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1862 it was hung at the Royal Academy at the top of the room. From this time onward Mr. Poynter is represented by one or more pictures every year in the catalogue of the Royal Academy exhibitions. In 1865 his subject was “Faithful unto Death,” a small work, but one remarkable both for the subject and the execution. A sentinel stands calm and resolute at his post at one of the gates of Hercu. laneum, clad in plate armour that gleams in the lurid light of eruptive matter from the burning mountain. Frightened figures are fleeing from the city to escape the doom; others are already overtaken by it. This picture was afterwards sent to the Royal Institution, Manchester, where it formed one of the chief attractions of the exhibition. The president of that institution characterised it at the time as the work of a very promising young man, one not unlikely to be elected an Associate before long.
From 1863 to 1867 Mr. Poynter was engaged upon a larger and more ambitious work, which was completed and exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1867 under the title of “Israel in Egypt.” A long train of Israelites, yoked together like beasts of burden, are dragging along a colossal carved figure of the Sphinx; task-masters, in chariots, are urging them on, lashing them with thongs. The varied attitudes and straining forms of the Israelite slaves showed how great a mastery Mr. Poynter had attained in drawing the human figure; and the Egyptian background bore evidence of careful study. Every detail was characteristic ; but there was no overloading with details. This picture attracted much attention. During this time he made studies for the frescoes of “Phidias” and of “ Apelles," at South Kensington, and exhibited various smaller pictures at the Academy. The year following “ Israel in Egypt,” “The Catapult" was exhibited. The subject of the latter picture illustrated Warfare, as the former one had represented Slavery. A group of Roman soldiers are shooting a red-hot bolt from an engine of war, constructed of great beams of wood, on which untanned hides are rudely fastened. The grouping of the soldiers was admirably done, and the painting is firm and strong throughout. It made a most striking picture, although not exactly an attractive one, and gained for its author the Associateship of the Royal Academy.
About this time he designed the fittings and tile decorations for the grill room, South Kensington. In 1868 he went to Italy to study mosaics, and on his return designed the mosaics of St. George for the central ball of the Houses of Parliament, of which the cartoons were in the Royal Academy in 1870. Also he designed a mosaic for the lecture room at South Kensington, not yet executed in the permanent material.
The frescoes of “St. Stephen before the Council” and “St. Stephen dragged forth to be Stoned” for St. Stephen's Church, Sydenham, were done in 1870-71. The year 1868 was a very busy one, for, in addition to
signed the fittinip of the Royal Austractive on
travelling and studying mosaics, he exhibited several pictures in the Dudley Gallery, then just opened, water-colour portraits and landscapes ; and the same year sent three works to the Royal Academy, of which the little picture “ Proserpine” is one of the most pleasing efforts of his brush. The Queen ordered a replica of it. It was again exhibited in the Grosvenor Gallery last year. In 1871 he had two noteworthy pictures in the Academy—“Feeding the Sacred Ibis in the Halls of Karnac” and “ The Suppliant to Venus,” a small work into which he infused more tender sentiment than is his wont. In 1872 and 1873 he exhibited a pair of large pictures, painted for Lord Wharncliffe "Perseus and Andromeda” and “ The Dragon of Wantley.” They were not equal in power to “ Israel in Egypt” and “ The Catapult.” The dragon in each picture, a somewhat astonishing beast, excited considerable comment from students of comparative anatomy. The fact that his thought and time were now much occupied with professional work may probably account for the temporary deterioration in his painting. In 1874 he exhibited “Rhodope ;” in 1875 two beautiful decorative works, “The Festival” and “The Golden Age,” which are also in the possession of Lord Wharncliffe, and were exhibited at Philadelphia in 1876. In 1876 " Atalanta's Race” was one of the great pictures of the year, and won for him the rank of Academician. Atalanta's airy flying figure, stooping, and scarcely pausing as she catches up the apple, is an exquisitely graceful conception. Milanion, her lover, is a well-drawn young athlete; but he might with advantage have looked more heroic. The line of spectators along the course is well arranged.
Last year, the first of his exercise of full academical privileges, Mr. Poynter contributed two works only—a portrait and “The Fortuneteller.” The latter was deposited in the Royal Academy on his election as Academician; and this year he is represented only by the two small but high-class pictures described in the last number of the University. His wife's beautiful face, portrayed both by himself and by other painters, has several times graced the walls of picture, exhibitions. Learning and fidelity are essential characteristics of Mr. Poynter's work. We have no more educated painter than he. No slurred or slovenly work is ever allowed to deface his canvasses. His drawing is true ; his modelling solid; the composition well balanced. He is, perhaps, less a master of colour than of form. The scheme of colour in his paintings, though often pleasing and never inharmonious, yet does not attain to the glow and delightsomeness of the greatest colourists. Occasionally the flesh colour is a trifle heavy. Artists to whom colour is the dearest fact in the world, while coldly allowing that Mr. Poynter has extensive art scholarship, and is incomparable in figure drawing, say scornfully that his inspiration comes from architecture and sculpture, and that he has no genius as a painter. This is, of course, an extreme view; but such
extremes are common enough in the art world. We may say in more moderate language, that all that great talent and unremitting pursuit of a high standard can accomplish, Mr. Poynter has achieved. His excellence calls forth the unbounded admiration of the intellect; but, as a rule, it lacks those magical qualities that touch the heart. And yet, one or two of his smaller works are so full of feeling—for instance, “Proserpine,” and still more “The Suppliant to Venus "—that the thought suggests itself that possibly he has not yet given us his best, and in some happy hour of relaxation from professional routine may conceive a great work that shall transcend all that he has hitherto done, valuable as that is, and shall arouse emotion as well as admiration in the beholder.
Mr. Poynter has always been extremely fond of teaching. Before he held any public post he taught private pupils. He had long entertained an ambition to found a school of painting in England more in accordance with the French system of art education than that prevailing in the English schools. When, through the munificent bequest of Mr. Felix Slade, new schools of art were established in connection with University College, and the professorship was offered to Mr. Poynter, he accepted it at once, notwithstanding the labour it involved, and held the post from the first opening in 1870 for a period of six years. He considered the study from life to be of paramount importance, and preferred that so soon as the student had attained such slight proficiency as to render it possible, the study from the life-model and from the antique cast should be pursued together, instead of being separated according to the usual method, which is that of imposing so long a preparatory course from the antique that the student has scarcely gained admission to the life class before his term of study is expired. On the first morning of opening the Slade Schools, the new Professor, the life-model, and one young lady met in the great drawing-theatre. This was not encouraging; but presently two other students made their appearance, and the work of the school commenced. Gradually the numbers increased ; so that, when the classes met again for the second term, there were about seventy students, male and female. Soon they mounted up to a hundred, the number for which the school had been planned. Still they multiplied, till every available corner was occupied with an easel, and even Mr. Poynter's own studio was given up for their accommodation. Under his able successor, M. Legros, the school still flourishes in the same way; and the assistant-master, Mr. Slinger, still remains, whose amiable face and kindly assistance would be much missed by the students were he to resign his office.
Mr. Poynter managed the classes admirably, and the more so as he never seemed to be managing them at all. He manifested that marvellous gift of making people do what he wanted without any telling. He inspired his students with an enthusiasm for hard work, and paid the women the high compliment of expecting from them work equal in quantity and quality with that of the men. And, indeed, he obtained it; for, in the last year of his rule, they carried off all the prizes but one, which was gained by a young nephew of his own, whose success the other students sincerely rejoiced in—“Mr. Poynter would be so pleased.” There was a whispered rumour in the early days of the institution that the Professor was undergoing a sort of martyrdom among the old ladies in society, on account of the mixed classes and the scanty attire of the models. Whether true or not, it roused a loyal determination among the students to justify his trust in them. It was the first time women had been granted the inestimable advantage for any true art work, of studying from the nude model, called by courtesy half-draped, seeing that the drapery consisted only of a bright-coloured girdle. Such a model, perhaps, justifies the reply of one of the youngest pupils, who, on showing her drawing to a friend, was asked, “Is that the half-draped model ?” and replied in some perplexity, "No, I think it must be the quarter-draped one.”
In class Mr. Poynter is terse, almost epigrammatic, in speech. Occasionally, if a student does some unusually good work, the furrow in his brow will relax a little, and he will remark encouragingly, " That is fair, really a very fair study." His praise seldom goes beyond that. The faults in conscientious work he most carefully points out and explains ; but, if he sees signs of manifest carelessness or incapacity, he has a little habitual phrase which, although it sounds considerate, is more crushing than any fault-finding. After contemplating the work in silence for a minute or two, he will remark, “ Well, I suppose you have done your best," and pass on. Sometimes the words are accompanied by a short abrupt laugh. If anything can stimulate a student it is found to be the Professor's dry manner. Another remark is, “ You seem fonder of getting your own effects than of copying the model.” This, although humiliating, is less so than the other, for the victim can console himself with the thought that at least he has some imaginative power, if misdirected at the moment. On one occasion, soon after the opening of the Slade School, a young lady entered the life-class with a perfectly new colour-box and palette, and sat down to make her first attempt at painting from the model. She got a pretty fair outline of the head, life-size, and commenced colouring by daubing some dark brown colour all over the hair. She then covered the face with a thick coat of brilliant red; eyes, nostrils, and mouth, being beyond her powers of depicture, she left in the blank canvas. The effect was startling and unique. One by one the other students slipped behind her to look at it, and whispered together, laughing, “What would Mr. Poynter say ?” She was proceed. ing with the same red colour to paint in the neck and shoulders, when
colour-box and palette, he got a pretty faire dark brown
cuth, being beyond hiling and unique.. whispered
the door opened and in walked the Professor himself, eyeglass in eye. He was proceeding in his usual direct manner to make the round of the class, when suddenly, between the easels, he caught sight of the new pupil's production. With two strides he was behind her, amazement and dismay on his countenance; but a sense of the ludicrous prevailed, and, in spite of his efforts to repress it, he laughed outright. As soon as he could recover himself, the familiar words came tripping from his tongue, “Well, I suppose you have done your best.” He might with truth have added his other favourite sentence, “ I think you are fonder of getting your own effects than of copying the model.” After that day no new students were admitted to the life-class until they had shown their com. petency to such work by the execution of a satisfactory pass-drawing.
Mr. Poynter is an able lecturer. In addition to the monthly lectures on “ Composition,” given to his own class, he gave a general course of lectures on “ Architecture” during his connection with University College. In architecture, and especially Egyptian architecture, he has always taken a great interest. He also lectured at Albemarle-street on “Art” in 1872, and in other places. In his farewell address at the Slade School, when master and pupils parted with mutual regret, in consequence of his appointment to a position of wider usefulness as Director for Art and Principal of the Government Training Schools, after congratulating the students on the steady progress made from year to year in the quality of the work done, he remarked upon the beneficial effect the system of mixed classes had had upon both ladies and gentlemen. In his new post at South Kensington, he said, he found much less work was accomplished, and, especially among the gentlemen, it was accompanied by a great deal more noise and nonsense.
In the two years that have elapsed since that time, Mr. Poynter has effected great improvements in many respects in the course of training at South Kensington. He has introduced the study of composition, which he regards very justly as an important element in every branch of art. In the competitions he has fixed limits to the time to be spent on the drawings, insists on a much higher class of work in the upper grades, including painting from the nude, and in the lower grades he has discouraged the old method of shading with the point, so that the new pupils now work with the stump. He has also raised the character of the modelling room by placing an efficient teacher at the head of it, and while he still pays due respect to the utility of the institution as a training school for the diffusion of practical art throughout the country, he has raised the tone of it generally, and opened the way to its becoming also a school of high art in the best sense, which it by no means was before. This must be a work of time; the replacing of old traditions by new axioms can only be accomplished gradually as their prescriptive rights die out with the older masters.