“A Chain Criticism of the Royal Academy–Link II”

The Art Weekly, 17 May 1890: 102-03.

[Note: Mathlde Blind contributed two essays to the “Chain Criticism of Royal Academy paintings–this one and “Link III” in the 22 May issue. The Art Weekly was co-edited at this time by Blind’s friend and fellow poet Rosamund Marriott Watson. These two essays are characterized by sharp and often cutting judgments, as when Blind observes that Laura Alma-Tadema’s painting “The Pet Golfinch” “shows . . . how accurately she can reproduce her husband’s faults,” or that “no one, I imagine, expects pictorial truthfulness from Sir Frederick Leighton.”]

“Ower mony portraits” was a cry against which the Ettrick Shepherd [Hogg] protested as long ago as 1826, and, in despite of his avowed liking for them, we may reiterate the complaint, since, without counting works in black and white, a quarter of the exhibits this year are avowed portraits, and many other pictures only in name. In the large gallery, passing over the four pictures welded into last week’s link, one fifth of the productions are presentments of people whose flattered vanity, in most cases, is the sole excuse for their appearance here. But let us forward in more orderly fashion.

“Six to one on the Rabbit” (No. 184) is another of Mr. Trood’s panderings to the middle-class love of laughter and lithography, and answers that purpose well enough, while “Chrysanthemums” (No. 187) by Miss Attlee is one of the blessing we owe to South Kensington. Mrs. Tadema shows in “The Pet Goldfinch (No. 188) how accurately she can reproduce her husband’s faults. In “Departing Day” (No. 190), Mr. Peter Graham has failed conspicuously to depict the effect of sunset glow on mountain summits—the light is paint and nothing else. Mr. Watts’ strangely unlifelike portrait of a child (No. 196) does not gain by hanging in such fatal juxtaposition to Mr. Ouless’ magnificent portrait of the Bishop of Chichester (No. 197), in which the modeling of the face and hands should serve as a priceless lesson to every Art student. “Off Bolt Head” (No. 200) is a fine rendering by Mr. Shaw of a rough and shallow sea, and Mr. Sauber’s “The Golden Lure,” a poor imitation of a certain French school, is a perfect specimen of what an allegorical picture ought not to be like. Mr. Poynter’s “Pea Blossom” (212), is pretty and the flowers are well handled, but the flesh lacks both colour and texture, and the work as a whole is scarcely worthy of him. ”On the flight,” (218) by Mr. Maurice Page, may act as a warning to the beginner who thinks imagination is better than study of nature: it can serve no better purpose. How such a picture as “The Message of Histiœus” (222), by Edward Radford, comes to be hung is one of those Academical mysteries that keep the simple-minded outsider agape with amazement. [103] Mr. Bucknall, in “A Sussex Hayfield” (226), has truly and happily caught the atmosphere of a characteristic English scene. The same may be said of No. 234, yet another of Mr. Vicat Cole’s Thames series, but the sky is unfortunate. In his group of “Portraits” (235), Mr. Orchardson has got fairly well out of a difficulty which better men have wrestled with in vain, but he clings resolutely to the unnatural and displeasing “foxiness” which mars all his productions. A “Study in Red” (237), by Mr. Dannatt, is more daring than successful, but it is nevertheless gratifying to see on the Academy walls an attempt which not long ago would have been scouted with horror. There is a lot of careful workmanship in Mr. Davis’ “Picardy Dunes,” but it suffers from over emphasis. No one, I imagine, expects pictorial truthfulness from Sir Frederick Leighton, but the absolute irrelevancy in the tones of “The Bath of Psyche” (No. 243) might have given pause even to the President and Council of the Royal Academy in carrying out the terms of the Chantry Bequest. The clashing of the carved capitals on the frame with the painted capitals in the picture presents, moreover, a curious lapse in his usually ultra-refined taste. Nos 241 and 248, by Mr. Frank Brangwyn, have an amusing effect of being turned out by the piece and cut into lengths while you wait. The beauties of Mr. Hook’s “Jib for the New Smack” (No. 249) have already had justice done to them in these columns, and I would not be thought to discount it by complaining that the arrangement of the figures is ugly, and the relative distances of the smack and the boats on the beach beyond are hard to understand. It is a great and goodly thing to be an Academician, for had it not been for the magic initials, Mr. Long’s portrait of Lady Garvagh (250) might perchance have gone up higher, thereby enabling brethren of weak sight to appreciate the better Mr. Riley’s seemingly bright and clever painting “Unrestful Slumber” (253), which is now ruthlessly skied. Mr. Leslie’s “Terrace” (258) is a pretty potboiler enough, but I must firmly decline to put any faith in the sea depicted by Mr. Henry Moore in “Summer Time” (257). Mr. Stoney is another sufferer at the hands of the Hanging Committee, for it was an absolute act of cruelty to hang his delicately decorative “Brixham Trawlers” (266) beneath Mr. Wyllie’s powerful picture (265) “The Birth of a Titan.”  Respect for my elders was early impressed upon my mind, so that the less I say of Mr. Horsley’s “Finishing Touches” the better.

I have seen worse drop-curtains in provincial theatres than Mr. McWhirter’s landscapes (Nos. 271 and 279), but not often.

I have seen worse drop-curtains in provincial theatres than Mr. McWhirter’s landscapes (Nos. 271 and 279), but not often. Mr. Collins’ “Miserere Domine” (275) is a weird work, but what it represents I am unable to conjecture. I cannot say the same of Mr. Woods’ “La promessa sposa,” for there is no mistaking the conventional “painter’s Venice” which is always so marvelously unlike the real one. The expression of the King in Mr. Seymour Lucas’ “Louis XI” (No 291) is admirable, and may serve, I hope, to divert some more fortunate visitor’s attention from the violent nightmare (292) which Mr. Phil. Morris calls “La Belle Americaine.” Mr. Pettie’s work in 302, “The World went very well then,” almost compels belief in the old story that it was his custom to send in a blank canvas ready framed and paint his entire picture in the course of varnishing day. “After Confirmation” (304), by Miss Blanche Matthews, raises a regret that French instruction was ever made possible to English students, while there is a mythic radiance shining from the girl’s faced apparently, which frightens me as much as the black blot in a certain Carpaceio did Mr. Ruskin. The glaring falseness of the background to the President’s “Tragic Poetess” (310) contrasts unfavourably with the quiet approach to truthfulness in Mr. Hunt’s “Las Boat Up (312). “Breakfasts for the Poor,” though an unpleasantly realistic reproduction of the cleaning of fish, is to my mind the best work of Mr. Hook’s on view this year, and suffers no detraction though it hangs next to Mr. Herkomer’s life-like portrait of Major Burke (318).

Why do people paint pictures like Mr. Titcomb’s “Poverty and Progress”? Life is miserable enough as it is, and the ugliness of the result is on no way atoned for by the morbid sentimentalism of the subject.

Why do people paint pictures like Mr. Titcomb’s “Poverty and Progress”? Life is miserable enough as it is, and the ugliness of the result is on no way atoned for by the morbid sentimentalism of the subject. In “The Frigidarium” (324), Mr. Alma-Tadema re-arranges the same old properties and people with his accustomed skill. Mr. Marcus Stone, also, in “Flowers” (328) paints the same old thing in the same old way. The last two pictures in this Gallery are both diploma works, in which neither Mr. Orchardson nor Mr. Burgess shows anything to justify his election.

M.B.