Modern British Painters, Tate Gallery - Pt. 2
( Originally Published 1908 )
Mr. Briton Riviere, R.A., is an animal painter. He has real sympathy with animals, yet he does not make them too human. Let us look at his ` Gadarene Swine' (1515). You remember the story of the two men who were possessed with devils. Christ cast out the evil spirits and allowed them to go into a herd of swine, ' and behold the whole herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.' In this picture we see the black swine, united by a sudden impulse, rushing to death. One of the men who has charge of them has fallen prostrate, knocked down by the maddened rush of the infuriated animals. The other is making off as fast as he can ; he will not dare to tell the owners of the herd what has happened. There is great feeling of movement in this picture.
The polar bear who stands looking out over an ice-bound country is of a nobler species. The sun is sinking on the desolate country ` Beyond Man's Footsteps' (1577). The bear only is able to live in that land of everlasting snow and ice.
Mr. Luke Fildes, R.A., whose picture of ` The Doctor' (1522) is so well-known, was born in Liverpool. In his early boyhood, he began to show his bent towards art, attending classes when he was thirteen. He studied also at South Kensington, and at the Academy schools. He was always attracted to the life of the people, the grim tragedy that is going on in their homes.
The doctor is visiting a sick child. The physician's face is lit up by a shaded lamp as he gazes at the boy. It is the turning point in the illness The father and mother in the background are dreading, yet hoping. Will the child live ? Will he grow to be a man and take his part in the work of the world, or will he be released from the pain of existence before the day has fully dawned ? I think we may hope that the doctor's skill will save the little one.
I do not want you to think long of dying children, but before passing on to brighter scenes we must look for a moment at ` Hush ' and ` Hushed ' (1535 and 1536). They are by Mr. Frank Holl, R.A., who is best known to us as a remarkable portrait painter. He was a man who gave up his whole strength to the work he had in hand. When he painted a portrait he thought of nothing else. He lived with it ; he studied his sitter as one does a subject for examination. But the pictures he loved most to paint were of the life of the poor. His aim was, he once said, ` to bring home to the heart and mind of Mayfair, the crime and poverty, and the temptations to which the poor are ever subject.'
In the first of these pictures ` Hush,' you see a mother bending tenderly over the cradle of her child. She bids another little one who stands by her side be quiet, for ` baby is sleeping.' It is a simple homely scene. But alas, with all her care, the little one is ` Hushed,' and the mother gazes sorrowfully into the empty cradle. Mr. Holl paints with simplicity and true feeling.
Let us now pass on and look together at some historical pictures. ` Cromwell at Dunbar ' (1588), by Mr. Andrew Gow, R.A., shall be our first choice. It was at Dunbar, as you will remember, that Cromwell defeated the Scotch in arms for Charles II, and took ten thousand prisoners. We see Cromwell and his soldiers after the battle has been fought and won. In the cold light of early morning they opened the day with prayer. In the calm light of evening they close it with thanksgiving. Cromwell, bare-headed, with his standard behind him, raises his voice in a hymn of praise to the God of battles. His stern-faced followers are the embodiment of the old Puritan spirit which did so much for England at the time.
There is a simplicity in this painter's rendering of historical scenes which makes them very real to us. The Battle of the Boyne has been fought and lost. Here is James II (1530), embarking on board a French frigate for alien shores. We feel almost as if Mr. Gow had seen his departure. The King is being handed down the steps, a few followers are standing bareheaded bidding him farewell.
We have another reminder of the lost cause of the Stuarts in ` After Culloden : Rebel Hunting' (1620), by Mr. Seymour Lucas, R.A. Charles Edward Stuart and his Highland followers have been defeated at Culloden, near Inverness. He is trying to make his way to the coast, and take boat for France. , In the fury of the ride his horse loses a shoe. He has to go to the blacksmith and have it re-shod. While he is there, the Hanoverians who are on his track, burst in ; the blacksmith, loyal to the Jacobean cause, indignantly denies that he is harbouring rebels.
There are many pictures of sea and sky in the Tate Gallery. We have already seen the angry ocean and the peaceful summer sea. Mr. John Brett, A.R.A., shows us the great waters in all their summer beauty. As a young man he came
very much under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites and he adopted their methods. He went in for minute finish, neither impressions, nor idealisations. He paints every wave on the sea, justifying his method by saying that he is only following nature. She has covered the sea with endless billows. I think one would never weary of his pictures, any more than one would of seeing the waves roll up on the beach on a sunny morning. Many a scene we like to look at we should not care to have always on our walls. In ` Britannia's Realm ' (1617) we see the sea in one of her most radiant moods. The sun is shining brightly, the ships are sailing peacefully under England's flag.
Mr. Colin Hunter, A.R.A. ,too, takes us to the great waters in ` Their Only Harvest' (1579). It is a gloomy day, the sky is threatening, the sea is turbulent. The fishermen out in that tossing little boat are gathering up seaweed, not a profitable harvest one would say, but it is of use for making carbonate of soda. Colin Hunter painted ,his pictures when he was actually at sea. Many artists make their sketches then, but do the more elaborate work in the studio. He has not been through the ordinary course of art or Academy school, he has really taught himself. He was born with a seeing eye, and he learnt to render what he saw.
If he preferred the dreariness of the sea, Mr. Hamilton Macallum loves it in the radiant sunshine. Like Colin Hunter, he comes from Scotland. Here in ` The Crofter's Team' (1502), he shows us a little Scotch girl and boy harnessed to a plough, doing the work of horses, and dragging it wearily through the rough earth.
Another painter of the water is Mr. W. L. Wyllie, A.R.A. He has a boat of his own, and he coasts about in it learning at first hand of wind and tide, of storm and calm. He gives us the ` Battle of the Nile ' (1697), at the time of the burning of the French ship of the line, the Orient. We are in the thick of the fight. Nelson's flagship, the Vanguard, is fighting the Spartiate. What a scene the moon looks down upon that night ! It was on the burning Orient that Casabianca, the hero of the well-worn story, stood awaiting his fate. The Nile was one of England's great victories. But this picture seems to bring home to us not so much the greatness of. Nelson's triumph as the terrible cost which the nations have to pay at such a time. We think of the sailors who manned the ships as well as of the noble vessels that sank into the deep.
Mr. Charles Napier Hemy, A.R.A., has one supreme qualification for painting seascapes. He has been a sailor, he has been, also, many things by turn and nothing long 'following occupations as different as those of a miner and a monk. Art claimed him at twenty-five. He understood that that was the real bent of his nature. One day he saw an immense haul of pilchards (165o) and here he paints it for us. To the landsman it seems a miraculous draught of fishes. The nets are strained to the utmost by their weight, the men are ladling the leaping pilchards into baskets. They are alive as we watch them. The sea-gulls are having a good breakfast that morning, swooping down and seizing their prey. It is a rich harvest and a contrast to the seaweed of Mr. Colin Hunter's picture.
We are back again watching the summer sea in ' August Blue' (1613) by Mr. H. S. Tuke, A.R.A. Boys are bathing from an open boat on a brilliant summer day. One stands just ready to leap into the water, another is resting for a moment, his arms clasping the boat. Mr. Tuke is one of the Newlyn school of painters and a founder of the New English Art Club. He loves the open air. You can smell the sea breeze as you look at these boys enjoying their morning dip.
Let us leave the coast and journey inland to the country round Haslemere, which we will see in the white light of ` The August Moon' (1142), in the company of Mr. Cecil Lawson. (1851-1882). This artist painted many exquisite pictures in the course of his short life. He gives to this landscape a weird and unearthly feeling, the mystery of the night is upon it.
But we must not stay in the moonlight, we must wander out in the late afternoon and watch a tired horse, who has cast a shoe, trudging home with his master (1388). It is by Mr. G. H. Mason, A.R.A., who had a varied experience of life. He was educated as a doctor, and did not take to art as a profession till he was seven-and-twenty. When he did, his father, who had been a wealthy man, had lost his all. The son had to serve a hard apprenticeship of hunger and sorrow. He seems to have felt the burden of life greatly. At times when he was in difficulties Lord Leighton encouraged and helped him most generously. In this picture there is something of the inner melancholy of the country which is felt by town dwellers, when they wander in the fields in the fading light of day.