"Fine Arts: Royal Academy." Athenaeum 1645 (7 May 1859): 617-618. Excerpt.

Mr. A. Hughes is quaint to affectation, and subtle to the extent of almost super-feminine feebleness; but he is brimming over with poetry, draws fairly and paints with a delicious sense of texture and colour. But though the imagination is potent, and of a most sweet quality, the judgment seems of a far inferior vintage. The King's Orchard (609), as telling the story of a page playing on an extraordianry instrument, and in love with a queen, is ridiculous. It is just some children lolling and resting from play in an orchard. (O! the mania for spring blossoms this year, just as if artists flew in flocks!) This is the most P.R.B. picture in the Academy (Mr. Millais being now one of the painters against time, and more intent on quantity than quality). It is full of poetry of a quaint and eccentric kind, and in its imitative painting is specially exquisite. But the drawing is crotchetty and out of focus, and there is throughout it a general want of common sense and of that perception of the ridiculous that helps an artist out of all sorts of absurdities and incongruities. There is a fairy-story character about the beautifully painted rose velvet of the queen's cap and about her cloth-of-gold striped robe, about the pink blossoms and the page's dress; but though there is a serene and magical beauty in the queen's face, in spite of its hard contoured outline, the greys in the page's face have run mouldy and wild. Will not artists remember that the outside world does not see grey at all in a face? There is no reason because one has thought out and learnt that there are such colours, that therefore faces should be painted all grey. Mr. Hughes has evidently not yet discovered whether outlines are indistinct or sharp when looked at near. Half therse modern discussions on such points resolve themselves into this. Some people paint things as they are, and others paint them as they seem. Some paint all that is in the object, others all that the average eye can take in at one time. The more you paint a thing, the oftener and more varied are the points of view the eye can take. The one picture is exhausted at a glance, the other can be looked at in all its aspects. Mr. Hughes's other picture has the scene, not in Fairy Land, but in real life. Like his 'April Love,' the story is not quite clear, but we presume that (524)--and the Chaucerian motto (the P.R.B.'s all read Chaucer, or at least quote him) means that--the gentleman looking up to heaven is accepted of the pleasant smiling girl who clasps his hand; and that

For how myght ever sweetnesse have be known


To hym tha never tastyd bitternesse--

means that the pains and perils of courtship, and other vexations of his life render by contrast his present happiness greater;--so thinks the slate-coloured dog that fondles him as he stands by the grey tree, triangled with whitish ivy leaves. Though rather thin and flat, this is an admirable picture, full of the tender poetry of love, and crowded with thought and prettinesses. Mr. Hughes will paint better and touch the universal heart oftener when he gets out of the enervating green-house air of clique, and thinks boldly for himself without sham archaism or affectation.

We last week noticed the rather defiant daring, the challengin mannerism and coarse strength of Mr. Millais' Spring (298) and The Vale of Rest (15). There is something thoughtful and sad about the grave-digging nun, and something vigorously hopeful about the spring-blossoming orchard, with the feasting children, themselves in the spring of life. The painter has run through a severe gamut of child beauty, from the wilfulness of the little lady in the buff-coloured muslin lying on her back, to the rather cat-like sagacity of the president of the feast. The flesh is not pleasantly painted, and the grass is rather too soft and vapoury, though the yellow and white flowers do flow up prettily to the surface, and though the dandelion with becoming grace does balance here and there his globe of down. The red, yellow and green striped gown to the left is very daring, and so is the heavy purple of the girl's tippet on the right. The cowslips twiste din the back hair of one and the blue wreath of another are vigorously invented for colour. With these few observations to compensate for some shortcomings of memory we pass to the last picture, The Love of James the First of Scotland (482), a very unsatisfactory work, being the mere portraiture of a blue gown. The idea is borrowed from a picture by a young artist, and is not strongly treated. The stones of the tower are rather smeared, th lady's face is hard, gaunt and severe, and looks as if it had been rouged. James the First never wrote his poem for such a lady as that. A servant reaching up to put a bit of groundsel in a goldfinch's cage would look more interested than that.


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Copyright © 2000 Thomas J. Tobin.

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