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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 41

The United Kingdom. — Introductory

page 246

The United Kingdom.


Art in Great Britain has no ancient history. At the period when the noble Italian school was astonishing the world with the sublime productions of Michel Angelo, Raffaelle, Cagliari, Tintoret, Leonardo da Vinci, and a host of other painters of brilliant genius and astonishing fertility of invention, Britain—with the exception, perhaps, of the Scottish portrait-painter, Jamesone—had absolutely no native-born artist whose works are worthy of being remembered.

In Holland and Germany it was otherwise. Memling and Matsys, and later, Rubens and Vandyke, had made the Flemish school famous. And Germany can boast of the honoured names of Durer, of Lucas Cranack, and Hans Holbein (whose principal works were painted in England in the reign of Henry VIII.).

The first great British artist appeared at the close of the seventeeth century, and William Hogarth commenced the production of those remarkable works, which not only laid the foundations of the British school, but had a powerful and lasting influence on the modern art of Europe. Few men had the creative faculty more strongly developed than this great and original genius; and although his works were wanting in the singular grace of Reynolds, and, in a large measure, in the line sense of colour displayed in the portraits and landscapes of Gainsborough, yet, with all their coarseness, there are in them dramatic force and intensity which neither Reynolds nor Gainsborough could emulate. The style of Hogarth was entirely his own. He owed little or nothing to schools which all the world had been imitating for years. He took nature for his model, and bringing into play his keen sense of humour, dramatic instinct, and wonderful knowledge of human nature, he produced those extraordinary historical works which will ever retain a high and honourable position in the history of art. Morland and Crome, Sir T. Lawrence and Raeburn, may be mentioned amongst the many distinguished artists who immediately succeeded the great English master. Sir David Wilkie appeared later, and the production of his admirable series of scenes illustrative of domestic life gave a powerful impetus to the development of British art. With all the power and none of the coarseness of Hogarth's, Wilkie's paintings are full of rare humour, admirable in drawing, and in beauty and truth of colour they have rarely been surpassed. With Wilkie may be classed the brilliant painters Etty and William Muller, and the charming genre artist Mulready, notable for his fastidious correctness of drawing and his fine sense of colour.

In landscape painting the British school has attained the highest eminence, and has produced in this branch of pictorial art a grand array of very noble and beautiful works. It has been said that were landscape painting represented in Great Britain solely by the works of J. M. W. Turner, it would hold its own against the productions of all the foreign schools. It is to be regretted that in the fine collection of paintings and drawings sent here by the President of the Royal Academy there is no example, in either oil or water-colour, of the genius of this great painter. To Victorian art students the boon would have been priceless, as many of them may never have the opportunity of seeing in what manner he could translate the glow and freshness of nature to his canvas. The genius of Turner was poetic in the highest degree. He was equally successful in nature's sublime aspects and in her beautiful. His calms express stillness and a dreamy sense of rest. His storms are invested with grandeur and sublimity, and a feeling of space, irresistible power, and impetuous force, so that one looking at his famous "Snow Storm" cannot help thinking that the soul of the poet-painter went out of him, mingled with and became one with the warring elements he has depicted with so much intensity and truth. In tenderness and in intuitive perception of what is sweet and beautiful, in painting light and air and the ever-changing forms of the sky, no artist ever excelled Turner; and his masterly creations will always be regarded by Englishmen as among the grandest legacies ever left by genius to the world. Although the name of Sir Edwin Landseer does not appear in the catalogue, the British animal painters are well represented by Cooper and Ansdell—Cooper, page 247 by the noble landscape, "Amongst the Rocks, Glencoe"—an admirable composition in his happiest manner; and Ansdell, by four characteristic works, "The Anxious Mother," "The Evening Meal," "Partridge Shooting," and "The Deer Family." These paintings, however, beautiful as they undoubtedly are, ill supply the want felt by the absence of an example of Landseer's grand manner and dexterous brushwork.

Examples of the English marine school are furnished by striking works from the easels of E. W. Cooke, R.A., James Webb, and Edwin Hayes, R.H.A. "Off Dordt," by Webb, is an exquisite example of this school; and "Dutch Pinks returning from Sea," an equally fine specimen of the broad and masterly style and fine sense of colour of Edwin Hayes; while the latter's grand water-colour, "A Signal of Distress in the Offing," is quite worthy of the genius of Clarkson Stanfield. J. R. Herbert, R.A., Sir John Gilbert, and C. W. Cope, R.A., represent the historical school. Mr. Herbert has sent one of his greatest works, the celebrated "Lear and Cordelia," and undoubtedly the masterly grouping, the splendid and harmonious colour, and the grandeur and dignity of the composition, stamp this work a masterpiece.

C. W. Cope's "Lieutenant Cameron's Welcome Home" is a less satisfactory performance, but it displays astonishing variety of character; and in it the student may perceive how a master can, by skilful disposition of his materials, make out of a stiff and awkward subject a painting full of human interest, and of great pictorial value. Sir John Gilbert is represented by four fine pictures, of which "The Battle of Naseby" is the best and most characteristic of his singular and masterly style. Gilbert's manner is peculiarly his own, and his subjects are treated with surprising boldness and freedom of drawing. His lines are graceful and flowing, and his compositions noble and dignified, while in archaeological knowledge he is unsurpassed by any modern painter. Seymour Lucas's "Gordon Riots," also, may be pointed out as an excellent historical work; and Wynfield's "Death of the Duke of Buckingham" is undoubtedly the finest example of chiaroscuro in the entire collection.

We have a number of splendid examples of the British genre school, and need only name the brilliant productions of J. C. Horsley, R.A.—"Cupboard Love" and "The Unwilling Salute"—Mr. Dicksee's charming "Lady Teazle" and "Mrs. Pepys," and Morgan's extraordinarily brilliant "Wards in Chancery," to show to what degree of perfection this delightful branch of painting has been brought in England. In Colin Hunter's "Salmon Fishers, Loch Fyne," we have a representative of the realistic art of the present Scottish school; and certainty there is in the whole Exhibition no finer specimen of vigorous brushwork, nor any more masterly interpretation of nature.

The Society for the Encouragement of Arts has sent a characteristic example of a bygone period of English art in Jas. Barry's "Adam and Eve;" and the Lords of the Committee of Council on Education deserve the gratitude of all art-students in Victoria for permitting them to study one of the noblest works of modern times, the cartoon by Sir Frederick Leighton, A.R.A., "Industrial Art as applied to War."

The Great British water-colour school—a school peculiarly English—is well, if not adequately, represented in the British Galleries. Founded by Girtin and Cozens, Colman and Joshua Chrystall, and supported by Blake, Stothard, J. M. W. Turner, S. Prout, L. Hague, Fielding, De Wint, Cattermole, Leitch, Hine, Carl Haag, Houston, and a number of other eminent masters, the British school of water-colour painters has taken, and to all appearance will keep, the foremost place.

Necessity for condensation will not permit a critical examination of the fine collection displayed in the British Water-colour Gallery; but the masterly sea-pieces of Hayes, and the splendid landscapes of Hine, Mogford, and Alfred Hunt, may be indicated as showing to what degree of perfection that charming branch of art has been elaborated by modern British artists.