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“ Nature,” says Sir Humphry Davy, scenes being rendered poetically beautiful never deceives us; the rocks, the moun- by the pencil of an able artist; yet there are tains, the streams, always speak the same lines of demarcation beyond which even language; a shower of snow may bide the genius dare not venture, and which cannot verdant woods in spring, a thunder storm be transgressed without the most glaring may render the blue limpid streams foul and violation of good taste. It is where the asturbulent; but these effects are rare and sociations are such as are not only vulgar in transient-in a few hours, or at least days, themselves, but totally destitute of any claim all the sources of beauty are renovated. upon the feelings or affections of the mind. And nature affords no continued trains of Nor is it in the representation of scenes the misfortunes and miseries, such as depend most gross and degraded (though such do upon the constitution of humanity, no hopes little credit to the taste of the painter); yet for ever blighted in the bud, no beings full in them the violent passions which agitate of life, beauty, and promise, taken from us our nature are frequently most powerfully in the prime of youth. Her fruits are all and strikingly exhibited. Look, for exambalmy, bright, and sweet; she affords none ple, upon a representation of the lowest stage of those blighted ones so common in the life of intoxication, and surely the pencil of the of man, and so like the fabled apples of the painter can pourtray no subject more loathDead Sea, fresh and beautiful to the sight, some and repulsive; yet even here the assobut when tasted, full of bitterness and ashes.” | ciations are not necessarily such as are alto
gether debarred from connection with refined intellectual speculations. In contemplating
such a picture, we think immediately of the THE POETRY OF PAINTING. high capabilities of man, and of the danger
ous profanation and abuse of his natural In turning our attention to the poetry of powers, of the spotless infancy of the being painting, we enter upon a subject which before us, the love that watched over his forms the first connecting link between the youth, the hopes that were centered in his physical and the intellectual world. So far manhood, and that now lie grovelling beas painting is a faithful representation of ex- neath him in his fall. This class of subjects ternal nature, it belongs to the sphere of the then is not entirely beyond the limits of the senses ; but as it holds intimate connection field of poetry, though it certainly requires with some of the noblest efforts and affec- some stretch of fancy to prove them to be tions of the human mind, it is scarcely infe- within it; yet there is another class so derior to the art of poetry itself, in the value it cidedly and irrevocably excluded, that it derives from the diffusion of poetic feeling, may not be uninteresting to mark the differthrough the countless varieties of style and ence between them, and of these a single incharacter, in which it is exhibited to man- stance will be sufficient. kind.
I remember seeing in an exhibition of The poetry of painting is perhaps more paintings at Manchester, a picture of a huge felt, and less understood, than that of any red brick cotton-mill, so well executed, and other subject to which we can apply our so appropriately placed, as to look very thoughts; nor is it easy to define what is the handsome in its way; and no doubt that nature of the charm by which we are fasci- way was all-sufficient to the owner, who had nated on beholding a picture in perfect ac- a train of sweet and pleasant local associacordance with our taste, especially as this tions with this picture, enjoyed snugly to taste varies so much in different individuals, himself, which if they were not poetical, had and even in the same becomes more select most probably a weightier charm, and one in its gratifications, in proportion as it is which he would not have exchanged for the more cultivated and refined.
lyre of Apollo. The surface of the picture That the poetry of painting is not mainly was almost entirely covered with the brick dependent upon the choice of subjects is building, and by its side was the all imporclear, from the most simple and familiar tant engine-house, with tall spiral chimney
pointing to the sky, but alas! with no hea-racters-portrait, landscape, and historical venward purpose. It was the picture of a painting. Of these three, portrait painting manufactory, and nothing more—most pro- is decidedly the least calculated for the disbably the owner wanted nothing more. play of poetical feeling, not only because it There was not, as there might have been, is generally practised under the arbitrary a broken foreground, denoting the rugged will of those who possess neither taste nor course of one of those polluted streams understanding in the fine arts, but because which murmur on (for what can still the there are so few subjects really worthy in voice of nature ?) with the same melody as themselves, and these few are too frequentin its native woods, before the click of rat- ly beyond the reach of the artist; while the tling machinery broke in upon the harmony rubicund and wealthy citizen, having grown of man's existence. There was no pale girl, sleek upon turtle soup, after retiring with his with darkened brow and dejected form, re- rosy consort to their Belle Vue, or Prospect turning to her most unnatural labours, a liv- Cottage, in the suburbs of the town, deems ing and daily sacrifice to the triumphs of it a suitable and gratifying appropriation of
a national prosperity; there was not even that some portion of his hard-earned wealth, to deep and turbid stream, that dense and per- employ one of the first artists of the day in petually rising fountain of thick smoke, burst- making duplicates of forms, which a fulling, as if with indignation, from the gross sized canvas is scarcely wide enough to conconfines of its narrow birthplace, first dart- tain, and faces, in which the expression of ing upwards in one compact and sable pil-cent. per cent., and the distinctions of white lar, as if from the crater of a volcano, and and brown sauce, are the only visible chathen folding and unfolding its dark volume, racteristics. until, assuming a more ethereal character, While the painter is at work, sacrificing it floats away upon the gale, and ambitious all that is noble in his art to the sad necessiof a higher union, mingles at last with the ty for sordid gain, the gentleman insists upvapours that sail along the purer regions of on a blue coat and buff waist-coat, but above the sky-no, there was nothing in this pic- all, upon a gold headed cane, which necesture but a cotton-mill; and the wealthy sarily mars the picture with a bright yellow owner, with a praiseworthy feeling of grati- spot full in the centre. This however is a tude and respect for the origin of his pros- trifle by comparison, for the buttons help to perity and distinction in the world, had done carry off the glare of the gold, and the artist his best to immortalize the object that was revenges himself by making the hand apnot only the most important, but the dearest proximate to the same colour. It is in atto him on earth. Yet notwithstanding this tempting to delineate the august person of was, in the opinion of at least one individual, the lady, that his skill and his taste are put a picture of great merit, it was unquestion to the severest test. With consternation in ably of that class to which no single poetical his countenance, he eyes the subject before idea could by any possibility be attached. him, and in the first agony of despair, que'It is true that such a building as was here ries within himself whether he cannot really represented, need not be without its intellec- afford to lose the offered reward. He ventual associations. It might give rise to some tures to remonstrate with great delicacy on of the most profound speculations relative to some particular portions of the dress. But trade, commerce, and the wealth of nations; the lady is inexorable. It is a dress for all that I maintain is, that this picture could which she has paid the highest price, and not in any way call forth the passions or must look well. Money rules the day, and affections of our nature, or awaken those the painter, covering his palette with double emotions of the soul which constitute the portions of red and yellow, commences with very essence of poetry.
his task. Upon the head of the fair sitter is In order to render the poetry of painting a pink turban, interwoven with a massive a subject more tractable in an unskilful and gold chain, surmounting a profusion of flaxen inexperienced hand, it will be necessary to ringlets, in the midst of which twinkle out consider it under its three different cha- | two small blue eyes, faintly shaded by thin
eyelashes of the palest yellow, while cheeks bird found in his woodland rambles, to place that might vie with the deepest peony, and on the maternal bosom, which has so fondly a figure upon which is stretched, almost cherished him, that he believes it to have without a fold, a brilliant orange dress of benevolence enough for all the wants and costly silk, make up the rest of the picture. sufferings in the world.
It is upon the same principle, and with It is possible that the same artist may be similar restrictions, that portrait painting is called in to paint the portrait of a poor gengenerally practised in the present day. tleman, who having nothing else to bequeath But let the painter rule his subject, and the to his children, is prevailed upon to leave case will be widely different. He who is them a likeness of the form they have been worthy of his art sees at once what are its accustomed to venerate. The painter finds capabilities. His imagination immediately him in a mean and humble dwelling, dressed places the object before him in some appro- in a manner that too plainly shows his long priate situation. He assigns to it a charac- acquaintance with urgent wants and narrow ter of which it may be wholly unconscious-means. Yet in the noble outline of the face, one to which it was by nature peculiarly the fair and finely moulded forehead, when adapted, though circumstances may have for a moment its wrinkles are smoothed consigned it to a totally different destiny. down, but above all, in the symmetry of the
Perhaps there is no class of pictures in mouth, and the graceful motion of the lips, which the painter's want of taste is more he reads the sad history of that gradual fall frequently displayed, than in the portraits from high station and noble fortune, which of children. We see them standing like has never through the whole of a long life wooden images, holding in one hand an been able to degrade the soul; and in paintorange never meant to be eaten, or flowers ing the portrait of this poor gentleman, he which it is evident they have not gathered; makes a picture worthy of a place amongst their hair smoothly combed, their frocks un- the aristocracy of the land. ruffled, and their blue morocco slippers un- Or he may be required to exercise his art sullied by the dust of the earth. In short in painting the likeness of one of the celethey are always dressed in their best to be brated belles of the day. It is possible that painted, and the mother is often as solicitous the arbitrary laws of fashion may have conabout the pink sash, as about the likeness. cealed the beauty of a form that is perfectly The subject is unquestionably one of great Grecian in its contour. The painter casts difficulty, because the beauty of childhood down the stately and unnatural fabric from consisting chiefly in the light easy move the head, and leaving a few dishevelled ment of the playful limbs, it is almost impos- ringlets to wander over the snowey temples, sible to make a child perfectly natural when binds up the rest of the hair so gracefully at rest, and not sleeping; and it is here that behind, as just to leave visible the noble pilthe skill of the able artist is exercised in lar of the neck, which proudly supports the carrying on our thoughts to what the child whole. It is also possible that the rigid will the next moment be doing. If he does rules of polished society, or early discipline, not place in its hand a bunch of flowers, he or sad experience, may have rendered cold, throws into his picture a vivid atmosphere, constrained, or artificial in its expression, a in which we are sure that flowers are grow-countenance that was originally capable of ing; and by slightly ruffling the fair hair, exhibiting the deepest passions, and the finletting loose the folds of the dress, quicken- est sensibilities of our nature. The artist ing the expression of the eye, and giving a whose eye is quickened to an almost superplayfulness to the almost open lips, an idea natural acuteness of perception, sees all this; of life and motion is conveyed, and we are and in painting the portrait of one who is by deluded into the belief that the very next compulsion a mere fine lady, he invests it moment the child will start off in pursuit of with the beauty and the pathos of a heroine. the butterfly, and that he will bring home Nor is it in the skillful management of with him a handful of flowers gathered from expression alone that the poetry of this art the gorgeous carpet of nature, or a wounded consists. Though this is unquestionably
the most important, there are minor points, specify in what the poetry of the art consists. which cannot be neglected without so glar- | There are certain fundamental principles, ing a violation of good taste that the eye is from whence our ideas of the beauty of naoffended; and as we have often had occa- ture are derived, which the slightest sketch sion to remark, no sooner are the senses is capable of illustrating, but which cannot unpleasantly affected, than the powers of be neglected without offence even to the the mind are arrested in their agreeable most indifferent beholder. Of these princiexercise, and the poetic illusion is totally ples, light and shade are the most important destroyed. In the choice of costume, it is and conspicuous. Thus two objects, one to highly essential to the poetical charm of the receive the rays of light, and another to reportrait, that every thing wearing the cha-ceive the shadow of the first, are sufficient racter of constraint or conceit should be to constitute a picture. Let one of these be avoided. All those striking peculiarities the massive stem of an old tree, grey with which belong only to a class of beings time, and shattered with the storms of ages, whose feelings and avocations are entirely wearing round its hoary brow a wild wreath separate from the sphere of high men- of clustering ivy, and stretching forth one vertal refinement, or intellectual power, will be dant branch, still clothed with dense foliage rejected by an artist of good taste. The as in former years. Let the other be the coarse habit of the monk may be made sub- weedy banks of a silent river, in whose clear servient to the poetical interest of a portrait, depths the shadow of this ancient tree is rebecause it is associated in our minds with flected, and we have at once a scene of ideas of reflection, study, and strict mental sufficient interest and beauty to rivet the discipline; even that of a peasant is admis- eye and fascinate the imagination. Still sible, because his hardy frame may be ani- much must depend, even in a scene so simmated by the bold independence and rude ple as this, not only upon the skilful conduct energy of a mountaineer ; but he who of the pencil, but upon the poetical feeling would paint a butcher or a harlequin in of the artist. Perhaps the subject may be their characteristic costume, must forfeit better understood by illustrating it with a every pretension to the poetry of his art. case in point.
The local partiality of the Dutch painters It was, a few years ago, my good fortune has rendered this error strikingly conspicu- to receive instruction from a gentleman, * ous in some of their historical pieces. who, whatever may be his other pretensions, Whatever
may be the merits of this school must be unanimously acknowledged to be of artists, the national prejudice which re- one of the most poetical artists of the present tained the faruiliar costume, habits, and cus- day; a fact which is sufficiently proved by toms of their own peculiar people, even the fearless and independent manner in when representing the higher scenes and which he can snatch up the most barren subcircumstances of life, proves them to have ject, and invest it with a mysterious beauty been but litlle qualified for the most noble of his own creating. The piece which this and interesting branch of their art.
artist first gave me to copy, was a pencil Besides the choice of costume, and of far sketch of a rude entrance by a little wooden higher importance, is the proper adjustment bridge, over a narrow stream, to what might of colours, and other mechanical branches be a copse-wood, or indeed a wood of any of the art of painting, which cannot properly kind; for the whole picture contained nobe discussed in a chapter on poetry, but thing more than three or four trees, a few which are or unspeakable importance in planks of time-worn timber, and the reedy producing that delightful combination of banks of this stream or pool. My task was form and colour by which the eye is so en performed with diligence, and with no little tirely gratified as to repose in perfect en- self-approbation, for my friends pronounced joyment and to leave the imagination to it to be admirable; and I saw myself that wander as it will. Entering upon the subject of landscape
Mr. Cotman, now professor of drawing at King's painting, it becomes much less difficult to | College, London.
the foliage of the oak was edged round with imagination beyond what was perceptible to the most accurate precision, the rooks in the the eye, farther and farther, into the silent distance were eked out with the same econo- depth of the forest. my of number, and the bulrushes that stood From what I then saw of the metamorin the water were all manifestly tipped at phosis wrought upon this picture, and what the ends. While my heart bounded with I have since learned by observation and exinternal triumph, I drew forth the interesting perience, I am inclined to think that the poedeposit from the portfolio in which I had con- try of landscape painting is dependent, in a veyed it into the presence of my master, and great degree, upon the idea of atmosphere impatiently watched the expression of his being clearly conveyed to the mind. That eye as he glanced over it. After looking at scene, however laboriously or delicately exit for some time with less and less of what ecuted, which, from its want of general harwas agreeable in his countenance, he at last mony, conveys no such idea to the mind, gave utterance to a low growl of disapproba- deserves not the name of a picture; but that tion, and finally pronounced it to be bad in which draws forth the emotions of the soul two ways-bad as a copy, and bad as a by a correspondence with impressions made drawing. Although I was at that moment upon it by the sun, the sky, the seasons, or very much inclined to execrate the art so the hour of the day, may be highly and inoften called divine, I have since learned to tensely poetical, though simple and unprelook with feelings of interest almost like af- tending in itself. This idea must be strongly fection upon that simple drawing, to which impressed upon the memory and the imagimy master, with a few strokes from his own nation of the painter before he begins his able and accomplished pencil, gave a char- task. As in the natural world the colour acter at once touching, beautiful, and poetic. and character of every visible object is afWhat was practically the work of this pen- fected by the air which is invisible, so in all recil, it would be foreign to my purpose (even presentations of external nature there must be were I able) to define. It is sufficient to say, that perfect harmony pervading the whole that through the illusion of the eye, the mind scene, which is in keeping with any particuwas forcibly presented with the ideas of lar state of the atmosphere, of which the space and atmosphere. My drawing repre- artist may wish to convey an impression to sented nothing but an even surface, covered others; and thus, through the medium of with a minutely extended texture, woven form and colour operating upon the eye, the according to the pattern, of oak leaves, reeds, mind receives distinctly and forcibly the idea water, or whatever the uninitiated pencil of that which possesses neither form nor colmight vainly attempt to imitate. In the our in itself, and which no eye is capable of same picture, after it had received a few beholding. touches from an able hand, the most unprac- I never saw the want of atmosphere more tised eye might behold a distinct representa- striking than in a picture full of peacocks. tion of a quiet day in autumn. The rooks, It was intended to illustrate the fable of the which had been stationary and silent, were presumptuous jackdaw adorned in borrowed now winging their way towards that woodland plumes; but the jackdaw was only to be scene, cawing at intervals with the musical found upon examination, for there were three and melancholy cadence, which at that par- peacocks nearly as large as life crowded inticular time of the year, and especially at that to a moderate sized painting, and two of particular distance, turns their harsh tones to them having their tails expanded, the canmelody. The passage of the wooden bridge vass was literally covered with feathers. had now become quite practicable, and after These feathers, it is true, were beautifully looking down into the bosom of the unruffled executed, and had the piece been called a water, you might enter upon that unfre- picture of peacock's feathers, it might have quented path, and hear the rustling of the been admired; but there was a total absence withered grass beneath your feet; while of some of the most essential parts of a scene, high overhead were the majestic branches and the eye turned away with weariness of old and stately trees, extended by the or disgust, while the mind remained unin