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THE three leading . Exhibitions— the Academy, the Old Water-Colour, and the New Water-Colour— are at least of average interest and merit. Indeed, the general opinion is, that the collective pictures of the year show, if slow, at all events steady and satisfactory progress upon the pictorial products of previous seasons. It is true that no new or startling phenomena have arisen — that no star or comet of surpassing magnitude has come to shed unaccustomed brilliancy, over the world of Art. Still, light is not lacking to our hemisphere, nor beauty wanting to the painter's fair creations. The power which belongs to knowledge, the charm which pertains to simple truth, and the reward that follows on honest labour, each year, even in the absence of long-looked-for and oftpromised genius, give to our English school accumulative worth. And, moreover, other causes cooperate towards this progression, over which, with reason, we rejoice. England has reached that point in the history of nations when the arts are accustomed to spring into luxuriant growth. She has long passed the period of pinching penury, wherein imagination is ofttimes stunted and starved. She has, at least in her higher classes, escaped from the drudgery which, while it wears away the body, grinds down the mind — which makes the finer senses of humanity obtuse, and too often darkens the eye to the beauty of the outward creation. England, we say, has, in the onward march of her civilisation, left in the path behind these arid tracts, and now enters a garden of delight, redolent with flowers. And of all the gems which adorn daily life—of all the decorations which add charm to our homes — pictures are, perhaps, the most sought after. And as this demand is each year growing in its compass,

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and as the taste of purchasers becomes from day to day more highly educated, so are our Eng#. artists stimulated by increased reward, and yet, at the same time, held in wholesome check by the discriminative power of public opinion. Still further, the advance which has been made in all branches of knowledge, the development of inductive, science, especially in those departments which lie close upon nature, and the extraordinary activity which, in every direction, has seized upon the human intellect, ever eager to enter on new enterprise—these restless motions in the universal mind rendering absolute stagnation, even within the tranquil world of art, impossible—have imparted to our painters corresponding impulse. Moreover, we think, notwithstanding occasional symptoms to the contrary. that enterprise of intellect is now more than formerly governed by sobriety of judgment; that imagination, though at seasons ready to break wildly loose, is in the end reined in by sober sense. The drama, indeed, may degenerate for short intervals into sensational excess; romances may, in the hands of some writers, indulge in extravagance; but before long we can rest satisfied that truth to nature and allegiance to conscience as the silent yet potent witness to rectitude, will obtain the ascendance. And thus it is within the special sphere of pictorial art likewise; mistaken ardour may for a time mislead; extravagance such as that of which the so-called Preraphaelites were guilty may for a few short years betray the inexperience of youth; but in the end we can be sure, as indeed now we rejoice to be, that, in the well-balanced English mind moderation will prevail. Thus have we endeavoured to set forth the reasons why our Exhibitions show amelioration. The causes do not

He in the rise of any transcendent power, or in the display of creative originality by the artists themselves. The impetus to progression, on the contrary, comes, as we have seen, from without; the painter is merely the child of the age in which he lives, the mirror that reflects the form and fashion of his time and country. Thus it is that our English school is emphatically English, and that our annual Exhibitions serve as pictorial chronicles to the day and generation in which our lot is cast. This is, indeed, high commendation — yet, after all, not the highest; for there is an injunction which Schiller lays upon the artist that we would here repeat by way, if not of censure, at least of eaution. “Live,” says this poet philosopher, “with your century, but be not its creature; bestow upon your contemporaries not what they praise, but what they need. Though you may regard them as they are if you are tempted to work for them, imagine them as they should be if you are to influence and raise them.” Our Exhibitions, it must be admitted, show little indication that painters are striving for this command over the intellect of their age. Content to follow, few desire to lead. For the most part, they paint in order to win the where withal to live, and, thus living for the present, few, it may be feared, will survive the century which has witnessed the beginning and will see the close of their labours. Armitage, Watts, and in some measure Leighton, have a right to rank among those disciples of high art who, fulfilling the behest of Schiller, work less for present times than for posterity. Forsaking forms positive and individual, they seek truths generic and absolute; they make the accident of nature submit to the proportions prescribed by aesthetic law; they require rude reality to bend to ideal beauty; and thus they ascend to the sphere of historic or philosophic art, a lofty region which only a few venturous spirits dare to tread. Edward

Armitage, in the picture of “Ahab and Jezebel,' attains heroic proportion, and with size comes commensurate dignity. King Ahab, a figure seven and a half feet high, reclines on a couch: his wife, the infamous Jezebel, stands at his head with the fury of a tigress and the appetite of a vulture, uttering the upbraiding words, “Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, eat bread, and let thine heart be merry; I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” But the king lies sad and sick, and the grapes and the wine are put aside untasted. Mr. Armitage has sought, and not without success, to reconcile the broad generic treatment of the older historic style with the literal detail which is now dominant in our modern school. Rich regal robes and sumptuous palatial decorations are studiously transcribed from the works of Mr. Layard, or taken direct from the Assyrian remains in the British Museum. It is also interesting to mark how the artist has given to his picture the manner of an ancient bas-relief, how he has brought the liberty allowed to the one art under subjection to the severity imposed by the other. What we mean will be better understood by an appeal to the designs on Greek vases, the purest and best examples of which illustrate the transformation through which sculpture emerged into painting; or, in other words, these monochrome pictures of the Greeks reveal sculpture as the elder and the parent art. Mr. Armitage deserves praise for the courage required in the adoption of this self denying manner, for experience proves that a facile pictorial treatment is in the present day the surest road to popular applause. We are sorry, however, to see that in one vital point he submits to a compromise. Repose and equanimity, Winckelmann tells us, the Greeks deemed inseparable from the noblest art; and our own Reynolds offers some apology, or at least explanation, for the violence of passion which the

sculptor has thrown into the agonised features of the Laocoon. Now we should be sorry to bind a painter down to strict compliance with conditions which may prove a bondage even to the sculptor; but as Mr. Armitage of his own free will puts himself under the law, we need have less scruple in saying that the ordinance imposed as a canon of high art—which is, after all, not artificial, but essential—he has transgressed, and that much to the loss of dignity and quiet power. The figure of Jezebel, especially in the passionate spasm of the hand, is melodramatic. Mr. Watts, in his design, “Time and Oblivion,' also challenges severe criticism. The very explanation which he gives of his intent, that this personification of “Time and Oblivion,' is “a design for sculpture,” “to be executed in divers materials after the manner of Phidias,” alone suggests comparisons which it is difficult for any work to sustain. Yet may we at least accord to this perilous attempt somewhat of the largeness in masses and the grandeur of manner which are peculiar characteristics of the Phidian era. Only we must be permitted to object that the artist has essayed a Herculean labour considerably beyond his powers. The figures are not ill conceived, the idea is not inaptly expressed; but the drawing is certainly wanting in mastery, and the difficult passages in the composition appear slurred rather than solved. The aspirations of Mr. Watts, as seen in the fresco executed in the dininghall of Lincoln's Inn, are ever lofty; but technical power, which would give to his noble ideas adequate pictorial development, seems lacking. A small head hy this artist, called “Choosing,’ is altogether lovely, and especially to be commended for harmony of colour. The genius of Mr. Leighton has for years lain in chaos, or broken out only in rebellion. Possessed of more than ordinary erudition, impelled by an ambition which soared to the highest style, and

essayed the most arduous of sub

jects, this artist has for some time

attracted to his works a wondering gaze. It always becomes a curious

question, as it long was and still

is with a brother artist, the painter of ‘The Vale of Rest,’ and of "St.

Agnes' Eve,” What astounding work

Mr. Leighton may do next? Will

he show us a harem, will be introduce us to houris, will he conduct us, to Hades, or will he bid us take a walk on Parnassus? Certain it is that whoever presumes to follow in the eccentric flight of this artist will do well to provide himself with wings. As for the ordinary faculties of humanity, plain sober eye-sight, clear common-sense, and the like, they may be dispensed with altogether, and the adventurer through space or across the broad field of history need only take to himself a copious supply of transcendental reason and gaseous imagination. As in other aeronautic expeditions, the chief danger lies in the approach to, and the coming in contact with, mother earth. But whatever lawlessness may have marked

Mr. Leighton's past career, we are

bound to concede that the courses on which he has now entered claim from the critic respectful homage. The powers which have hitherto been scattered are at length concentrated, so that in the latest of Mr. Leighton's works, “Dante in Exile,' the vapourings of genius now shine as true visions. The artist here reverts with maturer power to the country and the epoch chosen in his earliest and hitherto most successful picture, ‘The Procession of Cimabue.' Italy of the middle ages, crowded with illustrious characters, poets, painters, patriots—a country whose very stones are eloquent in undying memories —such are the scenes congenial to the genius of this painter. The theme he has here selected is arduous, the style to which he aspires ambitious. Imagination has invested Dante in no ordinary dignity; a historic halo shadows and yet shines upon that brow awful in

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grandeur; and the artist, who attempts to realise the image which every cultured mind has already painted in his fancy, does indeed essay a task of peculiar difficulty. Mr. Leighton, we think, has come through this ordeal with honour. The moment chosen discovers Dante, an exile from his native city, in the palace of his patron, Can' Grande della Scala, Prince of Werona. This master of the Lombard republic reigned with a splendour which no other of the princes in Italy had equalled. At his court were congregated the ppets, painters, and sculptors who cast upon the opening years of the fourteenth a cert unaccustomed lustre. But we are told that the pride of Dante could ill brook patronage; that his high spirit rebelled against gilded dependence; and so, by the roughness of his manner and the haughtiness of his bearing, he lost the favour of a friend who had given him an asylum. This story may be read word for word in the picture before us. The lines quoted declare, in terms not to be mistaken, the poet's mind:— “Thou shalt prove Her salt the savour is of other's bread: How hard, the passage to descend, and

climb" By others' stairs. But what shall gall thee

ore win be the worthless and vile with whom thou must be thrown these straits."

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The painter is literal to the poet's text. Dante, careworn and painstricken, descends the palace-stairs. The motley crew of courtiers, the paid jester, and ladies who, by enticing beauty, might have charmed the melancholy heart stricken with the love of Beatrice, — all fall back at the approach of the prophet-poet, who as an avenging god walks the earth. Mr. Leighton, we have said, has accomplished the task here set more than creditably. The knowledge he brings, the academic training he displays, no one can question. His learning, in fact, is almost in excess; his artistic tact and contrivance, indeed, usurp the place

which unsophisticated nature might with advantage occupy. By his finedrawn. subtleties he delights and cheats the senses which in surfeit would gladly turn to a repast more simply dressed and decked. The taint which often mars the creations of this, artist, eats, in another of his works, as a cancer into the fair forms of “Eurydice and Orpheus,' —a picture, nevertheless, which contains passages which no criticism can rob of their beauty-giving charm. The transcendentalism, however, into which, this painter is betrayed, is not only excessive in degree, but wrong in kind. Michael Angelo, Raphael, and all truly great painters, indeed, have reached loftiest heights, and yet they walked even when on the topmost summits, hand in hand with nature. Sibyls, apostles, prophets, muses, they painted; yet was humanity, however glorified, never made., to wander from paths of simplicity, or permitted to wanton in debilitating luxury. Let Mr. Leighton remember, then, that the best nature and the truest art preserve a stamina vigorous and healthful. Our English school, while comparatively, barren in products of high, heroic, or sacred art, is prolific in works which lie on the frontiers of history. Our native painters seldom narrate the annals, of their country on a large folio scale; they are content, for the most part, to put their facts within the limits of an octavo or duodecimo edition, and thus they seldom addict themselves to the grand march of nations, but choose rather the by-ways of a people's progress, and delight in the episodes wherewith families or individuals have rendered a province or a generation memorable. The artists who each year betake themselves to this pleasing and prolific style are not only increasing in numbers, but advancing in proficiency, Calderon, Crowe, Yeames, Pettie, Storey, Hayllar, and Mrs. Ward, have one and all enriched the Academy with works which deserve explicit commendation. Mrs. Ward's “Princes in the Tower' is a picture of tender pathos, painted with rare skill and care, and admirable for an even moderation, which bespeaks calm strength and balanced judgment. J. Hayllar's “Queen's Highway in the Sixteenth Century,' a road then deemed marvellously good, but which we should now hold as villanously bad, the Queen's coach being by the country “hinds and folks of a base sortlifted” with poles out of the mire, is a clewer composition, spiced with satire. In the same room, not far distant, is G. Storey's ‘Meeting of William Seymour and the Lady Arabella Stuart at the Court of James I.' We are told that “the nearness of the Lady Arabella to the English throne seems to have inspired James with an unworthy jealousy, and to have caused him to form the resolution of keeping her single.” However, here at the Court she meets with a friend of her childhood, Mr. William Seymour; they converse, they fall in love, they are secretly married, then separated and imprisoned, and five years after the Lady Arabella dies in the Tower a pitiable lunatic Mr. Storey has told the incident of the meeting at the Court with point and perspicuity, but the execution of the painting is so sketchy as barely to escape being slovenly. J. Pettie's picture of “George Fox refusing to take the Oath at Houlker Hall' belongs to that class of works in which biography widens into his. tory, wherein an act in the life of an individual is made to stand for a principle, and to operate as a public protest. This picture, like the last, would have been better for more elaborate detail: canvasses on this moderate scale have no right to indulge in a large dashing hand. Ranging as they do between the wide region of history and the narrow confines of domestic incident, they ought to reconcile a certain largeness of manner with somewhat of the finish which was bestowed on a Dutch interior. W. F. Yeames is another of our artists who, with

well-considered intent, can put to

gether an episode just as it might

have happened in the side-scenes of

our national drama. “La Reine Malheureuse' represents the devoted

queen of Charles I, a victim to the

Parliament wars. She had just re

turned from Holland, whither she had been seeking supplies, and was

scarcely landed when five ships

entered Burlington Bay and commenced an active cannonade. The Queen and her companions take shelter in a ditch, yet in this humiliation is no safety: “the cannon bullets,” writes Henrietta Maria in a letter to the King, “fell thick about us, and a servant was killed within seventy paces of me.” Mr. Yeames contributed a noteworthy picture to the Academy of last year; his present work evinces steady advance: we shall expect of this artist good fruit in coming seasons. E. Crowe has also been quietly winning his way to renown, and must now rank among the expectants upon whom the Academy will at no distant period confer well-won honour. His chief picture of the year, ‘Luther posting his Theses on the Church-door of Wittenberg,” is conscientious and literal even to the portraits well known in the land of the Reformation. Mr. Crowe is a little hard in his execution, and rather forbidding and unalluring in his treatment, as specially seen in a smaller composition, ‘Dean Swift looking at a Lock of Stella's Hair,” a picture callous and devoid of emotion as the Dean of St. Patrick's himself. Lastly, among our rising artists who give themselves to the pages of history, we must *mention P. H. Calderon, this year represented by a powerful and impressive work “The Burial of John Hampden.” The sun has gone down among the hills and woods of the Chilterns just as the bier which carries the patriot's corpse is borne by his devoted followers to its last resting-place. His comrades in arms, sturdy fellows of bold hands and brave hearts, are bowed down in sorrow." Their heads are un

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