Modern British Painters, Tate Gallery - Pt. 1
( Originally Published 1908 )
We now come to the work of artists, many of whom are still exhibiting in the Royal Academy.
I shall still speak of them, more or less, in order of their dates. But, at the same time, we may group together certain painters who have come under the same influences.
We will wander by the sea-shore and watch with Mr. James Clarke Hook, R.A. (1819-1907) the boats coming ` Home with the Tide' (1512). On the beach we see the wives of the fishermen waiting. They are hoping for a good haul and plenty to sell at the market. We get the smell of the salt breeze into our nostrils as we look at this picture. The artist loves the sunlight, the open sea in storm and calm. As a boy he enjoyed nothing better than his yearly expeditions from London to Northumberland by water, when he would voyage in a sailing smack, and encounter plenty of rough weather.
Now we will go into the cottage of a Scotch peasant and help at a momentous choice : Mr. Thomas Faed, R.A. (1826-1900) will be our guide. To have or not to have ` The Silken Gown ' (1525), that is the question. We see a girl at a decisive moment of her life. If she accepts the lovely brocaded silk she will have to accept the lover who has brought it to her, and she doesn't want to do that. He, poor fellow, is looking on anxiously, hoping for the best. He has confided in the girl's mother, who is urging his claims on her daughter. ` He'll be a good steady husband, buy you pretty things in plenty,' she whispers. Still the girl is reluctant, her heart is elsewhere. Her little sister is sitting on the floor in the company of a charming Scotch terrier. They are talking to each other in their way, and don't in the least understand the important decision which has to be made. What do you think—will she have the gown or not ?
We have looked at a seascape by Mr. Hook, let us now look at one by Mr. Henry Moore (1831—1885), the son of an artist. His pictures in the Academy were often just stretches of sea, not a boat in sight, not a touch of life, except that in the water's luminous depths one might imagine the fishes darting about on inconceivable business. In ' Catspaws Off the Land' (1604), on the rippling waves two boats are sailing, their brown sails reflected in the water. Moore devoted his life to the study of the sea and sky, and they yielded to him some of their secrets. No weather was too fierce for him to venture out. What should they know of the sea who only know her in fair weather, and would be huddled up in their cabins if they chanced to be sailing on a stormy night ?
His brother, Mr. Albert Moore (1841—1893) has a picture' Blossoms ' (1549) of a beautiful maiden, tall and fair. She is draped in a soft coloured garment of a cool delicate shade of pink, the white cherry blooms are all around her. We might say of her, as the poet has said of Marpessa :
` Thy life has been
Albert Moore was much influenced both by Japanese painting, and by the dignity of the Greek figures. He arrived at high attainment by careful study. No trouble was too great for him to take. If his paintings leave us cold, it is rather because he cared for beauty beyond all things, and did not touch his figures with warm human life.
Mr. Frederick Walker, A.R.A., whose beautiful ` Harbour of Refuge ' (1391) we see here is an artist of quite other ideals. There is a note of melancholy in this scene. An old almswoman is taking a walk with her granddaughter ; the young girl seems sad as she slackens her steps to suit the pace of her companion. Perhaps she is thinking that all too soon she will be as tottering and feeble as the aged woman by her side. The pensioners sitting on a bench at the foot of a statue are cheerful enough, as they watch a youth with a scythe mowing the grass. The scene was painted at Jesus Hospital, Bray, near Maidenhead, though those of you who know the quiet retreat will notice that Frederick Walker has altered the scene in many details.
He was born in London in 184o, and in his short life he achieved great things. As a young man he went to the Academy schools. He also studied the Elgin marbles. He is a poet in paint, neither a realist nor an idealist.
Subject pictures often appeal to boys and girls by reason of the story they tell. Let us look at one by Mr. Philip Calderon, R.A. (1833-1898), which is inspired by Kingsley's ' Saint's Tragedy' (1573). It tells of the great renunciation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who lived in the thirteenth century, and died when she was twenty-four. She was the daughter of the King of Hungary, and was married to a wealthy noble. But, though she occupied so high a position, she cared nothing for it, the Christian ideal filled her soul. ` He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.' This was her creed. After her husband's death she was driven from home, and though later on she had a chance of returning, she would not do so. She put herself absolutely under the guidance of her confessor, Conrad of Marburg, who ordered the penance which she is performing in this picture. She was to strip off her garments, and, kneeling by the altar, to ` renounce parents, children, friends, and the pomps and pleasures and vanities of this world.'
` No creature now I love but God alone.'
Philip Calderon began life as an engineer, but found that occupation uncongenial to him. He was bent on becoming a painter and his father at last consented that he should study at Leigh's school, and afterwards in Paris. He became Keeper of the Royal Academy. In this capacity he had a great deal to do with the students. He saw how hard some tried yet did not succeed, and it saddened him. One night when the gold medals were presented to the successful Academy students, two pictures that had won prizes were there on show. Calderon looked at them, but his thoughts were with the vanquished. ` It is not exactly with such as these that I sympathise,' he said, ' I feel most for those who have tried and lost ; it is to these others that we must say " well done." '
Here is a London scene, familiar to those who have been up and down the great river. It is of The Pool' (1599) by Mr. Vicat Cole, R.A. (1833-1893). He was a successful landscape painter, and for many years painted English scenery. Then he turned his attention to the great river, studying it from his boat as Mr. Henry Moore studied the sea. We see in this picture in the distance, the dome of St. Paul's and the monument near by. I suppose you know that the Pool is that part of the Thames below London Bridge, up to which big ships can sail. It is a busy scene of shipping that we see in the haze of London's smoky atmosphere.
We must jump on to the magic carpet and steer ourselves for the breezy downs, for we must look at Mother and Son' (1528), by Mr. H. W. B. Davis, R.A. It is a delightful study of a mare and her foal. The little thin legs of the baby horse are hardly able to support its weight. The sea is behind them, the salt breeze is blowing across the open country.
We must now pass on to a painter of historical subjects, Mr. W. F. Yeames, R.A., who studied art abroad both in Germany and Italy, and especially in Florence and Rome. He does not spare us tragedy in the death of the ill-fated Amy Robsart (1609). You know of her from Scott's novel of Kenilworth. She was the wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He was very acceptable at court and an especial favourite of Queen Elizabeth. He was full of ambition, and he aspired to the hand of his Queen. It might have been thought a slight disadvantage that he was married already to Amy Robsart, but he made careful plans to get rid of her. Poison was, he thought, the easiest way of becoming a widower, but Amy did not trust him overmuch, and refused the medicines which were offered her so kindly. It was really annoying of her, for it gave him the trouble of making other arrangements. The unhappy wife is supposed to have fallen through a trap-door, which was prepared to give way when she stood upon it. There she lies dead, glad, I doubt not, to be out of this trouble-some world. The villain Foster, who had planned the murder, is looking down at her, a cruel expression on his face. Nemesis was in wait for Leicester, for failing to induce his Queen to be his bride, he married Lady Essex. She did not find him so fascinating a husband as she expected, and is reported to have helped him hence by poison.
I am now going to say a few words to you of the work of a past President of the Royal Academy. Lord Leighton (183o—1896) was elected P.R.A. in 1879. His father was a doctor at Scarborough where he was born. The son desired to be an artist from his earliest years, for we read in Miss Alice Corkran's Life of the painter that he was once when he was a child shut up in a room for some slight fault. He shouted defiantly through the door, `I do not care, I have my pencil with me.' Dr. Leighton, seeing that his boy was bent on following the artistic career, took him to see Hiram Powers, the American sculptor, to whom Dr. Leighton showed some of his son's drawings, asking,
` Shall he be an artist ?'
` Sir, you cannot help yourself. Nature has made him one already,' was the answer.
What can I then hope for ?' asked the anxious father.
` Let him aim at the highest ; he will certainly get there,' was the reply.
` Lord Leighton,' by Alice Corkran.
To Leighton in his boyhood was given every chance of studying art. He learnt both in Germany and in Italy. When he was twenty-five he sent his picture ` Cimabue's Madonna,' to the Academy. It was bought by Queen Victoria. Leighton studied anatomy very thoroughly under his father. In painting a picture he would paint the nude figure first, and then drape it. Let us look at `And the Sea gave up the Dead which were in it' (1511). It is an illustration of that prophecy of the last day in the Revelation of St. John the Divine. The picture was in-tended as a design to be wrought out in mosaic for the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. We see the graves opening in the background and yielding up the dead. The man's figure is already animated with life as he is attracted upwards by some mysterious force, bearing the weight of the woman and the boy. His face gazing upwards is pathetically fine, as with those he loved best on earth he passes to judgment.
When Leighton was a young man in Rome, Thackeray met him, and afterwards wrote of him to John Everett Millais, `I have met in Rome a versa-tile young dog called Leighton, who will run you hard for the Presidentship one of these days.' Leighton came in first, but after his death there was no one so fitted to fill his place as Sir John Everett Millais.
I must tell you something of Millais's life, and try to explain in a few words what is meant by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, with which his name is associated.
He was born at Southampton in 1829, and spent his early life in Jersey. When he was six years old he began to sketch and draw the people he met. Instead of the silver spoon of legend which lucky children are said to have in their mouth when they are born, I think he must have had a palette and brushes, these emblems of his craft which I saw, draped with crape, lying on his coffin as he was carried up the nave of St. Paul's to be laid to rest. Millais joined Sass's drawing school when he was nine, and took the silver medal of the Society of Arts. Great was the surprise of the Duke of Sussex, who gave the medals, when the winner's name was called out, and a small boy, who had not long left the nursery, stepped forward to claim the reward. At eleven Millais went to the Academy schools, but he was not attracted to the method of teaching there. Gradually he began to see that what was wanted was to go back to nature, instead of studying the painters who had got into an arbitrary way of interpreting her. Raphael was the originator of the romantic treatment of a subject, and his influence has been enormous. Millais decided to study the artists who came before him. With Holman Hunt and Rossetti he founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brother-hood, destined to have a great influence over English art. Millais as time went on, advanced from his earlier ideals, and adopted a freer style of painting, yet some of his finest work was done when he was a member of the brotherhood. Let us look together at his exquisite ` Ophelia ' (1506), and you will see what I mean by ' faithfully studying nature.' Nature, he would say to us, is lavish in the use of green. Look at the trees and the grass and the foliage of the flowers : I will not subdue the brightness of her colouring. You see the willow that ` grows aslant the brook,' the rich vegetation that flourishes at the edge of the water, is painted in all its brilliancy. In the stream lies floating, Ophelia. The model for her was Miss Siddal, who became the wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She had nearly as sad a death as Shakespeare's heroine, for she died from taking a sleeping draught, two years after her marriage. The representation of the floating figure, buoyed up by the transparent water, is very fine. She lies there :
` Her clothes spread wide,
You will notice that her mouth is open as she is singing, she is gazing upwards, quite unheeding her fate. Her hands are still clasping the flowers she sang of so pitifully—rosemary and rue. The little robin on the willow tree is singing her dirge.
Millais had departed somewhat from the full rigour of his earlier manner in ` The North-West. Passage' (1509), but still you see how carefully he paints details. Look at the furnishing of the old salt's sitting room. We see a portrait of Nelson hanging on the walls ; a map of the Arctic North is spread wide on the table, through the window we catch sight of the unconquerable sea. Captain Trelawny, the friend of Byron and Shelley, sat for the old man. He is a splendid figure, sitting there listening intently to the girl as she reads of death and danger in the land of the midnight sun—and beyond. He muses to himself on the fate of Sir John Franklin and his brave companions, who thirty years before journeyed to that ice-bound country in search of the North-West passage, and never returned. ` It might be done,' the old man says to himself, ` and England should do it.' A few years after this picture was painted, it was proved that Sir John Franklin had discovered the passage though he never came back to tell the tale.
Let us look now at the work of some of the other members of the Brotherhood who are represented on these walls. We come first to Mr. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and poet. He was one of a gifted family, every member of which became famous. He was born in 1828, and began writing when he was five or six and painting too, but in his childish studies in art he was not very successful. He could not bring himself to toil patiently until he had succeeded ; he wanted great results at once.
His sister, Christina—the beautiful poetess —sat for the Virgin in this tender picture of ` Ecce Ancilla Domini' (1210), which Rossetti painted when he was twenty-one. The Annunciation has been shown to us in many different ways, never more simply than here. The Pre-Raphaelites desired, above all things, to show us a scene as it might really have occurred. The Virgin, a mere girl, in a blue gown, is just rising from her sleep to greet the angel with his message, and says to him gently, ' Behold the handmaid of the Lord.' She bears a lily in her hand, the emblem of purity, and through the open window the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove.
Mr. Ford Maddox Brown had great sympathy with the Brotherhood, though he was never elected a member. He had a great influence over the artists who founded it, who were a few years his juniors. He did not wish himself to be bound by any society.
He wished to interpret what he saw in his own way. We have here a picture of his ` Chaucer at the Court of Edward III ' (2063). Chaucer, as you know, was the author of the Canterbury Tales, and from his legend of Custance he is reading the lines :
` Hire litel child lay weping in hire arm,
The picture at first sight seems a medley of figures, overcrowded, but as we realise the subject we begin to watch the people who are listening. Edward III is there, the Black Prince too, ill and lying back in his chair ; with him is his wife Joanna, the Fair Maid of Kent. In armour, with his sword and shield, is John of Gaunt, standing behind his father. Gower is here, listening to his brother poet, and Froissart the historian is writing on his tablets. The floor is strewn with rushes. I wish I could tell you more of the figures, of the troubadours, and the jester, of the yawning cardinal, but you must look at it for yourselves.
A painter who owed much to Rossetti's influence was Sir Edward Burne Jones (1833-1898). He left Oxford where he was studying for the church, to learn painting under Rossetti, but he did not join the Brotherhood. He loved to paint old world romances ; he was a mystic at heart. We see here King Cophetua (1771) clad in mangificent armour, holding his jewelled crown in his hand. He is looking up with loving eyes at the slight form of the beggar maid. She is seated on the purple cushions of the throne, clad in rags. Tennyson tells us of this dreamily beautiful girl, who is lovelier than day. All the nobles admired her, and the King has stepped down from his throne and made her his Queen. You will see round the picture the symbolic flowers of marriage, the myrtle and the orange blossom. Swinburne has paid a touching tribute to this poet-painter :
No sweeter, no kindlier, no fairer,
Sir Edward Poynter, P.R.A., like his predecessor, Lord Leighton, is a classical painter, and believes in the cult of beauty. He is no pre-Raphaelite ; he thinks that it should be the aim of the artist to interpret beauties which none but he can see. He shows us Venus and her maidens visiting the physician Aesculapius (1586), which you must look at for yourselves. In quite another mood he painted a delightful scene, ` Outward Bound' (1948), in which a small brother and sister, bending over a rock, are watching the fortunes of their tiny craft. They have sent to sea a walnut shell with a feather for its sail—it is going on a long voyage, right out into the ocean. The big waves will hardly have the heart to wreck the adventurous little boat.
Mr. Alma-Tadema, R.A., too, loves beauty for the sake of beauty. He paints a perfect world, in which ugliness has no part. Here we see ` A Silent Greeting ' (1523). A lady is asleep on a marble couch. Alma-Tadema has a special genius for showing us the exquisite surface of marble. The lady's lover has just placed on her lap a bunch of roses, but it has not roused her. He is a soldier, we can see from the sword which he wears by his side. He is off to the wars. Will he ever see her again, he thinks, as he lingers and looks a last good-bye. She sleeps on all unheeding in the sunny room. Alma-Tadema has inscribed over his studio door, the motto : ` As the sun colours flowers, so art colours life.'
We will pass on now to four artists who hail from Edinburgh, and who were fellow students at the Trustees Academy there. They are all R.A.'s, Mr. John Pettie, Mr. W. Q. Orchardson, Mr. Peter Graham, and Mr. John MacWhirter.
Mr. Pettie was not only a fellow student with Mr. Orchardson, but when they left Scotland and settled in London, they shared a studio in Fitzroy Square. His picture ` The Vigil' (1582), takes us back to mediaeval days, when, before the honour of knighthood was conferred, a special religious ceremony had to be gone through. The day before, the would-be knight was bathed and signed with the cross. He was instructed as to the orders and feats of chivalry. When this was over he was taken to the chapel, dressed in a white shirt and over-robe of russet, and there he had to keep vigil till sunrise. We see him here in the early light of dawn, holding his sword and gazing up at the altar, his face is weary with the long watch, but it will soon be over now, and before the sun sets he will be a knight.
Mr. Orchardson has been called a novelist on canvas. His pictures often tell a story. ` Her Mother's Voice' (1521), shows us a drawing room, lit by the light of a lamp. It is a restful room, not overcrowded with furniture, a soft-toned carpet covers the floor. In all Mr. Orchardson's pictures there is this tender delicate colouring. It is after dinner, a girl is at the piano, singing to her lover. Her father sits alone by the fire. He has dropped his paper, and is listening, thinking of the girl's mother, who years before sang him that song.
Here is the well-known figure of Napoleon, on board the Bellerophon (1601). Waterloo is over ; the ex-conqueror is on the ship which is taking him out to St. Helena. He stands on deck, looking longingly towards the fair land of France that he will never see again. His staff of officers, at some little distance, are watching him with sympathy as the boat sails relentlessly on. They see their hero, who has made and unmade empires, on his way to end his life in a desolate island set in the midst of the limitless sea.
We shall be glad enough now to travel in the country for a few minutes in company with Mr. Peter Graham. He will take us up to his native Scotland, for he loves the mist-laden atmosphere of the North. Let us put up our umbrellas as we stroll out on a rainy day (1524). The rain is coming down in torrents. We all know the look of a country village at such a time. The people are hurrying home to their firesides. The trees are longing for a good stiff breeze to dry their dripping leaves. The horses are looking forward to the shelter of the stable. It is a day for the ducks, who are enjoying themselves in the foreground.
But now we are far away with Mr. John MacWhirter on a ` Sunny Day in June in the Austrian Tyrol ' (1571). We are picking the gentians and daisies that grow in such profusion, filling our baskets and looking up at the village nestling at the foot of the mountains. It is a day ever to be remembered when we picked those flowers in the brilliant sunshine.