Modern British Painters, Tate Gallery – Pt. 3

Of modern living artists, Mr. John Singer Sargent, R.A., is the one whose name is perhaps oftenest on people’s lips. He paints duchesses with a realism which does not hesitate to leave out their souls, if they do not happen to possess them. Though he exhibits in England, America is the land of his birth, and Paris the city of his art education. He was a pupil of M. Carolus Duran, and he studied Velazquez, whose influence is very marked in his pictures. He has given us here in ` Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’ (1615), a wonderful effect of light and shade. Two little girls in white frocks are lighting the lanterns for a fate in the garden. They are hanging them up amid a wealth of flowers, carnations, lilies, roses, which they are trampling down in their eagerness. There is the contrasted light of the waning day, and the yellow glow from the Japanese lanterns. Look at the light on one of the children’s hands, reflected from the candle she has just lit. It is a wonderful picture.

If you want to see a typical London flower girl you should look at Mr. J. J. Shannon’s (A.R.A.) picture (1901). She is sitting in one of the parks under the shade of a plane tree, the sunlight flittering through the leaves lights up her face. She is nursing her baby, a basket of roses is by her side. Such a girl one has often seen taking a rest ; she will soon be out in the streets again with her blossoms.

I think this typical street arab must be a relation of hers. He has been caught taking something that ` isn’t his, and now he’s cotched,’ he may go to prison he is taken before the magistrate. It is His First Offence ‘ (1567), so he will, perhaps, be let off. Lady Dorothy Stanley has given us a very clever study of the sharpness and shiftiness of a London gutter boy.

We pass from realism to idealism as we turn from this cockney urchin to ` The Two Crowns ‘ by Mr. Frank Dicksee, R.A. (1839). The painter belongs to a family of artists ; his father was a painter, his sister is one. We see here a conqueror riding forth on a magnificent charger. He is dressed in armour, on his head he wears a jewelled crown. Beautiful girls are strewing blossoms in his path-it is his hour of triumph. But as he rides along the flower-decked way, his eye is attracted by a Calvary at the road-side. He sees the pitiful figure of Christ wearing the crown of thorns, and is suddenly struck by the contrast between his own splendour and the simple dignity of the figure hanging on the cross.

I shall tell you a little about Mr. Hubert Herkomer, R.A., whilst we look at his picture of Charterhouse Chapel ‘ (1602). He was born at Landsberg in Germany, and has lived in the United States, but England has been his home since he was eight years old. and he is a naturalised English-man. His father was a German master-joiner, his mother was a musician. The boy was brought up in Southampton ; his parents denied themselves everything to give him a chance of following the career which they had marked out for him from his birth. Their devotion to him was only equalled by his to them. It is touching to read of the two towers that he built, one at his native place of Landsberg, the other at Bushey, to the memory of his mother. Mr. Herkomer’s name will always be associated with Bushey, for there he founded the famous Art School. He felt that the English artists lost more than they gained by going abroad for the whole of their teaching.

You are looking at the pensioners of Charter-house, that refuge from the cares of the world which will always be associated in our minds with Thackeray and Colonel Newcome. Some of you may have seen this peaceful retreat right in the heart of the city. You may have called on one of the inmates, and seen his small chambers decorated with memorials of his life in the big world, and with little legacies from brothers, who have echoed the ` adsum ‘ of the old Colonel. The pensioners are assembling in the chapel for the afternoon service. They wear the black gowns of their order. Herkomer has given individual character to each one of them. The well set-up grey-haired man in the foreground is a splendid type. He has borne the suffering and disappointment of life with his head erect, never doubting clouds would break.’ Some of his companions have been bruised and beaten in the struggle, some saddened, some embittered. It is an interesting study to note the faces and to see in how many different ways they have accepted their lot in life.

One of Mr. Herkomer’s most successful Bushey students, Miss Lucy Kemp-Welch, has here a spirited picture of `Colt Hunting in the New Forest’ (1649). It is a scene full of animation. The horses are alive to the tips of their tails. Miss Kemp-Welch is one of our finest animal painters of the younger school. She knows the anatomy of the horse; there is breadth and vigour in her treatment of this wild exciting scene.

We might look now at the work of two men who have been much influenced by the realism of modern French Art, Mr. George Clausen, R.A., and Mr. La Thangue, A.R.A. They both give us scenes of the cottage life of England that we might see any day in our wanderings in the country. Mr. Clausen’s `Girl at the Gate’ (1612) is an ill-clad maiden in a washed-out print frock, waiting in the lane. She has a troubled expression on her face, perhaps the one for whom she is tarrying is late, and she doubts if he will come at all. There is sincerity in the picture ; it touches us as being a faithful representation of the life of the peasantry.

If we walk together along a few lanes and come to the next cluster of cottages, we shall assuredly light on such a scene as Mr. La Thangue’s ` Man with a Scythe’ (1605). A sick child is sitting propped up on a chair in the open air. The mother bends an anxious face over her. It is a touching scene. An aged reaper passing by, shouldering his scythe, pauses for a moment and looks in. He suggests to us a thought of the other reaper who may have marked the child for his own.

Mr. La Thangue is an impressionist. He has studied art both in London and in Paris, where he worked for three years in Gérôme’s studio.

We are going over the seas and far away now into the realm of fancy in the company of Mr. Albert Goodwin, who goes for his inspiration to the old fairy tales, and to the Arabian Nights. We are in the kingdom of imagination, watching Sinbad the Sailor storing his raft (1550) and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1900). Sinbad has been wrecked and landed on a mountain, but he is a man full of resource. His boat is by no means the first which has met with disaster. The shores of the island on which he finds himself are strewn with the wealth of many a capsized vessel. Sinbad gathers together pearls, jewels, and precious stones, all of which are as plentiful as blackberries in autumn, and with his treasure sails away on his raft.

You will see that All Baba is hiding in a tree watching the famous forty thieves toiling with their stolen treasure up a steep hill. It is the land of the magic east, palm trees flourish, all is luxuriant beauty. Mr. Goodwin is a dreamer of dreams. He takes us to the land where anything may happen, and where all the hateful realities of life are left behind.

There is a quaint charm in the little girls with their scrolls chanting ` Alleluia ‘ (1590) by Mr. T. C. Gotch, who, we can see, is a lover of brilliant colour. Everyone of these little singers, not only in expression, but in clothing, is different from her fellows. One wears a loose frock such as an English child would wear, another an Eastern dress, a third might have chosen her garment in Paris. If we study each of the faces we will understand some of the character of the maidens. One is dreamy, another eager, another again has let her thoughts wander far away into the realms of the blest. They are singing in gentle chorus the words which are printed at the back of the picture. Sancti tui domine benedicent te, gloriam regni tui dicent Alleluia,’ which it will not take very much know-ledge of Latin for you to make out for yourselves.

We are in the early days when gods walked as men in ` The Lament for Icarus,’ by Mr. Herbert J. Draper (1679). Whilst you are noticing the irides-cent colour of the wings of the aspiring hero, lit up by the warm glow of the setting sun, I will tell you who he was and why he had such a sad end. He wanted to fly, so he made himself wings, and sailed on them away from Crete where he lived, right up into the sky. The great blaze of the sun attracted him, and moth-like, he came too near the flame. The burning heat melted the wax with which his wings had been attached, and he fell to earth. The mermaids came and sang his dirge ; they look at him with childish wondering eyes as in the beauty of his youth he lies dead.

I must bring this chapter to a close by telling you of the work of two artists of great possibilities, whose careers have been cut short. Mr. Robert Brough was killed in a railway accident in 1905. He is an artist who had shown in his short life promise and achievement. He bequeathed this curious picture of ` Fantaisie en Folie’ (1956) to the nation. It shows us a lady, with a face that is somehow reminiscent of Sarah Bernhardt, sitting at a table. She is holding a jewel in her hand, looking at it, and comparing it with a hideous Chinese figure which is standing on the table.

Mr. Charles Wellington Furse, A.R.A., who died in 1904, was a great loss to English art. He could claim Sir Joshua Reynolds as an ancestor. His picture here, `The Return from the Ride’ (1963), is a splendid piece of work, broadly and finely painted. A man on horseback, just returning from a canter, is met by a lady who has come out to greet him. He looks down, his Panama hat shading his eyes, at the beautiful stately woman in her soft pink dress. We must pause for a moment too, at ` Diana of the Uplands’ (2059) . Mr. Furse’s wife was the model for Diana ; she is a figure of strength and beauty. A stiff breeze is blowing, she holds on her hat with one hand, and with the other has in leash two magnificent greyhounds straining to get free.