The Royal Academy Exhibition 1858
A notable picture; very great in many respects, but with grievous faults. The two principal figures are quite rightmore especially the child; nothing can be more beautiful than the way it lies, nothing much better than the painting of it; and the thought of the whole singularly pathetic. But that thought is only half developed. I am amazed that a painter of Mr. Carrick's sincerity should allow himself in the conventionalisms of this design. What light is this that is cast on the two sleeping figures― morning?― evening?― noon? All suppositions are alike negatived by those trees in the background, which are in the deepest twilight; the rick under which the figures rest is also in darkness; and thus, for a mere effect of stage illumination on his foreground, the painter has lost all the pathos which there would have been in the calm of long, low sunshine on the solemn fields; or in the dew of the morning upon their peace―after the theatre's fantastic nocturns. The whole value of the background, as a space for informing incident, is also lost. No story is told by the dull trees. I will not take away Mr. Carrick's freedom and pleasure in invention by offering any suggestion as to the incidents that might occupy that background, but assuredly it ought not to be empty. Besides all this, the wonder of the peasant woman is vulgarly told―her gesture at this moment is highly improbable. She could not have approached so near the figures without seeing them before; unless we suppose her to have walked backwards, which indeed she might have done in raking: but the gesture has an unnatural and theatrical look for all that; and her face is utterly without expression. When there are only three figures in a picture, we must not make a nonentity of the nearest.
And lastly, the painting is throughout too hard; the straw especially is far too much defined. Has Mr. Carrick never looked carefully at the straw in the first picture which showed the beauty of it the "Dove Returning to the Ark"(1)― in which not a single stem was entirely defined, and yet all was real. It needs to be constantly kept in mind by all painters, that good painting must be reserved as well as expressive―it withholds always as much as it reveals. All mystery, or all clearness, is equally wrong, though clearness is the noblest error. Nature is simple, and therefore intelligible; but she is also infinite, and therefore mysterious. Whenever you can make a bit of painting quite out, that bit of it is wrong. There is no exception to this rule.
The picture is, however, so beautiful, in spite of all these defects, that it becomes almost the duty of the painter to perfect it.(2)
(1)[The picture by Millais exhibited in 1851 ; one of those bequeathed by Mr. Combe to the University Gallery at Oxford. Ruskin had noticed the picture in his letters to the Times in 1851 : see Vol. XII. pp. 323, 325.]
(2)[Which the painter accordingly did; see the anecdote told above, Introduction, p. xxv.]
(P. xxv)[Of another criticism of Ruskin's― that in the Notes of 1858 on Carrick's "Weary Life 11 (p. 164)― a fine and touching incident is recorded. Ruskin was abroad at the time:―
"Vokins wished me to name to you," wrote his father (June 3, 1858), " that Carrick, when he read your criticism on Weary Life, came to him with the cheque Vokins had given, and said your remarks were all right, and that he could not take the price paid by Vokins, the buyer; he would alter the picture. Vokins took back the money, only agreeing to see the picture when it was done."
Ruskin's comment on the incident is contained in the following reply:
"BELLINZONA, June 13.― I'm sorry, and yet glad, that Carrick behaved so nobly about his picture. I don't see that he need have given back his cheque, as I conceive a dealer's price is always intended to take the risk on either side, and that an artist, as he has no right to complain if the dealer doubles profit, so neither need he make restitution if the chance turns the other way. However, if artists always acted as Carrick has done, dealers would soon come to allow them a share in rise of price, which would be the just way for all parties."]
(Crítica interesante para ver la relación entre la transmisión de un pensamiento y la composición o ejecución del cuadro)