THE MIND OF THE ARTIST
THOUGHTS AND SAYINGS OF PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS ON THEIR ART
COLLECTED & ARRANGED BY MRS. LAURENCE BINYON
WITH A PREFACE BY GEORGE CLAUSEN, R.A.
LONDON CHATTO & WINDUS 1909
All rights reserved
It is always interesting and profitable to get the views of workmen on their work, and on the principles which guide them in it; and in bringing together these sayings of artists Mrs. Binyon has done a very useful thing. A great number of opinions are presented, which, in their points of agreement and disagreement, bring before us in the most charming way the wide range of the artist's thought, and enable us to realise that the work of the great ones is not founded on vague caprice or so-called inspiration, but on sure intuitions which lead to definite knowledge; not merely the necessary knowledge of the craftsman, which many have possessed whose work has failed to hold the attention of the world, but also a knowledge of nature's laws.
"The Mind of the Artist" speaks for itself, and really requires no word of introduction. These opinions as a whole, seem to me to have a harmony and consistency, and to announce clearly that the directing impulse must be a desire for expression, that art is a language, and that the thing to be said is of more importance than the manner of saying it. This desire for expression is the driving-force of the artist; it informs, controls, and animates his method of working; it governs the hand and eye. That figures should give the impression of life and spontaneity, that the sun should shine, trees move in the wind, and nature be felt and represented as a living thing—this is the firm ground in art; and in those who have this feeling every effort will, consciously or unconsciously, lead towards its realisation. It should be the starting-point of the student. It does not absolve him from the need of taking the utmost pains, from making the most searching study of his model; rather it impels him, in the examination of whatever he feels called on to represent, to look for the vital and necessary things: and the artist will carry his work to the utmost degree of completion possible to him, in the desire to get at the heart of his theme.
"Truth to nature," like a wide mantle, shelters us all, and covers not only the outward aspect of things, but their inner meanings and the emotions felt through them, differently by each individual. And the inevitable differences of point of view, which one encounters in this book, are but small matters compared with the agreement one finds on essential things; I may instance particularly the stress laid on the observation of nature. Whether the artist chooses to depict the present, the past, or to express an abstract ideal, he must, if his work is to live, found it on his own experience of nature. But he must at every step also refer to the past. He must find the road that the great ones have made, remembering that the problems they solved were the same that he has before him, and that now, no less than in Duerer's time, "art is hidden in nature: it is for the artist to drag her forth."
This little volume, it need hardly be said, does not aim at being complete, in the sense of representing all the artists who have written on art. It is hoped, however, that the sayings chosen will be found fairly representative of what painters and sculptors, typical of their race and time, have said about the various aspects of their work. In making the collection, I have had recourse less to famous comprehensive treatises and expositions of theory like those of Leonardo and of Reynolds, than to the more intimate avowals and working notes contained in letters and diaries, or recorded in memoirs. The selection of these has entailed considerable research; and in tracing what was often by no means easy to find, I wish to acknowledge the kind assistance, especially, of M. Raphael Petrucci, M. Louis Dimier, and Mr. Tancred Borenius. I have also to thank Lady Burne-Jones, Miss Birnie Philip, Mrs. Watts, Mrs. C. W. Furse, Mr. W. M. Rossetti, Mr. J. G. Millais, Mr. Samuel Calvert, and Mr. Sydney Cockerell, for permission to make quotations from Burne-Jones, Whistler, Watts, Furse, D. G. Rossetti, Madox Brown, Millais, Edward Calvert, and William Morris; also Sir Martin Conway, Sir Charles Holroyd, Mrs. Herringham, Mr. E. McCurdy, and Mr. Everard Meynell, for allowing me to use their translations from Duerer, Francisco d'Ollanda (conversations with Michael Angelo), Cennino Cennini, Leonardo, and Corot, respectively.
Thankful acknowledgment is also made to the authors of any other quotations whose names may inadvertently have been omitted.
Above all, I thank my husband for his advice and help.
C. M. B.
THE POLISH RIDER. Rembrandt Frontispiece Tarnowski Collection, Dzikow
THE CASTLE IN THE PARK. Rubens. (Detail) 28 Vienna
LOVE. Millais 48 The Victoria and Albert Museum
THE MUSIC OF PAN. Signorelli 74 Berlin
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST'S WIFE. J. Van Eyck 96 Bruges
HOPE. Puvis de Chavannes 102 By permission of Messrs. Durand-Revel
THE MASS OF BOLSENA. Raphael. (Detail) 118 The Vatican
THE CHILDREN AND THE BUTTERFLY. Gainsborough 134 National Gallery
THE MIND OF THE ARTIST
An able painter by his power of penetration into the mysteries of his art is usually an able critic.
[Footnote 1: The Belgian painter, not the English sculptor.]
Art, like love, excludes all competition, and absorbs the man.
A good painter has two chief objects to paint, namely, man, and the intention of his soul. The first is easy, the second difficult, because he has to represent it through the attitudes and movements of the limbs. This should be learnt from the dumb, who do it better than any other sort of person.
Leonardo da Vinci.
In my judgment that is the excellent and divine painting which is most like and best imitates any work of immortal God, whether a human figure, or a wild and strange animal, or a simple and easy fish, or a bird of the air, or any other creature. And this neither with gold nor silver nor with very fine tints, but drawn only with a pen or a pencil, or with a brush in black and white. To imitate perfectly each of these things in its species seems to me to be nothing else but to desire to imitate the work of immortal God. And yet that thing will be the most noble and perfect in the works of painting which in itself reproduced the thing which is most noble and of the greatest delicacy and knowledge.
The art of painting is employed in the service of the Church, and by it the sufferings of Christ and many other profitable examples are set forth. It preserveth also the likeness of men after their death. By aid of delineations the measurements of the earth, the waters, and the stars are better to be understood; and many things likewise become known unto men by them. The attainment of true, artistic, and lovely execution in painting is hard to come unto; it needeth long time and a hand practised to almost perfect freedom. Whosoever, therefore, falleth short of this cannot attain a right understanding (in matters of painting) for it cometh alone by inspiration from above. The art of painting cannot be truly judged save by such as are themselves good painters; from others verily is it hidden even as a strange tongue. It were a noble occupation for ingenious youths without employment to exercise themselves in this art.
AIMS AND IDEALS
Give thou to God no more than he asketh of thee; but to man also, that which is man's. In all that thou doest, work from thine own heart, simply; for his heart is as thine, when thine is wise and humble; and he shall have understanding of thee. One drop of rain is as another, and the sun's prism in all: and shalt not thou be as he, whose lives are the breath of One? Only by making thyself his equal can he learn to hold communion with thee, and at last own thee above him. Not till thou lean over the water shalt thou see thine image therein: stand erect, and it shall slope from thy feet and be lost. Know that there is but this means whereby thou mayst serve God with man.... Set thine hand and thy soul to serve man with God....
Chiaro, servant of God, take now thine Art unto thee, and paint me thus, as I am, to know me; weak, as I am, and in the weeds of this time; only with eyes which seek out labour, and with a faith, not learned, yet jealous of prayer. Do this; so shall thy soul stand before thee always, and perplex thee no more.
I know that this world is a world of imagination and vision. I see everything I paint in this world, but everybody does not see alike. To the eyes of a miser a guinea is far more beautiful than the sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful proportions than a vine filled with grapes. The tree which moves some to tears of joy, is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way.... To the eye of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.
Painting is nothing but the art of expressing the invisible by the visible.
The picture I speak of is a small one, and represents merely the figure of a woman, clad to the hands and feet with a green and grey raiment, chaste and early in its fashion, but exceedingly simple.
She is standing: her hands are held together lightly, and her eyes set earnestly open.
The face and hands in this picture, though wrought with great delicacy, have the appearance of being painted at once, in a single sitting: the drapery is unfinished. As soon as I saw the figure, it drew an awe upon me, like water in shadow. I shall not attempt to describe it more than I have already done, for the most absorbing wonder of it was its literality. You knew that figure, when painted, had been seen; yet it was not a thing to be seen of men.
A great work of high art is a noble theme treated in a noble manner, awakening our best and most reverential feelings, touching our generosity, our tenderness, or disposing us generally to seriousness—a subject of human endurance, of human justice, of human aspiration and hope, depicted worthily by the special means art has in her power to use. In Michael Angelo and Raphael we have high art; in Titian we have high art; in Turner we have high art. The first appeals to our highest sensibilities by majesty of line, the second mainly by dignified serenity, the third by splendour especially, the Englishman by a combination of these qualities, but, lacking the directly human appeal to human sympathies, his work must be put on a lower level.
THE SIX CANONS OF ART
Rhythmic vitality, anatomical structure, conformity with nature, suitability of colouring, artistic composition, and finish.
Hsieh Ho (Chinese, sixth century A.D.).
In painting, the most troublesome subject is man, then landscape, then dogs and horses, then buildings, which being fixed objects are easy to manage up to a certain point, but of which it is difficult to get finished pictures.
Ku K'ai-Chih (Chinese, fourth century A.D.).
First it is necessary to know what this sort of imitation is, and to define it.
It is an imitation made with lines and with colours on some plane surface of everything that can be seen under the sun. Its object is to give delight.
Principles which may be learnt by all men of reason:
No visible object can be presented without light.
No visible object can be presented without a transparent medium.
No visible object can be presented without a boundary.
No visible object can be presented without colour.
No visible object can be presented without distance.
No visible object can be presented without an instrument.
What follows cannot be learnt, it is born with the painter.
"In painting, and above all in portraiture," says Madame Cave in her charming essay, "it is soul which speaks to soul: and not knowledge which speaks to knowledge."
This observation, more profound perhaps than she herself was aware, is an arraignment of pedantry in execution. A hundred times I have said to myself, "Painting, speaking materially, is nothing but a bridge between the soul of the artist and that of the spectator."
The art of painting is perhaps the most indiscreet of all the arts. It is an unimpeachable witness to the moral state of the painter at the moment when he held the brush. The thing he willed to do he did: that which he only half-heartedly willed can be seen in his indecisions: that which he did not will at all is not to be found in his work, whatever he may say and whatever others may say. A distraction, a moment's forgetfulness, a glow of warmer feeling, a diminution of insight, relaxation of attention, a dulling of his love for what he is studying, the tediousness of painting and the passion for painting, all the shades of his nature, even to the lapses of his sensibility, all this is told by the painter's work as clearly as if he were telling it in our ears.
The first merit of a picture is to feast the eyes. I don't mean that the intellectual element is not also necessary; it is as with fine poetry ... all the intellect in the world won't prevent it from being bad if it grates harshly on the ear. We talk of having an ear; so it is not every eye which is fitted to enjoy the subtleties of painting. Many people have a false eye or an indolent eye; they can see objects literally, but the exquisite is beyond them.
I would like my work to appeal to the eye and mind as music appeals to the ear and heart. I have something that I want to say which may be useful to and touch mankind, and to say it as well as I can in form and colour is my endeavour; more than that I cannot do.
Give me leave to say, that to paint a very beautiful Woman, I ought to have before me those that are the most so; with this Condition, that your Lordship might assist me in choosing out the greatest Beauty. But as I am under a double Want, both of good Judgment and fine Women, I am forced to go by a certain Idea which I form in my own Mind. Whether this hath any Excellence of Art in it, I cannot determine; but 'tis what I labour at.
I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be—in a light better than any light that ever shone—in a land no one can define or remember, only desire—and the forms divinely beautiful—and then I wake up with the waking of Brynhild.
I love everything for what it is.
I look for my tones; it is quite simple.
Many people imagine that art is capable of an indefinite progress toward perfection. This is a mistake. There is a limit where it must stop. And for this reason: the conditions which govern the imitation of nature are fixed. The object is to produce a picture, that is to say, a plane surface either with or without a border, and on this surface the representation of something produced by the sole means of different colouring substances. Since it is obliged to remain thus circumscribed, it is easy to foresee the limit of perfectibility. When the picture has succeeded in satisfying our minds in all the conditions imposed on its production, it will cease to interest. Such is the fate of everything which has attained its end: we grow indifferent and abandon it.
In the conditions governing the production of the picture, every means has been explored. The most difficult problem was that of complete relief, depth of perspective carried to the point of perfect illusion. The stereoscope has solved the problem. It only remains now to combine this perfection with the other kinds of perfection already found. Let no man imagine that art, bound by these conditions of the plane surface, can ever free itself from the circle which limits it. It is easy to foresee that its last word will soon have been said.
In his admirable book on Shakespeare, Victor Hugo has shown that there is no progress in the arts. Nature, their model, is unchangeable; and the arts cannot transcend her limits. They attain completeness of expression in the work of a master, on whom other masters are formed. Then comes development, and then a lapse, an interval. By-and-by, art is born anew under the stimulus of a man who catches from Light a new convention.
The painter ... does not set his palette with the real hues of the rainbow. When he pictures to us the character of a hero, or paints some scene of nature, he does not present us with a living man in the character of the hero (for this is the business of dramatic art); nor does he make up his landscape of real rocks, or trees, or water, but with fictitious resemblances of these. Yet in these figments he is as truly bound by the laws of the appearance of those realities, of which they are the copy (and very much to the same extent), as the musician is by the natural laws and properties of sound.
In short, the whole object of physical science, or, in other words, the whole of sensible nature, is included in the domain of imitative art, either as the subjects, the objects, or the materials of imitation: every fine art, therefore, has certain physical sciences collateral to it, on the abstractions of which it builds, more or less, according to its nature and purpose. But the drift of the art itself is something totally distinct from that of the physical science to which it is related; and it is not more absurd to say that physiology or anatomy constitute the science of poetry or dramatic art than that acoustics and harmonics are the science of music; optics, of painting; mechanics, or other branches of physical science, that of architecture.
After all I have seen of Art, with nothing am I more impressed than with the necessity, in all great work, for suppressing the workman and all the mean dexterity of practice. The result itself, in quiet dignity, is the only worthy attainment. Wood-engraving, of all things most ready for dexterity, reads us a good lesson.
Shall Painting be confined to the sordid drudgery of facsimile representations of merely mortal and perishing substances, and not be as poetry and music are, elevated into its own proper sphere of invention and visionary conception? No, it shall not be so! Painting, as well as poetry and music, exists and exults in immortal thoughts.
If any man has any poetry in him, he should paint, for it has all been said and written, and they have scarcely begun to paint it.
Long live conscience and simplicity! there lies the only way to the true and the sublime.
All the young men of this school of Ingres have something of the pedant about them; they seem to think that merely to be enrolled among the party of serious painters is a merit in itself. Serious painting is their party cry. I told Demay that a crowd of people of talent had done nothing worth speaking of because of all these factious dogmas that they get enslaved to, or that the prejudice of the moment imposes on them. So, for example, with this famous cry of Beauty, which is, according to the world's opinion, the goal of the arts: if it is the one and only goal, what becomes of men who, like Rubens, Rembrandt, and northern natures in general, prefer other qualities? Demand of Puget purity, beauty in fact, and it is good-bye to his verve. Speaking generally, men of the North are less attracted to beauty; the Italian prefers decoration; this applies to music too.
At the present time the task is easier. It is a question of allowing to everything its own interest, of putting man back in his place, and, if need be, of doing without him. The moment has come to think less, to aim less high, to look more closely, to observe better, to paint as well but differently. This is the painting of the crowd, of the townsman, the workman, the parvenu, the man in the street; done wholly for him, done from him. It is a question of becoming humble before humble things, small before small things, subtle before subtle things; of gathering them all together without omission and without disdain, of entering familiarly into their intimacy, affectionately into their way of being; it is a matter of sympathy, attentive curiosity, patience. Henceforth, genius will consist in having no prejudice, in not being conscious of one's knowledge, in allowing oneself to be taken by surprise by one's model, in asking only from him how he shall be represented. As for beautifying—never! ennobling—never! correcting—never! These are lies and useless trouble. Is there not in every artist worthy of the name a something which sees to this naturally and without effort?
I send you also some etchings and a "Woman drinking Absinthe," drawn this winter from life in Paris. It is a girl called Marie Joliet, who used every evening to come drunk to the Bal Bullier, and who had a look in her eyes of death galvanised into life. I made her sit to me and tried to render what I saw. This is my principle in the task I have set before me. I am determined to make no book-illustration but it shall be a means of contributing towards an effect of life and nothing more. A patch of colour and it is sufficient; we must leave these childish thoughts behind us. Life! we must try to render life, and it is hard enough.
So this damned Realism made an instinctive appeal to my painter's vanity, and deriding all traditions, cried aloud with the confidence of ignorance, "Back to Nature!" Nature! ah, my friend, what mischief that cry has done me. Where was there an apostle apter to receive this doctrine, so convenient for me as it was—beautiful Nature, and all that humbug? It is nothing but that. Well, the world was watching; and it saw "The Piano," the "White Girl," the Thames subjects, the marines ... canvases produced by a fellow who was puffed up with the conceit of being able to prove to his comrades his magnificent gifts, qualities which only needed a rigorous training to make their possessor to-day a master, instead of a dissipated student. Ah, why was I not a pupil of Ingres? I don't say that out of enthusiasm for his pictures; I have only a moderate liking for them. Several of his canvases, which we have looked at together, seem to me of a very questionable style, not at all Greek, as people want to call it, but French, and viciously French. I feel that we must go far beyond this, that there are far more beautiful things to be done. Yet, I repeat, why was I not his pupil? What a master he would have been for us! How salutary would have been his guidance!
It has been said, "Who will deliver us from the Greeks and Romans?" Soon we shall be saying, "Who will deliver us from realism?" Nothing is so tiring as a constant close imitation of life. One comes back inevitably to imaginative work. Homer's fictions will always be preferred to historical truth, Rubens' fabulous magnificence to all the frippery copied exactly from the lay figure.
The painter who is a machine will pass away, the painter who is a mind will remain; the spirit for ever triumphs over matter.
A little book by the Russian soldier and artist Verestchagin is interesting to the student. As a realist, he condemns all art founded on the principles of picture-makers, and depends only on exact imitation, and the conditions of accident. In our seeking after truth, and endeavour never to be unreal or affected, it must not be forgotten that this endeavour after truth is to be made with materials altogether unreal and different from the object to be imitated. Nothing in a picture is real; indeed, the painter's art is the most unreal thing in the whole range of our efforts. Though art must be founded on nature, art and nature are distinctly different things; in a certain class of subjects probability may, indeed must, be violated, provided the violation is not disagreeable.
Everything in a work of art must accord. Though gloom and desolation would deepen the effects of a distressing incident in real life, such accompaniments are not necessary to make us feel a thrill of horror or awaken the keenest sympathy. The most awful circumstances may take place under the purest sky, and amid the most lovely surroundings. The human sensibilities will be too much affected by the human sympathies to heed the external conditions; but to awaken in a picture similar impressions, certain artificial aids must be used; the general aspect must be troubled or sad.
The remarks made on my "Man with the Hoe" seem always very strange to me, and I am obliged to you for repeating them to me, for once more it sets me marvelling at the ideas they impute to me. In what club have my critics ever encountered me? A Socialist, they cry! Well, really, I might answer the charge as the commissary from Auvergne did when he wrote home: "They have been saying that I am a Saint-Simonian: it's not true; I don't know what a Saint-Simonian is."
Can't they then simply admit such ideas as may occur to the mind in looking at a man doomed to gain his living by the sweat of his brow? There are some who tell me that I deny the charm of the country. I find in the country much more than charm; I find infinite splendour; I look on everything as they do on the little powers of which Christ said, "I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." I see and note the aureole on the dandelion, and the sun which, far away, beyond the stretching country, spends his glory on the clouds. I see just as much in the flat plain; in the horses steaming as they toil; and then in a stony place I see a man quite exhausted, whose gasps have been audible since morning, who tries to draw himself up for a moment to take breath. The drama is surrounded by splendours. This is no invention of mine; and it is long since that expression "the cry of the earth" was discovered. My critics are men of learning and taste, I imagine; but I cannot put myself into their skins, and since I have never in my life seen anything but the fields, I try to tell, as best I can, what I have seen and experienced as I worked.
One of the hardest things in the world is to determine how much realism is allowable in any particular picture. It is of so many different kinds too. For instance, I want a shield or a crown or a pair of wings or what not, to look real. Well, I make what I want, or a model of it, and then make studies from that. So that what eventually gets on to the canvas is a reflection of a reflection of something purely imaginary. The three Magi never had crowns like that, supposing them to have had crowns at all, but the effect is realistic because the crown from which the studies were made is real—and so on.
Do you understand now that all my intelligence rejects is in immediate relation to all my heart aspires to, and that the spectacle of human blunders and human vileness is an equally powerful motive for action in the exercise of art with springs of tranquil contemplation that I have felt within me since I was a child?
We have come far, I hope, from the shadowy foliage crowning the humble roof of the primitive human dwelling, far from the warbling of the birds that brood among the branches; far from all these tender things. We left them, notwithstanding, the other day; and even if we had stayed, do you think we should have continued to enjoy them?
Believe me, everything comes from the universal; we must embrace to give life.
Whatever interest one may get from material offered by a period, religion, manners, history, &c., in representing a particular type, it will avail nothing without an understanding of the universal agency of atmosphere, that modelling of infinity; it shall come to pass that a stone fence, about which the air seems to move and breathe, shall be, in a museum, a grander conception than any ambitious work which lacks this universal element and expresses only something personal. All the personal and particular majesty of a portrait of Louis XIV. by Lebrun or by Rigaud shall be as nothing beside the simplicity of a tuft of grass shining clear in a gleam of sunlight.
Of all the things that is likely to give us back popular art in England, the cleaning of England is the first and the most necessary. Those who are to make beautiful things must live in a beautiful place.
On the whole, one must suppose that beauty is a marketable quality, and that the better the work is all round, both as a work of art and in its technique, the more likely it is to find favour with the public.
ART AND SOCIETY
With the language of beauty in full resonance around him, art was not difficult to the painter and sculptor of old as it is with us. No anatomical study will do for the modern artist what habitual acquaintance with the human form did for Pheidias. No Venetian painted a horse with the truth and certainty of Horace Vernet, who knew the animal by heart, rode him, groomed him, and had him constantly in his studio. Every artist must paint what he sees, rather every artist must paint what is around him, can produce no great work unless he impress the character of his age upon his production, not necessarily taking his subjects from it (better if he can), but taking the impress of its life. The great art of Pheidias did not deal with the history of his time, but compressed into its form the qualities of the most intellectual period the world has seen; nor were any materials to be invented or borrowed, he had them all at hand, expressing himself in a natural language derived from familiarity with natural objects. Beauty is the language of art, and with this at command thoughts as they arise take visible form perhaps almost without effort, or (certain technical difficulties overcome) with little more than is required in writing—this not absolving the artist or the poet from earnest thought and severe study. In many respects the present age is far more advanced than preceding times, incomparably more full of knowledge; but the language of great art is dead, for general, noble beauty, pervades life no more. The artist is obliged to return to extinct forms of speech if he would speak as the great ones have spoken. Nothing beautiful is seen around him, excepting always sky and trees and sea; these, as he is mainly a dweller in cities, he cannot live enough with. But it is, perhaps, in the real estimation in which art is held that we shall find the reason for failure. If the world cared for her language, art could not help speaking, the utterance being, perhaps, simply beautiful. But even in these days when we have ceased to prize this, if it were demanded that art should take its place beside the great intellectual outflow of the time, the response would hardly be doubtful.
You refer to the use and purpose of the liberal arts; not a city in Europe, at present, is fulfilling them. And if any one in Melbourne were now to produce, even on a small scale, a picture fulfilling the conditions of liberal art, then Melbourne might take the lead of civilised cities. But it is not the ambition of leading, nor the restlessness of a competitive spirit that may accomplish this.
A good poem, whether painted or written, whether large or small, should represent beautiful life. Are you able to name any one who has conceived this beauty of the life of men? I will not complicate the requirements of painted poesy by speaking of the music of colour with which it should be clothed; black and white were enough. The very attempt to express the confession of love were fulfilment sufficient.
So art has become foolishly confounded with education, that all should be equally qualified. Whereas, while polish, refinement, culture, and breeding are in no way arguments for artistic result, it is also no reproach to the most finished scholar or greatest gentleman in the land that he be absolutely without eye for painting or ear for music—that in his heart he prefer the popular print to the scratch of Rembrandt's needle, or the songs of the hall to Beethoven's "C Minor Symphony."
Let him have but the wit to say so, and not let him feel the admission a proof of inferiority.
Art happens—no hovel is safe from it, no prince may depend on it, the vastest intelligence cannot bring it about, and puny efforts to make it universal end in quaint comedy and coarse farce.
This is as it should be; and all attempts to make it otherwise are due to the eloquence of the ignorant, the zeal of the conceited.
Art will not grow and flourish, nay it will not long exist, unless it be shared by all people; and for my part I don't wish that it should.
No, art is not an element of corruption. The man who drinks from a wooden bowl is nearer to the brute that drinks from a stone trough than he who quenches his thirst from a crystal cup; and the artist who gave the glass its shape, impressed as in a mould of bronze by the simple means of a second's breath and yet more cheaply than the fashioning of the wooden bowl, has done more to ennoble and improve his neighbour than any inventor of a system: in his work he gives him the use and the enjoyment of things for which orators can only create a craving.
The improviser never makes fine poetry.
Agatharcus said to Zeuxis—For my part I soon despatch my Pictures. You are a happy Man, replies Zeuxis; I do mine with Time and application, because I would have them good, and I am satisfyed, that what is soon done, will soon be forgotten.
Art is not a pleasure trip. It is a battle, a mill that grinds.
STUDY AND TRAINING
Raphael and Michael Angelo owe that immortal fame of theirs, which has gone out into the ends of the earth, to the passion of curiosity and delight with which this noble subject inspired them.
No man who has not studied the sciences can make a work that shall bring him great praise, save from ignorant and easily satisfied persons.
He that would be a painter must have a natural turn thereto.
Love and delight therein are better teachers of the Art of Painting than compulsion is.
If a man is to become a really good painter he must be educated thereto from his very earliest years. He must copy much of the work of good artists until he attain a free hand.
To paint is to be able to portray upon a flat surface any visible thing whatsoever that may be chosen.
It is well for any one first to learn how to divide and reduce to measure the human figure, before learning anything else.
The painter requires such knowledge of mathematics as belongs to painting, and severance from companions who are not in sympathy with his studies, and his brain should have the power of adapting itself to the tenor of the objects which present themselves before it, and he should be freed from all other cares. And if, while considering and examining one subject, a second should intervene, as happens when an object occupies the mind, he ought to decide which of these subjects presents greater difficulties in investigation, and follow that until it becomes entirely clear, and afterwards pursue the investigation of the other. And above all he should keep his mind as clear as the surface of a mirror, which becomes changed to as many different colours as are those of the objects within it, and his companions should resemble him in a taste for these studies; and if he fail to find any such, he should accustom himself to be alone in his investigations, for in the end he will find no more profitable companionship.
If you are fond of copying other Men's Work, as being Originals more constant to be seen and imitated than any living Object, I should rather advise to copy anything moderately carved than excellently painted: For by imitating a Picture, we only habituate our Hand to take a mere Resemblance; whereas by drawing from a carved Original, we learn not only to take this Resemblance, but also the true Lights.
Leon Battista Alberti.
There are a thousand proofs that the old masters and all good painters from Raphael onwards executed their frescoes from cartoons and their little easel pictures from more or less finished drawings.... Your model gives you exactly what you want to paint neither in character of drawing nor in colour, but at the same time you cannot do without him.
To paint Achilles the most goodly of men, though you had for your model the most abject you must depend on him, and can depend on him for the structure of the human body, for its movement and poise. The proof of this is that Raphael used his pupils in his studies for the movements of the figures in his divine pictures.
Whatever your talents may be, if you paint not from your studies after nature, but directly from the model, you will always be a slave and your pictures will show it. Raphael, on the contrary, had so completely mastered nature and had his mind so full of her, that instead of being ruled by her, one might say that she obeyed him and came at his command to place herself in his pictures.
No one can ever design till he has learned the language of Art by making many finished copies both of Nature, Art, and of whatever comes in his way, from earliest childhood. The difference between a bad artist and a good is, that the bad artist seems to copy a great deal, the good one does copy a great deal.
If you deprive an artist of all he has borrowed from the experience of others the originality left will be but a twentieth part of him.
Originality by itself cannot constitute a remarkable talent.
I am convinced that to reach the highest degree of perfection as a painter, it is necessary, not only to be acquainted with the ancient statues, but we must be inwardly imbued with a thorough comprehension of them.
First of all copy drawings by a good master made by his art from nature and not as exercises; then from a relief, keeping by you a drawing done from the same relief; then from a good model, and of this you ought to make a practice.
I wish to do something purely Greek; I feed my eyes on the antique statues, I mean even to imitate some of them. The Greeks never scrupled to reproduce a composition, a movement, a type already received and used. They put all their care, all their art, into perfecting an idea which had been used by others before them. They thought, and thought rightly, that in the arts the manner of rendering and expressing an idea matters more than the idea itself.
To give a clothing, a perfect form to one's thought is to be an artist ... it is the only way.
Well, I have done my best and I hope to attain my object.
Who amongst us, if he were to attempt in reality to represent a celebrated work of Apelles or Timanthus, such as Pliny describes them, but would produce something absurd, or perfectly foreign to the exalted greatness of the ancients? Each one, relying on his own powers, would produce some wretched, crude, unfermented stuff, instead of an exquisite old wine, uniting strength and mellowness, outraging those great spirits whom I endeavour reverently to follow, satisfied, however, to honour the marks of their footsteps, instead of supposing—I acknowledge it candidly—that I can ever attain to their eminence even in mere conception.
[You have stated that you thought these Marbles had great truth and imitation of nature; do you consider that that adds to their value?]
It considerably adds to it, because I consider them as united with grand form. There is in them that variety that is produced in the human form, by the alternate action and repose of the muscles, that strike one particularly. I have myself a very good collection of the best casts from the antique statues, and was struck with that difference in them, in returning from the Elgin Marbles to my own house.
It is absolutely necessary that at some moment or other in one's career one should reach the point, not of despising all that is outside oneself, but of abandoning for ever that almost blind fanaticism which impels us all to imitate the great masters, and to swear only by their works. It is necessary to say to oneself, That is good for Rubens, this for Raphael, Titian, or Michael Angelo. What they have done is their own business; I am not bound to this master or to that. It is necessary to learn to make what one has found one's own: a pinch of personal inspiration is worth everything else.
From Phidias to Clodion, from Correggio to Fragonard, from the greatest to the least of those who have deserved the name of master, Art has been pursuing the Chimaera, attempting to reconcile two opposites—the most slavish fidelity to nature and the most absolute independence of her, an independence so absolute that the work of art may claim to be a creation. This is the persistent problem offered by the unstable character of the point of view at which it is approached; the whole mystery of art. The subject, as presented in nature, cannot keep the place which art with its transforming instinct would assign it; and therefore a single formula can never be adequate to the totality of nature's manifestations; the draughtsman will talk of its form, a colourist of its effect.
Considered in this light, nature is nothing more than one of the instruments of the arts, in the same category with their principles, elements, formulas, conventions, tools.
One must copy nature always, and learn how to see her rightly. It is for this that one should study the antique and the great masters, not in order to imitate them, but, I repeat, to learn to see.
Do you think I send you to the Louvre to find there what people call "le beau ideal," something which is outside nature?
It was stupidity like this which in bad periods led to the decadence of art. I send you there to learn from the antique how to see nature, because they themselves are nature: therefore one must live among them, and absorb them.
It is the same in the painting of the great ages. Do you think, when I tell you to copy, that I want to make copyists of you? No, I want you to take the sap from the plant.
The strict copying of nature is not art; it is only a means to an end, an element in the whole. Art, while presenting nature, must manifest itself in its own essence. It is not a mirror, uncritically reflecting every image; it is the artist who must mould the image to his will; else his work is not performed.
Nature contains the elements, in colour and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful; as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he bring forth from chaos glorious harmony.
To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano.
When you have thoroughly learnt perspective, and have fixed in your memory all the various parts and forms of things, you should often amuse yourself when you take a walk for recreation, in watching and taking note of the attitudes and actions of men as they talk and dispute, or laugh or come to blows one with another, both their actions and those of the bystanders who either intervene or stand looking on at these things; noting these down with rapid strokes in this way, in a little pocket-book, which you ought always to carry with you. And let this be of tinted paper, so that it may not be rubbed out; but you should change the old for a new one, for these are not things to be rubbed out but preserved with the utmost diligence; for there is such an infinite number of forms and actions of things that the memory is incapable of preserving them, and therefore you should keep those (sketches) as your patterns and teachers.
Two men stop to talk together: I pencil them in detail, beginning at the head, for example; they separate and I have nothing but a fragment on my paper. Some children are sitting on the steps of a church; I begin, their mother calls them; my sketch-book becomes filled with tips of noses and locks of hair. I make a resolution not to go home without a whole figure, and I try for the first time to draw in mass, to draw rapidly, which is the only possible way of drawing, and which is to-day one of the chief faculties of our moderns. I put myself to draw in the winking of an eye the first group that presents itself; if it moves on I have at least put down the general character; if it stops, I can go on to the details. I do many such exercises, and have even gone so far as to cover the lining of my hat with lightning sketches of opera-ballets and opera scenery.
There is my model (the artist pointed to the crowd which thronged a market-place); art lives by studying nature, not by imitating any artist.
When you have clearly and distinctly learned in what good colouring consists, you cannot do better than have recourse to nature herself, who is always at hand, and in comparison of whose true splendour the best coloured pictures are but faint and feeble.
However, as the practice of copying is not entirely to be excluded, since the mechanical practice of painting is learned in some measure by it, let those choice parts only be selected which have recommended the work to notice. If its excellence consists in its general effect, it would be proper to make slight sketches of the machinery and general management of the picture. Those sketches should be kept always by you for the regulation of your style. Instead of copying the touches of those great masters, copy only their conceptions. Instead of treading in their footsteps, endeavour only to keep the same road. Labour to invent on their general principles and way of thinking. Possess yourself with their spirit. Consider with yourself how a Michael Angelo or a Raffaelle would have treated this subject; and work yourself into a belief that your picture is to be seen and criticised by them when completed. Even an attempt of this kind will rouse your powers.
What do you mean—that you have been working, but without success? Do you mean that you cannot get the price you ask? then sell it for less, till, by practice, you shall improve, and command a better price. Or do you only mean that you are not satisfied with your work? nobody ever was that I know, except J—— W——. Peg away! While you're at work you must be improving. Do something from Nature indoors when you cannot get out, to keep your hand and eye in practice. Don't get into the way of working too much at your drawings away from Nature.
The purpose of art is no other than to delineate the form and express the spirit of an object, animate or inanimate, as the case may be. The use of art is to produce copies of things; and if an artist has a thorough knowledge of the properties of the thing he paints he can assuredly make a name. Just as a writer of profound erudition and good memory has ever at his command an inexhaustible supply of words and phrases which he freely makes use of in writing, so can a painter, who has accumulated experience by drawing from nature, paint any object without a conscious effort. The artist who confines himself to copying from models painted by his master, fares no better than a literatus who cannot rise above transcribing others' compositions. An ancient critic says that writing ends in describing a thing or narrating an event, but painting can represent the actual forms of things. Without the true depiction of objects, there can be no pictorial art. Nobility of sentiment and such-like only come after a successful delineation of the external form of an object. The beginner in art should direct his efforts more to the latter than to the former. He should learn to paint according to his own ideas, not to slavishly copy the models of old artists. Plagiarism is a crime to be avoided not only by men of letters but also by painters.
Okio (Japanese, eighteenth century).
I remember Duerer the painter, who used to say that, as a young man, he loved extraordinary and unusual designs in painting, but that in his old age he took to examining Nature, and strove to imitate her as closely as he possibly could; but he found by experience how hard it is not to deviate from her.
Duerer (quoted by Melancthon).
I have heard painters acknowledge, though in that acknowledgment no degradation of themselves was intended, that they could do better without Nature than with her; or, as they expressed it themselves, that it only put them out. A painter with such ideas and such habits, is indeed in a most hopeless state. The art of seeing Nature, or, in other words, the art of using models, is in reality the great object, the point to which all our studies are directed. As for the power of being able to do tolerably well, from practice alone, let it be valued according to its worth. But I do not see in what manner it can be sufficient for the production of correct, excellent, and finished pictures. Works deserving this character never were produced, nor ever will arise, from memory alone; and I will venture to say, that an artist who brings to his work a mind tolerably furnished with the general principles of art, and a taste formed upon the works of good artists, in short, who knows in what excellence consists, will, with the assistance of models, which we will likewise suppose he has learnt the art of using, be an over-match for the greatest painter that ever lived who should be debarred such advantages.
Do not imitate; do not follow others—you will always be behind them.
Never paint a subject unless it calls insistently and distinctly upon your eye and heart.
I should never paint anything that was not the result of an impression received from the aspect of nature, whether in landscape or figures.
You must interpret nature with entire simplicity and according to your personal sentiment, altogether detaching yourself from what you know of the old masters or of contemporaries. Only in this way will you do work of real feeling. I know gifted people who will not avail themselves of their power. Such people seem to me like a billiard-player whose adversary is constantly giving him good openings, but who makes no use of them. I think that if I were playing with that man, I would say, "Very well, then, I will give you no more." If I were to sit in judgment, I would punish the miserable creatures who squander their natural gifts, and I would turn their hearts to work.
Sensation is rude and false unless informed by intellection; and, however delicate be the touch in obedience to remote gradation, yet knowledge of the genus necessarily invests the representation with perspicuous and truthful relations that ignorance could not possibly have observed. Hence—Paint what you see; but know what you see.
Only paint what you love in what you see, and discipline yourself to separate this essence from its dumb accompaniments, so that the accents fall upon the points of passion. Let that which must be expressed of the rest be merged, syncopated in the largeness of the modulation.
Boldly dare to omit the impertinent or irrelevant, and let the features of the passion be modulated in fewness.
Not a touch without its meaning or its significance throughout the courses. There is no disgrace, but on the contrary, honour, be the touches never so few, if studied. By determined refusal to touch vaguely, and with persistence in the slowness of thoughtful work, a noble style may be at length obtained: swift as sublime.
I started on Monday, 25th August, for Honfleur, where I stayed till 5th September in the most blessed condition of spirit.
There I worked with my head, with my eyes, harvesting effects in the mind; then, going over everything again, I called up within myself the figures desired for the completion of the composition. Once I had evoked all this world from nothingness, and envisaged it, and had found where each thing was to be, I had to return to Paris to ask for nature's authorisation and make sure of my advance. Nature justified me, and, as she is kind to those who approach her reverentially, gave me of her grace without stint.
Puvis de Chavannes.
I wish to tell you, Francisco d'Ollanda, of an exceedingly great beauty in this science of ours, of which perhaps you are aware, and which, I think, you consider the highest, namely, that what one has most to work and struggle for in painting, is to do the work with a great amount of labour and study in such a way that it may afterwards appear, however much it was laboured, to have been done almost quickly and almost without any labour, and very easily, although it was not. And this is a very excellent beauty. At times some things are done with little work in the way I have said, but very seldom; most are done by dint of hard work and appear to have been done very quickly.
METHODS OF WORK
Every successful work is rapidly performed; quickness is only execrable when it is empty—small. No one condemns the swiftness of an eagle.
To him who knows not the burden of process—the attributes that are to claim attention with every epocha of the performance—all attempt at swiftness will be mere pretence.
I am planning a large picture, and I regard all you say, but I do not enter into that notion of varying one's plans to keep the public in good humour. Change of weather and effect will always afford variety. What if Van der Velde had quitted his sea-pieces, or Ruysdael his waterfalls, or Hobbema his native woods? The world would have lost so many features in art. I know that you wish for no material alteration, but I have to combat from high quarters—even from Lawrence—the plausible argument that subject makes the picture. Perhaps you think an evening effect might do; perhaps it might start me some new admirers, but I should lose many old ones. I imagine myself driving a nail; I have driven it some way, and by persevering I may drive it home; by quitting it to attack others, though I may amuse myself, I do not advance beyond the first, while that particular nail stands still. No man who can do any one thing well will be able to do any other different thing equally well; and this is true of Shakespeare, the greatest master of variety.
To work on the Ladye. Found part of the drapery bad, rubbed it out, heightened the seat she sits on, mended the heads again; did a great deal, but not finished yet. Any one might be surprised to read how I work whole days on an old drawing done many years since, and which I have twice worked over since it was rejected from the Royal Academy in '47, and now under promise of sale to White for L20. But I cannot help it. When I see a work going out of my hands, it is but natural, if I see some little defect, that I should try to mend it, and what follows is out of my power to direct: if I give one touch to a head, I give myself three days' work, and spoil it half-a-dozen times over.
Ford Madox Brown.
In literature as in art the rough sketches of the masters are made for connoisseurs, not for the vulgar crowd.
It is true sketches, or such drawings as painters generally make for their works, give this pleasure of imagination to a high degree. From a slight, undetermined drawing, where the ideas of the composition and character are, as I may say, only just touched upon, the imagination supplies more than the painter himself, probably, could produce; and we accordingly often find that the finished work disappoints the expectation that was raised from the sketch; and this power of the imagination is one of the causes of the great pleasure we have in viewing a collection of drawings by great painters.
I have just been examining all the sketches I have used in making this work. How many there are which fully satisfied me at the beginning, and which seem feeble, inadequate, or ill-composed, now that the paintings are advanced. I cannot tell myself often enough that it means an immense deal of labour to bring a work to the highest pitch of impressiveness of which it is capable. The oftener I revise it, the more it will gain in expressiveness.... Though the touch disappear, though the fire of execution be no longer the chief merit of the painting, there is no doubt about this; and again how often does it happen that after this intense labour, which has turned one's thought back on itself in every direction, the hand obeys more swiftly and surely in giving the desired lightness to the last touches.
Let us agree as to the meaning of the word "finished." What finishes a picture is not the quantity of detail in it, but the rightness of the general effect. A picture is not limited only by its frame. Whatever be the subject, there must be a principal object on which your eyes rest continually: the other objects are only the complement of this, they are less interesting to you; and after that there is nothing more for your eye.
There is the real limit of your picture. This principal object must seem so to the spectator of your work. Therefore, one must always return to this, and state its colour with more and more decision.
He was a great Master, but he often spoil'd his Pieces by endeavouring to make them Perfect; he did not know when he had done well; a Man may do too much as well as too little; and he is truly skilful, who knew what was sufficient.
A picture must always be a little spoilt in the finishing of it. The last touches, which are intended to draw the picture together, take off from its freshness. To appear before the public one must cut out all those happy accidents which are the joy of the artist. I compare these murderous retouchings to those banal flourishes with which all airs of music end, and to those insignificant spaces which the musician is forced to put between the interesting parts of his work in order to lead on from one motive to another or to give them their proper value.
Re-touching, however, is not so fatal to a picture as one might think, when the picture has been well thought out and worked at with deep feeling. Time, in effacing the touches, old as well as new, gives back to the work its complete effect.
A picture, the effect of which is true, is finished.
You please me much, by saying that no other fault is found in your picture than the roughness of the surface; for that part being of use in giving force to the effect at a proper distance, and what a judge of painting knows an original from a copy by—in short, being the touch of the pencil which is harder to preserve than smoothness, I am much better pleased that they should spy out things of that kind, than to see an eye half an inch out of its place, or a nose out of drawing when viewed at a proper distance. I don't think it would be more ridiculous for a person to put his nose close to the canvas and say the colours smelt offensive, than to say how rough the paint lies; for one is just as material as the other with regard to hurting the effect and drawing of a picture.
The picture will be seen to the greatest advantage if it is hung in a strong light, and in such a manner that the spectator can stand at some distance from it.
[Footnote 2: Probably the "Blinding of Samson."]
Don't look at a picture close, it smells bad.
Try to be frank in drawing and in colour; give things their full relief; make a painting which can be seen at a distance; this is indispensable.
If I might point out to you another defect, very prevalent of late, in our pictures, and one of the same contracted character with those you so happily illustrate, it would be that of the want of breadth, and in others a perpetual division and subdivision of parts, to give what their perpetrators call space; add to this a constant disturbing and torturing of everything whether in light or in shadow, by a niggling touch, to produce fulness of subject. This is the very reverse of what we see in Cuyp or Wilson, and even, with all his high finishing, in Claude. I have been warning our friend Collins against this, and was also urging young Landseer to beware of it; and in what I have been doing lately myself have been studying much from Rembrandt and from Cuyp, so as to acquire what the great masters succeeded so well in, namely, that power by which the chief objects, and even the minute finishing of parts, tell over everything that is meant to be subordinate in their pictures. Sir Joshua had this remarkably, and could even make the features of the face tell over everything, however strongly painted. I find that repose and breadth in the shadows and half-tints do a great deal towards it. Zoffany's figures derive great consequence from this; and I find that those who have studied light and shadow the most never appear to fail in it.
The commonest error into which a critic can fall is the remark we so often hear that such-and-such an artist's work is "careless," and "would be better had more labour been spent upon it." As often as not this is wholly untrue. As soon as the spectator can see that "more labour has been spent upon it," he may be sure that the picture is to that extent incomplete and unfinished, while the look of freshness that is inseparable from a really successful picture would of necessity be absent. If the high finish of a picture is so apparent as immediately to force itself upon the spectator, he may know that it is not as it should be; and from the moment that the artist feels his work is becoming a labour, he may depend upon it it will be without freshness, and to that extent without the merit of a true work of art. Work should always look as though it had been done with ease, however elaborate; what we see should appear to have been done without effort, whatever may be the agonies beneath the surface. M. Meissonier surpasses all his predecessors, as well as all his contemporaries, in the quality of high finish, but what you see is evidently done easily and without labour. I remember Thackeray saying to me, concerning a certain chapter in one of his books that the critics agreed in accusing of carelessness; "Careless? If I've written that chapter once I've written it a dozen times—and each time worse than the last!" a proof that labour did not assist in his case. When an artist fails it is not so much from carelessness: to do his best is not only profitable to him, but a joy. But it is not given to every man—not, indeed, to any—to succeed whenever and however he tries. The best painter that ever lived never entirely succeeded more than four or five times; that is to say, no artist ever painted more than four or five masterpieces, however high his general average may have been, for such success depends on the coincidence, not only of genius and inspiration, but of health and mood and a hundred other mysterious contingencies. For my own part, I have often been laboured, but whatever I am I am never careless. I may honestly say that I never consciously placed an idle touch upon canvas, and that I have always been earnest and hard-working; yet the worst pictures I ever painted in my life are those into which I threw most trouble and labour, and I confess I should not grieve were half my works to go to the bottom of the Atlantic—if I might choose the half to go. Sometimes as I paint I may find my work becoming laborious; but as soon as I detect any evidence of that labour I paint the whole thing out without more ado.
I think that a work of art should not only be careful and sincere, but that the care and sincerity should also be evident. No ugly smears should be allowed to do duty for the swiftness which comes from long practice, or to find excuse in the necessity which the accomplished artist feels to speak distinctly. That necessity must never receive impulse from a desire to produce an effect on the walls of a gallery: there is much danger of this working unconsciously in the accomplished artist, consciously in the student.
Real effect is making out the parts. Why are we to be told that masters, who could think, had not the judgment to perform the inferior parts of art? (as Reynolds artfully calls them); that we are to learn to think from great masters, and to perform from underlings—to learn to design from Raphael, and to execute from Rubens?
If I knew that my portrait was still at Antwerp, I would have it kept back for the case to be opened, so that one could see that it had not been hurt by so long a time spent in a case without being exposed to the air, and that, as often happens to colours freshly put on, it has not turned rather yellow, thereby losing all its first effect. The remedy, if this has happened, is to expose it repeatedly to the sun, the rays of which absorb the superfluity of oil which causes this change; and if at any time it still turns brown, it must be exposed afresh to the sun. Warmth is the only remedy for this serious mischief.
EFFECTS OF TIME ON PAINTING
The only way to judge of the treasures the Old Masters of whatever age have left us—whether in architecture, sculpture, or painting—with any hope of sound deduction, is to look at the work and ask oneself—"What was that like when it was new?" The Elgin Marbles are allowed by common consent to be the perfection of art. But how much of our feeling of reverence is inspired by time? Imagine the Parthenon as it must have looked with the frieze of the mighty Phidias fresh from the chisel. Could one behold it in all its pristine beauty and splendour we should see a white marble building, blinding in the dazzling brightness of a southern sun, the figures of the exquisite frieze in all probability painted—there is more than a suspicion of that—and the whole standing out against the intense blue sky; and many of us, I venture to think, would cry at once, "How excessively crude." No; Time and Varnish are two of the greatest of Old Masters, and their merits and virtues are too often attributed by critics—I do not of course allude to the professional art-critics—to the painters of the pictures they have toned and mellowed. The great artists all painted in bright colours, such as it is the fashion nowadays for men to decry as crude and vulgar, never suspecting that what they applaud in those works is merely the result of what they condemn in their contemporaries. Take a case in point—the "Bacchus and Ariadne" in the National Gallery, with its splendid red robe and its rich brown grass. You may rest assured that the painter of that bright red robe never painted the grass brown. He saw the colour as it was, and painted it as it was—distinctly green; only it has faded with time to its present beautiful mellow colour. Yet many men nowadays will not have a picture with green in it; there are even buyers who, when giving a commission to an artist, will stipulate that the canvas shall contain none of it. But God Almighty has given us green, and you may depend upon it it's a fine colour.
I must further dissent from any opinion that beauty of surface and what is technically called "quality" are mainly due to time. Sir John himself has quoted the early pictures of Rembrandt as examples of hard and careful painting, devoid of the charm and mystery so remarkable in his later work. The early works of Velasquez are still more remarkable instances, being, as they are, singularly tight and disagreeable—time having done little or nothing towards making them more agreeable.
I am painting for thirty years hence.
Sir John Millais is certainly right in his estimate of strong and even bright colour, but it seems to me that he is mistaken in believing that the colour of the Venetians was ever crude, or that time will ever turn white into colour. The colour of the best-preserved pictures by Titian shows a marked distinction between light flesh tones and white drapery. This is most distinctly seen in the small "Noli Me Tangere" in our National Gallery, in the so-called "Venus" of the Tribune and in the "Flora" of the Uffizi, both in Florence, and in Bronzino's "All is Vanity," also in the National Gallery. In the last-named picture, for example, the colour is as crude and the surface as bare of mystery as if it had been painted yesterday. As a matter of fact, white unquestionably tones down, but never becomes colour; indeed, under favourable conditions, and having due regard to what is underneath, it changes very little. In the "Noli Me Tangere" to which I have referred, the white sleeve of the Magdalen is still a beautiful white, quite different from the white of the fairest of Titian's flesh—proving that Titian never painted his flesh white.
The so-called "Venus" in the Tribune at Florence is a more important example still, as it is an elaborately painted picture owing nothing to the brightness that slight painting often has and retains, the colours being untormented by repeated re-touching. This picture is a proof that when the method is good and the pigments pure, the colours change very little. More than three hundred years have passed, and the white sheet on which the figure lies is still, in effect, white against the flesh. The flesh is most lovely in colour—neither violent by shadows or strong colour—but beautiful flesh. It cannot be compared to ivory or snow, or any other substance or material; it is simply beautiful lustre on the surface with a circulation of blood underneath—an absolute triumph never repeated except by Titian himself.
It is probable that the pictures by Reynolds are often lower in tone than they were, but it is doubtful whether the Strawberry Hill portraits are as much changed as may be supposed. Walpole, no doubt, called them "white and pinky," but it must be remembered that, living before the days of picture cleaning, he was accustomed to expect them to be brown and dark, probably even to associate colour with dirt in the Old Masters. The purer, clearer, and richer the colours are, the better a picture will be; and I think this should be especially insisted upon, since white is so effective in a modern exhibition that young artists are naturally prompted to profit by the means cheaply afforded and readily at hand.
I think it is probable that where Titian has used brown-green he intended it, since in many of the Venetian pictures we find green draperies of a beautiful colour. Sir John seems to infer that the colours used in the decoration of the Parthenon (no doubt used) were crude. The extraordinary refinements demonstrated in a lecture by Mr. Penrose on the spot last year, at which I had the good fortune to be present, forbid such a conclusion. A few graduated inches in the circumference of the columns, and deflection from straight line in the pediment and in the base-line, proved by measurement and examination to be carefully intentional, will not permit us for a moment to believe this could have been the case; so precise in line, rhythmical in arrangement, lovely in detail, and harmonious in effect, it could never have been crude in colour. No doubt the marble was white, but illuminated by such a sun, and set against such a sky and distance, the white, with its varieties of shadow, aided by the colours employed, could have gleaned life and flame in its splendour. Colour was certainly used, and the modern eye might at first have something to get over, but there could have been nothing harsh and crude. The exquisite purity of line and delicacy of edge could never have been matched with crudity or anything like harshness of colour. To this day the brightest colours may be seen on the columns at Luxor and Philae with beautiful effect.
I am getting on with my pictures, and have now got them all three into a fairly forward state of under painting; completion, however, will only be reached in the course of next winter, for I intend to execute them with minute care. I have simplified my method of painting, and forsworn all tricks. I endeavour to advance from the beginning as much as possible, and equally try to mix the right tint, and slowly and carefully to put it on the right spot, and always with the model before me; what does not exactly suit has to be adapted; one can derive benefit from every head. Schwind says that he cannot work from models, they worry him! A splendid teacher for his pupils! Nature worries every one at first, but one must so discipline oneself that, instead of checking and hindering, she shall illuminate and help, and solve all doubts. Has Schwind, with his splendid and varied gifts, ever been able to model a head with a brush? Those who place the brush behind the pencil, under the pretence that form is before all things, make a very great mistake. Form is certainly all-important; one cannot study it enough; but the greater part of form falls within the province of the tabooed brush. The ever-lasting hobby of contour which belongs to the drawing material is first the place where the form comes in; what, however, reveals true knowledge of form, is a powerful, organic, refined finish of modelling, full of feeling and knowledge—and that is the affair of the brush.
Manner is always seductive. It is more or less an imitation of what has been done already, therefore always plausible. It promises the short road, the near cut to present fame and emolument, by availing ourselves of the labours of others. It leads to almost immediate reputation, because it is the wonder of the ignorant world. It is always accompanied by certain blandishments, showy and plausible, and which catch the eye. As manner comes by degrees, and is fostered by success in the world, flattery, &c., all painters who would be really great should be perpetually on their guard against it. Nothing but a close and continual observance of nature can protect them from the danger of becoming mannerists.
Have a holy horror of useless impasto, which gets sticky and dull, turns blue and heavy. When you have painted a bit of which you are doubtful, wait till the moment when it will be possible for you to take it out. Judge it; and if it is condemned, remove it firmly with your palette-knife, without rubbing by rags which spoil the limpidity of the pigment. You will have left a delicate foundation, to which you can return and finish with little labour, because your canvas will have received a first coating. Loading and massing the pigment is an abomination. In twenty-four hours gold turns to lead.
Puvis de Chavannes.
From the age of six I began to draw, and for eighty-four years I have worked independently of the schools, my thoughts all the time being turned towards drawing.
It being impossible to express everything in so small a space, I wished only to teach the difference between vermilion and crimson lake, between indigo and green, and also in a general way to teach how to handle round shapes and square, straight lines and curved; and if one day I make a sequel to this volume, I shall show children how to render the violence of ocean, the rush of rapids, the tranquillity of still pools, and among the living beings of the earth, their state of weakness or strength. There are in nature birds that do not fly high, flowering trees that never fruit; all these conditions of the life we live among are worth studying thoroughly; and if I ever succeed in convincing artists of this, I shall have been the first to show the way.
Let every man who is here understand this well: design, which by another name is called drawing, and consists of it, is the fount and body of painting and sculpture and architecture and of every other kind of painting, and the root of all sciences. Let whoever may have attained to so much as to have the power of drawing know that he holds a great treasure; he will be able to make figures higher than any tower, either in colours or carved from the block, and he will not be able to find a wall or enclosure which does not appear circumscribed and small to his brave imagination. And he will be able to paint in fresco in the manner of old Italy, with all the mixtures and varieties of colour usually employed in it. He will be able to paint in oils very suavely with more knowledge, daring, and patience than painters. And finally, on a small piece of parchment he will be most perfect and great, as in all other manners of painting. Because great, very great is the power of design and drawing.
DRAWING AND DESIGN
Pupils, I give you the whole art of sculpture when I tell you—draw!
Drawing is the probity of art.
To draw does not mean only to reproduce an outline, drawing does not consist only of line; drawing is more than this, it is expression, it is the inner form, the structure, the modelling. After that what is left? Drawing includes seven-eighths of what constitutes painting. If I had to put a sign above my door I would write on it "School of Drawing," and I am sure that I should turn out painters.
Draw with a pure but ample line. Purity and breadth, that is the secret of drawing, of art.
Continue to draw for long before you think of painting. When one builds on a solid foundation one can sleep at ease.
The great painters like Raphael and Michael Angelo insisted on the outline when finishing their work. They went over it with a fine brush, and thus gave new animation to the contours; they impressed on their design force and fire.
The first thing to seize in an object, in order to draw it, is the contrast of the principal lines. Before putting chalk to paper, get this well into the mind. In Girodet's work, for example, one sometimes sees this admirably shown, because through intense preoccupation with his model he has caught, willy-nilly, something of its natural grace; but it has been done as if by accident. He applied the principle without recognising it as such. X—— seems to me the only man who has understood it and carried it out. That is the whole secret of his drawing. The most difficult thing is to apply it, like him, to the whole body. Ingres has done it in details like hands, &c. Without mechanical aids to help the eye, it would be impossible to arrive at the principle; aids such as prolonging a line, &c., drawing often on a pane of glass. All the other painters, not excepting Michael Angelo and Raphael, draw by instinct, by inspiration, and found beauty by being struck with it in nature; but they did not know X——'s secret, accuracy of eye. It is not at the moment of carrying out a design that one ought to tie oneself down to working with measuring-rules, perpendiculars, &c.; this accuracy of eye must be an acquired habit, which in the presence of nature will spontaneously assist the imperious need of rendering her aspect. Wilkie, again, has the secret. In portraiture it is indispensable. When, for example, one has made out the ensemble of a design, and when one knows the lines by heart, so to speak, one should be able to reproduce them geometrically, in a fashion, on the picture. Above all with women's portraits; the first thing to seize is to seize the grace of the ensemble. If you begin with the details, you will be always heavy. For instance: if you have to draw a thoroughbred horse, if you let yourself go into details, your outline will never be salient enough.
Drawing is the means employed by art to set down and imitate the light of nature. Everything in nature is manifested to us by means of light and its complementaries, reflection and shadow. This it is which drawing verifies. Drawing is the counterfeit light of art.
It won't do to begin painting heads or much detail in this picture till it's all settled. I do so believe in getting in the bones of a picture properly first, then putting on the flesh and afterwards the skin, and then another skin; last of all combing its hair and sending it forth to the world. If you begin with the flesh and the skin and trust to getting the bones right afterwards, it's such a slippery process.
The creative spirit in descending into a pictorial conception must take upon itself organic structure. This great imaginative scheme forms the bony system of the work; lines take the place of nerves and arteries, and the whole is covered with the skin of colour.
Hsieh Ho (Chinese, sixth century).
Simplicity in composition or distinctness of parts is ever to be attended to, as it is one part of beauty, as has been already said: but that what I mean by distinctness of parts in this place may be better understood it will be proper to explain it by an example.
When you would compose an object of a great variety of parts, let several of those parts be distinguished by themselves, by their remarkable difference from the next adjoining, so as to make each of them, as it were, one well-shaped quantity or part (these are like what they call passages in music, and in writing paragraphs) by which means not only the whole, but even every part, will be better understood by the eye: for confusion will hereby be avoided when the object is seen near, and the shapes will seem well varied, though fewer in number, at a distance.
The parsley-leaf, in like manner, from whence a beautiful foliage in ornament was originally taken, is divided into three distinct passages; which are again divided into other odd numbers; and this method is observed, for the generality, in the leaves of all plants and flowers, the most simple of which are the trefoil and cinquefoil.
Observe the well-composed nosegay, how it loses all distinctness when it dies; each leaf and flower then shrivels and loses its distinct shape, and the firm colours fade into a kind of sameness; so that the whole gradually becomes a confused heap.
If the general parts of objects are preserved large at first, they will always admit of further enrichments of a small kind, but then they must be so small as not to confound the general masses or quantities; thus, you see, variety is a check upon itself when overdone, which of course begets what is called a petit taste and a confusion to the eye.
Drawing includes everything except the tinting of the picture.
One must always be drawing, drawing with the eye when one cannot draw with the pencil. If observation does not keep step with practice you will do nothing really good.
As a means of practising this perspective of the variation and loss or diminution of the proper essence of colours, take at distances, a hundred braccia apart, objects standing in the landscape, such as trees, houses, men, and places, and in front of the first tree fix a piece of glass so that it is quite steady, and then let your eye rest upon it and trace out a tree upon the glass above the outline of the tree; and afterwards remove the glass so far to one side that the actual tree seems almost to touch the one that you have drawn. Then colour your drawing in such a way that the two are alike in colour and form, and that if you close one eye both seem painted on the glass and the same distance away. Then proceed in the same way with a second and a third tree, at distances of a hundred braccia from each other. And these will always serve as your standards and teachers when you are at work on pictures where they can be applied, and they will cause the work to be successful in its distance. But I find it is a rule that the second is reduced to four-fifths the size of the first when it is twenty braccia distant from it.