"Pre-Raphaelitism in Art and Literature." British Quarterly Review 16 (Aug. 1852), 197-220.

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Art. VII. (1.)--Discourses on the Fine Arts. By Sir Joshua Reynolds. Edinburgh. W. & R. Chambers.

(2.) The Germ; a Collection of Papers on Art and Poetry. London. 1850.

(3.) Pre-Raphaelitism. By John Ruskin. London. Smith & Elder. 1851.

(4.) Catalogue of the Exhibition of the Royal Academy. Eighty-fourth Year. London. 1852.

Some five years ago a few very young men, then students in the Royal Academy, formed themselves into a kind of clique, with the intention of aiding and abetting each other while they prosecuted the study of Art in a new and somewhat peculiar manner. One of the most influential members of this clique, if not its actual founder, was William Holman Hunt, a young man who had already given proofs of his determination to be an artist by overcoming not a few difficulties that lay in his way; the other members were–Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William M. Rossetti, sons of a well-known Italian professor, nattiralized by a long residence in England; F. G. Stephens, J. Collinson, Thomas Woolner, and John Everett Millais. Of these seven, six were painters, and one, Mr. Woolner, a sculptor. Half in freak, half in earnest, they called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Clique–a name which, from its reference to Italian art we conclude that the Rossettis suggested. Afterwards, disliking the word ‘clique,’ they called themselves the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,’ or, more shortly, and to show that they were a good deal in fun all the while, the ‘P. R. B’s.’ They were all young men of independent talent; and there was really nothing more of brotherhood about.them than that they found themselves of a similar way of thinking in matters of art, and were, by choice, very much together both in the Academy and out of it. As was natural, they became known to the other student as as the ‘P. R. B.’ set; and, as is very apt to happen in such cases, the name adopted in a moment of frolic has clung to them longer than sorne of them perhaps wished or expected. Of the original seven, however, one or two have either given up Art or fallen off from the brotherhood, while one or two others have been added in their places. The Pre-Raphaelites now best known are Hunt, Millais, the elder Rossetti, and C. Collins. The last, though in fact more obstinately Pre-Raphaelitesque than any of the others, was not one of the original seven; and Rossetti is so fastidious as a painter, and abandons so many of hiS paintings half-finished, that Millais and Hunt, who have the greatest respect for him, are almost angry that he does not appear more evidently as their rival. Woolner, who is also a young artist of real stuff and promise, is at this moment, we are sorry to say, on his way to Auustralia; whence, we hope, he will return to take his place among English sculptors. On the whole, it may be said that the Pre-Raphaelites best known to the public, through their works at this and the last annual exhibition of the Academy, are Hunt, Millais, and Collins.

So much for gossip; and now as to Pre-Raphaelitism itself. In its origin, we believe, was a protest by the young artists whose names we have mentioned, against certain traditions in art which had come down with the double sanction of practice and teaching. Until very recently, the work which has served in England both as a text-book to the professional student of art, and as a compendium of information respecting art for the use of the general reader, has been ‘Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses.’ We shall select from this really pleasant and useful work those passages against which, as we conceive, Pre-Raphaelitism is most distinctly a rebellion.

‘Ideal perfection and beauty are not to be sought in the heavens, but upon the earth. They are about us, and upon every side of us. But the power of discovering what is deformed in nature, or, in other words, what is particular and uncommon, can be acquired only by experience; and the whole beauty and grandeur of the art consists, in my opinion, in being able to get above all singular forms, local customs, particularities, and details of every kind. All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It must be an eye long used to the comparison of these forms; and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects of the same kind have in common, has acquired the power of discerning what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the great style. By this means he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by hersel–her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things, from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms, more perfect than any one original; and–what may seem a paradox–he learns to design naturally by drawing his figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of nature, which the artist calls the Ideal Beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world; and by this method you, who have courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation. This is the idea which has acquired, and which seems to have a right to, the epithet of divine; as it may be said to preside, like a supreme judge, over all the productions of nature–appearing to be possessed of the will and intention of the Creator, as far as they regard the external form of living beings. When a man once possesses this idea in its perfection, there is no danger but that he will be sufficiently warmed by it himself, and be able to warm and ravish every one else. Thus it is from a reiterated experience, and a close comparison of the objects in nature, that an artist becomes possessed of the idea of that eternal form, if I may so express it, from which every deviation is deformiity.’–Third Discourse.

‘How much the great style exacts from its professors to conceive and represent their subjects in a poetical mnnner, not confined to mere matter of fact, may be seen in the cartoons of Raffaelle. In all the pictures in which the painter has represented the apostles, he has drawn them with great nobleness; he has given them as much dignity as the human figure is capable of receiving; yet we are expressly told in Scripture they had no such respectable appearance; and of St. Paul, in particular, we are told by himself, that his bodily presence was mean. Alexander is said to have been of a low stature: a painter ought not so to represent him. Agesilaus was low, lame, and of mean appearance: none of these defects ought to appear in a piece of which he is the hero. All this is not falsifying any fact; it is taking an allowed poetical licence.’–Fourth Discourse.

‘The first idea that occurs in the consideration of what is fixed in art, or in taste, is that presiding principle of which I have so frequently spoken in former discourses–the general idea of nature. The beginning, the middle, and the end of everytliing that is valuable in taste, is comprised in the knowledge of what is truly nature; for whatever notions are not conformable to those of nature, or universal opinion, must be considered as more or less capricious. My notion of nature comprehends not only the forms which nature produces, but also the nature and internal fabric and organization, as I may call it, of the human mind and imagination. The terms beauty or nature, which are general ideas, are but different modes of expressing the same thing, whether we apply these terms to statues, poetry, or pictures. Deformity is not nature, but an accidental deviation from her accustomed practice. This general idea, therefore, ought to be called nature; and nothing else, correctly speaking, has a right to the name.’–Seventh Discourse.

‘I remember a landscape painter in Rome, who was known by the name of Studio, from his patience in high finishing, in which he thought the whole excellence of art consisted; so that he once endeavoured, as he said, to represent every individual leaf on a tree. This picture I never saw; but I am very sure that an artist who looked only at the general character of the species, the order of the brancheis, and the mssses of the foliage, would in a few minutes produce a more true resemblance of trees, than this painter in as many months. A landscape painter certainly ought to study anatomically, (if I may use the expression,) all the objects which he paints; but when he is to turn his studies to use, his skill, as a man of genius, will be displayed in showing the general effect, preserving the same degree of hardness or softness which the objects have in nature; for he applies himself to the imagination, not to the curiosity, and works not for the virtuoso or the naturalist, but for the common observer of life and nature. When he knows his subject, he will know not only what to describe, but what to omit; and this skill in leaving out, is, in all things, a great part of knowledge and wisdom.’–Eleventh Discourse.

These maxims are certainly neither so clear in themselves, nor expressed with such a commanding appearance of intellectual authority, as to render assent inevitable. Accordingly, there have always been artists who have proceeded in a spirit contrary to that which they indicate. It was left for the Pre-Raphaelites, however, formally and openly to avow their denial of them, and to signalize the same by a peculiar style of practice.

The great principle which the Pre-Raphaelites took up separately, and which became the bond of their union, was that they should go to Nature in all cases, and employ, as exactly as possible, her literal forms. If they were to paint a tree as part of a picture, then, instead of attempting to put down, according to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s prescription, something that might stand as an ideal tree, the central form of a tree, the general conception of a beautiful tree derived from a previous collation of individual trees, their notion was that they should go to Nature for an actual tree, and paint that. So, also, if they were to paint a brick wall as part of the background of a picture, their notion was that they should not paint such a wall as they could put together mentally out of their past recollection of all the brick walls they had seen; but that they should take some actual brick-wall and paint it exactly as it was, with all its seams, lichens, and weatherstains. So also, in painting the human figure, their notion was that they should not follow any conventional idea of corporeal beauty, but should take some actual man or woman, and reproduce his or her features with the smallest possible deviation consistent with the purpose of the picture. So also, in a historical picture, their notion was that there should be not an effort, primarily at least, after what Sir Joshua calls the grand style, but the most faithful study of truth in detail, truth in costume, truth in the portraiture of the personages introduced, truth to all the contemporary circumstances of the action represented. Their notion, in painting a St. Paul, would have been, we believe, not to have idealized him, as Sir Joshua affirms that Raphael has done, but actually to have exhibited him as he was, a man in whom a great soul was shrined in a mean and contemptible body presence. And, in a similar manner, in painting Alexander, they would, we believe, have been resolutely attentive to the fact that he was a Greek of small stature.

This protest in favour of Naturalism or Idealism, which constitutes the essence of the Pre-Raphaelite innovation in Art, is, it will be observed, almost exactly identical with that which constituted the Wordsworthian innovation in poetical literature. What Wordsworth affirmed was, that for nearly a century before his time, the persons calling themselves poets had, with a few exceptions, thought and written in a conventional manner, according to certain traditions of what poetry must be, neither looking directly to Nature for the objects of their descriptions, nor using such language as men use in real life. What he attempted, therefore, was to return to Nature, to take things as they actually are, to be rigidly true to fact both in the appearances of the external world, and in the moral circumstances which constitute human life, and while operating on this material with the imagination of a poet, to make use of natural and direct language. The Pre-Raphaelites apply the same theory to art. Until about the time of Raphael, they say, the painters of Europe, and those of Italy in particular, proceeded in the main on a true principle, faithfully copying what they found in Nature, and arriving at beauty and impressiveness throuh their implicit regard for truth; but since the time of Raphael, painters have for the most part held up Raphael between themselves and Nature; interposed, as it were, certain intellectual phantasms of ideal beauty between their eyes and the literal forms of God’s world. Their own aim in Art, consequently, has been, to discard these intellectual phantasms, these generalized forms, which, by Sir Joshua Reynolds’s advice, were to stand for ever by the painter’s easel, teaching him what to accept and what to correct in Nature, and to go back to Nature herself with something of that docile and reverent spirit which characterized the early Italian masters.

It would be unjust to the Pre-Raphaelites, however, not to take note of the fact that this protest of theirs in favour of realism, was by no means a protest in favour of the Dutch kind of realism, and that no recent school of artists have been more disposed to vindicate the claims of painting to take rank as a high imaginative or poetic art. Precisely as Wordsworth, by his demands for literal accuracy of delineation and for simple and direct language, did not depreciate the function of imagination in poetry, but rather exalted it and defined it more clearly, so the Pre-Raphaelites, while insisting on truthful observation and exact rendering as essential matters with the artist, recognised from the first, both in their theory and in their practice, that the greatness of an artist consists not in truthfulness of observation and exactness of rendering alone, but in the spirit manifested through these qualities, in the thought, purpose, or inner intention to which, in that artist’s pictures, these qualities are made to minister. Few artists have conceived more intimately and fully than they, the common maxim that the forms and colours of Nature are but the language of the painter, the symbols through which he expresses meanings of his own mind; and that, consequently, in the absolute examination of any picture, the question as to the value or grandeur of the meaning expressed, must necessarily take precedence (though even here there are profound bonds of connexion) of the question as to the excellence of the expression itself. In short, they have recognised clearly enough that the ability to represent with fidelity in form, in colour, and in light and shade, the appearances of Nature, is merely the accomplishment of the painter as a painter–his peculiar technick, so to speak–the faculty necessary to all painters alike; and that, as beyond the painter there lies the man, so it is in proportion as the painter makes this technick the means of conveying and impressing what is great and noble in manhood generally that his works are to be in the end appreciated. The warrior takes his place finally among the great ones of the earth, not in virtue of the mere military excellence of his battles, but in virtue of the political notions and the moral purposes which his battles expressed; and so, as the Pre-Raphaelites would admit, a painter is great or little, not alone in virtue of his skill in faithful execution, but in virtue also of the nature of the thoughts of which his pictures are the conveyance. The Pre-Raphaelite advice to return to the faithful study of Nature was not, essentially, therefore, an attempt to lead Art in any one particular direction; it was an advice addressed to all painters alike, and it left an infinitude of varieties in painting–from the humblest Dutch painting of individual objects, up to the highest efforts in landscape or historical painting–as possible as before. What the Pre-Raphaelites asserted was, that all painters universally should cultivate the habit and possess the faculty of painting things with literal truth; when a painter had thus acquired the language of his art, he might employ it as his character and genius prompted, either babbling jocosely over mugs of beer and tobacco-pipes like the Dutch painters, or dealing forth fierce satire on men and manners like Hogarth, or towering among celestial conceptions like Raphael and Michael Angelo. If they insisted more on the necessity of strict truth in reference to the finer kinds of artistic study, it was only because conventionality had here more firmly seated itself, and effected a wider divorce between Art and Nature.

In point of fact, however, several things were involved in this Pre-Raphaelite movement in art, in addition to what might at first appear implied in the mere resolution faithfully to copy Nature. It may be well to ennumerate some of these more latent corollaries, or concomitants [sic] of the main principle of Pre-Raphaelitism.

First of all, then, there was universally noted in the earlier Works of the Pre-Raphaelites, a kind of contempt for all pre-established ideas of beauty. It even seemed as if, in their resolution to copy literally the forms of Nature, they took pleasure in seeking out such forms as would be called ugly or mean. Thus, instead of giving us figures with those fine conventional heads and regular oval faces and gracefully-formed hands and feet which we like to see in albums, they appeared to take delight in figures with heads phrenologically clumsy, faces strongly marked and irregular, and very pronounced ankles and knuckles. Their colouring, too, and especially their colouring of the human flesh, was not at all so pleasant as we had been accustomed to. In Mr. Millais’s picture, for example, of the Holy Family, exhibited the year before last, the colouring of the faces, hands, and feet of the personages painted–and these the most sacred personages that an artist could paint–was altogether so peculiar that critics among his brother-artists declared that he must have had scrofulous subjects for his models. And so, in Mr. Hunt’s Jolly Shepherd, in the present Exhibition, the complexions of the shepherd and shepherdess in [sic] which send away some ladies angry and others giggling. Are there no beautiful faces, or fingers, or feet in Nature, say the fair critics, that clever young men should paint things like those; or have the poor young men been really so unfortunate in their life-series of feminine visions? It is in vain to represent to the indignant critics–for the spretæ injuria formæ enters largely into the criticism on these occasions–that such contempt for the conventional ideas of beauty on the part of the artists in question is not unconscious, but founded on deliberate reason; that, as artists, they must know perfectly well what is accounted beautiful; and that it would be quite as easy for them, if they chose, and even in many cases far more easy, to gratify the common taste by painting objects in themselves agreeable than by painting as they do. It may be far more difficult, for example, to paint a dull, muddy pool than to paint a piece of beautiful clear water; and yet so forgetful are people of this, that they stand opposite the pictures which contain pieces of beautiful clear water, and add the feeling of the beauty of the water to the feeling of merit in the painter, while they pass a picture containing a muddy pool as if the muddiness of the pool were a constitutional fault in the painter. That it may be in part so we will not deny; for perpetual muddiness of pools or perpetual ugliness of faces, though it might not detract a whit from the painter’s reputation for skill, might justly indicate that his idea of art, the artistic reason which governed his choice of subjects, was false or limited. But what we desire specially to note at present is, that this tendency towards forms not conventionally agreeable, which has been found fault with in the Pre-Raphaelites, was natural, and even, to some extent, inevitable on their part; and was, in fact, a necessary consequence of their zeal in carrying out their favourite principle of attention to actual truth. Precisely as Wordsworth, in his resolution to break away from conventionalities in poetry, shocked his finical critics by selecting his subjects from among the pedlars, and waggoners, and tinkers of homely English life, and introducing into his verse donkeys and duffle-grey cloaks, and other things hardly before heard of in prose or rhyme; so the Pre-Raphaelites, bent on a similar innovation in Art, left, as it were, the beaten walk of traditional beauties to take a turn of exploration among Nature’s less-favoured and more stunted things. Whether they have kept so well within bounds as Wordsworth did, or whether their practice in this respect will not in the end be seen even by themselves to have been a temporary exaggeration for a dogmatic purpose, is a question which we will not now wait to discuss.

Another peculiarity discernible in the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, and indeed inseparable from the very notion of Pre-Raphaelitism, is fondness for detail, and careful finish of the most minute objects. Instead of supposing that what the painters call breadth of effect is attainable only by a bold neglect of all except general arrangements and larger masses, the Pre-Raphaelites, from the very first, entertaining the belief, that as broad effects in Nature are compatible with, and, in fact, produced by, infinite aggregations of detail, so they may be in Art. It is another point of similarity between Wordsworth and the Pre-Raphaelites, that this fondness for detail has manifested itself; specially in their case, as in his, in extreme accuracy and minuteness in all matters pertaining to vegetation. The very essence of the Wordsworthian innovation in literature, considered in one of its aspects, consisted in this, that it tore men that were going to write poetry out of rooms and cities, and cast them on the green lap of Nature, forcing them to inhale the breath of the ploughed earth, and to know the leafage of the different forest trees, and to gaze in dank cool places at the pipy stalks, and into the coloured cups of weeds and wild flowers. Richness in botanical allusion is perhaps the one peculiarity that pre-eminently distinguishes the English poets after, from the English poets before, Wordsworth. There is, indeed, a closer attention throughout to all the appearances of Nature–the shapes and motions of the clouds, the forms of the hills and rocks, and the sounds and mystery of the seas and rivers; but, on the whole, one sees very clearly that Wordsworth’s advice to be true to Nature has been interpreted, for the most part, as an advice to study vegetation. And so it is, in a great measure, with the Pre-Raphaelites. With them, also, vegetation seems to have become thus far synonymous with Nature, that it is chiefly by the extreme accuracy of their painting of trees, and grass, and water-lilies, and jonquils, and weeds, and mosses, that they have signalized their superior attentiveness to Nature's actual appearances. Not, by any means, that they deceive the public into a belief of their attention to Nature by a trick of extreme care in botanical objects alone; for the same accuracy that distinguishes the Pre-Raphaelite studies of vegetation, will be found to distinguish their representations of all physical objects whatever that are introduced into their pictures; but that necessarily, when a man resolves to observe accurately, he confirms the habit by peering with exaggerated interest into the secrets of such sweet little things as violets, and ferns, and bluebells, and that it is in the representation of these pets of vegetation that attention to Nature’s finer minutiæ is most easily discernible. We note, therefore, attention to vegetation as one of the most remarkable characteristics of the Pre-Raphaelite painters.

A third peculiarity of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, or at least of some of them, is a kind of studied quaintness of thought, most frequently bearing the character of archaism, or an attempt after the antique. Much of this, too, we believe, is resolvable into the desire to be literally true to Nature. One of the first results of such a desire, whether in art or literature, must always be a kind of baldness of thought and expression, a return to the most primitive style of thinking and speaking; a preference, so to speak, for words of one syllable. In his efforts to seize the thing meant, and to present it literally, the poet or artist, except on those special occasions, when the force of his own emotion makes him a braggart in language, and fearlessly polysyllabic, is apt to make his delineations as bare and simple as they possibly can be. Thus Wordsworth, on the publication of certain of his more characteristic poenis, was universally attacked for affectation, babyism, and what not. And so with many of the best American writers at the present day,–the very recoil of these writers, from the artificiality and rhodomontade of their countrymen, leading them into an affected simplicity often offensive to a manly taste. It was all very well, for example, for an American once to describe a youth in search after truth as a ‘seeker,’ or to speak of a young man, in a spiritual sense, as in a state of ‘growth;’ but when suclh transatlantic phrases pass into common talk, so that one meets every evening, young gentlemen who define themselves as ‘seekers,’ or as employed exclusively in ‘growing,’ the iinfantine stuff becomes odious, and the knowing auditor cannot help winking his contempt of it to his sympathetic neighbour. A good round swaggering expression, coined to express the meaning of the moment, is far better than these paltry precisenesses. Now, something akin to this tendency to the primitive, the simple, and the monosyllabic, which used to be complained of, though we think falsely, in Wordsworth, and which has been carried to an intolerable extent by some of our American friends, is visible also, and from a similar cause, among the Pre-Raphaelites. But, in their case, a special agency has been at work, contributing to this result. Looking with peculiar veneration to the works of those Italian artists who lived before Raphael, they have,–in some cases deliberately, in others reluctantly,–superinduced upon that tendency to the simple and unadorned in thought which would have arisen spontaneously out of their zeal for rigid truth, a kind of derivative, or artificial simplicity, consisting in a relish for mediævalism. It is precisely as if a modern writer, not content with such a simple and direct diction as he would naturally acquire by faithful and earnest negotiation, in every instance, with the matter then on hand, were to endeavour after the attainment of a double degree of simplicity, by an assiduous study of Dante’s Vita Nuova. Every one who is acquainted with this exquisite autobiographic romance of the great Italian poet, must recollect, as something inimitably charming, the quaint and almost helpless naïveté with which it tells the story of his love for Beatrice,–how he first saw ‘his lady;’ how once ‘his lady, being in the company of other ladies, laughed at him;’ how ‘a lady who knew his lady’ took pity on him; and so on, in a kind of dainty little chronicle of incidents that befell him and the ladies. Now, if the Pre-Raphaelites were to write prose or verse, the very same feeling which makes them Pre-Raphaelites in painting, would lead them to outdo even the simplicity of Wordsworth, by a return to the more archaic simplicity of the writers of the time of Dante. This is not a mere supposition. We have now before us a little volume of papers on art and poetry, written chiefly by the Pre-Raphaelites and their friends, to illustrate their notions on these subjects; and what strikes us most in these papers, is the archaic quaintness of their style, which is precisely such as would be formed now-a-days by a passionate study of the Vita Nuova of Dante, or of parts of the Decameron of Boccaccio. We shall quote a sentence or two at random, by way of specimen.

‘I love my lady; she is very fair;

Her brow is white, and bound by simple hair;

Her spirit sits aloof and high,

Altho’ it looks thro’ her soft eye,

Sweetly and tenderly.

‘My lady’s voice, altho’ so very mild,

Maketh me feel as strong wine would a child;

My lady’s touch, however slight,

Moves all my senses with its might,

Like to a sudden fright.’

‘After this Chiaro’s first resolve was that he would work out thoroughly some one of his thoughts and let the world know him. But the lesson which he had now learned, of how small a greatness might win fame, and how little there was to strive against, served to make hini torpid, and rendered his exertions less continual. Also Pisa was a larger and more luxurious city than Arezzo; and when, in his walks, he saw the great gardens laid out for pleasure, and the beautiful women who passed to and fro, and heard the music that was in the groves of the city at evening, he was taken with wonder that he had never claimed his share of the inheritance of those years in which his youth was cast. And women loved Chiaro; for, in despite of the burthen of study, he was well-favoured and very manly in his walking; and, seeing his face in front, there was a glory upon it, as upon the face of one who feels a light round his hair. So he put thought from him, and partook of his life. But, one night, being in a certain company of ladies, a gentleman that was there with him began to speak of the paintings of a youth named Bonaventura, which he had seen in Lucca; adding that Giunta Pisano might now look for a rival. When Chiaro heard this, the lamps shook before him, and the music beat in his ears and made him giddy. He rose up, alleging a sudden sickness, and went out of that house with his teeth set.’

The blessed Damosel leaned out,

From the gold bar of heaven:

Her blue grave eyes were deeper much,

Than a deep water even.

She had three lilies in her hand,

And the stars in her hair were seven.’

The simplicity of the simplest pieces of Wordsworth was nothing to this; and one needs to remember, that the writers were very young men when they wrote such things, and also to be aware of the actual amount of talent shown in the things themselves, (the poems, for example, from which the first extract is made, is a really beautiful poem of some length), not to become provoked in reading them. What we have to remark, however, is, that the same tendency to quaintness and archaism which appears in the writings of such of the Pre-Raphaelites as have given us an opportunity of judging of their powers of writing, appears, in a greater or less degree, in the paintings of them all. The best known of the Pre-Raphaelites, indeed–Millais, Holman Hunt, and Collins–are, as far as we know, entirely guiltless of the use of the pen; so that whatever of the mediæval vein they possess, shows itself only in their sympathy, as painters, with the peculiarities of mediæval eeclesiastical art. On this point of the mediævalism of the Pre-Raphaelites as painters, Mr. Ruskin has the followiing passage:–

‘The current fallacy of society as well as of the press was, that the Pre-Raphaelites imitated the errors of early painters. A falsehood of this kind would not have obtained credence anywhere but in England, few English people, comparatively, having ever seen a picture of early Italian masters. If they had, they would have known tbut the Pre-Raphaelite pictures are just as superior to the early Italian in skill of manipulation, power of drawing, and knowledge of effect, as inferior to them in grace of design; and that, in a word, there is not a shadow of resemblance between the two styles. The Pre-Raphaelites imitate no pictures: they paint from Nature only. But they have opposed themselves, as a body, to that kind of teaching above described, which only began after Raphael’s time; and they have opposed themselves as sternly to the entire feeling of the Renaissance schools,–a feeling compounded of indolence, infidelity, sensuality, and shallow pride. Therefore they have called themselves Pre-Raphaelite. If they adhere to their principles and paint Nature as it is around them, with the help of modern science–with the earnestness of the men of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, they will, as I said, found a new and noble school in England. If their sympathies with the early artists lead them into mediævalism, or Romanism, they will of course come to nothing. But I believe there is no danger of this, at least for the strongest among them. There may be some weak ones, whom the Tractarian heresies may touch; but if so, they will drop off like decayed branches from a strong stem.’–Pre-Raphaelitism, pp. 27, 28.

The authority of Mr. Ruskin is, of course, decisive as to the question whether there is anything like technical archaism in the Pre-Raphaelite painting,–any actual resemblance between the modern Pre-Raphaelite paintings and the paintings of the early Italian school as works of pictorial art. But that one of the characteristics of the Pre-Raphaelites as a body is sympathy with mediævalism of sentiment, we know to be a fact. Among other ways in which this has shown itself, is their tendency to that peculiar class of ecclesiastical subjects of which the early Christian artists were fond. Mr. Collins is perhaps the only well known Pre-Raphaelite in whom this tendency takes so pronounced a form as to indicate what would be called a leaning to Puseyism; we believe, however, that one or two of the original Pre-Raphaelites have gone farther in this direction than he, and actually fulfilled Mr. Ruskin’s prediction, by laying their Pre-Raphaelitism at the feet of the ancient mother-church, in whose service the early artists produced the paintings they so much admire. Mr. Millais is a man of too fine a poetic nature, and too full of sympathies with what is modern, to have retained more than an evanescent tinge, such as any artist may gracefully have, of the spirit of mediæval ecclesiasticism; and, if a little more of it still adheres to Mr. Hunt, his strong sense will soon throw it off.

After all, what seems mediævalism in such stronger Pre-Raphaelites as Hunt, Millais, and Rossetti, may be nothing more than the inadequate manifestation of that aspiration after spiritulity and religious meaning in art, which, in common with all the Pre-Raphaelites, they possess. For, in addition to the various characteristics of Pre-Raphaelitism which we have hitherto noticed, this also is to be taken into account, that it aims at rescuing Art frorn the degraded position of being a mere minister to sensuous gratification, and elevating it into an agency of high spiritual education. That Art should be pervaded with the Christian spirit,–that it should convey and illustrate the highest truths relating to man’s being, is a maxim of the Pre-Raphaelites for which, and for their endeavours to carry it out, they ought to be held in honour. But it is easier to hold by such a maxim theoretically, than to devise the appropriate artistic means for giving effect to it, in an age when the human intellect has torn up and huddled together, as a mere heap of relics, much that the feet of the ancients walked on as solid pavement, that the eyes of the ancients gazed on as indestructible walls, and that the artists who worked for the ancients had nothing to do but assume, and be in everlasting relation with, and everlastinlgly and obdurately point to. How shall artists now tell of heaven and hell as emphatically as these old Italians,–now that the earth is not, as they fancied it, an infinitely extended mass of brown mineral matter, with a sulphurous hell somewhere in the chasms beneath, and a heaven of light as close above, as seemed the upper sky with its stars; but a little orb poised in infinite azure, with a serene and unfathomable firmament beneath, and a firmament above as serene, and where equally the telescopes descry nought but new removes of suns and galaxies? And this is but one extreme instance. As astronomy has felled the old physical images to which men attached their ideas of heaven and hell, so in a thousand other directions has the thought of man felled the ancient images to which ideas, morally as everlasting as these, had their sensible attachment. But, as it is the function of the artist, if he makes it an express aim to foster and impress these ideas at all, to do so by symbols that shall have power over the contemporary mind, how can an artist now fulfil this function? This is the great question–a question in the presence of which Pre-Raphaelitism, so far as this aim is concerned, can appear at best as aspiration, and falls far short of performance. The abnegation of the nude may be a right step, or it may not, in the process of spiritualizing art; but if the Pre-Raphaelites, seeking the mere positive aids of allegory and intellectual symbolism (always, we think, a dangerous expedient for the artist,) can do nothing but fall back upon the symbols of early Italian ecclesiasticism, striving to teach the same truths as the early Italian masters taught through the same devices of doves, and monastic robes, and glories round the heads of saints, and the like,–then all that they do will be but an artistic anachronism after the fashion of the Eglintoun tournament. Better far abjure allegory and dogmatic intention altogether, and devote themselves, in the earnest spirit which characterizes them, to the study and representation of what is beatitiful in the concrete. And this is what the best of them are doing. Collins has far too much of the mediæeval kind of symbolism in his style; and the very reflectiveness of Hunt inclines him a little more than might be wished to conceptions of his own having a doctrinal purport; but Millais is shaking himself free from all that, and coming forth as a pure artist.

It may serve to elucidate and confirm some of the remarks we have made on the peculiarities of the Pre-Raphaelites, if we extract a passage or two in which Pre-Raphaelitism is delineated by the Pre-Raphaelites themselves. We take the following from the collection of papers already mentioned.

‘An unprejudiced spectator of the recent progress and main direction of Art in England will have observed, as a great change in the character of the productions of the modern school, a marked attempt to lead the taste of the public into a new channel, by producing pure transcripts and faithful studies from Nature, instead of conventionalities and feeble reminiscences from the old masters; an entire seeking after originality in a more humble manner than has been practised since the decline of Italian Art in the middle ages. . . . It has been said that there is presumption in this movement of the modern school, a want of deference to established authorities, a removing of ancient landmarks. This is best answered by the profession that nothing can be more humble than the pretension to the observation of facts alone, and the truthful rendering of them. If we are not to depart from established principles, how are we to advance at all? Are we to remain still? Remember, nothing remains still; that which does not advance falls backward. That this movement is an advance, and that it is of Nattire herself, is shown by its going nearer to truth in every object produced, and by its being guided by the very principles the ancient painters followed, as soon as they attained the mere power of representing an object faithfully. . . . That the earlier painters came nearer to fact, that they were less of the Art artificial, cannot be better shown than by a statement of examples from their works. There is a magnificent Niello work by an unknown Florentine artist, on which is a group of the Saviour on the lap of the Virgin. She is old (a most touching point), lamenting aloud,–clutches passionately the heavy-weighted body on her knee: her mouth is open. Altogether, it is one of the most powerful appeals possible to be conceived; for there are few but will consider this identification with humanity to be of more effect than any refined treatment of the same subject by later artists, in which we have the fact forgotten for the sake of the type of religion, which the Virgin was always taken to represent, whence she is shown as still young; as if, Nature being taken typically, it were not better to adhere to the emblem throughout, confident by this means to maintain its appropriateness, and therefore its value and force. . . . . It need not be feared that this course of education would lead to a repetition of the toe-trippings of the earliest Italian school, a sneer which is manifestly unfair; for this error, as well as several others of a similar kind, was not the result of blindness or stupidity, but of the simple ignorance of what had not been applied to the service of painting at their time. It cannot be shown that they were incorrect in expression, false in drawing, or unnatural in what is called composition. On the contrary, it is demonstrable that they exceeded all others in these particulars, that they partook less of coarseness and of conventional sentiment than any school which succeeded them, and that they looked more to Nature; in fact, were more true and less artificial. That their subjects were generally of a melancholy cast is acknowledged, which was an accident resulting from the positions their pictures were destined to occupy. A certain gaunt length and slenderness have also been commented upon most severely; as if the Italians of the fourteenth century were as so many dray-horses, and the artist was blamed for not following his model. The consequence of this direction of taste is that we have life-guardsmen and pugilists taken as models for kings, gentlemen, and philosophers. The writer was once in a studio where a man, six feet two inches in height, with Atlantean shoulders, was sitting for king Alfred. That there is no greater absurdity than this will be perceived by anyone that has ever read the description of the person of the king, given by his historian and friend, Asser.’–From a paper on the Purpose and Tendency of Early Italian Art.

‘What you call ripeness, others, with as much truth, may call over-ripeness–nay, even rottenness; when all the juices are drunk with their lusciousness, sick with over-sweetness. And the Art which you call youthful and immature, may be–most likely is–mature and wholesome in the same degree that it is tasteful,–a perfect round of beautiful, pure, and good. . . . . What an array of deep, earnest, and noble thinkers, like angels armed with a brightness that withers, stand between Giotto and Raffaelle! To mention only Orcagna, Ghiberti, Masaccio, Lippi, Fra Beato Angelico, and Francia–parallel them with post-Raffaelle artists? If you think you can you have dared a labour of which the fruit shall be to you as dead sea apples, golden and sweet to the eye, but in the mouth, ashes and bitterness. And the Phidian era was a youthful one–the highest and purest period of Hellenic art: after that time they added no more gods or heroes, but took for models instead, the Alcibiadeses and Phrynes, and made Bacchuses and Aphrodites–not as Phidias would have done, clothed with greatness of thought, or girded with valour, or veiled with modesty; but dissolved with the voluptuousness of the bath, naked, and wanton, and shameless. . . . . The modern artist can have no other than a settled conviction that Pagan Art, devil-like, gloses but to seduce, tempts but to betray; and hence he chooses to avoid that which he believes to be bad, and to follow out that which he holds to be good, and blots out from his eye and memory all art between the present and its first taint of heathenism, and ascends to the art previous to Raffaelle; and he ascends thither, not so much for its forms as he does for its thought and nature–the root and trunk of the Art-tree, of whose numerous branches, form is only one, though the most important one; and he goes to Pre-Raffaelle Art for these two things, because the stream at that point is clearer and deeper, and less l)o1luted with animal impurities than at any other in its course.’–From a Dialogue on Art.

The thought of such passages as these, it will be perceived, is as juvenile and immature as the writing; and if Pre-Raphaelitism had to rest its claims entirely on such expositions of its aims and meaning, one would have to credit it with a considerable amount of boyish earnestness in a good direction, but with very little more than that. What Pre-Raphaelitism really is, however, is to be ascertained less from these attempts of some among the minor Pre-Raphaelites to expound it theoretically, than from the practical exemplifications of it in the series of more eminent Pre-Raphaelite pictures exhibited during the last three or four years. As might be expected, Pre-Raphaelitism, [sic] expresses itself far better on canvas than on paper. Yet, as all know, even the ablest of the Pre-Raphaelite painters have had a hard battle to fight. A year or two ago, their pictures, though praised by artists themselves for their technical skill, were the subjects of universal jesting and merriment. Visitors to the Exhibition, with the exception of a few of the more judicious, approached the Pre-Raphaelite pictures only to laugh and go away again. The critics of the press were, almost to a man, against them. As late as last year the notices of the Pre-Raphaelite pictures in the newspapers were, most of them, violent attacks. This year there is a complete change. The Times, indeed, attempted to renew the old cry, and to bring public ridicule once more down upon the ‘opinionative youths’ who had persisted, notwithstanding repeated warnings, in painting in their old manner. But even the Times was driven into silence; and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of the present year, and especially those of Millais have been more widely commented on, and more heartily praised than any others in the Exhibition. Millais and Pre-Raphaelitism have, indeed, been the talk of this metropolitan season. The reason of this change may partly be, as the critics allege, that the Pre-Raphaelites–and especially Millais–have themselves improved–have, while retaining their peculiar excellences, got rid of some of their more obvious faults; in a far greater degree, however, it appears to us that the change is a triumph of the Pre-Raphaelite principle, and a reward of Pre-Raphaelite perseverance. One circumstance which makes this more likely is the extent to which Pre-Raphaelitism is visibly gaining ground among artists themselves. Some twelve or thirteen pictures might be pointed out in the present exhibition, and one or two of these by artists of high note and settled reputation, in which there is more or less distinctly a touch of Pre-Raphaelite influence. As the poets and the critics came round to Wordsworth, so, though scarcely yet on so large a scale, the artists and the critics seem to be coming round to the Pre-Raphaelites. That the change has been so sudden, however, is owing, doubtless, in a considerable degree, to the generous intervention in behalf of the Pre-Raphaelites made by Mr. Ruskin last year.

The specially Pre-Raphaelite pictures in the present Exhibition are–three by Mr. C. Collins; one by Mr. W. Holman Hunt; and three by Mr. J. E. Millais. Mr. Gabriel Rossetti has exhibited nothing.

Mr. Collins’s three pictures are those marked respectively, No. 55, No. 347, and No. 1091 in the catalogue. No. 55 is entitled, ‘May in the Regent’s Park,’ and is a curious and very pretty little specimen of minute painting of vegetation. The effect is as if one were looking at a piece of the park through an eye-glass from the window of one of the neighbouring houses. The Pre-Raphaelite qualities most conspicuous in it are those of simple fidelity to the objects represented, with minute finish of colour. The peculiar sentimental tendencies of at least a portion of the Pre-Raphaelites are better seen in Mr. Collins’s other two pictures, which have more of direct liuman reference in them. No. 347 bears no title, but it is described by a verse from Keble’s ‘Lyra Innocentium,’ appended to it in the catalogue, and of which it is designed as an illustration. The verse is as follows:–

‘So keep thou, by calm prayer and searching thought,

Thy Chrisom pure, that still, as weeks roll by,

And heaven rekindles, gladdening earth and sky,

The glow that from the grave our champion brought,

Pledge of high victory by his dread wounds wrought,

Thou mayst put on the garb of purity.’

To illustrate this, or to be illustrated by it, we hardly know which, we have the figure of a young girl, in a very stiff, high white dress, against a blue background. The face is that of an ordinary modern girl; the eyes are looking down at the fingers, which are engaged in fastening the dress close round the throat; and the whole expression is rather sullen. The painting, we believe, would be described by good judges as, technically, very well done, though there is not much of it; and any objection that we would take to it is on the deeper ground of the meaning and sentiment. So, also, with the remaining painting, which is entitled, The devout Childhood of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, of whom it is told by Butler, in his Lives of the Saints, that ‘if she found the doors of the chapel in the palace shut, not to lose her labour, she knelt down at the threshold, and always put up her petition to the throne of God.’ To illustrate this interesting legend, we have a pious little girl of thirteen or fourteen years of age, with a rather comely, healthy face, brown hair, and a green dress, kneeling at the iron-barred oaken door of a chapel, her hands against the wood, and a missal, which she has brought up the gravel-walk with her, deposited on the door-step. Here, too the technical performance is good; but, if we take the sentiment into account, we begin, in spite of liking, to grow angry. In short, it is in these two pictures of Mr. Collins’s, and in Mr. Collins’s choice of subjects generally, that we discern something of that paltry affection for middle age ecclesiasticism with which the Pre-Raphaelites as a body have been too hastily charged. Little girls keeping their Chrisom pure against blue backgrounds, and other little girls kneeling on church-door steps to say their prayers,–Puseyite clergymen may like such artistic helps toward teaching young ladies the way to the blessed life; but most decidedly the public is right in declaring, that though the painting were never so good, it will not stand that sort of thing. The most important thing about a work of art, and that which most surely gives the style and measure of the artist’s intellect, is the choice of the subject. That is a great work of art, as distinct from a mere study, the subject of which is a broad and impressive human fact, and the sentiment of which shoots down, like a tremor, among the depths and antiquities of human association. A ‘Chrisom pure,’ and the like, may be permissible now and then, simply in as far as there is still something gentle and human in little thoughts of that kind; but an artist unmans himself if the habitual and pre-ordered forthgoing of his contemplations is along the line of these petty ecclesiasticalities, where his eyes never lose sight of the Tractarian parson, and where his hands may touch the tops of the pews. What Keble is among poets, will that artist be among artists who views the world according to Keble. No; if we are to have religious paintings, let us have no mere ‘Chrisoms pure,’ and other dear little adaptations of religion to the dilettantism of Belgravia; but the true legends of the church, powerful at all times and in all places. Let us have true stories of the lives of the saints, whether those of ordinary or those of ecelesiastical record; or if artists will, in their desire to paint religiously, keep strictly in the line of the holiest Christian traditions–let them oftener than they do, ascend to the commencement of that line, reading not the Lyra Innocentium, but St. Matthew’s Gospel, and representing, not gravel-walks leading to the doors of nunneries, but those actual oriental fields over whose acres walked the houseless Man of Sorrows under many a scorching sun; that mountain, still to be seen, from which, on many a solitary night, he gazed, thinking of his mission, at the lights of sleeping Jerusalem. Or, to concentrate what we have to say into a humbler, and, perhaps, in the circumstances of the case, a more available form, let Mr. Collins pitch Keble overboard, and addict himself to Tennyson.

Mr. Hunt’s single picture, marked No. 592 in the Catalogue, is entitled The Hireling Shepherd, and purports to be a free version of these lines in one of Shakespeare’s snatches of ballad,–

‘Sleepest thou or wakest thou, jolly shepherd?

Thy sheep be in the corn;

And, for one blast of thy minikin mouth,

Thy sheep shall take no harm.’

The suggestions of these lines are attended to in the picture, and perhaps there is an allusion also in the conception to the scriptural idea of a hireling shepherd; but, on the whole, the picture is a piece of broad rural reality, with none of the fantastic circumstance implied in the lines quoted, and with no attempt to bring out the scriptural allusion, if it exists, by deviating from what is English and modern. A brawny shepherd, in a brown jacket and corduroys, and as brawny a shepherdess, in a white smock and red petticoat, (too much like brother and sister, as we have heard it remarked,) are sitting among a clump of trees, separating a mendow from a field of ripe corn. They are idling away their time; and he has just caught a death’s-head moth, which he is exhibiting to her, while she shrinks back, half in disgust, from the sight, though still curious enough to look at it intently. Meanwhile the sheep that they should have been attending to, are straggling about, and getting into mischief. Some are fighting; some are off to a distant part of the meadow; one is fairly up to the neck among the ripe corn, and several are following in the same direction. To make the mischief all the more patent, a lamb is lying quietly on the shepherdess’s lap, munching one of two green apples which the hussy has left there; green apples, as we understand, being certain death to lambs. All this is in the foreground of a fine breezy English lanscape [sic], on a pleasant summer’s day; there are rich yellow fields in the distance, with rows of trees, and swallows are flying along the meadows. The picture is, in all respects, one of the best in the exhibition. Such corn, such sheep, such meadows, such rows of trees, and such cool grass and wild flowers to sit amidst, are not to be found in any painting that we know. The Pre-Raphaelitism of the artist in this picture shows itself, not only in the ordinary Pre-Raphaelite quality of minute truth of detail,–perhaps a little overdone, as in the introduction of the swallows in the act of flying,–but also in the audacity with which he has selected stich a veritable pair of country labourers for the principal figures. There is certainly no attempt at poetry here; for a fellow more capable than the shepherd of drinking a great quantity of beer, or a more sunburnt slut than the shepherdess, we never saw in a picture. Mr. Hunt is clearly far more of a realist by constitution, and by resolute purpose, that [sic] Mr. Millais, and will probably continue for a longer period to paint pictures containing objects too harsh for the popular taste. He has something of the rigid reflective realism of Thackeray, without anything of Thackeray’s bitter social humour; and as the man to whom this constituent of Pre-Raphaelitism was originally most native, it is natural that he should carry it farthest. That we quite like such extremes of realism in pictures as the jolly shepherd and his mate, we cannot in conscience say; but Mr. Hunt is a man who knows what he is about better than most critics can tell him; and the public will learn to accept his pictures the more readily and admiringly the more of them they see. It is greatly in his favour that, with a decided bent towards serious and impressive subjects, and with perhaps a wavering preference, if he were free to do as he liked, towards illustrations of religious story, he has too strong and too unsophisticated a sense of what fact is, to seek for it exclusively among West-end ecclesiasticalities. His range of subjects has already been tolerably wide; and every new picture he paints will, we believe, be distinct from its predecessors.

Of Mr. Millais’s three pictures, the chief are the Ophelia (No. 656), and the Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, refusing to shield himself from danger by wearing the Roman-catholic badge, (No. 478.) No pictures in the Exhibition have attracted so much attention as these. The death of Ophelia has been a favourite subject with artists, and with illustrators of Shakespeare; but we do not believe that the subject was ever treated before with any approach to the minuteness with which Millais has treated it in the present picture. The lines of Shakespeare describing the scene were, indeed, a sufficient temptation to any painter.

‘There is a willow grows ascaunt the brook,

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;

There, with fantastic garlands, did she come,

Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,

That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,

But our cold maids do ‘dead men’s fingers’ call them:

There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds

Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,

When down her weedy trophies and herself

Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,

And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;

Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes,

As one incapable of her own distress,

Or like a creature native and indued

Unto that element: but long it could not be

Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,

Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay

To niuddy death.’

Mr. Millais in his illtistration of these lines, has given us such a pool as no other English painter could or would have painted. We believe he went into the country in search of an actual pool to suit the description; resided by it for some weeks, and painted from it morning and evening till the whole was finished. It is a deep, dark, silent, all but motionless pool, made by a brook in the dankest covert of a thick wood. The still living body of Ophelia has floated at full length down from the spot where she fell in, to a place where a huge pollarded trunk lies heavily athwart the stream, some of the multitudinous osiers which have sprouted from it dipping down among the ooze on one side, while the greater portion shoot upwards, and arch over with abundant leafage towards the water flags on the other. The hands are above the water; the face is crazy; the mouth is open as if still singing; and down the stream, and along the rich bridal dress which she wears, and which is completely under water, float the flowers which have escaped from her incapable hands. White blossoms on the branches above, and a robin perched on one of the branches, add a touch of quaint beauty to the weirdly [word omitted?] aspect of the scene. Altogether the painting is a wonderful one, and it is with something of reluctance that we set down two critical observations that we have made upon it. The one is, that the artist seems to have been more faithful to the circumstantials of the actual brook which he selected as answering to Shakespeare’s description, than to the text of the description itself. Clearly the moment chosen by Mr. Millais is that, when Ophelia, not yet dead, is still floating in the water, and gaily singing as she goes to her fancied bridal. Now, at this moment, Ophelia, in Shakespeare’s text, is evidently not floating horizontally on the water, as in Mr. Millais’s picture, but buoyed up, in the attitude of a mermaid, by ‘her clothes spread wide.’ Whether the graceful management of this attitude by a painter would be easy, we do not know; but certainly, if it were, a painting so conceived would strike less painfully, not to say less awkwardly, than one in which the corpse-like length of robe and figure suggests so literally the drowning woman. The other observation we have to make is one in support of which we can allege nothing but our individual feeling and preconception. It is that the face of Oplielia, however admirable the expression depicted in such a face, is not the face of the real Ophelia of Hamlet, but a shade too fair in colour, and decidedly too marked and mature in form. Nothing similar can be said of the face of the lady in Mr. Millais’s other picture, that of the Huguenot refusing the badge. Almost unanimously critics have pronounced this picture the gem of the Exhibition. It is a less laborious work than the Ophelia, and the subject itself is less ambitious and genuine; but as a representation of the subject, such as it is, it is a painting of exquisite beauty. A Catholic lady is standing by a garden wall somewhere in the suburbs of Paris, looking up with the most anxious affection at the face of her handsome Huguenot lover, round whose left arm she is trying to bind the white scarf that would save his life; while he, looking fondly down at the fair suppliant with a smile at her earnestness, is firmly but gently resisting the action. The brick-wall, the leaves, the flowers, the costume of the lovers, are all painted with matchless fidelity, but the special feature of the picture is the face of the lady. It is a poem in itself, and the only face that can be compared to it in the Exhibition (if we may cornpare two faces so entirely and so necessarily different) is the face of Robespierre in Mr. Ward’s picture of Charlotte Corday going to execution. On the whole, Mr. Millais’s pictures in the present exhibition show more distinctly than any of his previous pictures that Pre-Raphaelitism with him has been a creed assumed on conviction, and conscientiously adhered to by a mind already gifted with a keen intuitive sense of the poetic and the beautiful. In some of his earlier paintings the Pre-Raphaelite peculiarities were exaggerated for their own sake; in these they exist but as means to an end; and in the end his paintings will probably escape the imputation of mannerism or sectarianism altogether.

One additional word, in conclusion, on Pre-Raphaelitism itself. The great purpose and effect of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art has been to impress on artists the duty of being true to nature. But ‘being true to nature’ is a very vague phrase; and the advice contained in it can go but a very little way towards teaching an artist how he is to paint pictures. If the business is to paint an actual landscape, or other assemblage of objects already collocated in nature, the advice has a specific meaning almost co-extensive with the occasion. But nine out of every ten pictures are not of this kind. Mr. Millais’s Huguenot, for example, is not and could not be a transcript from nature; it is a thought or invention of the painter. In order to reconcile, therefore, the Pre-Raphaelite maxim of being true to nature with Goethe’s famous maxim, so contrary in appearance, ‘Art is called Art simply because it is not Nature,’ it must be remembered that the true painting of natural objects is but the grammar or language of art, and that, as the greatness of a poem consists, not in the grammatical correctness of the language, but in the power and beauty of the meaning, so the greatness of a painting depends on what there is in it that the painter has added out of his own mind. This is true even of the most literal transcript from nature, where there is always room for diverse interpretation; much more is it true where the artist first conceives a thought of his own, and then tries to express it in appropriate natural circumstances. After all, there is something of real and deep truth, however ill it may have been expressed, in those phrases of Sir Joshua Reynolds about ‘ideal forms,’ and ‘generalised forms,[’] against which the Pre-Raphaelite theory is, in a certain sense, a protest. What Sir Joshua meant by such phrases was probably identical with what Goethe meant by the aphorism which we have just quoted, and with what Bacon also meant when he said that painting ‘raises the mind by accommodating the images of things to our desires.’ Equally with the poet, the painter must take his rank ultimately according to his power of invention–according to that in his paintings which is, in the strict sense of the word, factitious, or supplied out of his own heart and mind, whether for the interpretation, or for the artistic combination into new and significant unions, of the appearances of so-called Nature. The special merit of the Pre-Raphaelites consists in this,–that they have treated as a mischievous fallacy the notion that this power of artistic invention, this painter’s sway over Nature, is a thing to be taught in the schools, and have called attention to the fact that what is teachable in the art of painting, is the habit of patient observation and the power of correct imitation. If they have seemed to insist upon this too much, it is not, we believe, because they have undervalued invention, but because they truly consider that the prerequisite to invention in painting is the ability to paint. There are two

modes by which they may redeem themselves from whatever of the imputation of excessive realism still justly adheres to them, in consequence of the peculiar nature of their past efforts. On the one hand, they may make it more clear from their own practice, that they do regard the power of correct imitation only as the mastery of the painter over his peculiar language, and that they have the ability, as well as other painters, to use that language for the expression of meanings the most factitious, the most fantastic, the most gorgeously and exquisitely ideal. Or, on the other hand, they may push their realism to the utmost, and learn to show, what they have hardly shown yet, a rigorous appreciation of fact and truth, as well in the entire subjects and notions of their pictures, as in their circumstantials and details. Millais is probably taking the former direction; Hunt will probably labour in the latter. Either way it will come to very nearly the same thing in the end; and, either way, in order to attain the higliest excellence, it is necessary that the painter should cultivate acquaintance, as a man of general intellect, with all that is deepest and clearest in the thought of his own time.


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Copyright © 1998 Thomas J. Tobin.

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