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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 accord. ance 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 proceeding with the same red colour to paint in the neck and shoulders, when 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 competency 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 alşo 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.
As Academician Mr. Poynter has a share in the teaching in the Royal Academy. As art director his influence extends through the art schools and artisans' classes throughout the kingdom, even to the art teaching of the children in the elementary schools. In public, at the Social Science Congress at Liverpool and elsewhere, he has spoken words of sober sense to the nation in a simple, strong, authoritative way. If his influence and his words help to call forth something of the same spirit of fidelity and thoroughness in work as characterises himself, if he rouses higher aims and nobler ideals in the mass of workers, he will do what is sorely needed in these days of dilatory workmen and scamped work, when less work for more money is the constant cry. Much as it is to be regretted that the pressure of his official duties must limit the number of his own paintings, and possibly even may impair the quality of them by dividing his powers, yet to accomplish such a work of art as this on the canvas of humanity will be an even more enduring memorial than the noblest creation of his brush.
It is a difficult problem to forecast what is to become of the great army of artists that are being trained. Genius, of course, will make its own way—there seems no cause at present to fear that the world will be overstocked with that yet awhile. An ever-increasing number of trained students, also, are being absorbed into the various developments of art industry, to the great good of our technical results. Doubtless, too, many have taken up the study of art rather as an accomplishment to elevate and grace them in private life than for any practical end; but for the rest, those multitudes of men and women who may be seen shabbily dressed copying in picture galleries and museums, painting in the Botanical Gardens, and wherever else students can gain admittance, or planting their easels all over the country, what is to become of these ? Their productions are already such a drug in the market that one of the best known art auctioneers declared the other day that it was useless for him to attempt to sell anything that had not a name to back it up, as the work of unknown artists, even when good work, barely fetched the value of the frame. The perfection to which oleographs and photographs have been brought is thrusting out this class of work, while, at the same time, the quantity of it is increasing. The colonies may afford an outlet for some of it, but doubtless before long the colonies will train their own artists. It seems premature to conclude that so much material should, as at first sight one might be drawn to judge, have to be wasted, or so many young enthusiasts doomed to disappointment. There are hundreds of painters whose work singly is of little value, and yet, if organised in bands, and working under the direction of men of genius, they might collectively produce public works of great utility and beauty. England might rival the ancient Egyptians in the abundance of her wall-paintings. We might have such temples of religion, and such nobly decorated
public buildings, as would make her the wonder of the world, and at no very extravagant cost. Many artists now half-starving, or eking out a scanty subsistence by any means in their power, would be glad to be engaged on such works for wages which would just insure them the necessaries of life.
A few artists employ young assistants in their studios. It was customary with the old masters to do so, and the practice might with advantage be extended in the present day. When the artist makes the cartoons and does the last finishing with his own hand, much of the intermediate work can be equally well performed by deputy, for there are many who can acquire manipulative skill, while but few possess the creative faculty. Thus a greater number of the best works would be produced, and so produced as to bring them within the means of many to purchase who cannot now afford the luxury of possessing noble works of art. These are but crude suggestions, but it is a subject that ought to be faced, and other and more practicable suggestions made, and something attempted to be done; for it will be a grievous blot on our civilization if the National Art Schools turn out a large proportion of their trained students merely to swell the ranks of middle-class destitution by a new and highly-cultured army that no one cares to put in commission.
Professor Poynter is one of those rare persons who take office under Government on account of interest in the work offered to them, and not because a salary is attached to the post. Without being pragmatical, he is not likely to succumb to the traditions of that not most noble herd which, browsing in the comfortable pastures of the State, only too readily follows the accepted motto of Government service, “Above all things, no zeal!"