martes, 22 de noviembre de 2011


The Royal Academy Exhibition, 1875

This, I suppose, we must assume to be the principal historical piece of the year; a work showing artistic skill and classic learning, both in high degree. But both parallel in their method of selection. The artistic skill has succeeded with all its objects in the degree of their unimportance. The piece of silver plate is painted best; the griffin bas-relief it stands on, second best; the statue of the empress worse than the griffins, and the living personages worse than the statue. I do not know what feathers the fan with the frightful mask in the handle, held by the nearest lady, is supposed to be made of; to a simple spectator they look like peacock's, without the eyes.2 And, indeed, the feathers, under which the motto "I serve" of French art seems to be written in these days, are, I think, very literally, all feather and no eyes―the raven's feather, to wit, of Sycorax.3The selection of the subject is similarly―one might say, filamentous―of the extremity, instead of the centre. The old French Republicans, reading of Rome, chose such events to illustrate her history, as the battle of Romulus with the Sabines, the vow of the Horatii, or the self-martyrdom of Lucretia. The modern Republican sees in the Rome he studies so profoundly, only a central establishment for the manufacture and sale of imitation-Greek articles of virtu

(1)[In the Art of England, §61, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema is named by Ruskin as representatively "classic," as "a careful and learned interpreter of certain phases of Greek and Roman life, and as himself a most accomplished painter, on long-established principles." In the same lecture (§77) Ruskin mentions Alma-Tadema as "differing from all the artists I have ever known, except John Lewis, in the gradual increase of technical accuracy, which attends and enhances together the expanding range of his dramatic invention." Tadema was elected A.R.A. in 187(5, and R.A. in 1879.]

(2)[Compare the letter in Hortus Inclusus, cited in a note in Stones of Venice, vol. i.(Vol. IX. p. 288).]

(3)[The Tempest, i.2:―

Caliban. As wicked dew as e'er my mother brushed
  With raven's feather from unwholesome fen
   Drop on you both ! . . .
  This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother.

The passage is quoted and commented upon in Munera Pulveris, §134.]

A Flower Walk. Albert Moore

The execution is dexterous, but more with mechanical steadiness of practice than innate fineness of nerve. It is impossible, however, to say how much the personal nervous faculty of an artist of this calibre is paralyzed by his education in schools which I could not characterize in my Oxford inaugural lectures otherwise than as the "schools of clay,"1 in which he is never shown what Venetians or Florentines meant by "painting," and allowed to draw his flesh steadily and systematically with shadows of charcoal and lights of cream-soap, without ever considering whether there would be any reflections in the one, or any flush of life in the other. The head on the extreme left is exceptionally good; but who ever saw a woman's neck and hand blue-black under reflection from white drapery, as they are in the nearer figure? It is well worth while to go straight from this picture to the two small studies by Mr. Albert Moore,2 356 and 357,3 which are consummately artistic and scientific work. Examine them closely and with patience ; the sofa and basket especially, in 357, with a lens of moderate power; and, by way of a lesson in composition, hide in this picture the little honeysuckle ornament above the head, and the riband hanging over the basket, and see what becomes of everything! Or try the effect of concealing the yellow flower in the hair, in the "Flower Walk." And for comparison with the elementary method of M. Tadema, look at the blue reflection on the chin in this figure; at the reflection of the warm brick wall on its right arm; and at the general modes of unaffected relief by which the extended left arm in "Pansies" detaches itself from the background. And you ought afterwards, if you have an eye for colour, never more to mistake a tinted drawing for a painting.

 Pansies. Albert Moore.

(1)[See Lectures on Art, chs. v. and vii. 139, 173, 185, etc.]

(2)[Albert Moore (1841-1893), brother of Henry Moore. There is a characteristic example of his work in the Tate Gallery (No. 1549, " Blossoms").]

(3)[356."A Flower Walk." 357. "Pansies."]

viernes, 18 de noviembre de 2011


The Royal Acdemy Exhibition, 1875

Here, at least, is one picture meant to teach; nor failing of its purpose, if we read it rightly. Very beautiful it might have been―and is, in no mean measure; but as years pass by, the artist concedes to himself, more and more, the privilege which none but the feeble should seek, of substituting the sublimity of mystery for that of absolute majesty of form. The relation between this grey and soft cloud of visionary power, and the perfectly substantial, bright, and near presence of the saints, angels, or Deities of early Christian art, involves questions of too subtle interest to be followed here; but in the essential force of it, belongs to the inevitable expression, in each period, of the character of its own faith. The Christ of the thirteenth century was vividly present to its thoughts, and dominant over its acts, as a God manifest in the flesh, well pleased in the people to whom He came; while ours is either forgotten, or seen, by those who yet trust in Him, only as a mourning and departing Ghost.

(1)[This picture, under its other title "The Spirit of Christianity," is among thosepresented by Watts to the nation. It now hangs in the Tate Gallery, No. 1637.]

domingo, 6 de noviembre de 2011


The Royal Academy Exhibition 1875

This is one of the pictures which, with such others as Holman Hunt's " Scapegoat," Millais's "Dove Returning to the Ark," etc.,1 the public owe primarily to the leading genius of Dante Rossetti, the founder, and for some years the vital force, of the Pre-Raphaelite school. He was the first assertor in painting, as I believe I was myself in art literature (Goldsmith and Moliere having given the first general statements of it),2 of the great distinctive principle of that school that things should be painted as they probably did look and happen, and not as, by rules of art developed under Raphael, Correggio, and Michael Angelo, they might be supposed gracefully, deliciously, or sublimely to have happened.

1.[For the "Scapegoat," see above, p. 61; for the "Dove," p. 165.

2.[Compare The Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelitism, 21: "It (the Pre-Raphaelite school) was headed, in literary power, by Wordsworth; but the first pure example of its mind and manner of art, as opposed to the erudite and artificial schools, will he found, so far as I know, in Moliere's song, 'J'aime mieux ma mie.'" See also Modern Painters, vol. iii. (Vol. V. p. 375). For other references to Goldsmith, see Modern Painters, vol. iii. (Vol. V. p. 45), and Val d'Arno, 208.]

The adoption of this principle by good and great men produces the grandest art possible in the world; the adoption of it by vile and foolish men, very vile and foolish art; yet not so entirely nugatory as imitations of Raphael or Correggio would be by persons of the same calibre. An intermediate and large class of pictures have been produced by painters of average powers ; mostly of considerable value, but which fall again into two classes, according to the belief of the artists in the truth, and understanding of the dignity of the subjects they endeavour to illustrate, or their opposite degree of incredulity, and materialistic vulgarism of interpretation.

The picture before us belongs to the higher class, but is not a fine example of it. We cannot tell from it whether Mr. Goodall believes Rachel to have wept over Ramah1 from her throne in heaven ; but at least we gather from it some suggestion of what she must have looked like when she was no more than a Syrian shepherdess.

That she was a very beautiful shepherdess, so that her lover thought years of waiting but as days, for the love he bore to her, Mr. Goodall has scarcely succeeded in representing. And on the whole he would have measured his powers more reasonably in contenting himself with painting a Yorkshire shepherdess instead of a Syrian one.* Like everybody except myself, he has been in the East. If that is the appearance of the new moon in the East, I am well enough content to guide, and gild, the lunacies of ray declining years by the light of the old Western one.

*Compare, however, at once 582 ["A Seller of Doves"], which is, on the whole, the most honourably complete and scholastic life-size figure in the rooms, with well cast, and unaffectedly well painted, drapery.

1.[Jeremiah xxxi. 15 ; and for the following reference, see Genesis xxix. 20.]