Mr. Tilton's Pictures

A PECULIAR interest attaches to the pictures of Mr. J. Rollin Tilton, which have recently been on exhibition in Boston, because an American artist who lives many years in Rome, as he has done, is sequestered from the prevailing influences of modern schools, and has an opportunity to work upon lines of his own, unless overpowered by the old masters. Whether this be altogether an advantage is open to question, since much of the vital force of art springs from contemporary sympathies on the part of artists. But Mr. Tilton has, at any rate, been able to put in practice quite independently certain theories as to the greater relative value of color, and has followed consistently an aim of presenting historic landscapes from the Old World in an austerely imaginative way, treating them under general aspects, and often with a rigid exclusion of the picturesqueness which it is usual to throw around such subjects. In a word, his tendency is classic rather than romantic; and yet not in the direction of form, but rather in that of large, simple, and somewhat severe impressions from the color-chords presented by a scene. The view of Rome from the Aventine, which has been much dis-

cussed, necessarily involves much architectural form and the lines of many bridges, but these things Mr. Tilton does not grapple with very successfully, and they give his picture an effect of harshness and crudity, redeemed, however, by the delicate coloring of the clear sunset sky behind St. Peter’s. The Temple of Minerva in Ægina is a work which does the artist far more justice. The brown glaze, which obscures so much of the Rome while adding a degree of tone to it, is here replaced by the soft gray of the ruined columns, which stand out finely from a surface of visionary color, yet blend with it, too. Behind are the dim blue-green sea and pale violet mountains, with fine transitions in the sky, the clouds of which on the left are irradiated by light touches of whitish-yellow. Mr. Tilton’s skies, by the way, in his oil-pieces are nearly all of so pale a blue as to appear almost gray ; a wise measure, by which a basis is secured for subtle harmonies of tints. In his Tivoli there is a delicate and dreamy combination of grays and dull greens and citrons with this faint sky above an open horizon, leading the eye into soft distances. A large picture of Granada and the Alhambra, with its sweeps of reddish orange hue and the snow-clad summits of the Sierra Nevada beyond the Alhambra walls and towers, is warmer and more decorative. So, too, the artist has seized a fine occasion for brilliant coloring in his large composition of Venetian fishing-boats off Torcello, illuminated by the setting sun, while the moon, not yet invested with full radiance, stands white and cold in the sky behind. Here, the liquid look of the sea is excellently rendered, and through a slight curve in the horizon line a consistency and balance are imparted to a subject which might otherwise appear deficient in unity. What distinguishes Mr. Tilton’s landscapes from others, perhaps more than anything else, is the way in which he places before us the actuality of the scene, without isolation or adornment. Granada is shown just as it lies nestling upon the hills, and Cairo is depicted in a wide expanse which gives us at once a vision of its exact appearance, and conveys a new sense of its situation in a great stretch of bare Egyptian landscape veiled in soft colors and shadowed by a twilight of dim antiquity.

Among the smaller pictures in oil, that of Ronda, Spain, is simply a study of the graded hues of ruddy earth and gray-green olive-trees, with little attention given to structure; and we are inclined to value most the Torre del Schiave, on the Campagna, which is distinctly drawn, and has had infused into it an impressive sense of solemnity and lonely memories. Mr. Tilton’s water-colors, of which more than a hundred were exhibited by the side of the score of oils, disclose a greater variety than these, and, it seems to us, carry a greater share of suggestiveness and of actual beauty, They certainly are executed with more technical ability than the large paintings. Perhaps never before have so many charming vistas into the loveliness of Venetian and other Italian scenes, of Egyptian, Spanish, and Swiss neighborhoods, been brought together at one

time, by one artist, in Boston. In all these, naturally, the painter’s chosen methods and instinctive preferences for particular chords produce a prevailing individuality; but at the same time the responsiveness which they reveal to varying conditions of climate and locality is remarkable. Mr. Tilton has contributed something of novel worth in his studies of Venice. What a contrast between the hard and uninspiring muddied hues of Canaletto, for instance, and the clear, intense, liquid green of the water in these studies, the rosy shadows, the softened and changeful whites, the broken tints of chrysoprase, or the warm red and carmine spots and surfaces in the buildings and boats! There is, besides, one sketch of the Doges’ Palace at early morning, refined in its harmony of pale and evanescent colors, which gives a new aspect of Venice that we have not seen attempted before except by Mr. F. D. Millet, — a spiritualized Venice, a pictorial ghost of the Adriatic capital. The Egyptian subjects, again, — the Sphinx, Karnak, Esne with its curving lines of dahabeeah-masts, Komombo, and the rest, — have a sober tone peculiar to them ; and on turning to the scenes from Italy, or the glimpses of lake and mountain in Switzerland and the Engadine, we find them equally characteristic. The sharp, snow-rifted peaks of the Pitz Languard, and of the Sierra Nevada by morning, are fine instances of truthful transcription from the mountain forms of Europe. In the latter, the pale violet mountains contrasted with white towers and pink walls in front give a delightful result, and a number of Spanish studies impress us by their rich and tawny tones of vermilion and ochre, with traces of green and purple. There is a Convent at Perugia, unfinished, which is captivating in its very incompleteness, and a Towers and Plain of Assisi (with Perugia in the distance), to which sympathy is drawn instantaneously by its poetic distance. A slight theme serves the artist equally well, — a narrow canal, a bridge, an old arched door-way, a tower, a group of boats. Around each he gathers a dainty spell, without exaggerating anything.

We have intimated that his definition of form is sometimes sacrificed to an illusive haze of color ; but it is hard to hold the two things in balance, and we may well be content with the many agreeable impressions which Mr. Tilton imparts. Undoubtedly he is open to criticism on the subject of “ texture ” and for his inadequate use of the figure,

which he presents merely as an ill-drawn spot of detail. But, after all, what we most need to look for is what an artist, in any branch, can give well ; and we think Mr. Tilton may justly claim to have brought a great deal of the poetry and many interesting facts of landscape from Italy and Greece and Spain and Egypt within the reach of the untraveled public, which other painters — preferable as their versions may be in some respects — have not presented with quite the same fullness and descriptive accuracy.