MR. HAMERTON’s Portfolio1 is easily chief among English art periodicals, and has the advantage of being written by men who not only are familiar with the literature of art and the works of artists, but are artists by profession, and so know the feelings, aims, and technicalities of artists. The editor is probably better acquainted with Continental artists and their work than most of his insular fellows, and his art theories and criticisms are proportionately more catholic and more valuable. He is an agreeable writer, a clear thinker, who does not fly over his readers’ heads, and, if he seldom rises into the region of the highest feeling, is likely to have the more influence with the average educated Englishman, who abhors the transcendental. He has, moreover, the collaboration of men of acquirement and culture both literary and technical, as, for example, Messrs. W. B. Scott and F. W. Burton. Hence The Portfolio, instead of being a magazine of current gossip about artists and their doings, is a work of permanent value, apart from its excellent illustrations, as a collection of able essays, critical, historical, technical, and personal, very free from narrowness and professional or national prejudice.
The editor continues and concludes in this volume the series of papers entitled The Sylvan Year, begun in 1873, — meditative papers, pleasantly descriptive of landscape scenery in various aspects, illustrated by abundance of quotations from poets old and new, Latin, French, Italian, and English, from Virgil to Rossetti, and by a number of small etchings, some by the writer and some by French artists, more or less apposite and more or less interesting. There is also a number of articles, erudite and chatty, on some important pictures in the National Gallery, by Mr. Wornum, the keeper of the gallery, chiefly interesting for the admirable etchings that accompany them ; and a suggestive series of papers by Mr. Basil Champney, on Winchelsea, Rye, and Romney Marsh. These last have since been published in a very attractive volume. They are full of close observation, with a pleasant savor of refinement and poetry.
The volume for 1874 contains some interesting articles about etching, of which The Portfolio is a representative among Englishmen, being the only English periodical illustrated by it. One is in answer to a letter in The Architect, by Mr. Buskin, in which with characteristic energy he argues against what he considers the idle effort to give chiaroscuro in etching. Mr. Ruskin had already in his Oxford Lectures (those published under the title of Ariadne Florentina) taken the wider ground that chiaroscuro should be banished from all engraving except mezzotint, and that local color should be preferred to it. Mr. Hamerton — who has always argued that the line is the characteristic element in etching, and should therefore be frankly shown and made the most of—nevertheless upholds stoutly both the practicability, in thoroughly skillful hands, and the value of etched chiaroscuro; and the general superiority of the French etchers, who cherish it, to the English, who neglect it, is a strong point in its favor. Without venturing into the controversy we may say that if chiaroscuro is difficult in etching, the rendering of color is impossible, and can only be suggested by the baldest conventionalizing, which to most artists’ eyes, we think, is pretty unsatisfactory, though it he the frankest confession of incapability. The shades and tints of mezzotint, it may be added, are naturally of a very insipid kind, and tolerable only when emphasized and enforced by etching, as in the Liber Studiorum, or by the burin.
We do not see how any engraver working on Mr. Ruskin’s theory could have given a Satisfactory rendering of Turner’s pictures, except by mezzotint. This process, however, was hardly used for any of his works after the Liber Studiorum, in which there were special reasons for this treatment. There are in the volume before us very interesting etchings of Turner’s pictures by French artists. The Burial of Wilkie, for example, is a picture which, as we remember it, it would be absurd to engrave at all except for its chiaroscuro, for so neutral is its color and so vague its drawing that there is little else in it, and the etching of it, by M. Brunet-Debaines, is just the most successful of the Turners in this volume, and with the necessary limitations of engraving seems to us an admirable rendering of the wild and poetic brilliancy of the picture. We doubt if any of the present generation of Englishmen, with their preference for the line, would have expressed it so well. The French device of leaving a film of ink on the plate, to underlie the darks, gives an effect analogous to that of the line and mezzotint in which the Liber Studiorum is executed; but to our thinking it renders even better the most brilliant passages of Turner’s light and shade, though not the most delicate ones. M. Gaucherel’s etching of the Sun of Venice well suggests the glow of sunlight and the liquid ripple of water in the original. M. Rajon is less successful with the Fighting Téméraire (an uninviting subject, perhaps, to a patriotic Frenchman). This picture without its wonderful color is at best a wraith, but the etching is feeble, and gives a poor suggestion of the rich chiaroscuro of the original, being far inferior in this to the English engraving of it.
The most remarkable of the etchings is Jacquemart’s, after Sir Antonio Moro’s portrait of Elizabeth of Valois. It is a wonderful combination of precise drawing and clearness in detail with decision and vigor of general effect. To those who know the difficulties of stopping-out and biting-in minute portions of a plate, its brilliant intricacy of light and shade is no less than marvelous. For quiet mastery of the needle and perfect freedom of handling there is nothing better than the superb etching by Waltner after Rembrandt’s portrait of himself at thirty, in the National Gallery, which is the frontispiece of the volume. A remarkably vigorous etching, full of rough character and spirit, is that from the Banquet of the Civic Guard of Franz Hals, by Professor Unger; and a Russian amateur, Massaloff, has rendered one of Rembrandt’s portraits with much power, though with less freedom. Lalanne is represented by a bit of landscape from a fragment of a larger plate, which shows well his characteristic brilliancy, firmness, and grace. This is one of the illustrations of a new and cheaper edition of Etchers and Etching which we are glad to see announced in The Portfolio, and in which, we infer, the illustrations are to be changed. There are many other excellent prints scattered through the volume. Mr. Hamerton contributes several plates of not much pretension ; it must be confessed that he is less interesting as an etcher than as a writer.
The illustrations of Mr. Champney’s papers are worth noticing as good examples of Mr. Alfred Dawson’s process of typographic etching, a process in which the surface of the plate is attacked by the acid, leaving the lines in relief, so that they maybe printed with letter-press, and which seems to give very satisfactory impressions from plates, in clear and decisive lines such as Mr. Ruskin would approve, but has not here lent itself kindly to tints.
It is the glory of The Portfolio that it is in a way cosmopolitan, free from the prejudices of nations and schools. The papers, in this volume are all by Englishmen, but the plates are from the hands of English, French, German, and Russian artists, half the whole number being French.
— In this country, not having the education of example, we find ourselves obliged to resort largely, for the cultivation of a pure popular taste in art and architecture, to hand-books. The increasing industry of publishers and compilers in producing works of this scope attests the strong demand which the public is just now making for this cultivation ; works on painting multiply to an almost bewildering extent; and at last we receive that which should perhaps have come first — an elementary treatise on architecture “ for general students.”2 Having pledged ourselves to the arts, we are manifesting a disposition to “ put them through ” somewhat as if they were matter of belated legislation, to be disposed of by a given date; so that there is danger of flimsiness in the means employed for calling into being a national taste. This, however, Mrs. Horton seems in the main to have avoided. Her book is unpretentious and evidently sincere. The reader, at the same time that the beginnings of the art are not slighted, will not find himself wearied at the start by that too detailed attention to antiquities which compilers feeling the dignity of history hanging over them are apt to bestow. Less than one half the book carries us through Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman architecture, and without disaster of inaccuracy. Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance follow ; and a little discussion of recent architecture in England, France, Germany, and America forms the conclusion.
We are not sure that the authoress has quite solved the extremely difficult problem of adapting her subject to “ general students.” In all books of this sort a difficulty arises in presenting the broad principles, the æsthetics of the matter in hand, in company with the mass of technical detail which even lay readers must learn to command to some extent. Definitions are apt to smother the ardent feeling of beauty which it should be a primary care to kindle in all art-students. Mrs. Horton might easily have omitted some that she gives in the beginning, for they are found in the glossary. On the other hand, the glossary should be made complete; we notice the omission of certain words, as “ counterport ” and “ cavetto,” described in the text, while others, also described, are included in the glossary. And it is misleading to find on page 56 the statement that “ in all the orders the shafts diminish in diameter from the base upwards about one sixth of their diameter,” while on page 73 it is said, without any warning, that Penrose found that “the external lines of the columns were curved, forming a parabolic entasis.” Now “ parabolic entasis ” is not explained, except by a definition in the glossary which is not at all sufficient for a general student. In this connection, we must observe that Mr. Penrose was not sent out by the British government, as here stated, but by the Dilettanti Society — a significant fact, as showing that government patronage is not essential to undertakings of this sort. It is to a society of gentlemen, of enthusiasts for the advancement of artistic knowledge, that we owe the most valuable and suggestive discoveries contributed to modern investigation of Greek architectural science. Before closing the list of corrections, we may point out that this manual would gain greatly by the addition of more elaborate and systematic illustrations than now accompany it; we think that no introductory work to this study can reach its full efficacy until provided with profile outlines (perhaps, for greater effect, to be slightly exaggerated) of the different orders, and accurate front views of buildings embodying the same. The chapters on American architecture are very well considered ; the criticisms of the Capitol at Washington, certain railroad depots in New York and Boston, and the Harvard Memorial Hall are just and temperate ; and on the whole, the book can hardly fail to exercise a good influence.
- The Portfolio, an Artistic Periodical. Edited by PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTON. With numerous illustrations. London : Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, Fleet Street. New York : J. W. Bouton, 706 Broadway. 1874.↩
- Architecture, for General Students. By CAROLINE W. HORTON . With Descriptive Illustrations. New York : Published by Hurd and Houghton ; The Riverside Press. 1874.↩