Art and Poetryreview. Guardian 8 Aug. 1850, 623.
Art and Poetry. Being Thoughts towards Nature. Conducted principally by Artists. Dickinson and Co.; and Aylott and Jones.
We are very sorry to find that, after a short life of only four monthly numbers, this magazine is not likely to be continued. Independently of the great ability displayed by some of its contributors, we have been anxious to see the rising school of young and clever artists find a voice, and tell us what they are aiming at, and how they propose to reach their aim. This magazine was, to a great extent, connected with the Pre-Raffaelite Brethren, whose paintings have attracted this year a more than ordinary quantity of attention, and an amount of praise and blame perhaps equally extravagant. As might have been expected, the school has been identified with its cleverest manipulator, Mr. Millais, and his merits or defects have been made the measure of the admiration or contempt bestowed by the public upon those whom it chooses to class with him. This is not matter of complaint; but it is a mistake. As far as these papers enable us to judge, Mr. Millais is by no means the leading mind among his fraternity; and, judged by the principles of some clever and beautiful papers upon art in the magazine before us, his pictures would be described by them as wanting in some of the very highest artistic qualities, although possessing many which entitle them to attention and respect. The chief contributors to this magazine (to which Mr. Millais contributes nothing) are other artists as yet not greatly known, but with feeling and purpose about them, such as must make them remarkable in time. Some of the best papers are by two brothers named Rosetti [sic], one of whom, Mr. D. G Rosetti [sic passim], has a very curious but very striking picture now exhibiting at the Portland Gallery. Mr. Deverell, who has also a very clever picture in the same gallery, contributes some beautiful poetry. It is, perhaps, chiefly in the poetry that the abilities of these writers are displayed; for, with somewhat absurd and much that is affected, there is yet in the poetical pieces of these four numbers a beauty and grace of language and sentiment, and not seldom a vigour of conception, altogether above the common run. Want of purpose may be easily charged against them as a fault, and with some justice; but it is a very common defect of youthful poetry, which is sure to disappear with time, if there be anything real and manly in the poet. The best pieces are too long to be extracted entire, and are not to be judged of fairly except as wholes. There is a very fine poem called "repining" of which this is particularly true. Take the following, however, which are pretty in their way:
Where sunless rivers weep
Their waves into the deep,
She sleeps a charmed sleep,
Awake her not;
Led by a single star,
She came from very far,
To seek where shadows are
Her pleasant lot.
She left the rosy morn,
She left the fields of corn,
For twilight cold and lorn
Through sleep, as through a veil,
She sees the sky look pale,
And hears the nightingale
That sadly sings.
Rest, rest, a perfect rest,
Shed over brow and breast;
Her face is toward the west,
The purple land;
She cannot see the grain
Ripening on hill and plain,
She cannot feel the pain
Upon her hand.
Rest, rest, for ever more,
Upon a mossy shore;
Rest, rest, that shall endure
Till time shall cease;
Sleep that no pain shall wake,
Night that no morn shall break,
Till joy shall overtake
Her perfect peace.
The following passages are from a beautiful poem called the "Blessed Damosel" [sic]:
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
Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,
No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Marys gift
On the neck meetly worn;
And her hair, lying down her back,
Was yellow like ripe corn.
. . . . . .
It was the terrace of Gods house
That she was standing on,
By God built over the sheer depth,
In which space is begun;
So high, that looking downward thence,
She scarce could see the sun.
It is from heaven across the flood
Of ether as a bridge,
Beneath the tides of day and night
With flame and blackness ridge
The void, as low as where this earth
Spins like a fretful midge.
But in those tracts with her it was
The peace of utter light
And silence: For no breeze may stir
Along the steady flight
Of Seraphim; no echo there
Beyond all depth or height.
Heard hardly, some of her new friends,
Playing at holy games,
Spake, gentle-mouthed, among themselves,
Their virginal chaste names;
And the souls, mounting up to God,
Went by her like thin flames.
And still she bowed herself, and stooped
Into the vast waste calm;
Till her bosoms pressure must have made
The bar she leaned on warm,
And the lilies lay as if asleep
Along her bended arm.
This will be felt to be beautiful poetry, but the whole poem requires to be read to do justice to its mingled pathos and delicacy. Moreover, as we said above, the finest poems must be judged of as wholes, and not by extracts. The last number contains a remarkable dialogue on art, written by a young man, John Ontand, who has since died. It is well worth study. Kalon, Kosmon, Sophon, and Christian, whose names of course represent the opinions they defend, discuss a number of subjects connected with the arts. Each character is well supported, and the wisdom and candour of the whole piece is very striking, especially when we consider the youth and inexperience of the writer. Art lost a true and high-minded votary and Mr. Ontand. The two passages we subjoin will give our readers the best defence we have yet seen of the Pre-Raffaele school of painting:
"Christian.Kosmon, your thoughts seduce you; or rather your nature prefers the full and rich to the exact and simple; you do not go deep enoughdo not penetrate beneath the images gilt overlay, and see that it covers only worm-devoured wood. Your very comparison tells against you. What you call ripeness, others, with as much truth, may call over-ripeness, nay rottenness, when all the juices are drunk with their lusciousness, sick with over sweetness, and the art which you call youthful and immaturemay be, most likely is, mature and wholesome in the same degree that it is tasteful, a perfect round of beautiful, pure and good. You call youth immature; but in what does it come short of manhood? Has it not all that man can havefree, happy, noble, and spiritual thoughts? And are not those thoughts newer, purer, and more unselfish in the youth than in the man? What eye has the man, that the youths is not as comprehensive, keen, rapid, and penetrating? or what hand, that the youths is not as swift, forceful, cunning, and true? And what does the youth gain in becoming ratheris it not languorthe languor of satietyof indifferentism? And thus soul-rusted and earth-charmed, what mate is he for his former youth? Drunken with the world-lees, what can he do but portray nature as drunken as well, and consumed with the same fever or stupor that consumes himself, making up with gilding and filigree [sic] what he lacks in truth and sincerity? And what comparison shall exist here and between what his youth might or could have done, with a soul innocent and untroubled as heavens deep calm of blue, gazing on earth with seraph eyeslooking, but not longingor, in the spirit wrapt away before the emerald-like rainbow-crowned throne, witnessing things which shall be hereafter, and drawing them down almost as stainless as he beheld them? 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 Occagna, Ghiberti, Masaceio [sic], Lippi, Fra Beati 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 Phyrnes, and made Bachusses and Aphrodites; not a Phidias would have, clothed with greatness of thought, or girded with valor, or veiled with modesty; but dissolved with the voluptuousness of the bathnaked, wanton, and shameless."
"Christian.Me do not stumble over what they know; and the day fades so imperceptibly into night, that were it not for experience, darkness would surprise us long before we believed the day done; and, in relation to art, its revolutions are still more imperceptible in their gradations; and, in fulfilling themselves, they spread over such an extent of time, that in their knowledge, the experience of one artist is next to nothing; and its twilight is so lengthy, that those who never saw other, believe its gloom to be day. Nor are their successors more aware that the deepening darkness is the contrary, until night drops big like a great clap of thunder, and awakes them staringly into a pitiable sense of their condition. But, if we cannot have this experience through ourselves, we can through others; and that will show us that Pagan wit has once, nay, twice, already brought over Christian art a darkness which might be felt. From a little handful cloud out of the studio of Squarcione, it gathered density and volume through his scholar Mantegna; made itself a nucleus in the academy of Medici; and thence it issued in such a flood of heathenesse, that Italy finally became covered with one vast and thick night of Pagandom. Bu tin every deep there is a lower deep, and through the same gods worship, a night intenser still fell upon art, when the pantomime of David made its appearance. With these two fearful lessons before his eyes, the modern artist can have no other than a settled conviction that Pagan art, devil-like, glozes but to seducetempts but to betray; and, hence, he chooses to avoid that which he believes to be bad, and to follow that which he holds to be good, and blots out from his eye and memory all art between the preset 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 those two things, because the stream at that point is clearer and deeper, and less polluted with animal impurities than at any other in its course. And, Kalon and Kosmon, had you remembered this, and at the same time recollected that the words Nature and Thought express very peculiar ideas to modern eyes and ears; ideas which are totally unknown to Hellenic art; you would have instantly felt that the artist cannot study from it things chiefest in importance to him, of which it is destitute, even as is a shore driven boulder of life and verdure."
With these extracts we must conclude, not having exhausted these numbers, but having consumed our space. It is a pity that the publication is to stop. English artists have hitherto worked each one by himself, with too little of common purpose, too little of mutual support, too little of distinct and steadily pursued intellectual object. We do not believe that they are one whit more jealous than the followers of other professions. But they are less forced to be together; and the little jealousies which deform the natures of us all, have, in their case, for this reason, freer scope, and tend more to isolation. Here, at last, we have a school, ignorant it may be, conceited possibly, as yet with but vague and unrealised objects, but working together with a common purpose, according to certain admitted principles, and looking to one another for help and sympathy. This is new in England, and we are very anxious it should have a fair trial. Its aim, moreover, however imperfectly attained as yet, is high and pure. No one can walk along our streets and not see how bebased [sic] and sensual our tastes have become. The saying of Burke (so unworthy of a great man), that vice loses half its evil by losing all its grossness, is practically acted upon; and voluptuous and seductive figures, recommended only by a soft effeminacy, swarm our shop windows, and defile our drawing rooms. It is impossible to over-state the extent to which they minister to , and increase the foul sin of, a corrupt and luxurious age. A school of artists who attempt to bring back the popular taste to the severe draperies and pure forms of early art, are at least deserving of encouragement. Success in their attempt would be a national blessing.
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