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THE ROYAL ACADEMY EXHIBITION FOR 1856.
Our annual visit to some of the principal studios has given us glimpses of many fine pictures intended for the Exhibition of 1856, which opens on Monday next. Although there are several distinguished names amongst the absentees, the promise of the year is good : the leading artists who exhibit-whether of the elected forty or beyond the paledo more than “hold their own," while vast progress has been made by numerous aspirants to the fame which must very soon be theirs.
Precedence is claimed-not by virtue of seniority but by the incontestable right of genius-for Clarkson Stanfield's maguificent picture of the hull of a noble ship drifting helplessly alone in the midst of the wild ocean, without a soul on board to relieve the spectator's mind from the sense of utter desolation. An incident in Washington Irving's “Sketchbook," and the train of thought called up by it, have-in part-suggested the subject which Mr. Stanfield has treated with such wonderful power ; but the imagination of the painter, his thorough knowledge of the sad ventures of a seaman's life, and the feeling which the undoubted fate of the “ Pacific" has so freshly awakened, have contributed in a still greater degree to the completion of his grand and only too successful design. A sublimer theme than this “tempest-tost" bark, the sport alike of wind and wave, mastless, rudderless, a mere drift that once was all beauty, instinct with motion and guided by human will, cannot well be innagined, and certainly no living artist but Mr. Stanfield could have represented it with the same terrible fidelity. A second picture, by the
ruler of the waves," represents the coast of Spain off the port of Irun, with the singular mountain called “Les Trois Couronnes” rising beyond the famous river Bidassoa (which separates France from Spain), and the Pyrenees in the far distance. This work has all the freshness and vigour which characterise Mr. Stanfield's best productions, and prove how little his right hand “has lost its cunning. Mr. George Stanfield has also three very good pictures: a view of Sion in the Vallais, the covered bridge below the village of Leuk, in the same canton, and a charming scene on Hampstead Heath.
The author of Argyll's last sleep-of Montrose's death—of Charlotte Corday's execution-of that well-remembered scene in the Temple in Paris—has added another laurel to his wreath in the parting of Marie Antoinette with the young Louis the Seventeenth, the story of which is so pitifully told in the recent work of M. Beauchêne. Mr. Ward has with admirable judgment availed himself of all the best points in the historian's narrative, superadding many things which his own genius has prompted. He has thus, for instance, idealised the chief attributes of the French revolution in four figures, the members of the committee who come to bear away the royal child. We see the common, bloodthirsty rouge—the classical, self-styled Brutus or Aristide-the venal, pompous agent of whatever party chances to be uppermost,--andrarest of all the truly conscientious, the commiserating and almost compunctious republican. This party have just entered the prison, and the last-named ainongst them has opposed resistance to the violence of VOL. XXXIX.
the rest, a fact which is indicated by the overthrown chair, the displaced table-cover, and other marks of disorder. A space unoccupied, save by the rude prison table, separates the mournful family from their persecutors. The royal group consists of the widowed queen, who is fondly clasping her orphan son, of the kneeling Dauphine, and of the beautiful Madame Elizabeth, who stands behind her sister-in-law's chair. They have passed a night of tearful sorrow, and with the grey light of morning comes the moment that brings despair. To look on this scene of sadness unmoved is to have a heart steeled against every throb of emotion, an eye barren of the sense of sympathy ; if even that stern republican is touched by the pity of it, how should we escape who have no political feeling to stand between us and a mother's convulsive grief ! On a more deeply affecting picture we have never looked, and sincerely do we congratulate Mr. Ward on this additional and well-won triumph. He sends also to the Exhibition a cabinet picture, representing a phase in the life of Byron when, through an open window at Annesley Hall, by moonlight, he watches Mary Chaworth willingly yielding herself to the enjoyment in which he can take no share, her pleasures not his, and her love another's. The poet's likeness is well preserved. Neither has Mrs. Ward suffered her pencil to rest in idleness. She has contributed, in illustration of Tennyson's poem, a very beautiful “Queen of May," surrounded by a host of admirably-painted accessories, and a very clever drawing-room“ interior.”
Mr. Philip, who wins applause at every succeeding Exhibition, has made an enormous stride in the present one, adding unexpected force to admirable composition. He has four pictures, all excellent in their several degrees, but one of them a masterpiece. This is a scene at the entrance to the cathedral of Seville, where several persons are assembled in prayer.
The principal figure is that of a woman with an infant, and a sick boy crouched beside her, whose case is evidently hopeless, and for whom her rapt and ardently-trusting prayers are rising, with all the intensity of a mother's agony, to Heaven. She prays with the whole fervour of her soul, as we can read in her dark eyes weary with watching and weeping, in every lineament of her worn and wasted but still handsome face; but no outward sign of prayer is visible, for with one hand she holds her healthy infant, and the other is tenderly laid on her pale emaciated boy, who lies amidst the folds of her dress, half unconscious through sickness and pain. No picture of Spanish peasant-life ever painted by Murillo himself could excel this group in feeling, in expression, in intensity, and in truth. The colouring is magnificent, the rich reds, yellows, purples, and browns so finely massed and so artistically managed that their union forms a blending of all hues of most harmonious effect and marvellous breadth, but all so nicely touched that, from the profuse ornaments of the boy's jacket and the mother's sleeves to her opal earrings flashing with rainbow tints, every object, whether in light or shade, is finished with the minutest care. Beside this touching group stands an elderly man, a peasant, reverent in attitude, but calm and satisfied to be in the immediate neighbourhood of the deep devotion whose influence he feels ; his drapery and pose are most picturesque. On the other side of the earnestly-beseeching mother is a half-shrouded devotee mumbling her prayers and assiduously telling her beads, the very type of superstition ; and beyond her a lovely pair of Sevillanas of the higher order, praying too, but with a difference in the manner of their devotions.
The nearest to the spectator of these two is an auburn-haired girl with long curved eyelashes just touching a rounded cheek of rose, so full of softness and parity as at once to recal the beauty of that Virgin of Raffaelle known as “ La Vierge de François Premier.” She is probably thinking of things celestial as she raises her eyes from her missal, but her companion, with the splendid dark eyes and brilliant fan, on which a festa de toros is painted, is evidently of another mould, and looks as if she were quite conscious that some handsome gallant, as devout as herself, is gazing on her from the shelter of a not very distant concealment. Beyond this charming coquette, and clear amidst the deepening gloom, is seen a church procession of banners and crosses, and striking is the effect produced by all the shadows so artistically thrown along the dim aisles in which the remaining figures are lost. We look upon this picture as Mr. Philip's chef d'æuvre, and we apprehend that the public will ratify our opinion. Of his three other pictures, one is an Arriero drinking agua fresca at a road-side well somewhere between Xeres and Ronda, the crystal draught being shot into his mouth, as is the fashion in Spain, from the neck of a jar which a Moorish-looking girl, the water-drawer, is holding above his up-turned head : the colouring and expression of this group are admirable. The same fine qualities appear also in a Gitana of the Triana, carelessly carrying two water-jars : the abandon of this figure is perfect, and the treatment exquisitely natural. The last of Mr. Philip's offerings is a portrait-and such a portrait! The lovely original is known to many. Here she is called Doña Pepita, and though the daughter of an Englishman, her Spanish mother's eyes and hair give her full claim to wear the rich mantilla de tira, and half conceal herself from the admiring world behind the national abanico. The sweetest smile hovers on her rosy lips and plays over her damask cheek, and her features are altogether faultless. While Mr. Philip has gained immensely in power, he has lost nothing of the art of delineating beauty.
Notwithstanding the numerous “interiors” of St. Peter's at Rome which are to be seen in modern galleries, few—if any–have been painted within the walls of that wondrous temple: they are usually recollections of what the artist has passionately admired, but has not been permitted to sketch on the spot. Since the well-known work of Panini in the Louvre, no true representation of the interior of St. Peter's has, in fact, appeared, owing to the difficulties which are thrown in the way of artists by the jealousy of the guardians of the sacred fane; and it affords matter for real congratulation that when the severity of the prohibition was slackened, the permission so long desired should have been granted to a painter of such marvellous capacity as David Roberts. His splendid picture is, indeed, a triumph of art, so elaborate is it, so finished, so full of art and masterly skill. Every cornice, every ornament, every one of the minute beauties which cover the gorgeous walls, the golden ceilings, the decorated columns, is brought out with a fidelity that is truly astonishing ; every rich medallion, every glowing picture that comes within the range of sight, is finished with miniature-like precision ; and the whole are thrown into deep shadow, or soft half-tint, without losing one jot of their splendour, while from the lofty dome and across the
resplendent walls streams of pure sunlight gild the rich colours and pour brilliancy through the aisles and arches of this world-famed temple. The time chosen by Mr. Roberts is the Christmas-day ceremony, when the Pope is carried through the edifice on a portable throne-symbolical of his elevation as the vicar of Christ-wearing all the mystic emblems of his spiritual power, and surrounded by all the dignitaries of the Roman Church. With these are mingled acolytes, incense-bearers, soldiers, devotees—a vast but harmonious crowd-which give great animation to the foreground, and produce a wonderfully fine effect. The actual point of view of this noble picture is that which presents the Baldacchino, or grand canopy covering the high altar almost immediately in the centre, with just so much of the gallery inside the dome as suffices to indicate the marvellous vault resting upon its colossal piers. This perspective leaves nothing architecturally to be desired, and the management of the light and shade complete a work unrivalled in its particular style. More familiar Venice offers another example of Mr. Roberts's artistic skill. The scene is a view from the Campo in front of the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, with the celebrated statue of Bartolomeo Colleone on the right hand—the spot where, according to Byron, the compact was entered into between the Doge Marino Faliero and Israel Bertuccio to overthrow the tyranny of “The Forty :" a receding canal, an angular bridge of a single arch of rose-hued stone, some picturesque buildings, an Italian sky, and a bright distance, make up the remainder of the subject
, which is Venice all over. Mr. Roberts has a third picture, no actual locality, but such as the wanderer may light upon in many a lovely bay of the purple Ægean: it is a Greek temple on an elevation, and is painted with a view to its effect when seen " above the line."
Venice receives its illustration from another well-known pencil, that of an artist known in his Adriatic pictures as “ Il Lagunetto," in his Dutch ones as “ Mynheer Van Cook," the last no type, and barely a paraphrase of his real name. Two of Mr. Cooke's subjects of the former category are the Dogana di Mare, and the church of San Giorgio;the first in the cool of early morning, the last in the roseate effect of sunset. Mr. Cooke's third 'Venetian picture has other qualities besides the skilful treatment which pervades all his works : the vessels in them have a history attached to their class. They are those large fishing-boats, called Bragozzi, decorated in a kind of Byzantine style, with sails of black and amber, ornamented with sacred pictures and holy emblems, with pious inscriptions and religious devices on the hulls, and the masts surmounted with vanes of the most singularly elaborate construction, known under the name of “ Pinelli." One of these boats, dedicated to the Virgin, and inscribed “Noi stiamo sotto divina providenza," is running into port under the influence of a strong “ borasco," with half her equipage of nets streaming from the mast in the direction whither she is flying; another boat, following close, has “ Viva la pace”-an apropos of the moment-painted on her bellying canvas, and both of them dash furiously through the tumbling sea; in the distance rises the Castello di Sant Andrea, and near the entrance to the Lagune are seen some vessels casting anchor, one of them a Turk, with the crescent on her flag. The originality of this picture is one of its many attractions, and the spectator cannot but be struck by the skill with which the colours are opposed, the amber, black and red telling forcibly against the green and blue. Mr.
Cooke's Dutch pictures are: a Trawl-boat preparing for sea on the return of the tide-a variation of the subject which he treated so well last year —and vessels entering the port of Delfzyl on the Dollart, a large bay in the northernmost part of Friesland. The breadth and vigour of the Schevening picture cannot be surpassed, and the line of foaming waves breaking upon the sandy shore is of the most absolute truth alike for colour and movement. Delfzyl combines the characteristics of the shore of Holland with that of her ever-threatening sea : one little boat, called a “Sneb,” from its beak-shaped bow, contrasts well with the larger craft.
Before we quit the sea we must mention another “bold adventurer”. and a new one-over its perilous depths. This is Mr. F. R. Lee, the Royal Academician, who has this year embarked on a new career, in which it is not difficult to predict a success scarcely inferior to that which he has already achieved. Remembering his long, shady avenues, his fine secular monarchs of the forest, his sequestered woodland dells, it is almost startling to find that he has painted four pictures for the Exhibition without a single tree in any of them. The first and most striking of the series is a stormy effect on Plymouth Breakwater.
We are supposed to be standing nearly at the eastern extremity of the Breakwater, with the long perspective before us as far as the angle where it turns towards the shore, and is terminated by the lighthouse at the entrance to Plymouth Sound. The sea, stirred by a rising gale, is dashing over the broad pier with a force which would sweep away, like pebbles, the heaviest blocks of granite, if they were not strongly secured by chains; warned by the danger of exposure, the workmen are hastily seeking refuge behind “the shelter,”—a massive construction to seaward of the Breakwater, where they can remain secure till the violence of the storm has abated; over the remoter part of the harbour's great safeguard the waves are shivering themselves into spray; and towards the south, vessels of all sizes are weathering the gale or scudding before it. Mr. Lee must have closely studied his effects from nature to have produced this vigorous, truthful picture.—His second subject is a cutter beating out of the little harbour of Fowey, in Cornwall. She has just passed the promontory on which are the ruins of an old castle, with a fine breezy down beyond it, and is breasting the clear green waters of the open sea which sweeps towards the shore, and are broken at the entrance to the harbour over a ridge of glistening rocks. Overhead the clouds are drifting fast, leaving dark shadows on the sea where they pass before the sun, and revealing bright gleams of light between. Transparency and motion are everywhere present in the treatment of this charming subject. Mr. Lee's third picture differs from both the preceding: a vessel has gone ashore, and the tide having receded she has been stripped and broken up by a party of seamen who are returning from their work: this is a fine composition, it is beautifully coloured, and all the characteristics of the coast and its occupants are well preserved. The last picture of the four is a fine yawl contending against a rough sea, with a bold, rocky foreground on the left hand. Some of the artist's secret is told here, for the vessel is, we believe, a portrait of Mr. Lee's own yacht, in which he has been so successfully prosecuting his marine studies.
Of the tableaux de genre which we have seen, some are excellent, and all of high merit. Mr. Frith’s principal picture, called “Many happy