Date 1875-01-09
Publication Academy
Topic Water-Colour Society Gallery, "Sketches/Studies"
AP display
RA display
Subject art
Keywords annual exhibition
  ↳ relative merit
  ↳ watercolor
Standards PRB aesthetic standards
  ↳ value
Notes WMR picturesque prose
  ↳ "Younger RA members stand out."

Annotation details

75 January 9 Academy


The Water-Colour Society exhibition 1875.


Rossetti, William M. "The Water-Colour Society." Academy (January 9, 1875): 140. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


This review is uncharacteristically positive from the start, stating that "One can pass a very agreeable hour or two in the gallery" among watercolors Rossetti pronounces to be "skillful, facile and attractive." There are familiar PRB movement aligned painters like Sir Edwin Landseer, Watson and Houghton among those whom Rossetti judges to be effective artists, and Rossetti specifies that "the associates and younger members of the body count for more, in general result, than the elder members." It is significant to note that the exhibition is not sanctioned or sponsored by the Royal Academy and, further, Rossetti singles out the newcomers (Gilbert, Houghton, Pinwell and Marsh) as up-and-coming artists performing at a higher level than many of the more experienced painters.

Some of Rossetti's commentary itself is unusually picturesque, such as his description of Houghton's painting inspired by Longfellow's "Evangeline" as "howling and tramping through the streets of London with fire and steel, like so many devils broken loose."

The typical Rossetti critical pattern ensues, with a minority of works described in terms of the painter's intent, inspiration, scheme, technique, execution and comparative success. After discussing each individual artist and work, Rossetti extends his discussion beyond the work at hand and into the general principles that he considers essential to good art:

"This is a work of rich, sweet colour, and (as our description may already have indicated to the reader) of much peculiarity of general treatment; that sort of peculiarity which consists in reducing a subject to its barest and least suggestive rudiments, and then educing from these a certain harmony or delicacy, a nicety of poise and reserve of significance, which raises the thing up again into the level of artistic if not intellectual conception." This passage sets up Rossetti's later comment that contrasts the more prevalent Royal Academy methodology with this more enlightened approach:

"A Noble Youngster, Study of a Head, has masterly ease and decision, and shows (like the Oriental studies of Mr. Frederick Goodall some years ago at the Royal Academy) how much superior to themselves some painters can be when, laying aside the attempt to produce works of artifice under the guise of ambitious compositions, picturesque or elevated, they go straight to nature and paint with rapid and vigorous directness what they see and know."

Landscapes and figure subjects are reserved for a second review.




watercolors, exhibition

Standards of Judgment:

PRB aesthetic standards, past work

Rhetoric and tone:



Gilbert, Houghton, Pinwell, Marsh, Watson, Walker, Smithfield