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Title: Modern Painting
Author: Moore, George
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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G. M.

_The Editor of "The Speaker" allowed me to publish from time to time
chapters of a book on art. These chapters have been gathered from the
mass of art journalism which had grown about them, and I reprint them
in the sequence originally intended_.

_G. M._




I have studied Mr. Whistler and thought about him this many a year.
His character was for a long time incomprehensible to me; it contained
elements apparently so antagonistic, so mutually destructive, that I
had to confess my inability to bring him within any imaginable
psychological laws, and classed him as one of the enigmas of life. But
Nature is never illogical; she only seems so, because our sight is not
sufficient to see into her intentions; and with study my psychological
difficulties dwindled, and now the man stands before me exquisitely
understood, a perfect piece of logic. All that seemed discordant and
discrepant in his nature has now become harmonious and inevitable; the
strangest and most erratic actions of his life now seem natural and
consequential (I use the word in its grammatical sense) contradictions
are reconciled, and looking at the man I see the pictures, and looking
at the pictures I see the man.

But at the outset the difficulties were enormous. It was like a
newly-discovered Greek text, without punctuation or capital letters.
Here was a man capable of painting portraits, perhaps not quite so
full of grip as the best work done by Velasquez and Hals, only just
falling short of these masters at the point where they were strongest,
but plainly exceeding them in graciousness of intention, and subtle
happiness of design, who would lay down his palette and run to a
newspaper office to polish the tail of an epigram which he was
launching against an unfortunate critic who had failed to distinguish
between an etching and a pen-and-ink drawing! Here was a man who,
though he had spent the afternoon painting like the greatest, would
spend his evenings in frantic disputes over dinner-tables about the
ultimate ownership of a mild joke, possibly good enough for _Punch_,
something that any one might have said, and that most of us having
said it would have forgotten! It will be conceded that such
divagations are difficult to reconcile with the possession of artistic
faculties of the highest order.

The "Ten o'clock" contained a good deal of brilliant writing,
sparkling and audacious epigram, but amid all its glitter and "go"
there are statements which, coming from Mr. Whistler, are as
astonishing as a denial of the rotundity of the earth would be in a
pamphlet bearing the name of Professor Huxley. Mr. Whistler is only
serious in his art--a grave fault according to academicians, who are
serious in everything except their "art". A very boyish utterance is
the statement that such a thing as an artistic period has never been

One rubbed one's eyes; one said, Is this a joke, and, if so, where is
the point of it? And then, as if not content with so much mystification,
Mr. Whistler assured his ten o'clock audience that there was no such
thing as nationality in art, and that you might as well speak of
English mathematics as of English art. We do not stop to inquire if
such answers contain one grain of truth; we know they do not--we stop
to consider them because we know that the criticism of a creative artist
never amounts to more than an ingenious defence of his own work--an
ingenious exaltation of a weakness (a weakness which perhaps none
suspects but himself) into a conspicuous merit.

Mr. Whistler has shared his life equally between America, France, and
England. He is the one solitary example of cosmopolitanism in art, for
there is nothing in his pictures to show that they come from the
north, the south, the east, or the west. They are compounds of all
that is great in Eastern and Western culture. Conscious of this, and
fearing that it might be used as an argument against his art, Mr.
Whistler threw over the entire history, not only of art, but of the
world; and declared boldly that art was, like science, not national,
but essentially cosmopolitan; and then, becoming aware of the anomaly
of his genius in his generation, Mr. Whistler undertook to explain
away the anomaly by ignoring the fifth century B.C. in Athens, the
fifteenth century in Italy, and the seventeenth in Holland, and humbly
submitting that artists never appeared in numbers like swallows, but
singly like aerolites. Now our task is not to disprove these
statements, but to work out the relationship between the author of the
"Butterfly Letters" and the painter of the portrait of "The Mother",
"Lady Archibald Campbell", "Miss Alexander", and the other forty-one
masterpieces that were on exhibition in the Goupil galleries.

There is, however, an intermediate step, which is to point out the
intimate relationship between the letter-writer and the physical man.
Although there is no internal evidence to show that the pictures were
not painted by a Frenchman, an Italian, an Englishman, or a
Westernised Japanese, it would be impossible to read any one of the
butterfly-signed letters without feeling that the author was a man of
nerves rather than a man of muscle, and, while reading, we should
involuntarily picture him short and thin rather than tall and
stalwart. But what has physical condition got to do with painting? A
great deal. The greatest painters, I mean the very greatest--Michael
Angelo, Velasquez, and Rubens--were gifted by Nature with as full a
measure of health as of genius. Their physical constitutions resembled
more those of bulls than of men. Michael Angelo lay on his back for
three years painting the Sistine Chapel. Rubens painted a life-size
figure in a morning of pleasant work, and went out to ride in the
afternoon. But Nature has dowered Mr. Whistler with only genius. His
artistic perceptions are moreexquisite than Velasquez's. He knows as
much, possibly even a little more, and yet the result is never quite
equal. Why? A question of health. _C'est un tempérament de chatte_. He
cannot pass from masterpiece to masterpiece like Velasquez. The
expenditure of nerve-force necessary to produce such a work as the
portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell or Miss Alexander exhausts him,
and he is obliged to wait till Nature recoups herself; and these
necessary intervals he has employed in writing letters signed
"Butterfly" to the papers, quarrelling with Oscar over a few mild
jokes, explaining his artistic existence, at the expense of the entire
artistic history of the world, collecting and classifying the
stupidities of the daily and weekly press.

But the lesser side of a man of genius is instructive to study--indeed,
it is necessary that we should study it if we would thoroughly
understand his genius. "No man," it has been very falsely said, "is a
hero to his _valet de chambre_." The very opposite is the truth. Man
will bow the knee only to his own image and likeness. The deeper the
humanity, the deeper the adoration; and from this law not even divinity
is excepted. All we adore is human, and through knowledge of the flesh
that grovels we may catch sight of the soul ascending towards the
divine stars.

And so the contemplation of Mr. Whistler, the author of the "Butterfly
Letters", the defender of his little jokes against the plagiarising
tongue, should stimulate rather than interrupt our prostrations. I
said that Nature had dowered Mr. Whistler with every gift except that
of physical strength. If Mr. Whistler had the bull-like health of
Michael Angelo, Rubens, and Hals, the Letters would never have been
written. They were the safety-valve by which his strained nerves found
relief from the intolerable tension of the masterpiece. He has not the
bodily strength to pass from masterpiece to masterpiece, as did the
great ones of old time. In the completed picture slight traces of his
agony remain. But painting is the most indiscreet of all the arts, and
here and there an omission or a feeble indication reveal the painter
to us in moments of exasperated impotence. To understand Mr.
Whistler's art you must understand his body. I do not mean that Mr.
Whistler has suffered from bad health--his health has always been
excellent; all great artists have excellent health, but his
constitution is more nervous than robust. He is even a strong man, but
he is lacking in weight. Were he six inches taller, and his bulk
proportionately increased, his art would be different. Instead of
having painted a dozen portraits, every one--even the mother and Miss
Alexander, which I personally take to be the two best--a little
febrile in its extreme beauty, whilst some, masterpieces though they
be, are clearly touched with weakness, and marked with hysteria--Mr.
Whistler would have painted a hundred portraits, as strong, as
vigorous, as decisive, and as easily accomplished as any by Velasquez
or Hals. But if Nature had willed him so, I do not think we should
have had the Nocturnes, which are clearly the outcome of a
highly-strung, bloodless nature whetted on the whetstone of its own
weakness to an exasperated sense of volatile colour and evanescent
light. It is hardly possible to doubt that this is so when we look on
these canvases, where, in all the stages of her repose, the night
dozes and dreams upon our river--a creole in Nocturne 34, upon whose
trembling eyelids the lustral moon is shining; a quadroon in Nocturne
17, who turns herself out of the light anhungered and set upon some
feast of dark slumber. And for the sake of these gem-like pictures,
whose blue serenities are comparable to the white perfections of
Athenian marbles, we should have done well to yield a littlestrength
in portraiture, if the distribution of Mr. Whistler's genius had been
left in our hands. So Nature has done her work well, and we have no
cause to regret the few pounds of flesh that she withheld. A few
pounds more of flesh and muscle, and we should have had another
Velasquez; but Nature shrinks from repetition, and at the last moment
she said, "The world has had Velasquez, another would be superfluous:
let there be Jimmy Whistler."

In the Nocturnes Mr. Whistler stands alone, withouta rival. In
portraits he is at his best when they are near to his Nocturnes in
intention, when the theme lends itself to an imaginative and
decorative treatment; for instance, as in the mother or Miss
Alexander. Mr. Whistler is at his worst when he is frankly realistic.
I have seen pictures by Mr. Henry Moore that I like better than "The
Blue Wave". Nor does Mr. Whistler seem to me to reach his highest
level in any one of the three portraits--Lady Archibald Campbell,
Miss Rose Corder, and "the lady in the fur jacket". I know that Mr.
Walter Sickert considers the portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell to be
Mr. Whistler's finest portrait. I submit, however, that the attitude
is theatrical and not very explicit. It is a movement that has not
been frankly observed, nor is it a movement that has been frankly
imagined. It has none of the artless elegance of Nature; it is full of
studio combinations; and yet it is not a frankly decorative
arrangement, as the portrait of the mother or Miss Alexander. When
Hals painted his Burgomasters, he was careful to place them in
definite and comprehensible surroundings. He never left us in doubt
either as to the time or the place; and the same obligations of time
and place, which Hals never shirked, seem to me to rest on the
painter, if he elects to paint his sitter in any attitude except one
of conventional repose.

Lady Archibald Campbell is represented in violent movement, looking
backwards over her shoulder as she walks up the picture; yet there is
nothing to show that she is not standing on the low table on which the
model poses, and the few necessary indications are left out because
they would interfere with the general harmony of his picture; because,
if the table on which she is standing were indicated, the movement of
outstretched arm would be incomprehensible. The hand, too, is somewhat
uncertain, undetermined, and a gesture is meaningless that the hand
does not determine and complete. I do not speak of the fingers of the
right hand, which are non-existent; after a dozen attempts to paint
the gloved hand, only an approximate result was obtained. Look at the
ear, and say that the painter's nerves did not give wayonce or twice.
And the likeness is vague and shadowy; she is only fairly
representative of her class. We see fairly well that she is a lady _du
grand monde_, who is, however, not without knowledge of _les environs
du monde_. But she is hardly English--she might be a French woman or
an American. She is a sort of hybrid. Miss Rose Corder and "the lady
in the fur jacket" are equally cosmopolitan; so, too, is Miss
Alexander. Only once has Mr. Whistler expressed race, and that was in
his portrait of his mother. Then these three ladies--Miss Corder, Lady
Archibald Campbell, and "the lady in the fur jacket"--wear the same
complexion: a pale yellow complexion, burnt and dried. With this
conventional tint he obtains unison and a totality of effect; but he
obtains this result at the expense of truth. Hals and Velasquez
obtained the same result, without, however, resorting to such
meretricious methods.

The portrait of the mother is, as every one knows, in the Luxemburg;
but the engraving reminds us of the honour which France has done, but
which we failed to do, to the great painter of the nineteenth century;
and after much hesitation and arguing with myself I feel sure that on
the whole this picture is the painter's greatest work in portraiture.
We forget relations, friends, perhaps even our parents; but that
picture we never forget; it is for ever with us, in sickness and in
health; and in moments of extreme despair, when life seems hopeless,
the strange magic of that picture springs into consciousness, and we
wonder by what strange wizard craft was accomplished the marvellous
pattern on the black curtain that drops past the engraving on the
wall. We muse on the extraordinary beauty of that grey wall, on the
black silhouette sitting so tranquilly, on the large feet on a
foot-stool, on the hands crossed, on the long black dress that fills
the picture with such solemn harmony. Then mark the transition from
grey to white, and how _le ton local_ is carried through the entire
picture, from the highest light to the deepest shadow. Note the
tenderness of that white cap, the white lace cuffs, the certainty, the
choice, and think of anything if you can, even in the best Japanese
work, more beautiful, more delicate, subtle, illusive, certain in its
handicraft; and if the lace cuffs are marvellous, the delicate hands
of a beautiful old age lying in a small lace handkerchief are little
short of miraculous. They are not drawn out in anatomical diagram, but
appear and disappear, seen here on the black dress, lost there in the
small white handkerchief. And when we study the faint, subtle outline
of the mother's face, we seem to feel that there the painter has told
the story of his soul more fully than elsewhere. That soul, strangely
alive to all that is delicate and illusive in Nature, found perhaps
its fullest expression in that grave old Puritan lady looking through
the quiet refinement of her grey room, sitting in solemn profile in
all the quiet habit of her long life.

Compared with later work, the execution is "tighter", if I may be
permitted an expression which will be understood in studios; we are
very far indeed from the admirable looseness of handling which is the
charm of the portrait of Miss Rose Corder. There every object is born
unconsciously beneath the passing of the brush. If not less certain,
the touch in the portrait of the mother is less prompt; but the
painter's vision is more sincere and more intense. And to those who
object to the artificiality of the arrangement, I reply that if the
old lady is sitting in a room artificially arranged, Lady Archibald
Campbell may be said to be walking through incomprehensible space. But
what really decides me to place this portrait above the others is the
fact that while painting his mother's portrait he was unquestionably
absorbed in his model; and absorption in the model is perhaps the
first quality in portrait-painting.

Still, for my own personal pleasure, to satisfy the innermost cravings
of my own soul, I would choose to live with the portrait of Miss
Alexander. Truly, this picture seems to me the most beautiful in the
world. I know very well that it has not the profound beauty of the
Infantes by Velasquez in the Louvre; but for pure magic of inspiration,
is it not more delightful? Just as Shelley's "Sensitive Plant" thrills
the innermost sense like no other poem in the language, the portrait
of Miss Alexander enchants with the harmony of colour, with the melody
of composition.

Strangely original, a rare and unique thing, is this picture, yet we
know whence it came, and may easily appreciate the influences that
brought it into being. Exquisite and happy combination of the art of
an entire nation and the genius of one man-the soul of Japan incarnate
in the body of the immortal Spaniard. It was Japan that counselled the
strange grace of the silhouette, and it was that country, too, that
inspired in a dim, far-off way those subtly sweet and magical passages
from grey to green, from green again to changing evanescent grey. But
a higher intelligence massed and impelled those chords of green and
grey than ever manifested itself in Japanese fan or screen; the means
are simpler, the effect is greater, and by the side of this picture
the best Japanese work seems only facile superficial improvisation. In
the picture itself there is really little of Japan. The painter merely
understood all that Japan might teach. He went to the very root,
appropriating only the innermost essence of its art. We Westerns had
thought it sufficient to copy Nature, but the Japanese knew it was
better to observe Nature. The whole art of Japan is selection, and
Japan taught Mr. Whistler, or impressed upon Mr. Whistler, the
imperative necessity of selection. No Western artist of the present or
of past time--no, not Velasquez himself--ever selected from the model
so tenderly as Mr. Whistler; Japan taught him to consider Nature as a
storehouse whence the artist may pick and choose, combining the
fragments of his choice into an exquisite whole. Sir John Millais' art
is the opposite; there we find no selection; the model is copied--and
sometimes only with sufficient technical skill.

But this picture is throughout a selection from the model; nowhere has
anything been copied brutally, yet the reality of the girl is not

The picture represents a girl of ten or eleven. She is dressed
according to the fashion of twenty years ago--a starched muslin frock,
a small overskirt pale brown, white stockings, square-toed black
shoes. She stands, her left foot advanced, holding in her left hand a
grey felt hat adorned with a long plume reaching nearly to the ground.
The wall behind her is grey with a black wainscot. On the left, far
back in the picture, on a low stool, some grey-green drapery strikes
the highest note of colour in the picture. On the right, in the
foreground, some tall daisies come into the picture, and two
butterflies flutter over the girl's blonde head. This picture seems to
exist principally in the seeing! I mean that the execution is so
strangely simple that the thought, "If I could only see the model like
that, I think Icould do it myself", comes spontaneously into the mind.
And this spontaneous thought is excellent criticism, for three-parts
of Mr. Whistler's art lies in the seeing; no one ever saw Nature so
artistically. Notice on the left the sharp line of the white frock
cutting against the black wainscoting. Were that line taken away, how
much would the picture lose! Look at the leg that is advanced, and
tell me if you can detect the modelling. There is modelling, I know,
but there are no vulgar roundnesses. Apparently, only a flat tint; but
there is on the bone a light, hardly discernible; and this light is
sufficient. And the leg that is turned away, the thick, chubby ankle
of the child, how admirable in drawing; and that touch of darker
colour, how it tells the exact form of the bone! To indicate is the
final accomplishment of the painter's art, and I know no indication
like that ankle bone. And now passing from the feet to the face,
notice, I beg of you to notice--it is one of the points in the
picture--that jaw bone. The face is seen in three-quarter, and to
focus the interest in the face the painter has slightly insisted on
the line of the jaw bone, which, taken in conjunction with the line of
the hair, brings into prominence the oval of the face. In Nature that
charming oval only appeared at moments. The painter seized one of
those moments, and called it into our consciousness as a musician with
certain finger will choose to give prominence to a certain note in a

There must have been a day in Mr. Whistler's life when the artists of
Japan convinced him once and for ever of the primary importance of
selection. In Velasquez, too, there is selection, and very often it is
in the same direction as Mr. Whistler's, but the selection is never, I
think, so much insisted upon; and sometimes in Velasquez there is, as
in the portrait of the Admiral in the National Gallery, hardly any
selection--I mean, of course, conscious selection. Velasquez sometimes
brutally accepted Nature for what she was worth; this Mr. Whistler
never does. But it was Velasquez that gave consistency and strength to
what in Mr. Whistler might have run into an art of trivial but
exquisite decoration. Velasquez, too, had a voice in the composition
of the palette generally, so sober, so grave. The palette of Velasquez
is the opposite of the palette of Rubens; the fantasy of Rubens'
palette created the art of Watteau, Turner, Gainsborough; it obtained
throughout the eighteenth century in England and in France. Chardin
was the one exception. Alone amid the eighteenth century painters he
chose the palette of Velasquez in preference to that of Rubens, and in
the nineteenth century Whistler too has chosen it. It was Velasquez
who taught Mr. Whistler that flowing, limpid execution. In the
painting of that blonde hair there is something more than a souvenir
of the blonde hair of the Infante in the _salle carrée_ in the Louvre.
There is also something of Velasquez in the black notes of the shoes.
Those blacks--are they not perfectly observed? How light and dry the
colour is! How heavy and shiny it would have become in other hands!
Notice, too, that in the frock nowhere is there a single touch of pure
white, and yet it is all white--a rich, luminous white that makes
every other white in the gallery seem either chalky or dirty. What an
enchantment and a delight the handling is! How flowing, how supple,
infinitely and beautifully sure, the music of perfect accomplishment!
In the portrait of the mother the execution seems slower, hardly so
spontaneous. For this, no doubt, the subject is accountable. But this
little girl is the very finest flower, and the culminating point of
Mr. Whistler's art. The eye travels over the canvas seeking a fault.
In vain; nothing has been omitted that might have been included,
nothing has been included that might have been omitted. There is much
in Velasquez that is stronger, but nothing in this world ever seemed
to me so perfect as this picture.

The portrait of Carlyle has been painted about an arabesque similar, I
might almost say identical, to that of the portrait of the mother. But
as is usually the case, the attempt to repeat a success has resulted a
failure. Mr. Whistler has sought to vary the arabesque in the
direction of greater naturalness. He has broken the severity of the
line, which the lace handkerchief and the hands scarcely stayed in the
first picture, by placing the philosopher's hat upon his knees, he has
attenuated the symmetry of the picture-frames on the walls, and has
omitted the black curtain which drops through the earlier picture. And
all these alterations seemed to me like so many leaks through which
the eternal something of the first design has run out. A pattern like
that of the egg and dart cannot be disturbed, and Columbus himself
cannot rediscover America. And, turning from the arabesque to the
painting, we notice at once that the balance of colour, held with such
exquisite grace by the curtain on one side and the dress on the other,
is absent in the later work; and if we examine the colours separately
we cannot fail to apprehend the fact that the blacks in the later are
not nearly so beautiful as those in the earlier picture. The blacks of
the philosopher's coat and rug are neither as rich, not as rare, nor
as deep as the blacks of the mother's gown. Never have the vital
differences and the beauty of this colour been brought out as in that
gown and that curtain, never even in Hals, who excels all other
painters in this use of black. Mr. Whistler's failure with the first
colour, when we compare the two pictures, is exceeded by his failure
with the second colour. We miss the beauty of those extraordinary and
exquisite high notes--the cap and cuffs; and the place of the rich,
palpitating greys, so tremulous in the background of the earlier
picture, is taken by an insignificant grey that hardly seems necessary
or helpful to the coat and rug, and is only just raised out of the
commonplace by the dim yellow of two picture-frames. It must be
admitted, however, that the yellow is perfectly successful; it may be
almost said to be what is most attractive in the picture. The greys in
chin, beard, and hair must, however, be admitted to be beautiful,
although they are not so full of charm as the greys in the portrait of
Miss Alexander.

But if Mr. Whistler had only failed in these matters, he might have
still produced a masterpiece. But there is a graver criticism to be
urged against the picture. A portrait is an exact reflection of the
painter's state of soul at the moment of sitting down to paint. We
read in the picture what he really desired; for what he really desired
is in the picture, and his hesitations tell us what he only desired
feebly. Every passing distraction, every weariness, every loss of
interest in the model, all is written upon the canvas. Above all, he
tells us most plainly what he thought about his model--whether he was
moved by love or contempt; whether his moods were critical or
reverential. And what the canvas under consideration tells most
plainly is that Mr. Whistler never forgot his own personality in that
of the ancient philosopher. He came into the room as chirpy and
anecdotal as usual, in no way discountenanced or put about by the
presence of his venerable and illustrious sitter. He had heard that
the Chelsea sage wrote histories which were no doubt very learned, but
he felt no particular interest in the matter. Of reverence, respect,
or intimate knowledge of Carlyle there is no trace on the canvas; and
looked at from this side the picture may be said to be the most
American of all Mr. Whistler's works. "I am quite as big a man as
you", to put it bluntly, was Mr. Whistler's attitude of mind while
painting Carlyle. I do not contest the truth of the opinion. I merely
submit that that is not the frame of mind in which great portraiture
is done.

The drawing is large, ample, and vigorous, beautifully understood, but
not very profound or intimate: the picture seems to have been
accomplished easily, and in excellent health and spirits. The painting
is in Mr. Whistler's later and most characteristic manner. For many
years--for certainly twenty years--his manner has hardly varied at
all. He uses his colour very thin, so thinly that it often hardly
amounts to more than a glaze, and painting is laid over painting, like
skin upon skin. Regarded merely as brushwork, the face of the sage
could hardly be surpassed; the modelling is that beautiful flat
modelling, of which none except Mr. Whistler possesses the secrets.
What the painter saw he rendered with incomparable skill. The vision
of the rugged pensiveness of the old philosophers is as beautiful and
as shallow as a page of De Quincey. We are carried away in a flow of
exquisite eloquence, but the painter has not told us one significant
fact about his model, his nationality, his temperament, his rank, his
manner of life. We learn in a general way that he was a thinker; but
it would have been impossible to draw the head at all and conceal so
salient a characteristic. Mr. Whistler's portrait reveals certain
general observations of life; but has he given one single touch
intimately characteristic of his model?

But if the portrait of Carlyle, when looked at from a certain side,
must be admitted to be not wholly satisfactory, what shall be said of
the portrait of Lady Meux? The dress is a luminous and harmonious
piece of colouring, the material has its weight and its texture and
its character of fold; but of the face it is difficult to say more
than that it keeps its place in the picture. Very often the faces in
Mr. Whistler's portraits are the least interesting part of the
picture; his sitter's face does not seem to interest him more than the
cuffs, the carpet, the butterfly, which hovers about the screen. After
this admission, it will seem to many that it is waste of time to
consider further Mr. Whistler's claim to portraiture. This is not so.
Mr. Whistler is a great portrait painter, though he cannot take
measurements or follow an outline like Holbein.

Like most great painters, he has known how to introduce harmonious
variation into his style by taking from others just as much of their
sense of beauty as his own nature might successfully assimilate. I
have spoken of his assimilation and combination of the art of
Velasquez, and the entire art of Japan, but a still more striking
instance of the power of assimilation, which, strange as it may seem,
only the most original natures possess, is to hand in the early but
extremely beautiful picture, _La femme en blanc_. In the Chelsea
period of his life Mr. Whistler saw a great deal of that singular man,
Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Intensely Italian, though he had never seen
Italy; and though writing no language but ours, still writing it with
a strange hybrid grace, bringing into it the rich and voluptuous
colour and fragrance of the south, expressing in picture and poem
nothing but an uneasy haunting sense of Italy--opulence of women, not
of the south, nor yet of the north, Italian celebration, mystic altar
linen, and pomp of gold vestment and legendary pane. Of such hauntings
Rossetti's life and art were made.

His hold on poetic form was surer than his hold on pictorial form,
wherein his art is hardly more than poetic reminiscence of Italian
missal and window pane. Yet even as a painter his attractiveness
cannot be denied, nor yet the influence he has exercised on English
art. Though he took nothing from his contemporaries, all took from
him, poets and painters alike. Not even Mr. Whistler could refrain,
and in _La femme en blanc_ he took from Rossetti his manner of feeling
and seeing. The type of woman is the same--beauty of dreaming eyes and
abundant hair. And in this picture we find a poetic interest, a moral
sense, if I may so phrase it, nowhere else to be detected, though you
search Mr. Whistler's work from end to end. The woman stands idly
dreaming by her mirror. She is what is her image in the glass, an
appearance that has come, and that will go leaving no more trace than
her reflection on the glass when she herself has moved away. She sees
in her dream the world like passing shadows thrown on an illuminated
cloth. She thinks of her soft, white, and opulent beauty which fills
her white dress; her chin is lifted, and above her face shines the
golden tumult of her hair.

The picture is one of the most perfect that Mr. Whistler has painted;
it is as perfect as the mother or Miss Alexander, and though it has
not the beautiful, flowing, supple execution of the "symphony in
white", I prefer it for sake of its sheer perfection. It is more
perfect than the symphony in white, though there is nothing in it
quite so extraordinary as the loving gaiety of the young girl's face.
The execution of that face is as flowing, as spontaneous, and as
bright as the most beautiful day of May. The white drapery clings like
haze about the edge of the woods, and the flesh tints are pearly and
evanescent as dew, and soft as the colour of a flowering mead. But the
kneeling figure is not so perfect, and that is why I reluctantly give
my preference to the woman by the mirror. Turning again to this
picture, I would fain call attention to the azalias, which, in
irresponsible decorative fashion, come into the right-hand corner. The
delicate flowers show bright and clear on the black-leaded fire-grate;
and it is in the painting of such detail that Mr. Whistler exceeds all
painters. For purity of colour and the beauty of pattern, these
flowers are surely as beautiful as anything that man's hand has ever

Mr. Whistler has never tried to be original. He has never attempted to
reproduce on canvas the discordant and discrepant extravagancies of
Nature as M. Besnard and Mr. John Sargent have done. His style has
always been marked by such extreme reserve that the critical must have
sometimes inclined to reproach him with want of daring, and ask
themselves where was the innovator in this calculated reduction of
tones, in these formal harmonies, in this constant synthesis, sought
with far more disregard for superfluous detail than Hals, for
instance, had ever dared to show. The still more critical, while
admitting the beauty and the grace of this art, must have often asked
themselves what, after all, has this painter invented, what new
subject-matter has he introduced into art?

It was with the night that Mr. Whistler set his seal and sign-manual
upon art; above all others he is surely the interpreter of the night.
Until he came the night of the painter was as ugly and insignificant
as any pitch barrel; it was he who first transferred to canvas the
blue transparent darkness which folds the world from sunset to
sunrise. The purple hollow, and all the illusive distances of the
gas-lit river, are Mr. Whistler's own. It was not the unhabited night
of lonely plain and desolate tarn that he chose to interpret, but the
difficult populous city night--the night of tall bridges and vast
water rained through with lights red and grey, the shores lined with
the lamps of the watching city. Mr. Whistler's night is the vast blue
and golden caravanry, where the jaded and the hungry and the
heavy-hearted lay down their burdens, and the contemplative freed from
the deceptive reality of the day understand humbly and pathetically
the casualness of our habitation, and the limitlessreality of a plan,
the intention of which we shall never know. Mr. Whistler's nights are
the blue transparent darknesses which are half of the world's life.
Sometimes he foregoes even the aid of earthly light, and his picture
is but luminous blue shadow, delicately graduated, as in the nocturne
in M. Duret's collection--purple above and below, a shadow in the
middle of the picture--a little less and there would be nothing.

There is the celebrated nocturne in the shape of a T--one pier of the
bridge and part of the arch, the mystery of the barge, and the figure
guiding the barge in the current, the strange luminosity of the
fleeting river! lines of lights, vague purple and illusive distance,
and all is so obviously beautiful that one pauses to consider how
there could have been stupidity enough to deny it. Of less dramatic
significance, but of equal esthetic value, is the nocturne known as
"the Cremorne lights". Here the night is strangely pale; one of those
summer nights when a slight veil of darkness is drawn for an hour or
more across the heavens. Another of quite extraordinary beauty, even
in a series of extraordinarily beautiful things, is "Night on the
Sea". The waves curl white in the darkness, and figures are seen as in
dreams; lights burn low, ships rock in the offing, and beyond them,
lost in the night, a vague sense of illimitable sea.

Out of the night Mr. Whistler has gathered beauty as august as Phidias
took from Greek youths. Nocturne II is the picture which Professor
Ruskin declared to be equivalent to flinging a pot of paint in the
face of the public. But that black night, filling the garden even to
the sky's obliteration, is not black paint but darkness. The whirl of
the St. Catherine wheel in the midst of this darkness amounts to a
miracle, and the exquisite drawing of the shower of falling fire would
arouse envy in Rembrandt, and prompt imitation. The line of the
watching crowd is only just indicated, and yet the garden is crowded.
There is another nocturne in which rockets are rising and falling, and
the drawing of these two showers of fire is so perfect, that when you
turn quickly towards the picture, the sparks really do ascend and

More than any other painter, Mr. Whistler's influence has made itself
felt on English art. More than any other man, Mr. Whistler has helped
to purge art of the vice of subject and belief that the mission of the
artist is to copy nature. Mr. Whistler's method is more learned, more
co-ordinate than that of any other painter of our time; all is
preconceived from the first touch to the last, nor has there ever been
much change in the method, the painting has grown looser, but the
method was always the same; to have seen him paint at once is to have
seen him paint at every moment of his life. Never did a man seem more
admirably destined to found a school which should worthily carry on
the tradition inherited from the old masters and represented only by
him. All the younger generation has accepted him as master, and that
my generation has not profited more than it has, leads me to think,
however elegant, refined, emotional, educated it may be, and anxious
to achieve, that it is lacking in creative force, that it is, in a
word, slightly too slight.


Of the great painters born before 1840 only two now are living, Puvis
de Chavannes and Degas. It is true to say of Chavannes that he is the
only man alive to whom a beautiful building might be given for
decoration without fear that its beauty would be disgraced. He is the
one man alive who can cover twenty feet of wall or vaulted roof with
decoration that will neither deform the grandeur nor jar the greyness
of the masonry. Mural decoration in his eyes is not merely a picture
let into a wall, nor is it necessarily mural decoration even if it be
painted on the wall itself: it is mural decoration if it form part of
the wall, if it be, if I may so express myself, a variant of the
stonework. No other painter ever kept this end so strictly before his
eyes. For this end Chavannes reduced his palette almost to a
monochrome, for this end he models in two flat tints, for this end he
draws in huge undisciplined masses.

Let us examine his palette: many various greys, some warmed with
vermilion, some with umber, and many more that are mere mixtures of
black and white, large quantities of white, for Chavannes paints in a
high key, wishing to disturb the colour of the surrounding stone as
little as may be. Grey and blue are the natural colours of building
stone; when the subject will not admit of subterfuge, he will
introduce a shade of pale green, as in his great decoration entitled
"Summer"; but grey is always the foundation of his palette, and it
fills the middle of the picture. The blues are placed at the top and
bottom, and he works between them in successive greys. The sky in the
left-hand top corner is an ultramarine slightly broken with white; the
blue gown at the bottom of the picture, not quite in the middle of the
picture, a little on the right, is also ultramarine, and here the
colour is used nearly in its first intensity. And the colossal woman
who wears the blue gown leans against some grey forest tree trunk, and
a great white primeval animal is what her forms and attitude suggest.
There are some women about her, and they lie and sit in disconnected
groups like fragments fallen from a pediment. Nor is any attempt made
to relate, by the aid of vague look or gesture, this group in the
foreground to the human hordes engaged in building enclosures in the
middle distance. In Chavannes the composition is always as disparate
as an early tapestry, and the drawing of the figures is almost as
rude. If I may be permitted a French phrase, I will say _un peu
sommaire_ quite unlike the beautiful simplifications of Raphael or
Ingres, or indeed any of the great masters. They could simplify
without becoming rudimentary; Chavannes cannot.

And now a passing word about the handicraft, the manner of using the
brush. Chavannes shares the modern belief-and only in this is he
modern--that for the service of thought one instrument is as apt as
another, and that, so long as that man's back--he who is pulling at
the rope fastened at the tree's top branches--is filled in with two
grey tints, it matters not at all how the task is accomplished. Truly
the brush has plastered that back as a trowel might, and the result
reminds one of stone and mortar, as Millet's execution reminds one of
mud-pie making. The handicraft is as barbarous in Chavannes as it is
in Millet, and we think of them more as great poets working in a not
wholly sympathetic and, in their hands, somewhat rebellious material.
Chavannes is as an epic poet whose theme is the rude grandeur of the
primeval world, and who sang his rough narrative to a few chords
struck on a sparely-stringed harp that his own hands have fashioned.
And is not Millet a sort of French Wordsworth who in a barbarous
Breton dialect has told us in infinitely touching strains of the noble
submission of the peasant's lot, his unending labours and the
melancholy solitude of the country.

As poet-painters, none admires these great artists more than I, but
the moment we consider them as painters we have to compare the
handicraft of the decoration entitled "Summer" with that of Francis
the First meeting Marie de Medicis; we have to compare the handicraft
of the Sower and the Angelus with that of "Le Bon Bock" and "L'enfant
à Pépée"; and the moment we institute such comparison does not the
inferiority of Chavannes' and Millet's handicraft become visible even
to the least initiated in the art of painting, and is not the
conclusion forced upon us that however Manet may be judged inferior to
Millet as a poet, as a painter he is easily his superior? And as
Millet's and Chavannes' brush-work is deficient in beauty so is their
drawing. Preferring decorative unity to completeness of drawing,
Chavannes does not attempt more than some rudimentary indications.
Millet seems even to have desired to omit technical beauty, so that he
might concentrate all thought on the poetic synthesis he was gathering
from the earth. Degas, on the contrary, draws for the sake of the
drawing-The Ballet Girl, The Washerwoman, The Fat Housewife bathing
herself, is only a pretext for drawing; and Degas chose these
extraordinary themes because the drawing of the ballet girl and the
fat housewife is less known than that of the nymph and the Spartan
youth. Painters will understand what I mean by the drawing being "less
known",--that knowledge of form which sustains the artist like a
crutch in his examination of the model, and which as it were dictates
to the eye what it must see. So the ballet girl was Degas' escapement
from the thraldom of common knowledge. The ballet girl was virgin
soil. In her meagre thwarted forms application could freely be made of
the supple incisive drawing which bends to and flows with the
character--that drawing of which Ingres was the supreme patron, and of
which Degas is the sole inheritor.

Until a few years ago Chavannes never sold a picture. Millet lived his
life in penury and obscurity, but thirty years of persistent ridicule
having failed to destroy Degas' genius, some recognition has been
extended to it. The fate of all great artists in the nineteenth
century is a score years of neglect and obloquy. They may hardly hope
for recognition before they are fifty; some few cases point the other
way, but very few--the rule is thirty years of neglect and obloquy.
Then a flag of truce will be held out to the recalcitrant artist who
cannot be prevented from painting beautiful pictures. "Come, let us be
friends; let's kiss and make it up; send a picture to the academy;
we'll hang it on the line, and make you an academician the first
vacancy that occurs." To-day the academy would like to get Mr.
Whistler, but Mr. Whistler replies to the academy as Degas replied to
the government official who wanted a picture for the Luxembourg. _Non,
je ne veux pas être conduit au poste par les sargents de ville

To understand Manet's genius, the nineteenth century would have
required ten years more than usual, for in Manet there is nothing but
good painting, and there is nothing that the nineteenth century
dislikes as much as good painting. In Whistler there is an exquisite
and inveigling sense of beauty; in Degas there is an extraordinary
acute criticism of life, and so the least brutal section of the public
ended by pardoning Whistler his brush-work, and Degas his beautiful
drawing. But in Manet there is nothing but good painting, and it is
therefore possible that he might have lived till he was eighty without
obtaining recognition. Death alone could accomplish the miracle of
opening the public's eyes to his merits. During his life the excuse
given for the constant persecution waged against him by the
"authorities" was his excessive originality. But this was mere
subterfuge; what was really hated-what made him so unpopular-was the
extraordinary beauty of his handling. Whatever he painted became
beautiful--his hand was dowered with the gift of quality, and there
his art began and ended. His painting of still life never has been
exceeded, and never will be. I remember a pear that used to hang in
his studio. Hals would have taken his hat off to it.

Twenty years ago Manet's name was a folly and a byword in the Parisian
studios. The students of the Beaux Arts used to stand before his salon
pictures and sincerely wonder how any one could paint like that; the
students were quite sure that it was done for a joke, to attract
attention; and then, not quite sincerely, one would say, "But I'll
undertake to paint you three pictures a week like that." I say that
the remark was never quite sincere, for I never heard it made without
some one answering, "I don't think you could; just come and look at it
again--there's more in it than you think." No doubt we thought Manet
very absurd, but there was always something forced and artificial in
our laughter and the ridicule we heaped upon him.

But about that time my opinions were changing; and it was a great
event in my life when Manet spoke to me in the cafe of the Nouvelle
Athene. I knew it was Manet, he had been pointed out to me, and I had
admired the finely-cut face from whose prominent chin a closely-cut
blonde beard came forward; and the aquiline nose, the clear grey eyes,
the decisive voice, the remarkable comeliness of the well-knit figure,
scrupulously but simply dressed, represented a personality curiously
sympathetic. On several occasions shyness had compelled me to abandon
my determination to speak to him. But once he had spoken I entered
eagerly into conversation, and next day I went to his studio. It was
quite a simple place. Manet expended his aestheticism on his canvases,
and not upon tapestries and inlaid cabinets. There was very little in
his studio except his pictures: a sofa, a rocking-chair, a table for
his paints, and a marble table on iron supports, such as one sees in
cafés. Being a fresh-complexioned, fair-haired young man, the type
most suitable to Manet's palette, he at once asked me to sit. His
first intention was to paint me in a café; he had met me in a café,
and he thought he could realise his impression of me in the first
surrounding he had seen me in.

The portrait did not come right; ultimately it was destroyed; but it
gave me every opportunity of studying Manet's method of painting.
Strictly speaking, he had no method; painting with him was a pure
instinct. Painting was one of the ways his nature manifested itself.
That frank, fearless, prompt nature manifested itself in everything
that concerned him--in his large plain studio, full of light as a
conservatory; in his simple, scrupulous clothes, and yet with a touch
of the dandy about them; in decisive speech, quick, hearty, and
informed with a manly and sincere understanding of life. Never was an
artist's inner nature in more direct conformity with his work. There
were no circumlocutions in Manet's nature, there were none in his art.

The colour of my hair never gave me a thought until Manet began to
paint it. Then the blonde gold that came up under his brush filled me
with admiration, and I was astonished when, a few days after, I saw
him scrape off the rough paint and prepare to start afresh.

"Are you going to get a new canvas?"

"No; this will do very well."

"But you can't paint yellow ochre on yellow ochre without getting it

"Yes, I think I can. You go and sit down."

Half-an-hour after he had entirely repainted the hair, and without
losing anything of its brightness. He painted it again and again;
every time it came out brighter and fresher, and the painting never
seemed to lose anything in quality. That this portrait cost him
infinite labour and was eventually destroyed matters nothing; my point
is merely that he could paint yellow over yellow without getting the
colour muddy. One day, seeing that I was in difficulties with a black,
he took a brush from my hand, and it seemed to have hardly touched the
canvas when the ugly heaviness of my tiresome black began to
disappear. There came into it grey and shimmering lights, the shadows
filled up with air, and silk seemed to float and rustle. There was no
method-there was no trick; he merely painted. My palette was the same
to him as his own; he did not prepare his palette; his colour did not
exist on his palette before he put it on the canvas; but working under
the immediate dictation of his eye, he snatched the tints
instinctively, without premeditation. Ah! that marvellous hand, those
thick fingers holding the brush so firmly-somewhat heavily; how
malleable, how obedient, that most rebellious material, oil-colour,
was to his touch. He did with it what he liked. I believe he could rub
a picture over with Prussian blue without experiencing any
inconvenience; half-an-hour after the colour would be fine and

And never did this mysterious power which produces what artists know
as "quality" exist in greater abundance in any fingers than it did in
the slow, thick fingers of Edouard Manet: never since the world began;
not in Velasquez, not in Hals, not in Rubens, not in Titian. As an
artist Manet could not compare with the least among these illustrious
painters; but as a manipulator of oil-colour he never was and never
will be excelled. Manet was born a painter as absolutely as any man
that ever lived, so absolutely that a very high and lucid intelligence
never for a moment came between him and the desire to put anything
into his picture except good painting. I remember his saying to me, "I
also tried to write, but I did not succeed; I never could do anything
but paint." And what a splendid thing for an artist to be able to say.
The real meaning of his words did not reach me till years after;
perhaps I even thought at the time that he was disappointed that he
could not write. I know now what was passing in his mind: _Je ne me
suis pas trompé de métier_. How many of us can say as much? Go round a
picture gallery, and of how many pictures, ancient or modern, can you
stand before and say, _Voila un homme qui ne s'est pas trompé de

Perhaps above all men of our generation Manet made the least mistake
in his choice of a trade. Let those who doubt go and look at the
beautiful picture of Boulogne Pier, now on view in Mr. Van
Wesselingh's gallery, 26 Old Bond Street. The wooden pier goes right
across the canvas; all the wood piers are drawn, there is no attempt
to hide or attenuate their regularity. Why should Manet attenuate when
he could fill the interspaces with the soft lapping of such exquisite
blue sea-water. Above the piers there is the ugly yellow-painted rail.
But why alter the colour when he could keep it in such exquisite
value? On the canvas it is beautiful. In the middle of the pier there
is a mast and a sail which does duty for an awning; perhaps it is only
a marine decoration. A few loungers are on the pier--men and women in
grey clothes. Why introduce reds and blues when he was sure of being
able to set the little figures in their places, to draw them so
firmly, and relieve the grey monotony with such beauty of execution?
It would be vain to invent when so exquisite an execution is always at
hand to relieve and to transform. Mr. Whistler would have chosen to
look at the pier from a more fanciful point of view. Degas would have
taken an odd corner; he would have cut the composition strangely, and
commented on the humanity of the pier. But Manet just painted it
without circumlocutions of any kind. The subject was void of pictorial
relief. There was not even a blue space in the sky, nor yet a dark
cloud. He took it as it was--a white sky, full of an inner radiance,
two sailing-boats floating in mist of heat, one in shadow, the other
in light. Vandervelde would seem trivial and precious beside painting
so firm, so manly, so free from trick, so beautifully logical, and so

Manet did not often paint sea-pieces. He is best known and is most
admired as a portrait-painter, but from time to time he ventured to
trust his painting to every kind of subject-I know even a cattle-piece
by Manet--and his Christ watched over by angels in the tomb is one of
his finest works. His Christ is merely a rather fat model sitting with
his back against a wall, and two women with wings on either side of
him. There is no attempt to suggest a Divine death or to express the
Kingdom of Heaven on the angels' faces. But the legs of the man are as
fine a piece of painting as has ever been accomplished.

In an exhibition of portraits now open in Paris, entitled _Cent
Chefs-d'Oeuvre_, Manet has been paid the highest honour; he himself
would not demand a greater honour--his "Bon Bock" has been hung next
to a celebrated portrait by Hals....

Without seeing it, I know that the Hals is nobler, grander; I know,
supposing the Hals to be a good one, that its flight is that of an
eagle as compared with the flight of a hawk. The comparison is
exaggerated; but, then, so are all comparisons. I also know that Hals
does not tell us more about his old woman than Manet tells us about
the man who sits so gravely by his glass of foaming ale, so clearly
absorbed by it, so oblivious to all other joys but those that it
brings him. Hals never placed any one more clearly in his favourite
hour of the day, the well-desired hour, looked forward to perhaps
since the beginning of the afternoon. In this marvellous portrait we
read the age, the rank, the habits, the limitations, physical and
mental, of the broad-faced man who sits so stolidly, his fat hand
clasping his glass of foaming ale. Nothing has been omitted. We look
at the picture, and the man and his environment become part of our
perception of life. That stout, middle-aged man of fifty, who works
all day in some small business, and goes every evening to his café to
drink beer, will abide with us for ever. His appearance, and his mode
of life, which his appearance so admirably expresses, can never become
completely dissociated from our understanding of life. For Manet's
"Bon Bock" is one of the eternal types, a permanent national
conception, as inherent in French life as Polichinelle, Pierrot,
Monsieur Prud'homme, or the Baron Hulot. I have not seen the portrait
for fifteen or eighteen years, and yet I see it as well as if it were
hung on the wall opposite the table on which I am writing this page. I
can see that round, flat face, a little swollen with beer, the small
eyes, the spare beard and moustaches. His feet are not in the picture,
but I know how much he pays for his boots, and how they fit him. Nor
did Hals ever paint better; I mean that nowhere in Hals will you find
finer handling, or a more direct luminous or simple expression of what
the eye saw. It has all the qualities I have enumerated, and yet it
falls short of Hals. It has not the breadth and scope of the great
Dutchman. There is a sense of effort, _on sent le souffle_, and in
Hals one never does. It is more bound together, it does not flow with
the mighty and luminous ease of the _chefs d'oeuvre_ at Haarlem.

But is this Manet's final achievement, the last word he has to say? I
think not. It was painted early in the sixties, probably about the
same period as the Luxembourg picture, when the effects of his Spanish
travel were wearing off, and Paris was beginning to command his art.
Manet used to say, "When Degas was painting Semiramis I was painting
modern Paris." It would have been more true to have said modern Spain.
For it was in Spain that Manet found his inspiration. He had not been
to Holland when he painted his Spanish pictures. Velasquez clearly
inspired them; but there never was in his work any of the noble
delicacies of the Spaniard; it was always nearer to the plainer and
more--forgive the phrase--yokel-like eloquence of Hals. The art of
Hals he seemed to have divined; it seems to have come instinctively to

Manet went to Spain after a few months spent in Couture's studio. Like
all the great artists of our time, he was self-educated--Whistler,
Degas, Courbet, Corot, and Manet wasted little time in other men's
studios. Soon after his return from Spain, by some piece of good luck,
Manet was awarded _une mention honorable_ at the Salon for his
portrait of a toreador. Why this honour was conferred upon him it is
difficult to guess. It must have been the result of some special
influence exerted at a special moment, for ever after--down to the
year of his death--his pictures were considered as an excrescence on
the annual exhibitions at the _Salon_. Every year--down to the year of
his death--the jury, M. Bouguereau et Cie., lamented that they were
powerless to reject these ridiculous pictures. Manet had been placed
_hors concours_, and they could do nothing. They could do nothing
except stand before his pictures and laugh. Oh, I remember it all very
well. We were taught at the Beaux-Arts to consider Manet an absurd
person or else an _épateur_, who, not being able to paint like M.
Gérôme, determined to astonish. I remember perfectly well the derision
with which those _chefs d'oeuvre_, "Yachting at Argenteuil" and "Le
Linge", were received. They were in his last style--that bright, clear
painting in which violet shadows were beginning to take the place of
the conventional brown shadows, and the brush-work, too, was looser
and more broken up; in a word, these pictures were the germ from which
has sprung a dozen different schools, all the impressionism and other
isms of modern French art. Before these works, in which the real Manet
appeared for the first time, no one had a good word to say. To kill
them more effectually, certain merits were even conceded to the "Bon
Bock" and the Luxembourg picture.

The "Bon Bock", as we have seen, at once challenges comparison with
Hals. But in "Le Linge" no challenge is sent forth to any one; it is
Manet, all Manet, and nothing but Manet. In this picture he expresses
his love of the gaiety and pleasure of Parisian life. And this
bright-faced, simple-minded woman, who stands in a garden crowded with
the tallest sunflowers, the great flower-crowns drooping above her,
her blue cotton dress rolled up to the elbows, her hands plunged in a
small wash-tub in which she is washing some small linen, habit-shirts,
pocket-handkerchiefs, collars, expresses the joy of homely life in the
French suburb. Her home is one of good wine, excellent omelettes, soft
beds; and the sheets, if they are a little coarse, are spotless, and
retain an odour of lavender-sweetened cupboards. Her little child,
about four years old, is with his mother in the garden; he has strayed
into the foreground of the picture, just in front of the wash-tub, and
he holds a great sunflower in his tiny hand. Beside this picture of
such bright and happy aspect, the most perfect example of that _genre_
known as _la peinture claire_, invented by Manet, and so infamously
and absurdly practised by subsequent imitators--beside this picture so
limpid, so fresh, so unaffected in its handling, a Courbet would seem
heavy and dull, a sort of mock old master; a Corot would seem
ephemeral and cursive; a Whistler would seem thin; beside this picture
of such elegant and noble vision a Stevens would certainly seem
odiously common. Why does not Liverpool or Manchester buy one of these
masterpieces? If the blueness of the blouse frightens the
administrators of these galleries, I will ask them--and perhaps this
would be the more practical project--to consider the purchase of
Manet's first and last historical picture, the death of the
unfortunate Maximilian in Mexico. Under a high wall, over which some
Mexicans are looking, Maximilian and two friends stand in front of the
rifles. The men have just fired, and death clouds the unfortunate
face. On the right a man stands cocking his rifle. Look at the
movement of the hand, how well it draws back the hammer. The face is
nearly in profile--how intent it is on the mechanism. And is not the
drawing of the legs, the boots, the gaiters, the arms lifting the
heavy rifle with slow deliberation, more massive, firm, and concise
than any modern drawing? How ample and how exempt from all trick, and
how well it says just what the painter wanted to say! This picture,
too, used to hang in his studio. But the greater attractiveness of "Le
Linge" prevented me from discerning its more solemn beauty. But last
May I came across it unexpectedly, and after looking at it for some
time the thought that came was--no one painted better, no one will
ever paint better.

The Luxembourg picture, although one of the most showy and the
completest amongst Manet's masterpieces, is not, in my opinion, either
the most charming or the most interesting; and yet it would be
difficult to say that this of the many life-sized nudes that France
has produced during the century is not the one we could least easily
spare. Ingres' Source compares not with things of this century, but
with the marbles of the fourth century B.C. Cabanel's Venus is a
beautiful design, but its destruction would create no appreciable gap
in the history of nineteenth century art. The destruction of "Olympe"

The picture is remarkable not only for the excellence of the
execution, but for a symbolic intention nowhere else to be found in
Manet's works. The angels on either side of his dead Christ
necessitated merely the addition of two pairs of wings--a convention
which troubled him no more than the convention of taking off his hat
on entering a church. But in "Olympe" we find Manet departing from the
individual to the universal. The red-headed woman who used to dine at
the _Ratmort_ does not lie on a modern bed but on the couch of all
time; and she raises herself from amongst her cushions, setting forth
her somewhat meagre nudity as arrogantly and with the same calm
certitude of her sovereignty as the eternal Venus for whose prey is
the flesh of all men born. The introduction of a bouquet bound up in
large white paper does not prejudice the symbolic intention, and the
picture would do well for an illustration to some poem to be found in
_"Les fleurs du Mal"_. It may be worth while to note here that
Baudelaire printed in his volume a quatrain inspired by one of Manet's
Spanish pictures.

But after this slight adventure into symbolism, Manet's eyes were
closed to all but the visible world. The visible world of Paris he saw
henceforth--truly, frankly, and fearlessly, and more beautifully than
any of his contemporaries. Never before was a great man's mind so
strictly limited to the range of what his eyes saw. Nature wished it
so, and, having discovered nature's wish, Manet joined his desire with
Nature's. I remember his saying as he showed me some illustrations he
had done for Mallarme's translation of Edgar Poe's poem, "You'll admit
that it doesn't give you much idea 'of a kingdom by the sea.'" The
drawing represented the usual sea-side watering place--the beach with
a nursemaid at full length; children building sand castles, and some
small sails in the offing.

So Manet was content to live by the sight, and by the sight alone; he
was a painter, and had neither time nor taste for such ideals as Poe's
magical Annabel Lee. Marvellous indeed must have been the eyes that
could have persuaded such relinquishment. How marvellous they were we
understand easily when we look at "Olympe". Eyes that saw truly, that
saw beautifully and yet somewhat grossly. There is much vigour in the
seeing, there is the exquisite handling of Hals, and there is the
placing, the setting forth of figures on the canvas, which was as
instinctively his as it was Titian's. Hals and Velasquez possessed all
those qualities, and something more. They would not have been
satisfied with that angular, presumptuous, and obvious drawing, harsh
in its exterior limits and hollow within--the head a sort of
convulsive abridgment, the hand void, and the fingers too, if we seek
their articulations. An omission must not be mistaken for a
simplification, and for all his omissions Manet strives to make amend
by the tone. It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful
syntheses than that pale yellow, a beautiful golden sensation, and the
black woman, the attendant of this light of love, who comes to the
couch with a large bouquet fresh from the boulevard, is certainly a
piece of painting that Rubens and Titian would stop to admire.

But when all has been said, I prefer Manet in the quieter and I think
the more original mood in the portrait of his sister-in-law, Madame
Morisot. The portrait is in M. Duret's collection; it hangs in a not
too well lighted passage, and if I did not spend six or ten minutes in
admiration before this picture, I should feel that some familiar
pleasure had drifted out of my yearly visit to Paris. Never did a
white dress play so important or indeed so charming a part in a
picture. The dress is the picture--this common white dress, with black
spots, _une robe a poix, une petite confection de soixante cinq
francs_, as the French would say; and very far it is from all
remembrance of the diaphanous, fairy-like skirts of our eighteenth
century English school, but I swear to you no less charming. It is a
very simple and yet a very beautiful reality. A lady, in white dress
with black spots, sitting on a red sofa, a dark chocolate red, in the
subdued light of her own quiet, prosaic French _appartment, le
deuxième au dessus l'entre-sol_. The drawing is less angular, less
constipated than that of "Olympe". How well the woman's body is in the
dress! there is the bosom, the waist, the hips, the knees, and the
white stockinged foot in the low shoe, coming from out the dress. The
drawing about the hips and bosom undulates and floats, vague and yet
precise, in a manner that recalls Harlem, and it is not until we turn
to the face that we come upon ominous spaces unaccounted for, forms
unexplained. The head is so charming that it seems a pity to press our
examination further. But to understand Manet's deficiency is to
understand the abyss that separates modern from ancient art, and the
portrait of Madame Morisot explains them as well as another, for the
deficiency I wish to point out exists in Manet's best portraits as
well as in his worst. The face in this picture is like the face in
every picture by Manet. Three or four points are seized, and the
spaces between are left unaccounted for. Whistler has not the strength
of Velasquez; Manet is not as complete as Hals.


In the seventeenth century were Poussin and Claude; in the eighteenth
Watteau, Boucher, Chardin, and many lesser lights--Fragonard, Pater,
and Lancret. But notwithstanding the austere grandeur of Poussin and
the beautiful, if somewhat too reasonable poetry of Claude, the
infinite perfection of Watteau, the charm of that small French
Velasquez Chardin, and the fascinations and essentially French genius
of all this group (Poussin and Claude were entirely Roman), I think we
must place France's artistic period in the nineteenth century.

Nineteenth century art began in France in the last years of the
eighteenth century. It began well, for it began with its greatest
painters--Ingres, Corot, and Delacroix. Ingres was born in 1780,
Gericault in 1791, Corot in 1796, Delacroix in 1798, Diaz in 1809,
Dupré in 1812, Rousseau in 1812, Jacques in 1813, Meissonier in 1815,
Millet in 1815, Troyon in 1816, Daubigny in 1817, Courbet in 1819,
Fromentin in 1820, Monticelli in 1824, Puvis de Chavannes in 1824,
Cabanel in 1825, Hervier in 1827, Vollon in 1833, Manet in 1833, Degas
in 1834. With a little indulgence the list might be considerably

The circumstances in which this artistic manifestation took place were
identical with the circumstances which brought about every one of the
great artistic epochs. It came upon France as a consequence of huge
national aspiration, when nationhood was desired and disaster had
joined men together in struggle, and sent them forth on reckless
adventure. It has been said that art is decay, the pearl in the
oyster; but such belief seems at variance with any reading of history.
The Greek sculptors came after Salamis and Marathon; the Italian
renaissance came when Italy was distracted with revolution and was
divided into opposing states. Great empires have not produced great
men. Art came upon Holland after heroic wars in which the Dutchmen
vehemently asserted their nationhood, defending their country against
the Spaniard, even to the point of letting in the sea upon the
invaders. Art came upon England when England was most adventurous,
after the victories of Marlborough. Art came upon France after the
great revolution, after the victories of Marengo and Austerlitz, after
the burning of Moscow. A unique moment of nationhood gave birth to a
long list of great artists, just as similar national enthusiasm gave
birth to groups of great artists in England, in Holland, in Florence,
in Venice, in Athens.

Having determined the century of France's artistic period we will ask
where we shall place it amongst the artist period of the past.
Comparison with Greece, Italy, or Venice is manifestly impossible; the
names of Rembrandt, Hals, Ruysdael, Peter de Hoogh, Terburg, and Cuyp
give us pause. We remember the names of Ingres, Delacroix, Corot,
Millet, and Degas. Even the divine name of Ingres cannot save the
balance from sinking on the side of Holland. Then we think of
Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney, Wilson, and Morland, and wonder how
they compare with the Frenchmen. The best brains were on the French
side, they had more pictorial talent, and yet the school when taken as
a whole is not so convincing as the English. Why, with better brains,
and certainly more passion and desire of achievement, does the French
school fall behind the English? Why, notwithstanding its extraordinary
genius, does it come last in merit as it comes last in time amongst
the world's artistic epochs? Has the nineteenth century brought any
new intention into art which did not exist before in England, Holland,
or Italy? Yes, the nineteenth century has brought a new intention into
art, and I think that it is this very new intention that has caused
the failure of the nineteenth century. To explain myself, I will have
to go back to first principles.

In the beginning the beauty of man was the artist's single theme.
Science had not then relegated man to his exact place in creation: he
reigned triumphant, Nature appearing, if at all, only as a kind of
aureole. The Egyptian, the Greek, and the Roman artists saw nothing,
and cared for nothing, except man; the representation of his beauty,
his power, and his grandeur was their whole desire, whether they
carved or painted their intention, and I may say the result was the
same. The painting of Apelles could not have differed from the
sculpture of Phidias; painting was not then separated from her elder
sister. In the early ages there was but one art; even in Michael
Angelo's time the difference between painting and sculpture was so
slight as to be hardly worth considering. Is it possible to regard the
"Last Judgment" as anything else but a coloured bas-relief, more
complete and less perfect than the Greeks? Michael Angelo's artistic
outlook was the same as Phidias'. One chose the "Last Judgment" and
the other "Olympus", but both subjects were looked at from the same
point of view. In each instance the question asked was--what
opportunity do they afford for the display of marvellous human form?
And when Michael Angelo carved the "Moses" and painted the "St.
Jerome" he was as deaf and blind as any Greek to all other
consideration save the opulence and the magic of drapery, the
vehemence and the splendour of muscle. Nearly two thousand years had
gone by and the artistic outlook had not changed at all; three hundred
years have passed since Michael Angelo, and inthose three hundred
years what revolution has not been effected? How different our
estheticism, our aims, our objects, our desires, our aspiration, and
how different our art!

After Michael Angelo painting and sculpture became separate arts:
sculpture declined, and colour filled the whole artistic horizon. But
this change was the only change; the necessities of the new medium had
to be considered; but the Italian and Venetian painters continued to
view life and art from the same side. Michael Angelo chose his
subjects merely because of the opportunities they offered for the
delineation of form, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese chose theirs
merely for the opportunities they offered for the display of colour. A
new medium of expression had been discovered, that was all. The themes
of their pictures were taken from the Bible, if you will, but the
scenes they represented with so much pomp of colour were seen by them
through the mystery of legend, and the vision was again sublimated by
naive belief and primitive aspiration.

The stories of the Old and New Testaments were not anecdotes; faith
and ignorance had raised them above the anecdote, and they had become
epics, whether by intensity of religious belief--as in the case of the
monk of Fiesole--or by being given sublime artistic form--for paganism
was not yet dead in the world to witness Leonardo, Raphael, and Andrea
del Sarto. To these painters Biblical subjects were a mere pretext for
representing man in all his attributes; and when the same subjects
were treated by the Venetians, they were transformed in a pomp of
colour, and by an absence of all _true_ colour and by contempt for
history and chronology became epical and fantastical. It is only
necessary to examine any one of the works of the great Venetians to
see that they bestowed hardly a thought on the subject of their
pictures. When Titian painted the "Entombment of Christ", what did he
see? A contrast--a white body, livid and dead, carried by
full-blooded, red-haired Italians, who wept, and whose sorrow only
served to make them more beautiful. That is how he understood a
subject. The desire to be truthful was not very great, nor was the
desire to be new much more marked; to be beautiful was the first and
last letter of a creed of which we know very little to-day.

Art died in Italy, and the subject had not yet appeared; and at the
end of the sixteenth century the first painters of the great Dutch
school were born, and before 1650 a new school, entirely original,
having nothing in common with anything that had gone before, had
formulated its aestheticism and produced masterpieces. In these
masterpieces we find no suspicion of anything that might be called a
subject; the absence of subject is even more conspicuous in the
Dutchmen than in the Italians. In the Italian painters the subject
passed unperceived in a pomp of colour or a Pagan apotheosis of
humanity; in the Dutchmen it is dispensed with altogether. No longer
do we read of miracles or martyrdoms, but of the most ordinary
incidents of everyday life. Turning over the first catalogue to hand
of Dutch pictures, I read: "View of a Plain, with shepherd, cows, and
sheep in the foreground"; "The White Horse in the Riding School"; "A
Lady Playing the Virginal"; "Peasants Drinking Outside a Tavern";
"Peasants Drinking in a Tavern"; "Peasants Gambling Outside a Tavern";
"Brick-making in a Landscape"; "The Wind-mill"; "The Water-mill";
"Peasants Bringing Home the Hay". And so on, and so on. If we meet
with a military skirmish, we are not told where the skirmish took
place, nor what troops took part in the skirmish. "A Skirmish in a
Rocky Pass" is all the information that is vouchsafed to us. Italian
art is invention from end to end, in Dutch art no slightest trace of
invention is to be found; one art is purely imaginative, the other is
plainly realistic; and yet, at an essential point, the two arts
coincide; in neither does the subject prevail; and if Dutch art is
more truthful than Italian art, it is because they were unimaginative,
stay-at-home folk, whose feet did not burn for foreign travel, and
whose only resource was, therefore, to reproduce the life around them,
and into that no element of curiosity could come. For their whole
country was known to them; even when they left their native town they
still continued to paint what they had seen since they were little

And, like Italian, Dutch art died before the subject had appeared. It
was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the subject
really began to make itself felt, and, like the potato blight or
phylloxera, it soon became clear that it had come to stay. I think
Greuze was the first to conceive a picture after the fashion of a
scene in a play--I mean those domestic dramas which he invented, and
in which the interest of the subject so clearly predominates--"The
Prodigal Son", for instance. In this picture we have the domestic
drama exactly as a stage manager would set it forth. The indignant
father, rising from table, prepares to anathematise the repentant son,
who stands on the threshold, the weeping mother begs forgiveness for
her son, the elder girl advances shyly, the younger children play with
their toys, and the serving-girl drops the plate of meat which she is
bringing in. And ever since the subject has taken first place in the
art of France, England, and Germany, and in like measure as the
subject made itself felt, so did art decline.

For the last hundred years painters seem to have lived in libraries
rather than in studios. All literatures and all the sciences have been
pressed into the service of painting, and an Academy catalogue is in
itself a liberal education. In it you can read choice extracts from
the Bible, from Shakespeare, from Goethe, from Dante. You can dip into
Greek and Latin literature, history--ancient and modern--you can learn
something of all mythologies-Pagan, Christian, and Hindoo; if your
taste lies in the direction of Icelandic legends, you will not be
disappointed in your sixpennyworth. For the last hundred years the
painter seems to have neglected nothing except to learn how to paint.

For more than a hundred years painting has been in service. She has
acted as a sort of handmaiden to literature, her mission being to make
clear to the casual and the unlettered what the lettered had already
understood and enjoyed in a more subtle and more erudite form. But to
pass from the abstract to the concrete, and, so far as regards
subject, to make my meaning quite clear to every one, I cannot do
better than to ask my readers to recall Mr. Luke Fildes' picture of
"The Doctor". No better example could be selected of a picture in
which the subject is the supreme interest. True that Mr. Fildes has
not taken his subject from novel or poem; in this picture he may have
been said to have been his own librettist, and perhaps for that very
reason the subject is the one preponderating interest in the picture.
He who doubts if this be so has only to ask himself if any critic
thought of pointing to any special passage of colour in this picture,
of calling attention to the quality of the modelling or the ability of
the drawing. No; what attracted attention was the story. Would the
child live or die? Did that dear, good doctor entertain any hopes of
the poor little thing's recovery? And the poor parents, how grieved
they seemed! Perhaps it is their only child. The picture is typical of
contemporary art, which is nearly all conceived in the same spirit,
and can therefore have no enduring value. And if by chance the English
artist does occasionally escape from the vice of subject for subject's
sake, he almost invariably slips into what I may called the derivative
vices--exactness of costume, truth of effect and local colour. To
explain myself on this point, I will ask the reader to recall any one
of Mr. Alma Tadema's pictures; it matters not a jot which is chosen.
That one, for instance, where, in a circular recess of white marble,
Sappho reads to a Greek poet, or is it the young man who is reading to
Sappho and her maidens? The interest of the picture is purely
archaeological. According to the very latest researches, the ornament
which Greek women wore in their hair was of such a shape, and Mr.
Tadema has reproduced the shape in his picture. Further researches are
made, and it is discovered that that ornament was not worn until a
hundred years later. The picture is therefore deprived of some of its
interest, and the researches of the next ten years may make it appear
as old-fashioned as the Greek pictures of the last two generations
appear in our eyes to-day. Until then it is as interesting as a page
of Smith's _Classical Dictionary_. We look at it and we say, "How
curious! And that was how the Greeks washed and dressed themselves!"

When Mr. Holman Hunt conceived the idea of a picture of Christ earning
His livelihood by the sweat of His brow, it seemed to him to be quite
necessary to go to Jerusalem. There he copied a carpenter's shop from
nature, and he filled it with Arab tools and implements, feeling sure
that, the manners and customs having changed but little in the East,
it was to be surmised that such tools and implements must be nearly
identical with those used eighteen centuries ago. To dress the Virgin
in sumptuous flowing robes, as Raphael did, was clearly incorrect; the
Virgin was a poor woman, and could not have worn more than a single
garment, and the garment she wore probably resembled the dress of the
Arab women of the present day, and so on and so on. Through the window
we see the very landscape that Christ looked upon. From the point of
view of the art critic of the _Daily Telegraph_ nothing could be
better; the various sites and prospects are explained and commented
upon, and the heart of middle-class England beats in sympathetic
response. But the real picture-lover sees nothing save two
geometrically drawn figures placed in the canvas like diagrams in a
book of Euclid. And the picture being barren of artistic interest, his
attention is caught by the Virgin's costume, and the catalogue informs
him that Mr. Hunt's model was an Arab woman in Jerusalem, whose dress
in all probability resembled the dress the Virgin wore two thousand
years ago. The carpenter's shop he is assured is most probably an
exact counterpart of the carpenter's shop in which Christ worked. How
very curious! how very curious!

Curiosity in art has always been a corruptive influence, and the art
of our century is literally putrid with curiosity. Perhaps the desire
of home was never so fixed and so real in any race as some would have
us believe. At all times there have been men whose feet itched for
travel; even in Holland, the country above all others which gave
currency to the belief in the stay-at-home instinct, there were always
adventurous spirits who yearned for strange skies and lands. It was
this desire of travel that destroyed the art of Holland in the
seventeenth century. I can hardly imagine an article that would be
more instructive and valuable than one dealing precisely with those
Dutchmen who went to Italy in quest of romance, poetry, and general
artistic culture, for travel has often had an injurious effect on art.
I do not say foreign travel, I say any travel. The length of the
journey counts for nothing, once the painter's inspiration springs
from the novelty of the colour, or the character of the landscape, or
the interest that a strange costume suggests. There are painters who
have never been further than Maidenhead, and who bring back what I
should call _notes de voyage_; there are others who have travelled
round the world and have produced general aspects bearing neither
stamp nor certificate of mileage--in other words, pictures. There are,
therefore, two men who must not be confused one with the other, the
traveller that paints and the painter that travels.

Every day we hear of a painter who has been to Norway, or to Brittany,
or to Wales, or to Algeria, and has come back with sixty-five
sketches, which are now on view, let us say, at Messrs. Dowdeswell's
Galleries, in New Bond Street, the home of all such exhibitions. The
painter has been impressed by the savagery of fiords, by the
prettiness of blouses and sabots, by the blue mountain in the distance
and the purple mountain in the foreground, by the narrow shade of the
street, and the solemnity of a _burnous_ or the grace of a _haik_
floating in the wind. The painter brings back these sights and scenes
as a child brings back shells from the shore--they seemed very strange
and curious, and, therefore, like the child, he brought back, not the
things themselves, but the next best things, the most faithful
sketches he could make of them. To understand how impossible it is to
paint _pictures_ in a foreign country, we have only to imagine a young
English painter setting up his easel in, let us say, Algeria. There he
finds himself confrontedwith a new world; everything is different: the
costumes are strange, the rhythm of the lines is different, the
effects are harsh and unknown to him; at home the earth is dark and
the sky is light, in Algeria the everlasting blue must be darker than
the white earth, and the key of colour widely different from anything
he has seen before. Selection is impossible, he cannot distinguish
between the important and the unimportant; everything strikes him with
equal vividness. To change anything of this country, so clear, so
precise, so characteristic, is to soften; to alleviate what is too
rude, is to weaken; to generalise, is to disfigure. So the artist is
obliged to take Algiers in the lump; in spite of himself he will find
himself forced into a scrupulous exactitude, nothing must be passed
over, and so his pictures are at best only the truth, photographic
truth and the naturalness of a fac-simile.

The sixty-five drawings which the painter will bring back and will
exhibit in Messrs. Dowdeswell's will be documentary evidence of the
existence of Algeria--of all that makes a country itself, of exactly
the things by which those who have been there know it, of the things
which will make it known to those who have not been there, the exact
type of the inhabitants, their costume, their attitudes, their ways,
and manner of living. Once the painter accepts truth for aim and end,
it becomes impossible to set a limit upon his investigations. We shall
learn how this people dress, ride, and hunt; we shall learn what arms
they use--the painter will describe them as well as a pencil may
describe--the harness of the horses he must know and understand;
through dealing with so much novelty it becomes obligatory for the
travelling painter to become explanatory and categorical. And as the
attraction of the unknown corresponds in most people to the immoral
instinct of curiosity, the painter will find himself forced to attempt
to do with paint and canvas what he could do much better in a written
account. His public will demand pictures composed after the manner of
an inventory, and the taste for ethnography will end by being confused
with the sentiment of beauty.

Amongst this collection of _documents_ which causes the Gallery to
resound with foolish and vapid chatter there are two small pictures.
Every one has passed by them, but now an artist is examining them, and
they are evidently the only two things in the exhibition that interest
him. One is entitled "Sunset on the Nile", an impression of the
melancholy of evening; the other is entitled "Pilgrims", a band of
travellers passing up a sandy tract, an impression of hot desert

And now I will conclude with an anecdote taken from one to whom I owe
much. Two painters were painting on the banks of the Seine. Suddenly a
shepherd passed driving before him a long flock of sheep, silhouetting
with supple movement upon the water whitening under a grey sky at the
end of April. The shepherd had his scrip on his back, he wore the
great felt hat and the gaiters of the herdsman, two black dogs,
picturesque in form, trotted at his heels, for the flock was going in
excellent order. "Do you know," cried one painter to the other, "that
nothing is more interesting to paint than a shepherd on the banks of
_a river_?" He did not say the Seine--he said a river.


Is the introduction of the subject into art the one and only cause for
the defeat of the brilliant genius which the Revolution and the
victories of Napoleoncalled into existence? Are there not other modern
and special signs which distinguish the nineteenth century French
schools from all the schools that preceded it? I think there are.

Throwing ourselves back in our chairs, let us think of this French
school in its _ensemble_. What extraordinary variety! What an absence
of fixed principle! curiosity, fever, impatience, hurry, anxiety,
desire touching on hysteria. An enormous expenditure of force, but
spent in so many different and contrary directions, that the sum-total
of the result seems a little less than we had expected. Throwing
ourselves back in our chairs, and closing our eyes a second time, let
us think of our eighteenth century English school. Is it not like
passing from the glare and vicarious holloaing of the street into a
quiet, grave assembly of well-bred men, who are not afraid to let each
other speak, and know how to make themselves heard without shouting;
men who choose their words so well that they afford to speak without
emphasis, and in whose speech you find neither neologisms, nor
inversions, nor grammatical extravagances, nor calculated brutalities,
nor affected ignorance, nor any faintest trace of pedantry? What these
men have to say is more or less interesting, but they address us in
the same language, and however arbitrarily we may place them, though
we hang a pig-stye by Morland next to a duchess by Gainsborough, we
are surprised by a pleasant air of family likeness in the execution.
We feel, however differently these men see and think, that they are
content to express themselves in the same language. Their work may be
compared to various pieces of music played on an instrument which was
common property; they were satisfied with the instrument, and
preferred to compose new music for it than to experiment with the
instrument itself.

It may be argued that in the lapse of a hundred years the numerous
differences of method which characterise modern painting will
disappear, and that it will seem as uniform to the eyes of the
twenty-first century as the painting of the eighteenth century seems
in our eyes to-day. I do not think this will be so. And in proof of
this opinion I will refer again to the differences of opinion
regarding the first principles of painting and drawing which divided
Ingres and Géricault. Differences regarding first principles never
existed between the leaders of any other artistic movement. Not
between Michael Angelo and Raphael, not between Veronese, Tintoretto,
Titian, and Rubens; not between Hals or any other Dutchman, except
Rembrandt, born between 1600 and 1640; or between Van Dyck and
Reynolds and Gainsborough. Nor must the difference between the methods
of Giotto and Titian cause any one to misunderstand my meaning. The
change that two centuries brought into art was a gradual change,
corresponding exactly to the ideas which the painter wished to
express; each method was sufficient to explain the ideas current at
the time it was invented for that purpose; it served that purpose and
no more.

Facilities for foreign travel, international exhibitions, and
cosmopolitanism have helped to keep artists of all countries in a
ferment of uncertainty regarding even the first principles of their
art. But this is not all; education has proved a vigorous and rapid
solvent, and has completed the disintegration of art. A young man goes
to the Beaux Arts; he is taught how to measure the model with his
pencil, and how to determine the movement of the model with his
plumb-line. He is taught how to draw by the masses rather than by the
character, and the advantages of this teaching permit him, if he is an
intelligent fellow, to produce at the end of two years' hard labour a
measured, angular, constipated drawing, a sort of inferior photograph.
He is then set to painting, and the instruction he receives amounts to
this--that he must not rub the paint about with his brush as he rubbed
the chalk with his paper stump. After a long methodical study of the
model, an attempt is made to prepare a corresponding tone; no medium
must be used; and when the, large square brush is filled full of
sticky, clogging pigment it is drawn half an inch down and then half
an inch across the canvas, and the painter must calculate how much he
can finish at a sitting, for this system does not admit of
retouchings. It is practised in all the French studios, where it is
known as _la peinture au premier coup_.

A clever young man, a man of talent, labours at art in the manner I
have described from eight to ten hours a day, and at the end of six or
seven years his education is completed. During the long while of his
pupilage he has heard, "first learn your trade, and then do what you
like". The time has arrived for him to do what he likes. He already
suspects that the mere imitation of MM. Bouguereau and Lefebvre will
bring him neither fame nor money; he soon finds that is so, and it
becomes clear to him he must do something different. Enticing vistas
of possibilities open out before him, but he is like a man whose limbs
have been kept too long in splints--they are frozen; and he at length
understands the old and terrible truth: as the twig is bent so will it
grow. The skin he would slough will not be sloughed; he tries all the
methods--robust executions, lymphatic executions, sentimental and
insipid executions, painstaking executions, cursive and impertinent
executions. Through all these the Beaux Arts student, if he is
intelligent enough to perceive the falseness and worthlessness of his
primary education, slowly works his way. He is like a vessel without
ballast; he is like a blindfolded man who has missed his pavement; he
is blown from wave to wave; he is confused with contradictory cries.
Last year he was robust, this year he is lymphatic; he affects
learning which he does not possess, and then he assumes airs of
ignorance, equally unreal--a mild, sophisticated ignorance, which he
calls _naïveté_. And these various execution she is never more than
superficially acquainted with; he does not practise any one long
enough to extract what good there may be in it.

To set before the reader the full story of the French decadence, I
should have to relate the story of the great schism of some few years
ago, when the pedants remained at the _Salon_ under the headship of
Mr. Bouguereau, and the experimentalists followed Meissonier to the
Champs de Mars.[Footnote: See "Impressions and Opinions."]The
authoritative name of Meissonier, the genius of Puvis de Chavannes,
and the interest of the exhibition of Stevens' early work, sufficed
for some years to disguise the progress and the tendency of the
declension of French art; and it was not until last year (1892) that
it was impossible to doubt any longer that the great French
renaissance of the beginning of the century had worn itself out, that
the last leaves were falling, and that probably a long period of
winter rest was preparing. French art has resolved itself into pedants
and experimentalists! The _Salon_ is now like to a library of Latin
verses composed by the Eton and Harrow masters and their pupils; the
Champs de Mars like a costume ball at Elyseé Montmartre.

In England it is customary for art to enter by a side door, and the
enormous subvention to the Kensington Schools would never have been
voted by Parliament if the bill had not been gilt with the usual
utility gilding. It was represented that the schools were intended for
something much more serious than the mere painting of pictures, which
only rich people could buy: the schools were primarily intended as
schools of design, wherein the sons and daughters of the people would
be taught how to design wall-papers, patterns for lace, curtains,
damask table-cloths, etc. The intention, like many another, was
excellent; but the fact remains that, except for examination purposes,
the work done by Kensington students is useless. A design for a piece
of wall-paper, for which a Kensington student is awarded a medal, is
almost sure to prove abortive when put to a practical test. The
isolated pattern looks pretty enough on the two feet of white paper on
which it is drawn; but when the pattern is manifolded, it is usually
found that the designer has not taken into account the effect of the
repetition. That is the pitfall into which the Kensington student
usually falls; he cannot make practical application of his knowledge,
and at Minton's factory all the designs drawn by Kensington students
have to be redrawn by those who understand the practical working out
of the processes of reproduction and the quality of the material
employed. So complete is the failure of the Kensington student, that
to plead a Kensington education is considered to be an almost fatal
objection against any one applying for work in any of our industrial

Five-and-twenty years ago the schools of art at South Kensington were
the most comical in the world; they were the most complete parody on
the Continental school of art possible to imagine. They are no doubt
the same to-day as they were five-and-twenty years ago--any way, the
educational result is the same. The schools as I remember them were
faultless in everything except the instruction dispensed there. There
were noble staircases, the floors were covered with cocoa-nut matting,
the rooms admirably heated with hot-water pipes, there were plaster
casts and officials. In the first room the students practised drawing
from the flat. Engraved outlines of elaborate ornamentation were given
them, and these they drew with lead pencil, measuring the spaces
carefully with compasses. In about six months or a year the student
had learned to use his compass correctly, and to produce a fine hard
black-lead outline; the harder and finer the outline, the more the
drawing looked like a problem in a book of Euclid, the better the
examiner was pleased, and the more willing was he to send the student
to the room upstairs, where drawing was practised from the antique.

This was the room in which the wisdom of South Kensington attained a
complete efflorescence. I shall never forget the scenes I witnessed
there. Having made choice of a cast, the student proceeded to measure
the number of heads; he then measured the cast in every direction, and
ascertained by means of a plumb-line exactly where the lines fell. It
wasmore like land-surveying than drawing, and to accomplish this
portion of his task took generally a fortnight, working six hours a
week. He then placed a sheet of tissue paper upon his drawing, leaving
only one small part uncovered, and, having reduced his chalk pencil to
the finest possible point, he proceeded to lay in a set of extremely
fine lines. These were crossed by a second set of lines, and the two
sets of lines were elaborately stippled, every black spot being
carefully picked out with bread. With a patience truly sublime in its
folly, he continued the process all the way down the figure,
accomplishing, if he were truly industrious, about an inch square in
the course of an evening. Our admiration was generally directed to
those who had spent the longest time on their drawings. After three
months' work a student began to be noticed; at the end of four he
became an important personage. I remember one who had contrived to
spend six months on his drawing. He was a sort of demigod, and we used
to watch him anxious and alarmed lest he might not have the genius to
devote still another month to it, and our enthusiasm knew no bounds
when we learned that, a week before the drawings had to be sent in, he
had taken his drawing home and spent three whole days stippling it and
picking out the black spots with bread.

The poor drawing had neither character nor consistency; it looked like
nothing under the sun, except a drawing done at Kensington--a flat,
foolish thing, but very soft and smooth. But this was enough; it was
passed by the examiners, and the student went into the Life Room to
copy an Italian model as he had copied the Apollo Belvedere. Once or
twice a week a gentleman who painted tenth-rate pictures, which were
not always hung in the Academy, came round and passed casual remarks
on the quality of the stippling. There was a head-master who painted
tenth-rate historical pictures, after the manner of a tenth-rate
German painter in a provincial town, in a vast studio upstairs, which
the State was good enough to provide him with, and he occasionally
walked through the studios; on an average, I should say, once a month.

The desire to organise art proceeded in France from a love of system,
and in England from a love of respectability. To the ordinary mind
there is something especially reassuring in medals, crowns,
examinations, professors, and titles; and since the founding of the
Kensington Schools we unfortunately hear no more of parents opposing
their children's wishes to become artists. The result of all these
facilities for art study has been to swamp natural genius and to
produce enormous quantities of vacuous little water colours and slimy
little oil colours. Young men have been prevented from going to
Australia and Canada and becoming rough farmers, and young ladies from
following them and becoming rough wives and themothers of healthy
children. Instead of such natural emigration and extension of the
race, febrile little pilgrimages have been organised to Paris and
Grey, whence astonishing methods and theories regarding the
conditions, under which painting alone can be accomplished, have been
brought back. Original Kensington stipple has been crossed with square
brush-work, and the mule has been bred in and in with open brush-work,
and fresh strains have been sought in the execution at the angle of
forty-five; art has become infinitely hybrid and definitely sterile.

Must we then conclude that all education is an evil? Why exaggerate;
why outstrip the plain telling of the facts? For those who are
thinking of adopting art as a profession it is sufficient to know that
the one irreparable evil is a bad primary education. Be sure that
after five years of the Beaux Arts you cannot become a great painter.
Be sure that after five years of Kensington you can never become a
painter at all. "If not at Kensington nor at the Beaux Arts, where am
I to obtain the education I stand in need of?" cries the embarrassed
student. I do not propose to answer that question directly. How the
masters of Holland and Flanders obtained their marvellous education is
not known. We neither know how they learned nor how they painted. Did
the early masters paint first in monochrome, adding the colouring
matter afterwards? Much vain conjecturing has been expended in
attempting to solve this question. Did Ruysdale paint direct from
nature or from drawings? Unfortunately on this question history has no
single word to say. We know that Potter learned his trade in the
fields in lonely communication with nature. We know too that Crome was
a house-painter, and practised painting from nature when his daily
work was done. Nevertheless he attained as perfect a technique as any
painter that ever lived. Morland, too, was self-taught: he practised
painting in the fields and farmyards and the country inns where he
lived, oftentimes paying for board and lodging with a picture. Did his
art suffer from want of education? Is there any one who believes that
Morland would have done better work if he had spent three or four
years stippling drawings from the antique at South Kensington?

I will conclude these remarks, far too cursive and incomplete, with an
anecdote which, I think, will cause the thoughtful to ponder. Some
seven or eight years ago, Renoir, a painter of rare talent and
originality, after twenty years of struggle with himself and poverty,
succeeded in attaining a very distinct and personal expression of his
individuality. Out of a hundred influences he had succeeded in
extracting an art as beautiful as it was new. His work was beginning
to attract buyers. For the first time in his life he had a little
money in hand, and he thought he would like a holiday. Long reading of
novels leads the reader to suppose that he found his ruin in a period
of riotous living, the reaction induced by anxiety and over-work. Not
at all. He did what every wise friend would have advised him to do
under the circumstances: he went to Venice to study Tintoretto. The
magnificences of this master struck him through with the sense of his
own insignificance; he became aware of the fact that he could not draw
like Tintoretto; and when he returned to Paris he resolved to subject
himself to two years of hard study in an art school. For two years he
laboured in the life class, working on an average from seven to ten
hours a day, and in two years he had utterly destroyed every trace of
the charming and delightful art which had taken him twenty years to
build up. I know of no more tragic story--do you?


Of the thirty or more great artists who made the artistic movement at
the beginning of the century in France, five will, I think, exercise a
prolonged influence on the art of the future--Ingres, Corot, Millet,
Manet, and Degas.

The omission of the name of Delacroix will surprise many; but though
Delacroix will engage the attention of artists as they walk through
the Louvre, I do not think that they will turn to him for counsel in
their difficulty, or that they will learn from him any secrets of
their craft. In the great masters of pictorial composition--Michael
Angelo, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Rubens--the passion and tumult of
the work resides solely in the conception; the execution is always
calculated, and the result is perfectly predetermined and accurately
foreseen. To explain myself I will tell an anecdote which is always
told whenever Delacroix's name is mentioned, without, however, the
true significance of the anecdote being perceived. After seeing
Constable's pictures, Delacroix repainted one of his most important
works from end to end.

Of Degas [Footnote: See essay on Degas In "Impressions and Opinions".]
and Manet I have spoken elsewhere. Millet seems to me to be a sort of
nineteenth century Greuze. The subject-matter is different, but at
bottom the art of these two painters is more alike than is generally
supposed. Neither was a painter in any true sense of the word, and if
the future learns anything from Millet, it will be how to separate the
scene from the environment which absorbs it, how to sacrifice the
background, how to suggest rather than to point out, and how by a
series of ellipses to lead the spectator to imagine what is not there.
The student may learn from Millet that it was by sometimes servilely
copying nature, sometimes by neglecting nature, that the old masters
succeeded in conveying not an illusion but an impression of life.

But of all nineteenth century painters Ingres and Corot seem most sure
of future life; their claim upon the attention and the admiration of
future artists seems the most securely founded. Looked at from a
certain side Ingres seems for sheer perfection to challenge antiquity.
Of Michael Angelo there can never be any question; he stands alone in
a solitude of greatness. Phidias himself is not so much alone. For the
art of Apelles could not have differed from that of Phidias; and the
intention of many a drawing by Apelles must have been identical with
that of "La Source". It is difficult to imagine what further beauty he
may have introduced into a face, or what further word he might have
had to say on the beauty of a virgin body.

The legs alone suggest the possibility of censure. Ingres repainted
the legs when the picture was finished and the model was not before
him, so the idea obtains among artists that the legs are what are
least perfect in the picture. In repainting the legs his object was
omission of detail with a view to concentration of attention on the
upper part of the figure. It must not however be supposed that the
legs are what is known among painters as empty; they have been
simplified; their synthetic expression has been found; and if the
teaching at the Beaux Arts forbids the present generation to
understand such drawing, the fault lies with the state that permits
the Beaux Arts, and not with Ingres, whose genius was not crushed by
it. The suggestion that Ingres spoilt the legs of "La Source" by
repainting them when the model was not before him could come from
nowhere but the Beaux Arts.

That Ingres was not so great an artist as Raphael I am aware. That
Ingres' drawings show none of the dramatic inventiveness of Raphael's
drawings is so obvious that I must apologise for such a commonplace.
Raphael's drawings were done with a different intention from Ingres';
Raphael's drawings were no more than rough memoranda, and in no
instance did he attempt to carry a drawing to the extreme limit that
Ingres did. Ingres' drawing is one thing, Raphael's is another; still
I would ask if any one thinks that Raphael could have carried a
drawing as far as Ingres? I would ask if any of Raphael's drawings are
as beautiful, as perfect, or as instructive as Ingres'. Take, for
example, the pencil drawing in the Louvre, the study for the
odalisque: who except a Greek could have produced so perfect a
drawing? I can imagine Apelles doing something like it, but no one

When you go to the Louvre examine that line of back, return the next
day and the next, and consider its infinite perfection before you
conclude that my appreciation is exaggerated. Think of the learning
and the love that were necessary for the accomplishment of such
exquisite simplifications. Never did pencil follow an outline with
such penetrating and unwearying passion, or clasp and enfold it with
such simple and sufficient modelling. Nowhere can you detect a
starting-point or a measurement taken; it seems to have grown as a
beautiful tendril grows, and every curve sways as mysteriously, and
the perfection seems as divine. Beside it Dürer would seem crabbed and
puzzle-headed; Holbein would seem angular and geometrical; Da Vinci
would seem vague: and I hope that no critic by partial quotation will
endeavour to prove me guilty of having said that Ingres was a greater
artist than Da Vinci. I have not said any such thing; I have merely
striven by aid of comparison to bring before the reader some sense of
the miraculous beauty of one of Ingres' finest pencil drawings.

Or let us choose the well-known drawing of the Italian lady sitting in
the Louis XV. arm-chair, her long curved and jewelled hand lying in
her lap and a coiffure of laces pinned down with a long jewelled
hair-pin. How her head-dress of large laces decorates the paper, and
the elaborate working out of the pattern, is it not a miracle of
handicraft? How exquisite the black curls on the forehead, and how
they balance the dark eyes which are the depth and centre of the
composition! The necklace, how well the stones are heaped, how well
they lie together! How well their weight and beauty are expressed! And
the earrings, how enticing in their intricate workmanship. Then the
movement of the face, how full it is of the indolent south, and the
oval of the face is composed to harmonise and enhance the lace
head-dress; and its outline, though full of classical simplifications,
tells the character with Holbein-like fidelity; it falls away into a
soft, weak chin in which resides a soft sensual lassitude. The black
eyes are set like languid stars in the face, and the flesh rounds off
softly, like a sky, modelled with a little shadow, part of the
outline, and expressing its beauty. And then there are the marvels of
the dress to consider: the perfect and spontaneous creation of the
glitter of the long silk arms, and the muslin of the wrists, soft as
foliage, and then the hardness of the bodice stitched with jewellery
and set so romantically on the almost epicene bosom.

It is the essentially Greek quality of perfection that brings Corot
and Ingres together. They are perfect, as none other since the Greek
sculptors has been perfect. Other painters have desired beauty at
intervals as passionately as they, none save the Greeks so
continuously; and the desire to be merely beautiful seemed, if
possible, to absorb the art of Corot even more completely than it did
that of Ingres. Among the numerous pictures, sketches, and drawings
which he left you will find weakness, repetitions, even commonplace,
but ugliness never. An ugly set of lines is not to be found in Corot;
the rhythm may sometimes be weak, but his lines never run out of
metre. For the rhythm of line as well as of sound the artist must seek
in his own soul; he will never find it in the inchoate and discordant
jumble which we call nature.

And, after all, what is art but rhythm? Corot knew that art is nature
made rhythmical, and so he was never known to take out a six-foot
canvas to copy nature on. Being an artist, he preferred to observe
nature, and he lay down and dreamed his fields and trees, and he
walked about in his landscape, selecting his point of view,
determining the rhythm of his lines. That sense of rhythm which I have
defined as art was remarkable in him even from his first pictures. In
the "Castle of St. Angelo, Rome", for instance, the placing of the
buildings, one low down, the other high up in the picture, the bridge
between, and behind the bridge the dome of St. Peter's, is as
faultless a composition as his maturest work. As faultless, and yet
not so exquisite. For it took many long and pensive years to attain
the more subtle and delicate rhythms of "The Lake" in the collection
of J. S. Forbes, Esq., or the landscape in the collection of G. N.
Stevens, Esq., or the "Ravine" in the collection of Sir John Day.

Corot's style changed; but it changed gradually, as nature changes,
waxing like the moon from a thin, pure crescent to a full circle of
light. Guided by a perfect instinct, he progressed, fulfilling the
course of his artistic destiny. We notice change, but each change
brings fuller beauty. And through the long and beautiful year of
Corot's genius--full as the year itself of months and seasons--we
notice that the change that comes over his art is always in the
direction of purer and more spiritual beauty. We find him more and
more absorbed in the emotion that the landscape conveys, more willing
to sacrifice the superfluous and circumstantial for the sake of the
immortal beauty of things.

Look at the "Lac de Garde" and say if you can that the old Greek
melody is not audible in the line which bends and floats to the lake's
edge, in the massing and the placing of those trees, in the fragile
grace of the broken birch which sweeps the "pale complexioned sky".
Are we not looking into the heart of nature, and do we not hear the
silence that is the soul of evening? In this, his perfect period, he
is content to leave his foreground rubbed over with some expressive
grey, knowing well that the eye rests not there, and upon his middle
distance he will lavish his entire art, concentrating his picture on
some one thing in which for him resides the true reality of the place;
be this the evening ripples on the lake or the shimmering of the
willow leaves as the last light dies out of the sky.

I only saw Corot once. It was in some woods near Paris, where I had
gone to paint, and I came across the old gentleman unexpectedly,
seated in front of his easel in a pleasant glade. After admiring his
work I ventured to say: "Master, what you are doing is lovely, but I
cannot find your composition in the landscape before us." He said: "My
foreground is a long way ahead," and sure enough, nearly two hundred
yards away, his picture rose out of the dimness of the dell,
stretching a little beyond the vista into the meadow.

The anecdote seems to me to be a real lesson in the art of painting,
for it shows us the painter in his very employment of nature, and we
divine easily the transposition in the tones and in the aspect of
things that he was engaged in bringing into that picture. And to speak
of transpositions leads us inevitably into consideration of the great
secret of Corot's art, his employment of what is known in studios as

By values is meant the amount of light and shadow contained in a tone.
The relation of a half-tint to the highest light, which is represented
by the white paper, the relation of a shadow to the deepest black,
which is represented by the chalk pencil, is easy enough to perceive
in a drawing; but when the work is in colour the values, although not
less real, are more difficult to estimate. For a colour can be
considered from two points of view: either as so much colouring
matter, or as so much light and shade. Violet, for instance, contains
not only red and blue in proportions which may be indefinitely varied,
but also certain proportions of light and shade; the former tending
towards the highest light, represented on the palette by flake white;
the latter tending towards the deepest dark, represented on the
palette by ivory black.

Similar to a note in music, no colour can be said to be in itself
either false or true, ugly or beautiful. A note and a colour acquire
beauty and ugliness according to their associations; therefore to
colour well depends, in the first instance, on the painter's knowledge
and intimate sense of the laws of contrast and similitude. But there
is still another factor in the art of colouring well; for, just as the
musician obtains richness and novelty of expression by means of a
distribution of sound through the instruments of the orchestra, so
does the painter obtain depth and richness through a judicious
distribution of values. If we were to disturb the distribution of
values in the pictures of Titian, Rubens, Veronese, their colour would
at once seem crude, superficial, without cohesion or rarity. But some
will aver that if the colour is right the values must be right too.
However plausible this theory may seem, the practice of those who hold
it amply demonstrates its untruth. It is interesting and instructive
to notice how those who seek the colour without regard for the values
inherent in the colouring matter never succeed in producing more than
a certain shallow superficial brilliancy; the colour of such painters
is never rich or profound, and although it may be beautiful, it is
always wanting in the element of romantic charm and mystery.

The colour is the melody, the values are the orchestration of the
melody; and as the orchestration serves to enrich the melody, so do
the values enrich the colour. And as melody may--nay, must--exist, if
the orchestration be really beautiful, so colour must inhere wherever
the values have been finely observed. In Rembrandt, the colour is
brown and a white faintly tinted with bitumen; in Claude, the colour
is blue, faintly flushed with yellow in the middle sky, and yet none
has denied the right of these painters to be considered colourists.
They painted with the values--that is to say, with what remains on the
palette when abstraction has been made of the colouring matter--a
delicate neutral tint of infinite subtlety and charm; and it is with
this, the evanescent and impalpable soul of the vanished colours, that
the most beautiful pictures are painted. Corot, too, is a conspicuous
example of this mode of painting. His right to stand among the world's
colourists has never, so far as I know, been seriously contested, his
pictures are almost void of colouring matter--a blending of grey and
green, and yet the result is of a richly coloured evening.

Corot and Rembrandt, as Dutilleux pointed out, arrived at the same
goal by absolutely different ends. He saw clearly, although he could
not express himself quite clearly, that, above all painters, Rembrandt
and Corot excelled in that mode of pictorial expression known as
values, or shall I say chiaroscuro, for in truth he who has said
values has hinted chiaroscuro. Rembrandt told all that a golden ray
falling through a darkened room awakens in a visionary brain; Corot
told all that the grey light of morning and evening whispers in the
pensive mind of the elegiac poet. The story told was widely different,
but the manner of telling was the same: one attenuated in the light,
the other attenuated in the shadow: both sacrificed the corners with a
view to fixing the attention on the one spot in which the soul of the
picture lives.

All schools have not set great store on values, although all schools
have set great store on drawing and colour. Values seem to have come
and gone in and out of painting like a fashion. One generation hardly
gives the matter a thought, the succeeding generation finds the whole
charm of its art in values. It would be difficult to imagine a more
interesting and instructive history than the history of values in
painting. It is far from my scheme to write such a history, but I wish
that such a history were written, for then we should see clearly how
unwise were they who neglected the principle, and how much they lost.
I would only call attention to how the principle came to be
reintroduced into French art in the beginning of this century. It came
from Holland _viâ_, England through the pictures of Turner and
Constable. It was an Anglo-Dutch influence that roused French art,
then slumbering in the pseudo-classicisms of the First Empire; and,
half-awakened, French art turned its eyes to Holland for inspiration;
and values, the foundation and corner-stone of Dutch art, became
almost at a bound a first article of faith in the artistic creed. In
1830 values came upon France like a religion. Rembrandt was the new
Messiah, Holland was the Holy Land, and disciples were busy dispensing
the propaganda in every studio.

Since the bad example of Greuze, literature had wound round every
branch of painting until painting seemed to disappear in the parasite
like an oak under a cloud of ivy. The excess had been great--a
reaction was inevitable--and Rembrandt, with his Biblical legends,
furnished the necessary transition. But when a taste for painting had
been reacquired, one after the other the Dutch painters became the
fashion. It is almost unnecessary to point out the influence of
Hobbema on the art of Rousseau. Corot was less affected by the
Dutchmen, or, to speak more exactly, he assimilated more completely
what he had learnt from them than his rival was able to do. Moreover,
what he took from Holland came to him through Ruysdael rather than
through Hobbema.

The great morose dreamer, contemplative and grave as Wordsworth, must
have made more direct and intimate appeal to Corot's soul than the
charm and the gaiety of Hobbema's water-mills. Be this as it may, it
was Holland that revived the long-forgotten science of values in the
Barbizon painters. They sought their art in the direction of values,
and very easily Corot took the lead as chief exponent of the new
principle; and he succeeded in applying the principle of values to
landscape painting as fully as Rembrandt had to figure painting.

But at the moment when the new means of expression seemed most
distinctly established and understood, it was put aside and lost sight
of by a new generation of painters, and, curiously enough, by the men
who had most vigorously proclaimed the beauty and perfection of the
art which was to be henceforth, at least in practice, their mission to
repudiate. For I take it that the art of the impressionists has
nothing whatever in common with the art of Corot. True, that Corot's
aim was to render his impression of his subject, no matter whether it
was a landscape or a figure; in this aim he differed in no wise from
Giotto and Van Eyck; but we are not considering Corot's aims but his
means of expression, and his means of expression were the very
opposite to those employed by Monet and the school of Monet. Not with
half-tints in which colour disappears are Monet and his school
concerned, but with the brilliant vibration of colour in the full
light, with open spaces where the light is reflected back and forward,
and nature is but a prism filled with dazzling and iridescent tints.

I remember once writing about one of Monet's innumerable snow effects:
"This picture is in his most radiant manner. A line of snow-enchanted
architecture passes through the picture--only poor houses with a
single square church tower, but they are beautiful as Greek temples in
the supernatural whiteness of the great immaculate snow. Below the
village, but not quite in the foreground, a few yellow bushes, bare
and crippled by the frost, and around and above a marvellous glitter
in pale blue and pale rose tints." I asked if the touch was not more
precious than intimate; and I spoke, too, of a shallow and brilliant
appearance. But if I had asked why the picture, notwithstanding its
incontestable merits, was so much on the surface, why it so
irresistibly suggested _un décor de théâtre_, why one did not enter
into it as one does into a picture by Wilson or Corot, my criticism
would have gone to the root of the evil. And the reason of this is
because Monet has never known how to organise and control his values.
The relation of a wall to the sky which he observes so finely seem as
if deliberately contrived for the suppression of all atmosphere; and
we miss in Monet the delicacy and the mystery which are the charm of
Corot. The bath of air being withdrawn, a landscape becomes a mosaic,
flat surface takes the place of round: the next step is some form or
other of pre-Raphaelitism.


Nature demands that children should devour their parents, and Corot
was hardly cold in his grave when his teaching came to be neglected
and even denied. Values were abandoned and colour became the unique
thought of the new school.

My first acquaintance with Monet's painting was made in '75 or
'76--the year he exhibited his first steam-engine and his celebrated
troop of life-size turkeys gobbling the tall grass in a meadow, at the
end of which stood, high up in the picture, a French château.
Impressionism is a word that has lent itself to every kind of
misinterpretation, for in its exact sense all true painting is
penetrated with impressionism, but, to use the word in its most modern
sense--that is to say, to signify the rapid noting of illusive
appearance--Monet is the only painter to whom it may be reasonably
applied. I remember very well that sunlit meadow and the long coloured
necks of the turkeys. Truly it may be said that, for the space of one
rapid glance, the canvas radiates; it throws its light in the face of
the spectator as, perhaps, no canvas did before. But if the eyes are
not immediately averted the illusion passes, and its place is taken by
a somewhat incoherent and crude coloration. Then the merits of the
picture strike you as having been obtained by excessive accomplishment
in one-third of the handicraft and something like a formal
protestation of the non-existence of the other two-thirds. Since that
year I have seen Monets by the score, and have hardly observed any
change or alteration in his manner of seeing or executing, or any
development soever in his art. At the end of the season he comes up
from the country with thirty or forty landscapes, all equally perfect,
all painted in precisely the same way, and no one shows the slightest
sign of hesitation, and no one suggests the unattainable, the beyond;
one and all reveal to us a man who is always sure of his effect, and
who is always in a hurry. Any corner of nature will do equally well
for his purpose, nor is he disposed to change the disposition of any
line of tree or river or hill; so long as a certain reverberation of
colour is obtained all is well. An unceasing production, and an almost
unvarying degree of excellence, has placed Monet at the head of the
school; his pictures command high prices, and nothing goes now with
the erudite American but Monet's landscapes. But does Monet merit this
excessive patronage, and if so, what are the qualities in his work
that make it superior to Sisley's and Pissaro's?

Sisley is less decorative, less on the surface, and though he follows
Monet in his pursuit of colour, nature is, perhaps, on account of his
English origin, something more to him than a brilliant appearance. It
has of course happened to Monet to set his easel before the suburban
aspect that Sisley loves, but he has always treated it rather in the
decorative than in the meditative spirit. He has never been touched by
the humility of a lane's end, and the sentiment of the humble life
that collects there has never appeared on his canvas. Yet Sisley,
being more in sympathy with such nature, has often been able to
produce a superior though much less pretentious picture than the
ordinary stereotyped Monet. But if Sisley is more meditative than
Monet, Pissaro is more meditative than either.

Monet had arrived at his style before I saw anything of his work; of
his earlier canvases I know nothing. Possibly he once painted in the
Corot manner; it is hardly possible that he should not have done so.
However this may be, Pissaro did not rid himself for many years of the
influence of Corot. His earliest pictures were all composed in pensive
greys and violets, and exhaled the weary sadnessof tilth and grange
and scant orchard trees. The pale road winds through meagre uplands,
and through the blown and gnarled and shiftless fruit-trees the
saddening silhouette of the town drifts across the land. The violet
spaces between the houses are the very saddest, and the spare furrows
are patiently drawn, and so the execution is in harmony with and
accentuates the unutterable monotony of the peasant's lot. The sky,
too, is vague and empty, and out of its deathlike, creamy hollow the
first shadows are blown into the pallid face of a void evening. The
picture tells of the melancholy of ordinary life, of our poor
transitory tenements, our miserable scrapings among the little mildew
that has gathered on the surface of an insignificant planet. I will
not attempt to explain why the grey-toned and meditative Pissaro
should have consented to countenance--I cannot say to lead (for,
unlike every other _chef d'école_, Pissaro imitated the disciples
instead of the disciples imitating Pissaro)--the many fantastic
revolutions in pictorial art which have agitated Montmartre during the
last dozen years. The Pissaro psychology I must leave to take care of
itself, confining myself strictly to the narrative of these

Authority for the broken brushwork of Monet is to be found in Manet's
last pictures, and I remember Manet's reply when I questioned him
about the pure violet shadows which, just before his death, he was
beginning to introduce into his pictures. "One year one paints violet
and people scream, and the following year every one paints a great
deal more violet." If Manet's answer throws no light whatever on the
new principle, it shows very clearly the direction, if not the goal,
towards which his last style was moving. But perhaps I am speaking too
cautiously, for surely broken brushwork and violet shadows lead only
to one possible goal--the prismatic colours.

Manet died, and this side--and this side only--of his art was taken up
by Monet, Sisley, and Renoir. Or was it that Manet had begun to yield
to an influence--that of Monet, Sisley, and Renoir--which was just
beginning to make itself felt? Be this as it may, browns and blacks
disappeared from the palettes of those who did not wish to be
considered _l'école des beaux-arts, et en plein_. Venetian reds,
siennas, and ochres were in process of abandonment, and the palette
came to be composed very much in the following fashion: violet, white,
blue, white, green, white, red, white, yellow, white, orange,
white--the three primary and the three secondary colours, with white
placed between each, so as to keep everything as distinct as possible,
and avoid in the mixing all soiling of the tones. Monet, Sisley, and
Renoir contented themselves with the abolition of all blacks and
browns, for they were but half-hearted reformers, and it was clearly
the duty of those who came after to rid the palette of all ochres,
siennas, Venetian, Indian, and light reds. The only red and yellow
that any one who was not, according to the expression of the new
generation, _presque du Louvre_, could think of permitting on his
palette were vermilion and cadmium. The first of this new generation
was Seurat, Seurat begot Signac, Signac begot Anquetin, and Anquetin
has begotten quite a galaxy of lesser lights, of whom I shall not
speak in this article--of whom it is not probable that I shall ever

It was in an exhibition held in Rue Lafitte in '81 or '82 that the new
method, which comprised two most radical reforms--an execution
achieved entirely with the point of the brush and the division of the
tones--was proclaimed. Or should I say reformation, for the execution
by a series of dots is implicit in the theory of the division of the
tones? How well I remember being attracted towards an end of the room,
which was filled with a series of most singular pictures. There must
have been at least ten pictures of yachts in full sail. They were all
drawn in profile, they were all painted in the very clearest tints,
white skies and white sails hardly relieved or explained with shadow,
and executed in a series of minute touches, like mosaic. Ten pictures
of yachts all in profile, all in full sail, all unrelieved by any
attempt at atmospheric effect, all painted in a series of little dots!

Great as was my wonderment, it was tenfold increased on discovering
that only five of these pictures were painted by the new man, Seurat,
whose name was unknown to me; the other five were painted by my old
friend Pissaro. My first thought went for the printer; my second for
some _fumisterie_ on the part of the hanging committee, the intention
of which escaped me. The pictures were hung low, so I went down on my
knees and examined the dotting in the pictures signed Seurat, and the
dotting in those that were signed Pissaro. After a strict examination
I was able to detect some differences, and I began to recognise the
well-known touch even through this most wild and most wonderful
transformation. Yes, owing to a long and intimate acquaintance
with Pissaro and his work, I could distinguish between him and Seurat,
but to the ordinary visitor their pictures were identical.

Many claims are put forward, but the best founded is that of Seurat;
and, so far as my testimony may serve his greater honour and glory, I
do solemnly declare that I believe him to have been the original
discoverer of the division of the tones.

A tone is a combination of colours. In Nature colours are separate;
they act and react one on the other, and so create in the eye the
illusion of a mixture of various colours-in other words, of a tone.
But if the human eye can perform this prodigy when looking on colour
as evolved through the spectacle of the world, why should not the eye
be able to perform the same prodigy when looking on colour as
displayed over the surface of a canvas? Nature does not mix her
colours to produce a tone; and the reason of the marked discrepancy
existing between Nature and the Louvre is owing to the fact that
painters have hitherto deemed it a necessity to prepare a tone on the
palette before placing it on the canvas; whereas it is quite clear
that the only logical and reasonable method is to first complete the
analysis of the tone, and then to place the colours which compose the
tone in dots over the canvas, varying the size of the dots and the
distance between the dots according to the depth of colour desired by
the painter.

If this be done truly--that is to say, if the first analysis of the
tones be a correct analysis--and if the spectator places himself at
the right distance from the picture, there will happen in his eyes
exactly the same blending of colour as happens in them when they are
looking upon Nature. An example will, I think, make my meaning clear.
We are in a club smoking-room. The walls are a rich ochre. Three or
four men sit between us and the wall, and the blue smoke of their
cigars fills the middle air. In painting this scene it would be usual
to prepare the tone on the palette, and the preparation would be
somewhat after this fashion: ochre warmed with a little red--a pale
violet tinted with lake for the smoke of the cigars.

But such a method of painting would seem to Seurat and Signac to be
artless, primitive, unscientific, childish, _presque du Louvre_--above
all, unscientific. They would say, "Decompose the tone. That tone is
composed of yellow, white, and violet turning towards lake"; and,
having satisfied themselves in what proportions, they would dot their
canvases over with pure yellow and pure white, the interspaces being
filled in with touches of lake and violet, numerous where the smoke is
thickest, diminishing in number where the wreaths vanish into air. Or
let us suppose that it is a blue slated roof that the dottist wishes
to paint. He first looks behind him, to see what is the colour of the
sky. It is an orange sky. He therefore represents the slates by means
of blue dots intermixed with orange and white dots, and--ah! I am
forgetting an important principle in the new method--the complementary
colour which the eye imagines, but does not see. What is the
complementary colour of blue, grey, and orange? Green. Therefore green
must be introduced into the roof; otherwise the harmony would be
incomplete, and therefore in a measure discordant.

Needless to say that a sky painted in this way does not bear looking
into. Close to the spectator it presents the appearance of a pard; but
when he reaches the proper distance there is no denying that the
colours do in a measure unite and assume a tone more or less
equivalent to the tone that would have been obtained by blending the
colours on the palette. "But," cry Seurat and Signac, "an infinitely
purer and more beautiful tone than could have been obtained by any
artificial blending of the colours on the palette--a tone that is the
exact equivalent of one of Nature's tones, for it has been obtained in
exactly the same way."

Truly a subject difficult to write about in English. Perhaps it is one
that should not be attempted anywhere except in a studio with closed
doors. But if I did not make some attempt to explain this matter, I
should leave my tale of the decline and fall of French art in the
nineteenth century incomplete.

Roughly speaking, these new schools--the symbolists, the decadents,
the dividers of tones, the professors of the rhythm of gesture--date
back about ten years. For ten years the division of the tones has been
the subject of discussion in the aesthetic circles of Montmartre. And
when we penetrate further into the matter--or, to be more exact, as we
ascend into the higher regions of _La Butte_--we find the elect, who
form so stout a phalanx against the Philistinism of the Louvre,
themselves subdivided into numerous sections, and distraught with
internecine feuds concerning the principle of the art which they
pursue with all the vehemence that Veronese green and cadmium yellow
are capable of. From ten at night till two in the morning the
_brasseries_ of the Butte are in session. Ah! the interminable bocks
and the reek of the cigars, until at last a hesitating exodus begins.
An exhausted proprietor at the head of his waiters, crazed with
sleepiness, eventually succeeds in driving these noctambulist apostles
into the streets.

Then the nervous lingering at the corner! The disputants, anxious and
yet loth to part, say goodbye, each regretting that he had not urged
some fresh argument--an argument which had just occurred to him, and
which, he feels sure, would have reduced his opponent to impotent
silence. Sometimes the partings are stormy. The question of the
introduction of the complementary colours into the frames of the
pictures is always a matter of strife, and results in much
nonconformity. Several are strongly in favour of carrying the
complementary colours into the picture-frames. "If you admit," says
one, "that to paint a blue roof with an orange sky shining on it you
must introduce the complementary colour green--which the spectator
does not see, but imagines--there is excellent reason why you should
dot the frame all over with green, for the picture and its frame are
not two things, but one thing." "But," cries his opponent, "there is a
finality in all things; if you carry your principle out to the bitter
end, the walls as well as the frame should be dotted with the
complementary colours, the staircases too, the streets likewise; and
if we pursue the complementaries into the street, who shall say where
we are to stop? Why stop at all, unless the neighbours protest that we
are interfering with their complementaries?"

The schools headed by Signac and Anquetin comprise numerous disciples
and adherents. They do not exhibit in the Salon or in the Champ de
Mars; but that is because they disdain to do so. They hold exhibitions
of their own, and their picture-dealers trade only in their works and
in those belonging to or legitimately connected with the new schools.

If I have succeeded in explaining the principle of coloration employed
by these painters, I must have excited some curiosity in the reader to
see these scientifically-painted pictures. To say that they are
strange, absurd, ridiculous, conveys no sensation of their
extravagances; and I think that even an elaborate description would
miss its mark. For, in truth, the pictures merit no such attention. It
is only needful to tell the reader that they fail most conspicuously
at the very point where it was their mission to succeed. Instead of
excelling in brilliancy of colour the pictures painted in the ordinary
way, they present the most complete spectacle of discoloration
possible to imagine.

Yet Signac is a man of talent, and in an exhibition of pictures which
I visited last May I saw a wide bay, two rocky headlands extending far
into the sea, and this offing was filled with a multitude of gull-like
sails. There was in it a vibration of light, such an effect as a
mosaic composed of dim-coloured but highly polished stones might
produce. I can say no good word, however, for his portrait of a
gentleman holding his hat in one hand and a flower in the other. This
picture formulated a still newer aestheticism--the rhythm of gesture.
For, according to Signac, the raising of the face and hands expresses
joy, the depression of the face and hands denotes sadness. Therefore,
to denote the melancholy temperament of his sitter, Signac represented
him as being hardly able to lift his hat to his head or the flower to
his button-hole. The figure was painted, as usual, in dots of pure
colour lifted from the palette with the point of the brush; the
complementary colours in duplicate bands curled up the background.
This was considered by the disciples to be an important innovation;
and the effect, it is needless to say, was gaudy, if not neat.

A theory of Anquetin's is that wherever the painter is painting, his
retina must still hold some sensation of the place he has left;
therefore there is in every scene not only the scene itself, but
remembrance of the scene that preceded it. This is not quite clear, is
it? No. But I think I can make it clear. He who walks out of a
brilliantly lighted saloon--that is to say, he who walks out of
yellow--sees the other two primary colours, red and blue; in other
words, he sees violet. Therefore Anquetin paints the street, and
everything in it, violet--boots, trousers, hats, coats, lamp-posts,
paving-stones, and the tail of the cat disappearing under the _porte

But if in my description of these schools I have conveyed the idea of
stupidity or ignorance I have failed egregiously. These young men are
all highly intelligent and keenly alive to art, and their doings are
not more vain than the hundred and one artistic notions which have
been undermining the art-sense of the French and English nations for
the last twenty years. What I have described is not more foolish than
the stippling at South Kensington or the drawing by the masses at
Julien's. The theory of the division of the tones is no more foolish
than the theory of _plein air_ or the theory of the square brushwork;
it is as foolish, but not a jot more foolish.

Great art dreams, imagines, sees, feels, expresses--reasons never. It
is only in times of woful decadence, like the present, that the
bleating of the schools begins to be heard; and although, to the
ignorant, one method may seem less ridiculous than another, all
methods--I mean, all methods that are not part and parcel of the
pictorial intuition--are equally puerile and ridiculous. The
separation of the method of expression from the idea to be expressed
is the sure sign of decadence. France is now all decadence. In the
Champ de Mars, as in the Salon, the man of the hour is he who has
invented the last trick in subject or treatment.

France has produced great artists in quick succession. Think of all
the great names, beginning with Ingres and ending with Degas, and
wonder if you can that France has at last entered on a period of
artistic decadence. For the last sixty years the work done in literary
and pictorial art has been immense; the soil has been worked along and
across, in every direction; and for many a year nothing will come to
us from France but the bleat of the scholiast.


That nearly all artists dislike and despise the Royal Academy is a
matter of common knowledge. Whether with reason or without is a matter
of opinion, but the existence of an immense fund of hate and contempt
of the Academy is not denied. From Glasgow to Cornwall, wherever a
group of artists collects, there hangs a gathering and a darkening sky
of hate. True, the position of the Academy seems to be impregnable;
and even if these clouds should break into storm the Academy would be
as little affected as the rock of Gibraltar by squall or tempest. The
Academy has successfully resisted a Royal Commission, and a crusade
led by Mr. Holman Hunt in the columns of the _Times_ did not succeed
in obtaining the slightest measure of reform.... Here I might consult
Blue-books and official documents, and tell the history of the
Academy; but for the purpose of this article the elementary facts in
every one's possession are all that are necessary. We know that we owe
the Academy to the artistic instincts of George III. It was he who
sheltered it in Somerset House, and when Somerset House was turned
into public offices, the Academy was bidden to Trafalgar Square; and
when circumstances again compelled the authorities to ask the Academy
to move on, the Academy, posing as a public body, demanded a site, and
the Academy was given one worth three hundred thousand pounds. Thereon
the Academy erected its present buildings, and when they were
completed the Academy declared itself on the first opportunity to be
no public body at all, but a private enterprise. Then why the site,
and why the Royal charter? Mr. Colman, Mr. Pears, Mr. Reckitt are not
given sites worth three hundred thousand pounds. These questions have
often been asked, and to them the Academy has always an excellent
answer. "The site has been granted, and we have erected buildings upon
it worth a hundred thousand pounds; get rid of us you cannot."

The position of the Academy is as impregnable as the rock of
Gibraltar; it is as well advertised as the throne itself, and the
income derived from the sale of the catalogues alone is enormous. Then
the Academy has the handling of the Chantrey Bequest Funds, which it
does not fail to turn to its own advantage by buying pictures of
Academicians, which do not sell in the open market, at extravagant
prices, or purchasing pictures by future Academicians, and so
fostering, strengthening, and imposing on the public the standard of
art which obtains in Academic circles. Such, in a few brief words, is
the institution which controls and in a large measure directs the art
of this country. But though I come with no project to obtain its
dissolution, it seems to me interesting to consider the causes of the
hatred of the Academy with which artistic England is saturated,
oftentimes convulsed; and it may be well to ask if any institution,
however impregnable, can continue to defy public opinion, if any
sovereignty, however fortified by wealth and buttressed by
prescription, can continue to ignore and outrage the opinions of its

The hatred of artistic England for the Academy proceeds from the
knowledge that the Academy is no true centre of art, but a mere
commercial enterprise protected and subventioned by Government. In
recent years every shred of disguise has been cast off, and it has
become patent to every one that the Academy is conducted on as purely
commercial principles as any shop in the Tottenham Court Road. For it
is impossible to suppose that Mr. Orchardson and Mr. Watts do not know
that Mr. Leader's landscapes are like tea-trays, that Mr. Dicksee's
figures are like bon-bon boxes, and that Mr. Herkomer's portraits are
like German cigars. But apparently the R.A.'s are merely concerned to
follow the market, and they elect the men whose pictures sell best in
the City. City men buy the productions of Mr. Herkomer, Mr. Dicksee,
Mr. Leader, and Mr. Goodall. Little harm would be done to art if the
money thus expended meant no more than filling stockbrokers'
drawing-rooms with bad pictures, but the uncontrolled exercise of the
stockbroker's taste in art means the election of a vast number of
painters to the Academy, and election to the Academy means certain
affixes, R.A. and A., and these signs are meant to direct opinion.

For when the ordinary visitor thinks a picture very bad, and finds
R.A. or A. after the painter's name, he concludes that he must be
mistaken, and so a false standard of art is created in the public
mind. But though Mr. Orchardson, Sir John Millais, Sir Frederick
Leighton, and Mr. Watts have voted for the City merchants' nominees,
it would be a mistake to suppose that they did not know for whom they
should have voted. It is to be questioned if there be an R. A. now
alive who would dare to deny that Mr. Whistler is a very great
painter. It was easy to say he was not in the old days when, under the
protection of Mr. Ruskin, the R.A.s went in a body and gave evidence
against him. But now even Mr. Jones, R.A., would not venture to repeat
the opinion he expressed about one of the most beautiful of the
nocturnes. Time, it is true, has silenced the foolish mouth of the
R.A., but time has not otherwise altered him; and there is as little
chance to-day as there was twenty years ago of Mr. Whistler being
elected an Academician.

No difference exists even in Academic circles as to the merits of Mr.
Albert Moore's work. Many Academicians will freely acknowledge that
his non-election is a very grave scandal; they will tell you that they
have done everything to get him elected, and have given up the task in
despair. Mr. Whistler and Mr. Albert Moore, the two greatest artists
living in England, will never be elected Academicians; and artistic
England is asked to acquiesce in this grave scandal, and also in many
minor scandals: the election of Mr. Dicksee in place of Mr. Henry
Moore, and Mr. Stanhope Forbes in place of Mr. Swan or Mr. John
Sargent! No one thinks Mr. Dicksee as capable an artist as Mr. Henry
Moore, and no one thinks Mr. Stanhope Forbes as great an artist as Mr.
Swan or Mr. Sargent. Then why were they elected? Because the men who
represent most emphatically the taste of the City have become so
numerous of late years in the Academy that they are able to keep out
any one whose genius would throw a doubt on the commonplace ideal
which they are interested in upholding. Mr. Alma Tadema would not care
to confer such a mark of esteem as the affix R.A. on any painter
practising an art which, when understood, would involve hatred of the
copyplate antiquity which he supplies to the public.

This explanation seems incredible, I admit, but no other explanation
is possible, for I repeat that the Academicians do not themselves deny
the genius of the men they have chosen to ignore. So we find the
Academy as a body working on exactly the same lines as the individual
R.A., whose one ambition is to extend his connection, please his
customers, and frustrate competition; and just as the capacity of the
individual R.A. declines when the incentive is money, so does the
corporate body lose its strength, and its hold on the art instincts of
the nation relaxes when its aim becomes merely mercenary enterprise.

If Sir John Millais, Sir Frederick Leighton, Mr. Orchardson, Mr. Hook,
and Mr. Watts were to die tomorrow, their places could be filled by
men who are not and never will be in the Academy; but among the
Associates there is no name that does not suggest a long decline: Mr.
Macbeth, Mr. Leader, Mr. David Murray, Mr. Stanhope Forbes, Mr. J.
MacWhirter. And are the coming Associates Mr. Hacker, Mr. Shannon, Mr.
Solomon, Mr. Alfred East, Mr. Bramley? Mr. Swan has been passed over
so many times that his election is beginning to seem doubtful. For
very shame's sake the elder Academicians may bring their influence and
insist on his election; but the City merchants' nominees are very
strong, and will not have him if they can help it. They may yield to
Mr. Swan, but no single inch further will it be possible to get them
to go. Mr. Mouat Loudan, Mr. Lavery, Mr. Mark Fisher, and Mr.
Peppercorn have no chance soever. Mr. Mouat Loudan, was rejected this
year. Mr. Lavery's charming portrait of Lord McLaren's daughters was
still more shamefully treated; it was "skied". Mr. Mark Fisher, most
certainly our greatest living landscape-painter, had his picture
refused; and Mr. Reid, a man who has received medals in every capital
in Europe, has had his principal picture hung just under the ceiling.

On varnishing-day Mr. Reid challenged Mr. Dicksee to give a reason for
this disgraceful hanging; he defied him to say that he thought the
pictures underneath were better pictures; and it is as impossible for
me as it was for Mr. Dicksee to deny that Mr. Reid's picture is the
best picture in Room 6. Mr. Peppercorn, another well-known artist, had
his picture rejected. It is now hanging in the Goupil Galleries. I do
not put it forward as a masterpiece, but I do say that it deserved a
place in any exhibition, and if I had a friend on the Hanging
Committee I would ask him to point to the landscapes on the Academy
walls which he considers better than Mr. Peppercorn's.

Often a reactionary says, "Name the good pictures that have been
rejected; where can I see them? I want to see these masterpieces,"
etc. The reactionary has generally the best of the argument. It is
difficult to name the pictures that have been refused; they are the
unknown quantity. Moreover, the pictures that are usually refused are
tentative efforts, and not mature work. But this year the opponents of
the Academy are able to cite some very substantial facts in support of
their position, a portrait by our most promising portrait-painter and
a landscape by the best landscape-painter alive in England having been
rejected. The picture of the farm-yard which Mr. Fisher exhibited at
the New English Art Club last autumn would not be out of place in the
National Gallery. I do not say that the rejected picture is as good--I
have not seen the rejected picture--but I do say that Mr. Fisher could
not paint as badly as nine-tenths of the landscapes hanging in the
Academy if he tried.

The Academy is sinking steadily; never was it lower than this year;
next year a few fine works may crop up, but they will be accidents,
and will not affect the general tendency of the exhibitions nor the
direction in which the Academy is striving to lead English art. Under
the guidanceship of the Academy English art has lost all that charming
naïveté and simplicity which was so long its distinguishing mark. At
an Academy banquet, anything but the most genial optimism would be out
of place, and yet Sir Frederick Leighton could not but allude to the
disintegrating influence of French art. True, in the second part of
the sentence he assured his listeners that the danger was more
imaginary than real, and he hoped that with wider knowledge, etc. But
if no danger need be apprehended, why did Sir Frederick trouble to
raise the question? And if he apprehended danger and would save us
from it, why did he choose to ask his friend M. Bouguereau to exhibit
at the Academy?

The allusion in Sir Frederick's speech to French methods, and the
exhibition of a picture by M. Bouguereau in the Academy, is strangely
significant. For is not M. Bouguereau the chief exponent of the art
which Sir Frederick ventures to suggest may prove a disintegrating
influence in our art?--has proven would be a more correct phrase. Let
him who doubts compare the work of almost any of the elder
Academicians with the work of those who practise the square brushwork
of the French school. Compare, for instance, Sir Frederick's "Garden
of the Hesperides" with Mr. Solomon's "Orpheus", and then you will
appreciate the gulf that separates the elder Academicians from the men
already chosen and marked out for future Academicians. And him whom
this illustration does not convince I will ask to compare Mr. Hacker's
"Annunciation" with any picture by Mr. Frith, or Mr. Faed, I will even
go so far as to say with any work by Mr. Sidney Cooper, an
octogenarian, now nearer his ninetieth than his eightieth year.

It would have been better if Sir Frederick had told the truth boldly
at the Academy banquet. He knows that a hundred years will hardly
suffice to repair the mischief done by this detestable French
painting, this mechanical drawing and modelling, built up
systematically, and into which nothing of the artist's sensibility may
enter. Sir Frederick hinted the truth, and I do not think it will
displease him that I should say boldly what he was minded but did not
dare to say. The high position he occupies did not allow him to go
further than he did; the society of which he is president is now
irreparably committed to Anglo-French art, and has, by every recent
election, bound itself to uphold and impose this false and foreign art
upon the nation.

Out of the vast array of portraits and subject-pictures painted in
various styles and illustrating every degree of ignorance, stupidity,
and false education, one thing really comes home to the careful
observer, and that is, the steady obliteration of all English feeling
and mode of thought. The younger men practise an art purged of all
nationality. England lingers in the elder painters, and though the
representation is often inadequate, the English pictures are
pleasanter than the mechanical art which has spread from Paris all
over Europe, blotting out in its progress all artistic expression of
racial instincts and mental characteristics. Nothing, for instance,
can be more primitive, more infantile in execution, than Mr. Leslie's
"Rose Queen". But it seems to me superficial criticism to pull it to
pieces, for after all it suggests a pleasant scene, a stairway full of
girls in white muslin; and who does not like pretty girls dressed in
white muslin? And Mr. Leslie spares us the boredom of odious and
sterile French pedantry.

Mr. Waterhouse's picture of "Circe Poisoning the Sea" is an excellent
example of professional French painting. The drawing is planned out
geometrically, the modelling is built up mechanically. The brush,
filled with thick paint, works like a trowel. In the hands of the
Dutch and Flemish artists the brush was in direct communication with
the brain, and moved slowly or rapidly, changing from the broadest and
most emphatic stroke to the most delicate and fluent touch according
to the nature of the work. But here all is square and heavy. The
colour scheme, the blue dress and the green water--how theatrical, how
its richness reeks of the French studio! How cosmopolitan and pedantic
is this would-be romantic work!

But can we credit Mr. Dicksee with any artistic intention in the
picture he calls "Leila", hanging in the next room? I think not. Mr.
Dicksee probably thought that having painted what the critics would
call "somewhat sad subjects" last year, it would be well if he painted
something distinctly gay this year. A girl in a harem struck him as a
subject that would please every one, especially if he gave her a
pretty face, a pretty dress, and posed her in a graceful attitude. A
nice bright crimson was just the colour for the dress, the feet he
might leave bare, and it would be well to draw them from the plaster
cast--a pair of pretty feet would be sure to find favour with the
populace. It is impossible to believe that Mr. Dicksee was moved by
any deeper thought or impression when he painted this picture. The
execution is not quite so childlike and bland as Mr. Leslie's; it is
heavier and more stodgy. One is a cane chair from the Tottenham Court
Road, the other is a dining-room chair from the Tottenham Court Road.
In neither does any trace of French influence appear, and both
painters are City-elected Academicians.

A sudden thought.... Leader, Fildes, David Murray, Peter Graham,
Herkomer.... Then it is not the City that favours the French school,
but the Academy itself! And this shows how widely tastes may differ,
yet remain equally sundered from good taste. I believe the north and
the south poles are equidistant from the equator. Looking at Sir
Frederick Leighton's picture, entitled "At the Fountain", I am forced
to admit that, regarded as mere execution, it is quite as intolerably
bad as Mr. Dicksee's "Leila". And yet it is not so bad a picture,
because Sir Frederick's mind is a higher and better-educated mind than
Mr. Dicksee's; and therefore, however his hand may fail him, there
remains a certain habit of thought which always, even when worn and
frayed, preserves something of its original aristocracy. "The Sea
giving up its Dead" is an unpleasant memory of Michael Angelo. But in
"The Garden of the Hesperides" Sir Frederick is himself, and nothing
but himself. And the picture is so incontestably the work of an artist
that I cannot bring myself to inquire too closely into its
shortcomings. The merit of the picture is in the arabesque, which is
charming and original. The maidens are not dancing, but sitting round
their tree. On the right there is an olive, in the middle the usual
strawberry-cream, and on the left a purple drapery. The brown water in
the foreground balances the white sky most happily, and the faces of
the women recall our best recollections of Sir Frederick's work. In
the next room--Room 3--Mr. Watts exhibits a very incoherent work
entitled "She shall be called Woman".

The subject on which all of us are most nearly agreed--painters'
critics and the general public--is the very great talent of Mr. G. F.
Watts. Even the Chelsea studios unite in praising him. But were we
ever sincere in our praise of him as we are sincere in our praise of
Degas, Whistler, and Manet? And lately have we not begun to suspect
our praise to-day is a mere clinging to youthful admirations which
have no root in our present knowledge and aestheticisms? Perhaps the
time has come to say what we do really think of Mr. Watts. We think
that his very earliest pictures show, occasionally, the hand of a
painter; but for the last thirty years Mr. Watts seems to have been
undergoing transformation, and we see him now as a sort of cross
between an alchemist of old time and a book collector--his left hand
fumbling among the reds and blues of the old masters, his right
turning the pages of a dusty folio in search of texts for
illustration; a sort of a modern Veronese in treacle and gingerbread.
To judge him by what he exhibits this year would not be just. We will
select for criticism the celebrated portrait of Mrs. Percy Wyndham--in
which he has obviously tried to realise all his artistic ideals.

The first thing that strikes me on looking on this picture is the too
obvious intention of the painter to invent something that could not go
out of fashion. On sitting down to paint this picture the painter's
mind seems to have been disturbed with all sorts of undetermined
notions concerning the eternal Beautiful, and the formula discovered
by the Venetian for its complete presentation. "The Venetians gave us
the eternal Beautiful as civilisation presents it. Why not select in
modern life all that corresponds to the Venetian formulae; why not
profit by their experience in the selection I am called upon to make?"

So do I imagine the painter's desire, and certainly the picture is
from end to end its manifestation. Laurel leaves form a background for
the head, and a large flower-vase is in the right-hand corner, and a
balustrade is on the right; and this Anglo-Venetian lady is attired in
a rich robe, brown, with green shades, and heavily embroidered; her
elbow is leaned on a pedestal in a manner that shows off the
plenitudes of the forearm, and for pensive dignity the hand is raised
to the face. It is a noble portrait, and tells the story of a lifelong
devotion to art, and yet it is difficult to escape from the suspicion
that we are not very much interested, and that we find its compound
beauty a little insipid. In avoiding the fashion of his day Mr. Watts
seems to me to have slipped into an abstraction. The mere leaving out
every accent that marks a dress as belonging to a particular epoch
does not save it from going out of fashion. It is in the execution
that the great artists annihilated the whim of temporary taste, and
made the hoops of old time beautiful, however slim the season's
fashions. To be of all time the artist must begin by being of his own
time; and if he would find the eternal type he must seek it in his own

The painters of old Venice were entirely concerned with _l'idee
plastique_, but on this point the art of Mr. Watts is a repudiation of
the art of his masters. Abstract conceptions have been this long while
a constant source of pollution in his work. Here, even in his
treatment of the complexion, he seems to have been impelled by some
abstract conception rather than by a pictorial sense of harmony and
contrast, and partly for this reason his synthesis is not beautiful,
like the conventional silver-grey which Velasquez used so often, or
the gold-brown skins of Titian's women. The hand tells what was
passing in the mind, and seeing that ugly shadow which marks the nose
I know that the painter was not then engaged with the joy of purely
material creation; had he been he could not have rested satisfied with
so ugly a statement of a beautiful fact. And the forehead, too, where
it comes into light, where it turns into shadow; the cheek, too, with
its jawbone, and the evasive modelling under and below the eyes, are
summarily rendered, and we think perforce of the supple, flowing
modelling, so illusive, apparent only in the result, with which Titian
would have achieved that face. Manet, an incomplete Hals, might have
failed to join the planes, and in his frankness left out what he had
not sufficiently observed; but he would have compensated us with a
beautiful tone.

For an illustration of Mr. Watts' drawing we will take the picture of
"Love and Death", perhaps the most pictorially significant of all Mr.
Watts' designs. The enormous figure of Death advances impressively
with right arm raised to force the door which a terrified Love would
keep closed against him. The figure of Death is draped in grey, the
colour that Mr. Watts is most in sympathy with and manages best. But
the upper portion of the figure is vast, and the construction beneath
the robe too little understood for it not to lack interest; and in the
raised arm and hand laid against the door, where power and delicacy of
line were indispensable for the pictorial beauty of the picture, we
are vouchsafed no more than a rough statement of rudimentary fact.
Love is thrown back against the door, his right arm raised, his right
leg advanced in action of resistance to the intruder. The movement is
well conceived, and we regret that so summary a line should have been
thought sufficient expression. Any one who has ever held a pencil in a
school of art knows how a young body, from armpit to ankle-bone, flows
with lovely line. Any one who has been to the Louvre knows the passion
with which Ingres would follow this line, simplifying it and drawing
it closer until it surpassed all melody. But in Mr. Watts' picture the
boy's natural beauty is lost in a coarse and rough planing out that
tells of an eye that saw vaguely and that wearied, and in an execution
full of uncertain touch and painful effort. Unless the painter is
especially endowed with the instinct of anatomies, the sentiment of
proportion, and a passion for form, the nude is a will-o'-the-wisp,
whose way leads where he may not follow. No one suspects Mr. Watts of
one of these qualifications; he appears even to think them of but
slight value, and his quest of the allegorical seems to be merely
motived by an unfortunate desire to philosophise.

As a colourist Mr. Watts is held in high esteem, and it is as a
colourist that his admirers consider his claim to the future to be
best founded. Beautiful passages of colour are frequently to be met
with in his work, and yet it would be difficult to say what colour
except grey he has shown any mastery over. A painter may paint with an
exceedingly reduced palette, like Chardin, and yet be an exquisite
colourist. To colour well does not consist in the employment of bright
colours, but in the power of carrying the dominant note of colour
through the entire picture, through the shadows as well as the
half-tints, and Chardin's grey we find everywhere, in the bloom of a
peach as well as in a decanter of rich wine; and how tender and
persuasive it is! Mr. Watts' grey would seem coarse, common,
uninteresting beside it. Reds and blues and yellows do not disappear
from Mr. Watts' palette as they do from Rembrandt's; they are there,
but they are usually so dirtied that they appear like a monochrome.
Can we point to any such fresh, beautiful red as the scarf that the
"Princesse des Pays de la Porcelaine" wears about that grey which
would have broken Chardin's heart with envy? Can we point to any blue
in Mr. Watts' as fresh and as beautiful as the blue carpet under the
Princess's feet?

With what Mr. Watts paints it is impossible to say. On one side an
unpleasant reddish brown, scrubbed till it looks like a mud-washed
rock; on the other a crumbling grey, like the rind of a Stilton
cheese. The nude figure in the reeds--the picture purchased for the
Chantrey Fund collection--will serve for illustration. It is clearly
the work of a man with something incontestably great in his soul, but
why should so beautiful a material as oil paint be transformed into a
crumbly substance like--I can think of nothing else but the rind of a
Stilton cheese. Mr. Watts and Mr. Burne-Jones seem to have convinced
themselves that imaginative work can only be expressed in wool-work
and gum. A strange theory, for which I find no authority, even if I
extend my inquiry as far back as Mantegna and Botticelli. True, that
the method of these painters is archaic, the lights are narrowed, and
the shadows broadened; nevertheless, their handling of oil colour is
nearer to Titian's than either Mr. Watts' or Mr. Burne-Jones'.

It is one of the platitudes of art criticism to call attention to the
length of the necks of Rossetti's women, and thereby to infer that the
painter could not draw. True, Rossetti was not a skilful draughtsman,
but not because the necks of his women are too long. The relation
between good drawing and measurement is slight. The first quality in
drawing, without which drawing does not exist, is an individual seeing
of the object. This Rossetti most certainly had; there his
draughtsmanship began and ended. But the question lies rather with
handling than with drawing, and Rossetti sometimes handled paint very
skilfully. The face and hair of the half-length Venus surrounded with
roses is excellent in quality; the roses and the honeysuckle are quite
beautiful in quality; they are fresh and bright, pure in colour, as if
they had just come from the garden. The "Annunciation" in the National
Gallery is a little sandy, but it cannot be said to be bad in quality,
as Mr. Watts' and Mr. Jones' pictures are bad. Every Rossetti is at
least clearly recognisable as an oil painting.

In the same room there is Mr. Orchardson's picture of "Napoleon
dictating the Account of his Campaigns". I gather from my notes the
trace of the disappointment that this picture caused me. "Two small
figures in a large canvas. The secretary sits on the right at a small
table. He looks up, his face turned towards Napoleon, who stands on
the left in the middle of the picture, looking down, studying the maps
with which the floor is strewn. A great simplicity in the
surroundings, and all the points of character insisted on, with the
view of awakening the spectator's curiosity. From first to last a
vicious desire to narrate an anecdote. It is strange that a man of Mr.
Orchardson's talent should participate so fully in the supreme vice of
modern art which believes a picture to be the same thing as a scene in
a play. The whole picture conceived and executed in that pale yellow
tint which seems to be the habitual colour of Mr. Orchardson's mind."
A pity, indeed it is that Mr. Orchardson should waste very real talent
in narratives, for he is a great portrait painter. I remember very
well that beautiful portrait of his wife and child, and will take this
opportunity to recall it. It is the finest thing he has done; finer
than the portrait of Mr. Gilbey. Here, in a few words, is the subject
of the picture. An old-fashioned cane sofa stretches right across the
canvas. A lady in black is seated on the right; she bends forward, her
left arm leaning over the back of the sofa; she holds in her hand a
Japanese hand-screen. The fine and graceful English profile is
modelled without vulgar roundness, _un beau modèle à plat_; and the
black hair is heavy and loose, one lock slipping over the forehead.
The painter has told the exact character of the hair as he has told
the character of the hand, and the age of the hand and hair is
evident. She is a woman of five-and-thirty, she is interested in her
baby, her first baby, as a woman of that age would be. The baby lies
on a woollen rug and cushion, just beneath the mother's eyes; the
colour of both is a reddish yellow. He holds up his hands for the
hand-screen that the mother waves about him. The strip of background
about the yellow cane-work is grey-green; there is a vase of dried
ferns and grasses on the left, and the whole picture is filled and
penetrated with the affection and charm of English home-life, and
without being disfigured with any touch of vulgar or commonplace
sentimentality. The baby's face is somewhat hard; it is, perhaps, the
least satisfactory thing in the picture. The picture is wanting in
that totality which we find in the greatest masters--for instance, in
that exquisite portrait of a mother and child by Sir Joshua Reynolds,
exhibited this year in the Guildhall--that beautiful portrait of the
mother holding out her babe at arms'-length above her knee.

Room 4 is remarkable for Stanhope Forbes' picture of "Forging the
Anchor". Mr. Stanhope Forbes is the last-elected Academician, and the
most prominent exponent of the art of Bastien-Lepage. Perhaps the most
instructive article that could be written on the Academy would be one
in which the writer would confine his examination to this and Mr.
Clausen's picture of "Mowers", comparing and contrasting the two
pictures at every point, showing where they diverge, and tracing their
artistic history back to its ultimate source. But to do this
thoroughly would be to write the history of the artistic movement in
France and England for the last thirty years; and I must limit myself
to pointing out that Mr. Clausen has gone back to first principles,
whereas Mr. Stanhope Forbes still continues at the point where
Bastien-Lepage began to curtail, deform, and degrade the original
inspiration. Mr. Clausen, I said, overcame the difficulty of the
trousers by generalisation. Mr. Stanhope Forbes copied the trousers
seam by seam, patch by patch; and the ugliness of the garment bores
you in the picture, exactly as it would in nature. And the same
criticism applies equally well to the faces, the hands, the leather
aprons, the loose iron, the hammers, the pincers, the smoked walls. I
should not be surprised to learn that Mr. Stanhope Forbes had had a
forge built up in his studio, and had copied it all as it stood. A
handful of dry facts instead of a passionate impression of life in its
envelope of mystery and suggestion.

Realism, that is to say the desire to compete with nature, to be
nature, is the disease from which art has suffered most in the last
twenty years. The disease is now at wane, and when we happen upon a
canvas of the period like "Labourers after Dinner", we cry out, "What
madness! were we ever as mad as that?" The impressionists have been
often accused of a desire to dispense with the element of beauty, but
the accusation has always seemed to me to be quite groundless, and
even memory of a certain portrait by Mr. Walter Sickert does not cause
me to falter in this opinion. Until I saw Mr. Clausen's "Labourers" I
did not fully realise how terrible a thing art becomes when divorced
from beauty, grace, mystery, and suggestion. It would be difficult to
say where and how this picture differs from a photograph; it seems to
me to be little more than the vices of photography magnified. Having
spoken so plainly, it is necessary that I should explain myself.

The subject of this picture is a group of field labourers finishing
their mid-day dinner in the shade of some trees. They are portrayed in
a still even light, exactly as they were; the picture is one long
explanation; it is as clear as a newspaper, and it reads like one. We
can tell how many months that man in the foreground has worn those
dreadful hobnailed boots; we can count the nails, and we notice that
two or three are missing. Those disgusting corduroy trousers have hung
about his legs for so many months; all the ugliness of these
labourers' faces and the solid earthiness of their lives are there;
nothing has been omitted, curtailed, or exaggerated. There is some
psychology. We see that the years have brought the old man cunning
rather than wisdom. The middle-aged man and the middle-aged woman live
in mute stupidity--they have known nothing but the daily hardship of
living, and the vacuous face of their son tells how completely the
life of his forefathers has descended upon him. Here there is neither
the foolish gaiety of Teniers' peasants nor the vicious animality of
Brouwers'; and it is hardly necessary to say that the painter has seen
nothing of the legendary patriarchal beauty and solemnity which lends
so holy a charm to Millet's Breton folk. Mr. Clausen has seen nothing
but the sordid and the mean, and his execution in this picture is as
sordid and as mean as his vision. There is not a noble gesture
expressive of weariness nor an attitude expressive of resignation. Mr.
Clausen seems to have said, "I will go lower than the others; I will
seek my art in the mean and the meaningless." But notwithstanding his
very real talent, Mr. Clausen has not found art where art is not,
where art never has been found, where art never will be found.

Looking at this picture, the ordinary man will say, "If such ugliness
as that exists, I don't want to see it. Why paint such subjects?" And
at least the first part of this criticism seems to me to be quite
incontrovertible. I can imagine no valid reason for the portrayal of
so much ugliness; and, what is more important, I can find among the
unquestioned masters no slightest precedent for the blank realism of
this picture. The ordinary man's aversion to such ugliness seems to me
to be entirely right, and I only join issue with him when he says,
"Why paint such subjects?" Why not? For all subjects contain elements
of beauty; ugliness does not exist for the eye that sees beautifully,
and meanness vanishes if the sensation is a noble one. Have not the
very subjects which Mr. Clausen sees so meanly, and which he degrades
below the level even of the photograph, been seen nobly, and have they
not been rendered incomparably touching, even august, by----Well, the
whole world knows by whom. But it will be said that Mr, Clausen
painted these people as he saw them. I dare say he did; but if he
could not see these field-folk differently, he should have abstained
from painting them.

The mission of art is not truth, but beauty; and I know of no great
work--I will go even further, I know no even tolerable work--in
literature or in painting in which the element of beauty does not
inform the intention. Art is surely but a series of conventions which
enable us to express our special sense of beauty--for beauty is
everywhere, and abounds in subtle manifestations. Things ugly in
themselves become beautiful by association; or perhaps I should say
that they become picturesque. The slightest insistance in a line will
redeem and make artistically interesting the ugliest face. Look at
Degas' ballet-girls, and say if, artistically, they are not beautiful.
I defy you to say that they are mean. Again, an alteration in the
light and shade will create beautiful pictures among the meanest brick
buildings that ever were run up by the jerry-builder. See the violet
suburb stretching into the golden sunset. How exquisite it has become!
how full of suggestion and fairy tale! A picturesque shadow will
redeem the squalor of the meanest garret, and the subdued light of the
little kitchen where the red-petticoated housewife is sweeping must
contrast so delicately with the white glare of the brick yard where
the neighbour stands in parley, leaning against the doorpost, that the
humble life of the place is transformed and poetised. This was the ABC
of Dutch art; it was the Dutchmen who first found out that with the
poetising aid of light and shade the meanest and most commonplace
incidents of every-day life could be made the subjects of pictures.

There are no merits in painting except technical merits; and though my
criticism of Mr. Clausen's picture may at first sight seem to be a
literary criticism, it is in truth a strictly technical criticism. For
Mr. Clausen has neglected the admirable lessons which our Dutch
cousins taught us two hundred years ago; he has neglected to avail
himself of those principles of chiaroscuro which they perfected, and
which would have enabled him to redeem the grossness, the ugliness,
the meanness inherent in his subject. I said that he had gone further,
in abject realism, than a photograph. I do not think I have
exaggerated. It is not probable that those peasants would look so ugly
in a photograph as they do in his picture. For had they been
photographed, the chances are that some shadow would have clothed,
would have hid, something, and a chance gleam might have concentrated
the attention on some particular spot. Nine times out of ten the
exposure of the plate would not have taken place in a moment of flat
grey light.

But it is the theory of Mr. Clausen and his school that it is right
and proper to take a six-foot canvas into the open, and paint the
entire picture from Nature. But when the sun is shining, it is not
possible to paint for more than an hour--an hour and a half at most.
At the end of that time the shadows have moved so much that the effect
is wholly different. But on a grey day it is possible to paint on the
same picture for four or five hours. Hence the preference shown by
this school for grey days. Then the whole subject is seen clearly,
like a newspaper; and the artist, if he is a realist, copies every
patch on the trousers, and does not omit to tell us how many nails
have fallen from the great clay-stained boots. Pre-Raphaelitism is
only possible among august and beautiful things, when the subjects of
the pictures are Virgins and angels, and the accessories are marbles,
agate columns, Persian carpets, gold enwoven robes and vestments,
ivories, engraven metals, pearls, velvets and silks, and when the
object of the painter is to convey a sensation of the beauty of these
materials by the luxury and beauty of the workmanship. The common
workaday world, with accessories of tin pots and pans, corduroy
breeches and clay-pipes, can be only depicted by a series of ellipses
through a mystery of light and shade.

Beauty of some sort there must be in a work of art, and the very
conditions under which Mr. Clausen painted precluded any beauty from
entering into his picture. But this year Mr. Clausen seems to have
shaken himself free from his early education, and he exhibits a
picture, conceived in an entirely different spirit, in this Academy.
Turning to my notes I find it thus described: "A small canvas
containing three mowers in a flowering meadow. Two are mowing; the
third, a little to the left, sharpens his scythe. The sky is deep and
lowering--a sultry summer day, a little unpleasant in colour, but
true. At the end of the meadow the trees gleam. The earth is wrapped
in a hot mist, the result of the heat, and through it the sun sheds a
somewhat diffused and oven-like heat. There are heavy clouds overhead,
for the gleam that passes over the three white shirts is transitory
and uncertain. The handling is woolly and unpleasant, but handling can
be overlooked when a canvas exhales a deep sensation of life. The
movement of mowing--I should have said movements, for the men mow
differently; one is older than the other--is admirably expressed. And
the principal figure, though placed in the immediate foreground, is in
and not out of the atmosphere. The difficulty of the trousers has been
overcome by generalisation; the garment has not been copied patch by
patch. The distribution of light is admirable; nowhere does it escape
from the frame. J. F. Millet has painted many a worse picture."

Mr. Solomon and Mr. Hacker have both turned to mythology for the
subjects of their pictures. And the beautiful and touching legends of
Orpheus, and the Annunciation, have been treated by them with the
indifference of "our special artist", who places the firemen on the
right, the pump on the left, and the blazing house in the middle of
the picture. These pictures are therefore typical of a great deal of
historical painting of our time; and I speak of them because they give
me an opportunity of pointing out that before deciding to treat a page
of history or legend, the painter should come to conclusions with
himself regarding the goal which he desires to obtain. There are but

Either the legend passes unperceived in pomp of colour and wealth of
design, or the picture is a visible interpretation of the legend. The
Venetians were able to disregard the legend, but in centuries less
richly endowed with pictorial genius painters are inclined to support
their failing art with the psychological interest their imaginations
draw from it. But imaginative interpretation should not be confused
with bald illustration. The Academicians cannot understand why, if we
praise "Dante seeing Beatrice in a Dream", we should vilify Mr.
Fildes' "Doctor". In both cases a story is told, in neither case is
the execution excellent. Why then should one be a picture and the
other no more than a bald illustration? The question is a vexed one,
and the only conclusion that we can draw seems to be that
sentimentality pollutes, the anecdote degrades, wit altogether ruins;
only great thought may enter into art. Rossetti is a painter we
admire, and we place him above Mr. Fildes, because his interpretations
are more imaginative. We condone his lack of pictorial power, because
he could think, and we appreciate his Annunciation--the "Ecce Ancilla
Domini!" in the National Gallery, principally because he has looked
deep into the legend, and revealed its true and human significance.

It is a small picture, about three feet by two, and is destitute of
all technical accomplishment, or even habit. It is painted in white
and blue, and the streak of red in the foreground, the red of a screen
on which is embroidered the lily--emblem of purity--adds to the chill
and coldness. Drawn up upon her white bed the Virgin crouches, silent
with expectation, listening to the mystic dream that has come upon her
in the dim hush of dawn. The large blue eyes gleam with some strange
joy that is quickening in her. The mouth and chin tell no tale, but
the eyes are deep pools of light, and mirror the soul that is on fire
within. The red hair falls about her, a symbol of the soul. In the
drawn-up knees, faintly outlined beneath the white sheet, the painter
hints at her body's beauty. One arm is cast forward, the hand not
clenched but stricken. Behind her a blue curtain hangs straight from
iron rods set on either side of the bed. Above the curtain a lamp is
burning dimly, blighted by the pallor of the dawn. A dead, faint
sky--the faint ashen sky which precedes the first rose tint; the
circular window is filled with it, and the paling blue of the sky's
colour contrasts with the deep blue of the bed's curtain, on which the
Virgin's red hair is painted.

The angel stands by the side of the white bed--I should say floats,
his fair feet hanging out of a few pale flames. White raiment clothes
him, falling in long folds, leaving the arms and feet bare; in the
right hand he holds a lily all in blossom; the left hand is extended
in rigid gesture of warning. Brown-gold hair grows thick about the
angel's neck; the shadowed profile is outlined against the hard, sad
sky; the expression of the face is deep and sphinx-like; he has come,
it is clear, from vast realms of light, where uncertainty and doubt
are unknown. The Dove passes by him towards the Virgin. Look upon her
again, crouching in her white bed, her knees drawn to her bosom, her
deep blue eyes--her dawn-tinted eyes--filled with ache, dream, and
expectation. The shadows of dawn are on wall and floor--strange, blue
shadows!--the Virgin's shadow lies on the wall, the angel's shadow
falls across the coverlet.

Here, at least, there is drama, and the highest form of
drama--spiritual drama; here, at least, there is story, and the
highest form of story--symbol and suggestion. Rossetti has revealed
the essence of this intensely human story--a story that, whenever we
look below the surface, which is mediaeval and religious, we recognise
as a story of to-day, of yesterday, of all time. A girl thralled by
the mystery of conception awakes at morn in palpitations, seeing

Mr. Hacker's telling of the legend is to Rossetti's what a story in
the _London Journal_ is to a story by Balzac. The Virgin has
apparently wandered outside the town. She is dressed in a long white
garment neither beautiful nor explicit: is it a nightdress, or a piece
of conventional drapery? On the right there is a long, silly tree,
which looks as if it had been evolved out of a ball of green wool with
knitting-needles, and above her floats an angel attired in a wisp of
blue gauze. Rossetti, we know, was, in the strict sense of the word,
hardly a painter at all, but he had something to say; and we can bear
in painting, as we can in literature, with faulty expression, if there
is something behind it. What is most intolerable in art is scholastic
rodomontade. And what else is Mr. Hacker's execution? In every
transmission the method seems to degenerate, and in this picture it
seems to have touched bottom. It has become loose, all its original
crispness is lost, and, complicated with _la peinture claire_, it
seems incapable of expressing anything whatsoever. There is no variety
of tone in that white sheet, there is nobody inside it, and the angel
is as insincere and frivolous as any sketch in a young lady's album.
The building at the back seems to have been painted with the scrapings
of a dirty palette, and the sky in the left-hand corner comes out of
the picture. I have only to add that the picture has been purchased
out of the Chantry Bequest Fund, and the purchase is considered to be
equivalent to a formal declaration that Mr. Hacker will be elected an
Associate of the Royal Academy at the next election.

Mr. Hacker's election to the Academy--I speak of this election as a
foregone conclusion--following as it does the election of Mr. Stanhope
Forbes, makes it plain that the intention of the Academy is to support
to the full extent of its great power a method of painting which is
foreign and unnatural to English art, which, in the opinion of a large
body of artists--and it is valuable to know that their opinion is
shared by the best and most original of the French artists--is
disintegrating and destroying our English artistic tradition. Mr.
Hacker's election, and the three elections that will follow it, those
of Mr. Shannon, Mr. Alfred East, and Mr. Bromley, will be equivalent
to an official declaration that those who desire to be English
Academicians must adopt the French methods. Independent of the
national disaster that these elections will inflict on art, they will
be moreover flagrant acts of injustice. For I repeat, among the forty
Academicians there is not one who considers these future Academicians
to be comparable to Mr. Whistler, Mr. Albert Moore, Mr. Swan, or Mr.
Sargent. No one holds such an opinion, and yet there is no doubt which
way the elections in the Academy will go.

The explanation of this incredible anomaly I have given, the
explanation is not a noble one, but that is not a matter for which I
can be held responsible; suffice it to say, that my explanation is the
only possible explanation. The Academy is a private commercial
enterprise, and conducts its business on the lines which it considers
the most advantageous; its commercialism has become flagrant and
undeniable. If this is so--how the facts can otherwise be explained I
cannot see--it is to be regretted that the Academy got its beautiful
site for nothing. But regrets are vain. The only thing to do now is to
see that the Academy is no longer allowed to sail under false colours.
This article may awaken in the Academy a sense that it is not well to
persist in open and flagrant defiance of public opinion, or it may
serve to render the Academicians even more stiff-necked than before.
In either case it will have accomplished its purpose.


No fact is more painful to the modern mind than that men are not born
with equal brains; and every day we grow more and more determined to
thwart Nature's desire of inequality by public education. Whether
everybody should be taught to read and write I leave to
politicians--the matter is not important; but that the nation should
not be instructed in drawing, music, painting, and English literature
I will never cease to maintain. Everything that has happened in
England for the last thirty years goes to prove that systematised
education in art means artistic decadence.

To the ordinary mind there is something very reassuring in the words
institutions, professors, examinations, medals, and titles of all
kinds. All these things have been given of late years to art, and
parents and guardians need no longer have any fear for those confided
to their charge: the art of painting has been recognised as a
profession! The principal institution where this profession is
practised is called the Royal Academy. It owes its existence to the
taste of a gentleman known as George the Third, and it has been
dowered by the State to the extent of at least three hundred thousand
pounds. Professors from Oxford, even bishops, dine there. The members
of this institution put R.A. after their names; the president has been
made a baronet; there was even a rumour that he was going to be made a
lord, and that he was not we must consider as another blow dealt
against the dignity of art.

Literature does not offer so much scope for organisation as painting;
but strenuous efforts are being made to organise it, and, by the aid
of academies, examinations, and crowns, hopes are entertained that,
before long, it will be brought into line with the other professions.
And the journalists too are anxious to "erect their craft to the
dignity of a profession which shall confer upon its members _certain
social status_ like that of the barrister and lawyer". Entrance is to
be strictly conditional; no one is to have a right to practice without
a diploma, and members are to be entitled to certain letters after
their names. A movement is on foot to Churton-Collinise English
literature at the universities, and every month Mr. Walter Besant
raises a wail in the _Author_ that the peerage is not as open to
three-volume novelists as it is to brewers. He bewails the fact that
no eminent man of letters, with the exception of Lord Tennyson, has
been made the enforced associate of brewers and politicians. Mr.
Besant does not think that titles in these democratic days are foolish
and absurd, pitiful in the personality of those who own them by
inheritance, grotesque in the personality of those on whom they have
been conferred. Mr. Besant does not see that the desire of the baker,
the brewer, the butcher, and I may add the three-volume novelist, to
be addressed by small tradesmen and lackeys as "yer lordship", raises
a smile on the lips even of the most _blasé_.

I am advocating an unpopular _régime_ I know, for the majority believe
that art is in Queer Street if new buildings are not being raised, if
official recognition of merits is not proclaimed, and if the
newspapers do not teem with paragraphs concerning the homes of the
Academicians. The wailing and gnashing of teeth that were heard when
an intelligent portion of the Press induced Mr. Tate to withdraw his
offer to build a gallery and furnish it with pictures by Messrs.
Herkomer, Fildes, Leader, Long, are not forgotten. It was not urged
that the pictures were valuable pictures; the merit or demerit of the
pictures was not what interested, but the fact that a great deal of
money was going to be spent, and that titles, badges, medals, crowns,
would be given to those whose pictures were enshrined in the new
temple of art. The Tate Gallery touched these folk as would an
imposing review of troops, a procession of judges, or a coronation in
Westminster Abbey. Their senses were tickled by the prospect of a
show, their minds were stirred by some idea of organisation--something
was about to be organised, and nothing appeals so much to the vulgar
mind as organisation.

An epoch is represented by a word, and to organise represents the
dominant idea of our civilisation. To organise is to be respectable,
and as every one wants to be respectable, every one dreams of new
schemes of organisation. Soldiers, sailors, policemen, members of
parliament, independent voters, clerks in the post office, bus
drivers, dockers, every imaginable variety of worker, domestic
servants--it is difficult to think of any class that has not been
organised of late years.

There is a gentleman in parliament who is anxious to do something in
the way of social organisation for the gipsies. The gipsies have not
appealed to him; they have professed no desire to have their social
status raised; they have, I believe, disclaimed through their king,
whoever he may be, all participation in the scheme of this benevolent
gentleman. Nor does any sense of the absurdity of his endeavour blight
the worthy gentleman's ardour. How should it? He, like the other
organisers, is an unreasoning instrument in a great tendency of
things. To organise something--or, put it differently, to educate
some one--is to day every man's ambition. So long as it is not
himself, it matters no jot to him whom he educates. The gipsy under
the hedge, the artist painting under a hill, it matters not. A
technical school of instruction would enable the gipsy to harness his
horse better than he does at present; and the artist would paint much
better if he were taught to stipple, and examined by salaried
professors in stipple, and given prizes for stippling. The general
mind of our century is with education and organisation of every kind,
and from this terrible general mind art seems unable to escape. Art,
that poor little gipsy whose very condition of existence is freedom,
who owns no code of laws, who evades all regulations, who groups
himself under no standard, who can live only in disastrous times, when
the world's attention is drawn to other things, and allows him life in
shelter of the hedges, and dreams in sight of the stars, finds himself
forced into a uniform--poor little fellow, how melancholy he looks on
his high stool in the South Kensington Museum, and notwithstanding the
professors his hand drops from the drawing-board, unable to accomplish
the admired stipple.

But solemn members of parliament are certain that official recognition
must be extended to art. Art is an educational influence, and the
Kensington galleries are something more than agreeable places, where
sweethearts can murmur soft nothings under divine masterpieces. The
utilitarian M.P. must find some justification for art; he is not
sensible enough to understand that art justifies its own existence,
that it is its own honour and glory; and he nourishes a flimsy lie,
and votes that large sums of money shall be spent in endowing schools
of art and founding picture galleries. Then there is another
class--those who have fish to fry, and to whom art seems a convenient
frying-pan. Mr. Tate craves for a museum to be called Tate's; or, if
his princely gift gained him a title, which it may, the museum would
be called--What would be an appropriate name? There are men too who
have trifles to sell, and they talk loudly of the glories of modern
art, and the necessity of a British Luxembourg.

That France should have a Luxembourg is natural enough; that we should
have one would be anomalous. We are a free-trading country. I pass
over the failure of the Luxembourg to recognise genius, to save the
artist of genius a struggle with insolent ignorance. What did the
Luxembourg do for Corot, Millet, Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Sisley,
Pissaro? The Luxembourg chose rather to honour such pretentious
mediocrities as Bouguereau, Jules Lefebvre, Jules Breton, and their
like. What has our Academy done to rescue struggling genius from
poverty and obscurity? Did it save Alfred Stevens, the great sculptor
of his generation, from the task of designing fire-irons? How often
did the Academy refuse Cecil Lawson's pictures? When they did accept
him, was it not because he had become popular in spite of the Academy?
Did not the Academy refuse Mr. Whistler's portrait of his mother, and
was it not hung at the last moment owing to a threat of one of the
Academicians to resign if a place was not found for it? Place was
found for it seven feet above the line. Has not the Academy for the
last five-and-twenty years lent the whole stress and authority of its
name to crush Mr. Whistler? Happily his genius was sufficient for the
fight, and it was not until he had conquered past all question that he
left this country. The record of the Academy is a significant one. But
if it has exercised a vicious influence in art, its history is no
worse than that of other academies. Here, as elsewhere, the Academy
has tolerated genius when it was popular, and when it was not popular
it has trampled upon it.

We have Free Trade in literature, why should we not have Free Trade in
art? Why should not every artist go into the market without title or
masquerade that blinds the public to the value of what he has to sell?
I would turn art adrift, titleless, R.A.-less, out into the street and
field, where, under the light of his original stars, the impassioned
vagrant might dream once more, and for the mere sake of his dreams.


"Mr. Goschen," said a writer in a number of the _Speaker_, "deserves
credit for having successfully resisted the attempt to induce him to
sacrifice the interests of science at South Kensington to those of
art." An excellent theme it seemed to me for an article; but the
object of the writer being praise of Mr. Tate for his good intention,
the opportunity was missed of distinguishing between the false claims
of art and the real claims of science to public patronage and
protection. True it is that to differentiate between art and science
is like drawing distinctions between black and white; and in excuse I
must plead the ordinary vagueness and weakness of the public mind, its
inability very often to differentiate between things the most opposed,
and a very general tendency to attempt to justify the existence of art
on the grounds of utility--that is to say, educational influences and
the counter attraction that a picture gallery offers to the
public-house on Bank Holidays. Such reasoning is well enough at
political meetings, but it does not find acceptance among thinkers. It
is merely the flower of foolish belief that nineteenth century wisdom
is greater than the collective instinct of the ages; that we are far
in advance of our forefathers in religion, in morals, and in art. We
are only in advance of our forefathers in science. In art we have done
little more than to spoil good canvas and marble, and not content with
such misdeeds, we must needs insult art by attributing to her
utilitarian ends and moral purposes.

Modern puritanism dares not say abolish art; so in thinly disguised
speech it is pleaded that art is not nearly so useless as might easily
be supposed; and it is often seriously urged that art may be
reconciled after all with the most approved principles of
humanitarianism, progress, and religious belief. Such is still the
attitude of many Englishmen towards art. But art needs none of these
apologists, even if we have to admit that the domestic utility of a
Terburg is not so easily defined as that of mixed pickles or
umbrellas. Another serious indictment is that art appeals rather to
the few than to the many. True, indeed; and yet art is the very spirit
and sense of the many. Yes; and all that is most national in us, all
that is most sublime, and all that is most imperishable. The art of a
nation is an epitome of the nation's intelligence and prosperity.
There is no such thing as cosmopolitanism in art? alas! there is, and
what a pitiful thing that thing is.

Unhappy is he who forgets the morals, the manners, the customs, the
material and spiritual life of his country! England can do without any
one of us, but not one of us can do without England. Study the
question in the present, study it in the past, and you will find but
one answer to your question--art is nationhood. All the great artistic
epochs have followed on times of national enthusiasm, power, energy,
spiritual and corporal adventure. When Greece was divided into
half-a-dozen States she produced her greatest art. The same with
Italy; and Holland, after having rivalled Greece in heroic effort,
gave birth in the space of a single generation to between twenty and
thirty great painters. And did not our Elizabethan drama follow close
upon the defeat of the Armada, the discovery of America, and the
Reformation? And did not Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Romney begin to
paint almost immediately after the victories of Marlborough? To-day
our empire is vast, and as our empire grows so does our art lessen.
Literature still survives, though even there symptoms of decadence are
visible. The Roman, the Chinese, and the Mahometan Empires are not
distinguished for their art. But outside of the great Chinese Empire
there lies a little State called Japan, which, without knowledge of
Egypt or Greece, purely out of its own consciousness, evolved an art
strangely beautiful and wholly original.

And as we continue to examine the question we become aware that no
further progress in art is possible; that art reached its apogee two
thousand five hundred years ago. True that Michael Angelo in the
figures of "Day" and "Night", in the "Slave", in the "Moses", and in
the "Last Judgment"--which last should be classed as sculpture--stands
very, very close indeed to Phidias; his art is more complete and less
perfect. But three hundred years have gone since the death of Michael
Angelo, and to get another like him the world would have to be steeped
in the darkness of another Middle Age. And, passing on in our inquiry,
we notice that painting reached its height immediately after Michael
Angelo's death. Who shall rival the splendours, the profusion of
Veronese, the opulence of Tintoretto, the richness of Titian, the pomp
of Rubens? Or who shall challenge the technical beauty of Velasquez or
of Hals, or the technical dexterity of Terburg, or Metzu, or Dow, or
Adrian van Ostade? Passing on once again, we notice that art appears
and disappears mysteriously like a ghost. It comes unexpectedly upon a
people, and it goes in spite of artistic education, State help, picture
dealers, and annual exhibitions. We notice, too, that art is wholly
untransmissible; nay, more, the fact that art is with us to-day is proof
that art will not be with us to-morrow. Art cannot be acquired, nor can
those who have art in their souls tell how it came there, or how they
practise it. Art cannot be repressed, encouraged, or explained; it is
something that transcends our knowledge, even as the principle of life.

Now I take it that science differs from art on all these points.
Science is not national, it is essentially cosmopolitan. The science
of one country is the same as that of another country. It is
impossible to tell by looking at it whether the phonograph was
invented in England or America. Unlike art, again, science is
essentially transmissible; every discovery leads of necessity to
another discovery, and the fact that science is with us to-day proves
that science will be still more with us to-morrow. Nothing can
extinguish science except an invasion of barbarians, and the
barbarians that science has left alive would hardly suffice. Art has
its limitations, science has none. It would, however, be vain to
pursue our differentiation any further. It must be clear that what are
most opposed in this world are art and science; therefore--I think I
can say therefore--all the arguments I used to show that a British
Luxembourg would be prejudicial to the true interests of art may be
used in favour of the endowment of a college of science at South
Kensington. Why should not the humanitarianism of Mr. Tate induce him
to give his money to science instead of to art? As well build a
hothouse for swallows to winter in as a British Luxembourg; but
science is a good old barn-door fowl; build her a hen-roost, and she
will lay you eggs, and golden eggs. Give your money to science, for
there is an evil side to every other kind of almsgiving. It is well to
save life, but the world is already overstocked with life; and in
saving life one may be making the struggle for existence still more
unendurable for those who come after. But in giving your money to
science you are accomplishing a definite good; the results of science
have always been beneficent. Science will alleviate the wants of the
world more wisely than the kindest heart that ever beat under the robe
of a Sister of Mercy; the hands of science are the mercifulest in the
end, and it is science that will redeem man's hope of Paradise.


The subject is full of suggestion, and though any adequate examination
of it would lead me beyond the limits of this paper, I think I may
venture to lift its fringe. To do so, we must glance at its historic
side. We know the interest that Julius the Second took in the art of
Michael Angelo and Raphael: had it not been for the Popes, St. Peter's
would not have been built, nor would "The Last Judgment" have been
painted. We know, too, of Philip the Fourth's great love of the art of
Velasquez. The Court of Frederick the Great was a republic of art and
letters; and is it not indirectly to a Bavarian monarch that we owe
Wagner's immortal _chefs-d'oeuvre_, and hence the musical evolution of
the century? With these facts before us it would be puerile to deny
that in the past Royalty has lent invaluable assistance in the
protection and development of art. Even if we turn to our own country
we find at least one monarch who could distinguish a painter when he
met one. Charles the Second did not hesitate in the patronage he
extended to Vandyke, and it is--as I have frequently pointed out--to
the influence of Vandyke that we owe all that is worthiest and
valuable in English art. Bearing these facts in mind--and it is
impossible not to bear them in mind--it is difficult to go to the
Victorian Exhibition and not ask: Does the present Royal Family
exercise any influence on English art? This is the question that the
Victorian Exhibition puts to us. After fifty years of reign, the Queen
throws down the gauntlet; and speaking through the medium of the
Victorian Exhibition, she says: "This is how I have understood art;
this is what I have done for art; I countenance, I court, I challenge

Yes, truly the Victorian Exhibition is an object-lesson in Royalty. If
all other records were destroyed, the historian, five hundred years
hence, could reconstitute the psychological characteristics, the
mentality, of the present reigning family from the pictures on
exhibition there. For in the art that it has chosen to patronise (a
more united family on the subject of art it would be hard to
imagine--nowhere can we detect the slightest difference of opinion),
the Queen, her spouse, and her children appear to be singularly
_bourgeois_: a staid German family congenially and stupidly
commonplace, accepting a little too seriously its mission of crowns
and sceptres, and accomplishing its duties, grown out of date,
somewhat witlessly, but with heavy dignity and forbearance. Waiving
all racial characteristics, the German _bourgeois_ family mind appears
plainly enough in all these family groups; no other mind could have
permitted the perpetration of so much stolid family placidity, of so
much "_frauism_". "Exhibit us in our family circle, in our coronation
robes, in our wedding dresses, let the likeness be correct and the
colours bright--we leave the rest to you." Such seems to have been the
Royal artistic edict issued in the beginning of the present reign. In
no instance has the choice fallen on a painter of talent; but the
middling from every country in Europe seems to have found a ready
welcome at the Court of Queen Victoria. We find there middling
Germans, middling Italians, middling Frenchmen--and all receiving
money and honour from our Queen.

The Queen and the Prince Consort do not seem to have been indifferent
to art, but to have deliberately, and with rare instinct, always
picked out what was most worthless; and regarded in the light of
documents, these pictures are valuable; for they tell plainly the real
mind of the Royal Family. We see at once that the family mind is
wholly devoid of humour; the very faintest sense of humour would have
saved them from exhibiting themselves in so ridiculous a light. The
large picture of the Queen and the Prince Consort surrounded with
their children, the Prince Consort in knee-breeches, showing a
finely-turned calf, is sufficient to occasion the overthrow of a
dynasty if humour were the prerogative of the many instead of being
that of the few. This masterpiece is signed, "By G. Belli, after F.
Winterhalter"; and in this picture we get the mediocrity of Italy and
Germany in quintessential strength. These pictures also help us to
realise the private life of our Royal Family. It must have spent a
great deal of time in being painted. The family pictures are
numberless, and the family taste is visible upon them all. And there
must be some strange magnetism in the family to be able to transfuse
so much of itself into the minds of so many painters. So like is one
picture to another, that the Exhibition seems to reveal the secret
that for the last fifty years the family has done nothing but paint
itself. And in these days, when every one does a little painting, it
is easy to imagine the family at work from morn to eve. Immediately
after breakfast the easels are set up, the Queen paints the Princess
Louise, the Duke of Edinburgh paints Princess Beatrice, the Princess
Alice paints the Prince of Wales, etc. The easels are removed for
lunch, and the moment the meal is over work is resumed.

After having seen the Victorian Exhibition, I cannot imagine the Royal
Family in any other way; I am convinced that is how they must have
passed their lives for the last quarter of a century. The names of G.
Belli and F. Winterhalter are no more than flimsy make-believes. And
are there not excellent reasons for holding to this opinion? Has not
the Queen published, or rather surreptitiously issued, certain little
collections of drawings? Has not the Princess Louise, the artist of
the family, publicly exhibited sculpture? The Princess Beatrice, has
she not done something in the way of designing? The Duke of Edinburgh,
he is a musician. And it is in these little excursions into art that
the family most truly manifests its _bourgeois_ nature. The sincerest
_bourgeois_ are those who scribble little poems and smudge little
canvases in the intervals between an afternoon reception and a
dinner-party. The amateur artist is always the most inaccessible to
ideas; he is always the most fervid admirer of the commonplace. A
staid German family dabbling in art in its leisure hours--the most
inartistic, the most Philistine of all Royal families--this is the
lesson that the Victorian Exhibition impresses upon us.

But why should not the Royal Family decorate its palaces with bad art?
Why should it not choose the most worthless portrait-painters of all
countries? Dynasties have never been overthrown for failure in
artistic taste. I am aware how insignificant the matter must seem to
the majority of readers, and should not have raised the question, but
since the question has been raised, and by her Majesty, I am well
within my right in attempting a reply. The Victorian Exhibition is a
flagrant representation of a _bourgeois_, though a royal, family. From
the beginning to the end the Exhibition is this and nothing but this.
In the Entrance Hall, at the doorway, we are confronted with the
Queen's chief artistic sin--Sir Edgar Boehm.

Thirty years ago this mediocre German sculptor came to England. The
Queen discovered him at once, as if by instinct, and she employed him
on work that an artist would have shrunk from--namely, statuettes in
Highland costume. The German sculptor turned out this odious and
ridiculous costume as fast as any Scotch tailor. He was then employed
on busts, and he did the entire Royal Family in marble. Again, it
would be hard to give a reason why Royalty should not be allowed to
possess bad sculpture. The pity is that the private taste of Royalty
creates the public taste of the nation, and the public result of the
gracious interest that the Queen was pleased to take in Mr. Edgar
Boehm, is the disfigurement of London by several of the worst statues
it is possible to conceive. It is bad enough that we should have
German princes foisted upon us, but German statues are worse. The
ancient site of Temple Bar has been disfigured by Boehm with statues
of the Queen and the Prince of Wales, so stupidly conceived and so
stupidly modelled that they look like figures out of a Noah's Ark. The
finest site in London, Hyde Park Corner, has been disfigured by Boehm
with a statue of the Duke of Wellington so bad, so paltry, so
characteristically the work of a German mechanic, that it is
impossible to drive down the beautiful road without experiencing a
sensation of discomfort and annoyance. The original statue that was
pulled down in the interests of Boehm was, it is true, bad English,
but bad English suits the landscape better than cheap German. And this
disgraceful thing will remain, disfiguring the finest site in London,
until, perhaps, some dynamiter blows the thing up, ostensibly to serve
the cause of Ireland, but really in the interests of art. At the other
end of the park we have the Albert Memorial. We sympathise with the
Queen in her grief for the Prince Consort, but we cannot help wishing
that her grief were expressed more artistically.

A city so naturally beautiful as London can do without statues; the
question is not so much how to get good statues, but how to protect
London against bad statues. If for the next twenty-five years we might
celebrate the memory of each great man by the destruction of a statue
we might undo a great part of the mischief for which Royalty is mainly
responsible. I do not speak of Boehm's Jubilee coinage--the
melting-pot will put that right one of these days--but his statues,
beyond some slight hope from the dynamiters, will be always with us.
Had he lived, London would have disappeared under his statues; at the
time of his death they were popping up by twos and threes all over the
town. Our lovely city is our inheritance; London should be to the
Londoner what Athens is to the Athenian. What would the Athenians have
thought of Pericles if he had proposed the ornamentation of the city
with Persian sculpture? Boehm is dead, but another German will be with
us before long, and, under Royal patronage, will continue the odious
disfigurement of our city. If our Royal Family possessed any slight
aesthetic sense its influence might be turned to the service of art;
but as it has none, it would be well for Royalty to refrain. Art can
take care of itself if left to the genius of the nation, and freed
from foreign control. The Prince of Wales has never affected any
artistic sympathies. For this we are thankful: we have nothing to
reproach him with except the unfortunate "Roll-call" incident. Royalty
is to-day but a social figment--it has long ago ceased to control our
politics. Would that Royalty would take another step and abandon its
influence in art.


The general art patron in England is a brewer or distiller.
Five-and-forty is the age at which he begins to make his taste felt in
the art world, and the cause of his collection is the following, or an
analogous reason. After a heavy dinner, when the smoke-cloud is
blowing lustily, Brown says to Smith: "I know you don't care for
pictures, so you wouldn't think that Leader was worth fifteen hundred
pounds; well, I paid all that, and something more too, at the last
Academy for it." Smith, who has never heard of Leader, turns slowly
round on his chair, and his brain, stupefied with strong wine and
tobacco, gradually becomes aware of a village by a river bank seen in
black silhouette upon a sunset sky. Wine and food have made him
happily sentimental, and he remembers having seen a village looking
very like that village when he was paying his attentions to the eldest
Miss Jones. Yes, it was looking like that, all quite sharp and clear
on a yellow sky, and the trees were black and still just like those
trees. Smith determines that he too shall possess a Leader. He may not
be quite as big a man as Brown, but he has been doing pretty well
lately.... There's no reason why he shouldn't have a Leader. So
irredeemable mischief has been done at Brown's dinner-party: another
five or six thousand a year will henceforth exert its mighty influence
in the service of bad art.

Poor Smith, who never looked attentively at a picture before, does not
see that what inspires such unutterable memories of Ethel Jones is but
a magnified Christmas card; the dark trees do not suggest treacle to
him, nor the sunset sky the rich cream which he is beginning to feel
he partook of too freely; he does not see the thin drawing, looking as
if it had been laboriously scratched out with a nail, nor yet the
feeble handling which suggests a child and a pot of gum. But of
technical achievement how should Mr. Smith know anything?--that
mysterious something, different in every artist, taking a thousand
forms, and yet always recognisable to the educated eye. How should
poor Smith see anything in the picture except what Mr. Whistler
wittily calls "rather a foolish sunset"? To perceive Mr. Leader's
deficiency in technical accomplishment may seem easy to the young girl
who has studied drawing for six months at South Kensington; but Smith
is a stupid man who has money-grubbed for five-and-twenty years in the
City; and through the fumes of wine and tobacco he resolves to have a
Leader. He does not hesitate, he consults no one--and why should he?
Mr. Leader put R.A. after his name--he charges fifteen hundred.
Besides, the village on the river bank with a sunset behind is
obviously a beautiful thing.... The mischief has been done, the
irredeemable mischief has been achieved. Smith buys a Leader, and the
Leader begets a Long, the Long begets a Fildes, the Fildes begets a
Dicksee, the Dicksee begets a Herkomer.

Such is the genesis of Mr. Smith's collection, and it is typical of a
hundred now being formed in London. In ten years Mr. Smith has laid
out forty or fifty thousand pounds. He asks his friends if they don't
like his collection quite as well as Brown's: he urges that he can't
see much difference himself. Nor is there much difference. The same
articles--that is to say, identically similar articles--vulgarly
painted sunsets, vulgarly painted doctors, vulgarly painted babies,
vulgarly painted manor-houses with saddle-horses and a young lady
hesitating on the steps, have been acquired at or about the same
prices. The popular R.A.s have appealed to popular sentiment, and
popular sentiment has responded; and the City has paid the price. But
Time is not at all a sentimental person: he is quite unaffected by the
Adelphi reality of the doctor's face or the mawkish treacle of the
village church; and when the collection is sold at auction twenty
years hence, it will fetch about a fourth of the price that was paid.

Mr. Smith's artistic taste knows no change; it was formed on Mr.
Brown's Leader, and developing logically from it, passing through
Long, Fildes, and Dicksee, it touches high-water mark at Hook. The
pretty blue sea and the brown fisher-folk call for popular admiration
almost as imperatively as the sunset in the village churchyard; and
when an artist--for in his adventures among dealers Mr. Smith met one
or two--points out how much less like treacle Mr. Hook is than Mr.
Leader, and how much more flowing and supple the drawing of the
sea-shore is than the village seen against the sunset, Mr. Smith
thinks he understands what is meant. But remembering the fifteen
hundred pounds he paid for the cream sky and the treacle trees, he is
quite sure that nothing could be better.

The ordinary perception of the artistic value of a picture does not
arise above Mr. Smith's. I have studied the artistic capacity of the
ordinary mind long and diligently, and I know my analysis of it is
exact; and if I do not exaggerate the artistic incapabilities of Mr.
Smith, it must be admitted that the influence which his money permits
him to exercise in the art world is an evil influence, and is
exercised persistently to the very great detriment of the real artist.
But it will be said that the moneyed man cannot be forbidden to buy
the pictures that please him. No, but men should not be elected
Academicians merely because their pictures are bought by City men, and
this is just what is done. Do not think that Sir John Millais is
unaware that Mr. Long's pictures, artistically considered, are quite
worthless. Do not think that Mr. Orchardson does not turn in contempt
from Mr. Leader's tea-trays. Do not think that every artist, however
humble, however ignorant, does not know that Mr. Goodall's portrait of
Mrs. Kettlewell stands quite beyond the range of criticism. Mr. Long,
Mr. Leader, and Mr. Goodall were not elected Academicians because the
Academicians who voted for them approved of their pictures, but
because Mr. Smith and his like purchased their pictures; and by
electing these painters to Academic honours the taste of Mr. Smith
receives official confirmation.

The public can distinguish very readily--far better than it gets
credit for--between bad literature and good; nor is the public deaf to
good music, but the public seems quite powerless to distinguish
between good painting and bad. No, I am wrong; it distinguishes very
well between bad painting and good, only it invariably prefers the
bad. The language of speech we are always in progress of learning; and
the language of music being similar to that of speech, it becomes
easier to hear that Wagner is superior to Rossini than to see that
Whistler is better than Leader. Of all languages none is so difficult,
so varying, so complex, so evanescent, as that of paint; and yet it is
precisely the works written in this language that every one believes
himself able to understand, and ready to purchase at the expense of a
large part of his fortune. If I could make such folk understand how
illusory is their belief, what a service I should render to art--if I
could only make them understand that the original taste of man is
always for the obvious and the commonplace, and that it is only by
great labour and care that man learns to understand as beautiful that
which the uneducated eye considers ugly.

Why will the art patron never take advice? I should seek it if I
bought pictures. If Degas were to tell me that a picture I had
intended to buy was not a good one I should not buy it, and if Degas
were to praise a picture in which I could see no merit I should buy it
and look at it until I did. Such confession will make me appear
weak-minded to many; but this is so, because much instruction is
necessary even to understand how infinitely more Degas knows than any
one else can possibly know. The art patron never can understand as
much about art as the artist, but he can learn a good deal. It is
fifteen years since I went to Degas's studio for the first time. I
looked at his portraits, at his marvellous ballet-girls, at the
washerwomen, and understood nothing of what I saw. My blindness to
Degas's merit alarmed me not a little, and I said to Manet--to whom I
paid a visit in the course of the afternoon--"It is very odd, Manet, I
understand your work, but for the life of me I cannot see the great
merit you attribute to Degas." To hear that some one has not
understood your rival's work as well as he understands your own is
sweet flattery, and Manet only murmured under his breath that it was
very odd, since there were astonishing things in Degas.

Since those days I have learnt to understand Degas; but unfortunately
I have not been able to transmit my knowledge to any one. When
important pictures by Degas could be bought for a hundred and a
hundred and fifty pounds apiece, I tried hard to persuade some City
merchants to buy them. They only laughed and told me they liked Long
better. Degas has gone up fifty per cent, Long has declined fifty per
cent. Whistler's can be bought to-day for comparatively small prices;
[Footnote: This was written before the Whistler boom.] in twenty years
they will cost three times as much; in twenty years Mr. Leader's
pictures will probably not be worth half as much as they are to-day.
What I am saying is the merest commonplace, what every artist knows;
but go to an art patron--a City merchant--and ask him to pay five
hundred for a Degas, and he will laugh at you; he will say, "Why,
I could get a Dicksee or a Leader for a thousand or two."


In the eighteenth century, and the centuries that preceded it, artists
were visited by their patrons, who bought what the artist had to sell,
and commissioned him to paint what he was pleased to paint. But in our
time the artist is visited by a showily-dressed man, who comes into
the studio whistling, his hat on the back of his head. This is the
West-End dealer: he throws himself into an arm-chair, and if there is
nothing on the easels that appeals to the uneducated eye, the dealer
lectures the artist on his folly in not considering the exigencies of
public taste. On public taste--that is to say, on the uneducated
eye--the dealer is a very fine authority. His father was a dealer
before him, and the son was brought up on prices, he lisped in prices,
and was taught to reverence prices. He cannot see the pictures for
prices, and he lies back, looking round distractedly, not listening to
the timid, struggling artist who is foolishly venturing an
explanation. Perhaps the public might come to his style of painting if
he were to persevere. The dealer stares at the ceiling, and his lips
recall his last evening at the music-hall. If the public don't like
it--why, they don't like it, and the sooner the artist comes round the
better. That is what he has to say on the subject, and, if sneers and
sarcasm succeed in bringing the artist round to popular painting, the
dealer buys; and when he begins to feel sure that the uneducated eye
really hungers for the new man, he speaks about getting up a boom in
the newspapers.

The Press is in truth the great dupe; the unpaid jackal that goes into
the highways and byways for the dealer! The stockbroker gets the
Bouguereau, the Herkomer, the Alfred East, and the Dagnan-Bouveret
that his soul sighs for; but the Press gets nothing except unreadable
copy, and yet season after season the Press falls into the snare. It
seems only necessary for a dealer to order an artist to frame the
contents of his sketch-book, and to design an invitation card--"Scenes
on the Coast of Denmark", sketches made by Mr. So-and-so during the
months of June, July, and August--to secure half a column of a goodly
number of London and provincial papers--to put it plainly, an
advertisement that Reckitts or Pears or Beecham could not get for
hundreds of pounds. One side of the invitation card is filled up with
a specimen design, usually such a futile little thing as we might
expect to find in a young lady's sketch-book: "Copenhagen at Low
Tide", "Copenhagen at High Tide", "View of the Cathedral from the
Mouth of the River", "The Hills of----as seen from off the Coast". And
this topography every art critic will chronicle, and his chronicling
will be printed free of charge amongst the leading columns of the
paper. Nor is this the worst case. The request to notice a collection
of paintings and drawings made by the late Mr. So-and-so seems even
more flagrant, for then there is no question of benefiting a young
artist who stands in need of encouragement or recognition; the show is
simply a dealer's exhibition of his ware. True, that the ware may be
so rare and excellent that it becomes a matter of public interest; if
so, the critic is bound to notice the show. But the ordinary show--a
collection of works by a tenth-rate French artist--why should the
Press advertise such wares gratis? The public goes to theatres and to
flower-shows and to race-courses, but it does not go to these dealers'
shows--the dealer's friends and acquaintances go on private view day,
and for the rest of the season the shop is quieter than the
tobacconist's next door.

For the last month every paper I took up contained glowing accounts of
Messrs. Tooth & MacLean's galleries (picture dealers do not keep
shops--they keep galleries), glowing accounts of a large and extensive
assortment of Dagnan-Bouveret, Bouguereau, Rosa Bonheur: very nice
things in their way, just such things as I would take Alderman
Samuelson to see.

These notices, taken out in the form of legitimate advertisement,
would run into hundreds of pounds; and I am quite at a loss to
understand why the Press abandons so large a part of its revenue. For
if the Press did not notice these exhibitions, the dealers would be
forced into the advertising columns, and when a little notice was
published of the ware, it would be done as a little return--as a
little encouragement for advertising, on the same principle as ladies'
papers publish visits to dressmakers. The present system of noticing
Messrs Tooth's and not noticing Messrs. Pears' is to me wholly
illogical; and, to use the word which makes every British heart beat
quicker--unbusinesslike. But with business I have nothing to do--my
concern is with art; and if the noticing of dealers' shows were not
inimical to art, I should not have a word to say against the practice.
Messrs. Tooth & MacLean trade in Salon and Academy pictures, so the
notices the Press prints are the equivalent of a subvention granted by
the Press for the protection of this form of art. If I were a
statistician, it would interest me to turn over the files of the
newspapers for the last fifty years and calculate how much Messrs.
Agnew have had out of the Press in the shape of free advertisement.
And when we think what sort of art this vast sum of money went to
support, we cease to wonder at the decline of public taste.

My quarrel is no more with Messrs. Agnew than it is with Messrs. Tooth
& MacLean; my quarrel--I should say, my reprimand--is addressed to the
Press--to the Press that foolishly, unwittingly, not knowing what it
was doing, threw such power into the hands of the dealers that our
exhibitions are now little more than the tributaries of the Bond
Street shop? This statement will shock many; but let them think, and
they will see it could not be otherwise. Messrs. Agnew have thousands
and thousands of pounds invested in the Academy--that is to say, in
the works of Academicians. When they buy the work of any one outside
of the Academy, they talk very naturally of their new man to their
friends the Academicians, and the Academicians are anxious to please
their best customer. It was in some such way that Mr. Burne-Jones's
election was decided. For Mr. Burne-Jones was held in no Academic
esteem. His early pictures had been refused at Burlington House, and
he resolved never to send there again. For many years he remained firm
in his determination. In the meantime the public showed unmistakable
signs of accepting Mr. Jones, whereupon Messrs. Agnew also accepted
Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones was popular; he was better than popular, he stood
on the verge of popularity; but there was nothing like making things
safe--Jones's election to the Academy would do that. Jones's scruples
would have to be overcome; he must exhibit once in the Academy. The
Academicians would be satisfied with that. Mr. Jones did exhibit in
the Academy; he was elected on the strength of this one exhibit. He
has never exhibited since. These are the facts: confute them who may,
explain them who can.

It is true that the dealer cannot be got rid of--he is a vice inherent
in our civilisation; but if the Press withdrew its subvention, his
monopoly would be curtailed, and art would be recruited by new talent,
at present submerged. Art would gradually withdraw from the bluster
and boom of an arrogant commercialism, and would attain her olden
dignity--that of a quiet handicraft. And in this great reformation
only two classes would suffer--the art critics and the dealers. The
newspaper proprietors would profit largely, and the readers of
newspapers would profit still more largely, for they would no longer
be bored by the publication of dealers' catalogues expanded with
insignificant comment.


    _To the Editor of "The Speaker"._

    SIR,--Your art critic "G. M." is in error on a matter of fact,
    and as everybody knows the relationship between fact and theory,
    I am afraid his little error vitiates the argument he propounds
    with so much vigour. It was _after_, and not before, his
    election as an Associate that Mr. Burne-Jones made his solitary
    appearance as an exhibitor at the Royal Academy.--Yours truly,

    R. I.

    Sir,-It has always been my rule not to enter into argument with
    my critics, but in the instance of "R. I." I find myself obliged
    to break my rule. "R. I." thinks that the mistake I slipped into
    regarding Mr. Burne-Jones's election as an Associate vitiates the
    argument which he says I propound with vigour. I, on the contrary,
    think that the fact that Mr. Burne-Jones was elected as an
    Associate before he had exhibited in the Royal Academy advances
    my argument. Being in doubt as to the particular fact, I
    unconsciously imagined the general fact, and when man's imagination
    intervenes it is always to soften, to attenuate crudities which
    only nature is capable of.

    For twenty years, possibly for more, Mr. Burne-Jones was a resolute
    opponent of the Royal Academy, as resolute, though not so truculent,
    an opponent as Mr. Whistler. When he became a popular painter Mr.
    Agnew gave him a commission of fifteen thousand pounds--the largest,
    I believe, ever given--to paint four pictures, the "Briar Rose"
    series. Some time after--before he has exhibited in the Academy--Mr.
    Jones is elected as an Associate. The Academicians cannot plead that
    their eyes were suddenly opened to his genius. If this miracle had
    happened they would not have left him an Associate, but would have
    on the first vacancy elected him a full Academician. How often have
    they passed him over? Is Mr. Jones the only instance of a man being
    elected to the Academy who had never exhibited there? Perhaps "R. I."
    will tell us. I do not know, and have not time to hunt up records.

    G. M.


Manchester and Liverpool are rival cities. They have matched
themselves one against the other, and the prize they are striving for
is--Which shall be the great art-centre of the North of England. The
artistic rivalry of the two cities has become obvious of late years.
Manchester bids against Liverpool, Liverpool bids against Manchester;
the results of the bidding are discussed, and so an interest in art is
created. It was Manchester that first threw her strength into this
artistic rivalry. It began with the decorations which Manchester
commissioned Mr. Madox Brown to paint for the town hall. Manchester's
choice of an artist was an excellent and an original one. Mr. Madox
Brown was not an Academician; he was not known to the general public;
he merely commanded the respect of his brother-artists.

The painting of these pictures was the work of years; the placing of
every one was duly chronicled in the press, and it was understood in
London that Manchester was entirely satisfied. But lo! on the placing
in position of the last picture but one of the series an unseemly
dispute was raised by some members of the Corporation, and it was
seriously debated in committee whether the best course to pursue would
not be to pass a coat of whitewash over the offending picture. It is
impossible to comment adequately on such barbarous conduct; perhaps at
no distant date it will be proposed to burn some part of Mrs. Ryland's
perfect gift--the Althorp Library. There may be some books in that
library which do not meet with some councillor's entire approval.
Barbarism on one side, and princely generosity on the other, combined
to fix attention upon Manchester, and, in common with a hundred
others, I found myself thinking on the relation of Manchester and
Liverpool to art, and speculating on the direction that these new
influences were taking.

There are two exhibitions now open in Manchester and Liverpool--the
permanent and the annual. The permanent collections must first occupy
our attention, for it is through them that we shall learn what sort
and kind of artistic taste obtains in the North. At first sight these
collections present no trace of any distinct influence. They seem to
be simply miscellaneous purchases, made from every artist whose name
happens to be the fashion; and considered as permanent illustrations
of the various fashions that have prevailed in Bond Street during the
last ten years, these collections are curious and perhaps valuable
documents in the history of art. But is there any real analogy between
a dressmaker's shop and a picture gallery? Plumes are bought because
they are "very much worn just now", but then plumes are not so
expensive as pictures, and it seems to be hardly worth while to buy
pictures for the sake of the momentary fashion in painting which they

Manchester and Liverpool have not, however, grasped the essential fact
that it is impossible to form an art gallery by sending to London for
the latest fashions. Now and then the advice of some gentleman knowing
more about art than his colleagues has found expression in the
purchase of a work of art; but the picture that hangs next to the
fortuitous purchase tells how the taste of the cultured individual was
overruled by the taste of the uncultured mass at the next meeting. I
could give many, but two instances must suffice to explain and to
prove my point. Two years ago Mr. Albert Moore exhibited a very
beautiful picture in the Academy--three women, one sleeping and two
sitting on a yellow couch, in front of a starlit and moonlit sea. In
the same Academy there was exhibited a picture by Mr. Bartlett--a
picture of some gondoliers rowing or punting or sculling (I am
ignorant of the aquatic habits of the Venetians) for a prize. The
Liverpool Gallery has bought and hung these pictures side by side.
Such divagations of taste make the visitor smile, and he thinks
perforce of the accounts of the stormy meetings of councillors that
find their way into the papers. Artistic appreciation of these two
pictures in the same individual is not possible. What should we think
of a man who said that he did not know which he preferred-a poem by
Tennyson, or a story out of the _London Journal_? Catholicity of taste
does not mean an absolute abandonment of all discrimination; and some
thread of intellectual kinship must run through the many various
manifestations of artistic temperament which go to form a collection
of pictures. Things may be various without being discrepant.

The Manchester Gallery has purchased Lawson's beautiful picture, "The
Deserted Garden"; likewise Mr. Fildes' picture of a group of Venetian
girls sitting on steps, the principal figure in a blue dress with an
orange handkerchief round her neck, the simple--I may say
child-like--scheme of colour beyond which Mr. Fildes never seems to
stray. The Lawson and the Fildes agree no better than do the Moore and
the Bartlett; and the only thing that occurs to me is that the cities
should toss up which should go for Fildes and Bartlett, and which for
Lawson and Moore. By such division harmony would be attained, and one
city would be going the wrong road, the other the right road; at
present both are going zigzag.

But notwithstanding the multifarious tastes displayed in these
collections, and the artistic chaos they represent, we can, when we
examine them closely, detect an influence which abides though it
fluctuates, and this influence is that of our discredited Academy. The
Manchester and Liverpool collection are merely weak reflections of the
Chantrey Fund collection. Now, if the object of these cities be to
adopt the standard of taste that obtains in Burlington House, to
abdicate their own taste--if they have any--and to fortify themselves
against all chance of acquiring a taste in art, it would clearly be
better for the two corporations to hand over the task of acquiring
pictures to the Academicians. The responsibility will be gladly
accepted, and the trust will be administered with the same honesty and
straightforwardness as has been displayed in the administration of the
moneys which the unfortunate Chantrey entrusted to the care of the

The sowing of evil seed is an irreparable evil; none can tell where
the wind will carry it, and unexpected crops are found far and wide. I
had thought that the harm occasioned to art by the Academy and its
corollary, the Chantrey Fund, began and ended in London. But in
Manchester and Liverpool I was speedily convinced of my mistake. Art
in the provinces is little more than a reflection of the Academy. The
majority of the pictures represent the taste of men who have no
knowledge of art, and who, to disguise their ignorance, follow the
advice which the Academy gives to provincial England in the pictures
it purchases under the terms--or, rather, under its own reading of the
terms--of the Chantrey Bequest Fund. One of the first things I heard
in Manchester was that the committee had been fortunate enough to
secure the nude figure which Mr. Hacker exhibited this year in the
Academy. And on my failing to express unbounded admiration for the
purchase, I was asked if I was aware that the Academy had purchased
"The Annunciation" for the Chantrey Bequest Fund. "Surely," said a
member of the committee, "you agree that our picture is the better of
the two." I answered: "Poor Mr. Chantrey's money always goes to buy
the worst, or as nearly as possible the worst, picture the artist ever
painted--the picture for which the artist would never be likely to
find a purchaser."

Last month the Liverpool County Council assembled to discuss the
purchase of two pictures recommended by the art committee--"Summer",
by Mr. Hornel; and "The Higher Alps", by Mr. Stott, of Oldham. The
discussion that ensued is described by the _Liverpool Daily Post_ as
"amusing". It was ludicrous, and those who do not care a snap of the
fingers about art might think it amusing. The joke was started by Mr.
Lynskey, who declared that the two pictures in question were mere
daubs. Mr. Lynskey did not think that the Glasgow school of painting
had yet been recognised by the public, and until it had he did not see
why the corporation should pay £500 for these two productions, merely
for the sake of experimenting. Thereby we are to understand that in
forming a collection of pictures it is the taste of the public that
must be considered. "Of course," cry the aldermen; "we are here to
supply the public with what it wants." I repeat, the corporations of
Manchester and Liverpool do not seem to have yet grasped the fact that
there is no real analogy between a picture gallery and a dressmaker's

The next speaker was Mr. Burgess. He could not imagine how any one
could recommend the purchase of such pictures. The Mr. Burgesses of
twenty-five years ago could not understand how any one could buy
Corots. Mr. Smith asked if it were really a fact that the committee
had bought the pictures. He was assured that they would be bought only
if the council approved of them; whereupon Alderman Samuelson declared
that if that were so they would not be bought. Dr. Cummins compared
the pictures to cattle in the parish pound, and it is reported that
the remark caused much laughter. Then some one said--I think it was
Mr. Smith--that the pictures had horrified him; whereupon there was
more laughter. Then a member proposed that they should have the
pictures brought in, to which proposition a member objected, amid much
laughter. Then Mr. Daughan suggested that the chairman and
vice-chairman should explain the meaning of the pictures to the
council. More laughter and more County Council humour. The meeting was
a typical meeting, and it furnishes us with the typical councillor.

In the report of the meeting before me a certain alderman seems to
have been as garrulous as he was irrepressible. He not only spoke at
greater length than the rest of the councillors put together, but did
not hesitate to frequently interrupt the members of the committee with
remarks. Speaking of pictures by Millais, Holman Hunt, and Rossetti,
he said:--"We have had exhibitions, and the works of these great
artists were at various times closely scrutinised, and they had borne
the most careful scrutiny that could be directed to them. Now I defy
you to take a number of pictures such as those in dispute, and do the
same with them." No one could have spoken the words I have quoted who
was not absolutely ignorant of the art of painting. Imagine the poor
alderman going round, magnifying-glass in hand, subjecting Millais and
Holman Hunt to the closest scrutiny. And how easy it is to determine
what was passing in his mind during the examination of the Glasgow
school! "I can't see where this foot finishes; the painter was not
able to draw it, so he covered it up with a shadow. In the pictures of
that fellow Guthrie the grass is merely a tint of green, whereas in
the 'Shadow of the Cross' I can count all the shavings."

But we will not seek to penetrate further into this very alderman-like
mind. He declared that the Glasgow school of painting was "no more in
comparison to what they recognised as a school of painting than a
charity school was to the University of Oxford." I am sorry our
alderman did not say what was the school of painting that he and his
fellow-aldermen admired. In the absence of any precise information on
the point I will venture to suggest that the school they recognise is
the school of Bartlett and Solomon. The gallery possesses two large
works by these masters--the Gondoliers, and the great picture of
Samson, which fills an entire end of one room. But what would be of
still greater interest would be to hear our alderman explain what he
meant by this astonishing sentence:--"The only motive of Mr. Hornel's
picture is a mode of art or rather artifice, in introducing a number
of colours with the idea of making them harmonise; and this could be
done, and had been done, by means of the palette-knife."

I have not the least idea what this means, but I am none the less
interested. For, although void of sense, the alderman's words allow me
to look down a long line of illustrious ancestry--Prud'homme,
Chadband, Stiggins, Phillion, the apothecary Homais in "Madame
Bovary". After passing through numerous transformations, an eternal
idea at last incarnates itself in a final form. How splendid our
alderman is! Never did a corporation produce so fine a flower. He is
sententious, he is artistic. And how he lets fall from his thick lips
those scraps of art-jargon which he picked up in the studio where he
sat for his portrait! He is moral; he thinks that nude figures should
not be sanctioned by the corporation; he believes in the Bank, and
proposes the Queen's health as if he were fulfilling an important
duty; he goes to the Academy, and dictates the aestheticism of his
native town. There he is, his hand in his white waistcoat, in the pose
chosen for the presentation portrait, at the moment when he delivered
himself of his famous apophthegm, "When the nude comes into art, art
flies out of the window."

The alderman is the reef which for the last five-and-twenty years has
done so much to ruin and to wreck every artistic movement which the
enthusiasm and intelligence of individuals have set on foot. The mere
checking of the obstruction of the individual will not suffice; other
aldermen will arise--equally ignorant, equally talkative, equally
obstructive. And until the race is relegated to its proper function,
bimetallism and sewage, the incidents I have described will happen
again and again.

       *       *       *       *       *

A marvellous accident that it should have come to be believed that a
corporation could edit a picture gallery! Whence did the belief
originate? whence did it spring? and in what fancied substance of fact
did it catch root? A tapeworm-like notion--come we know not whence,
nor how. And it has thriven unobserved, though signs of its presence
stare plainly enough in the pallid face of the wretched gallery.
Curious it is that it should have remained undetected so long;
curious, indeed, it is that straying thought should have led no one to
remember that every great art collection of the world has grown out of
an individual intelligence. Collections have been worthily continued,
but each successive growth has risen in obedience to the will of one
supreme authority; and that it should have ever come to be believed
that twenty aldermen, whose lives are mainly spent in considering
bank-rates, bimetallism, and sewage, could collect pictures of
permanent value is on the face of it as wild a folly as ever tried the
strength of the strait waistcoats of Hanwell or Bedlam. But as
Manchester and Liverpool enjoy as fair a measure of sanity as the rest
of the kingdom, we perforce must admit the theory of unconscious
acceptation of a chance idea.

But I take it that what is essential in my argument is not to prove
that aldermen know little about art, but that twenty men, wise or
foolish, ignorant or learned, cannot edit a picture gallery. Proving
the obvious is not an amusing task, but it is sometimes a necessary
task. It may be thought, too, that I might be more brief; the elderly
maxim about brevity being the soul of wit may be flung in my teeth.
But lengthy discourse gives time for reflection, and I am seriously
anxious that my readers should consider the question which these
articles introduce. I believe it to be one of vital interest, reaching
down a long range of consequences; and should these articles induce
Manchester and Liverpool to place their galleries in the care of
competent art-directors, I shall have rendered an incalculable service
to English art. I say "competent art-directors", and I mean by
"competent art-directors" men who will deem their mission to be a
repudiation of the Anglo-French art fostered by the Academy--a return
to a truer English tradition, and the giving to Manchester and
Liverpool individual artistic aspiration and tendency.

Is the ambition of Manchester and Liverpool limited to paltry
imitations of the Chantrey Fund collection? If they desire no more, it
would serve no purpose to disturb the corporations in their management
of the galleries. The corporations can do this better than any
director. But if Manchester and Liverpool desire individual artistic
life, if they wish to collect art that will attract visitors and
contribute to their renown, they can only do this by the appointment
of competent directors. For assurance on this point we have only to
think what Sir Frederick Burton has done for the National Gallery, or
what the late Mr. Doyle did for Dublin on the meagre grant of one
thousand a year. It is the man and not the amount of money spent that
counts. A born collector like the late Mr. Doyle can do more with a
thousand a year than a corporation could do with a hundred thousand a

Nothing is of worth except individual passion; it is the one thing
that achieves. And I know of no more intense passion--and, I will add,
no more beautiful passion--than the passion for collecting works of
art. Of all passions it is the purest. It matters little to the man
possessed of it whether he collects for the State or for himself. The
gallery is his child, and all his time and energy are given to the
enrichment and service of _his_ gallery. The gallery is his one
thought. He will lie awake at night to better think out his plans for
the capture of some treasure on which he has set his heart. He will
get up in the middle of the night, and walk about the gallery,
considering some project for improved arrangements. To realise the
meaning of the passion for collecting, it is necessary to have known a
real collector, and intimately, for collectors do not wear their
hearts on their sleeve. With the indifferent they are indifferent; but
they are quick to detect the one man or woman who sympathises, who
understands; and they select with eagerness this one from the crowd.
But perhaps the collector never really reveals himself except to a
fellow-collector, and to appreciate the strength and humanity of the
passion it is necessary to have seen Duret and Goncourt explaining a
new Japanesery which one of them has just acquired.

The partial love which a corporation may feel for its collection is
very different from the undivided strength of the collector's love of
his gallery. And even if we were to admit the possibility of an ideal
corporation consisting of men perfectly conversant with art, and
animated with passion equal to the collector's passion, the history of
its labour would still be written in the words "vexatious discussion
and lost chances". The rule that no picture is to be purchased until
it has been seen and approved of by the corporation forbids all
extraordinary chances, and the unique and only moment is lost in
foolish formulae. The machinery is too cumbersome; and chances of
sale-rooms cannot be seized; it is instinct and not reason that
decides the collector, and no dozen or twenty men can ever be got to
immediately agree.

Not long after my article on Manet was published in the columns of the
_Speaker_, a member of the Manchester art committee wrote asking where
could the pictures be seen, and if the owners would lend them for
exhibition in the annual exhibition soon to open. If they did, perhaps
the corporation might be induced to buy them for the permanent
collection. Now I will ask my readers to imagine my bringing the
pictures "Le Linge" and "L'Enfant à l'Êpée" over from France, and
submitting them to the judgment of the Manchester Corporation. As well
might I submit to them a Velasquez or a Gainsborough signed Smith and
Jones! It is the authority of the signature that induces acquiescence
in the beauty of a portrait by Gainsborough or Velasquez; without the
signature the ordinary or drawing-room lady would prefer a portrait by
Mr. Shannon. Mr. Shannon is the fashion, and the fashion, being the
essence and soul of the crowd, is naturally popular with the crowd.

In my article on Manet I referred to a beautiful picture of
his--"Boulogne Pier". It was then on exhibition in Bond Street. I
asked a friend to buy it. "You will not like the picture now," I said;
"but if you have any latent aesthetic feeling in you it will bring it
out, and you will like it in six months' time." My friend would not
buy the picture, and the reason he gave was that he did not like it.
It did not seem to occur to him that his taste might advance, and that
the picture he was ignorant enough to like to-day he might be wise
enough to loathe six years hence.

An early customer of Sir John Millais said, "Millais, I'll give you
five hundred pounds to paint me a picture, and you shall paint me the
picture you are minded to paint." Sir John painted him one of the most
beautiful pictures of modern times, "St. Agnes' Eve". But the wisdom
of the purchaser was only temporary. When the picture came home he did
not like it, his wife did not like it; there was no colour in it; it
was all blue and green. Briefly, it was not a pleasant picture to live
with; and after trying the experiment for a few months this excellent
gentleman decided to exchange the picture for a picture by--by
whom?--by Mr. Sidney Cooper. I wonder what he thinks of himself
to-day. And his fate is the fate of the aldermen who buy pictures
because they like them.

The administration of art, as it was pointed out in the _Manchester
Guardian_, is one of extreme difficulty, and it is not easy to find a
competent director; but it seems to me to be easy to name many men who
would do better in art-management than a corporation, and
embarrassingly difficult to name one who would do worse. Any one man
can thread a needle better than twenty men. Should the needle prove
brittle and the thread rotten, the threader must resign. Though a task
may be accomplished only by one man, and though all differ as to how
it should be accomplished, yet, when the task is well accomplished, an
appreciative unanimity seems to prevail regarding the result. We all
agree in praising Sir Frederick Burton's administration; and yet how
easy it would be to cavil! Why has he not bought an Ingres, a Corot, a
Courbet, a Troyon? Why has he showed such excessive partiality for
squint-eyed Italian saints? Sir Frederick Burton would answer: "In
collecting, like in everything else, you must choose a line. I chose
to consider the National Gallery as a museum. The question is whether
I have collected well or badly from this point of view." But a
corporation cannot choose a line on which to collect; it can do no
more than indulge in miscellaneous purchases.


One Sunday morning, more than twenty years ago, I breakfasted with a
great painter, who was likewise a wit, and the account he gave of a
recent visit to the Doré Gallery amused me very much. On entering, he
noticed that next to the door there was a high desk, so cunningly
constructed both as regards height and inclination that all the
discomforts of writing were removed; and the brightness of the silver
inkpot, the arrangement of the numerous pens and the order-book on the
desk, all was so perfect that the fingers of the lettered and
unlettered itched alike with desire of the caligraphic art. By this
desk loitered a large man of bland and commanding presence. He wore a
white waistcoat, and a massive gold chain, with which he toyed while
watching the guileless spectators or sought with soothing voice to
entice one to display his handwriting in the order-book. My friend,
who was small and thin, almost succeeded in defeating the vigilance of
the white-waistcoated and honey-voiced Cerberus; but at the last
moment, as he was about to slip out, he was stopped, and the following
dialogue ensued:--

"Sir, that is a very great picture."

"Yes, it is indeed, it is an immense picture."

"Sir, I mean great in every sense of the word."

"So do I; it is nearly as broad as it is long."

"I was alluding, sir, to the superior excellence of the picture, and
not to its dimensions."


"May I ask, sir, if you know what that picture represents?"

"I'm sorry, but I can't tell you."

"Then, sir, I'll tell you. That picture represents the point of
culmination in the life of Christ."

"Really; may I ask who says so?"

"The dignitaries of the Church say so."

Pause, during which my friend made an ineffectual attempt to get past.
The waistcoat, however, barred the way, and then the bland and dulcet
voice spoke again.

"Do you see that man copying the right-hand corner of the picture?
That gentleman says that the man who could paint that corner could
paint anything."

"Oh! and who is that gentleman?"

"That gentleman is employed to copy in the National Gallery."

"Oh! by the State?"

"No, sir, not by the State, but he has permission to copy in the
National Gallery."

"A special permission granted to him by the State?"

"No, sir, but he has permission to copy in the National Gallery." "In
fact, just as every one else has. I am really very much obliged, but I
must be getting along."

"Sir, won't you put down your name for a ten-guinea proof signed by
the artist?"

"I'm very sorry, but I really do not see my way to taking a ten-guinea

"Then, perhaps, you will take one at five--the same without the

"I really cannot."

"You can have a numbered proof for £2, 10s."

"No, thank you; you must excuse me."

"You can have an ordinary proof for a guinea."

"No, thank you; you must really allow me to pass."

Then in the last moment the white waistcoat, assuming a tone in which
there was both despair and disdain, said--"But you will have a year
and a half before you need pay your guinea."

Who does not know this man? Who has not suffered from his
importunities? Twenty years ago he extolled the beauties of "Christ
leaving the Praetorium"; ten years later he lauded the merits of
"Christ and Diana"; to-day he is busy advising the shilling public
thronging the Dowdeswell galleries to view Mr. Herbert Schmalz's
_impressive_ picture of "The Return from Calvary". I do not mean that
the same gentleman who presided at the desk in the Doré Gallery now
presides at the desk at 160 New Bond Street. The individual differs,
but the type remains unaltered. The waistcoat, the desk, the pens and
the silver inkstand, such paraphernalia are as inseparable from him as
the hammer is from the auctioneer. All this I have on the authority of
Messrs. Dowdeswell themselves. When engaging their canvasser, they
offered him a small table at the end of the room. Their ignorance of
his art caused him to smile. "A table," he said, "would necessitate
sitting down to write, and the great point in this business is to save
the customer from all unnecessary trouble. Any other place in the room
except next the door is out of the question. I must have a nice desk
there, at which you can write standing up, a lamp shedding a bright
glow upon the paper, a handsome silver inkstand, and a long,
evenly-balanced pen. Give me these things, and leave the rest to me."

Messrs. Dowdeswell hastened to comply with these requests. I was in
the gallery on Monday, and can testify to the pleasantness of the
little installation, to the dexterity with which customers were led
there, and to the grace with which the canvasser dipped the pen in the
handsome silver inkstand. The county squire, the owner of racehorses,
the undergraduate, and the Brixton spinster, are easily led by him to
the commodious desk. Go and see the man, and you will be led thither

It is a matter for wonder that more artists do not devote themselves
to painting religious subjects. There seems to be an almost limitless
demand for work of this kind, and almost any amount of praise for it,
no matter how badly it is executed. The critic dares not turn the
picture into ridicule however bad it may be, for to do so would seem
like turning a sacred subject into ridicule--so few distinguish
between the subject and the picture. He may hardly venture to
depreciate the work, for it would not seem quite right to depreciate
the work of a man who had endeavoured to depict, however inadequately,
a sacred subject. Everything is in favour of the painter of religious
subjects, provided certain formalities are observed. The canvasser and
the arrangements of the desk are of course the first consideration,
but there are a number of minor observances, not one of which may be
neglected. The gallery must be thrown into deep twilight with a vivid
light from above falling full on the picture. There must be lines of
chairs, arranged as if for a devout congregation; and if, in excess of
these, the primary conditions of success, one of the dignitaries of
the Church can be induced to accept a little excursion into the
perilous fields of art criticism, all will go well with the show.

It would be unseemly for a critic to argue with a bishop concerning
the merits of a religious picture--it would be irreverent, anomalous,
and in execrable taste. For it must be clear to every one that the
best and truest critic of a religious picture is a bishop; and it is
still more clear that if the picture contains a view of Jerusalem, the
one person who can speak authoritatively on the matter is the Bishop
of Jerusalem. And it were indeed impossible to realise the essential
nature of these truths better than Messrs. Dowdeswell have done; they
have even ventured to extend the ordinary programme, and have decreed
a special _matinée_ in the interests of country parsons--truly an idea
of genius. If a fault may be found or forged with the arrangements, it
is that they did not enter into some contract with the railway
authorities. But this is hypercriticism; they have done their work
well, and the _matinée_, as the order-book will testify, was a
splendid success. The parsons came up from every part of the country,
and as "The Return from Calvary" is the latest thing in religious art,
they think themselves bound to put their names down for proofs. How
could they refuse? The canvasser dipped the pen in the ink for them,
and he has a knack of making a refusal seem so mean.

About Mr. Schmalz's picture I have really no particular opinion. I do
not think it worse than any picture of the same kind by the late Mr.
Long. Nor do I think that it can be said to be very much inferior to
the religious works with which Mr. Goodall has achieved so wide a
reputation. On the whole I think I prefer Mr. Goodall, though I am not
certain. Here is the picture:--At the top of a flight of steps and
about two-thirds of the way across the picture, to the left, so as not
to interfere with the view of Jerusalem, are three figures--as Sir
Augustus Harris might have set them were he attempting a theatrical
representation of the scene. There is a dark man, this is St. John,
and over him a woman draped in white is weeping, and behind her a
woman with golden hair--the Magdalen--is likewise weeping. Two other
figures are ascending the steps, but as they are low down in the
picture they interfere hardly at all with the splendid view. The dark
sky is streaked with Naples yellow, and the pale colour serves to
render distinct the three crosses planted upon Calvary in the extreme

In this world all is a question of temperament. To the aesthetic
temperament Mr. Schmalz's picture will seem hardly more beautiful or
attractive than a Salvationist hymn-book; the unaesthetic temperament
will, on the other hand, be profoundly moved, the subject stands out
clear and distinct, and that class of mind, overlooking all artistic
shortcomings, will lose itself in emotional consideration of the
grandest of all the world's tragedies. That Mr. Schmalz's picture is
capable of exercising a profound effect on the uneducated mind there
can be no doubt. While I was there a lady walked with stately tread
into the next room, and seeing there nothing more exciting than rural
scenes drawn in water-colour, exclaimed, "Trees, mere trees! what are
trees after having had one's soul elevated?"

That great artist Henri Monnier devoted a long life to the study and
the collection of the finest examples of human stupidity, and
marvellous as are some of the specimens preserved by him in his
dialogues, I hardly think that he succeeded in discovering a finer gem
than the phrase overheard by me in the Dowdeswell Galleries. To
appreciate the sublime height, must we not know something of the
miserable depth? And the study of human stupidity is refreshing and
salutary; it helps us to understand ourselves, to estimate ourselves,
and to force ourselves to look below the surface, and so raise our
ideas out of that mire of casual thought in which we are all too prone
to lie. For perfect culture, the lady I met at the Dowdeswell
Galleries is as necessary as Shakespeare. Is she not equally an
exhortation to be wise?


It is certain that the introduction of Japaneseries into this country
has permanently increased our sense of colour; is it therefore
improbable that the invention of photography has modified, if it has
not occasioned any very definite alteration in our general perception
of the external world? It would be interesting to inquire into such
recondite and illusive phenomena; and I am surprised that no paper on
so interesting a question has appeared in any of our art journals.
True, so many papers are printed in our weekly and monthly press that
it is impossible for any one to know all that has been written on any
one subject; but, so far as I am aware, no such paper has appeared,
and the absence of such a paper is, I think, a serious deficiency in
our critical literature.

It is, however, no part of my present purpose to attempt to supply
this want. I pass on to consider rapidly a matter less abstruse and of
more practical interest, a growing habit among artists to avail
themselves of the assistance of photographs in their work. It will not
be questioned that many artists of repute do use photographs to--well,
to put it briefly, to save themselves trouble, expense, and, in some
cases, to supplant defective education. But the influence of
photography on art is so vast a subject, so multiple, so intricate,
that I may do no more here than lift the very outer fringe.

It is, however, clear to almost everybody who has thought about art at
all, that the ever-changing colour and form of clouds, the complex
variety (definite in its very indefiniteness) of every populous
street, the evanescent delicacy of line and aërial effect that the
most common and prosaic suburb presents in certain lights, are the
very enchantment and despair of the artist; and likewise every one who
has for any short while reflected seriously on the problem of artistic
work must know that the success of every evocative rendering of the
exquisite externality of crowded or empty street, of tumult or calm in
cloud-land, is the fruit of daily and hourly observation--observation
filtered through years of thought, and then fortified again in
observation of Nature.

But such observation is the labour of a life; and he who undertakes it
must be prepared to see his skin brown and blister in the shine, and
feel his flesh pain him with icy chills in the biting north wind. The
great landscape painters suffered for the intolerable desire of Art;
they were content to forego the life of drawing-rooms and clubs, and
live solitary lives in unceasing communion with Art and Nature. But
artists in these days are afraid of catching cold, and impatient of
long and protracted studentship. Everything must be made easy,
comfortable, and expeditious; and so it comes to pass that many an
artist seeks assistance from the camera. A moment, and it is done: no
wet feet; no tiresome sojourn in the country when town is full of
merry festivities; and, above all, hardly any failure--that is to say,
no failure that the ordinary public can detect, nor, indeed, any
failure that the artist's conscience will not get used to in time.

Mr. Gregory is the most celebrated artist who is said to make habitual
use of photography. Mr. Gregory has no warmer admirer than myself. His
picture of "Dawn" is the most fairly famous picture of our time. But
since that picture his art has declined. It has lost all the noble
synthetical life which comes of long observation and gradual
assimilation of Nature. His picture of a yachtsman in this year's
Academy was as paltry, as "realistic" as may be.

Professor Herkomer is another well-known artist who is said to use
photography. It is even said that he has his sitter photographed on to
the canvas, and the photographic foundation he then covers up with
those dreadful browns and ochres which seem to constitute his palette.
Report credits him with this method, which it is possible he believes
to be an advance on the laborious process of drawing from Nature, to
which, in the absence of the ingenious instrument, the Old Masters
were perforce obliged to resort. It will be said that what matter how
the artists work--that it is with the result, not the method, with
which we are concerned. Dismissing report from our ears, surely we
must recognise all the cheap realism of the camera in Professor
Herkomer's portraits; and this is certainly their characteristic,
although photography may have had nothing to do with their

Mr. Bartlett is another artist who, it is said, makes habitual use of
photographs; and surely in some of his boys bathing the photographic
effects are visible enough. But although very far from possessing the
accomplishments of Mr. Gregory, Mr. Bartlett has acquired some
education, and can draw, when occasion requires, very well indeed from

Mr. Mortimer Menpes is the third artist of any notoriety that rumour
has declared to be a disciple of the camera. His case is the most
flagrant, for it is said that he rarely, if ever, draws from Nature,
and that his entire work is done from photographs. Be this as it may,
his friends have stated a hundred times in the Press that he uses
photography, and it would seem that his work shows the mechanical aid
more and more every day. Some years ago he went to Japan, and brought
home a number of pictures which suited drawing-rooms, and were soon
sold. I did not see the exhibition, but I saw some pictures done by
him at that time--one, an especially good one, I happened upon in the
Grosvenor Gallery. This picture, although superficial and betraying
when you looked into it a radical want of knowledge, was not lacking
in charm. In French studios there is a slang phrase which expresses
the meretricious charm of this picture--_c'est du chic_; and the
meaning of this very expressive term is ignorance affecting airs of
capacity. Now the whole of Mr. Menpes' picture was comprised in this
term. The manner of the master who, certain of the shape and value of
the shadow under an eye, will let his hand run, was reproduced; but
the exact shape and value of the shadows were not to be gathered from
the photograph, and the result was a charming but a hollow mockery.

And then the "colour-notes"; with what assurance they were dashed into
the little pictures from Japan, and how dexterously the touch of the
master who knows exactly what he wants was parodied! At the first
glance you were deceived; at the second you saw that it was only such
cursive taste and knowledge as a skilful photographer who had been
allowed the run of a painter's studio for a few months might display.
Nowhere was there any definite intention; it was something that had
been well committed to memory, that had been well remembered, but only
half-understood. Everything floated--drawing, values, colours--for
there was not sufficient knowledge to hold and determine the place of
any one.

Since those days Mr. Menpes has continued to draw from photographs,
and--the base of his artistic education being deficient from the
first--the result of his long abstention from Nature is apparent, even
to the least critical, in the some hundred and seventy paintings,
etchings, and what he calls diamond-points on ivory, on exhibition at
Messrs. Dowdeswell's. Diamond-points on ivory may astonish the
unthinking public, but artists are interested in the drawing, and not
what the drawing is done upon. Besides the diamond-points, there is
quite sufficient matter in this exhibition to astonish visitors from
Peckham, Pentonville, Islington, and perhaps Clapham, but not
Bayswater--no, not Bayswater. There are frames in every sort of
pattern--some are even adorned with gold tassels--and the walls have
been especially prepared to receive them.

These pictures and etchings purport to be representations of India,
Burma, and Cashmire. The diamond-points, I believe, purport to be
diamond-points. In some of the etchings there is the same ingenious
touch of hand, but anything more woful than the oil pictures cannot
easily be imagined. In truth, they do not call for any serious
criticism; and were it not for the fact that they afforded an
opportunity of making some remarks--which seemed to me to be worth
making--about the influence of photography in modern art, I should
have left the public to find for itself the value of this attempt, in
the grandiloquent words of the catalogue, "to bring before my
countrymen the aesthetic and artistic capabilities, and the beauty in
various forms, that are to be found in our great Indian Empire." To
criticise the pictures in detail is impossible; but I will try to give
an impression of the exhibition as a whole. Imagine a room hung with
ordinary school slates, imagine that all these slates have been gilt,
and that some have been adorned with gold tassels instead of the usual
sponge, and into each let there be introduced a dome, a camel, a
palm-tree, or any other conventional sign of the East.

On examining the paintings thus sumptuously encased you will notice
that the painter has not been able to affect with the brush any slight
air of capacity; the material betrays him at every point The etchings
are _du chic_; but the paintings are merely abortive. The handling
consists in scrubbing the colour into the canvas, attaining in this
manner a texture which sometimes reminds you of wool, sometimes of
sand, sometimes of both. The poor little bits of blue sky stick to the
houses; there is nowhere a breath of air, a ray of light, not even a
conventionally graduated sky or distance; there is not an angle, or a
pillar, or a stairway finely observed; there is not even any such
eagerness in the delineation of an object as would show that the
painter felt interest in his work; every sketch tells the tale of a
burden taken up and thankfully relinquished. Here we have white wall,
but it has neither depth nor consistency; behind it a bit of sandy
sky; the ground is yellow, and there is a violet shadow upon it. But
the colour of the ground does not show through the shadow. Look, for
example, at No. 36. Is it possible to believe that that red-brick sky
was painted from Nature, or that unhappy palm in a picture close by
was copied as it raised its head over that wall? The real scene would
have stirred an emotion in the heart of the dullest member of the
Stock Exchange, and, however unskilful the brushwork, if the man could
hold a brush at all, there would have been something to show that the
man had been in the presence of Nature. There is no art so indiscreet
as painting, and the story of the painter's mind may be read in every

But another word regarding these pictures would be waste of space and
time. Let Mr. Menpes put away his camera, let him go out into the
streets or the fields, and there let him lose himself in the vastness
and beauty of Nature. Let him study humbly the hang of a branch or the
surface of a wall, striving to give to each their character. Let him
try to render the mystery of a perspective in the blue evening or its
harshness and violence in the early dawn. There is no need to go to
Burma, there is mystery and poetry wherever there is atmosphere. In
certain moments a backyard, with its pump and a child leaning to
drink, will furnish sufficient motive for an exquisite picture; the
atmosphere of the evening hour will endow it with melancholy and
tenderness. But the insinuating poetry of chiaroscuro the camera is
powerless to reproduce, and it cannot be imagined; Nature is
parsimonious of this her greatest gift, surrendering it slowly, and
only to those who love her best, and whose hearts are pure of
mercenary thought.


This, the ninth season of the New English Art Club, has been marked by
a decisive step. The club has rejected two portraits of Mr. Shannon.
So that the public may understand and appreciate the importance of
this step, I will sketch, _à coups de crayon peu fondus_, the portrait
of a lady as I imagine Mr. Shannon might have painted her. A woman of
thirty, an oval face, and a long white brow; pale brown hair,
tastefully arranged with flowers and a small plume. The eyes large and
tender, expressive of a soul that yearns and has been misunderstood.
The nose straight, the nostrils well-defined, slightly dilated; the
mouth curled, and very red. The shoulders large, white, and
over-modelled, with cream tints; the arms soft and rounded; diamond
bracelets on the wrists; diamonds on the emotional neck. Her dress is
of the finest duchesse satin, and it falls in heavy folds. She holds a
bouquet in her hands; a pale green garden is behind her; swans are
moving gracefully through shadowy water, whereon the moon shines
peacefully. Add to this conception the marvellous square brushwork of
the French studio, and you have the man born to paint English
duchesses--to paint them as they see themselves, as they would be seen
by posterity; and through Mr. Shannon our duchesses realise all their
aspirations, present and posthumous. The popularity of these pictures
is undoubted; wherever they hang, and they hang everywhere, except in
the New English Art Club, couples linger. "How charming, how
beautifully dressed, how refined she looks!" and the wife who has not
married a man _à la hauteur de ses sentiments_ casts on him a
withering glance, which says, "Why can't you afford to let me be
painted by Mr. Shannon?"

We are here to realise our ideals, and far is it from my desire to
thwart any lady in her aspirations, be they in white or violet satin,
with or without green gardens. If I were on the hanging committee of
the Royal Academy, all the duchesses in the kingdom should be
realised, and then--I would create more duchesses, and they, too,
should be realised by Messrs. Shannon, Hacker, and Solomon _les chefs
de rayon de la peinture_. And when these painters arrived, each with a
van filled with new satin duchesses, I would say, "Go to Mr. Agnew,
ask him what space he requires, and anything over and above they shall
have it." I would convert the Chantrey Fund into white satin
duchesses, and build a museum opposite Mr. Tate's for the blue. I
would do anything for these painters and their duchesses except hang
them in the New English Art Club.

For it is entirely necessary that the public should never be left for
a moment in doubt as to the intention of this club. It is open to
those who paint for the joy of painting; and it is entirely
disassociated from all commercialism. Muslin ballet-girl or satin
duchess it matters no jot, nothing counts with the jury but _l'idée
plastique_: comradeship, money gain or loss, are waived. The rejection
of Mr. Shannon's portraits will probably cost the club four guineas a
year, the amount of his subscription, and it will certainly lose to
the club the visits of his numerous drawing-room following. This is to
be regretted--in a way. The club must pay its expenses, but it were
better that the club should cease than that its guiding principle
should be infringed.

Either we may or we may not have a gallery from which popular painting
is excluded. I think that we should; but I know that Academicians and
dealers are in favour of enforced prostitution in art. That men should
practise painting for the mere love of paint is wholly repugnant to
every healthy-minded Philistine. The critic of the Daily Telegraph
described the pictures in the present exhibition as things that no one
would wish to possess; he then pointed out that a great many were
excellently well painted. Quite so. I have always maintained that
there is nothing that the average Englishman--the reader of the _Daily
Telegraph_--dislikes so much as good painting. He regards it in the
light of an offence, and what makes it peculiarly irritating in his
eyes is the difficulty of declaring it to be an immoral action; he
instinctively feels that it is immoral, but somehow the crime seems to
elude definition.

The Independent Theatre was another humble endeavour which sorely
tried the conscience of the average Englishman. That any one should
wish to write plays that were not intended to please the public--that
did not pay--was an unheard-of desire, morbid and unwholesome as could
well be, and meriting the severest rebuke. But the Independent Theatre
has somehow managed to struggle into a third year of life, and the New
English Art Club has opened its ninth exhibition; so I suppose that
the _Daily Telegraph_ will have to make up its mind, sorrowfully, of
course, and with regret, that there are folk still in London who are
not always ready to sell their talents to the highest bidder.

For painters and those who like painting, the exhibitions at the New
English Art Club are the most interesting in London. We find there no
anecdotes, sentimental, religious, or historical, nor the conventional
measuring and modelling which the Academy delights to honour in the
name of Art. At the New English Art Club, from the first picture to
the last, we find artistic effort; very often the effort is feeble,
but nowhere, try as persistently as you please, will you find the loud
stupidity of ordinary exhibitions of contemporary painting. This is a
plain statement of a plain truth--plain to artists and those few who
possess the slightest knowledge of the art of painting, or even any
faint love of it. But to the uncultivated, to the ignorant, and to the
stupid the New English Art Club is the very place where all the absurd
and abortive attempts done in painting in the course of the year are
exposed on view. If I wished to test a man's taste and knowledge in
the art of painting I would take him to the English Art Club and
listen for one or two minutes to what he had got to say.

Immediately on entering the room, before we see the pictures, we know
that they are good. For a pleasant soft colour, delicate and
insinuating as an odour of flowers, pervades the room. So we are glad
to loiter in this vague sensation of delicate colour, and we talk to
our friends, avoiding the pictures, until gradually a pale-faced woman
with arched eyebrows draws our eyes and fixes our thoughts. It is a
portrait by Mr. Sargent, one of the best he has painted. By the side
of a fine Hals it might look small and thin, but nothing short of a
fine Hals would affect its real beauty. My admiration for Mr. Sargent
has often hesitated, but this picture completely wins me. It has all
the qualities of Mr. Sargent's best work; and it has something more:
it is painted with that measure of calculation and reserve which is
present in all work of the first order of merit. I find the picture
described with sufficient succinctness in my notes: "A half-length
portrait of a woman, in a dress of shot-silk--a sort of red violet,
the colour known as puce. The face is pale, the chin is prominent and
pointed. There were some Japanese characteristics in the model, and
these have been selected. The eyes are long, and their look is aslant;
the eyebrows are high and marked; the dark hair grows round the pale
forehead with wig-like abruptness, and the painter has attempted no
attenuation. The carnations are wanting in depth of colour--they are
somewhat chalky; but what I admire so much is the exquisite selection,
besides the points mentioned--the shadowed outline, so full of the
form of her face, and the markings about the eyes, so like her; and
the rendering is full of the beauty of incomparable skill. The neck,
how well placed beneath the pointed chin! How exact in width, in
length, and how it corresponds with the ear; and the jawbone is under
the skin; and the anatomies are all explicit--the collar-bone, the
hollow of the arm-pit, and the muscle of the arm, the placing of the
bosom, its shape, its size, its weight. Mr. Sargent's drawing speaks
without hesitation, a beautiful, decisive eloquence, the meaning never
in excess of the expression, nor is the expression ever redundant."

I said that we find in this portrait reserve not frequently to be met
with in Mr. Sargent's work. What I first noticed in the picture was
the admirable treatment of the hands. They are upon her hips, the
palms turned out, and so reduced is the tone that they are hardly
distinguishable from the dress. As the model sat the light must have
often fallen on her hands, and five years ago Mr. Sargent might have
painted them in the light. But the portrait tells us that he has
learnt the last and most difficult lesson--how to omit. Any touch of
light on those hands would rupture the totality and jeopardise the
colour-harmony, rare without suspicion of exaggeration or affectation.
In the background a beautiful chocolate balances and enforces the
various shades of the shot-silk, and with severity that is fortunate.
By aid of two red poppies, worn in the bodice, a final note in the
chord is reached--a resonant and closing consonance; a beautiful work,
certainly: I should call it a perfect work were it not that the
drawing is a little too obvious: in places we can detect the manner;
it does not _coule de source_ like the drawing of the very great

Except Mr. Sargent, no one in the New English Art Club comes forward
with a clearly formulated style; everything is more or less tentative,
and I cannot entirely exempt from this criticism either Mr. Steer, Mr.
Clausen, or Mr. Walter Sickert. But this criticism must not be
understood as a reproach--surely this green field growing is more
pleasing than the Academy's barren stubble. I claim no more for the
New English Art Club than that it is the growing field. Say that the
crop looks thin, and that the yield will prove below the average, but
do not deny that what harvest there may be the New English Art Club
will bring home. So let us walk round this May field of the young
generation and look into its future, though we know that the summer
months will disprove for better or for worse.

Mr. Bernard Sickert, the youngest member of this club, a mere
beginner, a five- or six-year-old painter, has made, from exhibition
to exhibition, constant and consistent progress, and this year he
comes forward with two landscapes, both seemingly conclusive of a true
originality of vision, and there is a certain ease of accomplishment
in his work which tempts me to believe that a future is in store for
him. The differences of style in these two pictures do not affect my
opinion, for, on looking into the pictures, the differences are more
apparent than real--the palette has been composed differently, but
neither picture tells of any desire of a new outlook, or even to
radically change his mode of expression. The eye which observed and
remembered so sympathetically "A Spring Evening", over which a red
moon rose like an apparition, observed also the masts and the prows,
and the blue sea gay with the life of passing sail and flag, and the
green embaying land overlooking "A Regatta".

I hardly know which picture I prefer. I saw first "A Regatta", and was
struck by the beautiful drawing and painting of the line of boats,
their noses thrust right up into the fore water of the picture, a
little squadron advancing. So well are these boats drawn that the
unusual perspective (the picture was probably painted from a window)
does not interrupt for a second our enjoyment. A jetty on the right
stretches into the blue sea water, intense with signs of life, and the
little white sails glint in the blue bay, and behind the high green
hill the colours of a faintly-tinted evening fade slowly. The picture
is strangely complete, and it would be difficult to divine any reason
for disliking it, even amongst the most ignorant. "A Spring Evening"
is neither so striking nor so immediately attractive; its charm is
none the less real. An insinuating and gentle picture, whose delicacy
and simplicity I like.

The painter has caught that passing and pathetic shudder of coming
life which takes the end of a March day before the bud swells or a
nest appears. The faint chill twilight floats upon the field, and the
red moon mounts above the scrub-clad hillside into a rich grey sky,
beautifully graduated and full of the glamour of waning and
strengthening light. The slope of the field, too--it is there the
sheep are folded--is in admirable perspective. On the left, beyond the
hurdles, is a strip of green, perhaps a little out of tone, though I
know such colour persists even in very receding lights; and high up on
the right the blue night is beginning to show. The sheep are folded in
a turnip field, and the root-crop is being eaten down.

The month is surely March, for the lambs are still long-legged--there
one has dropped on its knees and is digging at the udder of the
passive ewe with that ferocious little gluttony which we know so well;
another lamb relieves its ear's first itching with its hind hoof--you
know the grotesque movement--and the field is full of the weird
roaming of animal life, the pathos of the unconscious, the pity of
transitory light. A little umber and sienna, a rich grey, not a bit of
drawing anywhere, and still the wandering forms of sheep and lambs
fully expressed, one sheep even in its particular physiognomy. Truly a
charming picture, spontaneous and simple, and proving a painter
possessed of a natural sentiment, of values, and willing to employ
that now most neglected method of pictorial expression, chiaroscuro.

Neglected by Mr. Steer, who seems prepared to dispense with what is
known as _une atmosphère de tableau_. Any one of his three pictures
will serve as an example. His portrait of a girl in blue I cannot
praise, not because I do not admire it, but because Mr. MacColl, the
art critic of the _Spectator_, our ablest art critic, himself a
painter and a painter of talent, has declared it to be superior to a
Romney. I will quote his words: "The word masterpiece is not to be
lightly used, but when we stand before this picture it is difficult to
think of any collection in which it would look amiss, or fail to hold
its own. If we talk of English masters, Romney is the name that most
naturally suggests itself, because in the bright clear face and brown
hair and large simplicity of presentment, there is a good deal to
recall that painter. But Romney's colour would look cheap beside this,
and his drawing conventional in observation, however big in style."

To go one better than this, I should have to say the picture was as
good as Velasquez, and to simply endorse Mr. MacColl's words would be
a second-hand sort of criticism to which I am not accustomed. Besides,
to do so would be to express nothing of my own personal sensations in
regard to this picture. So I will say at once that I do not understand
the introduction of Romney's name into the argument. If comparison
there must be, surely Mr. Watts would furnish one more appropriate.
Both in the seeing and in the execution the portrait seems nearer to
Mr. Watts than to Romney. Of Romney's gaiety there is no trace in Mr.
Steer's picture.

The girl sits in a light wooden arm-chair--her arm stretched in front
of her, the hands held between her knees--looking out of the picture
somewhat stolidly. The Lady Hamilton mood was an exaggerated mood, but
there is something of it in every portrait at all characteristic of
our great eighteenth-century artist. The portrait exhibited in this
year's show of Old Masters in the Academy will do--the lady who walks
forward, her hands held in front of her bosom, the fingers pressed
together, the white dress floating from the hips, the white brought
down with a yellow glaze. I do not think that we find either that
gaiety or those glazes in Mr. Steer. From many a Romney the cleaner
has removed an outer skin, but I am not speaking of those pictures.

But if I see very little Romney in Steer's picture, I am thankful that
I see at least very rare distinction in the figuration of a beautiful
and decorative ideal--a girl in blue sitting with her back to an open
window, full of the blue night, and on the other side the grey blind,
yellowing slightly under the glare of the lamp. I appreciate the very
remarkable and beautiful compromise between portrait-painting and
decoration. I see rare distinction (we must not be afraid of the word
distinction in speaking of Mr. Steer) in his choice of what to draw.
The colour scheme is well maintained, somewhat in the manner of Mr.
Watts, but neither the blue of the dress nor the blue of the night is
intrinsically beautiful, and we have only to think of the blues that
Whistler or Manet would have found to understand how deficient they

The drawing of the face is neither a synthesis, nor is it intimately
characteristic of the model: it is simply rudimentary. A round girlish
face with a curled mouth and an ugly shadow which does not express the
nose. The shoulders are there, that we are told, but the anatomies are
wanting, and the body is without its natural thickness. Nor is the
drawing more explicit in its exterior lines than it is in its inner.
There is hardly an arm in that sleeve; the elbow would be difficult to
find, and the construction of the waist and hips is uncertain; the
drawing does not speak like Mr. Sargent's. Look across the room at his
portrait of a lady in white satin and you will see there a shadow, so
exact, so precise, so well understood, that the width of the body is
placed beyond doubt.

But the most radical fault in the portrait I have yet to point out; it
is lacking in atmosphere. There is none between us and the girl,
hardly any between the girl's head and the wall. The lamp-light effect
is conveyed by what Mr. MacColl would perhaps call a symbol, by the
shadow of the girl's head. We look in vain for transparent darknesses,
lights surrounded by shadows, transposition of tones, and the aspect
of things; the girl sits in a full diffused light, and were it not for
the shadow on the wall and the shadow cast by the nose, she might be
sitting in a conservatory. Speaking of another picture by Mr. Steer,
"Boulogne Sands", Mr. MacColl says: "The children playing, the holiday
encampment of the bathers' tents, the glint of people flaunting
themselves like flags, the dazzle of sand and sea, and over and
through it all the chattering lights of noon." I seize upon the
phrase, "The people flaunting themselves like flags." The simile is a
pretty one, and what suggested it to the writer is the detached colour
in the picture; and the colours are detached because there is no
atmosphere to bind them together; there are no attenuations,
transpositions of tone--in a word, none of those combinations of light
and shade which make _une atmosphère de tableau_.

And Mr. Steer's picture is merely an instance of a general tendency
which for the last twenty years has widened the gulf between modern
and ancient painting. It was Manet who first suggested _la peinture
claire_, and his suggestion has been developed by Roll, Monet, and
others, until oil-painting has become little more than a sheet of
white paper slightly tinted. Values have been diverted from their
original mission, which was to build up _une atmosphère de tableau_,
and now every value and colour finely observed seem to have for
mission the abolition of chiaroscuro. Without atmosphere painting
becomes a mosaic, and Mr. MacColl seems prepared to defend this return
to archaic formulas. This is what he says: "The sky of the sea-beach,
for example, if it be taken as representing form and texture, is
ridiculous; it is like something rough and chippy, and if the
suggestion gets too much in the way the method has overshot its mark.
Its mark is to express by a symbol the vivid life in the sky-colour,
the sea-colour, and the sand-colour, and it is doubtful if the
richness and subtlety of those colours can be conveyed in any other
way." Here I fail altogether to understand. If the sky's beauty can be
expressed by a symbol, why cannot the beauty of men and women be
expressed in the same way? How the infinities of aërial perspective
can be expressed by a symbol, I have no slightest notion; nor do I
think that Mr. MacColl has. In striving to excuse deficiencies in a
painter whose very real and loyal talent we both admire, he has
allowed his pen to run into dangerous sophistries. "The matter of
handling," he continues, "is then a moot point--a question of
temperament." Is this so?

That some men are born with a special aptitude for handling colour as
other men are born with a special sense of proportions is undeniable;
but Mr. MacColl's thought goes further than this barren platitude, and
if he means, as I think he does, that the faculty of handling is more
instinctive than that of drawing, I should like to point out to him
that handling did not become a merely personal caprice until the
present century. A collection of ancient pictures does not present
such endless experimentation with the material as a collection of
modern pictures. Rubens, Hals, Velasquez, and Gainsborough do not
contradict each other so violently regarding their use of the material
as do Watts, Leighton, Millais, and Orchardson.

In the nineteenth century no one has made such beautiful use of the
material as Manet and Whistler, and we find these two painters using
it respectively exactly like Hals and Velasquez. It would therefore
seem that those who excel in the use of paint are agreed as to the
handling of it, just as all good dancers are agreed as to the step.
But, though all good dancers dance the same step, each brings into his
practice of it an individuality of movement and sense of rhythm
sufficient to prevent it from becoming mechanical. The ancient
painters relied on differences of feeling and seeing for originality
rather than on eccentric handling of colour; and all these
extraordinary executions which we meet in every exhibition of modern
pictures are in truth no more than frantic efforts either to escape
from the thraldom of a bad primary education, or attempts to disguise
ignorance in fantastic formulas. That which cannot be referred back to
the classics is not right, and I at least know not where to look among
the acknowledged masters for justification for Mr. Steer's jagged

Mr. Walter Sickert, whose temperament is more irresponsible, is
nevertheless content within the traditions of oil-painting. He
exhibits two portraits, both very clever and neither satisfactory, for
neither are carried beyond the salient lines of character. Nature has
gifted Mr. Sickert with a keen hatred of the commonplace; his vision
of life is at once complex and fragmentary, his command on drawing
slow and uncertain, his rendering therefore as spasmodic as a poem by
Browning. He picks up the connecting links with difficulty, and even
his most complete work is full of omissions. The defect--for it is a
defect--is by no means so fatal in the art-value of a painting as the
futile explanations so dearly beloved by the ignorant. Manet was to
the end the victim of man's natural dislike of ellipses, and Mr.
Walter Sickert is suffering the same fate. Still, even the most remote
intelligence should be able to gather something of the merit of the
portrait of Miss Minnie Cunningham. How well she is in that long red
frock--a vermilion silhouette on a rich brown background! I should be
still more pleased if the vermilion had been slightly broken with
yellow ochre; but then, at heart, I am no more than _un vieux
classique_. The edges of the vermilion hat are lightened where it
receives the glare of the foot-lights; and the face does not suffer
from the red. It is as light, as pretty, as suggestive as may be. The
thinness of the hand and wrist is well insisted upon, and the trip of
the legs, just before she turns, realises, and in a manner I have not
seen elsewhere, the enigma of the artificial life of the stage.

The aestheticism of the Glasgow school, of which we have heard so much
lately, is identical with that of the New English Art Club, and the
two societies are in a measure affiliated. Nearly all the members of
the Glasgow school are members of the New English Art Club, and it is
regrettable that they do not unite and give us an exhibition that
would fairly stare the Academy out of countenance. Among the Glasgow
painters the most prominent and valid talent is Mr. Guthrie's. His
achievements are more considerable and more personal; and he seems to
approach very near to a full expression of the pictorial aspirations
of his generation. Years ago his name was made known to me by a
portrait of singular beauty; an oasis it was in a barren and bitter
desert of Salon pictures. Since then he has adopted a different and
better method of painting; and an excellent example of his present
style is his portrait of Miss Spencer, a lady in a mauve gown. The
slightness of the intention may be urged against the picture; it is no
more than a charming decoration faintly flushed with life. But in his
management of the mauve Mr. Guthrie achieved quite a little triumph:
and the foreground, which is a very thin grey passed over a dark
ground, is delicious, and the placing of the signature is in the right
place. Most artists sign their pictures in the same place. But the
signature should take a different place in every picture, for in every
picture there is one and only one right place for the signature; and
the true artist never fails to find the place which his work has
chosen and consecrated for his name.

I confess myself to be a natural and instinctive admirer of Mr.
Guthrie's talent. His picture, "Midsummer", exhibited at Liverpool,
charmed me. Turning to my notes I find this description of it: "A
garden in the summer's very moment of complete efflorescence; a bower
of limpid green, here and there interwoven with red flowers. And three
ladies are there with their tiny Japanese tea-table. One dress--that
on the left--is white, like a lily, drenched with green shadows; the
dress on the right is a purple, beautiful as the depth of foxglove
bells, A delicate and yet a full sensation of the beauty of modern
life, from which all grossness has been omitted--a picture for which I
think Corot would have had a good word to say." In the same exhibition
there was a pastel by Mr. Guthrie, which quite enchanted me with its
natural, almost naïve, grace. Turning to my notes I extract the
following lines: "A lady seated on a light chair, her body in profile,
her face turned towards the spectator; she wears a dress with red
stripes. One hand hanging by her side, the other hand holding open a
flame-coloured fan; and it is this that makes the picture. The feet
laid one over the other. The face, a mere indication; and for the
hair, charcoal, rubbed and then heightened by two or three touches of
the rich black of pastel-chalk. A delicate, a precious thing, rich in
memories of Watteau and Whistler, of boudoir inspiration, and whose
destination is clearly the sitting-room of a dilettante bachelor."

Mr. Henry, another prominent member of the Glasgow school, exhibited a
portrait of a lady in a straw hat--a rich and beautiful piece of
painting, somewhat "made up" and over-modelled, still a piece of
painting that one would like to possess. Mr. Hornell's celebrated
"Midsummer", the detestation of aldermen, was there too. Imagine the
picture cards, the ten of diamonds, and the eight of hearts shuffled
rapidly upon a table covered with a Persian tablecloth. To ignore what
are known as values seems to be the first principle of the Glasgow
school. Hence a crude and discordant coloration without depth or
richness. Hence an absence of light and the mystery of aërial
perspective. But I have spoken very fully on this subject elsewhere.

Fifteen years ago it was customary to speak slightingly of the Old
Masters, and it was thought that their mistakes could be easily
rectified. Their dark skies and black foregrounds hold their own
against all Monet's cleverness, and it has begun to be suspected that
even if nature be industriously and accurately copied in the fields,
the result is not always a picture. The palette gives the value of the
grass and of the trees, but, alas, not of the sky-the sky is higher in
tone than the palette can go; the painter therefore gets a false
value. Hence the tendency among the _plein airists_ to leave out the
sky or to do with as little sky as possible. A little reef is
sufficient to bring about a great shipwreck; a generation has wasted
half its life, and the Old Masters are again becoming the fashion. Mr.
Furse seems to be deeply impressed with the truth of the _new_
aestheticism. And he has succeeded within the limits of a tiny panel,
a slight but charming intention. "The Great Cloud" rolls over a strip
of lowland, lowering in a vast imperial whiteness, vague and shadowy
as sleep or death. Ruysdael would have stopped for a moment to watch
it. But its lyrical lilt would trouble a mind that could only think in
prose; Shelley would like it better, and most certainly it would not
fail to recall to his mind his own immortal verses--

  "I am the daughter of earth and water,
     And the nursling of the sky;
   I pass through the pores of ocean and shores,
     I change, but I cannot die."

What will become of our young artists and their aspirations is a tale
that time will unfold gradually, and for the larger part of its
surprises we shall have to wait ten years. In ten years many of these
aesthetes will have become common Academicians, working for the villas
and perambulators of numerous families. Many will have disappeared for
ever, some may be resurrected two generations hence, may be raised
from the dead like Mr. Brabazon, our modern Lazarus--

  "Lazare allait mourir une seconds fois,"--

or perchance to sleep for ever in Sir Joshua's bosom. That a place
will be found there for Mr. Brabazon is one of the articles of faith
of the younger generation. Mr. Brabazon is described as an amateur,
and the epithet is marvellously appropriate; no one--not even the
great masters--deserved it better. The love of a long life is in those
water-colours--they are all love; out of love they have grown, in its
light they have flourished, and they have been made lovely with love.

In a time of slushy David Coxes, Mr. Brabazon's eyes were strangely
his own. Even then he saw Nature hardly explained at all--films of
flowing colour transparent as rose-leaves, the lake's blue, and the
white clouds curling above the line of hills--a sense of colour and a
sense of distance, that was all, and he had the genius to remain
within the limitations of his nature. And, with the persistency of
true genius, Mr. Brabazon painted, with a flowing brush, rose-leaf
water-colours, unmindful of the long indifference of two generations,
until it happened that the present generation, with its love of slight
things, came upon this undiscovered genius. It has hailed him as
master, and has dragged him into the popularity of a special
exhibition of his work at the Goupil Galleries. And it was inevitable
that the present young men should discover Mr. Brabazon: for in
discovering him, they were discovering themselves--his art is no more
than a curious anticipation of the artistic ideal of to-day.

The sketch he exhibits at the New English Art Club is a singularly
beautiful tint of rose, spread with delicate grace over the paper. A
little less, and there would be nothing; but a little beauty has
always seemed to me preferable to a great deal of ugliness. And what
is true about one is true about nearly all his drawings. We find in
them always an harmonious colour contrast, and very rarely anything
more. Sometimes there are those evanescent gradations of colour which
are the lordship and signature of the colourist, and when _le ton
local_ is carried through the picture, through the deepest shadows as
through the highest lights, when we find it persisting everywhere, as
we do in No. 19, "Lake Maggiore", we feel in our souls the joy that
comes of perfect beauty. But too frequently Mr. Brabazon's colour is
restricted to an effective contrast; he often skips a great many
notes, touching the extremes of the octave with certainty and with

But it is right that we should make a little fuss over Mr. Brabazon;
for though this work is slight, it is an accomplishment--he has
indubitably achieved a something, however little that something may
be; and when art is disappearing in the destroying waters of
civilisation, we may catch at straws. Beyond colour--and even in
colour his limitations are marked--Mr. Brabazon cannot go. He entered
St. Mark's, and of the delicacy of ornamentation, of the balance of
the architecture, he saw nothing; neither the tracery of carven column
nor the aërial perspective of the groined arches. It was his genius
not to see these things--to leave out the drawing is better than to
fumble with it, and all his life he has done this; and though we may
say that a water-colour with the drawing left out is a very slight
thing, we cannot fail to perceive that these sketches, though less
than sonnets or ballades, or even rondeaus or rondels--at most they
are triolets--are akin to the masters, however distant the

I have not told you about the very serious progress that Mr. George
Thompson has made since the last exhibition; I have not described his
two admirable pictures; nor mentioned Mr. Linder's landscape, nor Mr.
Buxton Knight's "Haymaking Meadows", nor Mr. Christie's pretty picture
"A May's Frolic," nor Mr. MacColl's "Donkey Race". I have omitted much
that it would have been a pleasure to praise; for my intention was not
to write a guide to the exhibition, but to interpret some of the
characteristics of the young generation.

The New English Art Club is very typical of this end of the century.
It is young, it is interesting, it is intelligent, it is emotional, it
is cosmopolitan--not the Bouillon Duval cosmopolitanism of the Newlyn
School, but rather an agreeable assimilation of the Montmartre café of
fifteen years ago. Art has fallen in France, and the New English seems
to me like a seed blown over-sea from a ruined garden. It has caught
English root, and already English colour and fragrance are in the
flower. A frail flower; but, frail or strong, it is all we have of art
in the present generation. It is slight, and so most typical; for,
surely, no age was ever so slight in its art as ours? As the century
runs on it becomes more and more slight and more and more intelligent.
A sheet of Whatman's faintly flushed with a rose-tint, a few stray
verses characterised with a few imperfect rhymes and a wrong accent,
are sufficient foundation for two considerable reputations. The
education of the younger generation is marvellous; its brains are
excellent; it seems to be lacking in nothing except guts. As education
spreads guts disappear, and that is the most serious word I have to

Without thinking of those great times when men lived in the giddiness
and the exultation of a constant creation--when a day was sufficient
for Rubens to paint the "Kermesse" thirteen days to paint the "Mages",
even or eight to paint the "Communion de St. François d'Assise"--and
blotting from our mind the fabulous production of Tintoretto and
Veronese, let us merely remember that thirty years ago Millais painted
a beautiful picture every year until marriage and its consequences
brought his art to a sudden close. One year it was "Autumn Leaves",
the following year it was "St. Agnes' Eve", and behind these pictures
there were at least ten masterpieces--"The Orchard", "The Rainbow",
"Mariana in the Moated Grange", "Ophelia", etc. Millais is far behind
Veronese and Tintoretto in magnificent excellence and extraordinary
rapidity of production; but is not the New English Art Club even as
far behind the excellence and fertility of production of thirty years


We have heard the words "great artist" used so often and so carelessly
that their tremendous significance escapes. The present is a time when
it is necessary to consider the meaning, latent and manifest, of the
words, for we are about to look on the drawings of the late Charles

In many the words evoke the idea of huge canvases in which historical
incidents are depicted, conquerors on black horses covered with gold
trappings, or else figures of Christ, or else the agonies of martyrs.
The portrayal of angels is considered by the populace to be especially
imaginative, and all who affect such subjects are at least in their
day termed great artists. But the words are capable of a less vulgar
interpretation. To the select few the great artist is he who is most
racy of his native soil, he who has most persistently cultivated his
talent in one direction, and in one direction only, he who has
repeated himself most often, he who has lived upon himself the most
avidly. In art, eclecticism means loss of character, and character is
everything in art. I do not mean by character personal idiosyncrasies;
I mean racial and territorial characteristics. Of personal
idiosyncrasy we have enough and to spare. Indeed, it has come to be
accepted almost as an axiom that it does not matter much how badly you
paint, provided you do not paint badly like anybody else. But instead
of noisy idiosyncrasy we want the calm of national character in our
art. A national character can only be acquired by remaining at home
and saturating ourselves in the spirit of our land until it oozes from
our pens and pencils in every slightest word, in every slightest
touch. Our lives should be one long sacrifice for this one
thing--national character. Foreign travel should be eschewed, we
should turn our eyes from Paris and Rome and fix them on our own
fields; we should strive to remain ignorant, making our lives
mole-like, burrowing only in our own parish soil. There are no
universities in art, but there are village schools; each of us should
choose his master, imitate him humbly, striving to continue the
tradition. And while labouring thus humbly, rather as handicraftsmen
than as artists, our personality will gradually begin to appear in our
work, not the weak febrile idiosyncrasy which lights a few hours of
the artist's youth, but a steady flame nourished by the rich oil of
excellent lessons. If the work is good, very little personality is
required. Are the individual temperaments of Terburg, Metzu, and Peter
de Hoogh very strikingly exhibited in their pictures?

The paragraph I have just written will seem like a digression to the
careless reader, but he who has read carefully, or will take the
trouble to glance back, will not fail to see, that although in
appearance digressive, it is a strict and accurate comment on Charles
Keene, and the circumstances in which his art was produced. Charles
Keene never sought after originality; on the contrary, he began by
humbly imitating John Leech, the inventor of the method. His earliest
drawings (few if any of them are exhibited in the present collection)
were hardly distinguishable from Leech's. He continued the tradition
humbly, and originality stole upon him unawares. Charles Keene was not
an erudite, he thought of very little except his own talent and the
various aspects of English life which he had the power of depicting;
but he knew thoroughly well the capacities of his talent, the
direction in which it could be developed, and his whole life was
devoted to its cultivation. He affected neither a knowledge of
literature nor of Continental art; he lived in England and for
England, content to tell the story of his own country and the age he
lived in; in a word, he worked and lived as did the Dutchmen of 1630.
He lived pure of all foreign influence; no man's art was ever so
purely English as Keene's; even the great Dutchmen themselves were not
more Dutch than Keene was English, and the result is often hardly less
surprising. To look at some of these drawings and not think of the
Dutchmen is impossible, for when we are most English we are most
Dutch--our art came from Holland. These drawings are Dutch in the
strange simplicity and directness of intention; they are Dutch in
their oblivion to all interests except those of good drawing; they are
Dutch in the beautiful quality of the workmanship. Examine the rich,
simple drawing of that long coat or the side of that cab, and say if
there is not something of the quality of a Terburg. Terburg is simple
as a page of seventeenth-century prose; and in Keene there is the same
deep, rich, classic simplicity. The material is different, but the
feeling is the same. I might, of course, say Jan Steen; and is it not
certain that both Terburg and Steen, working under the same
conditions, would not have produced drawings very like Keene's? And
now, looking through the material deep into the heart of the thing, is
it a paradox to say that No. 221 is in feeling and quality of
workmanship a Dutch picture of the best time? The scene depicted is
the honeymoon. The young wife sits by an open window full of sunlight,
and the curtains likewise are drenched in the pure white light. How
tranquil she is, how passive in her beautiful animal life! No complex
passion stirs in that flesh; instinct drowses in her just as in an
animal. With what animal passivity she looks up in her husband's face!
Look at that peaceful face, that high forehead, how clearly conceived
and how complete is the rendering! How slight the means, how
extraordinary the result! The sunlight floods the sweet face so
exquisitively stupid, and her soul, and the room, and the very
conditions of life of these people are revealed to us.

And now, in a very rough and fragmentary fashion, hardly attempting
more than a hurried transcription of my notes, I will call attention
to some three or four drawings which especially arrested my attention.
In No. 10 we have a cab seen in wonderful perspective; the hind wheel
is the nearest point, and in extraordinarily accurate proportion the
vehicle and the animal attached to it go up the paper. The cabman
turns half round to address some observation to the "fare", an old
gentleman, who is about to step in. The roof of the cab cuts the body
of the cabman, composing the picture in a most original and striking
manner. The panels of the cab are filled in with simple straight
lines, but how beautifully graduated are these lines, how much they
are made to say! Above all, the hesitating movement of the old
gentleman--how the exact moment has been caught! and the treatment of
the long coat, how broad, how certain--how well the artist has said
exactly what he wanted to say! Another very fine drawing is No. 11.
The fat farmer stands so thoroughly well in his daily habit; the great
stomach, how well it is drawn, and the short legs are part and parcel
of the stomach. The man is redolent of turnip-fields and rick-yards;
all the life of the fields is upon him. And the long parson, clearly
from the university, how well he clasps his hands and how the very
soul of the man is expressed in the gesture! No. 16 is very wonderful.
What movement there is in the skirts of the fat woman, and the legs of
the vendor of penny toys! Are they not the very legs that the gutter

No. 52: a big, bluff artist, deep-seated amid the ferns and grasses.
The big, bearded man, who thinks of nothing but his art, who lives in
it, who would not be thin because fat enables him to sit longer out of
doors, the man who will not even turn round on his camp-stool to see
the woman who is speaking to him; we have all known that man, but to
me that man never really existed until I looked on this drawing. And
the treatment of the trees that make the background! A few touches of
the pencil, and how hot and alive the place is with sunlight!

But perhaps the most wonderful drawing in the entire collection is No.
89. Never did Keene show greater mastery over his material. In this
drawing every line of the black-lead pencil is more eloquent than
Demosthenes' most eloquent period. The roll and the lurch of the
vessel, the tumult of waves and wind, the mental and physical
condition of the passengers, all are given as nothing in this world
could give them except that magic pencil. The figure, the man that the
wind blows out of the picture, his hat about to leave his head, is not
he really on board in a gale? Did a frock coat flap out in the wind so
well before? And do not the attitudes of the two women leaning over
the side represent their suffering? The man who is not sea-sick sits,
his legs stretched out, his hands thrust into his pockets, his face
sunk on his breast, his hat crushed over his eyes. His pea-jacket, how
well drawn! and can we not distinguish the difference between its
cloth and the cloth of the frock of the city merchant, who watches
with such a woful gaze the progress of the gathering wave? The weight
of the wave is indicated with a few straight lines, and, strangely
enough, only very slightly varied are the lines which give the very
sensation of the merchant's thin frock coat made in the shop of a
fashionable tailor.

It has been said that Keene could not draw a lady or a gentleman. Why
not add that he was neither a tennis player nor a pigeon shot, a
waltzer nor an accomplished French scholar? The same terrible
indictment has been preferred against Dickens, and Mr. Henry James
says that Balzac failed to prove he was a gentleman. It might be well
to remind Mr. James that the artist who would avoid the fashion plate
would do well to turn to the coster rather than the duke for
inspiration. Keene's genius saved him from the drawing-room, never
allowing his gaze to wander from where English characteristics may be
gathered most plentifully--the middle and lower classes.

I find in my notes mention of other drawings quite as wonderful as
those I have spoken of, but space only remains to give some hint of
Keene's place among draughtsmen. As a humorist he was certainly thin
compared to Leech; as a satirist he was certainly feeble compared to
Gavarni; in dramatic, not to say imaginative, qualities he cannot be
spoken of in the same breath as Cruikshank; but as an artist was he
not their superior?


In looking through a collection of Reynolds, Gainsboroughs, Dobsons,
Morlands, we are moved by something more than the artistic beauty of
the pictures. Seeing that peaceful farmyard by Morland, a dim remote
life, a haunting in the blood, rises to the surface of the brain, like
a water-flower or weed brought by a sudden current into sight of the
passing sky. Seeing that quiet man talking with his swineherd, we are
mysteriously attracted, and are perplexed as by a memory; we grow
aware of his house and wife, and though these things passed away more
than a hundred years ago, we know them all. That other picture,
"Partridge Shooting", by Stubbs, how familiar and how intimate it is
to us! and those days seem to go back and back into long ago, beyond
childhood into infancy. The life of the picture goes back into the
life that we heard from our father's, our grandfather's lips, a life
of reminiscence and little legend, the end of which passed like a
wraith across the dawn of our lives. For we need not be very old to
remember the squire ramming the wads home and calling to the setter
that is too eagerly pressing forward the pointer in the turnips. A man
of fifty can remember seeing the mail coach swing round the curve of
the wide, smooth coach roads; and a man of forty, going by road to the
Derby, and the block which came seven miles from Epsom. And so do
these pictures take us to the heart of England, to the heart of our
life, which is England, to that great circumstance which preceded our
birth, and which gave not merely flesh and blood, but the minds that
are thinking now. We have only to pass through a doorway to see
sublimer works of art. But though Troyon and Courbet were greater
artists than Morland, Morland whispers something that is beyond art,
beyond even our present life; as a shell with the sound of the sea,
these canvases are murmurous with the under life.

That young lady so charmingly dressed in white, she who holds a rose
in her hand, is Miss Kitty Calcraft, by Romney. Do we not seem to know
her? We ask when we met her, and where we spoke to her; and that
mystic when and where seem more real than the moment of present life.
The present crowd of living folk fades from us, and we half believe,
half know, that she spoke to us one evening on that terrace
overlooking those wide pasture lands. We see the happy light of her
eyes and hear the joy of her voice, and they stir in us all the
impulses of race, of kith and kin.

Romney is often crude, but the worst that can be urged against this
portrait is that it is superficial. But what charm and grace there is
in its superficiality! Romney was aware of the grace and charm of the
young girl as she sat before him in her white dress: he saw her as a
flower; and in fluent, agreeable, well-bred and cultivated speech he
has talked to us about her. The portrait has the charm of rare and
exquisite conversation; we float in a tide of sensation. He was only
aware of her white dress, her pretty arm and hand laid on her soft
lap. But while we merely see Kitty, we perceive and think of
Gainsborough's portrait of Miss Willoughby. We realise her in other
circumstances, away from the beautiful blue trees under which he has
so happily placed her; we can see her receiving visitors on the
terrace, or leaning over the balustrade looking down the valley,
wondering why life has come to her so sadly. We see her in her
eighteenth-century drawing-room amid Chippendale and Adams furniture,
reading an old novel. No one ever cared much about Miss Willoughby.
There is little sensuous charm in her long narrow face, in her hair
falling in ringlets over her shoulders; and we are sure that she often
reflected on the bitterness of life. But Kitty never looked into the
heart of things: when life coincided with her desires, she laughed and
was glad; when things, to use her own words, "went wrong", she wept.
And in these two portraits we read the stories of the painters' souls.

But the question of nationality, of country, in art detains us.
Beautiful beyond compare is the art of Tourguenieff; but how much more
intimate, how much deeper is the delight that a Russian finds in his
novels than ours! However truly the purely artistic qualities may
touch us--great art is universal--we miss our native land and our
race in Tourguenieff. We find both in Dickens, in Thackeray. Miss
Austen and Fielding have little else; and vague though Fielding may be
in form, still his pages are England, and they whisper the life we
inherited from long ago. The superb Rembrandt in the next room, the
Gentleman with a Hawk, lent by the Duke of Westminster, is a human
revelation. We only perceive in it the charm, the adorableness, the
eternal adventure of youth; nationality disappears in the universal.
This beautiful portrait was painted in 1643, a year after the
"Night-watch". The date of the portrait of the Lady with the Fan is
not given. They differ widely in style; the portrait of the man is ten
years in advance of the portrait of the woman; it seems to approach
very closely, to touch on, the great style which he attained in 1664,
the year when he painted the Syndics. Of his early style, thin,
crabbed, and yellow, there is hardly a trace in the portrait of the
Man with the Hawk; it is almost a complete emancipation, yet it would
be rash to say that the Lady with the Fan is an early work, painted in
the days of the Lesson in Anatomy. In Rembrandt's work we find sudden
advancements towards the grand final style, and these are immediately
followed by hasty returnings to the hard, dry, and essentially
unromantic manner of 1634. The portrait of the Young Man with the Hawk
was painted in middle life. But if it contains something more than the
suggestion of the qualities which twenty years later he developed and
perfected for the admiration of all time, if the immortal flower of
Rembrandt's genius was still unblown, this is blossom prematurely
breaking. The young man is shown upon darkness like a vision: the face
is illuminated mysteriously, the brush-work is large and firm, the
paint is substantial without being heavy, the canvas is smoky, an
unnatural and yet a real atmosphere surrounds the head. The black
velvet cap strikes in sharp relief against the background, which
lightens to a grey-green about the head. The modelling of the face is
extraordinarily large and simple, and yet without omissions; we have
in this portrait a perfect example of the art of being precise without
being small. The young man is a young nobleman. He stands before us
looking at us, and yet his eyes are not fixed; his moustache is golden
and frizzled; his cheeks are coloured slightly; but the picture is
practically made of a few greys and greens, and white, slightly tinted
with bitumen; yet we do not feel, or feel very little, any lack of
colouring matter. Rembrandt realised in the romantic young man his
ideal of young masculine beauty. Truly a beautiful work, neither the
boyhood nor the manhood, but the adolescence of Rembrandt's genius.

Between the portrait of the Lady with a Fan and Sir Joshua's portrait
of Miss Frances Crewe it would be permissible to hesitate; but to
hesitate even for one instant between Miss Crewe and the Young Man
with the Hawk would be unpardonable. Sir Joshua painted as he thought;
he had an instinctive sense of decoration and a deep and tender
feeling for beauty; he was especially sensible to the agreeable and
gay aspect of things; his eyes at once seize the pleasing and
picturesque contour, and his mind divined a charming and effective
scheme of colour. He saw character too; all the surface
characteristics of his model were plain to him, and when he was so
minded he painted with rare intelligence and insight. He did not see
deeply, but he saw clearly. Gainsborough did not see so clearly, nor
was his hand as prompt to express his vision as Sir Joshua's; but
Gainsborough saw further, for he felt more keenly and more profoundly.
But light indeed were their minds compared with Rembrandt's. Rembrandt
was a great visionary; to him the outsides of things were symbols of
elemental truths, which he expressed in a form mighty as the truths
themselves. There is no question of comparison between him on one hand
and Reynolds and Gainsborough on the other. Yet we should hesitate to
destroy our Reynolds and Gainsboroughs, to preserve any works of art,
however beautiful. Were we to keep what our reason told us was the
greatest, we should feel as one who surrendered England to save the
rest of the world, or as a parent who sacrificed his children to save
a million men from the scaffold.


Woman's nature is more facile and fluent than man's. Women do things
more easily than men, but they do not penetrate below the surface, and
if they attempt to do so the attempt is but a clumsy masquerade in
unbecoming costume. In their own costume they have succeeded as
queens, courtesans, and actresses, but in the higher arts, in
painting, in music, and literature, their achievements are slight
indeed--best when confined to the arrangements of themes invented by
men--amiable transpositions suitable to boudoirs and fans.

I have heard that some women hold that the mission of their sex
extends beyond the boudoir and the nursery. It is certainly not within
my province to discuss so important a question, but I think it is
clear that all that is best in woman's art is done within the limits I
have mentioned. This conclusion is well-nigh forced upon us when we
consider what would mean the withdrawal of all that women have done in
art. The world would certainly be the poorer by some half-dozen
charming novels, by a few charming poems and sketches in oil and
water-colour; but it cannot be maintained, at least not seriously,
that if these charming triflings were withdrawn there would remain any
gap in the world's art to be filled up. Women have created nothing,
they have carried the art of men across their fans charmingly, with
exquisite taste, delicacy, and subtlety of feeling, and they have
hideously and most mournfully parodied the art of men. George Eliot is
one in whom sex seems to have hesitated, and this unfortunate
hesitation was afterwards intensified by unhappy circumstances. She
was one of those women who so entirely mistook her vocation as to
attempt to think, and really if she had assumed the dress and the
duties of a policeman, her failure could hardly have been more
complete. Jane Austen, on the contrary, adventured in no such dismal
masquerade; she was a nice maiden lady, gifted with a bright clear
intelligence, diversified with the charms of light wit and fancy, and
as she was content to be in art what she was in nature, her books
live, while those of her ponderous rival are being very rapidly
forgotten. "Romola" and "Daniel Deronda" are dead beyond hope of
resurrection; "The Mill on the Floss", being more feminine, still
lives, even though its destiny is to be forgotten when "Pride and
Prejudice" is remembered.

Sex is as important an element in a work of art as it is in life; all
art that lives is full of sex. There is sex in "Pride and Prejudice";
"Jane Eyre" and "Aurora Leigh" are full of sex; "Romola", "Daniel
Deronda", and "Adam Bede" are sexless, and therefore lifeless. There
is very little sex in George Sand's works, and they, too, have gone
the way of sexless things. When I say that all art that lives is full
of sex, I do not mean that the artist must have led a profligate life;
I mean, indeed, the very opposite. George Sand's life was notoriously
profligate, and her books tell the tale. I mean by sex that
concentrated essence of life which the great artist jealously reserves
for his art, and through which it pulsates. Shelley deserted his wife,
but his thoughts never wandered far from Mary. Dante, according to
recent discoveries, led a profligate life, while adoring Beatrice
through interminable cantos. So profligacy is clearly not the word I
want. I think that gallantry expresses my meaning better.

The great artist and Don Juan are irreparably antagonistic; one cannot
contain the other. Notwithstanding all the novels that have been
written to prove the contrary, it is certain that woman occupies but a
small place in the life of an artist. She is never more than a charm,
a relaxation, in his life; and even when he strains her to his bosom,
oceans are between them. Profligate, I am afraid, history proves the
artist sometimes to have been, but his profligacy is only ephemeral
and circumstantial; what is abiding in him is chastity of mind, though
not always of body; his whole mind is given to his art, and all vague
philanderings and sentimental musings are unknown to him; the women he
knows and perceives are only food for it, and have no share in his
mental life. And it is just because man can raise himself above the
sentimental cravings of natural affection that his art is so
infinitely higher than woman's art. "Man's love is from man's life a
thing apart"--you know the quotation from Byron, "Tis woman's whole
existence." The natural affections fill a woman's whole life, and her
art is only so much sighing and gossiping about them. Very delightful
and charming gossiping it often is--full of a sweetness and tenderness
which we could not well spare, but always without force or dignity.

In her art woman is always in evening dress: there are flowers in her
hair, and her fan waves to and fro, and she wishes to sigh in the ear
of him who sits beside her. Her mental nudeness is parallel with her
low bodice, it is that and nothing more. She will make no sacrifice
for her art; she will not tell the truth about herself as frankly as
Jean-Jacques, nor will she observe life from the outside with the
grave impersonal vision of Flaubert. In music women have done nothing,
and in painting their achievement has been almost as slight. It is
only in the inferior art--the art of acting--that women approach men.
In that art it is not certain that they do not stand even higher.

Whatever women have done in painting has been done in France. England
produces countless thousands of lady artists; twenty Englishwomen
paint for one Frenchwoman, but we have not yet succeeded in producing
two that compare with Madame Lebrun and Madame Berthe Morisot. The
only two Englishwomen who have in painting come prominently before the
public are Angelica Kauffman and Lady Butler. The first-named had the
good fortune to live in the great age, and though her work is
individually feeble, it is stamped with the charm of the tradition out
of which it grew and was fashioned. Moreover, she was content to
remain a woman in her art. She imitated Sir Joshua Reynolds to the
best of her ability, and did all in her power to induce him to marry
her. How she could have shown more wisdom it is difficult to see. Lady
Butler was not so fortunate, either in the date of her birth, in her
selection of a master, or her manner of imitating him. Angelica
imitated as a woman should. She carried the art of Sir Joshua across
her fan; she arranged and adorned it with ribbons and sighs, and was
content with such modest achievement.

Lady Butler, however, thought she could do more than to sentimentalise
with De Neuville's soldiers. She adopted his method, and from this
same standpoint tried to do better; her attitude towards him was the
same as Rosa Bonheur's towards Troyon; and the failure of Lady Butler
was even greater than Rosa Bonheur's. But perhaps the best instance I
could select to show how impossible it is for women to do more than to
accept the themes invented by men, and to decorate and arrange them
according to their pretty feminine fancies, is the collection of Lady
Waterford's drawings now on exhibition at Lady Brownlow's house in
Carlton House Terrace.

Lady Waterford for many years--for more than a quarter of a
century--has been spoken of as the one amateur of genius; and the
greatest artists vied with each other as to which should pay the most
extravagant homage to her talent. Mr. Watts seems to have distanced
all competitors in praise of her, for in a letter of his quoted in the
memoir prefixed to the catalogue, he says that she has exceeded all
the great Venetian masters. It was nice of Mr. Watts to write such a
letter; it was very foolish of Lady Brownlow to print it in the
catalogue, for it serves no purpose except to draw attention to the
obvious deficiencies of originality in Lady Waterford's drawings.
Nearly all of them are remarkable for facile grouping; and the colour
is rich, somewhat heavy, but generally harmonious; the drawing is
painfully conventional; it would be impossible to find a hand, an arm,
a face that has been tenderly observed and rendered with any personal
feeling or passion.

The cartoons are not better than any mediocre student of the
Beaux-Arts could do--insipid parodies of the Venetian--whom she
excels, according to Mr. Watts. When Lady Waterford attempted no more
than a decorative ring of children dancing in a richly coloured
landscape, or a group of harvesters seen against a rich decorative
sky, such a design as might be brought across a fan, her talent is
seen to best advantage; it is a fluent and facile talent, strangely
unoriginal, but always sustained by taste acquired by long study of
the Venetians, and by a superficial understanding of their genius.

Many times superior to Lady Waterford is Miss Armstrong--a lady in
whose drawings of children we perceive just that light tenderness and
fanciful imagination which is not of our sex. Perhaps memory betrays
me; it is a long while since I have seen Miss Armstrong's pastels, but
my impression is that Miss Armstrong stands easily at the head of
English lady artists--above Mrs. Swynnerton, whose resolute and
distinguished talent was never more abundantly and strikingly
manifested than in her picture entitled "Midsummer", now hanging in
the New Gallery. "Midsummer" is a fine piece of intellectual painting,
but it proceeds merely from the brain; there is hardly anything of the
painter's nature in it; there are no surprising admissions in it; the
painter never stood back abashed and asked herself if she should have
confessed so much, if she should have told the world so much of what
was passing in her intimate soul and flesh.

Impersonality in art really means mediocrity. If you have nothing to
tell about yourself, or if courage be lacking in you to tell the
truth, you are not an artist. Are women without souls, or is it that
they dare not reveal their souls unadorned with the laces and ribbons
of convention? Their memoirs are a tissue of lies, suppressions, and
half-truths. George Sand must fain suppress all mention of her Italian
journey with Musset, a true account of which would have been an
immortal story; but of hypocritical hare-hearted allusions Rousseau
and Casanova were not made; in their memoirs women never get further
than some slight fingering of laces; and in their novels they are too
subject to their own natures to attain the perfect and complete
realisation of self, which the so-called impersonal method alone
affords. Women astonish us as much by their want of originality as
they do by their extraordinary powers of assimilation. I am thinking
now of the ladies who marry painters, and who, after a few years of
married life, exhibit work identical in execution with that of their
illustrious husbands--Mrs. E. M. Ward, Madame Fantin-Latour, Mrs.
Swan, Mrs. Alma-Tadema. How interesting these households must be!
Immediately after breakfast husband and wife sit down at their easels.
"Let me mix a tone for you, dear," "I think I would put that up a
little higher," etc. In a word, what Manet used to call _la peinture à
quatre mains_.

Nevertheless, among these well-intentioned ladies we find one artist
of rare excellence--I mean Madame Lebrun. We all know her beautiful
portrait of a woman walking forward, her hands in a muff. Seeing the
engraving from a distance we might take it for a Romney; but when we
approach, the quality of the painting visible through the engraving
tells us that it belongs to the French school. In design the portrait
is strangely like a Romney; it is full of all that brightness and
grace, and that feminine refinement, which is a distinguishing
characteristic of his genius, and which was especially impressed on my
memory by the portrait of the lady in the white dress walking forward,
her hands in front of her, the slight fingers pressed one against the
other, exhibited this year in the exhibition of Old Masters in the

But if we deny that the portrait of the lady with the muff affords
testimony as to the sex of the painter, we must admit that none but a
woman could have conceived the portrait which Madame Lebrun painted of
herself and her little daughter. The painting may be somewhat dry and
hard, it certainly betrays none of the fluid nervous tendernesses and
graces of the female temperament; but surely none but a woman and a
mother could have designed that original and expressive composition;
it was a mother who found instinctively that touching and expressive
movement--the mother's arms circled about her little daughter's
waist, the little girl leaning forward, her face resting on her
mother's shoulder. Never before did artist epitomise in a gesture all
the familiar affection and simple persuasive happiness of home; the
very atmosphere of an embrace is in this picture. And in this picture
the painter reveals herself to us in one of the intimate moments of
her daily life, the tender, wistful moment when a mother receives her
growing girl in her arms, the adolescent girl having run she knows not
why to her mother. These two portraits, both in the Louvre, are, I
regret to say, the only pictures of Madame Lebrun that I am acquainted
with. But I doubt if my admiration would be increased by a wider
knowledge of her work. She seems to have said everything she had to
say in these two pictures.

Madame Lebrun painted well, but she invented nothing, she failed to
make her own of any special manner of seeing and rendering things; she
failed to create a style. Only one woman did this, and that woman is
Madame Morisot, and her pictures are the only pictures painted by a
woman that could not be destroyed without creating a blank, a hiatus
in the history of art. True that the hiatus would be slight--
insignificant if you will--but the insignificant is sometimes
dear to us; and though nightingales, thrushes, and skylarks were to
sing in King's Bench Walk, I should miss the individual chirp of the
pretty sparrow.

Madame Morisot's note is perhaps as insignificant as a sparrow's, but
it is as unique and as individual a note. She has created a style, and
has done so by investing her art with all her femininity; her art is
no dull parody of ours: it is all womanhood--sweet and gracious,
tender and wistful womanhood. Her first pictures were painted under
the influence of Corot, and two of these early works were hung in the
exhibition of her works held the other day at Goupil's, Boulevard
Montmartre. The more important was, I remember, a view of Paris seen
from a suburb--a green railing and two loitering nursemaids in the
foreground, the middle of the picture filled with the city faintly
seen and faintly glittering in the hour of the sun's decline, between
four and six. It was no disagreeable or ridiculous parody of Corot; it
was Corot feminised, Corot reflected in a woman's soul, a woman's love
of man's genius, a lake-reflected moon. But Corot's influence did not
endure. Through her sister's marriage Madame Morisot came in contact
with Manet, and she was quick to recognise him as being the greatest
artist that France had produced since Delacroix.

Henceforth she never faltered in her allegiance to the genius of her
great brother-in-law. True, that she attempted no more than to carry
his art across her fan; but how adorably she did this! She got from
him that handling out of which the colour flows joyous and bright as
well-water, the handling that was necessary for the realisation of
that dream of hers, a light world afloat in an irradiation--light
trembling upon the shallows of artificial water, where swans and
aquatic birds are plunging, and light skiffs are moored; light turning
the summer trees to blue; light sleeping a soft and lucid sleep in the
underwoods; light illumining the green summer of leaves where the
diamond rain is still dripping; light transforming into jewellery the
happy flight of bees and butterflies. Her swans are not diagrams drawn
upon the water, their whiteness appears and disappears in the
trembling of the light; and the underwood, how warm and quiet it is,
and penetrated with the life of the summer; and the yellow-painted
skiff, how happy and how real! Colours, tints of faint green and mauve
passed lightly, a few branches indicated. Truly, the art of Manet
_transporté en éventail_.

A brush that writes rather than paints, that writes exquisite notes in
the sweet seduction of a perfect epistolary style, notes written in a
boudoir, notes of invitation, sometimes confessions of love, the whole
feminine heart trembling as a hurt bird trembles in a man's hand. And
here are yachts and blue water, the water full of the blueness of the
sky; and the confusion of masts and rigging is perfectly indicated
without tiresome explanation! The colour is deep and rich, for the
values have been truly observed; and the pink house on the left is an
exquisite note. No deep solutions, an art afloat and adrift upon the
canvas, as a woman's life floats on the surface of life. "My
sister-in-law would not have existed without me," I remember Manet
saying to me in one of the long days we spent together in the Rue
d'Amsterdam. True, indeed, that she would not have existed without
him; and yet she has something that he has not--the charm of an
exquisite feminine fancy, the charm of her sex. Madame Morisot is the
eighteenth century quick with the nineteenth; she is the nineteenth
turning her eyes regretfully looking back on the eighteenth.

Chaplin parodied the eighteenth century; in Madame Morisot something
of its gracious spirit naturally resides; she is eighteenth century
especially in her drawings; they are fluent and flowing; nowhere do we
detect a measurement taken, they are free of tricks--that is to say of
ignorance assuming airs of learning. That red chalk drawing of a naked
girl, how simple, loose, and unaffected, how purged of the odious
erudition of the modern studio. And her precious and natural
remembrance of the great century, with all its love of youth and the
beauties of youthful lines, is especially noticeable in the red chalk
drawing of the girl wearing a bonnet, the veil falling and hiding her
beautiful eyes. As I stood lost in admiration of this drawing, I heard
a rough voice behind me: "C'est bien beau, n'est pas?" It was Claude
Monet. "Yes, isn't it superb?" I answered. "I wonder how much they'll
sell it for." "I'll soon find out that," said Monet, and turning to
the attendant he asked the question.

"Pour vous, sept cents cinquante francs."

"C'est bien; il est à moi."

This anecdote will give a better idea of the value of Berthe Morisot
than seventy columns of mine or any other man's criticism.



Before sitting down to paint a landscape the artist must make up his
mind whether he is going to use the trees, meadows, streams, and
mountains before him as subject-matter for a decoration in the manner
of the Japanese, or whether he will take them as subject-matter for
the expression of a human emotion in the manner of Wilson and Millet.
I offer no opinion which is the higher and which is the lower road;
they may be wide apart, they may draw very close together, they may
overlap so that it is difficult to say along which the artist is
going; but, speaking roughly, there are but two roads, and it is
necessary that the artist should choose between them. But this point
has been fully discussed elsewhere, and I only allude to it here
because I wish to assure my readers that Mr. Steer's exhibition is not
"Folkestone at low tide" and "Folkestone at high tide".

In all the criticisms I have seen of the present exhibition it has
been admitted that Mr. Steer takes a foremost place in what is known
as the modern movement. I also noticed that it was admitted that Mr.
Steer is a born artist. The expression, from constant use, has lost
its true significance; yet to find another phrase that would express
the idea more explicitly would be difficult; the born artist, meaning
the man in whom feeling and expression are one.

The growth of a work of art is as inexplicable as that of a flower. We
know that there are men who feel deeply and who understand clearly
what a work of art should be; but when they attempt to create, their
efforts are abortive. Their ideas, their desires, their intentions,
their plans, are excellent; but the passage between the brain and the
canvas, between the brain and the sheet of paper, is full of
shipwrecking reefs, and the intentions of these men do not correspond
in the least with their execution. Noticing our blank faces, they
explain their ideas in front of their works. They meant this, they
meant that. Inwardly we answer, "All you say is most interesting; but
why didn't you put all that into your picture, into your novel?"

Then Mr. Steer is not an abortive genius, for his ideas do not come to
utter shipwreck in the perilous passage; they often lose a spar or
two, they sometimes appear in a more or less dismantled condition, but
they retain their masts; they come in with some yards of canvas still
set, and the severest criticism that can be passed on them is, "With a
little better luck that would have been a very fine thing indeed." And
not infrequently Mr. Steer's pictures correspond very closely with the
mental conception in which they originated; sometimes little or
nothing has been lost as the idea passed from the brain to the canvas,
and it is on account of these pictures that we say that Mr. Steer is a
born artist. This once granted, the question arises: is this born
artist likewise a great artist--will he formulate his sensation, and
give us a new manner of feeling and seeing, or will he merely succeed
in painting some beautiful pictures when circumstances and the mood of
the moment combine in his favour? This is a question which all who
visit the exhibition of this artist's work, now on view in the Goupil
Galleries, will ask themselves. They will ask if this be the furthest
limit to which he may go, or if he will discover a style entirely his
own which will enable him to convey all his sensation of life upon the

That Mr. Steer's drawing does not suggest a future draughtsman seems
to matter little, for we remember that colour, and not form, is the
impulse that urges and inspires him. Mr. Steer draws well enough to
take a high place if he can overcome more serious defects. His
greatest peril seems to me to be an uncontrollable desire to paint in
the style of the last man whose work has interested him. At one time
it was only in his most unguarded moments that he could see a
landscape otherwise than as Monet saw it; a year or two later it was
Whistler who dictated certain schemes of colour, certain harmonious
arrangements of black; and the most distressing symptom of all is that
Mr. Brabazon could not hold an exhibition of some very nice tints of
rose and blue without inspiring Mr. Steer to go and swish water-colour
about in the same manner. Mr. Steer has the defect of his qualities;
his perceptions are naïve: and just as he must have thought seven
years ago that all modern landscape-painters must be more or less like
Monet, he must have thought last summer that all modern water-colour
must be more or less like Mr. Brabazon. This is doubly unfortunate,
because Mr. Steer is only good when he is Steer, and nothing but

How much we should borrow, and how we should borrow, are questions
which will agitate artists for all time. It is certain, however, that
one of the most certain signs of genius is the power to take from
others and to assimilate. How much did Rubens take from Titian? How
much did Mr. Whistler take from the Japanese? Almost everything in Mr.
Whistler already existed in art. In the National Gallery the white
stocking in the Philip reminds us of the white stockings in the
portrait of Miss Alexander. In the British Museum we find the shadows
that he transferred from Rembrandt to his own etchings. Degas took his
drawing from Ingres and his colour--that lovely brown!--from Poussin.
But, notwithstanding their vast borrowings, Rubens is always Rubens,
Whistler is always Whistler, and Degas is always Degas. Alexander took
a good deal, too, but he too remained always Alexander. We must
conquer what we take. But what Mr. Steer takes often conquers him; he
is often like one suffering from a weak digestion, he cannot
assimilate. I must except, however, that very beautiful picture, "Two
Yachts lying off Cowes". Under a deepening sky of mauve the yachts
lie, their lights and rigging showing through the twilight. We may say
that this picture owes something to Mr. Whistler; but the debt is not
distressing; it does not strike the eye; it does not prevent us from
seeing the picture--a very beautiful piece of decoration in a high key
of colour--a picture which it would be difficult to find fault with.
It is without fault; the intention of the artist was a beautiful one,
and it has been completely rendered. I like quite as well "The Casino,
Boulogne", the property, I note with some interest, of Mr. Humphry
Ward, art critic of the _Times_. Mr. Humphry Ward must write
conventional commonplace, otherwise he could not remain art critic of
the _Times_, so it is pleasant to find that he is withal an excellent
judge of a picture. The picture, I suppose, in a very remote and
distant way, may be said to be in the style of Wilson. Again a
successful assimilation. The buildings stand high up, they are piled
high up in the picture, and a beautiful blue envelops sky, sea, and
land. Nos. 1 and 2 show Mr. Steer at his best: that beautiful blue,
that beautiful mauve, is the optimism of painting. Such colour is to
the colourist what the drug is to the opium-eater: nothing matters,
the world is behind us, and we dream on and on, lost in an infinity of
suggestion. This quality, which, for want of a better expression, I
call the optimism of painting, is a peculiar characteristic of Mr.
Steer's work. We find it again in "Children Paddling". Around the long
breakwater the sea winds, filling the estuary, or perchance recedes,
for the incoming tide is noisier; a delicious, happy, opium blue, the
blue of oblivion.... Paddling in the warm sea-water gives oblivion to
those children. They forget their little worries in the sensation of
sea and sand, as I forget mine in that dreamy blue which fades and
deepens imperceptibly, like a flower from the intense heart to the
delicate edge of the petals.

The vague sea is drawn up behind the breakwater, and out of it the
broad sky ascends solemnly in curves like palms. Happy sensation of
daylight; a flower-like afternoon; little children paddling; the world
is behind them; they are as flowers, and are conscious only of the
benedictive influences of sand and sea and sky.

The exhibition contains nearly every description of work: full-length
portraits in oil, life-size heads, eight-inch panels, and some
half-dozen water-colours. A little girl in a starched white frock is a
charming picture, and the large picture entitled "The Sofa" is a most
distinguished piece of work, full of true pictorial feeling. Mr. Steer
is never common or vulgar; he is distinguished even when he fails. "A
Girl in a Large Hat" is a picture which became my property some three
or four months ago. Since then I have seen it every day, and I like it
better and better. That hat is so well placed in the canvas; the
expression of the face and body, are they not perfect? What an air of
resignation, of pensiveness, this picture exhales! The jacket is done
with a few touches, but they are sufficient, for they are in their
right places. And the colour! Hardly do you find any, and yet there is
an effect of colour which few painters could attain when they had
exhausted all the resources of the palette.


Whether the pictures in the Royal Academy be bad or good, the
journalist must describe them. The public goes to the Academy, and the
journalist must follow the traffic, like the omnibuses. But the
public, the English public, does not go to the Salon or to the Champ
de Mars. Why, then, should our newspapers waste space on the
description of pictures which not one reader in fifty has seen or will
see? I suppose the demon of actuality is answerable for the wasted
columns, and the demon of habit for my yearly wanderings over deserts
of cocoa-nut matting, under tropical skylights, in continual torment
from glaring oil-paintings. Of the days I have spent in those
exhibitions, nothing remains but the memory of discomfort, and the
sense of relief experienced on coming to a room in which there were no
pictures. Ah, the arm-chairs into which I slipped and the tapestries
that rested my jaded eyes! ... So this year I resolved to break with
habit and to visit neither the Salon nor the Champ de Mars. An art
critic I am, but surely independent of pictures--at least, of modern
pictures; indeed, they stand between me and the interesting article
ninety times in a hundred.

Only now and then do we meet a modern artist about whom we may
rhapsodise, or at whom we may curse: Claude Monet is surely such an
one. So I pricked up my ears when I heard there was an exhibition of
his work at Durand Ruel's. I felt I was on the trail of an interesting
article, and away I went. The first time I pondered and argued with
myself. Then I went with an intelligent lady, and was garrulous,
explanatory, and theoretical; she listened, and said she would write
out all I had said from her point of view. The third time I went with
two artists. We were equally garrulous and argumentative, and with the
result that we three left the exhibition more than ever confirmed in
the truth of our opinions. I mention these facts, not, as the
ill-natured might suppose, because it pleases me to write about my own
sayings and doings, but because I believe my conduct to be typical of
the conduct of hundreds of others in regard to the present exhibition
in the Rue Laffitte; for, let this be said in Monet's honour: every
day artists from every country in Europe go there by themselves, with
their women friends, and with other artists, and every day since the
exhibition opened, the galleries have been the scene of passionate

My own position regarding Monet is a peculiar one, and I give it for
what it is worth. It is about eighteen years since I first made the
acquaintance of this remarkable man. Though at first shocked, I was
soon convinced of his talent, and set myself about praising him as
well as I knew how. But my prophesying was answered by scoffs, jeers,
supercilious smiles. Outside of the Café of the Nouvelle Athènes,
Monet was a laughing-stock. Manet was bad enough; but when it came to
Monet, words were inadequate to express sufficient contempt. A shrug
of the shoulders or a pitying look, which clearly meant, "Art thou
most of madman or simpleton, or, maybe, impudent charlatan who would
attract attention to himself by professing admiration for such

It was thus eighteen years ago; but revolution has changed depth to
height, and Monet is now looked upon as the creator of the art of
landscape painting; before him nothing was, after him nothing can be,
for he has said all things and made the advent of another painter
impossible, inconceivable. He who could never do a right thing can now
do no wrong one. Canvases beside which the vaguest of Mr. Whistler's
nocturnes are clear statements of plain fact, lilac-coloured canvases
void of design or tone, or quality of paint, are accepted by a
complacent public, and bought by American millionaires for vast sums;
and the early canvases about which Paris would not once tolerate a
word of praise, are now considered old-fashioned. My personal concern
in all this enthusiasm--the enthusiasm of the fashionable
market-place--is that I once more find myself a dissident, and a
dissident in a very small minority. I think of Monet now as I thought
of him eighteen years ago. For no moment did it seem to me possible to
think of him as an equal of Corot or of Millet. He seemed a painter of
great talent, of exceptional dexterity of hand, and of clear and rapid
vision. His vision seemed then somewhat impersonal; the temper of his
mind did not illuminate his pictures; he was a marvellous mirror,
reproducing all the passing phenomena of Nature; and that was all. And
looking at his latest work, his views of Rouen Cathedral, it seems to
me that he has merely continued to develop the qualities for which we
first admired him--clearness of vision and a marvellous technical
execution. So extraordinary is this later execution that, by
comparison, the earlier seems timid and weak. His naturalism has
expanded and strengthened: mine has decayed and almost fallen from me.

Monet's handicraft has grown like a weed; it now overtops and chokes
the idea; it seems in these façades to exist by itself, like a
monstrous and unnatural ivy, independent of support; and when
expression outruns the thought, it ceases to charm. We admire the
marvellous mastery with which Monet drew tower and portico: see that
tower lifted out of blue haze, no delicacy of real perspective has
been omitted; see that portico bathed in sunlight and shadow, no form
of ornament has been slurred; but we are fain of some personal sense
of beauty, we miss that rare delicacy of perception which delights us
in Mr. Whistler's "Venice", and in Guardi's vision of cupolas,
stairways, roofs, gondolas, and waterways. Monet sees clearly, and he
sees truly, but does he see beautifully? is his an enchanted vision?
And is not every picture that fails to move, to transport, to enchant,
a mistake?

A work of art is complete in itself. But is any one of these pictures
complete in itself? Is not the effect they produce dependent on the
number, and may not this set of pictures be compared to a set of
scenes in a theatre, the effect of which is attained by combination?
There is no foreground in them; the cathedral is always in the first
plane, directly, under the eye of the spectator, the wall running out
of the picture. The spectator says, "What extraordinary power was
necessary to paint twelve views of that cathedral without once having
recourse to the illusion of distance!" A feat no doubt it was; and
therein we perceive the artistic weakness of the pictures. For art
must not be confounded with the strong man in the fair who straddles,
holding a full-grown woman on the palm of his hand.

Then the question of the quality of paint. Manet's paint was beautiful
as that of an old master; brilliant as an enamel, smooth as an old
ivory. But the quality of paint in Monet is that of stone and mortar.
It would seem (the thought is too monstrous to be entertained) as if
he had striven by thickness of paint and roughness of the handling to
reproduce the very material quality of the stonework. This would be
realism _à outrance_. I will not think that Monet was haunted for a
single instant by so shameful a thought. However this may be, the fact
remains that a _trompe-l'oeil_ has been achieved, and four inches of
any one of these pictures looked at separately would be mistaken by
sight and touch for a piece of stonework. In another picture, in a
haystack with the sun shining on it, the _trompe-l'oeil_ has again
been as cleverly achieved as by the most cunning of scene-painters. So
the haystack is a popular delight.



Mark Fisher is a nineteenth-century Morland; the disposition of mind
and character of vision seem the same in both painters, the outlook
almost identical: the same affectionate interest in humble life, the
same power of apprehending the pathos of work, the same sympathy for
the life that thinks not. But beyond these qualities of mind common to
both painters, Morland possessed a sense of beauty and grace which is
absent in Mark Fisher. Morland's pig-styes are more beautifully seen
than Mark Fisher could see them. But is the sense of beauty, which was
most certainly Morland's, so inherent and independent a possession
that we must regard it as his rather than the common inheritance of
those who lived in his time? Surely Mark Fisher would have seen more
beautifully if he had lived in the eighteenth century? Or, to put the
case more clearly, surely Morland would have seen very much as Mark
Fisher sees if he had lived in the nineteenth? Think of the work done
by Morland in the field and farmyard--it is in that work that he
lives; compare it with Mark Fisher's, subtracting, of course, all that
Morland owed to his time, quality of paint, and a certain easy sense
of beauty, and say if you can that both men do not stand on the same
intellectual plane.

To tell the story of the life of the fields, and to tell it sincerely,
without false sentiment, was their desire; nor do we detect in either
Morland or Mark Fisher any pretence of seeing more in their subjects
than is natural for them to see: in Jacques, yes. Jacques tried to
think profoundly, like Millet; Mark Fisher does not; nor was Morland
influenced by the caustic mind of Hogarth to satirise the animalism of
the boors he painted. He saw rural life with the same kindly eyes as
Mark Fisher. The difference between the two men is a difference of
means, of expression--I mean the exterior envelope in which the work
of the mind lives, and which preserves and assures a long life to the
painter. On this point no comparison is possible between the
eighteenth and nineteenth century painter. We should seek in vain in
Mark Fisher for Morland's beautiful smooth painting, for his fluent
and easy drawing, the complete and easy vehicle of his vision of
things. Mark Fisher draws well, but he often draws awkwardly; he
possesses the sentiment of proportion and the instinct of anatomy; we
admire the sincerity and we recognise the truth, but we miss the charm
of that easy and perfect expression which was current in Morland's
time. Mark Fisher is a man who has something to say and who says it in
a somewhat barbarous manner. He dreams hardly at all, his thoughts are
ordinary, and are only saved from commonplace by his absence of
affectation. He is not without sentiment, but his sentiment is a
little plain. His hand is his worst enemy; the touch is seldom
interesting or beautiful.

I said that Morland saw nature with the same kindly eyes as Mark
Fisher. I would have another word on that point. Mark Fisher's
painting is optimistic. His skies are blue, his sunlight dozes in the
orchard, his chestnut trees are in bloom. The melodrama of nature
never appears in his pictures; his lanes and fields reflect a gentle
mind that has found happiness in observing the changes of the seasons.
Happy Mark Fisher! An admirable painter, the best, the only
landscape-painter of our time; the one who continues the tradition of
Potter and Morland, and lives for his art, uninfluenced by the clamour
of cliques.


Mr. Sargent has painted the portrait of a beautiful woman and of a
beautiful drawing-room; the picture is full of technical
accomplishment. But is it a beautiful picture?

She is dressed in cherry-coloured velvet, and she sits on the edge of
a Louis XV. sofa, one arm by her side, the other thrown a little
behind her, the hand leaning against the sofa. Behind her are pale
yellow draperies, and under her feet is an Aubasson carpet. The
drawing is swift, certain, and complete. The movement of the arm is so
well rendered that we know the exact pressure of the long fingers that
melt into a padded silken sofa. But is the drawing distinguished, or
subtle, or refined? or is it mere parade of knowledge and practice of
hand? The face charms us with its actuality; but is there a touch
intimately characteristic of the model? or is it merely a vivacious

But if the drawing when judged by the highest standard fails to
satisfy us, what shall be said of the colour? Think of a
cherry-coloured velvet filling half the picture--the pale cherry pink
known as cerise--with mauve lights, and behind it pale yellowish
draperies and an Aubasson carpet under the lady's feet. Of course this
is very "daring", but is it anything more? Is the colour deep and
sonorous, like Alfred Stevens' red velvets; or is it thin and harsh,
like Duran? Has any attempt been made to compose the colour, to carry
it through the picture? There are a few touches of red in the carpet,
none in the draperies, so the dress is practically a huge splash
transferred from nature to the canvas. And when we ask ourselves if
the picture has style, is not the answer: It is merely the apotheosis
of fashionable painting? It is what Messrs. Shannon, Hacker, and
Solomon would like to do, but what they cannot do. Mr. Sargent has
realised their dreams for them; he has told us what the new generation
of Academicians want, he has revealed their souls' desire, and it
is--_l'article de Paris._

The portrait is therefore a prodigious success; to use an expression
which will be understood in the studios, "it knocks the walls silly";
you see nothing else in the gallery; and it wins the suffrages of the
artists and the public alike. Duran never drew so fluently as that,
nor was he ever capable of so pictorial an intention. Chaplin, for it
recalls Chaplin, was always heavier, more conventional; above all,
less real. For it is very real, and just the reality that ladies like,
reality without grossness; in other words, without criticism. So Mr.
Sargent gets his public, as the saying goes, "all round". He gets the
ladies, because it realises the ideal they have formed of themselves;
he gets the artists, because it is the realisation of the pictorial
ideals of the present day.

The picture has been described as marvellous, brilliant, astonishing,
superb, but no one has described it as beautiful. Whether because of
the commonness of the epithet, or because every one felt that
beautiful was not the adjective that expressed the sensation the
picture awoke in him, I know not. It is essentially a picture of the
hour; it fixes the idea of the moment and reminds one somewhat of a
_première_ at the Vaudeville with Sarah in a new part. Every one is on
the _qui vive_. The _salle_ is alive with murmurs of approbation. It
is the joy of the passing hour, the delirium of the sensual present.
The appeal is the same as that of food and drink and air and love. But
when painters are pursuing new ideals, when all that constitutes the
appearance of our day has changed, I fear that many will turn with a
shudder from its cold, material accomplishment.


A Kensington Museum student would have drawn that flower carefully
with a lead pencil; it would be washed with colour and stippled until
it reached the quality of wool, which is so much admired in that art
training-school; and whenever the young lady was not satisfied with
the turn her work was taking, she would wash the displeasing portion
out and start afresh. The difference--there are other differences
--but the difference we are concerned with between this hypothetical
young person of Kensington education and Mr. James, is that the
drawing which Mr. James exhibits is not a faithful record of all the
difficulties that are met with in painting an orchid. A hundred
orchids preceded the orchid on the wall--some were good in colour and
failed in drawing, and _vice versâ_. Others were excellent in drawing
and colour, but the backgrounds did not come out right. All these were
destroyed. That mauve and grey orchid was probably not even sketched
in with a lead pencil. Mr. James desired an uninterrupted expression
of its beauty: to first sketch it with a pencil would be to lose
something of his first vividness of impression. It must flow straight
out of the brush. But to attain such fluency it was necessary to paint
that orchid a hundred times before its form and colour were learnt
sufficiently to admit of the expression of all the flower's beauty in
one painting. It is not that Mr. James has laboured less but ten times
more than the Kensington student. But all the preliminary labour
having been discarded, it seems as simple and as slight a thing as may
be--a flower in a glass, the flower drawn only in its essentials, the
glass faintly indicated, a flowing tint of mauve dissolving to grey,
the red heart of the flower for the centre of interest. A decoration
for where? I imagine it in a boudoir whose walls are stretched and
whose windows are curtained with grey silk. From the ceiling hangs a
chandelier, cut glass--pure Louis XV. The furniture that I see is
modern; but here and there a _tabouret_, a _guéridon_, or a delicate
_étagère_, filled with tiny volumes of Musset and two or three rare
modern writers, recall the eighteenth century. And who sits in this
delicate boudoir perfumed with a faint scent, a sachet-scented
pocket-handkerchief? Surely one of Sargent's ladies. Perhaps the lady
in the shot-silk dress who sat on an eighteenth-century French sofa
two years ago in the Academy, her tiny, plump, curved white hand,
drawn as well in its interior as in exterior limits, hanging over the
gilt arm of the sofa. But she sits now, in the boudoir I have
imagined, in a low arm-chair covered with grey silk; her feet lie one
over the other on the long-haired rug; the fire burns low in the
grate, and the soft spring sunlight laps through the lace curtains,
filling the room with a bland, moody, retrospective atmosphere. She
sits facing Mr. James's water-colour. She is looking at it, she does
not see it; her thoughts are far away, and their importance is slight.


The photograph of the portrait of Miss Alexander is as suggestive of
the colour as a pianoforte arrangement of _Tristan_ is of the
orchestration. The sounds of the different instruments come through
the thin tinkle of the piano just as the colour of the blond hair, the
delicate passages of green-grey and green, come through the black and
white of the photograph. Truly a beautiful thing! But "Before the
Mirror" reflects perhaps a deeper beauty. The influence of that
strange man, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, is sufficiently plain in this
picture. He who could execute hardly at all in paint, and whose verse
is Italian, though the author wrote and spoke no language but English,
foisted the character of his genius upon all the poetry and painting
of his generation. It is as present in this picture as it is in
Swinburne's first volume of Poems and Ballads. Mr. Whistler took the
type of woman and the sentiment of the picture from Rossetti; he saw
that even in painting Rossetti had something to say, and, lest an
artistic thought should be lost to the world through inadequate
expression, he painted this picture. He did not go on painting
pictures in the Rossetti sentiment, because he thought he had
exhausted Rossetti in one picture. In this he was possibly mistaken,
but the large, white, indolent shoulders, misshapen, almost grotesque
in original Rossettis, are here in beautiful prime and plenitude; the
line of the head and neck, the hair falling over the stooped shoulder
--a sensuous dream it is; all her body's beauty, to borrow a phrase
from Rossetti, is in that white dress; and the beauty of the arm in
its full white sleeve lies along the white chimney-piece, the fingers
languidly open: two fallen over the edge, two touching the blue vase.
Note how beautiful is the placing of this figure in the picture; how
the golden head shines, high up in the right-hand corner, and the
white dress and white-sleeved arms fill the picture with an exquisite
music of proportion. The dress cuts against the black grate, and the
angle of black is the very happiest; it is brightened with pink sprays
of azaleas, and they seem to whisper the very enchanted bloom of their
life into the picture. Never did Dutch or Japanese artist paint
flowers like these. And the fluent music of the painting seems only to
enforce the languor and reverie which this canvas exhales: the languor
of white dress and gold hair; languor and golden reverie float in the
mirror like a sunset in placid waters. The profile in full light is
thrilled with grief of present hours; the full face half lost in
shadow, far away--a ghost of a dead self--is dreaming with half-closed
eyes, unmindful of what may be. By her mirror, gowned in white as if
for dreams, she watches life flowing past her, and she knows of no use
to make of it.


Raphael was a great designer, but there are a purity and a passion in
Ingres' line for the like of which we have to go back to the Greeks.
Apelles could not have realised more exquisite simplifications, could
not have dreamed into any of his lost works a purer soul of beauty
than Ingres did into the head, arms, and torso of "La Source". The
line that floats about the muscles of an arm is illusive, evanescent,
as an evening-tinted sky; and none except the Greeks and Ingres have
attained such mystery of line: not Raphael, not even Michael Angelo in
the romantic anatomies of his stupendous creations. Ingres was a
Frenchman animated by the soul of an ancient Greek, an ancient Greek
who lost himself in Japan. There is as much mystery in Ingres' line as
in Rembrandt's light and shade. The arms and wrists and hands of the
lady seated among the blue cushions in the Louvre are as illusive as
any one of Mr. Whistler's "Nocturnes". The beautiful "Andromeda", head
and throat leaned back almost out of nature, wild eyes and mass of
heavy hair, long white arms uplifted, chained to the basalt,--how rare
the simplifications, those arms, that body, the straight flanks and
slender leg advancing,--are made of lines simple and beautiful as
those which in the Venus of Milo realise the architectural beauty of
woman. We shrink from such comparison, for perforce we see that the
grandeur of the Venus is not in the Andromeda: but in both is the same
quality of beauty. In the drawing for the odalisque, in her long back,
wonderful as a stem of woodbine, there is the very same love of form
which a Greek expressed with the benign ease of a god speaking his
creation through the harmonious universe.

But the pure, unconscious love of form, inherited from the Greeks,
sometimes turned to passion in Ingres: not in "La Source", she is
wholly Greek; but in the beautiful sinuous back of the odalisque we
perceive some of the exasperation of nerves which betrays our century.
If Phidias' sketches had come down to us, the margin filled with his
hesitations, we should know more of his intimate personality. You
notice, my dear reader, how intolerant I am of criticism of my idol,
how I repudiate any slight suggestion of imperfection, how I turn upon
myself and defend my god. Before going to bed, I often stand, candle
in hand, before the Roman lady and enumerate the adorable perfections
of the drawing. I am aware of my weakness, I have pleaded guilty to an
idolatrous worship, but, if I have expressed myself as I intended, my
great love will seem neither vain nor unreasonable. For surely for
quality of beautiful line this man stands nearer to the Greeks than
any other.


"Ladies Under Trees". Not Japanese ladies walking under Japanese
trees--that is to say, trees peculiar to Japan, planted and fashioned
according to the mode of Japan--but merely ladies walking under trees.
True that the costumes are Japanese, the writing on the wall is in
Japanese characters, the umbrellas and the idol on the tray are
Japanese; universality is not attained by the simple device of
dressing the model in a sheet and eliminating all accessories that
might betray time and country; the great artist accepts the costume of
his time and all the special signs of his time, and merely by the
lovely exercise of genius the mere accidents of a generation become
the symbolic expression of universal sensation and lasting truths. Do
not ask me how this transformation is effected; it is the secret of
every great artist, a secret which he exercises unconsciously, and
which no critic has explained.

Looking at this yard of coloured print, I ask myself how it is that
ever since art began no such admirable result has been obtained with
means so slight. A few outlines drawn with pen and ink or pencil, and
the interspaces filled in with two flat tints-a dark green, and a grey
verging on mauve.

The drawing of the figures is marvellously beautiful. But why is it
beautiful? Is it because of the individual character represented in
the faces? The faces are expressed by means of a formula, and are as
like one another as a row of eggs. Are the proportions of the figure
correctly measured, and are the anatomies well understood? The figures
are in the usual proportions so far as the number of heads is
concerned: they are all from six and a half to seven heads high; but
no motion of limbs happens under the draperies, and the hands and
feet, like the faces, are expressed by a set of arbitrary conventions.
It is not even easy to determine whether the posture of the woman on
the right is intended for sitting or kneeling. She holds a tray, on
which is an idol, and to provide sufficient balance for the
composition the artist has placed a yellow umbrella in the idol's
hand. Examine this design from end to end, and nowhere will you find
any desire to imitate nature. With a line Utamaro expresses all that
he deems it necessary to express of a face's contour. Three or four
conventional markings stand for eyes, mouth, and ears; no desire to
convey the illusion of a rounded surface disturbed his mind for a
moment; the intention of the Japanese artists was merely to decorate a
surface with line and colour. It was no part of their scheme to
compete with nature, so it could not occur to them to cover one side
of a face with shadow. The Japanese artists never thought to deceive;
the art of deception they left to their conjurers. The Japanese artist
thought of harmony, not of accuracy of line, and of harmony, not of
truth of colour; it was therefore impossible for him to entertain the
idea of shading his drawings, and had some one whispered the idea to
him he would have answered: "The frame will always tell people that
they are not looking at nature. You would have it all heavy and black,
but I want something light, and bright, and full of beauty. See these
lines, are they not in themselves beautiful? are they not sharp,
clear, and flowing, according to the necessity of the composition? Are
not the grey and the dark green sufficiently contrasted? do they not
bring to your eyes a sense of repose and unity? Look at the
embroideries on the dresses, are they not delicate? do not the
star-flowers come in the right place? is not the yellow in harmony
with the grey and the green? And the blossoms on the trees, are they
not touched in with the lightness of hand and delicacy of tone that
you desire? Step back and see if the spots of colour and the effects
of line become confused, or if they still hold their places from a
distance as well as close...."

Ladies under trees, by Utamaro! That grey-green design alternated with
pale yellow corresponds more nearly to a sonata by Mozart than to
anything else; both are fine decorations, musical and pictorial
decorations, expressing nothing more definite than that sense of
beauty which haunts the world. The fields give flowers, and the hands
of man works of art.

Then this art is wholly irresponsible--it grows, obeying no rules,
even as the flowers?

In obedience to the laws of some irregular metre so delicate and
subtle that its structure escapes our analysis, the flowers bloom in
faultless, flawless, and ever-varying variety. We can only say these
are beautiful because they are beautiful....

That is begging the question.

He who attempts to go to the root of things always finds himself
begging the question in the end....

But you have to admit that a drawing that does not correspond to the
object which the artist has set himself to copy cannot be well drawn.

That idea is the blight that has fallen on European art. The goodness
or the badness of a drawing exists independently of the thing copied.
We say--speaking of a branch, of a cloud, of a rock, of a flower, of a
leaf--how beautifully drawn! Some clouds and some leaves are better
drawn than others, not on account of complexity or simplicity of form,
but because they interpret an innate sense of harmony inherent in us.
And this natural drawing, which exists sometimes irrespective of
anatomies and proportions, is always Utamaro's.

I do not know how long I stood examining this beautiful drawing,
studying the grey and the green tint, admiring the yellow flowers on
the dresses, wondering at the genius that placed the yellow umbrella
in the idol's hand, the black masses of hair above the faces, so
charmingly decorated with great yellow hair-pins. I watched the beauty
of the trees, and was moved by the placing of the trees in the
composition, and I delighted in the delicate blossoms. I was enchanted
by all this bright and gracious paganism which Western civilisation
has already defaced, and in a few years will have wholly destroyed.

I might describe more prints, and the pleasure they have given me; I
might pile epithet upon epithet; I might say that the colour was as
deep and as delicate as flower-bloom, and every outline spontaneous,
and exquisite to the point of reminding me of the hopbine and ferns.
It would be well to say these things; the praise would be appropriate
to the occasion; but rather am I minded to call the reader's attention
to what seems to me to be an essential difference between the East and
the West.

Michael Angelo and Velasquez, however huge their strength in
portraiture and decoration, however sublime Veronese and Tintoretto in
magnificent display of colour, we must perforce admit to Oriental art
a refinement of thought and a delicacy of handicraft--the outcome of
the original thought--which never was attained by Italy, and which so
transcends our grosser sense that it must for ever remain only half
perceived and understood by us.


Before commenting on the very thoughtless utterances of two
distinguished men, I think I must--even at the risk of appearing to
attach over-much importance to my criticisms--reprint what I said
about _L'Absinthe_; for in truth it was I who first meddled with
the moral tap, and am responsible for the overflow:--

    "Look at the head of the old Bohemian--the engraver Deboutin--a man
    whom I have known all my life, and yet he never really existed for
    me until I saw this picture. There is the hat I have always known,
    on the back of his head as I have always seen it, and the wooden
    pipe is held tight in his teeth as I have always seen him hold it.
    How large, how profound, how simple the drawing! How easily and
    how naturally he lives in the pose, the body bent forward, the
    elbows on the table! Fine as the Orchardson undoubtedly is, it seems
    fatigued and explanatory by the side of this wonderful rendering of
    life; thin and restless--like Dumas fils' dialogue when we compare
    it with Ibsen's. The woman that sits beside the artist was at the
    Elysée Montmartre until two in the morning, then she went to the
    _ratmort_ and had a soupe _aux choux_; she lives in the
    Rue Fontaine, or perhaps the Rue Breda; she did not get up till
    half-past eleven; then she tied a few soiled petticoats round her,
    slipped on that peignoir, thrust her feet into those loose morning
    shoes, and came down to the café to have an absinthe before breakfast.
    Heavens! what a slut! A life of idleness and low vice is upon her
    face; we read there her whole life. _The tale is not a pleasant one,
    but it is a lesson_. Hogarth's view was larger, wider, but not so
    incisive, so deep, or so intense. Then how loose and general Hogarth's
    composition would seem compared to this marvellous epitome, this
    essence of things! That open space in front of the table, into which
    the skirt and the lean legs of the man come so well--how well the
    point of view was selected! The beautiful, dissonant rhythm of that
    composition is like a page of Wagner--the figures crushed into the
    right of the canvas, the left filled up with a fragment of marble
    table running in sharp perspective into the foreground. The newspaper
    lies as it would lie across the space between the tables. The colour,
    almost a monochrome, is very beautiful, a deep, rich harmony. More
    marvellous work the world never saw, and will never see again: a maze
    of assimilated influences, strangely assimilated, and eluding
    definition--remembrances of Watteau and the Dutch painters, a good
    deal of Ingres' spirit, and, in the vigour of the arabesque, we may
    perhaps trace the influence of Poussin. But these influences float
    evanescent on the canvas, and the reading is difficult and

I have written many a negligent phrase, many a stupid phrase, but the
italicised phrase is the first hypocritical phrase I ever wrote. I
plead guilty to the grave offence of having suggested that a work of
art is more than a work of art. The picture is only a work of art, and
therefore void of all ethical signification. In writing the abominable
phrase "_but it is a lesson_" I admitted as a truth the ridiculous
contention that a work of art may influence a man's moral conduct; I
admitted as a truth the grotesque contention that to read _Mdlle. de
Maupin_ may cause a man to desert his wife, whereas to read _Paradise
Lost_ may induce him to return to her. In the abominable phrase which
I plead guilty to having written, I admitted the monstrous contention
that our virtues and our vices originate not in our inherited natures,
but are found in the books we read and the pictures we look upon. That
art should be pure is quite another matter, and the necessity of
purity in art can be maintained for other than ethical reasons. Art--I
am speaking now of literature--owes a great deal to ethics, but
ethics owes nothing to art. Without morality the art of the novelist
and the dramatist would cease. So we are more deeply interested in the
preservation of public morality than any other class--the clergy, of
course, excepted. To accuse us of indifference in this matter is
absurd. We must do our best to keep up a high standard of public
morality; our living depends upon it--and it would be difficult to
suggest a more powerful reason for our advocacy. Nevertheless, by a
curious irony of fate we must preserve--at least, in our books--a
distinctly impartial attitude on the very subject which most nearly
concerns our pockets.

To remove these serious disabilities should be our serious aim. It
might be possible to enter into some arrangement with the bishops to
allow us access to the pulpits. Mr. So-and so's episcopal style--I
refer not only to this gentleman's writings, but also to his style of
figure, which, on account of the opportunities it offers for a display
of calf, could not fail to win their lordships' admiration--marks him
as the proper head and spokesman of the deputation; and his well-known
sympathies for the pecuniary interests of authors would enable him to
explain that not even their lordships' pockets were so gravely
concerned in the maintenance of public morality as our own.

I have allowed my pen to wander somewhat from the subject in hand; for
before permitting myself to apologise for having hypocritically
declared a great picture to be what it was not, and could not be--"a
lesson"--it was clearly incumbent on me to show that the moral
question was the backbone of the art which I practise myself, and that
of all classes none are so necessarily moral as novelists. I think I
have done this beyond possibility of disproof, or even of argument,
and may therefore be allowed to lament my hypocrisy with as many tears
and groans as I deem sufficient for the due expiation of my sin.
Confession eases the heart. Listen. My description of Degas' picture
seemed to me a little unconventional, and to soothe the reader who is
shocked by everything that lies outside his habitual thought, and to
dodge the reader who is always on the watch to introduce a discussion
on that sterile subject, "morality in art", to make things pleasant
for everybody, to tickle the Philistine in his tenderest spot, I told
a little lie: I suggested that some one had preached. I ought to have
known human nature better--what one dog does another dog will do, and
straight away preaching began--Zola and the drink question from Mr.
Richmond, sociology from Mr. Crane.

But the picture is merely a work of art, and has nothing to do with
drink or sociology; and its title is not _L' Absinthe_, nor even _Un
Homme et une Femme assis dans un Café_, as Mr. Walter Sickert
suggests, but simply _Au Café_. Mr. Walter Crane writes: "Here is a
study of human degradation, male and female." Perhaps Mr. Walter Crane
will feel inclined to apologise for his language when he learns that
the man who sits tranquilly smoking his pipe is a portrait of the
engraver Deboutin, a man of great talent and at least Mr. Walter
Crane's equal as a writer and as a designer. True that M. Deboutin
does not dress as well as Mr. Walter Crane, but there are many young
men in Pall Mall who would consider Mr. Crane's velvet coat, red
necktie, and soft felt hat quite intolerable, yet they would hardly be
justified in speaking of a portrait of Mr. Walter Crane as a study of
human degradation. Let me assure Mr. Walter Crane that when he speaks
of M. Deboutin's life as being degraded, he is speaking on a subject
of which he knows nothing. M. Deboutin has lived a very noble life, in
no way inferior to Mr. Crane's; his life has been entirely devoted to
art and literature; his etchings have been for many years the
admiration of artistic Paris, and he has had a play in verse performed
at the Théâtre Français.

The picture represents M. Deboutin in the café of the _Nouvelle
Athènes_ He has come down from his studio for breakfast, and he will
return to his dry-points when he has finished his pipe. I have known
M. Deboutin a great number of years, and a more sober man does not
exist; and Mr. Crane's accusations of drunkenness might as well be
made against Mr. Bernard Shaw. When, hypocritically, I said the
picture was a lesson, I referred to the woman, who happens to be
sitting next to M. Deboutin. Mr. Crane, Mr. Richmond, and others have
jumped to the conclusion that M. Deboutin has come to the café with
the woman, and that they are "boozing" together. Nothing can be
farther from the truth. Deboutin always came to the café alone, as did
Manet, Degas, Duranty. Deboutin is thinking of his dry-points; the
woman is incapable of thought. If questioned about her life she would
probably answer, _"je suis à la coule"_. But there is no implication
of drunkenness in the phrase. In England this class of woman is
constantly drunk, in France hardly ever; and the woman Degas has
painted is typical of her class, and she wears the habitual expression
of her class. And the interest of the subject, from Degas' point of
view, lies in this strange contrast--the man thinking of his
dry-points, the woman thinking, as the phrase goes, of nothing at all.
_Au Café_--that is the title of the picture. How simple, how
significant! And how the picture gains in meaning when the web of
false melodrama that a couple of industrious spiders have woven about
it is brushed aside!

I now turn to the more interesting, and what I think will prove the
more instructive, part of my task--the analysis of the art criticism
of Mr. Richmond and Mr. Crane.

Mr. Richmond says "it is not painting at all". We must understand
therefore that the picture is void of all accomplishment--composition,
drawing, and handling. We will take Mr. Richmond's objections in their
order. The subject-matter out of which the artist extracted his
composition was a man and woman seated in a café furnished with marble
tables. The first difficulty the artist had to overcome was the
symmetry of the lines of the tables. Not only are they exceedingly
ugly from all ordinary points of view, but they cut the figures in
two. The simplest way out of the difficulty would be to place one
figure on one side of a table, the other on the other side, and this
composition might be balanced by a waiter seen in the distance. That
would be an ordinary arrangement of the subject. But the ingenuity
with which Degas selects his point of view is without parallel in the
whole history of art. And this picture is an excellent example. One
line of tables runs up the picture from left to right, another line of
tables, indicated by three parts of one table, strikes right across
the foreground. The triangle thus formed is filled by the woman's
dress, which is darker than the floor and lighter than the leather
bench on which both figures are seated. Looking still more closely
into the composition, we find that it is made of several perspectives
--the dark perspective of the bench, the light perspective of the
partition behind, on which the light falls, and the rapid perspective
of the marble table in the foreground. The man is high up on the
right-hand corner, the woman is in the middle of the picture, and
Degas has been careful to place her in front of the opening between
the tables, for by so doing he was able to carry his half-tint right
through the picture. The empty space on the left, so characteristic of
Degas's compositions, admirably balances the composition, and it is
only relieved by the stone matchbox, and the newspaper thrown across
the opening between the tables. Everywhere a perspective, and these
are combined with such strange art that the result is synthetic. A
beautiful dissonant rhythm, always symphonic _coulant longours de
source_; an exasperated vehemence and a continual desire of novelty
penetrated and informed by a severely classical spirit--that is my
reading of this composition.

"The qualities admired by this new school are certainly the mirrors of
that side of the nineteenth-century development most opposed to fine
painting, or, say, fine craftsmanship. Hurry, rush, fashion, are the
enemies of toil, patience, and seclusion, without which no great works
are produced. Hence the admiration for an art fully answering to a
demand. No doubt impressionism is an expression in painting of the
deplorable side of modern life."

After "forty years of the study of the best art of various schools
that the galleries of Europe display", Mr. Richmond mistakes Degas for
an impressionist (I use the word in its accepted sense); he follows
the lead of the ordinary art critic who includes Degas among the
impressionists because Degas paints dancing lessons, and because he
has once or twice exhibited with Monet and his followers. The best
way--possibly the only way--to obtain any notion of the depth of the
abyss on which we stand will be by a plain statement of the facts.

When Ingres fell down in the fit from which he never recovered, it was
Degas who carried him out of his studio. Degas had then been working
with Ingres only a few months, but that brief while convinced Ingres
of his pupil's genius, and it is known that he believed that it would
be Degas who would carry on the classical tradition of which he was a
great exponent. Degas has done this, not as Flandren tried to, by
reproducing the externality of the master's work, but as only a man of
genius could, by the application of the method to new material.
Degas's early pictures, "The Spartan Youths" and "Semiramis building
the Walls of Babylon". are pure Ingres. To this day Degas might be
very fairly described as _un petit Ingres_. Do we not find Ingres'
penetrating and intense line in the thin straining limbs of Degas's
ballet-girls, in the heavy shoulders of his laundresses bent over the
ironing table, and in the coarse forms of his housewives who sponge
themselves in tin baths? The vulgar, who see nothing of a work of art
but its external side, will find it difficult to understand that the
art of "La Source" and of Degas's cumbersome housewives is the same.
To the vulgar, Bouguereau and not Degas is the interpreter of the
classical tradition.

'Hurry, rush, fashion, are the enemies of toil, patience, and
seclusion, without which no great works are produced.'

For the sake of his beloved drawing Degas has for many years locked
himself into his studio from early morning till late at night,
refusing to open even to his most intimate friends. Coming across him
one morning in a small café, where he went at midday to eat a cutlet,
I said, "My dear friend, I haven't seen you for years; when may I
come?" The answer I received was: "You're an old friend, and if you'll
make an appointment I'll see you. But I may as well tell you that for
the last two years no one has been in my studio." On the whole it is
perhaps as well that I declined to make an appointment, for another
old friend who went, and who stayed a little longer than he was
expected to stay, was thrown down the staircase. And that staircase is
spiral, as steep as any ladder. Until he succeeded in realising his
art Degas's tongue was the terror of artistic Paris; his solitary
days, the strain on the nerves that the invention and composition of
his art, so entirely new and original, entailed, wrecked his temper,
and there were moments when his friends began to dread the end that
his striving might bring about. But with the realisation of his
artistic ideal his real nature returned, and he is now full of kind
words for the feeble, and full of indulgence for the slightest
artistic effort.

The story of these terrible years of striving is written plainly
enough on every canvas signed by Degas; yet Mr. Richmond imagines him
skipping about airily from café to café, dashing off little
impressions. In another letter Mr. Richmond says, 'Perfect
craftsmanship, such as was Van Eyck's, Holbein's, Bellini's, Michael
Angelo's, becomes more valuable as time goes on.' It is interesting to
hear that Mr. Richmond admires Holbein's craftsmanship, but it will be
still more interesting if he will explain how and why the head of the
old Bohemian in the picture entitled "L'Absinthe" is inferior to
Holbein. The art of Holbein, as I understand it--and if I do not
understand it rightly I shall be delighted to have my mistake
explained to me--consists of measurements and the power of observing
and following an outline with remorseless precision. Now Degas in his
early manner was frequently this. His portrait of his father listening
to Pagan singing whilst he accompanied himself on the guitar is pure
Holbein. Whether it is worse or better than Holbein is a matter of
individual opinion; but to affect to admire Holbein and to decline to
admire the portrait I speak of is--well, incomprehensible. The
portrait of Deboutin in the picture entitled "L'Absinthe" is a later
work, and is not quite so nearly in the manner of Holbein; but it is
quite nearly enough to allow me to ask Mr. Richmond to explain how,
and why it is inferior to Holbein. Inferior is not the word I want,
for Mr. Richmond holds Holbein to be one of the greatest painters the
world ever knew, and Degas to be hardly a painter at all.

For three weeks the pens of art critics, painters, designers, and
engravers have been writing about this picture--about this rough
Bohemian who leans over the café table with his wooden pipe fixed fast
between his teeth, with his large soft felt hat on the back of his
head, upheld there by a shock of bushy hair, with his large battered
face grown around with scanty, unkempt beard, illuminated by a fixed
and concentrated eye which tells us that his thoughts are in pursuit
of an idea--about one of the finest specimens of the art of this
century--and what have they told us? Mr. Richmond mistakes the work
for some hurried sketch--impressionism--and practically declares the
painting to be worthless. Mr. Walter Crane says it is only fit for a
sociological museum or for an illustrated tract in a temperance
propaganda; he adds some remarks about "a new Adam and Eve and a
paradise of unnatural selection" which escape my understanding. An
engraver said that the picture was a vulgar subject vulgarly painted.
Another set of men said the picture was wonderful, extraordinary,
perfect, complete, excellent. But on neither side was any attempt made
to explain why the picture was bad or why the picture was excellent.
The picture is excellent, but why is it excellent? Because the scene
is like a real scene passing before your eyes? Because nothing has
been omitted that might have been included, because nothing has been
included that might have been omitted? Because the painting is clear,
smooth, and limpid and pleasant to the eye? Because the colour is
harmonious, and though low in tone, rich and strong? Because each face
is drawn in its distinctive lines, and each tells the tale of
instincts and of race? Because the clothing is in its accustomed folds
and is full of the individuality of the wearer? We look on this
picture and we ask ourselves how it is that amongst the tens and
hundreds of thousands of men who have painted men and women in their
daily occupations, habits, and surroundings, no one has said so much
in so small a space, no one has expressed himself with that simplicity
which draws all veils aside, and allows us to look into the heart of

Where is the drawing visible except in the result? How beautifully
concise it is, and yet it is large, supple, and true without excess of
reality. Can you detect anywhere a measurement? Do you perceive a
base, a fixed point from which the artist calculated and compared his
drawing? That hat, full of the ill-usage of the studio, hanging on the
shock of bushy hair, the perspective of those shoulders, and the round
of the back, determining the exact width and thickness of the body,
the movement of the arm leaning on the table, and the arm perfectly in
the sleeve, and the ear and the shape of the neck hidden in the shadow
of the hat and hair, and the battered face, sparely sown with an
ill-kempt beard, illuminated by a fixed look which tells us that his
thoughts are in pursuit of an idea--this old Bohemian smoking his
pipe, does he not seem to have grown out of the canvas as naturally
and mysteriously as a herb or plant? By the side of this drawing do
not all the drawings in the gallery of English, French, Belgian, and
Scandinavian seem either childish, ignorant-timed, or presumptuous? By
the side of this picture do not all the other pictures in the gallery
seem like little painted images?

Compared with this drawing, would not Holbein seem a little
geometrical? Again I ask if you can detect in any outline or accent a
fixed point from whence the drawing was measured, calculated, and
constructed. In the drawing of all the other painters you trace the
method and you take note of the knowledge through which the model has
been seen and which has, as it were, dictated to the eye what it
should see. But in Degas the science of the drawing is hidden from
us--a beautiful flexible drawing almost impersonal, bending to and
following the character, as naturally as the banks follow the course
of their river.

I stop, although I have not said everything. To complete my study of
this picture we should have to examine that smooth, clean, supple
painting of such delicate and yet such a compact tissue; we should
have to study that simple expressive modelling; we should have to
consider the resources of that palette, reduced almost to a monochrome
and yet so full of colour. I stop, for I think I have said enough to
rouse if not to fully awaken suspicion in Mr. Richmond and Mr. Crane
of the profound science concealed in a picture about which I am afraid
they have written somewhat thoughtlessly.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the midst of a somewhat foolish and ignorant argument regarding the
morality and the craftsmanship of a masterpiece, the right of the new
art criticism to adversely criticise the work of Royal Academicians
has been called into question. I cull the following from the columns
of the _Westminster Gazette_;--

'Their words are practically the same; their praise and blame are
similarly inspired; the means they employ to gain their object
identical. So much we can see for ourselves. As for their object and
their _bona-fides_, they concern me not. It is what they do, not what
they are, that is the question here. What they do is to form a caucus
in art criticism, and owing to their vehemence and the limitation of
their aim, a caucus which is increasing in influence, and, to the best
of my belief, doing cruel injustice to many great artists, and much
injury to English art. It is for this reason, and this reason only,
that I have taken up my parable on the subject. I have in vain
endeavoured to induce those whose words would come with far greater
authority than mine to do so. I went personally to the presidents of
the two greatest artistic bodies in the kingdom to ask them to speak
or write on the subject, but I found their view to be that such action
would be misconstrued, and would in their position be unbecoming.'

The meaning of all this is that the ferret is in the hole and the rats
have begun to squeak already. Soon they will come hopping out of St.
John's Wood Avenue, so make ready your sticks and stones.

In April 1892 I wrote: 'The position of the Academy is as impregnable
as Gibraltar. But Gibraltar itself was once captured by a small
company of resolute men, and if ever there exist in London six
resolute art critics, each capable of distinguishing between a bad
picture and a good one, each determined at all costs to tell the
truth, and if these six critics will keep in line, then, and not till
then, some of the reforms so urgently needed, and so often demanded
from the Academy, will be granted. I do not mean that these six
critics will bring the Academicians on their knees by writing
fulminating articles on the Academy. Such attacks were as idle as
whistling for rain on the house-tops. The Academicians laugh at such
attacks, relying on the profound indifference of the public to
artistic questions. But there is another kind of attack which the
Academicians may not ignore, and that is true criticism. If six
newspapers were to tell the simple truth about the canvases which the
Academicians will exhibit next month, the Academicians would soon cry
out for quarter and grant all necessary reforms.'

I have only now to withdraw the word "reform". The Academy cannot
reform, and must be destroyed. The Academy has tried to reform, and
has failed. Thirty years ago the pre-Raphaelite movement nearly
succeeded in bringing about an effectual shipwreck. But when Mr.
Holman Hunt went to Italy, special terms were offered and accepted.
The election of Millais and Watts saved the Academy, and instead of
the Academy, it was the genius of one of England's greatest painters
that was destroyed. "Ophelia", "Autumn Leaves", and "St. Agnes' Eve"
are pictures that will hold their own in any gallery among pictures of
every age and every country. But fathomless is the abyss which
separates them from Sir John Millais' academic work.

The Academy is a distinctly commercial enterprise. Has not Sir John
Millais said, in an interview, that the hanging committee at
Burlington House selects the pictures that will draw the greatest
number of shillings. The Academy has been subventioned by the State to
the extent of three hundred thousand pounds, and that money has been
employed in arrogant commercialism. The Academy holds a hundred
thousand pounds in trust, left by Mr. Chantry for the furtherance of
art in this country; and this money is spent on the purchase of
pictures by impecunious Academicians, and the collection formed with
this money is one of the seven horrors of civilisation. The Academy
has tolerated genius when it was popular, it has trampled upon genius
when it was unpopular; and the business of the new art criticism is to
rid art of the incubus. The Academy must be destroyed, and when that
is accomplished the other Royal institutes will follow as a matter of
course. The object of the new art criticism is to give free trade to


Come to the New Gallery. We shall pass out of sight of flat dreary
London, drab-coloured streets full of overcoats, silk hats, dripping
umbrellas, omnibuses. We shall pass out of sight of long perspectives
of square houses lost in fine rain and grey mist. We shall enter an
enchanted land, a land of angels and aureoles; of crimson and gold,
and purple raiment; of beautiful youths crowned with flowers; of
fabulous blue landscape and delicate architecture. Know ye the land?
Botticelli is king there, king of clasped hands and almond-eyed
Madonnas. It was he who conceived and designed that enigmatic Virgin's
face; it was he who placed that long-fingered hand on the thigh of the
Infant God; it was he who coiled that heavy hair about that triangle
of neck and interwove it with pearls; it was he who drew the graceful
lace over the head-dress, and painted it in such innumerable delicacy
of fold that we wonder and are fain to believe that it is but the
magic of an instant's hallucination. Know ye the land? Filippo Lippi
is prince there, prince of angel youths, fair hair crowned with fair
flowers; they stand round a tall throne with strings of coral and
precious stones in their hands. It was Filippo Lippi who composed that
palette of grey soft pearly pink; it was he who placed that beautiful
red in the right-hand corner, and carried it with such enchanting
harmony through the yellow raiment of the angel youth, echoing it in a
subdued key in the vesture which the Virgin wears under her blue
garment, and by means of the red coral which decorates the tall throne
he carried it round the picture; it was he, too, who filled those
angel eyes with passion such as awakens in heaven at the touch of
wings, at the sound of citherns and cintoles.

Know ye the land where Botticelli and Filippo Lippi dreamed immortal
dreams? Know ye the land, Italy in the fifteenth century? Exquisite
angel faces were their visions by day and night, and their thoughts
were mystic landscapes and fantastic architecture; aureoles, roses,
pearls, and rich embroideries were parcel of their habitual sense; and
the decoration of a surface with beautiful colour was their souls'
desire. Of truth of effect and local colour they knew nothing, and
cared nothing. Beauty for beauty's sake was the first article of their
faith. They measured a profile with relentless accuracy, and followed
its outline unflinchingly, their intention was no more than to produce
a likeness of the lady who sat posing for her portrait, but some
miracle saved them from base naturalism. The humblest, equally with
the noblest dreamer, was preserved from it; and that their eyes
naturally saw more beautifully than ours seems to be the only
explanation. Ugliness must have always existed; but Florentine eyes
did not see ugliness. Or did their eyes see it, and did they disdain
it? Do they owe their art to a wise festheticism, or to a fortunate
limitation of sight? These are questions that none may answer, but
which rise up in our mind and perplex us when we enter the New
Gallery; for verily it would seem, from the dream pictures there, that
a time once existed upon earth when the world was fair as a garden,
and life was a happy aspiration. In the fifteenth century the world
seems to have been made of gold, jewellery, pictures, embroidered
stuffs, statues, and engraved weapons; in the fifteenth century the
world seems to have been inhabited only by nobles and prelates; and
the only buildings that seem to have existed were palaces and
cathedrals. Then Art seemed for all men, and life only for
architecture, painting, carving, and engraving long rapiers; and
length of time for monks to illuminate great missals in the happy
solitude of their cells, and for nuns to weave embroideries and to
stitch jewelled vestments.

The Florentines loved their children as dearly as we do ours; but in
their pictures there is but the Divine Child. They loved girls and
gallantries as well as we do; but in their pictures there are but the
Virgin and a few saints.

History tells us that wars, massacres, and persecutions were frequent
in the fifteenth century; but in its art we learn no more of the
political than we do of the domestic life of the century. The Virgin
and Child were sufficient inspiration for hundreds of painters. Now
she is in full-face, now in three-quarter face, now in profile. In
this picture she wears a blue cloak, in that picture she is clad in a
grey. She is alone with the Child in a bower of tall roses, or she is
seated on a high throne. Perhaps the painter has varied the
composition by the introduction of St. John leaning forward with
clasped hands; or maybe he has introduced a group of angels, as
Filippo Lippi has done. The throne is sometimes high, sometimes low;
but such slight alteration is enough for a new picture. And several
generations of painters seem to have lived and died believing that
their art was to all practical and artistic purposes limited to the
continual variation of this theme.

Among these painters Botticelli was the incontestable master; but
about him crowd hundreds of pictures, pictures rather than names.
Imagine a number of workmen anxious to know how they should learn to
paint well, to paint with brilliancy, with consistency, with ease, and
with lasting colours. Imagine a collection of gold ornaments, jewels,
and enamels, in which we can detect the skill of the goldsmith, of the
painter of stained-glass, of the engraver, and of the illuminator of
missals; the inspiration is grave and monastic, the destination a
palace or a cathedral, the effect dazzling; and out of this miraculous
handicraft Filippo Lippi is always distinct, soft as the dawn,
mysterious as a flower, less vigorous but more illusive than
Botticelli, and so strangely personal that while looking at him we are

To differentiate between the crowd of workmen that surrounded Filippo
Lippi and Botticelli were impossible. They painted beautiful things
because they lived in an age in which ugliness hardly existed, or was
not as visible as it is now; they were content to merge their
personalities in an artistic formula; none sought to invent a
personality which did not exist in himself. Employing without question
a method of drawing and of painting that was common to all of them,
they worked in perfect sympathy, almost in collaboration. Plagiarism
was then a virtue; they took from each other freely; and the result is
a collective rather than individual inspirations. Now and then genius
breaks through, as a storm breaks a spell of summer weather. "The
Virgin and Child, with St. Clare and St. Agatha", lent by Mrs. Austin
and the trustees of the late J. T. Austin, is one of the most
beautiful pictures I have ever seen. The temperament of the painter,
his special manner of feeling and seeing, is strangely, almost
audaciously, affirmed in the mysterious sensuality of the angels'
faces; the painter lays bare a rare and remote corner of his soul;
something has been said that was never said before, and never has been
said so well since. But if the expression given to these angels is
distinctive, it is extraordinarily enhanced by the beauty of the
colour. Indeed, the harmony of the colour-scheme is inseparable from
the melodious expressiveness of the eyes. Look at the gesture of the
hand on the right; is not the association of ideas strangely intimate,
curious, and profound?

But come and let us look at a real Botticelli, a work which convinces
at the first glance by the extraordinary expressiveness of the
drawing, by the originality of the design, by the miraculous
handicraft; let us look at the "Virgin and Child and St. John", lent
by Messrs. Colnaghi.

It is a panel some 36 by 25 inches, almost filled by a life-size
three-quarter-length figure of the Virgin. She is seated on the right,
and holds the Infant Saviour in her arms. In the foreground on the
left there is a book and cushion, behind which St. John stands, his
hands clasped, bearing a cross. Never was a head designed with more
genius than that strange Virgin, ecstatic, mysterious, sphinx-like;
with half-closed eyes, she bends her face to meet her God's kiss. In
this picture Botticelli sought to realise the awfulness of the
Christian mystery: the Mother leans to the kiss of her Son--her Son,
who is likewise her God, and her brain is dim with its ecstasy. She is
perturbed and overcome; the kiss is in her brain, and it trembles on
her lips. You who have not seen the picture will think that this
description is but the tale of the writer who reads his fancies into
the panel before him. But the intention of the painter did not
outstrip the power of expression which his fingers held. He expressed
what I say he expressed, and more perfectly, more suggestively, than
any words. And how? It will be imagined that it was by means of some
illusive line that Botticelli rendered the very touch and breath of
this extraordinary kiss; by that illusive line which Degas employs in
his expressions of the fugitive and the evanescent. How great,
therefore, is our surprise when we look into the picture to find that
the mystery and ecstasy of this kiss are expressed by a hard, firm,
dark line.

And the sensation of this strange ecstatic kiss pervades the entire
composition; it is embodied in the hand placed so reverently on the
thigh of the Infant God and in the eyes of St. John, who watches the
divine mystery which is being accomplished. On St. John's face there
is earthly reverence and awe; on Christ's face, though it is drawn in
rigid outline, though it looks as if it were stamped out of iron,
there is universal love, cloudlike and ineffable; and Christ's knees
are drawn close, and the hand of the Virgin holds them close; and
through the hand come bits of draperies exquisitely designed. Indeed,
the distribution of line through the picture is as perfect as the
distribution of colour; the form of the blue cloak is as perfect as
the colour, and the green cape falls from the shoulder, satisfying
both senses; the crimson vesture which she wears underneath her cloak
is extraordinarily pure, and balances the crimson cloak which St. John
wears. But these beauties are subordinate to the beauty of the
Virgin's head. How grand it is in style! How strange and enigmatic!
And in the design of that head Botticelli has displayed all his skill.
The fair hair is covered with delicate gauze edged with lace, and
overcoming the difficulties of that most rebellious of all
mediums--tempera!--his brush worked over the surface, fulfilling his
slightest thought, realising all the transparency of gauze, the
intricacy of lace, the brightness of crimson silk, the very gravity of
the embossed binding of the book, the sway and texture of every
drapery, the gold of the tall cross, and the darker gold of the
aureole high up in the picture, set against a strip of Florentine sky.

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