Page images
PDF
EPUB

the condition of a small but well-selected collection of drawings in the possession of my friend Mr. Henry Drake, of Kensington. This gentleman has not only afforded me an opportunity of carefully inspecting the works in question, but has given me the assurance that they have been hung on his walls for twenty years, and for about the same time on the walls of their former possessor. Being most of them in their original frames, it may be taken for granted that they have been exposed to the light for more than forty years. I think that their present appearance would be a revelation to those who hold that the period of thirty years arbitrarily fixed upon for the duration of their existence so far as colour is concerned, has been far exceeded. The collection comprises drawings by the following artists : W. Müller, Copley Fielding, David Cox, G. Cattermole, E. Duncan, G. Fripp, P. Naftel, and others, all in admirable preservation. No special precaution has been adopted with regard to these drawings, except their protection from direct sunshine.

The difference between the effects of direct sunshine and diffused light are so enormous that I was long under the impression that they differed in kind as well as in degree. The inquiries I have instituted concerning this matter have led me to modify this opinion, but practically my conviction remains the same, and I think the above facts attest that there is a gulf between the effects of sunshine and ordinary diffused daylight-an assertion that no one who has practically studied the subject will be able to deny. The exclusion of the direct rays of the sun from water-colour drawings is a condition of their preservation in the state in which they were produced ; and had the discussion opened with a recommendation to that effect, I am convinced that the controversy would have been pursued in a very different tone from that it has unfortunately assumed.

It is to be observed that in his first letter to the Times Mr. J. C. Robinson takes no notice of the varied pigments employed by different artists, but pointedly asserts that all water-colour drawings are doomed to destruction unless guarded from daylight, thus leading the uninitiated reader to conclude that all the pigments employed by water-colour painters were open to the same objection. It was not until Professor Church took up the question and pointed out the particular pigments that should be used with caution, that Mr. Robinson descended from vague generalities to the consideration of really important factors in the question. It is, however, worthy of remark that Mr. Church is more exercised in his praiseworthy endeavours to promote the study of the chemistry of pigments amongst living artists than in vain regrets over the ignorance or indifference of some of the greatest artists of the century concerning the pigments they employed.

The greatest master of landscape painting—the man who occupies a solitary pedestal in the Walhalla of landscape art-was admittedly careless in this respect. In whichever medium he worked, the one consideration by which he seemed to be guided was the production of the effect to which he was urged by the inspiration of the moment, and this especially with regard to the scheme of colour he adopted, which induced him to select the colours which were the best exponents of his ideas. Turner was probably little troubled by the question of durability. As Mr. Ruskin happily remarked, 'He feels in colour, but he thinks in light and shade. The rich enjoyment which the mere practice of his art must have afforded him was untempered by anxiety as to the future of his work, and was akin to the satisfaction of a great musician who draws sweet tones from his instrument.

It is from these considerations that I should feel disposed to exclude the water-colour works of Turner from the walls of our public galleries, except under the conditions which in the National Gallery render them secure from injury.

Passing on to the lesser lights, the men who, admirable in their way, are only second to Turner, it would be a misfortune were we to be deprived of free access to their works so long as they are placed under vigilant care.

The pessimists, happily few in number, would have us believe that the durability of pigments, as regards the effect of daylight upon them, is in the inverse ratio of their usefulness. This is fortunately far from being the case. The fading effect of light upon certain pigments is almost confined to those of organic origin, many of which have been but sparingly employed by our best water-colour painters.

Sir James Linton expresses the opinion that certain drawings have even become richer and deeper in tone than when they were first painted, but he is represented by Mr. J. C. Robinson to have said that they have gained in brilliancy, which is quite another thing. The desiccation of the size in the paper, as well as the gum and other media employed in the manufacture of water-colours, may have conduced to this quality, a change which is analogous to the darkening of the oils and varnishes in oil paintings.

It has been hinted that artists are not entitled to a hearing on this question of durability, on the ground that they are influenced by interested motives. The truth or fallacy of this accusation must depend upon the meaning attached to the word. In one sense artists are certainly interested witnesses, but if sordid motives are attributed to them such an imputation must be emphatically disclaimed. Mr. Robinson may rest assured that the sincerest admirers of the early school of English water-colour painters are to be found in the ranks of living artists, who would view with dismay the dissolution or decay of the priceless treasures which have been bequeathed to us.

Many artists have themselves instituted experiments upon the pigments employed by painters in both materials, but they have hitherto been of a desultory nature, and not pursued with sufficient system. The investigations of Professor Church have been of great value in this respect, and whilst deprecating the animus exhibited by Mr. J. C. Robinson, both as to the matter and the manner of his attacks, I am quite ready to allow that good results may follow from the inquiry that he has instigated, and whilst separating the good seed from the chaff let us remember the old adage: Fas est et ab hoste doceri.

Before this comtroversy began, people were becoming weaned from the fallacious doctrine that works executed in water-colour were necessarily less permanent than those 'protected by the oils and varnishes with which they were painted, and it is to be hoped that this scare will not deter them from reconsidering the verdict that all water-colour drawings which have been long exposed to daylight have been irreparably injured.

Mr. Robinson contends that one of the causes of the greater stability of oil paintings is the circumstance that the pigments are employed in far greater volume than in water-colour painting, strangely overlooking the fact that the early painters applied their colours with remarkable thinness, as may be seen in the works of Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer, Holbein, and in most of the early Italian masters. It is moreover to be noticed that these works were painted on a white gesso ground, and probably in water-colour. The use of oil or varnish was an after-process employed in finishing the picture. I am aware that I am now treading upon debatable ground, but there is high authority for the assumption. Now these so-called oil paintings are precisely the works which excite the admiration of the world not only from their inherent beauty, but from their extraordinary durability.

The practice of loading the colour belongs to a later date, and I have yet to learn that it conduces to their permanence. That light is not without its influence upon certain pigments, even when they are locked up' by oil or varnish, is evidenced by the fact that numerous examples of the Dutch school have suffered in this respect.

Landscapes by Hobbema, Both, and Ruysdael, frequently show fading in the greens of their foliage. In these cases yellow glazing colours of vegetable origin have been employed, which, being fleeting, have passed away, leaving a cold blue green underneath. Such examples might be multiplied, and they extend even to the Florentine and Sienese schools of the fifteenth century, and especially in the flesh tints of Botticelli, whose works, graceful and refined as they must always have been, may even have acquired a certain pathos from the pallor that has ensued owing to the use of pigments prepared from cochineal.

I mention this fact in order to show that the fading effects of light upon certain pigments is by no means confined to water-colours. On the other hand, the durability of flax, which material is the foundation of all good drawing paper, is abundantly proved by the wonderful preservation of linen in the Egyptian tombs.

'Pure old water-colour painting upon pure old rags'—such is the panacea offered by the greatest art critic of the day, to pour balm into the wounds of those who hold that all water-colour drawings are doomed to extinction when exposed to daylight.

In the opening pages of Mr. J. C. Robinson's article in this Review, to which I have presumed to offer a reply, he says that in his first communication to the Times he did not intend to provoke a controversy, by which, I suppose, he means that, the fiat having gone forth that all water-colour drawings were for the future to be considered as inherently perishable, it would be presumptuous for any one to dispute either the premisses with which he starts, or the conclusions at which he arrives.

Not being in a position to speak ex cathedra, and having to face the proverbial difficulty of proving a negative, I have ventured to embark in a controversy with an assailant in whom fluency and wealth of illustration are happily blended. But, fortunately for ourselves, combatants have been enlisted on our side who combine a practical experience of the art in which they excel with the critical faculty which renders their testimony of the highest value. As any definitive judgment upon the merits of the case can hardly yet be expected, we must look to the gradual enlightenment of the public for the decision of a question that concerns every lover of art.

FRANK DILLON.

NAVAL DEFENCE OF THE COLONIES.

We have heard much of late of the necessity for Imperial Federation, but no attempt appears to have been made either to formulate a scheme for the practical development of such a policy, or to offer a definition of the word federation as applicable to the British Empire. The term is probably used by many to express their desire that the mother country-irreverently called by our American cousins the grandmother country'-should use her utmost endeavours to unite the subjects of the Queen in all parts of the world as one family, with one bond of union founded on a determination to promote the welfare and to protect the interests of every portion of the British Empire.

If federation signifies the permanent union of her Majesty's numerous possessions on such principles it is clearly intended to be framed on a sound basis; but it is doubtful whether any legal or political enactments, beyond those which now exist, can be expected to accomplish that object more completely than the system which has prevailed of recent years, and which, in accordance with the general feeling of the nation, is undoubtedly drawing the colonies and the mother country into closer union year by year, with ties of friendship and confidence in each other.

In the January number of this Review the difficulties of attempting to establish a federation of the Empire, in the ordinary meaning of the term, have been so ably and conclusively discussed by Sir Henry Thring that a repetition of his arguments would be superfluous; but after careful consideration I am led to believe that the same arguments which he has advanced against the probability of a political federation of the colonies with Great Britain being established, at least during this century, apply with equal force to the proposal for a federation of the naval and military forces of the colonies with those of the United Kingdom, except as regards the local defences of each colony. I refer only to the immediate future. What may occur in the far future I will not venture to predict. But whatever system is adopted to unite those forces it should be such as may readily be expanded to meet the increasing strength and importance of our colonial empire, which has in it all the elements of greatness and which will require all the care and con

« PreviousContinue »