"Royal Academy: Second Notice." Illustrated London News 2.560 (22 May 1852), 407.

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Close to Mr. Leslie's heroine is a portrait of Mrs. Coventry K. Patmore, by J. E. Millais, one of the champions of Pre-Raffaelitism, whose "Ophelia" and "Huguenot" we have already spoken of. The picture is a very small one; but, in treatment, is of that strongly-marked character, that once it catches your eye it will take no denial. The sitter looks you very determinedly in the face, whilst her hands are engaged putting together a small nosegay: the dress is black, with a red ribbon tied in a bow across the neck; the background a dark blue. Thus everything is done to throw out the face, and, barring the red ribbon, m a manner unobjectionable.

Pursuing our observations upon the workers in this school, we find our admiration for their earnestness of intention frequently checked by the obvious absurdity or sickly affectation of the conceit. Of the absurd partakes Mr. H. Hunt's "Hireling Shepherd" (592). Surely never were seen shepherd or shepherdess with such fiery red skin or such wiry hair. C. H. Lear's "A Glimpse of the Fairies" (184) is simply ridiculous. Sickly, and at the same time absurd, is Collins’ "Female Devotee" (347), distinguished by the lines from Keble’s "Lyra Innocentium," beginning

So keep thou by calm prayer and searching thought

Thy chrisom pure, &c.

We have here a very commonplace face earnestly looking down at the owner’s two common-looking hands, which are endeavouring to hook on the white "garb of purity." It is all cold pretence, all "much ado about nothing" on canvass. The same artist's representation of "The Devout Childhood of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary" (1091) is a still more disagreeable affair, on account of the sickly sentimentality with which it is imbued. The quoted extract from Butler’s "Lives of the Saints" tells us how, "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:" and there she kneels, in a very fine blue taffeta dress, of quaint construction, with her commonplace face resting against the oak door, as she tries to peer through a crevice; but whether at a supper party or a religious ceremony, there is nothing in the character or expression of her countenance to indicate. The grass-plat, gravel walk, and two rose trees are mere efforts of copyism, worthy only of a child. As for Mr. Collins’ "May in the Regent’s-Park," (55), the absurdity of the production is the more obvious from its being so misplaced–a tea-tray, not a picture-frame, was its appropriate vehicle.

After what we said in our first notice on the subject of the Pre-Raffaelite school, we think it the more incumbent upon us to draw the line as distinctly as we can, with any regard to brevity, between what we consider to be the strong and what the weak points of this new school of art lest we should be suspected of going the "whole hog" with them; and we need hardly suggest that there is a very great difference between discovering the promise of effective results from an attempt at embodying intense feeling with a bold and decided style of colouring, and approving of every latitude to which they may be carried, and of every conceit upon which they may be applied.

F. M. Brown, in No. 463, "Jesus washing Peter’s feet," has a subject worthy of the noblest efforts of genius, and the fullest development of the resources of art. The study is not without merit, the two principal figures occupying a prominent position in the foreground, whilst little more than the heads and shoulders of the other apostles are seen as looking on from the opposite side of the table. The expression of the faces is intelligent, and well in keeping with the incident taking place before them, combining earnest admiration of the great lesson of humility thus shown them with a deep feeling of veneration for their divine leader. That of the Christ, on the other hand, exhibits too much of weakness and dejection as of the man–too little of the dignity of his divine nature triumphing over the vanities and sorrows of his mundane condition; and thus has been lost the noblest and most inspiring feature the subject was capable of. The colouring is the worst part of the work–crude, extravagant, startling the eye with harsh contrasts, uncalled-for and unwelcome. The flesh tints are painfully livid–such as might be produced upon the skin by a violent scrubbing in a raw November morning. In this work, therefore, though evidencing much good intention, Mr. Brown has failed, partly for want of considering the highest poetry of his subject, and partly through inexperience in the use of the powerful pigments which he has so lavishly employed. But what are we to say of his "Pretty Baa-lambs" (1291), in the Octagon Room? Only that it is difficult to conceive that such a fantastic and puerile production could have come from the same hand as the larger work we have just been criticising. We have here a very long lady standing bolt upright with an ugly baby in very long clothes on her left arm, her right pointing straight as a fivepenny "dip" down towards a playful baa-lamb standing at her feet. Other baa-lambs are capering and frisking about the field with extraordinary vivaciousness; and a red-faced girl is gathering herbage into a basket wherewith to feed them, as if they would not much prefer nibbling it for themselves. This is an effort worthy of the nursery, as Mr. Collins’ "May–Regent’s Park" is of the pantry. . . . Let Mr. Collins send his "St. Elizabeth of Hungary" and his lady with the "chrisom pure" "to a nunnery."


This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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