequence of their unanimously refusing to look at him; and there are two pretty fancies, of a peasant's return, in summer night, to his cottage among the deep corn, and a fisherman's, in stormy summer dawn, to his cottage on the shore. I think these are all that are so much as intended to be pathetic or suggestive. Now there must be, of course, a certain proper and healthy demand in London, every spring, for pictures which mean nothing, just as there is for strawberries and asparagus.
* Why I say three hundred and four instead of three hundred and seventeen will appear presently.
We do not want to be always philosophical, and may wisely ask for and enjoy a certain average number of paintings of roses and quinces, of showers and sunbeams, of beaches where we bathe, and glens where we shoot or clamber. All this is perfectly right and refreshing; nevertheless, a Society which takes upon itself, as its sole function, the supply of these mild demands of the British public, must be prepared ultimately to occupy a position much more corresponding to that of the firm of Fortnum and Mason, than to any hitherto held by a body of artist; and to find their art becoming essentially a kind of Potted Art, of an agreeable flavour, suppliable and taxable as a patented commodity, but in no wise to be thought of or criticised as Living Art. For living art, or art at all, properly so called, never has been, nor can be, developed in answer to a demand of this inferior kind; nor is it possible even for a simple landscape painter to treat any of his simplest subjects worthily, unless, as he passes through the world, other things strike his eyes and fancy than the mere pleasantnesses of its outward aspect.Every form and colour bears new meaning to us as soon as we begin to understand the greater purposes of life, and to feel the interest of its events. We may stand aside from both, set no hand to any but our own quiet work, pass our days in happy ramble or rest, sketch-book in hand, among the innocent glens and by the silent shores; but if, meantime, we are incapable of such reflection as shall make us know, in the depths of those glens, and in the cry of the herd of waves about the beach, their true connection with the thoughts, and joys, and sorrows of men, we never shall paint one leaf nor foam-wreath rightly.
(Hay que leer lo último de este párrafo junto con la introducción de Goethe a su teoría de los colores)
I said just now that the drawings in the room were three hundred and four only, because I wished to make separate reference to those of Mr. David Cox. I believe the health of this artist does not admit of his now devoting much labour to his pictures; and therefore that we ought not to class them among the other works as representative of effort, but rather as expressions of the feeling of a painter's mind at rest.(1) Be this as it may, they form a complete exception to the general law of failure in sentiment, of which I have been speaking. They are deeply pathetic, and, as far as they reach, exquisitely harmonious in tone: the Caernarvon [No. 117], in its warm grey walls and dark sea, and the Bolton Abbey,* in its melancholy glow of twilight, are strangely true and deeply felt. But there is not any other landscape which comes near these works of David Cox in simplicity or seriousness.
David Cox, The Caernarvon
Perhaps the Highland scene,(2)No. 11, by Richardson,(3)may be taken as giving the clearest example of this fault in the work of a very clever artist. Mr. Richardson is gradually gaining in manual power, and opposes cobalt and burnt sienna very pleasantly. But he seems always to conceive a Highland landscape only as a rich medley of the same materials― a rocky bank, blue at one place and brown at another; some contorted Scotch firs, some fern, some dogs, and some sportsmen: the whole contemplated under the cheering influence of champagne, and considered every way delightful. The Highlands are delightful, but, for the most part, in another way than this. I do not regret that Mr. Richardson has given this one reading of them, the reading that pleasantly occurs to an active youth in his long vacation; but there ought to be, on the walls, the other readings, too, of those desolate glens, with the dark-brown torrents surging monotonously among their lower rocks,
* No. 299- The degree of light and warmth obtained on the ruins by the use of subdued colour is by much the most instructive thing, to me, in the exhibition.
1[This criticism must have pleased the painter. "It strikes me” he wrote to his son in 1853, "that the committee think my drawings too rough. They forget that they are the work of the mind, which I consider very far before portraits of places." (Roget’s History of the Old Water-Colour Society, ii. 162.) For references to Ruskin's notices of Cox, see below, p. 195 n.]
2[" Scene in Glen Nevis."]
3 [Thomas Miles Richardson (1813-1890), of Newcastle, was elected a member of the Society in 1851. He was a prolific exhibitor, a large proportion of his drawings being of Scottish subjects. The Victoria and Albert (South Kensington) Museum has several examples.]
cutting them into the cup-like pools where the deep stream eddies like black oil, and the moth, fallen weary out of the wind on its surface, circles round and round, struggling vainly; of the little spaces under the fern where the glen widens, and the sward is smooth as if for knights' lists, and sweet as if for dancing of fairies' feet, and lonely as if it grew over an enchanted grave; of those low alder thickets, set in soft shade where the stream is broad by the steppingstones― the drowned lamb lying on the bank, under their stooping leaves, since the last flood; of those sweet winding paths through the oat-fields, and under the ash-trees, where the air breathes so softly when the berries are blush-scarlet in the setting sun, and more softly still when the cold, clear, northern light dies over the purple ranges jagged and wild. Are not these seen everywhere? and seen day by day, and yet never thought upon; felt, I believe, more at his heart by the half-starved shepherd boy than by the skilfullest of our painters. And I am the more sorry that Mr. Richardson does not yet feel the expression in Highland scenery, because I think there may be traced considerable power of composition in the passages of these distant hills; and the large piece of rock on the left is very nearly well drawn: in fact, the old established system of taking out triangles of light and laying on sharp edges of darkness has been nearly perfected by Mr. Richardson, and does so much more in his hands than most other people's, that if he ever determines to draw in a pure and right way, I should think he would reach far. He seems to have a good eye for colour― there is a very pretty piece of speckled grey in the square rock on the right at the bottom―but he is not at the slightest trouble to fit the colours of shadows to the lights, or of dark sides to light sides; and his ungrammatical brilliancy will therefore always look only like what it is― very pretty warm colour, but never like sunshine. It is worth while to stand midway between the screens on this side of the room, and look alternately from this drawing to Mr. Fripp's (37), which is very true in relations of sun and shadow colour. Mr. Richardson's will perhaps, even after many glances, be thought the prettier drawing; but only in Mr. Fripp's will be seen the Highland sun and air.
And Mr. Richardson is the less to be excused for not entering completely into Highland character, because he can enter into no other. He has fallen so passively into the habit of drawing rocks in sharp angles, and a wild litter of fern and grass among them, that he can compose a landscape of no other materials; and we find "Catanzaro, the capital of Calabria" (94), looking like a number of models of Italian buildings, erected by some imaginative Highland proprietor in Ross-shire.
Consummate in easy execution and blended colour; there is nothing else like it this year. The subject is ill chosen, being confused in mass and incapable of effective treatment; but, taken merely as a study, birch foliage and mossy stones cannot be done better […]
Very full of power ; but rather a subject for engraving than painting. It is too painful to be invested with the charm of colour.(1)
(1)[This picture was exhibited in the following year at Liverpool, and popular feeling favoured it for the prize of the Liverpool Academy, which, however, was awarded to Millais's "Blind GirL" A letter(2) from Ruskin on the subject is given below, p. 327.]
(2)[For the circumstances in which this letter was written, see above, Introduction, p. xxxi. The prize of the Liverpool Academy had been awarded to Millais's " Blind Girl." Popular feeling, however, favoured another picture, the "Waiting for the Verdict" of A. Solomon. As one of the judges, and as a member of the Academy, Mr. Alfred Hunt addressed a letter on the matter to Ruskin, the main portion of whose reply was sent by him to the Liverpool Albion, where it appeared on January 11, 1858. Mr. Solomon's picture had been exhibited in the Royal Academy of 1857 (No. 562), and is mentioned in Ruskin's Notes to the pictures of that year (see above, p. 114). Millais's picture is described by Ruskin in The Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelitism, 4. The letter was reprinted in Arrows of the Chace, 1880, vol. i. pp. 108-109. "Rosetti" is here corrected to "Rossetti."]
(1)[Better known by the title in the catalogue, "Sir Isumbras at the Ford." An interesting account of the painting of this picture, and of its hostile reception by the critics, is given in The Life and Letters of Millais, vol. i. pp. 306-323, where also a reproduction of the skit by Fred. Sandys is given. Millais, Rossetti, and Holman Hunt are represented crossing the ford on a braying ass, which is labelled "J. R., Oxon" ―entitled "A Nightmare." The satirical verses below Sandys's print are said to be taken from the “Metrical Romance of the Man in Brasse and his Asse, by Thomas le Tailleur." Millais both resented Ruskin's criticism and took it to heart. "Ruskin said it was not a failure but a fiasco," said Millais once; "so I kicked it over in a passion. The hole is there now" (Millais and his Works, by M. H. Spielmann, p. 96). He proceeded, however, when the picture was returned unsold from the Academy, to repaint the horse entirely. The picture was bought in the following year by the painter's friend, Charles Reade. It next belonged to Mr. John Graham, and on his death Mr. R. H. Benson bought it. In 1892, at Mr. Benson's suggestion, Millais again repainted some portions of the horse, and added the trappings. The reproduction here given is of the picture in its present state.]
The high praise which I felt it my duty to give to this painter's work last year(1) was warranted by my observing in it, for the first time, the entirely inventive arrangement of colour and masses, which can be achieved only by the highest intellect. I must repeat briefly here what I have had occasion hundreds of times to explain elsewhere, but never yet often enough to get it generally understood that painters are broadly divisible into three classes(2) first, the large class who are more or less affected or false in all their work, and whose productions, however dexterous, are of no value whatever; secondly, the literally true painters, who copy with various feeling, but unanimously honest purpose, the actualities of Nature, but can only paint them as they see them, without selection or arrangement; whose works are therefore of a moderate but sterling value, varying according to the interest of the subject; lastly, the inventive painters, who are not only true in all they do, but compose and relieve the truths they paint, so as to give to each the utmost possible value; which last class is in all ages a very small one; and it is a matter to congratulate a nation upon, when an artist rises in the midst of it who gives any promise of belonging to this great Imaginative group of Masters.
(1)["Titian himself could hardly head him now,” p. 56, above.]
(2)[The nearest approach to an explicit classification of painters into (1) false, (2) true, and (3) inventive may now be read in the additional passage from the MS. of Stones of Venice, vol. iii., which is printed in Vol. XI. pp. xvii.-xxi. But the division of painters into these classes is, as Ruskin says, implied "hundreds of times" in his previous works. See, for instance, Vol. III. p. 165, and Vol. X. p. 217 seq.]
And this promise was very visible in the works of Millais last year; a new power of conception being proved in them ―to instance two things among many― by the arrangement of the myrtle branches in the "Peace," and the play of the colours in the heap of "Autumn Leaves." There was a slovenliness and imperfection in many portions, however, which I did not speak of, because I thought them accidental ―consequent, probably, on too exulting a trial of his new powers, and likely to disappear as he became accustomed to them. But, as it is possible to stoop to victory, it is also possible to climb to defeat; and I see with consternation that it was not the Parnassian rock which Mr. Millais was ascending, but the Tarpeian. The change in his manner, from the years of "Ophelia" and "Mariana" to 1857, is not merely Fall―it is Catastrophe; not merely a loss of power, but a reversal of principle: his excellence has been effaced, "as a man wipeth a dish―wiping it, and turning it upside down."(1) There may still be in him power of repentance, but I cannot tell: for those who have never known the right way, its narrow wicket-gate stands always on the latch; but for him who, having known it, has wandered thus insolently, the by-ways to the prison-house are short, and the voices of recall are few.
(1)[2 Kings xxi. 13.]
I have not patience much to examine into the meaning of the picture under consideration. If it has one, it should not have been disguised by the legend associated with it, which, by the way, does not exist in the Romance from which it professes to be quoted, and is now pretty generally understood to be only a clever mystification by one of the artist's friends, written chiefly with the view of guarding the awkward horse against criticism. I am not sure whether the bitterest enemies of Pre-Raphaelitism have yet accused it of expecting to cover its errors by describing them in bad English.(1)
(1)[The lines written for the picture by Tom Taylor began thus:―
"The goode hors that the knyghte bestrode,
I trow his backe it was full brode,
And wighte and warie still he rode,
Noght reckinge of rivere ;
He was so mickle and so stronge,
And thereto so wonderlich longe,
In lande was none his peer.
N'as hors but by him seemed smalle.
The knyghte him ycleped Launcival,
But lords at horde and grooms in stalle
Ycleped him Graund Destrere."
They were described as being "from the Metrical Romance of Sir Ysumbras."]
Putting the legend, however, out of question, the fancy of the picture is pretty, and might have been sublime, but that it is too ill painted to be dwelt upon. The primal error in pictorial grammar, of painting figures in twilight as bright as yellow and vermilion can make them, while the towers and hills, far above and far more exposed to light, are yet dark and blue, could hardly have been redeemed by any subsequent harmonies of tone, much less by random brilliancy; and the mistake of painting the water brighter than the sky which it reflects, though constant among inferior painters in subordinate parts of their work, is a singularly disgraceful one for a painter of standing.
These, and the other errors or shortcomings in the work, too visible to need proving, and too many to bear numbering, are all the less excusable because the thought of the picture was a noble one, and might seem both justly to claim, and tenderly to encourage, the utmost skill and patience in its rendering. It does not matter whether we take it as a fact or as a type: whether we look verily upon an old knight riding home in the summer twilight, with the dust of his weary day's journey on his golden armour, taking the woodman's children across the river with him, holding the girl so tenderly that she does not so much as feel the grasp of the gauntlets, but holds the horse's mane as well, lest she should fall; or whether we receive it as a type of noble human life, tried in all war, and aged in all counsel and wisdom, finding its crowning work at last to be bearing the children of poverty in its arms, and that the best use of its panoply of battle is to be clasped by the feeble fingers, wearied with gathering the sheddings of the autumnal woods. It might bear a deeper meaning even than this: it might be an image less of life than of the great Christian Angel of Death, who gives the eternal nobleness to small and great, and clasps the mean and the mighty with his golden armour―Death, bearing the two children with him across the calm river, whither they know not; one questioning the strange blue eyes which she sees fixed on heaven, the other only resting from his labour, and feeling no more his burden. All this, and much more than this―for the picture might be otherwise suggestive to us in a thousand ways―it would have brought home at once to the heart of every spectator, had the idea but been realized with any steadiness of purpose or veracity of detail. As it stands, it can only be considered as a rough sketch of a great subject, injudiciously exposed to general criticism, and needing both modification in its arrangement and devoted labour in its future realization.
I am sorrowfully doubtful, however, how far Mr. Millais may yet be capable of such labour. There are two signs conspicuous in his this year's work, of augury strangely sinister: the first, an irregularity in the conception of facts, quite unprecedented in any work that I know in the Realistic schools of any age ; the second, a warped feeling in the selection of facts, peculiar, as far as I know, to Millais from his earliest youth.
I say, first, an irregularity of conception. Thus, it seems only to have struck the painter suddenly, as he was finishing the knight's armour, that it ought to be more or less reflective; and he gives only one reflection in it of the crimson cloth of the saddle, that one reflection being violently exaggerated: for though, from a golden surface, it would have been, as he has rendered it, warmer than the crimson, no reflection is ever brighter than the thing reflected. But all the rest of the armour is wholly untouched by the colour of the children's dresses, or of their glowing faces, or of the river or sky. And if Mr. Millais meant it to be old armour, rough with wear, it ought to have been deadened and darkened in colour, hacked with edges of weapons, stained with stains of death; if he meant it merely to be dusty, the dust should have lain white on some of the ridges, been clearly absent from others, and should have been dark where it was wet by the splashing of the horse. The ripple of the water against the horse itself, however, being unnoticed, it is little wonder if the dash of the chance spray is missed. A more manifest sign still of this irregular appliance of mind is in the fact that the peacock's plume, the bundle of wood, and the stripes of the saddle-cloth are painted with care; while the children's faces, though right in expression, are rudely sketched, with unrounded edges, half in rose colour and half in dirty brown. Vestiges of his old power of colouring, still unattainable by any other man, exist, however, in that saddle-cloth and in the peacock's feather. But the second sign, the warping of feeling, is a still more threatening one.
The conception of his second picture (408)(1) is an example of the darkest error in judgment―the fatalest failure in the instinct of the painter's mind. At once coarse and ghastly in fancy, exaggerated and obscure in action, the work seems to have been wrought with the resolute purpose of confirming all that the bitterest adversaries of the school have delighted to allege against it; and whatever friendship has murmured, or enmity proclaimed, of its wilful preference of ugliness to beauty, is now sealed into everlasting acceptance. It is not merely in manifest things, like the selection of such a model as this for the type of the foot of a Spanish lady, or the monstrous protrusion of the lover's lip in his intense appeal for silence ; but the dwelling perpetually upon the harshest lines of form, and most painful conditions of expression, both in human feature and in natural objects, which long ago, when they appeared in Millais's picture of the "Carpenter's Shop,"(2) a restrained the advance of Pre-Raphaelitism; and would arrest its advance now, unless there were other painters to support its cause, who will disengage it from unnaturalness of error, and vindicate it from confusion of contempt.
(1)["The Escape of a Heretic, 1559." A scene, as described in an illustrative note in the catalogue, from the Spanish Inquisition. A Spanish lover, disguised as a monk, rescuing his mistress, who has already been robed in her fiery gabardine for the auto-da-fe ; in the background a monk, bound and gagged. The subject was suggested to Millais by some engravings and documents shown to him by Stirling-Maxwell (see Life and Letters of Millais, i. 319). The picture is now in the possession of Sir W. Houldsworth, M.P.]
(2)[In the Academy of 1850 : see Vol. XII. p. 320.]
For Mr. Millais there is no hope but in a return to quiet perfectness of work. I cannot bring myself to believe that powers were given to him only to be wasted, which are so great, even in their aberration, that no pictures in the Academy are so interesting as these, or can be for a moment compared with them for occasional excellence and marvellousness of execution. Yet it seems to be within the purpose of Providence sometimes to bestow great powers only that we may be humiliated by their failure, or appalled by their annihilation ; and sometimes to strengthen the hills with iron, only that they may attract the thunderbolt. A time is probably fixed in every man's career, when his own choice determines the relation of his endowments with his destiny; and the time has come when this painter must choose, and choose finally, whether the eminence he cannot abdicate
(1)[For Ruskin's other references to Mulready (1786-1863) see Vol. IV. p. 386 and n. The picture noticed above was painted for the gallery of pictures presented to the nation by Mr. Vernon, in pursuance of his will. It has now been removed from the National Gallery to Dublin. It depicts a boy in arms crouching on his sister's neck, to escape the fingers of his brother, who playfully offers to pinch his ear.]
Without exception, the least interesting piece of good painting I have ever seen in my life. I call it a "piece of painting," not a "picture," because the artist's mind has been evidently fixed throughout on his modes of work, not on his subject if subject it can be called. Is it not sorrowful to see all this labour and artistical knowledge appointed, by a command issued from the grave, to paint and employed for a couple of years in painting for the perpetual possession and contemplation of the English people, the ill laced bodice of an untidy girl? Yet the picture will be a valuable one; perhaps the most forcible illustration ever given of the frivolous application of great powers. For this is not, observe, the commonplace littleness of an inferior mind, nor commonplace wantonness of a great one. We have had examples enough of mean subjects chosen by the trifling, and slight subjects chosen by the feeble: nor is it a new thing to see great intellects overthrown by impetuosity, or wasted in indolence ; stumbling and lost among the dark mountains, or lying helpless by the wayside, listless or desolate. All this we have seen often; but never, I think, till now, patience disappointed of her hope, and conscientiousness mistaken in her aim; labour beguiled of her reward, and discretion warped in her choice. We have not known until now that the greatest gifts might be wasted by prudence, and the greatest errors committed by precision.
For it is quite curious how, throughout this composition, the artist seems to have aimed at showing the uselessness of all kinds of good. There is an exquisite richness of decoration in the pattern of the yellow dress, yet the picture is none the richer for it; an exquisite play of colour in the flesh, yet the girl is none the fairer for it: her dress is loose, without grace; and her beauty hidden, without decency. The colour of the whole is pure, but it does not refresh; its arrangement subtle, but it does not entertain: the child laughs without gaiety; and the youth reclines without
We may be sure, however which is some comfort that failure of this total kind cannot take place unless there is somewhere a willful departure from truth; for truth, however ill-chosen, is never wholly uninteresting. For instance, here, the sense of country life is destroyed by the false forms of the trees, which are only green horizontal flakes of colour, not foliage; and the dead blue dress of the youth, though it seems at first well painted, is shaded either with pure dark blue, dirty green, or violet, wholly at random, and of course, therefore, with destruction of brilliancy as well as of relief ; while the folds of the girl's gown, though they at first look well drawn, are mere angular masses, without either flow or fall.