THE LAY FIGURE: THE
TYRANNY OF EXHIBITIONS.
" Since the humour of exhibiting began,"
said the Reviewer—
"We youngsters of the brush have bad dis-
comforting Easters," the Landscape Painter broke
in, adding: "thanks to the committees of execution
known as Hanging Committees."
" Call them dovetailing committees," said the
Journalist. " That phrase gives the real scope of
their function, and I confess that I have a lively
admiration for the example of patience that a good
dovetailing committee sets gratuitously, without
the least consideration for the men whose works
are dovetailed together. At a first glance, no
doubt, it seems a useless and a silly thing that a
number of well-known artists should fritter away
their time on the task of covering immense walls
with a pattern-work of miscellaneous pictures chosen
more or less at random, at haphazard. You may
think that any one might easily waste his time in
a less unprofitable way. But then the task in
question is extremely difficult, as well as absurd;
it requires as much patience and determination as
the painting of a masterpiece—that is why it appeals
to me. I've seen miles of wall-space so hung with
dovetailed pictures that a fly couldn't have edged
itself between any two of the frames without dis-
comfort to its breathing apparatus. Flies do
breathe, I suppose ? "
" You are speaking of English exhibitions," said
the Landscape Painter, smiling. " More particularly
of the Royal Academy, eh ? Outside England
you will find plenty of common sense in the
arrangement of pictures for a show. With us in
England, an exhibition wall is a thing to be
veneered—veneered with painted canvases in gold
frames. It is not accepted as a background, and
discreetly used as such, for the display of a few
"True," cried the Journalist. "And yet, my
friend, despite the multitude of superfluous pictures
hung, you artists are the first to cry out at the
alleged cruelty of the committees of selection.
Would not the well of your tears run dry if the
Royal Academy accepted fewer luxuries for its
"Oh!" said the Painter, "that depends. Some
fellows, no doubt, when their work is rejected,
make asses of themselves, scribbling to the news-
papers, and putting on most comically woebegone
airs of slighted greatness. But the great majority
of the rejected merely swear a bit because their
frames have been damaged in the Academy cellars.
And, further, the complaint we have to make
against our judges seems a quite reasonable com-
plaint. We say that every would-be exhibitor is
encouraged to send in too many things, and that
it is impossible for any body of critics to deal justly
with the immense number of works submitted."
"That's common sense," said the Reviewer.
" The greater the number of works sent in, the
greater is the number of inevitable acts of injustice
by those who have to be judges; for the eye and the
mind are soon tired by the task of dealing critically
with the discordant merits of various phases of art;
Every committee of selection, when tired, not only
refuses work that it would gladly accept at the
beginning of a day's work, but is pleased by trivial
things quite unworthy of even its jaded attention.
This is why the number of works sent in should
be limited by stern regulations. No artist should
be allowed to submit more than two pictures
" Excellent theory," said the Critic. "But you
must not forget that an exhibition of modern works
of art is, in England, a frankly commercial appeal
to the general public. Its purpose is to make
money, and not to popularise the best art of the
day. The British public, too, is not yet dissatisfied
with things as they are, for it still flocks to the
Royal Academy, and it still gives uncomplainingly
a shilling for a catalogue. I cannot believe
that, as long as the public is satisfied, the
Academy will even so much as consider the
necessity of changing the character of its Spring
" Meantime, then, let us cry out!" the Reviewer
said, with emphasis. " In matters of progress, it is
always the business of the minority to be as active
as newly-bottled champagne. The thing to be
insisted upon is this : that since pictures are the
luxuries of present-day society, no encouragement
ought to be offered to painters of commonplace
talent. What we need in a representative exhibition
of a year's work in painting is the very best
produced during the year. Now, at the present
time, this very best has a poor chance of winning
all the success due to it. Some of it, being
offensive to a tired committee of selection, is sent
to the cellars, and that which is hung, dovetailed
on wall, is too often harmed by its neighbours.
Forced to keep bad company, it loses reputation.
It seems to me that few good artists would exhibit
in England were it not for their need of finding
fresh markets for their work."
The Lay Figure.