Rossetti, William Michael. "Art News from London.–No. 1." Crayon 1 (25 Apr. 1855), 263-265.


Beneficent Pre-Raphaelitism is gradually working a change in the tenor of our pictorial doings. Let there be no mistake about what Pre-Raphaelitism means. It has nothing to do with the technical deficiencies or technical practice, or choice of subjects, of painters who lived before Raphael, but with the condition of mind which actuated them to represent whatever was in hand–whether typically or naturally–with a resolute adherence to truth of feeling and truth of fact, and a resolute disregard of all mere grace and all mere dexterity which would interfere with the first or affect the second. Pre-Raphaelitism, at its lowest, is reverent faith in Nature, whether seen with the poet’s eye or with the catalogue-compiler’s, whether rendered with the artist’s hand or with the transcriber’s. At its highest–and the young men who founded the school understood it at its highest–this faith in Nature takes a far wider range; involving that sincerity of thought which shall always invent something specific and something new in conception–something truly natural in idea, as well as express this through a medium of visible nature studied with that love of observance which cannot but catch, out of her infinity, beauties ever fresh and individual. Of the two calumnies which have borne testimony to the extent of alarm created by Pre-Raphaelitism among its opponents–namely, that it imitates the defects of old painters, such as false perspective, and that it copies anything in Nature, without purpose or meaning, instead of first getting a worthy subject, and then selecting the right Nature for its realization–the one is not more monstrous than the other. But these calumnies are getting stale, and hardly server their turn any longer. Thinkers and good painters have hailed Pre-Raphaelitism from the first, and even academy students are influenced by it now. It was only the other day that the assertion of such futile fallacies as I have alluded to entailed a volley of hisses upon Mr. Hart, the recently elected Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy, when he delivered his first lecture: an expression of opinion unprecedented, I am given to understand, in the institution.

Pre-Raphaelitism, as I said, is working it way in our exhibitions. Bad painters try on a delusive imitation of it like an ill-fitting suit of clothes; promising men serve in its cause; and even the inferior minds who adopt it in good faith, are redeemed from mere inanity by its practice, and progress with the successive years. It now forms quite a class in every gallery–felt not only by its distinctness, but by its numbers.

. . . Mr. H. Mark Anthony, long a member of the Society of British Artists, but recently seceded, is, to my judgment, by far the greatest of our living landscape-painters. Still young, he has been an indefatigable worker; producing, year by year, till within the last three or four, his dozen or score of exhibited pictures. Massive force, instant grasp and realization of his subject, are his great characteristics. He is never afraid of anything; but loads his canvas with daring execution, and space after space with the intensest color. This was his original and most distinctive manner; but so deep an observer of nature could not help seeing the excellences of Pre-Raphaelite practice, and he has latterly engrafted a good deal of that system as his own–producing fewer pictures, more minutely elaborated, but on the whole, I am inclined to think, less noble in their impression. His "Woodyard, Evening"–the picture at the British Institution–a cottage scene with a sky of unusual importance and beauty, is about the completest example of his present combined style. The second painting is a view from an elevated site of our metropolitan suburban village, Hampstead, by Mr. Ford Madox Brown–a thoroughly Pre-Raphaelite work; the painter being one who, preceding Millais and his colleagues by a few years, had realized some of the principles of the sect before Pre-Raphaelitism was word known to man[.]

. . . The artist remaining [at the National Institution] most worthy of mention is Mr. William Bell Scott, brother of a deceased painter of genius, David Scott, and a noble poet, as a small volume recently published, together with some previous productions, will show. He has benefited very noticeably by Pre-Raphaelitism in his art as a painter. His "Albert Durer in Nuremberg" conjures up a fresh and living vision of the old German city; and a picture of one of our own northerly towns, Hedham, presenting both an interior, and a view of the street through the window, does the same for the kind of stolid, slow-going, yet bustling business which belongs to an English market-town.

. . . I shall not give you much news of what is to be at our forthcoming Royal Academy Exhibition–always the great public artistic event of the year; and this, for more readers than one. I don’t know very much about it myself as yet; and artists are not over partial to having their intentions bruited about beforehand. I may say, however, that Millais is to have a remarkable subject of our actual London life–possibly, but not probably, a second picture; and Wm. Holman Hunt, who has for some while been in the East, promises an oriental subject. Egg also will exhibit a work that has long been looked for. Ford, Brown, and Anthony, are expected to strengthen the representation of the Pre-Raphaelite school; together with Inchbold, a young landscape-painter of the most assured promise, Miss Howitt, and others, whose name America has yet to learn. By the bye, she carried off, some years ago, a young artist, Mr. Telfer, who would probably by this time have joined the Pre-Raphaelite movement, like most of the aspirants with a gleam of originality, and of whom I should be glad to hear any good news.

. . . The strongest artistic interest attaches to [a] book, the preparations for which have been pending for some time, and which may probably come out towards the end of the year. This is an illustrated edition of Tennyson’s miscellaneous poems. The Pre-Raphaelites will have a considerable share in it. Hunt is likely to do the Lady of Shalott; Millais the Miller’s Daughter, Mariana, Dora, St. Agnes; Dante Rossetti, the Vision of Sin, Sir Galahad. . . . There is a prospect that a portrait of Tennyson will appear as the frontispiece, to be engraved from a medallion by Thomas Woolner–a young sculptor of intellect and imagination–strange phenomenon at the present day–who contemplates to renovate sculpture in his own practice, upon the same principles of earnestness and truth which the Pre-Raphaelites have imposed upon public recognition in painting, and who has produced, in the medallion in question, a work admirable at once for its Art, and its portraiture of the great original.

William M. Rossetti.

March 29, 1865.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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