"The Royal Academy. May Exhibition." Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine 17 (Jun. 1850), 355-360.


We now come to a class of painters who have attracted much attention, and who assert for themselves a high and exclusive place in art. The fault of the mediævalists certainly is not a want of confidence in their own peculiar belief. They are the enthusiasts of retrogression, and, like other enthusiasts, they glory in martyrdom. They study the early artists, and read their lessons backwards. The Genius was once in the bottle; therefore, to attain greatness, compress him into the bottle once again, into a pint rather than a quart–a homeopathic phial better than either. A child’s foot is beautiful; therefore, says the Chinaman, crush the woman’s foot into the child’s shoe. A hornpipe may be danced in fetters; therefore iron is a better material for fleshings than silk. Burns likened the early throes of his genius to the blinded Cyclops groping in his cave: a magnificent image. The great forefathers of art felt the same; their degenerate sons see that they were strong, and would shut out the light of heaven for which they panted. The "Virgin" of Murillo is a Spanish peasant girl in her ordinary garb; but what a light of divinity illuminates that face! Love, tenderness, veneration, beams from it, till, Protestants as we are, we look on the worshipping mother as but little lower than the worshipped Son. Mr. Millais gropes in lanes and alleys till he finds a whining, sickly woman, with a red-haired, ricketty bantling, transfers them with disgusting fidelity to his canvass, and tells us that is the representation of all that awakens our holiest, purest, and most reverential sympathies. Mr. Millais may take his choice between fine and imprisonment, and a dark room and a keeper. His picture (518) is conclusive evidence against him, either on an indictment for blasphemy, or a writ de lunatico inquirendo. Little less offensive is 504, "Ferdinand lured by Ariel." Green bats, with red and blue eyes, are well enough as illustrations of a German goblin story. They come under the malicious trespass act when they set their obscene little claws on the enchanted island. If Mr. Millais would turn over the leaves of Mr. Maclise’s edition of Moore’s melodies he would see how form may be given to such creations as Ariel.

There is a still lower depth of absurdity in 553 (Mr. W. H. Hunt), a British Family, armed with Malay krisses, in an Indian hut, squeezing grapes to refresh a Christian missionary, persecuted by Druids! What had Mr. Hunt eaten for his supper when these incongruities came into his head? The British grapes have had their effect on both the missionaries, who seem to have suffered quite as much from this mistaken hospitality as from the Druids. We hope they had something better than British brandy to counteract the effect. We though the force of folly could no further go, but Mr. Collins is determined to prove we were mistaken, and has given us "Berengia’s alarm for her husband" (535). This is mere midsummer madness. The palm of folly must be awarded to Mr. Collins, who seems conscious of his title to it, and, with pardonable egotism, has introduced the portrait of a large black donkey into the apartment of the Queen.

We have lingered too long over this frantic trash.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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