The last revolt of the nineteenth century was effected in a peaceable and business-like, but none the less successful manner, by the establishment, in 1886, of the New English Art Club as a means of defence against the mighty vis inertiæ of the Royal Academy. As an example of the disadvantage under which any artist laboured who did not bow down to the great Idol, I venture to quote a few sentences from the report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to inquire into the administration of the Chantrey Trust, in 1904:——

"With five exceptions, all the works in the collection have been bought from summer exhibitions of the Royal Academy."

"It is admitted by those most friendly to the present system that the Chantrey collection regarded as a national gallery of modern British art is incomplete, and in a large degree unrepresentative. The works of many of the most brilliant and capable artists who worked in the last quarter of the nineteenth century are missing from the gallery, and the endeavour to account for these omissions has formed one main branch of the inquiry."

"It has been stated that while containing some fine works of art, it is lacking in variety and interest, and while failing to give expression to much of the finest artistic feeling of its period, it includes not a few works of minor importance. Full consideration of the evidence has led the Committee to regard this view as approximately correct."

Up to 1897, when the collection was handed over to the nation, little short of £50,000 had been spent upon it. And with five exceptions, amounting to less than £5000, the whole of that money had been expended on such works alone as were permitted by the Academy to be exhibited on their walls.

Of the £5000, it may be noted, £2200 was well laid out on Watts's Psyche; but with regard to the very first purchase made, in 1877, for £1000,—Hilton's Christ Mocked, which had been painted as an altar-piece for S. Peter's, Eaton Square, in 1839, the following question and answer are full of bitter significance for the poor artist of the time:——

Lord Ribblesdale.—Was Mr Hilton's picture offered by the Vicar and Churchwardens?

The Secretary to the Royal Academy.—Yes, it was offered by them—one of the Churchwardens was the late Lord Maghermorne—he was then Sir James M'Garrell Hogg—he was a great friend of Sir Francis Grant who was the President, and he offered it to him for the Chantrey Collection.

When repeatedly pressed by the Committee for the reasons why so few purchases were made outside the Academy exhibitions, the President, Sir Edward Poynter, repeatedly pleaded the impossibility of a Council of Ten, all of whom must see pictures before they are bought, travelling about in search of them. In view of this apparent—but obviously unreal—difficulty, the following questions were then put by the Earl of Lytton:——

420. Without actually changing the terms of the will, has the question of employing an agent for the purpose of finding out what pictures were available and giving advice upon them ever been suggested?—No.

421. That would come within the term of the will, would it not, the final voting being, as it is now, in the hands of the Academy; it would be open to the Council to appoint an agent, as was suggested just now, of going to Scotland, and going about the country making suggestions as to pictures which in his opinion might be bought?—The question has never arisen.

422. But that could be done, could it not?—I suppose that could be done under the terms of the will, but I do not suppose that the Academy would ever do it.

As a comment on this let us turn to the "Autobiography of W. P. Frith R. A." (Chapter xl.):—"A portion of the year ... was spent in the service of the winter Exhibition of Old Masters. My duties took me into strange places.... One of my first visits was paid to a huge mansion in the North.... I visited thirty-eight different collections of old masters and named for selection over three hundred pictures.... The pictures of Reynolds are so much desired for the winter Exhibition that neither trouble nor expense are spared in searching for them; so hearing of one described to me as of unusual splendour, I made a journey into Wales with the solitary Reynolds for its object."

Here, where it is not a question of a Trust for the benefit of the public and for the encouragement of artists, there appears to have been no trouble or expense spared. But the real reason for the Academic selection leapt naïvely from the mouth of the President a little later, in reply to question 545.—"The best artists come into the Academy ultimately. I do not say that there have been no exceptions, but as a general rule all the best artists ultimately become Academicians. It is natural, if we want the best pictures that we should go to the best artists."

On this point the answer to a question put by Lord Lytton to one of the forty, Sir William Richmond, K.C.B., is of value, as showing that the grievances of "the outsiders" were not imaginary:—

767. I just want to ask you one more question. When you said that in your opinion the walls of the Academy have had priority of claim in the past, have you any particular reason for that statement?—Yes. I may mention this to show that I am consistent. Before I was an Associate of the Royal Academy, I fought hard for what are called, in rather undignified language, the outsiders, and I was anxious that men should be elected Associates of the Royal Academy not necessarily because they exhibit on the Royal Academy walls, but because they are competent painters. That was my fight upon which I stood; and I refused to send a picture to the Royal Academy on the understanding that if I did I should probably be elected Associate that year, and also that my picture would be bought by the Chantrey Fund. My answer to that was, "If my picture is good enough to be purchased for the Chantrey Bequest my picture can be purchased from the walls of the Grosvenor Gallery as well as from the walls of the Royal Academy. That seems to me to be justice."

The "New English," then, had some justification for their establishment; and although they did not make very much headway before the close of the nineteenth century, they find themselves at the opening of the twentieth in a position to determine to a very considerable extent what the future of English painting is to be, just as the Academy succeeded in determining it before they came into existence.

For the Academy everything that was vital in English art in the last half century had no existence—was simply ignored. For the New English, it was the seed that flowered, under their gentle influence, into the many varieties of blossoms with which our garden is already filled. To the Academy there was no such thing as change or development—their ears were deaf to any innovation, their eyes were blind to any fresh beauty. To others, every new movement foretold its significance, and the century closed with the recognition of the fact that art must live and develop if it is to be anything but a comfortable means of subsistence for a self-constituted authority of forty and their friends.

Let me be allowed to conclude this chapter, and my imperfect efforts to indicate the energies of six centuries of art in so small a space, with a passage from a lecture delivered in 1882 by Mr Selwyn Image, now Slade Professor at Oxford, which embodies the spirit in the air at that time, and foreshadows what was to come. "I do not feel that we have come here to sing a requiem for art this afternoon," he said. "As a giant it will renew its strength and rejoice to run its course. I am not a prophet, I cannot tell you just what that course is going to be. Nor is it possible to estimate what is around us with the same security, with the same value, that we estimate what has passed—you must be at a certain distance to take things in. But in contemporary art we can notice some characteristics, which are quite at one with what we call the modern spirit; and extremely suggestive—for they seem to indicate movement, and therefore life, in this imaginative sphere, just as there is movement and life in the sphere of science or of social interests. For instance, in modern representative work ... I think anyone comparing it as a whole with the work of the old masters, will be struck as against their distinctness, containedness, simplicity and serenity; with its complexity, restlessness, and vagueness, and emotion, and suggestiveness in place of delineation, and impressionism in place of literal transcription—and this alike in execution and motive. I do not mean to say that these qualities are better than the qualities that preceded them, or worse—but only that they are different, only that they are of the modern spirit—only that they indicate movement and life; and so far that is hopeful—is it not?"