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more charming than the little bit of forest glade, the bending flower, and the three little spirits “mad with joy,” dashing down on it; and
, again the “flickering fairly circle” wheeling and breaking and linking again. These two designs seem thoroughly imbued with the mystic spirit life that is part and parcel of the Idyls.
We cannot pass from this cursory glance at some of Doré's book illustrations, without alluding to a set not exhibited in this collection, but which show a phase of his genius at once striking and peculiar to himself. Most people are conversant with the legend of the “Wandering Jew" in some form or other, but the version adopted in the edition referred to was new to us. The Jew condemned to live on until the second coming of our LORD, and to find no rest for the sole of his foot, but to wander from place to place, is perpetually haunted by the vision of the Crucifixion. It is seen here in storm-driven clouds hurrying across the sky, there in the distorted branches of the foresttrees waving in a mighty wind, and again in a tempest at sea where the entire ship and crew are engulfed by the waves that refuse to swallow the fated Jew, who as he shudderingly hurries over their transparent depths, sees still the reflection of the awful spectacle. One great peculiarity of these drawings is, that at the first glance the eye does not see the vision, gradually it dawns on the sight, getting more distinct each moment, and one learns to look for and find it reproduced in varied forms on each succeeding page.
When we consider the vast number of illustrative drawings Doré has produced it seems wonderful he should have time for the execution of oil paintings, and more especially for a work on the gigantic scale of “CHRIST leaving the Prætorium.” The canvas on which it is painted measures 30 ft. by 20, and it is absolutely crowded with figures, some of them larger than life. The moment chosen by the painter is just after that when Pilate weakly yielding to the clamour of the people has pronounced sentence of death, and the Divine Victim is led forth to execution, the bloodthirsty multitude exultantly shouting, “Crucify, crucify.” Wearing a white robe and crown of thorns CHRIST descends a flight of steps guarded by the Roman soldiers. Pilate stands at the top intimating by a gesture that he repudiates all responsibility in the tragedy about to be enacted. The space on either side is occupied by the Jewish high-priest, rabbis, and persons of distinction, the windows are filled with spectators, and the court below is thronged by a motley crowd, forced back by the guard, and jostling the four Maries who stand at
the foot of the steps. Behind and above all this we catch glimpses of a hilly country and a stormy sky. The crowd certainly partakes somewhat of the “mad variety” of face, form, and costume, to which Doré is prone : the first glance has a bewildering effect on the mind : the realism of the picture is so intense that the eye ranges about as in a real, living, moving crowd, and it is no small proof of the painter's genius that it is immediately arrested by the figure of our LORD. Doré's style is peculiarly his own : in his sacred pictures especially his utter deviation from the rules of all schools is very marked; he strikes out an entirely new line for himself; but in his impersonation of Christ he makes his nearest approach to conventionalism. It may be a question whether, considering the intense realism of the rest of the picture, he had any right to introduce the halo of Divine Glory, but it is sufficiently softened and modified not to obtrude, and we cannot wish it away. Merely to say M. Doré had not failed in his delineation of our LORD would surely be to confer great praise, considering Who and what it is he has attempted to represent, but we think the impression a second glance at the figure conveys requires a warmer tribute than this. Calm, patient, dignified, and sorrowful, with thorn-crowned head and bleeding brows, there is not that subjugation of the Divine nature to suffering humanity that makes the “CHRIST scourged” in the Bible illustrations so painful. Nay more, the manner in which the Redeemer is stepping forward, not led by the soldiers, but erect, alone, seeming almost to lead them on the appointed road, has deep meaning in it, and affords a striking contrast to the shrinking form of the Virgin and the timid helplessness of the other
Painful significance is given by the prominence of the Cross which three men are raising from the foot of the steps, but Christ's glance is not on it, He is gazing forward, on to Calvary, and His face is sorrowful, not for Himself, but for the sinners He came to save.
There was something striking in the half silence pervading the room, voices involuntarily dropped to a whisper, and some glances averted as if it were almost sacrilege to gaze too long and closely. If a proof of the artist's power were wanting, surely it is found in the solemnising influence of the picture and the unity of feeling with which it seems to impress a mixed assembly of spectators.
One of the most powerful touches is found in the group of Rabbis half-way up the steps. Their glance of triumph and hatred is so strongly mixed with wonder and awe, as if more than ever at this
moment, the question, “Art Thou indeed the CHRIST?” would rise in their minds and they were constrained to fear Him even in their hour of success. One other striking figure is that of Judas; utterly unable to meet the eye of the Master he has betrayed, he appears to be endeavouring to shrink away and hide himself in the crowd, yet with one hand resting on the stone balustrade, he seems to be struggling with a powerful fascination which roots him to the spot, and in spite of bimself draws his glance back to the Victim of his treachery.
If the artist's object was to illustrate the solitary nature of CHRIST's sacrifice, how “ He trod the winepress alone,” he has succeeded to an almost fearful extent. It is quite impossible to over-estimate the ferocious hatred expressed in the faces of the crowd ; one dark turbaned head on the right, towering over his companions, seems literally to grind his teeth in his fury; scarcely one sympathising glance can be detected; the disciples are not brought prominently forward. The only individual pressing to the front with any expression but that of murderous hate is a gaunt miserable looking being suggesting to the mind a leper or paralytic cured by our LORD: he only seems bold enough to show any interest opposed to the bloodthirsty purpose of the throng. The whole of the surging, tossing mass seems animated by one feeling that gives every face a demoniacal expression. Every gesture and even the blast of wind sweeping across the court speaks of passion and fury. Dignity and repose are found in Christ alone, and His calmness is again contrasted with the trained indifference of the Roman soldiers.
Undoubtedly this scene in the Divine tragedy has never been more vividly represented, it almost seems to be set before us with unnecessary harshness and coarseness, and we ask ourselves, could no other lesson have been taught at the same time? This age unquestionably is one of sensationalism, and the taste for sensation in religion seems to be increasing. Sensational preaching is becoming more and more common, and the excuse raised for it is that men now-a-days require rousing, but is this theory safe and right? With all our admiration for Doré's genius this picture seems to us to partake largely of this same sensational element, and while regarding it, we experience much the feeling we should imagine to be excited by witnessing a very well acted miracle play. Some people have much to urge in favour of such exhibitions, but at present we are thankful to say the English mind, whatever it is being prepared for, is not favour
able to their introduction into this country. While we yield homage to such undoubted power as Doré's, we would yet pause to ask whither an uncontrolled and unquestioning admiration of his works may lead us; whether his art, like the brilliant and exciting works of fiction of the present day, may not tend to dissipate the mind, and whether the eye, accustomed to his vivid colouring, the thrilling romance and diversity of his style, may not cease to appreciate even the best and highest forms of beauty if, while they are rendered with absolute truth and conscientious fidelity to nature, they fail to dazzle the imagination and excite the senses.
Passing to the consideration of the other pictures we will adhere to those of a sacred character.
“The triumph of Christianity" exhibits some of Doré's most striking characteristics. There is wonderful imagination, great skill in the grouping of the figures, and very effective management of light. The remarks we have before made as to the artist's power of representing space and numbers may be repeated here, but it is a composition that does not attract us or impress us favourably, as to our mind there is something theatrical about it.
“The Christian Martyrs" is a picture of a different stamp, one of the most beautiful and touching Doré has painted. His genius has been said to be poetic and idealistic to a fault, and it is this qualification that has enabled him to invest a scene full of horrors with a calm, holy, and elevating influence.
The early annals of the Church afford only too sure evidence of the reality of such a spectacle as is here set before us. A vast amphitheatre, now deserted by the inhuman throng, for whose amusement so much cruelty has been perpetrated, and lighted only by the subdued gleams of a hidden moon, is strewn with the bodies of the Christians who have laid down their lives for the faith. Lions and tigers prowl over the blood-stained ground, finishing their fearful meal and fighting over the mangled remains of their victims, one at least of whom yet shows some signs of life. A scene so horrible would be too revolting to dwell upon, even when as shadowy and indistinct as this is rendered by the uncertain light; but both eye and thought are raised from it to the contemplation of a band of angels hovering overhead. The deep blue vault of heaven is illuminated by their celestial beauty, and while the foremost are near and well defined, so perfect is the aërial perspective, others seem to fade and vanish in immeasurable space.
The touching idea is suggested that the very clay of His devoted martyrs is precious in God's sight, and the dust stained by their blood holy ground. One of the victims, as we have said, still seems to breathe, and feebly turns his head to contemplate the cross grasped in the dead hand of another, and it is to this spot the foremost angel is winging his flight, as if he hovered close at hand to receive the departing soul. Few we think could gaze on this picture unmoved, the idea that animates it seems almost an inspiration, so completely does it embody the triumph of Faith and Hope over suffering and death.
“The Flight into Egypt” and “The Victor Angels” complete the number of sacred pictures. The latter illustrates the defeat of Satan and his host in Milton's “Paradise Lost.” The execution is somewhat careless, and but for a glow of light which illumines and gives brilliancy to both groups, and which is certainly very wonderfully managed, there is nothing striking about it. This very scenic effect has something to us of the glare of the foot-lights,-it causes the helmets and armour of the fallen angels to glow and glitter like tinsel.
If we set aside the unpleasant nature of the subject, Francesca and Paolo da Rimini must we think be allowed to be one of the artist's best pictures. It exhibits a harmony of colouring and a careful finish that he has bestowed upon very few of his paintings. The drawing of the figures has been much praised as well as the manner in which they are floating over the fiery gulf upborne on the blast of the whirlwind. In the face of Francesca is an expression of unutterable woe and anguish, quenching her beauty and overshadowing it with shame and despair. Every detail, from the floating hair of Francesca to the blue mantle enveloping the hapless pair, and contrasting so beautifully with the flesh tints, is carefully and lovingly worked up.
In mere manipulation the greatest contrast possible to this work is found in “The Neophyte," which hangs next to it. This picture is very ruggedly painted. Unquestionably it is clever ; but at the same time it is an unpleasant picture. If we except the head of the young monk, which is principally remarkable for simple amazement and distress at finding the convent world so much below his ideal, the figures seem to belong to the very lowest province of art. Considering the diversity of expression Doré has distributed amongst the other twentyfour Carthusians, it seems as if he might have given one or two some indication of nobler qualities, but no, they are all types of earthly degradation. One would indeed pity the innocent-minded novice