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An essay by Israel Zangwill

The Great Unhung

Title:     The Great Unhung
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

What becomes of all the old pins is a problem that worries many simple souls. What becomes of all the rejected pictures is a question that seems to trouble nobody. And yet at every exhibition the massacre of innocents is appalling. The Royal Academy of London, which is the most hospitable institution in the world toward "wet paint," still turns away very many more canvases than it admits. Their departure is like the retreat of the Ten Thousand. Into the Salon one year six thousand eager frames crowded, but when the public came to see, only thirteen hundred were left to tell the tale--

All that was left of them,
Left of six thousand.

More ruthless still was the slaughter in the New Salon, the Salon of the Champs de Mars, where the pictures were decimated. Out of two thousand seven hundred works sent in by outsiders, only three hundred survived. It is impossible to believe that ideal justice was done, especially when we consider that the jury took only one day to consider the outcome of so many aspirations, such manifold toil. The pictures were wheeled past them on gigantic easels, an interminable panorama. Even supposing that the gentlemen of the jury took a full working day of eight hours, with no allowance for dejeuner, the average time for examining a picture works out at something like ten seconds. In each minute of that fateful day the destiny of half a dozen pictures was decided. Verily, our picture-connoisseur seems to have elevated criticism into an instinct--he is the smoothest human mechanism on record. One wonders if the critic will ever be replaced by an automaton, something analogous to the camera that has replaced the artist. Meantime, the point is--what becomes of the refused, those unwelcome revenants that return to lower the artist in the eyes of landladies and concierges? Sometimes, we know, the stone which the builders rejected becomes the corner-stone of the temple, and the proscribed painter lives to despise publicly the judges in the gate. But these revenges are rare, and for the poor bulk of mankind the whirligig of time revolves but emptily. The average artist rejected of one exhibition turns him to another, and the leavings of the Salon beat at the doors of Antwerp and Munich, where the annual of art blooms a little later in the spring.

Pitiful it is to follow a picture from refusal to refusal; one imagines the painter sublime amid the litter of secretarial notifications, gathering, Antaeus-like, fresh strength from every fall, and coming to a grim and gradual knowledge of the great cosmopolitan conspiracy. One year the rejected of the Academy were hung in London by an enterprising financier. It was the greatest lift-up the Academy had ever had. Even its enemies were silenced temporarily. But the rejected may console themselves. The accepted have scant advantage over them. To sell a picture is becoming rarer and rarer, and the dealer is no more respectful to the canvas that has achieved the honor of the catalogue than to that which has preserved the sequestration of the studio. Sometimes the unhung picture becomes the medium upon which another is painted (for a picture is always worth the canvas it is painted on), sometimes (if it is large) it is cut up and sold in bits, sometimes it adorns the family dining-room, or decorates the hall of a good-natured friend, and sometimes, after a variety of pecuniary adventures, it becomes the proud possession of a millionaire.

[The end]
Israel Zangwill's essay: Great Unhung