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Browning's noblest poem-his noblest it seems to me the whole tragedy is distilled into the right words, the whole man raised up and reclothed with flesh. One point only is but lightly touched upon-missed it could not be by an eye so sharp and skilful—the effect upon his art of the poisonous solvent of love. How his life was corroded by it and his soul burnt into dead ashes, we are shown in full; but we are not shown in full what as a painter he was before, what as a painter he might have been without it. This is what I think the works of his youth and age, seen near together as at Florence, make manifest to any loving and studious eye. In those latter works, the inevitable and fatal figure of the woman recurs with little diversity or change. She has grown into his art, and made it even as herself; rich, monotonous in beauty, calm, complete, without heart or spirit. But his has not been always the “low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand" it was then. He had started on his way towards another goal than that. Nothing now is left him to live for but his faultless hand and her faultless face-still and full, suggestive of no change in the steady deep-lidded eyes and heavy lovely lips without love or pudency or pity. Here among his sketches we find it again and ever again the same, crowned and clothed only with the glory and the joy and the majesty of the flesh. When the luxurious and subtle sense which serves the woman for a soul looks forth and speaks plainest from those eyes and lips, she is sovereign and stately still; there is in her beauty nothing common or unclean. We cannot but see her for what she is; but her majestic face makes no appeal for homage or forgiveness. Above
stairs and below I saw many of Andrea's studies of figure; first, a sketch of Lucrezia seated with legs bare, perfect in shapeliness and state; in a larger drawing she is naked, and holds a child ; sitting, as I presume, for the appropriate part of the Virgin. There is another and most beautiful drawing on yellow paper, which gives her full face in all its glory of form without a fault-not heavenly, but adorable as heaven. His sketches of landscape and studies of children are lovely and many: round-limbed babies in red-chalk outline, with full-blown laughter in their mouths and eyes; such flowers of flesh and live fruits of man as only a great love and liking for new-born children could have helped him to render.
The wonderful and beautiful make of limb and feature, the lovely lines and warm curves of the little form, are so tenderly and fully made the most of and caressed as with mother's hands, that here as in his portrait you can tell at once his fondness for them. His sad and sensitive smiling face has the look of a lover of children; the quiet and queenly beauty of his wife has not. One superb boy-baby (in Sidney's phrase, a “heavenly fool with most kiss-worthy face") attempting to embrace his round fat knees with his fat round arms, and laughing with delight in the difficulty, is a more triumphant child than ever painter drew before or since. A sketch of a castle with outlying lodge is marked as “begun on the twentieth of August, 1527." Among other studies is one of a cavalry skirmish among the rounded and rising downs of a high hill-country, with a church and castle at hand. Among the figure drawings I took note of these: a portrait in profile of a man still young, illfavoured and sullen, with sinewy neck and cruel eye, with snub nose and thick thrust-out lips-a portrait it clearly is, and whose it would be worth while to know, so careful has the artist been to reproduce the native stamp of aspect; a naked youth, with arms doubled up round the neck, leaning aslant on a staff, with ruffled hair and a set face; a noble head, like Nero's, in red chalk, with hair blown loose and rough by the wind; a boy's figure on a step of some entrance, drawing the curtain of a tent, with loose ribbons at the shoulder, and with a curling plume of hair ; a slender figure, thin and graceful, the face smiling, but drawn and fixed; the fierce aquiline head of a prophet or apostle, with upper lip thinner than the under. These complete my roll, and conclude these notes. They might have been fuller and more orderly, but could never have had any value other than that of a clear and genuine impression. Transcribed at stray times from the roughest memorial jottings, they may claim to give this at least. I close as I began them with a hope that they may perhaps, in default of a better handbook, afford some chance help to a casual student of such unclassed relics of the old great schools, and with a glad affectionate memory of these and of all things in Florence.
[PREFATORY NOTE.—I reprint these loose and cursory notes almost exactly as they were first issued, with the excision of two passages which I see now no reason to reproduce. It is not that in either case I find anything to unsay; that I have any palinode to sing, any retractation to offer. But in the one instance I think it no longer worth while to prolong the recollection of what I found feeble and futile in the work of a painter who will give us no more of bad work or good; and in the other instance I should feel it somewhat more than presumptuous, I should feel it indeed thankless and indecorous, to make mention but once of one of the greatest among modern artists, and then in a tone of blame or at least of complaint rather than of praise and thanksgiving. My opinion of his pictures exhibited in 1868 remains what it was then ; but however slight may be the worth of that opinion, it would be unseemly to insist on it within the limits of these notes ; limits which preclude all possibility of touching on the many and marvellous gifts of his regal and masterful genius. A competent critic who should undertake the task of reviewing his work as a whole might permissibly note in passing the less excellent parts of it, and set down the years in which, as he might think, the master's hand had wrought more or less happily than its wont; but he would not desire to reissue by itself any detached notice of such work as he might consider unworthy of the workman at his best.]
I have been asked to note down at random my impressions of some few among this year's pictures. These I am aware will have no weight or value but that which a sincere and studious love of the art can give ; so much I claim for them, and so much only. To pass judgment or tender counsel is beyond my aim or my desire.
Returning from the Academy I find two pictures impressed on my memory more deeply and distinctly than the rest. First of these—first of all, it seems to me, for depth and nobility of feeling and meaning—is Mr. Watts's “Wife of Pygmalion.” The soft severity of perfect beauty might serve alike for woman or statue, flesh or marble ; but the eyes have opened already upon love, with a tender and grave wonder; her curving ripples of hair seem just warm from the touch and the breath of the goddess, moulded and quickened by lips and hands diviner than her sculptor's. So it seems a Greek painter must have painted women, when Greece had mortal pictures fit to match her imperishable statues. Her shapeliness and state, her sweet majesty and amorous chastity, recall the supreme Venus of Melos. In this “translation" of a Greek statue into an English