THE WEST AUSTRALIAN ART GALLERY.
In an article on the art gallery, which appeared in this paper some few
weeks back, to a casual reader it would seem, that the writer was unduly
severe in his criticism, and in justice to this impression it would be as
well to say that it arises from the fact that it was, in the first place,
criticised almost entirely from an artistic point of view, and, secondly,
that some of the article was curtailed, thereby robbing the criticism of a
delicacy always so necessary in matters of this kind. As an instance of
this take the two copies by Mrs. Potter, head of an old woman by
Rembrandt, and a portrait of Gevartious by Vandyck. These are certainly
not everything that could be desired technically neither should it be
expected of copies of two of the greatest masters of painting the world
has ever known ; it is no light undertaking and to do full justice to them
one needs be a great master oneself. Even then the artist’s own
individuality would prevent an absolutely faithful copy. Nevertheless such
copies are of importance when originals cannot possibly be obtained in an
art gallery, providing as they do a very good study for the arrangement of
light and shade and a very fair impression of the subject as a whole.
There is also a pecuniary consideration ; the committee have not unlimited
means at their disposal so that it necessitates buying copies, i[f] they
cannot afford originals, which is very easily understood when one
considers that the price of one of these two portraits, if it were
possible to buy them, would cost at least eight times the amount expended
on the whole gallery up to the present time ; so that so long as a
moderate price is for copies there should be no objection.
A portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A., though not a fine example, is a
piece of work which should command the attention of any lover of art. It
is gracefully composed, and the colour, if not of the highest order, is at
least healthy and pleasing. The greys in the neck are, perhaps, not quite
in keeping with the rather too pink and white colour in the face ; and
probably had the greys in the neck been less pronounced, or a little more
suggestion of grey in the face, the colour as a whole would have
harmonised better. The drawing of the head is a trifle wooden, which is
perhaps rather accentuated by the freedom (amounting almost to
sketchiness) that has been used in the brushwork of the lower portion of
the picture. Close to this picture is a small work by Herbert W. Gibbs of
this colony, entitled North Beach, which, though it has its faults, as
every picture is sure to have, makes one think how much better it would be
if the few artists there are in the colony would only follow his example
and think less of the pecuniary side of art, putting more sincerity into
their work. Picture buyers would not then be so swamped with “pot boilers”
and inferior copies of inferior pictures as they are at present. The
artists would have more scope to show their own originality, and should
the buyer have to pay a little more for his pictures he would have better
value for his money.
“A Little Fruit Girl,” by Mr. J. H. S. Mann, is a picture too suggestive
of the “pretty, pretty” type. Unfortunately it is difficult to find
anything to say in its praise, since its faults are so glaring. It is so
evident that it was painted to please the senses of those with only a
surface knowledge of art.
Mr. W. P. Frith’s “The Match Sellers” was painted with much the same view
in end, although it can boast of more artistic merit and truth, parts of
the picture being very well modelled, especially in the drapery. The light
and shade, though, is false, and the background bilious in colour ; in
fact, this biliousness seems to run through very nearly the whole picture.
It is only fair to say that it is not a good example of the artist’s work,
as compared with a great many the writer has seen.
“El Scribenillo,” a copy of a portrait by Velasquez, shows a keen
appreciation by Mr. Pitt Morison of this great master’s work. His
imitations of the brushwork is really excellent, and those who have been
fortunate enough to have seen any work by Velasquez will appreciate Mr.
Morison’s clever copy.
There is a very interesting little picture of the impressionist school by
Mr. P. Wilson, Steere, “Yacht Racing in the Solent,” and, as will be seen
by this example, their endeavour is to leave out all unnecessary detail,
relying entirely on their values and a broad expression of nature,
believing that it is impossible to see the smaller details sometimes too
evident in other schools of painting. In this particular example it is not
felt, but generally their colour is too pucy, and their technique either
patchy or altogether indistinct and unsatisfactory. For all that it is a
school that has its merits, and very high merits, too. For the students it
is dangerous to follow until he has gone through all the drudgery of his
art. The most successful impressionists are good draughtsmen.
“In the Meadows,” by Mr. Mark Fisher, is a piece of work that would held
its own in any gallery, boldly painted, strong in colour, and full of
daylight. Of course it would not please the million, but that is rather in
its favour than otherwise. It would very likely by them be condemned as
being too unfinished. It is an admirable study, if not abused.
“Lake Lugano,” by R. P. Bonington, is without doubt one of the gems of the
museum. It is a simple little subject simply treated. Its purity and
delicacy of colour are unequalled by any other picture in the museum.
These are qualities that are seldom absent in this master’s work, and the
committee are to be congratulated on the possession of such a picture.
In “The Freeholder,” by James Charles, there is a capital study of
character of a typical English countryman. It is drawn with a great deal
of feeling ; one feels, though, that it is a bit inclined to be chalky in
“A Summer Morning,” by H. H. La Thangue, is an exceedingly good example of
this artist’s work, quite masterly in its technique, without any trickery,
a straightforward sincere work from beginning to end, and with all its
breadth there is not one single part that has been scamped. Except the
Bonington, the directness of the painting is more noticeable in this than
in any other work in the gallery.
“Low Tide,” by Arnold Helcke, is nothing like so pleasing a work of art as
“A Summer Morning.” It is given to trickery, and the artist seems to have
relied more on his badger than his brushwork. It is a good subject, well
composed, and with a certain amount of feeling for daylight, which would
have been increased had the artist trusted to his brushwork more. The
badger, or softener, is useful, rather tempting, but very dangerous.
“The Great Southern Ocean,” by J. Ford Paterson, though such a large
canvas has been used, is little more than a study of rocks and sea, yet
his treatment gives an importance to the subject which it would not
otherwise possess, and its richness of colour raises it considerably above
Below this picture is an interesting subject entitled “The Leaf
Gatherers,” Burnham Beeches, a praiseworthy piece of work, though a bit
laboured, and shows a want of spontaneity, especially felt in the figures,
which suggest too plainly that they have been posed for the occasion. They
also rather wanting in drawing, a fault which makes itself felt more since
the rest of picture in that respect is accurate. “Loading hay barges,” by
Charles W. Wyllie, is a very good example from the brush of this artist.
It is under an effect he is given very much to painting. Many have been
heard to say that they have never seen such an effect. That is very
probable, for the public are not such keen observers of nature as the
artist. They disbelieve because they have not seen, and only recognise the
most commonplace truths of nature in pictures ; even these they hardly
“Down on his luck,” by Frederick McCubbin, is a subject that should please
most Australians. As a subject it tells its tale too well to need
description. It is a well drawn piece of work, and the painting is
decidedly clever in parts. The figure, though, strikes one as being far
too edgy, and perhaps a bit too clean and neat for a gentleman under such
“The end of a long day” will rank with the best pictures in the gallery.
It is a masterly piece of work, daring in its colour and vigorous in its
painting. The warm glow of the sun is wonderfully felt. The artist has
thrown aside all unnecessary detail, not a single part is laboured, and
the picture lives an impression of nature very nearly perfect.
What a different stamp of pictures is the next, by W. Peter Watson, “In
sight at last ;” flat and uninteresting without the breath of life, so
easily felt in Mr. Clausen’s work, yet, no doubt, to the general public
interesting in subject since it asks their sympathy. Probably it was
painted with that intention, and serves its purpose.
There is a very fine bit of English landscape work by J. Aumouier, R.I.,
entitled “Lancing Mill,” on the South Downs. It is interesting since it
shows no influence of any foreign school. Beautifully composed, healthy
in colour, breezy and atmospheric, one fault is an error in the drawing,
the great difference in the size of the two carts. With this exception it
is beautifully drawn.
Of the water colours, “Royal Windsor,” by Edward H. Fahey, R.I., is the
most worthy of notice. It is a drawing rather of the style of the old
water colour painters, very direct and simple, with healthy, pure colour,
due a great deal to its directness.
Of the other water colours, although they are good, one would like to see
something of more importance in this particular art. “Roses,” by Miss
Bayfield, commends itself is a thoroughly well drawn and pure bit of
colour work. It is a pleasure to find that the committee recognise by the
purchase of water colours an art which is so thoroughly English, and the
present small collection of water colours should be the foundation of a
future water colour gallery.