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the duty of a reviewer; nor is it the way to foster or aid the cause of art. On the contrary, its best friends are those who honestly tell the truth about it. It is therefore in no censorious spirit that we have examined the present exhibition of the Academy, but with every disposition to give ample credit wherever we conceived any credit to be due.
It afforded us sincere pleasure to learn some two years ago that out artists would soon have a building worthy of the progress made within the last twenty years in American art; and we were anxiously watchful for the appearance it would assume. But seldom have we been more signally disappointed. When the new building was first pointed out to us, we thought our friend merely meant to satirise our academicians by tributing to them that sort of taste which we might expect from one who attempted to rival Barnum's Museum, without having sufficient means to render the new structure as fantastic and tawdry as would be likely to please the class of persons who usually patronize such establishments.
We are aware that many journals have praised the building, and that they may be right and we wrong; but if the latter be the fact, then we have yet to learn what is taste and what is harmony in architecture. Those who designed the building seem to have supposed that if they made
any imitation, however distant or vague, of an edifice regarded as classic, the public would be satisfied. That after which the Academy is modelled is the Doge's palace at Venice; but the imitation is little better than a caricature in miniature. The former combines grandeur with beauty, whereas the highest praise that can be bestowed upon the latter is, that there is that sort of fantastic prettiness about it which is so much admired by children and by maiden ladies of a certain age. Nor has the architect succeeded much better in consulting the convenience of the public or the advantage of the exhibitors. In this brief sketch we can only allude to the more prominent features, but more would be superfluous even if we had time and space to spare. We dismiss the building, therefore, for the present, only reminding our readers how suggestive it is, in spite of its profusion of diamonds and gaudy colors, of the epitaph on a certain architect, which runs somewhat as follows:
“ Lie heavy on him, earth, for he
But a much more painful fact is, that the exhibition is so much like the building. În finding this we were again much disappointed, for we had hoped that all our artists would exert themselves better than they ever did before, in order to do honor to their new temple; we had also hoped that the war would have suggested subjects calculated to stimulate native genius to its highest development in the grand, the sublime, the pathetic, and the terrible. That there are noble works of art on exhibition in the Academy at present, and one or two sad and truth
ful pictures of the ravages of war, far.be it from us to deny ; nor do any admire them more. We shall take pleasure in speaking of them accordingly, but they are too few-certainly not more than a dozen pieces. However unpleasant it is to say so, the large majority of paintings at present on the walls of our Academy are below mediocrity. Quite a large proportion do not deserve a place in any respectable exhibition, but reflect discredit on those who adınitted them, because an Academy of Art, as well as an Acaderny of Literature or Science, should have a standard. If not, how is the visitor, who has received no culture in art, to distinguish the genuine from the meritricious, especially if the latter occupies a more prominent place and a more favorable position than the former
Do not three-fourths of the visitors labor under this disadvantage? If this be the case, how is the public taste to be improved? Is it not more likely in many instances to be vitiated? And here we are reminded of the notorious favoritism of our so-called National Academy; although it is not other artists, native or foreign, the managers favor, but themselves. Because they call themselves academicians, their performances, however crude, must have the place of honor; whereas works of genuine merit must take their chance in some obscure corner, or be hung up so high that it requires a step-ladder to examine them. Sometimes, indeed, a good painting gets a good place, although its author is not an academician; we are assured that in almost every instance of the kind le must be able to bring some influence to bear on one or more who are academicians. It is almost peedless to say that as long as this state of things continues the taste of the metropolis will not be much improved; nor will real merit receive the encouragement which it deserves. It is true that there are several art galleries in New York, some of which contain excellent works; but we certainly do not allude to those print-shops whose owners call them “galleries" because they sometimes have a few tolerable paintings on exhibition among a considerable variety of performances not possessed of sufficient merit for a respectable signboard. An eminent Paris house had a branch establishment in this city for some years. This attained a well-merited reputation for enconraging art, while it admitted nothing to its gallery which was not above mediocrity. But it was not sustained, and was, therefore, dissolved some five years ago. The name was assumed, however, by another party, who has retained it since, but scarcely anything else that distinguished the spirited and intelligent gentlemen alluded to. There are, however, two or three picture galleries in New York which contain no spurious pieces; but these are sufficiently known to our readers to render it needless for us to step aside from our present duty to call particular attention to them.
One merit which we must allow the new Academy is, that it is well lighted by means of skylights. After passing through the different galleries, it occurred to us, that whatever faults may be laid to the charge of those who arranged the exhibition, it cannot be said that they sought to prepossess and dazzle the public by placing the best works in the corridor, where they could be first seen and appear to the best advantage; but our appreciation of this was somewhat diminished when we found, on examination, that the somewhat incongruous collection thus favored are chiefly, if not exclusively, the productions of academicians. We have no disposition, however, to criticise them, since we could say little that would be agreeable of even the best in this department. Yet we have not overlooked Mr. Gifford's Coming Storm, nor Mr. Kensett's Ullswater, both of which we have heard much praised by amateurs. We do not regard either as an inferior work, but neither equals some former performances of its author. This is particularly true of Gifford's piece, which seems to us rather exaggerated. The dark, motionless mass, the intense red light, and the broad clouds are but roughly put together, acd produce an effect too grotesque to be natural. Did we not know that the painter is capable of a much more finished work, we should pass it by, as we have scores of other pieces.
Mr. Whittridge's Twilight on the Shawangunk Mountains, No. 205, is of a different character. In this we find sublimity, beauty, and truth; although there is too much grey in the horizon. But the loftly trees, the broken masses of rock, the group of hunters preparing for their bivouac, and the faint glimmer from their fire are so finely depicted that we very cheerfully pass over minor defects. We confess we are not equally pleased with Mr. Church's Twilight, No. 810, though in general we admire his landscapes more than those of any of his rivals. His clouds in the present instance are too much like rocks, especially the white, or rather the yellow. The impending thunderstorm on the mountains is, however, so well depicted that it redeems the work as a whole, and entitles it to a respectable rank. But in our opinion the best landscape in the present collection is that entitled “Looking down the Yo Somite Valley, California,” No. 436. Many criticise it as showy and ambitious; but in our view they are the showiness and ambition of genius, which in the artist as well as in the poet is always bold and daring. The towering cliffs are undoubtedly sublime; and the placid river with its brushwood margin, the stately trees, the green valley, the soft, luminous, tropical sky serve to render that sublimity more conspicuous, and at the same time afford an agreeable relief to the eye, after it has contemplated the beetling cliffs losing their vague outlines in the clouds.
Of “The Valley of Wyoming," No. 232, we must speak in very different terms; although we could wish that many other landscapes occupying prominent positions at the Academy were equal to it. It possesses abundant variety and extent, and is sufficiently green even for the Emerald Isle, but it is too suggestive of the rule and compass. The topography is no doubt very exact; all who have seen the valley would recognise it
on this canvas; but those who have not seen it would be reminded rather of a map than of a real valley.
Portraits always fill a large space in the Academy of Design, and perhaps more on the present occasion than ever. We cannot say, however, that we see any improvement in this department; although we have noted some three or four good specimens. Upon the whole the collection rather reminds us of that passage in one of Juvenal's satires,* in which the Aruspex Unbritius takes leave of the Eternal City, declaring that the only arts encouraged or rewarded there now were flattery and vice.
It would, indeed, seem that the fortune of some of our artists is less to-day than it was yesterday, as the satirist expresses it; for were it otherwise, some of them would hardly choose the subjects they do. It is remarkable that among the several portraits of military men in the present exhibition, there is scarcely one even of the second or third rank, or who has ever been heard of beyond the circle of his own immediate friends. In one instance, we thought we saw at a distance, from the style of features, one of our victorious generals; but a glance at our catalogue informed us that the full length portrait alluded to is that of an officer of one of our militia regiments, who thought it quite far enough to go as far as Washington to the war.
There may be something in the history of "the late Peletiah Perit”, which renders his portrait interesting, but it has but little intrinsic merit. We allude to it thus, in passing, only because we have seen much better productions from the easel of Mr. Thomas Hicks ; although we should like to know what mean those large books and manuscripts ? Was Mr. Perit an astronomer, or the president of a petroleum company?
As we have not the honor of knowing Ex-Governor E. D. Morgan, we cannot say how like or unlike him is Mr. Huntington's full, length portrait, No. 412, but if the former, his late excellency is rather greasy looking personage. His face is made to look as if soap and water were scarce commodities in his neighborhood; nor is the appearance of his coat much more suggestive of that virtue which is said to be next to godliness. No such charge as this can be made against Mr. Boyle's portrait of Governor Gamble, of Missouri. The latter is rather too well shaved ; his face looks as if it had just been washed and rubbed so hard with a coarse towel as to make it preternaturally red, although, perhaps, those deep tints were intended to harmonize with the theatrical attitude
* iii., 14.
in which his excellency stands, pointing at a sword as if it had once done brilliant service in his hand.
There are several portraits by G. P. A. Healy, each of which possesses merit in one form or other; but the best is far inferior
a work of art to his fuil length portrait of Hon. William C. Alexander, Ex-President of the Senate of New Jersey, and for some years past President of the Equitable Life Insurance Society of this city. Mr. Healy may well be proud of this portrait ; not one did he produce, even when he was court painter to Louis Philippe, that has so strong a claim to be considered his chef d'euvre as this. Mr. Alexander is dignified, thoughtful, and majestic enough to be an emperor, as all who have seen him preside in the senate of his native state can testify; and there is not one of those qualities which is not faithfully reproduced in Mr. Healy's portrait, with many others that are good and estimable.
We do not like his portrait of the Archbishop of New York so well; and yet there are few better in the whole collection. The features are well delineated; the complexion is natural; and the expression of the countenance such as becomes a learned and pious prelate; but, if the arms are not wanting in proportion, the left is undoubtedly defective in another way. Viewed at a distance, it seems to hang heavily, like a piece of wood. It is otherwise, however, with the archiepiscopal robes, which hang in graceful folds, and are marked by that half-sacerdotal, half-academic air, which, in our opinion, is most in accordance with the original design of those garments.
Mr. Stone is much less happy in his portrait of Cyrus W. Field, who, it seems, is still on the lookout for a little admiration.
In his present position he looks a little too effeminate, also somewhat more modest than he really is; nor are these. the only particulars in which he is extremely unlike the great Persian conqueror, to whom some of his admirers once compared him, though rather prematurely. This time he does not appear on the canvas as the guiding genius of the Atlantic telegraph; his attitude is more suggestive of the less romantic, but, probably, more suitable business of selling paper to the newspapers at a reduced price, with the understanding that he is to be requited for his generosity by a small sprig, now and then, from the laurel of fame, in the shape of an “appreciative notice."
There are about a score of other pieces, good, bad, and indifferent, of which we have taken notes, but we must pass them over for the present. It is worthy of remark that there are considerably fewer lady exhibitors in proportion than usual; and that the majority, even of these few, have evidently devoted a goodly portion of their time to other “subjects" than those they have painted. It is no doubt a very pleasant, laudable thing to paint babies and husbands in bright colors, but it is questionable, after all, whether it is not better and more womanly, upon the whole, to stay