The Victorian Omnium-Gatherum
THE fifth Exhibition of this meritorious Society of Chemical Artists is now open at the South Kensington Museum. In figures and composition we have few specimens this year, and the chief features are Mr. Thurston Thompson's microscopic transcripts of the Old Masters, drawings and studies of trees and rocks; Mr. Frith's burning blackness of Egyptian shadows; Mr. Horatio Ross's deer-stalking scenes; Mr. Lake Price's silvery and grandly treated portraits of celebrated men; Mr. Gutch's geological studies, and Mr. R. Fenton's Welsh views, with plus Turnerian atmospheres. As scientific curiosities, we have instantaneous photographs of Waves (No. 369) by Mr. W. Crookes, the exposure having been only for the 1/150th part of a second. By these helps we shall have new truths from even Mr. Stanfield. We shall now hope to see in painting the curling lip of the wave with the shadow on the transparent slope of the water-mountain below. Mr. Crookes also, in 372, gives us some photo-meteorographs of atmospheric waves, and of curves in the self-registering instruments at the Radcliffe Observatory. This is a new, ingenious and useful thing. The chemical curiosities are Mr. C. J. Taylor's Oriel College and St. Mary's, Oxford (356) developed on the spot without any dark lens, citric and not acetic acid being used,—Mr. J. Moule's positive portraits, strong Correggio miniatures, taken at night, by artificial light. They are too strong and powerful to be ever generally popular, for the people love prettiness. A Dog not in Focus (282) by Mr. F. S. Teesdale, and Mr. Ivan-Szabo's Portrait of Sir D. Brewster (165) taken with a rock-crystal eye-glass one inch in diameter are curious.
The direction of the studies this year seems more than usually practical. They are either portraits or copies certain to sell, or distinct copies of natural detail for the use of artists who will paint summer in winter and winter in summer—who sketch the Alps when in Fleet Street and Fleet Street when in the Alps. If these lead to study, they will do good to Art;—if they are only used to save study and to borrow from, they will injure Art. There is no medium. If Photography destroys vulgar miniature painting that will be no loss to Art, no more than if chromo-lithograph should destroy the mere painters of plums and grapes.
For lucid, sober daylight effect Mr. L. Price stands foremost in portraiture. There are dignity and breadth about his Prince Albert (404). But nothing interests us so much as Mr. J. W. G. Gutch's Geological Stratifications (624), sandstone, slate, limestone, &c. (collodion). Here we have the very split and cleavage of stone, its crumbles, hollows, frets, angles, mammocks, ledges, and multitude,—not much like the mud-heaps of Ruysdael or the little blue hillocks of Perugino. Even more wonderful for sharp drawing, transparency, and texture are Mr. T. Thompson's Studies of Trees (496). The Spanish chestnut is specially admirable, with the twisted strain of the ropy bark given to a nicety, with the very scales and pores of the thick rigging and net of cross boughs, entangling and yet unconfused. Mr. Grundy's Study of Fishermen (665) turns Vandervelde into a mannerist. Such knotty, shrewd faces, intent on ropes and nets and anchors, musing, boosing, pulling, hauling, with shadows over their eyes and cunning foresight and sagacity lurking in every wrinkle. These are the real old Sandstone fishers, most worthy of notice. Mr. R. Fenton's works and copies are so numerous and rich in merit that we feel obliged to select as a type of his statues Actaeon, from the British Museum Marble (50). This copy is remarkable for its lucidness of tone, its calm repose, beauty of surface, and exquisite twilight gradations of neutral tint such as Correggio delighted to express. The Clytie (531), the most exquisite antique portrait bust we have, is no less marvellous. How matchlessly on the cheek you see the slight soft dimpling of old marble. The Augustus Caesar (511) and Alexander the Great (533), though in themselves coarser, are no less perfect, so much perfection has this art of spontaneous engraving already reached. Who can bear second-rate Art after such chemical miracles as this? Works that might never have been engraved are perpetuated by Photography.—Of still-life Mr. F. Bedford's Italian Demi-suit of Armour from the Meyrick Collection (19) is a beautiful example of embossed detail. How the soft light ripples over the little world of figures, arms, and trophies.—The copies of paintings made by Messrs. Caldesi and Montecchi are equally minute, careful and successful, —truer, softer, and surer than engravings, and expressing more of the colour and sentiment of the picture.
In landscape Mr. R. Fenton's Welsh views stand first, particularly his Pont-y-Lledr, from Down Stream, N. Wales (534). Distance was never more magically rendered than in the three grades of light on the hills, trees, and stream,—the foreground rugged, black, and stony,—the distance a blue dream. This is a chef-d'oeuvre. Observe also his Moel-Siabod (529), Nan Francon (535), Trout Pool (536), and Double Bridge on the Machno (519). For intrinsic goodness as well as great sharpness and brightness we must mention Mr. F. Bedford's Views at Coburg (400, &c.), taken for the Queen. The palace and market-place are admirably noted down.
In figures, Mr. L. Price's Robinson Crusoe (550) is rare, ingenious, and interesting,—not very original, but still more real than anything that has gone before. It is a treat to see a real living Crusoe and Friday in the cave, with cat, goat, and parrot, and all complete. The same gentleman's portraits of the chief living artists are beyond all praise, particularly keen Mr. Frith (556), sturdy Mr. Stanfield (555), calm Mr. Cope (553), and Mr. Ward (565), with his watchful hawking eye.
Mr. R. Howlett has been busy with the nine-days' wonder, The Leviathan (88), He shows us its mountain walls of iron, its rooms of chains and cables, its drums and paddles, its lungs, heart, and blood-vessels; more especially its motor, Mr. Brunel, smoking calm and sly under a small Alps of Cyclop cables and chains.
Mr. H. Ross's deer-stalking scenes are singularly (even after Landseer) fresh, new, and full of, motion. The Glazed Eye (104) and Close Stalking (105) are good specimens of his manner. He shows us bare-legged gillies crawling snake-like through the heather or watching with trembling telescope the sharp tines that slowly rise over the lill-top dark against the sky. He shows us dead tings of the herd lying on the ford stones or swung on the shooting pony. We fire, we run, we load, we spy, and in ten minutes enjoy all the pleasure of a week in the Highlands.
A very interesting feature of this year's Exhibition is a series of photographs executed by the Royal Engineers, now employed in making reductions of the various Ordnance maps, at a saving, it is said, of not less than 80,000l. The non-commissioned officers of the Engineers are now trained in this art, and sent to different foreign stations, so that in a few years there will be a network of photographic stations spread over the world, and having their results recorded in the War Department. This Exhibition contains specimens from Eussia, Scotland, Aldershott, the ruins of Halicarnassus and the island of Mitylene, Chatham, and Singapore. The stations already established are at Cawnpore, the army in the field, Canton, Greece, and Panama; others are to be fixed at the Cape, Bermuda, and the Rocky Mountains, so that all the world will soon be brought under the subjection of Art.
Mr. Rejlander does nothing very original this year. His clever Way of Life (470) we have before reviewed. Its great fault is the stiffness and vulgarity of the keystone figure, The Bacchantes are admirable. The Participles and other school scenes (472) are full of character, and should be duplicated for the stereoscope. Their graphic humour should be worked out. Among the miscellanea of interest, both for subject and execution, are a view in Amsterdam (489), by Mr. Turner, stately old merhants houses looking down on the quiet canal,—Mario and Grisi in 'Il Trovatore' (547), by Caldesi and Montecchi,—Peferari (569) by the same artist; the scene, a road-side picture of the Virgin,—Mr. Grundy's characteristic Stamboul Street Scenes (571),—a Dutch Fisherman (609), by Mr Grundy —worthy for serene mellow jollity of Ostade, and Dock Leaves, &c. (116), by Ross and Thomson. We must not forget to mention Dr. Murray's Indian scene, the Taj-Mahal, Agra Fort, etc. (138) that we see through a blood-red haze, and Mr. Hughes's portrait of Baptist Noel (139). The Australian scenes by Mr. F. Haes and Mr. Hall are original and curious records of atmospheric purity and its degree. The Aborigines (196) are a dreadful mixture of idiot, cannibal and Negro—ferocious development of a single sense, of animalism and brute instinct. Name and effect in Bomerang Street, Woolloomooloo, Sydney (339) are thoroughly characteristic.
Altogether, whether for light and shade, breadth and dignity, atmosphere and detail, this Exhibition is an advance on the efforts of last year. The artists go on boldly, and are not afraid to be chemists; the chemists gain courage, and long to be artists.
Published on 20 February 1858 in The Athenaeum Journal of Literature, Science and the Fine Arts.
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A list of all the photographs at this exhibition
Howlett's famous photograph of Brunel