"Fine Arts: Royal Academy." Athenaeum 1.1489 (10 May 1856): 589-590. Excerpts.

The exhibition this year, with no leading picture to rule it as undisputed monarch, resembles rather a happy republic, whose government is conducted by a body of citizens with equal rights and equal power. The Pre-Raphaelites are few in number, are not much more than usually schismatic, and aim more at breadth than even finish. . . .

The Scapegoat (396), by Mr. Hunt, is a picture from which much had been expected, not merely from the original feeling of that painter, but from its being a Scripture subject, and one, the scene of which is laid in a spot of prophetic and awful desolation, where it was actually painted. It was one of Wilkie's theories that Scripture scenes should be painted in the Holy Land,-a theory which Raphael and some others are quite sufficient to disprove. We do not, however, find fault with the desire of realization, which, at the present day either from a wish for novelty, or a tendency to idealized materialism, is grown almost a passion with our young artists and poets. The question is simply this,-here is a dying goat, which, as a mere goat, has no more interest for us than the sheep that furnished our yesterday's dinner-but it is a type of the Saviour, says Mr. Hunt, and quotes the Talmud. Here we join issue, for it is impossible to paint a goat, though its eye were upturned with human passion, that could explain any allegory or hidden type. The picture, allowing this, then, may be called a solemn, sternly-painted representation of a grand historical scene-predominant colours purple and yellow-with an appropriate animal in the foreground. We shudder, however, in anticipation of the dreamy fantasies and three-deep allegories which will be deduced from this figure of a goat in difficulties. Mr. Hunt has selected for the scene Oosdoom-a dreary spot on the shores of the Dead Sea, facing the purple mountains of Edom. On the crumbling shore, its forefeet sunk in the oozy salt-encrusted sand, stands the Scapegoat,-the scarlet fillet of the priest bound below its horns. The dry tongue hangs from its mouth, and its eye is glazed and filmed with the mist of a thirsty death. Though not swept in very boldly, brute grief was never more powerfully expressed. We need no bishops to tell us that the scene is eminently solemn. The still, sad, green sea is level over the dead; the salt, supernatural shore, crisp and splashy, is sodden and strewn with the horns of goats and the skeletons of camels, which throw ghastly ribbed reflections into briny pools; and beyond all, stretch the silent, uninhabited, purple mountains of Edom,-and, above all, the yellow-green sky, with its wafts and fragments of clouds. Still, the goat is but a goat, and we have no right to consider it an allegorical animal, of which it can bear no external marks. Of course, the salt may be sin, and the sea sorrow, and the clouds eternal rebuking of pride, and so on,-but we might spin these fancies from anything-from an old wall, a centaur's beard, or a given duck pool. For delicacy of detail, we should mention the love of painting displayed in the clefts of the mountains, which are photographically studied. Though the effects are strong with the green water and yellow sky, we do not quarrel with them, because they are probably strictly true to the scene, however strange and apparently unnatural.

The Cavalier and Puritan (413), by Mr. Burton, is the most remarkable Pre-Raphaelite picture in this year's Exhibition,-the most admirable and truthful in its details, and the most laborious, and yet broad in its execution. The scene is a wood, where, in the fern, pale and bleeding to death, lies a dying Cavalier supported in the arms of a Puritan lady,-pale, in her black hood and grey gown. He is watched by one of those limp, tall, ludicrous Puritans whom painters will caricature as "Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith Jackson," or "Backsliding Thompson." He has the face of Smike, and is much the worse for fast and penitence,-a broad black band runs across his shoulders, and under his arm is a pocket-companion, in the shape of a huge folio-probably, 'Crumbs of Comfort for Chickens of the Covenant.' He looks at the dying man with a reproachful and ascetic gaze. In a young beech-tree that intersects the picture is stuck the broken blade of the cavalier's sword, the hilt of which lies beside the gambler's hand;-a pack of cards, hearts trumps, that tells the tale, lies among the grass whitened by the night rain. A cobweb netting the sword to the tree shows that the gambler has been lying there perhaps since moonlight. Though this is an imaginative picture, we cannot say that it is remarkable for expression. The Puritan is simply imbecile, and the lady looks wildly out of the picture as if for help. The best point is the effort that the fallen duellist makes to see her face through his half-shut eyes, already dim with death. As for execution nothing can be more admirable-preserving true distance and breadth-than the lichened and mossy trunk of the beech, the mottled and shaken wall, the green darkness of the wood, the broom switches, the firs hung and jagged with moss,-or for dress, the texture of the lady's grey gown. The faces are rather monotonous in colour, and flat; and the gentleman's buff boots seem cut out of wainscot. This is distinctly a step forward with Pre-Raphaelitism, because it is a combination of Dutch detail and Italian breadth, in a modern poetical subject of the painter's own invention and one of universal passion and interest.

Mr. Millais must have been staying at the village which Goldsmith immortalizes as

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain;

for plain people in red hair seem this year his idiosyncrasy! About all his pictures there is a red-haired, inflammatory atmosphere, very eccentric and unpleasing. Though true to texture, his drawing is now frequently coarse and careless-his colour treacly and harsh-and his shadows are heavy and disturbed. As usual, he displays powers of original and poetical thought, but does not resort to violent contrasts or forced situations. He paints, as if in defiance of his opponents, much broader, and attempts to hit the popular taste by selecting subjects of the day-one picture being a war scene and another referring to the peace. His best and most original personation, his smallest and least cared for, is entitled The Child of the Regiment (553). The scene is an old church, which is defended by troops, perhaps during the French Revolution. There are grenadiers firing out of the great east window, and soldiers on ladders slanting their muskets through the barred mullions. On the left, we observe in the identical cocked-hat the turn-key of the 'Order of Release,'-but let this pass. Far away from this smoke, and cursing, and din, tired and faint, the Child of the Regiment sleeps on the quiet tomb of an old stone Crusader, whose fighting was long since over, and whose good sword was eaten away three centuries since by the cowardly rust. On his stone breast rests the child's curly head,-his bandaged arm shows it has been struck by a ruthless bullet. His leg dangle over the broken carved work of the monument's base. The tomb might be less like paper,-but for a sketch this does not matter. How cleverly this sets the imagination working. What kind-hearted, rough, black-handed soldier, grimy with powder, laid the child here in safety tenderly as a mother? What will be his fate?-will he be butchered by a rush of savages, or be led off in triumph to turn drummer at Marengo, or, to plod through ice and sand, to the Pyramids or Moscow? Very exquisite is this little gem of a thought. Would we could say as much of that disagreeable, pretentious Peace Concluded (200). The thought in this is commonplace. A Crimean officer, reading the Declaration of Peace, is congratulated by his wife (red hair again) and children (also decidedly auburn) on the announcement. One rather affected child, staring full at the spectator, holds up stiffly a dove with an olive-branch, which she has just picked out of a Noah's-ark which lies on the floor. Her sister, holding a medal, has arranged on he parent's lap a lion, bear, and turkey, as emblems of the treaty; upon which the father, a disagreeable looking man, with no particular expression, looks down at the three olive branches with approval. On his lap in, anatomically speaking, an unaccountable position, sits a languishing, insipid lady, in a chestnut-coloured gown, and hair, a great deal of it, to match. Of course, the wonderful tweed dressing-gown, the eccentric Scotch terrier, and other technicalities of very average execution, delight artistic householders who see such things daily and wonder to see them reproduced. For careless drawing we should select the left hand child's left hand, the fingers of which are gouty; for bad painting, the officer's face, with its hot, confused shadows; and for unsuccessful imitation, the child's arm seen through the sleeve. Autumn Leaves (448) is a galaxy of red-haired children burning a heap of poplar and sycamore leaves at sunset. Of course there is some deep meaning in the season, moment, and even in the red hair, but we do not see it. The way the blue smoke oozes and strains through the sappy and half-withered leaves is well remembered; the evening sky and the dark columns of the trees are poetical and natural; and the leaves are of very varies colour, but are painted in a tinted manner not very pleasing. The Blind Girl (586) is another study of red hair, and, really, coming after the rest, rather excites our gall. A blind girl in a spring field, with a rainbow in the sky, is, we need scarcely say, a pretty obvious poem, though not very original. We must protest, however, against sweetmeat rainbows of lollypop colours, raw green fields, and lace-up boots ostentatiously large. It is true, though the girl's face is not peculiarly calculated to excite compassion, it has that anxious supplicatory look peculiar to the blind. Once imagine the deprivation of the sense of light, and rainbows, flowers, &c. are included in the conception. The loss of such a landscape, however, with the rooks, donkeys, red tiles, &c., would not be the greatest of deprivations. The Portrait of a Gentleman (293) is a joke. It is a sketch of a staring, half-restless, red-cheeked boy, overhauling a volume of Mr. Leech's caricatures. The painting is not peculiarly industrious. Mr. Millais has not this year advanced. His thoughts are not yet strong enough to run alone, and cannot throw aside their stiff dress of technical excellencies.

One of the most thoughtful picture exhibited this year is Mr. Wallis's Chatterton (352),-a sad scene, full of pathos; though, perhaps, too sad for those whose path of life is softly carpetted [sic], and who shut their doors on all unpleasant realities. Perhaps in all literary history there is nothing so affecting as the death of this unhappy genius. His musings at his father's, the sexton's,-his long vigils in the room over the church-porch,-his short season of prosperity in London,-his reckless Grub-Street lampoonings,-and his sad suicide in the garret in Shoe Lane are full of sadness. With a little idealization of face and form, Mr. Wallis represents the dead poet, the poison-phial just slipped from his relaxed hand, stretched cold and stiff on a miserable pallet below a garret window, through whose horny, smoked panes, we see the careless city, crowned by the mountain dome that is for everlasting. This is the whole picture, the rest of the story being told by a candle just gone out, the blue stifling smoke of which curdles about the ceiling. By the bed-side is a chest full of torn poems,-for the proud lad, who would rather starve than share his landlady's dinner, spent his last moments in carefully destroying all he had written. In how many garrets have such scenes been enacted with the same great city hushed below, careless of the forms whose shadows fall upon its stones and pass away. Mr. Wallis has flattered Chatterton as to face, without doing him justice,-his great laughing eyes, rich flood of hair, and proud sullen mouth were worthy of the Apollo. The body is well drawn, and the satin coat and violet breeches for a pleasant unison of colour. Idealized as the face is it is excellently modelled, and its proportions are exquisite, and the effect of poison is conveyed in its blue lividness, without exciting disgust. Well may the spectator exclaim, with a sigh-

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,

And burned is Apollo's laurel bough.


This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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