The Vale Artists, IV.—Reginald Savage
The least-known of the illustrators of Dial, Reginald Savage, has published very little work in England, but is, nevertheless, anterior in date to Ricketts, Shannon, and Pissarro. He first exhibited at the Institute of Painters in Water-Colours, some ten years ago, choosing romantic subjects, such as scenes from the lives of the saints. His “Enid and Geraint” may be taken to represent that period of his work. at the time this picture was painted, Savage was an art-student working with Shannon—who first exhibited in 1886—Ricketts, and Raven Hill. The last work he exhibited in England was his “St. Elizabeth in Exile,” which appeared at the first exhibition of the New Gallery. Since that time his work has only appeared in Dial, possibly because at the time the first number appeared the work of the Vale men was, to a certain extent, boycotted by all the galleries. He has engraved some of his own drawings, and Ricketts has engraved one or two. The one reproduced here, “The Lotus-Eaters,” is a reproduction of a pen-drawing, and shows the artist to great advantage. His power of imaginative treatmetn is displayed in the lotus-flowers that grow through the vessel’s decaying deck; in the languid mariners, to whom movement of the body or brain is alike impossible; in the misty phantoms hovering over all. The mariner in the foreground recalls certain lines of Tennyson’s poem—
…if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.
Surely, since the Moxon Tennyson was published, few designs could be found showing as much concentration in workmanship and thought as this little drawing.
Some of his earlier work found its way to Belgium, and the Count de Looz commissioned the artist to decorate a family chapel. This work took three years to execute, and consisted of five compositions painted on the chapel walls, representing the incidents in the life of St. Christine l’Admirable. It has been found possible to reproduce a fragment of the preliminary scheme for one of the designs, but this is all that can be given. The interior of the chapel is dimily lighted, and it has been found impossible to photograph the paintings. This is much to be regretted, for they form the most important work of Reginald Savage, and must always remain very little known. Two of them measure sixteen by ten feet, and one contains upwards of a hundred figures.
I have now come to the end of the brief series of articles devoted to the Vale and its works. True it is that Sturge Moore has done thirty or more engravings, but, seeing that he and John Gray really represent the literary rather than the artistic side of the Dial, it is not necessary to deal with their work here. It only now remains to consider the main aim of the artists.
The aim of the founders of the Dial has been—if I understand it aright—the suppression of outside interference with the artist’s work. Their use of original lithography and original wood-engraving has undoubtedly tended to this end, for they draw, execute, and at times even print their own work; in fact, with the exception of Mr. Lane, who has published their engraved books, they have no publisher. The Dial has conferred upon all its works the important gift of free expression, in absolute diregard to the traditions of the publishing world. Yet, despite this freedom, none of their work can be deemed flippant in thought or execution. Often imaginative, they show a distinct appreciation of the technique required by the medium they use, so that the pen-drawings are unlike the etchings, the lithographs and woodcuts are unlike either. This conscientiousness in work, this moderate and careful production in times where the output is so vast, has made their rate of progress seem slow. Many men and styles have sprung up, with mushroom-like rapidity, to become scorched by the sum of indiscriminate eulogy, and wither as quickly as they appeared. Meanwhile, the Vale men have found their work seadily increasing in public favour, and, better still, in the favour of those whose likes and dislikes are founded on a full appreciation of merit. Moreover, they have enough experience and knowledge of the world to take their success quietly, and not to allow it to either to turn their heads from the ideals they have ever turly followed or their hands from the labour in which they delight.
Theocritus. “The Vale Artists, IV.—Reginald Savage.” Rev. of The Dial, The Sketch, vol. 9, 21 April 1895, p. 683. Yellow Nineties 2.0 , edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://www.1890s.ca/Dial-Review-The-Sketch-Apr-21-1895/