Cole's Intn'l Exhibition; Quality & Bias
|Topic||Cole's Intn'l Exhibition; Quality & Bias|
|Notes||RA, poor quality foreign art, bias|
|↳||Cole controversy, letters ref.|
74 June 20 Academy
Pan of RA International Exhibition; hanging policy.
Rossetti, William M., "The International Exhibition: Pictures." Academy (June 20, 1874): 111. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.
Rossetti pans this exhibition and explains why he feels that exhibitions of this type are a bad idea for art, artists and the public. He also raises two points of opposition-wall hanging space and gallery selection unfairness-as well as a new distinction regarding the valuation of art: Rossetti thinks that an uninformed public views and ultimately buys some sub-standard artwork largely because of its foreign origin rather than its artistic or creative merit.
Rossetti had also a longstanding opposition to Cole's involvement in the promotion or production of art in Britain and in particular, in promoting foreign art. Of Cole's involvement in the School of Design in 1852, Rossetti told William Bell-Scott "Cole has really no functions to discharge, his appointment is equivalent to carte blanche to meddle, intrude, and make mischief. In short, I suppose he will turn out an omnipresent Sir Edward John Poynter-a 'native overbrooding' humbug, as well as a 'foreign interloping' mediocrity" (29).
There is a distinct thread of nationalism in Rossetti's comments that promote British painting and criticize the inclusion of foreign painting. Further, he seems to imply that an advantage is given to foreign art which may not be equal in quality to much of the British art sharing the exhibition: "It is clear also that the display of bad foreign art works in large quantities would naturally exercise a baneful effect upon the British section of the International exhibition."
Rossetti is clear in his disapproval of the exhibition, saying that although one can never say for sure if an exhibition will recur in succeeding years, he believes with certainty that to have "no exhibition will be quite as good as to have the present exhibition, or will be better."
Rossetti's criticism is more blunt and less circumspect than usual (see "Notable/Quotable" below), perhaps owning to the fact that most of the artwork reviewed is not from within the British school of painters within which Rossetti had to function as an aesthete and critic. Also, there may be an element of nationalism that allows him to risk the harsher reviews of mostly foreign artists.
Rossetti complains about the disproportionate amount of hanging space granted to foreign works, saying that they have been granted three times the space granted to native works, and that the foreign works did not have to endure the same rigorous screening process for inclusion that was required of the British works.
Rossetti concludes that this exhibition is most important for the warning about such lopsided exhibitions that include inferior foreign works at the expense of better-quality native works. Rossetti says that as a critic, "there is no satisfaction in protesting against mere incompetence; but when an International Exhibition comes to displaying works so wretched as those which form a large proportion of the present gathering, the critic is almost bound to cite a few illustrative instances We will simply ask why such performances as the following are hung at all-and hung, moreover, for the most part in very good places on the wall.
In his review of the British section, Rossetti finds nothing special to report on but does find one opportunity in discussing a British painting to endorse the importance of the subject by reference to Pre-Raphaelite Sir John Everett Millais having chosen a similar subject for an exemplary poetic artistic expression.
Standards of judgment: poetic and aesthetic expression; artistic execution, effectiveness, comparative merit.
References: Mr. Henry Cole, Mr. Burchett, Sir John Everett Millais, Mr. J.A. Fitzgerald, Mr. Alexander Lauder, M. Daubigny, Jobbe-Duval, M. Marchard, M. Baird, Feyen, Lesrel, Evariste Luminais, Nelie Jacquemart, M. Karl P. Daubigny, M. Clairin, Regnault, Charles Sonbre, Charles Hermans, Julyius De Vriendt, Baron Leys, M. Cleynhens, J.E. Van Den Bussche, Francesco Valaperta, Pietro Bouvier, Alfred Stevens, Toulmouche, Tissot, Alexander Wagner, Wilhelm Leibl, Kuppelmayr, Veit, Von Korwin-Milewski,
"We can say, however, there will be little cause for regret if the fine art section of the scheme now comes to an end; in other words, to have no exhibition will be quite as good as to have the present exhibition, or it will be better;" ". . . it was cruel to exhibit so foolish a falsity as his Interior of St. Mark's, Venice . . ." "This proves and constitutes the collapse of the scheme of International Exhibitions . . . mismanaged, they have exasperated and tired out our own artists, and have attracted from foreign regions little indeed of that sort of work which it is desirable to look at or to buy;" ". . . the selecting body acted in individual cases injudiciously or unfairly;" "The cause of art remains unserved; a game of blind man's-buff (sic) proceeds with accelerated impetus; the only person to benefit is the bad foreign painter, who finds some British bank-notes gone astray in his pocket;" "To display and buy bad pictures is a positive detriment to public taste . . ." "How comes it that the foreign element is so large and prominent?" ". . . there is no good reason why strenuous exertions should be made by a public body for importing into England large shoals of indifferent or bad foreign works . . ." "There is no satisfaction in protesting against mere incompetence; but, when an International Exhibition comes to displaying works so wretched as those which form a large proportion of the present gathering, the critic is almost bound to cite a few illustrative incidents. We will simply ask why such performances as the following are hung at all-and hung, moreover, for the most part in very good places on the walls."
Rossetti, William Michael. Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti. Ed. Roger Peattie. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1990. Print.