AMAZING ARRAY OF MEDIOCRITY
BY a lucky accident a day or two before visiting the Academy I happened to come across in an essay of Roger Fry's what is as good a rule of thumb for art criticism as any I have seen. He writes : " They do not seek to imitate form, but to create form ; not to imitate life, but to find an equivalent for life. By that I mean that they wish to make images which by the clearness of their logical structure, and by their closely knit unity of texture, shall appeal to our disinterested and contemplative imagination with something of the same vividness as the things of actual life appeal to our practical activities. In fact, they aim not at illusion but at reality." I think that those words give us once and for all the right orientation when we are looking at pictures, just as in them is involved the right answer to the ordinary objections of the man in the street. They do not of course give the power to discern what Fry calls " logical structure " and " unity of texture," still less the power to achieve these things. But few people are wholly blind to the unity of a picture, both in the relation of the parts to the whole and in the harmony of the tones and colours, and once they get over the prejudice that a picture should be a necessarily poor imitation of nature, they can look for those qualities which make it " a thing in itself."
An Object Lesson
To visit this year's Royal Academy— or for that matter, any Royal Academy
—with these ideas in mind is to obtain a simple object lesson in the exceedingly low standard of the mass of painting, In any given year the oneman shows (whether by the better artists, most of whom do not exhibit at the Academy, or by the struggling aspirants) in the private galleries are Infinitely more interesting and educative, if only because these enable one to judge whether an artist is really trying to rise above mere skill or mere Imitation. On the Academy walls pictures of varying degrees of mediocrity follow one another, and in the daze it is almost impossible even to discern the signs of something different Nor will the academic letters after a man's name give any clue. The imposing P.P.R.A. may label some dreadful stuff, as is the ease this year, and it is almost a surprise to find even the humbler A.R.A. attached to the name of a landscape painter whose work stands out. Such a one is John Nash. Three oils and two water colours represent the re-creation in terms of the artist's mind and emotions of their casual subjectmatter, and the result is as unique as it is satisfying. Another is R. 0. Dunlop, who, though not as successful a.9 Nash, incorporates the physical quality of the pigment into his work to give added pleasure. Many visitors will be impressed by his painting of the so-often seen harbour of Dun Laoghaire.
Augustus John Relieves Monotony Augustus John relieves the monotony of the academic portraits, and few visitors should fall to be able to pick out his work at a glance without refer ence to the catalogue. But I liked R. G. Eves' portrait of Hugh Walpole better than any other, and there was something very arresting in Cathleen Mann's vividly painted picture of Mrs Tauber. Through a mis-reading of the catalogue I attributed the title Retribution to a rich painting of a full-fed gentleman in gorgeous robes by Eves, and thought that a title could make a picture. Looking more closely, I found that Retribution was the name for the picture next door of the sinking of a German ship, and the portrait was entitled Portrait in Robes. One or two "problem " pictures failed to interest me, while the war pictures seemed uniformly uninspiring, though one cannot but admire C. Cundall's technical skill in handling crowds as in "Exeter" Home and in Quebec. For sheer ability to perform the conjuring trick of turning paint into wool, fur, cloth, etc., one could not do better than Alan Beaton in Goings On. I have marked a great number of pictures In my catalogue as interesting for this or that, but I must conclude by mentioning Alfred R. Thompson's beautifully composed Yellow Walls, the picture of this year's Academy I should buy if I could, and his portrait of the Maharajah of Nabha, which I can admire but would not buy. P. Lindsey Clark has a pleasing, if rather anaemic, statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in an Academy that is almost without religious work. In the architectural section there are exhibited the scale plans of the Lady Chapel for Liverpool Cathedral by Lutyens.