In this year's Exhibition--of which there was a private view yesterday, Friday, and of which there will be a public opening on Monday--the elect are not strong. . . . This seems to be a year of academical "reculer pour mieux sauter." It is well there should be no hasty crops, and that there sometimes should be such blanks. Luckily, Mr. Egg is strong, and Messrs. Phillip, Ward, Faed, Solomon, and others are more than usually brilliant. Mr. Stanfield is in great strength; Sir Edwin calls for notice; Mr. Millais is obtrusive. Mr. Holman Hunt is again conspicuously absent. . . .
Mr. Millais, finding high finish either unsatisfying or unprofitable--too slow for the fervour of his imagination, or too laborious a drag on the eagerness of his intellect, still pursues his careless slap-dash style. He is now no longer the plodding craftsman, but the fiery Rupert of Art. Clever and dashing enough, and rich in colour, but as smeary and generalizing as the young men of the age Mr. Millais used to despise, who were told by Reynolds to paint not silk and satin, but "drapery." Then if an artist painted "drapery," it was a sign of his pining for the true ideal; if he painted what he saw he was calle d apinter of "low genre," a lover of the Dutch school, an upholstery "furniture painter," and other ill names that meant nothing, though they expressed dislike. These men forgot the gorgeous detailed stuffs and clots of gold that Titian, Raphael and all the best of the old masters painted. It was the Eclectic school, with their tiresome Greek statue faces and slovenly "drapery" that ruined Art. This they did not care to remember, and hated those few who did. Mr. Millais's two clever, careless pictures are, Nuns in the Churchyard (15) and Junketting in an Orchard (298). The first, with all its severe baldness and disdain of composition, would be a truly poetical though mournful picture were the subject original; but it seems a paraphrase from one of some modern French painter, who showed us through a convent gate an old Zouave digging his own grave. Here, too, we have a nun digging a grave, and another looking on and superintending. The conception is a fine one, though treated with the affected quaintness of the school that began with finishing, and now has finished that beginning,--a heresy which will do good by training up men to paint better than the heretics themselves. There is a tragic thoughtfulness about this French (?) scene that reminds us in some respects of Vilette and Miss Brontë. There is poetry in the clear, calm, twilight sky and the chapel tower and bell cutting dark against it. How finely, too, the tall columns of the poplar trees fret against the opalline dimness of the evening. Mr. Millais has caught admirably the awkwardness and weakness of the woman using the unaccustomed spade, and has thrown a fine ascetic meditativenenss over the face of the seated nun,--not that her red skull of a face and staring, coarse, black eyes are pleasing,--far from it, they are as hard and painful as those of some of Hogarth's viragoes, and stand out in rather a ghastly fashion from the grave black and white frame of the nun's or Beguine's hood and robe. He has expressed, too, with rare force, the rank growth of the burial-ground grass, thick and dank from its horrid nurture, and the way the dying light is carried among the leaves of the bushes, the spotted laurels and rather clotted ivy is most daring and masterly. An air of ascetic meditation and self-immolation is kept up throughout this powerful, though not very pleasing, picture. The companion-picture is as joyous and running over with child-laughter as the other is sad and almost ghastly. We always think that persons must be very happy who can bear to systematically indulge in mournful themes. It is your serene gosling youth who writes your blood-and-bones tragedies,--your hypochondriac laughs in boisterous comedy, or cxracks his own sides and ours in farce. The scene is a spring orchard, in full bloom, pink and white as a maiden's cheek. A complete school of girls, nearly all of the same age, are grouped in the foreground in various positions of school-girl revelry. One pouring out nothing from a large, ribbed, silver jug, such as Veronese's brush woul d hvae played with,--another preparing a wooden bowl of syllabub,--a third lying on her back, putting a long grass with pretty wilfulness, like a bridle, into her mouth. There is no romping, but a serene, lady-like enjoyment, which gives a "Marriage of Cana" look to the picture. In a certain ideal of girlish beauty, not very tender or loving, but bold, untroubled, and rather stony-dignified, Mr. Millais, as he showed us in the 'Autumn Leaves,' is excellent. This is a sort of rustic revel that Keats or Stothard might have imagined,--but then one would have turned it ino a passionate Italian story, and the other into a Boccaccio ideal. Mr. Millais still dreads distance, and is here coarse and unfinished, where minuteness would have discovered a thousand subtler beauties. Nothing can be so worthy of dwelling on as the little pink, shell-leaves of the apple-blossom, the red, wooly tops, the snowy whiteness, the blushing flushes, the sudden crimsons: all the growth and hope of spring is in it, and the red and white intermingle in inexhaustible variety. Here it is strong, but coarsely expressed;--there is in these later works of Mr. Millais too much haste and too much defiant temerity. He, surely,--this knight-errant of Art--is not going to turn manufacturer, and glut the market with bold, clever sketches.
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