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.]