Page images
PDF
EPUB

2

а

garding nature and art, and more espe- sense, the autobiography of Mr. Frith, cially the circumstances which led him which some ten years ago became, not to treat any particular subject, and his undeservedly, in a sense, the book of own feeling with regard to it. It is the season; not undeservedly,

for true that the pursuit of this investiga- it is well written and contains tion may lead to a painful amount of great deal that is really amuswhat is called disillusion; to know too ing and interesting; great many much of what is behind a picture does not much finer artists could not have proalways tend to raise one's intellectual duced half so readable a book. But we estimate of painting and painters. It is refer to it here as a salient example or curious to find sometimes (in the case confession of that mere superficial and of landscape especially), in reference business view of painting to which we perhaps to a picture which seems to have referred. Mr. Frith's frankness is have a good deal of poetic feeling in it, amusing, almost cynical. He laughs at how very matter-of-fact a business it the whole thing, and at himself into has been to the painter of it, and that the bargain. He seems to have been what has been to the outsider an ap- perfectly conscious that he had no seri. peal to his sentiment has been to the ous aim in painting, and content that artist an experiment in the use of pig- every one should know it; he almost ments to produce a certain effect; curi- writes himself down a humbug. His ous to think that a work, into the mak- election as associate of the Academy ing of which no sentiment has gone, seems to have been a kind of "fluke," can evoke sentiment; but it certainly is and surprised no one more than himso in many cases. It is strange, again, self-or so he gives us to understand. to find how very poor an order of in- Even the curiously scrambling course tellectual perception in other respects of instruction at the atelier of the ecmay co-exist with the power to produce centric Mr. Sass bored him; “perspecpictures which have high intellectual tive bewildered me, and to this day I interest, as if the painter's intellect "know little or nothing about that went all into the picture and found ex- dreadful science, and anatomy and I pression in no other way.' In short, parted after a very short and early acthere is a great deal of hollowness in quaintance;" and he goes on to say that the pretensions often set up as to the in the kind of art he has practised very high claims of the artist on society, and little anatomy is required, a dictum his position as a kind of superior be which can only be accepted in a sense ing. A great deal of the painting of which the author of the observation the day is really only a kind of busi- would probably find rather objectionness, requiring more adroitness, pains- able.' A few pages further on, indeed, taking, and application (let that always in the course of some sensible remarks be admitted) than most other busi- in regard to the “well-meaning onnesses. There are painters no doubt, jectors” to female models, observing some living and some whose biogra- that many artists draw every figure phies are before us, to whom painting was an art to be gone into in a serious ? He is perhaps in better company than he is spirit and with high aims. There are aware of here. We have heard the confession

from much more distinguished artists that they some, on the other hand, to whom it

could not tell how to put a building in perspecseems to be a kind of joke, wherewith

tive; one very eminent artist admitted that he they amuse themselves and mystify or

had to get a model made of the interior of a colbefool the public.

umned temple before he could tell how to get the We are not going at this date, of columns in their right place; yet it is a very simcourse, to review, in the ordinary ple matter, much easier than foreshortening an

arm. Perspective, in fact, is a science; foreshort1 This, as every one knows, may be said with ening is an art. If painters do not understand equal or even greater truth about musicians.

perspective, it is only because they have not taken Some of the greatest composers have been men of the trouble, as any one can learn it even without very little intellectual culture.

being an artist,

©

we

а

as

naked before they clothe it, he adds, "I Mr. Marks is a painter of a different did so for years, and ought “to do so calibre from Mr. Frith. Within his now;" the meaning of which frank ad. own lines he is a perfect executant, mission is, presume, that the never careless or superficial, and in his painter had at last got the length of his art at all events he has evinced a keen public's foot, and discovered that the sense of humor, a quality which Mr. qualities they looked for in his pictures Frith has never been within measurmight be provided without any such able distance of. Under what ill-adthorough figure-designing. On the vised misapprehension did he underother hand, he worked very hard and take to dip his reputation in the inkconscientiously at providing the public bottle? He exonerates his friends: with the kind of art they wanted. The "Whatever else may be said of this autobiography shows, indeed, con- work, I can confidently declare that it tinual history of painting pursued with was neither written with the remotest no higher aim than to find and work idea of supplying a want long felt, nor out subjects which would be popular undertaken at the solicitation of enthuwith the masses; but no trouble was siastic friends." Was the ignis fatuus spared in such preliminary study the vision of a publisher's cheque? Or was necessary to turn the thing out was it merely the motive which Burns well, and a great deal of hard work lay ingenuously confesses, behind the “Derby Day” and “Ramsgate Sands." The former is a picture Some rhyme a neebor's name to lash, which, however vulgar in the artistic Some rhyme (vain thought!) for needfu' sense, justifies its existence. The

cash, “Derby," as a national function, mer

Some rhyme to court the kintra clash, ited being put on record in painting. For me, an aim I never fash

An' raise a din; Mr. Frith was just the painter cut out

I rhyme for fun. for the subject, and he unquestionably spared no pains to do his best with it. This last seems the most probable exBut in mentioning, with a satisfaction planation; the book is a joke, but the which may be either real or cynical, result goes to prove that an artist may the repeated occasions on which a rail be really humorous on canvas and yet had to be put in front of his picture at degenerate into a very commonplace the Academy to protect it from the joker in print. Worse than that, he has crowd (an honor which befell him three sacrificed along with himself a greater or four times), he does not seem to be painter, Frederick Walker, who, with quite alive to the fact that these rail- no sense of humor at all in his paintings testified not so much to the great- ings, which are almost uniformly grave ness of his works as to the littleness and even melancholy in sentiment (artistically) of the average Academy ("The Bathers” is an exception cersightseers. He had supplied the crowd tainly), seems to have leaned in private with the kind of picture they most de life towards a kind of larking in which lighted in, and been at some trouble to the reader finds very little wit. One gratify their taste; and he had his re- page in Mr. Marks's book is headed ward. Sometimes, however, the na- “Walker's Sense of Humor." What tional taste was too much even for Mr. Walker's and Mr. Marks's

of Frith. He writhed under the terrible humor amounted to may be gathered title, “Sherry, Sir?" appended by some from the following account of their dealer to the engraving of what is amusement on the occasion of a holireally a pretty enough little work of its day up the river:kind, and once petitioned for it to be re. moved, but was met by the reply, proceeded to get ourselves up as if we

Once fairly out of Waterloo Station, we "Why, sir, it is just the title that sells had been severely injured in some football it.” There is a Nemesis in wait for ar- or cricket match, or other athleti tists who cultivate the mob.

When we alighted at Walton, o'

Walker

sense

ex

as

one

patch over his eye, one walked lamely with especially when we compare the two sticks, another with one; there were tent and quality of his achievements some arms in slings. I bought a quartern with the brief limit of his life, it is perloaf and Crowe a plum-cake. Leslie and haps hardly possible to think too Walker, playing on tin whistles, headed highly. It may be said that every picthe procession of cripples, which walked, ture he painted made its mark; he limped, and hobbled into Shepperton. Though amused and puzzled, the people could not do anything commonplace, we met or passed refrained from chaff or whatever subject he treated was injeers.

vested with a poetic suggestiveness pe:

culiar to himself. Among his smaller It does not seem to have occurred to Mr. Marks that the population of Shep- this than a little water-color, not

works there is no better example of perton in this respect contrasted rather favorably, in the matter of good taste, titled “The Thunderstorm.” 1

well known as many of his works, en

What with himself and his comrades.

was it which answered to that title? One old lady, however, who saw through Not a landscape with a black cloud and our shamming, reproved us by saying, "Ye the regulation flash of lightning, ought to be ashamed of yourselves-you might be sure. It was the interior of a might be struck so!" When we got to a small drawing-room in a country house, convenient place the whistles ceased play with a young girl and a child, with ing, and I addressed the natives, assuring their backs to the spectator, planted at them that I was to be member for the

the window and evidently gazing borough at the next election, and when that happy day arrived the quartern loaf, such fixedly out of it. It was strangely efas I showed them, would be greatly reduced fective; one felt as if one were looking in price in fact, all but given away out at the thunderstorm along with the Crowe then cut up the plum-cake, and dis- children. That was a typical example tributed the slices among the assembled of Walker's way of mingling human inchildren. .. On the return journey, at terest with nature; it was not the thun. each station we stopped (sic) I harangued derstorm per se, but the thunderstorm the people, asking, among other questions, if there were “any lady or gentleman for child, that took the painter's fancy; it

as an awe-inspiring spectacle for the the diving-bell.” The guard came up to our carriage, and, addressing me, said, may be said that half the poetry of the

work lay in the title. It is mentioned "Well, sir, you are a cure.”

in the “Life” that he was very particuAfter this example of artistic“humor," lar and hard to satisfy as to the titles which a Royal Academician in his ma

of his pictures. The admirable and ture years thinks it worth while to put suggestive title of “The Harbor of on record in print for the edification of Refuge” he owed to a friend, and sig. the world at large, is it not time that nalized his satisfaction with it by dancwe revised the fashion of regarding ing round the studio. This feeling as artists, and encouraging them

to re

to the importance of the title showed a gard themselves, as constituting a kind true poetic instinct. A well-chosen and of intellectual aristocracy?

significant title is a key to the artist's The beautifully got up volume of the mental attitude in regard to the work, “Life and Letters of Frederick Walker" and may make all the difference in the contains nothing, we are glad to say, mental attitude of the spectator in exof that sort; the letters in fact are en- amining it. tirely unobjectionable in tone, but un.

Walker's power of combining the senfortunately that is all there is to say timent of the figures with the sentiabout them, and the book forms

ment of the scene, so as to make them notable example of the curious discrepancy to be found between the

1 We do not know where this picture is. We saw

it once only, many years ago, in one of the minor painter as we know him on canvas and

exhibitions-very likely it was the exhibition of the painter behind the scenes.

Or

Walker's collected works in Deschamps' gallery Frederick Walker's genius as a painter, in 1876—but it left an ineffaceable impression.

a

was

as

one

as

both go home to the heart as with one there was a menace of terror; in “The impression, was one of the most re. Lion in the Path,” where a man in the markable characteristics of his art. foreground sees a lion in the distance, The peculiar feeling which he imparted the whole landscape and sky seem to to his combinations of landscape and be associated with the threatening danfigures may be said to have been a new ger. But Poole's figures were bad; word in art. Of idyllic paintings we they were symbols of what

inhad had many; landscapes with two tended rather than studies of types of lovers, landscapes with a pretty girl at humanity, and we are not suggesting a stile, landscapes with cattle, and so that he was a painter to be compared on. But with Walker the idyll with Walker; he was moreover very sumed a pathetic, even a tragic, mean- unequal; but his finest works show a ing. “The Plough” was perhaps his power of suggesting human sentiment masterpiece in this class of work. The by means of landscape which never remelancholy landscape with its waning ceived the recognition it merited. light is only the duplicated expression In "The Harbor of Refuge," the comof the pathos expressed in the weary bination is formed of ancient buildings figure of the ploughman, almost lean- and figures, and the main point is the ing for support on the handles of the contrast between the vigor of youth plough at the close of an exhausting and strength and the decrepitude and day's labor. The figures and the land- pathos of old age. The extraordinary scape are poem; each element and dramatic power with which the would lose nearly all of its effect apart contrast is illustrated produced an imfrom the other; and the title, simple as mense effect the year the work apit is, is full of significance in its form. peared at the Academy, and we believe If the picture had been called “Plough- many persons regard it Walker's ing," a title often used for landscapes finest production—it is certainly his which afford no other suggestion for a most popular one; but in our opinion it specific classification, the point would is just open to the charge of being a have been much weakened. “The little overdone and too dramatic; the Plough" puts the abstract for the con- attitude of the mower also is certainly crete; it is the symbolic instrument of somewhat open to criticism, and the human toil—"In the sweat of thy brow prominence of the figure makes this deshalt thou eat bread.” Walker would fect of importance; and on the whole perbaps not have expressed this in so we do not consider it as fine, as commany words, either to himself or to any plete a work, as “The Plough,” or one other person, but his poetic instinct likely to retain its hold so long. In was in it. The same indefinable affin

some respects we are inclined to regard ity between the landscape and the fig. "The Bathers” as Walker's central proures, the same suggestive generality in duction, and we have always regretted the title, is seen in such pictures as on this account that it was not the one "The Vagrants,” and “Wayfarers," and selected for purchase for the National “Mushroom Gatherers." Each is an Gallery. The translation of an inci. aspect of the pathos or tragedy of life dent from the common life of his day defined in subject by the figures, and into a picture of almost Greek beauty heightened in expression by the land- and elevation of style is a feat as rare scape. We have had nothing in art

as it is remarkable, and such a picture quite like this before. The nearest to from the life of his own day would it, before Walker, was to be found in have been a very fitting work by which some of the landscape conceptions, to represent the painter in the national either with or without figures, by that collection. How instructive, too, if it fine and much neglected and under could have been 'hung next to the rated artist, Poole. In his landscape "Derby Day,” as an artistic and social entitled “The Dragon's Cave,” without contrast! any figure either human or draconian, The unfortunate painting, as Walker

а

and his friends considered it, "At the to‘Thackeray's query as to "whether Bar," the only life-size figure subject, he could draw," is wonderfully good as far as we remember, that he ex- and quite recognizable as Thackeray; hibited, though perhaps hardly an at- the sketch (page 111) in his own studio, tractive work, had a considerable im- with the dealer, with his cheque-book portance, for it served as an indication, sticking out of his pocket, contemplatat all events, of what the artist might ing the picture, and the artist standing have achieved in figure subjects on a by in an embarrassed attitude, is hularge scale. Had his life been spared morous and pathetic at the same time; to the orthodox threescore and ten, and the celebrated drawing of "Capthere is no imagining what Walker tain Jinks in his steam launch the might not have accomplished in paint- Selfish, enjoying himself with his ing; great as his executed works are, friends," and upsetting every one else he was really only just beginning a on the river, which was contributed to career at the time of his death. And Punch is a capital bit of satire." yet of all this intellectual power and It is perhaps question whether poetry which comes out in his pictures, Walker's rustic figures were not too there is not a trace in the letters or in much idealized. One of the few interany anecdotes (of which there are in esting points in Mr. H. S. Marks's book fact very few) that are related of him. is a letter from Ruskin in reply to a reThe author has mainly allowed

quest that he would put on paper some Walker to tell his own story, for the record of his impressions of Walker's bulky volume consists almost entirely art in connection with the posthumous of the painter's own letters, linked to- exhibition of the artist's works. The gether by a few connecting words; letter seems to have been written but the fact is there is no story to tell. rather in a temper (no unusual occurThe letters are for the most part rence, certainly, in Mr. Ruskin's corabsolutely uninteresting. What

respondence), but, while showing wanted was a small biography just to great deal of sympathy with and revgive us the main facts as to Walker's

erence for Walker's genius, it suggests life and character; for the rest let his criticisms which are worth considerapictures speak. In a note quoted in the tion, though at too much length to book Mr. Calderon

him,

quote. Some remonstrances as to his “Walker never expressed an opinion attitude drew from him, however, a about anything, or joined in any dis- second letter in which he puts one point cussion whatever;" and that

is just succinctly in regard to suggested what one would gather from his let

comparison between Frère and ters; they express nothing characteris

Walker:tic whatever, except occasional peevishness and irritability. From I wrote of Frère, first, “he had the simhints here and there we are able to put plicity of Wordsworth.” Well, he lived together the idea of a personality not in a village, loved it, and painted what he without interest; a small but very well- saw there. (Hook has done something of formed figure, a melancholy and ab- the kind, though not so faithfully, for

Clovelly.) But you do not suppose there stracted countenance, character

is any simplicity in Walker! All those marked by acute shyness and sensitive

peasants of his are got up for the stage. ness and a passionate rebellion against Look at the flutter of that girl's apron anything mean or petty. For the rest under the apple-tree. Look at the ridicuone must go to his pictures; except that lous mower, galvanized-Elgin in his attithe vein of "humor" which Mr. H. S. tude (and the sweep of the scythe utterly Marks, as observed, claims for him, out of drawing). You do not suppose that does come out in

of the pen flock of geese is done simply? It is sketches reproduced in the volume.

we

a

says of

a

an

a

1 It is said that the person aimed at in this draw. His sketch of Thackeray with his back ing received three copies of Punch' by post the to you, an early effort made in answer

day after it appeared.

some

« EelmineJätka »