"Exhibition of the Royal Academy, second notice." London Times 20,794 (7 May 1851), 7-8.


We cannot censure at present as amply or as strongly as we desire to do, that strange disorder of the mind or the eyes which continues to rage with unabated absurdity among a class of juvenile artists who style themselves P.R.B., which, being interpreted, means Pre-Raphæl-brethren. Their faith seems to consist in an absolute contempt for perspective and the known laws of light and shade, an aversion to beauty in every shape, and a singular devotion to the minute accidents of their subjects, including, or rather seeking out, every excess of sharpness and deformity. Mr. Millais, Mr. Hunt, Mr. Collins–and in some degree–Mr. Brown, the author of a huge picture of Chaucer, have undertaken to reform the art on these principles. The Council of the Academy, acting in the spirit of toleration and indulgence to young artists, have now allowed these extravagances to disgrace their walls for the last three years, and though we cannot prevent men who are capable of better things from wasting their talents on ugliness and conceit, the public may fairly require that such offensive jests should not continue to be exposed as specimens of the waywardness of these artists who have relapsed into the infancy of their profession.

In the north room will be found, too, Mr. Millar’s [sic] picture of "the Woodsman’s Daughter,’ from some verses by Mr. Coventry Patmore; and, as the same remarks will apply to the other pictures of the same artist, "the Return of the Dove to the Ark" (651), and Tennyson’s "Mariana" (361), as well as to similar works by Mr. Collins, as "Convent Thoughts" (493), and of Mr. Hunt, "Valentine receiving Proteus" [sic] (394), we shall venture to express our opinion on them all in this place. These young artists have unfortunately become notorious by addicting themselves to an antiquated style, and an affected simplicity in painting, which is to genuine art what the mediæval ballads and designs in Punch are to Chaucer and Giotto. With the utmost readiness to humour even the caprices of art, when they bear the stamp of originality and genius, we can extend no toleration to a mere servile imitation of the cramped style, false perspective, and crude colour of remote antiquity. We want not to see what Fuseli termed drapery "snapped instead of folded," faces bloated into apoplexy, or extenuated to skeletons, colour borrowed from the jars in a druggist’s shop, and expression forced into caricature. It is said that these gentlemen have the power to do better things, and we are referred in proof of their handicraft to the mistaken skill with which they have transferred to canvas the hay which lined the lofts in Noah’s Ark, the brown leaves of the coppice where Sylvia strayed, and the prim vegetables of a monastic garden. But we must doubt a capacity of which we have seen so little proof, and, if any such capacity did ever exist in them, we fear that it has already been overlaid by mannerism and conceit. To become great in art, it has been said that a painter must become as a little child, though not childish; but the authors of these offensive and absurd productions have contrived to combine the puerility or infancy of their art with the uppishness and self-sufficiency of a different period of life. That morbid infatuation which sacrifices truth, beauty, and genuine feeling to mere eccentricity, deserves no quarter at the hands of the public; and, though the patronage of art is sometimes lavished on oddity as profusely as on higher qualities, these monkish follies have no more real claim to figure in any decent collection of English Paintings than the aberrations of intellect which are exhibited under the name of Mr. Ward.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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