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Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 online

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villain and his visitors are fools. The object of the painter is
doubtless a good one; it is to avert that morbid sympathy which has been
so conspicuously and mischievously felt and affected for the worst, the
most wicked of mankind. But to do this is the province of the press, not
the pencil. It is a mistake of the whole purpose of art. It will not
deter murderers, who look not at pictures; and if they were to look at
these, would not be converted by any thing the pictures have to
show - nor will it keep back one fool, madman, or sentimental hypocrite
from making a disgraceful exhibition. We are not sorry to notice this
failure of Mr Scott's, because we would call the attention of artists in
general to "subject." Let a painter ask himself before he takes his
brush in hand, why - for what purpose, with what object do I choose this
scene or this incident? Can the moral or the sentiment it conveys be
told by design and colour? - and if so, are such moral and such sentiment
worth the "doing." Will it please, or will it disgust? We mean not to
use the word "please" in its lowest common sense, but in that which
expresses the gratification we are known to feel even when our quiescent
happiness is disturbed. In that sense we know even tragedies are
pleasing. We may, however, paint a martyr on his gridiron, and paint
that which is only disgusting; the firmness, the devotion through faith
of the martyr, are of the noblest heroism. If to represent that be the
sole object, and it succeeds, such a work would rank with tragedy, and
please.


PAINTING IN WATER COLOURS.

We have visited the two societies of painters in water colours. In these
there are two antagonist principles in full practice - while some are
endeavoring to imitate, and indeed to go beyond the power of oil
colours, others are going back as much as may be to the white paper
system; imitating in fact the imitation which painters in oil have taken
up from the painters in water colour. We must, of course, expect from
this no little extravagance both ways - and we are not disappointed in
the expectation. We will first notice the elder institution. In this,
certainly, there are fewer examples of the power of colour system - but
not a few in the weaker system. We noticed last year that Mr Copley
Fielding was making great advances in it. His practised and skilful hand
causes that style to have many admirers. Poor John Varley - we look with
interest at his last work. His early ones were full of genius. He was an
enthusiast in art. There is very great beauty in his "View on the
Croydon Canal previous to the making the rail-road." An admirable
composition - the woods and water are very fine. There are some very good
drawings by D. Cox, which will greatly please all who like to see much
told with little labour. Prout fully sustains his reputation. Amidst
much detail he is always broad and large. There is a most true effect of
haze in Copley Fielding's fine drawing of "Folkstone Cliff." There is an
affected absence of effect in his "Arundel Castle" - the blues and
yellows are not in harmony - and all has an uncomfortable, unsubstantial
look. Eliza Sharpe's "Little Dunce" is a delightful drawing. It is only
the old dame that can ever be angry with a little dunce - and she puts on
more than half her anger; and this is a glorious little dunce, that we
would not see good for the world - the triumph of nature over tuition.
This charming little creature has been happy her own way, has been
wandering in her own "castle of indolence," and perhaps, too,
philosophizing thus - Well, I have been naughty, but happier still than
if I had been good. So is the goodness we force upon children often
against nature - we love to see nature superior. Eliza Sharpe must have
been of the same way of thinking, and it is archly expressed. Her Una
and the lion is large and free - the face of Una nor quite the thing. We
have a "Castle of Indolence" by Mr Finch, gay with "all the finches of
the grove," but the country does not look indolent, nor the country for
indolence. Hunt's boys, clever as ever. The sleeping boy, with his large
shadow on the wall, is most successful. The companion, the boy awake, is
a little of the caricature. His "Pet," a boy holding up a pig, natural
as it is, is nevertheless disgusting; for such a toy will ever be the
biggest beast of the two. Mr Hills has several excellent drawings of
deer; but there is one, so perfect that it is quite poetical - a few
deer, in their own wild haunt, heathery brown, and almost treeless, the
few spots of stunted trees serving to mark the spot, separating it from
similar, and making it the home. It is furthest from the haunts of man.
It looks silence. The animals are quite nature, exquisitely grouped. The
quiet colouring, unobtrusive, could not be more nicely conceived - it is
the long Sabbath quiet of an unworking world. The picture is well
executed. It is one that makes a lasting impression.

Mr Oakley's "Shrimper," a boy sitting on a rock, reminds us of some of
Murillo's boys; it is as good in effect, and better in expression, than
most of the Spaniard's. "After the second Battle of Newbury," by
Cattermole, is a well-imagined scene, but is defective in that in which
we should have supposed the artist would not have failed. It is not
moonlight. "Tuning," by J. W. Wright, is a good proof that blue, as
Gainsborough likewise proved, is not necessarily cold. His "Confession,"
with the two graceful figures, is very sweet. "The Gap of Dunloe," W.
A. Nesfield - has fine folding forms - the distance and rainbow
beautiful - it is, however, somewhat hurt by crude colour, and too much
cut up foreground. The Vicar and his family supply work to many an
artist of our day. Mr Taylor's is very good - Moses pulling the reluctant
horse, is a good incident. We do not quite recognize Mrs Primrose, and
could wish the daughter had more beauty. We never could very much admire
Mr Richter's coarse vulgarities - and they are of gross feeling, and we
think, caricatures without much humour; but his sentimentalities are
worse. His "Sisters," a scene from the novel of "The Trustee," is but a
miserable attempt at the pathetic. Mr Gastineau's "Bellagio" is a
beautiful drawing, has great breadth and truth; but the water is
certainly too blue.


EXHIBITION OF NEW SOCIETY IN WATER COLOURS.

Generally speaking, this Society is mostly ambitious of carrying water
colour to its greatest possible depth and power, and certainly, in this
respect, the attainment is wondrous. In design, and other character,
this society more than keeps its ground. We remember last year noticing
Miss Setchell's little picture, as one of the best of the year; we have
still a perfect recollection of the most lovely pathetic expression of
the poor girl. We were greatly disappointed that no work of Miss
Setchell adorns the walls. There is a picture, however, which, if it did
not move us equally, at once arrested our attention, and again and again
did we return to it. The character of it is not certainly moving, as
Miss Setchell's, it is altogether of a different cast - it is one for
thought and manly contemplation. The subject is "Cromwell and Ireton
intercepting a letter of Charles the First," by L. Haghe. Cromwell is
standing reading a letter - Ireton adjusting the saddle in the recess of
a window, near which Cromwell stands, is a table with a flagon, the
scene is an inn in Holborn. The attitude of Cromwell is dignified ease
and resolution. In his fine countenance we read the full history of the
"coming events" - we see all there, that we have learned from history.
The very curtains and stick seem to the imagination's eye convertible
into canopy and sceptre. There is great forbearance in the painting - we
mean that there is just enough, and no more, of water-colours' ambition.
More depth would have injured the effect. It is a very striking picture;
well finished, and with a breadth suited to the historical importance of
the history. Mr Warren's "Christ's Sermon" is of the ambitious school.
If we contrast the quiet, solemnly quiet, tone of that sermon of
beatitudes, with the coloured character of the picture, we must condemn
the inappropriate style. We should say it is immodestly painted; the
picture and not the subject, obtrudes. The head of Christ is weak. It is
a picture nevertheless of great ability, but with a gorgeous colouring
ill suited to the subject. But we must speak with unqualified admiration
of a little picture by Mr Warren - the "Ave Maria." It is a lady kneeling
before a picture of a saint in a chapel. The depth and power is very
surprising, and much reminds of Rembrandt, with the exception of the
picture of the saint, which struck us at first as too light by a great
deal, so much so that we noted it down as a glaring defect, but
returning to the picture, we looked, not only till we were reconciled,
but to an admiration of what we had considered a fault. It is the poetry
of the subject. We see not the face of the petitioning figure, we only
feel that she is there, and devoutly petitioning, and the brightness of
the patron saint, with its simple open character of face and figure,
comes out as a miraculous manifestation. We must not mistake - the "Ave
Maria" does not mean that it is to the Virgin the petitioner prays; it
is to a male saint.

Mr E. Corbould still is in the full ambition of water colour power.
"Jesus at the House of Simon the Pharisee," is an example of the
inappropriateness of this manner to solemn sacred subjects. The Mary is
very good - not so the principal figure, it has a weak expression: some
parts of this picture are too sketchy for others. His "Woman of Samaria"
is a much better picture, has great breadth and grace. It is rather
slight. His "Flower of the Fisher's Hut" is very pretty - a lady in
masquerade. Absolon's "Uncle Toby" is well told, and with the author's
naïveté. Mr Topham's farewell scene from the "Deserted Village," is, we
think, too strong of the mock-pathetic - a scene of praying and babying.

There are many pictures we would wish to notice, but we must forbear: we
cannot, however, omit the mention of a sea-piece, which we thought very
fine, with a watery sky; a good design, - "North Sunderland Fishermen
rendering assistance after a Squall."


THE BRITISH INSTITUTION.

Having recently given some account of Sir Joshua, his Discourses, his
genius, and his influence upon the arts in this country, we visited this
gallery, where as many as sixty of his works are exhibited, with no
little interest. The North Room is occupied by them alone. Have we
reason to think our estimate of Sir Joshua Reynolds, as a painter, not
borne out by this exhibition? By no means. Our first impression from the
whole collection, not seeing any particular picture, is of colour. And
here Sir Joshua appears _inventive_; for though he not unfrequently
imitated Rembrandt, there is, on the whole, a style that is far from
Rembrandt, and is not like any other old master; yet we believe, for it
was the character of his mind so to do, that he always had some great
master in view in all he did. But he combined. Hence there is no little
novelty in his style, and not seldom some inconsistencies - a mixture of
care and delicacy, with great apparent slovenliness. We say apparent,
for we are persuaded Sir Joshua never worked without real care and
forethought; and that his apparent slovenliness was a purpose, and a
long studied acquirement. He ever had in view the maxim - _Ars est celare
artem_; but he did not always succeed, for he shows too evidently the
art with which he concealed what first his art had effected. Looking
carefully at these pictures, we see intention every where: there is no
actual random work. We believe him to have finished much more than has
been supposed; that there is, in reality, careful drawing and colouring,
at least in many of his pictures, _under_ that large and general
scumbling and glazing, to which, for the sake of making a whole, he
sacrificed the minor beauties. And we believe that many of those
beauties were not lost when the works were fresh from his easel, but
that they lave been obscured since by the nature of the medium and the
materials he used. That these were bad we cannot doubt, for we plainly
see that some of these pictures, his most laboured for effect, are not
only most wofully cracked, (yet that is not the word, for it expresses
not the gummy separation of part from part,) but that transparency has
been lost, and the once-brilliant pigments become a _caput mortuum_.
Hence there is very great _heaviness_ pervading his pictures; so that
even in colouring there is a want of freshness. A deep asphaltum has
overpowered lightness and delicacy, and has itself become obscure. Sir
Joshua did not leave his pictures in this state. It is as if one should
admire, in the clear brown bed of a mountain river, luminous objects,
stone or leaf, pebble or weed, most delicately uncertain in the magic of
the waving glaze; and suddenly there should come over the fascination an
earthy muddying inundation. In estimating Sir Joshua's mind, we must, in
imagination, remove much that his hand has done. Nor was Sir Joshua,
perhaps, always true to his subject in his intention of general
colouring. His "Robinettas," and portraits, or ideals of children, are
not improved by that deep asphaltum colouring, so unsuitable to the
freshness, and may we not add, purity of childhood. And there appears,
at least now in their present state, that there is too universal a use
of the brown and other warm colours; Rembrandt invariably inserted among
them cool and deep grays, very seldom blue, which, as too active a
colour, is apt to destroy repose, the intended effect of deep colouring.
Titian uses it for the sake of its activity, as in the Bacchus and
Ariadne and how subdued is that blue! but even in such pictures there
are the intermediate grays, both warm and cold, that the transition from
warm to cold be not too sudden. We cannot say that Sir Joshua Reynolds
did not introduce these qualifying grays, because the browns have so
evidently become more intense, that they may have changed them to their
own hue.

There are some pictures here which have either lost their glaze by
cleaning, or never had it, and these have a freshness, and touch too,
which others want; such is the case with "Lady Cockburn and her Three
Sons" - a very fine picture, beautifully coloured, and well grouped, very
like nature, and certainly in a manner of Vandyck. We remember, too, his
"Kitty Fisher," and regret the practice which, with the view of giving
tone, often took away real colour, and a great deal of the delicacy of
nature. The very natural portrait of "Madame Schindelin," quite in
another manner from any usual with Sir Joshua, shows that he was less
indebted to his after theory of colouring than people in general have
imagined. The most forcible picture among them is the "Ugolino." It is
well known that the head of Ugolino was a study, and not designed for
Ugolino, but that the story was adopted to suit it; yet it has been
thought to want the dignity of that character. Ugolino had been a man in
power; there is not much mark in the picture of his nobility. It has
been said, too, that the addition of his sons is no improvement in the
picture. We think otherwise: they are well grouped; by their various
attitudes they give the greater desperate fixedness to Ugolino, and they
do tell the story well, and are good in themselves. The power of the
picture is very great, and it is not overpowered by glazing. On the
whole, we think it his most vigorous work, and one upon which his fame
as a painter may fairly rest. We have a word to say with respect to Sir
Joshua's pictures of children. That he fully admired Correggio, we
cannot doubt - his children have all human sweetness, tenderness, and
affection; but it was the archness of children that mostly delighted our
painter - their play, their frolic, their fun. In this, though in the
main successful, he was apt to border upon the caricature; we often
observe a cat-like expression. "The Strawberry Girl" has perhaps the
most intense, and at the same time human look. It is deeply sentient or
deeply feeling. The "Cardinal Beaufort" disappoints; so large a space of
canvass uncouthly filled up, rather injures the intended expression in
the cardinal. Has the demon been painted out, or has that part of the
picture changed, and become obscure? But we will not notice particular
pictures; having thus spoken so much of the general effect, we should
only have to repeat what we have already said.

The Middle Room is a collection of old masters of many schools, and
valuable indeed are most of these works of art. There is a small
landscape by Rembrandt, "A Road leading to a Village with a Mill,"
wonderfully fine. It is the perfect poetry of colour. The manner and
colouring give a sentiment to this most simple subject. It is a village
church, with trees around it. This is the subject - the church and
trees - all else belongs to that - we see dimly through the leafage - we
read, through the gloom and the glimmer, the village histories. The
repose of the dead - the piety of the living - all that is necessary for
the village home, is introduced - but not conspicuously - and nothing
more; here is a house, a farm-house, and a mill - a village stream, over
which, but barely seen, is a wooden bridge - the clouds are closing
round, and such clouds as "drop fatness," making the shelter the
greater - a figure or two in the road. There is great simplicity in the
chiaroscuros, and the paint is of the most brilliant gem-like richness,
into which you look, for it is not flimsy and thin, but substance
transparent - so that it lets in your imagination into the very depth of
its mystery. No painter ever understood the poetry of colour as did
Rembrandt. He made that his subject, whatever were the forms and
figures. We have made notes of every picture, but have no room, and must
be content with selecting a very few. Here are two fine sea-pieces by
Vandervelde and Backhuysen. We notice them together for their unlikeness
to each other. In the latter, "A Breeze, with the Prince of Orange's
Yacht," there is a fine free fling of the waves, but lacking the
precision of Vandervelde. There are two vessels, of nearly equal
magnitude, and not together so as to make one. We are at a loss,
therefore, which to look at. It is an offence in composition, and one
which is never made by Vandervelde - often by Backhuysen; and not
unfrequently are his vessels too large or too small for the skies and
water. "The Breeze, with Man-of-War," by Vandervelde, is, in its
composition, perfect. It is the Man-of-War; there is nothing to compete
with it - the gallant vessel cares not for the winds or waves - she
commands them. It is wondrously painted, and as fresh as from the easel.
Here are three pictures by Paul Potter - the larger one, "Landscape, with
Cattle and Figures," how unlike the others! "Cattle in a Storm," is a
large picture in little. The wind blows, and the bull roars. It is very
fine, and quite luminous. The other, "Landscape, with Horses and
Figures," looks, at first view, not quite as it should; but, on
examining it, there are parts most exquisitely beautiful - the white
horse coming out of the stable is perfect, and, like the Daguerreotype
portraits, the more you look with a good magnifying-glass, the more
truth you see. There is no picture in this room that excites so much
attention as the "View of Dort from the River." - Cuyp. It is certainly
very splendid. It is a sunny effect; the town is low - some warm trees
just across the river, near which, half-way in the stream, is a barge,
the edges gilded by the sun - further off is a large vessel, whose sides
are illuminated - above all is a thunder-cloud, very effectively painted.
The picture has been divided, and rejoined, and is very well done. It
would perhaps be better if it were cut off a little beyond the large
vessel, as the opposite sides are not quite in harmony, one part being
cold, the other extremely warm. There is a companion by Cuyp, which has
been engraved for Forster's work, "A River Scene - Fishing under the
Ice." It is very fine: if not quite so luminous as the former, it is in
better tone altogether. We must move on to -


THE SOUTH ROOM

With the exception of two pictures of the modern German school, this
room contains the works of English artists not living. Only one of the
German school is a picture of any pretension, "Christ blessing the
Little Children" - Professor Hesse. The reputation of this painter led us
to expect something better. We must consider it apart from its German
peculiarities, and with respect to what it gains or loses by them. As a
design, the story is well and simply told. As a composition, it is a
little too formal, lacking that easy flowing of lines into each other,
which, though eschewed by the new school, is nevertheless a beauty. The
expression in the heads is good generally, not so in the principal
figure. There is throughout a character of purity and tenderness - it is
a great point to attain this. But none of this character is assisted by
the colouring, or the chiaroscuro. The colouring, though it has a gold
background, is not rich, for the gold is pale, even to a straw colour,
and the pattern on it rather gives it a straw texture. We presume it is
meant to represent the dry Byzantine style of colouring, purposely
avoiding the richer colours; as power is lost, by this adoption, it is
impossible to give either the tones or colours of nature - there is no
transparency. To preserve this old simplicity, softening and blending
shadows are avoided, by which a positive unnaturalness offends the eye;
hence the hands and feet not only look hard, but clumsy - they may not
be, but they look, ill drawn. The figures, indeed, look like pasteboard
figures stuck on; there is a leaden hue pervading all the flesh tints.
It fails, too, in simplicity and antique air, which we suppose to be the
objects of the school. For there is too much of art in the composition
for the former, too little quaintness for the latter; and indeed its
perfect newness of somewhat raw paint prevents the mind from going back
to ancient time; and that failure makes the picture as a whole, a
pretension. It does not, then, appear to gain what that old style is
intended to bestow - and it loses nearly all the advantages of the
after-improvements of art - of its extended means. It rejects the power
of giving more intensity to feeling, of adding the grace of nature, the
truth and variety of more perfect colouring, by the opaque and the
transparent, and does not in any other way attain any thing which could
not have been more perfectly attained without the sacrifice. The
collection of the British school contains good and bad - few of the best
of each master. West's best picture is among them, his "Death Of
Wolfe" - everyone knows the print; the picture is good in colour and
firmly painted, and contrasts with some others where we see the
miserable effect of the megillups and varnishes which our painters were
wont to mix with their colours. We should have been glad to have seen
better specimens of Fuseli's genius - we suppose we must say that he had
genius. The best piece of painting of his hand in the room is the boy in
Harlowe's picture of the "Kemble Family;" a picture of considerable
artistic merit, but ruined by the coarse vulgarity of a caricature of
Mrs Siddons. How unlike the Lady Macbeth! The corpulent velvet dark mass
and obtruding figure is most unpleasant. It is much to be regretted Mr.
Harlowe did not redesign that principal figure. There are several
landscapes of Gainsborough's, and one portrait - the latter excellent,
the former poor. There is much vigour of colouring and handling in the
"Horses at a Fountain;" but as usual, it is a poor composition, and of
parts that ill agree. The mass of rock and foliage are quite out of
character with the bit of tame village scene, and the hideous figures.
Here, too, his "Girl and Pigs," for which he asked sixty guineas, and
Sir Joshua gave him a hundred. We do not think the President had a
bargain. There is not one of Wilson's best in this collection. The
"Celadon and Amelia" is dingy, and poor in all respects. It verifies as
it illustrates; for Thomson says,

"But who _can paint_ the lover as he stood?"

Very coarse is Opie's "Venus and Adonis." He had not grace for such a
subject - nor for "Lavinia." We should have been glad to have seen some
of his works where the subjects and handling agree. We are sorry to see
Hogarth's "March to Finchley" so injured by some ignorant cleaner. His


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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 → online text (page 11 of 23)