"Exhibition of the Royal Academy.–(second notice)." London Times 1.21,115 (14 May 1852), 6.


We have already remarked that the chief interest of the present exhibition is to be sought in the novelty and progressive merit of the works produced by the younger generation of artists; and the discussions excited by their peculiarities and their theories of art must supply, as far as such a want can be supplied, the absence of those commanding works of genius which we receive with enthusiasm and delight. The tendencies of these junior artists are diametrically opposed to the traditional merits and defects of the English school of painting, as it has existed for the last half-century. Instead of breadth, effect, and a vague feeling of the grand and the beautiful, conveyed by a somewhat loose and random style of execution, they aim at excessive precision, minute particularity, a fidelity of detail which they cannot at present combine with general truth of vision, and a study of accessories which is not easily allied to deep interest or poetic feeling. They have applied themselves to remedy an undoubted defect in their predecessors. They are more correct in their drawing, more close in their adherence to natural objects, and less disposed to slur over what they cannot imitate. As studies or efforts at self-improvement such practices would be laudable; but in the production of pictures they have not risen beyond what Fuseli termed "the elaborate anguish of missal-painting." We are contented to hope that they are still at an early stage of their work, and that the higher graces and meaning of art which they have not attained will one day be added to them. Otherwise they must not complain if the world applies to them the expressions which the same great critic applied to those artists of the time preceding Raphael, whom they have rather affectedly taken for their guides. Fuseli complained that Andrea di Mantegna was still "crude in taste, grotesque in fancy, and weak in comprehension;" and he called the forms of Albert Durer "blasphemies on nature, the thwarted growth of starveling labour and dry sterility." Such censure is obviously exaggerated when addressed to the early masters of either Italy or Germany; but, if art had notsubsequently [sic] acquired the expression of Raphael, the fire of Michael Angelo, and the warmth of Titian–in a word, that poetical truth which is its life–it would have stopped at the dry and angular workmanship of such painters as Quintin Matsys.

These remarks are not exclusively addressed to the artists who have adopted an antiquated style of historical or dramatic painting. The same manner has penetrated into landscape, and may be traced in Mr. Anthony’s large picture of "Beech trees and Fern" (107), in the corner of the Great Room, as well as Mr. Collins’ "May, in the Regent's Park," and, we might add, the blossoms and foliage in Mr. Maclise’s elaborate composition, or Mr. Inchbold’s "Study of a Stump" (350). It is the characteristic of genius to give an appearance of ease and simplicity to what is most confused and perplexing; but this mode of treatment gives an air of extreme effort, not unattended with confusion, to what should be plain and simple. Mr. Anthony’s picture is, however, a very powerful work, and an admirable study of park scenery. His tangled fern, broken by the game, and already tinged by the first frost of autumn, imbeds the foreground, and his beech trees are worthy of the proud ridges of Windsor or of Knowle. Mr. Anthony has thrown off much of the harshness and abruptness of his earlier productions, and is destined to occupy a high rank among our painters of English scenery. . . .

But to return for a moment to the mediæval school. If any of the higher qualities of art can

be traced in these productions, they exist not so much by these peculiarities as in spite of them. We discover genius in Mr. Millais, and we hope that Mr. Hunt may surmount the eccentricities which give his figures minuteness without delicacy, as Gulliver describes the stumps of a human beard to be inexpressibly disgusting to Lilliputian eyes. But, with patience and labour, the same nicety is arrived at in such works as Mr. R. Martineau’s "Kit’s Writing Lesson" (in the octagon room), or Mr. Collins’ "St. Elizabeth of Hungary," which last is the worst of the series. In short, there is in all this a good deal of manner and affectation which may be acquired without a spark of genius or feeling, and the lower the subject to which it is applied the better. Reserve it for vegetables, or for still life, and it may have its value; but to touch the feelings or the imagination we require more harmony and taste. Compare, for instance, Mr. Millais’ Ophelia in her pool, where she makes us think of a dairymaid in a frolic, with Mr. O’Neil’s affecting and beautiful delineation of the same touching creation, which hangs on the left-hand wall beside it. Nothing can be finer, were it only as a study of love-struck madness, than the pallid complexion, the full wet eye, the overwrought brain, the broken heart of Mr. O’Neil’s picture. There is death in so much love and sorrow, though it be yet afar off; but Mr. Millais has attempted to render the very act of drowning as if it were some freak of rude health instead of the climax of distraction. The public very naturally prefer Mr. Millais’ second picture, "the Lady and the Hugonot [sic]." In this composition, as in the interlude of Pyramus and Thisbe, which it slightly brings to mind, the Wall plays a very important part. Its mosses, its stains, its cracks, and its tendrils of ivy are a surprising example of patient observation and skilful reproduction ; yet the tone of this background is excellent and unobtrusive; and the colour of the whole composition so deep and rich as to efface everything near it. The expression of the female figure is admirably wrought with tenderness and terror, and, with the true characteristic of an original conception, it gains upon the eye and fixes itself on the mind; the lover is stiff, tall, and a thorough Calvinist; the position of his right arm is awkward, and his right leg has disappeared altogether, which gives him the appearance of what ornithologists call a wader. But Mr. Millais has unquestionably moved the public to interest as well as curiosity; and, though we still smile at some of his puerilities, we recognize with pleasure in his works an earnest will and an increasing power of execution: we hope to see him cured of his singularities, and in turn he will gradually educate the public to appreciate his merits and to reward his perseverance.

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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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