Date 1861-11-01
Publication Fraser's
Topic Fairness in Royal Academy exhibitions
AP display
RA display
Subject art
Keywords RA fairness
  ↳ efficiency
  ↳ aesthetics
Standards ideals
  ↳ duty
  ↳ fairness
Notes Royal Academy shortcomings, unfairness.

Annotation details

61 November Fraser's


Fairness in Royal Academy exhibitions.


Rossetti, William M. "The London Exhibitions of 1861." Fraser's 64 (November 1861): 580-610. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


In the title, the word "Exhibitions" is key. The use of plural in reference to art exhibitions is a foundation upon which Rossetti builds an argument the stems from questions of fairness in Royal Academy exhibitions, plus the difference in value derived from such exhibitions-group and individual-for the artist, for the public and for British art as a cultural component. Rossetti's rhetorical pattern is to consider broad examples, then narrow his focus to specific details of both faults and remedies.

Rossetti first weighs the pros and cons of individual exhibitions as a viable and worthwhile adjunct to group exhibitions, which is his point of entry into the discussion of the contemporary failures of the Royal Academy and British painting in general. This discussion uses contrast to underscore the faults and flaws Rossetti perceives in the Academy-based art and artists versus true, pure and authentic art. Noteworthy is a section analyzing women artists of the nineteenth century and their progress compared to that of males of the same time period, as well as discussion of the relative merit of photography compared to conventional portraiture.

Rossetti's criticism of the Royal Academy is carefully structured. The institution per se is not at fault; rather, it is the membership of the Academy that has lost touch with the classical Greek sense of truth and beauty. This stems in part from the flawed aesthetic sense of the Academy, as well as the willingness of the body of artists to adhere to the strictures of the Academy regardless of their divergence from what Rossetti defines as the aesthetic ideal.

Where Rossetti offers criticism, he also offers remedies and as is frequently the case in his critical writing, the Pre-Raphaelite movement is suggested as a truer, more authentic and aesthetically valid approach to art in comparison with British sensibilities, public perception and the strictures of the Royal Academy. In reference to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Rossetti qualifies Pre-Raphaelitism as more specifically the 1849-51 time period, citing the evolution of the artistic sensibilities of the core group as well as the inability of imitators to create work within the oil painting genre that could rise above imitation.

There is a good deal of direct criticism of the Royal Academy and the policies of the Academy:

·"Apart from mismanagement even, the exhibition system has some attendant evils: it heaps together productions of all subjects and styles . . ." (583).

·"The root of the matter, no doubt, is in the governing body of the Institution: as long as you have bad personnel of Royal Academicians, for example, you will have also an ill-managed Academy Exhibition" (584).

·"The academicians might even maintain their present standard of unconscientiousness . . ." (585).

·Many competent artists choose to not pursue election to the Academy "because they radically disapprove of the body as at present constituted . . ." (585).

·". . . the Academy will remain a discredited and feeble body, doomed to uselessness and eventual suppression" (585).


exhibitions, signification; essence, authenticity, fairness, something rotten, humbug; inefficient trumpery

Standards of Judgment:

Comparison of contemporary principles regulating art and artists to the ideals of beauty and authentic, honest art; fairness in exhibition; flaws in the Royal Academy as a composite of sanctioned artists and their art; the duty of the public; contemporary and Royal Academy-sanctioned art versus "good art."


Sotheby; Wilkinson; Legatt; Cornhill; W.B. Scott; Desanges; Mrs. Bodichon; M. Cordier; Phillip; G.L. Brown & Company; Cross; Holman Hunt; Barker; Dowling; George Frederick Watts; Wells; Hughes; Hook; Sir Edwin Landseer; Thomas Faed; Mrs. Murray; Rosa Bonheur; Cox; Lewis; Alfred Fripp; Haag; Newton; Smallfield; F.S. Burton; Scott; Walter C. Trevelyan; Ingres; Delacroix; Sir John Everett Millais; Lewis; Hogarth; Shakespeare; Thomas Carlyle; Meinhold; Millet


definitive, deliberative

Writing technique/tone:

Comparison, judgment, appraisal, exhortation, education; careful criticism of people and institutions


"The Academy Exhibition was by no means a specially interesting one to the general public;" ". . . it still is a certain fact that [women painters] do not work out that [artistic] capacity with equal strenuousness or an equal result;" ". . . one may demand to see female studentship on nearly the same level as male studentship, and to tell the truth, it is not yet to be found there;" "William Hunt, the witching and quite inimitable transcriber and colorist, still lives and paints his very best, but he is an old man;" "an impatience of humbug," "The root of the matter, no doubt, is in the governing body of the Institution: as long as you have a bad personnel of Royal Academicians, you will have also an ill-managed Academy Exhibition;" ". . . the Academy will remain a discredited and feeble body, doomed to uselessness and eventual suppression;" ". . . good pictures-which is, in truth, the essence and acme of pictorial art;" ". . . we should beg the painter to spare us his homilies, and attend to his brush and palette;" "Historic art of the past upon stilts is a bad thing; dummies flaunting and attitudinizing in costume are bad; but not historic art itself, nor men and women in costume;" "With [Meinhold] the externals are not the essentials; they only invest the essentials;" "British painters have never fully grappled with military art;" "To us it seems pretty clear that, for everything in the way of mere transcript, photography is the thing; it is easier, more certain, more ample, and in almost every respect, as far as this object is concerned, more beautiful, and to crown all, incomparably cheaper;" "What photography cannot do is to colour and to invent;" "An enormous quantity of art pursued at a ruinous sacrifice of time and labour will find pathetic extinction, and the public will be thereby delivered from shoals of inefficient trumpery of useless essays; the true and great art will survive, the artist know and work out his inalienable function;" ". . . Mr. Phillip's pictures produced in his late tour in Spain, some dozen in number, by two dealers for £20,000, hint of something rotten, and very rotten, in the public taste;" "But cleverness which is intrinsically of the surface, and force which is intrinsically ad captandum, can only produce after their kind; and that kind is ever heartless, jaded, glaring and forced-the antipodes of great or even of fine art."