"French Criticism on British Art." Art Journal 17 (1 Aug. 1855): 229-231. Excerpts.

One of the earliest of the French critics by whom English art had the honour to be noticed, was the Coryphæus of the Journal l'Union, and we give his lucubrations precedence, because they may be considered to have embodied all the ill-nature to which Parisian stricture has given vent on this occasion. The writer is at once smart, self-sufficient, and unsparing. He enters on his task as petit-maitre sword-master on the duello, with infinite confidence in the handling of his rapier. He is master of the stocatta-punto and punto-reverso, and is obviously but too happy whenever he thinks his point has gone home. He pinks and pinks again con amore.

In the number of the Journal, May 25, after certain preliminary to the effect that Art is one of the most vivid and powerful manifestations of human genius, and that by its creations the calibre not only of individual mind, but of national intellectuality, will be judged, he thus continues:- . . .

"Between the schools of England and of Flanders there is this difference-that the former never aim at representing an object simply as it is found in all detail-the thing, the whole thing, and nothing but the thing-while the Flemish give but such minutiæ as are agreeable to the eye. An Englishman paints a dress, and you behold the very stuff of which it is made-you feel its thickness, its substantial texture-in a word, its commercial qualifications-a mercer could tell you what it would be per yard. The Fleming reproduces on his canvass the delicacies of design which belong to the fabric,-of flowers, you perceive the corolla, the petals, the calices, the pistil, the leaves-nay the very reticulations; he is more occupied with the piquante details than the general structure of the depicted drapery. His fancy is amused with his theme; he is therefore more select in his subject-his taste is more delicate. The Englishman ever takes the matter in hand seriously; renders it as exactly as he possibly can, and so becomes distinctly heavy." . . .

Let us now turn to the Moniteur, which for the most part has displayed a better tone-not however untainted by the local unfairness. . . .

["]The present English school has no guide but its own caprice; each on e ranges as his individuality prompts-without, however, for an instant losing the British stamp. Nevertheless, to speak figuratively, we mark a small chapel apart in this cathedral of English Art. It has at present but two occupants, Messrs. Hunt and Millais, the one all unsophistical, the other a devotee to the literal; both bringing into conjunction, merit the most unequivocal with eccentricity the most glaring.[" . . .]

Our next notices we draw from publications more especially dedicated to the intellectual, as compared with daily and political journalism . The one a pretty close imitation of our Athenaeum in name, typical aspect and general arrangement of topic; the other, a new hebdomadal, which has been got up in considerable contributive force, to meet the special exigencies of the present occasion, and named, "Le Palais de l'Exposition." In both, a better spirit will be found than is apparent in the daily press. . . .

"What strikes one, above all things, in the English school is-its originality. That this is, to a certain extent, tinctured with the bizarre,-the eccentric-is unquestionable; but, so also is it, that, in their artistic range, the English have not sought for external inspiration-that they copy themselves alone: that, in this, as in all else,-their manners, laws, and government,-they realise the description of the classic poet,

'Penitus divisos at orbe Britannos.'

"On analyzing the general effect, and the distinctive qualities of each of their works, we will be sure to find a prevalent and felicitous seeking after truth, propriety of action, expression well seized and transferred; in a word, a scrupulous fidelity to nature. These high qualities are, however, counterpoised by defects, which are not to be found so glaringly developed in any other quarter, viz., a want of elevation in the purpose of the artist, and of masterly vigour in his execution,-a positive puerile devotion to mannerisms, or childish interpretation of nature and her effects. An attentive examination of some of their works, those, for instance, of M. Millais, will yield unequivocal proof, that Art, and effort at ocular deception have nothing in common; that, in painfully copying the details of an object in view, results are attained which have no sympathy whatever with the painter's genuine task.["]


This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

Return to the list of reviews