"Art and Artists: Pre-Raffaelite Pictures." Critic 16.389 (15 Jun. 1857), 280.

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A small collection of pictures and sketches by artists of the Pre-Raffaelite school, or having affinity therewith, are on private view at 4, Russell place, Fitzroy-square. It comprises several works of much interest. Some of them we recollect to have had visions of before in the Academy Octagon-room, or in other remote places, where little could be guessed of their meaning. "The Last of England," by Mr. Ford Madox Brown, is a picture of a handsome couple on board an emigrant ship, as we suppose, looking towards the white cliffs of Albion for the last time. The mixed feelings of regret for the dear country they leave behind, and of solace in the thought that they are to be henceforth more than ever all in all to each other, is beautifully expressed. "King Lear," by the same artist, contains some noble thoughts. The rough face of old Kent is capitally conceived. It is individual, but filled with a concentration of tender admiration, such as Shakspere has hinted at in the exclamation which he puts in the mouth of Kent, addressed to Cordelia, "Kind and dear Princess." The "English Autumn Afternoon," "Windermere," and several other landscapes, illustrate further the direction of the artist's studies.

Arthur Hughes’s "Ophelia," painted in 1852, was condemned to the Octagon-room. It is a work of a lurid imagination, realising the horrors of the swamp and of death by drowning in such a pool with horrible fidelity. On this ground we have our objection to the picture; we had rather imagine Ophelia’s death not accompanied by extraneous horrors.

"The Mother’s Grave," by the same, presents the converse mode of treatment. A sailor-lad stretched upon the grave of his parent, in wild grief, while the village churchyard lies basking as it were in the sultry sun of July–bright, gleaming, and joyous. Nothing here is sombre, nothing reminds us of death; or the cold chill of the tomb. The colours are not exactly those of the objects they are intended to present; the artist has missed the true green of nature. This gives the whole rather an artificial look, but the painting is one which it is difficult to behold unmoved, so intense is the expression of grief and despair in the boy, whose face is not seen, but whose clasped hands indicate what is passing within.

Mr. Dante G. Rossetti’s pictures are of the ultra Pre-Raffaelite species. They are in reality imitations of the style of some of the earlier Italian masters. If the Arundel Society were to publish "Dante’s Dream at the time of the Death of Beatrice," and "The Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice," as products of Italian art, we should say, "These old painters were a little stiff and awkward in their attitudes, but what intensity of meaning there is in them–why is it that nobody can produce anything of so earnest and profound a character now?"

Mr. Rossetti has transplanted himself into the thirteenth century, and seems to be able to see nothing except with the eye of one who lived at that era. It is certainly an extraordinary achievement to be able to do this with success, as we think he has done; but the enjoyment to be had from such works must necessarily be shared by few, and those abnormally constituted and cultivated. The nineteenth century must, after all, have its own eyes, and may, by looking, see into the world as far as Dante and Giotto saw. The present age is said to be one of unbelief; and this characteristic appears to us to be strongly illustrated by such works as these–indicating that the artist does not believe in himself, does not trust his own senses, but strives to look at things through the dead eyes of the past. Are not many of those who clamour the most about unbelief really the most guilty of this?

J. W. Inchbold’s study "In March" is one of the most striking we have seen from his hand. A bare-boughed tree is the principal object; spring flowers, the earliest of their kind, in front; and behind, a sky of the purest blue. The skyey tint has, perhaps, never been better caught or more effectively applied. "The Long Engagement," by Chas. A. Collins, is a female head, rather brown and dirty in tint, but extremely powerful in expression. The half-grey hair, the worn and hardened lines of a face still handsome, the packet of letters, tell the tale indicated by the title. Some landscape studies by Mr. Davis, "Wallasey Mill," "The White Horse," &c., are worth looking at, but particularly "A Study of Dogs" (25), an inimitable bit of nature.


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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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