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Title: Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgment of Pictures
Author: Poore, Henry Rankin, 1859-1940
Language: English
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                      [Light and Shade--Geo. Inness]

Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgment of Pictures

A Handbook for Students and Lovers of Art
By H. R. Poore

New York and London
G. P. Putnam’s Sons


_It is with sincere pleasure that I dedicate this book to my first
teacher, Peter Moran, as an acknowledgment to the interest he inspired in
this important subject_


This book has been prepared because, although the student has been
abundantly supplied with aids to decorative art, there is little within
his reach concerning pictorial composition.

I have added thereto hints on the critical judgment of pictures with the
hope of simplifying to the many the means of knowing pictures, prompted by
the recollection of the topsyturviness of this question as it confronted
my own mind a score of years ago.  I was then apt to strain at a Corot
hoping to discover in the employment of some unusual color or method the
secret of its worth, and to think of the old masters as a different order
of beings from the rest of mankind.

Let me trust that, to a degree at least, these pages may prove
iconoclastic, shattering the images created of superstitious reverence and
allowing, in their stead, the result in art from whatever source to be
substituted as something quite as worthy of this same homage.

The author acknowledges the courtesies of the publishers of _Scribners,_
_The Century _and _Munsey’s_ magazines, D. Appleton, Manzi, Joyant & Co.,
and of the artists giving consent to the use of their pictures for this
book.  Acknowledgment is also made to F. A. Beardsley, H. K. Freeman and
L. Lord, for sketches contributed thereto.

                                                        Henry Rankin Poore
Orange, N. J., Feb. 1, 1903.


The revision which the text of this book has undergone has clarified
certain parts of it and simplified the original argument by a complete
sequence of page references and an index.  The appendix reduces the
contents to a working formula with the purpose of rendering practical the
suggestions of the text.

In its present form it seeks to meet the requirements of the student who
desires to proceed from the principles of formal and decorative
composition into the range of pictorial construction.

                                                                  H. R. P.


After twelve years _Pictorial Composition_ continues with a steady demand.
Through the English house it has become “a standard” in the British Isles
and finds a market in India and Australia.

At the request of a few artists of Holland it has been translated and will
shortly be issued in Dutch.




Light and Shade--Geo. Inness
Fundamental Forms of Construction
Why Art Without Composition is Crippled: The Madonna of the Veil--Raphael;
The Last Judgement--Michael Angelo; Birth of the Virgin Mary--Durer; The
Annunciation--Botticelli; In Central Park; The Inn--Teniers
Three Ideas in Pictorial Balance
Pines in Winter (Unbalance); The Connoisseurs--Fortuny (Balance of the
Portrait of Sara Bernhardt--Clairin (Balance Across the Natrual Axis)
Lady with Muff--Photo A. Hewitt (Steelyard in Perspective)
Lion in the Desert--Gerome (Balance of Isolated Measures); Salute to the
Wounded--Detaille (Balance of Equal Measures)
Indian and Horse--Photo A.C. Bode (Oppposition of Light and Dark
Measures); The Cabaret--L. L’hermitte (Opposition Plus Transition)
Along the Shore--Photo by George Butler (Transitional line);
Pathless--Photo by A. Horsely Hinton (Transitional Line)
Hillside (Graded Light Upon Surfaces; Cloud Shadows); River Fog (Light
Graded by Atmospheric Density); The Chant (Gradation through Values of
Separated Objects)
The View-Metre
Three Pictures Found with the View-Metre
View Taken with a Wide Angle Lens
Photography Nearing the Pictorial
The Path of the Surf--Photo (Triangles Occuring in the leading line); The
Shepherdess--Millet (Composition Exhibiting a Double Exit)
Circular Observation--The Principle; The Slaying of the Unpropitious
Messengers (Triangular Composition--Circular Observation)
Huntsman and Hounds (Triangle with Circular Attraction); Portrait of Van
der Geest--Van Dyck (A sphere within a Circle)
Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne--Tintoretto (Circle and Radius);
Endymion--Watts (The Circle--Vertical Plane)
The Fight Over the Body of Patroclus--Weirls; 1807--Meissonier; Ville
d’Avray--Corot; The Circle in Perspective
The Hermit--Gerard Dow (Rectangle in Circle); The Forge of Vulcan--Boucher
(Circular Observation by Suppression of Sides and Corners)
Orpheus and Eurydice--Corot (Figures outside the natural line of the
picture’s composition); The Holy Family--Andrea del Sarto (The circle
The Herder--Jaque
Alone--Jacques Israels (Constructive Synthesis upon the Vertical); The
Dance--Carpeaux (The Cross Within the Circle)
Sketches from Landscapes by Henry Ranger; Parity of Horizonatals and
Verticals; Crossings of Horizontals by Spot Diversion
Sketch from the Book of Truth--Claude Lorrain (Rectangle Unbalanced); The
Beautiful Gate--Raphael (Verticals Destroying Pictorial Unity)
Mother and Child--Orchardson (Horizontals opposed or Covered); Stream in
Winter--W. E. Schofield (Verticals and Horizontals vs. Diagonal)
Hogarth’s Line of Beauty
Aesthetics of Line; The Altar; Roman Invasion--F. Lamayer (Vertical line
in action; dignified, measured, ponderous); The Flock--P. Moran (The
horizontal, typifying quietude, repose, calm, solemnity); The curved line:
variety, movement; Man with Stone--V. Spitzer (Transitional Line,
Cohesion); The Dance--Rubens (The ellipse: line of continuity and unity);
Swallows--From the Strand (The diagonal: line of action; speed)
Aesthetics of Line, Continued, Where Line is the motive and Decoration is
the Impulse; Winter Landscape--After Photograph (Line of grace, variety,
facile sequence); Line Versus Space (The same impulse with angular energy,
The line more attractive than the plane); Reconciliation--Glackens
(Composition governed by the decorative exterior line); December--After
Photograph (Radial lines with strong focalization)
Unity and its Lack; The Lovers--Gussow; The Poulterers--Wallander
Return of Royal Hunting Party--Isabey; The Night Watch--Rembrandt
Departure for the Chase--Cuyp (Background Compromising Original
Structure); Repose of the Reapers--L. L’hermite (The Curvilinear Line)
The Decorative and Pictorial Group; Allegory of Spring--Botticelli
(Separated concepts expressing separate ideas); Dutch Fisher Folk--F. V.
S. (Separated concepts of one idea); The Cossack’s Reply--Repin (Unity
through a cumulative idea)
Fundamental Forms of Chiaroscuro; Whistler’s Portrait of his Mother;
Moorland--E. Yon; Charcoal Study--Millet; The Arbor--Ferrier
Fundamental Forms of Chiaroscuro, Continued; Landscape--Geo. Inness; The
Kitchen--Whistler; St. Angela--Robt. Reid; An Annam Tiger--Surrand; The
Shrine--Orchardson; Monastic Life--F. V. DuMond
A Reversible Effect of Light and Shade (The Same Subject Vertically and
Horizontally Presented)
Spots and Masses; Note-book sketches from Rubens, Velasquez, Claude
Lorrain and Murillo
Death of Caesar--Gerome; The Travel of the Soul--After Howard Pyle
Bishop Potter
Decorative Evolving the Pictorial; The North River--Prendergast; An
Intrusion--Bull; Landscape Arrangement--Guerin
Stable Interior--A. Mauve (A simple picture containing all the principles
of composition); Her Last Moorings--From a Photograph
Alice--W.M. Chase (Verticals Diverted); Lady Archibald Campbell--Whistler
(Verticals Obliterated); The Crucifixion--Amie Morot (Verticals Opposed)


“The painter is a compound of a poet and a man of science.”


“It is working within limits that the artist reveals himself.”



This volume is addressed to three classes of readers; to the layman, to
the amateur photographer, and to the professional artist.  To the latter
it speaks more in the temper of the studio discussion than in the spirit
didactic.  But, emboldened by the friendliness the profession always
exhibits toward any serious word in art, the writer is moved to believe
that the matters herein discussed may be found worthy of the artist’s
attention—perhaps of his question.  For that reason the tone here and
there is argumentative.

The question of balance has never been reduced to a theory or stated as a
set of principles which could be sustained by anything more than example,
which, as a working basis must require reconstruction with every change of
subject.  Other forms of construction have been sifted down in a search
for the governing principle,—a substitution for the “rule and example.”

To the student and the amateur, therefore, it must be said this is not a
“how-to-do” book.  The number of these is legion, especially in painting,
known to all students, wherein the matter is didactic and usually set
forth with little or no argument. Such volumes are published because of
the great demand and are demanded because the student, in his haste, will
not stop for principles, and think it out. He will have a rule for each
case; and when his direct question has been answered with a principle, he
still inquires, “Well, what shall I do here?”

Why preach the golden rule of harmony as an abstraction, when inharmony is
the concrete sin to be destroyed. We reach the former by elimination.
Whatever commandments this book contains, therefore, are the shalt nots.

As the problems to the maker of pictures by photography are the same as
those of the painter and the especial ambition of the former’s art is to
be painter-like, separations have been thought unnecessary in the address
of the text.  It is the best wish of the author that photography,
following painting in her essential principles as she does, may prove
herself a well met companion along art’s highway,—seekers together, at
arm’s length, and in defined limits, of the same goal.

The mention of artists’ names has been limited, and a liberal allusion to
many works avoided because to multiply them is both confusing and

To the art lover this book may be found of interest as containing the
_reasons_ in picture composition, and through them an aid to critical
judgment.  We adapt our education from quaint and curious sources.  It is
the apt correlation of the arts which accounts for the acknowledgment by
an English story writer that she got her style from Ruskin’s “Principles
of Drawing”; and of a landscape painter that to sculpture he owed his
discernment of the forest secrets, by daily observing the long lines of
statues in the corridor of the Royal Academy; or by the composer of
pictures to the composer of music; or by the preacher that suggestions to
discourse had come to him through the pictorial processes of the painter.


The poet-philosopher Emerson declared that he studied geology that he
might better write poetry.

For a moment the two elements of the proposition stand aghast and defiant;
but only for a moment.  The poet, who from the top looks down upon the
whole horizon of things can never use the tone of authority if his gaze be
a surface one.  He must know things in their depth in order that the
glance may be sufficient.

The poet leaves his geology and botany, his grammar and rhetoric on the
shelf when he makes his word picture.  After he has expressed his thought
however he may have occasion to call on the books of science, the grammar
and rhetoric and _these may very seriously interfere with the spontaneous
product._  So do the sentries posted on the boundary of the painter’s art
protect it from the liberties taken in the name of originality.

“The progressive element in our art,” says the author of “The Law of
Progress in Art,” “is the scientific element. . . . Artists will not be
any more famous for being scientific, but they are compelled to become
scientific because they have embraced a profession which includes science.
What I desire to enforce is the great truth that _within_ the art of
painting there exists, flourishes and advances a noble and glorious
_science_ which is essential and progressive.”

“Any one who can learn to write can learn to draw;” and every one who can
learn to draw should learn to _compose_ pictures.  That all do not is in
evidence in the work of the many accomplished draughtsmen who have
delineated their ideas on canvas and paper from the time of the earliest
masters to the present day, wherein the ability to produce the details of
form is manifest in all parts of the work, but in the combination of those
parts the first intention of their presence has lost force.

Composition is the science of combination, and the art of the world has
progressed as do the processes of the kindergarten.  Artists first
received form; then color; the materials, then the synthesis of the two.
Notable examples of the world’s great compositions may be pointed to in
the work of the Renaissance painters, and such examples will be cited; but
the major portion of the art by which these exceptions were surrounded
offers the same proportion of good to bad as the inverse ratio would

Without turning to serious argument at this point, a superficial one,
which will appeal to most art tourists, whether professional or lay, is
found in the relief experienced in passing from the galleries of the old
to those of the new art in Europe, in that one finds repose and
experiences a relief of mental tension, discovering with the latter the
balance of line, of mass and of color, and that general simplicity so
necessary to harmony, which suggests that the weakness of the older art
lay in the last of the three essentials of painting; form, color and
composition.  The low-toned harmonies of time-mellowed color we would be
loath to exchange for aught else, except for that element of disturbance
so vague and so difficult of definition, namely, lack of composition.

                   [Fundamental Forms of Construction]

In the single case of portrait composition of two figures (more difficult
than of one, three or more) it is worthy of note how far beyond the older
are the later masters; or in the case of the grouping of landscape
elements, or in the arrangement of figures or animals _in_ landscape, how
a finer sense in such arrangement has come to art.  Masterful composition
of many figures however has never been surpassed in certain examples of
Michael Angelo, Rubens, Corregio and the great Venetians, yet while we
laud the successes of these men we should not forget their lapses nor the
errors in composition of their contemporaries.

Those readers who have been brought up in the creed and catechism of the
old masters, and swallowed them whole, with no questions, I beg will lay
aside traditional prejudice, and regarding every work with reference to
neither name nor date, challenge it only with the countersign “good
composition.”  This will require an unsentimental view, which need not and
should not be an unsympathetic one, but which would bare the subject of
that which overzealous devotion has bestowed upon it, a compound
accumulation of centuries.

The most serious work yet written on composition, Burnet’s “Light and
Shade,” was penned at a time when the influence of old masters held
undisputed sway.  The thought of that day in syllogism would run as
follows: The work of the Old Masters in its composition is beyond
reproach.  Botticelli, Raphael, Paul Potter, Wouvermans, Cuyp,
Domenichino, Dürer, Teniers et al., are Old Masters.  Therefore, we accept
their works as models of good composition, to be followed for all ages.
And under such a creed a work valuable from many points of view has been
crippled by its free use of models, which in some cases compromise the
arguments of the author, and in others, if used by artists of the present
day, would only serve to administer a rebuke to their simple trust, in
that practical manner known to juries, hanging committees and publishers.

       [Why Art Without Composition is Crippled: The Madonna of the
  Veil--Raphael; The Last Judgement--Michael Angelo; Birth of the Virgin
     Mary--Durer; The Annunciation--Botticelli; In Central Park; The

The slight advance made in the field of painting during the past three
centuries has come through this channel, and strange would it seem if the
striving of this long period should show no improvement in any direction.

Composition is the mortar of the wall, as drawing and color are its rocks
of defence.  Without it the stones are of little value, and are but
separate integrals having no unity. If the reader agrees with this, then
he agrees to throw out of the category of _the picture_ all pictorial
representations which show no composition.  This classification eliminates
most of the illustrations of scientific work; such illustrations as aim
only at facts of incident, space or topography, photographic reproductions
of groups wherein each individual is shown to be quite as important as
every other, and which, therefore, become a collection of separate
pictures, and such illustrations as are frequently met with in the daily
papers, where opportunities for picture-making have been diverted to show
where the victim fell, and where the murderer escaped, or where the man
drowned—usually designated by a star.  These are not pictures, but
perspective maps to locate events.  Besides these, in the field of
painting, are to be found now and then products of an artist’s skill
which, though interesting in technique and color, give little pleasure to
a well-balanced mind, destitute as they are of the simple principles which
govern the universe of matter.  Take from nature the principles of
balance, and you deprive it of harmony; take from it harmony and you have

A picture may have as its component parts a man, a horse, a tree, a fence,
a road and a mountain; but these thrown together upon canvas do not make a
picture; and not, indeed, until they have been arranged or composed.

The argument, therefore, is that without composition, there can be no
picture; that the composition of pictorial units into a whole _is_ the

Simple as its principles are, it is amazing, one might almost say amusing,
to note how easily they eluded many artists of the earlier periods, whose
work technically is valuable, and how the new school of Impressionism or
Naturalism has assumed their non-importance.  That all Impressionists do
not agree with the following is evidenced by the good that comes to us
with their mark,—“Opposed to the miserable law of composition, symmetry,
balance, arrangement of parts, filling of space, as though Nature herself
does not do that ten thousand times better in her own pretty way.”  The
assertion that composition is a part of Nature’s law, that it is done by
her and well done we are glad to hear in the same breath of invective that
seeks to annihilate it.  When, under this curse we take from our picture
one by one the elements on which it is builded, the result we would be
able to present without offence to the author of “Naturalistic Painting,”
Mr. Francis Bate.

“The artist,” says Mr. Whistler, “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 brings 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.  That
Nature is always right is an assertion artistically, as untrue as it is
one whose truth is universally taken for granted. Nature is very rarely
right to such an extent, even, that it might almost be said that Nature is
usually wrong; that is to say, the condition of things that shall bring
about the perfection of harmony worthy a picture is rare, and not common
at all.”

Between the life class, with its model standing in academic pose and the
pictured scene in which the model becomes a factor in the expression of an
idea, there is a great gulf fixed.  The precept of the ateliers is paint
the figure; if you can do that, you can paint anything.

Influenced by this half truth many a student, with years of patient life
school training behind him, has sought to enter the picture-making stage
with a single step.  He then discovers that what he had learned to do
cleverly by means of routine practice, was in reality the easiest thing to
do in the manufacture of a picture, and that sterner difficulties awaited
him in his settlement of the figure into its surroundings—background and

Many portrait painters assert that it is the setting of the subject which
gives them the most trouble.  The portraitist deals with but a single
figure, yet this, in combination with its scanty support, provokes this
well-known comment.

The lay community cannot understand this. It seems illogical. It can only
be comprehended by him who paints.

The figure is tangible and represents the known.  The background is a
space opened into the unknown, a place for the expressions of fancy.  It
is the tone quality accompanying the song, the subject’s reliance for
balance and contrast.  An inquiry into the statement that the accessories
of the subject demand a higher degree of artistic skill than the painting
of the subject itself, and that on these accessories depend the carrying
power of the subject, leads directly to the principles of composition.

“It must of necessity be,” says Sir Joshua Reynolds, “that even works of
genius, like every other effect, as they must have their cause, must also
have their rules; it cannot be by chance that excellencies are produced
with any constancy or any certainty, for this is not the nature of chance;
but the rules by which men of extraordinary parts, and such as are called
men of genius, work, are either such as they discover by their own
peculiar observations, or of such a nice texture as not easily to admit
being expressed in words, especially as artists are not very frequently
skillful in that mode of communicating ideas.  Unsubstantial, however, as
these rules may seem, and difficult as it may be to convey them in
writing, they are still seen and felt in the mind of the artist; and he
works from them with as much certainty as if they were embodied upon
paper. It is true these refined principles cannot always be made palpable,
as the more gross rules of art; yet it does not follow but that the mind
may be put in such a train that it still perceives by a kind of scientific
sense that propriety which words, particularly words of impractical
writers, such as we are, can but very feebly suggest.”

Science has to do wholly with truth, Art with both truth and beauty; but
in arranging a precedence she puts beauty first.

Our regard for the science of composition is acknowledged when, after
having enjoyed the painter’s work from the art side alone, the science of
its structure begins to appear.  Instead of the concealment of art by art
it is the suppression of the science end of art that takes our cunning.

“The picture which looks most like nature to the uninitiated,” says a
clever writer, “will probably show the most attention to the rules of the

Ten years ago the writer took part in an after-dinner discussion at the
American Art Association of Paris over the expression “the rules of
composition.”  A number of artists joined in the debate, all giving their
opinion without premeditation.  Some maintained that the principles of
composition were nothing more than aesthetic taste and judgment, applied
by a painter of experience.

Others, with less beggary of the question, affirmed that the principles
were negative rather than positive.  They warned the artist rather than
instructed him; and, if rules were to follow principles, they were rules
concerning what should not be done.  The epitome of the debate was that
composition was like salt, in the definition of the small boy, who
declared that salt is what makes things taste bad when you don’t put any

                    [Three Ideas in Pictorial Balance]

The Classic Scales—equal weights on even arms, the controlling idea of
decorative composition.

A later notion of balance—the Steelyard, a small weight on the long arm of
the fulcrum, admitting great range in the placement of balancing measures.

The Scales or Steelyard in perspective, developing the notion of balance
through the depth of a picture discoverable over a fulcrum or neutral


Of all pictorial principles none compares in importance with Unity or

“Why all this intense striving, this struggle to a finish,” said George
Inness, as, at the end of a long day, he flung himself exhausted upon his
lounge, “but an effort to obtain unity, unity.”

The observer of an artist at work will notice that he usually stands at
his easel and views his picture at varied distances, that he looks at it
over his shoulder, that he reverses it in a mirror, that he turns it
upside down at times, that he develops it with dots or spots of color here
and there, points of accent carefully placed and oft-times changed.

What is the meaning of this thoughtful weighing of parts in the
slowly-growing mosaic, but that he labors under the restraint of a law
which he feels compelled to obey and the breaking of which would cause
anguish to his esthetic sense.  The law under which his striving proceeds
is the fundamental one of balance, and the critical artist obeys it
whether he be the maker of vignettes for a newspaper, or the painter who
declares for color only, or the man who tries hard to produce naivete by
discarding composition. The test to which the sensitive eye subjects every
picture from whatsoever creed or camp it comes is _balance_ or equipoise,
judgment being rendered without thought of the law.  After the picture has
been left as finished, why does an artist often feel impelled to create an
accent on this side or weaken an obtrusive one on the other side of his
canvas if not working under a law of balance?

Let any picture be taken which has lived long enough before the public to
be considered good by every one; or take a dozen or more such and add
others by artists who declare against composition and yet have produced
good pictures; subject all these to the following simple test: Find the
actual centre of the picture and pass a vertical and horizontal line
through it. _The vertical division is the more important, as the natural
balance is on the lateral sides of a central support._  It will be found
that the actual centre of the canvas is also the actual pivot or centre of
the picture, and around such a point the various components group
themselves, pulling and hauling and warring in their claim for attention,
the _satisfactory_ picture showing as much design of balance on one side
of the centre as the other, and the picture complete in balance displaying
this equipoise above and below the horizontal line.

Now, in order that what seems at first glance an exclusive statement may
be understood, the reader should realize that every item of a picture has
a _certain positive power,_ as though each object were a magnet of given
potency.  Each has attraction for the eye, therefore each, while obtaining
attention for itself, establishes proportional detraction for every other
part.  On the principle of _the steelyard,_ the farther from the centre
and more isolated an object is, the greater its weight or attraction.
Therefore, in the balance of a picture it will be found that a very
important object placed but a short distance from the centre may be
balanced by a very small object on the other side of the centre _and
further removed from it._  The whole of the pictorial interest may be on
one side of a picture and the other side be practically useless as far as
picturesqueness or story-telling opportunity is concerned, but which finds
its reason for existing in the _balance,_ and that alone.

In the emptiness of the opposing half such a picture, when completely in
balance, will have some bit of detail or accent which the eye in its
circular, symmetrical inspection will catch, unconsciously, and weave into
its calculation of balance; or if not an object or accent or line of
attraction, then some technical quality, or spiritual quality, such, for
example, as a strong feeling of gloom, or depth for penetration, light or
dark, a place in fact, for the eye to dwell upon as an important part in
connection with the subject proper, and recognized as such.

But, the querist demands, if all the subject is on one side of the centre
and the other side depends for its existence on a balancing space or
accent only, why not cut it off?  Do so.  Then you will have the entire
subject in one-half the space to be sure, but its harmony or balance will
depend on the equipoise when pivoted in the new centre.


Let the reader make the test upon the _“__Connoisseurs__”_ and cut away
everything on the right beyond a line through the farther support of the
mantel.  This will place the statue in the exact centre. In this shape the
picture composes well.  In re-adding this space however the centre is
shifted leaving the statue and two figures hanging to one side but close
to the pivot and demanding more balance in this added side.  Now the space
alone, with very little in it, has weight enough, and just here the
over-scientific enthusiast might err; but the artist in this case from two
other considerations has here placed a figure.  It opposes its vertical to
the horizontal of the table, and catches and turns the line of the shadow
on the wall into the line of the rug.  An extended search in pictorial art
gives warrant for a rule, upon this principle, namely: where the subject
is on one side of the centre it must exist close to the centre, or, in
that degree in which it departs from the centre, show positive anchorage
to the other side.

 [Pines in Winter (Unbalance); The Connoisseurs--Fortuny (Balance of the

It is not maintained that every good picture can show _this complete_
balance; but the claim is made that the striving on the part of its
designer has been in the direction of this balance, and that, had it been
secured, the picture would have been that much better.  Let this simple
test be applied by elimination of overweighted parts or addition of items
where needed, _on this principle,_ and it will be found that the
composition will always improve.  As a necessary caution it should be
observed that the small balancing weight of the steelyard should not
become a point causing divided interest.

It is easy to recognize a good composition; to tell why it is good may be
difficult; to tell how it could be made better is what the art worker
desires to know.  Let the student when in doubt weight out his picture in
the balances mindful that the principle of the steelyards covers the items
in the depth as well as across the breadth of the picture.


Every picture is a collection of units or items.

Every unit has a given value.

The value of a unit depends on its attraction; its attraction varies as to
its placement.

An isolated unit near the edge has frequently more attraction than at the

Every part of the picture space has some attraction.

Space having no detail may possess attraction by gradation and by

A unit of attraction in an otherwise empty space has more weight through
isolation than the same when placed with other units.

A black unit on white or a white on black has more attraction than the
same on gray.

The value of a black or white unit is proportioned to the size of space
contrasting with it.

A unit in the foreground may have less weight than a like one in the

Two or more associated units may be reckoned as one and their _united
centre_ is the point on which they balance with others.

There is balance of Line,(2) of Mass,(3) of Light and Dark,(4) of
Measure,(5) which is secured upon a _scale of attraction_ which each
possesses.  Many pictures exhibit these in combination.

The “Lion of the Desert,” by Gerome shows three isolated spots and one
line of attraction.  The trend of vision on leaving the lion is to the
extreme right and thence back along the pathway of the dark distance into
the picture to the group of trees.  Across this is an oppositional balance
from the bushes of the foreground to the mountains of the extreme
distance.  The only line in the composition, better seen in the painting
than in the reproduction, counts much in the balance over the centre.  The
placement of the important item or subject, has little to do with the
balance scheme of a picture. _This is the starting point, and balance is a
consideration beyond this._

In every composition the eye should cross the central division at least
once.  This initiates equipoise, for in the survey of a picture the eye
naturally shifts from the centre of interest, which may be on one side, to
the other side of the canvas.  If there be something there to receive it,
the balance it seeks is gratified. If it finds nothing, the artist must
create something, with the conclusion that some element of the picture was

In the snow-scene the eye is attracted from the pine-trees to the houses
on the left and rests there, no attraction having been created to move it
to the other half of the picture.

What is known as divided interest in a picture is nothing more than the
doubt established by a false arrangement of balance, too great an
attraction being used where less weight was needed.  The artist must be
the judge of the degree of satisfaction he allows this feeling, but no one
can ignore it and obtain unity.

The question of degree must have a caution placed before it; for in an
attempt to create a balance on the opposite side of the vertical the
tendency is to use too heavy a weight.  The whole of the subject is
sometimes made to take its place well on one side and another item would
seem redundant.  Two points will be noticed in all of such cases: that the
opposing half may either be cut off without damage, or greatly elongated,
and in both forms the picture seems to survive.(6) The fact becomes an
argument for the theory of balance across a medial upright line; in the
first instance by shifting the line itself into the centre of the subject,
and in the second by securing more _weight of space_ with which to balance
the subject.

 [Portrait of Sara Bernhardt--Clairin (Balance Across the Natrual Axis)]

The portrait of _Sarah Bernhardt,_ an excellent composition from many
points of view, finds its most apparent balance on either side of the
sinuous line of light through the centre exhibiting the _axis,_ which many
pictures show in varying degrees.  The opposing corners are well balanced,
the plant over against the dog, with a trifle too much importance left to
the dog.  Place the finger in observation over the head and forelegs of
the dog, taking this much off and the whole composition gains, not only
because the diagonal corners then balance, but because the heads of both
woman and dog are too important for the same side of the picture.

It would be perfectly possible in the more complete composition to have
both heads as they are, but this would demand more weight on the other
side; or a shifting of the whole picture very slightly toward the left

In the painting this is not felt, as the head of the dog is so treated
that it attracts but little, though the object be in the close foreground.

This picture also balances on the horizontal and vertical lines.

Here we have the dog and fan balancing the body and plant.  The balance
_across the diagonal_ of the figure, by the opposition of the dog with the
plant is very complete.  Joined with the hanging lamp above, this sinuous
line effects a letter S or without the dog and leaf Hogarth’s line of

In the matter also of the weakening of the necessary foundation lines
which support the figure (the sofa), and cut the picture in two, this
curving figure, the pillow and the large leaf do excellent service.

When one fills a vase with flowers he aims at both unity and balance, and
if, in either color combination, or in massing and accent, it lacks this,
the result is disturbing.  Let the vase become a bowl and let the bowl be
placed on its edge and made to resemble a frame, entirely surrounding the
bouquet; his effort remains the same.  To be effective in a frame, balance
and unity are just as necessary.  The eye finds repose and delight _in the
perfect equipoise of elements,_ brought into combination and bound
together by the girdle of the frame.

A picture should be able to hang from its exact centre.  Imperfect
composition inflicts upon the beholder the duty of accommodating his head
to the false angle of the picture.  Pictures that stand the test of time
do not demand astigmatic glasses.  We view them _balanced,_ and they
repeat the countersign—“_balanced._”

After settling upon this as the great consideration in the subject of
composition and reducing the principle to the above law, I confess I had
not the full courage of my conviction for a six month, for now and then a
picture would appear that at first glance seemed like an unruly colt, to
refuse to be harnessed to the theory and was in danger of kicking it to
pieces.  After a number of such apparent exceptions and the ease with
which they submitted to the test of absolute balance from the centre, on
the scheme of the steelyards, I am now entirely convinced that what
writers have termed the “very vague subject of composition,” “the
perplexing question of arrangement of parts,” etc., yields to this
simplest law, and which, in its directness and clearness, affords the
simplest of working rules.  Those whose artistic freedom bids defiance to
the slavery of rule, as applied to an artistic product, and who try to
produce something that shall break all rules, in the hope of being
original, spend the greater part of the time in but covering the surface
so that the principle _may not be too easily seen,_ and the rest of the
time in balancing the unbalanced.

As the balance of the figure dominates all other considerations in the
statue or painting of the human form, so does the equipoise of the
picture, or its balance of parts, become the chief consideration in its
composition.  The figure balances its weight over the point of support, as
the flying Mercury on his toes, the picture upon a fulcrum on which large
and small masses hang with the same delicate adjustment.  In Fortuny’s
_“__Connoisseurs,__”_ the two men looking at a picture close to the left
of the centre form the subject.  The dark mass behind them stops off
further penetration in this direction, but the eye is drawn away into the
light on the right and seeks the man carrying a portfolio.  At his
distance, together with the lighted objects he easily balances the
important group on the other side of the centre.  Indeed, with the
attractiveness of the clock, vase, plaque, mantel and chest, his face
would have added a grain too much, and this the artist happily avoided by
covering it with the portfolio.

       [Lady with Muff--Photo A. Hewitt (Steelyard in Perspective)]

In the portrait study of “Lady with Muff,” one first receives the
impression that the figure has been carelessly placed and, indeed, it
would go for a one-sided and thoughtless arrangement but for the little
item, almost lost in shadow, on the left side.  This bit of detail enables
the eye to penetrate the heavy shadow, and is a good example of the value
of the small weight on the long arm of the steelyard, which balances its
opposing heavy weight.

This picture is trimmed a little too much on the top to balance across the
horizontal line, and, indeed, this balance is the least important, and, in
some cases, not desirable; but the line of light following down from the
face and across the muff and into the lap not only assists this balance,
but carries the eye into the left half, and for that reason is very
valuable in the _lateral_ balance, which is _all important to the upright

One other consideration regarding this picture, in the matter of balance,
contains a principle: The line of the figure curves in toward the flower
and pot which become the radius of the whole inner contour.  This creates
an elliptical line of observation, which being the arc on this radius
receives a pull toward its centre.  There is a modicum of balance in the
mere weight of this empty space, but when given force by its isolation,
plus the concession to its centripetal significance, the small item does
great service in settling the equilibrium of the picture.  The lines are
precisely those of the Rubens recently added to the Metropolitan Museum,
wherein the figures of Mary, her mother, Christ and John form the arc and
the bending form of the monk its oppositional balance.

In proof of the fact that the half balance, or that on either side of the
vertical is sufficient in many subjects, see such portraits in which the
head alone is attractive, the rest being suppressed in detail and light,
for the sake of this attraction.

It is rarely that figure art deals with balance over the horizontal
central line _in conjunction_ with balance over the vertical.

One may recall photographs of figures in which the positions on the field
of the plate are very much to one side of the centre, but which have the
qualifying element in _leading line_ or _balance by an isolated measure_
that brings them within the requirements of unity.  The “Brother and
Sister” (7) by Miss Kasebier—the boy in sailor cap crowding up to the face
and form of his younger sister,—owes much to the long, strongly-relieved
line of the boy’s side and leg which draws the weight to the opposite side
of the picture.  In imagination we may see the leg below the knee and know
how far on the opposite side of the central vertical his point of support
really is.  The movement in both figures originates from this side of the
picture as the lines of the drapery show.  Deprive such a composition of
its balancing line and instead of a picture we would have but two figures
on one side of a plate.

The significance of the horizontal balance is best understood in
landscape, with its extended perspective.  Here the idea becomes
reminiscent of our childhood’s “teeter.”  Conceiving a long space from
foreground to distance, occupied with varied degrees of interest, it is
apparent how easily one end may become too heavy for the other. The
tempering of such a chain of items until the equipoise is attained must be
coordinate with the effort toward the lateral balance.


In the _“__Salute to the Wounded,__”_by Detaille, complete and formal
balance on both the vertical and horizontal line is shown.  The chief of
staff is on one side of centre, balanced by the officer on the other, and
the remaining members of staff balance the German infantry.  Although the
heads of prisoners are all above the horizontal line, three-fourths of the
body comes below—a just equivalent—and, in the case of the horsemen, the
legs and bodies of the horses draw down the balance toward the bottom of
the canvas, specially aided by the two cuirassiers in the left corner.  In
addition to this, note the value of the placement of the gray horse and
rider at left, as a means of interrupting the necessary and objectionable
line of feet across the canvas and leading the eye into the picture and
toward the focus, both by the curve to the left, including the black
horse, and also by the direct jump across the picture, through the white
horse and toward the real subject—i.e., the prisoners.

[Lion in the Desert--Gerome (Balance of Isolated Measures); Salute to the
              Wounded--Detaille (Balance of Equal Measures)]

Much has been written by way of suggestion in composition dealing with
this picture or that to illustrate a thought which might have been
simplified over the single idea of balance which contains the whole secret
and which if once understood in all of its phases of possible change will
establish procedure with a surety indeed gratifying to him who halts
questioning the next step, or not knowing positively that the one he has
taken is correct.

These criticisms vaguely named “confusion,” “stiffness,” “scattered
quantity,” etc., all lead in to the root, unbalance, and are to be
corrected there.

Balance is of importance according to the number of units to be composed.
Much greater license may be taken in settling a single figure into its
picture-space than when the composition involves many.  In fact the mind
pays little heed to the consideration of balance until a complication of
many units forces the necessity upon it.  The painter who esteems lightly
the subject of composition is usually found to be the painter of simple
subjects—portraits and non-discursive themes, but though these may survive
in antagonism to such principles their authors are demanding more from the
technical quality of their work than is its mission to supply.

The first two main lines, if they touch or cross, start a composition.
After that it is necessary to work upon the picture as it hangs in the

The inutility of considering composition in outline or in solid mass of
tone as a safe first analysis of finished work is evident when we discover
that not until we have brought the picture to the _last_ stage of detail
finish do we fully encompass balance.  The conception which looks
acceptable to one’s general idea in outline may finish all askew; or the
scheme of Light and Dark in one or two flat tones _minus the balance of
gradation_ will prove false as many times as faithful, as it draws toward
completion.  It is because of this that artists when composing roughly in
the presence of nature seldom if ever produce note-book sketches which
lack the unity of gradation.  It is the custom of some artists to paint
important pictures from such data which, put down hot when the impression
is compulsory, contain more of the essence of the subject than the
faithful “study” done at leisure.


The possibilities of balanced arrangement being so extensive, susceptible
in fact of the most eccentric and fantastic composition, it follows: that
its adaptability to all forms of presentation disarms argument against it.
In almost every case, when the work of an accomplished painter fails to
convince, through that completeness which of all qualities stands first,
when, after the last word has been said by him, when, nature, in short,
has been satisfied and the work still continues in its feeble state of
insurrection, which many artists will confess it frequently requires years
to quell, it is sure proof that way back in the early construction of such
a picture some element of unbalance had been allowed.


In varying degrees pictures express what may be termed a _natural axis,_
on which their components arrange themselves in balanced composition.
This axis is the visible or imaginary line which the eye accepts
connecting the two most prominent measures or such a line which first
arrests the attention.  If there be but one figure, group or measure, and
there be an opening or point of attraction through the background
diverting the vision from such to it, then this line of direction becomes
the axis.  The axis does not merely connect two points within the picture,
but pierces it, and the near end of the shaft has much to do with this

Balance across the centre effects the unity of the picture in its
limitations with its frame.  Balance on the axis expresses the natural
balance of the subject as we feel it in nature when it touches us
personally and would connect our spirit with its own.

We discern the former more readily where the subject confronts us with
little depth of background.  We get into the movement of the latter when
the reach is far in, and we feel the subject revolving on its pivot and
stretching one arm toward us while the other penetrates the visible or the
unknown distance.

Balance constructed over this line will bring the worker to as unified a
result as the use of the steelyard on the central vertical line.

In this method there is less restraint and when the axis is well marked it
is best to take it.  Not every subject develops it however.  It is easily
felt in Clairin’s portrait of _Sarah Bernhardt,_ the _“__Lady with
Muff,__”_ _“__The Path of the Surf,__”_ and in the line of the _horse,
Indian, and sunset_.  When the axis is found, its force should be modified
by opposed lines or measures, on one or both sides. In these four examples
good composition has been effected in proportion as such balance is
indicated; in the first by dog and palm, in the second by flower-pot, in
the third by the light on the stubble and cloud in left hand corner, and
in the last by the rocks and open sea.

A further search among the accompanying illustrations would reveal it in
the sweeping line of cuirassiers, _1807_ balanced by the group about
Napoleon, the line of the hulk and the light of the sky in _“__Her Last
Moorings,__”_ the central curved line in _“__The Body of Patroclus__”_ the
diagonal line through the arm of _Ariadne_ into the forearm of Bacchus.


Raphael is a covenient point at which to commence a study of composition.
His style was influenced by three considerations: warning by the pitfalls
of composition into which his predecessors had fallen; confidence that the
absolutely formal balance was safe; and lack of experience to know that
anything else was as good.  To these may be added the environment for
which most of his works were produced.  His was an architectural plan of
arrangement, and this well suited both the dignity of his subject and the
chaste conceptions of a well poised mind.

Raphael, therefore, stands as the chief exponent of _informal
composition._  His plan was to place the figure of greatest importance in
the centre.  This should have its support in balancing figures on either
side; an attempt then often observable was to weaken this set formality by
other objects wherein, though measure responded to measure, there was a
slight change in kind or degree, the whole arrangement resembling that of
an army in battle array; with its centre, flanks and skirmishers.  The
balance of equal measures—seen in his “Sistine Madonna,” is conspicuous in
most ecclesiastical pictures of that period, notably the “Last Supper of
Leonardo” in which two groups of three persons each are posed on either
side of the pivotal figure.

This has become the standard arrangement for all classical balanced
composition in pictorial decoration.  The doubling of objects on either
side of a central figure not only gives to it importance, but contributes
to the composition that quietude, symmetry and solemnity so compatible
with religious feeling or decorative requirement.  The objection to this
plan of balance is that it divides the picture into equal parts, neither
one having precedence, and the subdivisions may be continued indefinitely.
For this reason it has no place in genre art.  Its antiphonal responses
belong to the temple.  A more objectionable form of balance on the centre
is that in which the centre is of small importance.  This cuts the picture
into halves without reason.  The _“__Dutch Peasants on the Shore,__”_
_“__Low Tide,__”_ and _“__The Poulterers,__”_ and David’s “Rape of the
Sabine Women,” are examples.

These pictures present three degrees of formal balance.  In the first a
lack of sequence impairs the picture’s unity.  In the second, though the
objects are contiguous there is no subjective union, and in David’s
composition the formality of the decorative structure is inapplicable to
the theme.

The circular group of Dagnan-Bouveret’s “Pardon in Brittany,” where the
peasants are squatted on the left in the foreground is a daring bit of
balance, finding its justification in the movement of interest toward the
right in the background.

In all forms, save the classic decoration it should be the artist’s effort
to conceal the balance over the centre.


In avoiding the equal divisions of the picture plane a practical plan of
construction is based upon the strong points as opposed to the weak ones.
It assumes that the weak point is the centre, and that in all types of
composition where formality is not desired the centre is to be avoided.
Any points equidistant from any two sides are also weak points.  The
inequalities in distance should bear a mathematical ratio to each other as
one and two-thirds, two and three-fifths.  These points will be strongest
and best adapted for the placement of objects which are distant from the
boundary lines and the corners, _in degrees most varied._

If we take a canvas of ordinary proportion, namely, one whose length is
equal to the hypothenuse on the square of its breadth, as 28×36 or 18×24
and divide it into unequal divisions as three, five or seven, we will
produce points on which good composition will result.

The reason for this is that the remaining two-thirds becomes a unit as has
the one-third.  If the larger is given the precedence it carries the
interest; if not it must be sacrificed to the smaller division.  On this
principle it may be seen that a figure could occupy a position in the
centre if it tied itself _in a positive_ way to that division which
carried the remainder of the interest thus becoming unobjectionable as an
element dividing the picture into equal parts.

The formula is always productive of excellent results. (See Howard’s
“Sketcher’s Manual.”)

This proportional division of the picture one may find in the best of
Claude Lorraine’s landscapes, with him a favorite method of construction.
It suggests the pillars and span for a suspension trestle.  When, as is
invariably seen in Claude’s works the nearest one is in shadow, the vision
is projected from this through the space intervening to the distant and
more attractive one.  A feeling of great depth is inseparable from this


A series of oppositional lines has more variety and is therefore more
picturesque than the tangent its equivalent.    The simplest definition of
picturesqueness is variety in unity.  The lines of the long road in
perspective offer easy conduct for the eye, but it finds a greater
interest in threading its way over a track lost, then found, lost and
found again.  In time we as surely arrive from _a_ to _z_ by one route as
by the other, but in one the journey has had the greater interest.

Imagine a hillside and sky offered as a picture.  The hillside is without
detail, the sky a blank.  The first item introduced attracts the eye, the
second and third are joined with the first.  If they parallel the line of
the hillside they do nothing toward the development of the picture but
rather harm by introducing an element of monotony.  If, however, they are
so placed in sky and land as to accomplish opposition to this line they
help to send the eye on its travels.

No better example of this principle can be cited than Mr. Alfred
Steiglitz’s pictorial photograph of two Dutch women on the shore.  The
lines of ropes through the foreground connect with others in the middle
distance leading tangentially to the house beyond.

To one who fences or has used the broad sword a feeling for oppositional
line should come as second nature.  A long sweeping stroke must be parried
or opposed frankly; the _riposte_ must also be parried.  A bout is a
picturesque composition of two men and two minds in which unity of the
whole and of the parts is preserved by the balance of opposed measures.
The analogy is appropriate. The artist stands off brush in hand and fights
his subject to a finish, the force of one stroke neutralizing and parrying
another.  This is as true of linear as color composition, where the scheme
is one producing harmony by opposition of colors.

    [Indian and Horse--Photo A.C. Bode (Oppposition of Light and Dark
   Measures); The Cabaret--L. L’hermitte (Opposition Plus Transition)]

In the photograph of the _Indian and horse_ we have a subject full of fine
quality.  The demonstration occurs in the sky at just the right place to
serve as a balance for the heavy measures of the foreground and the
interest is drawn back into the picture and to the upper left hand corner
by the two cloud forms, over which is sharply thrown a barricade of cloud
which turns the vision back into the picture.  The simplicity of the three
broad tones is appropriate to the sentiment of vastness which the picture
contains.  The figure seated in revery before this expanse supplies the
mental element to the subject, the antithesis of which is the interest of
the horse, earthward.  Each one has his way, and in the choice by each is
the definition of man and brute, a separation which the pose of each
figure indicates through physical disunion.  The space between them widens
upon the horizon line.  To establish the necessary pictorial connection or
at least a hint of it suggests three devices.  A lariat in a curving line
might be slightly indicated through the grass: the foreground might be cut
so as to limit the range toward us; or a broken line may be constructed
diagonally from the horse’s left foot by a few accents in the light of the
stubble.  In the first, the union is effected by transition of line; in
the last by opposition of the spot of the figure to the line of the
horse’s shoulder and leg extended by a line through the grass.

With the coalition of these two figures there would no longer be felt a
procession of three items in a straight perspective line: the horse, the
man, and the distant river.  Instead it would be the horse and owner over
against the notion of prairie, river, and sky.


Spots or accents are in the majority of cases equivalent to a line.  The
eye follows the line more easily, but the spot is a potent force of
attraction and we take the artist’s hint in his use of it, often finding
that its subtlety is worth more than the line’s strength.  In the case of
a simple hillside back-stopped by a dense mass of trees, a flat and an
upright plane are presented, but until the vision is carried into and
beyond the line of juncture the opposition of mere planes accomplishes
little, the only thing thus established being a strong effect of light and
shade and not until the eye is coaxed into the sky so that there be
established a union between the pathway or other object on the hill and
the distance, will balance by transition be effected.

This is one of the subtlest and most necessary principles in landscape
composition.  The illustration herewith is of the simplest nature but the
principle may be expanded indefinitely as it has to do both with lateral
and perspective balance.

In the _“__Death of Cæsar,__”_ the perspective line of the statues and the
opposite curve in the floor are continued through the opposing mass of
columns and wall to the court beyond, a positive control of the distance
by the foreground, being thus secured.


More effective than opposition, as the cross bar is more effective for
strength than the bar supported on only one side, is _Transition,_ or the
same item _carried across,_ or _delivered to_ another item which shall
cross a line or space.

In the group of peasants in the _Cabaret_ note the use of lines of
opposition and transition, in the single figures and when taken in twos.
The laborer (with shovel) in his upper and lower extremities exhibits a
large cross which becomes larger when we add the table on which his
extended arm rests and the figure standing behind him.  The ascent of this
vertical is stopped by the line of the mantel and then continued by the
plate and picture.  So in minor parts of this group one may think out the
rugged energy of its composition, nor anywhere discover a single curved or
flowing line.  Nor does it require an experienced eye to note the
pyramidal structure of the various parts. In the action of the heads and
bodies of the two central figures is another strong example of
oppositional arrangement.  The heavily braced table is typical of the

      [Along the Shore--Photo by George Butler (Transitional line);
        Pathless--Photo by A. Horsely Hinton (Transitional Line)]

In landscape the transitional line from land into sky is often impossible
and objectionable.  The sentiment of the subject may deny any attempt at
this union.  Here the principle only, should be hinted at.  In the case of
a sunset sky where the clouds float as parallel bars above the horizon and
thus show the character of a quiet and windless closing of day, a
transitional line such as a tree, mast or spire may be unavailable.
Oppositional spots or lines attracting the vision into the land and thus
diverting it from the horizontals are the only _recourse_.  In the shore
view the sun’s rays create a series of lines which admirably unite with
the curve of the wagon tracks.  The union of sky and land is thus effected
and meanwhile the subject proper has its ruggedness associated with the
graceful compass of these elements.

In fact transitional line is so powerful that unless it contains a part of
the subject it should seldom be used.

In the _“__Annunciation__”_ by Botticelli the introduction of a long
perspective line beyond the figures, continuing the lines of the
foreground, railroads the vision right through the subject, carrying it
out of the picture.  If the attention is pinned perforce on the subject,
one feels the interruption and annoyance of this unnecessary landscape.
The whole Italian school of the Renaissance weakened the force of its
portraits and figure pictures by these elaborate settings which they
seemed helpless to govern.  In Velasquez we frequently find the
simplification of background which saves the entire interest for the
subject; but even he in his “Spinners” and to a lesser degree in some
other compositions, makes the same error.  In the greatest of Rembrandt’s
portrait groups, “The Syndics,” his problem involved the placement of six
figures.  Four are seated at the far side of a table looking toward us,
the fifth, on the near side, rises and looks toward us.  His head, higher
than those of the row of four, breaks this line of formality; but the
depth and perspective of the picture is not secured until the figure
standing in the background is added.  This produces from the foreground
figure, through one of the seated figures, the transitional line which
pulls the composition forward and backward and makes a circular
composition of what was commenced upon a line sweeping across the entire

The hillside entitled “Pathless,” by Horsley Hinton is a subject easily
passed in nature as ordinary, which has been however unified and made
available through the understanding of this principle.  So much of an
artist is its author that I can see him down on his knees cutting out the
mass of blackberry stems so that the two or three required in the
foreground should strike as lines across the demi-dark of the lower middle
space.  The line of the hill had cut this off from the foreground and
these attractive lines are as cords tying it on.  From the light rock in
the lower centre the eye zigzags up to the line of hillside, cutting the
picture from one side to the other.  Fortunately nature had supplied a
remedy here in the trees which divert this line.  But this is insisted on
in the parallelism of the distant mountains.  The artist, however, has the
last word.  He has created a powerful diversion in the sky, bringing down
strong lines of light and a sense of illumination over the hill and into
the foreground.  The subject, unpromising in its original lines, has thus
been redeemed.  This sort of work is in advance of the public, but should
find its reward with the elect.


Gradation will be mentioned in another connection but as a force in
balance it must be noticed here.  It matters not whither the tone grades,
from light to dark or the reverse, the eye will be drawn to it very
powerfully because it suggests motion.  Gradation is the perspective of
shade; and perspective we recognize as one of the dynamic forces in art.
When the vision is delivered over to a space which contains no detail and
nought but gradation, the original impulse of the line is continued.

 [Hillside (Graded Light Upon Surfaces; Cloud Shadows); River Fog (Light
  Graded by Atmospheric Density); The Chant (Gradation through Values of
                           Separated Objects)]

Gradation, as an agent of light, exhibits its loveliest effect and becomes
one of the most interesting and useful elements of picture construction.

As a force in balance it may frequently replace detail when added items
are unnecessary. In “Her Last Moorings” the heavy timbers, black and
positive in the right foreground, attract the eye and divide the interest.
The diversion from the hulk to the sky is easy and direct and forms the
natural axis.  A substitution for the foreground item is a simple
gradation, balancing a like gradation in the sky.

The measure of light and dark when mixed is tonically the same as the gray
of the gradation—but its attraction is weakened.


These qualities are not synonymous but so nearly so that they are
mentioned together.  In discussing the principle of the steelyard it was
stated that a small item could balance a very large one whose position in
point of balance was closer to the fulcrum, but to this point must be
added the increase of weight and importance which isolation gives.  These
considerations need not be mystifying.

In the charge to Peter, “Feed my sheep,” Raphael has produced something
quite at variance with his ordinary plan of construction.  Christ occupies
one side of the canvas, the disciples following along the foreplane toward

Here is an isolated figure the equivalent of a group.

The sleeping senator of Gerome’s _picture_ effects a like purpose among
the empty benches and pillars.  The main group is placed near the centre,
the small item at the extreme edge.  Even Cæsar in the foreground—covered
by drapery and in half shadow—is less potent as an item of balance, than
this separate figure.


Finally the notion that the picture is a representation of depth as well
as length and height develops the idea of balance in the chain of items
from foreground to distance.  A pivotal space then will be found, a
neutral ground in the farther stretch from which may be created so much
attraction as to upend the foreground, or in the nether reach toward us
there may be such attraction as to leave the distance without its weight
in the convention of parts.  The group with insufficient attraction back
of it topples toward us, to be sustained within the harmonious circuit of
the picture only by such items of attraction behind it as will recover a
balance which their absence gave proof of.  This is a more subtle but none
the less potent influence than the vertical and lateral balance and may
best be apprehended negatively.  The “aggressiveness” of many foreground
items which are in themselves essential as form and correct in value is
caused by the lack of their balancing complements in the back planes of
the picture.

Balance is not of necessity dependent upon objects of attraction.  Its
essence lies in the movement from one part of the picture to another,
which the arrangement compels, and this may often be stimulated by the
intention or suggestion of motion in a given direction.


The artist gets his picture from two sources.  He either goes forth and
finds it, or creates it.  If he creates it the work is deliberate, and the
artist assumes responsibility.  If he goes to nature, he and nature form a
partnership, she supplying the material and he the experience.  In editing
the material thus supplied, the artist discovers how great is the
disparity between art and nature, and what a disproof nature herself is to
the common notion that art is mirrored nature, and that any part of her
drawn or painted will make a picture.

The first stage of the art collector is that in which his admiration
dwells on imitation such as the still-life painter gives him, but soon his
art sense craves an expression with thought in it, the imitation,
brow-beaten into its proper place and the creative instinct of the artist
visible.  In other words, he seeks the constructive sense of the man who
paints the picture. “The work of art is an appeal to another mind, and it
cannot draw out more than that mind contains.  But to enjoy is, as it
were, to create; to understand is a form of equality.”(8) With the horse
before the cart and the artist holding the reins, he gets a fresh start,
and is in a fair way to comprehend Richard Wagner’s assertion that you
cannot have art without the man.  In the same manner does the student
usually develop.  With the book of nature before him he is eager to sit
down anywhere and read, attracted by each separate item of the vast
pattern, but he finds he has opened nature’s dictionary and that to make
poetry or even good prose he must put the separate words and phrases

After the first roll of films has been printed and brooded over, the kodac
person is apt to ask in a tone of injured and deceived innocence, “_Well,
what does make_ a picture?”

He with others has supposed it possible to go to nature and, taking
nothing with him, bring something back.  Though one does not set out with
the rules of composition, he must at least present himself before nature
with fixed notions of the few requirements which all pictures demand.
Having looked at a counterfeit of her within four sides of a frame and
learned to know why a limited section of her satisfied him by its
completeness he approaches her out of doors with greater prospects of
success than though he had not settled this point.  Good art, of the
gallery, is the best guide to a trip afield.  Having seen what elements
and what arrangements have proved available in the hands of other men, the
student will not go astray if he seek like forms in nature.  Armed with
defininite convictions he will see, through her bewildering meshes the
faithful lines he needs. The star gazer with a quest for the
constellations of the Pleiades or the Great Bear, must close his eyes to
many irrelevant stars which do not fit the figure.  Originality does not
require the avoidance of principles used by others.  Pictorial forms are
world’s property.  Originality only demands “the causing to pass into our
own work a _personal_ view of the world and of life.”(9)  Personality in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred is a graft.  The forms of artistic
expression have been preempted long ago.  The men who had the first
chances secured the truest forms of it and in a running glance through a
miscellaneous collection of prints one’s attention is invariably arrested
by the force of the pictures by the older masters; so dominating is the
first impression that we concede the case upon the basis of effect before
discovering the many obstacles and omissions counting against their
greater efficiency.  But the essence is of the living sort.  With this
conceded and the fact that nature’s appeal is always strongest when made
through association with man it is for us to cultivate these associations.

“Study nature attentively,” says Reynolds, “but always with the masters in
your company; consider them as models which you are to imitate, and at the
same time as rivals, with whom you are to contend.”

A wise teacher has said the quickest road to originality is through the
absorption of other men’s ideas.

Before going forth therefore with a canvas or plate holder, it behooves us
first to know what art is.  Certainly the most logical step from the study
of constructive form is through the practical technique of work which we
would emulate.  To copy interpretations of outdoor nature by others is
commendable either at the experimental period, when looking for a
technique, or as an appreciation.

Besides this mental preparation, the next best equipment for finding
pictures is a Claude Lorraine glass, because, being a convex mirror, it
shows a reduced image of nature _in a frame._  The frame is important not
only because it designates the limitations of a picture, but because it
cuts it free from the abstracting details which surround it.  If one has
not such a glass, a series of small pasteboard frames will answer.  The
margin should be wide enough to allow the eye to rest without disturbance
upon the open space.  Two rectangular pieces that may be pushed together
from top or side is probably the most complete device.  The proportion of
the frame is therefore adaptable to the subject and the picture may be cut
off top, bottom or sides as, demanded.

                             [The View-Metre]
                [Three Pictures Found with the View-Metre]

Many artists reduce all subjects to two or three sizes, which they
habitually paint.  The view-meter may in such cases be further simplified
by using a stiff cardboard with such proportions cut out.  By having them
all on a single board a subject may be more rapidly tested than by the
device of the collapsible sides.  A light board, the thickness of a
cigar-box cover, 4×5 inches, and easily carried in the pocket, will enable
one to land his subject in his canvas exactly as he wants it, and avoid
the grievance of reconstruction later.  By leaving a broad margin about
the openings, one obtains the impression of a picture in its mat or frame,
and may judge of it in nature as he will after regard it when completed
and on exhibition.

                   [View Taken with a Wide Angle Lens]

The accompanying _photograph_ was produced by a revolving camera
encompassing an area of 120 degrees.  As a composition it is not bad, but
unfortunate here and there.  It has a well-defined centre, and the two
sides balance well, the left clogging the vision and thus giving way to
the right, which allows the eye to pass out of the picture on this side
beyond the fountain and across the stretch of sunlight.  At a glance,
however, one may see three complete pictures, and with the aid of the
view-meter a number of other combinations may be developed.  Its
construction is that of Hobbema’s “Alley near Middelharnes,” in the
National Gallery, London, of so pronounced formality that a number of such
construction in a gallery, would prove monotonous.

Beginning on the left, we may apply the view-meter first to exclude the
unnecessary branch forms and sky space on the top; second, to cut away the
tree on the right, which, in that it parallels the line of the margin, is
objectionable, and is rendered unnecessary as a side for the picture by
the two trees beyond in the middle plane; and, third, to limit the extent
of the picture on the bottom, tending as it does to force the spectator
back and away from the subject proper.  The interest is divided between
the white building and rustic bridge and the pivot of this composition
adjusts itself in line with the centre tree.  In the next picture the
first tree on left of avenue is cut away for the same reason as in the
previous arrangement, and although one of a line of trees in perspective,
the trunk as an item is unserviceable, as its branches start above the
point where the top line occurs, and can therefore render no assistance in
destroying an absolute vertical as has been done in the left tree by the
bifurcation, and the first on the right by the encroaching masses of
leaves.  The eye follows the receding lines of roadway beneath the canopy
and is led out of the picture by the light above the hill.  The last
arrangement is more formal than either of the others but gives us the good
old form of composition frequently adopted by Turner, Rousseau, Dupré, and
others, namely of designing an encasement for the subject proper, through
which to view it.  For that reason after the arch overhead has been
secured all else above is cut away as useless.  The print has been cut a
little on the right, as by this means the foreground tree is placed nearer
that side and also because the extra space allowed too free an escapement
of the eye through this portal, the natural focus of course being the
fountain where the eye should rest at once.  It has been cut on the bottom
so as to exclude the line where the road and the grass meet—an especially
bad line, paralleling the bottom of the picture and line of shadow upon
the grass.  This shadow is valuable as completing the encasement of the
subject on the bottom and in starting the eye well into the picture toward
its subject.

Our natural vision always seeks the light.  Shadows are the carum cushions
from which the sight recoils in its quest for this.  Letting the eye into
the picture over a foreground of subdued interest, or better still, of no
interest is one of the most time-honored articles of the picture-maker’s
creed.  If the reader will compare the first and last of these three
compositions he will see how in this respect the first loses and the last
gains.  The element of the shaded foreground in the first was cut out in
preserving a better placement for the subject proper, which lay beyond.

                   [Photography Nearing the Pictorial]

The photographer comes upon a group of cows. “Trees, cattle, light and
shade—a picture surely!”  Fearful of disturbing the cows he exposes at a
distance, then stalks them, trying again with a different point of sight
and, having joined them and waited for their confidence, makes the _third
attempt._  On developing, the first one reveals the string-like line of
road cutting the picture from end to end, the cattle as isolated spots,
the tree dividing the sky space into almost equal parts.  In the second,
the lower branch of tree blocks the sky and on the other side there is a
natural window, opening an exit into the distance.  This is desirable but
unfortunately the bending roadway on the right accomplishes the same
purpose and so two exits are offered, always objectionable.  With this
out, the value of the rock and foreground cow is also better appreciated
as leading spots taking us to the natural focus, the white cow lying close
to the tree.  The rock in left corner having no influence in a leading
line should be suppressed.  The cattle now swing into the picture from
both sides and one of them opposes the horizontal of her back to the
vertical of the tree, thus easing the force of its descent.

In the last there is much more concentration.  The road does not parallel
the bottom and though passing out of the picture the vision is brought
back again along the distant line of trees.  The objection to this
arrangement lies in the equal division of the subject by the tree-trunk.
The white cow focalizes the vision but the sky and the more graceful
branches soon capture it.  The cow in the right foreground is only
valuable as an oppositional measure to the _line_ of cows stretching
across the picture which it helps to divert, otherwise she carries too
much attraction to the side.

The best arrangement for the subject would have been the tree one-third
from the left side, the white cow touching its line, one or two of those
lying on the ground working toward the foreground in a zigzag, little or
no diversion from the distance on the left of tree.  The swing of the
picture would then have been from the foreground to the focus, the white
cow and tree, thence to the group under the tree and out through the sky.
This would have divided the picture-plane into thirds instead of halves,
bringing it into the form elsewhere recommended as being the arrangement
of Claude’s best pictures.




One reason that many pictures are passed in exhibitions is that the
visitor lacks an invitation to enter.  Others frankly greet one a long way
off, obliging the wanderer searching for compelling interest to
acknowledge their cordiality, aware of a gesture of welcome in something
which he may later pause to analyse and at length apprehend.

It may appear in the freedom of an empty foreground, which, like a stage
unadorned, merely supports the action upon it; or, if this foreground be
adorned then happily by items of slight interest leading to the subject;
or it may insist with such an emphatic demand for attention that the
common places of receding perspective have been employed.

One spot or circumference there should be toward which through the
suppression of other parts the eye is led at once.  When there, even
though the vision has passed far into the canvas, one is at the focal
point only, the true goal of the pictorial intention.  Any element which
proves too attractive along this avenue of entrance is confusing to the
sight and weakening to the impression.

One item after another, in sequence, the visitor should then be led to,
and, having made the circuit and paid his respects to the company in the
order of importance with that special care which prevails at a Chinese
court function, the visitor should be shown the exit.  Getting out of a
picture is almost as important as getting into it, but of this later.

If the artist, in the composition of his picture, cannot so arrange a
reception for his guests, he is not a successful host.

This disposal of the subject matter into which _principality_ enters so
acutely is more patent in the elaborate figure subject than in any other,
with the distinction between an assemblage of, and a crowd of figures,
made plain.

The writer once called, in company with a friend of the painter, upon the
late Edmond Yon, the French landscapist.  We found him in his atelier, and
saw his completed picture, about to be sent to the Salon.  He shortly took
us into an adjacent room, where hung his studies, and thence through his
house into the garden, showed us his view of the city, commented on the
few fruit trees, the flowers, as we made the circuit of the little plot,
and, at the porte, we found the servant with our hats.  It was a perfectly
logically sequence.  We had come to the end; and how complete!

“He always does it so,” said the friend.  We had seen the man, his
picture, his studies, his house, caught the inspiration of his view, had
made the circuit of the things which daily surrounded him, and what
more—nothing; except the hats.  Bon jour!

The new picture, like any new acquaintance, we are tempted to sound at
once, in a single glance, judging of the great and apparent planes of
character, seeking the essential affinity.  If we pass favorably, our
enjoyment begins leisurely.  The picture we are to live with must possess
qualities that will bear close scrutiny, even to analysis.  If we are won,
there is a satisfaction in knowing why.

It must be remembered that the actual picture space in nature is that of a
_funnel,_ its size varying according to the extent of distance
represented.  The angle of sixty degrees which the eye commands may widen
into miles.  The matter of equipoise or unity therefore applies to most
extended areas and no part of this extent may escape from the calculation.

The objection of formal balance over the centre is that it produces a
straddle, as, in hopscotch one lands with both feet on either side of a
dividing line.  In all pictures of deep perspective the best mode of
entrance is to triangulate in, with a series of zigzags, made easy through
the _habit of the eye to follow lines,_ especially long and receding ones.
It is the long lines we seize upon in pinning the action of a figure, and
the long lines which stretch toward us are those which help most to get us
into a picture.

The law here is that of perspective recession, and, it being the easiest
of comprehension and the most effective in result, is used extensively by
the scene-painter for his drop-curtain and by the landscapist, whose
subject proper lies often in the middle distance—toward which he would
make the eye travel.

When the opportunity of line is wanting an arrangement of receding spots,
or accents is an equivalent.

The same applies, though in less apparent force, to the portrait or
foreground figure subject.

Where the subject lies directly in the foreground, the eye will find it at
once, but the care of the artist should even then be exercised to avoid
lines which, though they could not block, might at least irritate one’s
direct vision of the subject.

Conceive if you can, for one could rarely find such an example in
pictorial art, of the forespace corrugated with lines paralleling the
bottom line of a frame.  It would be as difficult for a bicyclist to
propel his machine across a plowed field as for one to drive his eye over
a foreground thus filled with distracting lines when the goal lay far

Mr. Schilling, in his well-known “Spring Ploughing,” has treated this
problem with great discernment.  Instead of a multiplicity of lines
crossing the foreplane, the barest suggestion suffices to designate plowed
ground, the absence of detail allowing greater force to the distant

In the Marine subject, especially with the sea running toward us, long
lines are created across the foreground, but with respect to these, as may
be noted in nature, there is a breaking and interlacing of lines in the
wave form so that the succession of such accents may lead tangentially
_from_ the direction of the wave.  A succession of horizontal lines is
however the character of the marine subject.  When the eye is stopped by
these it has found the subject.  Only through the sky or by confronting
these forms at an angle can the force of the horizontals be broken.
Successful marines with the camera’s lens pointed squarely at the sea have
been produced, but the best of them make use of the modifying lines of the
surf, or oppositional lines or gradations in the sky.

In a large canvas by Alexander Harrison, its subject a group of bathers on
the shore, one single line, the farthest reach of the sea, proves an
artist’s estimate of the leading line. On it the complete union of figures
and ocean depended. Its presence there was simple nature, its strong
enforcement the touch of art.

The eye’s willingness to follow long lines may however become dangerous in
leading away from the subject and out of the picture.  What student cannot
show studies (done in his earliest period) of an interesting fence or
stone wall, blocking up his foreground and leading the eye out of the
picture?  It is possible to so cleverly treat a stone wall that it would
serve us as an elevation from which to get a good jump into the picture.
Here careful painting with the intent of putting the foreground out of
focus, could perhaps land the eye well over the obstruction, and if so,
our consideration of the picture begins beyond this point.  If the
observer could take such a barrier as easily as a cross country
steeple-chaser his fences and stone walls, there would be no objection,
but when the artist forces his guest to climb!—he is unreasonable.  For
two years a prominent American landscape painter had constantly on his
easel a very powerful composition.  The foreplane of trees, with branches
which interlaced at the top, made, with the addition of a stone wall
below, an encasement for the picture proper, which lay beyond.  The lower
line, i.e., the stone wall, was in constant process of change, obliterated
by shadow or despoiled by natural dilapidation, sometimes vine-grown.  In
its several stages it showed always the most critical weighing of the
part, and a consummate dodging of the difficulties.

When finally exhibited, however, the wall had given way to a simple shadow
and a pool of water. The attempt to carry the eye over a cross-line in the
foreground had been a long and conclusive one, and its final abandonment
an admonition on this point.  A barrier across the middle distance is
almost as objectionable.  In the subject of a river embankment the eye
comes abruptly against its upper line, which is an accented one, and from
this dives off into the fathomless space of the sky, no intermediate
object giving a hint of anything existing between that and the horizon.

In order to use such a subject it would be necessary to oppose the
horizontal of the bank by an item that would overlap and extend above it,
as a hay wagon with a figure on top of it or the sail of a boat, and if
possible to continue this transitional feeling in the sky by such cloud
forms as would carry the eye up.  Attraction in the sky would create a
depth for penetration which the embankment blocked.

[The Path of the Surf--Photo (Triangles Occuring in the leading line); The
       Shepherdess--Millet (Composition Exhibiting a Double Exit)]

The _“__Path of the Surf__”_ is a splendid leading line ending most
beautifully in a curve.

Many readers will recall the notable picture by Mr. Picknell, now
deceased, of a white road in Picardie.  Here all the lines converged at
the horizon. The perspective was so true as to become fascinating, a
problem of very ordinary deception.  More subtle is Turner’s “Approach to
Venice,” see _Fundamental Forms,_ in which the lines are substituted by
spots—the gondolas—which, in like manner, bear us to the subject.  The
graceful arch of the sky also presses us toward the subject.

One may readily use the placement of the spots and substitute cattle
instead of gondolas and woods for the spired city; or groups of figures,
sheep, rocks, etc.  The composition is fundamental, and will accommodate
many subjects.


This is important because necessary. It is much better to pass out than to
back out. Pictures show many awkward methods of exit. In some there are
too many chances to leave; in others there are none. Pictures in which
there is no opportunity for visual peripatetics require no such provision.
In the portrait we confront a personality, and some painters plainly tell
us by the blank space of the background that there shall be but one idea
to the observer’s mind.  In this event he has but to bow and withdraw.
But suppose the curtain of the background be drawn and a glimpse is
disclosed of a landscape beyond.  This bit of attraction leads us toward
it.  Instead therefore of breaking off from the subject we are led away
from it.  The associations with the subject are ofttimes interesting and
appropriate and the great majority of portraits include them.  As soon
therefore as we begin on any detail in the background we connect the
portrait with the pictorial and the sitter becomes one of a number of
elements in the scheme, the fulcrum on which they balance.  A patch of
sky, besides creating an expansion in the diameter of the picture
introduces color, often valuable, as noted later.

But more than this, these sky spots in a dark background are air holes.
They enable us to breathe in the picture, giving a decided sense of
atmosphere.  When well subordinated they offer no distraction to the
subject, but give to the picture a depth.  When no other object is
introduced, a gradation is serviceable.  Much may be thus suggested and
besides the depth and air properties thus introduced, such variety of
surface excites visual motion. The eye always follows the course of light
from the shadow.  The artist may make use of this fact in balancing the
picture and of leading the eye out where he will.  As the elaborate
subject is often approached through a curve or zigzag, in like manner it
should be left, though the natural finish of such a series should connect
easily with its start.

The eye should _never_ be permitted to leave the principal figure or
object and go straight back and out through the centre.  If this is
allowed the width of the picture is slighted.  Therefore if the attraction
of the natural exit is greater than other objects they exist in vain.

The exit should be so guarded that after the visitor has moved about and
seen everything, he comes upon it naturally.  For example conceive a
subject—figures or cattle—with the principal object in the foreground.
From this the other objects, all placed on the left side, move in a half
circle back and into the picture, this circuit naturally leading to an
opening in the trees or to a point of attraction in the sky or to a
glimpse of distance.  If this be not of less interest than any object of
the progression, the unity of the picture disappears, for from the
principal object in the foreground the vision goes direct to the distance.

Providing two or more exits is a common error of bad composition.  This is
the main objection to the form of balance on the centre, which produces
two spaces of equal importance on either side.

In the drawing of the _“__Shepherdess__”_ by Millet the attraction of two
alleys which the eye might take is largely regulated by the subordination
of one of them by proportional size and a lowering of the tone of the sky.
At best, however, it is a case of divided interest, though the deepest
dark against the highest light helps to control the situation.  If for the
balance of the pines in the _snow scene_ a small tree on the right were
added, the objection would then be that from the central point of
attraction, the pines, the vision would go in two directions, toward the
houses and the tree.  The visual lines connecting these two points would
cross the first or principal object instead of leading from this to one
and thence to the other as would not be the case if the added tree
appeared in the extreme _distance_ on the right.  Under this arrangement
there would be progression into the picture.  A still better arrangement
would have been direct movement from the mass of trees to the houses
placed on the right, with the space now occupied by them left vacant.


The entrance into a picture and obstacles thereto, as applied to
landscape, has already been considered, from which it is evident that
wisdom renders this as easy as possible for the vision, not only
negatively, but through positive means as well.  An obstruction through
which penetration must be forced, diverting the attention, is like the
person who claims us when we are trying to listen to someone else.

When in nature we observe a scene that naturally fits a frame and we find
ourselves gazing first at one object and then at another and _returning
again to the first,_ we may be sure it will make a picture.

But when we are tempted to turn, in the inspection of the whole horizon
(though this be circular observation), it proves we have not found a
picture.  Our picture, on canvas, must fit an arc of sixty degrees.  The
other thing is a panorama.  The principle is contained in the illustration
of the _athletes._  This picture has the fascination of a continuous
performance and so in degree should every picture have.

In the foreground, or figure subject the same principles apply. The main
point is to capture the observer’s interest with the theme, _which to his
mental processes shall unfold according to the artist’s plan._  With
twenty objects to present, which one on the chessboard of your picture
shall take precedence and which shall stand next in importance, and which
shall have a limited influence, and which, like the pawns, shall serve as
little more than the added thoughts in the game?

  [Circular Observation--The Principle; The Slaying of the Unpropitious
        Messengers (Triangular Composition--Circular Observation)]

In “The Slaying of the Unpropitious Messengers,” a picture of great power
and truly sublime in the simplicity of its dramatic expression, the vision
falls without hesitation on the figure of Pharaoh, easily passing over the
three prostrate forms in the immediate foreground.  These might have
diverted the attention and weakened the subject had not they been
skillfully played for second place.  Their backs have been turned, their
faces covered, and, though three to one, the single figure reigns supreme.
Note how they are made to guide the eye toward him and into the picture
and discover in the other lines of the picture an intention toward the
same end, the staircase, the river, the mountain, the angular contour of
the portico behind tying with the nearer roof projection and making a
broken stairway from the left-hand upper corner.  See, again, the lines of
the canopy composing a special frame for the master figure.

Suppose a reconstruction of this composition.  Behold the slain messengers
shaken into less recumbent and more tragic attitudes, arranged along the
foreplane of the picture; let all the leading lines be reversed; make them
antagonistic to the principles upon which the picture was constructed.
The subject indeed will have been preserved and the story illustrated, but
the following points will be lost and nothing gained: A central dominating
point of interest; the disparity between monarch and slave; the sentiment
of repose and quietude suggested by a starlit night and the coordination
of recumbent lines; the pathos of the lonely vigil, with the gaze of the
single figure strained and fixed upon, the distant horizon whence he may
expect the remnants of his shattered army.

The artist’s first conception of this subject was doubtless that of a
pyramid; the head of Pharaoh is the apex and the slaves the base and side
lines. The other lines were arranged in part to draw away from this
apparent and very common form of composition.  One has but to look through
a list of notable pictures to find evidence of the very frequent use of
these concentric lines drawing the vision from the lower corners of the
picture to an apex of the pyramid.

Now, herein lies the analogy between the simplest form of landscape
construction and the foreground or figure subject.  The framework of both
is the pyramid, or what is termed _the structure of physical stability._
In the landscape the pyramid lies on its side, the apex receding.  It is
the custom of some figure painters to construct entirely in pyramids, the
smaller items of the picture resolving themselves into minor pyramids.  In
the single figure picture—the portrait, standing or sitting—the pyramidal
form annihilates the spaces on either side of the figure, which,
paralleling both the sides and the frame, would leave long quadrilaterals
in place of diminishing segments.

Whether the pyramid is in perspective or one described on the foreplane of
a picture, the principle is, _leading lines should carry the eye into the
picture or toward the subject,_ a point touched upon in the preceding

When reverie begins in a picture, one’s vision involuntarily makes a
circuit of the items presented, starting at the most interesting and
widening in its review toward the circumference, as ring follows ring when
a stone is thrown into water.  The items of a picture may arrange
themselves in elliptical form, and the circuit may bend back into the
picture; or the form may be described on a vertical plane, but the circuit
should be there, and if two circuits may be formed the reverie will
continue that much longer.  The outer circuit finished, the vision may
return to the centre again.  If in a landscape, for instance, the interest
of the sky dominates that of the land, the vision will centre there and
come out through the foreground, and it is important that the eye have
such a course marked out for it, lest, left to itself, it slip away
through the sides, and the continuous chain of reverie be broken.

It is interesting to note in what cycles this great wheel of circular
observation revolves, directing the slow revolution of our gaze.

In one picture it takes us from the corner of the canvas to the extreme
distance and thence in a circuit back; in another it moves on a flat plane
like an ellipse in perspective.  Again, first catching the eye in the
centre, it unfolds like a spiral.

Much of a painter’s attention is given to keeping his edges so well
guarded that the vision in its circuit may be kept within the canvas.  A
large proportion of the changes which all pictures pass through in process
of construction is stimulated by this consideration—how to stop a wayward
eye from getting too near the edge and escaping from the picture.  When
every practical device has been tried, as a last resource the centre may
be strengthened.

In order to settle this point to the student’s satisfaction no better
proof could be suggested than that he paint in black and white a simple
landscape motif, with no attempt to create a focus, with no suppression of
the corners and no circuit of objects—a landscape in which ground and sky
shall equally divide the interest.  He may produce a counterfeit of
nature, but the result will rise no higher in the scale of art than a raw
print from the unqualified negative in photography.  The art begins _at_
that point, and consists in the production of unity, in the establishment
of a focus, in the subordination of parts by the establishment of a scale
of relative values, and in a continuity of progression from one part to
another.  The procedure will be somewhat as follows: Decision as to
whether the sky or ground shall have right of way; the production of a
centre and a suppression of contiguous parts; the feeling after lines
which shall convey the eye away from the focal centre and lead it through
the picture, a groping for an item, an accent, or something that shall
attract the eye away from the corner or side of the picture, where, in
following the leading lines, it may have been brought, and back toward the
focus again.  Here then, will have been described the circuit of which we
speak. In the suppression of the corners the same instinct for the
elliptical line has been followed, for the composition, by avoiding them,
describes itself within the inner space.

[Huntsman and Hounds (Triangle with Circular Attraction); Portrait of Van
             der Geest--Van Dyck (A sphere within a Circle)]

A composition in an oval or circle is much more easily realized than one
occupying a rectangular space, as the vexing item of the corners has been
disposed of, and the reason why these shapes are not popularly used is
that hanging committees cannot dispose of them with other pictures.  The
attempt in the majority of compositions, however, is to fit the picture
proper to the fluent lines of the circle or oval. In “Huntsman and
Hounds,” a picture which is introduced because the writer is able to speak
of points in its construction which these principles necessitated, the
pyramidal form of composition is apparent, and around this a circuit is
described by the hand, arm, crop, spot on dog’s side, elbow of dog’s
foreleg, line of light on the other dog’s breast, the light on table and
chair in background—all being points which catch the eye and keep it
moving in a circuit.  In the first arrangement of this composition a
buffet occupied the space given to the indication of chair and table.
This did not assist sufficiently in diverting the awkward line from the
left shoulder, down the arm, into the dog’s head and out of the picture.
Judgment here lay between filling the space with the dog’s head, which
would have separated it too far from the man, or striving to divert it as
noted.  The space between this line and the side of the canvas was _the_
difficult space of the picture.  There is always a rebellious member in
every picture, which continues unruly throughout its whole construction,
and this one did not settle itself until several arrangements of the part
were tried.  In order to divert the precipitate line a persistence of
horizontals was necessary—the table, the chair and the shadow on the
floor.  The shadows and the picture on the wall block the top and sides,
and the shadow from the fender indicated along the lower edge complete the
circuit and weaken the succession of verticals in the legs of dog and man.


Circular observation in pictures whose structure was apparently not
circular leads to the consideration of _circular composition,_ or that
class of pictures where the evident intention is to compose under the
influence of circular observation—where the circle expresses the first
thought in the composition.

This introduces us to the widest reaches of pictorial art, for in this
category lie the greatest of the world’s pictures.  Slight analysis is
necessary to discover this arrangement in the majority of the strongest
compositions which we encounter.  In the Metropolitan and Lenox Galleries
of New York, the following pictures may be looked at for this form of
structure, showing the circle either in the vertical plane or in
perspective.  Auguste Bonheur’s large cattle-piece, Inness’ “Autumn Oaks,”
Corot’s “Ville d’Avray,” Knaus’ “Madonna,” Cabanel’s kneeling female
figure, Koybet’s “Card Players,” “Jean d’Arc,” by Bastian Lepage; “The
Baloon,” by Julian Dupré; Wylie’s “Death of the Vendean Chief,” Leutze’s
“Crossing of the Delaware,” Meissonier’s “1807,” the three pictures of
Turner, “Milton Dictating to His Daughters,” by Munkacsy, and Knaus’ “Bow
at a Peasants’ Ball.”  This list contains the most important works of
these collections, and others might easily be added.

The head by Van Dyck carries with it the repose which belongs to _the
completeness of the circle._

Like Saturn and his ring, this sphere within the circle is typical of
harmony in _unity,_ and for this reason, though detached as we know it to
be, it has a greater completeness than though joined to a body.  It is on
this general principle that all circular compositions are based—absorption
of the attention _within the circuit._

    [Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne--Tintoretto (Circle and Radius);
              Endymion--Watts (The Circle--Vertical Plane)]

In Tintoretto’s “Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne,” the floating figure
offers us a shock not quite relieved when we recall the epoch of its
production or concede the customary license to mythology.  At a period in
art when angels were employed through a composition as a stage manager
would scatter supernumeraries—to fill gaps or create masses—in any posture
which the conditions of the picture demanded, it is not strange that the
artist conceived this figure suspended from above in an arc of a circle,
if in these lines it served his purpose.  In this shape it completes a
circuit in the figures, fills the space which would otherwise open a wide
escape for the vision, and, by the union of the three heads, joins the
figures in the centre of the canvas, completing, with the legs of Ariadne,
five radial lines from this focus.

To the mind of a sixteenth century artist, these reasons were more
convincing than the objection to painting a hundred and forty pounds of
recumbent flesh and blood, with the support unseen.  To the modern artist
such a conception would be well-nigh impossible, though Mr. Watts gives us
much the same action.  Here, however, the movement of the draperies
supplies motion to the figure of Selene, and as a momentary action we know
it to be possible.  Were the interpretation of motion by hair and drapery
impossible, and the impression, as in the Tintoretto, that of the
suspended nude model, it would be safe to say that no modern painter would
have employed such a figure.  This touch of realism, even among the
transcendental painters, denotes the clean-cut separations between the
modern and mediaeval art sense.

While these two examples show the “vortex” arrangement with fluent
outlines, the _portrait_(10) by Mr. Whistler expresses the same principles
in an outline almost rectangular, but is to be placed in the same category
as the other two.  The chair-back, the curtain, the framed etching, are
all formally placed with respect to the edges of the canvas, and as we
observe them in their order, we return in a circuit to the head.

The circle in composition is discoverable in many pictures where there is
no direct evidence that the intention was to compose thus, but wherein
analysis on these lines proves that, led by unity, balance and repose
(cardinal beacon-lights to the mind artistic), the painter naturally did

It is of interest to review this picture through its simple evolution.
The head conceived in its pose, the next line of interest is one from neck
to feet.  This, besides being the edge of the black mass of the body, is
the more apparent against the light gray wall and as a line is attractive
in forming Hogarth’s “Line of Beauty.”  But beautiful as it may be, it
commits an unlovely act in cutting a picture diagonally, almost from
corner to corner.  Interruption of this is effected by the hands and
increased by the handkerchief.  Shortly below the knee this is diverted by
the base-board and at the bottom squarely stopped by the solid rectangle
of the stool.

Suppose that the picture on the wall were missing; not only would the long
parallelogram of the curtain be unrelieved, but the return of the line to
the subject in the ensemble of the picture would be broken.  This,
therefore, becomes the keystone of the composition.  Other considerations
besides its diversion from the curtain are, its curtailing of wall space,
and, by its close placement to the curtain, its union therewith as a
balance for head and body—in bulk of light and dark almost identical with
them, though less forcible in tonal value.

In Wiertz’s group about the body of Patroclus, though its contour is more
decidedly circular (and in the use of this term is always meant a line
returning on itself), it fails to prompt circular observation to the same
extent as the foregoing.  The eye seesaws back and forth along the lines
of the hammock arrangement of light, and we are conscious of the extreme
balance and the careful parcelling out of the units of force.

With all its evident abandon the method is painfully present, as though
the artist, given so much Greek, was careful to add the same amount of
Trojan.  The level and plummet setting of the group exactly within the
sides of the frame, with no suggestion of anything else existing in the
world, puts it into the class of formal decoration, with which old
masterdom abounds, and whence Wiertz received the inspiration for most of
his great compositions.

  [The Fight Over the Body of Patroclus--Weirls; 1807--Meissonier; Ville
                d’Avray--Corot; The Circle in Perspective]

More studiable is the vortex arrangement of the “1807,” with its
magnificent sweep of cavalry, where the tumultuous energy of one part is
augmented by fine antithesis of repose in another.  Meissonier’s
composition was expanded after the first conception was nearly completed.
The visitor at the Metropolitan Museum may discover a horizontal line in
the sky and a vertical one through the right end.  This slight ridge in
the canvas shows the dimensions of the original thought.  The added space
gave larger opportunity for the maneuvres of the cuirassiers, and set
Napoleon to the left of the exact centre, where, by the importance of his
figure, he more justly serves as a balance for the heavier side of the

As in the Whistler portrait, the keystone was the picture on the wall, in
this composition the group of mounted guardsmen on the left gives a
circle’s unity to it, helps to join the middle distance with the
foreground, becomes the third point in the triangle, which gives pyramidal
solidity to the composition and is altogether quite as important to the
picture as the right wing to an army.

Corot was wont to rely on Nature’s gift as she bestowed it, merely
allowing his sensitive picture-sense to lead him where pictures were,
rather than upon any artful reconstruction of the facts of nature. His
“Little Music,” as he called it, came for the most part ready-made for
him, and he simply caught it and wrote the score.  His art is less
impressive for composite quality, than, for example, that of Mauve, who,
in the same simple range of subject, sought to produce a perfect
composition every time.  In the “Lake at Ville d’Avray,” we have one of
Corot’s happiest subjects, though not especially characteristic.  A
considerable part of its charm lies in our opportunity to girdle it with
our eye, and in imagination from any point along its rim to view its
circumference as a page from Nature, complete.


Circular composition traceable in what has been first conceived as
pyramidal or rectangular, circular composition as the first intention,
expressed either on a vertical plane or in perspective, i.e., circular or
elliptical—and composition _made circular_ not by any arrangement of
parts, but by sacrifice and elimination of edges and corners are the three
forms of composition which produce circular observation.  The value of the
circle as a unifying and therefore as a simplifying agent cannot be
overestimated, especially in solving the problems which occur in
composition where the circle has not been a part of the original scheme,
but where, when applied, it seems to bring a relief to confusion and
disorder.  In many cases where all essential items are happily arranged,
but, as a whole, refuse to compose, the addition of some element or the
readjustment of a part which will produce circular observation, will
ofttimes prove the solution of the difficulty.

       [The Hermit--Gerard Dow (Rectangle in Circle); The Forge of
    Vulcan--Boucher (Circular Observation by Suppression of Sides and

Just as progression in a straight line will soon carry us out of the
picture, will circular progression keep us within its bounds.  If then,
circular observation affords the best means of appreciation, it follows
that circular composition is the most telling form of presentation.  There
are many subjects which naturally do not fall in these lines, but which
may ofttimes be reedited into this class.  This reediting means
composition, and two examples from a vast number are here given to show
the working out of the problem.  In the “Hermit,” by Dow, the figure, book
and hour glass compose in a simple left angle, but the head becomes the
centre to a circular composition by the presence of the arch above and the
encircling shadow behind and beneath the arm.  The corners sacrifice their
space to strengthen the centre and the vision is thus completely funneled
upon the head.  In striking contrast to this is the composition by
Boucher.  Here are the elements for two or three pictures thrown into one,
and in some respects well governed as a single composition.  Conceive,
however, this subject bereft of the darkened corners, and the gradations
which create a focus.  The figures would lie upon the canvas somewhat in
the shape of a letter Z, devoid of essential coherence, with the details
in the foreground hopelessly exposed as padding.

Another resort in order to secure a vortex, or a centre bounded by a
circle, is to surround the head or figure with flying drapery, branch
forms, a halo or any linear item which may serve both to cut out and to
hem in.  It accomplishes something of what the hand does when held as a
tunnel before the eye. Such a device offers ready aid to the decorator
whose figures must often receive a close encasement, fitted as they are
into limited spaces, when many an ungracious line in the subject is made
to disappear through the accommodation of pliant drapery or of varied tree

In this class of compositions especially must the background be made the
_complement_ of the subject.  What the subject fails to contain may there
be supplied, a sort of auxiliary opportunity.

The subject, or most interesting part, should lie either _within_ the
circuit or be the most important item _of_ the circle.  It should never be
_outside_ the circle.  If it appears there, the eye is thrown off of the
elliptical track.  If the reader will compare the _“__Lake at Ville
d’Avray__”_ by Corot with his “Orpheus and Eurydice,” the charm in the
former may reveal itself more completely through the jar to which the
latter subjects us.  The figures of the divine lyrist and his bride
escaping out of one corner of the canvas do not enter at all into the
linear scheme and in their anxiety to flee Hades they are about to leave
art and the spectator.  The picture is a strange counterpart of the Apollo
and Daphne of Giorgione at Venice, and since it is known of Corot that he
cared infinitely more for nature than art, it is fair to suppose that he
had never seen this picture either in the original or reproduction.  Had
he been governed by the feeling for unity which his works usually display
this pitfall in the borders of plagiarism would not have snared him.

  [Orpheus and Eurydice--Corot (Figures outside the natural line of the
  picture’s composition); The Holy Family--Andrea del Sarto (The circle

The “Holy Family,” by Andrea del Sarto, is a composition in which the good
intention of the artist to make a complete line within the sides of the
canvas seems a matter of greater concern than other principles of
composition, quite as important.  The ellipse of the three figures is
beautifully carried out, but it leaves one of them, the most important, in
the least important place.  The whole composition sags in this direction,
the weight of Joseph, in half shadow, being insufficient to recover the
balance.  With these figures all well drawn and especially adapted in
their contours to the organic lines of composition, several rearrangements
might be made, as well as other arrangements, with any one of the four
figures omitted, its place used for reserved space.  No better practice in
linear and mass composition could be suggested than slight modification of
parts by raising or lowering or spacing or by the reconstruction of the
background, of well known pictures in which the composition is confused.

A common mistake in the use of the circular form is that of making it too
apparent.  A list of pictures might be made wherein the formal lines of
construction are very much in evidence.  Such could be well headed by
Raphael’s “Death of Ananias,” where the formality of the arrangement is on
a par with the strain and effort expressed in every one of its figures.
The curved peristyle of kneeling disciples offers a temptation to push the
end man and await the result on the others, more to witness a
rearrangement than create any further commotion in the infant church.  The
fact that this work is decorative rather than pictorial in intention
cannot relieve the representation of an actual occurrence of the charge of
being struck off in an oft-used and well worn mold.  Compare with this
Rembrandt’s famous circular composition, “Christ Healing the Sick,”
wherein though the weight on either side of Christ is about evenly
divided, the formality of placement has been most carefully avoided, and
where the impression is merely that the Healer is the centre of a body of
people who surround him.

With the great principle of linear composition in mind, namely, that the
vision travels in the path of least resistance, no rule need be formulated
and no further examples produced to prove that the various items of a
composition are taken at their required value _to the extent to which they
adhere to and partake of the established plan of observation._


                              The Triangle.

In angular composition the return of the eye over its course, as in
circular observation, is practically eliminated.  While the circle and
ellipse offer a succession of items and events, one the sequence of the
other, so that the vision concludes like a boomerang, angular composition
sends a shaft direct, with no return.

Here the pleasure of reverie through an endless chain must be exchanged
for the stimulation of a shock, for force by concentration, for ruggedness
at the expense of elegance.

Pure triangular composition is a form rarely seen, as, in most cases where
the lines of the triangle are detected as the first conception, other
lines or points have been added to destroy or modify them.

Jacque has been successful in the management of what is considered a
difficult form.  In the herder with cattle although we feel in the next
moment the subject will have passed, while it lasts the artist has kept
the eye upon it by the use of dark figures at either end and a
concentration of light in the centre; also by the presence of the tree in
the distance which turns the eye into the picture as it leaves the cow on
the right.

                           [The Herder--Jaque]

Another example more complete as a composition is his famous _“__Shepherd
and Sheep,__”_(11) in which the angle is formed by the dark dog at the
extreme right, the lines expanding through the figure of the shepherd and
thence above into a group of trees and below along the edge of the flock.
In this example the base line runs into the picture by perspective and
thence back into the picture to the trees.

The _“__Departure for the Chase,__”_ by Cuyp, shows an unsuccessful use of
this shape.

In _“__The Path of the Surf,__”_ the main form—the surf—is a triangle and
the two supporting spaces triangles.  Such a construction is particularly
stable, as these focalize on the line of interest.  Some artists construct
most of their pictures in a series of related triangles. The writer
calling upon Henry Bacon found him painting a group of transatlantic
travellers on a steamer’s deck.  He pointed out a scheme of triangles
which together formed one great triangle, but said he was looking for the
last point for the base of this.  A monthly magazine was suggested, which,
laid open on its face, proved _le dernier clou._


When Giotto was asked for his conception of a perfect building, he
produced a circle. When Michael Angelo was appealed to, he designated the
cross.  On both bases may good architecture and good pictures be founded.
If the extremities of the Greek cross be connected by arcs, a circle will
result, and if the Latin cross be so bounded we will have a kite-shape, or
ellipse.  The two designs are, therefore, not as dissimilar as may at
first be supposed.  In both, from the pictorial standpoint, they are the
framework by means of which the same given space may be filled.

The simple vertical line is monotonous.  Its bisection produces balance; a
cross is the result.  Again, two crosses placed together, the arms
touching, and three crosses in like position, will represent the picture
plan of the grouping so frequently used by Raphael—a central figure
balanced by one on either side, the horizon joining them, and behind this
the balance repeated in trees and other figures.

Pictorially, the vertical line is much more important than any other.  It
is the direction of gravity; it represents man upright, in distinction
from the brutes; it also can stand alone, all other lines demanding
supports.  Of two equally forcible lines, this would first be seen.  In
composition, therefore, it has the right of way.

Let us start with a subject represented by a vertical line—a tree or
figure.  The directness, rigidity, isolation and unqualified force of such
a line demands balance; otherwise, extension is the sole idea.  With the
thought of a frame or sides of the picture comes the necessary horizontal
line, bisecting the vertical.  Length and breadth have then been
represented, something in two dimensions started, and the four sides of a
frame necessitated.

In sculpture this consideration weighs nothing.  A statue is framed by all
outdoors.  The vertical of a single figure pierces the unlimited sky, and
the only consideration to the artist is that the mass looks well from any
point of view.  The group by Carpeaux is a sample of plastic art unusually
picturesque, and would easily fit a frame, because in it the vertical
figure is supported by horizontals, both of lines and in the idea of
lateral movement.  It is, therefore, solid and complete and sets forth in
its structure the thought of Alexander the Great when he had his artists
represent, in a design painted upon his equipments, lasting power as a
sword within a circuit.

This piece  of sculpture  is  a cross within a cylinder, but on a flat
plane the principle is just as forcible, as will further be shown in the
picture by Israels.

 [Alone--Jacques Israels (Constructive Synthesis upon the Vertical); The
              Dance--Carpeaux (The Cross Within the Circle)]

“The Crucifixion,” by Morot, is more statuesque than picturesque, and
would gain in effect if seen unembarrassed by the limitations of a frame.
Its strength in one situation is its weakness in another.  The presence of
the frame creates three spaces, one above the horizontal and one on either
side of the vertical, and these are empty.  Therefore, although the single
thought of the dying Saviour is sufficiently great to bear—nay, even,
perhaps, demand—isolation, it unites itself with nothing else within our
compass of vision, and, therefore, cannot be said to compose with its
frame.  The reader is now in a position to appreciate the simple mechanics
which underlie the composition by Israels.  In “Alone” the artist starts
with the figure of the man—a vertical.  The next thought closely allied is
the woman.  The two complete a cross.  From either end two more verticals
are erected.  On the left another horizontal joins the vertical in the top
of the table and unites it with another vertical, the shutter, and so on
to the edge of the picture.  On the other side the basket top leads off
from the vertical and thence down the side to the floor and to the edge of
the picture by the lines of fagots.  The circuit, which helps to keep the
vision in the picture and serves to render more compact the subject
proper, is developed by the shelf, weights of the clock, basket, cap,
items upon table, shutter and bedpost. For proof that the horizontal lines
in this composition were all placed there for the relief of the verticals,
with the first of which the picture starts, let us remove the table,
basket and bench and see how the arrangement becomes one of quadrangles,
paralleling instead of uniting with the sides.  In every case, in the
accompanying illustrations, there has been an effort to reach out toward
the sides and take hold there.  Those that have established these points
of contact most fully are the most stable and the most satisfying.

In the composition of the _“__Beautiful Gate,__”_ by Raphael, the two
pillars, in that they span the whole distance from bottom to top, destroy
all chance for unity.  Three pictures result instead of one—a triptych
elaborately framed.  Even with these verticals cutting the picture into
sections, had horizontals been introduced between them and in front, or
even behind, some of the necessary unity of pictorial structure could have
been secured.  What connection exists between these several parts is all
subjective, but not structural, the impulse to exhibit the wonderful
columns in their remarkable perfection of detail being a temptation to
which the picture was sacrificed.

Such an exhibition of the uncontrolled vertical produces an effect on a
par with a football carried straight across the field and placed on the
goal line without opposition.  All the strategy of the game is left out,
and although the play produces the required effect in the score, a few
repetitions of the procedure would soon clear the benches.  The interest
to the spectators and players alike enters in when the touch-down is
accomplished after a series of zigzags toward the outer line, where force
meeting force in a counter direction results in a tangent, when the goal
is reached by the subtlety of a diagonal.  A cushion carom is an artistic
thing; a set-up shot is the beginner’s delight.  In the _“__Allegory of
Spring,__”_ by Botticelli, we have a sample of structure lacking both
circular cohesion and the stability of the cross adhesion.  Like separate
figures and groups of a photographic collection, it might be extended
indefinitely on either side or cut into four separate panels.  The
accessories of the figures offer no help of union.  Besides the lack of
structural unity, no effort toward it appears in the conception of the
subject.  Each figure or group is sufficient unto itself, and the whole
represents a group of separate ideas.  This is not composition, but

But what of the single figure in standing portraiture, when only the
person is presented, and no thought desired but that of personality, when
the outline stands relieved by spaces of nothingness?  Though less
apparent, the principle of union with the sides still abides.   What is
known as the lost and found outline is a recognition of this, an effort of
the background to become homogeneous with the vertical mass, the line
giving way that the surrounding tone may be let in.  Such is the feeling
with which many of the most subtle of Whistler’s full-lengths have been
produced.  The portraits of Carriere are still more striking examples of
absolute dismissal of outline.

In the well-known portrait of “Alice,” by Mr. Chase, where the crisp edges
of a white dress are relieved against a dark ground, such treatment is
impossible.  Here, however, the device of flying ribbons is a most clever
one, which, besides giving the effect of motion, causes an interruption in
these clean-cut outlines, as also in the formal spaces on either side.
The horizontal accent of dark through the centre of the canvas, suggesting
a grand piano in the dim recesses behind, fulfills a like obligation from
the linear as well as tonal standpoint.


As the vertical may be termed the figure painters’ line so the horizontal
becomes the line of the landscape painter. Given these as the necessary
first things, the picture is made by building upon and around them.  The
devices which aid the figure painter in disposing of one or many verticals
have been briefly viewed.  A consideration of the horizontal will
necessarily take us out of doors to earth and sky, where nature constructs
on surfaces which follow the horizon.

The problem  in composition which each of these lines presents is the same
and the principle governing the solution of each identical; balance by
equalization of forces. _Given a line which coincides with but one side of
the picture it becomes necessary for the poise of the quadrilateral to
cross it with an opposing line._  The rectangular cross, though more
positive and effective, is no more potential in securing this unity than
the crossing of lines _at a long angle._  A series of right angles will in
time arrive at the same point as the _tangent,_ but less quickly.  Each
angle in such an ascent produces the parity of both horizontal and
vertical.  The tangent expresses their synthesis. In Fortuny’s
_“__Connoisseurs,__”_ the right angle formed by the line of the mantel and
the statue takes the eye to the same point as the tangent of the shadow.
Again, the principle allows the modification of any arm of the cross,
maintaining only the fact of the cross itself.  When a line passes through
the first or necessary line of construction it has, so to speak,
incorporated itself as a part of the picture, and what it becomes
thereafter is of no great importance.  If the reader will make simple line
diagrams of but a few pictures, this point will be made clear, and it will
be found that such diagrams which represent either the actual lines of
direction or lines of suggestion from point to point or mass to mass will
comfortably fill the quadrilateral of the frame _as a linear design._

In all analyses of pictures the student should select the first or most
commanding and necessary line of the conception.  Having found this thread
the whole composition will unravel and disclose a reason for each stitch.

Let a horizontal base line be assumed and verticals erected therefrom,
_without crossing it._  The reason why no picture results is because there
is no cross.     Such a design would suggest many of Fra Angelico’s
decorations of saints and angels; or the plan of the better known
decoration of “The Prophets” at the Boston Library by Sargent.  These
groups, it must be remembered, are not pictorial and are not compositions
from the picture point of view.  Their homogeneity depends not on
interchange of line or upon other mechanics of composition, but only upon
the unity of associated ideas.  In  instances, however, where  some of
the  figures  of these groups are _joined_ by horizontal lines or masses
which bisect these verticals the pictorial intention begins to be felt.

  [Sketches from Landscapes by Henry Ranger; Parity of Horizonatals and
          Verticals; Crossings of Horizontals by Spot Diversion]

Of the accompanying _illustrations_ that of the view on the shore with
overhanging clouds shows a most persistent lot of horizontals with nothing
but the lighthouse and the masts of the vessels to serve for reactive
lines.  At their great distance they would accomplish little to relieve
this disparity of line were it not for the aid of the vertical pillar of
cloud and the pull downward which the eye received in the pool below the
shore.  The most troublesome line in this picture is the shore line, but
an effort is made here to break its monotony by two accents of bushes on
either side.  What, therefore, would seem to be a composition “going all
one way,” displays, after all, a strong attempt toward the recognition of
the principle of crossed lines.

The sketch shows the constructive lines of a picture by Henry Hanger, and
lacks the force of color by which these points are emphasized.

[Sketch from the Book of Truth--Claude Lorrain (Rectangle Unbalanced); The
     Beautiful Gate--Raphael (Verticals Destroying Pictorial Unity)]

In the wood interior the stone wall is the damaging line.  Not only does
it parallel the bottom line, always unfortunate, but it cuts the picture
in two from side to side.  Above this the bottom line of the distant woods
gives another paralleling line, running the full length of the picture.
Given the verticals together with these, however, their force becomes
weakened until there ensues an almost perfect balance, the crossing lines
weighing out even.  The sketch from Claude Lorraine, out of the “Book of
Truth,” shows a great left angle composition of line not very
satisfactory, owing to its lack of weight for the long arm of the
steelyard.  The principle, however, which this sketch exhibits is correct,
and its balance of composition would be easily effected by the addition of
some small item of interest to the extreme left.  It is not, however, a
commendable type of composition, owing to the difficulty of obtaining a
rational balance, but when this is to be had in just its right force the
plan of lines is excellent.  In the matter of measures, were the whole
composition pushed to the left we would at once feel a relief in the
spaces.  But the impressionist queries why not take it as it stands!  So
it might be taken, and a most balanced picture _painted from it;_ but
these considerations apply to the black and white, without the alteration
which color might effect.

[Mother and Child--Orchardson (Horizontals opposed or Covered); Stream in
    Winter--W. E. Schofield (Verticals and Horizontals vs. Diagonal)]

No less aggravated a case of horizontals is the charming picture of
_mother and child_ by Mr. Orchardson.  The long cane sofa and the
recumbent baby are the two unaccommodating lines for which the mother’s
figure was especially posed.  Howsoever unconscious may appear the
renderings of this figure, plus the fan, the underlying structure of it
conforms absolutely to the requirements of the unthinking half of the
subject.  It is an instance of an unpromising start resulting with
especial success through skillful playing to its awkward leads.

The principle of the diagonal being equivalent as a space filler to the
crossed horizontal and vertical is shown by comparison of the wood
interior with the _winter landscape,_ in which the foreground has been
thus disposed of.  The force of a horizontal is more cleverly weakened by
such a line because besides adding variety it accomplishes its intention
with less effort.  As a warning of what may happen when these principles
are neglected or overdone one glance at the _equestrian picture by Cuyp_
is sufficient.  His subject, a man on horseback, is an excellent cross of
a horizontal and vertical in itself and simply required to be let alone
and led away from.  The background destroys this and, instead of being an
aid to circular observation, persists in _adding_ a line to one in the
subject which should have been parried, and thus cuts the picture in two.

Cuyp in this as in another similar picture had in mind light and shade
rather than linear composition, but even so, the composition shows little
intelligence.  No amount of after manipulation could condone so vicious a
slaughter of space and line opportunities which the background, with its
reduplicating edge, accomplishes.

Study in that vast and changeful realm the sky offers a greater
opportunity for selection than any other part of nature.

The sky is but one of two elements in every landscape and in the majority
of cases it is the secondary element.  If the sky is to agree with an
interesting landscape it must retire behind it.  If it causes divided
interest, its interest must be sacrificed.  Drawings, photographs and
color studies of skies with the intention of combining them with landscape
should be made in the range of secondary interest and with the calculation
of their fitting to the linear scheme of landscape.  Skies which move away
from the horizon diagonally, suggesting the oppositional feeling, are more
useful in an artist’s portfolio than a series of clouds, the bottoms of
which parallel the horizon, especially when these float isolated in the
sky.  When the formal terrace of clouds entirely fills the sky space, its
massive structure is felt rather than the horizontal lines, just as a
series of closely paralleled lines becomes a flat tint.


The most elastic and variable of the fundamental forms of composition is
the line of beauty, the letter S, or, conceived more angularly, the letter
Z.  This  is one  particularly adapted to upright arrangements and one
largely used by the old masters.  We are able to trace this curvilinear
feeling through at least one-third of the great figure compositions of the
Renaissance. Note the page of sketches in the chapter on _Light and
Shade._ Though selected for this quality they show a strong feeling for
the sweeping line of the letter S. “The Descent from the Cross,” a most
marked example, can well be considered one of the world’s greatest
compositions. Over and over again Rubens has repeated this general form
and always with great effect. Whether the line is traceable upon the
vertical plane or carries the eye into the picture and forms itself into
the graceful union of one object with another, its great pictorial power
is revealed to any who will look for it.

                        [Hogarth’s Line of Beauty]

In Hogarth’s essay on “The Line of Beauty,” he sets forth a series of
seven curves selecting No. 4 as the most perfect. This is duplicated in
nature by the line of a woman’s back. If two be joined side by side they
produce the beautiful curve of a mouth and the cupid’s bow. Horizontally,
the line becomes a very serviceable one in landscape. As a vertical it
recalls the upward sweep of a flame which, ever moving, is symbolic of
activity and life. To express this line both in the composition of the
single figure and of many figures was the constant effort of Michael
Angelo and, through Marcus de Sciena, his pupil, it has been passed down
to us. By the master it was considered most important advice. “The
greatest grace,” he asserts, “that a picture can have is that it express
life and motion, as that of a flame of fire.” Yet in the face of such a
statement from the painter of the “Last Judgment” it is difficult to
reconcile the lack of it in this great picture.

The compound curve which this line contains is one of perfect balance,
traceable in the standing figure. As an element of grace, alone, it
affords the same delight as the interweaving curves of a dance or the
fascination of coiling and waving smoke. Classic landscape, in which many
elements are introduced, or any subject where scattered elements are to be
swept together and controlled is dependent upon this principle. An
absolute line is not of course necessary, but points of attraction, which
the eye easily follows, is an equivalent. Many simple subjects owe their
force and distinction entirely to a good introduction through a bold
sweeping curved line. Thanks to the wagon track of the seashore, which may
be given any required curve, the formality and frequent emptiness of this
subject is made to yield itself into good composition. When the subject
rejects grace and demands a rugged form, the sinuous flow of line may be
exchanged for an abrupt and forcible zigzag. In such an arrangement the
eye is pulled sharply across spaces from one object to another, the space
itself containing little of interest. In the short chapter on Getting out
of the Picture, the use of this zigzag line was emphasized.

The opportunity offered in the film-like cirrus clouds, which so
frequently lie as the background to the more positive forms of the
cumulous, for securing the oppositional feeling, is one frequently adopted
by sky painters. Besides strengthening the structure pictorially such
arrangement frequently imparts great swing and movement in the lines of a
sky, carrying the eye away from the horizon. When positive cloud motion is
desired these oppositional masses may become very suggestive of wind,
different strata showing a contrasted action of air currents.

As an adjunct to any other form of composition this line may be profitably
employed. It plays second with graceful effect in the “Path of the Surf,”
“The Lovers,” “The Stream in Winter,” “The Chant,” “1807,” and is
traceable in many of the best compositions.


The last of the great forms of composition is the rectangle, but this
always in connection with oppositional balance.  Such a form attaches
itself to two sides of the picture and the importance of a reacting
measure is obvious. In this lies the warrant for its use, for without it
unity is impossible.  Of the six fundamental forms of composition this is
the only one which is dependent, all the others containing within
themselves the element of balance.

The rectangle plus the isolated measure approaches the completeness of the
cross and in the degree it lacks this completeness it develops
opportunities for originality.

In the _landscape by Corot_ the letter L is plainly shown.  In the diagram
of Fundamental Forms also, the tree-mass, cow and river bank in shadow
serve as a sombre foil for the clump of trees upon the opposite shore
which are bathed in the soft luminous haze of early morning.  This is the
real attraction which, grafted upon the heavy structure of the foreground
affects us the more through the contrast.  In Mr. Pettie’s picture of
_“__James II and the Duke of Monmouth,__”_ we have the opposition of the
two lines, the attraction in the open space being the line of seats along
the wall. These, in the dimly lighted interior, are scarcely assertive
enough to effect the diversion which the open structure demands.

In perspective this arrangement merges into the triangle which has already
been discussed.  The _“__Sheep and Shepherd,__”_ by Jacque is constructed
upon the L reversed and is an unusually strong example of a rare


Structural line, or that which stands for the initial form of the picture
and conjunctive line, or that which joins itself naturally to such form
are the two phases of line which engage the scientific study of the
artist.  Line for line’s sake is an opportunity offered him quite apart
from structural considerations.  Line has a distinct aesthetic value no
less than one contributive to picture mechanics.  Thus pictures conceived
in vertical lines bespeak dignity, solemnity, quietude; pillars, trees of
straight shaft, ascending smoke and other vertical forms all voice these
and allied emotions.  With slightly less force does a series of
horizontals affect us and with a kindred emotion.  But when the line
slants and ceases to support itself, or becomes curved, movement is
suggested and another set of emotions is evoked.  The diagonal typifies
the quick darting lightning.  The vertical curved line is emblematic of
the tongue of flame; the horizontal curve, of a gliding serpent.  In the
circle and ellipse we feel the whirl and fascination of continuity. The
linear impulse in composition therefore plays a part in emotional art
independent of the subject itself.

[Aesthetics of Line; The Altar; Roman Invasion--F. Lamayer (Vertical line
   in action; dignified, measured, ponderous); The Flock--P. Moran (The
horizontal, typifying quietude, repose, calm, solemnity); The curved line:
    variety, movement; Man with Stone--V. Spitzer (Transitional Line,
Cohesion); The Dance--Rubens (The ellipse: line of continuity and unity);
     Swallows--From the Strand (The diagonal: line of action; speed)]
[Aesthetics of Line, Continued, Where Line is the motive and Decoration is
 the Impulse; Winter Landscape--After Photograph (Line of grace, variety,
facile sequence); Line Versus Space (The same impulse with angular energy,
    The line more attractive than the plane); Reconciliation--Glackens
 (Composition governed by the decorative exterior line); December--After
           Photograph (Radial lines with strong focalization)]

Pictorial art owes a large and increasing debt to decorative art and no
small part of this is its simple beauty of line.  It is rare however to
find the painter governed in his first conception by any _positive_ linear
form.  The outlines of great compositions only hint of decorative
structure and give no evidence that they were planned as linear designs.
The requirement of linear design that she beautifully fill a space is met
by pictorial composition through the many correlative opportunities which
in her broader range are open to her, by which she _adds_ to the
fundamental forms of construction (which often prove bad space fillers)
such items as connect their outlines with the encasement or frame.  With
some ingenuity advocates of pure design as the basis of pictorial
structure, point out the similarity of certain compositions to formal,
ornamental design or type forms of plants, flowers, etc., yet omit to
state how many of the best compositions they reject in their search for
the happy hit or to allow for the fact that in those which they cite,
cruel disturbance of the beautiful scheme could easily be wrought by
slight reconstruction, leaving the work quite as good.  The author’s
contention is directly opposed to the notion that pictorial art is
dependent on the flat plan of the design, which is only contributory, but
that its essence is known by an apprehension of balance through the depth
of the picture.  Pictorial art is not an art of two dimensions but of


Starting with a single idea represented by a single unit the coexistent
thought must be the frame or canvas circumference.  Supplying this we may
then think of the unit as a matter of proportion.  When the amount of
space allowed the unit has been decided, the space between its
circumference and the dimensions of the canvas, or what may be called the
surplus or contributing area is the only thing that remains to engage us.
Let the unit be a standing figure, or a portrait, head and shoulders.

The unification of a unit, enclosed in four sides, _with those sides_ can
only be accomplished by either having the mass of the figure touch the
sides of the canvas, or stretch toward them with that intent.  According
to the _strength or number_ of such points of attachment will the unit be
found to maintain a stable existence amid its surroundings.  In the case
of the single figure standing within the frame where no chance of contact
occurs, the background should show an oppositional mass or line attaching
at some point the vertical sides of the figure to the sides of the canvas.
An equivalent of such a line is a gradation, often the shadow from the
figure serving to effect this union.  If the shadow unites the outline
with the background in such a tone as to subdue or destroy this outline,
the attachment becomes stronger and at the same time the positiveness of
outline on the light side finds its contrast and balance in this area of
mystery and envelopment.

A development by chiaroscuro is a necessity to the pictorial unity of the
single figure.

In the portrait of Olga Nethersole (see “The Pose in Portraiture”), the
photographer presents the section of a figure; not a picture.  The spaces
in the background form no scheme with the figure and have not been used to
relieve the lines of the skirt.  The sacrifice in half-tone of the lower
part would have given prominence to the upper and more important part.
Owing to the interest and attraction of the triplicated folds of the dress
the vision is carried all the way to the lower edge, where it is irritated
by the sudden disappearance.  The picture has no conclusion.  It is simply
cut off, and so ended.

It is the opinion of some artists that the portrait having for its purpose
the presentation of a personality should contain nothing else.  With the
feeling that the background is something that should not be seen, more art
is often expended in painting a space with nothing in it than in putting
_something there_ that may not be seen.  In doing nothing with a
background a space may be created that says a great deal that it should

There is nothing more difficult than the composition of two units
especially when both are of equal prominence.  The principle of
Principality sets its face sternly against the attempt.

One must dominate, either in size, or attraction, either by sentiment or

Art can show distinguished examples of two figures of equal importance
placed on the same canvas, but pictorially they lack the essential of
complete art,—unity.  The critical study of this problem by modern
painters has secured in portraiture and genre much better solutions than
can be found in the field of good painting up to the present.   We may
look almost in vain through old masterdom and through the examples of the
golden age of portraiture in England, discovering but few successes of
such combination in the works of Gainsborough, Reynolds and others.

The foreplacement of one figure over another does not always mean
prominence for it.  Light, as an element, is stronger than place.  On this
basis where honors are easy with the two subjects one may have precedence
of place and one of lighting.

The difficulty in the arrangement of two is in their union.  If, for
instance, they are opposed in sentiment as markedly as two fencers there
yet must be a union secured in the background.  If placed in perspective,
perspective settles most of the difficulty.

   [Unity and its Lack; The Lovers--Gussow; The Poulterers--Wallander ]

The accompanying pictures are examples at both ends of the scale.  _“__The
Lovers,__”_ in construction, shows what all pictures demand, the
centripetal tendency.  All the elements consist.  As a picture it is
complete; another figure would spoil it for us and them. Not so the
“Poulterers”; persons could come and go in this picture without effecting
it.  It is but a section at best.  One can imagine a long row of pickers,
or we could cut it through the centre and have two good _studies._  There
is no union.  The other contains principality, transition of line, balance
of light and shade, circular observation, opposition of color values and
the principle of sacrifice.

In Mr. Orchardson’s _“__Mother and Child__”_ the first place is given to
the child in white; the background carries the middle tint and the mother
has been reserved in black.  Greater sacrifice of one figure to another,
the mother to the child, is seen in Miss Kasebier’s picture of a nude
infant held between the knees of the mother whose face is so abased as to
be unseen; or in John Sargent’s portrait of a boy seated and gazing toward
us into space while his mother in the half-shadow of the background reads
aloud.  The greatest contributing force to contrast is sacrifice.  The
subject is known to be important by what is conceded to it.

The portrait of two gentlemen by Eastman Johnson is one of the most
successful attempts at bringing two figures of equal importance on to one
canvas.  They are in conversation, the one talking and active, the other
listening and passive, and the necessary contrast is thus created.

In the combination of three units the objection of formal balance
disappears.  If one be opposed by two, the force gained by the one through
isolation commensurates the two.  In such arrangement the two may be
united by overlapping so that though the sense and idea of two be present
it is shown in one mass as a pictorial unit.  This general disposition,
experience shows to be the best.  Two other good forms are two separated
units joined by other items and opposed to one, or the three joined either
directly or by suggestion, the units balanced like a triangle by
opposition.  The _Madonna and St. John with the Infant Christ_ is a sample
of the first.  In the “Connoisseurs” by Fortuny we have the second form,
and in the _“__Huntsman and Hounds__”_ the third.  A most original and
commendable arrangement of three figures by W. L. Hollinger appears in
“The Pose in Portraiture,” the members of a trio, violin, cello and piano.
The pianist is designated by the suggestion of her action which is
completed out of the picture.  In her position however she accomplishes
the balancing of two figures against one.


A writer on the use of the figure in out-of-door photography after leading
the reader through many pages concludes by saying: after all you had
better leave them out.

In two works on photography from an English and American press the writer
has seen this article quoted in full and therefore infers that the author
has been taken seriously.

The relation of Man to Nature, and the sentiment, interchangeable,
proceeding from one to the other, is a link binding the one to the dust
from which he sprang and the other to the moods of man to which she makes
so great an appeal.  It is a union of a tender nature to the real lover of
the voiceless influences which surround him:

  “Tears, idle tears,”
  “I know not what they mean,”
  “Rise in the heart and gather to the eyes”
  “In looking on the happy Autumn fields.”

Can a sentiment so strong in fact, be divorced in art?  It is the fulcrum
on which the art of Mauve and Millet and Walker lifts and turns us.  It is
not necessary to mention other painters; but to the case in point observe
that at Barbizon a photographer of artistic perceptions has for years
followed in the footprints of Millet.  If nature moves us directly she
will move us through our own kind.  We feel the vastness of a scene by the
presence of a lone figure.  The panoramic grandeur of the sky attracts us
the more if it has also appealed to a figure in the picture.  But beyond
this affinity in the subject there are sufficient reasons why the figure
should be included.  The figure can be moved about as a knight in the
game, hither and yon as the fixed conditions of topography demand.  Many a
landscape which would be entirely useless without such an element is not
only redeemed, but is found to be particularly prepared and waiting for
this keystone. Take for example a picture in which lines are paralleling
one another in their recession from the foreground or where there is a
monotony in any horizontal sequence.  The vertical of the figure means the
balance of these.  The principle is one already noted, action balancing
action in contrary direction.

What of the nymphs of Corot, or the laveuses bending at the margin of the
lake, the plowman homeward plodding o’er the lea, the shepherd on the
distant moor, the woodsman in the forest, the farmer among his fields.  We
associate our vision of the scene with theirs.  When as mere dots they are
discerned, the vastness of their surroundings is realized at their expense
and the exclamation of the psalmist is ours: “What is man that thou art
mindful of him.”

The danger in the use of the figure is that it is so frequently lugged in.
The friends that happen to be along are often made to do.  There is no
case where the fitness of things is more compulsory than in the
association of figures with landscape.  The haymaker creates a sensation
on Broadway but no more so than Dundreary crossing a plowed field in
Oxford ties.  As the poetry of a Corot landscape invites the nymphs to
come and the ruggedness of the Barbizon plain befits the toiling peasants
of Millet, so should our landscape determine the chord in humanity to be
harmoniously played with it.

A fault in construction is frequently seen in the lack of simplicity of
foreplane and background.  It must first be determined whether it is to be
a landscape with figures or figures in landscape.  The half one and half
another picture is a sure failure.

The most serviceable material one may collect in sketching are such
positions which play second or third parts in composition; cattle or other
animals in back or three-quarter view which readily unite with and lead to
their principals.

In the selection of the subject the main object has most of one’s thought.
This however usually “goes” without thought, asserting itself by its own
interest.  Figures which are less interesting than this and still less,
such as will combine with the subject proper, are what the painter and
illustrator long for.  As with the background, those things which are not
of sufficient interest to be worth while in themselves are, owing to their
lesser significance, of the utmost importance to the composer.  Note in
the usual Van Marke cattle picture of five cows, the diminishing interest
in the other four, or the degree of restraint expressed in most of the
figures successfully introduced into landscape.


In the statuesque group the outline is important because this is seen
against the background of wall, or sky, and frequently in silhouette.  Any
fault in its contour as a mass is therefore emphasized.  This
consideration applies pictorially to groups which are complete in
themselves and have no incorporation with backgrounds, such for instance
as the photographic group of a number of people.  Here personality is the
first requirement, but harmony of arrangement and picturesqueness may be
united thereto.  The two best shapes are the oval and the pyramid.  In
either of these outlines there is opportunity for a focal centre, always
important.  In forming such an arrangement the focus should be the first
consideration, item by item being added.  As the group approaches the
outline it must be governed according to the form desired.  A more
artistic combination of figures will be found to be a separation into a
large and a small group, the principal figure placed in either.  If in the
former, the figures of the smaller group must be sacrificed to this
figure, either in pose or lighting.  If the principal figure is in the
smaller group or entirely separate, this isolation will prove sufficient
for the distinction.

Where greater liberties may be taken and the intention is for a purely
artistic composition, the curvilinear S shape will be found a good line to
build upon.  When this is too apparent a single oppositional figure will
destroy its formality.

The possibilities of the single figure as a reserve, kept to be placed at
the last moment where something is necessary, are worth noting.  If the
group be too formal in outline, lateral arrangement, or expression, the
reserve may be played as a foil to create a diversion.

In all successful groups the principle of sacrifice must play havoc.  Here
the artist should expect to pay for his art scruples.  Rembrandt was the
first painter sacrificed to these instincts. When the order to paint the
_“__Municipal Guard__”_ came to him he saw in it an opportunity toward the
pictorial.  Knowing what this entailed he persevered, despite the
mutterings of his sitters, the majority of whom were ill pleased with
their respective positions.  When finally the canvas was finished, full of
mystery and suggestiveness and those subtle qualities, such as before had
never been seen in Dutch art, those for whom it had been executed
expressed their opinion by giving an order for the same to a rival.  His
picture is a collection of separate individuals, each having an equal
importance.  Here was the sudden ending of Rembrandt’s career as a painter
of portraits, only one canvas of an important group being painted
thereafter—the “Syndics.”  A certain reason in this popular criticism
cannot be denied.  The composition is unnecessarily scattered and the
placements arbitrary, though through the radial lines of pikes and flag
pole the scattered parts are drawn together.  The composition partakes of
the confusion of the scene depicted, yet in its measure of parts one can
doubt not that the comparative values of his sitters have been considered.

The democracy of man in his freedom and equality is the despair of the
artist who knows that the harmony of the universe is conditional on
kingship and principalities and powers, and the scale of things from the
lowest to the highest.

Says Mr. Ruskin: “The great object of composition being always to secure
unity—that is, to make many things one whole—the first mode in which this
can be effected is by determining that one feature shall be more important
than all the rest and that others shall group with it in subordinate

Principality may be secured either by attraction of light as in a white
dress or by placing the figure as the focus of leading lines as are
supplied by the architecture of a building, or such lines as are happily
created by surrounding figures which proceed toward the principal one, or
by including such a figure in the most important line.  Again the figure
for such a position may be the only one in a group which exhibits
unconcern or absolute repose, the others by expression or action
acknowledging such sovereignty.

The summer time out-of-door group which is so frequently interesting only
to “friends,” in many cases affords opportunities for pictures attractive
to all.  The average photographer is concerned only with his people; the
background is brought to mind when he sees the print.  Although little or
no interest may be found in the background it should be appropriate, and
should play a reserve part, serving the chiaroscuro and therefore the
illumination of the subject and creating an opportunity for the exit which
always gives depth and an extended interest.  A mass of foliage with
little penetration by the sky except in one or two places and at the side,
not the centre, may always be found safe.  If the attraction is too great
the group suffers.  Appreciating the importance of his setting for groups
the photographer must select these with three points in view; simplicity,
uninterest and exit in background; simplicity, uninterest and leading line
or balancing mass or spot (if required) in foreground.  When looking for
backgrounds he may feel quite sure he has one if it is the sort of thing
he would never dream of photographing on its own account.  Besides being
too interesting, most backgrounds are inappropriate and distracting.  The
frequent commendations and prizes accorded to good subjects having these
faults and therefore devoid of unity tell how little even photographic
judges and editors think on the appropriate and essential ensemble in

With the background in unobjectionable evidence the photographer should
rapidly address his posers a little lecture on compositional requirements
and at the end ask for volunteers for the sacrificial parts, at the same
time reminding them that the back or side _view_ is not only
characteristic of the person but often very interesting.  He should
maintain that a unity be evident in the group; of intent, of line, and of
gradation.  The first is subjective and must be felt by the posers.  The
other two qualifications are for the artist’s consideration.  At such a
time his acquaintance with examples of pictorial art will come to his aid.
He must be quick to recognize the possibilities of his material which may
be hurriedly swept into one of the forms which have justified confidence.

When a continuity of movement has been secured, a revisionary glance must
be given to determine if the whole is balanced; background, foreground and
focus, one playing into the other as the lines of a dance, leading,
merging, dissolving, recurring.

Mindful of the distractions of such occasions, the wise man has done his
thinking beforehand, has counted his figures, has noted the tones of
clothing and has resolved on his focal light.  With this much he has a
start and can begin to build at once.  His problem is that of the maker of
a bouquet adding flower to flower around the centre.

To make a rough sketch from the models themselves posed and thought over,
with the opportunity for erasures of revisions before leading them out of
doors, often proves economy of time.

It is a custom of continental painters to compose extensive groups and
photograph them for study in arrangement.  The author has seen numerous
compositions in photography in which artists have posed as characters of
well-known paintings.

Much can be learned of good grouping from the stage, especially the French
stage.  The best managers start with the picturesque in mind and are on
the alert to produce well arranged pictures.  The plays of Victorien
Sardou and the classic dramas of the state theatre are studies in the art
of group arrangements.

It will be noticed in most groups that there is an active and a passive
element, that many figures in their reserve are required to play second to
a few.  The active principle is represented by these to whom a single idea
is delivered for expression.

   [Return of Royal Hunting Party--Isabey; The Night Watch--Rembrandt]

In “The Return of the Hunting Party” the group of hounds, huntsman and
deer is such an element of reserve, contrasting its repose with the bustle
and activity of the visitors.  It is a diversion also for the long line
stretching across the picture.  This is the more evident through the
repetition of it in the line of the second-story and roof and below in the
line of game which unnecessarily extends the group of hounds.  A relief
for the insistent line of the figures could have been supplied by lighter
drapery back of the table.  This then would have created a cross tone
connecting the hounds in a curve with the upper centre panel.  It is a
picture in five horizontal strips, and is introduced for the warning it
contains in its treatment of a group which is in itself _a line._  The
well-known “Spanish Marriage” by Fortuny also shows the reserve group, but
the contrast is more positive both in repose and color.  The main and more
distant group is well centralized and there is a clever diminuendo
expressed in its characters.

     [Departure for the Chase--Cuyp (Background Compromising Original
 Structure); Repose of the Reapers--L. L’hermite (The Curvilinear Line)]

In _“__The Reapers__”_ this idea has apt illustration.  The figure in the
foreground is in contrast with the remaining three, both as an
oppositional line and in his action, the three being in repose.  The
single figure, though active, does not attract as much as the child who
receives importance from the attention of the two figures.  Her position,
opposed to the two, turns the interest back into the group.  In all the
compositions by this master one is impressed by the grace and force of the
arrangement.  A small portfolio of his charcoal reproductions or a few
photographs of his pictures should be a part of the print collection of
every artist.  No better designer of small groups ever lived.

With the amount of good art now coming from the camera it is strange that
no groups of note have been produced.(12) In the field of _pure
portraiture_ the attempt may as well be abandoned.  The photographer can
at best but mitigate conditions.  The picture group can only apply when
sacrifice and subordination are possible.

A study of famous groups will settle this and other points mentioned,
beyond question. In the religious group, where the idea of adoration was
paramount, the principal figure was usually, though not always, given
place in the upper part of the picture toward which by gestures, leading
lines or directed vision our attention is drawn at once.  Note the figures
which sacrifice to this effect in the “Transfiguration,” “The Immaculate
Conception,” “The Sistine Madonna,” “The Virgin Enthroned,” “The Adoration
of the Magi,” and in fact all of the world famous compositions of the old
religious art.

   [The Decorative and Pictorial Group; Allegory of Spring--Botticelli
 (Separated concepts expressing separate ideas); Dutch Fisher Folk--F. V.
  S. (Separated concepts of one idea); The Cossack’s Reply--Repin (Unity
                       through a cumulative idea)]

In one of the most famous of modern groups _“__The Cossacks Reply to the
Sultan of Turkey,__”_ by the greatest of Russian painters Elias Repine,
the force given to the hilarious frenzy of the group by the occasional
figure in repose is easily apparent.

The answer to a summons for surrender is being penned upon a rude table
around which press close the barbaric leaders of the forces gathered in
the distance.  Some are lolling on wine casks, others indifferently gaze
at the fingers of the clerk as he carefully pens the document, others
smoke silently, one is looking out of the picture as though unconcerned.
Yet life and movement are instinct in every part, for though the action is
consigned to but a few,—these form a series of small climaxes through the
entire circumference of the group and we feel in another moment that the
passive expressions will in their turn be exchanged for the mad ribaldry
of laughter which has seized their brethren.  The group is a triumph for
several æsthetic realities produced and heightened by contrast and

The principality of repose is well illustrated in the group of _“__The
Chant__”_ where the inaction of the woman dominates through its contrast
with the effort expressed by the other members of the group.

There are three types of group composition; first, where the subject’s
interest is centred upon an object or idea within the picture as in “The
Cabaret” or Rembrandt’s “Doctors” surrounding a dissecting table; second,
where the attraction lies outside the picture as in the “Syndics” or the
“Night Watch,” and third, where absolute repose is expressed and the
sentiment of reverie has dominated the group, as in “The Madonna of the
Chair,” and the ordinary family photograph.

The spiritual or sentimental quality of the theme should have first
consideration and dictate the form of arrangement.  A unity between the
idea and its form of expression constitutes the desideratum of refinement
in composition.


In this familiar term in art the importance of the two elements is
suggested in their order.

The effort of the painter is ever in the direction of light.  This is his
thought.  Shade is a necessity to the expression of it.

Chiaroscuro,—from the Italian, _light obscure,_ in its derivation, gives a
hint of the manufacture of a work of light and shade.

Light is gained by sacrifice.  This is one of the first things a student
grasps in the antique class.  Given an empty outline he produces an effect
of light by adding darks.  So do we get light in the composition of simple
elements, by sacrifice of some one or more, or a mass of them, to the
demands of the lighter parts.  “Learn to think in shadows,” says Ruskin.
Rembrandt’s art entire, is the best case in point.  A low toned and much
colored white may be made brilliant by dark opposition.  The gain to the
color scheme lies in its power to exhibit great light and at the same time
suggest fullness of color.

As we have discussed line and mass composition as balanced over the
central vertical line, so is the question of light and shade best
comprehended, as forces balancing, over a broad _middle tint._  The medium
tint is the most important, both for tone and color.  This commands the
distribution of measures in both directions; toward light and toward dark.
Drawings in outline upon tinted paper take on a surprising finish with a
few darks added for shadow and the high lights touched in with chalk or
Chinese white.  The method in opaque water color, employed by F. Hopkinson
Smith and others, of working over a tinted paper such as the general tone
of the subject suggests, has its warrant in the early art of the Venetian
painters.  If a blue day, a blue gray paper is used; if a mellow day, a
yellow paper.

In pictorial art the science of light and dark is not reducible to working
formulae as in decoration, where the measures of _Notan_ are governed on
the principle of interchange.  Through decoration we may touch more
closely the hidden principles of light and shade in pictures than without
the aid of this science, and the artist of decorative knowledge will
always prove able in “effect” in his pictorial work.

With that clear conception of the power of the light and the dark measure
which is acquired in the practice of “spotting” and filling of spaces,
especially upon a middle tint, the problem of bringing into prominence any
item of the picture is simplified upon the decorative basis.

Pictorially the light measure is more attractive than the dark, but the
dark in isolation is nearly as powerful.

With this simple notion in mind the artist proceeds upon his checker-board
opposing force to force.

With him the work can never be as absorbing as to the decorator whose
items are all of about the same value and of recurring kinds.  The subject
dictates to the painter who must play more adroitly to secure an effect of
light and shade by the use of devices such as nature offers.

As a matter of _brilliancy of light,_ with which painting is concerned,
the effect is greater when a small measure of light is opposed to a large
measure of dark than when much light is opposed to little dark.
Comparison between Whistler’s “Woman in White,” a white gown relieved
against a white ground, the black of the picture being the woman’s hair,
and any one of the manger scenes of the fifteenth century painters with
their concentration of light will prove how much greater the sense of
light is in the latter.

When much light and little dark produces great brilliancy it is usually by
reason of a gradation in the light, giving it a cumulative power, as is
seen in the sky or upon receding objects on a foggy day.  A small dark
added, intensifies the light, not only by contrast of measure, but in
showing the high key of the light measures.

Accents of dark produce such snappiness as is commended by the publisher
who esteems the brilliancy which a rapid interchange of lights and darks
always yields, a sparkle, running through the whole and easily printed.
The works of Mr. Wenzell as a single example of this quality, or of Mr.
Henry Hutt, in lighter key, will be found to gain much of their force from
a very few accents of dark.  On the other hand when the work deals with a
medium tone and darks, with few high lights, these gain such importance as
to control the important items.

The value of the middle tint, _when not_ used as the under tone of a
picture is apparent as balancing and distributing the light and dark
measures of objects.  When, for instance, these three degrees of tone are
used, if the black and white are brought together and the middle tone
opposed a sense of harmony results.  The black and white if mixed would
become a middle tone.  We feel the balance of measures without synthesis
or inquiry.  Many of the compositions of Tolmouche of two and three female
figures are thus disposed, one figure having a gray dress and one a black
dress and white waist, or a black figure and white are placed together and
opposed to a figure in gray.  In Munkacsy’s “Milton Dictating to His
Daughters,” the broad white collar of the poet contrasted with his black
velvet suit, is well balanced and distributed by the medium tones of the
three dresses.

  [Fundamental Forms of Chiaroscuro; Whistler’s Portrait of his Mother;
      Moorland--E. Yon; Charcoal Study--Millet; The Arbor--Ferrier]
[Fundamental Forms of Chiaroscuro, Continued; Landscape--Geo. Inness; The
 Kitchen--Whistler; St. Angela--Robt. Reid; An Annam Tiger--Surrand; The
             Shrine--Orchardson; Monastic Life--F. V. DuMond]

An accent is forcible in proportion as its own unit of intensity is
distributed over the space on which it is placed.  Take for instance a
picture in India ink of a misty morning wherein the whole landscape may be
produced with a small drop of ink spread in light gradations upon ten by
fourteen inches square.  An object in the foreground one by two inches in
which the same measure of black is used will of course possess powerful
attraction.  If, however, this measure be expanded the gain in bulk will
be balanced by the loss in intensity.  Less attraction for the object is
given either by increasing the intensity of the surrounding tint or
decreasing its extent.  In the two pictures by Gerome of lions, the one in
the midst of the vast space of desert obtains its force from its dark
isolated in a large area.  In the other picture the emerald green eyes of
the lion are the attraction of the picture, as points of light relieved by
the great measures of dark of the lion, together with the gloom of the

The message of impressionism is _light,_ as the effort of the early
painters was _to secure light,_ the quest of all the philosophies.  The
impressionist calls upon every part of his work to speak of light, the
middle tint, the high lights and the shadow all vibrating with it.  From
the decorative point of view alone, the picture, as a surface containing
the greatest amount of beauty of which the subject is capable is more
beautiful when varied by many tones, or by few, _in strong contrast,_ than
when this variety or contrast is wanting.  Those decorative designs have
the strongest appeal in which the balancing measures are all well defined.
There are schemes of much dark and little light, or the reverse, or an
even division, and in each case the balance of light and dark is
sustained; for when there is little dark its accenting power is enhanced
and when little light is allowed, it, in the same manner, gains in
attraction.  But light and dark every work of art must have; for to think
of light without dark is impossible.  When, therefore, the artist begins a
picture his first thought is what is to be the scheme of light and shade?
The direction or source of the light helps a decision.  The illumination
of the subject is a study most easily proceeded with by induction, from
particular cases to general conclusions.

 [A Reversible Effect of Light and Shade (The Same Subject Vertically and
                         Horizontally Presented)]

The effectiveness of the first of the two reversible _photographs_ is as
great as the last and the subject as picturesque though it be discovered
that the first is the second placed on end.  It is able to satisfy us not
only because of the happy coincidence that the leaves upon the bridge
represent bark texture and the subdued light upon its near end creates the
rotundity of the trunk or that a distant tree serves as the horizontal
margin of a pool, but because its light and shade is conceived upon the
terms of balance expressing in either position one of the fundamental
forms of light and shade and lineal construction, that of the rectangle in
either light or dark together with an oppositional measure—the light
through the distant trees.

With the history of art and the world’s gallery of painting spread out
before us, we may take a continuous view of the whole field. Leaving out
the painters of the experimental era let us begin with the great masters
of effect.

Sir Joshua Reynolds tells us it was his habit in looking for the secrets
of the masters of painting to make rough pencil notes of those pictures
that attracted him by their power of effect as he passed from one gallery
to another.  He found almost all of them revealed a broad middle tone
which was divided again into half dark and half light tones, and these,
added to the accents of light and dark _made five distinct tones._  The
Venetian painters attracted him most and, he says, speaking of Titian,
Paul Veronese and Tintoret, “they appeared to be the first painters who
reduced to a system what was before practised without any fixed
principle.” From these painters he declares Rubens extracted his scheme of
composition which was soon understood and adopted by his countrymen, even
to the minor painters of low life in the Dutch school.

“When I was in Venice,” he says, “the method I took to avail myself of
their principle was this: When I observed an extraordinary effect of light
and shade in any picture I darkened every part of a page in my note-book
in the same gradation of light and shade as the picture, leaving the white
paper untouched to represent light and this without any attention to the
subject or the drawing of the figures.  A few trials of this kind will be
sufficient to give the method of their conduct in the management of their
lights.  After a few experiments I found the paper blotted nearly alike:
their general practice appeared to be _to allow not above a quarter of the
picture for light, including in this portion both the principal and
secondary lights; another quarter to be as dark as possible and the
remaining half kept in mezzo-tint or half shadow._”

“Rubens appears to have admitted rather more light than a quarter and
Rembrandt much less, scarce an eighth; by this conduct Rembrandt’s light
is extremely brilliant, but it costs too much; the rest of the picture is
sacrificed to this one object.  That light will certainly appear the
brightest which is surrounded with the greatest quantity of shade,
supposing equal skill in the artist.”

“By this means you may likewise remark the various forms and shapes of
those lights as well as the objects on which they are flung; whether a
figure, or the sky, a white napkin, animals, or utensils, often introduced
for this purpose only.  It may be observed likewise, what a portion is
strongly relieved and how much is united with its ground; for it is
necessary that some part (though a small one is sufficient) should be
sharp and cutting against its ground whether it be light on dark, or dark
on a light ground, in order to give firmness and distinctness to the work.
If, on the other hand, it is relieved on every side, it will appear as if
inlaid on its ground.”

“Such a blotted paper held at a distance from the eye would strike the
spectator as something excellent for the disposition of the light and
shadow though he does not distinguish whether it is history, a portrait, a
landscape, dead game, or anything else; for the same principles extend to
every branch of art.  Whether I have given an exact account or made a just
division of the quantity of light admitted into the works of those
painters is of no very great consequence; let every person examine and
judge for himself: it will be sufficient if I have suggested _a mode of
examining pictures this way and one means at least of acquiring the
principles on which they wrought._”

The accompanying page of sketches has been produced in the spirit of this

Turning from examples of figure art, to outdoor nature, it will be found
that these principles apply with equal force to landscape composition.  No
better advice could be offered the beginner in landscape than to
resolutely select and produce three, four or five distinct and separate
tones in every study.  The incoherency of beginner’s work out of doors is
largely due to its crumbling into a great number of petty planes, a fault
resulting from observation of detail instead of the larger shapes.  For
this reason the choice of subjects having little or no detail should be
insisted on: sky and land, a chance for organic line and a division of
light and shade, such as may be found in an open, rolling country where
the woodland is grouped for distant masses.


Under the discussion of Balance it was shown that a small measure often
became the equivalent of a larger measure by reason of its particular
placement.  The sacrifice of many measures to one, also is often the
wisest disposition of forces.  Upon the stage, spectacular arrangement is
constructed almost entirely on this principle.  The greater the number of
figures supporting, or sacrificing to the central figure, the greater its
importance.  The sun setting over fields or through the woods though
covering but a very limited measure of the picture is what we see and
remember, the remaining space serving this by subordination.  Note how
masters of landscape reach after such a point either by banking up
abruptly about it as in the wood interior, or by vast gradations toward
it. The muzzle of the cannon is the only place where the fire and smoke
are seen, but how much weight is necessitated back of this for the recoil,
and how much space must be reckoned on for the projectile of the gun.  A
terrific explosion takes place; but we do not realize its power until it
is noted that sound reverberated and the earth trembled for miles around.
For its full realization the report of the quiet miles is important.  The
lack of this support in the light and shade scheme, whereby the principal
object is made to occupy too much space is one of the commonest of faults
in photography and illustration.

One familiar with woodland scenery knows well how often a subject is lost
and found as the sun changes in its course.  At one moment a striking
composition is present, the highest light giving kingly distinction to one
of the monarchs of the forest.  Passing on to return in a few minutes one
looks in vain for the subject.  He is sure of the particular spot, but the
king stands sullen in the shadow, robbed of his golden mantle which is now
divided to bedeck two or three striplings in the background.  For the
painter the only recourse is to make a pencil note of the original scheme
of light and shade and hold resolutely to it.  The photographer must
patiently wait for it.

Says Reynolds:

“Every man that can paint at all can execute individual parts; but to keep
these parts in due subordination as relative to a whole, requires a
comprehensive view of art that more strongly implies genius than perhaps
any quality whatever.”(13)

No more forcible examples of this truth may be had than the art of Claude
Lorraine.  Claude whose nature painting Ruskin berates but whose
composition is strong, had two distinct arrangements, both based on the
principle of Principality.  In the first he created sides for the centre
which were darkened so that the light of the centre might gain by
contrast.  It is the formal Raphaelesque idea; the other and much better
one shows a division of the picture into thirds.  The first division is
given to the largest mass but usually not the most important.  This, if
trees or a building, is shadow covered, reserving the more distant mass,
which is the most attractive, to gain by the sacrifice of the foreground

   [Spots and Masses; Note-book sketches from Rubens, Velasquez, Claude
                           Lorrain and Murillo]

The first of these forms was evidently most esteemed by Claude, for his
greatest works are thus conceived: “Cleopatra Landing at Tarsus,” _“__The
Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba,__”_.  “The Flight into Egypt,” “St.
Paul leaving Ostia,” “The Seaport with the Large Tower” and others.  In
all of these the light proceeds toward us through an avenue which the
sides create.  Under this effect we receive the light as it comes to us.
In the other form the vision is carried into the picture by a series of
mass attractions the balance being less apparent.  “The Landscape of the
Dresden Gallery,” “The Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca,” “The Finding of
Moses,” “Egeria and Her Nymphs,” and “Driving Cattle to the Meadows,”
together with many etchings, are based on the second form.  In all these
about one third of the picture is put into shadow, a great right angle
being constructed of the vertical mass and the shadow which it casts,
generally across the entire foreground.

   [Death of Caesar--Gerome; The Travel of the Soul--After Howard Pyle]

In _“__The Travel of the Soul__”_ by Howard Pyle, reproduced from the
_Century Magazine,_ is remarkably expressed the fullness of quality
resulting from these few principles.  The force of the light is increased
first by juxtaposition with the deepest dark merging so gradually into the
darkness behind as to become the end or culmination of the great gradation
of the background.  As in many works by the older masters the source of
light is conceived within the picture, so by its issuance from the inward
of the wing, the valuable principle of radiation has resulted, the light
passing upward through the wan face behind to the crescent moon and below
through the sleeve and long fold of the dress to the ground.  On the side
it follows the arm disappearing through the fingers into the shadow.

Beyond this circuit lies the great encasement of another gradation
darkening toward the sides and corners.  This has been interrupted by the
tree masses and sky of the upper side, as the idea of radiation was
changed on the left by the oppositional line of branch forms.  In the
other pictures of this remarkable series may be found three distinct type
forms of composition.

Together they set forth the structure of the circle or ellipse, the letter
S or line of beauty, the triangle, and the cross.  The one before us
discloses a triangle or letter V, on which the figures compose, within a
triangle formed of the rock fracture and path.

It must be remembered that the effort of the artist is to secure light _in
the degree_ which his subject demands.  There are many degrees of light
and they must not be confounded.  The light of a lantern is not sufficient
illumination for an effect under gas and a window on the north side won’t
do to call sunlight into a room upon a posed figure.  The fault of many
pictures is that the proprieties just here are violated.  Some of the
lowest toned interiors of Israels are satisfactory when judged from the
standpoint of light, while out of door attempts in high key fail to
suggest the fact of a sun in nature.  The fault is that _the exact degree_
of illumination which the subject demands is not present.

There may be a greater feeling of light in a figure sitting in the shadow
than in the same figure next to a window.

To the painter, light and air are but degrees of the same idea. If the
figure seated in the shadow is well enveloped and relieved by the exact
temper of reflected lights, it takes its place in his scheme of brilliant
lighting as much as any other part.

The purpose of shadow is first to produce light, second to secure
concentration, third to dismiss space not required and incidentally to
suggest air and relief by the gradation which every shadow must have.

The idea of _Notan,_ or the Light and Dark combination of Japanese art,
differs from this in its intent, which is merely to set forth an agreeable
interchange of light, dark and medium toned spaces.  To the decorative
intentions of the oriental artist natural fact is of small concern and the
fact of shade produced by light is dismissed as are many other notions
which are non-conformable to his purpose.  The great value of this
concept, however, should be recognized, and in formulating a scheme of
light and shade for any picture its light and dark masses may be so
arranged as to suggest much of the beauty which its flat translation by
Notan would yield.  The practice of laying out the flat light and dark
scheme of every picture which is to be finished in full relief is
therefore most helpful, and directly in line with Sir Joshua’s habit with
the old masters.

It is not sufficient that pictures have lights and darks.  The balance
here is quite as important as line and measure.  The proportion of light
to dark depends on the importance required by certain parts of the
picture.  Effectiveness is given to that end of the scale which is
_reserved in small quantity._  The white spot attracts in the _“__Dead
Warrior,__”_ the dark spot in the _“__Lion of the Desert.__”_  A
comparison of the _“__Night Watch__”_ and the _“__Landscape__”_ by Inness
will show that both are constructed on a medium tone on which strong
relief is secured by contrasts of light and dark.  Isolated spots occur
through each contributing an energy opposed to the subtle gradations of
the large spaces. The rich depths of the background and the frequent
opposition of shadow with light in the landscape are very typical of
Inness’ art and we know that the “Night Watch” contains the best thought
and richest conclusions of the greatest master of light and shade.

The type forms in light and shade are less pronounced than those of linear
construction, though through all compositions of effect, certain well
defined schemes of chiaroscuro are traceable.  As soon as any one is
selected it rests with the artist to vary its conventional structure and
make it original.

Lack of a well-defined scheme of light and dark however, is ruinous to any
pictorial or decorative undertaking.

The accompanying wood interiors are introduced in proof that light and
shade rather than form is the pictorial element of greatest value.  In
both pictures the principles of chiaroscuro are strongly expressed, and we
look closely before discovering that the first one is the second placed on

Analysis of pictures into light, dark, and halftone develops the following


Light being the happy and positive side of art presentation, any form or
modification of it partakes of its quality.  The gradation bespeaks its
tenderness, and, much as we may admire light’s power, this, by its mere
variety, is more attractive.

We well endure the shadow if in it can be noticed a movement toward the
light.  Technically, an ungraded shadow means mud.  One in which
reflection plays a part speaks of the life of light and in it we feel that
promise.  We know it to be on its travels, glancing and refracting from
every object which it touches.  The shadows which it cannot penetrate
directly, receive its gracious influence in this way and always under a
subtler law which governs its direct shining—by gradation.

Most good pictures are produced in the medium range and the ends of the
scale are reserved for incisive duty.  A series of gradations in which the
grace and flow of line and tone are made to serve the forcible stroke
which we see, presents a combination of subtlety and strength.  Again the
art of Inness affords illustration.

There are three forms of this _quality:_ that in which light shows a
gradual diminution of power, as seen upon a wall near a window, or in
white smoke issuing from a funnel; that in which the color or force of a
group of objects weaken as they recede, as may be observed in fog; and
that in which the arrangement secures, in disconnected objects a regular
succession of graded measures.  In each case the pictorial value of this
element is apparent.  The landscape painter may avail himself of it as the
figure painter does of his screen, counting on the cloud shadow to temper
and unite disjointed items of his picture.  He makes use of it where
leading lines are wanting or are undesirable, or to give an additional
accent to light by such contrast or to introduce a note of dark by
suppressing the tone of an isolated object.  Gradation is the sweetening
touch in art, ofttimes making unity of discordant and unartful elements.
The vision will pierce the shadow to find the light beyond.  It will dwell
longest on the lightest point and believe this more brilliant than it is
if opposed by an accent of dark which is the lowest note in a dark

Turner and Claude often brought the highest light and deepest dark
together in close opposition through a series of big gradations of
objects, the most light-giving device known in painting.  The introduction
of a shadow through the foreground or middle distance, over which the
vision travels to the light beyond, always gives great depth; another of
the devices in landscape painting frequently met with in the work of
Claude, Ruysdael, Corot, Vandevelde, Cuyp, Inness, Wyant, Ranger, and all
painters of landscape who attain light by the use of a graded scale of
contrasts.  A cumulative gradation which suddenly stops has the same force
in light and shade as a long line which suddenly changes into a short line
of opposed direction.  They are both equivalent to a pause in music,
awakening an attention at such a point, and only to be employed where
there is something important to follow.


It is the experience of all picture makers that under the limitations
which special subjects impose they are often obliged to search for an
equivalent with which to comply with the requirements of composition.

If, for instance, in the arrangement of a picture it is found necessary to
move an object—a tree, figure or other item of importance, instead of
obliteration and repainting, the result is attained by creating an
attraction on the side from which it is to be moved.

By so doing the range of the picture is increased and its space seems to
take in more than its limits presupposed: If an isolated tree standing
against a mass of trees, by opening the sky through that mass or by
creating attraction of color or form therein, the vision is led to the far
side of the object to be moved, which is thereby crowded out of its
position in the balancing scheme.

An object upon a surface may frequently give place to a dark or light
variation of the surface itself which becomes an equivalent of attraction.

Several objects may be made to balance without rearrangement though the
marginal proportions of the picture are altered.  The _ship and moon_
compose as an upright, but not in long shape without either the following
line which indicates the ship’s course; or an object of attraction in the
opposing half either in the distance or foreground, much less being
required in the latter than the former.  The equivalent therefore of the
leading line is the object on the farther shore.

The necessity of either the one or the other is more clearly shown when
the line from the boat swings in the opposite direction.

An object may be rendered less important by surrounding it with objects of
its own kind and color.

An abrupt change in the direction of a line may have attraction equal to
an object on that line.

With two spaces of equal size, importance may be given to one of them by
increasing its light; by using leading lines toward it, by placing an
accent upon it, by creating a gradation in it.

Spots often become the equivalent of lines in their attractive value.

A series of oppositional lines has more picturesqueness than the tangent,
its equivalent.

A gradation may have the equivalent attraction of an object.

A line in its continuity is more attractive than a succession of isolated

The attractive value of an object in the scale of balance may be weakened
by moving it toward the centre or extending the picture on that side.

Motion toward, either in intention or by action, is equivalent to
balancing weight in that space of the picture to which the action is

Light is increased by deepening contiguous tones; dark, by heightening
contiguous tones.

A still-life may be constructed on the same lines as any form on the
vertical plane and many of the perspective plane of composition.  See
_Fundamental Forms_.


Since the time that photography laid its claim to be reckoned among the
fine arts the attention of artists has been attracted first by the _claim_
and thereafter, with acknowledgments, to the _performance._

The art cry of the newly baptized had the vehement ring of faith and
determination.  Like the prophecy of the embryo premier it sounded: “My
lords, you will hear me yet.”

The sustained interest of the “Photographic Salon” and the utterance of
its exhibitors in the language of art, has long since obtained concession
to the claim for _associate membership._  To make this relationship
complete became the effort of many writers of the photographic circle.
“The whole point then,” writes Prof. P. H. Emerson, B. A., M. D., of
England, “is that what the painter strives to do is to render, by any
means in his power, as true an impression of any picture which he wishes
to express as possible.  A photographic artist strives for the same end
and in two points only does he fall short of the painter—in color and in
the ability to render so accurately the relative values, although this is
to a great extent compensated by the tone of the picture.  How then is
photography superior to etching, wood-cutting, charcoal drawing? The
drawing of the lens is not to be equalled by any man.  There is ample room
for selection, judgment and posing, and, in a word, in capable hands a
finished photograph is a work of art.  Thus we see that the art has at
last found a scientific basis and can be rationally discussed, and I think
I am right in saying that I was the first to base the claims of
photography as a fine art on these grounds and I venture to predict that
the day will come when photographs will be admitted to hang on the walls
of the Royal Academy.”

Since the appearance of the above which comes as close to the real reason
in question as its logic might intimate, but which is worth quoting from
the prophecy which it contained, there have been many expressions of
opinions by photographers.  None, however, are more to the point than the
following from the pen of Mr. F. H. Wilson: “When, fifty years ago, the
new baby, photography, was born, Science and Art stood together over her
cradle questioning what they might expect of her, wondering what place she
would take among their other children.  Science soon found that she had
come with her hands full of gifts and her bounty to astronomy, microscopy
and chemistry made her name blessed among these, her elder sisters.  Art,
always more conservative, hung back.  But slowly jealous Art who first
frowned and called the rest of her brood around her, away from the
parvenue, has let her come near, has taken her hand, and is looking her
over with questioning eyes. Soon, without doubt, she will have her on her
lap with the rest.”

“Why has she been kept out so long?  Almost from the beginning she claimed
a place in the house beautiful of art.  In spite of rebuffs she knocked at
its doors, though the portrait painter and the critic flung stones at her
from the house-top, and the law itself stood at the threshold denying her
entrance.  Those early efforts were not untinctured with a fear that if
she should get in she would run the establishment, but the law long since
owned her right, and instead of the crashing boulders of artistic dislike
and critical indignation the volleys they drop at her feet now are mere
mossy pebbles flung by similarly mossy critics or artist-bigots.  Still,
the world at large hears them rattle and does not give her the place and
estimation she has won.”

“Art began with the first touch of man to shape things toward his ideal,
be that ideal an agreeable composition, or the loftiest conception of
genius.  The higher it is the more it is art.  Art is head-and-hand work
and a creation deserves the name of art according to the quality and
quantity of this expended on it.  Simply sit down squarely before a thing
and imitate it as an ox would if an ox could draw, with no thought or
intention save imitation and the result will cry from every line, ‘I am
not art but machine work,’ though its technique be perfection.  Toil over
arrangement and meditate over view-point and light, and though the result
be the rudest, it will bear the impress of thought and of art.  I tell you
art begins when man with thought, forming a standard of beauty, commences
to shape the raw material toward it.  In pure landscape, where
modification is limited, it begins when the artist takes one standpoint in
preference to another.  In figure composition, where modification is
infinite, it begins with the first touch to bring the model into pose.
When he bends a twig or turns a fold of drapery the spirit of art has come
and is stirring within him.  What matters the process!  Surely it is time
that this artistic bigotry was ended.”

The kernel lies in the sentence “when he bends a twig,” etc., “the spirit
of art has come.”  In other words when he exhibits choice and preference,
when, in short, he _composes._

Recognizing that composition was the only portal through which the new
candidate for art recognition could gain an entrance into the circle of
Art, the single effort of the past photographer, viz.; the striving for
detail and sharpness of line, has been relegated to its reasonable place.
A comprehension of composition was found to demand the knowledge of a
score of things which then by necessity were rapidly discovered, applied
and installed.  Composition means sacrifice, gradation, concentration,
accent, obliteration, replacement, construction of things the plate does
not have, destruction of what it should not have.

Supplied with such a magician’s wand no effect was denied: all things
seemed possible.

Gratified by recognition in a new realm the new associations should be
strengthened.   Whereas photography had been spanned by the simple compass
of Mr. and Mrs. A. and their daughter, in figures; or topographical
accuracies in landscape, revellers in the new art talked of Rembrandt and
Titian, Corot and Diaz.  To do something which should put their art in
touch with these, their new-found brethren, was the thing!  A noble
ambition, but only a mistaking of the effect for the cause.  These men
_composed._  The blurred outline, the vacant shadow, the suppressed
corners, the clipped edges.  This all means composition in the subduing of
insistent outline, in the exchange of breadth for detail, in the
centralization of light, in the suppression of the unnecessary.

But no, the employment of these devices of the painter from the
photographer’s point of view of composition is not sufficient.
Photography is now busy complimenting every school of painting under the
sun.  Yesterday it was Rembrandt’s school.  Now that is passed, and
Carrière is better and to-morrow, perchance, it will be Raphael or
Whistler or some Japanese, why not?

The one and only good sign which marks imitation is that it shows
appreciation, and this of the standards is a good thing.  Let each have
its turn.  Their synthesis may be _you._

But to a man of the professions or business whose time for study in these
vast fields of the classics is so disproportionate to their extent and
who, though supplied with search warrants and summons, still fails to make
a capture, how ineffectual and wearying this chase after
ideals—subjective.  Why not shorten your course?  Why not produce
Rembrandts and Corots because you apprehend the principles on which _they_
work and anticipate a surprise in discovering, as by chance, that you have
produced something which _recalls them._  In this way and by these means
there will be meaning in your claim of brotherhood.

One may scarcely call an estimate in art matters complete without an
opinion from Mr. Ruskin.  “In art we look for a record of man’s thought
and power, but photography gives that only in quite a secondary degree.
Every touch of a great painting is instinct with feeling, but howsoever
carefully the objects of a picture be chosen and grouped by the
photographer, there his interference ends.  It is not a mere matter of
color or no color, but of Invention and Design, of Feeling and
Imagination.  Photography is a matter of ingenuity: Art of genius.”

On these lines however the philosopher of Coniston hardly proves his case.

Invention and design, feeling and imagination, are all a part of the
photographer’s suite.  He employs them all.  And these too are qualities
the most artistic.  Technique, which is manual and not spiritual, is the
one point at which art and photography cannot coalesce.  To Art’s sentient
finger-tips, Photography holds up only steel, wood and glass.  Art
therefore holds the winning cards.

P. G. Hamerton, England’s safest and surest critic of art, writing a
generation ago on the “Relation between Photography and Painting,” says:
“But all good painting, however literal, however pre-Raphaelite or
topographic, is full of human feeling and emotion.  If it has no other
feeling in it than love or admiration for the place depicted, that is much
already, quite enough to carry the picture out of the range of photography
into the regions of real art.”

“And this is the reason why good painting cannot be based on photography.
I find photographic data of less value than hasty sketches.  The
photograph renders the form truly, no doubt, as far as it goes, but it by
no means renders feelings and is therefore of no practical use (save for
reference) to a painter who feels habitually and never works, without

It is very much to be questioned if Mr. Hamerton in the face of what has
since been done with the camera by men who _feel_ and are led by the
emotional in art, would claim a distinction to the painter and deny that
the photographic product was unaffected by the emotional temperament.

A friend shows us a group of his pets, either dogs, horses or children,
done by an “artist photographer.”  We find it strongly composed, evincing
a clear knowledge of every point to be observed in extracting from the
subject all the picturesqueness there was in it.  We notice a soft
painter-like touch, shadows not detailed—simply graded—aerial envelopment
everywhere suggested.

It would be pedantry for the painter to correct the expression of his
friend and suggest that the man who produced the picture was not an
artist.  It is the product of a man who felt exactly as an artist would
have felt; an expression of views upon a subject entirely governed by the
principles of art, and the man who made it, by that sympathy which he
exhibits with those principles, is my brother in art to a greater degree
than the painter who, with youthful arrogance, throws these to the winds
“mistaking,” as has been cleverly said, “the will-o’-the-wisp of
eccentricity for the miracle working impulse of genius.”  In whatsoever
degree more of the _man_ and less of the _mechanics_ appear, _in that
degree_ is the result a work of art.

The reliance of photography on composition has provoked an earnest search
for its principles.  The photographer felt safe in going to the school of
painting for these principles and accepted without question the best book
written for painters, that by John Burnet, penned more than a century ago
at a time when the art of England was at a low imitative ebb, and unduly
influenced by imitation.  This has been abundantly quoted by photographic
teachers and evidently accepted, with little challenge, as final.

The best things, discoverable to the writer, in the field of composition,
have been by the photographers themselves—the best things as well as the
most inane; but in the face of so many results that earnest workers with
the camera produce and continue to put forth, which cannot find a place in
the categories of Art, it would seem that these preachments have been
unheeded, or were not sufficiently clear to afford practical guidance for
whom they were intended.  Mr. P. H. Robinson(14)declares most strenuously
for composition.  “It is my contention,” he says, “that one of the first
things an artist should learn is the _construction_ of a picture.”  On a
par with this is the opinion of Mr. Arthur Dow, the artist, who declares
that “art education _should begin_ at composition.”

It is for lack of this that the searcher for the picturesque so frequently
returns empty handed.



Subjectively the painter and the photographer stretch after the same goal.

Technically they approach it from opposite directions.

The painter starts with a bare surface and creates detail, the
photographer is supplied therewith.

Art lies somewhere between these starting points; for art is a reflection
of an idea and ideas may or may not have to do with detail.

According to the subject then is the matter of detail to serve us.  In the
expression of character a certain amount of detail is indispensable; by
the painter to be produced, by the photographer saved.  But detail is
often so beautiful in itself! and is not art a presentation of the
beautiful, pleads the photographer.  And the reply in the Socratic method
is: “Look at the _whole_ subject: does the idea of it demand this detail?”

The untutored mind always sees detail. For this reason most education is
inductive, but though the process is inductive, the goal is the eternal
synthesis.  It is the reporter who gathers the facts: the editor winnows
therefrom the moral.

The artist must—in time—get on top and take this survey. Looking at any
subject with eyes half closed enables him to see it without detail, and
later, with eyes slowly opening, admitting that much only which is
necessary to character.

The expression of character by masses of black and white proves this.
Bishop Potter is unmistakable, his features bounded by their shadows.
From such a start then it is a question of procedure cautiously to that
point where the greatest character lies, but beyond which point detail
becomes unnecessary to character.

                             [Bishop Potter]

The pen portrait of Thackeray by Robt. Blum is a careful delineation of
the characteristic head of the novelist set on shoulders
characteristically bent forward and the body characteristically tall.
What more can be told of Thackeray’s personality?  Would the buttons and
the wrinkles of the clothing help matters!  No, as facts they would not,
and when art has to do only with character, the simplest statement is the
most forcible.

Millet, at one time, was known as “the man who painted peasants without
wrinkles in their breeches.”  Not because wrinkles were too much for him,
nor because they were not thought worth while, but because, in his effort
to prune his picture of the unessentials, the wrinkles were brushed aside.

When, however, art has to do with filling an entire space with something,
and the clothing occupies a considerable part of it, what shall be done?
This changes the details of the question.  Yet all portraits that hit hard
in exhibitions are those conceived in simplicity, those in which the
personality is what stops and holds us.

There are certain large organic lines of drapery which the character
demands, but beyond this point opinion divides authoritatively from the
complete silence of obliteration to the tumultuous noisiness of “the whole

In the portraits by Carrière all detail is swept away, and the millinery
artists are shocked.  Simplicity should never compromise texture and
quality.  This side of the truth cannot prove objectionable.

“You have made my broadcloth look like two-fifty a yard and it really cost
four,” was a criticism offered by a young lady who posed in a riding
habit.  Such practical criticism  is frequently necessary to bring the
artist down from the top height observatory where he is absorbed with “the
big things.”

Breath does not signify neglect of detail or neglect of finish; it means
simplification where unity had been threatened.  It is seeing the big side
of small things, if the small things cannot be ignored.

The lighting of a subject has much to do with its breadth.  A light may be
selected that will chop such a well organized unit as the body into three
or four separate sections, or one that produces an _equal_ division of
light and shade—seldom good.  Shadows are generally the hiding-places for
mystery; and mystery is ever charming.  None better than Rembrandt knew
the value of those vague spaces of nothingness, in backgrounds, and in the
figure itself, a sudden pitch from light and positiveness into conjecture.
We hear in photography much of the “Rembrandt-esque effect,” which when
produced, proves to be just blackness.  There can be no shadow without
light, and Rembrandt’s effort was to obtain this, rather than produce

The feeling of light may also be broadly expressed by a direct
illumination.  Here the shadow plays a very small part, and the subject is
presented in its outline.  Under such an effect we lose variety but gain
simplicity.  This brings us close to the region of two dimensions, the
realm of Japanese art and mural decoration.  The portraits of Manet, the
decorations of Puvis de Chavannes, and the early Italians, display the
quality of breadth because of the simplicity of lighting which these
subjects received.

Breadth in the treatment of the figure may be obtained by _graded_ light.
If a shadow be produced at the bottom of the picture sufficiently strong
to obliterate both the light and shade of detail, and thence be made to
weaken as it proceeds upward and finally give place to light, where light
is most needed, great simplicity as well as the element of variety will be
the result.

Thus, in the most effective treatment in mural decoration, one sees only
the grand forms, the movement, the intention, those things which most
befit the inner surface of the building being also those which bear the
greater importance.  The fact is used as an argument for the assumption
that painting should, after all, be an art of two dimensions, length and
breadth, reserving thickness and its representation, for sculpture.  This
robs painting of the quality of natural aspect, except under the single
effect of absolutely direct lighting and ignores its development beyond
the flatly colored representations of the ancient Egyptians, our American
Indians and the Japanese, a development inaugurated by the Greeks and
since adhered to by all occidental nations.

The student who goes to nature and sees mass only, discarding all detail,
will run the chance of being a colorist as well as a painter of breadth,
two of the most important qualifications; for if he refuses to be stopped
by detail his intelligence will crystallize upon that other thing which
attracts him.  He will think the harder upon the simple relations of tones
and the exact color.  Slowly dexterity will add a facility to his brush
and he will, while aiming at character, through breadth, unconsciously
introduce characteristic detail.  This is the hope of the new method which
is now being introduced into the system of public school instruction.

The scheme as developed by Mr. Dow is decorative rather than naturalistic,
the aesthetic side with “Beauty,” as the watchword being in greatest
point.  The filling of spaces in agreeable and harmonious arrangement does
not demand strict acknowledgment to natural aspect.  Indeed this is denied
in most cases where the limitations of decoration are enjoined.  With the
first principle, truth, upon which all education rests, as the basis of
such study, the nature part of this system will fall into its logical
channels.  If nature’s largeness and simplicity contributes to its value,
then nature should be consulted when she is large and simple.  Studies of
trees in gray silhouette, should be made at twilight, either of evening or
early morning, when the detail, which is useless to the decorative scheme,
is not seen.  Under such conditions no slight or sacrifice is
necessitated.  Nature then contributes her quantity directly and the
student has no warrant in assuming to change her.  There are times also
when the face of nature is so varied that the most fantastic schemes of
_Notan_(15) are observed; a harbor filled with sails and sea-gulls, a
crowd of people speckling the shore, the houses of a village dotted over a
hillside. Under a direct light these become legitimate subjects offered by
nature herself to the scheme which, however, she only now and then honors.

The system therefore accompanies the student but part way and leaves him
still knocking at the door of the complete naturalistic presentation of
pictorial art, a development which stretches into limitless possibilities
by the use of the third dimension.

Work in two dimensions by reason of its greater simplicity should
naturally precede the complications involved in producing the completely
modelled forms of nature, and therein the argument for its use in the
early stages of the student’s development is a strong one.


Breadth, so often accountable for mystery, leads to suggestiveness.  It is
at this point that graphic art touches hands with the invisible,—where the
thing merges into the idea.  Here we deliver over our little two by four
affair with its specifications all marked, into the keeping of larger
hands which expand its possibilities.  If then Imagination carries us
beyond the limits of graphic art let us by all means employ it.  Upon this
phase of art the realist can but look with folded arms.   The dwellers in
the charmed world of Greek mythological fancy came on tiptoe to the
borders only of the daily life of that age.

The still-life painter has to do with fact, and for many other subjects
also the fact alone is sufficient.  It is generally so in portraiture
where rendition of externals is attempted, but the portrait may suggest
revery and reflection, or, by _intimate accessory,_ provoke a discursive
movement in thought.

The realist is a man of drawing and how to do it, of paint and putting it
on, of textures and technique; he is a painter; and stops with that.  But
the maker of pictures would step to another point of sight.  He would so
aim as to shoot over the hilltop. He would hit something which he cannot

Suggestion is both technical and subjective.  There is suggestion of
detail, of act and of fact.  In producing the effect, instead of the
detail, of a bunch of grass or a mass of drapery, we substitute suggestion
for literalism.

Fortuny, as a figure painter, was master of this art, his wonderful
arrangements of figures amongst drapery and in grasses bearing evidence.
Here, out of a fantastic crush of color, will be brought to view a
beautifully modelled hand and wrist which connect by the imagination only,
with the shoulder and body.  These however, are ready to receive it and
like other parts of the picture are but points of fact to give
encouragement to the quest for the remainder.  The hide and seek of the
subject, the “lost and found” in the line, the subsidizing of the
imagination for tribute, by his magic wand stroke were the artifices by
which Fortuny coquetted with nature and the public, fascinating the art
world of his day.

Fortuny, however, never took us beyond the bounds of his picture.  It was
his doctrine that avoidance of detail was artful; that to carry the whole
burden when imagination could be tricked into shouldering some of it was
fool’s drudgery.  Millet, who was his antipode as a clumsy handler of his
tools, declared himself fortunate in being able to suggest much more than
he could paint.

In one of the competitions at the Royal Academy in England, the prize was
awarded to that rendering of the expression of Grief which showed the face
entirely covered, the suggestion being declared stronger than the fact.

In the realm of suggestion however the landscape artist has much the wider
range.  Who has not experienced the fascination of a hilltop?  The hill
may be uninteresting—on your side,—but there is another.  There is a path
winding over it, telling of the passing of few or many; your feet have
touched it and imagination has you in her train, and you follow eagerly to
the beck of her enchantment.

Suppose the scene at twilight on one of the great plains of northern
France where beets are the sole crop.  A group of carts and oxen shut out
the background and no figures are seen.  If however against the sky are
the silhouetted forms of two handfuls of beets, the sight of a figure or
even a part of him would seem unnecessary to a casual observer who wished
to know if there was any one about.  These inanimate things moving through
the air mean life. The painter has created one figure and suggested the
likelihood of others by these few touches.  Herein we have the suggestion
of a fact.  The suggestion of an act, may further be developed by showing
the figure, having already finished with the handful, bending to pick up
others.  Such a position would be an actual statement regarding the
present act but a suggested one concerning the former, the effect of which
is still seen.  If then the figure were represented as performing
something in any moment of time farther removed from that governing the
position of the beets than natural action could control, he has forced
into his figure an accelerated action which ranges anywhere between the
startling, the amusing, and the impossible.

The power of implied force or action by suggestion is the basis of the
Greek sculptured art of the highest period.  Much of the argument of
Lessing’s elaborate essay on the “Laocoon” is aimed at this point, which
is brought out in its completeness in his discussion of Timomachus’
treatment of the raving Ajax.  “Ajax was not represented at the moment
when, raging among the herds he captures and slays goats and oxen,
mistaking them for men.  The master showed him sitting weary after these
crazy deeds of heroism, and meditating self-destruction.  That was really
the raving Ajax, not because he is raving at the moment, but because we
see he has been raving and with what violence his present reaction of
shame and despair vividly portrays. We see the force of the tempest in the
wrecks and the corpses with which it has strewn the beach.”

In the photographic realm of the nude, this quality is compulsory.  We
don’t want to have offered us so intimate a likeness of a nude figure that
we ask, “Who is she, or he?”  The general and not the particular suffices;
the type not the person.  The painter’s art contains few stronger touches
through this means than the incident of the sleeping senator in Gérôme’s
_“__Death of Cæsar__”_.

In the suggestion of an idea, graphic and plastic art rise to the highest
levels of poetry.  The picture or the poem then becomes the surface,
refracting the idea which stretches on into infinity.

The dying lion of Lucerne, mortally pierced by the shaft, the wounded lion
of Paris, striking under his forepaw the arrow meant for his destruction
are symbols memorializing the Swiss guard of Louis XVI, and the unequal
struggle of France against Germany in ’72.

At the death of Lorenzo the arts languished and Michel Angelo’s supine and
hanging figures in his tomb are there to indicate it.


Suggestion with its phantom guide-posts leads us through its varied mazes
to the dwelling-place of mystery.  Here the artist will do well to tarry
and learn all the oracle may teach him.

The positive light of day passes to the twilight of the moon and stars.

What things may be seen and forms created out of the simple mystery of

Its value by suggestion may be known technically to the artist, for
through the elimination of detail, the work is sifted to its essence and
we then see it in its bigness, if it has any, and if not we discover this
lack.  When the studio light fails our best critic enters and discloses in
a few moments what we have been looking for all day long.

There should be in most pictures an opportunity of saying that which shall
be interpreted by each one according to his temperament, a little place
where each may delight in setting free his own imagination.

To account for the popularity of many pictures in both color and black and
white on any other ground than that of mystery seems ofttimes impossible.
The strong appeal made to all classes by subjects containing mysterious
suggestion is evidenced by the frequency of awards to such in photographic
and other competitions.

The student of photography asks if blurred edges, empty shadows and
vaporous detail mean quality.  They certainly mean mystery, which when
applied to an appropriate subject signifies that the artist has joined his
art with the imagination of the beholder.  He has therefore let it out at
large usury.

A cottage near a wood may be a very ordinary subject at three in the
afternoon, but at eight in the evening, seen in palpitating outline
against the forest blackness or the low toned sky, it becomes an element
in a scheme of far larger dimensions.  The difference between the definite
and indefinite article, when coupled with that house, is the difference in
the quality of the art of which we speak.

Mystery by deception is a misguided use of an art quality.

In photography one man delights in the etching point and cannot stop until
he has made a net work all over his plate and led us to look at this
instead of his picture, which, if good, would have been let alone—a clever
device of throwing dust into our eyes.  Another produces what appears to
be a pencil drawing, and a very good imitation some of them are, but at
best a deception.  To make something look like something else is a
perversion of a brilliant discovery in photographic processes, which
offers the means for securing unity (and in this word lies every principle
of composition) by adding to or subtracting from the first product.

This may involve the destruction of two-thirds or three-fourths of the
plate or it may demand many an accent subtly supplied before unity is
satisfied, before the subject is stripped of its non-essentials or before
it may be regarded complete.  Let such good work go on—and the other sort
too, if you will, the stunts, the summersaults and the hoop performances,
but in the dignity of photographic competitions give the deceptions, the
imitations of other things, no standing or quarter.

No one will deny the interest there is in a sensitive, flexible line and
in  the rendition of mass by line.  But photography is an art dealing with
finished surfaces of perfect modelling, and workers in this art should
preserve the “nature” of their subject. The man who feels line had better
etch or use a pencil.


Breadth while fostering suggestiveness gives birth to simplicity; a
subjective quality.

When applied to pictorial art, simplicity’s first appeal is a mental one.
We are attracted by neither technique nor color, nor things problematic to
the painter; but by _his_ mental attitude toward his subject.  If we
determine that the result has come of elimination, that to produce it,
much has been thrown away and that the artist prefers what he has left at
a sacrifice, to what might have been, acknowledgment for this condensation
is coupled with respect.  There is however a type of simplicity, the
Simple Simon sort, or an indisposition to undertake difficult things,
which leads to a selection of the easy subject in nature.  Having found
some modest bit of charm, the Simple Simon turns and twists it to
attenuation, with the earnest declaration that there is no greater quality
than simplicity; but purposeful emptiness lifts its hands in vain for the
baptismal sanctification of the poetic spirit.

Where simplicity really serves the artist in his task is in those cases
demanding the unification of many elements.

In painting, Rubens and Turner thus wrought, bringing harmony from an
organ of three banks and a score of stops, setting themselves the task of
strong men.

Whatsoever subject be projected, the quality of principality takes
precedence over all others.  This is the first step toward simplicity;
some one thought made chief; therefore some one object in the composition
of quantities and some one light in the scheme of chiaroscuro dominant.
With this determined, the problem which follows is, how shall principality
be maintained and to what degree of sacrifice must all other objects be
submitted.  In the rapid examination of many works of art, those that
appeal strongest will be found to be those in which the elements are
simple, or, if complex, are governed by this quality through principality.


Another bifurcation of simplicity is Reserve.  In the simple statement of
the returning Roman general: “I came, I saw, I conquered,” all that the
senate desired to know was stated and it gained force by virtue of what
was left unsaid.  Anything else might have gratified the curiosity of his
auditors, but the man, in holding this secret, made _himself_ an object of
interest.  Rembrandt has told us that the legitimate gamut of expression
lies some distance between the deepest dark of our palette and its highest
light.  Expression through limitations is dignified, a quality which the
strain to fill all limits sacrifices.  It is the force quickly squandered
by the young actor, who “overacts,” disturbing the balance of forces in
the other parts.

Upon the pivot of Reserve the opposing creeds of the Impressionists and
Tonists bear with most contention.  The former would lash their coursers
of Phoebus with unsparing hand from start to finish; the latter prefer the
“Waiting Race,” every atom of force governed and in control, held for the
opportunity, when increasing strength is necessary.  It is the difference
between aiming at the bull’s-eye or the whole target.

The recent tendency of illustration to produce a result in three or four
flat tones is another voice proclaiming for reserve.  The new movement in
decorative art may rightly claim this acknowledgment to it.  In the work
of Jules Guérin it is interesting to note how the bit and bridle of these
two factors of breadth have been applied to every stroke, now and then
only, detail being allowed its say, and in but a still small voice.

With the large number of pictorial ideas now being recast in the
decorative formula it is necessary to have a clear notion of the purpose
and the limitations of decorative art, that this new art may not be
misunderstood nor confounded with the purely pictorial.

   [Decorative Evolving the Pictorial; The North River--Prendergast; An
             Intrusion--Bull; Landscape Arrangement--Guerin]

Decoration is essentially flat.  It represents length and breadth.  It
applies primarily to the flat vertical plane.  It deals with the symbols
of form, with fact by suggestion, with color in mass.  It substitutes
light and dark for nature’s light and shade.  Conceptions evolved upon the
flat vertical plane deal with pictorial data as material for heraldic
quartering, with natural fact as secondary to the happy adjustment of
spaces.  Nature to the decorative mind presents a variegated pattern from
which to clip any shape which the color design demands.

The influence on pictorial art of the decorative tendency, has brought
much into the pictorial category which has never been classified.

The Rose Croix influence has witnessed its seed maturing into the _art
nouveau,_ and what was nurtured under the forcing glass of decoration has
suddenly been transplanted into the garden of pictorial art.  In
consequence it would appear that the constitution of the latter required
amendments as being scarce broad enough to accommodate the newer thing.
It is difficult, for instance, to reconcile the crowded and spotted
surfaces in Mr. Maurice Prendergast’s pictures, to the requirements of the
balanced conception.  It must be recognized however that their first claim
for attraction is their color which is usually a harmony in red, yellow
and blue, and when the crowds of people or buildings do not form balancing
combinations they oft-times so fill the canvas as to leave excellent
spaces, more commanding through their isolation than the groups choking
the limits of the canvas.  More often however these crowds may be found to
hang most beautifully to a natural axis and to comply with all the
principles of pictorial structure.

In his park scene, showing several tiers of equestrians one above the
other, the chief charm is the idea of continuous movement which the scene
conveys.  The detail, wisely omitted, if supplied would arrest the
attention and a challenge on this basis would follow.  It would then be
found that what we accepted as an impression of natural aspect we would
demand more of as a finished picture.  It is because it is more decorative
than pictorial and because its pictorial parts are rendered by suggestion,
that it makes so winning an appeal.

The quaint and fascinating concepts of Mr. Bull in the range of animal
delineation are all struck in the stamp of this newer mould, and the list
is a constantly increasing one of the illustrators whose work bears this


The popular notion concerning pictures is that they should stand out; but
as has been aptly said, “they should stand in”; so stand as to keep their
places within the frame and to keep the component parts in control.  A
single object straining itself into prominence through the great relief it
exhibits, is just as objectionable as the one voice in a chorus heard
above the rest.

It is a law of light that all objects of the same plane receive
identically the same illuminations.  If then, one seems favored, it must
be by suppression of the rest.  Now and then this is necessary, but that
it occurs by this means and not by unnatural forcing must be evident.

It is not necessary for the artist to lift his sitter off the canvas by a
forced light on the figure and an intense shadow separating him from the
wall behind.

Correggio knew so well to conserve breadth just here.  Instead of this
cheap and easy relief, he almost invariably chose to offset the dark side
with a darker tone in the background, allowing the figure’s shadow to melt
inperceptibly into the back space.  Breadth and softness was of course the

Occasionally however a distinct attempt at relief may be witnessed in the
work of good painters.  Some of Valesquez’ standing portraits are
expressive of the painter’s joy in making them “stand out.”  In all these
pictures however there are no other objects, no items added to the
background from which the figure is separated.  The subject simply stands
in air.  In other words it is an entity and not a composition.

The process technically for the subduing of relief is flattening the
shadows, thus rendering the marked roundness of objects less pronounced.
The envelopment of air which all painting should express,—the detachment
of one object from another,—goes as far toward the production of relief as
is necessary.


But the enquiry is naturally made, “if deception is undesirable, should
the artist pause before he has brought his work to a complete finish?”
Finish is not dependent upon putting in everything which nature contains,
else would art not be a matter of selection.  Finish, though interpreted
singularly by different artists as to degree, is universally understood to
mean the same thing.  Finish is the expression of the true relations of
objects or of the parts of one object.  When the true relations or
_values_ of shade and color are rendered the work is complete.  That ends
it.  The student for the first year or so imagines his salvation depends
on detail and prides himself on how much of it he can see.  The instructor
insists on his looking at nature with his eyes half closed in the hope
that he will take the big end of things.  There is war between them until
the student capitulates, after which the instructor tells him to go as he
pleases knowing with this lesson learned he will not go wrong.

As a comprehensive example of finish without detail, one may take the
works of Mauve which aim to represent nature as truly as possible in her
exact tints.  No one can observe any picture ever painted by this master
and not be drawn down close to the ground that he may walk on it or
elevate his head into the air and breathe it or feel it possible to send a
stone sailing into its liquid depths; but finish! when we look for it
where or what is it?  At the Stewart Gallery the attendant was accustomed
to offer the visitor a magnifying glass with which to examine the lustre
of a horse’s eye or the buckles upon Napoleon’s saddle, in the “Review of
Cuirassiers at the Battle of Friedland” by Meissonier. These items are
what interested the great detailist and they are perfect; but with all the
intense effort of six close years of labor the picture has less real
finish than any work ever signed by Mauve.  The big thing in finish has
been missed and I doubt if any artist or connoisseur has ever come upon
this picture, now in the Metropolitan Museum, without a slight gasp at the
false relation of color existing between the green wheat, the horses
trampling through it and the sky above it.  The unity of these elements
was the first step in finish and the artist with all his vast knowledge of
little things never knew it.

If then, perfect finish is a matter beyond detail, it follows it must be
looked for elsewhere than at this end of nature.

The average man soon takes the artist’s intention and accepts the work on
this basis, thinking not of finish nor of its lack, but of nature;
acknowledging through the suggestions of the picture that he has been
touched by her.

“During these moments,” says John La Farge in his “Considerations on
Painting,” “are not the spectators excusable who live for the moment a
serene existence, feeling as if they had made the work they admire?”

The argument then is that the master painter is one who selects the
subject, takes precious care that its foundation quantities and qualities
are furnished and then hands it over to any one _to finish._  That it
falls into sympathetic hands is his single solicitude.

“It requires two men to paint a picture,” says Mr. Hopkinson Smith, “one
to work the brush and the other to kill the artist when he has finished
his picture and doesn’t know it.”


    “With the critic all depends on the right application of his
    principles in particular cases.  And since there are fifty
    ingenuous critics to one of penetration, it would be a wonder if
    the applications were in every case with the caution indispensable
    to an exact adjustment of the scales of art.”—_Lessing’s Laocöon._


“Art is a middle quality between a thought and a thing—the union of that
which is nature with that which is exclusively human.”(16)

For the every-day critic much of the secret lies in the proposition art is
nature, with the man added; nature seen through a temperament.  Nature is
apparent on the surface of pictures.  We see this side at a glance.  To
find the man in it requires deeper sight.

If a painter of portraits, has he painted the surface, or the character?
Has he gone halting after it, or has he nailed it: has he won with it
finally? Is he a man whose natural refinement proved a true mirror in
which his sitter was reflected or has the coarse and uneven grain of the
artist become manifest in the false planes of the character presentation?
With respect to portraits less than other subjects, can we expect to find
them reflections of the artist’s personality.  But some of the ablest,
while interpreting another’s character, frequently add somewhere in it
their own.  The old masters rarely signed, feeling that they wrote
themselves all through their works.

The sure thing regarding the great portraitist is that he is a man of
refinement.  This all history shows.

Is our artist a genre painter: then does his mind see small things to
delight _in_ them, or to delight us—if this, he is our servitor or little
better,—does he go at the whole thing with the sincerity of an artistic
purpose and somewhere place a veritable touch of genius, or only represent
one item after another until the whole catalogue of items is complete,
careful that he leave behind no just cause for reproach?  Has the man
dignified his subject and raised it to something above imitative art, or
does he clearly state in his treatment of it that imitation is the end of

Is he a painter of historic incident; then does he convince you that his
data are accurate, or allow you to conjecture that his details are
makeshifts?  Is the scene an inspiration or commonplace?  Has he been able
to put you into the atmosphere of a bygone day, or do his figures look
like models in hired costume and quite ready to resume their own clothes
and modern life?

Is he a painter of flowers; then is he an _artist_ or a botanist?  Is he a
marinist; then, as a landsman has he made you feel like one, or has he
painted for you water that can be walked on without faith?  Has he shown
you the dignity, the vastness, the tone, and above all the movement of the

Is he a landscape painter?  Then is he in a position to assert himself to
a greater degree than they all?  The farther one may remove himself from
his theme, the less of its minutiae will he see.  The process of
simplification is individual.  What he takes from nature he puts back out
of himself.  The landscape painter becomes an interpreter of moods, his
own as well as nature’s, and in his selection of these he reveals himself.
Does he show you the kingdoms of the world from some high mount, or make
you believe they may be found if you keep on moving through the air and
over the ground such as he creates?  Does he make you listen with him to
the soft low music when nature is kindly and tender and lovable, or is his
stuff of that robust fibre which makes her companionable to him in her
ruggedness and strength?

As the hidden forces of nature control man yet bend to his
bidding—electricity, air, steam, etc.—so do the open and obvious ones
which the painter deals with.  They dictate all the conditions and yet
somehow—he governs.  The different ways in which he does this gives to art
its variety and enables us to form a scale of relative values.

The work of art which attracts us excites two emotions; pleasure in the
subject; admiration for the artist.  Exhibitions of strength and skill
claim our interest not so much for the thing done, which often perishes
with the doing, as for the doer.  The poet with a hidden longing to
express or a story to tell, who binds himself to the curious limitations
of the Italian sonnet, in giving evidence of his powers, excites greater
admiration than though he had not assumed such conditions.

It is the personal element which has established photography and given it
art character. Says J. C. Van Dyke, “a picture is but an autobiographical
statement; it is the man and not the facts that may awaken our admiration;
for, unless we feel his presence and know his genius the picture is
nothing but a collection of incidents.  It is not the work but the worker,
not the mould but the moulder, not the paint but the painter.”

Witness it in the work of Michel Angelo, in both paint and marble.  How we
feel _the man of it_ in Franz Hals, in Rembrandt, in Rubens, Van Dyck,
Valasquez, Ribera and Goya, in Watteau and Teniers, in Millet and Troyon,
in Rousseau and Rico, in Turner, Constable and Gainsborough, in Fildes and
Holl, in Whistler, in Monet, in Rodin and Barnard, in Inness, in Wyant and
Geo. Fuller.

Like religion, art is not a matter of surfaces.

Its essence is to be spiritually discerned.  It is the spirit of the
artist you must seek;—find the man.

      Back of the canvas that throbs, the painter is hinted and
      Into the statue that breathes the soul of the sculptor is
      Under the joy that is felt lie the infinite issue of feeling;
      Crowning the glory revealed is the glory that crowns the
      Great are the symbols of being, but that which is symboled is
      Vast the create and beheld, but vaster the inward creator;
      Back of the sound broods the silence, back of the gift stands
                  the giving;
      Back of the hand that receives thrill the sensitive nerves of


If we recognize the manly qualities in a picture, the work has at least a
favorable introduction.  Farther than this point it may not please us, but
if not, it should remain a question of taste between the artist and
yourself; and, concerning taste there is no disputing.  It is just at this
point that the superficial critic errs.  Dislike for the subject, however
ably expressed, is never cause for condemnation.  The fair question to ask
is, what was the artist’s intention?  Its answer provokes your challenge;
“Is it worth the expression!”  If conceded, the real judgment begins.  Has
he done it; if not wholly—in what degree?

The question of degree will demand the patience of good judgment.  There
may be much or little sanity in condemning a picture owing to a single
fault.  It depends on the kind.  There are errors of selection, of
presentation (technique) of natural fact, and of art principle.  We can
excuse the first, condone the second, find small palliation for the third,
but he for whom art principles mean nothing, is an art anarchist.

Errors of selection are errors of judgment.  A man may choose a subject
which is unprofitable and which refuses to yield fruit; and yet in his
effort at reediting its elements he may have shown great skill and
knowledge and may have expended upon it his rarest gifts—fine technique
and good color.  The critic must read between the lines and blame the
judgment, not the art.  Feeble selection and weak composition will be more
easily specified as faults than bad drawing and unworthy color.

To the profession, the epithet “commonplace” weighs heavily against a work
of art.  Selection of what is fitting as an art subject means experience.
The “ungrateful” subject and bad composition are therefore likely to mark
the _nouveau_ in picture making—the student fresh from the atelier with
accurate drawing and true color and who may be full of promise, but who
has become tangled with what the French term the soujet ingrat.  Every
artist has studies of this sort which contain sufficient truth to save
them from being painted over as canvas, and most painters know the place
for such—the storeroom.  Exhibition of studies is interesting as
disclosing the means to an end, and the public should discern between the
intention of the “study” and of the picture.

Herein lies the injustice of acquiring the posthumous effects of an artist
and exposing for sale every scrap to be found.  The ravenous group of
dealers which made descent upon the Millet cottage at the death of that
artist effected as clean a sweep as an army of ants in an Indian bungalow.
In consequence we see in galleries throughout Europe and this country many
trifles in pastel which are not only incomplete but positively bad as
color.  Millet used but a few hard crayons for trials in color suggestion,
to be translated in oil.  Some were failures in composition and in most
the color is nothing more than any immature hand could produce with such
restricted means.  To allow these to enter into any estimate of Millet or
to take them seriously as containing his own estimate of art, or as
intrinsically valuable, is folly.

The faults of selection may also be open to difference of opinion.  “Who
would want to paint you when no one wants to look at you?” said an old
epigrammatist to a misshapen man.  “Not so,” says the artist; “I will
paint you though people may not like to look at you and they will look at
my portrait not for your sake but for my art, and find it interesting.”

The cult that declares for anything as a subject, its value dependent upon
that which the artist adds, stands as a healthy balance to that band of
literary painters which affected English art a generation ago, the school
of Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Maddox-Brown, who strove to present _ideas_
through art.  With them the idea was paramount, and the technical in time
dwindled, the subject with its frequently ramified meaning, proving to be
beyond their art expression.

Again, the popular attempt to conceive in pictures that which the artist
never expected us to find is as reprehensible in graphic as in musical
art.  There is often no literary meaning whatever in some of the best
examples of both.  Harmony, tone, color and technique pure and simple are
the full compass of the intention.  What this may suggest to the
individual he is welcome to, but the glib dictum of certain preachers on
art as to hidden intentions would indicate that they had effected an
agreement, with the full confidence of the silent partner to exploit him.
Beware of the gilt edged footnote, or the art that depends upon it.  A
writer of ordinary imagination and fluent English can put an aureole about
any work of art he desires and much reputation is secured on this wise.

In the presentation of a subject through given pictorial elements, the
critic will know whether the most has been made of the opportunity.  If
the composition prove satisfactory and the theme as presented still fails
to move the critic, he must shift from the scientific analysis to those
qualities governing the artist subjectively.  He is lacking in
“temperament,” and without temperament who in art has a chance?  With
years in the schools and a technique of mechanical perfection he lacks the
divine fire and leaves us cold.  It is for the critic to say this, and
herein he becomes a teacher to public and artist.

The patron who agreed that a picture under discussion had every quality
which the salesman mentioned and patiently heard him through but quietly
remarked, “It hasn’t that,” as he snapped his finger, is the sort of a
critic who does not need to know the names of things in art.  He felt a
picture should have snap, and if it did not, it was lacking.

But beyond the presentation of a theme having in it the mark of genius, is
that of workmanlike technique.  The demand of the present age is for this.
If a subject is _not painted_ it will scarce hold as art.  Ideas,
composition, even color and harmony plead in vain; the spirit of the times
sits thus in judgment.

The presentation also should be individual, the unmistakable sign of
distinction.  To be able to tell at a glance by this mark puts us on the
footing of intimate acquaintance.  A difference exists between this and
the well-known mannerisms of individuals.  The latter applies to special
items in pictures, the former to the individual style of expression.  An
artist may have one way of seeing all trees, or the similarity of one
picture with another may be because there is only one sort of tree that
interests him, or one time of day when all trees attract his brush.  In
the first case he is a mannerist, in the other a worker in a chosen
groove.  It cannot be denied that many artists making a success in a
limited range of subject consent to stop, and go no further, under
pressure of dealers or the public.  The demand for specialists has much
more reason in science and mechanics than in art, which is or should be a
result of impulse.(17)

Corot declared he preferred the low sweet music of early dawn and to him
there was enough variety in it to keep him employed as long as he could
paint; but the thralldom of an artist who follows in the groove of a
bygone success because if he steps out of it the dealer frowns and will
not handle his work, is pitiable, exposing to view year by year the
remonitory canvas with such slight changes as newness demands.  It would
be a healthier sign in art if the press and public would applaud new
ventures when it was clear that an artist, thereby, was seeking to do
better things and perhaps find himself in a newer vein.  But variety in
art it is maintained need not come of variety in the individual but of a
variety of individuals.  So Van Marke must paint cows, and Jacque sheep
and Wouvermanns must be told by the inevitable white horse, and have the
mere mention of the artist’s name mean the same sort of picture every
time.  This aids the simplification of a many-sided question.  The public,
as Mr. Hamerton declares, hates to burden itself with names; to which
might be added that it also hates to differentiate with any single name.
A good portraitist in England one year exhibited at the Royal Academy a
wonderfully painted peacock.  The people raved and thereafter he was
allowed to paint nothing else.  Occasionally it is shown that this
discrimination is without reason, as many men rise above the restriction.
The Gainsborough portrait and landscape are equally strong, the works of
painters in marble, and sculptors who use color, have proved a surprise to
the critics and an argument against the “specialty.”

There are two degrees in the subversion of the natural fact.

If, for example, under the rule in physics, the angle of incidence being
equal to the angle of reflection, it be found that a cloud in the sky will
reflect into water too near the bottom of the picture, a painter’s license
may move it higher _in its vertical line;_ but if the same cloud is made
to reflect at an angle several degrees to right or left, the artist breaks
the simplest law of optics.  The painter’s art at best is one of
deception.  In the first case the lie was plausible.  In the second case
any schoolboy could have “told on” the artist.

There are good painters who appear to know little and care less for
physical fact.  Their business is with the surface of the earth; the whys
and wherefores of the universe they ignore, complacent in their ignorance
until it leads them to place the evening star within the arc of the
crescent moon, when they are annoyed to be told that the moon does not
grow from this shape to the full orb once a month.  But ofttimes, though
the artist may not flout the universe, he shows his carelessness of
natural fact and needs the snubbing.  It is in this range that the little
critic walks triumphantly posing as a shrewd and a discerning one.  He
holds up inconsistencies with his deft thumb and finger and cries, “what a
smart boy am I.”  And yet in spite of him Rubens, for the sake of a better
line in the foreground of one of his greatest compositions dares to
reconstruct a horse with his head issuing from his hind quarters, allowing
the tail to serve as the mane, and Turner kept on drawing castles all

But these critics have their place. Even Ruskin accepted this as a part of
his work.

There are occasions, as every artist will admit, when the artless critic
with his crude commonplaces is most welcome.

As to the violator of _art principles,_ his range in art must perforce be
short, his reward a smile of pity, his finish suicide.  Originality may
find all the latitude it requires within the limits of Art Principles.

Ruskin in his principles of drawing enumerates these as “Principality,
i.e., a chief object in a picture to which others point: Repetition, the
doubling of objects gives quietude: Symmetry develops solemnity, but in
landscape it must be balanced, not formal.  Continuity: as in a succession
of pillars or promontories or clouds involving change and relief, or else
it would be mere monotonous repetition.  Curvature: all beautiful objects
are bounded by infinite curves, that is to say, of infinitely changing
direction, or else made up of an infinite number of subordinate curves.
Radiation: illustrated in leaves and boughs and in the structure of
organic bodies.  Contrast: of shapes and substances and of general lines;
being the complement of the law of continuity, contrast of light and shade
not being enough.  Interchange: as in heraldic quartering. Consistency: or
breadth overriding petty contrast and giving the effect of aggregate color
or form.  Harmony: art is an abstract and must be harmoniously abstracted,
keeping the relations of values.”

With the above principles of composition Mr. Ruskin aims to cover the
field of architecture, sculpture and painting, and he declares there are
doubtless others which he cannot define “and these the most important and
connected with the deepest powers of art.  The best part of every work of
art is inexplicable.  It is good because it is good.”

Mr. Hamerton enumerates the duties of the critic as follows; “to utter
unpopular truths; to instruct the public in the theoretical knowledge of
art; to defend true living artists against the malice of the ignorant; to
prevent false living artists from acquiring an influence injurious to the
general interests of art; to exalt the fame of dead artists whose example
may be beneficial; to weaken the fame of dead artists whose names have an
injurious degree of authority; to speak always with absolute sincerity; to
give expression to vicissitudes of opinion, not fearing the imputation of
inconsistency; to make himself as thoroughly informed as his time and
opportunities will allow, about everything concerning the Fine Arts,
whether directly or indirectly; to enlarge his own powers of sympathy; to
resist the formation of prejudices.”  The above requirements are well
stated for critics who, by reason of the authority of their position as
press writers, are teachers of art.  As to the personnel and
qualifications of this Faculty of Instruction, investigation would prove
embarrassing.  The shallowness of the average review of current
exhibitions is no more surprising, than that responsible editors of
newspapers place such consignments in the hands of the
all-around-reporter, to whom a picture show is no more important than a
fire or a function.  Mr. Hamerton in his essay urges artists to write on
art topics, as their opinions are expert testimony, a suggestion
practically applied by a small group of daily papers in America.  Says Mr.
Stillman, “No labor of any human worker is ever subjected to such
degradation as is art to-day under the criticism of the daily paper.”
Probably no influence is more responsible for the apathy and distrust of
the public regarding art than these reviews of exhibitions for the daily
press.  The reader quotes as authoritative the dictum of a great journal,
seldom reflecting that this is the opinion of one man, who, with rarest
exception, is the least qualified of any writer on the staff to speak on
his theme.  Such is the value which the average manager puts upon the
subject. To review the picked efforts of a year, of several hundred men, a
scant column is deemed sufficient.  Howsoever honest may be the intention
toward these, the limitations render the task hopeless, for all efforts to
level the scales to a nicety may be foiled by the shears of the managing
editor if perchance another petit larceny should require any part of the

So the critic gives it up, mounts a pedestal, waves whole walls, aye
galleries, to oblivion, and with the sumptuousness of a Nero, adopts the
magnificent background, in the light of which for a moment he shines
resplendent, as a gilded setting for his oracles.


“Fortunate is he, who at an early age knows what art is.”(18)

Howsoever eloquent may be the artist in his work, it is convincing only in
that degree to which his audience is prepared to understand his language
and comprehend his subject.

“The artist hangs his brains upon the wall,” said the veteran salesman of
the National Academy, and there they remain without explanation or
defense.  The crowd as it passes, enjoys or jeers, as the ideas of this
mute language are comprehended or confounded.  Art requires no apology and
asks none; all she requests is that those who would affect her must know
the principles upon which she works.  An age of altruism should be able to
insure to the artist sufficient culture in his audience so that his
language be understood and that his speech be not reckoned as an uncertain
sound.  The public should form with him an industrial partnership, not in
the limited sense of giving and taking, but of something founded on

What proportion of the visitors to an annual exhibition can intelligently
state the purpose of impressionism, or distinguish between this and tonal
art; what proportion think of art only as it exploits a “subject” or
“tells a story”; how many look at but one class of pictures and have no
interest in the rest; how many go through the catalogue with a prayer-book
fidelity, and know nothing of it all when they come out!  How many know
enough to hang the pictures in their own houses so that each picture is
helped and none damaged?

Could it be safely inferred that every collector of pictures knows and
feels to the point of _giving a reason_ for his choice of pictures, or
even _reasonable_ advice to a friend who would also own pictures?  Is not
much of what is bought taken on the word of a reliable dealer and owned in
the satisfaction of its being “all right,” and perhaps “safe,” as an
investment?  Is it unreasonable to ask the many sharers in the passing
picture pleasures of a great city to make themselves intelligent in some
other and more practical way than by _contact,_ gleaning only through a
lifetime what should have been theirs without delay _as a foundation_ and
to exchange for the vague impression of pleasure, defended in the simple
comfort of _knowing what one likes,_ the enjoyment of sure authority and a
reason for it.

The best of all means for acquiring _art sense_ is association; first,
with a personality; second, with the product.  The artist’s safest method
with the uninitiated is to use the speech which they understand.  In
conversation, artists, as a rule, talk freely, and one may get deeper into
art from a fortnight’s sojourn with a group of artists than from all the
treatises ever written on the philosophy of art.  The most successful
collectors of pictures know this.  They study artists as well as pictures.
But on the other hand must it not also be conceded that acquaintance with
fine examples of art is in a fair way of cultivating the keen and
intelligent collector in the pictorial sense to a degree beyond that of
those artists whose associations are altogether with their own works or
with those who think with them, who must of necessity believe most
sincerely in themselves and who are thus obliged to operate in a groove,
and with consequent bias.   For this reason association should be varied.
No one has the whole truth.

Music scores a point beyond painting, in necessitating a personality.  We
see the interpreter and this intimacy assists comprehension.  But
howsoever potent is association with art and artist, one may thus never
get as closely in touch with art as by working with her.  The best and
safest critic is of course one who has performed.  Experts are those
persons who have passed through every branch and know the entire

The years of toil to students who eventually never arrive are incidentally
spent in gaining the knowledge to thus know pictures, and though the
success of accomplishment be denied, their compensation lies in the
lengthened reach of a new horizon which meantime has been opened to them.
Whether   the picture be found in nature and is to be rescued, as is the
bas-relief from its enveloping mould, cut out of its surroundings by the
four sides of the canvas and brought indoors with the same glow of triumph
as the geologist feels in picking a turquoise out of a rock at which
others had stared and found nothing; or whether it be found, as one of
many in a collection of prints or paintings; or whether the recognition be
personal and asks the acceptance of something wrought by one’s own hand—to
know a picture when one sees it—this is art _sense._  Backed by a judgment
presenting a defense to the protests of criticism, it becomes art

To find and preserve pictures out of the maze of nature is the labor of
the artist: to recognize them when found, the privilege of the

The guileless prostrations which the many affect regarding art judgments
evoke the same degree of pity as the assertion of the beggar that he needs
money for a night’s lodging when you and he know that one is awaiting him
for the asking at the Bureau of Charities.  The many declare they know
nothing about art, the while having an all around culture in the
humanities, in literature, poetry, prose composition, music, æsthetics,
etc.  The  principles of all the arts being identical, how simple would it
be to apply those governing the arts which one knows to what is unknown.
The musician and poet make use of contrast, light and shade, gradation,
antithesis, balance, accent, force by opposition, isolation and omission,
rhythm, tone-color, climax, and above all unity and harmony.

Let the musician and him who knows literature challenge the work of art
for a violation of any of these and the judgment which results may be
accepted seriously; and yet the essence lies beyond—with nature herself.
It is just here that the stock writer of the daily paper misses it.  He
may have science enough, but lacks the love, the revelation _through

But, with this omitted, critical judgment is safer in the hands of a
person of broad culture, who knows nothing of the tools of painting and
sculpture, than when wielded by a half-educated student of art with his
development all on one side.  Ruskin warns us of young critics.

As a short cut, the camera fills a place for the many who _feel_ pictures
and wish to create them, but at small cost of time and effort.  A little
art school for the public has the small black box become, into which
persons have been looking searchingly and thoughtfully for the past dozen
years.  To those who have thus regarded it and exhibit work in
competition, revelations have come.  Non-composition ruins their chances.
Good composition is nine-tenths of the plot.  When this is conceded the
whole significance of their art is deepened.  Then and not until then does
photography become allied with art, for this is the only point at which
_brains may be mixed_ with the photographic product.

Any one who has experienced a lantern slide exhibition of art, where
picture after picture follows rapidly and the crowd expresses judgment by
applause, will not long be in doubt what pictures make the strongest
appeal.  The “crowd” applauds three types; something recognized as
familiar, the “happy hit,” especially of title, and, (not knowing why) all
pictures, without regard to subject, _which express unity._  The first two
classes are not a part of this argument, but of the last, the natural,
spontaneous attraction of the healthy mind by what is complete through
unity contains such reason as cannot be ignored.  Subjects of equal or
greater interest which antagonize unity fall flat before this jury.

There is no opportunity more valuable to the amateur photographer than the
lantern slide exhibition, and the fact that even now no more than ten or
twelve per cent. of what is shown is pictorially good should provoke a
search for the remedy.

For the student, to fill the eye full of good compositions and to know why
good, is of equal value with the study of faulty composition to discover
why bad.

The challenge of compositions neither good nor bad to discover wherein
they could be improved is better practice than either.

This is the constant exercise of every artist, the ejection of the sand
grains from his easy running machinery.

Before photography became a fashion it was the writer’s privilege to meet
a county physician who had cultivated for himself a critical picture
sense.  The  lines of his circuit lay among the pleasantest of pastoral
scenes.  Stimulated by their beauty it became his habit, as he travelled,
to mark off the pictures of his route, to note where two ran together, to
decide what details were unnecessary, or where, by leaving the highway and
approaching or retiring he discovered new ones.  After a time he bought a
Claude Lorraine glass.  It was shortly after this purchase that I met him.
His enthusiasm was delightful.  With this _framing of his views_ his
judgment grew sensitive and as he showed these mirrored pictures to
friends who rode with him he was most particular at just what point he
stopped his horse.  The man for whom picture galleries were a rarity,
talked as intelligently upon the fundamental structure of pictures as most

“I buy the pictures of Mauve,” remarked a clergyman in Paris, “because he
puts into them what I try to get into my sermons; simplicity,
suggestiveness and logical sequence.”


In viewing a picture exhibition the average man, woman and child would be
attracted by different aspects of it; the man by the tone of the pictures,
the woman by their color, the child almost wholly by the form or subject.
The distinction is of course epigrammatic, but there is a basis for it in
the daily associations of each of the three, the man with the conventional
appointments of his dress and his business equipment, the woman with her
gowns, her house decorations and flowers, the child with the world of
imagination and fancy in which he dwells.

The distinction has much to do with the method and the degree of one’s
æsthetic development.  That a picture must have a subject is the first
pons asinorum to be crossed, the child usually preferring to remain on the
farther side.  The delight in color belongs to the lighter, freer or more
barbaric part of the race.  Tone best fits the sobriety of man.

The distinction is the difference in preference for an oak leaf as it
turns to bronze, and a maple as it exchanges its greens for yellow and

In the latter case two primaries are evolved from a secondary color and in
the other a tertiary from a secondary.  In the case of the oak bronze
there is more harmony, for the three primaries are present.

In the case of the yellow and red, there is contrast and effect, but less
harmony, since but two primaries appear.

As the walls are studied that sort of color art is found to be most
conspicuously prominent which is in the minority and probably one’s
unsophisticated choice, from the point of view of color, would be that
which has the distinction of rarity, as the red haired woman is at a
premium in the South Sea isles.  If, however, the tonal and the coloresque
art were in even interchange, the former would have much of its strength
robbed, to the degree of the excessive color of its neighbors.  If,
however, the pictures of tone and of color, instead of being hung together
were placed apart, it would be found that the former expressed the greater
unity and presented a front of composure and dignity and that the varied
color combinations would as likely quarrel among themselves as with their
former neighbors.

That a just distinction may be had between tonal and coloresque and
impressionist art, the purpose of each must be stated.  The “tonist” aims
primarily at unified color, to secure which he elects a tone to be
followed, which shall dominate and modify every color of his subject.
This is accomplished by either painting into a thin glaze of color,
administered to the whole canvas so that every brushful partakes of some
of it; or by modifying the painting subsequently by transparent glazes of
the same tone.

The conscientious impressionist, on the contrary, produces harmony by
juxtapositions of pure color.  Harmony results when the three primary
colors are present either as red, yellow and blue or as a combination of a
secondary and primary: green with red, orange with blue or purple with

The impressionist goes farther, knowing that the complementary of a color
will tend to neutralize it, supplying as it does the lacking element to
unity, he creates a vivid scheme of color on this basis.  In representing
therefore a gray rock he knows that if red be introduced, a little blue
and yellow will kill it, and the three colors together at a distance will
produce gray.  Instead, therefore, of mixing upon his palette three
primaries to produce the tertiary gray, he so places them on the canvas
that at the proper distance (though this consideration is of small concern
to him) the _spectator_ will _mix_ them—which he often does.  The
advantage of this method of color presentation lies in the degree of
purity which the pigment retains.  Its disadvantage appears in its
frequent distortion of fact and aspect of nature, sacrificed to a
scientific method of representation.  An estimate of impressionism is
wholly contained in the reply to the question, “Do you like impressions?
Yes, when they are good;” and in the right hands they are.

They are good only when the real intention of impressionism has been
expressed, when the synthesis of color has actually produced light and
air, and an impression of nature is quickened.  But the voice from the
canvas more frequently cries “nature be hanged—but this is impressionism.”

The little people of impressionism finding it possible to represent more
light than even nature shows in very many of her aspects, delight in
exhibiting the disparity existing between nature and, forsooth,
impressionism.  Thus we see attempts to “_knock out_” with these
scientific brass knuckles all those who refuse to fight with them.  The
rumpus grows out of the different attitudes in which nature is approached.

The one, drawn by her beauty, kneels to her, touching her resplendent
garments; the other grasps her with the mailed hand, bedecking her with a
mantle of his own.  The knights wooing the same mistress are therefore
lorn rivals.

For effect, no one can deny that produced by the savage in war paint and
feathers is more startling than the man wearing the conventional garb of
civilization, or that the stars and stripes have greater attraction than
the modified tones of a gobelin tapestry or a Persian rug.  We put the
flag outside the building but the daily course of our lives is more easily
spent with the tapestry and rug.

An “impression”(19) among tonal pictures appears as foolish as a tonal
picture among impressions and the sane conclusion is that the attempt to
combine them should not be made.

The clear singing tones of the upper register are better rendered under
this formula than by any other, but the feeling of solidity and the tonal
depth of nature are qualities which it compromises.  Impressionism
expresses frankly by the use of smaller methods what the tonists attain by
larger and freer ones.  The individual must decide whether he prefers to
tell the time as he watches the movement of the works or will take this
for granted if he gets the result.

For charm in color no one will deny that in the works of old masters this
is found in greater degree than in painting of more recent production, and
the reason is, not because the pigments of the fourteenth century are
better than ours, but it is to be found in the alterative and refining
influences of time and varnish, which have crowned them with the glorious
aureole of the centuries.

Guided by this fact the modern school of tonists seeks to shorten the
period between the date of production and this final desirable quality, by
setting in motion these factors at once.  They therefore paint with
varnish as a medium, multiplying the processes of glazing with pure color
so that under a number of surfaces of varnish the same chemical action may
be precipitated which in the earlier art came about with but few
exceptions as a happening through the simple necessary acts of
preservation. The consequence of this adoption of kindred processes is
that the tonal pictures and the old masters join hands naturally and can
stand side by side in the gallery of the collector.

This, though a wholly practical reason for the growing popularity of tonal
art is one of the powerful considerations for the trend from that sort
which is liable to create discord.  The simplest illustration of harmony,
and unity and tone may be had in nature herself, for though these
qualities have their scientific exposition, the divisions of the color
scale are not so easily comprehended by many people as the chart which may
be conceived in extended landscape.  The sky, inasmuch as it spreads
itself over the earth and reflects its light upon it, dictates the _tone_
of the scene.  The surface of the lake reveals this fact beyond dispute,
for the water takes on any tone which the sky may have.  The sky’s power
of reflection is no less potent in the landscape.

Reflection is observable in that degree in which the surface, reflected
upon, is rough or smooth.  The absorbent surface allows the light to fall
in and disappear and under this condition we see the true or local color.
Note, for example, the effect of light on velvet or the hide of a cow in
winter.  When the hair points toward the light the mass is rich and dark,
but when it turns away in any direction its polished surface reflects
light, which like the lake becomes a mirror to it.

Light falling upon a meadow will influence it by its own color only in
those places where the grass is turned at an angle from its rays.

From these few observations it becomes obvious that unity of tone is a
simple matter when understood by the painter and that unity, being a most
important part of his color scheme, may be increased by additions of
objects bearing the desirable color which nature fails to supply in any
particular subject.  Thus if the day be one in which a warm mellow haze
pervades the air, those tones of the sky repeated upon the backs of
cattle, a roadway, clothing, or what not, may effect a more positive
tonality than the lesser items would give which also reflect it.  Herein
then is the principle of Tonality: That all parts of the picture should be
bound together by the dominating color or colors of the picture.

With the indoor subject the consideration is equally strong.  Let the
scheme be one as coloresque as the Venetian school took delight in, vivid
primaries in close juxtaposition (see small reproduction in _Fundamental
forms—The Cross_).  The central figure, that of St. Peter is clothed in
dark blue with a yellow mantle.  The Virgin’s dress is deep red, her
mantle a blue, lighter than that of Peter’s robe.  Through the pillars is
seen the blue sky of still lighter degree.  Thus the sky enters the
picture by graded approaches and focalizes upon the central figure.  In
like manner do the light yellow clouds repeat their color in the side of
the building, in the yellow spot in the flag and the mantle of the central
figure. The red of the Virgin’s robe and the yellow mantle together form a
combination of a yellow red in the flag, the blue and red of the central
figures become purple and garnet in the surplices of the kneeling
churchmen and doges.  The repetition of a given color in different parts
of the figure is pushed still further in the blue gray hair of the
kneeling figures, the red brown tunics of the monks and the yellow bands
upon the draperies.

In the _picture by Henry Ranger_ (the crossing of horizontals effected
without a line), a canvas in which the color is particularly reserved and
gray, the tone is created by precisely the same means.  The cool gray and
warm white clouds are reflected into the water and concentrated with
greater force in the pool in the foreground, the greens and drabs of the
bushes being strikingly modified by both of the tones noted in the sky.
In landscape a cumulative force may be given the progress of the sky tones
by the use of figures, the blue or gray of the sky being brought down in
stronger degree upon the clothing of the peasant, his cart or farm
utensils.  Just here inharmony easily insinuates itself through the
introduction of elements having no antiphonal connection.

Fancy a single spot of red without its echo.  Our sense of tonal harmony
is unconsciously active when between two figures observed too far away for
sight of their faces we quickly make our conclusions concerning their
social station, if one be arrayed in a hat trimmed with purple and green,
a garnet waist and a buff skirt, while the other, though dressed in strong
colors expresses the principles of coloration herewith defined.  The
purple and green hat may belong to her suit if their colors be repeated by
modification, in it; or the garnet and buff become the foundation for
unity if developed throughout the rest of the costume.

The purchaser of a picture may be sure of the tone of his new acquisition
if he will hang it for a day or two upside down.  This is one of the
simplest tests applied by artists, and many things are revealed thereby.
Form is lost and the only other thing remains—color.

Harmony being dependent only on the interrelations of colors, their degree
or intensity are immaterial.

On this basis it is a matter of choice whether our preference be for the
coloresque or the more sober art.

It must however be borne in mind that the danger lies in the direction of
color.  Inharmony is more frequently found here than in the picture of
sober tone.

Precisely the same palette is used to produce an autumnal scene on a blue
day, when the colors are vivid and the outline on objects is hard and the
form pronounced, as on an overcast day with leaden clouds and much of the
life and color gone from the yellow and scarlet foliage.

The reason why chances for harmony in the first are less than in the
second is that the synthetic union of the colors is not as obvious or as
simple as in the latter, in which to produce the gray sky, red and yellow
have been added to the blue, and the sky tones are more apparently added
to the bright hues by being mixed into dull colors upon the palette.  The
circle of harmony is therefore more easily apparent to our observation.

It is for this reason that tonality is more easily understood when applied
to the green and copper bronze of the oak tree against a cool gray sky
than the red and yellow hillside and the blue sky.


Another important consideration in an estimate of a picture is its truth
of values.  The color may be correct and harmonious but the degree of its
light and shade be faulty.  This is a consideration more important to the
student than the connoisseur as but few pictures see the light of an
exhibition which carry this fault.  It is the one most dwelt upon in the
academies after the form in outline has been mastered.  On it depends the
correctness of surface presentation.  If, for instance, the values of a
face are false, the character will be disturbed.  This point has been made
evident to all in the retouching, which many photographs receive.
Likeness is so dependent on those surfaces connecting the features or upon
the light and shade of the features, that any tampering with them in a
sensitive part is ruinous.

Values represent the degree of light and shade which the picture demands,
the relations of one part to another on the scale assumed.  Thus with the
same light affecting various objects in a room, if one be represented as
though illumined by a different degree of light it is out of value; or, in
a landscape, if an object in the distance is too strong in either color or
degree of light and shade for its particular place in perspective, it is
out of value.  There are therefore values of color and of chiaroscuro,
which may be illustrated in a piece of drapery.  A light pink silk will be
out of value in its shadow if these are too dark for the degree of light
represented, and out of color value, if, instead of a salmon tone in the
crease which a reflection from the opposing surface of the fold creates,
there be a purplish hue which properly belongs to the outer edge of the
fold in shadow, where, from the sky or a cool reflecting surface near by,
it obtains this change of color by reflection.

The most objectionable form of false values is the isolated sort, whereby
the over accentuation of a part is made to impress itself unduly; “to
jump” in the technical phraseology of the school.

The least objectionable and often permitted form is that where a large
section is put out of its value with the intent of accenting the light of
a contiguous part.

In landscape the whole foreground is frequently lowered in tone beyond the
possibility of any cloud shadow, for the sake of the light beyond, which
may be the color motif of the picture and which thereby is glorified.


Allied to values is the idea of envelopment: of a kindred notion to this
is aerial perspective.  On these two depends the proper presentation of a
figure _in air._

If at any place on the contour of a figure the background seems to stick,
the detachment from its surroundings, which every figure should have, is

The reason for it is to be found in a false value which has deprived it of
rotundity of envelopment.

The solid object which resists the attempt to put one’s hand around it or
to stretch beyond into the background, lacks this quality.  A fine
distinction must be here drawn between simple envelopment and relief,
which is a more positive and less important quality.

However flatly and in mass figures may be conceived, the impression of
aerial envelopment must be unmistakable.  Here a nice adjustment of values
or relative tones will accomplish it.

Naturally, the greater space between the spectator and an object, the more
air will be present.  To the painter the color of air is the color of the
sky.  This then will be _mixed_ with the local color of the object, giving
it atmosphere.

Envelopment is unmistakably represented by the out of door Dutch painters,
for in the low countries atmosphere _is seen_ in its density, and at very
short range.  Holland is therefore an ideal sketching ground for the
painter and the best in the world for the student, since the ideas of
values and envelopment are ever present.  In this saturated air the minute
particles of moisture which, in the case of rain or fog can affect the
obliteration of objects, partially accomplishes it at all times, with the
result that objects seem to _swim in atmosphere._

In such a landscape perspective of value and color is easily observed,
making positive the separation of objects. The painter, under these
conditions, is independent of linear perspective to give depth to his
work, which being one of the cheap devices of painting he avoids as much
as possible.

It is because aerial perspective is paintable and the other sort is not
that artists shun the clear altitudes of Colorado where all the year one
can see for eighty miles and, on the Atlantic border, wait the summer
through for the fuller atmosphere which the fall will bring, that by its
tender envelopment the vividness and detail which is characteristic of the
American landscape may give place to what is serviceable to the purposes
of painting.

It is because of misunderstanding on this point that we of the Western
Hemisphere may wrongly challenge foreign landscape, judging it upon the
natural aspect of our own country.   The untravelled American or he who
has “been there” without seeing things, is not aware that distinctly
different conditions prevail in Europe than with us, especially above
latitude 40°.

Advantage in the paintability of subject therefore lies distinctly with
the European artist, and it may be because he has to labor against these
odds that the American landscapist has forged to the front and is now
leading his European brethren.  It must, however, be acknowledged that he
acquired what he knows concerning landscape from the art and nature of
Europe—from Impressionism with its important legacy of color, which has
been acknowledged in varying degree by all our painters, and from the
“school of 1830,” on which is based the tonal movement of the present.

Other than perspective of values, no importance should be attached to that
which, with the inartistic mind, is regarded so important a quality.  The
art instruction which the common school of the past generation offered was
based on perspective, its problems, susceptible of never ending
circumventions, being spread in an interminable maze before the student.
Great respect for this “lion in the path” was a natural result and “at
least a two years’ study” of these problems was thought necessary before
practical work in art could commence. (See Appendix.)

Mr. Ruskin’s fling at the perspective labyrinth would   have   been   more
authoritative  than  it proved, had he not too often lessened our faith by
the cry of wolf when it proved a false alarm.

There is a single truth which, though simple, was never known to Oriental
art, namely; that in every picture there must be a real or understood
horizon—the level of the painter’s eye,—that all lines above this will
descend and all lines below will rise to it as they recede.

But upon aerial perspective depends the question of detail in the receding
object and this to the painter is of first importance.  To temper a local
color so that it shall settle itself to a nicety at any distance, in the
perspective scheme, and to express the exact degree of shadow which a
given color shall have under a given light and at a given distance are
problems which absorb four-fifths of the painter’s attention.

If the features of a man a hundred yards away be painted with the same
fidelity as though he stood but ten yards distant the aerial balance is
disturbed, the man being brought nearer than his place on the perspective
plan allows.

At a mile’s range a tree to the painter is not an object expressing a
combination of leaves and branches, but a solid colored mass having its
light and shade and perhaps perforated by the sky.  It is with natural
_aspect_ and not natural _fact_ that the painter deals.

Pre-Raphaelite art practised this phase of honesty, which, in our own day
was revived in England.  In this later coterie of pre-Raphaelite brethren
was but one painter, the others, men of varying artistic perceptions and
impulses.  To the painter it in time became evident that he was out of
place in this company and the commentary of his withdrawal proved more
forcible than any to be made by an outsider.

When, therefore, judgment be applied to a work of painting it must be with
a knowledge of natural aspect in mind, not necessarily related, even
vaguely, to the scene under consideration, but such as has come _by_ the
absorption of nature’s moods, whereby, with the cause given, the effect
may be known as a familiar sequence.  The public too should be
sufficiently knowing to catch the code signals of each artist whereby
these natural facts are symbolled.

Herein has now been set forth, as concisely as possible, the few
considerations which are ever present to the painter.  The connoisseur who
would judge of his work, either subjectively or technically, must follow
in his footprints and be careful to follow closely.  He must appreciate
the differences in the creeds of workers in color and not apply the
formulas of impressionism to works in tone.  He must not emphasize the
importance of drawing in the work which clearly speaks of color and by its
technique ignores all else; nor expect the miracle of luscious,
translucent color in a work demanding the minute drawing of detail. He
can, however, be sure that the criteria of judgment which under all
circumstances will apply are:

Balanced and unified composition, both of line and mass.

Harmony of color, expressed by the correlation of all colors throughout
the picture.

Tone, or the unification of all colors upon the basis of a given hue.

Values, or the relation of the shades of an object to each other and the
degree of relation between one object and another.

Envelopment, or the sense of air with which objects are surrounded.

With these five ideas in mind the critic of Philistia may enter the
gallery, constituting himself a jury of one, assured he is armed with
every consideration which influenced the artist in his work and the art
committee in its acceptance thereof.

Judgment however does not end here.  These constitute the tables of the
law, and law finds its true interpretation only in the spirit of the
living principle.


If discernment was ours to trace through the maze of fashion and
experimental originality the living principle of true art, the caprice of
taste would have little to do with the comfort of our convictions or the
worth of our investments.

Fallacy has its short triumphs and the persuasive critic or the creator of
art values may effect real value but for a day.  The limit of the
credulity of the public, which Lincoln has immortalized, is the basis of

The public in time rights itself.

Error in discerning this living principle in art is cause for the deepest
contrition at the confessional of modern life.  Unsigned and unrecognized
works by modern masters have been rejected by juries to whom in haste the
doors of the _Salon_ or _Society_ have been reopened with apologies.  The
nation which assumes the highest degree of aesthetic perception turned its
back on Millet and Corot and Courbet and Manet and Puvis de Chavannes,
rejecting their best, and has honored yesterday what it spurns to-day. The
feverish delirium of the upper culture demands “some new thing,” and
Athens, Paris, London and New York concede it.

But what has lived?  What successive generations have believed in may be
believed by us; a thought expressed by the author of “Modern Painters” in
one magnificent sentence, containing 153 words and too long for quotation.
The argument is based on the common sense of mankind.  It has however this
objection.  Judgment by such agreement is bound to be cumulative.  What is
good in the beginning is better to-day, still better to morrow, then
great, then wonderful, then divine.

This is the Raphaelesque progression, and if fifty persons were asked who
was the greatest painter, forty-nine would say Raphael, without
discrimination.  The fiftieth might have observed what all painters know,
that Raphael was not a great painter, either as colorist or technician.
The opinion in this contention of Velasquez that of all painters he
studied at Rome, Raphael pleased him least, is a judgment of a colorist
and a technician, the more valuable because rendered before the
ministrations of oil and granular secretion had enveloped his work in the
mystery from which it speaks to us.  As a painter and draughtsman Raphael
is perhaps outclassed by Bouguereau, Cabanel or Lefevre of our own time,
and as a composer of either decorative or pictorial design he has had
superiors.  But the work of Raphael possesses the loving unction of real
conviction and nothing to which he put his well trained hand failed of the
baptism of genius.  Through this mark, therefore, it will live forever.
Nor should any work require more than this for continuous life.  Each age
should be distinctive.

The bias of judgment through the cumulative regard of successive centuries
is what has created the popular disparity between the old and modern
masters, and it must not be forgotten that the harmony of color and its
glowing quality is largely the gift of these centuries, a fact made
cruelly plain to those who have restored pictures and tampered with their

It will be a surprise to the average man in that realm of perfect truth
which lies beyond, to mark, in the association of artists of all ages,
when the divisions of schools, periods and petty formulas are forgotten,
that Raphael will grasp the hand of Abbott Thayer, saying to him in the
never dying fervor of art enthusiasm and with the acknowledgment of
limitations, which is one of the signs of greatness;

“O, that I had had thy glorious quality of technical subtlety in place of
the mechanical directness in which I labored!” and he in turn to be
reminded that had he paused for this, the span of his short life were
measured long before he had accomplished half his work.

A kindred bias is the eventual acceptance of whatever is persisted in.
Almost any form in which a technically good artist may express his idea
will in time find acceptance.  It has the persuasion of the advertisement,
offering what we do not want.  In time we imagine we do.  Duplications of
Cuyp’s very puerile arrangement of parts, as in the “Departure for the
Chase” to be found in others of his pictures, work in our minds mitigation
for those faults. The belief in self has the singular magnetic potency of
drawing and turning us.  A stronger magnet must then be the living
principle.  We find it in unity.  Originality compromises this at its

And that discrimination against the prophet in his own country!  Under its
ban the native artist left his home and dwelt abroad; but the expatriation
which produced pictures of Dutch and French peasants by native painters
was in time condemned.  The good of the foreign experience lay in the
medals which were brought back out of banishment.  These turned the tide
of thoughtless prejudice, and international competitions have kept it

But the worth of the foreign signature is now of the lesser reckonings;
for with the same spirit in which the native artist would annihilate the
tariff on foreign art, have the best painters of Europe declared “there
shall be no nationality in art”; for art is individual and submits to the
government stamp only by courtesy.

Happy that nation which, when necessary, can believe in its own, not to
exclusion, from clannish pride, but on the basis of that simple canon
adopted by the world of sport; “Let the best win.”

The commonest bias to judgment is also the most vulgar—price.  The reply
of the man of wealth to the statement that a recent purchase was an
inferior example of an artist’s work; “I paid ten thousand for it.  Of
course it’s all right,” was considered final to the critic.  The man whose
first judgment concerning an elaborate picture of roses was turned to
surprise and wonder when told the price, which in time led to respect and
then purchase, may find parallels in most of the collections of Philistia.
“The value of a picture is what some one will pay for it” is a maxim of
the creators of picture values and upon it the “picture business” has its
working basis.  And so together with the good of foreign art have the
Meyer Von Bremens and the Verbeckhovens, the creations of the school of
smiles and millinery, and the failures and half successes of
impressionism, together with its good, been cornered, and unloaded upon
the ingenuous collector.

The most insidious bias of judgment is that developed by the art
historian, the man who really knows.

Serene and above the petty matters which concern the buyer of art and
perplex the producer, he pours forth his jeremiads upon the age and its
art, subjecting them to indefensible comparisons with the fifteenth
century and deploring the materialism of modern times.

The argument is that out of the heart the mouth must speak; can men gather
figs from thistles: is it reasonable to expect great art when men and
messages are transported by steam and electricity, in the face of
Emerson’s contention that art is antagonistic to hurry?  The argument
neglects the fact that this present complex life is such because it has
added one by one these separate interests to those which it has received
as an inheritance, each of which in its own narrowing niche having been
preserved under the guardianship of the specialist.

The art instinct has never died out; but art, which aforetime was the only
thought of the humanists, has been obliged to move up and become
condensed.  But mark, the priests who keep alive her fires can still show
their ordination from the hands of the divine Raphael.  The age may be
unsympathetic, but for those who will worship, the fire burns.  Whereas
art was once uplifted by the joyous acclaim of the whole people, she must
now fight for space in a jostling competition.  But is it not more
reasonable that the prophet lay aside his sackcloth and accept the
conditions of the new era, acknowledging that art has had its day in the
sanctuary and has now come to adorn the home and that of necessity
therefore the conditions of subject and of size must be altered?  The
impulse which aforetime expressed itself in ideals is now satisfied to
become reflective of the emotions.  The change which has restricted the
range in the grander reaches of the ideal has resulted in the closer and
more intimate friendship with nature.  The effort which was primarily
ideal now turns its fervor into the quality of its means.


If there be a basis of reliance for continuous life and consequent value,
a search for the living principle must be made in those works which the
world will not let die.  And this labor will be aided by the exclusion of
such as have had their day and passed.  Although the verdict suggested in
the fostering care of the people or in its lack, may be wrong, as future
ages may show, yet for us in our inquiry in the twentieth century this
jury is our only court of appeal and its dictum must be final.

We command a view of the long line of art unfolding as a river flows, in
winding course from meagre sources, and through untoward obstructions into
a natural bed which awaits it, now deep and swollen, now slender, now
graceful, now turbid, here breaking into smaller threads stretching into
opposed directions, here again uniting and deepening, and we mark in all
of its variety of course and depth, the narrow line of the channel.  A
slender line there is touching hands through all generations from the
painters of the twilight of Art to the painters of the present who have
seen all of its light and for whom too much of its brilliancy has proved
bewildering.  The history of art is perforce full of the chronicles of
unfruitful effort and the galleries as replete with unprofitable pictures.
Our ardent though rapid quest will, unaided by the catalogue, discover for
us the real, and sift it free of the spurious if we have settled with
ourselves what art _is_ and what its purpose.  If we hold to the present
popular notion that art is imitation, the results will come out at
variance with the popular opinion of five centuries.  If, on the other
hand, we delegate to its proper place fidelity to the surface of nature,
we must of necessity seek still further for its essence. This is
subjective and not objective.

To make apparent a statement the edge of which strikes dull from much use
in purely philosophical lingo, let us take the case of a picture
representing a laborer with his horse.  The idea for the expression of
which the few elements of field, man and beast, are employed is _Toil._
Whether then the man and beast be in actual labor or not, the dominant
idea in the artist’s mind is that they are or have been laboring; that
that is what they stand for, _that idea_ to be presented in the strongest
possible way.  “The strongest possible way” is the question to be debated.
Individual artists interpret this as suits their temperament, the jury
therefore sits in judgment upon the temperament as the exponent of “the
strongest possible way.”  With the idea of toil in mind one artist is
moved to present its unadorned force, careful not to weaken the conception
by the addition of anything superfluous or extraneous to the idea.  Its
force is therefore ideal force and the presentation appeals to and moves
us on this basis.  Another will see in the subject of a landscape, a man
and a horse, an opportunity presented of detail and of surfaces and will
delight in expressing what he knows to do cleverly.  Under this impulse
the dexterity of his art is poured forth; the long training of the
workshop aids him.  He paints the horse and makes it look not only like a
real horse, but a particular one.  The bourgeois claps his hands
exclaiming, “See it is unmistakably old Dobbin, the white spot on his
fetlock is there and his tail ragged on the end; and the laborer, I know
him at once.  How true to life with side whiskers and that ugly cut across
the forehead and his hat with the hole in it.  The field too is all there,
the stones, the weeds, the rows of stubble, nothing slighted.  And the
action of the light too, what a relief the figures possess, how like
colored photographs they stand out, clear, sharp and unmistakable.”

A third artist, without sacrificing the individual character of the horse
will yet represent him in such a way that one feels first the idea, of a
laboring horse and afterward notes that he is a particular horse, and in
like manner with the man of the picture.  This artist’s conception lies
midway between the two extremes and in consequence expresses greater truth
than either.  He poises himself on the magic line spanning the chasm
between these opposing walls, supported by the balancing pole of the real
and ideal, lightly gripped in the centre.

But to return to the first in the spirit of nature-love and truth to prove
if it be worthy.  Judged on this scale does it stand? Coordinately with
the idea of toil, does it violate the laws of the universe; do the
surfaces thereof reflect the light of day; is the color probable; is the
action possible?  If under this scrutiny the work fails, its acceptable
idealistic expression cannot save it.

It is here that the idealist pleads in vain for the painters of the
groping periods of art, or for the pre-Raphaelites of the nineteenth
century, who in their spirit beg that we accept their unctuous will for
the deed completely wrought.  When however they do fill the condition of
natural aspect in its fundamental essence, in its condition of
non-violation of physical law, when, uncompromised by such discrepancy,
the presentment of the idea is complete and this alone engages us, the
work by virtue of its higher motive takes higher rank in the scale of art
than that in which the idea has been delegated to a place second to the
shell which encloses it.  It is the art which fulfills both requirements
_with the idea paramount_ that has survived in all ages.  The reverse
order is not sustained by the history of art.  Mark the line from the
early masters to the present, do you not find the description includes
“the idealists” _who could paint?_  The list would be a long and involved
one, taking its start in Italy with Botticelli, Giotto, Fra Angelico,
Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Andrea del Sarto, Fra
Bartolomeo, Titian, Giorgione, and extending thence to our own time
inclusive of Millet, Corot, Watts, Turner, Blake, Rousseau, Mauve, Puvis
de Chavannes and Ryder—men of all complexions in art, and typical of many
more quite as diverse in their subjects and modes of expression but who
place the idea, the motive, the emotion, the type, before the thing
depicted.  For them the letter of the law killeth, but the spirit giveth
life.  This of course raises issue with the naturalistic school—a school
which believes in rendering Nature as she is, without rearrangement,
addition, substraction or idealization; a school presuming the artist to
be a copyist, and founded not on the _principles of design,_ but the _love
of nature._

Says W. J. Stillman in his impassioned polemic on “The Revival of Art”:
“The painter whose devotion to nature is such that he never leaves or
varies from her, may be, and likely is, a happier man than if he were a
true artist...To men of the other type, the external image disturbs the
ideal which is so complete that it admits no interference.  To them she
may offer suggestions, but lays down no law.”

The complaint of Turner that Nature so frequently _put him out_ contains
for us what it should have expressed to Ruskin, the real attitude which he
held toward nature, but which Ruskin in his enthusiastic love of nature
did not, or would not perceive.  What the master artist saw and utilized
in nature were forms for his designs and sentiment for emotional
expression. Yet the recorder of his labors followed after, verifying his
findings with near-sighted scrutiny, lauding him with commendations for
keen observation in noting rock fractures, the bark of trees, grass, or
the precise shape of clouds, undismayed when his hero neglected all these
if they interfered with his art.

The point of the argument as stated by the idealists can be understood
only save through the element in our nature from which art draws its
vitality.  Its deduction is thus bluntly expressed; “the nearest to
nature, the farther from art,” an apparent paradox paralleled by the
epigram, “the nearer the church, the farther from God.”

Both of them, out of their hollow clamor, echo back a startling truth: Not
_form,_ but _spirit._  Thus did Rembrandt work for the spirit of the man
and _the art to be got_ from the waiting subject.  Thus did Millet reveal
in his representation of a single toiler the type of all labor.  Thus did
Corot stop, when he had produced the spirit of the morning, knowing well
his nymphs would have vanished if the mystery of their hiding-places was
entirely laid bare, nor ever come to him again had he exposed the full
truth of form and feature.

It is the touch of poesy which has glorified these works and those of
their kind, the spring of the unwritten law yielding preeminence to the
emotional arts.  Impulse is the life of it: it dies when short tethered by
specific limitations.

On this basis the way seems opened to settle the changeful formulas of
taste; why the rejection of what for the moment has held the pinnacle of
popular favor; why, for instance, the waning of interest in the detailists
of the brilliant French-Spanish School, the school of Fortuny, Madrazzo,
Villegas, Rico, or of the work of Meissonier, who as a detailist eclipsed
them all.  A simple analysis of their work in toto will prove that their
best pictures are those in which a sentiment has dominated and in which
breadth and largeness of effect is strongest.  Thus Meissonier’s “Return
of Napoleon from Moscow,” is a better picture than his “Napoleon III
surrounded by his staff in Sicily,” which latter is only a marvellous
achievement at painting detail in the smallest possible size, and lacks
entirely the forceful composition of mass and light and shade of the
former.  Thus does the “Spanish Marriage” of Fortuny outclass his
“Academicians Choosing a Model,” which besides lacking the reserve force
of the former has its source in flippant imagination; and so may the many
other shifts of time and tide in the graphic arts be measured and
chronicled upon the basis of the emotions and the formative touch of the
poetic, upon the sequence of the artist’s regard for the ideal and the
real, and the degree of his approach toward either.  The concensus of the
ages regarding finish, dexterity, cleverness, and _chic_ is that in the
scale of art they weigh less than the simple breadth of effect which they
so frequently interrupt.  The school of Teniers with all of its detail was
preservative of this.

It is on the question of detail and the careful anxiety concerning the
surface that the art instinct avoids science, refusing her microscope in
preference for the unaided impression of normal sight.  The living art of
the ages is that in which the painter is seen to be greater than his
theme, in which we acknowledge the power first, and afterward the product.
It is the unfettered mode allowing the greatest individualism of
expression; it is, in short, the man end of it which lives, for his is the
immortal life.


The argument of the book is here reduced to a working basis.

                               The Concept

The first point settled in the making of a picture after the subject has
germinated, is the shape into which the items of the concept are to be
edited; the second is the arrangement of those items within the proscribed
limits; the third is the defining of the dark and light masses.  This
consideration forces the question whence the light, together with its
answer, hence the shadow.

                              The Procedure

The detail of the direction of light and the action of the shadows cuts
the pictorial intention clear of the decorative design.  Design is a good
basis, its simplicity yielding favorably to the settlement of spaces and
the construction of lines, but its chief purpose ends when it has cleared
the field of little things and reduced the first conception, which usually
comes as a bundle of items, to a broad and dignified foundation into which
these little things are set.


A severe, space-filling design in three tones or four will place the
student in a position of confidence to proceed with detail which, until
the design has settled well into its four sides, should be persistently
excluded.  It may, however, be found that the _essence_ of certain
subjects lies in a small item of detail. This, when known, must be allowed
for in the design.


Of first importance in composition is the notion of Light and Dark, to
which Line is second. In the tone design line is but the edge of the
masses.  Line as the basis of the form of the design is reduced to a few
forms which with modifications become the framework for all pictorial
structure.  (See _Fundamental Forms._)  Line as an element of beauty
sufficient of itself to become subjective is rare, an exception in
pictorial art. (See _Line_)

The æsthetics of Line must be comprehended and felt in its symbolism.  The
form into which lines may lead the subject should have the full knowledge
of the composer.

                               The Vertical

The uplift of the _simple vertical_ is spiritual as well as mechanical.
It may carry the thought to  higher levels or may support therewith an
opposed line.  In either case its strength is majestic and in so far as
this line dominates does the picture receive its quality.

                              The Horizontal

A group of pines or the columns of the Greek or Egyptian temple alike
induce solemnity, quietude and dignity. The horizontal is a line less
commanding than the vertical with its upright strength, the symbol of
repose, serenity, and reserved motion.

                               The Diagonal

The _diagonal_ being an unsupported line naturally suggests instability,
change, motion, transit.  Its purpose frequently is to connect the stabler
forms of the composition or lead therefrom.

The _curvilinear line_ is the basis of variety and graceful movement.  As
an adjunct, it assists the sequence of parts.  In the latter capacity it
is of great importance to the composer.  It is of course the basis of the
circle as well as the important notion of circular construction and

Given the subject and means of expression the final labor is the restraint
or enforcement of parts in the degree of their importance.  This requires
ingenuity and knowledge and frequently demands a reconstruction of the
original scheme.

                        Principality and Sacrifice

The most absolute and the most important idea in the production of art is
_Principality,_ that one object or idea shall be supreme.  Its correlative
idea contains in it the hardships of composition, namely, Sacrifice.  This
forces a graded scale of importance or attraction throughout the entire

The idea has complete exposition in the vase or baluster in which the
commanding lines of the body find both support and extension through the
lesser associated parts.  These stand as types of complete art revealing
the uncompromising principles of domination and subordination.

[Stable Interior--A. Mauve (A simple picture containing all the principles
          of composition); Her Last Moorings--From a Photograph]

In  the  picture, complete  in  its chiaroscuro, these principles are  as
easily apprehended as with the more tangible line and space of the solid
form.  The _“__Cow in a Stable,__”_ by Mauve, contains by his management
of this rude and simple subject all the possibilities opened to and
demanded by compositions involving many elements.  It might stand as the
light and dark scheme for some of the allegories of Rubens, Wiertz or
Correggio, or for many genre interiors, or for an “arrangement” of

When once the importance of this principle is realized many of the
pitfalls into which beginners are so prone to fall are covered, and that
forever.  Time and regrets are both saved to the student who will pause
for the absorption of the few principles on which all the arts are

This idea may seem to disturb the notion of balance across the centre,
especially when the object which receives our first consideration occupies
one side of the picture.  A study of the postulates together with the
principle of the steelyard and the knowledge of picture balance will clear
any apprehension of conflict.

                            The Dominant Idea

Above and beyond the object which dominates all others is the idea which
dominates the picture.  Such may be light, gloom, space, action, passion,
repose, communion, humor, or whatever has stimulated and therefore must
govern the composition.  If with the sentiment of Repose as subjective,
the principal object expresses action, there must necessarily be conflict
between the idea and the reality.

Action, however, may very appropriately be introduced into a conception of
repose, its contrast heightening this emotion; the creeping baby, the
frolicking kitten, the swinging pendulum, the distant toilers observed by
a nearer group at rest.

The point where a counter emotion weakens and where it strengthens the
idea is determined on a scale of degree, many necessary parts taking
precedence thereto before the opposed sentiment shall attract us.  These
ideas, correlative to their principal, have also their scale of
attraction, and only in the formal arrangement of allegory and decoration
may two units be allowed the same degree of attraction.  This is one of
the most frequent forms in which weak composition develops, leaving the
mind uncertain as to the sequence, and the eye wavering between the equal
claims of separated parts.  The neglect of leading lines, or of forcing a
logical procedure from part to part, so that no part may escape the
continuous inspection of all, produces _decomposition._  The avoidance of
inharmony must of course yield harmony.


Harmony, therefore, though a necessary principle in all art, does not push
herself to the front as does Principality.  She follows naturally, if
allowed to.

                The Must Be’s and May Be’s of Composition

Of the other _principles_, Consistency or breadth, Continuity and its
complement, Contrast, associate themselves in greater or less degree with
Principality and Harmony, which are the must be’s; while Repetition,
Radiation, Curvature and Interchange are reckoned as the may be’s of


The basis of all plane presentation is founded on perspective, an absolute
science giving absolute satisfaction to all who would have it.  _Knowing_
that  a figure must be of a certain height if it occupy a given space is
often a shorter road to the fact even though it demand a perspective
working plan than _feeling_ for it with the best of artistic intentions.
One may feel all around the spot before finding it, and meanwhile the
scientist has been saving his temper.

In all compositions demanding architectural environment or many figures,
perspective becomes essential, at least as a time saver.  Yet if the
science never existed such art as embraces many figures and architecture
could find adequate expression at the hands of the discerning artist.

The science of perspective does no more than acquaint the artist with any
given angle.  His knowledge of cause and effect in the universe, with an
added art instinct, are equipment sufficient to obtain this.

No part of art expression commands more of the mysterious reverence of the
_atechnic_ than perspective.  It is that universal art term that includes
very much to many people.  When, after writing a thorough treatise on the
subject, Mr. Ruskin remarked the essence of the whole thing can be known
in twenty minutes, it was doubtless in rebuke of the unqualified
suppositions of the artless public.


The conception of balance clearly understood in the length, the height and
the depth of a picture contains the whole truth of pictorial composition.
The elements which war against unity and which we seek to extract, reveal
themselves as the disturbers of balance and are to be found when the
principles of balance are put into motion.

Does divided interest vex us, the foreground absorbing so much interest
that the background, where the real subject may lie, struggles in vain for
its right; then we may know that the balance through the depth of the
picture has been disturbed.  Does the middle distance attract us too much
in passing to the distance where the real subject may lie; then we may
know that its attachment to the foreground or its sacrifice to the
background is insufficient and that its shift in the right direction will
restore balance.  Do we feel that one side of the picture attracts our
entire attention and the other side plays no part in the pictorial scheme,
then we may know that the items of the lateral balance are wanting.

It is rare to find apart from formality a composition which develops to a
finish in an orderly procedure.  Once separated from the even balance the
picture becomes a sequence of compromises, the conciliation of each new
element by the reconstruction of what is already there or the introduction
of the added item which unity necessitates.

The argument reminds the picture maker that he is in like case with the
voyageur who loads his canoe, sensible of the exquisite poise which his
craft demands.  Along its keelson he lays the items of his draught,
careful for instance that his light and bulky blanket on one side is
balanced by the smaller items of heavier weight in opposed position.  The
bow under its load may be almost submerged and the onlooker ventures a
warning.  But again balance is restored when the seat at the other end is
occupied as a final act in the calculation.(20)

The degree of attraction of objects in the balanced scheme must be a
matter of individual decision as are many other applied principles in
temperamental art.

Color representing the natural aspect of objects, color containing “tone,”
and color containing tone quality or “tonal quality,” are three aspects of
color to be met with in accepted art.


As with the sentiment of the art idea, whether it incline toward the real
or the ideal, so the distinction applies between what is reflective only
of nature and what is reflective also of the artist’s temperament.  It is
a simple proposition in the scale of value and it works as truly when
applied to color as to the art concept: the more of the man the better the
art.  Were it not so the color-photograph would have preeminence.

The first degree in the scale of color is represented by that sort which
applied to canvas to imitate a surface seems satisfying to the artist as
nature-color.  The second degree is that in which the color is made to
harmonize with all other colors of the picture on the basis of a given
hue.  This tonal harmony may fail to reveal itself in many subjects in
nature or in such arrangements of objects as the still-life painter might
and often does collect, and is therefore clearly a quality with which the
artist endows his work.  Such painters as Whistler and his following see
to it that this tonality inheres in all subjects which may be governed in
the composition of color (such as his “arrangements” in the studio), so
that the production of this harmony results naturally by following the


The color key is given in that selected hue which influences to a greater
or less degree all the colors, even when these make violent departures in
the scheme of harmony.  Solicitous only of the quality of unified color,
the majority of these painters (though this frequently does not include
Mr. Whistler himself) concern themselves wholly with that thought,
employing their pigment so directly that the _vibration_ of color is

The production of this vibration is by agreement on the part of all great
colorists impossible through impasted color or that applied flatly to the
surface, which  they declare cannot be as powerful, as significant or as
beautiful as that which vibrates, either by reason of the juxtaposition of
color plainly seen, as with the impressionists, or of its broken tone, or
by virtue of the influence of a transparent glaze of color which enables
two colors to be seen at once.

The last method is that of Titian, the second in combination with the last
that of Rembrandt in his latest and best period, the first that of Monet,
which contains the principle of coloration in its scientific analysis.
The chasm between these men is not known in any such degree as a
superficial notion of their respective arts might presuppose.  The real
disparity in color presentation exists between all such painters and those
who paint directly on white canvas, neglecting the influence of the
undertone and the enrichment which enters into color by glazes
(transparent color).

Such painters may be able to represent most faithfully the true tints of
Nature but not the true impression, for Nature is always expressive of
that depth and strength which lies far in and which the painter of
“quality” insists to render.  To him it is that something containing the
last word of a thorough statement, and without it the statement is a
surface one.

Technically, it may mean the labor of many repaintings, of color glazes,
and of procedure from one process to another, so that the first statement
on the canvas becomes the general but not the final dictum.  Through these
the work takes on that unctuousness of depth and strength by which one
experiences the same thrill as through the deep reverberations of a
musical tone from many instruments, simple tone being producible by one
instrument.  Practically, it is the pulsation of color in every part of
the picture felt by either the play of one color through another or by
such broken color as may be administered by a single brush stroke loaded
with several colors or by a single color so dragged across another as to
leave some of the under color existent.


Such  technique  produces  the  highest tonal quality.  It cannot be
supposed that Rembrandt glazed and repainted on his portraits for a lesser
reason than to supply them with a quality which direct painting denied,
nor that Frank Holl, of our own times, employed a like method _for the
sake of being like Rembrandt._

Natural Color; Tonal Color, representing nature; and Tonality plus
“Quality” (the last a vague term denoting depth and fullness of color) are
three grades represented, the first by Meissonier in his _“__1807__”_, a
picture devoid of tone; the second by the portraits of Alice, by Chase,
and _Lady Archibald Campbell_, by Whistler; and the last or tonal quality,
by the later works of George Fuller and Albert Ryder.  Under these
specified classes the lists of names in art are now lengthening and
shortening, the indications of our present art pointing to a revival of
the color quality of a former age.

[Alice--W.M. Chase (Verticals Diverted); Lady Archibald Campbell--Whistler
(Verticals Obliterated); The Crucifixion--Amie Morot (Verticals Opposed)]


It was stated in the introduction that the commandments of this book would
be the “must nots,” yet for him who apprehends principles, commandments do
not exist.  A few conclusions from the foregoing arguments may, however,
be of service to beginners in the practice of composition.

Structures to be avoided are:—

Those in which the lines all run one way without opposition:

Those especially in which the bottom of the frame is paralleled:

Those in which the perspective of a line or the edge of a mass happens to
be a vertical:

Those in which an opposing plane or attractive mass barricades the
entrance of the picture:

Those in which two masses in different planes happen to be the same size:

Those in which objects of equal interest occur in the same picture:

Those in which an object awkwardly prolongs a line:

Those in which the line of the background duplicates the lines of the

Those in which the picture is cut by lines too long continued in any

Those in which radial lines fail to lead to a focal object:

Those in which the items of a picture fail to present a natural sequence:

Those in which the subject proper is not dignified by a conspicuous
placement or is swamped by too attractive surroundings:

Those in which the most energetic forms of construction are not allied to
the principal but to secondary parts of the picture:

Those formal compositions in which greater interest is shown at the sides
than in the centre:

Those in which the aesthetic principle of the constructive form is
antagonistic to the sentiment of the subject.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgment of Pictures" ***

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