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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

London Art Galleries

( Originally Published 1913 )



The National Gallery is another important art repository. Comparable in many respects to the Louvre, it does not contain the priceless canvases which are the portion of Italian collections, but it is valuable for its completeness and for the historical sequence it exemplifies.

Deserving of special mention are a series of portraits uncovered by Petrie in his excavations in the Fayoum, attributed to the third or fourth century before the Christian era. They were used to cover the faces of Egyptian dead and were painted to resemble as closely as possible the deceased. These are examples of Greek workmanship and are highly valued.

The student finds the National Gallery most instructive for an understanding of growth in Italian painting; beginning with the time of Cimabue, the collection includes repre sentative pictures of Ralahael, Leonardo, Titian and other important artists as well as those of lesser fame. Much the same may be said of the Flemish and Dutch collections. Ponssin is better seen in the National Gallery than in the Louvre and early French art is fairly well shown., Pictures by Velasquez, Murillo and Goya are here and work illustrative of the German Schools, beginning with Meister Wilhelm, is included.

Of greater interest in this connection are examples of British painting. Eighteenth century art is to be seen in the National, while that of the nineteenth century is found in the Tate Gallery.

British art sprang suddenly into bloom in the creations of Hogarth. Tired of the imitation around him, filled with the idea that Nature alone was worthy of study, he broke entirely with the traditions which were adhered to by servile painters who emulated foreign art, and began to paint life as he saw it. His words ring clear and true: "Instead of burdening the memory with musty rules, or tiring the eye with copying dry or damaged pictures, I have ever found studying from Nature the shortest and safest way of obtaining knowledge in my art."

Hogarth is best appreciated today for pictures which received slight attention at first-The Shrimp Girl, Self-portrait and the Portrait of His Sister-all of which are in the National Gallery. However, his contemporaries were far more interested in his art-criticisms of society. Literary qualities in pictures are no longer valued and present critics rate his work high in spite, not because, of its moralizing tendencies. The profligacy of society life was as conspicuous in Hogarth's day as it is now, and in the role of a satirist, deeply imbued with humor, he prepared several series of pictures. Eight depicted The Rake's Progress. Those are at present in the Soane Museum. The youth, suddenly inheriting a large amount of wealth, casts off his love of college days and determines to cut quite a dash. For a time his money holds out and he is a frequenter of the taverns where boisterous rollicking and coarse jests enliven the drinking bouts. Destitute at length, he forges a note and falls into disgrace. At last he becomes a helpless lunatic and fails to recognize the faithful one who, regardless of his gross conduct, comes to comfort him in his distress. Marriage a la Mode was done in six scenes. In the firstthe Marriage Contract-the fathers are seen driving hard terms. An impoverished nobleman wishes to replenish his fortunes by marrying his son to the daughter of a rich alderman wishing a title for his plebeian child. The superficial youth has turned wholly away from the bride to admire himself in the mirror; she gives indication of inferior breeding and finds a lawyer of her own social stratum alone interesting. The second scene makes manifest the idea that each will go his way and in the end she takes her life upon hearing that her paramour is held for the murder of her husband.

It is surprising that Hogarth, largely self-taught, should have become such a master in drawing and so accomplished in technique. Copies give no adequate conception of his wonder ful skill with the brush. The excellencies of his pictures outweigh the blemishes-for he is offensively graphic, leaving little to the imagination. It is curious to find that such a bold and original painter did not found a school. Yet subsequent artists were to a marked extent influenced by his originality.

Reynolds emulated the old masters and was deeply influenced by the classicists, although he belongs with the eclectics. In spite of faulty drawing, his superb use of color and instinc tive ability for depicting beauty and grace of women and character of men give him rank with the best portrait painters. He was the first to paint children as children. Previously they had been painted as little men and women.

Among his pictures in the National Gallery, The Graces is a favorite. Three daughters of Sir William MontgomerieBarbara, Elizabeth and Anne-were engaged to be married. Reynolds painted them in a graceful group, each with a hand on a long garland of flowers which is to deck the figure of Hymen, god of marriage, standing behind them in the garden.

The Age of Innocence-a sweet little girl, wrapped in a childish revery, with a landscape background-and a Holy Family, wherein the Christ Child and his cousin, John the Baptist, are shown with Mary and Joseph, may be chosen as characteristic. The well-known portrait of Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse is also in this collection.

Gainsborough was for the most part self-taught. He was a life-long admirer of Van Dyck, whose influence is stamped upon his portraits. His years were spent in England and it was the beautiful English scenery that inspired his landscapes. He substituted rustics and cattle for the Arcadian figures which it was customary to place in such scenes. The Watering Place, View of Dedham and the Market Cart are typical of his art.

He was as much in demand for portraits as his contemporary rival, Reynolds, and painted nobles, famous actors, and social aspirants of the times. The Gainsborough portrait of Mrs. Siddons is even better known than the one by Reynolds. Romney (1734-1802) was also a painter of portraits. Al-though not the equal of either Reynolds or Gainsborough, he was nevertheless very popular. He had the faculty of idealizing his subjects while still making them look natural; people flocked to him because he made them look as they wished to be seen. This very ability, so esteemed by his patrons, renders his work trivial and superficial. His "divine lady"-later Lady Hamilton-he painted in many poses. She is to be seen as a Bacchante in this gallery, where his Parson's Daughter is even more bewitching.

Wilson, Constable and Turner are most important among the landscape painters. Richard Wilson (1714-1782) belonged to the old school. He modeled his style after that of Claude Lorrain. Similar effects of sunlight, far-reaching vistas and use of trees or classic ruins are to be seen in his pictures. Wilson was underrated in his day, like many another artist. He finally died neglected in an almshouse. In modern times he has received due appreciation. Nine of his landscapes are here: View in Italy, Hadrian's Villa, The Destruction of Niobe's Children, and The Ruins of the Villa Maecenas at Tivoli being best among them. His use of light had a marked effect later upon Turner.

John Constable (1776-1837) was a painter of rare individuality. Like Hogarth, he turned against the traditions of art as he found them. Landscape painters had long painted Nature in broad shades, as though the trees they placed in their pictures had always been found in autumnal hues. Constable looked about him and found the world quite unlike the landscape pictures he saw exhibited. He resolved to paint only what he saw. To one who maintained that the hue of an old violin was the suitable brown for Nature, he silently replied by placing the instrument upon the lawn-in vivid contrast to the rich, green carpet. His pictures were ridiculed and for some time he worked against bitter criticism.

It is somewhat difficult todav for the one who views Constable's pictures-somewhat old-fashioned, as they certainly appear-to understand the influence they had in France, where his genius was first recognized. His independence in abandoning traditions and turning to Nature for guidance and his placing of what he saw upon canvas as he saw it had much to do with the stand taken by the French School of 183o. The Hay Wain, first exhibited in France, but today in the possession of the National Gallery, and the Salisbury Cathedral are characteristic of his work.

Turner is regarded by many as England's greatest painter. Ruskin was of this opinion and wrote extensively to place him adequately before the public. It is to be regretted that he found it necessary to underrate earlier artists-particularly Claudein order to sufficiently extol this eccentric genius, but it must be admitted that much of his enthusiasm was justifiable. On the other hand, there have not been lacking those minded like Taine, who characterized his pictures thus: "An extraordinary jumble, a sort of churned foam,-place a man in a fog, in the midst of a storm, the sun in his eyes, and his head swimming, and depict, if you can, his impressions on canvas."

Turner left the greater number of his paintings to the government on condition that a suitable building should be provided wherein they might be exhibited alone. The pictures were accepted and the condition set aside. They are shown in the Turner Room of the National Gallery, but to some disadvantage, and it is expected that sooner or later other arrangements will be made for them.

Nineteenth century art is gradually being accumulated in what is generally called the Tate Gallery, although it bears the official name: National Gallery of British Art. In 1890 Mr. Henry Tate (later knighted) offered more than fifty of his carefully acquired pictures to the English government, providing a separate and appropriate place was secured for their preservation. Delays and objections followed, and in the end he himself gave $400,000 to erect a building, the site donated by the government. In 1897 the new building was formally opened. It is in Italian Renaissance style with Greek motives. A broad flight of stairs leads to the imposing entrance. The paintings are shown in wings on either side. Circular stairs lead to the Statuary Hall above. There are here sixty-five pictures given by Mr. Tate; seventeen presented by Watts to the nation; the Chantrey collection, purchased from time to time by the Royal Academy from the revenues of the Chantrey bequest, which provides that the income from an estate valued at ninety thousand pounds be used to purchase pictures by artists who have "actually resided in Great Britain during the execution and completion" of the painting. In addition to pictures thus accounted for, the National Gallery continues to place the works of late artists here as loans. Many private donations have been made and will doubtless continue to enlarge this excellent collection.

Some of Millais' best work is here. The North-West Passage is a strong picture; an old mariner listens while his daughter reads of a search made for the fabled "north-west passage." "It might be done, and England should do it," he murmurs. Maps and charts strewn about indicate his keen interest.

Ophelia is plainly in the style of those years when Millais held to the tenets of the Pre-Raphaelites. It was finished in 1851. The lines from the play best tell the story of the picture: "Her clothes spread wide; And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up: Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes As one incapable of her own distress."

The Vale of Rest is placed in the cemetery of a convent; a young nun removes earth for a grave; an elderly sister watches calmly while she works. In the sky are clouds, a superstition obtaining in Scotland that when coffin-shaped clouds hover in the heavens a death is imminent.

The Knight-Errant, Millais' only nude life-size figure, shows a maiden bound to a tree, where she has been left in pitiable plight by robbers, who can be discerned retreating in the distance. A knight in armour approaches from behind the tree and is about to cut her bonds asunder.

No modern painter has stamped his work with mental vision more admirable and high-minded than George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) : "My intention has been not so much to paint pictures that will charm the eye as to suggest great thoughts that will appeal to the imagination and the heart, and kindle all that is best and noblest in humanity." This he has accomplished, although the eye is nevertheless charmed. His Orpheus and Eurydice is wonderful and makes us mourn with Orpheus that he could not wait until he had reached the upper world ere he turned to view his almost recovered bride.

Burne-Jones (1833-1898) may well be called a poet-painter. He studied with Rossetti, whose ideas were wholly in harmony with his own. "I mean by a picture, a beautiful, romantic dream of something that never was, never will be, in a light better than any light that ever shone, in a land no one can define or remember-only desire." It is scarcely possible to better describe his own pictures. A certain sadness hovers over them, as if that which was desired always evaded and escaped when its realization seemed near. King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid and the Annunciation are here. Each of his pictures recalls Rossetti's praise: that he had proved that "the noblest painting is a painted poem."

Chaucer supplied one of Burne-Jones' founts of inspiration. Both poet and painter loved Nature rarely well.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), born in England of Italian parents, was nurtured in the atmosphere of Dante, who almost became his guide. His Beata Beatrix is probably best known of all his paintings. Dante is seen in the distance, while a bird bearing a poppy in its beak-a harbinger of death -flies into the lap of the "Blessed Beatrice."

Leighton (1830-1895) was a profound classical student and found many subjects for his creations in classic lore. The Bath of Psyche is in pure Greek style in so far as it exemplifies beauty of form. Andromache is another of his best known paintings.

Landseer is well represented in the Tate Gallery. High Life-a pampered staghound ; Low Life, a common type of bull in meager surroundings, and Uncle Tom and His Wife for Sale, two bulldogs with almost too human expressions-are excellent examples of his art.

The Fighting Temeraire

"The flag which braved the battle and the breeze No longer owns her."

"Exhibited at the Academy in 1839, with the above lines cited in the Catalogue. Of all Turner's pictures in the National Gallery this is perhaps the most notable. For, first it is the last picture he ever painted with perfect power-the last in which his execution is as firm and faultless as in middle life; the last in which lines requiring exquisite precision, such as those of the masts and yards of shipping, are drawn rightly at once. When he painted the Temeraire Turner could, if he liked, have painted the Shipwreck or the Ulysses over again; but when he painted the Sun o f Venice, though he was able to do different, and in some sort more beautiful things, he could not have done those again. His period of central power thus begins with the Ulysses and closes with the Temeraire. The one picture, it will be observed, is of sunrise, the other of sunset. The one of a ship entering on its voyage and the other of a ship closing its course forever. The one, in all the circumstance of the subject, unconsciously illustrative of his own life in its triumph, the other, in all the circumstances of its subject, unconsciously illustrative of his own life in its decline. Accurately as the first sets forth his escape to the wild brightness of Nature, to reign amidst all her happy spirits, so does the last set forth his returning to die by the shore of the Thames. And besides having been painted in Turner's full power, the Temeraire is of all his large pictures the best preserved. Secondly, the subject of the picture is, both particu-larly and generally, the noblest that in an English National Gallery could be. The Temeraire was the second ship in Nelson's line at the Battle of Trafalgar; and this picture is the last of the group which Turner painted to illustrate that central struggle in our national history. And, generally, she is a type of one of England's chief glories. It will be always said of us, with unabated reverence, `They built ships of the Line.' Take it all in all, a ship of the Line is the most honorable thing that man as a gregarious animal has ever produced. By himself, unhelped, he can do better things than ships of the line; he can make poems and pictures, and other such concentrations of what is best in him. But as a being living in flocks, and hammering out, with alternate strokes and mutual agreement, what is necessary for him in those flocks to get or produce the ship of the line is his first work. And as the subject was the noblest Turner could have chosen, so also was his treatment of it. Of all pictures of subjects not visibly involving human pain this is, I believe, the most pathetic that was ever painted. The utmost pensiveness which can ordinarily be given to a landscape depends on adjuncts of ruin; but no ruin was ever so affecting as this gliding of the vessel to her grave. A ruin cannot be so, for whatever memories may be connected with it, and whatever witness it may have borne to the courage and glory of men, it never seems to have offered itself to their danger, and associated itself with their acts, as a ship of battle can. The mere facts of motion, and obedience to human guidance, double the interest of the vessel: nor less her organized perfectness, giving her the look, and partly the character of a living creature, that may indeed be maimed in limb or decrepit in frame, but must either live or die, and cannot be added to or diminished from-heaped up and dragged down-as a building can. And this particular ship, crowned in the Trafalgar hour of trial with chief victory-prevailing over the fatal vessel that had given Nelson death-surely, if ever anything without a soul deserved honor or affection, we owed them here. Those sails that strained so full bent into the battle-that broad bow that struck the surf aside, enlarging silently in steadfast haste full front to the shot-resistless and without reply-those triple ports, whose choirs of flame rang forth in their courses into the fierce revenging monotone, which, when it died away, left no answering voice to rise any more upon the sea against the strength of England-those sides that were wet with the long runlets of English life-blood, like press planks at vintage, gleaming goodly crimson down to the cast and clash of the washing foam-those pale masts that stayed themselves up against the war-ruin, shaking out their ensigns through the thunder, till sail and ensign droopedsteeped in the death-stilled pause of Andalusian air, burning with its witness-clouds of human souls at rest, surely, for these some sacred care might have been left in our thoughts, some quiet space amidst the lapse of English waters? Nay, not so. We have stern keepers to trust her glory to-the fire and the worm. Never more shall sunset lay golden robe on her, nor starlight tremble on the waves that part at her gliding. Perhaps, where the low gate opens to some cottage-garden, the tired traveler may ask, idly, why the moss grows so green on its rugged wood; and even the sailor's child may not answer, nor know, that the night-dew lies deep in the war-rents of the wood of the old Temeraire. And, lastly, the pathos of the picture-the contrast of the old ship's past glory with her pres-ent end; and the spectacle of the `old order' of the ship of the line, whose flag had braved the battle and the breeze, yielding place to the new, in the little steam-tug-these pathetic contrasts are repeated and enforced by a technical tour de force in the treatment of the colors, which is without a parallel in art. And the picture itself thus combines the evidences of Turner's supremacy alike in imagination and in skill. The old masters, content with one simple tone, sacrificed to its unity all the exquisite gradations and varied touches of relief and change by which Nature unites her hours with each other.

They gave the warmth of the sinking sun, overwhelming all things in its gold, but they did not give those gray passages about the horizon, where, seen through its dying light, the cool and the gloom of night gather themselves for their victory., . . . But in this picture, under the blazing veil of vaulted fire, which lights the vessel on her last path, there is a blue, deep, desolate hollow of darkness, out of which you can hear the voice of the night wind, and the dull boom of the disturbed sea; the cold, deadly shadows of the twilight are gathering through every sunbeam, and moment by moment, as you look, you will fancy some new film and faintness of the night has risen over the vastness of the departing form."-Ruskin.



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