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face truth alone. The lights and shadows that played upon the face in the searching studio-light, the wrinkle on the forehead and the wart upon the cheek, would not suffice to satisfy the more thoughtful quality of Mr. Watts's mind. While, according to facial resemblance, all it is in his power to render, he aims chiefly at realising his sitters' habit of thought, disposition, and character, their very walk of life, as these might reveal themselves upon their face as they sit by their own fireside. Here, then, are the elements of the strength and weakness of the artist's work, fully displayed in the wonderful series of great men and fair women that many consider as his capital life’s work. It is obvious that the most common aspect of a man's face, the bare features undisturbed and unlit by any expression, is the most likely to be recognisable; for the most characteristic intellectual expression need not by any means be the commonest, nor that by which the sitter is best known to his friends. It is Mr. Watts's practice thoroughly to study his subject before painting him, not only by simple observation, but also by conversation on the matters that touch him most, so bringing his worthier self to the surface. Partly for this reason do we find on all the countenances in these impressive portrait-pictures the loftiest expressions of which they are capable, even though in some cases the more obvious resemblance of the features has been somewhat neglected. Partly, I said ; for another, an intruding, consideration is to be taken into account-perhaps unsuspected by the artist himself. This is his own personality. He has always shrunk from the pitfall of mannerism and from every trick of method, drawing, or technique, in treatment or in touch, that comes almost natural to a painter: indeed, an examination of the portraits will show that in no two portraits are the noses, for example, painted in the same manner, nor is the drawing of the nostrils precisely similar. But no more than the great imaginative painters of old-all of whom produced portraits, and, moreover, sometimes found in them the initial ideas of their greatest works-has Mr. Watts been able to suppress his own intellect, seek as he would to suppress his individuality. We find as a result this curious circumstance: that while he invariably ennobles : every
head he touches and lifts his sitter to his own intellectual level, he has fallen short only in the portraits of certain of the greatest of them, with whom he has not been, apparently, in entire sympathy. It is hardly fair to cite the likeness of Carlyle, for that was but a two hours' study, and it has always been the painter's habit not to spare kimself in the number of sittings he demands.
His work in portraiture, therefore, shows a strongly marked individuality of an impersonal kind. It has become sculpturesque and monumental in character, and rich in beauty, although the painter Rever, for all his vogue, bas stooped to use that most popular of all portrait-painters' colour mediums-flattery. It is, moreover, so elevated and so imaginative that in his case portraiture is raised far beyond the reach of Juvenal's sarcastic shaft. Mr. Ruskin has recorded his belief that Watts's portraits are not realistic enough to last;' but Ford Madox Brown, who himself preferred spiritual to more concrete qualities in portrait-painting, classed them above Millais's by reason of their high level of style and dignity, to which the latter attained not more than once or twice.
Although symbolism is Mr. Watts's most obvious characteristic, it is the characteristic not of the painter but of the thinker. That he has been able to practise it successfully in his art is perhaps the most remarkable of his achievements. When M. de la Sizeranne, disbelieving the possibility of the existence of symbolism not an actual survival, such as we may still find in Germany, declared that he had mounted the staircase of the South Kensington Museum with one set of opinions, and had descended it with quite another, he probably paid the artist a higher compliment than he had any notion of. If Mr. Watts were told (as, in fact, he often has been told) that his work is literary, symbolic, and not to be judged as “art' at all, he would assuredly accept the judgment as welcome praise. The painter's craft, pure and simple, is to him the craft of the painter and nothing more, and its skill, something to employ to good, and not to little, purpose. Appreciating to the full the transcendent power of the old Dutch school in imitative painting, with their miracles of colour, luminosity, and shadow, a man of his stamp of mind must naturally deplore that painters who had so completely mastered the grammar and language of their art, failed to use their knowledge to express thoughts, so far as they may be defined as such, other than intellectually childish or unfeignedly vulgar, by which they produced, so far as significance is concerned, nothing more than the results of observation. Francia and Mabuse we may always admire as magicians of the brush, but will they ever take their place beside Michael Angelo? • I would not like to be left in a room alone with the " Moses," ' said Thackeray of the sculptor's masterpiece: the greatest figure that ever was carved.' The spirit of Thackeray's tribute to the triumph of the influence of imagination over execution is in this instance incense also on the altar of Mr. Watts's art. After all, asks the painter, why should a picture address itself only to the eye? Why should it stop at the retina and not pass on in its appeal to that intellect which governs and includes all the senses ? Artistic justification surely lies in the argument that philosophical painting is higher than other forms, by reason of the wider field open for the realisation of poetical imagination and expression, in comparison with matter-of-fact transcriptions of scenes from life. The idea that the sole object of Art is to please the eye is, he holds, an insult to the sister of Poetry, suggesting as it does a mission of unworthy triviality; and an affront to the intellect of man, by supposing that it can be satisfied with extracting so meagre a yield of gold from so illimitably rich a mine. If our emotions can be stirred by the spectacle of Art * with a purpose,' are we still to consider that Art's mission is no higher than to tickle the eye with colour, to charm it with dexterity, or-not to do violence to the tenets of the Newest Criticism–to please with skilful rendering of atmosphere, truthful juxtaposition of tone, distinction of composition,' or graceful sweep of line? If we may have these, why not something more? “The opinion that Art can have nothing to do with religious cult,' wrote Mr. Watts to me in 1888, if widely shared by artists and lovers of art, would make any approach to the greatness of former production impossible. The claim of Art to an original place with Poetry must be upheld, at least by some, and I hope that a band of artists will always be found to fight for this with pencil or with pen. As far as my strength will permit, I will be a standard-bearer.'
It may fairly be doubted whether symbolism is possible in these days of material thought, when religion, the true origin of all the highest art, is on the wane. If it be true, as Mr. Ruskin argues, that symbolism is not invented, but only adopted, there is still invention demanded for the adoption; and as invention is not so rare a thing as poetic imagination, it follows that there may still be hopes for the true symbolism, which is not the insipid allegory masquerading as decorative art' that we often see. But a symbolic work must be neither anecdotal nor indecisive in its appeal. It must incarnate, so to say, the idea it represents; it must force that idea on the beholder, and awaken in him a responsive emotion akin to that which filled the painter when he conceived it. The picture of a woman with the material attributes of Justice in her hand and around her eyes is only emblematic, until the spectator is filled with a sense of the intellectual attributes of Justice—honesty, firmness, majesty of the Law; and not till then does the emblematic or significant 'work hecome actually “symbolic.' Judged by this standard, Mr. Watts’s *Justice'is, to the modern mind, as much superior as an intellectual work to Giotto's, as his conception of the grandeur of Death surpasses Holbein's or Dürer's.
It is one of the greatest merits of these great pictures that they are almost elemental in their simplicity, and that in whatever quarter they may be exhibited they attract alike the cultivated and the uneducated; indeed, during the whole period of their exhibition at Birmingham the great gallery, it was reported, was always crowded, often impassable.' It is not only that there is a strong feeling among the populace for the ideal, the elevated, and the allegorical ; it is also that Mr. Watts's art contains in itself so many sympathetic elements. It is Greek in its philosophic spirit and in its display of material beauty, and Christian in its clear appeal to man's righteousness and love. Greek Art,' said George Henry Lewes, “is a lute, not an organ.' Mr. Watts's art includes the strains of both, and the painter's dominant ambition-that if his more serious works were viewed during the execution of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata,' or during the reading of the Book of Job or · Paradise Lost,' they might be felt in harmony and keeping—is in the case of most persons likely to be realised. Moreover, his art, not wholly unlike Kaulbach's, though more mysterious and far more elevated in conception, has a touch of German mysticism. It has not a little of the romance and fancy of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, with added solemnity, both of purpose and feeling. It comes into tangential touch with Rossetti in artistic sentiment and poetry, but it is altogether free from sensuousness. Blake is perhaps nearest to him in imagination, but furthest from him in ordered thought and power of execution. In Mr. Watts the public find the artist, poet, moralist, and preacher in one, and therein lies the secret of his popularity.
Leaving untouched for the moment the debatable ground of the place of allegory in art, we must admit, I think, that Mr. Watts is the greatest symbolist who in this country has ever used paint to express his ideas. If comparison be made with all who have attempted it, from Reynolds to Leighton, no doubt of his supremacy can be entertained. They touched their subjects ; he touches his spectators. For he seeks not only abstract beauty, but beauty of idea and spiritual truths—essentially the beauty of morality and of thought; not as a preacher merely-for he does not seek to be didactic—but as a poet. Examine, for example, the smaller picture of The Rider on the White Horse' (for his first sketches are often superior in inspiration and spontaneity to the large works elaborated from them), and compare his realisation with the text in Revelations.' His horseman is indeed riding forth conquering and to conquer;' but not as other painters have represented him—with jaw set and fierce and lowering brow. Mr. Watts's · Rider,' full of power and majesty, has the self-reliance, the benevolent repose of a conscious divinity—a figure that none but an epic poet could have conceived. Lyrics he has given, too, in symbols conceived in a lighter vein-playful subjects thrown lightly off · the musician runs his fingers over the keys.' The artist's motto,
Remember the Daisies,' in itself touches a keynote in his love for symbol; and the feeling revealed for the beauty of lowliness, and sympathy with down-trodden humility, are pictured in the phrase.
His great symbolical canvases, then—his “Court of Death,' * Love and Death,' 'Love and Life,' Hope,' • The Messenger of Death,' • Mammon,' Vindictive Anger,'· The Minotaur,' the synthetic series of Eve,' and the rest, as well as his great sculptures, 'Hugh Lupus’ and Physical Energy'-are intended to present a series of reflections of an ethical character, a pictorial Book of Ecclesiastes, or Omar Khayyam with a liberal admixture of spirituality. They are inspired by a sense of the loss in Art, at any rate in England, of the seriousness which we feel to dominate the great art of Greece and
of mediæval Italy: hardly less by the absence of any echo of the best and noblest side of our English national life. The Parthenon, with its great statue of Pallas and the Panathenaic Frieze, embodied the national character, spiritual and physical, of Greece generally, and of Athens in particular; and equally did the mediæval art of Italy interpret the national life of the age. With the exception of Hogarth, Reynolds, and Old Crome, few of our artists have reflected by seriousness of style the true qualities of the English character. Whatever reservations we may make in respect to Mr. Watts's view of the functions of art, we cannot withhold from him the acknowledgment due to his patriotic achievement, nor allow to pass without a word the willing sacrifice, worthy of San Giovanni da Fiesole himself, of a great fortune and public honours which the endeavour entailed. Just as his art has been worked out simply, quietly, and thoroughly, so his influence should be deep and lasting.
As a painter of reverent emotion Mr. Watts is a Fra Angelico without the profession of religious faith, repudiating the narrower construction of Prudhomme's contention that 'Art is a Priesthood.' It is to be observed—a remarkable circumstance in a painter who has devoted a lifetime to ethical and religious thought-that he has never dealt with dogma or doctrine. So unsectarian is he that he has always avoided in his works even the ordinary theological emblems and symbols ; indeed, not so much as a cross is to be seen in any
of his pictures. He paints Righteousness, but not Religion; and personifies Sin, but never as the Devil; nor has he ever given us an
Enemy sowing Tares, such as we have had from Millais, from Overbeck, and even Félicien Rops.
* You must not speak of my "theology," he said once, when I let fall the word; it should rather be called religious philosophy. For I do not admit that Reason can be banished at the behest of belief. I might illustrate my meaning by holding up my hand when such a contention is advanced, and tick off on my fingers “Faith,” ** Veneration," and so on; but those fingers cannot effectively grip or grasp till the thumb, Reason, completes the whole.' It is wholly absurd to suggest that he is a mystic,' as he is sometimes reproached. He doubtless believes that there is something mysterious--the spirit of a great Creator-in all living things : and most of all in man as the greatest in creation, dowered with the greatest brain power and intellect. It may shock you,' he said on another occasion, but I feel that one creed is as good as another, and that Nature—DivinityHumanity are to me almost convertible terms.'
From this philosophic love of humanity springs the fervid, almost passionate, earnestness with which he seeks to combat the Greek idea of Death of Death the Destroyer ; of the grim and grisly spectre of Dürer's Dance. His obvious aim has been to impress us with a theme to which he returns again and again in his more
Vol. XLI-No. 239