"Sketchings: American Exhibition of British Art." Crayon 4 (Nov. 1857), 343-344.

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A very liberal display of the English school of Art of the present day is now before our public, in a way to be studied and enjoyed. The impressions derived of it through engravings and word-descriptions can be tested by the pictures themselves, so as to enable us to form our own estimation of its intrinsic merit, without being influenced by the verdict of its friends or depreciators. The most interesting feature of the exhibition will, to many, be the works of the Pre-Raphaelites. This reformatory sect in the school of English Art is well, if not fully represented, only needing a work by Millais to make its corps of pictorial exponents complete. Holman Hunt and Arthur Hughes are[,] next to Millais, the foremost artists of the brotherhood, and we have some of their best productions. "The Light of the World," by Holman Hunt, is truly a wonderful picture; the larger picture, of which this is a duplicate, is esteemed the loftiest effort of Pre-Raphaelitism; this work, with "The Eve of St. Agnes," by the same artist, will provoke much comment. "The Home from Sea–The Mother’s Grave," by Arthur Hughes, seems to be a painter’s puzzle. Ruskin has said that the checkered sunlight is the finest thing of the kind he ever saw. For ourselves, we are quite indifferent to the technical problems involved in an analysis of its merits; the picture tells its story effectively; it is brilliant with light, and it is of most pathetic sentiment. As for "April Love," by the same artist, it is perfectly fascinating: this picture did not please us at first sight, but the more we looked upon it, the more we became absorbed in its simple embodiment of deep, pure, intense feeling. The "Ophelia," another and the last of this artist’s pictures, is a powerful representation of a maniac, but not of our Ophelia. Ford Madox Brown’s "King Lear," is one of those vigorous artistic creations that carries away all prejudice. Its superb drawing and powerful color, also the originality of its composition and treatment, cannot fail to excite the admiration of all who study it. The head of the old king is, to our mind, exceedingly impressive; the figure of Cordelia is less satisfactory, owing to a feeble expression of countenance, if not to an inadequate type of character. The subordinate characters are very fine, particularly the heads by the side of and behind Cordelia. Ford Madox Brown ranks high in England, although he is not well known popularly. He stood very conspicuous in the cartoon competition for the painting of the Houses of Parliament; his specimen of fresco painting there was pronounced by Haydon to be the only excellent one. He has studied chiefly in France, and is to be considered a kind of precursor of Pre-Raphaelitism, having exhibited works of that tendency before the school was organized. The pictures we have mentioned are all remarkable for artistic power, for conscientiousness, and for noble purpose; did they reveal an equally strong perception of the Beautiful, especially in form, the principles contended for by the Brotherhood would find more general indorsement. We must pass over the remaining examples of Pre-Raphaelitism (many of which are attended to in the article entitled "The Two Pre-Raphaelitisms," in the present number of The Crayon*), in order to give a glance at other pictures.

* The series of papers under the heading of "The Two Pre-Raphaelitisms," that have appeared in The Crayon during the past year, are written by a warm friend of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; and they will prove of great assistance to visitors to this exhibition. Most of the Pre-Raphaelite pictures in this exhibition are mentioned in these papers, and they are admirably described.


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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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