"The National Institution’s Free Exhibition of Modern Art." Athenaeum 20 April 1850, 424.

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     But what shall we say of a work hanging by the side of Mr. Newenham’s historical picture,–which we notice less for its merits than as an example of the perversion of talent which has recently been making too much way in our school of Art and wasting the energies of our most promising young aspirants? We allude to the Ecce Ancilla Domini of Mr. D. G. Rosetti [sic] (225). Here, a certain amount of talent is distorted from its legitimate course by a prominent crotchet. Ignoring all that has made the art great in the works of the greatest masters, the school to which Mr. Rosetti [sic] belongs would begin the work anew, and accompany the faltering steps of its earliest explorers. This is archaeology turned from all of its legitimate uses, and made into a mere pedant. Setting at naught all the advanced principles of light and shade, colour and composition,–these men, professing to look only to Nature in its truth and simplicity, are the slavish imitators of artistic inefficiency. Granted that in these early masters there is occasionally to be seen all that is claimed for them of divine expression and sentiment, accompanied by an earnestness and devotion of purpose which have preserved their productions from oblivion;–are such qualities inconsistent with all subsequent progress in historical excellence,–or do these crotchet-mongers propose that the Art should begin and end there? The world will not be led to that deduction by such puerilities as the one before us: which, with the affectation of having done a great thing, is weakness itself. An unintelligent imitation of the mere technicalities of old Art–golden glories, fanciful scribblings on the frames, and other infantine absurdities–constitutes all its claim. A certain expression in the eyes of the ill-drawn face of the Virgin affords a gleam of something high in intention,–but it is still not the true inspiration. The face of the angel is insipidity itself. One arm of the Virgin is well drawn; and there is careful, though timid, workmanship in the inferior and accessorial part of the work,–but this is in many places where it would have been better left out. Yet, with this we have exhausted all the praise due, in our opinion, to a work evidently thrust by the artist into the eye of the spectator more with the presumption of a teacher than in the modesty of a hopeful and true aspiration after excellence.


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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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