THE young Society of Painters in WaterColors has every reason to be pleased with the success of its last exhibition in New York. Four good-sized rooms were well filled with water-color drawings, besides a small cabinet (the sculpture room) which was given up to charcoal and crayon drawings, with a few excellent etchings ; and the public, well pleased, came in crowds, — no less than fourteen hundred in a single day, — and, what is more, bought over fourteen thousand dollars’ worth of drawings; and, what is better, showed considerable taste and discrimination in its buying. The interest shown by the public in our home exhibition was taken advantage of by two print-sellers, whose business is principally with the works of foreign artists, each of whom made an auction-sale of water-color drawings soon after the society’s exhibition had opened, which proved the most successful venture of a year that has not been a too happy one for those who have had works of art to sell. The Snedicor collec-
tion was not a first-rate one, though it contained a few good drawings. The Knoedler collection, on the other hand, which was kept open free for a week, in Kurz’s new, well-lighted, pleasantly-situated gallery, with a well-printed catalogue,— a rare thing in New York, — was an uncommonly good one. There were some good pieces of foreign work in the society exhibition, and it was not the fault of the managers that there were not more; but of course the strength of the display was in the work of our Americans, so that the foreign drawings at Knoedler’s sale were of great use in helping us to study the product of our own school. Perhaps the specimen of Villegas (known to visitors at the Metropolitan Museum by his remarkable Slipper Merchant), in the society exhibition, was enough better than anything in the Knoedler collection to constitute, taken with a striking piece by Vibert and a strong sketch by Alfred Stevens, a tribunal to which to bring for judgment all our own crude, timid, searching, or unaffected essays. But, though the Knoedler drawings lacked somewhat in quality, they made up for this in quantity and in a general cleverness and representative character, and so produced an impression by their mass that they could hardly have made had there been fewer of them.
Looked at as a whole, it must be confessed the society exhibition seems to say that our American artists are little drawn to the ideal, and are too fond of the merely pretty. There is a prevailing weakness, not only in the conception, but in the work itself; and in the sense of color we are painfully wanting. Here and there are evidences how much the inartistic execution is due to lack of examples and to lack of study. Winslow Homer is a good American, we suppose, yet his work, so far as it goes, is strong and racy, and satisfies; and there are others of whom much the same may he said: Miss M. R. Oakey, with her charcoal drawings ; Mr. Julian Scott, in his New England Turkey-Shoot; Mr. Francis Lathrop, though he has only one small Sketch for a Portrait to show us what he can do, but that is very lovely in color; Mr. Henry Farrer, who is much improved this year, but who would be greatly helped by cutting loose from New York and working for a year or two in Italy, or about Paris. This is not advice for everybody, but Mr. Farrer has a mind and eyes of his own, and would, we are sure, not be blown about by every wind of doctrine, but would strengthen and develop himself, not change himself for a weak imitation of somebody else. Add Miss M. I. McDonald to this list (she well deserves the honor, if only for her Wild Iloses), and we have named all we cun remember whose art seems to be a working out of their own perception in their own way, and who are thinking much more of the enjoyment they have in the doing, than caring for the effect when done. Miss M. R. Oakey has here some work which we cannot call original, but which is of a quality that leads us to hope the artist will one day work out her own vein. We find it, however, no easy matter to reconcile ourselves to the gospel of this school, which makes “ effect ” its shibboleth, and whistles “ drawing” down the wind. We cannot find it in the bond that any artist of name has ever made with nature, that he should willfully neglect a part of her law, and fulfill what suited him; for, though Titian and Tintoret and Veronese did not always draw correctly, we know that they were supremely able to draw well. But there is a brood of young artists growing into notice who are some day to blot paper or smear canvas with color or tone or light and shade that shall be agreeable enough, but who do not now promise ever to be able to draw a foot or a hand, or any animate thing. We admit we would rather have the effect without the drawing, than the drawing without the effect; in other words, we would rather be French than German, but we wish the two foes might somehow be reconciled on American soil. Now that we have called the names severally, man by man, of those artists who seem to us to have the future of the new society in their hands, we must say a word, in parting, of Mrs. Stillman, whose beautiful drawings, though they must have compelled many to look upon them and ponder them well, seem somehow to have been caviare to the general, and at the close of the exhibition remained unsold. The simple fact is, that for beauty of color, excellence of drawing, and fullness of expression, these pictures easily surpassed all else in the exhibition, and were a perpetual rest and refreshment both to the eye and to the mind when wearied by overmuch commonplace, or irritated by weakness setting itself the tasks of might. No doubt the remoteness of subject in the two drawings of the Arthurian story made them alien to most buyers; and perhaps a certain archaic quaintness in the Flowers, contrasting with the brilliant realism, and beautiful realism, too, of Mr. George Lambdin’s work, could not take the eye enough ; but we must wonder how all hearts could so with one consent refuse to delight in the In a Balcony, which seems to us a very rare piece of painting, one well worthy of the heroic time. Yet it was almost as little recognized when it was exhibited in Boston, and only a chance letter in the New York Tribune so much as hinted at its uncommonness. But we must not think it too strange that so fair a piece should want admirers. It is impossible but that in time such excellence should make its way, and educate us up to its own high mark. Some who saw it, nay many, let us hope, recognized its beauty, and loyally answered those soft, compelling eyes. We are sure that to many persons who love art and are grateful for her gifts, the eighth exhibition of our society will be remembered as the year when Mrs. Stillman’s name first appeared in the catalogue.