Old Friends, Epistolary Parody

Author: Andrew Lang

Letter: From S. Gandish, Esq., to the "Newcome Independent"


It appears that Mr. Gandish, at a great age—though he was not older than several industrious Academicans—withdrew from the active exercise of his art and employed his learning and experience as Art Critic of the "Newcome Independent." The following critique appears to show traces of declining mental vigour in the veteran Gandish.

Our great gallery has once more opened her doors, if not to the public, nor even to the fashionable elite, at least to the critics. They are a motley throng who lounge on Press Days in the sumptuous halls; ladies, small boys, clergymen are there, and among them but few, perhaps, who have received the training in High Art of your correspondent, and have had their eye, through a lifetime more than commonly prolonged, on the glorious Antique. And what shall we say of the present Academy? In some ways, things have improved a little since my "Boadishia" came back on my hands (1839) at a time when High Art and the Antique would not do in this country: they would not do. As far as the new exhibition shows, they do better now than when the century was younger and "Portrait of the Artist, by S. Gandish"—at thirty-three years of age—was offered in vain to the jealously Papist clique who then controlled the Uffizi. Foreigners are more affable now; they have taken Mr. Poynter’s of himself.

To return to the Antique, what the President’s "Captive Andromache" must have cost in models alone is difficult to reckon. When times were cheaper, fifty years since, my ancient Britons in "Boadishia" stood me in thirty pounds: the central figures, however, were members of my own family. To give every one his due, "Andromache" is high art—yes, it is high—and the Antique has not been overlooked. About the back-view of the young party at the fountain Mr. Horsley may have something to say. For my part, there seems a want of muscle in vigorous action: where are the BICEPS, where are the thews of Michael Angelo? The President is a touch too quiet for a taste framed in the best schools. As to his colour, where is that nutty brown tone of the flesh? But the designs on the Greek vase are carefully rendered; though I have heard it remarked by a classical scholar that these kind of vases were not in use about Homer’s time. Still, the intention is good, though the costumes are not what WE should have called Ancient Roman when the President was a boy—ay, or earlier.

Then, Mr. Alma-Tadema, he has not turned HIS back on the glorious Antique. "The Roses of Heliogabalus" are not explained in the catalogue. As far as I understand, there has been an earthquake at a banquet of this unprincipled monarch. The King himself, and his friends, are safe enough at a kind of high table; though which IS Heliogabalus (he being a consumptive-looking character in his coins in the Classical Dictionary) your critic has not made out. The earth having opened down below, the heads of some women, and of a man with a beard and his hair done up like a girl, are tossing about in a quantity of rose-leaves, which had doubtless been strown on the floor, as Martial tells us was the custom, dum regnat rosa. So I overheard a very erudite critic remarking. The composition of the piece would be thus accounted for; but I cannot pretend that Mr. Tadema reminds one of either Poussin or Annibale Carracci. However, rumour whispers that a high price has been paid for this curious performance. To my thinking the friends of Heliogabalus are a little flat and leathery in the handling of the flesh. The silver work, and the marble, will please admirers of this eccentric artist; but I can hardly call the whole effect "High." But Mr. Armitage’s "Siren" will console people who remember the old school. This beautiful girl (somewhat careless in her attitude, though she has been sensible enough NOT to sit down on the damp rock without putting her drapery beneath her) would have been a true gem in one of the old Books of Beauty, such as the Honourable Percy Popjoy and my old friend, Miss Bunnion, used to contribute to in the palmy days of the English school. Mr. Armitage’s "Juno," standing in mid-air, with the moon in the neighbourhood, is also an example to youth, and very unlike the way such things are generally done now. Mr. Burne-Jones (who does not exhibit) never did anything like this. Poor Haydon, with whom I have smoked many a pipe, would have acknowledged that Mr. Goodall’s "David’s Promise to Bathsheba" and "By the Sea of Galilee" prove that his aspirations are nearly fulfilled. These are extremely large pictures, yet well hung. The figure of Abishag is a little too much in the French taste for an old-fashioned painter. Ars longa, nuda veritas! I hope (and so will the Liberal readers of the "Newcome Independent") that it is by an accident the catalogue reads—"The Traitor." "Earl Spencer, K.G." "The Moonlighters." (Nos. 220, 221, 225.) Some Tory WAG among the Hanging Committee may have taken this juxtaposition for wit: our readers will adopt a different view.

There is a fine dog in Mr. Briton Riviere’s "Requiescat," but how did the relations of the dead knight in plate armour acquire the embroidery, at least three centuries later, on which he is laid to his last repose? This destroys the illusion, but does not diminish the pathos in the attitude of the faithful hound. Mr. Long’s large picture appears to exhibit an Oriental girl being tried by a jury of matrons—at least, not having my Diodorus Scriblerus by me, I can arrive at no other conclusion. From the number of models engaged, this picture must have been designed quite regardless of expense. It is a study of the Antique, but I doubt if Smee would have called it High Art.

Speaking of Smee reminds me of portraits. I miss "Portrait of a Lady," "Portrait of a Gentleman;" the names of the sitters are now always given—a concession to the notoriety-hunting proclivities of the present period. Few portraits are more in the style of the palmy days of our school (just after Lawrence) than a study of a lady by Mr. Goodall (687). On the other hand, young Mr. Richmond goes back to the antiquated manner of Reynolds in one of his representations. I must admit that I hear this work much admired by many; to me it seems old-fashioned and lacking in blandness and affability. Mr Waterhouse has a study of a subject from a poem that Mr. Pendennis, the novelist (whom I knew well), was very fond of when he first came on the town: "The Lady of Shalott." It represents a very delicate invalid, in a boat, under a counterpane. I remember the poem ran (it was by young Mr. Tennyson):-

They crossed themselves, their stars they blest, Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest. There lay a parchment on her breast That puzzled more than all the rest The well-fed wits of Camelot: "The web was woven curiously, The charm is broken utterly; Draw near and fear not, this is I The Lady of Shalott."

I admit that the wonder and dismay of the "well-fed wits," if the Lady was like Mr. Waterhouse’s picture of her, do not surprise me. But I confess I do not understand modern poetry, nor, perhaps, modern painting. Where is historical Art? Where is Alfred and the Cake—a subject which, as is well known, I discovered in my researches in history. Where is "Udolpho in the Tower"? or the "Duke of Rothsay the Fourth Day after He was Deprived of his Victuals"? or "King John Signing Magna Charta"? They are gone with the red curtain, the brown tree, the storm in the background. Art is revolutionary, like everything else in these times, when Treason itself, in the form of a hoary apostate and reviewer of contemporary fiction, glares from the walls, and is painted by Royal—mark ROYAL!—Academicians! . . .


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Chicago: Andrew Lang, "Letter: From S. Gandish, Esq., to the Newcome Independent," Old Friends, Epistolary Parody, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Old Friends, Epistolary Parody Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GCUQ6RSFSLMHA9D.

MLA: Lang, Andrew. "Letter: From S. Gandish, Esq., to the "Newcome Independent"." Old Friends, Epistolary Parody, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Old Friends, Epistolary Parody, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GCUQ6RSFSLMHA9D.

Harvard: Lang, A, 'Letter: From S. Gandish, Esq., to the "Newcome Independent"' in Old Friends, Epistolary Parody, ed. and trans. . cited in , Old Friends, Epistolary Parody. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GCUQ6RSFSLMHA9D.