The exhibition A Century of Art, 1810-1910 at the Grafton Galleries was by no means the only one in the summer of 1911, competition was tough and the show ended with a loss. However, there was no lack of interest from the newspapers and magazines.
|Grafton Galleries: The Long Gallery (1893)|
One day before the opening a private view was held, and the same day at least two newspapers published a review. On 2 June The Times argued that the title was 'ambitious':
It is almost needless to say that, though there are many interesting pictures and other works in the collection, it in no way represents the finest Art of the last 100 years. Many artists here exhibited are those we are accustomed to meet in the ordinary annual shows, and the men whom time has pronounced great are for the most part represented by works which they themselves would not have considered masterpieces.
However, there certainly were paintings of the first rank by Watts, Turner, Burne-Jones, Manet, Holman Hunt and Whistler ('Cremorne Nocturne').
|J.M. Whistler, 'Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights' (1872)|
[Tate, London, Bequeathed by Arthur Studd 1919, N03420]
Most reviews repeat the same pattern and criticise the title (does not cover the scope) and the selection of paintings (too few masterpieces), but one section is surprising: the one with prints and drawings. The Times decided this to be: 'By far the best room':
These [prints] cover a great deal of ground, and are on the whole well chosen. The British school, from Blake to Mr. Crawhill, and the chief foreign schools of 50 or 80 years ago, may here be more or less systematically studied, in works which have evidently been selected by a good judge.
The Times singled out the art of David Wilkie to make its point: 'His nine drawings ought to bring back into notice an artist who has latterly been rather driven out of public notice [...].' The work of Joseph Crawhill was likened to that of Hokusai - now they were on display in the same room.
|Thomas Lawrence, 'Lady Elizabeth Foster' (1805)|
[The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin]
[...] it is unlike the portraits of this lady which Reynolds and others have left. It is a dark picture, a little over-sentimental in expression, and the right arm seems to have suffered; but it is characteristic Lawrence, with a fine landscape background.
At the end of the review, some modern painters are mentioned, including Charles Shannon and Ricketts, who in his notes for A Century of Art, 1810-1910 refrained from mentioning their own names.
|Edward Steichen, portrait of Auguste Rodin (photogravure, c 1911)|
[Collection Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York]
The Scotsman (2 June 1911) deemed the show representative, and a 'worthy display', although 'important' (unspecified) omissions were noted. Among the foreign and British art was 'a gorgeous unfamiliar Raeburn' ('Two Boys and Landscape'). The reviewer remarked that the 'collection by living artists is small', the names of Ricketts, Sargent, Orpen, Nicholson, and Strang were mentioned, and 'Rodin, the International's president has two pieces of sculpture'. Ricketts and Shannon had organised the show for the International Society. In a way, it was Ricketts's answer to Roger Fry's Post-Impressionist Exhibition. There were three hundred works in the show, and only eight that Ricketts himself would gladly have dismissed - including mediocre works by Daubigny, Corot, Watts and - even - Rossetti.
Another early review was published in the Leicester Daily Post of Saturday 3 June 1911. The selection of works - a subject addressed by every critic - was called representative:
The range and heterogeneity of subject, style and genre leave the mind somewhat bewildered and overcrowded.
The collection of Pre-Raphaelite works was, perhaps, 'the most striking', Daubigny's work showed 'some exquisite examples of his vague poetic colourings', there were 'several of Watts's tumultuous and chaotic creations', and a 'large and visionary company of Blake's engravings' impressed the reviewer.
The art critic of The Sheffield Daily Telegraph wrote on the Monday following the opening that the exhibition illustrated 'the major tendencies of the last hundred years of effort and development in England and France', and supposed that the Post-Impressionists had been left out because of the recent Fry show: 'Even Mr. John, a member of the council, does not exhibit'. Augustus John was a member of the International Society. The reviewer noted some 'rather unusual Constables', an 'exquisite flower and fruit painting' by Fantin-Latour, but the hall with works by contemporary artists was deemed less successful - works by Livens and Peppercorn were lacking.
On 7 June 1911 Truth published a review:
To give a picture-show a name is usually to hang pictures which most people will declare to be quite unrepresentative. [...] It is, therefore a remarkable feat on the part of the "International" authorities to have arranged at the Grafton Galleries, a Century of Art exhibition which is at once so representative, so coherent, and so well calculated to ward off prejudice.
Coteries, monopolies, and favouritism were not promoted by the show - and the critic was struck by this policy. His review described works by Manet and Holman Hunt, and argued that the 'whole Prae-Raphaelite Brotherhood holds it ground well among the other schools.' The visitor 'should note particularly the exquisite "Portrait of Mrs. Lushington" [by Rossetti]'. From the French painters, especially Corot, Millet, and Courbet were mentioned, but the great heroine in this section was Berthe Morisot:
One of the most delightful portraits is the "Deux Femmes assises" by Berthe Morisot, whose experience of working under both Corot and Manet produce a remarkable subtle effect. The delicacy, the restraint, and sheer beauty of this picture are combined in the rarest degree.
|Berthe Morisot, 'Two Sisters on a Couch' (1869)|
The reviewer also noted 'some beautiful little drawings by Ruskin which make one forget that he was ever a pedant'.
That many other exhibitions had been organised was recorded in a review in the Globe (7 June 1911):
To fill so large a wall space as that at the Grafton Galleries with first-rate material at a time when semi-centenary, Coronation, and other huge exhibitions have worried the owners of pictures and left bare spaces on almost every collector's walls, is a difficult matter, although not so much so perhaps with the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Engravers, who only appeal to a limited, and not so popular a form of art, as is in demand for the shows we have mentioned. Nevertheless, space and the difficulty mentioned have played a part in preventing the fulfil[l]ment of the ambition that clearly were in the mind of the promoters, and while they have gathered together an exceedingly interesting collection it can hardly be called representative of the activities in art of France and England in the hundred years between 1810 and 1911.
The reviewer did not explain his statement, summed up the important artists, and concluded that 'the most interesting section of the exhibition is that of the graphic arts of the past century, for it includes specimens of Rowlandson, Blake, Goya, Ingres, Wilkie, Delacroix, Daumier, Corot, Millais, Gavarni, Stevens, Keene, Conder, and even Hokusai'.
The exhibition invited to compare French and English works of art. The Graphic (17 June 1911) opted for a nationalist approach:If the best work of all the masters is not included - as how should it be - yet some of their more interesting work is here, and it is of a character which enables the spectator to essay that most delightful of occupations in art criticism, which is to trace the relationships of the various schools. In the first room, for example, there hang a fine Constable and a beautiful Cotman, which emphasise the debt that the best of French landscape art owes to English sources.
The collection of drawings was simply 'magnificent', 'from the virile William Blake to the degenerate Aubrey Beardsley'.
|Charles Ricketts, 'Orpheus and Euridyce' (1905-1907)|
[Collection: Tate Gallery, London]