[Lushington, Vernon]. "Two Pictures." Oxford and Cambridge Magazine 1 (Aug. 1856), 479-488.
Ruskin has told us in his Notes this year, that the present Exhibition is richer than usual in good pictures; we are right glad to learn it; may every year see a growth in right knowledge and power until R. A. shall mean, in very truth Royal Artist! But it is also a pleasant thought that the Academy does not contain all the good pictures that have been painted this year or last: others there are, which have not met the public eye and shall not yet awhile; very beautiful and precious; not only as studies of lovely form and colour; but as memorials of human life, its passions and holy affections; stories whether of the past or present, with the deep meaning in them, which can quicken our faith in God and man. Such are poems addressed to the eye and heart, sacred Poems; which some who walk in the dusty highway of the world may feel it a blessing to see, perhaps still more to have seen. Two such I intend now to describe, well knowing how imperfect must be the result of the undertakingone earnest look at the originals were worth a volume of any translation!but wishing at any rate to give the world, or rather our Magazine-world the good news that two excellent pictures have been summoned into existence.
Of the first, the subject is taken from the Vita Nuova of Dante; the Vita Nuova in which Dante in a series of poems and sonnets connected by prose gives the history of his early life, and especially of his affection for Beatrice. In one of these poems he describes a dream in which he saw by foreboding Beatrice lying dead:
"Allor diceva Amor: Più non ti celo;
Vieni a veder nostra donna che giace.
Mi condussi a veder mia donna morta;
Equando lavea scorta,
Vedea che donne la covrian dun velo.
Ed avea seco ultimà si verace
Che parea che dicesse, Io sono in pace."
"Then Love said: Now all things shall be made clear;
Come and behold our lady where she lies.
These idle fantasies
Then carried me to see my lady dead,
And when I enterèd,
Ladies I saw with a veil covering her:
And with her was such very humbleness,
That she appeared to say, "I am at peace."
It is this passage which the painter has chosen to illustrate. And is it not a great and worthy one? Let the reader consider for a moment what this vision was, and who once saw it, and when, and where; then let him read on.
It is a chamber in the city of Florence. Invisibly, as it were some sympathizing Spirit, we take up our station in the middle of the room, and look on in silence. In the farther wall, which is decorated with a simple diaper pattern of gold on a purple ground, is hollowed out an oblong recess containing a narrow bed, such as was common in those simple times, and the like of which may yet be often seen in old rustic dwellings; fit offering-place for an evening prayer! Stretched upon this bed lies Beatrice, in the fixed peace of after-death; her stately form folded in a pure white robe,shroud I will not call it, for the arms are free, in delicately-fitting sleeves, and the fair taper hands meet palm to palm, in that sweet attitude of faithful resignation in which Christians of the thirteenth century loved to portray the dying believer. And as we look, we see there is no marriage ring: Beatrice has died unwedded. Her head inclines towards us, propped upon the pillow:it is one worthy of Dantes love; its sculptured lines are full of intellectual beauty, and fairest grace of mind and manners;the rose of life has left her cheeks, and her eyes are closed for ever; but her rich amber hair evenly parted over the brow is streaming silently down, wandering unrestrained in long waves down either side of her face over neck and shoulders and bosom, and divides over this left arm which is nearest us, like a river towards the close of its course. Two maidens, in the flower of womanhood, ladies as the poem honourably calls them, are about to cover the dead with a sheet, whereon lie sprinkled a few flowers of the blushing May, gathered like her in their lovely prime; one stands at her head, the other at her feet, and with according motion they reverently raise the sheet, and sustain it there; for, behold, One shall see Beatrice yet again before her face be hid, her own Dante. He has entered the chamber, Love leading him:Love, a youth clad in intensest azure flushed with emerald green, and with long angel-wings of mantling crimson and scarlet that overarch bare arms; in his right hand he holds Dantes left, in his own a bow and arrow to mark who he is, and he stoops over the bed lovingly and kisses in last farewell those pallid lips. But DanteHe stands there, meekly submitting, with bowed head and body leaning slightly forward, gazing intently as in a trance, fixed by the spell of unutterable thoughts; he speaks no word, nor makes any sign of surprisehis lips are closed, his right arm hangs at rest by his side, he is all eye and soul, and keeps gazing, gazing, on his lost loved one with a look of deep still grief.
I cannot in anywise tell the perfect unity of repose which dwells in all these figures; it is felt in every line and through all the countless soft gradations of colour, as well as in every expression of the countenances, and breathes its influence in every passive detail, in the fixed lines of bed and diapered wall and even floor, the solemn fall of the drapery, the supreme stillness of the subdued light; nor on the other hand the dramatic concentration towards the one fact, that Beatrice is lying there dead; the entireness of sympathy each soul has with each, yet each manifesting the same emotion its own way. Of the maidens, one with earnest eyes, suffused with tearful tenderness but not with tears, looks down, I think, at Dante; the other, not so deeply moved, cannot look at all, or else only at her simple charge, but her head is raised a little, and her eyelids are cast down in reverence: both stand silent, motionless. They are lovely figures both, but the one which stands by Beatrices head is rightly the more beautiful and interesting. Her features are graceful and yet full of character in which gentle affection seems predominant; her complexion is of the fairest bloom, and her auburn hair, which becomes golden where it meets the light, is drawn quietly in a single curve from the forehead, and gathers in a full mass over the neck, not unlike the manner of these later times; and oh, her robe! it is of the sweetest green, with shadows all of soft blue in the folds of rest, which descend to her feet, and encompass the ground on which she stands; underneath is another mantle, more closely fitting to the form, of glowing amethyst, seen only in the loose drooping sleeve, and that opening beneath the arm, which tapers lingering down, in shape like a blade of spear-grass, and at length loses itself in a single point. The sleeve is banded with gold, and there is [a] gleam of a golden girdle, which encircles the waist within. The like of all this for colour I have never seen. The hair of her companion, sister I may well call her, is brown tending to purple, and is arranged in the like form; her dress too is green, but approaching not to blue, but through many gradations to yellow; and just at the feet is a glimpse of the russet-orange mantle beneath, in colour like the wing which skirts and underlies the peacocks glory. As I have said, this figure has not the same intensity of expression as the other, nor has the colouring the same tender charm, nor are the folds of the drapery so severely simple, nor do they trail so solemnly about her feet; but why regret this? was it not well to make a difference;to speak the truth that all who have the same part to act are not equally gifted, equally honoured?
The Dante is very noble in form, and stands nearest to us in worthy prominence. He is yet young, but a few years entered into manhood; his stature lofty, his head rather small, and exquisitely set on a long neck, such as one always associates with nobility of birth and culture; his features those which the discovered fresco of Giotto has made known to us, so eloquent of keen perception and the faculty of intense reflection, the nose slightly curved, as if telling of a power of militant scorn, the mouth delicately fashioned in lingering curves of quick emotion, which may yet meet in sternest self-restraint. He is the man of mind living in an age of prowess. His costume is the same as in the fresco, but the colours are the artists choice, and are chosen as if to show that the cloud broods darkest over him, Dante. Over a crimson dress is a long robe of purple subdued almost to blackness, and so severe in arrangement as well as firm in texture, that scarce any fold is seen to gather in it; on his head he wears a peaked crimson cap, under which a fringe of dark hair traces itself along; the cap is bound round the brow with a broad band of the same deep purple, and falls backward over the shoulders. His shoes are a sort of slippers, to mark, so it seems, his indoor pursuits, and on his breast, where the robe meets, is fastened a stylus and inkhorn, looking like a golden brooch, and bidding us remember the feeling which once held the art of writing sacred, and prompted men to decorate its implements, just as the knight lavished gold and jewels on his sword-hilt. In the youth who represents Love, besides the points already noted, the eye dwells on the ruddy hair and the opalescent hues of the face and bared arms and feet, traced here and there with wandering veins of misty green; for these are elaborated with surprising richness and delicacy. And yet notwithstanding its miraculous glory of colour, this figure is the least interesting to me, and even jars somewhat on my mind; and for this reason, that I cannot quite believe in him. True, he is not altogether a heathen, for his wings are those of an angel such as a Christian only could conceive, still he is partially so; and even angels when they appear in material forms are to us, who live in these times, (I am sorry for this, and yet not sorry) hardly credible; they are to us not angels, but only human creatures with an impossible extra-machinery.The bow and arrow, whence come they, what mean they? The shaft is a good cloth yard long, and looks an ugly weapon for hurting rather than a messenger of joy, which Love always is; and moreover it seems to me that the bow and arrow are a little in the way, the holding of them constraining rather an ungraceful posture in leaning over the bed. So that I must a little quarrel with this equipment. Was it needful that Love should be so caparisoned? Would not the desired meaning have been intelligible without the introduction into the scene, otherwise so true, of these things which provoke questioning, and so disturb the serenity of our belief that what we see was once a reality?
Leaving now these glorious figures, with this last remark only that they are all studied from nature, even the Dante being eked out by a living subject, and that, though almost sculpturesque in fixedness, there is no stiffness in them, but a true freedom, only very tranquil, as if by earnest choice; let us observe some of the accessories of the picture: they are well worth observing, for they are wrought out with the faithfulness and thoughtfulness of the noble school to which the artist belongs. On the wall hangs a quaint sort of harp: Beatrice was fond of music! A step in the floor separates Dante from the rest of the group, symbolizing that he is in another and a lower world than they, and he treads upon poppyflowers [sic], to show that it is also a world of dreams; these poppies being strown upon the floor in sweet variety of position, but yet in severely limited number, and at intervals of space almost regular, as it were in a mysterious order, so that nought may disturb the eye, or break that feeling of repose, which belongs to Sleep, to Death, and the deep passions of the soul. Then in the recess above the bed, each partially veiled by the suspended sheet, are three small windows, the central one circular, the other two triangles of curved lines, all overgrown from without by an orange tree, whose green leaves with their ripening golden fruit nestle into the crannies, as, sculptured, they would into the angles of some spandril [sic], for they are in friendship, as all nature is, with human work; very peacefully too, for they know not what is passing within, their own quiet life of beauty and bounty is enough for them; and through their crevices come chinks of the daylight beyond. Perhaps it may seem strange, especially to us inhabitants of the North, that windows should be over a bed; but the artist felt the need of a few points of coloured light to relieve the gloom, so he put them there; and they are welcome. Again, the roof of the chamber is open to the sky, and the sunlight is shining gloriously, here on sloping eaves embossed with orange moss, there on twin buttresses of a lofty house, each with a side in shadow; and a pair of bells are hanging, each in its proper cornerbells, that blest discovery of mediæval Italy, so loved then, so precious even nowbells, whose voice is music, whose call is Duty, now ordering the happy gathering of families to daily bread, now summoning a united people to the house of God for praise and prayer. And above all the blue heaven is seen, growing intenser in colour towards the zenith; and far away is a troop of angels in misty rainbow hues, escorting homewards the soul of Beatrice, which speeds its upward way before them, a white cloud, just as Dante describes. Even this cloud is not altogether white, its underside is attempered with a shadow of faint purple, the side which is next the earth. These are lovely thoughts, and Dantes own as well as the painters: and of course intensely mediæval; nevertheless I almost wish this shaping of them away, for the same stern reason that I like not the bow and arrow and wings of Love. Surely there is enough elsewhere in the picture to whisper to us, that Beatrice is gone to a world where sorrow is unknown, attended by the blessed spirits of angels and the just made perfect. Surely!
Back therefore to Earth, where we may believe, may rejoice; and this surer joy the painter has not denied us. Towards either side, the chamber opens to the city. In the left corner is an ascending spiral stair, supported by open pillars, its upward spring curving like the lovely energetic lines of young leaves upspringing and unfolding; in the right is a groined archway with a column and wreathed capital, a canopy of gloom over steps descending to the ground. And there lied Florence reposing in the noonday sun! In the outlook on the right we see the broad blue Arno winding, (for two turreted bridges span its waters at different angles,) and a boat is sailing there, its white sail filling and its blue pendant streaming gaily to the breeze; and in the foreground on the hither bank is a windmill with its own bell, and mossy wall, and overhanging tree; whilst on the other side, through the pillars of the staircase, we see an ample square, a public well in the centre of it, a house with porch and turrets, and just a single figure. Beyond are streets with other towers and houses, gathered in fellowship, fading away in the distance, the light still on them; and below the stair is a peep of wall and garden and summer-house.
This landscape, which in such little compass (for it is quite subordinate to the rest of the picture) speaks to us of light and space and distance, and above all of human fellowship, is introduced, I think, with exquisite judgment. It is welcome to us as the sweet natural close of one of Tennysons impassioned stories, "Love and Duty," for instance, or "Edwin Morris." Not only does it here serve to mark the when and where of the story, giving the entire character of the scene on which Dante and Beatrice looked on every day of the happy past, not only does the broad gladsome light of day make contrast with the gloom of the presence-chamber of Death, and so endue it with deeper solemnity and impressiveness, just as the light of life in the ministrant women makes only more touching the pale motionless face of her who is dead; not only this, but a truth is here, very precious to the mourner. For does not this landscape unite that narrow sorrow-haunted cell to the great city of Florence, to that greater city, which is called the World?seeming to say to Dantes poor chastened heart,
In thy sorrow think not thou art alone, think not so; but lift up thine eyes and behold, There is a whole world besides thee; and the sun is shining there, and men dwell there, and are happy there, and busy there, even as our Universal Father has in His mercy provided. The mill-sail goes round, the serving maidens trip to the well morning and evening, and the boatman plies his sail; and there are garden and bower, lovely sights and sounds, and all is well. Let not thy heart, O Son of Man, cling to selfish repining, awake to holy love and gratitude and joy!
And Dante shall see this, shall hear and feel thisnot now, but presently.
Perhaps these words recall to the reader another poem which is so familiar to us all.
"Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
Oh well for the fishermans boy,
That he shouts with his sisters at play!
Oh well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But oh for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me."
I quote it to show how kindred are the hearts of poets* and of all men, and to observe how the painters brush and the poets pen have worked in the self-same spirit; the scene is in both cases just indicated by a few touching features.
I now bid farewell to the meaning of this picture, much of it yet unfathomed, its fulness altogether impossible to words, and turn to the workmanship. It is as a work of colour that this picture, or rather drawing, for it is executed in water colours only, is most remarkable. To perception of colour the modern eye, even of the painters,is [sic] comparatively dead (though it will not be so much longer!) so that chromatic splendour is either altogether denied, or else the painter rests content with just defining a thing as red or blue or what not. But in this drawing, as in other works by the same artist, is manifested a fervent love for rich and brilliant colour, and a rare mastery in handling it. The plumage of tropical birds is the only thing I can compare to it for general effect. Green and purple, scarlet, crimson, blue, and many another glory of the paintbox, in themselves as soon as they touch the pallet the delight of the eye, are here freely bestowed upon us, and at once surprise us with joy, like a rainbow in the sky; and no words can express the tenderness, the subtlety of their beauty truly blent; not in the drapery only and in the countenances, where the colour is principal and brilliant, but even in things of the most subordinate interest, the gloom of the archway, the stone stair, the timbers of the floor: think not, simple reader, that these are mere brown things!the shadows in the white sheet which is raised over Beatrice are wrought, magically, it seems no less, in faint green and blue-gray inter-blending; I name these, yet despair of naming them rightly; they are almost as nameless as the colours which live in the petals of pale garden anemones, of which they remind me. All too, when looked closely into, is so mysterious, attained one cannot tell how, but by the magic instinct of genius guiding the hand through strangest confusions to the beautiful purpose of the mind; but one secret of the work seems to lie in a wondrous feeling for the play of shadow, its spirit-like wanderings and ethereal colours, for a few paces back these many hues melt into the proper unity which belongs to each object, and articulate the lights and shadows with impressive emphasis. Is not this the very truth of Naturemystery within mystery, life within life, and a clear voice through all? Another attribute of this colour, if indeed it be not vitally included in the first, is the bloom of its surface; not radiant however and dazzling, as in sunshine, but softly glowing with secret life in every particle, as the sustained undertone of a sweet and quiet melody. Perhaps the reader, who two months ago saw a cluster of wild hyacinths in a shady nook of wood, may know how true, how lovely this is!
There must be a harmony of colour in the whole, as in every great work; but this is here so complex that I do not pretend to comprehend it; this only I know, that I would change nothing.
One word may well be given to the frame, as it is of the Artists own designing. Beside a double beaded moulding of gilt, is a broad band of silver, on which, above the picture, are inscribed the words "Vita Nuova," followed by the stanza of the poem, which, distributed prose-wise, is completed below; on the right border are the words "Quomodo sedet sola civitas," the exclamation which broke from Dante when he heard of Beatrices death, on the left, "Veni sponsa da Libano," the angel-song of their meeting in Paradise; and beneath all is the date of her true death, "12 Giogno 1290."
And now it may well be asked, "Who has done this? Who is it who has thus made new again and beautiful this old touching story, which so endears to us the memory of the great Voice of Italy?"One Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Let the reader now turn his thoughts to a far different scene. Away from the thirteenth century to the nineteenth; from ancient dream to modern fact; from sunny Florence to the wintry English Channel; from that quiet chamber to the noisy deck of an Emigrant-ship. And another Poet shall now reveal his thoughts to us; not Rossetti any longer, but Madox Brown.* He too shall show us a tragedy of domestic life, but withal one of peculiarly national interest; we shall again see the young, the beautiful in sorrow; and many truths shall be brought to our remembrance; perhaps this as the concluding one; that at the root of all human achievement lies Suffering, that evermore must the cross precede the crown.
An easterly gale is blowing down channel, keen and chill. The sky is one dull gray; the sea a sullen green ridged with white waves; the horizon seawards a line of leaden purple. On the weather quarter stands unmoved a wall of chalky cliffs; the cliffs we know and love so well. The Outward-bound is scudding with the wind on her starboard quarter, heeling over to it, the weather shrouds showing taut against the sky; the surges follow her, spiriting now and then freely over the taffrail. It is afternoon, I think; and just an hour ago the capstern was running merrily round with the clinking cable; the topsails were filling; and on the deck might be seen farewell kisses and tears. But now these are over, and the waving pockethandkerchiefs [sic] have ceased to flutter, and friends are lost to view; still the deck is crowded, and eyes are all astrainto see THE LAST OF ENGLAND.
Seated on the poop are a young husband and wife, side by side. It is November channel weather, as I said, and very cold. His brown pea-coat is close buttoned to the chin, the collar up like a wall on either side the face; his brown wide-awake is firmly set on his head, and tethered down to the large horn-button. His left hand is in his breast, the naked flesh just glimpses through the buttonhole; in it he holds the umbrella over his wife to shelter her from the wind and spray. Their right hands are clasped together, hers [sic] gloved, but his gloveless; the east wind spares it not, so that the warm life-blood mutinies within and gathers in discoloured patches round the rigid knuckles; but there is blanching where the touch of loving fingers presses. Her shawl is wrapt closely over neck and bosom, but the wind has slightly raised it below, and shows the glossy purple of the dress within; discloses too her bare left hand (witness of altar vows) clasping yet another handa tiny one, the hand of their first-born! A fold of warm green coverlet is just seen opposing the purple; and two little socks of knitted wool, scarlet and white, peer out elsewhere. Happy little one! others have their home to seek; but thy home is safe and here, in a mothers bosom; all proof as yet to sorrow; kindly guarded from east wind and salt spray, that hurtle past in vain. The Fathers countenance is somewhat shadowed under the broad brim, and is white with cold. It is the face of a man of some five-and-twenty years, evidently a "gentleman;" bred in all the comforts and refined ways of "good society;" we see that he knows how to dress, for this occasion or for gayer ones. He has a mind, too; we read quick sympathies of thought in that thin face, those keen restless features, and think that he, like many a young Englishman, has had his speculations about Religion and Politics. In practice he has not been a successful man; his presence here says as much, and the mouse-coloured moustache he has suffered to grow, as if in defiance of an unkind world; and in that earnest sorrowful gaze there is a touch of bitterness, as if angry thoughts of the past, too-anxious thoughts for the future were not wanting. But now nobler emotions prevail; for he has a heart, and has loved and loves: beside him are wife and child, and therefading away is Fatherland,fading away.
But it is on her that our eye chiefly dwells. A pure English face; and very beautiful; just ripened into fulness by duly numbered years and maternal offices; ruddy with the cold, red also with crying, yet clear and rosy with youthful health. A coronet of brown hair is plaited over her forehead; but the gale has caught a stray band, and it is streaming across her brow, unheeded; the red ribbons of her bonnet and the blue veil are likewise flying upward, dancing and fluttering, and the tarpaulin covering has fallen from her kneesall unheeded. Her thoughts are elsewhere, far away; not with the dim future, but in the sacred Pastwith childhood, home, parents; a thousand happy memories as maiden wooed and bride won; the dear land which saw and held them all; which she shall see no more.Yes, we may look lovingly into that face: sweet records are there and promises as sweet; for love and faith have long chosen it for their dwelling-place. To the world she has been a friend, and the world has been a friend to her: a heart trustful from the cradle, constant in native piety and duty has blest the joy, and blesses now the sorrow. Poor grief-laden ones! God be with you, God is with you. We pity you, we bless you, we wish you kind fate in the land, whither ye are going. Kind fate; not without toil and care, but prosperous, fruitful: a fair home, brave sons and daughters, friends, possessions. Perhaps, (who knows?) after generations, citizens of a mighty kingdom, may remember this day, and tell the tale with pride and gratitude how ye came over the sea! "Instead of thy fathers, thou shalt have children, whom thou mayest make princes in all lands."
The remaining figures are subordinate to these: but each brings with it the fresh interest of an individual life, both history and prophecy; each bears its part in the whole, an echo or a contrast. Behind the husband and wife are two children, of humbler rank but, as their dress denotes, of wise and careful parents: you cannot help noticing her brown straw bonnet so neatly trimmed with blue ribbon, nor his stout suit of corderoy, stout boots, laced and with ironed heels, blue worsted socks, and the white knitted comforter knotted round his throat. They are brother and sister; and the arm of each is round the others neck; she is the elder of the two, and has seen perhaps thirteen years; her comely face is just seen over the mans shoulder, gazing wistfully, not without tears: the boy kneels upon the bench by her side, his cap in hand, his chestnut hair tossing in the wind, his face not visible, but we know which way he is looking; his comforter has blown over his right shoulder, and a little child some four years old, who has strayed I think from her friends, is grasping it; in her other hand, dyed like an autumn leaf with the wintry air, she holds a burnished apple, which she is munching quietly, all unconscious why others are so sad. Behind these again, is a group of a very different character. There is an Irishman of the lowest grade, a cigar between his teeth, some of which have disappeared, perhaps at Donnybrook; he is half drunk with the contents of that bottle, whose black neck is protruding out of his breast pocket; we see the bottle will be the ruin of him yet! half drunk he is even at this solemn time, and of course quarrelsome; in another moment his naked fist will be in the face of some one before him, (who is thrusting back to escape the blow,) and will to say the least knock the pipe out of his mouth,unless that good old mother stay the fist in time; we just see her old marred and withered hands uplifted. Behind the Irishman is a low Englishman, pressing to see the row; his face is inflamed with liquor, one guesses from the same bottle. A sensual depraved wretch he is, without even the Irishmans devil-me-care humour; the greedy lusts of the body are all he cares for, one cannot prophesy a good end for him, most likely a drunkards fate; as for his Irish friend, I suspect he will get his quietus in a row at the Diggings.
Lastly in the weather quarter-boat is one of the crew, a sailor-lad in blue and white striped jersey, very busy stooping down to arrange the fresh vegetables brought off in the boats last trip: he is on duty, and his duty is enough for him; he looks not at the receding shore, perhaps, such is habit, does not care to look. On the boats stern we read the Ships nameEl Dorado!
I think any one who has followed this description will now have some notion of the merits of this picture; its daring and complete conception, its studied composition and profound feeling. The labour bestowed upon it must have been immense, for it is a picture of considerable size, executed in oils; it must have been the work of many months. I have heard, and the result testifies, that it was painted from first to last from nature and in the open air. Daylight is really there, not brilliant indeed, but clear and amply diffused, so that every detail of form and colour is shown. The accessories are aptly, truly chosen, then painted with the utmost care. Nothing is idle, nothing insignificant, nothing slovenly. In the ladys shawl, every fold, every flowing line of the close check pattern is followed, and the texture of the woolen material is so rendered, that you seem to recognize it by the feel. Purple and green cabbages are slung on the leeside between the stanchions, and are swaying with the ships motion; look narrowly and you see the fraying of the stranded rope subtly coloured, and a yarn flying westwards obeying the wind. Or observe the flattened bonnet of the old Irishwoman, and the shawl that has fallen from her shoulder in the struggle, or the olive frieze coat and battered hat of the Irishman, or the gentlemans tartan trowsers, the ribbed cuffs of his coat, and the plaid lining within, a corner of which is raised by the wind; all so true, so faithful to the very fact, as almost to tell the very year when the picture was painted! Or for a touch of poetry, not inconsistent with fact, observe the ship in the offing, leaning over to the breeze, outward bound, as if to show, this is the English Channel, and these are not the only wayfarers; and the homeward bound steamer to windward, the foam of its paddle-wheels and wake just visible, its smoke a long westward horizontal line, rigid almost as the radius of the compass card,prophecy, if not of return, (but we will not wish our friends that, but rather a brave life and happy home afar,) at least of the blessing of swift and frequent communion with those they lovethe Australian Mail! For dexterous composition, let it be noticed how the interest of colour cunningly centres in the very heart of the subject; the blue veil, the rosy ribbon, the countenances of hero and heroine, and between them a space of green sea.
On the whole I cal this most noble historical picture; a most worthy record of a fact in English history, which is already memorable, and will one day be far more so. Once again in our own time, there has been an Exodus; a planting of new and distant lands by men from the kingdoms of an old world. Alas! that no Moses has led our people, nor even an Alaric or a Horsa; that no Puritan piety or self-sacrificing public spirit, as in Elizabethan time, has inspired this mighty enterprise; whence much sin and sorrow, even as this picture may tell us. Still an Exodus there has been; and men are not utterly forsaken of God: one bond of union yet remains, by His good grace renewed every day amongst us, and here in its loneliness shines forth with more sacred power, beautiful and strong and full of blessing in the hour of trialthe bond of Family Love. Has not the Painter shown us this too?If Truth of fact, sought by zealous labour, and Truth of spirit discerned by a devout heart may hope to win long life for work of mans hand, then for this picture there is in store a long, long term of honour. May it live a thousand years! Men will then prize it, as it deserves. For, oh, if we could see, (but for a single moment,) faithfully depicted as here, a likeness of our old Norman forefathers, when, with a Conqueror for their King, they left the shores of the Seine river nearly eight hundred years ago!
Thinking of this picture, I cannot but remember that we have now a band of brave Artists, who ascending above mere portrait-painting (too often a mere vanity) and ascending above modern landscape-art, beautiful and worthy as that is, have chosen Man for their subject; and with serious love have set themselves to represent the most moving and characteristic incidents of Modern Life,of the time which is our own; we saw it two years ago in the "Awakened Conscience;" we saw it last year in "The Rescue;" we see it in this, in "The Peace;"* we see it out of the Academy likewise. As we wish that the hearts of many may be kindled to know how much of divine beauty and awe yet dwells and manifests itself in human form even now; as we long for union in Art as in all other work; we entreat such of these men, as yet linger in the background, mindful of former insults, to come forward at whatever sacrifice, and try the Hanging Committee once more;once more, and again, and again. The time is ripe. Authority even if blind is not yet deaf: and the voice of few, promising to become the voice of many must be heard, and must be obeyed; for they are in earnest; what they say, they believe. Nay, I think, Authority means well, and will try to do well. Let us see.
* There is a beautiful poem of R. C. Trenchs to the like effect, called "A Walk in a Churchyard."
* The Picture is now in Mr. Winduss collection at Tottenham.
* This picture of "The Peace" well represents the general purpose and character of the school. At first sight a feeling of disappointment arises, that the subject is not worthily treated. But we look again; and the utter truthfulness of the conception unfolds itself; and a feeling almost of awe comes over us, when we begin to believe. The artist has resolved above all things to speak the truth to us. No flattery: the soldier shall be brave in fight, but a lover of pleasure, of comfort and ease, of gorgeous and fantastic dress: there shall be no utterance of religious sentiment, no common worshipthe day of solemn public processions, of Te Deums, of a devout army, of a devout people, is gone by and is not yet replacedlet there be a happy family gathering, gay holiday, and happy looks of love! Of the well-considered detail so completely historical, so excellently painted, there is no need to speak, nor of the brave and beautiful thought of associating the remembrance of stern battle-deeds with the innocent play of childhood. The public has seen all this; what does the public think of it?
This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.
Return to the list of reviews