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Studio: international art — 35.1905

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The Royal Academy

The royal academy exhi-
bition, 1905. BY A. L.

It is curious how little the exhibitions of the
Royal Academy change from year to year, and
how little variety there is in either their general
character or their particular features. Everyone
who has seen a fairly long succession of shows at
Burlington House knows exactly what to expect,
and is almost able to say beforehand in which
room and on what walls the various types of pic-
tures are likely to be found. Stolid conformity
to a set pattern, careful observation of what seem
to be immutable rules and regulations, determine
apparently every detail of management. No new
note is ever struck, and no attempt to introduce
anything novel into the scheme of arrangement
can be detected. The Academy is contented to
plod on year by year in the same path, to hang
what are to all appearance the same pictures, and
to do things exactly as they were done in that
remote period when its ideas were fresh and its
principles were first formulated.

But for this aspect of uniformity the Academy
itself cannot be wholly responsible. If the exhibi-
tions were made up entirely of the works of its
members, the adherence to a pattern would not be
difficult to understand ; for naturally an institution
so conservative would take care to fill the gaps in
its ranks only with the men who were prepared to
maintain its traditions. The contributions of the
members are, however, never numerous enough to
do more than provide a kind of foundation for the
shows ; the bulk of the collection comes each year
rom outside artists, and, therefore, they must bear
the greater part of the credit—or the blame—for
creating the regular Academy atmosphere. It may
be said that, as the selecting of the material for the
exhibitions is entirely in the hands of the men by
whom the Academy is controlled, this atmosphere
is imposed despite the efforts of the outsiders,
because only those works which are suitably con-
ventional have any chance of acceptance. But
even if the controlling influence, or actually the
dictation of the Academy is admitted, the fact still
remains that there is a practically inexhaustible
supply of common-place material to draw upon.
If this supply were neither so large nor so con-
stant, there would be occasions on which the com-
mittee arranging the exhibition would have either
to leave part of the wall-space uncovered or would
have to fill it with fresh and original work. No
such occasion as this has arisen in living memory ;

the few original performances which have from
time to time appeared at Burlington House have
always seemed to have got there through some
oversight on the part of the hangers, and have
usually looked distinctly out of place.

It would seem then that, if the normal atmo-
sphere of the Academy exhibitions is so easily
maintained, it must really reflect the prevailing and
popular attitude of British art. If this is conceded,
it follows as a matter of course that British art is in
a sad condition of somnolence, and that it has
ceased to make any effort to progress or to concern
itself with new developments. The workers as a
mass must be content to go round and round in
the same narrow circle which limited the view of
their predecessors a century ago; and the few men
who have strayed from within the ring fence into
the wilderness of possibilities outside, can be
nothing but outcasts and wanderers, leading no
followers and exercising no authority. If there is
ever to come a time when the fence will be broken
down and the penned-up prisoners will scatter,
each one in the direction that suits him best,
over the wide field of art, then there will be hope
indeed of new and splendid discoveries; but, at
present, there is no prospect of any change so
desirable. The collection now to be seen at
Burlington House makes this a very evident

So, in reviewing the works gathered together this
year, certain reservations must be understood. The
exhibition is not what it ought to be, not even
what it might be if the few original artists whom
we have amongst us were properly encouraged;
but it includes a fair number of paintings and
sculpture which are not altogether discreditable
as illustrations of the prevailing conventions, and,
besides, a few brilliant departures from the general
rule of commonplace, which are doubly welcome
because they have real merit and because they
throw a new light upon the possible applications
of the artist’s practice. These noteworthy per-
formances are distributed fairly evenly through
the Academy rooms, and will provide the conscien-
tious visitor, who will take the trouble to seek
them out, with a passable amount of occupation
for his powers of appreciation and discrimination.

One of the best pictures in the exhibition is to
found in the first room : Mr. J. M. Swan’s Adrift,
two Polar bears in a rough sea, painted with all
his magnificent certainty and knowledge. There,
too, have been placed Mr. Arnesby Brown’s
delighttully sensitive Sundown, a remarkable study
of subtle atmospheric tones; Mr. J. H. F. Bacon’s

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