« ÎnapoiContinuă »
formed as to the meaning of the painter, unimpressed with a single idea.
In describing this picture, my mind very naturally reverts to one in the same exhibition, almost immediately opposed to it in situation, but still more so in character. It was, if I recollect right, by one of the Nasmiths, and represented a sunset upon a level beach. The sky was still glowing with all the gorgeous tints of evening, but the sun was not visible, and there was neither cliff nor wave, nor headland to reflect his light. All was a complete flat, gilded with his sidelong beams, and the sea and the shore were alike unruffled. But the artist, acquainted with the principles of mind as well as matter, had not sent forth this mere flat to brave the consequent contempt of mankind. He had wisely given to his picture a focus of interest, without which it must have been a complete blank. We have before observed, that whatever is beautiful or sublime, does not create intense sensations of pleasure, without some link of human fellowship, either real or imaginary; so the painter of this picture had placed in the middle distance, or rather in the foreground of his piece, two human beings, whose tall shadows fell behind them on the ground. They might be fishermen consulting about the tides, or travellers resting by the way, or poets gazing on the golden sky; their dress and appearance revealed nothing, nor was it of consequence that they should. They were human, and that was enough. Imagination could supply the rest, and people that glowing scene with all the images, familiar or fantastic, that wait upon the sun's decline.
It was the perfect harmony of this picture which made the charm so irresistible—the illusion so complete; and whenever the delight or the beauty of landscape painting is considered, harmony must be acknowledged to be the basis upon which both are founded. It is true that the external aspect of nature presents perpetual contrast, both in form and colour; but this very contrast is in harmony with the whole: for our ideas of beauty are chiefly derived from the principles which pervade the external world, and amongst these we may reckon it not the least important that there can be no brilliant light, without deep shadow.
In speaking of the pleasure derived from painting, I have found in necessary to make frequent use of the word illusion, a word which might unquestionably be applied to many other sources of human gratification. But in reference to the illusion to which we willingly and necessarily submit ourselves, in order to find greater pleasure in the productions of the pencil, it may not be illtimed to offer a few remarks in this place.
Those who have never studied the art of painting, intellectually, are not aware how much we are indebted for the pleasure we receive from it, to a natural process which takes place in the mind of the beholder. The painter who has no brighter materials than red and yellow clay to work with, can so dispose them as to represent the splendour and brilliance of a summer sunset, upon which we gaze till our eyes are almost dazzled with the refulgence of those burning beams. In the centre of his piece he places the glowing orb of day, smiling his brightest before he sinks to rest upon his couch of crimson clouds; on either side are trees whose foliage is bathed in the same golden hues, and if skilfully managed, they will form a vista terminating in excess of light; while the whole is enlivened by a group of panting cattle, some of them holding down their heads as if in the very prostration of patient endurance, while their tails are curled about in every possible variety of posture, to show with what assiduity they are lashing off the myriads of insects, whose busy and unceasing hum is almost loud enough to be heard. On first asking why the little spot of yellow paint which represents the sun looks so much more brilliant in the picture than on the palette, we are told it is the adjustment of the different grades of light which thus increases the brightness of the centre. But let the same colours be placed without any regard to form in the same order on the palette, and we behold nothing but a heap of paint, upon which we might gaze till doomsday without being dazzled. It is because we know that that particular appearance of the sun, the sky the earth, the trees, and the cattle, is in reality the invariable accompaniment of intense heat, so, on perceiving the same appearance in a picture, we persuade ourselves that it
is so there. If in the same scene, and with precisely the same colours, the artist should represent the violence of a gale of wind; or if instead of the cattle, but in the same situation, and still with the same colours, he should place a leafless tree, a cottage with its roof covered with snow, and a miserable, half-starved man, vainly endeavouring to fold a blanket round his shivering limbs, there is no eye that would feel the same difficulty, in gazing on the picture, no mind, either of man or woman, that would be able, while contemplating such a scene, to undergo the process of (what is now commonly called) realizing the ideas of light and heat. In the selection of animals, or individual objects thrown in from choice to diversify a picture, the landscape painter finds wide scope for the display of his poetic feeling. The introduction of fat cattle is an error into which none could fall who was not either a novice in his art, or an agriculturalist irrevocably wedded to the best system of rearing live stock. And why? Because our associations with fat cattle, whatever satisfaction they may yield in the kitchen or larder, are decidedly too gross and vulgar in their nature to afford any gratification in a poem or a picture. Far be it from the writer of this chapter to depreciate the value of fat cattle, or any other agricultural produce; but everything has an appropriate place, and there is but one kind of picture in which fat cattle would be in theirs. I will leave the reader to judge how far that kind is worthy of the graphic art. Let the subject be a red brick farm house, with a barn extending on one side, and a square plot of garden ground on the other, circular corn stacks, and a red-tiled pigeon house in front, with fields in the distance, smoothed down by constant culture, and intersected with neatly clipped hedgerows running at right angles all over them; then fat cattle would unquestionably be well placed in the foreground, and the picture, merely as such, would possess the beauty of harmony in all its parts, though it might be impossible to call it poetical.
After condemning an extreme case, the mind, by a natural effort, rushes towards its opposite in search of that gratification which it has failed to find, and the idea which now
presents itself, is that of a wild and varied landscape, with distant mountains, rugged precipices, deep groves, green slopes, foaming cataracts, and wandering rills. Upon the verdant banks of one of these, beneath the shade of a "wide spreading beech," the artist places, immediately in the foreground, no less a personage than Apollo himself, while the Muses dance before him to the music of his lyre, and winged loves, and agile graces, skip from rock to rock, or float upon the ambient air. Does the picture please? No; because, in the first instance, it is not true to nature,* and wherever the conceit of man's imagination breaks in upon the harmony and pathos which belong to nature alone, the poetical charm must in some measure be destroyed; and, secondly, because in the picture of a landscape, the ideal of rural scenery should be distinct and predominant, which it is impossible it should be where characters so important as Apollo and the Muses are introduced. But let us still retain the landscape, and see whether something better may not be made of it. The artist who enters into the real spirit of poetry, will place upon the broken crags of the mountain a few shaggy goats, and perhaps a solitary stag, a wanderer from the herd, will be stooping over the side of the stream to lave its thirst in the cool waters of the forest. The foreground he will enliven with the rich colouring of innumerable wild plants, woven into a gorgeous carpet, which here and there gives place to a sharp projecting rock, or yields to the wild vagaries of a small silvery torrent, that sparkles up from a gray stone fountain, and after filling a rude trough, shoots forth in bubbling eddies, and then loses itself amongst the thick leaves and brushwood overhanging the little narrow bed, which with the strife of ages it has worked out for its own repose. Beside this fountain, a woman is standing, not an angel, or a goddess, but a simple peasant woman, whose dress, coarse but gorgeous in its colouring, corresponds with the rich and varied tints of the foreground. She has
just filled her pitcher from the pure stream, and is resting it for a moment on the side of the stone trough, before she treads back her lonely way to the herdsman's cottage, whose low thatched roof may be seen half hid by the sheltering trees. Here is at once a picture, which, by awakening our sympathies, calling to mind a thousand delightful recollections, and giving birth to the most agreeable associations, rivets our attention, delights our fancy, and demonstrates more clearly than would a volume of definitions, what it is that constitutes the poetry of painting; and in this manner, the most pleasing landscapes may be composed out of materials extremely simple, and sometimes even barren in themselves.
Perhaps no one was ever more intimately acquainted with the poetry of this branch of the art, than Salvator Rosa. In all his delineations of the savage dignity of nature, may be found a perfect correspondence between the subjects which he chose, and his manner of treating them. "Everything is of a piece, his rocks, trees, sky, even to his handling, have the same rude and wild character which animates his figures.”
most grotesque, ludicrous, or familiar; and then soaring away amongst the wild, the melancholy, and sometimes the sublime, yet retaining throughout the same moral impress, either dignified or abused.
I was once so circumstanced as to become intimately acquainted with the private studies of an artist, whose talent bore so striking a resemblance to ballad writing, that I feel confident had circumstances in early life directed his choice to the pen instead of the pencil, he would have used it with equal facility, and probably with as much lasting fame. The subjects which came under my notice were extremely small, and seldom contained more than a little patch of mountain scenery, with two or three goats or wild sheep; yet such was the character of these fairy pictures, that while the eye dwelt upon them, the illusion was so perfect as almost to beguile the fancy with the belief, that the bleat of those wandering sheep, the scent of the purple heather, and the hum of the wild bee, were really present to the senses. You might gaze, and gaze upon those simple scenes until you felt the cool elasticity of the mountain breeze, and the influence of the As the art of poetry may be classed under clear blue sky, stretching pure and high and several different heads, so that of painting distant over the wide moor; while you wanhas, to the poetical observer, many distinc- dered on, amongst the rustling furze and tions of character not laid down in the tech- yellow broom, startling the timid moor-fowl, nical phraseology of the schools. Leaving and rousing the slumbering lark to spread the more celebrated productions of the stu- again its folded wing, and soaring into upper dio, to which there might doubtless be found air, to sing another hymn of praise and corresponding specimens in the sister art, I thanksgiving to the Author of this perfect will turn to a case in point, which to my and wonderful creation, of which we feel mind is both striking and familiar. It is the ourselves in such moments to be no inconresemblance of character between Bewick's siderable or unworthy part. What is there woodcuts, and the poems of Robert Burns. to remind us that we are unworthy? We It is true, the artist in this instance has con- feel not the stirrings of mean or sordid pasfined himself to a mode of conveying hission. We are away from the habitations of ideas so simple and unpretending, that the man. Away from the envy and strife, the comparison hardly holds good between the tumult and contention, which mar the peace productions of the pencil and the pen. All of his hereditary and social home. Away that I maintain is the similarity of talent, of amongst the hills-away in the boundless tone of mind, and moral feeling, displayed and immeasurable realm of nature, where in their separate works. We find in both it is impossible not to feel the love of a bethe same adherence to nature, without orna- nign and superintending Providence-not to ment or affectation, and we discover the behold the work of an omnipotent Creatorsame pathos in those slight touches of which not to acknowledge the dominion of a pure genius alone is capable, with the same freaks and holy God. If we are not worthy of his of fancy, lawless and unrestrained, describ- countenance and protection when we feel ing as if in very wantonness, scenes the and acknowledge all this, when we bow in
simplicity and humble reverence before the made from various beautiful views and prosall-pervading spirit that animates and suspects. It is a vulgar remark, often made tains the world; when-when are the crea- upon pictures thus composed, that they are tures of his formation to lift up the prayer not true to nature, nor are they like a map, of gratitude, and return thanks for the bless- true to any given section of the earth's suring of existence? face; but they are true to that conception of perfect beauty with which nature animates the soul of the poet, and which it is one of his greatest pleasures to see diffused over the external world. It is not by representing nature in detail, but in character, that the highest gratification is produced; and he must unquestionably be the best, as well as the most poetical painter, who conveys by his works an idea of the general character of the external world; in short, who paints not only for the eye, but for the mind. It is not the eye alone that is enlivened by the brilliance of a sunny morning, nor is it the eye alone that reposes where the sombre shades of evening fall upon our path. There must be so much of character in all representations of particular times and seasons, as to convey to the mind a corresponding idea of the general state of the sky, the air, the vegetable and the animal kingdom, by which such seasons are invariably accompanied. Thus the landscape painter, by cultivating a familiar acquaintance with the minute varieties, and the distinct characteristics of the visible world; but above all, by studying profoundly those phenomena by which all that we know of the mysteries of beauty, power, and sublimity are revealed, will be able out of such materials to compose a whole, whose highest recommendation it will be, that it addresses itself forcibly to the imagination of the beholder, and calls up a train of associations with feelings and ideas the most exquisite and poetical.
But to return to our subject. After all that has been said of the importance of copying from nature, a few remarks may be necessary in reference to this expression, which is capable of being very differently understood. To copy nature is not merely to make the sky above, and the earth beneath, or even, entering into minutia, to make the clouds grey, and the grass green. The artist may copy nature with the accuracy and precision of a Chinese,* and yet never paint a picture that will excite even momentary admiration. It is quite as necessary that he should be able to perceive with the eye, as to execute with the hand. He must learn to distinguish, to separate, and to combine; but above all, he must be able to form a whole, not out of the different parts presented at one particular moment to his eye, but, as nature is perpetually changing, and as no two yards of the earth's surface are precisely alike, he must compose a whole out of the various aspects of the natural and visible world, which he has at different times of his life observed, and of which his memory retains a distinct impression; and this proves again, that painting as well as poetry requires time and opportunity for receiving such indelible impressions, without which the works of the most talented artist would never exceed in merit the representations in a school-boy's sketch book.
On the poetry of historical painting, volumes might be written-but as much, perhaps too much, has already been said on painting in general, I will merely add a few remarks on this particular branch of the art. It is obvious, on first turning our attention to this subject, that the grand requisite for a
Sir Joshua Reynolds remarks, in his admirable lectures, that Rubens makes amends for the local peculiarities of the Dutch school, by varying his landscape representations of individual places, confined and uninteresting in themselves, by the introduction of a rainbow, a storm, or some particular accidental effect of light; while Claude Lorrain, who well knew that taking nature as he found it, seldom produced beauty, composed his pic-poetical painter, is a mind so cultivated and tures from draughts which he had previously
informed, and at the same time so warmed by enthusiasm, as to enable the artist to enter fully and deeply into the subject before him. As an instance of this we need only contrast the touching pathos, the wild grace,
and beauty given by Gainsborough to all his cottage children, with some of our more modern and ephemeral productions, where a young lady with the airs and graces of a fashionable boarding school, or where at least a lay figure is dressed in rags and called a beggar girl. The little motherless looking children in Gainsborough's pictures offer a silent appeal to our best and tenderest feelings, and it is evident he must have powerfully realized in his own mind all that belongs to orphan-destitution, as well as to the simple habits and feelings of rustic life.
lated as to offend the eye, or strike the fancy with an impression foreign to the purpose of the painter, without the charm of the whole being sacrificed. With the practical parts of his profession, the painter must make himself acquainted, upon the same principle that the poet learns the grammatical use of language, and studies the rules of composition; nor would a glaring breach of propriety of style be less pardonable in one instance, than a gross departure from the established rules of art in the other.
I am induced to make these remarks because we are perpetually nearing of the inspiration, rather than the cultivation of genius; and that the merit of a painting, rather than the misfortune of the painter, consists in his being self-taught. The only excuse that can be made for so glaring a misuse of language, is that it may serve the purpose of exciting in the vulgar mind higher notions of the influence of intellectual power. The constant labour and concentrated application which marked the lives of the most eminent painters, prove that immediate inspiration had little to do with the work of their hands. Indeed I know not what inspiration is, with regard to the fine arts; unless it be the first moving spring of action-the desire-the thirst for excellence obtained at any cost, which operates upon the talent and the will, prompting the one to seek and the other to submit to, all the laborious, irksome, and difficult means which are necessary for the attainment of excellence.
Next to this qualification for a poetical painter, is a capacity for combining a whole from particular and suitable parts, and the art of keeping all such parts in their proper degree of relation and subordination. If for instance a painter, in representing the death of a father of a family, should so far forget the dignity of his subject, as to make a favourite dog advance to the centre of the piece and lick his master's face, the unity of the whole would be destroyed; and instead of the feelings being affected by sympathy with the grief there represented, the general and very natural exclamation would be "What can the dog be doing?" But let the afflicted family, next to their dying parent, be most conspicuous in the scene. Let the focus (if I may use the expression) of distress diverge amongst the domestics or less interested members of the household, and then in the distance the same dog might very properly be introduced, looking through the half open door with surprise and per- The painter knows well what it has cost plexity upon the unwonted scene, and stand-him to compose one entire figure out of the ing with one foot lifted up as if doubting whether it were a place and time for him to venture in. The same kind of subordination with respect to light and colour is of immense importance in the formation of a scene. That picture which is broken up with a variety of spots of light and shade, can neither be agreeable to the eye, nor convey to the mind sensations of concentrated or powerful interest. But as the rules for the regulation of light and shade, as well as of form and colouring, belong more exclusively to the studio, I shall merely repeat in reference to this subject, that none of these rules can in any single instance be so vio
various parts, which intense study has taught him are essential to any particular whole. He knows, but there is no need that he should tell the world, how many thousand sketches he has made of each individual limb, by how many heart-breaking failures the wreath of fame has been torn from his brow, what days and nights he has spent in the adjustment of the cloak of a favorite hero, how the head of his saint has been designed from sketches made in Italy, the feet of his martyr brought from Paris, and the hand of his goddess copied from that of his own lady-love at home, who had laid aside her stitching, and doffed her thimble, after