Date 1866-10-01
Publication FAQR
Topic Palgrave; role & function of critic
AP display
RA display
Subject art
Keywords professional criticism
  ↳ classical standards
Standards classical vs. contemporary concepts
Notes Photography/critic: clarity
  ↳ refers to Palgrave 14 Aug 65 WBS letter.

Annotation details

66 October Fine Arts Quarterly Review


Palgrave, the role and function of critic.


Rossetti, William M. "Essays on Art." Fine Arts Quarterly Review 1. (October 1866): 302. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


Although ostensibly a review of Francis Turner Palgrave's collected criticism, Rossetti explains at the outset why it would be ineffective and pointless for him to address Palgrave's individual critical art evaluations-and in fact, he had reviewed Palgrave previously and successfully in The Germ. In a letter to William Bell-Scott dated August 14, 1865, Rossetti notes that Palgrave's "pen flourishes are not always reducible into any great amount of substantial significance" (Letters 136).

Nonetheless, Palgrave becomes the standard against which Rossetti presents art and art criticism as a comparative measure of success or failure of contemporary criticism in British aesthetics, particularly sculpture.

This allows Rossetti to examine the distinction between "professional" and "unprofessional" critics and criticism, analyzing the intellectual and practical assets of both groups, then concluding that the latter has more to contribute to art criticism. In Rossetti use, "unprofessional" might be better understood as "extra-professional" or outside of the actual production of art as an artist. He is careful to note his own intricate involvement with art-presumably his founding and ongoing role in the Pre-Raphaelite movement-as a foundation for his own authority as an "un-professional" critic.

There follows then a discussion of Ruskin as the best example of such criticism in practice and Rossetti concludes that Palgrave fulfills Ruskin's expectations of the critic, being "a very fair summary of the case, within so small a compass." The clear subtext is that Rossetti himself, operating in the informed, enlightened and perceptive "unprofessional" critical mold has authority and legitimacy as a critic and arbiter of aesthetic value. Further, just as Ruskin is said by Rossetti to have a direct influence on contemporary artists, helping them perceive the way to convey truth through their art, the unspoken parallel in the interrelationship between Rossetti as critic as well as a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement is equally plain.

Criticism is cited as a duty to be undertaken by those with the qualifications to participate as established by Rossetti and embodied in the example of Ruskin.

After a perfunctory qualitative discussion of Palgrave's critical tendencies, Rossetti offers an interesting analogy between criticism and the then-emerging medium of photography that Rossetti says recreates a subject, casting it in a new, magnificent and clearer picture, elevating the subject matter "into something almost higher than we knew them to be."


polemical, critical


shifting of interest, professional vs. unprofessional criticism, protest against extremes

Standards of Judgment:

Comparison of contemporary aesthetic valuation with classical notions of truth and beauty; professional versus non-professional ("unprofessional") critics and criticism; "to say clearly and almost


Palgrave, Mulready, Dyce, William Hunt, Herbert, Cruikshank, Holman Hunt, Hippolyte Flandrin, Thorwaldsen, Di Triqueti, Behnes, Ruskin, Holbein, Rembrandt, Vandyck, Mrs. Cameron, Colnaghi

Writing technique/tone:

logical, deliberate


"Next after well-qualified professionals, we incline to think that the most useful and effective critics are to be found among men in whom mere accuracy of critical insight is not the main quality, but rather some vividness of personal perception, or fervour of mind, or brilliancy discursiveness of illustrative power." "[Ruskin] has evinced an overwhelming superiority, in those other faculties of perception, fervor, and eloquence, constituting a vigorous original individualism, and initiating force . . . a great aristocratic magnate of the critical domain . . . and his name sonorous in those mouths which ratify praise." Palgrave: "To point out the degree in which a work fulfils this condition, and thereby assist the artist in fulfilling it, and the spectator in feeling it, is the province of criticism." "Because the art country is already, as it were, in a state of war, and one must take sides, bear one's part in the fray, and endeavour to stablish [sic] the right . . . the torn and still flying colours of victory." "The golden age might include the silence of critics: but that is the golden age, and this is the iron one." ". . . and clench the critical nail with which Mr. Palgrave has affixed his artistic owl to the barn-door."