Wednesday, November 25, 2020

487. A Century of Art (1)

In June-July 1911, the Grafton Galleries were the venue for an exhibition sponsored by the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers, curated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. The run-up to and the festivities surrounding the coronation of George V and his wife Mary coincided with the opening days of the exhibition, which was therefore poorly attended and closed at a loss. Carfax & Co. published a booklet in which Ricketts published his 'personal observations'. Only the preface of A Century of Art 1810-1910 was reprinted in Ricketts's Pages on Art; the text of the other thirty pages was not.

Room I contained works by French artists. Room II contained paintings by Raeburn, Lawrence, Turner, followed by the Pre-Raphaelites. Paragraphs about the latter group of artists are presented below.

A Century of Art [by Charles Ricketts]

The end of the forties was to witness the advent of a new group of artists, since become famous as the Pre-Raphaelites. The consideration of this extraordinary school can be made here on some of the most typical specimens of their work. [...] 

Nadar, Eugène Delacroix (c. 1857)

Within its self-imposed conditions Pre-Raphaelitism might be described as the emphasis of the aspect of things which has become possible in an age whose eyesight had been modified by science. This ideal was in itself not far removed from  that of certain great Florentines, and a scrupulous study of the minutest facts had been continuous in the art of the primitive Flemings. Delacroix, who lived to see specimen works of the English Pre-Raphaelites and to praise them highly, was quick to receive the relation between the old art of Flanders and the new, dry English School, as it was then called. With that nimbleness and clearness of perception which seems characteristic of great Frenchmen, he recognised that if the earlier British School had in a sense developed upon the traditions of Rubens and Vandyck, who were Flemings, the new school had not swerved from the same Northern source of technical inspiration. Other elements escaped his analysis; these he rightly considered new; remained one other of which he could have no knowledge—i.e., the source of the imaginative impulse behind these works. If the church had inspired the Flemish primitives, a new religious fervour touched Pre-Raphaelitism also, but with the exception of Holman Hunt this was transitory, not essential to the success or character of the movement; it was perhaps merely a part of the improvised mediaeval scheme which Chatterton had played with, and in so doing brought English thought to a new knowledge of itself. Pre-Raphaelitism owes a debt to Keats; is has benefited by the poignant vision of nature which he has revealed during those few years in which he lived.

The love of analyses , the power to transmute facts into something more, the brilliant self-confidence of youth, its noble scrupulousness and feeling of wonder, can be found in Pre-Raphaelitism. Delacroix said of it, "This art is young and we in France are very old." 

William Holman Hunt,  'The Hireling Shepard' (1851)
[Manchester Art Gallery]
[Gnu Free Documentation License]

It was the influence of Keats that sweetened for a while the stubborn Protestant outlook of Holman Hunt, in whom the mystical fervour and sense of fact of a new John Bunyan seems once more among us. Beyond doubt, Hunt's example was a bracing one upon the school. His "Hireling Shepard" (No. 42) is perhaps his most typical or admirable work—it is a priceless specimen of British thought and art.

Ford Madox Brown, 'Waiting' (1851-1855)
[Walker Art Gallery]

He has been described as the conscience of the movement; he was certainly its founder. Late in life Madox Brown hugged the idea that to his early efforts should be ascribed the origin of Pre-Raphaelitism. Without Hunt and Rossetti, Madox Brown would never have painted pictures which one might consider Pre-Raphaelite; at the most he would have remained preoccupied with analogous efforts and experiments in Flanders and Germany to renounce ripe colour, free brush-work, and rich shadows. His "Christ washing the Feet of Peter" (No. 40), the exquisite little picture "Waiting" (No. 61), show him at his best and as a technical follower of Hunt. The more delicate  skill, the greater nimbleness and sensitiveness of eye and mind make of J.E. Millais the more constantly successful exponent of Pre-Raphaelitism in its first phase. The "Ferdinand and Ariel" (No. 48) is extreme in its tendencies; it is less important than the incomparable "Ophelia" or "The Carpenter's Shop;" less emotional in vision than "The Eve of St. Agnes" or the "Autumn Leaves." It is, however, typical of early Pre-Raphaelite tendencies; its is nearer Keats than Shakespeare, which is illustrates, nearer to Chatterton than to Keats, more wholly English in temper, since Italy counts in Shakespeare and Greece with Keats.

John Everett Millais, 'Ferdinand Lured by Ariel' (1850)
[Private Collection]

Under the influence of Rossetti, the greatest of them all, the new brotherhood was to achieve more than is compassed by Hunt in the "Hireling Shepherd," or by Millais in the "Ferdinand and Ariel." If their works are intense and passionate in their hold upon outward things, they are in a sense incidental. The central impulse is narrative, and with Hunt it is didactic.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Arthur's Tomb" (1860)
[Photo © Tate Gallery]
[Creative Commons Licence CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)]

Rossetti brought to the movement a keener sense of design, which martials facts into a more memorable whole, and that tragic sense which is ever present in the finest poetic invention. With him the scientific conscience, which delighted Ruskin, was to loose[*] its hold upon the movement. Some of Rossetti's priceless water-colours exhibited here summaries that new combination of reality and imagination which always underlies the finest art. With Rossetti the balance may often have swerved too much towards the imaginative, the rarer half of art, and too little towards the study of nature; on this point I am unable  and unwilling to judge. The "Arthur's Tomb" (No. 44) is one of those priceless things which defy analysis. Part of its force may reside in what might seem at first sight the more whimsical part of it, endow the figure of Guinevere with greater realityi.e., the traces of maturity and sensuality—and perhaps the lurching, questioning, and impassioned man with his tragic face might lose the pathos of contrast. The quaint details of the tomb, the grass like "new-cleft emeralds," the splashes of light and the green shadows from the leaves, add to the sense of vividness and to the sense of strangeness of the picture, to the sense of something poignant yet remote, like one's childhood. This visionary work has all the intensity of music, it tells of far-off tragic things, and of passion that passes, of beauty that endures, perhaps! Like music, it is at once ironic and compassionate. Out of this water-colour William Morris evolved his quaint and moving poem "King Arthur's Tomb."

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Lucrezia Borgia" (c.1867)
[Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery]

The first design for the Llandaff triptych (No. 47) counts in the first line of Rossetti's early designs. The little "Borgia" (No. 46) shows also the painter's inventive faculties in their full flower. The larger version of this design at Kensington is later, and not entirely by his hand. The "Beatrice and Dante" (No. 43), the "Belle Dame Sans Merci" (No. 50), are each jewels of colour, design and invention. The admirable series of Rossetti's drawings in the End Gallery will further illustrate the period in his career when invention and a racy power of execution went together. For the most part all these works fall within the space of seven years; they typify what the French call "the School of Oxford" thereby indicating the second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism, when the influence of Rossetti became paramount on a younger generation made memorable by Burne-Jones and William Morris. A record of this charmed epoch can still be seen in the famous St. Frideswide window at Oxford. The two lovely panels (Nos. 39 and 52) are slightly later in date. If the colour is jewelled and almost toylike in the Oxford windows, here it is different in scheme, and we have instead dim, broken colours, the tomes of goblin woods and of tapestries seen in twilight. They are perfect specimens of narrative art tinged with that plaintive sweetness which Burne-Jones has brought to English art. The "Temperentia" (No. 41) and the "Caritas" (No. 49)  also revert in design to later Oxford windows. The broken golds and faded ivories of the "Temperentia" gleam on the golden wall with the effect of old cloth-of-gold or gold-dust; this singular gift, of which Burne-Jones had the secret, belongs to "The Depths of the Sea" (No. 45). In novelty of design, personality in workmanship, originality of aspect, it stands on a level which current criticism is perhaps powerless to analyse, since originality and personality have often to be allowed to countless works without one tithe of these qualities revealed by Burne-Jones—revealed, in fact, in varying degrees, by all these priceless Pre-Raphaelite pictures.

Edward Burne-Jones, "Temperentia" (1872)

Quoted from Charles Ricketts, A Century of Art 1810-1910. London, Carfax & Co., 1911, pp. 16-20. 
The catalogue does not contain a list of exhibited paintings, drawings and prints, nor does it contain illustrations. A separate list of the pictures was published by the Society: A Catalogue of the Pictures, Drawings, Prints and Sculpture at the Century of Art Exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers held at the Grafton Galleries, June and July, 1911. [A copy is in the National Art Library, V&A Museum, London: Historic Catalogues 200.B.208].

* Ricketts writes 'loose' for 'lose'.