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We have no idea who the author of "Paul Ferroll" is. The title-page says: "By the author of IX. Poems, by V." We should like to see those nine poems: they should be fine ones. A second rumor makes her an English lady. If this be true, Miss Bronte will leave a successor not altogether unworthy of her. Since "Jane Eyre" there has been no such novel as "Paul Ferroll."
Modern Painters. By John Ruskin, M.A. New-York: Wiley & Halstead.
ONE fine morning, about ten years ago, the world of Art awoke to find itself invaded by a ruthless young critic. He called his book "Modern Painters," and called himself an Oxford Graduate. He was a sad image-breaker, this Oxford Graduate, for he began his career by pulling down an indefinite number of painters, old and new. He had no reverence for Claude, the great, the glorious Claude, the marvellous painter of sunsets. He did not think much of many pictures by Raphael, neither did Angelo bring him to his unbelieving knees. He was not altogether wrong about the old masters, for some of them are old humbugs. He had his hobby, however, his weakness. It was a certain Turner, of whom the English public had heard. They considered him a good painter, but not the great artist that Ruskin thinks him to have been. Time will show which of the two are right.
"Modern Painters" attracted a great deal of attention. It was heartily praised by the thinking few: it was as heartily damned by the unthinking or wrong-thinking many. The modern painters themselves sneered at it, and with good reason. If the ultra doctrines broached in it were admitted to be true, farewell to the fame and the sale of Brown's Landscapes, and Green's Portraits.
"Farewell, a long farewell to all their greatness."
Their occupation was gone.
"This man knows nothing of painting," said they: perhaps they believed it, perhaps not. The Oxford Graduate could scarcely have expected that the artists would have agreed with him; so he said nothing, but held on his way calmly and persistently, turning neither to the right nor the left, but manfully and earnestly performing his work.
There is no subject in the world which has been so often and so largely written about, and at the same time so little understood, as Art-criticism. Every man feels himself qualified to be an Art-critic: not one man in a thousand is or can be such. The art-instinct of the world is seldom wrong: its judgment often is. The very best pictures and statues are sure to impress us; but mediocrity impresses us also. We have no reason for the faith that is in us. It is a blind, dumb instinct, like natural religion. Before we can unhesitatingly follow its promptings we need years of careful culture.
It is only within the last fifty or sixty years that the world has had any thing like a genuine Art-criticism. The best of the old painters and sculptors were fine critics-in their works, tho simplicity and freshness of the ages in which they lived, leading them directly to the beautiful and the true. But they were deficient in verbal criticism, in the abstract philosophy of Art.
"They painted better than they knew."
Nor only the artists, but the critics of that day, and the great body of them since, down to Winckleman, and Goethe, were in a delightful state of ignorance of Art. They were posted in technical terms; could talk by the hour of chiaroscuro, fore-shortening, effect, handling, and such like mysteries of the brush and chisel; but the inner life of the picture or statue under consideration-how far it realized, or fell short of the eternal requirements of Art-this was Greek to them. Sir Joshua Reynolds, for instance, was a fine painter, in his line, but he knew next to nothing of abstract Art. Ruskin opens his third volume with a dissertation on one of Sir Joshua's papers in "The Idler," and subjects the good knight to a sharp cross-examination, out of which he comes seriously damaged.
The myriad-minded Goethe inaugurated a new era. Scattered through his works are many valuable papers, some few of which have been translated into English, and published in this country. Our artists, we fancy, know the book by reputation it would be better for them if they knew it by heart, and better for their pictures if they were painted after its precepts and principles. Given the requisite genius, no artist could go wrong, if he would but follow the teachings of Goethe and Ruskin.
"Modern Painters" is the most important Art-book of the century. It has revolutionized the tastes of thousands: it will revolutionize the whole artistic world. Ruskin's chief idol, in the first two volumes, was Turner. He praised him on all occasions, often, we think, injudiciously. In the third he qualifies his opinion somewhat. Turner's sea is allowed to have been bad in many instances, because Turner too closely studied Vandervelde, who was in great repute as a marine painter. Also, Claude injured Turner-poor Claude! Still, Ruskin is not without a show of fairness towards his adversary, for he allows Claude great merit as a sunset painter: his effects of light are truly magical. These are by no means the only changes that have come over Ruskin's dream. The ten years that have elapsed since the publication of his first volume, have ripened and sobered his then somewhat crude and fiery notions. They have not touched his style, however: he is as eloquent as ever. Whole pages of the "Modern Painters," especially of the volume before us, are models of splendid English prose, magnificent in diction, and admirable in thought.
Ruskin draws well for an amateur.
The illustrations to the third volume would
be creditable to an older hand. Facing page 125 is a delicate drawing of leaves and flowers. It is wonderfully graceful and ærial, so clearly defined, and yet so impalpable. It seems as if it would float away while you look at it. It is the soul of a tuft of foliage.
"The Lombard Appenines," and "St. George of Sea-weed," (a convent near Venice,) are perfect of their kind, sombrous and strong. Ruskin occasionally sends over drawings to the National Academy of Design; but he has sent nothing as good as the illustrations to his third volume.
When the fourth volume of "Modern Painters" is issued, (we believe it is now out in London,) we shall, probably, have something more to say about Ruskin : till then we defer any further notice of this third volume. In the mean time let the true lovers of Art read it.'