Some of the very earliest paintings in the exhibition are found in one of the large center rooms on the left, where a very stately Tiepolo controls the artistic atmosphere of a large gallery. This picture has all the qualities of an old Italian master of the best kind. Its composition is big and dignified and in the interest and richness of its color scheme it has here few equals. The chief characteristic of this splendid canvas is bigness of style. In its treatment it is a typical old master, in the best meaning of the term.
On the left of this Tiepolo, a rather sombre canvas by Ribera claims attention by the peculiar lighting scheme, so typical of this Italian master. While there is what we might call a quality of flood lighting in the Tiepolo, giving an envelope of warm, mellow light to the whole picture, Ribera concentrates his light somewhat theatrically upon his subjects, as in the St. Jerome. The picture is freely painted, with the very convincing anatomical skill that is manifest in most of Ribera’s work. His shadows are sometimes black and impenetrable, a quality which his pictures may not have had at the time of their production, and which may be partly the result of age. The Goya on the same wall is uninteresting — one of those poor Goyas which have caused delay in the just placing of this great Spaniard in the history of art.
The Turner below the Goya has all the imaginative qualities of that great Englishman’s best work. Venice may never look the way Turner painted it, but his interpretation of a gorgeous sunset over a canal is surely fascinating enough in its suggestion of wealth of form and color. Sir William Beechey’s large canvas of a group of children and a dog probably presented no easy task to the painter. The attempt at a skillful and agreeable arrangement of children in pictures is often artificial, and so it is to my mind in this canvas. Nevertheless the colouring, together with the spontaneous technique, put it high above many canvases of similar type. The Spanish painting on the right of the Beechey could well afford to have attached to it the name of one of the best artists of any school. The unknown painter of this Spanish gentleman knew how to disclose the psychology of his sitter in a straightforward way that would have done honor to Velasquez, or to Frans Hals, of whom this picture is even more suggestive.
Below this very fine portrait Sir Godfrey Kneller is represented by a canvas very typical of the eighteenth century English portrait painters. The canvas has a little of the character of everybody, without being sufficiently individual. Reynolds’ “Lady Ballington” has a wonderful quality of repose and serenity, one of the chief merits of the work of all those great English portrait painters of the eighteenth century. No matter whose work it is, whether of Reynolds, Romney, Hoppner, or any of that classic period of the painters of distinguished people, they always impress by the dignity of their composition and colour. We do not know in all cases how distinguished their sitters really were, but like Reynolds’ “Lady Ballington,” they must often have been of a sort superior physically as well as intellectually.