"Fine Arts: National Institution of Fine Arts." Athenaeum 1225 (19 Apr. 1851), 434-435.

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Though the number of what may be called "furniture pictures" in the Portland Gallery be somewhat large, and though the new exhibiters [sic] seem generally too apt to form themselves after questionable models, in lieu of endeavouring to think and to paint for themselves,--the present may fairly be styled a pleasing Exhibition; establishing the National Institution as a formidable rival to more than one existing establishment.

Historical composition of a very high order was perhaps not to be expected,--nor will it here be found; unless we are to accept as such the "acts of faith" exhibited by the Pre-Raphaelite brethren, who seem fond of attitudinizing in this Exhibition-room,--and beyond devotional attitudinizing the expression of their pictures does not generally rise.--Mr. Collinson’s Incident in the Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (No. 177) is one of the most carefully treated works in the Exhibition, according to the canons of affectation and error above indicated. None of the figures are slighted--none of the details left unfinished. The moment chosen is that described in the Count de Montalembert’s life of the Saint,--at the Festival of the Assumption, "when Elizabeth, raising her eyes to the great crucifix, took off her crown, and prostrated herself at the foot of the Cross, while the Landgravine rebuked her rudely," and "the hatred of the Thuringian Court was inflamed" by this new overt profession of piety. Under pretext, we suppose, of avoiding what is obvious, theatrical, mundane, &c. &c., Mr. Collinson has left out all the spirit and emotion of the above passage; formally and deliberately contradicting the legend. The Saint looks dreamily-- almost vacantly--towards the spectator, away from the crucifix; the Landgravine is mournfully pious and stiffly gentle in aspect and gesture,--not "rude." The ladies of the "inflamed" court are kneeling hard by, in all manner of gay clothes and missal attitudes, observing the holy virgin with merely an insipid and pious curiosity:--while the row of young knights so closely resemble young monks who have crept into mail by mistake that edification rather than exasperation seems to be produced in them by the tableau. Thus much as regards expression. We are aware that according to the canons of the Pre-Raphaelite sect the arts of composition are but as so many "filthy rags" compared with the "righteousness" of sincere reality:--and Mr. Collinson has probably, therefore, on purpose rendered his groups uncouth by a perverse arrangement of lines, and his scene confused by utter neglect of the sensualities of perspective. According to his breviary of Art there may be a "saving grace" in the uplifted hands which group so whimsically with the crown and veil of the Landgravine--a deep meaning in the bundle of drapery in the foreground which is a prostrate "religious"--a beautiful fitness in the architectural intricacies of the Church within which the scene is enacted, from which daring must be the guesser who professes to unthread a plan; while the crowning glory may, for aught we know to the contrary, reside in the almost Pagan clumsiness of the crucified figure on the feet of which the chin and cheek of St. Elizabeth are resting. There needs the cordial yet searching wit of a Sydney Smith to deal as they deserve with fopperies of this order manifested in Art,--and without let, hindrance, or mitigation so far as concerns Mr. Collinson; because in this very picture the talent is as great as the conceited quietisms which we have reprehended are numerous. Thorough finish and care and self-respect are evident:--merits never more to be valued than in these fa presto days. Some of the accessory heads are good,--every detail is in keeping,--and an air of solemnity pervades the scene in spite of its affluence of bright colour and absence of shadow, owing the artist’s constancy to one tone of thought and purpose.


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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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