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of Millais' very strongest works (strongest in his opinion, likewise), The Yeoman of the Guard,' says of it that it is
exécuté dans une facture qui doit sembler très gauche à la • vive dextérité de nos peintres français,'* though he acknowledges afterwards that the timidity' of the workmanship is apparent rather than real. In respect to this facture of his, it must be remembered that Millais was born in an execrable age-artistically--without any shred of the fine tradition which helped to make up a Titian, a Rembrandt, or a Velasquez. That a modern artist will get much practical teaching by examining the works of the old masters may be questioned. It is not with a Prix-de• Rome' of to-day as it was with Velasquez when he visited Italy. In any case, Millais did not reap such benefit as might be got of this kind. He disliked travelling, and spent little of his time out of England. He got still less technical good from his association with the pre-raphaelites, who were, most of them, but in different draughtsmen and worse colourists, and for whom atmosphere does not exist. The intellectual benefit, the moral stimulus which the preraphaelite movement had to bestow, Millais reaped in no great measure.t
But the painter's natural gifts were so immense that they overrode all defects of teaching, and shook themselves free from every influence which threatened to limit or cramp them. There is enough in his black and white work, had he never touched a brush, for the making of a great reputation. It is an endless delight to look at some of Millais' quite early drawings, and to note how true they are. His craftsmanship soars far above that of his contemporaries—the Kenny Meadows, the Doyles, the Leeches, the H. K. B.sfirst by the correctness of his drawing, secondly by his knowledgeable use of chiaroscuro. Millais was wont to complain of the woodcutting of his day. Now, face to face with the mechanical processes of reproduction which we use, these old blocks have an especial, an historic charm; in the hands of Millais they have an excellence which can hardly be matched. Take the delicious St. Agnes which was cut to illustrate, not Keats, but Tennyson, and which is reproduced
* La peinture anglaise, p. 224.
† Mr. Spielmann says that Millais frequently declared to him that, contrary to what was often said, he got more harm than good from pre-raphaelitism. If thi were true it could only have been true because he was Millais. More probably he had forgotten the intellectual stimulus of that time.
in Mr. J. G. Millais' book.* Or, if etching be the mark, take any of those plates which Millais etched for various series, for the Junior Etching Club and the like. One, * The Young Mother,' almost perfect in its kind, belongs to his early years. Of Millais' work in wood there is a vast series, mostly of illustrations done for Once a Week,' for Good Words, for the Cornhill,” for “Dalziel's Bible,' for Tennyson's poems, and for Anthony Trollope's novels, such as ‘Framley Parsonage,' Orley Farm, The Small • House at Allington,''Can you forgive her?' &c. Taken together, the illustrations to · Orley Farm' are the best
There are certain defects inherent in all the black and white work of this age. Millais, no more than any of his contemporaries, is free from the tyranny of the outline. He, as they, will distinguish a coat from a waistcoat, not because at that particular moment, in that particular light, they would have been clearly distinguishable, but because the owner of them could take off the one garment and leave the other on. Again, the unimpressionism of that time makes the artists compose their pictures in parts. We know how the pre-raphaelites were wont to make an elaborate study of a wall one day (or month) and the next month make a study not less elaborate of the man who was to stand before the wall. On Millais' black and white work the chief effect of this unimpressionism is that in his groups the figures are unduly crowded, the perspective very frequently wrong. In one of his parables, the Unjust ' Judge,' we see in the foreground the figure of a secretary, and far away, beyond the monarch and a group of courtiers, are the heads of two other men, talking apart, taking no heed of the inportunity of the importunate widow. And yet the measurement of the remotest of these two heads is but one-sixth less than that of the secretary in the foreground. Many another instance might be given of such faults in Millais' black and white groups—the encounter between the Duke of Omnium and Lady De Courcy ("The • Small House at Allington') is an excellent example. Such defects in perspective, combined with the elaboration of detail which Millais gives, admit of no excuse.
As we might surmise, there is rarely anything of this in Millais' paintings; for such errors by declaring themselves would be compelled to disappear. Yet in ‘An Idyll of 1745
* Not very satisfactorily; and still worse in Mr. Baldry's work,
there is a trace of the same fault. In Millais' painting, however, a different but conspicuous failing is always more or less perceptible; that is Millais' slight love for decoration as such. It is a defect which marks him off sharply from all that artistic school which may be distinguished as the later pre-raphaelite, with its allies, from Watts and Rossetti to Burne Jones and Morris. Millais' eye for distinguishing shades of colour was exquisite. It is never more conspicuous than in his treatment of the most daring themes, such as “The Yeoman of the Guard.' But he seems to take delight —and this has a certain correspondence with his character -in crude and violent colouring. He did so from the first. The crying violet of the Huguenot' is not an effect of preraphaelite tradition : we get precisely the same tendency in such different subjects as the brocades of Stella' and
Vanessa,' in the print dress of ‘New-laid Eggs. While it is crude, this colouring of Millais is not in any true sense brilliant, as the colouring, for example, of Rossetti is brilliant.
Such are the painter's technical defects. Yet even out of these defects spring corresponding merits; his courage in handling subjects of all kinds, his fearless realism, which if at times it oversteps the borders of vulgarity is at other times splendidly vindicated by its success—as it is in ‘The NorthWest Passage, one of the finest realistic pictures of our day.
Millais' very defects of mind have some corresponding advantages. He lacked, we will not say idealism so much as that passionate unrest of desire and regret, that eternal módos which is the child of genius. Perhaps we ought to say that Millais lacked genius itself; if, that is, we accept Hegel's definition, that talent is specialised genius, genius universalised talent. It was the want of this eternal dissatisfaction which gave Millais his strength and his courage, and which is half the secret of that enormous production whereof it may be said there is hardly one item, even to the slightest sketch, which we could spare, which is not at the very least interesting
The strong personality of the man, his ignorance of his own limitations, these impose themselves upon us. While we are looking at his pictures, we accept his point of view; and they seem as plausible, nay, as necessary, as the works of Nature herself. It is only when we go home and think, and compare his work with that of other artists, that our critical faculty reasserts itself.
In portraiture it is difficult to say by whom Millais is to
be measured, unless we accept the modern theory that the decorative qualities of a portrait are of more consequence than its intellectual quality, its rendering of the personality of the sitter; for, of course, in its decorative quality the work of Millais is far behind that of Whistler. Millais' portrait of Carlyle, for instance, is infinitely less agreeable to look at than the impressionist painter's portrait of the same man. But it is safe to say that if all other likenesses of Carlyle were destroyed, the first would be the more valuable document, for all that it is an inferior specimen of Millais' workmanship. Whistler's Carlyle' is exquisite as a picture, but as a recognisable likeness ?—that is another matter.
It is right that art should hold its own as against literature. To-day art is holding its own in this contest as it has never done before. But surely it is hard to accord full freedom to art in the matter of portraiture: that one is compelled to think should be documentary before all else. Millais' portraits are documents. His only rival is Mr. G. F. Watts, far more gifted than Millais is in seizing the intellectual qualities of his subjects.
But then, maybe, Watts is too literary, too poetical in his work. Perhaps it is as bad to sacrifice overmuch to poetry as to sacrifice overmuch to decoration. And we must add on the side of Millais the vast superiority of his drawing. It is pleasant to read of Millais how much he got absorbed by his sitters. When he was painting The North-West Passage' he could talk of nobody but Trelawny.
If it be true that Millais felt nothing so strongly in life as its human interests, we must pronounce him not well advised in turning to landscape. Yet it would have been a loss to the world if he had never done so. The purely realistic landscape is a thing that needed to be painted, and painted by a master in his craft; and at the moment when Millais set about this work almost all our landscape painters were doing little else than trying to imitate Turner the inimitable. Here, once again, the artist's independence of view and his self-confidence were his friends. But the pictures he produced are never likely to have imitators, at any rate among wise artists.
For a new appreciation of the light and shade of objects as giving the effect of distance- a new and keener appreciation, or at any rate a revived one,* had
* Nothing is new: that which we to-day call a sense of values springs from a closer study of the Japanese, married to a better begun, long before Millais ceased painting, to find its way into art.
This new sense is what we call a sense of values. And another sense, a sense of the necessity of choosing some point of view in a landscape, more or less what we mean by impressionism-this had also been acknowledged. Millais had so good an eye that his values are generally correct, or err but a little from correctness; the most conspicuous failure is in the bank of trees in the middle distance of Chill October.' But the slight errors in other landscapes this way and that are enough to give us the assurance that the painter of them had not what would to-day be called a true sense of values. There is also no point of view in any of Millais' landscapes. All the objects in the foreground are rendered with the same tiresome distinctness, so that the result of the whole is to give us the sense of looking at some miraculous coloured photograph rather than being present in a scene itself. It is well enough to say that you can if you please see all the details of a landscape as clearly as Millais gives them. In real life you would, while taking in these details, have all the concomitants of your vision, the motions and the sounds of Nature; without such the scene would be dead. The only way to save this sense of deadness in landscape is to give the effect of a momentary vision under the keen excitement of our sense of seeing, and then to make the moment an eternal one. Most modern landscape aims at this. Turner came to see the necessity of this.
Millais' portraits and his landscapes belong to one period of his career,* and are by far the easiest to criticise. His subject-pictures-genre and historical genre-belong to the whole period of his working activity. They vary so enormously in character and merit, that it is very hard to believe that they were executed by one man. Anybody who pleases may judge for himself of their merits and demerits merely by going to the Tate Museum and looking at two of Millais' pictures hanging side by side, Mercy' (perhaps the worst thing that Millais ever painted), and “The North-West Passage,' probably the best. Millais has been written of as a highly poetic and highly imaginative painter, but of course this is the language of panegyric. What we should mean by a appreciation of certain among the oid masters, more especially Velasquez.
Not exclusively, of course, as has been said above.