Abbildungen der Seite

nomena he has noted, the more valuable will his works be; to repeat himself, even in a single instance, is treachery to nature, for a thousand human lives would not be enough to give one instance of the perfect manifestation of each of her powers; and as for combining or classifying them, as well might a preacher expect in one sermon to express and explain every divine truth which can be gathered out of God's revelation, as a painter expect in one composition to express and illustrate every lesson which can be received from God’s creation. Both are commentators on infinity, and the duty of both is to take for each discourse one essential truth, seeking particularly and insisting especially on those which are less palpable to ordinary observation, and more likely to escape an indolent research; and to impress that, and that alone, upon those whom they address, with every illustration that can be furnished by their knowledge, and every adornment attainable by their power. And the real truthfulness of the painter is in proportion to the number and variety of the facts he has so illustrated; those facts being always, as above observed, the realization, not the violation of a general principle. The quantity of truth is in proportion to the number of such facts, and its value and instructiveness in proportion to their rarity. All really great pictures, therefore, exhibit the general habits of nature, mani. fested in some peculiar, rare, and beautiful way. By Locke's definition of bodies, only bulk, figure, situation, and motion or rest of solid parts, are primary qualities. Hence all truths of color sink at once into the second rank. He, therefore, who has neglected a truth of form for a truth of color, has neglected a greater truth for a less one. And that color is indeed a most unimportant characteristic of objects, will be farther evident on the slightest consideration. The color of plants is constantly changing with the season, and of everything with the quality of light falling on it; but the nature and essence of the thing are independent of these changes. An oak is an oak, whether green with spring or red with winter; a dahlia is a dahlia, whether it be yellow or crimson; and if some monster-hunting botanist should ever frighten the flower blue, still it will be a dahlia; but let one curve of the petals—one groove of the stamens be wanting, and the flower ceases to be the same. Let the roughness of the bark and the angles of the boughs be smoothed or dimi. nished, and the oak ceases to be an oak; but let it retain its inward structure and outward form, and though its leaves grew white, or pink, or blue, or tri-color, it would be a white oak, or a pink oak, or a republican oak, but an oak still. Again, color is hardly ever even a possible distinction between two objects of the same species. Two trees, of the same kind, at the same season, and of the same age, are of absolutely the same color; but they are not of the same form, nor anything like it. There can be no difference in the color of two pieces of rock broken from the same place; but it is impossible they should be of the same form. So that form is not only the chief characteristic of species, but the only characteristic of individuals of a species. Again, a color, in association with other colors, is different from the same color seen by itself. It has a distinct and peculiar power upon the retina dependent on its association. Consequently, the color of any object is. not more dependent upon the nature of the object itself, and the eye beholding it, than on the color of the objects near it; in this respect also, therefore, it is no characteristic. Invention is in landscape nothing more than appropriate recollection—(good in proportion as it is distinct.) Then let the details of the foreground be separately studied, especially those plants which appear peculiar to the place: if any one, however unimportant, occurs there, which occurs not else. where, it should occupy a prominent position; for the other

details, the highest examples of the ideal forms" or characters which he requires are to be selected by the artist from his

* “Talk of improving nature when it is nature—Nonsense.”—E. V. Rippingille. I have not yet spoken of the difference—even in what we com. monly call Nature—between imperfect and ideal form: the study of this difficult question must, of course, be deferred until we have examined tho nature of our impressions of beauty; but it may not be out of place here to hint at the want of care in many of our artists to distinguish between the real work of nature and the diseased results of man's interference with her Many of the works of our greatest artists have for their subjects nothing but hacked and hewn remnants of farm-yard vegetation, branded root and branch, from their birth, by the prong and the pruning-hook; and the feelings once accustomed to take pleasure in such abortions, can scarcely become perceptive of forms truly ideal. I have just said (417) that young painters should go to nature trustingly,–rejecting nothing, and selecting nothing: so they should; but they must be careful that it is nature to whom they go—nature in her liberty—not as servant-of-all-work in the hands of the agriculturist, nor stiffened into court-dress by the landscape gardener. It must be the pure, wild volition and energy of the creation which they follow—not subdued to the furrow, and cicatrized to the pollard—not persuaded into proprieties, nor pampered into diseases. Let them work by the torrent side, and in the forest shadows; not by purling brooks and under “tonsile shades.” It is impossible to enter here into discussion of what man can or cannot do, by assisting natural operations: it is an intricate question: nor can I, without anticipating what I shall have hereafter to advance, show how or why it happens that the race horse is not the artist's ideal of a horse, nor a prize tulip his ideal of a flower; but so it is. As far as the painter is concerned, man never touches nature but to spoil; he operates on her as a barber would on the Apollo; and if he sometimes increases some particular power or excellence,—strength or agility in the animal, tallness, or fruitfulness, or solidity in the tree,—he invariably loses that balance of good qualities which is the chief sign of perfect specific form; above all, he destroys the appearance of free volition and “elicity, which, as I shall show hereafter, is one of the essential characters of organic beauty. Until, however, I can enter into the discussion of the nature of beauty, the only advice I can safely give the young painter, is to keep clear of clover-fields and parks, and to hold to the unpenetrated forest and the unfurrowed hill. There he will find that every influence is noble

former studies, or fresh studies made expressly for the pur pose, leaving as little as possible—beyond their connection and arrangement—to mere imagination. When his picture is per. fectly realized in all its parts, let him dash as much of it out as he likes; throw, if he will, mist around it, darkness, on dazzling and confused light—whatever, in fact, impetuous feeling or vigorous imagination may dictate or desire; the forms, once so laboriously realized, will come out, whenever they do occur, with a startling and impressive truth, which the uncertainty in which they are veiled will enhance rather than diminish, and the imagination strengthened by discipline, and fed with truth, will achieve the utmost of creation that is possible to finite mind.

Our landscapes are all descriptive, not reflective; agreeable and conversational, but not impressive nor didactic They have no other foundation than

“That vivacious versatility,

Which many people take for want of heart.
They err; ’tis merely what is called “mobility;”
A thing of temperament, and not of art,
Though seeming so from its supposed facility.

sk :k :k :: :k
This makes your actors, artists, and romancers;
Little that's great—but much of what is clever.”

Only it is to be observed that—in painters—this vivacity is not always versatile. It is to be wished that it were, but it is no such easy matter to be versatile in painting. Shallowness of thought insures not its variety, nor rapidity of production its originality.

even when destructive—that decay itself is beautiful,—and that, in the ela. borate and lovely composition of all things, if at first sight it seem less studied than the works of men, the appearance of Art is only prevented by the presence of Power.

“Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her: 'tis her privilege
Through all the years of this our life to lead
From joy to joy.”

Let then every picture be painted with earnest intention of impressing on the spectator some elevated emotion, and exhibiting to him some one particular, but exalted, beauty. Let a real subject be carefully selected, in itself suggestive of, and replete with, this feeling and beauty. All repetition is degradation of the art; it reduces it from headwork to handwork; and indicates something like a persuasion on the part of the artist that nature is exhaustible or art perfectible; perhaps, even, by him exhausted and perfected. All copyists are contemptible, but the copyist of himself the most so, for he has the worst original.

In the range of inorganic nature, I doubt if any object can be found more perfectly beautiful than a fresh, deep snowdrift, seen under warm light. Its curves are of inconceivable perfection and changefulness, its surface and transparency alike exquisite, its light and shade of inexhaustible variety and inimitable finish, the shadows sharp, pale, and of heavenly color, the reflected lights intense and multitudinous, and mingled with the sweet occurrences of transmitted light. No mortal hand can approach the majesty or loveliness of it, yet it is possible by care and skill at least to suggest the preciousness of its forms and intimate the nature of its light and shade; but this has never been attempted; it could not be done except by artists of a rank exceedingly high, and there is something about the feeling of snow in ordinary scenery which such men do not like. But when the same qualities are exhibited on a magnificent Alpine scale and in a position where they interfere with no feeling of life, I see not why they should be neglected, as they have hitherto been, unless

« ZurückWeiter »