The Magazine of Art
Alice Meynell, The Magazine of Art Vol.V. Cassel, Petter, Galpin & Co. London, Paris and New York, 1882.
Alice Meynell (1847-1922) was a writer, poet and suffragist. She lived in Kensington after marrying Wilfred Meynell in 1877 and wrote frequently for many publications including the Magazine of Art and The Art Journal. In 1882 she wrote a three part article for the Magazine of Art called A Brighton Treasure-House.
Part 1 – A Brighton Treasure-House
Brighton is not suggestive of art. Philistinism in its most cheerful form reigns supreme on the King’s Road and Marine Parade, and even the easiest kind of all art – aestheticism in dress – is not at home in the bleak and busy town, makes little display on the Chain Pier, and is feebly represented in the musters of feminine fashion. the robust advocate of all that is ‘healthily’ tight, trim, British and usual would perhaps opine that the sea-breezes were too wholesome for the languors of the artistic craze; our own more literal reading of the matter is that the actual breezes that come so freshly from the sea are not friendly to the long and soft draperies and prepared accidents of pseudo-mediaeval attire. However this may be, Brighton wears an air of determination to be braced which is distinctly opposed to the recollection and meditation of enthusiastic art. Our preconceived notion of a Brighton picture-gallery would be that of an eminently ‘healthy’ gathering of polished horses and dogs by Landseer, some ‘legitimate’ histrionic compositions of Maclise, studies in contemporary life by Mr. Frith, some of Mr. Vicat Cole’s landscapes to remind us of the beauties of inland country, and a few of the many uncompromising sea-pieces by which English art has illustrated the severities of the national climate. Captain Hill’s house – one of many on the Marine Parade, bright, white and unsuggestive – discloses a very different taste.
Not that any strong predilection for the work of any of the little schools of modern English art is here obtrusively apparent. The collector has not insisted quand méme upon Mr. Burne-Jone’s ideal, or Mr. Pettie’s manner, or Mr. Frank Holl’s method; but there is everywhere an impression of good, advanced, and interesting art, without monotony. A great delight in the works of one or two painters is undoubtedly shown, but without any narrow or exclusive devotedness to the schools and principles of those painters. The impression is not, of course, literally correct, but it would seem at the first glance that all Mr. Phil Morris’s most important pictures were assembled here; yet painters of taste and work most opposed to Mr. Morris’s are there as well. Captain Hill has, besides, confined himself neither to his own time nor to his own country in his researches.
The collection is gathered into a cluster of moderately sized, well-lighted rooms, devoted entirely to the purposes of a gallery, except for the presence of a pianoforte à queue which suggests a very delightful combination of pleasures – Chopin with Corot, and other happy unions of suggestive art. But the whole house is flowing over with pictures, the drawing room being hung with them, and even the obscurer walls of an anteroom being covered. Nothing is hung positively too high for a good sight, and some of the more centrally-placed pictures are so advantageously lighted and look so brilliant that they seem to be full of a fresh force. A group of older works claim first attention. These are mostly of small dimensions, and comprise two breezy and fresh sketches by David Cox with low horizons and plenty of sky; a fine and solemn study of trees (‘The Old Oak’) by Crome, massive in its shadow and light, and grave in its colour harmonies.
A pearly little picture of a farmyard with a group of men, and an equally rich but less complete picture of an interior, call up some curious memories, for they are George Morland’s. Under what circumstances were they painted? Were they let down by the boy-genius out of the window of the room, where his father kept him close prisoner, and taken by an accomplice to be sold, so that the proceeds might pay for drunken and other orgies? Or were they executed in the attic in Martlett Court, Bow Street, where the boy lived when he ran away from home Or perhaps they belonged to the later period of his life, when his easel was surrounded by horse-dealers and pugilists and potboys, regaling themselves on gin and red herrings, and when, though he often scamped his pictures, and often sold them for less than they were worth – he earned from seventy to one hundred guineas a week, but saved of it not one penny, for he was a victim of the duns when he died at the age of forty in the wretched sponging-house in Air Street, Hatton Garden. Marriage had not sufficed to tame him, except for a brief time. When courtship and the honeymoon were over he returned to the old life of the tavern and the stable. The story is a melancholy one, and does not seem altogether to tally with these views of rural England, which have about them an air of simplicity and innocence.
A less painful, though hardly a less pathetic contrast than this between and artist’s life and his works is that between age and youth, of which art has taken some cognicance in so many ways, and which Mr. Phil Morris delineates with effect in “The Reaper and the Flowers,” which is the subject of one of our illustrations. The merry children link hands and form a chain before the old man on the road, but they will not stay his advance, any more than they will be able to resist the progress of Time, which he symbolises, and which will bring them to be as decrepit as the old woman walking up the hill, and will finally cut them down with the scythe. All this sentiment is well expressed by Mr. Phil Morris on his canvas – one of the many canvases of his in the possession of Captain Hill. At every turn in the galleries the familiar manner of this artist meets the eye. Here is the charming “Cradled in his Calling” – the sailor’s baby being carried along the cliffs; and here “The Sailor’s Wedding,” which visitors to the Royal Academy have not yet had time to forget. “The Sons of the Brave” – a picture which owed much to its title, but which was so good that nobody grudges it the accidental advantage it thereby obtained – is also here, with a smaller replica or study, which, except in the motive of the central group, offers curious points of difference, being of another shape – far longer, with extra figures at the sides; and that picture of peace, the “Procession of first Communicants at Dieppe” – girls in white – in that wonderful white drapery of Mr. Morris’s, which is used again in the picture of three girls who have been bathing, and whose toilet has been disturbed by a calf, this also being in Captain Hill’s collection, with a number of others by the same versatile hand. Very rarely in the history of art has so constant a patron been found by any one artist, and rarely has patronage been so deservedly won.
Next in number to the examples of Mr. Phil Morris’s work come those of Mr. Frank Holl‘s; and central among them is the portrait of the owner of the gallery, seated, full-faced, with a very striping and rather cold light upon the flesh, the tints of which are treated with a full, opaque, and diffused effect. The modelling of the head and the solidity of the work throughout place this portrait among the strongest achievements of an artist who, in his portraits especially, never lets the character of his work exaggerate itself into the slightest mannerism. Mr. Holl might easily win a more noisy reputation than that which he enjoys if his work were not so straighten and uncompromisingly honest. Of his imaginative compositions our opinion has never been quite so high; for, whether it is that he bears too faithfully in mind the general artistic dulness of his public, or for some other reason, certain it is that he is somewhat inclined to be insistently and unreservedly obvious in his manner of painting a story. And dwelling on a sentiment. One of Captain Hill’s pictures, “The First-born,” is a marked example of this temper in the artist. The subject is somewhat trite and very pathetic – so pathetic that great reserve combined with great realism was absolutely necessary for its treat,net with force; a less acutely sentimental picture would not need so much tact as this; but Mr. Holl has spared us nothing in his insistence of his own meaning. The small coffin of a very young child is being carried by four little village girls to the grave in a rural churchyard. The sobbing mother follows with the father; her yearning action towards her child is very true and impulsive, but we are inclined to quarrel with his expression as being too deliberate a study of manly grief for perfect artistic sincerity. In the incident of the two very old men who are accompanying the baby to its grave lies the insistence of which we speak, and there is a lack of realism in the action and character of the peasant-woman’s delicate and high-bred hand, as it lies with the conscious pose of the little finger upon her husband’s arm. Another Academy picture by the same artist, showing the same merits and the same faults, is “Deserted,” an early morning scene in London. Two policemen have picked up a child wrapped in tarpaulin, and are bearing it away to the tender mercies of the parish; close behind them, and too clearly within their ken, stands the mother clasping her head with a gesture of despair; a compassionate workman stands near, and a flower-woman leans forward to see the foundling, while a little girl close to her shrinks awe-struck from her first experience of a human tragedy. Captain Hill is also the fortunate possessor of a smaller study for the same artist’s “Newgate,” perhaps of all his compositions the most direct in feeling and the most painter-like in execution. As regards workmanship this study is, to our mind, in some respects preferable to the finished picture.
With regard to landscapes the collection is perhaps less strikingly and unusually good than it is in other branches of art, but it boasts two or three exceptional treasures besides those already mentioned. Four or five examples of Corot are, as is common enough, of unequal merit, one or two being of very great beauty. Nothing could be finer than the small woodland scene, chilly and still with the air of autumn; a slightly violet tinge in the blue of the sky must be accepted as characteristic of the master. Other examples in the room are exquisitely spiritual; nor do we fail to find some charm of delicacy, thought, or tenderness in the veriest Corot de commerce which was ever swept up from the old man’s studio by an omnivorous dealer. It may well be that his hand and mind had the habit of beauty, and produced it mechanically. It is from and excellent English picture that our illustration – “Toilers of the Sea” – is taken. Mr. G. S. Walters shows here a group of sea-gulls wavering in the wind over a grey and boisterous sea. Of different artistic and natural temper are two of Captain Hill’s chief possessions – a lovely example of Mason, and the “Right of Way,” which was the last, or almost the last, picture exhibited by Frederick Walker at the Academy. The former is a beautiful sylvan subject, studied in the early autumn; a steep thin wood climbs towards the left; little girls in light rustic cotton frocks and the white sun-bonnets which the artist was so fond of painting – pure, graceful, classic, yet homely figures – are gathering blackberries. There is a chill in the air, the woodland is thinning, and the slender trunks of the trees rising against the sky are drawn with power and subtlety. Everywhere is the rich, indefinite brown of slightly sere bramble-branches, ferns, grasses, and all autumnal undergrowth, without any insistent colour, the chief lights being in the sky and in the glow which rests on the children’s dresses and bonnets. The picture is at once “old-masterish” and full of fresh and direct nature. Walker’s “Right of Way” is a purely rustic scene of earliest spring, the time when the coming of the buds is rather felt than seen among the “quaint anatomies” of the trees and twigs; there is a sense of vitality about them, thought their outline is scarcely yet blunted by the tiny burgeon at the tip. The artist has not invested his spring with a conventional sunshine, but has set it under a low sky heavily raining in the further distance where the clouds are darkened; and the landscape is exquisitely refined in feeling and colour, farms and low hills lying under the quiet grey daylight. A stream winds abruptly down the middle of the composition; the fields are starred with daisies, the size of which the artist has pardonably and affectionately exaggerated for the sake of emphasis, and a menacing sheep, with her fluffy lamb under her protection, disputes the right of way with a little boy, who clings to his elder sister for defence; an expressive little black dog looks on dubiously. The life of the picture is as charming as the landscape, the lambs especially being drawn with great character and feeling.
It is interesting to compare these examples of out two great departed artists with one or two small canvases from the brush of the still greater Millet. One of them is a richly-coloured little study of a single figure of a shepherd, very noble in line, clad in a long mantle, and relieved in light against the dark of trees; a slight and delicate landscape opens to the right, beyond a thick flock of sheep. Still more solemn in effect are a vigorous wood and sea study, and a hasty sketch of a wild peasant girl, an innocent barbarian, a sylvan figure standing shyly but unconsciously in her own appropriate woods.
M. Israels’ genius is represented by the well known subject of two children floating their boat in the shallow sea – one of the very few happy pictures he has painted – and by two others more according to his usual vein. One of these is also a seaside scene: a fisherman’s wife, in the large poke-bonnet which the women of Flanders and parts of Holland have clung to for some sixty years, is seated in a stormy evening on the beach waiting for her husband’s boat; her little son stands at her side with his hand upon her shoulder. The subject belongs, of course, to the very routine of sentiment, and has probably been painted, with slight varieties, by M. Israels himself so often that the suspicion of manufacture might cling to it – and we might hear of an Israels de commerce – but that this master of pathos has given to his work, chiefly by means of undemonstrative quietness, a freshness, sincerity, and realism which constitute the note of modern genius. Another picture by the same hand is still sadder and even simpler; it is an interior. An old woman sits in the dark homely room of a Dutch cottage; within the panelled alcove which contains the bed lies her still older husband, ill. It is the closing of the long companionship, and the two are together in that pathetic repetition of the téte-à-téte of newly-married life which occurs towards the end, when the last of the children have long departed, and more than the silence of the honeymoon steals upon the little house. The beauty of M. Israels’ colour is very apparent in these smoke-browned and half-lighted interiors, where he suggests and implies a wealth of latent colour in a darkness and dimness full of mystery.
Captain Hill has made quite a collection of Mme. Cazin’s landscapes. This artist’s work was more prominent a few years ago in London than it is now; it has always been unequal – strongly mannered and individual. Her chief merits are great harmony and unity of colour and effect; her chief faults a lack of light, especially in the skies, which are heavy in tone, and a peculiarity of surface suggestive, in the extremest examples, of blotting-paper – a general opaque softness which is very unattractive. When, as is the case notably in one little picture here, she compasses any freshness or luminosity, her manner is very charming and very true. M. Fantin is represented by one strongly-painted bouquet of chrysanthemums in a tall blue and white vase against the usual dark background. Among Captain Hill’s water-colours are a series of drawings, chiefly architectural, from the pencil of M. Jules Lessore, and artist who has an unusual aptitude in treating the movement and coming and going of street-life, and who, in these more deliberate and less impressionary scenes, works with great freshness as well as accuracy and vigour. Of a true master of impression – M. Degas – whose pictures, exhibited some years ago in Bond Street, Captain Hill has collected, we must speak at length on another occasion. “The Sculpture Gallery,” by M. Wunnenburg, and Mr. Britten’s “Dancing,” are the subjects of two of our woodcuts. Our readers will not have forgotten the very remarkable “Flight of Helen” by the latter artist in the Grosvenor Gallery of 1881 – a brilliant performance, showing rare qualities of dramatic imagination and decorative audacity, with a fine feeling for light. It is interesting to meet the artist in his smaller work. “The Sculpture Gallery” is a good bit of character, the subject being one of those quaint juxtapositions of the modern and the ancient which produce piquant pictures of genre; in execution it is singularly complete. From the same artist’s hand is a bit of antique life, in which the painting of some white marble rivals that of the very master of white marble – Alma-Tadema.
Mr Orchardson is represented chiefly by that picture of “Hamlet and the King” which, like all the artist’s Hamlet pictures, provoked much controversy and evoked many hostile criticisms in the year of its exhibition. If opinions were divided on its merits, it may be said that they were divided with very good reason, inasmuch as the two figures are unequal in merit. The one is quite subordinate to the other, and unfortunately it is the subordinate figure which is most felicitous. The prince advances full-face, with his irresolute, meditative head bent, and far to the right, and more in the background, kneels the king in an agony of prayer – and his action, though only seen from behind, is intense and complete. Hamlet is somewhat suggestive of the stage, and the type of head is by no means high in character. It is somewhat paradoxical that whereas no actor entirely fails with Hamlet, no painter has ever entirely succeeded with him – perhaps because the part is so interestingly complex that it acts itself, in spite of the unintelligence of the actor; but in the immobility and singleness of the picture we look for something more like the ideal of our eyes, because the play no longer engrosses us. Mr. Orchardson has apparently aimed at making his hero very human, and with this object has probably painted too faithful a portrait of a model not endowed with the majesty of Denmark.
Mr Pettie’s vigorously and brilliantly-painted group of “Jacobites” is the principal work by that artist in the rooms; it will probably be one of the best remembered among his dramatic studies in historical genre. As a rule, the genius of the house seems to incline rather markedly to the “idyllic” in subject and in feeling; and we are relieved rather than disappointed to find that the costume picture – in less able, strong, and vivid hands than Mr. Pettie’s so emptily if not vulgarly romantic a work of art – is rare in this collection. Alice Meynell.
Part 2 – Pictures from the Hill Collection
Captain Hill has mingled studies among his pictures in a very interesting and pleasant manner; it is not only the artist who cares to see an artist’s sketches, for often to the veriest idiotes they have a charm beyond that of finished work. It is well to see not only what an artist does, but how he does it, and there is besides a beauty in chance passages of landscape which evades the artist when he makes nature pose to him. From the hand of Mr G. D. Leslie are a couple of pleasant garden studies – one a quaint composition of a square flower-bed full of pink carnations and their grey leaves, with a yellow corn-field beyond. A scrap, also in the way of a study, by Mr. E. A. Waterlow, is of very great beauty; this is an evening effect, with a country lane in cool transparent grey shadow, and a rosy glow of delicate light upon a hay-rick on the little hill beyond; still farther off shines and blushes a rounded cloud; a few of those artistically useful birds – white geese- are going up, some have their plumage in the shadow and some in the light. Several of Mr. Phil Morris’s sketches and studies of landscape are very fresh and artistic, and one or two have caught – without the deliberate intention which is never happily or successfully applied to that particular master’s exceedingly individual manner – some of the lightness, impulse, and sweetness of Corot.
Among the more dramatic figure compositions of the English school is Mr. Val. Princep’s “Jane Shore” – the subject of one of our illustrations. The picture is eminently characteristic of the painter, especially as regards the tendency to minimise the head and maximise the development of the shoulder, neck and arm. The figure is expressive and powerfully modelled; the woman crouches among the rank growth under the arches of a bridge, the brambles catching at her wild garments, and her hair loose around her panting breast – a hunted creature – while the soldiers in search of her pass above in a long line against the sky.
Such romantic interest as attaches to these passages of history is studiously eschewed by M. Degas, who may be taken as a typical realist and impressionist of his time. The union of these titles may be a puzzle to those who see nothing but detail in the realist school, and nothing but vagueness in the impressionist; and in effect the extreme precision and deliberation of the realistic world would seem to place it altogether on different lines from those of the vivid but momentary and optically confused manner of impressionist painting. But in fact there is an essential unity in the aims of impressionary art and naturalistic literature, inasmuch as both proclaim a complete denial of the ideal; and through the uncertainties of the mannered and fantastic painter may be seen the intelligently-seized truth, the low or painful or humiliating facts, of the novelist. M. Degas is by no means extreme in his dislike of precision, outline, or explanation; he is , in fact, a master of his technique, but no artist has ever gone further in his refusal of beauty or the ideal. Most of his supremely clever canvases collected by Captain Hill are studies on the daylight stage of the opera and in the practising rooms and the green-rooms of the corps de ballet. He shows us the women working chillily at their profession in the dreary grey daylight – women of all ages, thin, undersized, bony, long-elbowed, with the abnormal development of their leg-muscles adding dismally to the imperfections of the unidealised form, their hair raised in the huge chignons of some years ago – not a line of natural grace in their attitudes, nor a hint of beauty in face, dress, or figure, but only in the taught sprightliness of the ugly dance forced into their tired limbs. In one picture a business-like and ineffably insensitive old ruffian in slippers puts the women through their ghastly drill; in another two dilettanti of the boulevard stretch themselves at ease to watch the work. The subjects have a peculiar cool cruelty which is indefinably painful. A sketch brushed in half an hour by M. Degas would be more finished than a less admirably lighted and balanced work with the additions and super-impositions of the labour of months and years. In the matter of action his figures are exceedingly true: the gesture of a girl who holds on to the pillar while she practises standing on her toes – she is in a depressing and discouraging stage of her novitiate – may especially be noted; and in all the apparent roughness of the manner in which the painter “blocks out” his forms there lurk a great power and certainty of draughtsmanship, the muscular tension and the accentuation of the joints being always intelligent and true. One of these compositions is, as we have said, studied on the stage, where the dusty blue-green scenery stands mistily in the background, and the huge top of a double-bass rises in front from the pit of the unseen orchestra. An eye which understands anything of the characteristics of vulgar millinery will appreciate the tact which has seized the blue effect produced by the cheap white muslin of the women’s dresses. But we must not linger too long over works which assuredly have no charm of beauty wherewith to fascinate us. In contrast to them there hangs over one ballet subject a charming garden-orchard scene by M. Monet, full of blossoms and spring feeling; a pretty, delicate distance, poplars, and a tender sky combine to make a most attractive picture.
Mr. MacBeth’s “Flood in the Fens” will be clearly remembered as one of the artist’s quite recent Academy pictures. His pencil has for some years found happy subjects, full of novelty, breadth, and light, in the Fen country, with its levels, its height and width of sky, its spaces of water, and the incidents of its industries. In so far as concerns nature only, the artist at work in England may still follow the facts to his hearts content. The national manner of money-making has not yet changed the face of the country so that art cannot deal with it until such time as vanished prosperity may restore the blue, the gold, the green, and the crystal to the sky, sunshine, sward and brook. Not that a true artist would wish – patriotism apart – to see that time; he would not wish to separate humanity from nature, and he knows that the sights and sounds and scents of labour – the husbandman at toil, the sound of the pickaxe in some distant quarry of the hills, the odour of the smouldering weeds and leaves – should add to a landscape almost all of its meaning and pathos. He would not banish the peasant from the land. But happily he has not to wait for so sad a consummation as the deindustrialisation of England, for so much of her fair expanse is in a state of absolute beauty – the scene of labour, yet unmarred, as regards the landscape itself, by labour’s grimmer forms. He may, as we have said, be as true to facts as he likes while he is dealing with the water, the meadows, and the hills. But it is otherwise when he comes to figures for his interest. Man’s rural labour does not disfigure the land, but man himself – English man, at least – undoubtedly requires idealising, unless our national sentiment will allow us to reach M. Degas’ point of stoical indifference to the beautiful. Mr. Macbeth is, of course, a figure-painter, and he deals with the British peasant in a manner which would fain be realistic but cannot; the subject is too unmanageably unpicturesque. In his studies of working gangs aroused from rest for the day’s toil, of men and women at work in gathering the potato-harvest, and of people, cattle and pigs taking refuge from a flood, he has striven hard for realism of subject, and has succeeded in with very pleasant effect; but in the figures themselves, in the types of feature and the character of expression, in the mould of limb and the turn of gesture, he has assuredly relied on other memories or other models than those of the Fen country.
Slight reminiscences of Mr. Frederick Walker’s faces and figure are not unusual in his work; and although he avoids, with an artist’s tact, and absurdity of false refinement or prettiness, he has not been able to deny himself a certain refinement of his own, no less unreal, if more judicious. One of the great charms of his picture of “A Flood in the Fens” is its pleasing harmony of colours and its extreme brightness of tone; in the latter respect it is pushed up to a high point, the colours and tones striking a chord like that of an orchestra where the instruments are tuned up above concert-pitch.
Brilliant in the French group on Captain Hill’s walls are the rich interiors of M. Duez, whose usual realistic studies of femmes de moude in strong effects of daylight and no less strong effects of costume are less charming than the mellowed illumination of these compositions. “Three Weeks After” is of course a honeymoon group, graceful, but quite sufficiently unsentimental. The téte-à-téte coffee service stands on its little French table; Monsieur is reading the morning paper to his more demonstrative bride, whose ample white wrapper lights the picture. The faces are in grey half-shadow, the background is a wall of gold-stamped Spanish leather, and the china is blue. The tone and the colour of the picture throughout are cool and strong.
Short was the career and limited the work of the young artist Val Bromley, who showed a certain promise which the fact of his early death has perhaps very naturally and justifiably exaggerated. “A Midsummer Day in the Forest” is a pretty specimen of his talent, and has a sprightliness in its subject which is very attractive. The mediaeval dame scudding over the heather and fern of woodland undergrowth before the menaces of a flock of geese is graceful in outline and charmingly costumed. Evidently she considers the onslaught doubly terrific on account of the usually peaceful character of the pursuers, and the complete mystery which shrouds their too evidently hostile intentions. It is so difficult to guess what a goose intends to do to you if it catches you, or what form the unexpected and obscure malignities of an ordinary pig would take if they had full play, that such enemies are the most uncomfortable which a stranger meets in field or farmyard.
Mr. Frank Holl’s “Leaving Home,” the subject of our larger illustration, contains a varied interest, among few figures. The old man, uprooted by we know not what chance from the place where for seventy years he has grown with the trees and watched the harvests, the young soldier parting from his wife, the widow alone in the world for the first time, are at once united by a common pathos and divided by the difference of their sorrows.
A smaller woodcut illustrates Mr. Poole’s “Cave of Mammon.” The late Academician was one of the very few artists of the modern school who practised romantic landscape. The anecdotal and the realistic were not in his genius. When at their height his powers were in a high sense poetical, a fact which may be questioned by those who knew his work only in the later pictures in recent Academies. Mr. Poole’s manner was such as could escape the notice of nobody; his sameness of tone, a certain unreality of light, and the metallic glare of the colour – an effect invariable in his pictures, to whatever time of day or effect of weather they related – were always evident enough; nevertheless some of the recent International Exhibitions brought to light old examples of this Academician’s work in which such mannerisms were lost in the imagination and the sweetness of the thought and treatment. It has been the fate of several of our painters, now very aged or recently deceased, to be represented in these more artistic times by their least artistic work.
Part 3 – The Hill Collection
A companion picture to the “Three Weeks After” which we engraved in the preceding number, is “The Honeymoon,” also by M. Duez, painted in much the same kay of cool yet rich colour, though with a different choice of tits, and also treating of two figures in an interior adorned by bric-à-brac. A stormy scene is in progress: Madame (on the sofa) is nursing a grievance with great determination; her coquettish head, ébouriffée for a party, is tossed among the cushions; and the passage of light blue in her dress, surrounded with soft greyish-white fur, makes the chief mass of colour and brightness in the picture. Monsieur makes his vain appeal over the back of the sofa. With this must end our notes of Captain Hill’s French pictures – a small but important group upon his walls. The art of Bavaria is represented by – among other works – one of M. Münthe’s invariable but also welcome snow-studies, “Winter.” Invariable in subject and in effect they certainly are, but they always differ from each other by some variety of natural incident, or the special development of some particular excellence in technique. All this artist does is marked by the best characteristics of a school of painting which is thoroughly well trained and solidly skilful, without any great personality or special charm. In the present example, of which we give a full-page engraving, he is seen to considerable advantage. The picture, which is pure landscape – the figures that are introduced being altogether secondary in interest and not essentially important – is made up of dying lights, and troubled skies, and the strange uncanny glimmer that pervades the atmosphere of an evening that is white with snow. There is everywhere a sense of winter, a feeling of chill, an impression of inclemency and discomfort: in the rugged, wheel-worn, dirty track, in the gaunt and solemn woods, in the cold and melancholy distance. In summer it would be a pleasant enough place: a place of grass and flowers, and the singing of birds; of cool winds among rustling, twinkling leafage; of cheerful shadows and lights, and the mystery and romance of stately trees. But in summer M. Münthe would have passed it by. He has the sentiment of cold and snow and angry sunsets at his brushes’ end, and he is never weary of expressing it. It would profit him – and us, too – now and then to vary his theme; but it must be admitted that, within these limits, he is an able and attractive painter, and is therefore justified in doing exactly as he will.
To Mr. Phil Morris’s “Cradled in his Calling” we have merely alluded in our former notes. It is in some respects the artist’s most delightful picture: the grace of the composition, the buoyant movement of his actions, the atmosphere, and the prevailing blue-sea light, combining to give it a peculiar charm. A troup of fisher-folk, going on their way over the cliffs, have swung the baby in one of his father’s nets by way of hammock, and are carrying him so in the breeze and the sunshine of the coast. The figures are drawn with uncommon grace and impulse. Among the larger and more important compositions which Captain Hill has chosen from the many works of the same artist is “The End of the Journey,” one of those quasi-allegorical subjects which are so popular in contemporary English art, having, besides the primary meaning, a secondary one by no means apt to be lost through a want of obviousness or a too great reserve in its suggestion. In “The End of the Journey” an old soldier has returned to his native hamlet, and has reached the ferry which will take him across the peaceful stream to his home. It is evening, and beyond the water, against the waning light, comes the ferryman to meet him; in this figure, with its quasi-classic line and action, the suggestion of Charon is of course apparent. A young girl, who has helped to carry the old man’s drum, stands at his side, her fresh beauty contrasting with his melancholy wrinkles. Assuredly the picture is particularly pleasing to the lover of easy allegory; but it is valuable in an artistic sense for the quality of its work and for its many merits in light and effect. Still more to our taste on these accounts is the original and brilliant composition of the “Ship-builders.” Mr. Morris has made it noisy with the clatter of the mallets and hammers of his ship’s carpenters, as they stand driving their blows into the vessel’s sides in stokes which come in groups, in succession, in single sounds, and in cannonades, after the manner of many hammers at work; the ear can imagine the irregular but pleasant rhythm of the blows. All sound of manual labour, it must be said in passing, have a certain beauty. Who that has been at harvest-time in Switzerland has not marked the busy noise of the flails at work on the threshing-floor, as they beat their well-accentuated time to a tune they create in the listener’s head? So with all sounds of spade, pick, creaking wain, loom and shuttle, plashing oars, the “sweep of scythe in morning grass;” all these are distinctly beautiful, whereas the sounds of all kinds of machine-labour are unquestionably ugly. When the hand of man is behind the tool it makes a pleasant, poetic, or suggestive sound; but when it sets steam or other power at work to move the tool, the result is invariably an intolerable noise, such as the yell of the steam-whistle, the ringing buzz and whirr of a saw-mill, the hard roar of an express train, and all the other too familiar clatters, screams, rattles, and bangs which distract the air of the modern world. As attractive as Mr. Morris’s “Ship-builder,” in another manner, is the somewhat slight and very dreamy woodland study, with its sauntering figures – “Journeys End in Lovers Meeting.” The title, by the way, is not very obviously appropriate, as the lovers have evidently met sometime before, and the ladies who follow are otherwise interested.
One of Mr.Holl’s many works not hitherto noticed is the clever group of a blind old pensioner leaning on the arm of a young girl, as the two fare along a country road together. The contented and recollected action of the blind man is as good and characteristic as the absent and weary look of the girl, whose somewhat vulgar fancifulness of attire attests inclinations which ill accord with the slow walk and the slower talk of her companion; her energetic young limbs move in constraint. “Fortune-telling” is one of Mr. Britten’s attractive classical groups, in which he shows great grace of line in composition. From Mr. Buckman’s hand we have a study of action – “Football” – not so energetic in movement, perhaps, as well composed and pleasantly coloured, the decorative treatment being preserved, it may be, at some expense of realistic intensity. Mr. Poole’s “Going out for the Night” is an excellent specimen of the artist’s powers; and there are many qualities in his painting which seem to gain strength in the woodcut which we give on the opposite page. It is a likeable picture. The sentiment is kindly and human; the motive, in a conventional kind of way, is fairly artistic; the situation presented is one that is interesting to a vast number of persons. The father and breadwinner – an honest fisherman, with a boat of his own, and a good wife to work for – is pushing off into the darkness of night and the solitude of the sea. The wife and the little one have come down to the beach to see him depart – perchance to help him with his lines, and to carry his food for him; and now, with the last goodbye or two, they are turning to go home again, and leave him to his toil. Is that all? Not quite all. “Perhaps,” says Mr. Poole, with a dark yet comfortable smile – “perhaps, good people, he may never come back. The sea is treacherous and strong; boats are but frail, and men are but men; along the coast there’s many a woman goes to bed a fisher’s wife, and gets up a fisher’s widow. This time the chances are, I think, that the man will duly return, with a contented mind and a full load of fish; so you need not be more than tenderly anxious and pleasantly distressed. In a certain class of picture, perhaps, a note, a hint, a latent possibility, of the Pathetic is always an essential element; and of this class the present work, ‘Going out for the Night,’ is, on the whole, a very charming specimen.”
Pictures with a purpose are seldom so successful as the “Vagabond;” the point is generally driven home with too much violence. In Mr. Bernard’s picture the artist has certainly not erred on the side of over-refined subtlety. Nevertheless his is the kind of comic genre in which insistence offends as little as it does in the comedy of Mr. H. J. Byron. Mr. Barnard, whose remarkable talent is perhaps rather that of the designer and illustrator rather than that of the painter of pictures, hit upon a telling little subject in this work. Most persons remember Mr. Malloy’s taking song, which was sung some eight years ago at every piano in the country. The words which were wedded to the clever and swinging melody were somewhat swaggering in type and humour, but there effect was duly tempered by a short passage in a softer and milder vein. They asked in cheerful defiance who was so free in the land and who was so contented as the “homeless, ragged and tanned” wanderer, who was supposed to troll the carol as he tramped it “under a wintry sky.” The song had exactly that false air of masculine vigour which gives relief after too much mawkishness; and the basses and baritones of England, who had long felt a certain disproportion between their voices and the “flowerets” and “fairy glens” about which they had often been fain to warble, were glad to find a lyric more to their taste. Every singing-man shouted the “Vagabond,” and may even have considered that there was something artistic and sincere in the words and music of the famous ditty. Mr. Barnard has depicted the usual drawing-room scene: A “little music” and the inevitable “Vagabond” in full swing at the piano, a manly voice performing it to a feminine accompaniment. The sense of light and warmth, the easy, blatant complacency of the singer, the pleasant self-satisfaction of the accompanist – with her graceful draperies, her pretty head, her fingers skilfully hovering! – are cleverly rendered, and help Mr. Barnard with his contrast – his epigram in design – amazingly. Another panel of the picture shows the fact so glibly treated of in the catching melody and the facile verse, and makes that comfortable singer look even more smugly superfluous than ‘tis his nature to. The scene is a doorstep; the season, winter –tueur des pauvres gens; the time, midnight or thereabouts; the hero a wretched beggar, pinched and livid and broken, cold to the marrow, and hugging his rags to his shivering body in a vain attempt to make them whole and serviceable. It needs but little fancy to imagine how he feels, for Mr. Barnard has caught and reproduced the peculiar gesture – in the reality an unpleasant and affecting motion; partly of hugging and shrinking, and partly of shivering and writhing – of those whose very vitals are a-cold, with a good deal of spirit. Being a professional satirist, he has gone out of his way, after the manner of his kind, to point a moral and adorn his tale. What is now-a-days, and in a case like this, so easy to do? Dickens, one of the greatest novelists and largest-hearted of men, has shown the way in his own incomparable style; and Mr. Barnard, with neither Dicken’s ideal to achieve, nor Dicken’s passion to bear him on to the achievement, has followed in it dutifully enough. His hero is dying of cold and hunger, and dying so on the threshold of a Refuge for Homeless Dogs, and in the shadow of a placard calling on the charitable to subscribe for the benefit of certain sick and wounded, the victims of a foreign war. Evidently the picture would have been better art and stronger work if Mr. Barnard had been content to rely a little more on himself, and a little less on the efforts of his points.
It will be seen from all this that the Hill collection, which the courtesy of its owner had enabled us to describe, has many and great merits, and has been made with much originality and insight. Work of the highest excellence accompanies much that is good and sound. It would be all the better, no doubt, if it comprised examples of the sincere and splendid romanticism of Eugène Delacroix; the fine, expressive, individual classicism of Ingres; the robust and daring mastery of Courbet; the richness and vivacity of Diaz; the ideal naturalism of Constable; the force and dignity and charm of Théodore Rousseau; the austere and dignified sincerity, the deep imaginative melancholy, the consummate facture of Legros; the romance and subtlety, the hardihood and the persuasiveness, “the beauty and the wonder and the power” of Burne-Jones. But in these days of high prices and aesthetic lunes, when works of art are all but worshipped, and a second year’s exhibitor, if he is only moderately lucky, can sell his picture for a sum that, paid for the “Angelus” or “Le Bûcheron et la Mort,” would have made Millet feel himself arising painter and a prosperous man, the wonder is to see a gathering of modern art at once so representative and choice, at once so excellent and complete. Captain Hill is a master of a real treasure-house of art. Upon his walls are expressions of the random talent of George Moreland and the august genius of J.F. Millet; of the strong, masculine style of Frank Holl and the attractive and peculiar art of George Mason; of the brilliance and daring and accomplishment of Degas and the sweet temper and quiet poetry of Israels. In his gallery Fred. Walker is elbowed by Phil Morris; an Orchardson sets off a david Cox; the exquisite aubades of Corot contrast with the high-handed and swaggering drama of Pettie. Val Princep and Val Bromley, Münthe and Crome, Macbeth and Duez and Leslie – all are well and worthily represented. There are many buyers; but there are few indeed that have bought so well and so wisely as Captain Hill. He has looked about him for art, and he has taken it wherever he found it. It is the way with every true picture-lover. When he seeks out a painter, it is not for his name’s sake, but his art’s; when he buys a picture, it is merely that the picture pleases him. He knows that such dealing endows him with the privilege of consuming at will with the greatest minds of the world at their highest instants of expression, and that a great picture contains the withal for high thoughts and noble emotions always.
The artists below are known to have been mentioned in or associated with this publication.