I AM afraid that most of us are losing a fine opportunity for studying real works of art under the best possible circumstances, and this is because, in spite of a few brief notices, information on the subject is still lacking.
On a picture-stand (made after similar ones in the South Kensington Museum) which may be found in the main hall of the Library there are engravings, woodcuts, and etchings, from the Gray Collection with one exception, - fifty in all. These are specimens of Durer arranged chronologically. That is, the woodcuts ranging from 1505 - 1511 are together, and then follow the engravings commencing with the "Prodigal Son," placed with six others "before 1495," and ending with the portrait of Erasmus, 1526. The two etchings on iron were done in the same year, and hence are introduced together among the engravings.
These Durers are followed by a few samples of the Little Masters. They were men of industry and some artistic ability, who imitated Durer as far as they could, always preferring to make miniature engravings rather than larger ones. It is very amusing to pass from Durer's Melencolia to J. Behau's attempt at the same. After standing in awe before the sad glance of Durer's figure with its resting wings, that still have power to bear it through endless wandering, with the neglected implements of human science cast on the earth, and with its never-to-be-forgotten wreath, - after the feelings aroused by Durer we turn to the Little Master, and truly see what a "well-intentioned" artist he is. He gives us, reduced of course, the sphere which Durer gave; the compass shows us a wing, - but what a wing! A comparison of the wing in Behau's print with Durer's is one of the best ways of seeing what Durer really did when he exerted his earnest efforts to reproduce natural objects. But the amusing feature in Behau's Melancholy is the figure itself. For Durer's powerful presence, longing for she knows not what, we have a fat woman nearly asleep, who looks as if she had been emptied into her present position and could not wake up to move a muscle.
Some of the Durers are late additions to the collection; and it certainly is far richer now than when it lacked the brilliant impression of the print variously called "The Great Fortune," "Nemesis," "Temperance in the Clouds," etc. This print gives a winged female figure in the clouds above a most charming valley. The figure, in spite of its beautiful wings, is, as a figure, one of Durer's many representations of immortal ugliness, if such an expression is allowable. Any one who is displeased by it, however, has but to look for consolation into the valley over which Fortune is floating. This is indeed fairy-land. The town reminds you of Durer's times, but the landscape awakens pleasure within you which you yourself are conscious that you have often been on the point of feeling at the sight of such smiling landscapes in reality. But at the same time you are fully aware that your pleasure was never quite this; there was always in your experience something that interfered, and which alone an artist's mind can detect and retain. This valley is by some, for unknown reasons, believed to be where Albert Durer, senior, was born; the village accordingly is named Eytas.
Among the woodcuts we have the Seven Angels of the Apocalypse, which is a most surprising and interesting print, and rewards attention; below it there is the lower half of the "Rest in Egypt," The Virgin in this picture is really beautiful, and the sporting and toiling angels are worthy of the cheerful Benozzo Gozzoli.
These remarks might be continued indefinitely, but as they are, they will fully accomplish their purpose if they lead many to look at these engravings who before did not know that they were on exhibition. This exhibition, I learn, takes the place of the former practice of opening the collection a certain number of hours every week for those who have made appointments. The new arrangement will undoubtedly please all who really wish to get from these art treasures what can be gotten by continued and undisturbed study, and what can never be obtained by satisfying a restless curiosity, which would skim over twenty prints in a time scarcely sufficient to get what there is in one. These prints will remain on exhibition for ten days longer, when they will give place to others. In general, I learn that a change will be made every month.