"The Exhibition of the Royal Academy. Third Notice." London Times 20,484 (9 May 1850), 5.


If the attitude of the spectator is most easily arrested and gratified by that freedom and abundance of colour and effect which Sir Joshua Reynolds has termed the "eloquence of painting," it may nevertheless be doubted whether the higher purposes of art are not more effectually attained by that style which principally aims at form and expression. These last are, at any rate, the rarest qualities amongst the artists of our own day, and we are less remote from the richness and vigour of Titian than from the supernatural beauty, the ideal perfection, and the dramatic power of Raffaelle. In England more especially the tendency and the gifts of our leading painters, encouraged by the taste of the public, have conduced to exuberance of colour and boldness of effect; and the efforts which we now remark, founded expressly on the principles of the Tuscan schools, have the merit of novelty, careful study, and a desire to raise the character of the English school for purity and correctness. . . .

The same remonstrance may be addressed with greater force to Mr. Millais and his imitators, who are attempting to engraft themselves on the wildest and most uncouth productions of the early German school with a marked affectation of indifference to everything we are accustomed to seek and to admire. Mr. Millais’s principle picture (518) is, to speak plainly, revolting. The attempt to associate the Holy Family with the meanest details of a carpenter’s shop, with no conceivable omission of misery, of dirt, and even disease, all finished with the same loathsome minuteness, is disgusting; and with a surprising power of imitation this picture serves to show how far mere imitation may fall short by dryness and conceit of all dignity and truth. The picture of Ariel and Ferdinand (504), by the same artist, is less offensive in point of subject and feeling, but scarcely more pardonable in style. We do not want to see Ariel and the spirits of the Enchanted Isle in the attitudes and shapes of green goblins, or the gallant Ferdinand twisted like a posture-master by Albert Durer. These are mere caprices of genius; but whilst we condemn them as deplorable examples of perverted taste, we are not insensible to the power they indicate over some of the most curious spells of art. Mr. Hunt’s picture of "The Fugitive Druids" (553) has a good deal of originality in its conception and careful handling in some of the figures, but it sins by the same intolerable pedantry which seems to brave the first laws of space and ease. Mr. Collins’s picture in the same grotesque style might pass for an illuminated chess-board.

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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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