lunes, 16 de mayo de 2011


                                                    David Cox, Bolton Abbey

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.

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