"The Royal Academy Exhibition." Athenaeum 1541 (9 May 1857), 602-603.


A praiseworthy, conscientious picture is Mr. Dyce’s Titian preparing to make his First Essay in Colouring (107), painted in a way that sets the more careless of the P. R. B.’s an excellent example. A new manner is a healthy sign in Mr. Dyce, who has indulged us with quite enough saints and virgins for the present. Story he tells none; but the sentiment of the scene is suggestive, for we know that that frank-faced, thoughtful boy is one and the same with old Tiziano, with the yard of white beard, who will die eighty years hence and then by a mere accident of the plague, and will be carried like a king, the Doge weeping, through the water streets of Venice. Now, unconscious of colourmen, he tries to squeeze coloured juices from flowers to paint a Madonna, the statue of which stands on the tree-trunk before him in the orchard. This is a small text for a year’s work at leaves and bark and flowers; but Mr. Dyce is quite right, it was worth the trouble, and why should we complain? One cannot be always painting struggling, dramatic situations: and there being a time for all things, as Solomon said, why, there is a time for painting quiet bits of nature that make us think of all the trees we ever saw and of what happened about the time we saw them. The quaint trim dress, purple and yellow, the pointed shoes, are of a pleasantly far back age, and yet match so well with the fresh nature, just the same, of our own day. Nature’s fashions do not change, and she sticks with obstinate old maidishness to her four liveries a year–light green, deep green, golden, and white. . . .

Mr. Millais, anxious to produce an effect at all risks, and to astonish if not to please, plunges with vigour into seas of fancy, not always free from mud at the bottom–though in that sullying ooze lie jewels, as we all know. He does not paint with such fanatic love and vehement patience as he used to do years ago; indeed the decline from pictures like the ‘Release’ to ‘Sir Isembras’ [sic] is extraordinary. ‘A Dream of the Past, or Sir Isembras [sic] at the Ford’ (283), is monstrous, and is scarcely redeemed by glimpses and eyelet-holes of beauty. Sir Isembras [sic] is pudgy and dwarfish, his horse is of the rare breed whilom seen on the Banbury Road, a cross between the cock-horse and the rocking-horse: if it were dotted with black wafers the resemblance would be complete; Sir Isembras [sic] is too small or his horse is too large, that is certain; the nag is wood, board, such a horse as Troy took in, or rather that which took in Troy, rat-flanked, big-headed, long enough for a ship’s crew, and altogether such an animal as Noah should have shut the door against. Sir Walter Scott, as is well known, tried the effect of his line on the Lady of the Lake upon a veteran rider, and when it came to the lines

With head erect and whimpering cry,

The hounds behind their passage ply,

the old rider clapped his hand on his thigh and swore that, if the dogs were hot, they’d be ruined for ever. Scott was satisfied, as the painter was whose grapes the birds came and pecked. Let Millais then, some day or other, step down Aldridge’s gateway, and bring up a dozen grooms, and hear their criticism. If they approve, then let Banbury rejoice, and all critics shut their mouths and burn their pens.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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