Dafforne, J[ames]. "British Artists: Their Style and Character. With Engraved Illustrations. No. LI.–William Dyce, R. A." Art Journal 22 (1 Oct. 1860), 293-296.


Referring, in the last of this series of papers, to the various characteristics of the English school of painting, mention was made of Mr. Dyce, as being one of the very few artists whose works may often be classed under the head of " Sacred Art;" not that they are of the kind which the old Italian painters produced, for ecclesiastical purposes chiefly, and which were so frequently drawn from the legends of the church of their religious faith, but because they are suggested by scriptural narrative, and are treated with a solemnity and propriety of feeling befitting the subject-matter, and evidently manifest an elevated and holy purpose, and a mind more than ordinarily cultivated and refined. We never examine the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy without a mental expression of regret, that this most accomplished painter–the term is used here in its highest and most comprehensive sense–is, generally, so restrictive in the number of his contributions; the catalogues for years past rarely show more than a single picture under his name. The public, therefore, do not know him as he deserves to be known, and as he unquestionably would be, with greater and more frequent opportunities of making themselves acquainted with his works; while for the Art of his country, no less than for himself, he is too much of a rara avis: if his pictures were more often seen, it is our firm conviction they would give a tone to the public mind and to the rising generation of painters, which would prove most advantageous to both. He stands, as it were, the connecting link between modern Pre-Raffaellism–of which he was, in England, the forerunner–and modern Art-idiosyncrasy; and there is no doubt that, notwithstanding so little, comparatively, is seen of him, the influence of that little has been most beneficially felt in our school. It must not be inferred from these latter remarks, that Mr. Dyce is an idle man in his profession–far from it; but his industry, as our biographical sketch will show, has been exercised where the public have little opportunity of testing it, and in channels where its fruits have only been indirectly manifested.

. . . His contribution to the exhibition of 1856 was only a single small cartoon, ‘The Good Shepherd,’ hung among the drawings and miniatures, where, we are quite ashamed to say, it escapes our observation; at least, we cannot now call it to mind. Not so, however, with his solitary picture of the following year, ‘Titian preparing to make his first Essay in Colour,’ a production we coveted far beyond any other in the gallery, beautiful in conception, admirable in expression, and exquisite in the refinement of its execution; it manifests all the merits of modern Pre-Rafaellism without the slightest approach to its defects.

. . . Of the three pictures exhibited during the present year, one has been already referred to, and the others must be so fresh in the memory of our readers, either from personal observation or from our critical remarks on the Academy Exhibition, as to render further allusion unnecessary. The picture of ‘Pegwell Bay’ was spoken of by many critical writers as having been painted from a photograph; and its wonderful elaborated detail favoured the supposition; but we happen to know it was done from memory, aided by a slight and hasty sketch, in pencil, of the locality.

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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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