The Royal Academy Exhibition 1858
My first impression is that this very notable picture shows the labour in it too clearly, but I cannot judge of it in haste. The animal life is nearly perfect; the kid making up its mind to butt the pigeons is especially delightful. 122, however, is a more consummate example of the painter's work ; and 245, though at first it looks uninteresting, will be found very wonderful on quiet examination. His gift of grace in arrangement of line is best seen in the fall of the red drapery of No. 51.(1) But I hardly know what is the matter with me this year, for I find Mr. Paton's pictures too dramatic, and Mr. Lewis's not dramatic enough. He has thirty-one figures in all upon the walls, and all the drama to be got out of the whole number is the arrangement of a nosegay and the presentation of a cup of coffee. Perhaps those who delight in the gloomier pictures of the present exhibition may be able to excite themselves into some interest in this last event, by supposing the coffee to be poisoned.
(1)[122. "An Inmate of the Hareem, Cairo." 245. "Interior of a Mosque at Cairo: Afternoon Prayer." 51. "Lilies and Roses, Constantinople." Nos. 122 and 51 were bought by Ruskin's father: see below, p. 180.]
There is, however, one point which ought specially to be rioted respecting Lewis's work―it is always and wholly original. When, some time ago, I claimed him as a Pre-Raphaelite,(1) I never meant that he had been influenced in his practice by any of the other members of that school; but that he was associated with it, as ten years ago I showed that Turner was,(2) and as all true painters for ever must be, by the mere fact of their painting truth instead of formalism or idealism; while Lewis is still more closely connected with the present nominal masters of the school by his completeness of finish to the utmost corners of his canvas. But he was not led to this finishing by Hunt or Rossetti. There never, perhaps, in the history of art was work so wholly independent as Lewis's. He worked with the sternest precision twenty years ago, when Pre-Raphaelitism had never been heard of―pursued calmly the same principles, developed by himself, for himself, in the midst of all adverse influences in Rome, and through years of lonely labour in Syria. In all those years of Eastern light, he wrought with Nature only for his master: he cannot have seen so much as one good picture from the time of his leaving Rome until his return to England. And all our discoveries here, and all our talking and quarrelling about them, have been nothing to John Lewis―as they were nothing to Turner. There is not another picture in all this Academy which I believe to have been painted wholly without reference to the Pre-Raphaelite dogmas: they are either directly or distantly imitative; either cautiously recusant or vigorously defiant. But John Lewis paints as he would have painted had no such school, no such dogmas ever existed; and that girl would still have been there, and she would still have had the same exquisite glow in her face, the same delicate light in her eyes, and the same finished tracery of gold on her robe, though Pre-Raphaelitism had been strangled ten years ago in its birth, and all the painters in Europe had now been daubing like Haydon or Benjamin West.(3)
(1)[See Pre-Raphaelitism (1851), 27 (Vol. XII. p. 363).]
(2)[It was not "ten years ago," but three, that Ruskin had specifically claimed Turner as "the first and greatest of the Pre-Raphaelites": see Lectures on Architecture and Painting (1855), 134 (Vol. XII. p. 159).]
(3)[For Haydon, see Vol. XII. pp. 129-130 ; for another reference to West (1738-1820), P.R.A., see below, p. 330, and Vol. X. p. 125, Vol. V. p. 125 n. Ruskin was perhaps here thinking of the description of West in Byron's Curse of Minerva "Europe's worst dauber, and poor Britain's best."]
(Relación entre idealismo-falsedad. Construir los objetos según las ideas existentes de bello, sublime...en lugar de pintar del natural. Turner como máximo represetante de la verdad.)