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Title: Outdoor Sketching - Four Talks Given before the Art Institute of Chicago; The Scammon Lectures, 1914
Author: Smith, Francis Hopkinson, 1838-1915
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Four Talks Given before the Art Institute of Chicago

The Scammon Lectures, 1914



With Illustrations by the Author

[Illustration: Part of the Site of the Marshalsea Jail, London]

New York
Charles Scribner's Sons

Copyright, 1915, by
Charles Scribner's Sons



  I. Composition         3

 II. Mass               39

III. Water-Colors       75

 IV. Charcoal          119


Part of the Site of the Marshalsea Jail, London   _Frontispiece_


Under the Willows, Cookham-on-Thames                    84

The George and Vulture Inn, London                     136

Diagram of Charcoal Technic                            142


My chief reason for confining these four talks to the outdoor sketch
is because I have been an outdoor painter since I was sixteen years of
age; have never in my whole life painted what is known as a studio
picture evolved from memory or from my inner consciousness, or from
any one of my outdoor sketches. My pictures are begun and finished
often at one sitting, never more than three sittings; and a white
umbrella and a three-legged stool are the sum of my studio

Another reason is that, outside of this ability to paint rapidly
out-of-doors, I know so little of the many processes attendant upon
the art of the painter that both my advice and my criticism would be
worthless to even the youngest of the painters to-day. Again, I work
only in two mediums, water-color and charcoal. Oil I have not touched
for many years, and then only for a short time when a student under
Swain Gifford (and this, of course, many, many years ago), who taught
me the use and value of the opaque pigment, which helped me greatly in
my own use of opaque water-color in connection with transparent color
and which was my sole reason for seeking the help of his master hand.

A further venture is to kindle in your hearts a greater love for and
appreciation of what a superbly felt and exactly rendered outdoor
sketch stands for--a greater respect for its vitality, its life-spark;
the way it breathes back at you, under a touch made unconsciously,
because you saw it, recorded it, and then forgot it--best of all
because you let it alone; my fervent wish being to transmit to you
some of the enthusiasm that has kept me young all these years of my
life; something of the joy of the close intimacy I have held with
nature--the intimacy of two old friends who talk their secrets over
each with the other; a joy unequalled by any other in my life's

There may be those who go a-fishing and enjoy it. The arranging and
selecting of flies, the jointing of rods, the prospective comfort in
high water-boots, the creel with the leather strap, every crease in it
a reminder of some day without care or fret--all this may bring the
flush to the cheek and the eager kindling of the eye, and a certain
sort of rest and happiness may come with it; but--they have never gone
a-sketching! Hauled up on the wet bank in the long grass is your boat,
with the frayed end of the painter tied around some willow that offers
a helping root. Within a stone's throw, under a great branching of
gnarled trees, is a nook where the curious sun, peeping at you
through the interlaced leaves, will stencil Japanese shadows on your
white umbrella. Then the trap is unstrapped, the stool opened, the
easel put up, and you set your palette. The critical eye with which
you look over your brush case and the care with which you try each
feather point upon your thumbnail are but an index of your enjoyment.

Now you are ready. You loosen your cravat, hang your coat to some
rustic peg in the creviced bark of the tree behind, seize a bit of
charcoal from your bag, sweep your eye around, and dash in a few
guiding strokes. Above is a changing sky filled with crisp white
clouds; behind you, the great trunks of the many branched willows; and
away off, under the hot sun, the yellow-green of the wasted pasture,
dotted with patches of rock and weeds, and hemmed in by the low hills
that slope to the curving stream.

It is high noon! There is a stillness in the air that impresses you,
broken only by the low murmur of the brook behind and the ceaseless
song of the grasshopper among the weeds in front. A tired bumblebee
hums past, rolls lazily over a clover blossom at your feet, and has
his midday lunch. Under the maples near the river's bend stand a group
of horses, their heads touching. In the brook below are the patient
cattle, with patches of sunlight gilding and bronzing their backs and
sides. Every now and then a breath of cool air starts out from some
shaded retreat, plays around your forehead, and passes on. All nature
rests. It is her noontime.

But you work on: an enthusiasm has taken possession of you; the paints
mix too slowly; you use your thumb, smearing and blending with a bit
of rag--anything for the effect. One moment you are glued to your
seat, your eyes riveted on your canvas; the next, you are up and
backing away, taking it in as a whole, then pouncing down upon it
quickly, belaboring it with your brush. Soon the trees take shape; the
sky forms become definite; the meadow lies flat and loses itself in
the fringe of willows.

When all of this begins to grow upon your once blank canvas, and some
lucky pat matches the exact tone of blue-gray haze or shimmer of leaf,
or some accidental blending of color delights you with its truth, a
tingling goes down your backbone, and a rush surges through your veins
that stirs you as nothing else in your whole life will ever do. The
reaction comes the next day when, in the cold light of your studio,
you see how far short you have come and how crude and false is your
best touch compared with the glory of the landscape in your mind and
heart. But the thrill that it gave you will linger forever!

Or come with me to Constantinople and let us study its palaces and
mosques, its marvellous stuffs, its romantic history, its
religions--most profound and impressive--its commerce, industries, and
customs. Come to revel in color; to sit for hours, following with
reverent pencil the details of an architecture unrivalled on the
globe; to watch the sun scale the hills of Scutari and shatter its
lances against the fairy minarets of Stamboul; to catch the swing and
plash of the rowers rounding their _caiques_ by the bridge of Galata;
to wander through bazaar and market, dotting down splashes of robe,
turban, and sash; to rest for hours in cool tiled mosques, which in
their very decay are sublime; to study a people whose rags are
symphonies of color, and whose traditions and records breathe the
sweetest poems of modern times.

And then, when we have caught our breath, let us wander into any one
of the patios along the Golden Horn, and feast our eyes on columns of
verd-antique, supporting arches light as rainbows, framing the patio
of the Pigeon Mosque, the loveliest of all the patios I know, and let
us run our eyes around that Moorish square. The sun blazes down on
glistening marbles; gnarled old cedars twist themselves upward against
the sky; flocks of pigeons whirl and swoop and fall in showers on
cornice, roof, and dome; tall minarets like shafts of light shoot up
into the blue. Scattered over the uneven pavement, patched with strips
and squares of shadows, lounge groups of priests in bewildering robes
of mauve, corn-yellow, white, and sea-green; while back beneath the
cool arches bunches of natives listlessly pursue their several

It is a sight that brings the blood with a rush to one's cheek. That
swarthy Mussulman at his little square table mending seals; that
fellow next him selling herbs, sprawled out on the marble floor, too
lazy to crawl away from the slant of sunshine slipping through the
ragged awning; that young Turk in frayed and soiled embroidered
jacket, holding up strings of beads to the priests passing in and
out--is not this the East, the land of our dreams? And the old public
scribe with the gray beard and white turban, writing letters, the
motionless veiled figures squatting around him--is he not Baba
Mustapha? and the soft-eyed girl whispering into his ear none other
than Morgiana, fair as the meridian sun?

So, too, in my beloved Venice, where many years ago I camped out by
the side of a canal--the Rio Giuseppe--all of it, from the red wall,
where the sailors land, to the lagoon, where the tower of Castello is
ready to topple into the sea.

Not much of a canal--not much of a painting ground, really, to the
masters who have gone before and are still at work, but a truly
lovable, lovely, and most enchanting possession to me their humble
disciple. Once you get into it you never want to get out, and once
out you are miserable until you get back again. On one bank stretches
a row of rookeries--a maze of hanging clothes, fish-nets, balconies
hooded by awnings and topped by nondescript chimneys of all sizes and
patterns, with here and there a dab of vermilion and light red, the
whole brilliant against a china-blue sky. On the other is the long
brick wall of the garden--soggy, begrimed, streaked with moss and
lichen in bands of black-green and yellow ochre, over which mass and
sway the great sycamores that Ziem loved, their lower branches
interwoven with cinnobar cedars gleaming in spots where the prying sun
drips gold.

Only wide enough for a barca and two gondolas to pass--this canal of
mine; only deep enough to let a wine barge slip through; so narrow you
must go all the way back to the lagoon if you would turn your gondola;
so short you can row through it in five minutes; every inch of its
water-surface part of everything about it, so clear are the
reflections; full of moods, whims, and fancies, this wave space--one
moment in a broad laugh coquetting with a bit of blue sky peeping from
behind a cloud, its cheeks dimpled with sly undercurrents, the next
swept by flurries of little winds, soft as the breath of a child on a
mirror; then, when aroused by a passing boat, breaking out into
ribbons of color--swirls of twisted doorways, flags, awnings,
flower-laden balconies, black-shawled Venetian beauties all upside
down, interwoven with strips of turquoise sky and green waters--a
bewildering, intoxicating jumble of tatters and tangles, maddening in
detail, brilliant in color, harmonious in tone: the whole
scintillating with a picturesqueness beyond the ken or brush of any
painter living or dead.

These are some of the joys of the painter whose north light is the
sky, whose studio door is never shut, and who often works surrounded
by envious throngs, that treat him with such marked reverence that
they whisper one to another for fear of disturbing him.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now for a few practical hints born of these experiences; and in
giving them to you, remember that no man is more keenly conscious of
his limitations than the speaker. My own system of work, all of which
will be explained to you in subsequent talks, one on water-color and
the other on charcoal, is, I am aware, peculiar, and has many
drawbacks and many shortcomings. I make bold to give these to you
because of my fifty years' experience in outdoor sketching, and
because in so doing I may encourage some one among you to begin where
I have left off and do better. The requirements are thoughtful and
well-studied selection before your brush touches your canvas; a
correct knowledge of composition; a definite grasp of the problem of
light and dark, or, in other words, _mass_; a free, sure, and
untrammelled rapidity of execution; and, last and by no means least, a
realization of what I shall express in one short compact sentence,
that _it takes two men to paint an outdoor picture: one to do the work
and the other to kill him when he has done enough_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before entering on the means and methods through which so early a
death becomes permissible I shall admit that the personal equation
will largely assert itself, and that because of it certain allowances
must be made, or rather certain variations in both grasp and treatment
will necessarily follow.

While, of course, nature is always the same, never changing and never
subservient to the whims or perceptive powers of the individual, there
are painters who will aver that they alone see her correctly and that
all the world that differs from them is wrong. One man from natural
defects may see all her greens or reds stronger or weaker than another
in proportion to the condition of his eye. Another may grasp only her
varying degrees of gray. One man unduly exaggerates the intensity of
the dark and the opposing brilliancy of the lights. Another eye--for
it is largely a question of optics, of optics and temperament--sees
only the more gentle and sometimes the more subtle gradations of light
and shade reducing even the blaze of the noonday sun to half-tones.
Still another, whether by the fault of over-magnifying power or
long-sightedness, detects an infinity of detail in nature, and is not
satisfied until each particular blade of grass stands on end like the
quills of the traditional porcupine, while his brother brush
strenuously asserts that every detail is really only a question of
mass, and should be treated as such, and that for all practical
purposes it is quite immaterial whether a tree can be distinguished
from a farm-house so long as it is fluffy enough to be indistinct.

These defects, sympathies, tendencies, whatever one may call them,
only prove the more conclusively that there are many varying standards
set up by many minds. That which can easily be proved in addition is
that many a false standard owes its origin as often to a question of
bad digestion as of bad taste. They also show us that no one man or
set of men can rightfully lay claim to holding the one key which
unlocks the mysteries of nature, while insisting that the rules
governing their use of that key _must_ be adhered to by the rest of
the world.

There are, however, certain laws which control every pictured
expression of nature and to which every eye and hand must submit if
even a semblance of expression is to be sought for. One of them is
truth. In this all schools concur, each one demanding the truth, or at
least enough of it to placate their consciences when they add to it a
sufficient number of lies of their own manufacture to make the subject
interesting to their special line of constituents. Among these I do
not class the lunatics who are to-day wandering loose outside of
charitable asylums especially designed for disordered and impaired
intellects, and whose frothings I saw at the last Autumn Salon.

But to our text once more, taking up the first requirement; namely,

By selection I mean the "cutting out entire" from the great panorama
spread out before you just that portion which appeals to you and which
you want to have appeal to your fellow men.

Speaking for myself, I have always held that the most perfect
reproductions of nature are those which can be _selected_ any day,
under any condition of light, direct from the several objects
themselves, without arrangement and fore-shortenings or twistings to
the right and to the left. Nothing, in fact, seems to me so
astounding as that any human mind could for an instant suppose that it
can improve on the work of the Almighty.

If it is a street, and if you wish to express its perspective, and the
bit of blue sky beyond, with a burst of sunlight illumining the
corner, the figures crowded against the light, forming a mass in
themselves, and it interests you at a glance, sit down and study it
long enough to find out what feature of the landscape impressed you at
_first sight_. If, as you look, the first impression becomes weakened,
perhaps it is because the immediate foreground, which at the first
glance was clear, is now dotted with passers-by, thus obscuring your
point of interest, or a cloud has passed over the sky, lowering the
whole tone, or the group of figures across the light has dispersed,
exposing the ugly right-angled triangle of the flat wall and street
level instead of the same lines being broken picturesquely with the
black dots of heads of the crowd itself. In a moment it is no longer a
composition of the same power that struck you at first. Perhaps while
you sit and wait the scene again changes, and something infinitely
more interesting, or the reverse, is evolved from the perspective
before you. And so it goes on, until this constantly changing
kaleidoscope repeats itself in its first aspect, until you have fairly
grasped its meaning and analyzed its component parts. Or until either
the effect that first delighted you, or the subsequent effect that
charmed you still more, becomes a fixed fact in your mind. That, then,
is the picture that you want to paint and that you are to paint
_exactly as you saw it_. And if you can reproduce it exactly as you
did see it, ten chances to one it will impress your fellow men. The
trouble is that when you sit down to paint it you are so often lost in
its detail that you forget its salient features, and by the time you
have finished and blocked up the immediate foreground with figures
that did not exist when you were first thrilled by its beauty, you
have either painted its least interesting aspect, or you have filled
that street so full of lies of your own that the policeman on the beat
could not recognize it.

Of course, while all nature is interesting, there are parts of nature
more interesting than other parts, and since the skill of man is
inadequate to produce its more _humble_ effects, if I may so express
it, the painter should be on the lookout for her _dramatic_ air, in
order that when she is reproduced she may add that touch to her many
qualities, thus meeting the painter half-way. Even in the perspective
of a street, nature, in profound consideration of the devotee under
his umbrella, often gives him a deeper touch--one wall perhaps in
sudden brilliant light, while the vista of the street is in gloom made
by a passing cloud, she constantly calling out to the painter as he
works: "Watch me now and take me at my best."

Or change this picture for an instant and note, if you please, the
flight of cloud shadows over a mountain slope or the whirl of a wind
flurry across a still lake. There are moments in all phenomena like
these where a great man rising to the occasion can catch them exactly,
as did Rousseau in the golden glow of the fading light through the
forest, or Corot in the crisp light of the morning, or Daubigny in the
low twilight across the sunken marshes where one can almost hear the
frogs croak.

Selection, then, preceded by the deepest and closest thought as to
whether the subject is worth painting at all, becomes necessary, the
student giving himself plenty of time to study it in all its phases;
time enough to "walk around it," reviewing it at different angles;
noting the hour at which it is at its best and happiest, seizing upon
its most telling presentment--and all this before he begins even
_mentally_ to compose its salient features on the square of his
canvas. You can turn, if you choose, your camera skyward and focus the
top of a steeple and only that. It is true, but it is uninteresting,
or rather unintelligible, until you focus also the church door, and
the gathering groups, and the overgrown pathway that winds through the
quiet graveyard. So a picture can be true and yet very much like a
slip cut from a newspaper. For some men cut thus into nature,
haphazard, without care or thought, and produce perhaps a square
containing an advertisement of a patent churn, a railroad timetable,
and a fragment of an essay on art. Cut carefully and with selection,
and you may get a poem which will soothe you like a melody.

       *       *       *       *       *

As to the value of the laws which govern the perfect composition, it
is unquestionably true that a correct knowledge of these laws makes
or unmakes the picture and establishes or ruins the rank of the
painter. No matter how careful the drawing, how interesting the
subject, how true the mass, how subtle the gradations of light and
shade, how perfect the expression of the figures, or how transparent
the atmosphere of a landscape, a want of this knowledge will defeat
the result. On the other hand, a good composition--one that "carries,"
as the term is--one that can be seen across the room, if properly
composed will instantly excite your interest, even if upon near
inspection you are shocked by its crudities and faults. "I don't know
what it is," says a painter, "but it's good all the same."

After your selection has been made, the next thing is to search for
its centre of interest. When this is found it is equally important to
weigh carefully the _quality_ of this centre of interest in order to
determine whether, as has been said, the subject is worth painting at
all. My own rule is to spend half the time I am devoting to my sketch
in carefully weighing the subject in its every detail and expression.

       *       *       *       *       *

Many men, I am aware, have endeavored to prove that there are eight or
ten different forms of composition. My own experience and
investigation are, of course, limited, but so far I have only been
able to discover one, namely, the larger mass and the smaller mass:
the larger mass dominating the centre of interest, which catches your
eye instantly at first sight of a picture, and the smaller or less
interesting object which next attracts your eye, and so relieves the
vision and spares you the monotony of looking at a single object long
and steadily, thus fatiguing the eye and dissipating the interest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Having determined upon the _quality_ of the subject-matter and fixed
its centre interest in pleasing relation to the whole, the next step
is to confine yourself to all that _the eyes see at one glance_ and no
more, or, in other words, that portion of the landscape which you
could cut out with the scissors of your eye and paste upon your mind.
That which you can see when your head is kept perfectly still, your
eye looking straight before you, only seeing so high, so low, and so
far to the right and left, without a strain. The great sweep of
vision, a sweep covering a hundred subjects perhaps, is obtained by
turning the eyes up or down or sideways. But to be true--that is, to
see one picture at a time--the eye should be fixed like the lens of a
camera, the limit of the picture being the range of the eye and no
more. A departure from this rule not only confuses your perspective
but crowds a number of points of interest into the square of your
canvas, when there is really only _one_ centre point before you in
nature; and this one point you must treat as does the electrician in
a theatre who keeps the lime-light on the star of the play.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another requirement is rapidity of execution. I am not speaking of
figure-drawing. I can well understand why the model grows tired,
although the crude lay figure may not, and why the constant workings
over and again upon the figure subject, the mosaicing (if I may coin a
word) of the different points of the figure during the different hours
of the day and the different days of the week deep into the canvas,
may be necessary.

I am speaking of outdoor, landscape work, for which only four hours,
at most, either in the morning or in the afternoon, can be utilized.
In this four hours nature keeps comparatively still long enough for
you to caress her with your brush, and if you would truly express what
you see, your work must be finished in that time. I can quite
understand that to the ordinary student this is a paralyzing
statement, but let us analyze it together for a moment and I think
that we shall all see that if it were possible for a human hand to
obey us as precisely as a human eye detects, the results on the canvas
would be infinitely more valuable, first, because the sun never stands
still and the shadows of one hour are not the shadows of the next; and
second, because this moving of the sun is affecting not only the mass
but the composition of the picture, one mass of buildings being in
light at ten o'clock and again in shadow at eleven. It is also
affecting its local color, the yellow of the afternoon sunlight
illumining and graying the silver-blue of the shadows, thus weakening
the force of positive shadows scattered through the composition. Of
course, to be really exact, there is only one moment in any one of the
hours of the day in which any one aspect of nature remains the same,
but since we are all finite we must do the best we can, and four
hours, in my experience, is all that a man can be sure of.

We have, of course, the next day to continue in, but then the
landscape has changed. That delicate, transparent, gauzy cloud screen
that softened the sky light was, under the northwest wind of
yesterday, a clear, steely gray-blue, and the sun shining through it
made the sunlight almost white and the shadows a neutral blue; to-day
the wind is from the south and a great mass of soft summer clouds,
tea-rose color, drift over the clear azure, each one of which throws
its reflected light on every object over which they float. The half
you painted yesterday, therefore, will not match the half you must
paint to-day, and so if you will persist in working on your same
canvas you go on making an almanac of your picture, so apparent to an
expert that he can pick out the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as you
daily progressed. If you should be fortunate enough to work under
Italian skies, where sometimes for days together the light is the
same, the skies being one expanse of soft, opalescent blue, you might
think under such influence it would be possible for you to perform the
great almanac trick successfully in your sketch. But how about
yourself? Are you the same man to-day that you were yesterday? If so,
perhaps you might also find yourself in exactly the same frame of mind
that existed when your sketch was half finished. But would you
guarantee that you would be the same man for a week?

I believe we can maintain this position of the necessity of rapid work
in out-of-door sketches by looking for a moment at the product of the
best men of the last century, some of whom I have already mentioned.
Take Corot, for instance. Corot, as you know, spent almost his entire
life painting the early light of the morning. An analysis of his
life's work shows that he must have folded his umbrella and gone home
before eleven o'clock. My own idea is that many hundreds of his
canvases, which have since sold at many thousands of francs, were
perfectly finished in one sitting. This cannot be otherwise when you
remember that one dealer in Paris claims to have sold two thousand
Corots. These one-sitting pictures to me express his best work. In the
larger canvases in which figures are introduced--notably the one first
owned by the late Mr. Charles A. Dana, of New York, called "Apollo," I
believe--the treatment of the sky and foreground shows careful
repainting, and while the mechanical process of the brush, shown by
the over and under painting, the dragging of opaque color over
transparent, may produce certain translucencies which the more
forcible and direct stroke of the brush--one touch and no more--fails
to give, still the whole composition lacks that intimacy with nature
which one always feels in the smaller and more rapidly perfected

Note, too, the sketches of Frans Hals and see what power comes from
the sure touch of a well-directed brush in the hand of a man who used
it to express his thoughts as other men use chords of music or
paragraphs in literature. A man who made no false moves, who knew that
every stroke of his brush must express a perfect sentence and that it
could never be recalled. Really the work of such a master is like the
gesture of an actor--if it is right a thrill goes through you, if it
is wrong it is like that player friend of Hamlet's who sawed the air.

This quality of "the stroke," by the by, if we stop to analyze for a
moment, is the stroke that comes straight from the heart, tingling up
the spinal column, down the arm, and straight to the finger-tips. Ole
Bull had it when his violin echoed a full orchestra; Paderewski has it
when he rings clearly and sharply some note that vibrates through you
for hours after; Booth had it when drawing himself up to his full
height as Cardinal Richelieu he began that famous speech, "Around her
form I draw the holy circle of our faith"--his upraised finger a
barrier that an army could not break down; Velasquez, in his
marvellous picture in the Museum of the Prado in Madrid of "The
Topers" ("Los Borrachos"); Frans Hals, in almost every canvas that his
brush touched; and in later years our own John Sargent, in many of his
portraits, but especially in his direct out-of-door studies, shows it;
as do scores of others whose sureness of touch and exact knowledge
have made their names household words where art is loved and genius
held sacred.

And with this ability to record swiftly and surely there will come a
certain enthusiasm, fanned to white heat when, some morning, trap in
hand, you are searching for something to paint, your mind entirely
filled with a certain object (you propose to paint boats if you
please, and you have walked around them for minutes trying to get the
best view and deciding upon the all-important best possible
composition)--when, turning suddenly, you face a mass of buildings and
a sweep of river that instantly put to flight every idea concerning
your first subject, and in a moment a new arrangement is evolved and
you are working like mad. It is only under this pressure of
_enthusiasm_ that the best work is produced.

       *       *       *       *       *

The coming landscape-painter will be a _four-hour man_, of thorough
knowledge, one who has most intimate and close acquaintance with
nature, one who can select and then seize the salient features of the
landscape, at a glance arranging them upon the square of his canvas,
in other words, composing them, the basis being the most expansive and
most picturesque grouping of the several details of the subject,
extracting at the same moment, at the same instant, with one sweep of
his eye, the whole scheme of local color, and then surely, clearly,
lovingly, and reverently making it breathe upon his canvas for other
souls to live by.

       *       *       *       *       *

And how noble the ambition!

In our present civilization some men are moved to philanthropy, some
to science, some to be rulers of men. Some men are brimful and running
over with harmonies that will live forever. Other men's hearts beat in
unison with the symphonies of the spheres, and Homer and Milton and
Dante become household words. You seek another expression of the good
that is in you. You will be painters and sculptors. Color, form, and
mass are to you what the pen, the sword, and the lute are to those
others who have gone before, or are now around you. Your mission is as
distinct as theirs, and it is as imperative that you should fulfil
it. Paint what you see and as you see it. Nothing more nor less. See
only the beautiful, and if you cannot reach that content yourself with
the picturesque. It is a first cousin but once removed.


The difference between composition and mass is that a composition is a
mere outline of pen or pencil, each object taking its proper place in
the square of a canvas, while mass is the filling in between these
outlines either of varied color or in lights or darks, their
gradations but so many guides to the spectator's eye marking not only
its perspective, form and atmosphere, but, if skilfully done, telling
the story of your subject at a glance.

To do this the student must find the lightest light and darkest dark
in the subject before him and, having found it, adhere to it to the
end of his work. For as the sun dominates the sky and earth so do its
rays dominate parts of the whole, making more luminous than the rest
only one object upon which its light falls. To make this more
explicit it is only necessary to look at an egg upon a white
table-cloth. Here is a natural object devoid of local color except in
reflected lights, and yet you will find that where the round of the
egg reflects the light the highest light is found, while in the edge
of the shadow, where the egg turns into the round--between that high
light and the reflected light from the table-cloth, I mean--is found
its darkest dark. But only one portion of that shadow, a point as
large as the point of a pin, is the darkest dark. Everything else is
gradation, from the highest light to the lowest light, the lowest
light being almost a shadow; and from its darkest dark to its lightest
dark the lightest dark again being almost a light.

In landscape art these problems are greatly simplified. The sun is
always the strongest light, and whatever comes against it, church
tower, rock, palace, or ship under full sail, is the darkest object.
In addition to this there is always some one point where the outdoor
painter can find a lesser supplementary light and near it a lesser
supplementary dark. Moreover, throughout the rest of the composition
these same lights and darks are echoed and re-echoed in constantly
decreasing gradations.

You may apply these same tests everywhere in nature. Even in a gray
day, when the sun is not so positive a factor in distributing light,
and the shadows are so subtle that it is difficult to discover them,
there is always some mass of foliage, the silver sheen from an old
shingled roof, the glare of a white wall, which marks for the
composition its lightest light, while a corresponding dark can always
be found somewhere in the tree-trunks, under the overhanging eaves, or
in the broken crevices of the masonry.

So it is with every other expression of nature. Even on a Venetian
lagoon, where the sky and water are apparently one (not really one to
the quick eye of an expert, the water always being one tone lower than
the sky--that is, more gray than the overbending sky)--even in this
lagoon you will find some one portion of the surface lighter than any
other portion; and in expressing it your eye first and your brush next
must catch in the opalescent sweep of delicious color under your eye
its exact quantity of black and white. By black and white I mean, of
course, that excess or absence of pure color which when translated
into pure black and white would express the meaning of the
subject-matter, as one of Raphael Morghen's engravings on steel gives
you the feeling and color in his masterly rendering of Da Vinci's
"Last Supper."

In my judgment one of the great landscapes of modern times is the
picture by the distinguished Dutch painter, Mauve, known as "Changing
Pasture," which is now owned by Mr. Charles P. Taft, of Cincinnati.
Here the factor of mass is carried to its utmost limit. Sky one mass;
flock of sheep another mass; and the foreground, sweeping under the
sheep and beyond until it is lost in the haze of the distance, another
mass, or, if one chooses to put it that way, another broad gradation
of a section of the picture: the highest light being some
infinitesimal speck in the diaphanous silver sky, the strongest dark
being found somewhere in the foreground or in the flock of sheep.

By a strict adherence to this law of one supreme light and one supreme
dark does Mauve's work, as it were, get back from and out of his
canvas, as from the record of a phonograph into which some soul has
breathed its own precise purpose and intent.

So, too, does nature often call out to you fixing your attention,
often shrouding in shadow the unimportant in the landscape, while high
up above the gloom it holds up to your gaze a white candle of a
minaret or the bared breast of an Alpine peak reflecting the loving
look of a tired sunbeam bidding it good-night.

       *       *       *       *       *

To accent the more strongly the value of this dominant light even
though it be treated in very low gradation, I recall that a year ago
the art world was startled by the sum received for a medium sized
picture of some coryphées painted by Degas, now an old man over eighty
years old--a subject which he always loved and, indeed, which he has
painted many times. Some thirty years ago, when he was comparatively a
young man, I saw, at the Bartholdi exhibition in New York, a picture
by this master of these same coryphées, two figures standing together
in the flies resting their weary, pink, fishworm legs as they balanced
themselves with their hands against the wabbling scenery. It was a
wholly gray picture, and almost in a monotone, and yet the flashes of
their diamond earrings, no larger than the point of a pin, were
distinctly visible, holding their place in, if not dominating, the
whole color scheme.

Again, in that marvellous portrait of Wertheimer, the bric-à-brac
dealer, if you remember, the eye first catches the strong vermilion
touch on the lower lip, and then, knowing that a master like Sargent
would not leave it isolated, one finds, to one's delight and joy, a
little swipe of red on the tongue of the barely discernible black
poodle squatting at his feet. Had the red of the dog's tongue
predominated, we should never have been thrilled and fascinated by one
of the great portraits of this or any other time.

This is also true in other great portraits--in, for instance, the
pictures of Rembrandt, Vandyck, and Frans Hals, especially where a
face is relieved by the addition of a hand and the white of a ruff.
Somewhere in that warm expanse of the face there can be found a
pinhead of color, brighter and more dominating than any other brush
touch on the canvas. It may be the high egg-light in the forehead, or
the click on the tip of the nose, or a fold of the white ruff; but
slight as it is and unnoticeable at first, because of it not only does
the head look round as the egg looks round when relieved by the same
treatment, but the attention is fixed. Unless this had been preserved,
the eye would have, perhaps, rested first on the hand, something
foreign to the painter's intention.

Recalling again the law of the high light and strong dark, and
referring again to the value of the skilful manipulation of light and
shade forming the mass thereby expressing the more clearly the meaning
of a picture, I repeat that, while the eye is always caught by the
strongest dark against the strongest light, it is next caught by the
lesser supplementary light and lesser supplementary dark; and then,
if the painter is skilful enough in the management of the remaining
lesser lights and darks, the eye will run through the gradations to
the end, rebounding once more to the greater light and dark, exactly
in the order intended by the painter; thus unfolding to the spectator
little by little, quite as a plot of a novel is made clear, the story
which the painter had in his own mind to tell. This is effected purely
and entirely by the correct accentuations of the explanatory lights
and darks. One mistake in the management--that is, the accentuating of
the third light, if you please, instead of the second--will not only
confuse the eye of the spectator, but may perhaps give him an entirely
different impression from what was intended by the painter, just as
the shifting of a chapter in a novel would confuse a reader; and this,
if you please, without depending in any way upon either the drawing or
the color of the accessories.

I can best illustrate this by recalling to your mind that marvellous
picture of the so-called literary school of England, a picture by Luke
Fildes known as "The Doctor" and now hanging in the Tate Gallery in
London, in which the whole sad story is told in logical sequence by
the artist's consummate handling of the darks and lights in regular

       *       *       *       *       *

You will pardon me, I hope, if I leave the more technical details of
my subject for a moment that I may discuss with you one of the
peculiarities of the so-called art-loving public of to-day, notably
that section which insists that no picture should tell a story of any

To my own mind this picture of Luke Fildes reaches high-water mark in
the school of his time, and yet in watching as I have done the crowds
who surge through the Tate Galleries and the National Gallery, it is
an almost every-day occurrence to overhear such contemptuous remarks
as "Oh, yes, one of those literary fellows," drop from the lips of
some highbrow who only tolerates Constable because of the influence
his example and work had on Corot and other men of the Barbizon

Another section lose their senses over pure brush work.

A story of Whistler--one he told me himself--will illustrate what I
mean. Jules Stewart's father, a great lover of good pictures and one
of Fortuny's earliest patrons, had invited Whistler to his house in
Paris to see his collection, and in the course of the visit drew from
a hiding-place a small panel of Meissonier's, of a quality so high
that any dealer in Paris would have given him $30,000 for it.

Whistler would not even glance at it.

Upon Stewart insisting, he adjusted his monocle and said: "Oh, yes,
very good--_snuff-box style_."

This affectation was to have been expected of Whistler because of his
aggressive mental attitude toward the work of any man who handled his
brush differently from his own personal methods, but saner minds may
think along broader lines.

If they do not, they have short memories. Even in my own experience I
have watched the rise and fall of men whose technic called from the
housetops--a call which was heard by the passing throng below, many of
whom stopped to listen and applaud; for in pictures as in bonnets the
taste of the public changes almost daily. One has only to review
several of the schools, both in English and in Continental art, noting
their dawn of novelty, their sunrise of appreciation, their high noon
of triumph, their afternoon of neglect, and their night of oblivion,
to be convinced that the wheel of artistic appreciation is round like
other wheels--the world, for one--and that its revolutions bring the
night as surely as they bring the dawn.

Not a hundred years have passed since the broad, sensuous work of
Turner, big in conception and big in treatment, was followed by the
more exact painters of the English school, many of whom are still at
work, notably Leader and Alfred Parsons, both Royal Academicians, and
of whom some contemporaneous critic insisted that they had counted the
leaves on their elm-trees fringing the polished water of the Thames.
They, of course, had only been eclipsed by the broader brushes of more
recent time, men like Frank Brangwyn and Colin Hunter, who have
yielded to the pressure of the change in taste, or of whom it would be
more just to say, have _set_ present taste, so that to-day not only
the afternoon of night, but the twilight of forgetfulness, is slowly
and surely casting long shadows over the more realistic men of the
eighties and nineties.

What will follow this evolution of technic no man can predict. The
lessons of the past, however, are valuable, and to-day one touch of
Turner's brush is more sought for than acres of canvases so greatly
prized twenty years after his death.

And this is not alone confined to the old realistic English school. In
my own time I have seen Verbeckoeven eclipsed by Van Marcke,
Bouguereau, Cabanel, and Gérôme by Manet, and Sir Frederick Leighton
by John Sargent--a young David slaying the Goliath of English technic
with but a wave of his magic brush--and, last and by no means least,
the great French painter Meissonier by the equally great Spanish
master Sorolla.

I am tempted to continue, for the success of these men in the fulness
of the sunlight of their triumph, realists as well as impressionists,
was wholly due to their understanding of and adherence to the rules of
selection, composition, and mass which form the basis of these papers,
and which despite their differences in brush work they all adhered

In the late half of the preceding century Meissonier received $66,000
for his "Friedland," a picture which cost him the best part of two
years to paint, and the expenditure of many thousands of francs,
notably the expense attendant upon the trampling down of a field of
growing wheat by a drove of horses that he might study the action and
the effect the better. Forty years later Sorolla received $20,000 for
two figures in blazing sunlight which took him but two days to paint,
the rest of his collection bringing $250,000, the whole exhibit of one
hundred and odd pictures having been visited by 150,000 persons in
thirty-two days. And he is still in the full tide of success,
pre-eminently the greatest master of the out-of-doors of modern times,
while to-day the work of Meissonier has fallen into such disrepute
that no owner dares offer one of his canvases at public auction except
under the keenest necessity. The first master expresses the refinement
of extreme realism, or rather detailism; the other is a pronounced
impressionist of the sanest of the open-air school of to-day. How long
this pendulum will continue to swing no one can tell. Both men are
great painters in the widest, deepest, and most pronounced sense; both
men have glorified, ennobled, and enriched their time; and both men
have reflected credit and honor upon their nation and their school.

Meissonier could not only draw the figure, give it life and action,
keep it harmonious in color, perfect in its gradations of black and
white, but he had that marvellous gift of color analysis which
reproduces for you in a picture the size of the top of a cigar-box
every tone in the local and reflected light to be found, say, in the
folds of a cavalier's cloak, the pleats no wider than the point of a
stub pen.

All this, of course, Sorolla ignores and, I am afraid, knowing the man
personally as I do, despises. What concerns the great Spaniard is the
whole composition alive in the blaze of the sunlight, the glare of the
hot sand and the shimmer of the blue, overarching sky, beating up and
down and over the figures, and all depicted with a slash of a brush
almost as wide as your hand. The first picture, the size of a
tobacco-box, you can hold between thumb and finger and enjoy, amazed
at the master's knowledge and skill. The other grips you from afar off
as you enter the gallery and stand startled and astounded before its
truth and dignity. In the first Meissonier tells you the whole story
to the very end. In the second Sorolla presents but a series of
shorthand notes which you yourself can fill in to suit your taste and
experience both of life and nature.

Whether you prefer one or the other, or neither, is a matter for you
to decide. You pay your money or you don't, and you can take your
choice. The future only can tell the story of the revolution of the
wheel. In the next decade a single Meissonier may be worth its weight
in sheet gold and layers of Sorollas may be stored in attics awaiting
some fortunate auction.

What will ensue, the art world over, before the wheel travels its full
periphery, no man knows. It will not be the hysteria of paint, I feel
assured, with its dabbers, spotters, and smearers; nor will it be the
litters of the cub-ists, that new breed of artistic pups, sponsors for
"The girl coming down-stairs," or "The stairs coming down the girl,"
or "The coming girl and the down-stairs," it makes no difference
which, all are equally incoherent and unintelligible; but it will be
something which, at least, will boast the element of beauty which is
the one and only excuse for art's existence. I may not live to see
Meissonier's second dawn and I never want to see Sorolla's eclipse,
but you may. You have only to remember Turner's second high noon to be
assured of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

And just here it might be well to consider this question of technic,
especially its value in obtaining the results desired. While it has
nothing to do with either selection, composition, or mass, it has, I
claim, much to do with the way a painter expresses himself--his tone
of voice, his handwriting, his gestures in talking, so to speak--and
therefore becomes an integral part of my discourse. It may also be of
service in the striking of a note of compromise, some middle ground
upon which the extremes may one day meet.

To make my point the clearer, let me recall an exhibition in New York,
held some years ago, when the bonnets were five deep trying to get a
glimpse of a picture of half a dozen red prelates who were listening
to a missionary's story. Many of these devotees went into raptures
over the brass nails in the sofa, and were only disappointed when they
could not read the monogram on the bishop's ring. Later on, a highly
cultivated and intelligent American citizen was so entranced that he
bought the missionary, story and all, for the price of a brown-stone
front, and carried him away that he might enjoy him forever.

One month later, almost exactly in the same spot hung another picture,
the subject of which I forget, or it may be that I did not understand
it or that it had no subject at all. If I remember, it was not like
anything in the heavens above, or the earth beneath, or the waters
under the earth. In this respect one could have fallen down and
worshipped it and escaped the charge of idolatry. With the exception
of a few stray art critics, delighted at an opportunity for a new
sensation, it was not surrounded by an idolatrous gathering at all. On
the contrary, the audience before it reminded me more of Artemas Ward
and his panorama.

"When I first exhibited this picture in New York," he said, "the
artists came with lanterns before daybreak to look at it, and then
they called for the artist, and when he appeared--they threw things at

For one picture a gentleman gave a brown-stone front; for the other he
would not have given a single brick, unless he had been sure of
planting it in the middle of the canvas the first shot. The first was
Vibert's realistic picture so well known to you. The other was an
example of the modern French school or what was then known as advanced

I shall not go into an analysis of the technic of the two painters. I
refer to them and their brush work here because of the undue value set
upon the way a thing is done rather than its value after it is done.

Speaking for myself, I must admit that the value of technic has never
impressed me as have the other and greater qualities in a
picture--namely, its expression of truth and the message it carries of
beauty and often tenderness. I have always held that it is of no
moment to the world at large by what means and methods an artist
expresses himself; that the world is only concerned as to whether he
has expressed himself at all; and if so, to what end and extent.

If the artist says to us, "I scumbled in the background solid, using
bitumen as an undertone, then I dragged over my high lights and
painted my cool color right into it," it is as meaningless to most of
us as if another bread-winner had said, "I use a Singer with a
straight shuttle and No. 60 cotton." What we want to know is whether
she made the shirt.

Art terms are, however, synonymous with other terms and in this
connection may be of assistance. To make my purpose clear we will
suppose that "technic" in art is handwriting. "Composition," the
arrangement of sentences. "Details," the choice of words. "Drawing,"
good grammar. "Mass, or light and shade," contrasting expressions
giving value each to the other. I hold, however, that there is
something more. The author may write a good hand, spell correctly,
and have a proper respect for Lindley Murray, but what does he say?
What idea does he convey? Has he told us anything of human life, of
human love, of human suffering or joy, or uncovered for us any fresh
hiding-place of nature and taught us to love it? Or is it only words?

It really matters very little to any of us what the handwriting of an
author may be, and so it should matter very little how an artist
touches the canvas.

It is true that a picture containing and expressing an idea the most
elevated can be painted either in mass or detail, at the pleasure of
the painter. He may write in the Munich style, or after the manner of
the Düsseldorf ready writers, or the modern French pothook and hanger,
or the antiquated Dutch. He can use the English of Chaucer, or
Shakespeare, or Josh Billings, at his own good pleasure. If he conveys
an intelligible idea he has accomplished a result the value of which
is just in proportion to the quality of that idea.

To continue this parallel, it may be said that extreme realism is the
use of too many words in a sentence and too many sentences in a
paragraph; extreme impressionism, the use of too few. Neither,
however, is fundamental, and art can be good, bad, or indifferent
containing each or combining both.

Realism, or, to express it more clearly, detailism, is the realizing
of the whole subject-matter or motive of a picture in exact detail.
Impressionism is the generalizing of the subject-matter as a whole and
the expression of only its salient features.

The extreme realist or detailist of the Ruskin type has for years been
insisting that a spade was a spade and should be painted to look like
a spade; that a spade was not a spade until every nail in the handle
and every crack in the blade became apparent.

The more advanced would have insisted on not only the fibre in the
wood, but the brand on the other side of the blade, had it been
physically possible to show it.

In absolute contrast to this, there lived a man at Barbizon who
maintained that a spade was not a spade at all, but merely a mass of
shadow against a low twilight sky, in the hands of a figure who with
uncovered head listens reverently; that the spade is merely a symbol
of labor; that he used it as he would use a word necessary to express
a sentence, which would be unintelligible without it, and that it was
perfectly immaterial to him, and should be to the world, whether it
was a spade or a shovel so long as the soft twilight, and the reverent
figures wearied with the day's work, and the flat waste of field
stretching away to the little village spire on the dim horizon line
told the story of human suffering and patience and toil, as with
folded hands they listened to the soft cadence of the angelus.

Which of these two methods of expression is correct--Ruskin or Millet?
Are there any laws which govern, or is it a matter of taste, fancy, or
feeling? Is it a matter of individuality? If so, which individual by
his methods tells us the most truths? Let us endeavor to analyze.

I whirl through a mountain gorge and catch a glance through a
car-window--an impression. In the darkness of the tunnel it remains
with me. I see the great mass of white cumuli and against them the
dark cedars, the straggling foot-path and steep cliffs. I am impressed
with the sweep of the cloud form pressing over and around them. With
my eyes closed I paint this on my brain, and if I am great enough and
wide enough and deep enough I can subdue my personality and forget my
surroundings, and when opportunity offers I can express upon my canvas
the few salient facts which impressed me and should impress my fellow
men. If it is the silvery light of the morning, I am Corot; if the
day is gone and across the cool lagoon I see the ripple amid the tall
grass catching the fading color of the warm sky, I am Daubigny; if a
gray mist hangs over the hillside and the patches of snow half melted
express the warmth and mellowness of the coming spring, I am our own

Perhaps, however, I am not content. I am overburdened with curiosity.
I say to myself: "What sort of trees, pine or cedar?" I think, pine,
but I am uneasy lest they should be hemlock. Were the rocks all
perpendicular, or did not detached bowlders line the path? About the
clouds, were they not some small cirri beneath the zenith? My memory
is so bad--and so I stop the train and go back. Just as I expected.
The trees were spruce and the rocks were grass-grown and full of
fissures, and so I begin to paint and continue. I get the bark on the
trees, and the foliage until each particular leaf stands on end, and
the strata of the cliffs, and the very sand on the path. I crowd into
my canvas geology, botany, and the laws governing cloud forms.

Being an ordinary mortal, my curiosity, my telescopic eyes, my
magnifying-glass of vision, my love of truth, my positive conviction
that it is a spruce and should not be painted as a pine, except
through rank perjury, all these forces together have undermined my
impression or, like thorns, have grown up and choked it. Being honest,
I am ready to confess that before returning to the spot I was in doubt
about the pine. But I am still ready to affirm that what I have
labored over is the exact counterfeit and presentment of nature, and
equally willing to denounce the public for not seeing it as I do. I
forget that I have been a boor and a vulgarian--that I have been
invited to a feast and that I have pried into mysteries which my
goddess would veil from my sight; that I have had the impertinence to
bring my own personal advice into the discussion; that I have insisted
that fissures, and leaves, and sand, and infinite detail were
necessary to this expression of nature's sublimity.

Is it at all strange that the impression which so charmed me as I saw
it from my car-window has faded? Nature unrolled for me suddenly a
poem. For symbols she used a great mass of dark, sturdy trees against
a majestic cloud, a rugged cliff, and a straggling path. I have
ignored them all and insisted that "truth was mighty and must
prevail." I am a realist and "paint things as they are." Not so. I am
an iconoclast and have broken my god and cannot put together the
pieces. I have sacrificed a divine impression to a human realism.

Suppose, however, that the painter who had this glimpse of nature
before entering the tunnel was no ordinary man, but a man of steadfast
mind, of firm convictions, of a sure touch, with an absolute belief
in nature, and so reverential that he dare not offer even a suggestion
of his own. He has seen it; he has felt it; it has gone down deep into
his memory and heart. The cloud, the cliff, the mass, the path--that
is all. And it is enough. The annoyances of the day, the seductions of
fresh impressions of newer subjects, the weakness of the flesh do not
deter him. With a single aim, to the exclusion of all else, and with a
direct simplicity, he records what he saw, and lo! we have a poem.
Such a man was Courbet, Corot, Dupré.

But one would say: That may answer for landscape: what about the
figure-painter? Let us counsel together.

A man only rises to his own level. In art, as in music and literature,
he only expresses himself. Each selects his own method. The school of
Meissonier is not content with a few grand truths simply expressed.
They want a multitude of facts; they must tell the story in their own
way. They are the Dickens and Walter Scott of art. It is iteration and
reiteration. My cardinal must not only have red stockings, says
Vibert, but they must be silk; every detail must be elaborated. Very
well, what of it? you say. What do you criticise, the drawing? No. The
color? No. The composition? No. Does the painter express himself?
Perfectly. What then? Just this. He expresses himself too perfectly.
At first I am delighted. The story is so well told--the well-fed
prelates; the half-sneer; the cynical smile; the earnest missionary
telling his experience. But the next day?--well, he is still telling
it. By the end of the week the enjoyment is confined to allowing him
to tell it to a fresh eye, and that eye another's, and watching his
pleasure. At the end of the year it becomes a part of the decoration
of the wall. You perhaps feel that the frame needs retouching, and
that is all the impression it makes upon you, except as would an old
timepiece with the mainspring gone. The works are exquisite and the
enamelling charming, but it has been four o'clock for forty years.

In the library, however, hangs an etching which you often look at; in
fact, you never pass it without noticing it. Two figures, a
wheelbarrow, a spade, a stretch of country, a spire pencilled against
a low-tone sky; and yet, somehow, you hear the tolling of the bell and
the whispered prayer. Ah! but you say this has nothing to do with the
treatment; it is the subject. One moment. The missionary's story is as
full of pathos and of human suffering and courage as the "Angelus,"
and at first as profoundly stirs our sympathy; but, in one, Vibert has
monopolized the conversation; he has exhausted the subject; he has
told you everything he knows. Nothing has been omitted; nails,
monograms, and all; there is nothing left for you to supply--he is not
so complimentary. But Millet has taken you into his confidence. He
says: "Come, see what I once saw. Do you ever remember any such couple
working in the field?" And you immediately, and unconsciously to
yourself, remember just such a bent back and reverent, uncovered head.
Where, you cannot tell, for the picture comes to you out of the dim
lumber-room in your brain where you store your old memories and faint
impressions of bygone days and sad faces.

But if he added, "See, my peasant wears a woollen jacket trimmed with
worsted braid," your impression would immediately fade. You might
remember the jacket, but the braid, never. But for this it would have
been delightful for you, although unconsciously, to add your own sweet
memory to the picture.

Another impression choked to death with unnecessary realism.

But be you realist or impressionist, remember that a true work of art
is that which has pleased _the greatest number of people for the
longest period of time_; that the love of beauty indicates our highest
intellectual plane, and that if you will express to your fellow
sinners burdened with life's cares something of the enthusiasm of your
own life, and will assist them to see their mother earth through your
own eyes in constantly increasing beauty--you having by your art, in
your possession, the key to the cipher, and interpreting and
translating for them--you will confer upon them one of the greatest
blessings which fall to their lot on this mundane sphere.


Color, if you stop to think, is really the decorative touch which God
gives to the universe. It would have been just as easy to make
everything gray--every rose but the shadow of itself--every tree and
rock and cloud a monotone of gradation. Instead of that, everything we
look at, from a violet to an overbending sky, is enriched and
glorified by millions of color tones as infinite in their gradation as
the waves of sound and light. Even in the grayest days, when the
clouds are bursting into tears and the whole landscape is desolate as
the barrenest and bleakest of mountain sides, these infinite
gradations of color permeate and redeem its barrenness, and to the
true painter fill it with joy and beauty.

There are many of us, however, who are not true painters and to whom
the most exquisite of color schemes are but dull results. Many of us
walk around our galleries passing the best pictures in silence; others
ridicule what they cannot understand. Even our own beloved Mark Twain,
whose heart was always open to the best and warmest of human
impressions, and who expressed them in every line of his pen, when led
up to one of Turner's masterpieces, "The Slave Ship," a glory of red,
yellow, and blue running riot over a sunset sky, the whole reflected
in a troubled sea, remarked to his companion: "Very wonderful! Seen it
before. Always reminds me of a tortoise-shell cat having a fit in a
plate of tomato soup."

The education of such barbarians belongs to our generation and should
be taken up by those of us who know or think we do. For true color is
as great an educator as true music. This knowledge of color harmony,
this matching and contrasting of different colors, but very few men
and women possess. When they do, it is generally inherited and thus a
natural gift. The rest of the world wear blue and purple, or orange
and green, entirely ignorant of the harmonies of nature even as
bearing on their domestic surroundings. For myself, I have always held
that the most perfect harmonies required in either wall decoration,
furniture, dress goods, or any other fabrics that color enters into,
have their exact counterpart in some color tones of nature--that the
russet-browns and yellows of autumn; the contrasting opalescent hues
of a morning sky, rose-pink, pale blue, or delicate tea-rose yellow;
the gloom of a forest with its yellow-grays and blue-grays, the
gray-green moss of the lichens, the brown of the tree-trunks, the
black and gray hues of the rocks, all these, if carefully studied and
analyzed and reproduced, would make beautiful anything in the world
from a bonnet to a château. To illustrate:

Several years ago an intimate friend of mine, a distinguished
architect of New York, the late Mr. Bruce Price, in designing a number
of cottages at Tuxedo sought in vain for some color mixture current in
the paint-shops with which to cover the outside of his buildings. All
schemes of browns, olive-greens, colonial yellow with white trimmings
and the reverse, Pompeiian reds, slate-grays, and dull yellows
resulted in making "spots" of the houses, so that the effect he wished
to produce, that of the houses being merged into the forest, was lost.
Mr. Price was not only an architect, but he was an artist as well. He
had little skill with his brush, but he had that innate good taste,
with a keen eye to discern the subtle gradations in color, that only
needed change of occupation to make him a painter. One day, looking at
a new bare wooden cottage--unpainted as yet--in contrast to a mass of
foliage in the early autumn before the leaves had begun to turn, in
which the yellow-grays one often sees predominated, he suddenly
thought to himself: "The tree-trunks and underbrush do not stand out;
they are all of one piece, each keeping its place, while my house"--as
he rather inelegantly but forcibly expressed it--"sticks up like a
sore thumb." Later, this very clever man made an analysis of the local
color in these several grays, and his subsequent matching and
combining of these different tints resulted in the exact tones of the
forest before him, and when this was completed and the house painted
you felt should you enter the front door that the leaves must be over
your head.

Bringing the discussion down to more practical details, really to the
palettes which we hold in our hands, the question then naturally
arises as to how best to express true local color, with its varying
blues, yellows, and reds, and especially its varying grays.

In my own experience I find grays to be the prevailing tones
everywhere in nature.

I find also that the great masters of modern art, particularly the
school of 1830, known as the Barbizon school, and represented by such
men as Rousseau, Corot, Daubigny, Diaz, and Millet, and later by men
who in some degree represent that school, but to my mind have done
work equally good--even Monténard and Cazin--that all these masters
have loved, sought for, and expressed in their work this
all-prevailing quality, the gray.

A few very simple rules for testing the power, presence, and quality
of the prevailing gray in nature are so easily learned and so
convincing in their application that once applied they are never

Take, for instance, a morning in late spring or early summer, when all
nature is dressed from tree-top to grass-blade in a suit of vivid
green. To a tyro with so dangerous a weapon as a color-box, there is
nothing that will really bring down this game but some explosive
composed of indigo and Indian yellow, or Prussian blue and light
cadmium--perhaps the strongest mixture of vivid raw green.

Now, pluck a single leaf from a near-by branch, hold it close to one
eye, and with this as a guide note the difference in color tones
between it and the leaves on the tree from which you plucked the leaf
and which you had believed to be a vivid green. To your surprise, the
leaf itself, even with the sun shining through it, is many tones lower
and grayer than the color of the near-by branch as depicted on your
paper, while the near-by branch, in comparison, pales into a sable
gray-green, which you could perhaps get with yellow ochre, blue-black,
and a touch of chrome-yellow.

It does not seem to me that I can better illustrate this quality of
the gray than by rapidly going over some of the works of George Inness
lately on exhibition in New York--certainly to me the most marvellous
examples of the power of a human mind to harmonize the subtle
colorings of nature. I select Inness not only because he is to me one
of the great landscape-painters of his day, but because he chooses a
very wide range of subjects, from early morning to twilight,
expressing these truthfully, absolutely, perfectly, so far as local
color is concerned--that is, of course, as I see through either my own
spectacles or Inness's; but, then, remember, our eyes may need repair.
When these canvases are analyzed we find in the range of color nothing
stronger than yellow ochre in yellows, than light red in reds, and,
with hardly an exception, blue-black for blues. Indeed, his usual
palette, as does Mauve's and Cazin's, seems to me to be only yellow
ochre and blue-black, and with these two colors he expresses the
whole range of the color scheme in nature, with the varying lights of
day and night, except in depicting sunsets.

       *       *       *       *       *

After the salient features of a landscape have been analyzed and
recorded in color, the more subtle qualities are to be detected and
expressed. The most important of these is the time of day. To an
outdoor painter--an expert examining the work of another expert--the
hour-hand is written over every square inch of the canvas. He knows
from the angle of the shadows just how high the sun was in the
heavens, and he knows, too, from the local color of the shadows
whether it is a silvery light of the morning, the glare of noontime,
or the deepening golden glow of the afternoon. In fact, if you will
think for a moment, the shadow of an overhanging balcony upon a white
wall is a perfect sun-dial for him, and this test can be indefinitely
applied to every part of the picture.

The next is the temperature: how hot or how cold it was--what month in
the year? It is unnecessary for Inness to cover his ground with snow
to make his picture express a certain degree of cold, neither is it
necessary for Monténard to fill his Provençal roads with clouds of
dust to show how hot they are. This is done by the opalescent tones of
the sky, by the values expressed in reflected lights and in the
illuminated shadows, so that you feel in looking across one of
Inness's fields of brown grass just how late is the autumn and just
how cool it has been, and in looking down one of Monténard's roads you
realize how useless would be an overcoat.

[Illustration: Under the Willows, Cookham-on-Thames]

In this connection let me say that all nature is interesting and all
nature is beautiful, but all nature, as I have said, is not paintable.
The interior of a railroad station, for instance, is interesting,
as giving you certain mechanical results, construction, but it is not
picturesque--that is, paintable--unless one could treat it as Pennell
does, contrasting the black cars and locomotive with a puff of white
steam, giving the vistas with the perspective of track, and a centre
mass of people adding an idea of movement and color.

Above all, the outdoor painter should get the character and feeling of
the place he portrays on his canvas. If in Spain, his picture must
look like Spain. The air must be transparent, the architecture
clean-cut against the azure. If it be Holland, the atmosphere must be
moist, the air like a veil, and with all this there must be nothing in
the work that will be mistaken for the smoke-laden air of England.
Only thus, by this fidelity to the very nature and spirit of a place,
can the picture be made to express the essence of its life, which is
really the heart of the whole mystery.

Coming at last to our text, Water-Colors--the art of depicting nature
on a sheet of white paper by paints diluted with water--it will be
well to remind you that the art goes back to almost prehistoric times.
A few weeks ago, in the library of Mr. Jesse Carter, director of the
American Academy in Rome, I saw one of the earliest water-colors in
existence. It was painted upon a sheet of slate, and, although some
thousands of years old, still retained its color and remarkable
brilliancy. The subject was a group of figures, the centre object
being a girl of wonderful grace.

The present art of water-color painting, with a sheet of white paper
as background instead of the permanent stone, is, however, but little
more than one hundred and fifty years old, and owes its existence
largely to the men of the English school.

Mr. C. E. Hughes, in his delightful book on "Early English Water
Color," confined this English school to the men born between the
years 1720 and 1820.

In this group he places the great Gainsborough, who from 1760 to 1774
worked "in charcoal and water-color on tinted paper," which he said he
"loved to dash off of an evening, and which dazzled the fine ladies
and gentlemen who frequented the select watering-place of Bath," where
he was then living.

Then came Robert Cozens, the brothers Sanby, Thomas Hearne, Thomas
Malton, Samuel Scott, and a few others, all known as the
eighteenth-century painters.

These were succeeded by Thomas Girtin, who was born in 1775 and died
at twenty-seven years of age; and the great J. M. W. Turner, who first
saw the light in the same year, and on the day on which all great
Englishmen should be born--namely, April 23--a day dedicated to St.
George and the birthday of William Shakespeare.

Girtin and Turner worked together. Girtin, measured by the standard of
to-day, was an extreme impressionist, leaving behind him sketches
dashed in with an appearance of freedom which Peter DeWint and David
Cox might have envied when in after years they were at the height of
their power. Turner, on the contrary, devoted his time to acquiring
that triumphant grasp of detail which caused him to be known in his
earlier life as an extreme realist.

The change in Turner's work--the broader brush--came in his later
years when oil became his medium of expression, in which, no doubt,
his ability to note and yet sacrifice all unnecessary detail was a
potent factor.

A list of Englishmen greatly prized in their day now follows. Such men
as John Varly, Gilpin, Glover, William Havell (all of whom during some
part of their careers were members of the first Water Color Society
formed in England, in 1804, which body still survives in the old
Water Color Society whose rooms are still open on Pall Mall East) rose
into prominence, their works finding places both in private and public

This society was in turn succeeded by the New Society of Painters in
Miniature and Water Colors, which came into being in 1807 and went out
of existence in 1812--a victim, says Hughes, of the condition of
public apathy which brought about in the same year a reconstruction of
the older organization under the joint title of the Oil and Water
Color Society, and which eked out a precarious existence until the
birth of the association now known as the Royal Institute for Painters
in Water Colors.

Other names now confront us, among them two men, David Cox and Peter
DeWint, who in their day were considered masters of the medium. These
last struck a new note in water-color, or rather a new technic in its
handling. What Ruskin, the realist, in his "Modern Painters" describes
as "blottesque" was at that time looked upon by both teachers and
students as the one and only means by which white paper could be
properly stained. This method, to quote from a loyal believer in the
English transparent school, and whose enthusiasm is delightful, was
the laying on of the color in washes which filled certain definite
spaces indicated by a pen-and-ink outline.

These washes would indicate, say, a distant tree with a preliminary
tint and a subsequent elaboration; he would do it all in one process,
giving his blot an irregular edge and allowing the color to accumulate
where the shadows required it. His elaborative touches elsewhere were
of the same nature. They were brush blots as distinct from washes. To
this, I think, we may attribute on analysis the freedom of handling
which--though each man has his distinctive method--is characteristic
of both Cox and DeWint. If we add to these two methods of using the
brush a third--its manipulation as though it were a pen--we shall have
all the fluid processes on one or the other of which the beauty of all
modern water-color drawings depends. A fourth process is rubbing the
color into the grain of the paper. A fifth--a supplementary one--is
scratching out. Last is the ignominy of the stipple--the wetting of
the brush in the mouth, a technic entirely dependent upon the quantity
of saliva the student can spare for his work. Almost every early wash
water-color in existence can be classified according to the employment
in its making of some or all of these means.

In later years, especially in the last half of the eighteenth century,
we have Copley Fielding; Prout, with his picturesque sepia drawings,
the detail of his architecture in brown ink; Harding; Bonnington,
really a great man; Clarkson Stanfield; Rowbotham; David Roberts;
James Holland; Cattermole, who declined a knighthood and whose
intimates were Dickens, Disraeli, and Thackeray; and so on down to the
men of to-day, who are so well and ably represented in the annual
exhibitions of the Royal Academy and the present English Water Color

       *       *       *       *       *

As for our own progress in the art, the subject, of course, is too
well known for long discussion. Our oldest society, the American Water
Color Society, held its first public exhibition in the National
Academy of Design in New York in 1867, a date always remembered by me
with infinite pride and pleasure, for upon the walls of the smallest
room close up under the roof was hung my first exhibited
water-color--the only one of my three the hanging committee were good
enough to accept. Two years later--I am happy to say--in 1869, I was
elected a member, and I am further happy to say that I am still in
good standing and in high-hanging, and have so continued from that day
down to the present time--a trifle of some forty-six years.

As to my compatriots, I can truthfully say that its membership covers
some of the great water-colorists of our own or any other time, both
here and abroad--men entirely free to do as they pleased, working in
anything and all things so long as, to use their own expression, they
"get there," handling body color, in a veil of silver-gray as an
overwash or squeezed in chunks from a tube; undertones of charcoal
gray, overtones of pastel--anything for _quality_.

Their names are legion: the late E. A. Abbey, Walter Palmer, Chase,
the late Robert Blum, F. S. Church, Cooper, Curran, Eaton, Farrer, the
two Smillies, Childe Hassam, Keller, Murphy, Nicoll, Potthast, the
late Henry Smith, etc., etc.

These are but a haphazard choice of the men whose work shows the
widest ranges in selection, composition, mass, and technic, and who,
in the world of water-color painting, are masters of the medium.

As to our progenitors, the English water-color school--and I make the
statement with every respect for their high accomplishments--while I
believe we are indebted to them for the very existence of the art
itself, I must say that our own men and art-lovers the world over
would have been vastly benefited had these Englishmen allowed
themselves a little more freedom in their methods and not followed so
blindly the traditions of their past.

That we broke away so early is as much a question of race as of
training. The last idea that enters the heads of our own men is that
they want either to paint or to draw like somebody else. They all want
to paint like themselves, or they do not want to paint at all. They
are so many art sponges. They go abroad, wander about the Grosvenor
and the exhibitions, run over to Paris and haunt the Salon and shops,
and so on to Munich and Berlin, picking up a technical touch here or a
new idea of grouping or mass or color scheme there, and then, having
thoroughly absorbed it all, return home and use whatever suits them;
but a slavish imitation of any one English, French, or German
master--never; neither do they follow any other brush at home. They do
not believe in each other sufficiently to pay the highest form of

Nor do many of them find their subjects abroad--a habit practised
these many years by your humble speaker, whose only excuse is that he
_must_ paint, no matter where he is, and that his life in the
summer-time is dominated by his two children, both exiles, and more
exactingly still in late years by two little grandboys who have not as
yet crossed the ocean. No, these young American painters, with hardly
an exception, find their subjects at home, and they choose wisely.

And just here it can be said that if we are ever to have a school that
will leave its impress on the art of the world, the task will be the
easier if our men find their subjects at home--if they will show our
own people the beauty, dignity, and grandeur of the material that lies
under their very eyes, and also teach those fellows on the other side
to respect us, both because we can paint and because we have the
things to paint from. With a mountain and river scenery unrivalled on
the globe; with rock-bound coasts breaking the full surge of an ocean;
with forests of towering trees compared to which in girth and height
the trees of all other lands are but toothpicks; with plains ending in
films of blue haze and valleys sparkling with myriads of waterfalls;
with every type of the human race blended in our own, or distinct as
are the woodman of Maine and the soft-eyed mulatto of Louisiana; with
a history filled with traditions most romantic--Aztec, Indian, and
negro; with women who move like Greek goddesses and children whose
faces are divine, why go away from home to find something to paint?
Winslow Homer never did, and that's why his work will live when the
painters of Egyptian harems, Spanish dancers, and Dutch and Venetian
boats and palaces are forgotten.

To take a specific example or two, what subject, for instance, is more
worthy of a great master's brush than Homer's "Undertow," two
half-drowned young bathers locked in each other's arms, the two
beachmen dragging them clear of the mighty, blue-green wave curving
behind them? Here is a subject of almost weekly occurrence on our
coast. Who ever thought of painting it before? And that marvellous
picture of "The Cotton Pickers." This, to me, was the first clear
note Homer had sounded. The "Prisoners to the Front," painted just
after the war, was a strong, realistic picture, true and forceful in
color and composition, and, of course, admirable in drawing, but that
was all. It told its story at once, and having heard it to the end you
acknowledged its truth and went away content. But "The Cotton Pickers"
left something more in your mind. The gray dawn of the morning dimly
lighted up a field of cotton, the negro quarters on the horizon line;
dotted here and there, bending over the bolls, were groups of negroes,
singly and in pairs, filling their bags; in the foreground walked two
young negro girls, the foremost a dark mulatto--the whole story of
Southern slavery written in every line of her patient, uncomplaining

This picture alone placed Homer in the first rank of American painters
of his day, and he has never lost this place, for not only was the
picture all it should be in composition and mass, but, unlike many of
Homer's pictures of an earlier period, it was deliciously gray and
cool in tone. It places him also in the front rank of the painters of
our time. Jules Breton never gave us anything more pleasing, and never
anything stronger in drawing, more true to life, or more poetic in
conception and treatment. I mention Breton because, of the men on the
other side, he is the only one who affects, so to speak, a similar
line of subjects. Breton loves his peasants and paints them as if he
did. Homer loved his subjects entirely in the same spirit. How
unequally the two men have been rewarded you all know. An all-wise
American who some years ago offered $40,000 for a Breton at auction
could not at the time have been induced to give one-tenth of that
amount for a Homer; and yet, for vigor, truth, sentiment, and
technic--yes, technic, for this picture was superbly painted--"The
Cotton Pickers," in my judgment, will outlive the other if the time
should ever come when picture-buyers think for themselves.

The Englishman, on the other hand, is the hardest man to pull out of a
groove. What _has been_ is good enough for him, whether in
architecture, art, politics, or government. Any one who objects, or
seeks to improve or to point out a new and different way, is
"anathema." It is hardly more than twenty years ago that John Sargent,
whose works are often the strongest drawing card in the annual
exhibitions, was ignored by the jury of the Royal Academy.

"A slap-dash sort of a painter, my dear boy. Most dangerous to allow
his things to come in. No drawing, you know, no finish--altogether out
of the question." So spoke a Royal Academician when the question was

Whistler never found a vacant spot, no matter how high, where he could
hang even a 10 x 14.

"A mountebank in paint, my dear sir. Think of giving him a place
alongside of Sir Frederick Leighton! Impossible! Absolutely
impossible!" That the Luxembourg exhibited his portrait of his mother,
and that the art critics of Europe voted it "one of the greatest
portraits of modern times," made no difference. These Royal wiseacres
knew better. Some of them still think they know better, a fact easily
ascertained when you walk through the Exhibition, as I do every
summer, and have continued to do for the past thirty years.

And this adherence to tradition is not confined entirely to technic--I
refer now to many of the English painters of to-day--but appears in
their choice of subjects as well. It is the _subjects_ which have been
successful--that is, which have been _sold_--that must be painted over
and over. Anything new is a departure, and a departure from the
standard in the selection of a subject is as dangerous as a departure
in the cut of a coat or the color of one's gloves--or was as dangerous
until Sargent, Abbey, Frank Brangwyn, and men of that ilk smashed the
current idols and taught men a new religion. A small congregation, it
is true, but big enough for them to gather together to sing hymns of
praise and pray for better things.

Let me illustrate what I mean by conforming to the standard. Three
years ago I was painting near a village, an hour from Paddington--a
lovely spot on the River Thames. This quaint settlement is one of
those little, waterside, old-fashioned-inn places, all drooping trees,
punts, millions of roses, tumble-down cottages, stretches of meadows
with the silver thread of the Thames glistening in the sunlight. There
is also a bridge, a wonderful old brick bridge, stepping across on
three arches, mould-incrusted, blackened by time, masses of green
rushes clustered about its feet--a most picturesque and lovable
bridge, known to about everybody who has ever visited that section of

I had been there for a week, making my headquarters at the White Hart,
when my attention was attracted to a man across the river--it is quite
narrow here--a painter, evidently, who seemed to be surrounded by a
collection of canvases. He went through the same motions every day,
and then my curiosity got the better of me and I went over to see him.

Spread out on the grass lay eight canvases, all of one size, and each
one containing a picture of the old brick bridge.

"But why eight all alike?" I asked in astonishment.

"Because I can't sell anything else. I am known as the Sonning Bridge
painter. I've been at it for twenty years."

It is with this sort of thing, either in the selection of a subject,
in its treatment, or in its handling, that I have but little sympathy,
even though the great Ruskin, in speaking of this same English
water-color school, the one I have catalogued for you, insists that it
is the only "true school of landscape which has yet existed," an
appreciation which is followed by the outburst that "from the last
landscape of Tintoret, if we look for life we will pass at once to the
first landscape of Turner." It is, of course, only one of Ruskin's
dictatorial statements, admirable when written, because it was read
and approved by a class who knew no better and who accepted his words
as other blind devotees obeyed the Delphic Oracle--statements,
however, which are rejected by many of to-day who think for themselves
and who think clearly, having the world's work spread open before them
from which to judge.

Once in wandering around the Academia of Venice, taking in for the
fiftieth time Titian's masterpiece, I came across an Englishman who
had paused in his walk and was adjusting his long-distance
telescope--a monocle glued just under his left eyebrow. Mistaking my
red-backed sketch-book for a Baedeker, he said, in an apologetic tone:

"Pardon me--I've left mine at home--but will you be good enough to
tell me what Mr. Ruskin says about that picture?"

       *       *       *       *       *

That I have personally refused to follow either Mr. Ruskin or the
example of the men he places on so high a pinnacle--I am now referring
entirely to their technic--is due to my having painted all my life
out-of-doors, the best place in which a man can study nature at close
range. This experience has taught me that weight and solidity are as
important in the rendering of a natural object as air and perspective,
and that the _staining of paper with washes of transparent color does
not and cannot give them_.

Nor can any brilliant light, a crisp, snapping light--a glint of the
sun's rays, for instance, on the break of the surf, or on the round of
a glossy leaf, reflecting like a mirror the opaque sky--ever be
achieved by careful working around the edges of an unwashed speck of
paper--the transparent man's only means of expressing a high light.

Nor will a single dab of Chinese white produce the effect of it,
should it be the _only_ dab of opaque white in the composition. The
result in this case is still worse, for if transparent color has any
value when uniformly distributed it is in the expression of air and
perspective. The dab, then, is instantly out of plane, as it comes
nearer to the eye than the transparent wash about it, and the illusion
of distance is accordingly lost.

But another and quite a different thing occurs when the opaque color
_forms part_ of the whole, the two systems blending each with the
other. To illustrate, my own experience has taught me that in nature
whatever the sun shines _upon_ is opaque. The façade of a cathedral,
for instance, facing a sky where the rays of the sun strike it full is
opaque, while the angles of the architecture, casting shadows large
and small into which sink the blue reflections of the sky or the
reflected lights from near-by objects, are invariably transparent.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now for my own system and the reasons why I have abandoned all
other systems. And in giving them to you I want to repeat what I said
in the beginning of this course, that I do not ask you students to
follow in my footsteps if your predilections, training, and innate
consciences lead you to a different view of treatment. Many of you may
not like my work at all, and you certainly have a large following,
especially among the younger men and women who have advanced ideas.
Many of you hold to the opinion that water-color men should stick to
their trade and not encroach upon the oil painters in their technic.
And many of you may at heart prefer, nay, even delight in, the broad,
loose washes of the early English school.

There may be a few of you, however, who have open minds free from
prejudice and free from the traditions of the past, and who are
dissatisfied with the want of "virility," if I may so express it,
shown in pictures painted on white paper, and with successive
washings, and may accordingly see something in my own methods which
may encourage you to follow in the path which I have cleared and which
I humbly trust will lead to infinitely better results than I have so
far achieved.

And in this you must have the courage of your opinions and be prepared
for criticisms. Those who are against me are more numerous than those
who are for me and my methods.

Only last month a distinguished New York daily paper, in reviewing a
recent exhibition, said:

"There really is nothing left to say about Mr. Smith's water-colors.
They appear with such unfailing regularity and are always so much the
same. Nothing in the present collection will surprise those who know
his work--and who does not? The artist's facility is undiminished, his
industry untiring, but to look for any fresh inspiration in his work
or a hint of anything but a conventional vision has long been a vain

I should be discouraged if I thought that this was the last word on my
work. I know better, because I am making a collection of such
criticisms, showing the rating of our several painters. These summings
up of mine will be extremely valuable as marking the changing taste of
the public; for I have never supposed that either ill will or
downright ignorance formed the basis of current criticism. The critics
are merely expressing the trend of public opinion. It is not new to
our age. Diaz, so one story goes, once came stumping (he had lost one
leg) into Millet's cottage at Barbizon fresh from the Salon. Millet
had been painting nudes--the most exquisite bits of flesh-painting
seen for many a day, and as modest as Chabas "September Morn."

"What do they say of my things?" asked Millet.

"That you are still painting naked women," replied Diaz.

Millet was horrified.

"I paint naked women! I never painted one in my life."

Hence "The Angelus" and "The Sowers" and the other masterpieces of
clothed peasants.

In 1825 Constable writes in answer to a scurrilous attack made on his
so-called "puerile" efforts:

"Remember the great were not made for me, nor was I for the great. My
limited and abstractive art is to be found under every hedge and in
every lane, and therefore nobody thinks it worth while picking up. My
art flatters nobody by imitation: it courts nobody by smoothness: it
tickles nobody by politeness: it is without either fol-de-rol or
fiddle-de-dee. How can I hope to be popular?"

Ruskin's attack on Whistler is another case in point. A lawsuit
followed and Whistler recovered one farthing damages, and had the
effrontery to dangle it under the great critic's nose that same night
at a reception where they both met, followed by the remark:

"Beat you, old man."

Even Mr. Thackeray went out of his way in his "art notes" to belittle
and ridicule Sir Thomas Lawrence because he lacked what he called the
"virility of his progenitors and associates."

       *       *       *       *       *

And now for my own system.

I use a heavy, gray charcoal paper, which is made by Dupré & Company,
No. 141 Faubourg St. Honoré, Paris, and which costs about ten cents
per sheet, measuring about 40 x 30 inches each. This paper is evenly
ribbed but without the intermittent bands seen often in the lighter
charcoal paper, known as "Michelet," sold everywhere in our own art
stores. Dupré will send this paper to anybody who applies for it.

This paper I wet on _both_ sides and thumb-tack over an oil canvas the
size of the picture to be painted. It dries tight as a drum, and the
canvas backing protects it from puncture or other injury.

On this surface I make _a full and complete drawing in charcoal_ of
the subject before me, not in outline, but in strong darks, jet-black,
many of them--a finished drawing really, in charcoal, which could be
signed and framed. This is then "fixed" by a spray of alcohol and gum
shellac, thrown by means of a common perfume atomizer, the whole
apparatus costing less than one American dollar.

On this I begin my color scheme in both opaque and transparent color,
recognizing the "natural facts" already explained to you, that is, the
skies and high lights being solidly opaque, the shadows being equally
transparent. This process requires certain modifications to be made in
the darks of the original drawing. The dense black shadow under the
eaves of a roof, for instance, are not in nature as black as the
charcoal, but perhaps a rich, warm brown. If the ground is in
sunlight, it is a dull, golden yellow and reflects the yellow glow of
the sand beneath. Or it may be a blue reflection, or even of a reddish
tone. These hard blacks then must be _glazed_ in such a way as to
preserve the power of the shadow obtained by means of the under
charcoal, and yet keep it _transparent_ (all shadows being
transparent) and at the same time preserve its true and proper tint.

This glaze is done by using the three semi-opaque primary
pigments--found in every color-box--namely:

Light red,


Yellow ochre.

These colors, of course, form the basis of all intermediate tones, and
from them all intermediate tones can be made.

These three colors are at the same time semi-opaque, their opacity
being just sufficient to tint the hard black of the coal, while never
clogging or muddying its transparency.

So it is with the millions of other tones in the whole composition,
when such perfectly transparent colors as brown madder, Indian yellow,
and indigo are used as a glaze, altering and modifying the undertone
of charcoal to any desired tint and at the same time preserving the
all-important thing--its transparency.

In conclusion, let me say that I fully recognize that I am addressing
students whose training enables them to understand perfectly this
explanation, and that further instructions are therefore unnecessary.

One thing, however, may be accentuated, and that is the use of plenty
of clean water. Another is that you should keep your palettes
separate. For myself, I make use of a common white metallic
dinner-plate, known as iron-stone china, costing another ten cents,
for my sky-palette, squeezing the color-tubes in a row around its edge
and my Chinese white below them on one side toward the bottom. For my
transparent palette, I use an ordinary moist sixteen-pan color-box,
being always careful never to blur it with even a brush stroke of body
color (Chinese white); and for my opaque work, an oval white metal
palette, with thumb-hole, and indentations around its edge into which
I squeeze the contents of my moist water-color tubes, my Chinese
white being heaped up in a little mound near my thumb.

The result may be seen in some of the illustrations accompanying this


Before going into the value of charcoal as a medium in the recording
of the various aspects of nature in black-and-white, it will be wise
to review the several mediums in general use, namely, etching, pen and
ink, lithographic crayon, and charcoal gray in connection with Chinese
white; it will be well, also, to note the various mechanical processes
in use for the reproductions of these drawings on white paper.

Those of you who have seen the early illustration in _Harper's
Magazine_ of the late fifties will recall the work of "Porte Crayon"
(Colonel Strother), drawn on wood by the artist and engraved by such
men as A. V. S. Anthony and John Sartain. You will also recall how
some twenty-five years later an effective and marvellous change took
place in the quality of these reproductions, being by far the most
unique and rapid in the history of any art of the century. In less
than ten years, between 1876 and 1886, came this sudden awakening to
the necessity of better work from the burin, followed by an enormous
commercial demand for such results, until by common consent the
American engraver first rivalled and then surpassed the world. If we
search for the cause we find that, like many other inventions
developing others of still greater importance, as the telegraph
developed the telephone, electric light, and the phonograph, this
marvellous change is due entirely to the discovery and possibility of
photographing direct from the original upon the boxwood itself,
producing with an instant's exposure a complete reproduction of the
original drawing, with all its texture, gradation, and quality, not
only doing away entirely with the intermediate draftsman, as was the
case with "Porte Crayon's" work, but obtaining a result impossible to
the most skilful of the artists on wood of his day.

Another important feature in the discovery was the possibility of
reducing a drawing to any size required, thus fitting it exactly to
the necessities of the printed page. Before these discoveries, as you
well know, from the time of Albert Dürer down to Linton and engravers
of his school, the original drawing of the painter was redrawn by the
use of lead-pencil, Chinese white, and India-ink washes upon the wood
itself, giving as close an imitation as possible of the original. Some
painters--illustrators, if you please, in those early days--in fact,
made their original designs direct upon the wood. The effects of light
and dark were then cut out in lines, curved or otherwise, with
suitable cross-hatchings, as the necessity of the drawing required, or
left comparatively untouched.

It is not my purpose to discuss here the different merits of the
different schools. There are varieties of opinion regarding the
excellence of the line compared with the technic in the modern school
of engravers. By the modern school I mean the work of such men as
Cole, Yuengling, Wolff, French, Smithwick, and others. I refer to them
that I may accent the stronger the medium which is the subject-matter
of this talk, namely, charcoal, in the hope that those of you who
propose to make reproductive illustrations your life-work may be
tempted to make use of charcoal as a medium through which to express
your ideas and ideals.

But before embarking on this phase of my subject it may be interesting
for a moment to go a little deeper into the earlier stages of this
marvellous change from boxwood to zinc. I remember distinctly the
beginnings of an organization well known in New York, and perhaps to
many of you, as the Tile Club, to which organization I can
conscientiously say as much credit is due for this revival in
wood-engraving as to any other. Not that good wood-engravers did not
exist before its time, and not because it contained wood-engravers,
for the club did not have the name of one among its membership, but as
containing a group of painters who for the first time in aid of the
art of wood-engraving in this country lent their names and brushes to
an illustrated magazine. Up to that time there had been a wide gulf
existing between the ordinary draftsman on wood and a painter. This
did not proceed from the prevalence of a certain disease among the
painters, known at the present time as an "enlarged head," but from
the fact that no artist accustomed to free-hand drawing and at liberty
to wander all over his canvas at will would bring himself down to
working through a magnifying-glass, a necessity, often, in
transferring a drawing to wood.

With this discovery, however, of making available even the roughest
drawing, the simplest blot in color or a scratch in charcoal, and
photographing its exact _textures_ upon a wooden block, the camera
reducing it in size and thus perfecting it, the artist immediately
took the place of the draftsman, and at the same time introduced into
the work an artistic quality, a dash, a vim and spirit entirely
unknown before.

Three things were needed to utilize this marvellously useful
discovery: first, a painter of rank; second, an engraver who could
express the textures and technics of the several artists--that is,
reproduce the exact values of an original in wash, an original in
charcoal, or an original in oil; and third, a magazine with sufficient
capital, taste, and intelligence to reproduce these results upon a
printed page. We had the painters, and the engravers developed
rapidly. The third requirement, of taste and intelligence, was found
in Mr. A. W. Drake, then art director of _Scribner's Monthly_, and,
after its merging into the _Century_, the distinguished art director
of the _Century Magazine_.

When the Tile Club was formed in New York it consisted of a group of
men (I was its scullion for seven years, its entire life, and, being
thus an honored servant, was familiar with its many affairs) who
represented at the time the leading spirits of the different schools:
William M. Chase, Arthur Quartley, Swain Gifford, A. B. Frost, George
Maynard, Frank D. Millet, Alden Weir, Edwin A. Abbey, Charles S.
Reinhart, Elihu Vedder, William Gedney Bunce, Stanford White, Augustus
Saint-Gaudens, and one or two others. The club was limited to eighteen
members, there being twelve painters and six musicians. If I am not
very much mistaken, not a single painter of this group had ever drawn
upon a wooden block, and yet each one of them, as the records of our
periodicals have shown, was admirably qualified for illustrative work.
At the time, the illustrations in _Harper's_ and _Scribner's_,
compared with the illustrations of to-day, reminded one of the early
primers of the New England schools, with their improbable trees and
impossible animals.

I remember distinctly the first meeting of the Tile Club, in which the
subject of drawing for _Scribner's Monthly_ was first mooted, and I do
not believe I overestimate the importance that the position of the
club, taken at that time, has had and still has--not as a club, for it
was dissolved some years back--in the influence its personal art has
wielded upon the printed pages of the day.

The first magazine article was the account of a trip that we made down
on Long Island, illustrated by the club, entitled "The Tile Club
Abroad," each man choosing his own medium--oil, charcoal, water-color,
etc.; the results of which were published in the then _Scribner's
Magazine_, and engraved by a group of men who afterward placed the
art of wood-engraving in America side by side with the best efforts
ever obtained by the English and German periodicals, and one of whom,
Yuengling, took the gold medal of excellence both in Paris and Munich.

With this difference in textures, the difference between a drawing in
charcoal and one made in oil, it became necessary to invent new modes
of expression with the burin. A simple line which might express the
round of the cheek or the fulness of the arm, and which would answer
for the uniform drapery of the old school, would not serve to explain
the subtle quality of one of Quartley's moonrises or the vigor and
dash of one of Chase's outdoor figures sketched in oil.

So it came about that in searching to express these new qualities,
never before seen upon a block, the technic of the new school was

The next important result was the creating not only of a new school of
wood-engraving, but of an entirely distinct department for art
workers, the school of the illustrator; and so we have Abbey,
Reinhart, Quartley, and, later, Church, Smedley, Dana Gibson, and
dozens of others whose names will readily come to your minds and of
whose careers I have already spoken.

But the burin was too slow, even in the hands of the skilful engraver,
for the necessities of the hour. It was also too expensive; a drawing
which a magazine would pay the artist $50 for would often cost $200 to
engrave in the hands of a master like Yuengling or Cole. Again
photography was called into use. The "straight process," so called, of
the phototype printer, reproducing a pen-and-ink line drawing on a
zinc plate which could be immediately run through a Hoe process, was
perfected. You all remember, doubtless, an illustrated daily
published in New York, called _The Daily Graphic_, illustrated by
this process. This process, however, was only possible where
pen-and-ink drawing or a very coarse lead-pencil drawing was used in
making the original, because it was necessary that spaces of white
should exist between each separate line or mass of black. This
process, however, utterly failed in all India-ink drawings. Where
these drawings covered the white of the paper, if ever so delicately,
the result was a dense black upon the plate.

Then came a race between all the inventors interested in such
discoveries, both here and abroad--a race to perfect a process which
would produce from such wash drawings an exact reproduction upon the
printed page, giving all the gradations of the original and doing away
not only with the draftsman but with the wood-engraver. To Professor
Vogel, of Berlin, I believe--although an American, Ives, claims it,
and some say justly--is due the credit of perfecting what is known as
the half-tone, or screen process: many others claim that Herr
Meisenbach first perfected this most important discovery.

As the wash drawing had no lines, and as it is absolutely necessary
that photo-printing should have lines--that is, clean spaces of black
between white--these lines were supplied by laying a sheet of plate
glass over the drawing upon which the lines were cut by a diamond and
through which the original could be clearly seen. Of course, the light
falling upon the edges of these several diamond cuttings made little
points of brilliant white between which the several blacks and whites
could be seen. This, without going very much further into the
mechanical details, is the basis of the half-tone process.

While this had its value, it had also its demerits, one of which was
the total extermination of the American wood-engraver, except for a
few men like Timothy Cole, whose genius and skill made it possible for
them, by the excellence of their work, to survive the great difference
between twenty cents a square inch for transferring on zinc and twenty
dollars a square inch for engraving on wood.

There are, however, results in the half-tone process which I hold are
infinitely superior to the work of any wood-engraver of the old
school. While it is true that there is no really positive rich dark
for any part of the composition--for, of course, the light specks are
everywhere, thus lightening and graying the dark--and while we lose by
such defects the richness of wood-engraving, we also get the exact
touch of the artist in no more and no less a degree, particularly no
less. How often have I seen an exquisite drawing of Abbey's or Du
Maurier's almost ruined by the slipping of the burin the
one-thousandth part of an inch! How infinitely superior are the
originals of John Leech's immortal caricatures in _Punch_ to the
reproductions, all because the shadow line under an eye, or that
little dot which denotes the difference between amusement and
curiosity in the expression of a face, has been cut away the
thousandth part of a hair-line! The processes of the half-tone,
however, are ever accurate and the reproduction given you is
exact--with the foregoing restrictions.

Then again, in landscape effects and in some portraits, the uniformity
of tone, the certainty of every touch being reproduced, the exact
balancing from dark to light, all result in better work than can be
done by the ordinary engraver.

And yet, with all the half-tone's advantages, I must admit that
Yuengling's head of the "Professor" and many of his wood-cuts in an
illustrated edition of "Sir Launfal," published some years ago, and
much of the work of such masters as Cole, Wolff, Yuengling, and
others, stand as monuments for all time to the skill of hands that no
process will ever excel, for they put into it that something which the
bath of vitriol will never furnish, a bite of the acid of their own

Since these earlier days a new departure has been made, until now
reproductive processes have been brought to such perfection that there
is hardly any texture or color scheme that can not be matched. Note,
if you will, Howard Pyle in color--rich in yellows and reds, with
black and white spaces as an enrichment. Note also A. I. Keller's
transparent work in charcoal gray. Note particularly the reproductions
in the magazines of F. Walter Taylor's drawings in charcoal, in which
the very texture of the coal is preserved. And, if you will permit me,
note the half tones of my own charcoal drawings now on exhibition in
the adjoining gallery. So perfect is the reproduction that one is
careful not to smudge his fingers in turning the leaves of the
publication in which they are printed.

This being the case (and the printers must be thanked as well for
their share in the results), I earnestly hope that some of my brother
illustrators--the more the merrier--will seriously consider the value
of charcoal as a medium for illustrative work. There is no subject, I
assure you, that the sun shines on or its light filters into, or any
phase of nature, be it rain or storm, fog, snow, or mist, including
marines, figures, sunrises and sunsets, blazing heat and cool,
transparent shadows, that cannot be visualized by it.

I hold, too, that by its use qualities can be obtained impossible to
be found in either etchings, lithographic crayon, wash, or pen and
ink--especially the velvet of its black.

Charcoal is the unhampered, the free, the personal individual medium.
No water, no oil, no palette, no squeezing of tubes or wiping of
tints; no scraping, scumbling, or other dilatory and exasperating
necessities. Just a piece of coal, the size of a cigarette, held flat
between the thumb and the forefinger, a sheet of paper, and then "let
go." Yes, one thing more--care must be taken to have this forefinger
fastened to a sure, knowing, and fearless hand, worked by an arm which
plays easily and loosely in a ball-socket set firmly near your
backbone. To carry out the metaphor, the steam of your enthusiasm,
kept in working order by the safety-valve of your experience, and
regulated by the ball-governor of your art knowledge--such as
composition, drawing, mass, light and dark--is then turned on.

Now you can "let go," and in the fullest sense, or you will never
arrive. My own experience has taught me that if an outdoor charcoal
sketch, covering and containing all a man can see--and he should
neither record nor explain anything more--is not completely finished
in two hours it cannot be finished by the same man in two days or two

For a drawing in charcoal is really a record of a man's temperament.
It represents pre-eminently the personality of the individual--his
buoyancy, his perfect health, the quickness of his gestures. All these
are shown in the way he strikes his canvas--compelling it to talk back
to him. So also does it record the man's timidity, his want of
confidence in himself, his fear of spoiling what he has already done,
forgetting that a nickel will buy him another sheet of paper.

Courage, too, is a component part--not to be afraid to strike hard and
fast, belaboring the canvas as a pugilist belabors an opponent,
beating nature into shape.

[Illustration: The George and Vulture Inn, London]

As for the potterer and the niggler, the men and women whose stroke
goes no farther back than their knuckles, I may frankly say that
charcoal is not for them. The blow is a sledge blow going from the
spinal column, not the pitapat of a jeweller's hammer elaborating the
repoussé around a goblet.

Remember, too, that the fight is all over in two hours--three at the
outside--the battle really won or lost in the first ten minutes, if
you only knew it: when you get in your first strokes, really defining
your composition and planting your big high light and your big dark.
It is all right after that. You can taper off on the little lights and
darks, saving your wind, so to speak, sparring for your next
supplementary light and dark.

Remember, too, that when the fight is over you must not spoil what you
have done by repetition or finish. _Let it alone._ You may not have
covered everything you wanted to express, but if you have smashed in
the salient features, the details will look out at you when you least
expect it. There are a thousand cross lights and untold mysteries in
Rembrandt's shadows which his friends failed to see when his canvas
left his studio. It is the unexpressed which is often most
interesting. Meissonier tells his story to the end. So do Vibert,
Rico, and the whole realistic school. Corot gives you a mass of
foliage, no single leaf expressed, but beneath it lurk great,
cavernous shadows in which nymphs and satyrs play hide-and-seek.

Remember, also, that just as the blunt end of a bit of charcoal is
many, many times larger than the point of an etching-needle, so are
its resources for fine lines and minute dots and scratches just that
much reduced. It is the flat of the piece of coal that is valuable,
not its point.

As to what can be done with this piece of coal, I can but repeat,
_everything_. That there are some subjects better than others, I will
admit. For me, London, its streets and buildings, come first,
especially if it be raining; and there is no question that it does
rain once in a while in London, making the wet streets and sidewalks
glisten under its silver-gray sky, little rivulets of molten silver
escaping everywhere. When with these you get a background--and I
always do--of flat masses of quaint buildings, all detail lost in the
haze and mist of smoke, your delight rises to enthusiasm. Nowhere else
in the world are the "values" so marvellously preserved. You start
your foreground with, say, a figure, or an umbrella, or a cab,
expressed in a stroke of jet-black, and the perspective instantly
fades into grays of steeple, dome, or roof, so delicate and vapory
that there is hardly a shade of difference between earth and sky. Or
you stroll into some old church or cathedral, as I did last summer
when I found myself in that most wonderful of all English
churches--and I say it deliberately--St. Bartholomew's the Great, over
in Smithfield.

Other churches have I studied in my wanderings; many and various
cathedrals, basilicas, and mosques have delighted me. I know the color
and the value of tapestry and rich hangings; of mosaics, porphyry, and
verd-antiques; of fluted alabaster and the delicate tracery of the
arabesque; but the velvety quality of London soot when applied to the
rough surfaces of rudely chiselled stones, and the soft loveliness
gained by grime and smoke, came to me as a revelation.

This rich black which, like a tropical fungus, grows and spreads
through St. Bartholomew's interior, hiding under its soft, caressing
touch the rough angles and insistent edges of the Norman, is what the
bloom is to the grape, what the dark purpling is to the plum,
mellowing from sight the brilliancy of the under skin. And there are
wide coverings of it, too, in this wonderful church, as if some master
decorator had wielded a great coal and at one sweep of his hand had
rubbed its glorious black into every crevice, crack, and cranny of
wall, column, and arch.

Certain it is that no other medium than the one used could give any
idea of its charm. Neither oil, water-color, nor pastel will transmit
it--no, nor the dry-point or bitten plate. The soot of centuries, the
fogs of countless Novembers, the smoke of a thousand firesides were
the pigments which the Master Painter set upon his palette in the task
of giving us one exquisitely beautiful interior wholly in

So it was in the Temple when I was searching for Mr. Thackeray's

What of alterations, scrapings, patchings up, and fillings in have
taken place in these various courts and their surroundings, I did not
trouble myself to find out. Nothing looks new in London after the fogs
and soot of one winter have wreaked their vengeance upon it. Whether
the façade is of brick, stone, or stucco depends entirely on the
thickness of the soot, packed in or scoured clean by winds and rains,
or whether the surface is ebony or marble, as may be seen in many of
the statues on Burlington House, where a head, arm, or part of a
pedestal chair has been kept white by constant douches.

As for me, I was glad that these old haunts of Mr. Thackeray and his
characters are even blacker to-day than they might have been in his
time. For the soot and grime become them, and London as well, for that
matter. A great impressionist, this smoke-smudger and wiper-out of
detail, this believer in masses and simple surfaces, this destroyer of
gingerbread ornaments, petty mouldings, and cheap flutings!

       *       *       *       *       *

And now for a few practical data as to my own way of handling the
coal, which may be of value as coming from one who has profited these
many years by its infinite possibilities.

[Illustration: Diagram of Charcoal Technic]

The paper is the same I use in my water-colors, a delicate, gray,
double-thick charcoal paper, laid in parallel ribs, if I may so
express it, and having sufficient body and tooth to catch and hold the
faintest touch or the strongest stroke of the coal. The gray of this
paper serves as the middle tone of the drawing, the different
gradations of black in the coal giving the darks and the careful use
of white chalks the high lights.

These gradations are obtained by the use of a few simple processes, by
which various textures can be given, starting, for instance, from or
near the foreground, where the grit of the charcoal is used to bring
the nearer details into clear relief, the several larger gradations
and textures giving aerial perspectives being produced by a broad
sweep of the hand, forcing the grit of the coal into the crevices of
the paper, the result being what I may term the _first_ plane or
_nearest_ atmospheric value; the house a square away, if you
please--provided the subject is a street--being the _second_ plane.

Beyond this, farther down the street, is found, it may be, another
house or other object. Now try your thumb, rubbing your hand-smoothed
charcoal into a finer and closer mesh: and for the still more
atmospheric distances down this same street, use next a rag, then a
buckskin stomp, and last of all a stiff paper stomp, each in turn
producing a more atmospheric gray as the distances fade--the last, the
paper stomp, being as soft as a wash of India ink. (See diagram.)

All these you may say are tricks. They are--my own tricks, or rather
use of the means which lay at my hand, which long experience has
taught me to employ, and which any one of you will no doubt better in
your own handling of the coal.

These planes being secured, any light higher than the prevailing
rubbed-in tone can be wiped out clean to the grain of the paper by a
piece of ductile rubber. Any darker dark, of course, can be obtained
by retouching with the coal.

The chalk now comes into play for skies, broad sunlight effects, or
crisp, sparkling lights. The whole work is then "fixed," as I have
already explained, by the use of gum shellac and a common perfume

And with this condensed statement I must bring this my last talk to a
close, remembering as I do that I have been addressing a body of
students who are already familiar with one or more mediums, and who,
with these few spoken memoranda and a finished drawing before them,
will solve at a glance mysteries baffling to the layman.

       *       *       *       *       *













ENOCH CRANE. A novel planned
and begun by F. Hopkinson Smith
and completed by F. Berkeley Smith.


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that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
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can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.