Lectures on Landscape Part 3

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61. The distinctions between schools of art which I have so often asked you to observe are, you must be aware, founded only on the excess of certain qualities in one group of painters over another, or the difference in their tendencies; and not in the absolute possession by one group, and absence in the rest, of any given skill. But this impossibility of drawing trenchant lines of parting need never interfere with the distinctness of our conception of the opponent principles which balance each other in great minds, or paralyze each other in weak ones; and I cannot too often urge you to keep clearly separate in your thoughts the school which I have called[11] "of Crystal," because its distinctive virtue is seen unaided in the sharp separations and prismatic harmonies of painted gla.s.s, and the other, the "School of Clay," because its distinctive virtue is seen in the qualities of any fine work in uncolored terra cotta, and in every drawing which represents them.

[Footnote 11: "Lectures on Art, 1870," -- 185.]

62. You know I sometimes speak of these generally as the Gothic and Greek schools, sometimes as the colorist and chiaroscurist. All these oppositions are liable to infinite qualification and gradation, as between species of animals; and you must not be troubled, therefore, if sometimes momentary contradictions seem to arise in examining special points. Nay, the modes of opposition in the greatest men are inlaid and complex; difficult to explain, though in themselves clear.

Thus you know in your study of sculpture we saw that the essential aim of the Greek art was tranquil action; the chief aim of Gothic art was pa.s.sionate rest, a peace, an eternity of intense sentiment. As I go into detail, I shall continually therefore have to oppose Gothic pa.s.sion to Greek temperance; yet Gothic rigidity, [Greek: stasis] of [Greek: ekstasis], to Greek action and [Greek: eleutheria]. You see how doubly, how intimately, opposed the ideas are; yet how difficult to explain without apparent contradiction.

63. Now, to-day, I must guard you carefully against a misapprehension of this kind. I have told you that the Greeks as Greeks made real and material what was before indefinite; they turned the clouds and the lightning of Mount Ithome into the human flesh and eagle upon the extended arm of the Messenian Zeus. And yet, being in all things set upon absolute veracity and realization, they perceive as they work and think forward that to see in all things truly is to see in all things dimly and through hiding of cloud and fire.

So that the schools of Crystal, visionary, pa.s.sionate, and fantastic in purpose, are, in method, trenchantly formal and clear; and the schools of Clay, absolutely realistic, temperate, and simple in purpose, are, in method, mysterious and soft; sometimes licentious, sometimes terrific, and always obscure.

[Ill.u.s.tration: MADONNA AND CHILD.

From the painting by Filippo Lippi.]

64. Look once more at this Greek dancing-girl, which is from a terra cotta, and therefore intensely of the school of Clay; look at her beside this Madonna of Filippo Lippi's: Greek motion against Gothic absolute quietness; Greek indifference--dancing careless--against Gothic pa.s.sion, the mother's--what word can I use except frenzy of love; Greek fleshliness against hungry wasting of the self-forgetful body; Greek softness of diffused shadow and ductile curve, against Gothic lucidity of color and acuteness of angle; and Greek simplicity and cold veracity against Gothic rapture of trusted vision.

65. And now I may safely, I think, go into our work of to-day without confusing you, except only in this. You will find me continually speaking of four men--t.i.tian, Holbein, Turner, and Tintoret--in almost the same terms. They unite every quality; and sometimes you will find me referring to them as colorists, sometimes as chiaroscurists. Only remember this, that Holbein and Turner are Greek chiaroscurists, nearly perfect by adopted color; t.i.tian and Tintoret are essentially Gothic colorists, quite perfect by adopted chiaroscuro.

66. I used the word "prismatic" just now of the schools of Crystal, as being iridescent. By being studious of color they are studious of division; and while the chiaroscurist devotes himself to the representation of degrees of force in one thing--unseparated light, the colorists have for their function the attainment of beauty by arrangement of the divisions of light. And therefore, primarily, they must be able to divide; so that elementary exercises in color must be directed, like first exercises in music, to the clear separation of notes; and the final perfections of color are those in which, of innumerable notes or hues, every one has a distinct office, and can be fastened on by the eye, and approved, as fulfilling it.

67. I do not doubt that it has often been matter of wonder among any of you who had faith in my judgment, why I gave to the University, as characteristic of Turner's work, the simple and at first unattractive drawings of the Loire series. My first and princ.i.p.al reason was that they enforced beyond all resistance, on any student who might attempt to copy them, this method of laying portions of distinct hue side by side. Some of the touches, indeed, when the tint has been mixed with much water, have been laid in little drops or ponds, so that the pigment might crystallize hard at the edge. And one of the chief delights which any one who really enjoys painting finds in that art as distinct from sculpture is in this exquisite inlaying or joiner's work of it, the fitting of edge to edge with a manual skill precisely correspondent to the close application of crowded notes without the least slur, in fine harp or piano playing.

68. In many of the finest works of color on a large scale there is even some admission of the quality given to a painted window by the dark lead bars between the pieces of gla.s.s. Both Tintoret and Veronese, when they paint on dark grounds, continually stop short with their tints just before they touch others, leaving the dark ground showing between in a narrow bar. In the Paul Veronese in the National Gallery, you will every here and there find pieces of outline, like this of Holbein's; which you would suppose were drawn, as that is, with a brown pencil. But no! Look close, and you will find they are the dark ground, _left_ between two tints brought close to each other without touching.

[Ill.u.s.tration: THE LADY WITH THE BROOCH.

From the painting by Reynolds.]

69. It follows also from this law of construction that any master who can color can always do any pane of his window that he likes, separately from the rest. Thus, you see, here is one of Sir Joshua's first sittings: the head is very nearly done with the first color; a piece of background is put in round it: his sitter has had a pretty silver brooch on, which Reynolds, having done as much as he chose to the face for that time, paints quietly in its place below, leaving the dress between to be fitted in afterwards; and he puts a little patch of the yellow gown that is to be, at the side. And it follows also from this law of construction that there must never be any hesitation or repentance in the direction of your lines of limit. So that not only in the beautiful dexterity of the joiner's work, but in the necessity of cutting out each piece of color at once and forever (for, though you can correct an erroneous junction of black and white because the gray between has the nature of either, you cannot correct an erroneous junction of red and green which make a neutral between them, if they overlap, that is neither red nor green): thus the practice of color educates at once in neatness of hand and distinctness of will; so that, as I wrote long ago in the third volume of "Modern Painters," you are always safe if you hold the hand of a colorist.

70. I have brought you a little sketch to-day from the foreground of a Venetian picture, in which there is a bit that will show you this precision of method. It is the head of a parrot with a little flower in his beak from a picture of Carpaccio's, one of his series of the Life of St. George. I could not get the curves of the leaves, and they are patched and spoiled; but the parrot's head, however badly done, is put down with no more touches than the Venetian gave it, and it will show you exactly his method. First, a thin, warm ground had been laid over the whole canvas, which Carpaccio wanted as an under-current through all the color, just as there is an under-current of gray in the Loire drawings. Then on this he strikes his parrot in vermilion, almost flat color; rounding a little only with a glaze of lake; but attending mainly to get the character of the bird by the pure outline of its form, as if it were cut out of a piece of ruby gla.s.s.

Then he comes to the beak of it. The brown ground beneath is left, for the most part; one touch of black is put for the hollow; two delicate lines of dark gray define the outer curve; and one little quivering touch of white draws the inner edge of the mandible. There are just four touches--fine as the finest penmanship--to do that beak; and yet you will find that in the peculiar paroquettish mumbling and nibbling action of it, and all the character in which this nibbling beak differs from the tearing beak of the eagle, it is impossible to go farther or be more precise. And this is only an incident, remember, in a large picture.

71. Let me notice, in pa.s.sing, the infinite absurdity of ever hanging Venetian pictures above the line of sight. There are very few persons in the room who will be able to see the drawing of this bird's beak without a magnifying-gla.s.s; yet it is ten to one that in any modern gallery such a picture would be hung thirty feet from the ground.

Here, again, is a little bit to show Carpaccio's execution. It is his signature: only a little wall-lizard, holding the paper in its mouth, perfect; yet so small that you can scarcely see its feet, and that I could not, with my finest-pointed brush, copy their stealthy action.

72. And now, I think, the members of my cla.s.s will more readily pardon the intensely irksome work I put them to, with the compa.s.ses and the ruler. Measurement and precision are, with me, before all things; just because, though myself trained wholly in the chiaroscuro schools, I know the value of color; and I want you to begin with color in the very outset, and to see everything as children would see it.

For, believe me, the final philosophy of art can only ratify their opinion that the beauty of a c.o.c.k robin is to be red, and of a gra.s.s-plot to be green; and the best skill of art is in instantly seizing on the manifold deliciousness of light, which you can only seize by precision of instantaneous touch. Of course, I cannot do so myself; yet in these sketches of mine, made for the sake of color, there is enough to show you the nature and the value of the method.

They are two pieces of study of the color of marble architecture, the tints literally "edified," and laid edge to edge as simply on the paper as the stones are on the walls.

73. But please note in them one thing especially. The testing rule I gave for good color in the "Elements of Drawing," is that you make the white precious and the black conspicuous. Now you will see in these studies that the moment the white is inclosed properly, and harmonized with the other hues, it becomes somehow more precious and pearly than the white paper; and that I am not afraid to leave a whole field of untreated white paper all round it, being sure that even the little diamonds in the round window will tell as jewels, if they are gradated justly.

Again, there is not a touch of black in any shadow, however deep, of these two studies; so that, if I chose to put a piece of black near them, it would be conspicuous with a vengeance.

But in this vignette, copied from Turner, you have the two principles brought out perfectly. You have the white of foaming water, of buildings and clouds, brought out brilliantly from a white ground; and though part of the subject is in deep shadow the eye at once catches the one black point admitted in front.

74. Well, the first reason that I gave you these Loire drawings was this of their infallible decision; the second was their extreme modesty in color. They are, beyond all other works that I know existing, dependent for their effect on low, subdued tones; their favorite choice in time of day being either dawn or twilight, and even their brightest sunsets produced chiefly out of gray paper. This last, the loveliest of all, gives the warmth of a summer twilight with a tinge of color on the gray paper so slight that it may be a question with some of you whether any is there. And I must beg you to observe, and receive as a rule without any exception, that whether color be gay or sad the value of it depends never on violence, but always on subtlety. It may be that a great colorist will use his utmost force of color, as a singer his full power of voice; but, loud or low, the virtue is in both cases always in refinement, never in loudness. The west window of Chartres is bedropped with crimson deeper than blood; but it is as soft as it is deep, and as quiet as the light of dawn.

75. I say, "whether color be gay or sad." It must, remember, be one or the other. You know I told you that the pure Gothic school of color was entirety cheerful; that, as applied to landscape, it a.s.sumes that all nature is lovely, and may be clearly seen; that destruction and decay are accidents of our present state, never to be thought of seriously, and, above all things, never to be painted; but that whatever is orderly, healthy, radiant, fruitful and beautiful, is to be loved with all our hearts and painted with all our skill.

76. I told you also that no complete system of art for either natural history or landscape could be formed on this system; that the wrath of a wild beast, and the tossing of a mountain torrent are equally impossible to a painter of the purist school; that in higher fields of thought increasing knowledge means increasing sorrow, and every art which has complete sympathy with humanity must be chastened by the sight and oppressed by the memory of pain. But there is no reason why your system of study should be a complete one, if it be right and profitable though incomplete. If you can find it in your hearts to follow out only the Gothic thoughts of landscape, I deeply wish you would, and for many reasons.

77. First, it has never yet received due development; for at the moment when artistic skill and knowledge of effect became sufficient to complete its purposes, the Reformation destroyed the faith in which they might have been accomplished; for to the whole body of powerful draughtsmen the Reformation meant the Greek school and the shadow of death. So that of exquisitely developed Gothic landscape you may count the examples on the fingers of your hand: Van Eyck's "Adoration of the Lamb" at Bruges; another little Van Eyck in the Louvre; the John Bellini lately presented to the National Gallery;[12] another John Bellini in Rome: and the "St. George" of Carpaccio at Venice, are all that I can name myself of great works. But there exist some exquisite, though feebler, designs in missal painting; of which, in England, the landscape and flowers in the Psalter of Henry the Sixth will serve you for a sufficient type; the landscape in the Grimani missal at Venice being monumentally typical and perfect.

[Footnote 12: No. 812. "Landscape, with the Death of St. Peter Martyr."]

78. Now for your own practice in this, having first acquired the skill of exquisite delineation and laying of pure color, day by day you must draw some lovely natural form or flower or animal without obscurity--as in missal painting; choosing for study, in natural scenes, only what is beautiful and strong in life.

79. I fully antic.i.p.ated, at the beginning of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, that they would have carried forward this method of work; but they broke themselves to pieces by pursuing dramatic sensation instead of beauty. So that to this day all the loveliest things in the world remain unpainted; and although we have occasionally spasmodic efforts and fits of enthusiasm, and green meadows and apple-blossom to spare, it yet remains a fact that not in all this England, and still less in France, have you a painter who has been able n.o.bly to paint so much as a hedge of wild roses or a forest glade full of anemones or wood-sorrel.

80. One reason of this has been the idea that such work was easy, on the part of the young men who attempted it, and the total vulgarity and want of education in the great body of abler artists, rendering them insensitive to qualities of fine delineation; the universal law for them being that they can draw a pig, but not a Venus. For instance, two landscape-painters of much reputation in England, and one of them in France also--David c.o.x and John Constable, represent a form of blunt and untrained faculty which in being very frank and simple, apparently powerful, and needing no thought, intelligence or trouble whatever to observe, and being wholly disorderly, slovenly and licentious, and therein meeting with instant sympathy from the disorderly public mind now resentful of every trammel and ignorant of every law--these two men, I say, represent in their intensity the qualities adverse to all accurate science or skill in landscape art; their work being the mere blundering of clever peasants, and deserving no name whatever in any school of true practice, but consummately mischievous--first, in its easy satisfaction of the painter's own self-complacencies, and then in the pretense of ability which blinds the public to all the virtue of patience and to all the difficulty of precision. There is more real relation to the great schools of art, more fellowship with Bellini and t.i.tian, in the humblest painter of letters on village signboards than in men like these.

Do not, therefore, think that the Gothic school is an easy one. You might more easily fill a house with pictures like Constable's from garret to cellar, than imitate one cl.u.s.ter of leaves by Van Eyck or Giotto; and among all the efforts that have been made to paint our common wild-flowers, I have only once--and that in this very year, just in time to show it to you--seen the thing done rightly.

81. But now observe: These flowers, beautiful as they are, are not of the Gothic school. The law of that school is that everything shall be seen clearly, or at least, only in such mist or faintness as shall be delightful; and I have no doubt that the best introduction to it would be the elementary practice of painting every study on a golden ground.

This at once compels you to understand that the work is to be imaginative and decorative; that it represents beautiful things in the clearest way, but not under existing conditions; and that, in fact, you are producing jeweler's work, rather than pictures. Then the qualities of grace in design become paramount to every other; and you may afterwards subst.i.tute clear sky for the golden background without danger of loss or sacrifice of system: clear sky of golden light, or deep and full blue, for the full blue of t.i.tian is just as much a piece of conventional enameled background as if it were a plate of gold; that depth of blue in relation to foreground objects being wholly impossible.

82. There is another immense advantage in this Byzantine and Gothic abstraction of decisive form, when it is joined with a faithful desire of whatever truth can be expressed on narrow conditions. It makes us observe the vital points in which character consists, and educates the eye and mind in the habit of fastening and limiting themselves to essentials. In complete drawing, one is continually liable to be led aside from the main points by picturesque accidents of light and shade; in Gothic drawing you must get the character, if at all, by a keenness of a.n.a.lysis which must be in constant exercise.

83. And here I must beg of you very earnestly, once for all, to clear your minds of any misapprehension of the nature of Gothic art, as if it implied error and weakness, instead of severity. That a style is restrained or severe does not mean that it is also erroneous. Much mischief has been done--endless misapprehension induced in this matter--by the blundering religious painters of Germany, who have become examples of the opposite error from our English painters of the Constable group. Our uneducated men work too bluntly to be ever in the right; but the Germans draw finely and resolutely wrong. Here is a "Riposo" of Overbeck's for instance, which the painter imagined to be elevated in style because he had drawn it without light and shade, and with absolute decision: and so far, indeed, it is Gothic enough; but it is separated everlastingly from Gothic and from all other living work, because the painter was too vain to look at anything he had to paint, and drew every ma.s.s of his drapery in lines that were as impossible as they were stiff, and stretched out the limbs of his Madonna in actions as unlikely as they are uncomfortable.

In all early Gothic art, indeed, you will find failure of this kind, especially distortion and rigidity, which are in many respects painfully to be compared with the splendid repose of cla.s.sic art. But the distortion is not Gothic; the intensity, the abstraction, the force of character are, and the beauty of color.

84. Here is a very imperfect, but ill.u.s.trative border of flowers and animals on a golden ground. The large letter contains, indeed, entirely feeble and ill-drawn figures: that is merely childish and failing work of an inferior hand; it is not characteristic of Gothic, or any other school. But this peac.o.c.k, being drawn with intense delight in blue, on gold, and getting character of peac.o.c.k in the general sharp outline, instead of--as Rubens' peac.o.c.ks--in black shadow, is distinctively Gothic of fine style.

85. I wish you therefore to begin your study of natural history and landscape by discerning the simple outlines and the pleasant colors of things; and to rest in them as long as you can. But, observe, you can only do this on one condition--that of striving also to create, in reality, the beauty which you seek in imagination. It will be wholly impossible for you to retain the tranquillity of temper and felicity of faith necessary for n.o.ble purist painting, unless you are actively engaged in promoting the felicity and peace of practical life. None of this bright Gothic art was ever done but either by faith in the attainableness of felicity in heaven, or under conditions of real order and delicate loveliness on the earth.

86. As long as I can possibly keep you among them, there you shall stay--among the almond and apple blossom. But if you go on into the veracities of the school of Clay, you will find there is something at the roots of almond and apple trees, which is--This. You must look at him in the face--fight him--conquer him with what scathe you may: you need not think to keep out of the way of him. There is Turner's Dragon; there is Michael Angelo's; there, a very little one of Carpaccio's. Every soul of them had to understand the creature, and very earnestly.

87. Not that Michael Angelo understands his dragon as the others do.

He was not enough a colorist either to catch the points of the creature's aspect, or to feel the same hatred of them; but I confess myself always amazed in looking at Michael Angelo's work here or elsewhere, at his total carelessness of anatomical character except only in the human body. It is very easy to round a dragon's neck, if the only idea you have of it is that it is virtually no more than a coiled sausage; and, besides, anybody can round anything if you have full scale from white high light to black shadow.

88. But look here at Carpaccio, even in my copy. The colorist says, "First of all, as my delicious paroquet was ruby, so this nasty viper shall be black"; and then is the question, "Can I round him off, even though he is black, and make him slimy, and yet springy, and close down--clotted like a pool of black blood on the earth--all the same?"

Look at him beside Michael Angelo's, and then tell me the Venetians can't draw! And also, Carpaccio does it with a touch, with one sweep of his brush; three minutes at the most allowed for all the beast; while Michael Angelo has been haggling at this dragon's neck for an hour.

89. Then note also in Turner's that clinging to the earth--the specialty of him--_il gran nemico_, "the great enemy," Plutus. His claws are like the Clefts of the Rock; his shoulders like its pinnacles; his belly deep into its every fissure--glued down--loaded down; his bat's wings cannot lift him, they are rudimentary wings only.

90. Before I tell you what he means himself, you must know what all this smoke about him means.

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Lectures on Landscape Part 3 summary

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