« PreviousContinue »
still living, and who is the contributor of some of the finest productions of the master in the present exhibition at the Institute--that this particular drawing was allowed to remain uncovered for weeks together at the engraver's, exposed certainly to dust and possibly to damp.
The drawings by Holland may also be compared with advantage with those at the Institute, these latter being authenticated as having been for many years exposed to full daylight. I am unable to discover any appreciable difference between the works of this artist as represented at the South Kensington Museum and those now on view at the Institute.
I will close the notice of the South Kensington drawings, necessarily imperfect, by a reference to a work by W. Hunt, because it has been cited by Mr. Church in evidence of fading under the treatment to which it has been subjected at the Museum. The drawing in question is obviously an unfinished one. This the pencil marks still left in the background would suffice to show; but I would call attention particularly to the melon, the principal feature in the work. This portion of the drawing has not faded, for the colour has never been there. It is simply a laying in with body colour previous to its completion in transparent or glazing colours—a process familiar to oil painters, but seldom resorted to by water-colour artists except in the case of William Hunt.
We come now to the region of facts, not only as regards the actual condition of some of the finest specimens of water-colour art that have ever been gathered together, but also to that chief element in the question, the history and antecedents of a considerable number of them.
I allude to the collection at the Royal Institute which the energy and perseverance of Sir James Linton have enabled him to present to the public as a proof that the hasty and sweeping charges brought against one of the most beautiful arts of our time have not been substantiated and are incapable of verification.
Presuming that most of the readers of this article have personally inspected the collection in question and that the perusal of Sir James Linton's preface to the catalogue will have explained the objects of the exhibition, it will be sufficient to state briefly that it was intended to confute a mischievous fallacy wbich by its wide circulation through the medium of a powerful journal is calculated to mislead the public into the belief that one of the richest and purest enjoyments of our lives—the contemplation, namely, of the works of the greatest English water-colour painters of a past generation-is a fleeting delight which can only be indulged in under conditions that are troublesome and difficult of attainment. Who can compare for a moment the satisfaction we derive from the inspection of works in a museum with the enjoyment of water-colour drawings exposed upon our walls? The critic or dilettante visits the British Museum to compare styles or to verify a date, and it is well that this opportunity should be afforded him, but the pictures upon our walls appeal to a different and I think a higher faculty. Who is there that, being the fortunate possessor of beautiful works of art, will fail to admit their humanising influence? and how the aspect of a “Turner' or a · David Cox' diverts his attention from the petty cares of life, the res angustæ domi, and even helps to soothe bim under the pressure of greater troubles ?
I would wish to point out that the objects of the permanent collection at South Kensington and the much smaller exhibition which I am now about to notice are widely different. The South Kensington Museum is above all an educational institution, and its art collections are brought together with the distinct intention of guiding the student in the investigation of the history of its different branches. Hence the condition and the qualities of individual specimens have been less regarded than the position they occupy in the category they are intended to illustrate. The exhibition of early English water-colour painters at the Institute consists of the contributions of various collectors and connoisseurs, who have kindly lent their works for the purpose indicated. In the former case I purposely selected for notice many of the drawings which at some period of their existence had suffered injury from the treatment to which they had been subjected, with the view of showing that in numerous cases other causes besides exposure to light had been at work. With regard to the Institute collection no such discrimination is required, for they are nearly all in admirable condition.
I will proceed to notice a few of these drawings. The three magnificent Turners, now the property of Professor Ruskin, occupy —as their transcendent beauty entitles them-a central place on the walls of the Council Room. Of the drawing No. 90, 'Scene in Savoy,' I am enabled to state with absolute certainty the following particulars. Professor Ruskin speaks of it in these terms: “It is a very early drawing, certainly not later than 1812 or 1814, and I cannot conceive of it as ever more beautiful than now. To my personal knowledge the ‘Scene in Savoy 'was hung on the walls and exposed to ordinary daylight for upwards of twenty years. Mr. Ruskin proceeds to say: 'The Devonport and Salisbury were hung in the excellent light of Mr. Windus's drawing-room at Tottenham, and came from Tottenham to Denmark Hill.' No. 8Turner, “Tintern Abbey,' exposed to light ever since it was painted in the year 1800. The practice pursued by Professor Ruskin of covering up his Turner drawings during a portion of the day, although, as evidenced by the condition of many works by Turner, by no means a necessary precaution, is to be advocated as an exceptional measure, owing to the extreme tenuity of many of his tints and the subtle gradations of colour upon which so much of the value of his work depends. It is well known that paper when excluded from the light acquires a yellow colour by age, an effect similar to that produced upon oil pictures. It is, therefore, in every way desirable that delicately tinted water colours should be alternately covered up and exposed to light. The opinions of Professor Ruskin upon all matters relating to art stand in no need of advocacy by me. Every line that he has written will be remembered and quoted long after the present controversy has been forgotten; but as he has been charged with inconsistency, it is well to remember that he only advocates this precautionary measure in the case of drawings by Turner.
No. 41, W. Hunt, 'Pine, Melon, and Grapes,' exposed in frame for forty years. No. 73, J. Varley, “A Landscape, exposed since painted, about 1828. No. 108, S. Prout, Dresden,' toned paper, always exposed to light. No. 122, E. Dayes, 'Greenwich Hospital,' exposed ever since it was painted, about 1800. No. 168, J. Varley, • Windsor,' always exposed since painted in 1828. No. 91, ‘Salisbury Cathedral,' a very early work by Turner, showing no evidence of change. No. 93, ‘Buckfast Leigh Abbey,' the property of Mr. Arthur Severn, R. I., an exquisite drawing in perfect condition. There are several other very early works by Turner, but being executed almost entirely in monochrone, their value as an evidence of durability under exposure to light is less striking; but I may mention oneNo. 158, The Bay of Nice '—a drawing executed in the old manner, first in neutral tint and then slightly washed with local colour. This drawing has been in my own possession and always exposed to light for more than thirty years. I can discover no change in it.
I turn now to the beginning of the catalogue. No. 5, W. Hunt, “The Restless Sitter,' an exceptionally brilliant drawing by the master. This work has been executed fifty-five years; it has changed hands four times, but has to this day always been framed and exposed to light. No. 10, De Wint, 'Felling Timber,' exposed to light by the present owner; sky quite unchanged, owing probably to the absence of Indian red. No. 11, Ulverston Sands, De Wint, hung on the walls for twenty years. No. 13, De Wint, 'Haymaking,' in perfect condition; the original frame. No. 18, ‘Plums and Blackberries,' W. Hunt, exposed to light since painted; exhibited at the Fine Art Exhibition 1878–9 (see notes by Professor Ruskin in catalogue of that exhibition).
No. 21, J. Holland, Interior of Church,' dated 1844, always exposed to light. I may mention that the works of this artist are so eminently decorative in character that they are generally placed on the walls by their owners. Having been intimately acquainted both with the painter and his works for many years, I have frequently been struck with the brilliancy of his water-colour drawings. His VOL. XX.-No. 114.
oil pictures, on the other hand, have sometimes deteriorated in quality, owing, I believe, to the injudicious use of certain media.
No. 23, J. Varley, ‘Lake and Mountain,' exposed to light from the time it was painted; the original frame.
No. 29, W. Müller, ' Near Bristol,' dated 1844, always exposed to light. No. 35, G. Barret, · Landscape with Cattle and Sheep,' hung on the walls. No. 41, Wm. Hunt, Pine, Melon and Grapes,' in splendid condition; exhibited at the Fine Art Gallery 1878-9 (see notes by Professor Ruskin in catalogue of that exhibition). No. 45, W.Hunt, Black Grapes and Strawberries,' at least twenty years exposed to light. No. 49, “Quinces,' W. Hunt, twenty years exposed to light; exhibited at Fine Art Exhibition 1878–9. No. 53, W. Hunt, “Green Grapes,' always exposed to light, remarkably strong and pure in colour. No. 55, W. Hunt, 'Dead Pigeon,' always exposed to light, especially brilliant and pure in colour (see notes by Professor Ruskin in catalogue of Fine Art Exhibition). No. 60, G. Barret, · Morning,' for fifty years exposed to light; original frame. No. 62, J. Holland, ‘Old Port of Dover,' dated 1846, framed and exposed to light from the time it was painted.
No. 25, J. Varley, ' Ross Castle, Killarney,' long exposed to light; the original frame. No, 43, W. Hunt, The Shy Sitter,'twenty years exposed to light. I have been informed by Mr. Orrock that all his Hunt drawings have been exposed in frames for twenty years, so that further mention of them is needless. No. 70, Sir A. Callcott, R.A., Lake of Thun,' an early drawing evidently executed under the influence of Turner ; exposed to daylight for thirty years. Note particularly the purity of the grey tones. No. 77, G. Cattermole, * Reading the Bible in the Baron's Chapel,' dated 1846, in the original frame; in perfect condition.
No. 78, G. Cattermole, “Visit to the Monastery,' exposed since it was painted to light. No. 82, ‘Flower Drawing,' J. Holland, always exposed to light. Note the purity and brilliancy of the colour. Holland's early practice of flower painting doubtless contributed much to the beauty of his colour in after days. No. 86, Bonington, “Genoa,' framed and exposed to light for thirty years. No. 95, G. Cattermole, The Minstrel,' always exposed to light, No. 100, W. Hunt, ' Interior of a Cottage,' exposed to light ever since it was painted, fifty-six years ago.
No. 105, J. Holland, · Venice,' extremely bright and pure in colour ; in the original frame. No. 113, D. Cox, “ The Skylark,' a magnificent drawing in perfect condition ; in the original frame, as is also the pendant, Changing the Pastures’-two of the finest Coxes in existence. No. 119, F. J. Lewis, "The Dancers.' This drawing was purchased by Mr. Ruskin, sen., in 1840, and has been always exposed to daylight until quite recently. In the original frame.
No. 120, E. de Witte, 'A Dutch Church.' This drawing has been the subject of much discussion. Mr. J. C. Robinson declares that the name and date 1669 inscribed upon it are a forgery, and that the paper is of the eighteenth or nineteenth century, and moreover that it is a very bad copy of an old oil picture by the master. This statement remains to be verified, but it is an undoubted fact that the drawing in question has been framed and exposed to the light for forty-five years, which is amply sufficient for our present purpose. No. 137, D. Cox, ‘Crossing the Moor. This drawing was purchased from the artist by the late Mr. Topham, R.W.S., and hung on his walls until his death. No. 139, G. Barret, Evening,' framed fifty years ago, and always exposed to light. No. 151, D. Cox, “A Windy Day.' This remarkably brilliant drawing has been exposed to daylight for thirty-three years. No. 155, De Wint, ' Aysgarth,' exposed for more than twenty years to the light.
light. No. 163, S. Prout, An Old English Cottage,' the property of Professor Ruskin, who informs us that it has been exposed to light since his childhood (see appendix to Catalogue).
I have now, I trust, succeeded in verifying my original statement that a very large number of the drawings in this remarkable collection have been exposed to full daylight without appreciable change. The publicity given to the statements of Mr. J. C. Robinson has induced me—I fear at the risk of wearying the reader—to go into much detail. This has been inevitable, for it is only by the reiteration of particular facts that it has been possible to meet general accusations. As regards the present condition of the drawings, they speak for themselves.
In a letter from Mr. J. C. Robinson recently addressed to Truth the following passage occurs : What is there to show that many, perhaps even the majority, of these drawings may not, for the greater part of their time even, have been kept in the dark in portfolios, or otherwise carefully protected from the light ? This has certainly been the case in some instances; and if this can be proved, is not the exhibition at least sailing under false colours ?' I trust that the information I have been enabled to procure is a sufficient answer to these questions. Had the collection at the Institute consisted solely, of works that had been exposed to daylight, Sir James Linton would have laid himself open to the charge of having purposely excluded every drawing which told against his argument. It might have been supposed that the mere fact of such a collection as this having been secured in little more than a week would have been sufficient to refute the absurd accusation that members of an honourable profession have banded themselves together in order to propagate a falsehood—for this in effect is the charge burled against them.
Before concluding this branch of the subject, which is intentionally devoted to the enumeration of facts, I wish to call attention to