THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY. January 15, 1863, p.31
ON Saturday, the 10th instant, the private view of one of the most interesting collections of photographs that have hitherto been gathered together was held at the rooms of the Society of British Artists, in Suffolk Street, Pall Mall, London; and on Monday, the 12th instant, the Exhibition was opened to the public. It is notorious that now-a-days private views are more crowded than public ones; and, despite the large space and ample accommodation in the rooms at present occupied by the Photographic Society, it was not at all tunes easy to obtain a sight of the particular specimens to which one's attention was at the moment directed. The collection is indeed a large one, and of very great excellence, upwards of a thousand specimens being included, not reckoning each carte de visite as a single work; for though the numbers in the catalogue do not amount to so many, there are numerous instances in which four, six, and sometimes nine ordinary-sized specimens are defined under one number.
It has been thought by some that it would be unwise to hold an exhibition of photographs so soon after the closing of the international Exhibition, and that but few contributors would be found willing to assist. Our own opinion was so diametrically opposed to such a view that we advised the holding of an Exhibition by the Photographic Society even during the time that the International Exhibition was open; for to English photographers the display (if such it can be called) at South Kensington was absolutely worse than useless. The present gathering shows in pleasing contrast to that in the miserable cock-loft then occupied. Here one can see the works exhibited without knocking one's hat against the pictures behind, while straining the neck in throwing the head back in order to get an oblique view of a frame two or three feet above the line of sight.
At the time when the "Notes of the Month," published in our last, were written, the number of works then sent in was comparatively small, many of the intending contributors having been reprehensibly late in forwarding their pictures; but towards the close of the time at which they could be received they came pouring in. The result of this has been that besides adding materially and unreasonably to the labours of the hanging committee, a large number of specimens has been necessarily stowed away in a store-room, in addition to very many that have already been returned for want of space to display them, although the space occupied is already very large indeed.
The first thing that arrested our attention on entering the room was the fact that there were but few pictures of a large size, such as we used to find formerly; and though we admit that it detracts somewhat from the coup d'oeil of the Exhibition as a whole, yet we are convinced that in confining their efforts to the production of pictures of more moderate dimensions, photographers have acted wisely. Not only are the results more adapted for mounting in albums and storing in portfolios than the more cumbrous sizes, but the optical difficulties involved are more easily surmounted, and the operator is not distracted by the thousand-and-one petty annoyances inseparable from the manipulation of very large plates. The majority of landscape specimens in the collection now open vary from 9 7 inches to 12 x 10 inches in dimensions.
It would be utterly impossible in the time and space at our disposal to give, in the present number, more than a very cursory notice of the works exhibited; we shall therefore not attempt to do more on the present occasion than indicate some of the salient points of the scene, and postpone to a future opportunity more detailed criticism. We may, however, remark that the number of contributors, as well as of specimens, is considerable, and that the average standard of excellence is decidedly high. Another pleasing feature is the number of lady contributors---one of whom, the Viscountess Hawarden, ranks second to none, whether professional or amateur, for artistic excellence in the productions exhibited. On either side of the fireplace are some small frames containing some of the most charming figure studies--for though they are portraits, undoubtedly they are also of far wider interest than any Portraits can be--which we remember ever to have seen. Graceful pose, delicate play of light in every gradation of half-tone, fine chiaroscuro with unity of design, are amongst the many excellent qualities they possess. Were this lady a professional Portraitist, instead of a fair amateur, she would not, in our opinion, wait long without gaining both fame and fortune.
Immediately ever the fireplace, in a well-merited post of honour, is Mr. H. P. Robinson's composition, Bringing Home the May--certainly one of the most ambitious as well as one of the most successful specimens of its genus. The wooded background is in this picture receding, as it should be with plenty of atmosphere, the play of light and shade on the faces amid figures of the girls very pleasing, and the whole production one well deserving of both honour and profit. The follow-big lines from Spencer are appended to the picture by the artist, and appropriately illustrate the subject
:-- When all is ycladde
With plessaunce, the ground with grasse, woods
With greene leaves, the bushes with blosming buds.
Youngthe folks now flocken in everywhere
To gather May-buskets and smelling brere;
And home they hasten the postes to dight
And all the kirke pillours eare day light
With hawthorne buds."
A description of the picture has already appeared in these pages from the pen of our Devonshire special correspondent, and we have received from a valued contributor the following stanzas in its honour, which we may appropriately insert here:--
"TO BRINGING HOME THE MAY," AN ART-PHOTOGRAPH
BY H. P. ROBINSON.
"--Life went a maying
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy,
When we were young!"--Coleridge.
Ah! golden days, life's May-time! as we gaze,
Remembrance wakes sweet thoughts of "long ago,"
Like as forgotten music threads the maze
Of the lone heart's dark corridors below.
Dear child-gone time! yet doth thy mem'ry glow
With tenderest radiance; wreath'd with flowers,
And all thin witch'ry that will oft endow
The Past--the far away --life's morning hours!
Seen through the mists of time, with glory, never ours.
--A band of peasant-girls, at break of day,
Bathed in a golden sheen of sunrise glow.
Soft streams of light about young faces play,
Near which the sweet May-blossoms sweeter show.
The perfume-laden gale scarce stirs one tress
Of soft brown hair, shading deep violet eyes,
And forest-flowers cluster like stars; nor less,
Albeit heard not, strains of song arise
We know birds could not choose but sing 'neath bright May skies.
A simple scene: the rural poesy
England's green lanes whilom might often show,
Th' idyllic grace--the subtle harmony,
Nature doth ever on her own bestow.
Yet, if it touch one chord to mem'ry dear,
Ask not a loftier theme--Enough! for thee.
Nor idly cavil at the means, nor fear.
E'en as the youthful sapling to the tree,
So is the present fulness to the yet To Be. S. T.
Mr. Robinson also contributes some other minor specimens, amongst which we notice two pleasing ones near the door of entrance, both vignetted,--the May Queen and the May Gatherer.
On the side of the room facing the fireplace there are three large frames, each containing nine pictures, which cannot fail of arresting the attention of the most casual observer. These are by Lieut.-Col. Stuart Wortley, and consist of instantaneous pictures of considerable size, including some of the most beautiful sky and atmospheric effects, after the manner of Wilson, but on a larger scale than he usually publishes. Mr. Wilson, as a professional photographer, prudently addresses himself to an extensive clientelle; but the distinguished amateur whose productions are now. under notice, not being dependent upon the public for remuneration, can afford to disregard all considerations but those connected with the advancement of our art. This is one of the many advantages which professionals derive from admixture of the amateur element in their avocations. Amateurs act as pioneers in the way of progress, and, moreover, promote a demand for the fruit of the labours of professionals. Colonel Wortley's productions are all of very great merit. Perhaps those labelled Clouds, and Sunrise over Vesuvius ate the most extraordinary cloud subjects yet attained. Highly picturesque and effective, also, are Shrimp Catchers at Sunrise, a Wave Rolling In, and Morning after the Eruption of Vesuvius in 1861. These are some of the gems of the Exhibition.
While on the subject of the more than usually artistic productions, we must not omit noticing one near the door on the left side as you enter the large room: it is designated Footsteps of Angels, by Messrs. Bullock Brothers. An old man amid his daughter are sitting over the fire, the light from which illumines the faces of both with a Rembrandtish effect, very telling indeed, and cleverly managed.
Further on in the centre are two studies, forming a pair, entitled Mischief and Startled, by the same artists as the preceding. In the first is a young girl asleep on a sofa, while another, in walking costume, with a bouquet in her hand, is tickling the face of the sleeper with one of the delicate leaves. In the other, the troubler of repose has roused her slumbering friend, and drawn back out of the immediate range of vision of the other, who has thrown herself over in an attitude of surprise. The idea is good, but the execution is only partially successful. The girl supposed to be sleeping is evidently awake, which would be evident to an observant eye if the hand only were visible, the fingers being in a state of tension that could not consist with a body in perfect repose.
We are much pleased to find a goodly show of Mr. Francis Bedford's delightful works. There are many that we have already noticed from the collection illustrative of his Eastern tour in the suite of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and their present arrangement by no means detracts from their beauty. There are in addition many new subjects, some of which we very much admire, especially the Vale of Neath, St. Catherine's Cave, Tenby, Cheddar Cliffs, and A Devonshire Lane. We observe with satisfaction that several are marked as being the property of the City of London National Art-Union--a fact indicative of the advancing estimation in which our art is held. Any collection deficient in Mr. Bedford's works would be wanting in a feature that no other person could supply--not even Mr. Stephen Thompson, who, probably from frequently working with Mr. Bedford, is imbued with somewhat of his spirit, just as musicians who often perform together contract a similar style, or, at any rate, styles somewhat akin to each other. Mr. Stephen Thompson has recently been working in Northumberland and Cumberland, and brought away many reminiscences of the Border districts, including Dryburgh, Jedburgh, and Kelso Abbeys; Bamborough, Richmond, and Warkworth Castles; Durham Cathedral, &c., &c.--most of which appear in the present Exhibition. The name of Thompson naturally brings us to the consideration of the contributions of Mr. C. Thurston Thompson, whose style differs from that of his namesake as widely as light from darkness. This gentleman we regard as the English archpriest of reproductions, in justification of which opinion we have only to point to the magnificent display of his photographs from Turner's paintings, which will be found near the door leading into the small room containing the coloured photographs. These reproductions are truly marvellous for their perfect rendering of the spirit of the artist, and form a striking contrast to those of another exhibitor who has attempted similar subjects. That of the Téméraire being Towed to her last Moorings is, perhaps, la crême de la crême. We shall no doubt lay ourselves open to adverse criticism when we assert--what is nevertheless the fact--that we prefer some of Mr. Thurston Thompson's photographs to the original paintings. But we give a reason. In the originals the glaring colours perplex us, so that we miss the poetic feeling intended to be conveyed; but in these interpretations in monochrome we lose that confusion, and rejoice in the composition and chiaroscuro. Of this we feel quite assured, that Mr. Thompson's labours 'will tend to spread still more widely the fame of the celebrated painter.
Mr. Vernon Heath comes out in full force this year, both in the quantity and also in the quality of his productions. Though not exclusively confined to that spot, the bulk of his pictures will be found on the side of the fireplace towards the spectator's left hand. Some of the scenes exhibited we have before seen in the artist's studio: others are new. But most, if not all are charming; and we find it difficult to name one or two as pre-eminent in excellence, so generally good are they all. We shall therefore postpone detailed notice until a future opportunity. There is one slight error to which we would draw the attention of Mr. Heath, and which we are convinced so observant a gentleman needs but to have pointed out to avoid in future--we mean the introduction of the small gilt line in the mount of most of his landscapes, which mars the effect of all to which it is appended, but especially in the vignetted subjects, which, instead of melting away, as it were, into mere blank paper, are in effect circumscribed and limited by this simple line. In two contiguous frames the pictures are respectively with and without this line, and are so placed that comparison is inevitable: the appearance is very much in favour of the specimens without the line, irrespective of the subjects themselves.
While on the subject of mounts we cannot forbear noticing, also, the detrimental effect produced by two other breaches of good taste by the introduction of unnecessary distractions. One is the appendage of the words "Amateur Photographic Association," in heavy type, below a considerable number of pictures contributed by that body; the other is the impress of the Royal Arms in printing ink rather prominently on the mount above the pictures of the London Stereoscopic Company, the photographs of which firm form a compact mass in the angle corresponding to that where Mr. Thurston Thompson's productions are situated. One of the pictures is without the Royal Arms, and the contrast with the others is palpably us its favour. No doubt the words "Amateur Photographic Association" have been appended with the best motive--that of not claiming to himself any personal merit by the exhibitor, Mr. Melhuish; but it is an aesthetic error, nevertheless. There is no objection to the addition of the words; but, like the arms above noticed, they mar the pictorial appearance. The best method in these and similar instances, where it is deemed desirable to have certain words or devices affixed to the paper or card-mount, is to impress them by means of a raised embossed stamp, merely impressing the paper without the addition of ink or colour of any kind.
Mr. Dixon Piper has some excellent landscapes, but what we admire still more are some studies of weeds of various kinds.
Mr. Russell Gordon contributes several characteristic and charming English lane scenes; and Mr. Morgan, of Bristol, many of his gems of landscape-art in his familiar style.
Mr. Mudd and Mr. Spode both send some specimens, but they do not appear in full strength on the present occasion.
Mr. Annan, of Glasgow, exhibits some very fine landscape subjects, of great photographic excellence and high artistic merit. His works are but little known in London; but from this time forth he must take rank amongst our first-class artists. The dimensions of his pictures are generally larger than the majority of those in this Exhibition. Mr. White has, on the other hand, reduced the scale upon which he has been working, and, in our opinion, it has been much to the advantage of the results obtained. The pictures he exhibits are all pleasing.
Mr. Manwaring has contributed many of his beautiful portraits of flowers.
Messrs. Fothergill and Branfil show some well-executed scenes in the neighbourhood of Genoa.
Lady Joscelyne and Mrs. Verschoyle are amongst our landscape photographists of repute: and there are some very nice small-sized landscapes by Mr. Mayland, of Cambridge.
Mr. Rouch exhibits, also, some well-executed small-sized landscapes, and Mr. Monkhouse illustrates a method of "putting in skies." Mr. Hanson, of Leeds, shows a few of his productions of high merit, noticed before in these pages. Mr. Penny, of Cheltenham, illustrates the advantage of fuming the sensitised albumenised paper with ammonia, in accordance with the suggestion of Mr. Anthony, of New York.
Mr. Lucas, of the firm of Lucas Brothers, contributes two or three genre subjects, one of which possesses considerable merit, and will, no doubt, attract a full share of attention at the present crisis; it is entitled Hard Times, and illustrates the nakedness of the land in a poor workman's cottage. Mr. Brownrigg, of Dublin, has sent some photographs of a Hawthorn Grove in Phoenix Park, which are vigorous and charming productions.
We have said nothing yet about the portraits. M. Claudet is a large contributor, and we need scarcely add, to those acquainted with his skill, that most of them are graceful and artistic productions--many of them very fine. His enlargements we do not admire, especially the Gorgon's Head over the doorway; for when untouched they are so deficient in definition as to be highly unsatisfactory, and when painted we cannot regard them any longer as photographs.--Whilst alluding to enlarged specimens we may as well note others of this class.
Mr. Stuart, of Glasgow, has sent the best untouched specimens that we have yet seen from any one; and we must candidly admit that they are really good, in spite of the theoretical objection to his method of producing them, so far as some of the optical points involved are concerned. We cannot avoid the conclusion that, were he to eliminate these, his manipulation is so excellent that Isis results would then leave absolutely nothing to be desired.
A landscape enlargement by Mr. Ponting is not satisfactory.
Some enlarged portraits by Mr. Amos, of Dover, are so coloured that nothing of the originals remain. In one instance, however there are coloured and plain pictures adjoining, representing the same two ladies, and the inevitable conclusion is that if colour improves the picture, it spoils the likeness.
Mr. Mayall also comes out with coloured enlarged portraits.
Mr. Williams does not depart from his well-known excellent style, and he acts wisely. His reputation in his own particular class of portrait is unassailable.
We are rejoiced to find Mr. Hennah once more an exhibitor. Fine as his portraits used to be he has improved upon them: sense of his portraits of children are really admirable.
Mr. Jeffrey's portraits of Thomas Carlyle and Tennyson are sure to attract a large share of attention.
Mr. A. Brothers has sent several specimens of his grouped portraits of heading members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, &c.
Mr. Cooper, jun., has contributed some of his best specimens of printing on resinised paper.
We have not half exhausted our notes, which we took, by the way, with little or no aid from the catalogue, and which we have been writing from in the same desultory manner that we noted them down; but space warns us that we must bring our observations to a chose.
Of carbon prints, of various kinds of foreign contributions, and of several ingenious adaptations and modifications of our various processes, as well as of stereoscopes and apparatus of all kinds, we must postpone notice to a future occasion. We will only add, in conclusion, that visitors will find their time pass quickly away in examining the collection, and that they must be indeed hard to please if they do not find very much to gratify their taste.