Date 1865-06-01
Publication Fraser's
Topic Royal Academy Exhibition
AP display
RA display
Subject art
Keywords professional criticism
  ↳ public awareness
  ↳ duty
Standards PRB aesthetic standards
Notes Ref: Reminiscences 1 PRB preference, RA Academy change
  ↳ hanging

Annotation details

65 June Fraser's


Royal Academy failings, WMR, PRB aesthetic principles.


Rossetti, William M. "The Royal Academy Exhibition." Fraser's 71 (June 1865): 426-445. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


The title notwithstanding, this wide-ranging essay is mostly about Rossetti's theory of art and criticism, his appraisal of the Royal Academy and its failings-particularly in exhibition-and the British public's problematic relationship with art. Early on, Rossetti reexamines the concept of "professional" versus "unprofessional" critics, citing the Royal Academy as the former, and Ruskin-and it's difficult not to perceive, himself-as the more legitimate critics for many reasons he carefully explains. This argument then extends to the "problem" of gallery position in Academy exhibitions: professional artists, particularly Academicians, are not fit determine fair gallery positioning for art.

Rossetti is careful to explain that while "professionals" (that is, practicing artists) are the most knowledgeable about the conception and execution of art, they have "better things to do" than to arbitrate either worth or hanging position for exhibition art. The "general failings of human nature-self-interest, favouritism, or spite" inhibits a body of artists from fair determination of both merit and gallery hanging position. Rossetti proposes that like what he refers to as the Parisian model, there need be no selection or exclusion in any exhibition. Rather, to avoid "the hardships of rejection" he suggests accepting all artwork and letting the artists discover for themselves whether, based on critical review and public acceptance, their art has any merit.

Rossetti discusses the hierarchy of merit between the concepts of design and execution; ideas and practice, giving examples that explain why the higher realization of artistic value is contingent upon equal measures of successful design hand in hand with execution. It is also significant to note Rossetti advocating art for its own sake ("promotion of that art, not of ideas") rather than for any moral purpose. This predates Pater's published support of the idea, although Rossetti's discussion comes after that of Gautier.

Rossetti decries the state of British portraiture, claiming "our portrait art is in the sorriest plight," not only in numbers (290 portraits among a total of 1,077 works in the year's exhibition), but also in quality.

Lastly, having exhausted all of his themes of artistic and critical value, the flaws in the Royal Academy and the role of the British public in art, Rossetti turns to specific notice of a dozen or so specific works and their artists, giving careful and favored treatment to Pre-Raphaelite artists and their governing principles. First and preferential notice in the review is given to Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painter Millias, whom Rossetti credits with raising the level of quality in the exhibition among a field performing below average. In later years, Rossetti admitted that as in this case, he often showed a deliberate preference to PRB artists, and a more critical approach to non-PRB artists: "I am afraid that some of my early articles (which I remember very imperfectly) must have been more aggressive than was warranted by my years and experience. Indeed, my object was not that of being civil to artistic big-wigs, but rather of bringing forward the just claims of younger men, some of them roundly abused, and others but little noticed." (Rossetti Reminiscences 1:57)


Critical, polemical


Professional and non-professional critic, "keep its place on the walls", "public flunkeyism;" ". . . these meteors of painting"

Standards of Judgment:

Reasonable comparison; deductive logic, classical concepts examined in light of contemporary art, the Royal Academy, the British public


Tintoret, Blake, Morland, Grant, Knight, Giorgione, Turner, Solomon, Albert, O'Conner, Leighton, Poole, Sandys, Frost, Swinburne, Moore, Carlyle, Ruskin, Poynter, Millais, Watts, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Hook, Mason, Mignot, H.W.B. Davis, Legros, Arthur Hughes, Pettie, Leslie, Hook, Boxall, Bowman, Stanfield, Goodall, Herbert, Frith, Lewis, Prinsep, Delaroche, Faed, Wynfield, Hayllar, Hodgson, Wallis, Ms. Noel Paton, Yeamees, Armstrong, Lucy


Deliberative, definitive


"Artists seldom exercise themselves in print, and, indeed, they have something better to do;" ". . . not many of the artists are quite at their best . . ;" "We have said that not many of the artists are quite at their best . . ." "Emulation is a spur equally applicable to the sluggish and the ardent . . ." "The exhibition is the accepted mart of artistic work: public patronage demands it, and the obvious course for the artist to adopt is to conform to the demand . . ." ". . . the genius or ability of the age owes it to the age to make itself felt, appreciated, and influential, as far as the conditions of the case permit;" "Assuming then that artists are the rightful judges, we think, nevertheless, that an enrolled body of artists like the Academicians, or any quorum of them, are not the likeliest men in the profession to do this business best;" ". . . the best possible selecting body for an exhibition cannot be any body of artists . . ." "Never be it supposed that mere execution can be pitted against intellect;" "We admit reluctantly that, between a good picture of a cat and a bad picture of Christ, the preference ought to be given to the cat by the selecting body for an exhibition;" "Let us have a good exhibition, let us encourage good art and artists, and let the bad find out for themselves: such would be our hard-hearted motto of our ideal exhibition-managers;" "Unfortunately, our portrait art is in the sorriest plight;"

Works Cited

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. 1. New York: AMS, 1970. Print.