Before beginning to treat of the composition of a picture, I should like
to make some remarks on the choice of a subject. Of course, no rule can
be laid down in this matter. What strikes one artist as being a very
good subject will appear totally uninteresting to another. It is,
perhaps, fortunate that this should be so. The taste of the general
public is at least as varied as that of the profession, and thus every
one can be suited. I remember an old gentleman who has now been dead
many years, but who in his day was a great patron of artists, telling me
that he preferred pictures with little or no subject in them. He liked
what he called nice “satiny” bits of painting, and the less story there
was in them to distract his attention from the “satiny” painting the
better. I fancy that this want of appreciation of composition is more
common than is generally supposed. For one person who notices the skill
shown in the general arrangement of a picture, fifty will be found to
admire its color and execution.

Now I do not wish in any way to depreciate the charm of harmonious color
and brilliant execution. Of all qualities in painting they are,
perhaps, the most captivating; but they are not the alpha and omega of
art. I purpose, therefore, to devote several lectures to the study of
composition, and acting in conformity with the precept about “first
catching your hare before you proceed to cook it,” we will this evening
review the various kinds of subjects generally chosen by artists.

In my lecture on the International Exhibition, I mentioned with
disapproval a certain class of subjects much affected by the modern
French school. The artists seem to have ransacked history for every
incident that was most loathsome and horrible. I am not at all
squeamish, and should not object to blood and torture occasionally, but
it is the morbid treatment of these ghastly subjects and their frequency
which are offensive.

Perhaps it is hardly necessary to caution English students against
painting death and putrefaction. They generally have a laudable desire
to sell their pictures, and this desire would naturally tend to keep
their subjects sweet. Some letters on the dismal tendency of modern
British art appeared in the _Times_ last autumn, and certainly I am not
prepared to say that the writers were wholly in the wrong.

But if they had had an opportunity of comparing our school with the
French, I think the letters would not have been written. Why, our
deathbed scenes, funerals, etc., are positively cheerful, compared with
the sensational pictures of a French exhibition. No; whatever the faults
of English pictures may be, I don’t think the subjects can be called

On the contrary, I should say, speaking generally, that they are too
frivolous. Pictures are continually being painted which have little or
no subject. The costumes of the period are pretty, the mild incident
depicted happened, or might have happened, and these are quite
sufficient reasons to many young artists for painting the picture.

I am far from saying that such a picture must be a bad one. It may be,
and often is, charming in color, arrangement, and execution.

Indeed, the better the painting, the more one regrets that so much good
work should be spent on so trivial an incident.

Before proceeding to what I have to say about the choice of a subject, I
would impress upon you that I only profess to give you my own opinions.

If any student or young artist has a great fancy for a certain subject,
the probability is that he will treat it better than he would one less
congenial to him, and I should be very sorry to dissuade him from it.
Indeed, I should be much pleased to find that he had a subject at all.
If there is a rock ahead for the English school, it is a tendency to
shirk the difficulties of composition.

Pictures representing single figures (mere models dressed up as
men-at-arms, milk-maids, or Highland lassies) are much commoner now
than they used to be. Of course, in the minor exhibitions of London one
expects to find plenty of work of this class, but the preponderance of
these subjectless figure-pictures is becoming very marked even at the
Academy; and as lecturer on painting, I should be neglecting my duty if
I failed to notice it. It may be that these pictures pay, but art is not
a trade; and even from a commercial point of view, I would suggest that
there is such a thing as over-stocking the market.

The whole domain of history, both sacred and profane, is open to the
artist, besides which there are innumerable subjects which are not
strictly historical, but are suggested by history. Finally, to those who
prefer illustrating the poets, there are Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and
a whole host of more modern writers. Surely in such a vast quarry it
cannot be difficult to dig out good subjects suitable to every mind.
Many subjects are too hastily rejected because they have already been
painted; when probably a new reading is very possible, or by slightly
altering the moment chosen, the subject assumes another aspect.

In a former lecture I mentioned, as a familiar instance, the parable of
the good Samaritan. Here is a trite and hackneyed subject enough. Every
one has painted it, and yet it would be very possible, by altering the
moment depicted, to give a new version of it.

Take the moment when the good Samaritan intrusts the wounded traveller
to the care of the innkeeper, and leaves him money, adding that whatever
more he may spend will be repaid him; and you have a capital subject,
which has never, to my knowledge, been painted. Again, imagine the
return of the Samaritan after a few days’ absence, and the gratitude of
the injured man, now nearly restored to health, and you have another
first-rate subject.

As an extreme example, take the “Holy Family.” How often has this
subject been painted! Raffaelle alone painted it over thirty times, and
I should think that there are at least a thousand original Holy Families
in existence; and yet the subject seems to me as fresh as ever. The
reason of this is, because it embodies the purest form of maternal love
in the same way that the good Samaritan illustrates human kindness.

Maternal love and humanity are many-sided, and hence the subjects which
illustrate them will be many-sided too.

Some artists shrink from taking known subjects from a laudable modesty.
They could not think of entering into rivalry with Raffaelle or André
del Sarto.

I deem this modesty unnecessary, provided they bestow on their work
original thought and invention.

If they attempt to rival the _manner_ of the great masters, then they
may be taxed with presumption, but no artist need be deterred from
painting such subjects as the “Last Supper,” or the “Walk to Emmaus,”
because many great masters have treated the same themes. I have probably
said enough in defence of taking subjects which have already been
painted, and will now attempt some classification of subjects suitable
for the higher class of figure-pictures.

The term “Religious,” in connection with art, ought, I think, to be
confined to those subjects in which Divine personages are introduced, or
to those which embody some miracle. Thus “The Creation of Adam,” “The
Holy Family,” “The Raising of Lazarus,” or “The Conversion of St. Paul,”
would all come under the head of religious subjects; but I think the
term misapplied when speaking of such subjects as “Hagar in the Desert,”
“The Finding of Moses,” “Samson and Delilah,” etc., which have no
religious element in them, although they are of course strictly

It is almost needless for me to remark that the Old and New Testament
offer an inexhaustible field for pictorial illustration. The Bible is
more read and better known than any other book in the world, and this
alone would preëminently distinguish it as a source whence artists
should derive subjects for their pictures; but besides this, the
costumes from Noah down to St. Paul are simple and dignified,
suggesting the highest style of art.

There are reasons which militate against young artists (or old ones
either) attempting this highest class of religious subjects, the
principal of which is the fear of failure; failure in this class being a
much greater humiliation than in a lower walk of art. But there is also
another good reason, and that is, the want of a market for their work.

Our churches do not, as a rule, purchase Biblical pictures, and our lay
patrons of art naturally enough object to importing a “Crucifixion” or a
“Noli me Tangere” into galleries and rooms full of mundane-subject

There seems, however, no reason why the second class of Scriptural
subjects (those, I mean, which are simply historical or anecdotic)
should not be more often painted than they are.

Of allegory and allegorical subjects I need hardly say any thing. For
mere decorative purposes they may sometimes be eligible, but even then I
think them quite out of date, and should be sorry to see a revival of
the painted riddles which were so much the fashion in the time of Giotto
and his followers.

Such semi-allegorical subjects as Reynolds’ “Garrick between Tragedy and
Comedy” are permissible enough, because they are easily comprehended;
but the allegories I object to are those which are totally
incomprehensible without a page or two of letterpress to explain their

Mythology offers a much better field than allegory for decorative
purposes. “Juno in her Peacock-drawn Car Ascending to Olympus,” “Orpheus
and Eurydice,” “Prometheus Vinctus,” etc., etc., are all splendid

There is a _bourgeois_ objection to them on the ground that nobody now
cares for Juno or any of the heathen gods and demi-gods; but I should
like to ask these objectors if they think that any one cares now for the
“Vicar of Wakefield” and his family, or for “Tom Jones” and his Sophia,
and yet pictures illustrative of these old-fashioned novels are painted
every day, and often meet with great success.

It is quite a mistake to suppose that in order to admire or appreciate
pictures we _must_ take a lively interest in the biography of the
_dramatis personæ_. Jove, Mars, Venus, and Hercules are of interest to
us _now_, just as they probably were to the Athenians in the time of
Phidias and Praxiteles, namely, as representatives of power, courage,
beauty, and strength; and so long as these qualities are valued by the
human race, so long will their personifications continue to be

Historical subjects may be divided into two classes:–

1. Those where the interest is solely derived from the rank or
historical importance of the personages depicted.

2. Those which, from their nature, are dramatically interesting,
independently of the names of the personages.

What are commonly called “official pictures” belong to the first class,
such as coronations, royal marriages, and ceremonials of all
descriptions. Such pictures as Terburg’s “Council of Trent,” and others
of the same kind, belong to this category, because all the interest of
the work lies in the faithful portraiture of the figures. Deprive the
figures of their historical importance, and all interest in the subject
(_as_ a subject) vanishes. Of course the picture may have technical
excellences which may make it interesting and valuable, but this has
nothing to do with the point at issue.

Any trivial incident from the domestic lives of Queen Elizabeth, Charles
I, Cromwell, Frederick the Great, etc. (specimens of which are to be
found in every exhibition), belong essentially to this class of

I would hardly class our old friend, “Alfred Minding the Cakes,” with
these subjects, simply because he did _not_ mind them; and the contrast
between the disguised monarch’s thoughtful and anxious look and the
humble task to which he had been set is sufficiently interesting _per
se_. Had he done his task cleverly, and toasted the muffins to a turn,
this time-honored but apocryphal subject would have been a good specimen
of the class I am speaking of.

The following are a few more subjects which will illustrate my
meaning:–“Milton Dictating ‘Paradise Lost’ to his Daughters”; “Francis
I Picking up Titian’s Brush”; “Sir Isaac Newton Watching an Apple Fall”;
“Hampden Refusing to Pay Ship-money.” In all these and similar subjects
you will observe that no human passions are concerned. The only reason
for painting them at all is either because such famous men as Titian,
Francis I, and Milton are engaged in them, or because they led to very
important scientific and political consequences, as in the falling apple
and the ship-money instances.

I would give as instances of the second class of historical
subjects:–“The Death of Seneca”; “Charlemagne Crossing the Alps”;
“Cæsar Landing in Britain”; “Queen Boadicea Haranguing the Iceni.”

These are all well known, and, indeed, rather hackneyed subjects, but
they will serve as examples of what I mean. There is a certain dramatic
quality about them which fits them for pictorial treatment,
independently of the particular history attached to each; and these are,
in my opinion, the best kind of historical subjects.

Events which do not concern the life of any particular person are also
very pictorial, provided always there is plenty of the dramatic element
in them:–“A Man Escaping to a City of Refuge”; “A Departure of
Emigrants”; “A Rescue from Fire”; “Launching the Life-Boat”; “Return
from Victory,” are all eminently suitable for painting, and yet there
are no kings and queens, nor even distinguished statesmen, poets, or
philosophers to be introduced. There are human interests of various
kinds to be excited, and this is quite enough.

War episodes are always interesting. We do not care to know the exact
spot or date of the engagement, we have no curiosity about the names of
the combatants, nor even much about their nationality. The scene itself
is sufficiently exciting without any accompanying explanation. It is
true that there are plenty of highly uninteresting battle-pictures, but
the fault lies with the treatment and not with the subject.

In selecting a subject, no matter whether from mythology, Scripture,
history, fiction, or every-day life, care should be taken to choose one
which has unity of action. There ought to be a story in your subject,
but not more than _one_ story. In your secondary groups you may have
separate action and by-play, but they ought somehow to be connected with
the main story of the picture, and instead of distracting the attention
from the subject, they ought rather to assist in concentrating it. Where
there is more than one centre of interest in a picture, the effect,
dramatically speaking, is weakened.

The old masters often disregarded the tolerably self-evident rule.

The famous Transfiguration picture of Raffaelle is a well-known instance
in point. The interest is divided between the Transfiguration proper
and the demoniac boy. Although some of the figures are pointing upward,
yet the faces are all turned toward the demoniac, and he is certainly
the principal focus of interest.

This blemish in Raffaelle’s picture is all the more unaccountable, as no
mention is anywhere made of a demoniac having been present at the time;
but the old masters (especially those of the German schools) abound in
incongruities of this kind. I remember seeing somewhere a picture of the
“Martyrdom of St. Lorenzo.”

The saint is about to be roasted alive, but the largest and most
prominent figure in the picture is one of the executioners, who is
making a horrible face, having got some of the smoke in his eye. The
introduction of these irrelevant and grotesque episodes cannot be
justified, however well they may be painted; and if it be granted that
it is undesirable to _select_ a subject in which there is more than one
centre of interest, how much more objectionable is it to _invent_
disturbing incidents which are not recorded in the text of the subject.

As an extreme instance of a bad selection of subject, I have always
thought that nothing could beat Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man.” The
lines suggest seven distinct subjects having no connection whatever with
each other. Each is very good of its kind; to attempt to amalgamate them
all into one picture is quite absurd. The result is extremely
unpleasant; suggesting a company of strolling players, each rehearsing
his part, or perhaps the court-yard of a mediæval lunatic asylum.

In justice to Mulready I ought to mention that he did not _select_ “the
seven ages of man” as a subject for his picture. He had the impossible
task imposed upon him by a liberal but injudicious patron.

For decorative work (for a frieze, for instance) such subjects as the
“seven ages of man” are well suited, because each “age” can be treated
separately, forming as it were a picture of itself, the only bond of
union between the seven being that the figures should be of the same
proportion, and should be similar in style and execution.

Another good rule to observe in selecting a subject is to choose one
which has illustrative action in it. What I mean by this is that the
action of the figures should be sufficient to explain the subject. You
cannot put words issuing from their mouths as is done in caricature, you
must therefore explain your story by action and expression. We will take
as examples two not dissimilar subjects. One shall be a meeting of
conspirators, and the other a conference of philosophers. Of course, I
don’t mean to insinuate that there is any analogy between philosophers
and conspirators, but that in both cases we have five or six figures
seated round a table. In the first we should represent our conspirators,
in close conclave, leaning over the table with their heads near
together, one or two perhaps grasping their daggers, another looking
round anxiously–in short, it would be very evident from the expression
and attitude of the figures that they were about some villainous work.

If we now turn to the other subject, the conference of philosophers, how
are we to express the purport of their conversation? What facial muscles
are called into play when men are talking metaphysics or expounding
their theories of evolution? It is clear that, however exquisite the
execution of the picture may be, the subject of it will be
unintelligible, without explanation, and even with the necessary
elucidation it will be inferior to the conspirators in dramatic

The subject I gave you in the life-school some time ago (I mean Peter’s
denial of Christ) is an eminently good one, because if properly treated
it is impossible to mistake the meaning of the figures. The menacing
interrogatory of the woman, Peter’s alarm for his personal safety, and
the jeers of the soldiers who are sitting round the fire, are all well
adapted for pictorial expression. Any one who had never read the New
Testament, an unconverted Chinaman for instance, would say at once:
“This young woman is taxing a middle-aged man with something he denies,
but there is such downright assertion in her action and such fear mixed
up with his denial, that the accusation, whatever it is, must be true.”

No subject can be called a really good one which requires a long
explanation to make it intelligible. Thus subjects in which the figures
are assuming characters which do not properly belong to them are unfit
for painting. For example, in the “conspirators” just mentioned, it
might very well have happened that to conceal their sinister designs
they assumed the mask of joviality, but you should not select this
particular phase of the story.

On the stage, this kind of make-believe is managed by an “aside.” The
actor takes the audience into his confidence when he says, “Here comes
the king, let us dissemble,” and accordingly for the next ten minutes or
so you are to understand that he is not the obsequious sycophant he
pretends to be, and lest by chance you should forget that he is
dissembling, he will come forward and frown, clench his fist or point
contemptuously over his shoulder at his fellow-actor, who, strangely
enough, never seems to see these ominous gestures.

All this is understood and accepted on the stage, but it does not do in
a picture. I would, therefore, advise you as much as possible to choose
subjects which can be understood at a glance. Let your personages appear
in their natural characters, and not assuming parts which do not belong
to them.

Acts of mercy, such as clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting
the sick, etc., are all good subjects, because the meaning is explained
directly by the action of the figures.

Speaking for myself, I have but little sympathy with subjects taken from
works of fiction.

The artist who selects them for pictorial treatment seems to me to
abnegate whatever creative power he may possess, and to become an
illustrator or translator of other men’s thoughts. Homer, Dante, and
Milton are of course exceptional poets. Their creations are heroic, and
the personifications of their heroes would be either nude or sternly
classical. Besides, they never descend to minute particulars, and the
artist is left very much to his own invention. The more detail an author
gives, and the more picturesque the detail, the less fitted are his
works for figure-pictures. Scott and Dickens are eminently unpaintable;
that is, it is a hopeless task to illustrate them. Pictures taken from
their works are always disappointing. The Ivanhoes, the Mrs. Gamps, and
the Pecksniffs of our imagination are always superior to their effigies
on canvas, and this is more or less the case with the personages of
Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Molière.

Costume has a great deal to do with the choice of a subject, and this,
no doubt, is the reason why the works of Shakespeare, Cervantes, and
Molière are such favorite hunting-grounds for artists. If the Prince of
Denmark had been a modern heir-apparent, attired in a frock coat, tweed
trousers, and a chimney-pot hat, or if Malvolio had worn the dress of an
ordinary British butler, we should not often see them painted.

For one picture taken from Thackeray’s modern novels, we find dozens
illustrating Tennyson’s “Idyls of the King,” or his “Holy Grail.”

Now, although the question of costume must always be an important factor
in the selection of a subject, it ought not to be the only one. A
picture should not be painted _merely_ for the sake of the costumes.
This seemed to me the principal fault in the large Austrian pictures of
the International Exhibition; and I may add that it is a fault which is
not altogether unknown in England.

There is one more class of subjects which I have not yet noticed, and
that is the domestic or “genre” class; the pictures, in short, of
every-day life. Pictures of this kind are much less dependent on a good
choice of subject than those which illustrate some historical incident.
They are generally prized for the brilliancy and harmony of their color,
or for the delicacy of their execution; and if these qualities exist in
a high degree, the subject is a minor consideration.

Still it ought to be a consideration, and in choosing subjects of this
class you should prefer those which are typical of the personages you
have to represent. If you attempt rustic pictures, not only should your
figures look like peasants, but the subject should be thoroughly

A dirty ploughman plodding wearily homeward along a muddy lane on a dull
November evening seems commonplace and prosaic enough, and yet the
subject would not be deficient in pictorial interest. It would be
typical of the man’s hard and comfortless life. It would be in perfect
harmony with his furrowed face, his bony limbs, and his stooping gait.

It would not only represent that particular ploughman in that particular
lane, but it would give a true though mournful impression of
farm-laborers generally.

I should much prefer for the subject of a picture, a common episode from
the life of a laborer to an uncommon one.

Again, if I wished to represent the same man at home, I should endeavor,
without exaggeration, to give the squalor of his surroundings, and
should not, out of my inner consciousness, evolve an ideal peasant
surrounded by a comely family, and looking (as Dickens has somewhere
said) as if he had “spent his little All in soap.”

Artists understand pretty well nowadays that in painting rustic
subjects, honesty is the best policy. The great success of the French
painter, Millet, was due entirely to his uncompromising honesty of
purpose, and to the unerring judgment with which he selected his

There _are_ pretty girls (even in France) amongst the peasant class,
although they are certainly rare. There are plenty of _fête_ days when
every woman makes herself as smart as she can; but Millet knew better
than to paint pretty girls and smart dresses. Instead of this, he
depicted the true types of French peasantry, gaunt, hard-featured women,
dressed in the coarsest garments, and shod with wooden sabots. The
novelty of truth was unwelcome at first to the Parisian public. They had
so long been accustomed to Opera Comique peasants that they had lost
relish for the genuine article; but by degrees they began to perceive
that these uncouth figures were very like the Jeannes and the Victoires
they knew _à la campagne_. Moreover, they did not fail to observe that
the subjects chosen by the artist were of that homely, agricultural kind
peculiar to the French peasantry. They smelt of the village dunghill,
and this was the great secret of their success.

I am often told by people who don’t know much about art, that they have
thought of “such a capital subject for a picture,” and it generally
turns out to be something odd or incongruous, and not at all fitted for
painting. For several years we have had pictures sent in for exhibition,
representing children playing at judge and jury, police-courts,
auctions, etc. In these pictures the children are all dressed up to
represent policemen, barristers, plaintiffs, and defendants. Moreover,
they have so thoroughly learned their parts that their action is no
longer childlike. Some of these pictures are very well painted, but the
principle is so wrong and false that we now invariably refuse them

Children should, in a picture, be engaged on something childlike. Thus
it would be perfectly natural for children to play at being wild beasts,
making use of any bear or wolf skin which happened to be handy.
Coach-and-horses, hen-and-chickens, are again legitimate games for
children, and therefore proper for painting; but in the arts we don’t
want elaborately got-up burlesque.

A group of young children on the sea-sands, at work with their wooden
shovels, would by some be thought a stupid kind of subject, hardly
worthy of being painted at all; but make the same children overtaken by
the tide, with a steep cliff behind them, and probably you will have a
great success, especially if you make your little figures expressing
their fear or courage in a theatrical and unchildlike manner.

The first group would be a typical one–typical of the seaside and
childhood; the second would not be absolutely impossible (like the
bewigged and behelmeted youngsters above mentioned), but it would be
somewhat exceptional, and therefore, in my opinion, not so suitable for
painting as the first group.

In the same way with landscape, the spot you select for pitching your
umbrella should not be mean and ugly, neither should it be
overpoweringly grand and beautiful. Pictures representing the Falls of
Niagara or the gorges of the Rocky Mountains are generally failures. I
have in a former lecture praised the Belgian landscape-painters, and I
think that a good deal of their merit lies in the happy choice of
subjects. They are certainly not classical, like the old school of
French landscape-painters, nor do they affect the dreariest commonplace,
like some of the moderns. They neither paint precipices and snowy
mountains, nor dull stretches of poplar-skirted high-road. Their
pictures are to me most interesting, not only on account of their
technical excellence, but from the good taste shown in the selection of
the subjects.

Incidents which are out of harmony with the character of the persons
engaged, form capital materials for caricature. The late John Leech
showed the nicest discrimination in his selection of subjects. When he
gave us pictures of character, nothing could be better than his sporting
scenes, or his bits from the mining districts. When he wanted to raise a
laugh at something paradoxical, he would give us a lot of mutes making
merry after a respectable funeral, or a used-up swell eating periwinkles
with a pin on the top of a ’bus. In both these cases it was the sharp
contrast between the usual habits of the persons and their exceptional
occupation at the time which made the fun, and very good fun it was
too; but in an oil picture which takes some months to paint, the humor
ought to be of a more delicate kind. I know of no better example of the
kind of humor I mean than Wilkie’s “Blind Fiddler.”

Before closing my lecture I should wish to notice a certain kind of
pictures which do not fit in well with any of the classes I have
mentioned. The pictures I mean are those which are painted expressly to
teach some lesson, or to inculcate some moral precept. The great
originator of this kind of art was Hogarth. Before him nothing of the
sort had ever been done, and since his death no artist has equalled him
in this particular line. Much, however, as I admire Hogarth as a
painter, I cannot coincide with all the praise that has been showered on
him as a great moral teacher. He has often been compared to Molière, but
the great Frenchman attacked the vices and follies of his day with a
sharp rapier, whereas Hogarth wielded a heavy bludgeon. Indeed, I think
it very doubtful whether our art can be converted into an active agent
in the cause of morality. The touches of ridicule which a clever writer
uses with so much effect are very apt to become ponderous when embedded
in oil paint. Hogarth’s reputation may well be allowed to rest on his
numerous technical excellences without hoisting him upon a pedestal as a
great apostle of morality. In like manner the name of Cruickshank will
be preserved as the clever draughtsman and caricaturist, and not as the
champion of teetotalism.

In mitigation, however, of Hogarth’s sledge-hammer style of belaboring
vice, we must bear in mind that the age in which he lived was a very
gross and brutal one, and that his “Rake’s Progress,” his “Marriage à la
Mode,” and similar works, which to us appear exaggerated or caricatured,
were considered by his contemporaries to be very true to nature.

To return to the proper business this evening, which is not to criticise
painters and their work, but to discuss subjects for painting, I cannot
say I particularly delight in the class under notice.

Whoever takes up these subjects becomes (involuntarily perhaps) a kind
of missionary agent for the cause he takes up, whether it be
teetotalism, humanitarianism, or the redressing of the wrongs of our old
friend, the “poor governess”; and as with some other agents, his zeal
often outruns his discretion, and he is apt to thrust forward his moral
too obtrusively. When this kind of picture is painted in pairs, after
the fashion of Hogarth’s “Industrious and Idle Apprentice,” there is a
sort of poster or advertisement flavor about the work, reminding one a
little of “what I was, and what I am” in connection with Mrs. Allen’s
hairwash, or of “before and after using anti-fat.”

No one can, of course, object to such antithetic pictures as “Summer and
Winter,” “Peace and War,” “Youth and Age,” etc.; but where the practice
of showing both sides of the medal becomes objectionable, is when the
work is evidently intended to be didactic. I don’t know what effect
these didactic pictures may have on others, but I always feel a kind of
impatience at having the contrast between virtue and vice thrust before
me in this infant-school fashion.

I do not wish in these lectures to enter upon the domain of high-art
ethics; I have a very decided aversion to the union of painting with
abstruse theories of all kinds, but a few words on morality in art may
not be out of place.

It must be generally allowed that certain pictures have an immoral
tendency: we may, therefore conclude by analogy that others have a moral
tendency, but beyond this general truism it is difficult to get.

The art-loving portion of the public needs no Lord Chamberlain to
ostracise immoral subjects, but on the other hand, it is rather
intolerant of what are called “goody” pictures. Let us rather, instead
of preaching homilies with our brush, endeavor to set an example of
pictorial morality by adherence to truth, by abstaining from clap-trap
tricks and meretricious execution; by ceasing to pilfer ideas and modes
of painting from other artists, and by general honesty of purpose.

If we do this, we may rest assured that our work will have a healthier
influence than it would have if more directly enlisted in the cause of