My first lecture of the present course will be devoted to a kind of
review of the various painting schools of modern Europe. As one of the
jurors at the Paris International Exhibition, I had a rare opportunity
of comparing one school with another, and I think that a lecture
embracing the conclusions I came to, may be more interesting to you, and
possibly more instructive, than a discourse on the works of the old

National schools of art can at this present time hardly be said to
exist, at least not in the sense in which they existed 300 years ago. In
those times the attributes and characteristics of each school were
sharply defined. The Roman, the Venetian, the Spanish, the German, and
the Flemish, were as distinct in character as it was possible to be.
Now, however, the national characteristics are very slight, and in many
countries there seem to me to be none. The French and the German are the
two great Continental schools from which the others spring. England,
Austria, Spain, and perhaps Holland, have certain features of their own;
that is, speaking generally, one would know an English, Austrian,
Spanish, or Dutch picture at once.

The Scandinavian and Danish schools are feeble offshoots of the German.

The Belgian is a vigorous branch of the French, and the Swiss is a less
robust child of the same parent.

The Italian seems to me to be a mixture of French and Spanish, with a
little of the old Italian element surviving. By the old Italian element
I do not mean a reminiscence of Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, or Titian,
but rather of Carlo Dolce or Sassoferrato.

Russian and especially American art are of a nondescript character, and
the reasons are sufficiently obvious.

A young American or Russian artist goes to Paris or Rome, and puts
himself to school under a certain master. After a time he will paint
pictures more or less like his master’s; he will exhibit them, and may
get rewards and medals for them; but he can hardly be called a
representative of the American or Russian school. No American thinks of
studying art in New York or Boston, and no Russian artist dreams of
finishing his artistic education in St. Petersburg or Moscow. There can,
therefore, be no American or Russian school properly so called.

I shall begin my lecture with a few words about our noble selves. I will
give you rather the opinion of the best French artists than my own. As
this opinion was expressed with perfect sincerity, and came from
competent and independent judges, I think we may derive a lesson from

It has, I know, often been remarked that French artists appreciate best
whatever is most unlike their own work, and it was a feeling of this
kind which consoled the Belgians for the favor with which the English
galleries were regarded. I confess that there is a good deal of truth in
the remark.

English painting is so unlike French that there can be no direct rivalry
between the two schools, whereas in Belgian work the rivalry is
unpleasantly close.

I may, perhaps, be allowed to add, that for the same reason those
English painters who approximate most to the French school were
precisely those who were the least appreciated. Novelty has a great
charm, particularly to a Frenchman. If you ask a Parisian to dinner and
wish to please him, do not give him delicate little French dishes, with
light claret to drink. Give him half a codfish followed by a sirloin of
beef, with plenty of bitter ale to wash it down with, and he will bless
you and afterward cherish the memory of these _alimens vraiment

Novelty of treatment was, however, certainly not the only reason of the
success of the English school.

In the first place, it was noticed that there was a certain refinement
and elegance about the English galleries which was very pleasant to the
jaded juror who had just been wading through long rows of coarse
imitations of French art.

The English school was thought very highly of not on account of its
color, still less on account of its drawing, but chiefly for the sake of
the refined thought and invention shown in some of the pictures.

Then, again, in some cases, the novelty of the mode of execution, or the
delicacy of the color, pleased our foreign judges; but I am quite sure
that the popularity which English art has undoubtedly gained in Paris is
due more to our brains than to our brushes.

The remarks and criticisms I heard in Paris all tend to confirm the
opinion I have often expressed about the importance of originality in
painting; of every artist, in short, thinking out his subject for
himself, with nature as his only guide. Of course, novelty of treatment,
unless combined with truth, is valueless. It would not be difficult to
mention some novelties about which the remarks of my French friends
would be the reverse of complimentary.

The first quality in the pictorial rendering of a subject must be truth,
the second novelty or originality, and the third feeling or poetry.
Where these three qualities are combined in a picture, it will more than
hold its own in the eyes of competent judges against works far more
brilliantly executed.

It must not, however, be supposed that foreign artists were delighted
with _all_ they saw in the British galleries. Our old faults–namely,
indifferent drawing, and feeble, scratchy execution–were often noticed,
but were not nearly so prominent as twenty-three years ago. I have no
doubt we have improved in these respects, but I also think that our
foreign judges are apt to be much more lenient than of old as regards

Their own drawing is not what it used to be in the days of Ingres and
Flandrin. They have acquired other qualities, but they seem to me to
have lost the art of expressing beautiful form. Of course, in my remarks
to-night I shall speak of the _general_ tendency of the schools. In
every school there are exceptions to the rule, and amongst the French
painters of the day there are at least one or two striking exceptions to
the general decline of drawing power.

To return to the English galleries. It would be impossible to retail to
you the unfavorable remarks that were made without becoming disagreeably
personal. This adverse criticism of a few pictures gave perhaps more
value to the verdict that, speaking generally, the English school was
distinguished by its intellectual, refined, and, above all, thoroughly
national character.

Let us hope that as years roll on we may gain more power in drawing and
more manliness of execution, without losing any of those national
qualities which have carried us so creditably through the ordeal of an
International Exhibition.

We will now leave the British section, and proceed to the French
galleries. French art seems to me to be in a transition state. Public
taste has been unsettled by the enormous success of Fortuny, Regnault,
Corot, Daubigny, and other still more eccentric painters. Eccentricity
is too often mistaken for genius, and coarseness for power. The last
Salon (or annual exhibition) was the worst I ever saw. Of course, the
French section of the International was rich both in quantity and
quality, but I did not notice a single really fine picture that had been
painted within the last three years. To what are we to attribute this
unsatisfactory state of things? Although it has often been said that
republicanism is fatal to art, it is difficult to believe that the
present French Government can have any influence either for good or evil
on artists’ studios. Indeed, French sculpture, which is certainly
improving, is there to negative any such theory.

The reason of the decline of the _older_ men is obvious enough. They
have ceased to paint for fame; they paint for money. Country-houses,
carriages, horses, and last, but perhaps not least, madame’s toilette,
must be paid for, and the consequence is the production of what in a
humbler sphere of art would be called pot-boilers. These inferior works
are eagerly purchased at very high prices, and the artist, finding he
can coin as much money as he likes, takes less and less pains, till
finally decadence sets in, and the men who from their age ought to be in
the zenith of their artistic power, find themselves quite incapable of
rivalling the productions of their youth.

The cause for the manifest dearth of rising talent amongst the younger
men must be looked for elsewhere. That this dearth really exists there
can be no doubt. The French themselves allow it. Medals which used to be
given at the close of the Salon for painting are now given for
sculpture. There must be some reason for this marked decline. My old
friends shrug their shoulders and say: “Oh, the kind of teaching which
we had in our youth is now voted rococo. Sensational art” (by which they
mean art that will produce a sensation) “is now the fashion.” The press
has great power in France, and French critics, with few exceptions, like
what is strange and eccentric. There are symptoms, however, that this
quackery in art has had its day. The last two Salons have been too queer
even for the new school of critics, and we may therefore hope that the
sensational fit is over, and that the school may return again to the
sound principles of design and drawing for which it has hitherto always
been distinguished. I wish it understood that the deterioration I have
been mentioning was not very noticeable on the walls of the
International Exhibition. We had there the cream of all that had been
painted in France for the last ten years; and although the pictures
bearing the greatest names were rather disappointing, there was evidence
of abundance of talent in all departments of oil-painting.

The last years of the Empire and the first years of the Republic seem to
have been particularly prolific in good work. The portraits of that
period, the battle episodes, the nude figures, the still-life pictures,
are all characterized by a solidity and thoroughness which we rarely
find now. The most unsatisfactory feature in the work of this period is,
to my mind, the landscape. I confess to a want of appreciation of either
Corot or Daubigny; and as almost every landscape-painter is an imitator
of either one or the other, as a matter of course I cannot like their

The landscape school of which I am speaking appears to me never to get
beyond a sketch, and _le culte du laid_ (the worship of ugly subjects)
is carried too far.

The greatest modern landscape-painters France ever had were Marillat and
Theodore Rousseau, and I think they are much better models to follow
than Corot or Daubigny.

As I am criticising, I may observe that much as I admire French pictures
of a few years back, I must say that I think the key in which these
works are painted too low; and there is another more serious fault
which I have often noticed; namely, the want of _naïveté_. The colors
are simple enough, but the execution is obtrusive. In the portraits
especially, one thinks more of the artist than of the sitter, whereas in
certain portraits of the Belgian and German galleries at the
International, the artist and his execution were completely forgotten,
so life-like and natural were the heads.

In speaking of French painting it is as difficult to generalize as it
would be of English. One man paints his whole picture in a low key,
another paints white figures on a black background, one plasters his
color on with a trowel, another models it rather thin. Still I think I
may safely say that the majority of French pictures are painted with
thick, opaque color and in a very low key.

Mannerism is perhaps the rock on which most rising reputations are
shipwrecked, not only in France but everywhere else. A clever young
artist paints a really fine picture, full of feeling, originality, and
poetry, but rather low in tone. He has an immense success; a success
which he too often ascribes to the wrong cause. The consequence is that
his next picture will probably be less poetical, but still darker in
color. His friends and admirers, instead of pulling him up sharp, are
more prodigal than ever in their praise. He gets a higher price for the
second picture than he did for the first. It is, therefore, not
surprising that our promising artist paints lower and lower in color
every year, until at last he becomes a confirmed mannerist.

The same danger exists in every department of the art. A young
portrait-painter will perhaps have exhibited a full-length,
distinguished by great character and breadth, but coarsely painted. The
praise which he justly earns for this portrait prompts him to paint his
next still more coarsely, and he too degenerates into a mannerist.

Mannerisms of various kinds are rampant in the present French school,
and are in the present state of public opinion too strong for the more
sober truthful work, which I am happy to say is not yet altogether

Unfortunately the encouragement given to these mannerists (or
“impressionists” as they love to be called) is not wholly derived from
their friends of the press; it proceeds also from artists of real talent
who ought to know better.

This seems to me the gravest symptom in the present condition of the
French school. It is of little importance how enthusiastic the various
literary or dilettanti cliques may be about their favorites. These are
mere fashions, which sooner or later die a natural death, but when
artists of standing give in to the prevailing delusions, the mischief
becomes serious.

I can hardly believe that these artists of talent really admire the
productions of which I am speaking, but they are afraid of going
against the stream of journalism, or else they wish to appear liberal in
approving what is so diametrically opposed to their own practice. At any
rate they acquiesce, and humbug flourishes. Before leaving the French
painters, I ought, perhaps, to say something about the subjects
principally affected by them.

No one can go through a French exhibition without being struck by the
number of ghastly and horrible subjects which meet the eye on every
side, and which seem to vie with each other in cruelty and brutality.

Death and suffering in every form have always been favorite subjects
with French artists. Delaroche was continually painting murders and
executions, but the comparatively mild form of horrors affected by him
is not sensational enough for the modern school.

“Scene of the Inquisition–A man being Tortured to Death”; “Rizpah
Driving away the Vultures from the Bodies of her Seven Sons, who are
Swinging in the Wind”; “Roman Conspirators Drinking the Blood of a Slave
whom they have just Murdered for this Festive Purpose”; “Nero
Experimentalizing with Poison on his Slaves”; “Apollo Flaying Marsyas
alive,”–are a few of the many pretty subjects which were conspicuous in
the French galleries of the International Exhibition. One artist (and a
very distinguished one too) has improved even upon these subjects, and
delights in painting not only death but decomposition.

At the Ecole des Beaux Arts the subject given last year to the students
for their diploma pictures was “Augustus Causes the Tomb of Alexander
the Great to be Opened, and Places a Crown of Gold on the Head of the

When we reflect that Alexander had been dead some three hundred years,
it will easily be understood that his body was in that half-putrid,
half-mummified condition which is apparently so attractive to the
artistic world in France.

Another marked characteristic of a French exhibition is the number of
nude female figures. This is notoriously very objectionable to many
English visitors, but for my part I would rather see a dozen nude nymphs
than a decapitated figure or a putrid corpse. Many of these figures are
done by young painters as a kind of supplement to their art education;
and instead of being offended at their frequency, I am always glad to
see so much laudable ambition. I only wish we had a few more similar
efforts in our English exhibitions. The Hanging Committee would, of
course, eliminate those which were objectionable either from want of
technical skill or from any other cause, and the remainder might be
allowed to hang on our walls and irritate Mrs. Grundy.

A third characteristic of a French exhibition is the general excellence
of what are called rustic pictures. The peasants are real peasants, and
not models dressed up as such.

There is almost always in this class of subjects an honest attempt to
give a truthful version of nature. There is a completeness about them
that is very charming.

The pictures of flowers, fruit, fish, and every thing coming under the
head of _nature morte_, seem to me equally good. In fact, one hardly
ever sees a bad still-life picture in a French exhibition. I suppose the
jury is more strict about fruit, oysters, and copper kettles than about
humanity, and particularly female humanity.

Pictures of animal life are, I think, less common than in English
exhibitions. Dogs especially are seldom painted. This may be partly
owing to the currish aspect of French dogs. Our bloodhounds, mastiffs,
newfoundlands, deerhounds, and all the aristocracy of the canine race,
are hardly ever seen in France; and it must be confessed that a
stumpy-tailed mongrel or a clipped poodle is not a very tempting model.
The French are not a doggy nation. A well-off Parisian will often keep a
couple of ugly pointers, but it is always understood that “Stop” and
“Komeer” are indispensable “pour la chasse,” and not to be regarded as
pets or companions.

Finally, in every modern French exhibition the influence of Fortuny is
very perceptible; I believe, however, that almost all the disciples of
this school are Spaniards or Italians residing in Paris, and that the
French artists who devote themselves to microscopic painting have the
good taste to follow the lines of Meissonier rather than those of

We will now examine the Belgian pictures.

Belgian art is derived entirely from France. At the International
Exhibition one passed from the French to the Belgian galleries without
being aware of the change of nationality. I think, however, that the
branch is at present in a healthier state than the parent stem. When I
compare the recent mural paintings which have been executed in Belgium
with similar work done in Paris, I am struck with the vast superiority
of the Belgian. Again, in landscape the Belgians are far in advance of
their neighbors. Comparisons are proverbially odious, so I will not
incur odium by comparing English landscape with Belgian, but I should
recommend those who think that we specially excel in this branch of the
art to go and look at what the Belgians are doing. The great men of the
Belgian school–the men whose names are familiar to every artistic
circle in Europe–are declining in power even more rapidly than their
colleagues in France, but there seems to me to be more hope about the
younger men. The Belgian portrait-painters are, I think, inferior to the
French as a rule, but there were one or two portraits in the Belgian
galleries which attracted a great deal of attention from their
unaffected simplicity, and in this respect contrasted very favorably
with some more showy French work. The history pictures, again, were more
careful and better drawn than analogous French work. There was less
striving after effect and singularity, and much better composition. They
reminded me more of what French painting used to be before the school
became afflicted with what may be called “sentimental radicalism” in

I was glad to notice that Baron Leys, the painter of the strange
mediæval pictures of the Antwerp town-hall, has not left a school of
mediævalists behind him. The quaint ugliness of an old Flemish picture
is interesting because it is real, but in these modern works the uncouth
drawing and constrained stiff attitudes of the early Flemings are
assumed, and therefore offensive. No doubt there are several excellent
artists living who have studied under Leys, but they have all of them
abandoned the affectation of their master.

The influence of Rubens and his school is not perceptible in modern
Belgian work. This is rather curious when we consider the immense amount
of Rubens-worship which is perpetually going on at Antwerp. Rembrandt,
Franz Hals, and Vanderhelst have had much more influence on the Belgian
school than Rubens, but the modern artists of Brussels are not a race
of copyists. They evidently study nature a good deal, and this, it
appears to me, is the secret of their strength. On the whole I have
formed a very favorable opinion of the Belgian school, and when I recall
to mind the excellent mural paintings at Ypres and Courtray, I must say
that the old Parisian sneer about the “contrefaçon Belge” is quite
inapplicable at the present day.

It is manifestly unfair to compare the German gallery of the Great
Exhibition with the French, English, or Belgian section. The pictures
sent by Germany were hastily got together at the eleventh hour, and were
notoriously inadequate specimens of German art. Still they were
interesting, as showing the tendency of the school.

The first impression on entering the German gallery was a favorable one.
It was like entering a gallery of old masters after a surfeit of garish,
crude modern pictures. A closer examination led one, however, to form a
less favorable opinion of the peculiarities of German art. The imitation
of the old masters is, in my opinion, carried too far. Reminiscences of
Holbein and Albert Durer crop up everywhere, and many pictures which are
not directly imitative of the old masters have a brown old-varnished
appearance. There may not have been any thing offensively bad or
ludicrously absurd in the German gallery, but on the other hand, with a
few exceptions, there appeared to me to be a sad want of originality.
These exceptional pictures were humble and unpretentious enough both in
subject and dimensions, but full of truth and character.

The artist, Knaus, enjoys a great reputation both in Germany and Europe
generally. His color, though true, is not very attractive. There is no
great charm in his execution. The nature of his subjects precludes fine,
classical drawing or noble composition. It may be asked, What, then, is
his great merit? It is simply the intense realism of his figures. We
always feel that we must have seen and known his peasants, his children,
and his Jews. He has the same power of seizing types which John Leech so
eminently possessed. Whether he quite deserves to be in the front rank
of European painters is another question, but it is interesting to note
the reputation such an artist has obtained in Germany, where art, though
often learned, is seldom truthful or harmonious.

It has often been said that German art is never seen at its best in
easel pictures, and that to express an opinion about it one ought to go
to Germany, and study the mural paintings which abound there. It is more
than twenty-five years since I visited either Munich or Berlin, and I am
therefore not qualified to give an opinion about the _present_ state of
art in Germany. I confess I was not favorably impressed with what I
_then_ saw; and have often in the course of these lectures found fault
with Kaulbach and his school for neglecting Horace’s well-known
precept, “Artis est celare artem.”

The large mural works at Munich and Berlin used to be considered by
Germans as the highest development of heroic painting. They asserted
that their country was at the top of the ladder in high art, just as it
undoubtedly was in music, and my criticisms on their great painters have
always been provoked by this assertion. I have never stigmatized these
decorative paintings as being absolutely bad or contemptible, but as
being unworthy of the great esteem in which they were held.

I hear that at the present time other artists have in great measure
superseded those of the school of Kaulbach, and that the highly
artificial style of thirty years ago has been almost abandoned.

Scandinavian and Danish art are derived from Germany, as Belgian and
Swiss are derived from France. In the case of Norway and Sweden,
however, all the best artists emigrate to more southern regions; and
small blame to them, for when daylight begins at ten and ends at two,
there is not much time for painting pictures. These artists, who are
mostly landscape-painters, return to their native countries in summer
and make their sketches and studies; but the pictures themselves are
painted either in Germany, Belgium, or France.

In Denmark the winter days are rather longer, and we find at Copenhagen
a feeble attempt at a native school, bearing about the same relation to
Dusseldorf or Berlin, that Birmingham or Liverpool would to London.

Leaving these humble followers of the German school, we will now enter
the Austrian and Hungarian galleries.

Some French critic compared Austrian art to a noisy brass band, and the
comparison is not inapt. No doubt the band is a very good one; the
trumpets are loud, the trombones sonorous, and the big drum
unexceptionable. Still it is not the kind of harmony which would please
a musician. Austrian and Hungarian art, though apparently fascinating to
the multitude, is too rich and cloying for a more fastidious taste. If
you can fancy a mixture of plum-pudding and lobster-sauce, you will form
a good idea of the most celebrated Austrian pictures. As the French
school has a weakness for the horrible, and the English for the homely,
so the Austrian delights in the showy. Pageants, royal receptions, and
ceremonies of mediæval times are the subjects which the leading Austrian
artists revel in; subjects in which there is not much story to tell, no
human emotions to portray, nothing but silks, velvets, armor, and
trappings to paint. All these accessories are marvellously well
executed, a great deal too well indeed for the heads and the flesh; but
it is this overpowering execution, united with a pseudo-Venetian
coloring, which captivates the French bourgeois, just as it would
captivate the London cockney.

I wish to observe that I am speaking of the large Austrian and Hungarian
pictures which attracted so much attention at the Paris exhibition.
Amongst the portraits and the smaller pictures there were some which
would have done credit to any school. Vigorous in drawing and execution,
full of character, and harmonious though rather dark in color, they
appeared to me far superior to the kindred pictures from North Germany.
I should have formed a very high estimate of the Austrian school if two
or three of the principle pictures had been absent.

It may be asked why, if these large pictures were so offensively
meretricious, the jury awarded them medals of honor?

I should be very sorry to have to defend all the decisions of the
international jury, but in the present case I think I may say with truth
that it was not admiration for this kind of art which dictated the

Before leaving the Austrian and Hungarian galleries, I would observe,
that whatever may be thought of the pretentious richness of these large
pictures, there exists at any rate an Austrian school, and that this
school seems full of power and vitality. Austrians, do not, as a rule,
paint their pictures in Paris or Rome. Others may, like myself, deplore
the overpowering gorgeousness of a good deal of their work, but amongst
the canvasses of more modest proportion there was abundant evidence of
sound training and original invention.

Dutch art is very national; that is, the subjects are national. Muddy
seas, flat meadows with groups of cattle, canal and street scenes–in
short, the same kind of subjects which were formerly painted by Teniers,
Vandevelde, De Hoogh, and Paul Potter, are still the favorites with the
Dutch artists.

In the Dutch school, as seen at the Great Exhibition, there was a
laudable absence of priggishness or sensationalism, but the pictures
appeared to me to lack the neat precision of touch and the delicacy of
color which distinguished the old Dutchmen.

Pathos will cover a multitude of sins, and in some of the best modern
Dutch work this quality is not wanting; but in subjects which do not
admit of pathos, such as the old familiar scenes of Teniers and Ostade,
something more is wanted than indifferent execution and dull,
inoffensive color. I am inclined to think that Dutch art was not only
fairly, but even favorably represented at the Paris Exhibition, for in
several recent visits to Holland I was always struck by the want of
development of modern art. There are no great mural painters as in
Belgium; the Church, being Protestant, does nothing for art. The rich
Dutch citizens and merchants are equally unsympathetic; in short, there
is no demand for a high class of art, so there is no supply.

I never heard of a Dutch collector who patronized modern painters. His
rooms are always filled with Ostades, Wouvermans, Vanderveldes, etc., or
more frequently with wretched copies of these masters; but in these
private collections, which are scattered all over Holland, one never
meets with a good picture by a modern artist. Under these circumstances
I think it very creditable to Dutch artists that painting should not
have declined more than it has in Holland.

Swiss art can only be regarded as provincial French. It is, however
(like the Dutch), very national in its subjects. Glaciers, snow
mountains, pine forests, and châlets were the usual subjects in the
Swiss section. Even the figure-subjects were redolent of
Switzerland–peasants, guides, hunters, and tourists were the principal
_dramatis personæ_. If a fault is to be found with these innocent works
of art, it is that they look as if they were meant for the tourist or
the Alpine Club market. A traveller who is detained by rain for a week
at Interlacken would be just the man to purchase a good view of the
Jungfrau, or perhaps he might be tempted by a group of Bernese
Oberlanders at home. The native Swiss pictures are too much like their
wood carvings, not works of good art but pleasant souvenirs.

We will now cross the Alps and say a few words about Italian art.

Italy was wretchedly represented at the Great Exhibition. None of her
greatest artists had contributed. The best pictures were by two or three
Parisian Italians, and the worst by men whose proper abode ought to be
Hanwell or Colney Hatch. It has often been remarked that modern Italians
labor under the same disadvantage which afflicts a man who has had
illustrious progenitors. He may not be a greater fool than other men,
indeed he may be rather above the average, but he gets no credit for it.
People are always contrasting him with his illustrious father or his
glorious grandfather, and the poor fellow has hard work to get any
justice done him. This may be true enough at Venice, Florence, or Rome,
where the _chefs-d’œuvre_ of the old masters are in very close
proximity. I can well understand that a stranger who has been feasting
his eyes all the morning on Titians and Paul Veroneses, should find the
descent very precipitous to the level of a modern Italian studio; but in
Paris there were no such formidable rivals to fear, and it is much to be
regretted that Italy did not put forth her whole strength. I am
inclined, however, to give another reason why modern Italian art has
suffered from the proximity of so many _chefs-d’œuvre_ by the old
masters, and that is the temptation to become copyists. Wealthy
Americans, if they cannot carry away the originals, will have copies,
and the harvest to be derived from this source by a clever painter is so
rich a one that he is often tempted to abandon the paths of originality
and virtue, and become a copyist.

Of course the leading painters would not accept a commission for a copy
of Beatrice Cenci, but there have been (and doubtless are still)
artists fitted for better things, who _do_ accept these commissions and
are glad of them. A friend of mine a good many years ago asked me to
call and see a copy of this celebrated portrait which had just arrived
from Italy. He had given the painter a commission for it two years
before. I could not say much in praise of it. It was a fair average
copy, but I could not help remarking that the artist had been a precious
long time about it. “Oh,” says my friend, “mine was the seventh order
for a Beatrice Cenci in his book, and he told me that nothing would
induce him to paint more than four copies a year of this head. He had
other work to attend to,” etc., etc. If a man once gets into the way of
earning his living by copying, he will never get out of it (at least not
in Italy).

Independently of downright copying there is the danger of imitating, and
this is a danger to which Italian art has always been very much exposed.
No good can ever come of imitating the old masters, but when the masters
so imitated are men like Carlo Maratti or Luca Giordano, the downfall of
the school is indeed precipitate.

Italian painters, like Italian sculptors are very skilful workmen, but
they do not appear ever to get beyond a certain point of excellence.

The new school of Rome may be said to have been founded by Fortuny, and
in this school execution is every thing. Doubtless this phase of
Italian art is better than the dreary decadence of the first half of the
century, but I cannot say I am a great admirer of the new style. I will
speak of Fortuny and his followers presently, when I get to the Spanish
school, but before leaving the Italian Court I may mention that there
were some specimens of microscopic painting which were marvellous if
they were really legitimate pictures and not painted photographs.
Admitting, however, that they were genuine pictures, the very fact of
their looking like colored photographs relegates them to an inferior
style of art. They are curiosities, and not much more.

In justice to the Italian section I should mention that if the oil
pictures were bad, the water-colors by Rota were excellent.

There seems to me no reason whatever why Italy, the land of art (_par
excellence_), should lag behind in the international race. Italians are
quick, intelligent, and imaginative. If they would steer a middle course
between the tame imitations of the old masters and the sensational
quackeries of contemporary art, I have no doubt they would take a high
place in the European school.

The Spanish gallery was one of the most interesting in the whole
exhibition. One or two of the large pictures showed great power and
originality. I believe these pictures were painted by Spaniards
residing in Rome. Indeed all the best Spanish pictures are painted
either in Paris or Italy. There is no native school, as in the days of
Velasquez and Murillo.

The most attractive wall in this gallery was that devoted to the works
of Fortuny. Fortuny’s mode of painting, his delicate sense of color, and
the novelty of his subjects, took the artistic world by storm some
fifteen years ago. Since that time a host of imitators have arisen,
mostly Spaniards or Italians, so that the modern Spanish school has come
to be identified with his very peculiar kind of art.

I have no doubt that if one were to go to Spain and visit the studios of
the resident artists, one would find very little of the Fortuny element.
Probably the pictures would be more like Portuguese work, which of all
European schools is the most backward. Setting aside, however, the
question as to how far the Fortuny style can be called national, I will
hazard a few remarks about its merits and faults.

In the first place, I think we ought to welcome any novelty in art,
provided the novelty is not downright absurd, and a man who like Fortuny
revolutionized modern art (at any rate in the south of Europe),
certainly deserves consideration.

His pictures are characterized by a wonderful delicacy of execution and
brilliancy of color. His drawing is firm and masterly. With all these
good qualities I cannot consider him to have been a great artist. In
the first place, the subjects he affected were of the most frivolous and
meretricious description. Secondly, the general effect in his pictures
is not sufficiently attended to. I have heard them compared to those
sheets one sometimes sees composed of a jumble of small photographs.
Each individual figure or gaudy bit of stuff is perfect by itself, but
the whole picture is deficient in effect.

Finally, the execution wants that breadth and manliness which are so
conspicuous in the best works of Meissonier. Much as I admire any man of
genius who departs from the beaten track and creates a style of his own,
I cannot help thinking that Fortuny has been much over-rated.

Many of his followers’ works resemble the crude wall-papers and chintzes
which used to be common before South Kensington was in existence.

Pinks, light blues, and coal-tar dyes of the most violent hues (colors
which would drive our æsthetic amateurs mad) here run riot. The
execution is always clever, but the offence against good taste in color
is not to be got over. I do not recollect any landscape work in the
Spanish gallery except as backgrounds to the figure pictures. If I were
a Spanish artist I should leave the fripperies of the boudoir, and turn
my attention to the grand forms of rock and forest which abound in the
Asturias, or to the sierras of Andalusia, with their semitropical

Of Russia and the United States as picture-producing countries but
little can be said. There are a few Russians scattered over Germany,
France, and Italy, who paint and exhibit pictures which pass muster more
or less creditably.

Some give a Russian flavor to their work by painting Muscovite peasants,
sledges, wolves and bears, but even these national pictures might have
been done by French or German artists as far as the execution goes. The
eye was not impressed in the Russian gallery, as it was in the English,
Austrian, or Spanish departments, by some national peculiarity.

The large picture which obtained one of the medals of honor was painted
in Rome. It represented one of the most barbarous episodes of Nero’s
persecution of the Christians.

I thought it clever as a decorative work, but very weak in drawing.

There were in the Russian gallery some good heads very boldly and
forcibly painted. Their authors, though their names ended in “sky,”
“vich,” or “koff,” were pupils of the French or German schools, and
therefore these works, though painted by Russians, can hardly be
considered as characteristic of the school. The Byzantine element was
not in the least traceable in the Russian galleries. Probably Byzantine
pictures were excluded, as coming under the head of manufactures.

Greece exhibited a few pictures of modest proportions, and still more
modest merit; but even this faint commendation cannot be accorded to
Portugal, whose small contribution was ludicrous for its badness.

The art of the United States is even less national than the Russian.
American artists seldom give us reminiscences of their country, and the
American gallery was exactly like some of the rooms in the French Salon.

From their admiration of Parisian art it is probable that the American
school of the future will, like the Belgian, be a branch of the French,
unless indeed some American Fortuny should be raised in the States who
would give an original impulse to Transatlantic art.

French critics were rather hard on the American figure-painters for
choosing such subjects as the death of Cleopatra.

What in the world, they said, had Cleopatra and the Nile to do with
America? About as much, I should say, as Nero and his atrocities had to
do with France. According to these gentlemen, French artists may choose
their subjects from any period and from any country; the same license
may be allowed to Belgium, Germany, and possibly to England; but the
American is to confine himself to the short and not very picturesque
history of his own country.

This seems to me very unfair, but at the same time I should have liked
to have seen amongst the landscapes something more national than views
of Bougival or Fontainebleau.

I have now taken you all round the picture galleries of the
International Exhibition, and I may with truth say that we have no cause
to be ashamed of the position we hold in the European art-world. The
French were at home and able to exhibit nearly all their best works of
the last ten years. We, from reasons that are very well known, were
unable to do so, and yet we held a very respectable position. I am not
John Bull enough to say, as some of my friends at the hotel did, that
our school is the first in Europe. But what I _do_ say is that English
art (speaking of course generally) is in a thoroughly healthy state;
that English artists (also speaking generally) think more of their
subjects and less of themselves than Frenchmen, Belgians, or Austrians
do; that whilst some of the leading foreign schools are past the zenith
of their power, we, on the contrary, seem to be improving steadily, and
gradually getting rid of our faults. Some may be inclined to attribute
this marked improvement to the extraordinary sums of money which have of
late years been spent on art in this country, some to the existence
amongst us of a school of high-art criticism, some to foreign influence.
I attribute it to none of these causes, but solely to better training
and a more scrupulous regard for nature.

It may be thought that in boasting about our better training I am
blowing the academic trumpet pretty loudly, but I am not speaking so
much of the training you get here and at other London art schools, as of
the training which every young painter has to give himself after he has
learned the A B C of his art. It is this training especially which is
better than it used to be. The commonplace slap-dash way of going to
work of former days is now the exception and not the rule with young

One man may be careless or weak in his drawing, but he may have a keen
sense for truthful atmospheric effect, and he labors away at his picture
until he approximates to the out-of-door look of nature; another (a
portrait-painter perhaps) wearies out his sitters in his endeavors to be
truthful; a third will patiently brave the elements on a bare Scotch
moor, humbly trying to imitate the fitful patches of sunshine and mist
on the hillside before him.

All this is what I call good training. It is honest, conscientious work,
and it is this which tells favorably on a school, rather than Manchester
patronage or Oxford æsthetics.

* * * * *

I would observe, in conclusion, that in the appointment of our new
President we have another cause for self-congratulation. It would be out
of place here for me to dwell on all his qualifications for the
important post he fills, but I should not like my first lecture under
his presidency to pass without expressing my thorough satisfaction with
the choice we have made. To say more would probably be unpleasant to
him, to have said less would have been unpleasant to me.

I may, however, point out that the progress of the English school of art
does by no means rest with the President of the Royal Academy (however
excellent he may be); it depends on the individual exertion of every
member of the profession, from the President down to the probationer who
seeks admission to the schools. Let us all do our best to produce
careful, honest, and original work, and I have no doubt of the result.