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Transcript of Pre-Raphaelitism 1851, John Ruskin
The subject on which I would desire to engage your attention to-day, is the nature and probable result of a certain schism which took place a few years ago among our British artists.
This schism, or rather the heresy which led to it, as you are probably aware, was introduced by a small number of very young men; and consists mainly in the assertion that the principles on which art has been taught for these three hundred years back are essentially wrong, and that the principles which ought to guide us are those which prevailed before the time of Raphael; in adopting which, therefore, as their guides, these young men, as a sort of bond of unity among themselves, took the unfortunate and somewhat ludicrous name of "Pre-Raphael-ite Brethren."
You must also be aware that this heresy has been opposed with all the influence and all the bitterness of art and criticism; but that in spite of these - the heresy has gained ground, and the pictures painted on these new principles have obtained a most extensive popularity. These circumstances are sufficiently singular, but their importance is greater even than their singularity; and your time will certainly not be wasted in devoting an hour to an inquiry into the true nature of this movement.
I shall first, therefore, endeavour to state to you what the real difference is - between the principles of art before and after Raphael's time, and then to ascertain, with you, how far these young men truly have understood the difference, and what may be hoped - or feared - from the effort they are making.
First, then, What is the real difference between the
principles on which art has been pursued before and since
Raphael ? You must be aware, that the principal ground on
which the Pre-Raphael-ites have been attacked, is the charge that they wish to bring us back to a time of darkness and ignorance, when the principles of drawing, - and of art in general, - were comparatively unknown; and this attack, therefore, is entirely founded on the assumption that, - although for some unaccountable reason we cannot at present produce artists altogether equal to Raphael, yet that we are on the whole in a state of greater illumination than, - at all events any artists who preceded Raphael; so that we consider ourselves entitled to look down upon them, and to say that - all things considered, - they did some wonderful things for their time; but that, as for comparing the art of Giotto to that of David Wilkie or Edwin Landseer, it would be perfectly ridiculous,—the one being a mere infant in his profession, and the others accomplished workmen.
Now, that this - progress - has in some things taken place is perfectly true; but it is true also that this progress is by no means the main thing to be noticed respecting ancient and modern art; that there are other circumstances, connected with the change from one to the other, immeasurably more important, and which, until very lately, have been altogether lost sight of.
The fact is, that modern art is not so much distinguished from old art by greater skill, as by a radical change in temper. The art of this day is not merely a more knowing art than that of the thirteenth century,— it is altogether another art. Between the two there is a great gulf, a distinction for ever ineffaceable. The change from one to the other was not that of the child into the man, as we usually consider it; it was that of the chrysalis into the butterfly. There was an entire change in the habits, food, method of existence, and heart of the whole creature. That we know more than thirteenth - century people is perfectly true; but that is not the essential difference be¬tween us and them. We are different kind of creatures from them,—as different as moths are different from caterpillars ; and different in a certain broad and vast sense, which I shall try this afternoon to explain and prove to you;— different not merely in this or that result of minor circumstances,—not as you are different from people who never saw a locomotive engine, or a Highlander of this century from a Highlander of 1745; -different in a far broader and mightier sense than that; in a sense so great and clear, that we are enabled to separate all the Christian nations and tongues of the early time from those of the latter time, and speak of them in one group as the kingdoms of the Middle Ages.
There is an infinite significance in that term, which I want you to dwell upon and work out; it is a term which we use in a dim consciousness of the truth, but without fully penetrating into that of which we are conscious. I want to deepen and make clear to you this consciousness that the world has had essentially a Trinity of ages: the Classical Age, the Middle Age, the Modern Age; each of these em¬bracing races and individuals of apparently enormous separation in kind, but united in the spirit of their age: the Classical Age having its Egyptians and Ninevites, Greeks and Romans, the Middle Age having its Goths and Franks, Lombards and Italians,the Modern Age having its French and English, Spaniards and Germans; but all these distinctions being in each case subordinate to the mightier and broader distinction, between Classicalism, Medievalism, and Modernism.
Now our object today is indeed only to inquire into a matter art; but we cannot do so properly until we consider this art in its relation to the inner spirit of the age in which it exists; and by doing so we shall not only arrive at the most just conclusions respecting our present subject, but we shall obtain the means of arriving at just conclusions respecting many other things.
Now the division of time which the Pre-Raphael-ites have adopted in choosing Raphael as the man whose works mark the separation between Medievalism and Modernism, is perfectly accurate. It has been accepted as such by all their opponents.
You have, then, the three periods: Classicalism - extending to the fall of the Roman empire; Medievalism - extending from that fall to the close of the fifteenth century ; and Modernism thenceforward to our days.
Classicalism began, wherever civilisation began, with Pagan Faith. Medievalism began, and continued, wherever civilisation began and continued- to confess Christ. And, lastly, Modernism began and continues, wherever civilisation began and continues to deny Christ.
You are startled, but give me a moment to explain. What, you would say to me, do you mean to tell us that we deny Christ ? we who are essentially modern in every one of our principles and feelings, and yet all of us professing believers in Christ, and we trust most of us true ones ? I answer, So far as we are believers indeed, we are one with the faithful of all times, one with the Classical believer of Athens and Ephesus, and one with the Mediaeval believer of the banks of the Rhone and the valleys of the Monte Viso. But so far as, in various strange ways - some in great and some in small things, we deny this belief, in so far we are essentially infected with this spirit, which I call Modernism.
For observe, the change of which I speak has nothing whatever to do with the Reformation, or with any of its effects. It is a far broader thing than the Reforma¬tion. It is a change which has taken place, not only in reformed England, and reformed Scotland; but in un-reformed France, in un-reformed Italy, in un-reformed Austria. I class honest Protestants and honest Roman Catholics for the present together, under the general term Christians: if you object to their being so classed together, I pray your pardon, but allow me to do so at present, for the sake of perspicuity if for nothing else; and so classing them, I say that a change took place, about the time of Raphael, in the spirit of Roman Catholics and Protestants both; and
that change consisted in the denial of their religious belief, at least in the external and trivial affairs of life, and often in far more serious things.
For instance, hear this direction to an upholsterer
of the early thirteenth century. Under the commands of
the Sheriff of Wiltshire, he is thus ordered to make some
alterations in a room for Henry the Third. He is to "wainscot the King's lower chamber, and to paint that
wainscot of a green colour, and to put a border to it, and
to cause the heads of kings and queens to be painted on
the borders; and to paint on the walls of the King's upper
chamber the story of St. Margaret, Virgin, and the four
Evangelists, and to paint the wainscot of the same chamber
of a green colour, spotted with gold."
Again, the Sheriff of Wiltshire is ordered to "put two small glass windows in the chamber of Edward the King's son; and put a glass window in the chamber of our Queen at Clarendon; and in the same window cause to be painted a Mary with her Child, and at the feet of the said Mary, a queen with clasped hands."
Again, the Sheriff of Southampton is ordered to "paint the tablet beside the King's bed, with the figures of the guards of the bed of Solomon, and to glaze with white glass the windows in the King's great Hall at North¬ampton, and cause the history of Lazarus to be painted in the same."
And so on; I need not multiply instances. You
see that in all these cases, the furniture of the King's house
is made to confess his Christianity. It may be imperfect
and impure Christianity, but such as it might be, it was all
that men had then to live and die by; and you see there
was not a pane of glass in their windows, nor a pallet by
their bedside that did not confess and proclaim it. Now,
when you go home to your own rooms, supposing them to
be richly decorated at all, examine what that decoration consists of. You will find Cupids, Graces, Floras, Dianas, Jupiters, Junos. But you will not find, except in the form of an engraving, bought principally for its artistic beauty, either Christ, or the Virgin, or Lazarus. And if a thousand years hence, any curious investigator were to dig up the ruins of Edinburgh, and not know your history, he would think you had all been born heathens. Now that, so far as it goes, is denying Christ; it is pure Modernism.
“No,” you will answer me, “you misunderstand and calumniate us. We do not, indeed, choose to have the Virgin and Lazarus on our windows; but that is not because we are Moderns, but because we are Protestants, and do not like religious imagery.” Pardon me: that is not the reason. Go into any fashionable lady's boudoir in Paris, and see if you will find the Virgin and Lazarus there. You will find, indeed, either that she has her private chapel, or that she has a crucifix in her dressing-room ; but for the general decoration of the house, it is all composed of Apollos and Muses, just as it is here.
Again. What do you suppose was the substance of good education, the education of a knight, in the Middle
Ages ? What was taught to a boy as soon as he was able
to learn anything ? First, to take care of his body, and
bring it into subjection and perfect strength; then to take Christ for his captain, to live as always in His presence, and finally, to do his devoir—mark the word— his Devoir or Duty - to all men. Now, ask yourselves what you expect your own children to be taught at your great schools and universities. Is it Christian history, or the histories of Pan and Bacchus? Your present education, to all intents and purposes, denies Christ, and that is intensely and peculiarly Modernism.
It would be easy to go on showing you this same thing in many more instances; but my business this evening is to show you its full effect in one thing only, namely, in art, and I must come straightway to that, as I have little enough time. This, then, is the great and broad fact which distinguishes modern art from old art; that all ancient art was religious, and all modern art is profane. Once more, your patience for an instant. I say, all ancient art was
religious; that is to say, religion was its first object; private luxury or pleasure its second. I say all modern art is profane; that is, private luxury or pleasure is its first object; religion its second. Now you all know, that anything which makes religion its second object, makes religion not object. God will put up with a great many things in the human heart, but there is one thing He will not put up with in it — second place. He who offers God a second place, offers Him no place. And there is another mighty truth which you all know, that he who makes religion his first object, makes it his whole object; he has no other work in the world than God's work. Therefore I do not say that ancient art was more religious than modern art. There is no question of degree in this matter. Ancient art was religious art; modern art is profane, art; and be¬tween the two the distinction is as firm as between light and darkness.
Perhaps there are some of you here who would
not allow that the religion of the thirteenth century - being Roman Catholicism - was Christianity. Be it so; still is the statement true, which is all that is necessary for me now to prove, that art was great because it was devoted to such religion as then existed. Grant that Roman Catholicism was not Christianity — grant it, if you will, to be the same thing as old heathen¬ism — and still I say to you, whatever it was, men lived and died by it, the ruling thought of all their thoughts ; and just as classical art was greatest in building to its gods, so mediaeval art was great in building to its gods, and modern art is not great, because it builds to no God.
You have for instance in your Edinburgh Library, a Bible of the thirteenth century, the Latin Bible, commonly known as the Vulgate. It contains the Old and New Testaments, complete, besides the books of Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, the books of Judith, Baruch, and Tobit. The whole is written in the most beautiful black-letter hand, and each book begins with an illuminated letter, containing three or four figures, illustrative of the book which it begins. Now, whether this were done in the service of true Christianity or not, the simple fact is, that here is a man's lifetime taken up in writing and ornamenting a Bible, as the sole end of his art ; and that doing this, either in a book or on a wall, was the common artist's life at the time; that the constant Bible reading and Bible thinking which this work involved, made a man serious and thought¬ful, and a good workman, because he was always express¬ing those feelings which, whether right or wrong, were the groundwork of his whole being.
Now, about the year 1500, this entire system was changed. Instead of the life of Christ, men had, for the most part, to paint the lives of Bacchus and Venus; and if you walk through any public gallery of pictures by the “great masters,” as they are called, you will indeed find here and there what is called a Holy Family, painted for the sake of drawing pretty children, or a pretty woman; but for the most part you will find nothing but Floras, Pomonas, Satyrs, Graces, Bacchanals, and Banditti. Now, you will not declare—you cannot believe—that Angelico painting the life of Christ, Benozzo painting the life of Abraham, Ghirlandajo paint¬ing the life of the Virgin, Giotto painting the life of St. Francis, were worse employed, or likely to produce a less healthy art, than Titian painting the loves of Venus and Adonis, than Correggio painting the naked Antiope, than Salvator painting the slaughters of the Thirty Years' War ? If you will not let me call the one kind of labour Christian, and the other Un-Christian, at least you will let me call the one moral, and the other immoral, and that is all I ask you to admit.
Now observe, hitherto I have been telling you what you may feel inclined to doubt or dispute; and I must leave you to consider the subject at your leisure. But henceforward I tell you plain facts, which admit neither of doubt nor dispute by any one who will take the pains to acquaint himself with their subject-matter. When the entire purpose of art was moral teaching, it naturally took truth for its first object, and beauty - and the pleasure resulting from beauty - only for its second. But when it lost all purpose of moral teaching, it as naturally took beauty for its first object, and truth for its second.
That is to say, in all they did, the old artists endeavoured, in one way or another, to express the real facts of the subject or event, this being their chief business: and the question they first asked themselves was always, how would this thing, or that, actually have occurred? what would this person, or that, have done under the circumstances? and then - having formed their conception - they work it out - with only a secondary regard to grace or beauty. While a modern painter invariably thinks of the grace and beauty of his work first, and unites afterwards as much truth as he can with its conventional graces.
I will give you a single strong instance to make my meaning plainer. In Orcagna's great fresco of the Triumph of Death, one of the incidents is that three kings, when out hunting, are met by a spirit, which, desiring them to follow it, leads them to a churchyard, and points out to them, in open coffins, three bodies of kings such as themselves, in the last stages of corruption. Now a modern artist, representing this, would have endeavoured dimly and faintly to suggest the appearance of the dead bodies, and would have made, or attempted to make, the countenances of the three kings variously and solemnly expressive of thought. This would be in his, or our, view, a poetical and tasteful treatment of the subject. But Orcagna dis¬dains both poetry and taste. He wants the facts only. He wishes to give the spectator the same lesson that the kings had; and therefore, instead of concealing the dead bodies, he paints them with the most fearful detail. And then, he does not consider what the three kings might most gracefully do. He considers only what they actually in all probability would have done. He paints them looking at the coffins with a startled stare, and one holding his nose.
This is an extreme instance ; but you are not to suppose it is because Orcagna had naturally a coarse or prosaic mind. Where he felt that thoughtfulness and beauty could properly be introduced - as in his circles of saints and prophets - no painter of the Middle Ages is so grand. Orcagna was so firmly and unscrupulously true, that he had the power of being so great when he chose. His arrow went straight to the mark. It was not that he did not love beauty, but he loved truth first.
So it was with all the men of that time. No painters ever had more power of conceiving graceful form, or more profound devotion to the beautiful ; but all these gifts and affections are kept sternly subordinate to their moral purpose ; and, so far as their powers and knowledge went, they either painted from nature, things as they were, or from imagination things as they must have been.
I do not mean that they reached any imitative resemblance to nature. They had neither skill to do it, nor care to do it. Their art was conventional and imperfect, but they considered it only as a language wherein to convey the knowledge of certain facts; it was perfect enough for that; and though always reaching on to greater attain¬ments, they never suffered their imperfections to disturb and check them in their immediate purposes. And this mode of treating all subjects was persisted in by the greatest men until the close of the fifteenth century.
Now so justly have the Pre - Raphaelites chosen their time and name, that the great change which clouds the career of mediaeval art was effected, not only in Raphael's time, but by Raphael's own practice, and by his practice in the very centre of his available life.
You remember, doubtless, what high ground we have for placing the beginning of human intellectual strength at about the age of twelve years. Assume, therefore, this period for the beginning of Raphael's strength. He died at thirty-seven. And in his twenty-fifth year - one half-year only past the precise centre of his available life - he was sent for to Rome, to decorate the Vatican for Pope Julius II, - and having until that time worked exclusively in the ancient and stern mediaeval manner, he, in the first chamber which he decorated in that palace, wrote upon its walls the MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSEEN of the Arts of Christianity.
And he wrote it thus: On one wall of that chamber he placed a picture of the World or Kingdom of Theology presided over by Christ. And on the side wall of that same chamber he placed the World or Kingdom of Poetry presided over by - Apollo. And from that spot, and from that hour, the intellect and the art of Italy date their degradation.
Observe however: - the significance of this fact is not in the mere use of the figure of the heathen god to indicate the domain of poetry. Such a symbolical use had been made of the figures of heathen deities in the best times of Christian art. The significance is in the fact, that being called to Rome especially to adorn the palace of the so-called head of the Church, and called as the chief repre¬sentative of the Christian artists of his time, Raphael had neither religion nor originality enough to trace the spirit of poetry and the spirit of philosophy to the inspiration of the true God, as well as that of theology; but that, on the contrary, he elevated the creations of fancy on the one wall, to the same rank as the objects of faith upon the other; that in deliberate, balanced opposition to the Rock of the Mount Zion, he reared the rock of Parnassus, and the rock of the Acropolis; that, among the masters of poetry - we find him enthroning Petrarch and Pindar, but not Isaiah nor David, and for lords over the domain of philosophy we find the masters of the school of Athens, but neither of those greater masters: Solomon and Saint Paul — those who received their wisdom from heaven itself, in the vision of Gibeon, and the lightning on the road to Damascus.
The doom of the arts of Europe went forth from that chamber, and it was brought about in great part by
the very excellencies of the man who had thus marked the commencement of decline. The perfection of execution and the beauty of feature which were attained in his works, and in those of his great contemporaries, rendered finish of execution and beauty of form the chief objects of all artists; and thenceforward execution was looked for rather than thought, and beauty rather than veracity.
And as I told you, these are the two secondary causes of the decline of art; the first being the loss of moral purpose. Pray note them clearly: - In mediaeval art, thought is the first thing, execution the second; in modern art exe¬cution is the first thing, and thought the second. And again, in mediaeval art, truth is first, beauty second; in modern art, beauty is first, truth second. The Mediaeval principles led up to Raphael, and the Modern principles lead down from him.
Now, first, let me give you a familiar illustration of the difference between Mediaeval principles and Modern principles, with respect to execution. Suppose you
have to teach two children drawing, one thoroughly clever
and active-minded, the other dull and slow; and you put
before them some chalk studies of heads —and desire them to be copied. The dull child will slowly do your bidding, blacken his paper and rub it white again, and patiently and painfully, in the course of three or four years, attain to the performance of a chalk head, not much worse than his original, but still of less value than the paper it is drawn upon.
But the clever child will not - or will only by force - consent to this discipline. He finds other means of expressing himself with his pencil somehow or another; and presently you find his paper covered with sketches of his grandfather and grandmother, and uncles, and cousins,—sketches of the room, and the house, and the cat, and the dog, and the country outside, and everything in the world he can set his eyes on; and he gets on, and even his child's work has a value in it—a truth which makes it worth keeping ; no one knows how precious, perhaps, that portrait of his grandfather may be, if any one has but the sense to keep it - till the time when the old man can be seen no more up the lawn, nor by the wood. That child is working in the Mediaeval spirit— the other in the Modern spirit.
But there is something still more striking in the evils which have resulted from the modern regardlessness of truth. Consider, for instance, its effect on what is called historical painting. What do you at present mean by historical painting? Now-a-days it means the endeavouring, by the power of imagination, to portray some historical event of past days. But in the Middle Ages, it meant representing the acts of their own days; and that is the only historical painting worth a straw. Of all the wastes of time and sense which Modernism has invented—and they are many—none are so ridiculous as this endeavour to represent past history. What do you suppose our descendants will care for our imaginations of the events of former days? Suppose the Greeks, instead of representing their own warriors as they fought at Marathon, had left us nothing but their imaginations of Egyptian battles; and suppose the Italians, in like manner, instead of portraits of Can Grande and Dante, or of Leo the Tenth and Raphael, had left us nothing but imaginary portraits of Pericles and Miltiades? What fools we should have thought them! how bitterly we should have been provoked with their folly!
But that is precisely what our descendants will feel towards us, so far as our grand historical and classical schools are concerned. What do we care, they will say, what those nineteenth-century people fancied about Greek and Roman history! If they had left us a few plain and rational sculptures and pictures of their own battles, and their own men, in their everyday dress, we should have thanked them. “Well, but,” you will say, “we have left them portraits of our great men, and paintings of our great battles.” Yes, you have indeed, and that is the only historical painting that you either have, or can have; but you don't call that historical painting. You don't thank the men who do it; you look down upon them and dissuade them from it, and tell them they don't belong to the grand schools. And yet they are the only true historical painters, and the only men who will produce any effect on their own generation, or on any other. Wilkie was a historical painter, Chantrey a historical sculptor, because they painted, or carved, the veritable things and men they saw, not men and things as they believed they might have been, or should have been. But no one tells such men they are historical painters, and they are discontented with what they do; and poor Wilkie must needs travel to see the grand school, and imitate the grand school, and ruin himself.
And you have had multitudes of other painters ruined, from the beginning, by that grand school. There was William Etty, naturally as good a painter as ever lived, but no one told him what to paint, and he studied the antique, and the grand schools, and painted nymphs in red and yellow shawls to the end of his days. Much good may they do you! He is gone to the grave, a lost mind. There was Flaxman, another naturally great man, with as true an eye for nature as Raphael, — he stumbles over the blocks of the antique statues— wanders in the dark valley of their ruins to the end of his days. He has left you a few outlines of muscular men straddling and frowning behind round shields. Much good may they do you! Another lost mind. And of those who are lost namelessly, who have not strength enough even to make themselves known, the poor pale students who lie buried for ever in the abysses of the great schools, no account can be rendered; they are numberless.
And the wonderful thing is, that of all these men whom you now have come to call the great masters, there was not one who confessedly did not paint his own present world, plainly and truly. Homer sang of what he saw; Phidias carved what he saw; Raphael painted the men of his own time in their own caps and mantles; and every man who has arisen to eminence in modern times has done so altogether by his working in their way, and doing the things he saw. How did Joshua Reynolds rise? Not by painting Greek women, but by painting the glorious little living - Ladies this, and Ladies that - of his own time. How did Hogarth rise ? Not by painting Athenian follies, but London follies. Who are the men who have made an impression upon you yourselves—upon your own age? I suppose the most popular painter of the day is Landseer. Do you suppose he studied dogs and eagles out of the Elgin Marbles? And yet in the very face of these plain, incontrovertible, all-visible facts, we go on from year to year with the base system of Academy teaching, in spite of which every one of these men has risen: I say in spite of the entire method and aim of our art-teaching. It destroys the greater number of its pupils altogether; it hinders and paralyses the greatest.
There is not a living painter whose eminence is not in spite of everything he has been taught from his youth upwards, and who, whatever his eminence may be, has not suffered much injury in the course of his victory. For observe: this love of what is called ideality or beauty in preference to truth, operates not only in making us choose the past rather than the present for our subjects, but it makes us falsify the present when we do take it for our subject. I said just now that portrait-painters were historical painters; —so they are; but not good ones, because not faithful ones. The beginning and end of modern portraiture is adulation. The painters cannot live but by flattery; we should desert them if they spoke honestly. And therefore we can have no good portraiture; for in the striving after that which is not in their model, they lose the inner and deeper nobleness which is in their model. I saw not long ago, for the first time, the portrait of a man whom I knew well—a young man, but a religious man—and one who had suffered much from sickness. The whole dignity of his features and person depended upon the expression of serene, yet solemn, purpose sustaining a feeble frame; and the painter, by way of flattering him, strengthened him, and made him athletic in body, gay in countenance, idle in gesture; and the whole power and being of the man himself were lost.
And this is still more the case with our public portraits. You have a portrait, for instance, of the Duke of Wellington at the end of the North Bridge—one of the thousand equestrian statues of Modernism—studied from the show-riders of the amphitheatre, with their horses on their hind-legs in the saw-dust. Do you suppose that was the way the Duke sat when your destinies depended on him? when the foam hung from the lips of his tired horse, and its wet limbs were dashed with the bloody slime of the battle-field, and he himself sat anxious in his quietness, grieved in his fearlessness, as he watched, scythe-stroke by scythe-stroke, the gathering in of the harvest of death? You would have done something had you thus left his image in the enduring iron, but nothing now.
But the time has at last come for all this to be put an end to; and nothing can well be more extraordinary than the way in which the men have risen who are to do it. Pupils in the same schools, receiving precisely the same instruction which for so long a time has paralysed
every one of our painters,—these boys agree in disliking to copy the antique statues set before them. They copy them as they are bid, and they copy them better than any one else; they carry off prize after prize, and yet they hate their work. - At last they are admitted to study from the life; they find the life very different from the antique, and say so. Their teachers tell them the antique is the best, and they mustn't copy the life. They agree among themselves that they like the life, and that copy it they will. They do copy it faithfully, and their masters forthwith declare them to be lost men. Their fellow students hiss them whenever they enter the room. They can't help it; they join hands and tacitly resist both the hissing and the instruction. Accidentally, a few prints of the works of Giotto, a few casts from those of Ghiberti, fall into their hands, and they see in these something they never saw before—something intensely and everlastingly true. They examine farther into the matter; they discover - for themselves the greater part of what I have laid before you this evening; they form themselves into a body, and enter upon that crusade which has hitherto been victorious. And which will be absolutely and triumphantly victorious.
The great mistake which has hitherto prevented the public mind from fully going with them must soon be corrected. That mistake was the supposition that, instead of wishing to recur to the principles of the early ages, these men wished to bring back the ignorance of the early ages. This notion, grounded first on some hardness in their earlier works, which resulted—as it must always result—from the downright and earnest effort to paint nature as in a looking-glass, was fostered partly by the jealousy of their beaten competitors, and partly by the pure, perverse, and hopeless ignorance of the whole body of art-critics - so called - connected with the press. No notion was ever more baseless or more ridiculous. It was asserted that the Pre-Raphael-ites did not draw well, in the face of the fact, that the principal member of their body - I mean my friend Mr Millais - from the time he entered the schools of the Academy, had literally encumbered himself with the medals given as prizes for drawing. It was asserted that they did not draw in perspective - by men who themselves knew no more of perspective than they did of astrology; it was asserted that they sinned against the appearances of nature, by men who had never drawn so much as a leaf or a blossom from nature in their lives.
And, lastly, when all these calumnies or absurdities would tell no more, and it began to be forced upon men's unwilling belief that the style of the Pre-Raphael-ites was true and was according to nature, the last forgery invented respecting them is, that they copy photo - graphs. You ob¬serve how completely this last piece of malice defeats all the rest. It admits they are true to nature, though only that it may deprive them of all merit in being so. But it may itself be at once refuted by the bold challenge to their opponents to produce a Pre-Raphael-ite picture, or any¬thing like one, by themselves copying a photograph.
Let me at once clear your minds from all these doubts, and at once contradict all these calumnies.
Pre-Raphael-itism has but one principle, that of absolute, uncompromising truth in all that it does, obtained by working everything, down to the most minute detail, from nature, and from nature only. Every Pre-Raphael-ite landscape background is painted to the last touch, in the open air, from the thing itself. Every Pre-Raphael-ite figure - however studied in expression - is a true portrait of some living person. Every minute accessory is painted in the same manner. And one of the chief reasons for the violent opposition with which the school has been attacked by other artists, is the enormous cost of care and labour which such a system demands from those who adopt it, in contradistinction to the present slovenly and imperfect style.
This is the main Pre-Raphael-ite principle. But the battle which its supporters have to fight is a hard one; and for that battle they have been fitted by a very peculiar character.
They are, as a body, characterised by a total absence of sensibility to the ordinary and popular forms of artistic gracefulness; while, - to all that still lower kind of prettiness, - which regu¬lates the disposition of our scenes upon the stage, and which appears in our lower art, as in our annuals, our commonplace portraits and statuary, the Pre-Raphael-ites are not only dead, but they regard it with a contempt and aversion approaching to disgust. This character is absolutely necessary to them in the present time but it, of course, occasionally renders their work comparatively un-pleasing. As the school becomes less aggressive, and more authoritative—which it will do—they will enlist into their ranks men who will work, mainly, upon their principles, and yet embrace more of those characters, which are generally attractive, and this great ground of offence will be removed.
Again: you observe that as landscape painters, their principles must, in great part, confine them to mere foreground work; and singularly enough, that they may not be tempted away from this work, they have been born with comparatively little enjoyment of those evanescent effects and distant sublimities which nothing but the memory can arrest, and nothing but a daring conventionalism portray. But for this work they are not now needed. Turner, the first and greatest of the Pre-Raphael-ites, has done it already; he, though his capacity embraced everything, and though he would sometimes, in his foregrounds, paint the spots upon a dead trout, and the dyes upon a butterfly's wing, yet for the most part delighted to begin at that very point where the other branches of Pre-Raphael-itism become powerless.
Lastly. The habit of constantly carrying everything up to the utmost point of completion deadens the Pre-Raphael-ites in general, to the merits of men who, with an equal love of truth up to a certain point, yet express themselves habitually with speed and power, rather than with finish, and give abstracts of truth rather than total truth. Probably to the end of time artists will more or less be divided into these classes, and it will be impossible to make men like Millais understand the merits of men like Tintoreto; but this is the more to be regretted because the Pre-Raphael-ites have enormous powers of imagination as well as of realisation , and do not yet themselves know of how much they would be capable, if they sometimes worked on a larger scale, and with a less laborious finish. With all their faults, their pictures are, - since Turner's death, - the best - incomarably the best - on the walls of the Royal Academy; and such works as Mr. Hunt's “Claudio and Isabella” have never been rivalled - in some respects never approached - at any other period of art.
This I believe to be a most candid statement of all their faults and all their deficiencies ; not such, you perceive, as are likely to arrest their progress. The "magna est veritas" was never more sure of accomplishment than by these men. Their adversaries have no chance with them. They will gradually unite their influence with whatever is true or powerful in the reactionary art of other countries ; and on their works such a school will be founded as shall justify the third age of the world's civilisation, and render Modernism as great in creation as it has been in discovery.
And now let me remind you but of one thing more. As you examine into the career of historical painting, you will be more and more struck with the fact I have this evening stated to you,—that none was ever truly great but that which represented the living forms and daily deeds of the people among whom it arose—that all precious historical work records, not the past, but the present. Remember, therefore, that it is not so much in buying pictures, as in being pictures, that you can encourage a noble school. The best patronage of art is not, that which seeks for the pleasures of sentiment in a vague ideality, not for beauty of form in a marble image; but that which educates your children into living heroes, and binds down the flights and the fondnesses of the heart into practical duty and faithful devotion.