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Title: Vision and Design
Author: Fry, Roger
Language: English
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             Maya Sculpture (portion) from Piedras Negras


                           VISION AND DESIGN


                               ROGER FRY

                            CHATTO & WINDUS

                         _All rights reserved_

                          LONDON AND BECCLES


This book contains a selection from my writings on Art extending over a
period of twenty years. Some essays have never before been published in
England; and I have also added a good deal of new matter and made slight
corrections throughout. In the laborious work of hunting up lost and
forgotten publications, and in the work of selection, revision, and
arrangement I owe everything to Mr. R. R. Tatlock’s devoted and patient



                           MY SISTER MARGERY




ART AND LIFE                                                           1

AN ESSAY IN ÆSTHETICS                                                 11

THE OTTOMAN AND THE WHATNOT                                           26

THE ARTIST’S VISION                                                   31

ART AND SOCIALISM                                                     36

ART AND SCIENCE                                                       52

THE ART OF THE BUSHMEN                                                56

NEGRO SCULPTURE                                                       65

ANCIENT AMERICAN ART                                                  69

THE MUNICH EXHIBITION OF MOHAMMEDAN ART                               76

GIOTTO                                                                87

THE ART OF FLORENCE                                                  117

THE JACQUEMART-ANDRÉ COLLECTION                                      123

DÜRER AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES                                         127

EL GRECO                                                             134

THREE PICTURES IN TEMPERA BY WILLIAM BLAKE                           140

CLAUDE                                                               145

AUBREY BEARDSLEY’S DRAWINGS                                          153

THE FRENCH POST-IMPRESSIONISTS                                       156

DRAWINGS AT THE BURLINGTON FINE ARTS CLUB                            160

PAUL CÉZANNE                                                         168

RENOIR                                                               175

A POSSIBLE DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE                                     179

JEAN MARCHAND                                                        184

RETROSPECT                                                           188

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                            TO FACE PAGE




SCULPTURE IN PLASTER. BY HENRI-MATISSE                                 9

_LA DONNA GRAVIDA._ BY RAPHAEL                                        10


NEGRO SCULPTURE                                                       66

FATIMITE BRONZES                                                      80


_PIETÀ._ BY GIOTTO                                                   108

_CRUCIFIXION._ BY CASTAGNO                                           117

_ST. GEORGE AND THE DRAGON._ BY UCELLO                               123

_VIRGIN AND CHILD._ BY BALDOVINETTI                                  125

_HOLY FAMILY._ BY SIGNORELLI                                         126


CELESTIAL SPHERE. TAROCCHI PRINT                                     132

CELESTIAL SPHERE. BY DÜRER                                           132

ALLEGORY. BY EL GRECO                                                136

_BATHSHEBA._ BY WILLIAM BLAKE                                        142

LANDSCAPE. BY CLAUDE                                                 148

LANDSCAPE IN WATER-COLOUR. BY CLAUDE                                 150

_TEA PARTY._ BY HENRI-MATISSE                                        156

STILL LIFE. BY PABLO PICASSO                                         156

_PROFILE._ BY GEORGES ROUAULT                                        159

_APOTHEOSIS OF NAPOLEON._ BY INGRES                                  163

PENCIL DRAWING. BY COROT                                             165

PEN DRAWING. BY HENRI-MATISSE                                        166

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST. BY CÉZANNE                                   168

_GARDANNE._ BY CÉZANNE                                               170

_SCÈNE DE PLEIN AIR._ BY CÉZANNE                                     172

THE ARTIST’S WIFE. BY CÉZANNE                                        172

_LE RUISSEAU._ BY CÉZANNE                                            174

_JUDGEMENT OF PARIS._ BY RENOIR                                      176

STILL LIFE. BY MARCHAND                                              184

_LA BAIGNADE._ BY SEURAT                                             190

STILL LIFE. BY DERAIN                                                192

_THE TRANSFIGURATION._ BY RAPHAEL                                    196

                           VISION AND DESIGN


When we look at ancient works of art we habitually treat them not merely
as objects of æsthetic enjoyment but also as successive deposits of the
human imagination. It is indeed this view of works of art as
crystallised history that accounts for much of the interest felt in
ancient art by those who have but little æsthetic feeling and who find
nothing to interest them in the work of their contemporaries where the
historical motive is lacking and they are left face to face with bare
æsthetic values.

I once knew an old gentleman who had retired from his city office to a
country house--a fussy, feeble little being who had cut no great figure
in life. He had built himself a house which was preternaturally hideous;
his taste was deplorable and his manners indifferent; but he had a
dream, the dream of himself as an exquisite and refined intellectual
dandy living in a society of elegant frivolity. To realise this dream he
had spent large sums in buying up every scrap of eighteenth-century
French furniture which he could lay hands on. These he stored in an
immense upper floor in his house which was always locked except when he
went up to indulge in his dream and to become for a time a courtier at
Versailles doing homage to the du Barry, whose toilet-tables and
what-nots were strewn pell-mell about the room without order or effect
of any kind. Such is an extreme instance of the historical way of
looking at works of art. For this old gentleman, as for how many an
American millionaire, art was merely a help to an imagined dream life.

To many people then it seems an easy thing to pass thus directly from
the work of art to the life of the time which produced it. We all in
fact weave an imagined Middle Ages around the parish church and an
imagined Renaissance haunts us in the college courts of Oxford and
Cambridge. We don’t, I fancy, stop to consider very closely how true the
imagined life is: we are satisfied with the prospect of another sort of
life which we might have lived, which we often think we might have
preferred to our actual life. We don’t stop to consider much how far the
pictured past corresponds to any reality, certainly not to consider what
proportion of the whole reality of the past life gets itself embalmed in
this way in works of art. Thus we picture our Middle Ages as almost
entirely occupied with religion and war, our Renaissance as occupied in
learning, and our eighteenth century as occupied in gallantry and wit.
Whereas, as a matter of fact, all of these things were going on all the
time while the art of each period has for some reason been mainly taken
up with the expression of one or another activity. There is indeed a
certain danger in accepting too naïvely the general atmosphere--the
ethos, which the works of art of a period exhale. Thus when we look at
the thirteenth-century sculpture of Chartres or Beauvais we feel at once
the expression of a peculiar gracious piety, a smiling and gay
devoutness which we are tempted to take for the prevailing mood of the
time--and which we perhaps associate with the revelation of just such a
type of character in S. Francis of Assisi. A study of Salimbeni’s
chronicle with its interminable record of squalid avarice and meanness,
or of the fierce brutalities of Dante’s Inferno are necessary
correctives of such a pleasant dream.

It would seem then that the correspondence between art and life which we
so habitually assume is not at all constant and requires much correction
before it can be trusted. Let us approach the same question from another
point and see what result we obtain. Let us consider the great
revolutions in art and the revolutions in life and see if they coincide.
And here let me try to say what I mean by life as contrasted with art. I
mean the general intellectual and instinctive reaction to their
surroundings of those men of any period whose lives rise to complete
self-consciousness. Their view of the universe as a whole and their
conception of their relations to their kind. Of course their conception
of the nature and function of art will itself be one of the most varying
aspects of life and may in any particular period profoundly modify the
correspondence of art to life.

Perhaps the greatest revolution in life that we know of at all
intimately was that which effected the change from Paganism to
Christianity. That this was no mere accident is evident from the fact
that Christianity was only one of many competing religions, all of which
represented a closely similar direction of thought and feeling. Any one
of these would have produced practically the same effect, that of
focussing men’s minds on the spiritual life as opposed to the material
life which had pre-occupied them for so long. One cannot doubt then that
here was a change which denoted a long prepared and inevitable
readjustment of men’s attitude to their universe. Now the art of the
Roman Empire showed no trace whatever of this influence; it went on with
precisely the same motives and principles which had satisfied Paganism.
The subjects changed and became mainly Christian, but the treatment was
so exactly similar that it requires more than a cursory glance to say if
the figure on a sarcophagus is Christ or Orpheus, Moses or Æsculapius.

The next great turning-point in history is that which marks the triumph
of the forces of reaction towards the close of the twelfth century--a
reaction which destroyed the promising hopes of freedom of thought and
manners which make the twelfth century appear as a foretaste of modern
enlightenment. Here undoubtedly the change in life corresponds very
closely with a great change in art--the change from the Romanesque to
the Gothic, and at first sight we might suppose a causal connection
between the two. But when we consider the nature of the changes in the
two sequences, this becomes very doubtful. For whereas in the life of
the Middle Ages the change was one of reaction--the sharp repression by
the reactionary forces of a gradual growth of freedom--the change in art
is merely the efflorescence of certain long prepared and anticipated
effects. The forms of Gothic architecture were merely the answer to
certain engineering problems which had long occupied the inventive
ingenuity of twelfth-century architects, while in the figurative arts
the change merely showed a new self-confidence in the rendering of the
human figure, a newly developed mastery in the handling of material. In
short, the change in art was in the opposite direction to that in life.
Whereas in life the direction of movement was sharply bent backwards, in
art the direction followed on in a continuous straight line.

It is true that in one small particular the reaction did have a direct
effect on art. The preaching of S. Bernard of Clairvaux did impose on
the architects who worked for the Cistercian order a peculiar
architectural hypocrisy. They were bound by his traditional influence to
make their churches have an appearance of extreme simplicity and
austerity, but they wanted nevertheless to make them as magnificent and
imposing as possible. The result was a peculiar style of ostentatious
simplicity. Paray le Monial is the only church left standing in which
this curious and, in point of fact, depressing evidence of the direct
influence of the religious reaction on art is to be seen, and, as a
curiosity in psychological expression, it is well worth a visit. For the
rest the movement of art went on entirely unaffected by the new
orientation of thought.

We come now to the Renaissance, and here for the first time in our
survey we may, I think, safely admit a true correspondence between the
change in life and the change in art. The change in life, if one may
generalise on such a vast subject, was towards the recognition of the
rights of the individual to complete self-realisation and the
recognition of the objective reality of the material universe which
implied the whole scientific attitude--and in both these things the
exemplar which men put before themselves was the civilisation of Greece
and Rome. In art the change went _pari passu_ with the change in life,
each assisting and directing the other--the first men of science were
artists like Brunelleschi, Ucello, Piero della Francesca and Leonardo da
Vinci. The study of classical literature was followed in strict
connection with the study of classical canons of art, and the greater
sense of individual importance found its expression in the new
naturalism which made portraiture in the modern sense possible.

For once then art and the other functions of the human spirit found
themselves in perfect harmony and direct alliance, and to that harmony
we may attribute much of the intensity and self-assurance of the work of
the great Renaissance artists. It is one of the rarest of good fortunes
for an artist to find himself actually understood and appreciated by the
mass of his educated contemporaries, and not only that, but moving
alongside of and in step with them towards a similar goal.

The Catholic reaction retarded and impeded the main movement of
Renaissance thought, but it did not really succeed either in
suppressing it or changing the main direction of its current. In art it
undoubtedly had some direct effect, it created a new kind of insincerity
of expression, a florid and sentimental religiosity--a new variety of
bad taste, the rhetorical and over-emphatic. And I suspect that art was
already prepared for this step by a certain exhaustion of the impulsive
energy of the Renaissance--so that here too we may admit a

The seventeenth century shows us no violent change in life, but rather
the gradual working out of the principles implicit in the Renaissance
and the Catholic reaction. But here we come to another curious want of
correspondence between art and life, for in art we have a violent
revolution, followed by a bitter internecine struggle among artists.
This revolution was inaugurated by Caravaggio, who first discovered the
surprising emotional possibilities of chiaroscuro and who combined with
this a new idea of realism--realism in the modern sense, viz., the
literal acceptance of what is coarse, common, squalid or undistinguished
in life--realism in the sense of the novelists of Zola’s time. To
Caravaggio’s influence we might trace not only a great deal of
Rembrandt’s art but the whole of that movement in favour of the
extravagantly impressive and picturesque, which culminated in the
romantic movement of the nineteenth century. Here, then, is another
surprising want of correspondence between art and life.

In the eighteenth century we get a curious phenomenon. Art goes to
court, identifies itself closely with a small aristocratic clique,
becomes the exponent of their manners and their tastes. It becomes a
luxury. It is no longer in the main stream of spiritual and intellectual
effort, and this seclusion of art may account for the fact that the next
great change in life--the French Revolution and all its accompanying
intellectual ferment--finds no serious correspondence in art. We get a
change, it is true; the French Republicans believed they were the
counterpart of the Romans, and so David had to invent for them that
peculiarly distressing type of the ancient Roman--always in heroic
attitudes, always immaculate, spotless and with a highly polished ‘Mme.
Tussaud’ surface. By-the-by, I was almost forgetting that we do owe Mme.
Tussaud to the French Revolution. But the real movement of art lay in
quite other directions to David--lay in the gradual unfolding of the
Romanticist conception of the world--a world of violent emotional
effects, of picturesque accidents, of wild nature, and this was a long
prepared reaction from the complacent sophistication of
eighteenth-century life. It is possible that one may associate this with
the general state of mind that produced the Revolution, since both were
a revolt against the established order of the eighteenth century; but
curiously enough it found its chief ally in the reaction which followed
the Revolution, in the neo-Christianism of Chateaubriand and the new
sentimental respect for the age of faith--which, incidentally, appeared
so much more picturesque than the age of reason.

It would be interesting at this point to consider how far during the
nineteenth century reactionary political and religious thought was
inspired primarily by æsthetic considerations--a curious instance of the
counter-influence of art on life might perhaps be discovered in the
devotees of the Oxford movement. But this would take us too far afield.

The foregoing violently foreshortened view of history and art will show,
I hope, that the usual assumption of a direct and decisive connection
between life and art is by no means correct. It may, I hope, give pause
to those numerous people who have already promised themselves a great
new art as a result of the present war, though perhaps it is as well to
let them enjoy it in anticipation, since it is, I fancy, the only way in
which they are likely to enjoy a great art of any kind. What this survey
suggests to me is that if we consider this special spiritual activity of
art we find it no doubt open at times to influences from life, but in
the main self-contained--we find the rhythmic sequences of change
determined much more by its own internal forces--and by the readjustment
within it, of its own elements--than by external forces. I admit, of
course, that it is always conditioned more or less by economic changes,
but these are rather conditions of its existence at all than directive
influences. I also admit that under certain conditions the rhythms of
life and of art may coincide with great effect on both; but in the main
the two rhythms are distinct, and as often as not play against each

We have, I hope, gained some experience with which to handle the real
subject of my inquiry, the relation of the modern movement in art to
life. To understand it we must go back to the impressionist movement,
which dates from about 1870. The artists who called themselves
impressionists combined two distinct ideas. On the one hand they upheld,
more categorically than ever before, the complete detachment of the
artistic vision from the values imposed on vision by everyday life--they
claimed, as Whistler did in his “10 o’clock,” to be pure artists. On the
other hand a group of them used this freedom for the quasi-scientific
description of new effects of atmospheric colour and atmospheric
perspective, thereby endowing painting with a quite new series of colour
harmonies, or at least of harmonies which had not been cultivated by
European painters for many hundreds of years. They did more than
this--the effects thus explored were completely unfamiliar to the
ordinary man, whose vision is limited to the mere recognition of objects
with a view to the uses of everyday life. He was forced, in looking at
their pictures, to accept as artistic representation something very
remote from all his previous expectations, and thereby he also acquired
in time a new tolerance in his judgments on works of art, a tolerance
which was destined to bear a still further strain in succeeding

As against these great advantages which art owes to impressionism we
must set the fact that the pseudo-scientific and analytic method of
these painters forced artists to accept pictures which lacked design and
formal co-ordination to a degree which had never before been permitted.
They, or rather some of them, reduced the artistic vision to a
continuous patchwork or mosaic of coloured patches without architectural
framework or structural coherence. In this, impressionism marked the
climax of a movement which had been going on more or less steadily from
the thirteenth century--the tendency to approximate the forms of art
more and more exactly to the representation of the totality of
appearance. When once representation had been pushed to this point where
further development was impossible, it was inevitable that artists
should turn round and question the validity of the fundamental
assumption that art aimed at representation; and the moment the question
was fairly posed it became clear that the pseudo-scientific assumption
that fidelity to appearance was the measure of art had no logical
foundation. From that moment on it became evident that art had arrived
at a critical moment, and that the greatest revolution in art that had
taken place since Græco-Roman impressionism became converted into
Byzantine formalism was inevitable. It was this revolution that Cézanne
inaugurated and that Gauguin and van Goch continued. There is no need
here to give in detail the characteristics of this new movement: they
are sufficiently familiar. But we may summarise them as the
re-establishment of purely æsthetic criteria in place of the criterion
of conformity to appearance--the rediscovery of the principles of
structural design and harmony.

The new movement has, also, led to a new canon of criticism, and this
has changed our attitude to the arts of other times and countries. So
long as representation was regarded as the end of art, the skill of the
artist and his proficiency in this particular feat of representation
were regarded with an admiration which was in fact mainly non-æsthetic.
With the new indifference to representation we have become much less
interested in skill and not at all interested in knowledge. We are thus
no longer cut off from a great deal of barbaric and primitive art the
very meaning of which escaped the understanding of those who demanded a
certain standard of skill in representation before they could give
serious consideration to a work of art. In general the effect of the
movement has been to render the artist intensely conscious of the
æsthetic unity of the work of art, but singularly naïve and simple as
regards other considerations.

It remains to be considered whether the life of the past fifty years has
shown any such violent reorientation as we have found in the history of
modern art. If we look back to the days of Herbert Spencer and Huxley,
what changes are there in the general tendencies of life? The main ideas
of rationalism seem to me to have steadily made way--there have been
minor counter revolutions, it is true, but the main current of active
thought has surely moved steadily along the lines already laid down. I
mean that the scientific attitude is more and more widely accepted. The
protests of organised religion and of various mysticisms seem to grow
gradually weaker and to carry less weight. Hardly any writers or
thinkers of first-rate calibre now appear in the reactionary camp. I
see, in short, no big change in direction, no evident revulsion of

None the less I suppose that a Spencer would be impossible now and that
the materialism of to-day is recognisably different from the materialism
of Spencer. It would be very much less naïvely

[Illustration: 13th Cent. Sculpture in the Cloister of S. John Lateran]

[Illustration: Auguste Rodin. Group from “The Burghers of Calais”]

[Illustration: Henri Matisse. Sculpture in Plaster

Property of the Artist

Plate I.]

self-confident. It would admit far greater difficulties in presenting
its picture of the universe than would have occurred to Spencer. The
fact is that scepticism has turned on itself and has gone behind a great
many of the axioms that seemed self-evident to the earlier rationalists.
I do not see that it has at any point threatened the superstructure of
the rationalist position, but it has led us to recognise the necessity
of a continual revision and reconstruction of these data. Rationalism
has become less arrogant and less narrow in its vision. And this is
partly due also to the adventure of the scientific spirit into new
regions. I refer to all that immense body of study and speculation which
starts from Robertson Smith’s “Religion of the Israelites.” The
discovery of natural law in what seemed to earlier rationalists the
chaotic fancies and caprices of the human imagination. The assumption
that man is a mainly rational animal has given place to the discovery
that he is, like other animals, mainly instinctive. This modifies
immensely the attitude of the rationalist--it gives him a new charity
and a new tolerance. What seemed like the wilful follies of mad or
wicked men to the earlier rationalists are now seen to be inevitable
responses to fundamental instinctive needs. By observing mankind the man
of science has lost his contempt for him. Now this I think has had an
important bearing on the new movement in art. In the first place I find
something analogous in the new orientation of scientific and artistic
endeavour. Science has turned its instruments in on human nature and
begun to investigate its fundamental needs, and art has also turned its
vision inwards, has begun to work upon the fundamental necessities of
man’s æsthetic functions.

But besides this analogy, which may be merely accidental and not causal,
I think there can be little doubt that the new scientific development
(for it is in no sense a revolution) has modified men’s attitude to art.
To Herbert Spencer religion was primitive fear of the unknown and art
was sexual attraction--he must have contemplated with perfect
equanimity, almost with satisfaction, a world in which both these
functions would disappear. I suppose that the scientific man of to-day
would be much more ready to admit not only the necessity but the great
importance of æsthetic feeling for the spiritual existence of man. The
general conception of life in the mid-nineteenth century ruled out art
as noxious, or at best, a useless frivolity, and above all as a mere
survival of more primitive stages of evolution.

On the other hand, the artist of the new movement is moving into a
sphere more and more remote from that of the ordinary man. In proportion
as art becomes purer the number of people to whom it appeals gets less.
It cuts out all the romantic overtones of life which are the usual bait
by which men are induced to accept a work of art. It appeals only to the
æsthetic sensibility, and that in most men is comparatively weak.

In the modern movement in art, then, as in so many cases in past
history, the revolution in art seems to be out of all proportion to any
corresponding change in life as a whole. It seems to find its sources,
if at all, in what at present seem like minor movements. Whether the
difference between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will in
retrospect seem as great in life as they already do in art I cannot
guess--at least it is curious to note how much more conscious we are of
the change in art then we are in the general change in thought and

NOTE.--The original lecture was not illustrated, but the opportunity of
publishing this summary of it has suggested the possibility of
introducing a few examples to illustrate one point, viz., the extent to
which the works of the new movement correspond in aim with the works of
early art while being sharply contrasted with those of the penultimate
period. This will be, perhaps, most evident in Plate I, where I have
placed a figure from the cloisters of S. John Lateran, carved by a
thirteenth-century sculptor--then one of Rodin’s _Burghers of Calais_,
and then Matisse’s unfinished alto-rilievo figure. Here there is no need
to underline the startling difference shown by Rodin’s descriptive
method from the more purely plastic feeling of the two other artists.
Matisse and the thirteenth-century artist are much closer together than
Matisse and Rodin.

In Plate II I have placed Picasso beside Raphael. Here the obvious fact
is the common preoccupation of both artists with certain problems of
plastic design and the similarity of their solutions. Had I had space to
put a Sargent beside these the same violent contrast would have been


Raphael. “La Donna Gravida”      Pitti Palace, Florence]


Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Miss Gertrude Stein      Miss Gertrude Stein

Plate II.]


A certain painter, not without some reputation at the present day, once
wrote a little book on the art he practises, in which he gave a
definition of that art so succinct that I take it as a point of
departure for this essay.

“The art of painting,” says that eminent authority, “is the art of
imitating solid objects upon a flat surface by means of pigments.” It is
delightfully simple, but prompts the question--Is that all? And, if so,
what a deal of unnecessary fuss has been made about it. Now, it is
useless to deny that our modern writer has some very respectable
authorities behind him. Plato, indeed, gave a very similar account of
the affair, and himself put the question--is it then worth while? And,
being scrupulously and relentlessly logical, he decided that it was not
worth while, and proceeded to turn the artists out of his ideal
republic. For all that, the world has continued obstinately to consider
that painting was worth while, and though, indeed, it has never quite
made up its mind as to what, exactly, the graphic arts did for it, it
has persisted in honouring and admiring its painters.

Can we arrive at any conclusions as to the nature of the graphic arts,
which will at all explain our feelings about them, which will at least
put them into some kind of relation with the other arts, and not leave
us in the extreme perplexity, engendered by any theory of mere
imitation? For, I suppose, it must be admitted that if imitation is the
sole purpose of the graphic arts, it is surprising that the works of
such arts are ever looked upon as more than curiosities, or ingenious
toys, are ever taken seriously by grown-up people. Moreover, it will be
surprising that they have no recognisable affinity with other arts, such
as music or architecture, in which the imitation of actual objects is a
negligible quantity.

To form such conclusions is the aim I have put before myself in this
essay. Even if the results are not decisive, the inquiry may lead us to
a view of the graphic arts that will not be altogether unfruitful.

I must begin with some elementary psychology, with a consideration of
the nature of instincts. A great many objects in the world, when
presented to our senses, put in motion a complex nervous machinery,
which ends in some instinctive appropriate action. We see a wild bull in
a field; quite without our conscious interference a nervous process goes
on, which, unless we interfere forcibly, ends in the appropriate
reaction of flight. The nervous mechanism which results in flight causes
a certain state of consciousness, which we call the emotion of fear. The
whole of animal life, and a great part of human life, is made up of
these instinctive reactions to sensible objects, and their accompanying
emotions. But man has the peculiar faculty of calling up again in his
mind the echo of past experiences of this kind, of going over it again,
“in imagination” as we say. He has, therefore, the possibility of a
double life; one the actual life, the other the imaginative life.
Between these two lives there is this great distinction, that in the
actual life the processes of natural selection have brought it about
that the instinctive reaction, such, for instance, as flight from
danger, shall be the important part of the whole process, and it is
towards this that the man bends his whole conscious endeavour. But in
the imaginative life no such action is necessary, and, therefore, the
whole consciousness may be focussed upon the perceptive and the
emotional aspects of the experience. In this way we get, in the
imaginative life, a different set of values, and a different kind of

We can get a curious side glimpse of the nature of this imaginative life
from the cinematograph. This resembles actual life in almost every
respect, except that what the psychologists call the conative part of
our reaction to sensations, that is to say, the appropriate resultant
action is cut off. If, in a cinematograph, we see a runaway horse and
cart, we do not have to think either of getting out of the way or
heroically interposing ourselves. The result is that in the first place
we _see_ the event much more clearly; see a number of quite interesting
but irrelevant things, which in real life could not struggle into our
consciousness, bent, as it would be, entirely upon the problem of our
appropriate reaction. I remember seeing in a cinematograph the arrival
of a train at a foreign station and the people descending from the
carriages; there was no platform, and to my intense surprise I saw
several people turn right round after reaching the ground, as though to
orientate themselves; an almost ridiculous performance, which I had
never noticed in all the many hundred occasions on which such a scene
had passed before my eyes in real life. The fact being that at a station
one is never really a spectator of events, but an actor engaged in the
drama of luggage or prospective seats, and one actually sees only so
much as may help to the appropriate action.

In the second place, with regard to the visions of the cinematograph,
one notices that whatever emotions are aroused by them, though they are
likely to be weaker than those of ordinary life, are presented more
clearly to the consciousness. If the scene presented be one of an
accident, our pity and horror, though weak, since we know that no one is
really hurt, are felt quite purely, since they cannot, as they would in
life, pass at once into actions of assistance.

A somewhat similar effect to that of the cinematograph can be obtained
by watching a mirror in which a street scene is reflected. If we look at
the street itself we are almost sure to adjust ourselves in some way to
its actual existence. We recognise an acquaintance, and wonder why he
looks so dejected this morning, or become interested in a new fashion in
hats--the moment we do that the spell is broken, we are reacting to life
itself in however slight a degree, but, in the mirror, it is easier to
abstract ourselves completely, and look upon the changing scene as a
whole. It then, at once, takes on the visionary quality, and we become
true spectators, not selecting what we will see, but seeing everything
equally, and thereby we come to notice a number of appearances and
relations of appearances, which would have escaped our vision before,
owing to that perpetual economising by selection of what impressions we
will assimilate, which in life we perform by unconscious processes. The
frame of the mirror then, does, to some extent, turn the reflected scene
from one that belongs to our actual life into one that belongs rather to
the imaginative life. The frame of the mirror makes its surface into a
very rudimentary work of art, since it helps us to attain to the
artistic vision. For that is what, as you will already have guessed, I
have been coming to all this time, namely that the work of art is
intimately connected with the secondary imaginative life, which all men
live to a greater or lesser extent.

That the graphic arts are the expression of the imaginative life rather
than a copy of actual life might be guessed from observing children.
Children, if left to themselves, never, I believe, copy what they see,
never, as we say, “draw from nature,” but express, with a delightful
freedom and sincerity, the mental images which make up their own
imaginative lives.

Art, then, is an expression and a stimulus of this imaginative life,
which is separated from actual life by the absence of responsive action.
Now this responsive action implies in actual life moral responsibility.
In art we have no such moral responsibility--it presents a life freed
from the binding necessities of our actual existence.

What then is the justification for this life of the imagination which
all human beings live more or less fully? To the pure moralist, who
accepts nothing but ethical values, in order to be justified, it must be
shown not only _not_ to hinder but actually to forward right action,
otherwise it is not only useless but, since it absorbs our energies,
positively harmful. To such a one two views are possible, one the
Puritanical view at its narrowest, which regards the life of the
imagination as no better or worse than a life of sensual pleasure, and
therefore entirely reprehensible. The other view is to argue that the
imaginative life does subserve morality. And this is inevitably the view
taken by moralists like Ruskin, to whom the imaginative life is yet an
absolute necessity. It is a view which leads to some very hard special
pleading, even to a self-deception which is in itself morally

But here comes in the question of religion, for religion is also an
affair of the imaginative life, and, though it claims to have a direct
effect upon conduct, I do not suppose that the religious person if he
were wise would justify religion entirely by its effect on morality,
since that, historically speaking, has not been by any means uniformly
advantageous. He would probably say that the religious experience was
one which corresponded to certain spiritual capacities of human nature,
the exercise of which is in itself good and desirable apart from their
effect upon actual life. And so, too, I think the artist might if he
chose take a mystical attitude, and declare that the fullness and
completeness of the imaginative life he leads may correspond to an
existence more real and more important than any that we know of in
mortal life.

And in saying that, his appeal would find a sympathetic echo in most
minds, for most people would, I think, say that the pleasures derived
from art were of an altogether different character and more fundamental
than merely sensual pleasures, that they did exercise some faculties
which are felt to belong to whatever part of us there may be which is
not entirely ephemeral and material.

It might even be that from this point of view we should rather justify
actual life by its relation to the imaginative, justify nature by its
likeness to art. I mean this, that since the imaginative life comes in
the course of time to represent more or less what mankind feels to be
the completest expression of its own nature, the freest use of its
innate capacities, the actual life may be explained and justified in its
approximation here and there, however partially and inadequately, to
that freer and fuller life.

Before leaving this question of the justification of art, let me put it
in another way. The imaginative life of a people has very different
levels at different times, and these levels do not always correspond
with the general level of the morality of actual life. Thus in the
thirteenth century we read of barbarity and cruelty which would shock
even us; we may I think admit that our moral level, our general humanity
is decidedly higher to-day, but the level of our imaginative life is
incomparably lower; we are satisfied there with a grossness, a sheer
barbarity and squalor which would have shocked the thirteenth century
profoundly. Let us admit the moral gain gladly, but do we not also feel
a loss; do we not feel that the average business man would be in every
way a more admirable, more respectable being if his imaginative life
were not so squalid and incoherent? And, if we admit any loss then,
there is some function in human nature other than a purely ethical one,
which is worthy of exercise.

Now the imaginative life has its own history both in the race and in the
individual. In the individual life one of the first effects of freeing
experience from the necessities of appropriate responsive action is to
indulge recklessly the emotion of self-aggrandisement. The day-dreams of
a child are filled with extravagant romances in which he is always the
invincible hero. Music--which of all the arts supplies the strongest
stimulus to the imaginative life, and at the same time has the least
power of controlling its direction--music, at certain stages of people’s
lives, has the effect merely of arousing in an almost absurd degree this
egoistic elation, and Tolstoy appears to believe that this is its only
possible effect. But with the teaching of experience and the growth of
character the imaginative life comes to respond to other instincts and
to satisfy other desires, until, indeed, it reflects the highest
aspirations and the deepest aversions of which human nature is capable.

In dreams and when under the influence of drugs the imaginative life
passes out of our own control, and in such cases its experiences may be
highly undesirable, but whenever it remains under our own control it
must always be on the whole a desirable life. That is not to say that it
is always pleasant, for it is pretty clear that mankind is so
constituted as to desire much besides pleasure, and we shall meet among
the great artists, the great exponents, that is, of the imaginative
life, many to whom the merely pleasant is very rarely a part of what is
desirable. But this desirability of the imaginative life does
distinguish it very sharply from actual life, and is the direct result
of that first fundamental difference, its freedom from necessary
external conditions. Art, then, is, if I am right, the chief organ of
the imaginative life, it is by art that it is stimulated and controlled
within us, and, as we have seen, the imaginative life is distinguished
by the greater clearness of its perception, and the greater purity and
freedom of its emotion.

First with regard to the greater clearness of perception. The needs of
our actual life are so imperative, that the sense of vision becomes
highly specialised in their service. With an admirable economy we learn
to see only so much as is needful for our purposes; but this is in fact
very little, just enough to recognise and identify each object or
person; that done, they go into an entry in our mental catalogue and are
no more really seen. In actual life the normal person really only reads
the labels as it were on the objects around him and troubles no further.
Almost all the things which are useful in any way put on more or less
this cap of invisibility. It is only when an object exists in our lives
for no other purpose than to be seen that we really look at it, as for
instance at a China ornament or a precious stone, and towards such even
the most normal person adopts to some extent the artistic attitude of
pure vision abstracted from necessity.

Now this specialisation of vision goes so far that ordinary people have
almost no idea of what things really look like, so that oddly enough the
one standard that popular criticism applies to painting, namely, whether
it is like nature or not, is one which most people are, by the whole
tenour of their lives, prevented from applying properly. The only things
they have ever really _looked_ at being other pictures; the moment an
artist who has looked at nature brings to them a clear report of
something definitely seen by him, they are wildly indignant at its
untruth to nature. This has happened so constantly in our own time that
there is no need to prove it. One instance will suffice. Monet is an
artist whose chief claim to recognition lies in the fact of his
astonishing power of faithfully reproducing certain aspects of nature,
but his really naïve innocence and sincerity was taken by the public to
be the most audacious humbug, and it required the teaching of men like
Bastien-Lepage, who cleverly compromised between the truth and an
accepted convention of what things looked like, to bring the world
gradually round to admitting truths which a single walk in the country
with purely unbiassed vision would have established beyond doubt.

But though this clarified sense perception which we discover in the
imaginative life is of great interest, and although it plays a larger
part in the graphic arts than in any other, it might perhaps be doubted
whether, interesting, curious, fascinating as it is, this aspect of the
imaginative life would ever by itself make art of profound importance to
mankind. But it is different, I think, with the emotional aspect. We
have admitted that the emotions of the imaginative are generally weaker
than those of actual life. The picture of a saint being slowly flayed
alive, revolting as it is, will not produce the actual physical
sensations of sickening disgust that a modern man would feel if he could
assist at the actual event; but they have a compensating clearness of
presentment to the consciousness. The more poignant emotions of actual
life have, I think, a kind of numbing effect analogous to the paralysing
influence of fear in some animals; but even if this experience be not
generally admitted, all will admit that the need for responsive action
hurries us along and prevents us from ever realising fully what the
emotion is that we feel, from co-ordinating it perfectly with other
states. In short, the motives we actually experience are too close to us
to enable us to feel them clearly. They are in a sense unintelligible.
In the imaginative life, on the contrary, we can both feel the emotion
and watch it. When we are really moved at the theatre we are always both
on the stage and in the auditorium.

Yet another point about the emotions of the imaginative life--since they
require no responsive action we can give them a new valuation. In real
life we must to some extent cultivate those emotions which lead to
useful action, and we are bound to appraise emotions according to the
resultant action. So that, for instance, the feelings of rivalry and
emulation do get an encouragement which perhaps they scarcely deserve,
whereas certain feelings which appear to have a high intrinsic value get
almost no stimulus in actual life. For instance, those feelings to which
the name of the cosmic emotion has been somewhat unhappily given find
almost no place in life, but, since they seem to belong to certain very
deep springs of our nature, do become of great importance in the arts.

Morality, then, appreciates emotion by the standard of resultant action.
Art appreciates emotion in and for itself.

This view of the essential importance in art of the expression of the
emotions is the basis of Tolstoy’s marvellously original and yet
perverse and even exasperating book, “What is Art,” and I willingly
confess, while disagreeing with almost all his results, how much I owe
to him.

He gives an example of what he means by calling art the means of
communicating emotions. He says, let us suppose a boy to have been
pursued in the forest by a bear. If he returns to the village and merely
states that he was pursued by a bear and escaped, that is ordinary
language, the means of communicating facts or ideas; but if he describes
his state first of heedlessness, then of sudden alarm and terror as the
bear appears, and finally of relief when he gets away, and describes
this so that his hearers share his emotions, then his description is a
work of art.

Now in so far as the boy does this in order to urge the villagers to go
out and kill the bear, though he may be using artistic methods, his
speech is not a pure work of art; but if of a winter evening the boy
relates his experience for the sake of the enjoyment of his adventure in
retrospect, or better still, if he makes up the whole story for the sake
of the imagined emotions, then his speech becomes a pure work of art.
But Tolstoy takes the other view, and values the emotions aroused by art
entirely for their reaction upon actual life, a view which he
courageously maintains even when it leads him to condemn the whole of
Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, and most of Beethoven, not to mention
nearly everything he himself has written, as bad or false art.

Such a view would, I think, give pause to any less heroic spirit. He
would wonder whether mankind could have always been so radically wrong
about a function that, whatever its value be, is almost universal. And
in point of fact he will have to find some other word to denote what we
now call art. Nor does Tolstoy’s theory even carry him safely through
his own book, since, in his examples of morally desirable and therefore
good art, he has to admit that these are to be found, for the most part,
among works of inferior quality. Here, then, is at once the tacit
admission that another standard than morality is applicable. We must
therefore give up the attempt to judge the work of art by its reaction
on life, and consider it as an expression of emotions regarded as ends
in themselves. And this brings us back to the idea we had already
arrived at, of art as the expression of the imaginative life.

If, then, an object of any kind is created by man not for use, for its
fitness to actual life, but as an object of art, an object subserving
the imaginative life, what will its qualities be? It must in the first
place be adapted to that disinterested intensity of contemplation, which
we have found to be the result of cutting off the responsive action. It
must be suited to that heightened power of perception which we found to
result therefrom.

And the first quality that we demand in our sensations will be order,
without which our sensations will be troubled and perplexed, and the
other quality will be variety, without which they will not be fully

It may be objected that many things in nature, such as flowers, possess
these two qualities of order and variety in a high degree, and these
objects do undoubtedly stimulate and satisfy that clear disinterested
contemplation which is characteristic of the æsthetic attitude. But in
our reaction to a work of art there is something more--there is the
consciousness of purpose, the consciousness of a peculiar relation of
sympathy with the man who made this thing in order to arouse precisely
the sensations we experience. And when we come to the higher works of
art, where sensations are so arranged that they arouse in us deep
emotions, this feeling of a special tie with the man who expressed them
becomes very strong. We feel that he has expressed something which was
latent in us all the time, but which we never realised, that he has
revealed us to ourselves in revealing himself. And this recognition of
purpose is, I believe, an essential part of the æsthetic judgment

The perception of purposeful order and variety in an object gives us the
feeling which we express by saying that it is beautiful, but when by
means of sensations our emotions are aroused we demand purposeful order
and variety in them also, and if this can only be brought about by the
sacrifice of sensual beauty we willingly overlook its absence.

Thus, there is no excuse for a china pot being ugly, there is every
reason why Rembrandt’s and Degas’ pictures should be, from the purely
sensual point of view, supremely and magnificently ugly.

This, I think, will explain the apparent contradiction between two
distinct uses of the word beauty, one for that which has sensuous charm,
and one for the æsthetic approval of works of imaginative art where the
objects presented to us are often of extreme ugliness. Beauty in the
former sense belongs to works of art where only the perceptual aspect of
the imaginative life is exercised, beauty in the second sense becomes as
it were supersensual, and is concerned with the appropriateness and
intensity of the emotions aroused. When these emotions are aroused in a
way that satisfies fully the needs of the imaginative life we approve
and delight in the sensations through which we enjoy that heightened
experience, because they possess purposeful order and variety in
relation to those emotions.

One chief aspect of order in a work of art is unity; unity of some kind
is necessary for our restful contemplation of the work of art as a
whole, since if it lacks unity we cannot contemplate it in its entirety,
but we shall pass outside it to other things necessary to complete its

In a picture this unity is due to a balancing of the attractions to the
eye about the central line of the picture. The result of this balance of
attractions is that the eye rests willingly within the bounds of the
picture. Dr. Denman Ross of Harvard University has made a most valuable
study of the elementary considerations upon which this balance is based
in his “Theory of Pure Design.” He sums up his results in the formula
that a composition is of value in proportion to the number of orderly
connections which it displays.

Dr. Ross wisely restricts himself to the study of abstract and
meaningless forms. The moment representation is introduced forms have an
entirely new set of values. Thus a line which indicated the sudden bend
of a head in a certain direction would have far more than its mere value
as line in the composition because of the attraction which a marked
gesture has for the eye. In almost all paintings this disturbance of the
purely decorative values by reason of the representative effect takes
place, and the problem becomes too complex for geometrical proof.

This merely decorative unity is, moreover, of very different degrees of
intensity in different artists and in different periods. The necessity
for a closely woven geometrical texture in the composition is much
greater in heroic and monumental design than in genre pieces on a small

It seems also probable that our appreciation of unity in pictorial
design is of two kinds. We are so accustomed to consider only the unity
which results from the balance of a number of attractions presented to
the eye simultaneously in a framed picture that we forget the
possibility of other pictorial forms.

In certain Chinese paintings the length is so great that we cannot take
in the whole picture at once, nor are we intended to do so. Sometimes a
landscape is painted upon a roll of silk so long that we can only look
at it in successive segments. As we unroll it at one end and roll it up
at the other we traverse wide stretches of country, tracing, perhaps,
all the vicissitudes of a river from its source to the sea, and yet,
when this is well done, we have received a very keen impression of
pictorial unity.

Such a successive unity is of course familiar to us in literature and
music, and it plays its part in the graphic arts. It depends upon the
forms being presented to us in such a sequence that each successive
element is felt to have a fundamental and harmonious relation with that
which preceded it. I suggest that in looking at drawings our sense of
pictorial unity is largely of this nature; we feel, if the drawing be a
good one, that each modulation of the line as our eye passes along it
gives order and variety to our sensations. Such a drawing may be almost
entirely lacking in the geometrical balance which we are accustomed to
demand in paintings, and yet have, in a remarkable degree, unity.

Let us now see how the artist passes from the stage of merely gratifying
our demand for sensuous order and variety to that where he arouses our
emotions. I will call the various methods by which this is effected, the
emotional elements of design.

The first element is that of the rhythm of the line with which the forms
are delineated.

The drawn line is the record of a gesture, and that gesture is modified
by the artist’s feeling which is thus communicated to us directly.

The second element is mass. When an object is so represented that we
recognise it as having inertia we feel its power of resisting movement,
or communicating its own movement to other bodies, and our imaginative
reaction to such an image is governed by our experience of mass in
actual life.

The third element is space. The same sized square on two pieces of paper
can be made by very simple means to appear to represent either a cube
two or three inches high, or a cube of hundreds of feet, and our
reaction to it is proportionately changed.

The fourth element is that of light and shade. Our feelings towards the
same object become totally different according as we see it strongly
illuminated against a black background or dark against light.

A fifth element is that of colour. That this has a direct emotional
effect is evident from such words as gay, dull, melancholy in relation
to colour.

I would suggest the possibility of another element, though perhaps it is
only a compound of mass and space: it is that of the inclination to the
eye of a plane, whether it is impending over or leaning away from us.

Now it will be noticed that nearly all these emotional elements of
design are connected with essential conditions of our physical
existence: rhythm appeals to all the sensations which accompany muscular
activity; mass to all the infinite adaptations to the force of gravity
which we are forced to make; the spatial judgment is equally profound
and universal in its application to life; our feeling about inclined
planes is connected with our necessary judgments about the conformation
of the earth itself; light, again, is so necessary a condition of our
existence that we become intensely sensitive to changes in its
intensity. Colour is the only one of our elements which is not of
critical or universal importance to life, and its emotional effect is
neither so deep nor so clearly determined as the others. It will be
seen, then, that the graphic arts arouse emotions in us by playing upon
what one may call the overtones of some of our primary physical needs.
They have, indeed, this great advantage over poetry, that they can
appeal more directly and immediately to the emotional accompaniments of
our bare physical existence.

If we represent these various elements in simple diagrammatic terms,
this effect upon the emotions is, it must be confessed, very weak.
Rhythm of line, for instance, is incomparably weaker in its stimulus of
the muscular sense than is rhythm addressed to the ear in music, and
such diagrams can at best arouse only faint ghost-like echoes of
emotions of differing qualities; but when these emotional elements are
combined with the presentation of natural appearances, above all with
the appearance of the human body, we find that this effect is
indefinitely heightened.

When, for instance, we look at Michelangelo’s “Jeremiah,” and realise
the irresistible momentum his movements would have, we experience
powerful sentiments of reverence and awe. Or when we look at
Michelangelo’s “Tondo” in the Uffizi, and find a group of figures so
arranged that the planes have a sequence comparable in breadth and
dignity to the mouldings of the earth mounting by clearly-felt
gradations to an overtopping summit, innumerable instinctive reactions
are brought into play.[3]

At this point the adversary (as Leonardi da Vinci calls him) is likely
enough to retort, “You have abstracted from natural forms a number of
so-called emotional elements which you yourself admit are very weak when
stated with diagrammatic purity; you then put them back, with the help
of Michelangelo, into the natural forms whence they were derived, and at
once they have value, so that after all it appears that the natural
forms contain these emotional elements ready made up for us, and all
that art need do is to imitate Nature.”

But, alas! Nature is heartlessly indifferent to the needs of the
imaginative life; God causes His rain to fall upon the just and upon the
unjust. The sun neglects to provide the appropriate limelight effect
even upon a triumphant Napoleon or a dying Cæsar.[4] Assuredly we have
no guarantee that in nature the emotional elements will be combined
appropriately with the demands of the imaginative life, and it is, I
think, the great occupation of the graphic arts to give us first of all
order and variety in the sensuous plane, and then so to arrange the
sensuous presentment of objects that the emotional elements are elicited
with an order and appropriateness altogether beyond what Nature herself

Let me sum up for a moment what I have said about the relation of art to
Nature, which is, perhaps, the greatest stumbling-block to the
understanding of the graphic arts.

I have admitted that there is beauty in Nature, that is to say, that
certain objects constantly do, and perhaps any object may, compel us to
regard it with that intense disinterested contemplation that belongs to
the imaginative life, and which is impossible to the actual life of
necessity and action; but that in objects created to arouse the æsthetic
feeling we have an added consciousness of purpose on the part of the
creator, that he made it on purpose not to be used but to be regarded
and enjoyed; and that this feeling is characteristic of the æsthetic
judgment proper.

When the artist passes from pure sensations to emotions aroused by means
of sensations, he uses natural forms which, in themselves, are
calculated to move our emotions, and he presents these in such a manner
that the forms themselves generate in us emotional states, based upon
the fundamental necessities of our physical and physiological nature.
The artist’s attitude to natural form is, therefore, infinitely various
according to the emotions he wishes to arouse. He may require for his
purpose the most complete representation of a figure, he may be
intensely realistic, provided that his presentment, in spite of its
closeness to natural appearance, disengages clearly for us the
appropriate emotional elements. Or he may give us the merest suggestion
of natural forms, and rely almost entirely upon the force and intensity
of the emotional elements involved in his presentment.

We may, then, dispense once for all with the idea of likeness to Nature,
of correctness or incorrectness as a test, and consider only whether the
emotional elements inherent in natural form are adequately discovered,
unless, indeed, the emotional idea depends at any point upon likeness,
or completeness of representation.


Such were the outlandish names of the two great clans that marched under
the flag of the Antimacassar to the resounding periods of Mr. Podsnap’s
rhetoric. For all the appearance of leisure, for all the absence of
hustle, those were strenuous days. Respectability and “the young person”
were perpetually menaced by inveterate human nature, and were always or
nearly always just being saved as by a miracle. But in the end it was
the boast of the Victorians that they had established a system of taboos
almost as complicated and as all-pervading as that of the Ojibbeways or
the Waramunga. The Ottoman, which seated two so conveniently, was liable
to prove a traitor, but what the Ottoman risked could be saved by the
Whatnot, with Tennyson and John Greenleaf Whittier to counsel and
assuage. One of the things they used to say in those days, quite loudly
and distinctly, was: “Distance lends enchantment to the view.” It seemed
so appropriate at the frequent and admirably organised picnics that at
last it was repeated too often, and the time came when, under pain of
social degradation, it was forbidden to utter the hated words. But now
that we are busy bringing back the Ottoman and the Whatnot from the
garret and the servants’ hall to the drawing-room, we may once more
repeat the phrase with impunity, and indeed this article has no other
purpose than to repeat once more (and with how new a relish!): “Distance
lends enchantment to the view.”

Also, with our passion for science and exact measurement, we shall wish
to discover the exact distance at which enchantment begins. And this is
easier than might be supposed; for any one who has lived long enough
will have noticed that a certain distance lends a violent disgust to the
view--that as we recede there comes a period of oblivion and total
unconsciousness, to be succeeded when consciousness returns by the
ecstasy, the nature of which we are considering.

I, alas! can remember the time when the Ottoman and Whatnot still
lingered in the drawing-rooms of the less fashionable and more
conservative bourgeoisie; lingered despised, rejected, and merely
awaiting their substitutes. I can remember the sham Chippendale and the
sham old oak which replaced them. I can remember a still worse horror--a
genuine modern style which as yet has no name, a period of black
polished wood with spidery lines of conventional flowers incised in the
wood and then gilt. These things must have belonged to the eighties--I
think they went with the bustle; but as they are precisely at the
distance where unconsciousness has set in, it is more difficult to me to
write the history of this period than it would be to tell of the
sequence of styles in the Tang dynasty. And now, having watched the
Whatnot disappear, I have the privilege of watching its resurrection. I
have passed from disgust, through total forgetfulness, into the joys of

Now my belief is that none of these feelings have anything to do with
our æsthetic reactions to the objects as works of art. The odd thing
about either real or would-be works of art, that is to say, about any
works made with something beyond a purely utilitarian aim--the odd thing
is that they can either affect our æsthetic sensibilities or they can
become symbols of a particular way of life. In this aspect they affect
our historical imagination through our social emotions. That the
historical images they conjure up in us are probably false has very
little to do with it; the point is that they exist for us, and exist for
most people, far more vividly and poignantly than any possible æsthetic
feelings. And somehow the works of each period come to stand for us as
symbols of some particular and special aspect of life. A Limoges casket
evokes the idea of a life of chivalrous adventure and romantic devotion;
an Italian cassone gives one a life of intellectual ferment and
Boccaccian freedom; before a Caffieri bronze or a Riesener bureau one
imagines oneself an exquisite aristocrat proof against the deeper
passions, and gifted with a sensuality so refined and a wit so ready
that gallantry would be a sufficient occupation for a lifetime. Whoever
handling a Louis XV. tabatière reflected how few of the friends of its
original owner ever washed, and how many of them were marked with
smallpox? The fun of these historical evocations is precisely in what
they leave out.

And in order that this process of selection and elimination may take
place, precise and detailed knowledge must have faded from the
collective memory, and the blurred but exquisite outlines of a
generalisation must have been established.

We have just got to this point with the Victorian epoch. It has just got
its vague and generalised _Stimmung_. We think as we look at Leech’s
drawings, or sit in a bead-work chair, of a life which was the perfect
flower of bourgeoisie. The aristocracy with their odd irregular ways,
the Meredith heroines and heroes, are away in the background; _the_
Victorian life is of the upper bourgeoisie. It is immensely leisured,
untroubled by social problems, unblushingly sentimental, impenitently
unintellectual, and devoted to sport. The women are exquisitely trained
to their social functions; they respond unfailingly to every sentimental
appeal; they are beautifully ill-informed, and yet yearning for
instruction; they have adorable tempers and are ever so mildly
mischievous. The men can afford, without fear of impish criticism, to
flaunt their whiskers in the sea breeze, and to expatiate on their
contempt for everything that is not correct.

Here, I suppose, is something like the outline of that generalised
historical fancy that by now emanates so fragrantly from the marble
inlaid tables and the beadwork screens of the period. How charming and
how false it is, one sees at once when one reflects that we imagine the
Victorians for ever playing croquet without ever losing their tempers.

It is evident, then, that we have just arrived at the point where our
ignorance of life in the Victorian period is such as to allow the
incurable optimism of memory to build a quite peculiar little earthly
paradise out of the boredoms, the snobberies, the cruel repressions, the
mean calculations and rapacious speculations of the mid-nineteenth
century. Go a little later, and the imagination is hopelessly hampered
by familiarity with the facts of life which the roseate mist has not yet
begun to transmute. But let those of us who are hard at work collecting
Victorian paper-weights, stuffed hummingbirds and wax flowers reflect
that our successors will be able to create quite as amusing and
wonderful interiors out of the black wood cabinets and “æsthetic”
crewel-work of the eighties. They will not be able to do this until
they have constructed the appropriate social picture, the outlines of
which we cannot dimly conceive. We have at this moment no inkling of the
kind of lies they will invent about the eighties to amuse themselves; we
only know that when the time comes the legend will have taken shape, and
that, from that moment on, the objects of the time will have the
property of emanation.

So far it has been unnecessary even to consider whether the objects of
the Victorian period are works of art or not; all that is necessary is
that they should have some margin of freedom from utility, some scope
for the fancy of their creators. And the Victorian epoch is, I think,
unusually rich in its capacity for emanation, for it was the great
period of _fancy work_. As the age-long traditions of craftsmanship and
structural design, which had lingered on from the Middle Ages, finally
faded out under the impact of the new industrialism, the amateur stepped
in, his brain teeming with fancies. Craftsmanship was dead, the
craftsman replaced either by the machine or by a purely servile and
mechanical human being, a man without tradition, without ideas of his
own, who was ready to accomplish whatever caprices the amateur or the
artist might set him to. It was an age of invention and experiment, an
age of wildly irresponsible frivolity, curiosity and sentimentality. To
gratify sentiment, nature was opposed to the hampering conventions of
art; to gratify fatuous curiosity, the most improbable and ill-suited
materials conceivable were used. What they call in France _le style
coco_ is exactly expressive of this. A drawing of a pheasant is coloured
by cutting up little pieces of real pheasant’s feathers and sticking
them on in the appropriate places. Realistic flowers are made out of
shells glued together, or, with less of the pleasant shock of the
unexpected, out of wax or spun glass. They experiment in colour, using
the new results of chemistry boldly, greens from arsenic, magenta and
maroons from coal-tar, with results sometimes happy, sometimes
disastrous; but always we feel behind everything the capricious fancy of
the amateur with his desire to contribute by some joke or conjuring
trick to the social amenities. The general groundwork of design, so far
as any tradition remains at all, is a kind of bastard baroque passing at
times into a flimsy caricature of rococo, but almost always so overlaid
and transfigured by the fancies of the amateur as to be hardly
recognisable, and yet all, by now, so richly redolent of its social
legend as to have become a genuine style.

There is reason enough, then, why we should amuse ourselves by
collecting Victorian objects of art, or at least those of us who have
the special social-historical sensibility highly developed. But so
curiously intertwisted are our emotions that we are always apt to put a
wrong label on them, and the label “beauty” comes curiously handy for
almost any of the more spiritual and disinterested feelings. So our
collector is likely enough to ask us to admire his objects, not for
their social emanations, but for their intrinsic æsthetic merit, which,
to tell the truth, is far more problematical. Certain it is that the use
of material at this period seems to be less discriminating, and the
sense of quality feebler, than at any previous period of the world’s
history, at all events since Roman times--Pompeii, by-the-by, was a
thoroughly Victorian city. The sense of design was also chaotically free
from all the limitations of purpose and material, and I doubt if it
attained to that perfect abstract sense of harmony which might justify
any disregard of those conditions. No, on the whole it will be better to
recognise fully how endearing, how fancy-free, how richly evocative are
the objects of the Victorian period than to trouble our heads about
their æsthetic value.

The discovery of Victorian art is due to a few enterprising and original
artists. In a future article I hope to show why it is to the artist
rather than to the collector that we always owe such discoveries, and
also why artists are of all people the most indifferent to the æsthetic
value of the objects they recommend to our admiration.


In the preceding article I stated that artists always lead the way in
awakening a new admiration for forgotten and despised styles, and that
in doing so they anticipate both the archæologist and the collector. I
also suggested that they were of all people the least fitted to report
upon the æsthetic value of the objects they pressed upon us.

Biologically speaking, art is a blasphemy. We were given our eyes to see
things, not to look at them. Life takes care that we all learn the
lesson thoroughly, so that at a very early age we have acquired a very
considerable ignorance of visual appearances. We have learned the
meaning for life of appearances so well that we understand them, as it
were, in shorthand. The subtlest differences of appearance that have a
utility value still continue to be appreciated, while large and
important visual characters, provided they are useless for life, will
pass unnoticed. With all the ingenuity and resource which manufacturers
put into their business, they can scarcely prevent the ordinary eye from
seizing on the minute visual characteristics that distinguish margarine
from butter. Some of us can tell Canadian cheddar at a glance, and no
one was ever taken in by sham suède gloves.

The sense of sight supplies prophetic knowledge of what may affect the
inner fortifications, the more intimate senses of taste and touch, where
it may already be too late to avert disaster. So we learn to read the
prophetic message, and, for the sake of economy, to neglect all else.
Children have not learned it fully, and so they look at things with some
passion. Even the grown man keeps something of his unbiological,
disinterested vision with regard to a few things. He still looks at
flowers, and does not merely see them. He also keeps objects which have
some marked peculiarity of appearance that catches his eye. These may be
natural, like precious stones, fossils, incrustations and such like; or
they may be manufactured entirely with a view to pleasing by
peculiarities of colour or shape, and these are called ornaments. Such
articles, whether natural or artificial, are called by those who sell
them ‘curios,’ and the name is not an unhappy one to denote the kind of
interest which they arouse. As I showed in a previous article, such
objects get attached to them a secondary interest, arising from the kind
of social milieu that they were made for, so that they become not merely
curious for the eye, but stimulating to our social-historical

The vision with which we regard such objects is quite distinct from the
practical vision of our instinctive life. In the practical vision we
have no more concern after we have read the label on the object; vision
ceases the moment it has served its biological function. But the
curiosity vision does contemplate the object disinterestedly; the object
_ex hypothesi_ has no significance for actual life; it is a play or
fancy object, and our vision dwells much more consciously and
deliberately upon it. We notice to some extent its forms and colours,
especially when it is new to us.

But human perversity goes further even than this in its misapplication
of the gift of sight. We may look at objects not even for their
curiosity or oddity, but for their harmony of form and colour. To arouse
such a vision the object must be more than a ‘curio’: it has to be a
work of art. I suspect that such an object must be made by some one in
whom the impulse was not to please others, but to express a feeling of
his own. It is probably this fundamental difference of origin between
the ‘curio’ or ornament and the work of art that makes it impossible for
any commercial system, with its eye necessarily on the customer, ever to
produce works of art, whatever the ingenuity with which it is attempted.

But we are concerned here not with the origin, but with the vision. This
is at once more intense and more detached from the passions of the
instinctive life than either of the kinds of vision hitherto discussed.
Those who indulge in this vision are entirely absorbed in apprehending
the relation of forms and colour to one another, as they cohere within
the object. Suppose, for example, that we are looking at a Sung bowl; we
apprehend gradually the shape of the outside contour, the perfect
sequence of the curves, and the subtle modifications of a certain type
of curve which it shows; we also feel the relation of the concave curves
to the outside contour; we realise that the precise thickness of the
walls is consistent with the particular kind of matter of which it is
made, its appearance of density and resistance; and finally we
recognise, perhaps, how satisfactory for the display of all these
plastic qualities are the colour and the dull lustre of the glaze. Now
while we are thus occupied there comes to us, I think, a feeling of
purpose; we feel that all these sensually logical conformities are the
outcome of a particular feeling, or of what, for want of a better word,
we call an idea; and we may even say that the pot is the expression of
an idea in the artist’s mind. Whether we are right or not in making this
deduction, I believe it nearly always occurs in such æsthetic
apprehension of an object of art. But in all this no element of
curiosity, no reference to actual life, comes in; our apprehension is
unconditioned by considerations of space or time; it is irrelevant to us
to know whether the bowl was made seven hundred years ago in China, or
in New York yesterday. We may, of course, at any moment switch off from
the æsthetic vision, and become interested in all sorts of
quasi-biological feelings; we may inquire whether it is genuine or not,
whether it is worth the sum given for it, and so forth; but in
proportion as we do this we change the focus of our vision; we are more
likely to examine the bottom of the bowl for traces of marks than to
look at the bowl itself.

Such, then, is the nature of the æsthetic vision, the vision with which
we contemplate works of art. It is to such a vision, if to anything
outside himself, that the artist appeals, and the artist in his spare
hours may himself indulge in the æsthetic vision; and if one can get him
to do so, his verdict is likely to be as good as any one’s.

The artist’s main business in life, however, is carried on by means of
yet a fourth kind of vision, which I will call the creative vision.
This, I think, is the furthest perversion of the gifts of nature of
which man is guilty. It demands the most complete detachment from any of
the meanings and implications of appearances. Almost any turn of the
kaleidoscope of nature may set up in the artist this detached and
impassioned vision, and, as he contemplates the particular field of
vision, the (æsthetically) chaotic and accidental conjunction of forms
and colours begins to crystallise into a harmony; and as this harmony
becomes clear to the artist, his actual vision becomes distorted by the
emphasis of the rhythm which has been set up within him. Certain
relations of directions of line become for him full of meaning; he
apprehends them no longer casually or merely curiously, but
passionately, and these lines begin to be so stressed and stand out so
clearly from the rest that he sees them far more distinctly than he did
at first. Similarly colours, which in nature have almost always a
certain vagueness and elusiveness, become so definite and clear to him,
owing to their now necessary relation to other colours, that if he
chooses to paint his vision he can state them positively and definitely.
In such a creative vision the objects as such tend to disappear, to lose
their separate unities, and to take their places as so many bits in the
whole mosaic of vision. The texture of the whole field of vision becomes
so close that the coherence of the separate patches of tone and colour
within each object is no stronger than the coherence with every other
tone and colour throughout the field.

In such circumstances the greatest object of art becomes of no more
significance than any casual piece of matter; a man’s head is no more
and no less important than a pumpkin, or, rather, these things may be so
or not according to the rhythm that obsesses the artist and crystallises
his vision. Since it is the habitual practice of the artist to be on the
look out for these peculiar arrangements of objects that arouse the
creative vision, and become material for creative contemplation, he is
liable to look at all objects from this point of view. In so far as the
artist looks at objects only as part of a whole field of vision which is
his own potential picture, he can give no account of their æsthetic
value. Every solid object is subject to the play of light and shade, and
becomes a mosaic of visual patches, each of which for the artist is
related to other visual patches in the surroundings. It is irrelevant to
ask him, while he is looking with this generalised and all-embracing
vision, about the nature of the objects which compose it. He is likely
even to turn away from works of art in which he may be tempted to
relapse into an æsthetic vision, and so see them as unities apart from
their surroundings. By preference he turns to objects which make no
strong æsthetic appeal in themselves. But he may like objects which
attract by some oddity or peculiarity of form or colour, and thereby
suggest to him new and intriguing rhythms. In his continual and restless
preoccupation with appearance he is capable of looking at objects from
which both æsthetic and even curious vision may turn instinctively, or
which they may never notice, so little prospect of satisfaction do they
hold out. But the artist may always find his satisfaction, the material
for his picture, in the most unexpected quarters. Objects of the most
despised periods, or objects saturated for the ordinary man with the
most vulgar and repulsive associations, may be grist to his mill. And so
it happened that while the man of culture and the connoisseur firmly
believed that art ended with the brothers Adam, Mr. Walter Sickert was
already busy getting hold of stuffed birds and wax flowers just for his
own queer game of tones and colours. And now the collector and the
art-dealer will be knocking at Mr. Sickert’s door to buy the treasures
at twenty times the price the artist paid for them. Perhaps there are
already younger artists who are getting excited about the tiles in the
refreshment room at South Kensington, and, when the social legend has
gathered round the names of Sir Arthur Sullivan and Connie Gilchrist,
will inspire in the cultured a deep admiration for the “æsthetic”

The artist is of all men the most constantly observant of his
surroundings, and the least affected by their intrinsic æsthetic value.
He is more likely on the whole to paint a slum in Soho than St. Paul’s,
and more likely to do a lodging-house interior than a room at Hampton
Court. He may, of course, do either, but his necessary detachment comes
more easily in one case than the other. The artist is, I believe, a very
good critic if you can make him drop his own job for a minute, and
really attend to some one else’s work of art; but do not go to him when
he is on duty as an artist if you want a sound judgment about objects of
art. The different visions I have discussed are like the different gears
of a motor-car, only that we sometimes step from one gear into another
without knowing it, and the artist may be on the wrong gear for
answering us truly. Mr. Walter Sickert is likely to have a Sickert in
his eye when he gives us a panegyric on a bedroom candlestick.


I am not a Socialist, as I understand that word, nor can I pretend to
have worked out those complex estimates of economic possibility which
are needed before one can endorse the hopeful forecasts of Lady Warwick,
Mr. Money, and Mr. Wells. What I propose to do here is first to discuss
what effect plutocracy, such as it is to-day, has had of late, and is
likely to have in the near future, upon one of the things which I should
like to imagine continuing upon our planet--namely, art. And then
briefly to prognosticate its chances under such a regime as my
colleagues have sketched.

As I understand it, art is one of the chief organs of what, for want of
a better word, I must call the spiritual life. It both stimulates and
controls those indefinable overtones of the material life of man which
all of us at moments feel to have a quality of permanence and reality
that does not belong to the rest of our experience. Nature demands with
no uncertain voice that the physical needs of the body shall be
satisfied first; but we feel that our real human life only begins at the
point where that is accomplished, that the man who works at some
uncreative and uncongenial toil merely to earn enough food to enable him
to continue to work has not, properly speaking, a human life at all.

It is the argument of commercialism, as it once was of aristocracy, that
the accumulation of surplus wealth in a few hands enables this spiritual
life to maintain its existence, that no really valuable or useless work
(for from this point of view only useless work has value) could exist in
the community without such accumulations of wealth. The argument has
been employed for the disinterested work of scientific research. A
doctor of naturally liberal and generous impulses told me that he was
becoming a reactionary simply because he feared that public bodies would
never give the money necessary for research with anything like the same
generosity as is now shown by the great plutocrats. But Sir Ray
Lankester does not find that generosity sufficient, and is prepared at
least to consider a State more ample-spirited.

The situation as regards art and as regards the disinterested love of
truth is so similar that we might expect this argument in favour of a
plutocratic social order to hold equally well for both art and science,
and that the artist would be a fervent upholder of the present system.
As a matter of fact, the more representative artists have rarely been
such, and not a few, though working their life long for the plutocracy,
have been vehement Socialists.

Despairing of the conditions due to modern commercialism, it is not
unnatural that lovers of beauty should look back with nostalgia to the
age when society was controlled by a landed aristocracy. I believe,
however, that from the point of view of the encouragement of great
creative art there is not much difference between an aristocracy and a
plutocracy. The aristocrat usually had taste, the plutocrat frequently
has not. Now taste is of two kinds, the first consisting in the negative
avoidance of all that is ill-considered and discordant, the other
positive and a by-product; it is that harmony which always results from
the expression of intense and disinterested emotion. The aristocrat, by
means of his good taste of the negative kind, was able to come to terms
with the artist; the plutocrat has not. But both alike desire to buy
something which is incommensurate with money. Both want art to be a
background to their radiant self-consciousness. They want to buy beauty
as they want to buy love; and the painter, picture-dealer, and the
pander try perennially to persuade them that it is possible. But living
beauty cannot be bought; it must be won. I have said that the
aristocrat, by his taste, by his feeling for the accidentals of beauty,
did manage to get on to some kind of terms with the artist. Hence the
art of the eighteenth century, an art that is prone before the
distinguished patron, subtly and deliciously flattering and yet always
fine. In contrast to that the art of the nineteenth century is coarse,
turbulent, clumsy. It marks the beginning of a revolt. The artist just
managed to let himself be coaxed and cajoled by the aristocrat, but when
the aristocratic was succeeded by the plutocratic patron with less
conciliatory manners and no taste, the artist rebelled; and the history
of art in the nineteenth century is the history of a band of heroic
Ishmaelites, with no secure place in the social system, with nothing to
support them in the unequal struggle but a dim sense of a new idea, the
idea of the freedom of art from all trammels and tyrannies.

The place that the artists left vacant at the plutocrat’s table had to
be filled, and it was filled by a race new in the history of the world,
a race for whom no name has yet been found, a race of pseudo-artists. As
the prostitute professes to sell love, so these gentlemen professed to
sell beauty, and they and their patrons rollicked good-humouredly
through the Victorian era. They adopted the name and something of the
manner of artists; they intercepted not only the money, but the titles
and fame and glory which were intended for those whom they had
supplanted. But, while they were yet feasting, there came an event which
seemed at the time of no importance, but which was destined to change
ultimately the face of things, the exhibition of ancient art at
Manchester in 1857. And with this came Ruskin’s address on the Political
Economy of Art, a work which surprises by its prophetic foresight when
we read it half a century later. These two things were the Mene Tekel of
the orgy of Victorian Philistinism. The plutocrat saw through the
deception; it was not beauty the pseudo-artist sold him, any more than
it was love which the prostitute gave. He turned from it in disgust and
decided that the only beauty he could buy was the dead beauty of the
past. Thereupon set in the worship of _patine_ and the age of forgery
and the detection of forgery. I once remarked to a rich man that a
statue by Rodin might be worthy even of his collection. He replied,
“Show me a Rodin with the _patine_ of the fifteenth century, and I will
buy it.”

_Patine_, then, the adventitious material beauty which age alone can
give, has come to be the object of a reverence greater than that devoted
to the idea which is enshrined within the work of art. People are right
to admire _patine_. Nothing is more beautiful than gilded bronze of
which time has taken toll until it is nothing but a faded shimmering
splendour over depths of inscrutable gloom; nothing finer than the dull
glow which Pentelic marble has gathered from past centuries of sunlight
and warm Mediterranean breezes. _Patine_ is good, but it is a surface
charm added to the essential beauty of expression; its beauty is
literally skin-deep. It can never come into being or exist in or for
itself; no _patine_ can make a bad work good, or the forgers would be
justified. It is an adjectival and ancillary beauty scarcely worthy of
our prolonged contemplation.

There is to the philosopher something pathetic in the Plutocrat’s
worship of _patine_. It is, as it were, a compensation for his own want
of it. On himself all the rough thumb and chisel marks of his maker--and
he is self-made--stand as yet unpolished and raw; but his furniture, at
least, shall have the distinction of age-long acquaintance with good

But the net result of all this is that the artist has nothing to hope
from the plutocrat. To him we must be grateful indeed for that brusque
disillusionment of the real artist, the real artist who might have
rubbed along uneasily for yet another century with his predecessor, the
aristocrat. Let us be grateful to him for this; but we need not look to
him for further benefits, and if we decide to keep him the artist must
be content to be paid after he is dead and vicariously in the person of
an art-dealer. The artist must be content to look on while sums are
given for dead beauty, the tenth part of which, properly directed, would
irrigate whole nations and stimulate once more the production of vital
artistic expression.

I would not wish to appear to blame the plutocrat. He has often honestly
done his best for art; the trouble is not of his making more than of the
artist’s, and the misunderstanding between art and commerce is bound to
be complete. The artist, however mean and avaricious he may appear,
knows that he cannot really sell himself for money any more than the
philosopher or the scientific investigator can sell himself for money.
He takes money in the hope that he may secure the opportunity for the
free functioning of his creative power. If the patron could give him
that instead of money he would bless him; but he cannot, and so he tries
to get him to work not quite freely for money; and in revenge the artist
indulges in all manner of insolences, even perhaps in sharp practices,
which make the patron feel, with some justification, that he is the
victim of ingratitude and wanton caprice. It is impossible that the
artist should work for the plutocrat; he must work for himself, because
it is only by so doing that he can perform the function for which he
exists; it is only by working for himself that he can work for mankind.

If, then, the particular kind of accumulation of surplus wealth which we
call plutocracy has failed, as surely it has signally failed, to
stimulate the creative power of the imagination, what disposition of
wealth might be conceived that would succeed better? First of all, a
greater distribution of wealth, with a lower standard of ostentation,
would, I think, do a great deal to improve things without any great
change in other conditions. It is not enough known that the patronage
which really counts to-day is exercised by quite small and humble
people. These people with a few hundreds a year exercise a genuine
patronage by buying pictures at ten, twenty, or occasionally thirty
pounds, with real insight and understanding, thereby enabling the young
Ishmaelite to live and function from the age of twenty to thirty or so,
when perhaps he becomes known to richer buyers, those experienced
spenders of money who are always more cautious, more anxious to buy an
investment than a picture. These poor, intelligent first patrons to whom
I allude belong mainly to the professional classes; they have none of
the pretensions of the plutocrat and none of his ambitions. The work of
art is not for them, as for him, a decorative backcloth to his stage,
but an idol and an inspiration. Merely to increase the number and
potency of these people would already accomplish much; and this is to be
noticed, that if wealth were more evenly distributed, if no one had a
great deal of wealth, those who really cared for art would become the
sole patrons, since for all it would be an appreciable sacrifice, and
for none an impossibility. The man who only buys pictures when he has as
many motor-cars as he can conceivably want would drop out as a patron

But even this would only foster the minor and private arts; and what the
history of art definitely elucidates is that the greatest art has always
been communal, the expression--in highly individualised ways, no
doubt--of common aspirations and ideals.

Let us suppose, then, that society were so arranged that considerable
surplus wealth lay in the hands of public bodies, both national and
local; can we have any reasonable hope that they would show more skill
in carrying out the delicate task of stimulating and using the creative
power of the artist?

The immediate prospect is certainly not encouraging. Nothing, for
instance, is more deplorable than to watch the patronage of our
provincial museums. The gentlemen who administer these public funds
naturally have not realised so acutely as private buyers the lesson so
admirably taught at Christie’s, that pseudo or Royal-Academic art is a
bad investment. Nor is it better if we turn to national patronage. In
Great Britain, at least, we cannot get a postage stamp or a penny even
respectably designed, much less a public monument. Indeed, the tradition
that all public British art shall be crassly mediocre and inexpressive
is so firmly rooted that it seems to have almost the prestige of
constitutional precedent. Nor will any one who has watched a committee
commissioning a presentation portrait, or even buying an old master, be
in danger of taking too optimistic a view. With rare and shining
exceptions, committees seem to be at the mercy of the lowest common
denominator of their individual natures, which is dominated by fear of
criticism; and fear and its attendant, compromise, are bad masters of
the arts.

Speaking recently at Liverpool, Mr. Bernard Shaw placed the present
situation as regards public art in its true light. He declared that the
corruption of taste and the emotional insincerity of the mass of the
people had gone so far that any picture which pleased more than ten per
cent. of the population should be immediately burned....

This, then, is the fundamental fact we have to face. And it is this that
gives us pause when we try to construct any conceivable system of public

For the modern artist puts the question of any socialistic--or, indeed,
of any completely ordered--state in its acutest form. He demands as an
essential to the proper use of his powers a freedom from restraint such
as no other workman expects. He must work when he feels inclined; he
cannot work to order. Hence his frequent quarrels with the burgher who
knows he has to work when he is disinclined, and cannot conceive why the
artist should not do likewise. The burgher watches the artist’s wayward
and apparently quite unmethodical activity, and envies his job. Now, in
any Socialistic State, if certain men are licensed to pursue the
artistic calling, they are likely to be regarded by the other workers
with some envy. There may be a competition for such soft jobs among
those who are naturally work-shy, since it will be evident that the
artist is not called to account in the same way as other workers.

If we suppose, as seems not unlikely, in view of the immense numbers who
become artists in our present social state, that there would be this
competition for the artistic work of the community, what methods would
be devised to select those required to fill the coveted posts? Frankly,
the history of art in the nineteenth century makes us shudder at the
results that would follow. One scarcely knows whether they would be
worse if Bumble or the Academy were judge. We only know that under any
such conditions _none_ of the artists whose work has ultimately counted
in the spiritual development of the race would have been allowed to
practise the coveted profession.

There is in truth, as Ruskin pointed out in his “Political Economy of
Art,” a gross and wanton waste under the present system. We have
thousands of artists who are only so by accident and by name, on the one
hand, and certainly many--one cannot tell how many--who have the special
gift but have never had the peculiar opportunities which are to-day
necessary to allow it to expand and function. But there is, what in an
odd way consoles us, a blind chance that the gift and the opportunity
may coincide; that Shelley and Browning may have a competence, and
Cézanne a farm-house he could retire to. Bureaucratic Socialism would,
it seems, take away even this blind chance that mankind may benefit by
its least appreciable, most elusive treasures, and would carefully
organise the complete suppression of original creative power; would
organise into a universal and all-embracing tyranny the already
overweening and disastrous power of endowed official art. For we must
face the fact that the average man has two qualities which would make
the proper selection of the artist almost impossible. He has, first of
all, a touching proclivity to awe-struck admiration of whatever is
presented to him as noble by a constituted authority; and, secondly, a
complete absence of any immediate reaction to a work of art until his
judgment has thus been hypnotised by the voice of authority. Then, and
not till then, he sees, or swears he sees, those adorable Emperor’s
clothes that he is always agape for.

I am speaking, of course, of present conditions, of a populace whose
emotional life has been drugged by the sugared poison of pseudo-art, a
populace saturated with snobbishness, and regarding art chiefly for its
value as a symbol of social distinctions. There have been times when
such a system of public patronage as we are discussing might not have
been altogether disastrous. Times when the guilds represented more or
less adequately the genuine artistic intelligence of the time; but the
creation, first of all, of aristocratic art, and finally of pseudo-art,
have brought it about that almost any officially organised system would
at the present moment stereotype all the worst features of modern art.

Now, in thus putting forward the extreme difficulties of any system of
publicly controlled art, we are emphasising perhaps too much the idea of
the artist as a creator of purely ideal and abstract works, as the
medium of inspiration and the source of revelation. It is the artist as
prophet and priest that we have been considering, the artist who is the
articulate soul of mankind. Now, in the present commercial State, at a
time when such handiwork as is not admirably fitted to some purely
utilitarian purpose has become inanely fatuous and grotesque, the artist
in this sense has undoubtedly become of supreme importance as a
protestant, as one who proclaims that art is a reasonable function, and
one that proceeds by a nice adjustment of means to ends. But if we
suppose a state in which all the ordinary objects of daily life--our
chairs and tables, our carpets and pottery--expressed something of this
reasonableness instead of a crazy and vapid fantasy, the artist as a
pure creator might become, not indeed of less importance--rather
more--but a less acute necessity to our general living than he is
to-day. Something of the sanity and purposefulness of his attitude might
conceivably become infused into the work of the ordinary craftsman,
something, too, of his creative energy and delight in work. We must,
therefore, turn for a moment from the abstractly creative artist to the
applied arts and those who practise them.

We are so far obliged to protect ourselves from the implications of
modern life that without a special effort it is hard to conceive the
enormous quantity of “art” that is annually produced and consumed. For
the special purpose of realising it I take the pains to write the
succeeding paragraphs in a railway refreshment-room, where I am actually
looking at those terribly familiar but fortunately fleeting images which
such places afford. And one must remember that public places of this
kind merely reflect the average citizen’s soul, as expressed in his

The space my eye travels over is a small one, but I am appalled at the
amount of “art” that it harbours. The window towards which I look is
filled in its lower part by stained glass; within a highly elaborate
border, designed by some one who knew the conventions of
thirteenth-century glass, is a pattern of yellow and purple vine leaves
with bunches of grapes, and flitting about among these many small birds.
In front is a lace curtain with patterns taken from at least four
centuries and as many countries. On the walls, up to a height of four
feet, is a covering of lincrusta walton stamped with a complicated
pattern in two colours, with sham silver medallions. Above that a
moulding but an inch wide, and yet creeping throughout its whole with a
degenerate descendant of a Græco-Roman carved guilloche pattern; this
has evidently been cut out of the wood by machine or stamped out of some
composition--its nature is so perfectly concealed that it is hard to say
which. Above this is a wall-paper in which an effect of
eighteenth-century satin brocade is imitated by shaded staining of the
paper. Each of the little refreshment-tables has two cloths, one
arranged symmetrically with the table, the other a highly ornate printed
cotton arranged “artistically” in a diagonal position. In the centre of
each table is a large pot in which every beautiful quality in the
material and making of pots has been carefully obliterated by methods
each of which implies profound scientific knowledge and great inventive
talent. Within each pot is a plant with large dark-green leaves,
apparently made of india-rubber. This painful catalogue makes up only a
small part of the inventory of the “art” of the restaurant. If I were to
go on to tell of the legs of the tables, of the electric-light fittings,
of the chairs into the wooden seats of which some tremendous mechanical
force has deeply impressed a large distorted anthemion--if I were to
tell of all these things, my reader and I might both begin to realise
with painful acuteness something of the horrible toil involved in all
this display. Display is indeed the end and explanation of it all. Not
one of these things has been made because the maker enjoyed the making;
not one has been bought because its contemplation would give any one any
pleasure, but solely because each of these things is accepted as a
symbol of a particular social status. I say their contemplation can give
no one pleasure; they are there because their absence would be resented
by the average man who regards a large amount of futile display as in
some way inseparable from the conditions of that well-to-do life to
which he belongs or aspires to belong. If everything were merely clean
and serviceable he would proclaim the place bare and uncomfortable.

The doctor who lines his waiting-room with bad photogravures and worse
etchings is acting on exactly the same principle; in short, nearly all
our “art” is made, bought, and sold merely for its value as an
indication of social status.

Now consider the case of those men whose life-work it is to stimulate
this eczematous eruption of pattern on the surface of modern
manufactures. They are by far the most numerous “artists” in the
country. Each of them has not only learned to draw but has learned by
sheer application to put forms together with a similitude of that
coherence which creative impulse gives. Probably each of them has
somewhere within him something of that creative impulse which is the
inspiration and delight of every savage and primitive craftsman; but in
these manufacturer’s designers the pressure of commercial life has
crushed and atrophied that creative impulse completely. Their business
is to produce, not expressive design, but dead patterns. They are
compelled, therefore, to spend their lives behaving in an entirely
idiotic and senseless manner, and that with the certainty that no one
will ever get positive pleasure from the result; for one may hazard the
statement that until I made the effort just now, no one of the thousands
who use the refreshment-rooms ever really _looked_ at the designs.

This question of the creation and consumption of art tends to become
more and more pressing. I have shown just now what an immense mass of
art is consumed, but this is not the same art as that which the genuine
artist produces. The work of the truly creative artist is not merely
useless to the social man--it appears to be noxious and inassimilable.
Before art can be “consumed” the artistic idea must undergo a process of
disinfection. It must have extracted and removed from it all, or nearly
all, that makes it æsthetically valuable. What occurs when a great
artist creates a new idea is somewhat as follows: We know the process
well enough, since it has taken place in the last fifty years. An artist
attains to a new vision. He grasps this with such conviction that he is
able to express it in his work. Those few people in his immediate
surroundings who have the faculty of æsthetic perception become very
much excited by the new vision. The average man, on the other hand,
lacks this faculty and, moreover, instinctively protects the rounded
perfection of his universe of thought and feeling from the intrusion of
new experience; in consequence he becomes extremely irritated by the
sight of works which appear to him completely unintelligible. The
misunderstanding between this small minority and the public becomes
violent. Then some of the more intelligent writers on art recognise that
the new idea is really related to past æsthetic expressions which have
become recognised. Then a clever artist, without any individual vision
of his own, sees the possibility of using a modification of the new
idea, makes an ingenious compromise between it and the old, generally
accepted notions of art. The public, which has been irritated by its
incomprehension of the new idea, finding the compromise just
intelligible, and delighted to find itself cleverer than it thought,
acclaims the compromising intermediary as a genius. The process of
disinfection thus begun goes on with increasing energy and rapidity, and
before long the travesty of the new idea is completely assimilable by
the social organism. The public, after swallowing innumerable imitations
of the new idea, may even at last reluctantly accept the original
creator as a great man, but generally not until he has been dead for
some time and has become a vague and mythical figure.

It is literally true to say that the imitations of works of art are more
assimilable by the public than originals, and therefore always tend to
fetch a higher price in the market at the moment of their production.

The fact is that the average man uses art entirely for its symbolic
value. Art is in fact the symbolic currency of the world. The possession
of rare and much coveted works of art is regarded as a sign of national
greatness. The growth and development of the Kaiser Friedrich museum was
due to the active support of the late Emperor, a man whose distaste for
genuine art is notorious, but whose sense of the symbolic was highly
developed. Large and expensively ornamented buildings become symbols of
municipal greatness. The amount of useless ornaments on façades of their
offices is a valuable symbol of the financial exuberance of big
commercial undertakings; and, finally, the social status of the
individual is expressed to the admiring or envious outer world by the
streamlines of an aristocratic motor-car, or the superfluity of lace
curtains in the front windows of a genteel suburban villa.

The social man, then, lives in a world of symbols, and though he presses
other things into his service, such, for instance, as kings, footmen,
dogs, women, he finds in art his richest reservoir of symbolic currency.
But in a world of symbolists the creative artist and the creative man of
science appear in strange isolation as the only people who are not
symbolists. They alone are up against certain relations which do not
stand for something else, but appear to have ultimate value, to be real.

Art as a symbolic currency is an important means of the instinctive life
of man, but art as created by the artist is in violent revolt against
the instinctive life, is an expression of the reflective and fully
conscious life. It is natural enough, then, that before it can be used
by the instinctive life it must be deprived by travesty of its too
violent assertion of its own reality. Travesty is necessary at first to
make it assimilable, but in the end long familiarity may rob even
original works of art of their insistence, so that, finally, even the
great masterpieces may become the most cherished symbols of the lords of
the instinctive life, may, as in fact they frequently do, become the
property of millionaires.

A great deal of misunderstanding and ill-feeling between the artist and
the public comes from a failure to realise the necessity of this process
of assimilation of the work of art to the needs of the instinctive

I suspect that a very similar process takes place with regard to truth.
In order that truth may not outrage too violently the passions and
egoisms of the instinctive life it, too, must undergo a process of

Society, for example, accepts as much of the ascertainable truth as it
can stand at a given period in the form of the doctrine of its organised

Now what effect would the development of the Great State which this book
anticipates have upon all this? First, I suppose that the fact that
every one had to work might produce a new reverence, especially in the
governing body, for work, a new sense of disgust and horror at wasteful
and purposeless work. Mr. Money has written of waste of work; here in
unwanted pseudo-art is another colossal waste. Add to this ideal of
economy in work the presumption that the workers in every craft would be
more thoroughly organised and would have a more decisive voice in the
nature and quality of their productions. Under the present system of
commercialism the one object, and the complete justification, of
producing any article is, that it can be made either by its intrinsic
value, or by the fictitious value put upon it by advertisement, to sell
with a sufficient profit to the manufacturer. In any socialistic state,
I imagine--and to a large extent the Great State will be socialistic at
least--there would not be this same automatic justification for
manufacture; people would not be induced artificially to buy what they
did not want, and in this way a more genuine scale of values would be
developed. Moreover, the workman would be in a better position to say
how things should be made. After years of a purely commercial standard,
there is left even now, in the average workman, a certain bias in favour
of sound and reasonable workmanship as opposed to the ingenious
manufacture of fatuous and fraudulent objects; and, if we suppose the
immediate pressure of sheer necessity to be removed, it is probable that
the craftsman, acting through his guild organisations, would determine
to some extent the methods of manufacture. Guilds might, indeed, regain
something of the political influence that gave us the Gothic cathedrals
of the Middle Ages. It is quite probable that this guild influence would
act as a check on some innovations in manufacture which, though bringing
in a profit, are really disastrous to the community at large. Of such a
nature are all the so-called improvements whereby decoration, the whole
value of which consists in its expressive power, is multiplied
indefinitely by machinery. When once the question of the desirability of
any and every production came to be discussed, as it would be in the
Great State, it would inevitably follow that some reasonable and
scientific classifications would be undertaken with regard to machinery.
That is to say, it would be considered in what processes and to what
degree machinery ought to replace handiwork, both from the point of view
of the community as a whole and from that of the producer. So far as I
know, this has never been undertaken even with regard to mere economy,
no one having calculated with precision how far the longer life of
certain hand-made articles does not more than compensate for increased
cost of production. And I suppose that in the Great State other things
besides mere economy would come into the calculation. The Great State
will live, not hoard.

It is probable that in many directions we should extend mechanical
operations immensely, that such things as the actual construction of
buildings, the mere laying and placing of the walls might become
increasingly mechanical. Such methods, if confined to purely structural
elements, are capable of beauty of a special kind, since they can
express the ordered ideas of proportion, balance, and interval as
conceived by the creative mind of the architect. But in process of time
one might hope to see a sharp line of division between work of this kind
and such purely expressive and non-utilitarian design as we call
ornament; and it would be felt clearly that into this field no
mechanical device should intrude, that, while ornament might be
dispensed with, it could never be imitated, since its only reason for
being is that it conveys the vital expressive power of a human mind
acting constantly and directly upon matter.

Finally, I suppose that in the Great State we might hope to see such a
considerable levelling of social conditions that the false values put
upon art by its symbolising of social status would be largely destroyed
and, the pressure of mere opinion being relieved, people would develop
some more immediate reaction to the work of art than they can at present

Supposing, then, that under the Great State it was found impossible, at
all events at first, to stimulate and organise the abstract creative
power of the pure artist, the balance might after all be in favour of
the new order if the whole practice of applied art could once more
become rational and purposeful. In a world where the objects of daily
use and ornament were made with practical common sense, the æsthetic
sense would need far less to seek consolation and repose in works of
pure art.

Nevertheless, in the long run mankind will not allow this function,
which is necessary to its spiritual life, to lapse entirely. I imagine,
however, that it would be much safer to penalise rather than to
stimulate such activity, and that simply in order to sift out those with
a genuine passion from those who are merely attracted by the apparent
ease of the pursuit. I imagine that the artist would naturally turn to
one of the applied arts as his means of livelihood; and we should get
the artist coming out of the _bottega_, as he did in fifteenth-century
Florence. There are, moreover, innumerable crafts, even besides those
that are definitely artistic, which, if pursued for short hours (Sir Leo
Money has shown how short these hours might be), would leave a man free
to pursue other callings in his leisure.

The majority of poets to-day are artists in this position. It is
comparatively rare for any one to make of poetry his actual means of
livelihood. Our poets are, first of all, clerks, critics, civil
servants, or postmen. I very much doubt if it would be a serious loss to
the community if the pure graphic artist were in the same position. That
is to say, that all our pictures would be made by amateurs. It is quite
possible to suppose that this would be not a loss, but a great gain. The
painter’s means of livelihood would probably be some craft in which his
artistic powers would be constantly occupied, though at a lower tension
and in a humbler way. The Great State aims at human freedom;
essentially, it is an organisation for leisure--out of which art grows;
it is only a purely bureaucratic Socialism that would attempt to control
the æsthetic lives of men.

So I conceive that those in whom the instinct for abstract creative art
was strongest would find ample opportunities for its exercise, and that
the temptation to simulate this particular activity would be easily
resisted by those who had no powerful inner compulsion.

In the Great State, moreover, and in any sane Socialism, there would be
opportunity for a large amount of purely private buying and selling. Mr.
Wells’s Modern Utopia, for example, hypothecates a vast superstructure
of private trading. A painter might sell his pictures to those who were
engaged in more lucrative employment, though one supposes that with the
much more equal distribution of wealth the sums available for this would
be incomparably smaller than at present; a picture would not be a
speculation, but a pleasure, and no one would become an artist in the
hope of making a fortune.

Ultimately, of course, when art had been purified of its present
unreality by a prolonged contact with the crafts, society would gain a
new confidence in its collective artistic judgment, and might even
boldly assume the responsibility which at present it knows it is unable
to face. It might choose its poets and painters and philosophers and
deep investigators, and make of such men and women a new kind of kings.


The author of an illuminating article, “The Place of Science,” in _The
Athenæum_ for April 11th, distinguishes between two aspects of
intellectual activity in scientific work. Of these two aspects one
derives its motive power from curiosity, and this deals with particular
facts. It is only when, through curiosity, man has accumulated a mass of
particular observations that the second intellectual activity manifests
itself, and in this the motive is the satisfaction which the mind gets
from the contemplation of inevitable relations. To secure this end the
utmost possible generalisation is necessary.

In a later article S. says boldly that this satisfaction is an æsthetic
satisfaction: “It is in its æsthetic value that the justification of the
scientific theory is to be found, and with it the justification of the
scientific method.” I should like to pose to S. at this point the
question of whether a theory that disregarded facts would have equal
value for science with one which agreed with facts. I suppose he would
say No; and yet, so far as I can see, there would be no purely æsthetic
reason why it should not. The æsthetic value of a theory would surely
depend solely on the perfection and complexity of the unity attained,
and I imagine that many systems of scholastic theology, and even some
more recent systems of metaphysic, have only this æsthetic value. I
suspect that the æsthetic value of a theory is not really adequate to
the intellectual effort entailed unless, as in a true scientific theory
(by which I mean a theory which embraces all the known relevant facts),
the æsthetic value is reinforced by the curiosity value which comes in
when we believe it to be true. But now, returning to art, let me try to
describe rather more clearly its analogies with science.

Both of these aspects--the particularising and the generalising--have
their counterparts in art. Curiosity impels the artist to the
consideration of every possible form in nature: under its stimulus he
tends to accept each form in all its particularity as a given,
unalterable fact. The other kind of intellectual activity impels the
artist to attempt the reduction of all forms, as it were, to some common
denominator which will make them comparable with one another. It impels
him to discover some æsthetically intelligible principle in various
forms, and even to envisage the possibility of some kind of abstract
form in the æsthetic contemplation of which the mind would attain
satisfaction--a satisfaction curiously parallel to that which the mind
gets from the intellectual recognition of abstract truth.

If we consider the effects of these two kinds of intellectual activity,
or rather their exact analogues, in art, we have to note that in so far
as the artist’s curiosity remains a purely intellectual curiosity it
interferes with the perfection and purity of the work of art by
introducing an alien and non-æsthetic element and appealing to
non-æsthetic desires; in so far as it merely supplies the artist with
new motives and a richer material out of which to build his designs, it
is useful but subsidiary. Thus the objection to a “subject picture,” in
so far as one remains conscious of the subject as something outside of,
and apart from, the form, is a valid objection to the intrusion of
intellect, of however rudimentary a kind, into an æsthetic whole. The
ordinary historical pictures of our annual shows will furnish perfect
examples of such an intrusion, since they exhibit innumerable appeals to
intellectual recognitions without which the pictures would be
meaningless. Without some previous knowledge of Caligula or Mary Queen
of Scots we are likely to miss our way in a great deal of what passes
for art to-day.

The case of the generalising intellect, or rather its analogue, in art
is more difficult. Here the recognition of relations is immediate and
sensational--perhaps we ought to consider it as curiously akin to those
cases of mathematical geniuses who have immediate intuition of
mathematical relations which it is beyond their powers to prove--so that
it is by analogy that we may talk of it at all as intellectual. But the
analogy is so close that I hope it may justify the use I here suggest.
For in both cases the utmost possible generalisation is aimed at, and in
both the mind is held in delighted equilibrium by the contemplation of
the inevitable relations of all the parts in the whole, so that no need
exists to make reference to what is outside the unity, and this becomes
for the time being a universe.

It will be seen how close the analogies are between the methods and aims
of art and science, and yet there remains an obstinate doubt in the mind
whether at any point they are identical. Probably in order to get much
further we must wait for the psychologists to solve a number of
problems; meanwhile this at least must be pointed out--that, allowing
that the motives of science are emotional, many of its processes are
purely intellectual, that is to say, mechanical. They could be performed
by a perfectly non-sentient, emotionless brain, whereas at no point in
the process of art can we drop feeling. There is something in the common
phraseology by which we talk of _seeing_ a point or an argument, whereas
we _feel_ the harmony of a work of art; and for some reason we attach a
more constant emotional quality to feeling than to seeing, which is so
constantly used for coldly practical ends.

From the merest rudiments of pure sensation up to the highest efforts of
design each point in the process of art is inevitably accompanied by
pleasure; it cannot proceed without it. If we describe the process of
art as a logic of sensation, we must remember that the premises are
sensations, and that the conclusion can only be drawn from them by one
who is in an emotional state with regard to them. Thus a harmony in
music cannot be perceived by a person who merely hears accurately the
notes which compose it--it can only be recognised when the relations of
those notes to one another are accompanied by emotion. It is quite true
that the recognition of inevitability in thought is normally accompanied
by a pleasurable emotion, and that the desire for this mental pleasure
is the motive force which impels to the making of scientific theory. But
the inevitability of the relations remains equally definite and
demonstrable whether the emotion accompanies it or not, whereas an
æsthetic harmony simply does not exist without the emotional state. The
harmony is not _true_ (to use our analogy) unless it is felt with

None the less, perhaps, the highest pleasure in art is identical with
the highest pleasure in scientific theory. The emotion which accompanies
the clear recognition of unity in a complex seems to be so similar in
art and in science that it is difficult not to suppose that they are
psychologically the same. It is, as it were, the final stage of both
processes. This unity-emotion in science supervenes upon a process of
pure mechanical reasoning; in art it supervenes upon a process of which
emotion has all along been an essential concomitant.

It may be that in the complete apprehension of a work of art there
occurs more than one kind of feeling. There is generally a basis of
purely physiological pleasure, as in seeing pure colours or hearing pure
sounds; then there is the specifically æsthetic emotion by means of
which the necessity of relations is apprehended, and which corresponds
in science to the purely logical process; and finally there is the
unity-emotion, which may not improbably be of an identical kind in both
art and science.

In the art of painting we may distinguish between the unity of texture
and the unity of design. I know quite well that these are not really
completely separable, and that they are to some extent mutually
dependent; but they may be regarded as separate for the purpose of
focussing our attention. Certainly we can think of pictures in which the
general architecture of the design is in no way striking or remarkable
which yet please us by the perfection of the texture, that is to say,
the ease with which we apprehend the necessary relationship of one
shape, tone or colour with its immediately surrounding shapes, tones or
colours; our æsthetic sense is continually aroused and satisfied by the
succession of inevitable relationships. On the other hand, we know of
works of art in which the unity and complexity of the texture strike us
far less than the inevitable and significant relationship of the main
divisions of the design--pictures in which we should say that the
composition was the most striking beauty. It is when the composition of
a picture, adequately supported as it must be by significance of
texture, reveals to us the most surprising and yet inevitable
relationships that we get most strongly the final unity-emotion of a
work of art. It is these pictures that are, as S. would say of certain
theories, the most significant for contemplation. Nor before such works
can we help implicitly attributing to their authors the same kind of
power which in science we should call “great intellect,” though perhaps
in both the term “great imaginative organisation” would be better.


In the history of mankind drawing has at different times and among
different races expressed so many different conceptions, and has used
such various means, that it would seem to be not one art, but many. It
would seem, indeed, that it has its origins in several quite distinct
instincts of the human race, and it may not be altogether unimportant
even for the modern draughtsman to investigate these instincts in their
simpler manifestations in order to check and control his own methods.
The primitive drawing of our own race is singularly like that of
children. Its most striking peculiarity is the extent to which it is
dominated by the concepts of language. In a child’s drawing we find a
number of forms which have scarcely any reference to actual appearances,
but which directly symbolise the most significant concepts of the thing
represented. For a child, a man is the sum of the concept’s head (which
in turn consists of eyes, nose, mouth), arms, hands (five fingers),
legs, feet. Torso is not a concept which interests him, and it is,
therefore, usually reduced to a single line which serves to link the
concept-symbol head with those of the legs. The child does, of course,
know that the figure thus drawn is not like a man, but it is a kind of
hieroglyphic script for a man, and satisfies his desire for expression.
Precisely the same phenomenon occurs in primitive art; the symbols for
concepts gradually take on more and more of the likeness to appearances,
but the mode of approach remains even in comparatively advanced periods
the same. The artist does not seek to transfer a visual sensation to
paper, but to express a mental image which is coloured by his conceptual

Prof. Loewy[10] has investigated the laws which govern representation in
early art, and has shown that the influence of the early artist’s ideas
of representation persist in Greek sculpture down to the time of
Lysippus. He enumerates seven peculiarities of early drawing, of which
the most important are that the figures are shown with each of their
parts in its broadest aspect, and that the forms are stylised--_i.e._
present linear formations that are regular or tend to regularity.

Of the first of these peculiarities Egyptian and Assyrian sculpture,
even of the latest and most developed periods, afford constant examples.
We see there the head in profile, the eye full face, the shoulders and
breast full face, and by a sudden twist in the body the legs and feet
again in profile. In this way each part is presented in that aspect
which most clearly expresses its corresponding visual concepts. Thus a
foot is much more clearly denoted by its profile view than by the
rendering of its frontal appearance--while no one who was asked to think
of an eye would visualise it to himself in any other than a full-face
view. In such art, then, the body is twisted about so that each part may
be represented by that aspect which the mental image aroused by the name
of the part would have, and the figure becomes an ingenious compound of
typical conceptual images. In the case of the head two aspects are
accepted as symbolic of the concept “head,” the profile and the
full-face; but it is very late in the development of art before men are
willing to accept any intermediate position as intelligible or
satisfactory. It is generally supposed that early art avoids
foreshortening because of its difficulty. One may suppose rather that it
is because the foreshortened view of a member corresponds so ill with
the normal conceptual image, and is therefore not accepted as
sufficiently expressive of the idea. Yet another of the peculiarities
named by Prof. Loewy must be mentioned, namely, that the “conformation
and movement of the figures and their parts are limited to a few typical
shapes.” And these movements are always of the simplest kinds, since
they are governed by the necessity of displaying each member in its
broadest and most explicit aspect. In particular the crossing of one
limb over another is avoided as confusing.

Such in brief outline are some of the main principles of drawing both
among primitive peoples and among our own children. It is not a little
surprising then to find, when we turn to Miss Tongue’s careful copies
of the drawings executed by the Bushmen of South Africa[11] that the
principles are more often contradicted than exemplified. We find, it is
true, a certain barbaric crudity and simplicity which give these
drawings a superficial resemblance to children’s drawings or those of
primitive times, but a careful examination will show how different they
are. The drawings are of different periods, though none of them probably
are of any considerable antiquity, since the habit of painting over an
artist’s work when once he was forgotten obtained among the bushmen no
less than with more civilised people. These drawings are also of very
different degrees of skill. They represent for the most part scenes of
the chase and war, dances and festivals, and in one case there is an
illustration to a bushman story and one figure is supposed to represent
a ghost. There is no evidence of deliberate decorative purpose in these
paintings. The figures are cast upon the walls of the cave in such a way
as to represent, roughly, the actual scenes.[12] Nothing could be more
unlike primitive art than some of these scenes. For instance, the battle
fought between two tribes over the possession of some cattle, is
entirely unlike battle scenes such as we find in early Assyrian reliefs.
There the battle is schematic, all the soldiers of one side are in
profile to right, all the soldiers of the opposing side are in profile
to left. The whole scene is perfectly clear to the intelligence, it
follows the mental image of what a battle ought to be, but is entirely
unlike what a battle ever is. Now, in the Bushman drawing, there is
nothing truly schematic; it is difficult to find out the soldiers of the
two sides; they are all mixed up in a confused hurly-burly, some
charging, others flying, and here and there single combats going on at a
distance from the main battle. But more than this, the men are in every
conceivable attitude, running, standing, kneeling, crouching, or turning
sharply round in the middle of flight to face the enemy once more.

In fact we have, in all its confusion, all its indeterminate variety and
accident, a rough silhouette of the actual appearance of such a scene as
viewed from above, for the Bushman makes this sacrifice of actual
appearance to lucidity of statement--that he represents the figures as
spread out over the ground, and not as seen one behind another.

Or take again Plate XI of Miss Tongue’s album; the scene is the Veldt
with elands and rheboks scattered over its surface. The animals are
arranged in the most natural and casual manner; sometimes in this case
part of one animal is hidden by the animal in front; but what strikes
one most is the fact that extremely complicated poses are rendered with
the same ease as the more frequent profile view, and that momentary
actions are treated with photographic verisimilitude. See Figs. 1 and 2.

[Illustration: FIG. 1.]

[Illustration: FIG. 2.]

[Illustration: FIG. 3.]

[Illustration: FIG. 4.]

[Illustration: FIG. 5.]

Another surprising instance of this is shown in Fig. 3, taken from Plate
XIX of Miss Tongue’s book, and giving a rhebok seen from behind in a
most difficult and complicated attitude. Or again, the man running in
Fig. 5. Here is the silhouette of a most complicated gesture with
foreshortening of one thigh and crossing of the arm holding the bow over
the torso, rendered with apparent certainty and striking verisimilitude.
Most curious of all are the cases of which Fig. 4 is an example, of
animals trotting, in which the gesture is seen by us to be true only
because our slow and imperfect vision has been helped out by the
instantaneous photograph. Fifty years ago we should have rejected such a
rendering as absurd; we now know it to be a correct statement of one
movement in the action of trotting.

Another point to be noticed is that in primitive and in children’s art
such features as eyes, ears, horns, tails, since they correspond to
well-marked concepts, always tend to be drawn disproportionately large
and prominent. Now, in the Bushman drawings, the eye, the most
significant of all, is frequently omitted, and when represented bears
its true proportion to the head. Similarly, horns, ears, and tails are
never exaggerated. Indeed, however faulty these drawings may be, they
have one great quality, namely, that each figure is seen as a single
entity, and the general character of the silhouette is aimed at rather
than a sum of the parts. Those who have taught drawing to children will
know with what infinite pains civilised man arrives at this power.

[Illustration: FIG. 6.]

By way of contrast to these extraordinary performances of the Bushman
draughtsman, I give in outline, Fig. 6, the two horses of a chariot on
an early (Dipylon) Greek vase. The man who drew it was incomparably more
of an artist; but how entirely his intellectual and conceptual way of
handling phenomena has obscured his vision! His two horses are a sum of
concept-symbols, arranged with great orderliness and with a decorative
feeling, but without any sort of likeness to appearance. Mr. Balfour, in
his preface to Miss Tongue’s book, notices briefly some of these
striking characteristics of the Bushman drawings. He says:--

“The paintings are remarkable not only for the realism exhibited by so
many, but also for a freedom from the limitation to delineation in
profile which characterises for the most part the drawings of primitive
peoples, especially where animals are concerned. Attitudes of a kind
difficult to render were ventured upon without hesitation, and an
appreciation even of the rudiments of perspective is occasionally to be
noted, though only in a crude and uncertain form. The practice of
endeavouring to represent more than could be seen at one time, a habit
so characteristic of the art of primitive peoples as also of civilised
children, is far less noticeable in Bushman art than might have been
expected from the rudimentary general culture of these people, and one
does not see instances of _both_ eyes being indicated upon a profile
face, or a mouth in profile on a full face, such as are so familiar in
the undeveloped art of children and of most backward races.”

[Illustration: FIG. 7.]

Since, then, Bushman drawing has little analogy to the primitive art of
our own races, to what can we relate it? The Bushmen of Australia have
apparently something of the same power of transcribing pure visual
images, but the most striking case is that of Palæolithic man. In the
caves of the Dordogne and of Altamira in Spain, Palæolithic man has left
paintings which date from about 10,000 B.C., in which, as far as mere
naturalism of representation of animals goes, he has surpassed anything
that not only our own primitive peoples, but even the most accomplished
animal draughtsmen have ever achieved. Fig. 7 shows in outline a bison
from Altamira. The certainty and completeness of the pose, the perfect
rhythm and the astonishing verisimilitude of the movement are evident
even in this. The Altamira drawings show a much higher level of
accomplishment than those of the Bushmen, but the general likeness is so
great as to have suggested the idea that the Bushmen are descendants of
Palæolithic man who have remained at the same rudimentary stage as
regards the other arts of life, and have retained something of their
unique power of visual transcription.

Whether this be so or not, it is to be noted that all the peoples whose
drawing shows this peculiar power of visualisation belong to what we
call the lowest of savages; they are certainly the least civilisable,
and the South African Bushmen are regarded by other native races in
much the same way that we look upon negroes. It would seem not
impossible that the very perfection of vision, and presumably of the
other senses[13] with which the Bushmen and Palæolithic man were
endowed, fitted them so perfectly to their surroundings that there was
no necessity to develop the mechanical arts beyond the elementary
instruments of the chase. We must suppose that Neolithic man, on the
other hand, was less perfectly adapted to his surroundings, but that his
sensual defects were more than compensated for by increased intellectual
power. This greater intellectual power manifested itself in his desire
to classify phenomena, and the conceptual view of nature began to
predominate. And it was this habit of thinking of things in terms of
concepts which deprived him for ages of the power to see what they
looked like. With Neolithic man drawing came to express man’s thought
about things rather than his sensations of them, or rather, when he
tried to reproduce his sensations, his habits of thought intervened, and
dictated to his hand orderly, lucid, but entirely non-naturalistic

How deeply these visual-conceptual habits of Neolithic man have sunk
into our natures may be seen by their effects upon hysterical patients,
a statement which I owe to the kindness of Dr. Henry Head, F.R.S. If the
word “chest” is mentioned most people see a vague image of a flat
surface on which are marked the sternum and the pectoral muscles; when
the word “back” is given, they see another flat or almost flat surface
with markings of the spine and the shoulder-blades; but scarcely any
one, having these two mental images called up, thinks of them as parts
of a continuous cylindrical body. Now, in the case of some hysterical
patients anæsthesia is found just over some part of the body which has
been isolated from the rest in thought by means of the conceptual image.
It will occur, for instance, in the chest, but will not go beyond the
limits which the conceptualised visual image of a chest defines. Or it
will be associated with the concept hand, and will stop short at the
wrists. It is not surprising, then, that a mode of handling the
continuum of natural appearance, which dictates even the behaviour of
disease, should have profoundly modified all artistic representations
of nature since the conceptual habit first became strongly marked in
Neolithic man. An actual definition of drawing given by a child may be
quoted in this connection, “First I think and then I draw a line round
my think.”

[Illustration: FIG. 8.]

It would be an exaggeration to suppose that Palæolithic and Bushman
drawings are entirely uninfluenced by the concepts which even the most
primitive people must form. Indeed, the preference for the profile view
of animals--though as we have seen other aspects are frequent--would
alone indicate this, but they appear to have been at a stage of
intellectual development where the concepts were not so clearly grasped
as to have begun to interfere with perception, and where therefore the
retinal image passed into a clear memory picture with scarcely any
intervening mental process. In the art of even civilised man we may, I
think, find great variations in the extent to which the conceptualising
of visual images has proceeded. Egyptian and Assyrian art remained
intensely conceptual throughout, no serious attempt was made to give
greater verisimilitude to the symbols employed. The Mycenæan artists, on
the other hand, seem to have been appreciably more perceptual, but the
Greeks returned to an intensely conceptualised symbolism in which some
of their greatest works of art were expressed, and only very gradually
did they modify their formulæ so as to admit of some approach to
verisimilitude, and even so the appeal to vision was rather by way of
correcting and revising accepted conceptual images than as the
foundation of a work of art. The art of China, and still more of Japan,
has been distinctly more perceptual. Indeed, the Japanese drawings of
birds and animals approach more nearly than those of any other civilised
people to the immediacy and rapidity of transcription of Bushman and
Palæolithic art. The Bushman silhouettes of cranes (Fig. 8) might almost
have come from a Japanese screen Like Japanese drawings, they show an
alertness to accept the silhouette as a single whole instead of
reconstructing it from separately apprehended parts. It is partly due to
Japanese influence that our own Impressionists have made an attempt to
get back to that ultra-primitive directness of vision. Indeed they
deliberately sought to deconceptualise art. The artist of to-day has
therefore to some extent a choice before him of whether he will _think_
form like the early artists of European races or merely _see_ it like
the Bushmen. Whichever his choice, the study of these drawings can
hardly fail to be of profound interest. The Bushmen paintings on the
walls of caves and sheltered rocks are fast disappearing; the race
itself, of which Miss Bleek gives a fascinating account, is now nothing
but a remnant. The treatment that they have received at the hands of the
white settlers does not seem to have been conspicuously more sympathetic
or intelligent than that meted out to them by negro conquerors, and thus
the opportunity of solving some of the most interesting problems of
human development has been for ever lost. The gratitude of all students
of art is due to Miss Tongue and Miss Bleek, by whose zeal and industry
these remains of a most curious phase of primitive art have been
adequately recorded.


What a comfortable mental furniture the generalisations of a century ago
must have afforded! What a right little, tight little, round little
world it was when Greece was the only source of culture, when Greek art,
even in Roman copies, was the only indisputable art, except for some
Renaissance repetitions! Philosophy, the love of truth, liberty,
architecture, poetry, drama, and for all we knew music--all these were
the fruits of a special kind of life, each assisted the development of
the other, each was really dependent on all the rest. Consequently if we
could only learn the Greek lessons of political freedom and intellectual
self-consciousness all the rest would be added unto us.

And now, in the last sixty years, knowledge and perception have poured
upon us so fast that the whole well-ordered system has been blown away,
and we stand bare to the blast, scarcely able to snatch a hasty
generalisation or two to cover our nakedness for a moment.

Our desperate plight comes home to one at the Chelsea Book Club, where
are some thirty chosen specimens of negro sculpture. If to our ancestors
the poor Indian had “an untutored mind,” the Congolese’s ignorance and
savagery must have seemed too abject for discussion. One would like to
know what Dr. Johnson would have said to any one who had offered him a
negro idol for several hundred pounds. It would have seemed then sheer
lunacy to listen to what a negro savage had to tell us of his emotions
about the human form. And now one has to go all the way to Chelsea in a
chastened spirit and prostrate oneself before his “stocks and stones.”

We have the habit of thinking that the power to create expressive
plastic form is one of the greatest of human achievements, and the names
of great sculptors are handed down from generation to generation, so
that it seems unfair to be forced to admit that certain nameless
savages have possessed this power not only in a higher degree than we at
this moment, but than we as a nation have ever possessed it. And yet
that is where I find myself. I have to admit that some of these things
are great sculpture--greater, I think, than anything we produced even in
the Middle Ages. Certainly they have the special qualities of sculpture
in a higher degree. They have indeed complete plastic freedom; that is
to say, these African artists really conceive form in three dimensions.
Now this is rare in sculpture. All archaic European sculpture--Greek and
Romanesque, for instance--approaches plasticity from the point of view
of bas-relief. The statue bears traces of having been conceived as the
combination of front, back, and side bas-reliefs. And this continues to
make itself felt almost until the final development of the tradition.
Complete plastic freedom with us seems only to come at the end of a long
period, when the art has attained a high degree of representational
skill and when it is generally already decadent from the point of view
of imaginative significance.

Now, the strange thing about these African sculptures is that they bear,
as far as I can see, no trace of this process. Without ever attaining
anything like representational accuracy they have complete freedom. The
sculptors seem to have no difficulty in getting away from the
two-dimensional plane. The neck and the torso are conceived as
cylinders, not as masses with a square section. The head is conceived as
a pear-shaped mass. It is conceived as a single whole, not arrived at by
approach from the mask, as with almost all primitive European art. The
mask itself is conceived as a concave plane cut out of this otherwise
perfectly unified mass.

And here we come upon another curious difference between negro sculpture
and our own, namely, that the emphasis is utterly different. Our
emphasis has always been affected by our preferences for certain forms
which appeared to us to mark the nobility of man. Thus we shrink from
giving the head its full development; we like to lengthen the legs and
generally to force the form into a particular type. These preferences
seem to be dictated not by a plastic bias, but by our reading of the
physical symbols of certain qualities which we admire in our kind, such,
for instance, as agility, a commanding presence, or a pensive brow. The
negro, it seems, either has no such


Negro Sculpture      Collection Guillaume

Plate III.]

preferences, or his preferences happen to coincide more nearly with what
his feeling for pure plastic design would dictate. For instance, the
length, thinness, and isolation of our limbs render them extremely
refractory to fine plastic treatment, and the negro scores heavily by
his willingness to reduce the limbs to a succession of ovoid masses
sometimes scarcely longer than they are broad. Generally speaking, one
may say that his plastic sense leads him to give its utmost amplitude
and relief to all the protuberant parts of the body, and to get thereby
an extraordinarily emphatic and impressive sequence of planes. So far
from clinging to two dimensions, as we tend to do, he actually
underlines, as it were, the three-dimensionalness of his forms. It is in
some such way, I suspect, that he manages to give to his forms their
disconcerting vitality, the suggestion that they make of being not mere
echoes of actual figures, but of possessing an inner life of their own.
If the negro artist wanted to make people believe in the potency of his
idols he certainly set about it in the right way.

Besides the logical comprehension of plastic form which the negro shows,
he has also an exquisite taste in his handling of material. No doubt in
this matter his endless leisure has something to do with the marvellous
finish of these works. An instance of this is seen in the treatment of
the tattoo cicatrices. These are always rendered in relief, which means
that the artist has cut away the whole surface around them. I fancy most
sculptors would have found some less laborious method of interpreting
these markings. But this patient elaboration of the surface is
characteristic of most of these works. It is seen to perfection in a
wooden cup covered all over with a design of faces and objects that look
like clubs in very low relief. The _galbe_ of this cup shows a subtlety
and refinement of taste comparable to that of the finest Oriental

It is curious that a people who produced such great artists did not
produce also a culture in our sense of the word. This shows that two
factors are necessary to produce the cultures which distinguish
civilised peoples. There must be, of course, the creative artist, but
there must also be the power of conscious critical appreciation and
comparison. If we imagined such an apparatus of critical appreciation as
the Chinese have possessed from the earliest times applied to this
negro art, we should have no difficulty in recognising its singular
beauty. We should never have been tempted to regard it as savage or
unrefined. It is for want of a conscious critical sense and the
intellectual powers of comparison and classification that the negro has
failed to create one of the great cultures of the world, and not from
any lack of the creative æsthetic impulse, nor from lack of the most
exquisite sensibility and the finest taste. No doubt also the lack of
such a critical standard to support him leaves the artist much more at
the mercy of any outside influence. It is likely enough that the negro
artist, although capable of such profound imaginative understanding of
form, would accept our cheapest illusionist art with humble enthusiasm.


Nothing in the history of our Western civilisation is more romantic nor
for us more tantalising than the story of the discovery and the wanton
destruction of the ancient civilisations of America. Here were two
complex civilisations which had developed in complete independence of
the rest of the world; even so completely independent of each other
that, for all their general racial likeness, they took on almost
opposite characters. If only we could know these alternative efforts of
the human animal to come to terms with nature and himself with something
like the same fulness with which we know the civilisations of Greece and
Rome, what might we not learn about the fundamental necessities of
mankind? They would have been for us the opposite point of our orbit;
they would have given us a parallax from which we might have estimated
the movements of that dimmest and most distant phenomenon, the social
nature of man. And as it is, what scraps of ill-digested and
ill-arranged information and what fragments of ruined towns have to
suffice us! Still, so fascinating is the subject that we owe Mr.
Joyce[16] a debt of gratitude for the careful and thorough accumulation
of all the material which the archæological remains afford. These by
themselves would be only curious or beautiful as the case may be; their
full value and significance can only come out when they are illustrated
by whatever is known of their place in the historical sequence of the
civilisations. Mr. Joyce gives us what is known of the outlines of
Mexican and Peruvian history as far as it can be deciphered from the
early accounts of Spanish invaders and from the original documents, and
he brings the facts thus established to bear on the antiquities.
Unfortunately for the reader of these books, the story is terribly
involved and complicated even when it is not dubious. Thus in Mexico we
have to deal with an almost inextricable confusion of tribes and
languages having much in common, but each interpreting their common
mythology and religion in a special manner. Even Greek mythology, which
we once seemed to know fairly well, takes on under the pressure of
modern research an unfamiliar formlessness--becomes indistinct and
shifting in its outlines; and the various civilisations of Mexico, each
with its innumerable gods and goddesses with varying names and varying
attributes, produce on the mind a sense of bewildering and helpless
wonder, and still more a sense of pervading horror at the underlying
nature of the human imagination. For one quality emerges in all the
different aspects of their religions, its hideous inhumanity and
cruelty, its direct inspiration of all the most ingenious tortures both
in peace and war--above all, the close alliance between religion and
war, and going with both of these the worship of suffering as an end in
itself. Only at one point in this nightmare of inhumanity do we get a
momentary sense of pleasure--itself a savage one--that is in the
knowledge that at certain sacred periods the priests, whose main
business was the torturing of others, were themselves subjected to the
purificatory treatment. A bas-relief in the British Museum shows with
grim realism the figure of a kneeling priest with pierced tongue,
pulling a rope through the hole. Under such circumstances one would at
least hesitate to accuse the priesthood of hypocrisy.

When we turn to Peru the picture is less grim. The Incas do not seem to
have been so abjectly religious as the Aztecs; they had at least
abolished human sacrifice, which the Aztecs practised on a colossal
scale, and though the tyranny of the governing classes was more highly
organised, it was inspired by a fairly humane conception.

But we must leave the speculations on such general questions, which are
as regards these books incidental to the main object, and turn to the
consideration of the archæological remains and the investigation of
their probable sequence and dating.

Our attitude to the artistic remains of these civilisations has a
curious history. The wonder of the Spanish invaders at the sight of vast
and highly organised civilisations where only savagery was expected has
never indeed ceased, but the interest in their remains has changed from
time to time. The first emotion they excited besides wonder was the
greed of the conquerors for the accumulated treasure. Then among the
more cultivated Spaniards supervened a purely scientific curiosity to
which we owe most of our knowledge of the indigenous legend and history.
Then came the question of origins, which is still as fascinating and
unsettled as ever, and to the belief that the Mexicans were the lost ten
tribes of Israel we owe Lord Kingsborough’s monumental work in nine
volumes on Mexican antiquities. To such odd impulses perhaps, rather
than to any serious appreciation of their artistic merits, we owe the
magnificent collection of Mexican antiquities in the British Museum.
Indeed, it is only in this century that, after contemplating them from
every other point of view, we have begun to look at them seriously as
works of art. Probably the first works to be admitted to this kind of
consideration were the Peruvian pots in the form of highly realistic
human heads and figures.[17]

Still more recently we have come to recognise the beauty of Aztec and
Maya sculpture, and some of our modern artists have even gone to them
for inspiration. This is, of course, one result of the general æsthetic
awakening which has followed on the revolt against the tyranny of the
Græco-Roman tradition.

Both in Mexico and Peru we have to deal with at least two, possibly
four, great cultures, each overthrown in turn by the invasion of less
civilised, more warlike tribes, who gradually adopt the general scheme
of the older civilisation. In Mexico there is no doubt about the
superiority, from an artistic point of view, of the earlier culture--the
Aztecs had everything to learn from the Maya, and they never rose to the
level of their predecessors. The relation is, in fact, curiously like
that of Rome to Greece. Unfortunately we have to learn almost all we
know of Maya culture through their Aztec conquerors, but the ruins of
Yucatan and Guatemala are by far the finest and most complete vestiges
left to us.

In Peru also we find in the Tihuanaco gateway a monument of some
pre-Inca civilisation, and one that in regard to the art of sculpture
far surpasses anything that the later culture reveals. It is of special
interest, moreover, for its strong stylistic likeness to the Maya
sculpture of Yucatan. This similarity prompts the interesting
speculation that the earlier civilisations of the two continents had
either a common origin or points of contact, whereas the Inca and Aztec
cultures seem to drift entirely apart. The Aztecs carry on at a lower
level the Maya art of sculpture, whereas the Incas seem to drop
sculpture almost entirely, a curious fact in view of the ambitious
nature of their architectural and engineering works. One seems to guess
that the comparatively humane socialistic tyranny of the Incas developed
more and more along purely practical lines, whilst the hideous
religiosity of the Aztecs left a certain freedom to the imaginative

In looking at the artistic remains of so remote and strange a
civilisation one sometimes wonders how far one can trust one’s æsthetic
appreciation to interpret truly the feelings which inspired it. In
certain works one cannot doubt that the artist felt just as we feel in
appreciating his work. This must, I think, hold on the one hand of the
rich ornamental arabesques of Maya buildings or the marvellous inlaid
feather and jewel work of either culture; and on the other hand, when we
look at the caricatural realistic figures of Truxillo pottery we need
scarcely doubt that the artist’s intention agrees with our appreciation,
for such a use of the figure is more or less common to all
civilisations. But when we look at the stylistic sculpture of Maya and
Aztec art, are we, one wonders, reading in an intention which was not
really present? One wonders, for instance, how far external and
accidental factors may not have entered in to help produce what seems to
us the perfect and delicate balance between representational and purely
formal considerations. Whether the artist was not held back both by
ritualistic tradition and the difficulty of his medium from pushing
further the actuality of his presentation--whether, in fact, the artist
deplored or himself approved just that reticence which causes our
admiration. At times Maya sculpture has a certain similarity to Indian
religious sculptural reliefs, particularly in the use of flat surfaces
entirely incrusted with ornaments in low relief; but on the whole the
comparison is all in favour of the higher æsthetic sensibility of the
Maya artists, whose co-ordination of even the most complicated forms
compares favourably with the incoherent luxuriance of most Indian work.

In this, as in so many of its characteristics, Maya art comes much
nearer to early Chinese sculpture; and again one wonders that such a
civilisation should have produced such sensitive and reasoned
designs--designs which seem to imply a highly developed self-conscious
æsthetic sensibility. Nor do the Maya for all their hieratic ritualism
seem to fall into the dead, mechanical repetition which the endless
multiplication of religious symbols usually entails, as, for instance,
most markedly in Egyptian art. But this strange difference between what
we know of Mexican civilisation and what we might have interpreted from
the art alone is only one more instance of the isolation of the æsthetic
from all other human activities. The Frontispiece to this book gives an
example of Maya sculpture from Piedras Negras. Mr. Joyce, in his learned
and plausible theory of the dating of Mexican monuments, ascribes these
remains to a date of about 50-200 A.D.

They are certainly among the finest remains of Maya sculpture, and this
example shows at once the extreme richness of the decorative effect and
the admirable taste with which this is co-ordinated in a plastic whole
in which the figure has its due predominance. Though the relief of the
ornamental part is kept flat and generally square in section, it has
nothing of the dryness and tightness that such a treatment often

Mr. Joyce’s books are compiled with amazing industry, and contain a vast
accumulation of information. If we have a complaint, it is that for
those who are not specialists this information is poured out in almost
too uniform a flood, with too little by way of general ideas to enable
the mind to grasp or relate them properly. If some of the minor details
of obscure proper names had been relegated to the notes, it would have
been possible to seize the general outlines more readily. The books are
rather for reference than adapted to consecutive reading. In his
judgments on the various speculations to which these civilisations have
given rise Mr. Joyce is, as one would expect from so careful a scholar,
cautious and negative. He does not, as far as I remember, even allude to
the theory of the Lost Ten Tribes, but he does condescend to discuss the
theory of cultural influence from Eastern Asia which has more than once
been put forward by respectable ethnologists. He decides against this
fascinating hypothesis more definitely than one would expect--more


definitely, I should say, than the facts before us allow. He declares,
for instance, that the calendrical system of Mexico shows no similarity
with those of Eastern Asia, whereas Dr. Lehmann gives a circumstantial
account of a very curious likeness, the almost exact correspondence of
two quite peculiar systems of reckoning. My own bias in favour of the
theory of Eastern Asiatic influence is, I confess, based on what may
seem very insufficient grounds, namely, the curious likeness of the
general treatment of naturalistic forms and the peculiar character of
the stylisation of natural forms in early Chinese and American art. It
is of course impossible to define a likeness of general character which
depends so largely on feeling, but it consists to some extent in the
predilection for straight lines and rectangles--a spiral in nature
becoming in both early Chinese and American art a sequence of
rectangular forms with rounded corners. What is more remarkable is that
the further back we go in Chinese art the greater the resemblance
becomes, so that a Chou bronze, or still more the carved horns which
have survived from the Shang dynasty, are extraordinarily like Maya or
Tihuanaco sculpture. Again, it is curious to note how near to early
Chinese bronzes are the tripod vases of the Guetar Indians. All these
may of course be of quite independent origin, but their similarity
cannot be dismissed lightly in view of the long persistence in any
civilisation of such general habits of design. Thus the general habits
of design of the Cretan civilisation persisted into Greek and even Roman
and Christian art; the habits of design of Chinese artists have
persisted, though through great modifications, for more than three
thousand years. One other fact which may seem almost too isolated and
insignificant may perhaps be put forward here. In a history of the
Mormons, published in 1851, there is given a figure of an inscribed
bronze (see Figure) which was dug up by the Mormons in Utah in 1843.
Since Brigham Young pretended to have dug up the original book of Mormon
his followers had a superstitious reverence for all such treasure trove,
and probably the bronze still exists and might be worth investigation.
Now this drawing, here reproduced, looks to me like an extremely bad and
unintelligent reproduction of an early Chinese object, in general
appearance not unlike certain early pieces of jade. It is fairly certain
that at the time the Mormons discovered this, no such objects had found
their way out of China, since the interest in and knowledge of this
period of Chinese art is of much later growth. So it appears conceivable
that the object, whatever its nature, is a relic of some early cultural
invasion from Eastern Asia. The physical possibilities of such invasions
from the Far East certainly seem to be under-estimated by Mr. Joyce.



It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this exhibition for
those who are interested in the history not alone of Oriental but of
European art. Perhaps the most fascinating problem that presents itself
to the art historian is that of the origins of mediæval art. Until we
understand more or less completely how in the dim centuries of the later
Empire and early middle age the great transformation of Græco-Roman into
mediæval art was accomplished, we cannot quite understand the
Renaissance itself, nor even the form which the whole modern art of
Europe has come in the course of centuries to assume. And on this
problem the Munich exhibition throws many illuminating sidelights. Early
Mohammedan art is seen here to be a meeting point of many influences.
There are still traces of the once widespread Hellenistic tradition,
though this is seen to be retreating before the refluent wave of
aboriginal ideas. Sassanid art had already been the outcome of these
contending forces, and the pre-eminence of Sassanid art in forming early
Mohammedan styles is clearly brought out in this exhibition. Then there
is a constant exchange with Byzantium, and finally continual waves of
influence, sometimes fertilising, sometimes destructive, from that great
reservoir of Central Asian civilisation, the importance of which is now
at last being gradually revealed to us by the discoveries of Dr. Stein,
Drs. Lecoq and Grunwedel, and M. Pelliot.

And through this great clearing-house of early Mohammedan art there are
signs of influences passing from West to East. The most striking example
is that of the plate in cloisonnée enamel from the Landes Museum at
Innsbruck. Here we have the one certain example of Mohammedan cloisonnée
enamel established by its dedication to a prince of the Orthokid
dynasty of the twelfth century. It is extraordinary that this solitary
example should alone have survived from what must, judging from the
technical excellence of this specimen, have once been a flourishing
craft. The general effect of the intricate pattern of animal forms upon
a whiteish ground suggests, on the one hand, the earliest examples of
Limoges enamels, and on the other the early Chinese, and there can be
little doubt that the Chinese did in fact derive their knowledge of
cloisonnée, which they themselves called “Western ware,” from these
early Mohammedan craftsmen, who had themselves learned the technique
from Byzantium.

But on the whole the stream of influence is in the opposite direction,
from East to West, and one realises at Munich that in the great period
of artistic discovery and formation of styles the near East and the West
were developing in closest contact and harmony. Indeed the most fertile,
if not actually the most resplendent, period of both arts, was attained
whilst they were still almost indistinguishable. If it were not for the
habit of these early Mohammedan craftsmen of interweaving inscriptions
into their designs, a habit which endears them quite especially to
art-historians, how many works of Oriental manufacture would have been
ascribed to Europe? In spite of these inscriptions, indeed, such an
authority as M. Babelon has sought to place to the account of Western
artists the superb cut crystal vessels, of which the noblest example is
the inscribed ewer of the tenth century in the treasury of S. Mark’s. Or
take again the textiles. In the exhibition there are a number of
fragments of textiles of the tenth to the twelfth centuries, in which
the general principle of design is the same; for the most part the
surface is covered by circular reserves in which severely
conventionalised figures of hunters, lions, or monsters are placed in
pairs symmetrically confronted. Only minute study has enabled
specialists to say that some were made in Sassanid, Persia, some in
Byzantium, some in Sicily, and some in Western Europe. The dominant
style in all these is again derived from Sassanid art. And here once
more one must note the strange recrudescence after so long of Assyrian
types and motives, and its invasion of Western Europe, through
Byzantium, Sicily, and Spain.

What strikes us most in comparing Græco-Roman art with the new art
which gradually emerges in the middle ages is that, on the one hand, we
have a series of decorative designs never so remarkable for vitality as
for their elegance, and become by the time of the Roman Empire only less
perfunctory and mechanical than the patterns of modern times; and on the
other hand an art in which the smallest piece of pattern-making shows a
tense vitality even in its most purely geometrical manifestations, and
the figure is used with a new dramatic expressiveness unhindered by the
artist’s ignorance of actual form. Now in the splendid photographs of
the Sassanid rock carvings which Dr. Sarre has taken and which are
exposed at Munich, we can see something of this process of the creation
of the new vital system of design. In the earlier reliefs, those of the
time of Sapor, we have, it is true, a certain theatrical splendour of
pose and setting, but in the actual forms some flaccidity and inflation.
The artists who wrought them show still the predominance of the worn-out
Hellenistic tradition which spread in Alexander’s wake over Asia. In the
stupendous relief of Chosroes at Tak-i-Bostan, on the other hand, we
have all the dramatic energy, the heraldic splendour of the finest
mediæval art, and the source of this new inspiration is seen to be the
welling up once more of the old indigenous Mesopotamian art. We have
once more that singular feeling for stress, for muscular tension, and
for dramatic oppositions, which distinguish the bas-reliefs of Babylon
and Nineveh from all other artistic expressions of the antique world. It
would be possible by the help of exhibits at Munich to trace certain
Assyrian forms right through to Mediæval European art. Take, for
instance, the lion heads on the pre-Babylonian mace from Goudea in the
Louvre; one finds a precisely similar convention for the lion head on
the Sassanid repoussé metalwork found in Russia. Once again it occurs in
the superb carved rock crystal waterspout lent by the Karlsruhe Museum
(Room 54), and one finds it again on the font of Lincoln Cathedral and
in the lions that support the doorway columns of Italian cathedrals. In
all these there is a certain community of style, a certain way of
symbolising the leonine nature which one may look for in vain in Greek
and Græco-Roman art.

Even if this seem too forced an interpretation of facts, it is none the
less clear that everywhere in early Mohammedan art this recrudescence
of Assyrian forms may be traced, and that their influence was scarcely
less upon Europe than upon the near East. Dr. Sarre has taken a tracing
of the pattern which is represented in low relief upon the robes of
Chosroes in the Tak-i-Bostan relief. In South Kensington Museum there is
an almost identical piece of silk brocade which actually comes from the
ruins of Khorsabad, and in the same museum one may find more than one
Byzantine imitation of this design and closely similar ones made in
Sicily; and the conventional winged monster which forms the basis of
these designs has a purely Assyrian air.

In Egypt, too, it would seem that there was before the Arab invasion a
marked recrudescence of indigenous native design which enabled the
Coptic craftsmen gradually to transform the motives given to them by
Roman conquerors into something entirely non-Hellenistic. And the
incredible beauty of the Fatimite textiles of the tenth, eleventh, and
twelfth centuries, of which a few precious relics are shown in Room 17,
preserve something, especially in the bird forms, of this antique

But to return once more to Sassanid art. The specimens from the
Hermitage and Prince Bobrinsky’s collections form an object lesson of
extraordinary interest in the development of early Mohammedan art. They
have inherited and still retain that extreme realisation of massive
splendour, that fierce assertion of form and positive statement of
relief which belongs to the art of the great primitive Empires, and most
of all to the art of Mesopotamia, and yet they already adumbrate the
forms of Mohammedan art into which they pass by insensible degrees.
Here, too, we find vestiges of the dying Hellenistic tradition. One of
Prince Bobrinsky’s bronzes, a great plate, has, for instance, a design
composed of classic vases, from which spring stems which bend round into
a series of circles, a design which might almost be matched as regards
form, though not as regards spirit, in the wall decorations of Pompeii.
Or take again the superb repoussé silver plate representing a Sassanid
king spearing a lion. Here the floating drapery of the king and the edge
of his tunic show a deliberately schematised rendering of the
traditional folds of the Greek peplos. But how much more Assyrian than
Greek is the whole effect--the dramatic tension of the figures
expressed by an emphasis on all the lines of muscular effort, as in the
legs of the horse and the lions. How Assyrian, too, is the feeling for
relief, and the predilection for imbricated or closely set parallel
lines as in the lions’ manes. In the conventional rock under one of the
lions one seems to see also a hint of Chinese forms.

Still more Assyrian is another plate, the arrangement of which recalls
the reliefs of Assurbanipal or Sennacherib, and yet already there are
forms which anticipate Mohammedan art; the gate of the city, its
crenelations, and the forms of the helmets of the soldiers, all have an
air of similarity with far later Mohammedan types. Another plate, not
reproduced here, shows a Sassanid king regaling himself with wine and
music, and gives already more than a hint of the favourite designs of
the Rhages potters or the bronze workers of Mossoul.

Among Prince Bobrinsky’s bronzes which were found in the Caucasus is a
late Sassanid aquamanile in the form of a bird. It is already almost
Mohammedan, though retaining something of the extreme solidity and
weight of earlier art. Once more, in the aggressive schematisation of
the form of the tail and the suggestion of feathers by a series of
deeply marked parallel lines, we get a reminiscence of Assyrian art,
while in the treatment of the crest there is the more florid
interweaving of curves which adumbrate not only Mohammedan but Indian

In the aquamanile in the form of a horse (see Plate) the Sassanid
influence is still predominant, but there can be no doubt that this is
already Mohammedan, probably of the eighth or ninth century. We have
already here the characteristics of Fatimite bronzes, of which a few
specimens are shown at Munich. The great griffin of Pisa could not, of
course, be moved from the Campo Santo, nor are the two specimens in the
Louvre shown, but the stag from the Bavarian National Museum is there
and affords a most interesting comparison with Prince Bobrinsky’s horse.
Both have the same large generalisation of form, and in both we have the
curious effect of solidity and mass produced by the shortened hind legs,
with the half-squatting movement to which that gives rise.

The Bobrinsky horse is obviously more primitive, and probably indicates
the beginnings of a school of bronze plastic in Mesopotamia


Fatimite Bronzes      Bobrinsky Collection

Plate IV.]

nearly parallel to that of Egypt. This school, however, never developed
as fully along sculptural lines, and at a comparatively early date
abandoned sculpture for the art of bronze inlay, of which Mossoul was
the great centre in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the incised
designs on the horse we have an example of the early forms of the
palmette ornament and of the interlacing curves which form the basis of
most subsequent Mohammedan patterns. Within the reserves formed by the
_intreccie_ are small figures, of which one--that of a man seated and
playing the lute--can just be made out in the reproduction. It is
already typical of the figure design which the Mohammedan artists
developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

By way of comparison with this Mesopotamian example, Plate, Fig. 2,
shows a supreme example of Fatimite sculpture of the twelfth century. It
is, indeed, a matter for regret that Mohammedan artists so soon
abandoned an art for which they showed such extraordinary aptitude. The
lion which comes from the Kassel Museum has already been published by M.
Migeon,[19] but is of such rare beauty and interest in relation to the
Sassanid works here described that it seemed desirable to reproduce it
again. It shows the peculiar characteristics of all the art produced for
the Fatimite court, its exquisite perfection and refinement of taste,
its minuteness of detail and finish together with a large co-ordination
of parts, a rhythmic feeling for contour and the sequence of planes,
which have scarcely ever been equalled. And all these qualities of
refinement, almost of sophistication, which Fatimite art possesses, do
not, as we see here, destroy the elementary imaginative feeling for the
vitality of animal forms. In the case in which this masterpiece of
Mohammedan sculpture is shown there is also seen the celebrated lion
which once belonged to the painter Fortuny. Noble though this is in
general conception, the coarseness of its workmanship and the want of
subtlety in its proportions, in comparison with the Kassel lion, makes
it evident that it is not from the same school of Egyptian craftsmen,
but probably of Spanish origin.

Yet another of the Bobrinsky bronzes of about the same date as the horse
is already typically Mohammedan as may be seen by the leaf forms and
the _intreccie_ of the crest, but how much of the antique Sassanid
proportions and sense of relief is still retained! It is believed to be
from Western Turkestan and of the eighth or ninth century. One must
suppose that Sassanid forms travelled North and East as well as South
and West, and helped in the formation of that Central Asian art which
becomes the dominant factor in the later centuries of Mohammedan, more
especially of Persian, art.

Before leaving the question of Sassanid influences I must mention the
series of bronze jugs in the Bobrinsky and Sarre collections. The
general form is obviously derived from classic originals, but they have
a peculiar spout of a rectangular shape placed at right angles on the
top of the main opening. The effect of this is to give two openings, one
for pouring the water in, the other for pouring it out at right angles.
Now in the early Mossoul water jugs we see numerous examples of what are
clearly derivations of this form passing by gradual degrees into the
familiar neck with spout attached but not separated, which is typical of
later Mohammedan water jugs. This evolution can be traced step by step
in the Munich Exhibition, and leaves no doubt of the perfect continuity
of Sassanid and Mohammedan forms.[20]

One of the features of early Mohammedan art is the vitality of its
floral and geometrical ornament, the system of which is uniformly spread
throughout the Mohammedan world. The question of where and how this
system of ornament arose is not easily solved, but there are indications
that Egypt was the place of its earliest development. Its characteristic
forms seem certainly derived from the universal palmette of Græco-Roman
decoration. The palmette, so rigid, unvarying and frequently so lifeless
in the hands of Græco-Roman artists, became the source of the flexible
and infinitely varied systems of Mohammedan design, so skilfully
interwoven, so subtly adapted to their purpose, that the supremacy of
Mohammedan art in this particular has been recognised and perpetuated in
the word Arabesque. It is curious to note that the history of this
development is almost a repetition of what occurred many centuries
before in the formation of the system of Celtic ornament. There, too,
the Greek palmette was the point of departure. The Celtic bronze-workers
adopted a cursive abbreviation of it which allowed of an almost too
unrestrained flexibility in their patterns, but one peculiarly adapted
to their bronze technique. In the case of Mohammedan art it would seem
that the change from the palmette was effected by Coptic wood-carvers
and by the artists who decorated in plaster the earliest Egyptian
mosques. Indeed, one may suspect that the transformation of Græco-Roman
ornament had already been initiated by Coptic workers in pre-Mohammedan
times. One or two exhibits of Coptic reliefs in woodwork in Room 48 show
how far this process had already gone. The Coptic wood-carvers arrived
at an extremely simple and economical method of decoration by incisions
with a gouge, each ending in a spiral curve, and so set as to leave in
relief a sequence of forms resembling a half-palmette, and at times
approaching very closely to the characteristic interlacing “trumpet”
forms of Celtic ornament. A similar method was employed with even
greater freedom and with a surprising richness and variety of effect in
the plaster decorations of the earliest mosques, such as that of Ibn
Tulun. In this way there was developed a singularly easy and rhythmic
manner of filling any given space with interlaced and confluent forms
suited to the caligraphic character of Mohammedan design. It cannot be
denied that in course of time it pandered to the besetting sin of the
oriental craftsman, his intolerable patience and thoughtless industry,
and became in consequence as dead in its mere intricacy and complexity
as the Græco-Roman original in its frigid correctness. The periods of
creation in ornamental design seem indeed to be even rarer than those of
creation in the figurative arts, and if the greater part of Mohammedan
art shows, along with increasing technical facility, a constant
degradation in ornamental design it is no exception to a universal rule.
At any rate, up to the end of the thirteenth century its vitality was as
strong and its adaptability even greater than the ornamental design of
Christian Europe.

The design based on the half-palmette adapted itself easily to other
materials than wood and plaster. In an even more cursive form it was
used alike by miniaturists and the closely allied painters on pottery.
Of the former a good instance is that of a manuscript of Dioscorides,
written and painted by Abdullah ben el-Fadhl in the year 1223 A.D. It is
of Mesopotamian origin and shows in the decorative treatment of the
figures a close affinity with the painting on contemporary pottery from
Rakka. It is surprising how much character and even humour the artist
gives to figures which are conceived in a purely calligraphic and
abstract manner, and what richness and nobility of style there is in the
singularly economical and rapid indications of brocaded patterns in the
robes. Here we see how, in the hands of the miniaturists, the
half-palmette ornament becomes even more cursive and flexible, more
readily adapted to any required space than in the hands of the
wood-carver and plasterer.

The whole of the figure-design of this period, as seen in the pottery of
Rakka, Rhages, and Sultanabad, shows the same characteristics. It is all
calligraphic rather than naturalistic, but it is notable how much
expression is attained within the flexible formula which these
Mohammedan artists had evolved. The requirements of the potter’s craft
stimulated the best elements of such a school of draughtsmanship, and
for their power of creating an illusion of real existence by the sheer
swiftness and assurance of their rhythm, few draughtsmen have surpassed
the unknown masters who threw their indications of scenes from
contemporary life upon the fragile bowls and lustred cups of early
Syrian and Persian pottery.

It is generally believed now that not only in ceramics and metal work,
but even in glass, Fatimite culture was pre-eminent. Probably no such
collection of enamelled oriental glass has ever been brought together as
that at Munich.

An example of glass of Egyptian origin bearing the date 737 A.D.,
belonging to Dr. Fouquet, shows how early the manufacture of glass was
already established in Egypt. To Egypt, too, must be ascribed the
splendid crystals and carved glass-work in which the Munich Exhibition
is particularly rich. One of these is the so-called Hedwig glass from
the Rijksmuseum, at Amsterdam. It has two finely conventionalised lions
and eagles which resemble the types of Fatimite sculpture. It is
described by Migeon (“Manuel,” p. 378) as being of moulded glass, but
the design is probably cut on the wheel in the manner employed for
rock-crystal. Among the examples of carved crystal one of the finest is
the less well-known example of a waterspout in the shape of a lion’s
head, lent by the Karlsruhe Museum. In all these figures the distinctive
quality of Fatimite art, its combination of massive grandeur of design
with extreme refinement, are apparent.

None the less, the evidence in favour of Syrian and Mesopotamian centres
of glass-industry is very strong, and if many of the pieces, especially
the earliest ones, are still relegated to Egypt, some of the finest are
still ascribed, though on no very conclusive grounds, to the Syrian
workshops. The finest of these belong to the late twelfth and early
thirteenth centuries, and, generally speaking, the work of the
fourteenth century shows a decline. Perhaps the most splendid specimen
known is the large bottle from the treasury of S. Stephen’s, Vienna. The
glass in this and the kindred piece from the same place shows a peculiar
brownish yellow tone almost of the colour of honey, which gives the most
perfect background to the enamelled figure-decoration. In the choice of
subjects with a predominance of scenes from the chase there is
undoubtedly a considerable resemblance to the scenes on the encrusted
bronze work of Mossoul, and this, so far as it goes, makes in favour of
a Syrian origin. But whatever their origin, the finest of these pieces
show a decorative splendour and a perfection of taste which has assured
their appreciation from the days of the Crusaders. Already in the
inventory of Charles V. of France such pieces, frequently mounted on
silver stands, figure among the King’s choicest treasures. Nor was the
appreciation of this beautiful craft confined to Europe. One of the many
proofs of a continual interchange between the Mohammedan and Chinese
civilisations is seen in the number of examples of this glass which have
come from China. In Munich there is a magnificent bowl lent by Dr. Sarre
which is of Chinese provenance, and numerous other pieces have been

The collection of incrusted bronzes at Munich is extremely rich, ranging
from the twelfth-century work, in which plastic relief is still used,
accompanied by sparse incrustations of red copper upon the almost strawy
yellow bronze, to the fourteenth and fifteenth-century work, in which
plastic relief has altogether disappeared, and elaborate incrustations
of silver and even gold give to the surface an extreme profusion of
delicate interwoven traceries. Here, too, the earliest work shows the
finest sense of design. The specimen from the Piet Latauderie
collection, still retains in its relief of stylistic animals a feeling
for mass and grandeur inherited from Sassanid metal-workers, and the
incrustations, though exquisitely wrought, are kept in due subordination
to the general design. Some of the thirteenth-century pieces, though
already tending to too great intricacy, still attain to a finely
co-ordinated effect by the use of reserves filled with boldly designed
figures. Some of the best of these contain scenes borrowed from
Christian mythology, among which I may mention, as a superb example, the
great bowl belonging to the Duc d’Arenberg.

I have alluded at various points to the influence of Chinese art upon
Mohammedan. Among the most decisive and curious instances of this is a
bronze mirror with the signs of the Zodiac in relief. Round the edge is
an inscription of dedication to one of the Orthokid princes. It is of
Mesopotamian workmanship. Here the derivation from Chinese mirrors,
which date back to Han times, is unmistakable, and is seen in every
detail, even to the griffin-head in the centre, pierced to allow of the
string by which it was carried.


Persian Painting, end of 13th century      Morgan Collection

Plate V.]



We find abundant evidences in studying early Christian art that
Christianity at its origin exercised no new stimulating influence upon
its development, but if it were claimed for the Franciscan movement that
it brought about the great outburst of Italian art the position would be
harder to refute: and indeed what S. Francis accomplished, the literal
acceptance by official Christendom of Christ’s teaching, was tantamount
to the foundation of a new religion, and the heresy of some of his
followers, who regarded his as a final dispensation superseding that of
the New Testament, can scarcely have seemed unreasonable to those who
witnessed the change in the temper of society which his example brought
about. S. Francis was the great orthodox heretic. What he effected
within the bounds of the Church, for a time at all events, was only
accomplished for later times by a rupture with the Papal power. He
established the idea of the equality of all men before God and the
immediate relationship of the individual soul to the Deity. He enabled
every man to be his own priest. To the fervour with which these ideas
were grasped by his countrymen we may ascribe to some extent the extreme
individualism of the Italian Renaissance, the absence of the barriers of
social caste to the aspirations of the individual and the passionate
assertion on his part of the right to the free use of all his
activities. No doubt the individualism of, say, a Sigismondo Malatesta
in the fifteenth century was very different to anything which S. Francis
would have approved; none the less such a view of life was rendered
possible by the solvent action of his teaching on the fixed forms of

But of more immediate importance to our purpose is the æsthetic element
in S. Francis’ teaching. To say that in his actions S. Francis aimed at
artistic effect would perhaps give a wrong impression of his character,
but it is true that his conception of holiness was almost as much an
æsthetic as a moral one. To those who know S. Bonaventura’s life a
number of stories will suggest themselves, which indicate a perfectly
harmonious attitude to life rather than a purely moral one: stories such
as that of the sheep which was given to him, and which he received
joyfully because of its simplicity and innocence, “and holding it in his
hands he admonished it to be intent to praise God and to keep itself
from offending the brethren; and the sheep observed fully the
commandment of the Blessed Francis, and when it heard the brethren
singing in the choir ran thither quickly, and without any teaching bent
before the altar of the Blessed Virgin and bleated, as though it had
human reason.”

S. Francis, the “Jongleur de Dieu,” was actually a poet before his
conversion, and his whole life had the pervading unity and rhythm of a
perfect work of art. Not that he was a conscious artist. The whole
keynote of the Franciscan teaching was its spontaneity, but his feelings
for moral and æsthetic beauty were intimately united. Indeed, his life,
like the Italian art which in a sense arose from it, like the Gothic
French art which was a simultaneous expression of the same spirit,
implies an attitude, as rare in life as in art, in which spiritual and
sensuous beauty are so inextricably interwoven that instead of
conflicting they mutually intensify their effects.

Not only was the legend of S. Francis’ life full of suggestions of
poetical and artistic material, but his followers rewrote the New
Testament from the Franciscan point of view, emphasising the poetical
and dramatic elements of the story. In particular they shifted the focus
of interest by making the relationship of the Virgin to her son the
central motive of the whole. It will be seen that Italian artists down
to Raphael turned rather to the Franciscan than the Vulgate version.[22]
In fact, S. Bonaventura and the great poet of the movement, the
cultivated and ecstatic Jacopone di Todi, did for the Christian legend
very much what Pindar did for classical mythology; without altering the
doctrine they brought into full relief its human and poetical

It is not surprising, then, to find that the great church at Assisi,
built with all the magnificence that the whole of Italy could contribute
to honour the spouse of Divine Poverty, should be the cradle of the new
art of Italy--the neo-Christian or Franciscan art, as we might almost
call it.

The lower church of S. Francesco was probably decorated almost
immediately after the building was finished, between 1240 and 1250, but
these early works are almost obliterated by a second decoration
undertaken after 1300. We must therefore turn to the upper church, the
paintings of which were probably completed before 1300, as the chief
source of our knowledge of the emergence of the new Italian style. It
was there that the Italian genius first attained to self-expression in
the language of monumental painting--a language which no other nation of
modern Europe has ever been able to command except in rare and isolated

And here we plunge at once into a very difficult, perhaps an insoluble
problem: who were the painters who carried out this immense scheme of
decoration? The archives of the church have been searched in vain, and
we are left with a sentence of Ghiberti’s commentary, and Vasari, who
here proves an uncertain guide, so that we are thrown chiefly on the
resources of internal evidence.

The paintings of the upper church may be briefly enumerated thus: In the
choir are faint remains of frescoes of the life of the Virgin; in the
right transept a Crucifixion and other subjects almost obliterated; in
the left transept another Crucifixion, better preserved, and archangels
in the triforium. The nave is divided into an upper and lower series;
the upper series contains scenes of the Old and New Testaments, the
lower is devoted to the legend of S. Francis, and in alternate vaults of
the roof are paintings of single figures.

It would be out of place to discuss all these frescoes in detail, but
it may be worth while to select certain typical ones, around which the
rest may be grouped, and see how far they bear out what little
documentary and traditional authority we have.

We will begin with the Crucifixion of the left transept, which is
clearly by an artist of decided and marked personality. It is certainly
less pleasing and less accomplished than the works of the later
Byzantine school, and in spite of certain motives, such as the floating
drapery of the Christ, which show Byzantine reminiscences, it is derived
in the main from the native Italian tradition. This is shown in the
stumpy proportions of the figures and the crude, not to say hideous,
realism of the faces of the crowd. The classical origin of the tradition
is still traceable in the sandalled feet and the reminiscence of the
toga in some of the draperies. But the chief interest lies in the
serious attempt made by the artist to give dramatic reality to the scene
in a way never attempted by the less human Byzantines. The action of the
Magdalen throwing up both arms in despair is really impressive, and this
is a more vivacious rendering of a gesture traditional in Western early
Christian art; an instance occurs in the fifth century MS. of Genesis at
Vienna. But the artist shows his originality more in the expressive and
sometimes beautiful poses of the weeping angels and the natural
movements of the Virgin and S. John.

Very nearly allied to this are the archangels of the triforium, and some
of the frescoes of the upper scenes in the nave, such as the Nativity
and the Betrayal. These belong to the same group, though they are not
necessarily by the master of the Crucifixion himself.

As we proceed along the nave, still keeping to the upper series, we come
upon another distinct personality, whose work is typified in the
Deception of Isaac. In certain qualities this master is not altogether
unlike the master of the Crucifixion. Like him, he replaces the purely
schematic linear rendering of drapery by long streaks of light and dark
paint, so arranged as to give the idea of actual modelling in relief.
But he does this not only with greater naturalism, but with a greatly
increased sense of pure beauty. The painting is not hieratic and formal,
as the Byzantine would have made it, nor has it that overstrained
attempt at dramatic vehemence which we saw in the Crucifixion. The faces
have remarkable beauty, and throughout there is a sense of placid and
dignified repose which is rare in mediæval work. It is, in fact,
decidedly classical, and classical, too, in a sense different from the
vague reminiscences of classic origin which permeate early Christian
art, and were faintly echoed in the Crucifixion. Rachel especially, with
her full, well-rounded eyes, wide apart and set deep in their sockets,
her straight nose and small mouth, might almost have come straight from
a Pompeian picture.

The hair, too, instead of being in tangled masses, as in the
Crucifixion, or rendered by parallel lines, as in the Sacrifice of
Isaac, is drawn into elegantly disposed curls, which yet have something
of the quality of hair, and which remind us of the treatment in classic

The last vault of the nave, with the Doctors of the Church, is by an
artist who is extremely similar to the last, and clearly belongs to the
same group. The level brows nearly meeting over the bridge of the nose,
the straight profile and the curled hair show the similarity, as does
also the drapery. The classic tendencies of this artist may be seen in
the amorini caryatides in the extreme corners of the spandril, while the
decoration of one of the arches of the church by the same hand has,
arising from an urn of pure classic design, a foliated scrollwork, in
which centaurs disport themselves.

In the lower series representing the Life of S. Francis we are at once
struck by the resemblances to the last two paintings. The Pope, who is
approving the rule of S. Francis, is almost a repetition of one of the
Doctors of the Church. We have the same peculiar drapery with shiny,
slippery, high lights, broadly washed on in well-disposed folds. The
faces, too, though they are more individual and far more expressive,
are, nevertheless, built on the same lines. They have similar straight
profiles, the same deeply-cut level brows, which tend to meet in a line
across the nose. The general impression it makes is that it is by a
younger artist than the master of the Esau fresco, but one who has a
keener feeling for reality and a far deeper sense of the dramatic

We will now turn to the historical evidence. The earliest and best is
that of Ghiberti (early fifteenth century), who tells us simply that
Giotto painted the S. Francis legend. Vasari says that Cimabue worked
first in the lower church with Greek artists, and then did the whole of
the upper church, except the S. Francis legend, which he ascribes to
Giotto. In addition to these we have a sixteenth-century MS. and an
account of the church by Petrus Rudolphus of the same period, which
agree that both Giotto and Cimabue painted in the upper church.

We may take it, then, that we have fairly good evidence for ascribing
the S. Francis series in the main to Giotto, and a consensus of
traditional opinion that somewhere in the other frescoes we ought to
discover Cimabue.

The name of Cimabue is fraught with tender associations. To the last
generation, happy in its innocence, it was familiar as a household word.
Browning could sing without a qualm: “My painter--who, but Cimabue?” The
cult of Cimabue became fashionable; it offended Philistine nostrils and
received its due castigation from Mr. Punch. And now, alas, he would be
a bold man who dared to say that he admired Cimabue, who dared to do
more than profess a pious belief in his existence. Only recently a
distinguished critic[23] has endeavoured to hand over to Duccio di
Buoninsegna the very stronghold of the Cimabue faith, the altar-piece of
the Rucellai Chapel in Sta. Maria Novella. But the myth dies hard, and
Florentine guides will still point out the portraits of all Cimabue’s
relations in the little figures round the frame. Ever since the time of
Rumohr, however, who considered him to be little more than an emanation
of Vasari’s brain heated by patriotic fervour, it has been established
that we have no documentary evidence for any single picture by him. We
do know, however, that at the very end of his life he executed the
mosaic of the apse in the cathedral at Pisa. But this is a much restored
work, and originally can have been little but an adaptation of a
Byzantine design, and it throws no light on his work as a painter. In
any case, all criticisms of his reputation in his own day, whether
deserved or not, must fall to the ground before Dante’s celebrated
lines, “Credette Cimabue nella pittura Tener lo campo, ed ora ha Giotto
il grido,” for on this point Dante is first-rate evidence. And that
being the case, there is a probability, almost amounting to certainty,
that the man who “held the field” in painting would be requisitioned for
the greatest national undertaking of his day, the decoration of S.
Francesco at Assisi, even though, as we have seen, it would be
impossible to accept Vasari’s statement that he did the whole.

In looking for Cimabue among the groups of the upper church which we
have selected, it will be worth while to take as an experimental guide
other works ascribed traditionally to our artist. If these should agree
in their artistic qualities with one another and with any one group at
Assisi, we shall have some probability in favour of our view. And the
result of such a process is to find in the master of the Crucifixion our
elusive and celebrated painter.

It would be wearisome to go in detail through all these works; it will
suffice to say that in certain marked peculiarities they all agree with
one another and with the Crucifixion. The most striking likeness will be
found between the heads which appear under the Virgin’s throne in the
picture in the Academy at Florence, which Vasari attributes to Cimabue,
and the grotesque heads to the right of the Crucifixion. There is the
same crude attempt at realism, the same peculiar matted hair, the same
curious drawing of the eye-socket which gives the appearance of
spectacles. The characteristics of this picture will again be found in
the Cimabue of the Louvre which comes from Pisa, where he is known to
have worked. Very similar, too, in innumerable details of architectural
setting, of movement of hands and heads, and of drapery is the fresco of
the Madonna Enthroned and S. Francis, in the lower church at Assisi.
Finally, the Rucellai Madonna, in spite of its very superior qualities,
which must be due to its being a later work, answers in many detailed
tests to the characteristics of this group of paintings.[24]

And now, having found our Cimabue in the master of the Crucifixion, what
must our verdict be on his character as an artist? Frankly we must admit
that he is not to be thought of in the same category with the master of
the Esau fresco, much less with Duccio or Giotto.[25] There is, however,
in his work that spark of vitality which the Italians rightly prized
above Byzantine accomplishment. He gave to his historical compositions a
rude dramatic vigour, and to his Madonnas and Angels a suggestion of
sentimental charm which borders on affectation; he was, in fact, a
sentimental realist whose relation to the Byzantine masters must have
been something like that of Caravaggio to the academic school of the

We come next to the master of the Deception of Isaac, and the closely
allied, if not identical, painter who did the Four Doctors of the vault.
We have already noticed the likeness of these works to the legend of S.
Francis, which we may take provisionally to be Giotto’s; but, in spite
of the similarity of technique, they are inspired by a very diverse
sentiment. They are not dramatic and intense as Giotto’s; they show a
more conscious aspiration after style; the artist will not allow the
requirements of formal beauty to be disturbed by the desire for
expressive and life-like gestures. Where, then, could an artist of this
period acquire such a sense of pure classic beauty in painting? In
sculpture it might be possible to find classic models throughout Italy
as Niccolo did at Pisa, but Rome was the only place which could fulfil
the requirements for a painter. There must at this time have been many
more remains of classical painting among the ruins of the Palatine than
are now to be seen, and it is a natural conclusion that the artist who
painted the figure of Rachel was directly inspired by them. Nor is
there anything difficult in the assumption that this unknown precursor
of Giotto was a Roman artist, for the Roman school of painting was by
far the most precocious of any in Italy. At Subiaco there are frescoes,
some of which must date from the lifetime of S. Francis, which already,
as in the portrait of S. Francis himself, show a certain freedom from
Byzantine formalism. But it is in the works of the Cosmati, Jacopo
Torriti, Rusutti, and Cavallini in the latter half of the thirteenth
century that we see how vigorous and progressive an art was springing up
in Rome.[26] Had not the removal of the Popes to Avignon in the
fourteenth century left the city a prey to internal discord, we can
hardly doubt that the Roman would have been one of the greatest and
earliest developed schools of Italian painting. As it is, we find in the
mosaics under the apse of Sta. Maria in Trastevere, executed about the
year 1290, compositions in every way comparable to Giotto’s frescoes.
These mosaics, too, have architectural accessories which are very
similar to the architecture of the “Doctors of the Church” at Assisi.
The architecture based on a study of classic forms is of the kind always
associated with the Cosmati family. It will be seen that it is quite
distinct from the architecture of Cimabue’s and Duccio’s Madonnas, but
that it becomes the normal treatment in Giotto’s frescoes.

There is, then, a curiously close analogy between the origins of
neo-Christian painting and neo-Christian sculpture in Italy; just as
Giovanni Pisano’s work was preceded by the purely classic revival which
culminated in Niccolo’s Baptistery pulpit, so in painting Giotto’s work
emerges from a similar classic revival based on the study of Roman
wall-paintings. The perfect similarity between Niccolo Pisano’s
sentiment and that of the master of the Esau fresco may be realised by
comparing the action of Rachel’s hand in the fresco with that of the
Virgin in the Annunciation of the Baptistery pulpit. In both we have the
same autarchic conception of character conveyed by the same measured
ease of gesture, which contrasts vividly with the more expansive ideals
of neo-Christian art, of which Giotto appears from the first as the most
perfect representative.

In examining the series of frescoes describing the life of S. Francis
we find varieties in the proportions of the figures and in the types of
features which suggest the co-operation of more than one artist, but the
spirit that inspires the compositions throughout is one. And this
afflatus which suddenly quickens so much that was either tentative or
narrowly accomplished into a new fulness of life, a new richness of
expression, is, we may feel certain, due to the genius of Giotto.

If we look at one of these frescoes, such, for example, as the Presepio
at Greccio, and at the same time endeavour to transport ourselves into
the position of a contemporary spectator, what will strike us most
immediately and make the most startling general impression is its
actuality. Here at last, after so many centuries of copying the
traditional forms handed down from a moribund Pagan art--centuries
during which these abstractions had become entirely divorced from the
life of the time--here at last was an artist who gave a scene as it must
have happened, with every circumstance evidently and literally rendered.
The scene of the institution of the Presepio takes place in a little
chapel divided from the body of the church by a marble wall. The pulpit
and crucifix are therefore seen from behind, the latter leaning forward
into the church and showing from the chapel only the wooden battens and
fastenings of the back. The singing-desk in the centre is drawn with
every detail of screws and adjustments, while the costume of the
bystanders is merely the ordinary fashionable dress of the day. The
research for actuality could not be carried farther than this. When some
years ago a French painter painted the scene of Christ at the house of
the Pharisee with the figures in evening dress it aroused the most
vehement protests, and produced for a time a shock of bewilderment and
surprise. This is not to suggest any real analogy between the works of
the two artists, but merely that the innovation made by Giotto must have
been in every way as surprising to his contemporaries. Nor was Giotto’s,
like M. Béraud’s, a _succès de scandale_; on the contrary, it was
immediately recognised as satisfying a want which had been felt ever
since the legend of S. Francis, the setting of which belonged to their
own time and country, had been incorporated by the Italians in their
mythology. The earliest artists had tried to treat the subject according
to the formulas of Byzantine biblical scenes, but with such
unsatisfactory results as may be seen in the altar-piece of the Bardi
Chapel of Sta. Croce at Florence. In Giotto’s frescoes at Assisi it
acquired for the first time a treatment in which the desire for
actuality was fully recognised. But actuality alone would not have
satisfied Giotto’s patrons; it was necessary that the events should be
presented as scenes of everyday life, but it was also necessary that
they should possess that quality of universal and eternal significance
which distinguishes a myth from a mere historical event. It was even
more necessary that they should be heroic than that they should be
actual. And it was in his power to satisfy such apparently
self-contradictory conditions that Giotto’s unique genius manifested
itself. It was this that made him the greatest story-teller in line, the
supreme epic-painter of the world. The reconciliation of these two aims,
actuality and universality, is indeed the severest strain on the power
of expression. To what a temperature must the imagination be raised
before it can fuse in its crucible those refractory squalid trivialities
unconsecrated by time and untinged by romance with which the artist must
deal if he is to be at once “topical” and heroic, to be at one and the
same time in “Ercles’ vein” and Mrs. Gamp’s. Even in literature it is a
rare feat. Homer could accomplish it, and Dante, but most poets must
find a way round. In Dante the power is constantly felt. He could not
only introduce the politics and personalities of his own time, but he
could use such similes as that of old tailors peering for their needles’
eyes, a half-burnt piece of paper, dogs nozzling for fleas, and still
more unsavoury trivialities, without for a moment lowering the high key
in which his comedy was pitched. The poet deals, however, with the vague
and blurred mental images which words call up, but the painter must
actually present the semblance of the thing in all its drab familiarity.
And yet Giotto succeeded. He could make the local and particular stand
for a universal idea.

But, without detracting in any way from what was due to Giotto’s
superlative genius, it may be admitted that something was given by the
propitious moment of his advent. For the optics of the imagination are
variable: in an age like the present, men and events grow larger as they
recede into the mist of the past; it is rarely that we think of a man as
truly great till he has for long received the consecration of death. But
there must be periods when men have a surer confidence in their own
judgments--periods of such creative activity that men can dare to
measure the reputations of their contemporaries, which are of their own
creation, against the reputations of antiquity--and in such periods the
magnifying, mythopoetical effect, which for us comes only with time,
takes place at once, and swells their contemporaries to heroic
proportions. It was thus that Dante saw those of his own time--could
even see himself--in the proportions they must always bear. The fact
that S. Francis was canonised two years after death, and within twenty
years was commemorated by the grandest monument in Italy, is a striking
proof of that superb self-confidence.

We will return to the frescoes: the evidence for their being in the main
by Giotto himself rests not only on the general consensus of tradition,
but upon the technical characteristics and, most of all, upon the
imaginative conception of the subjects. None the less, in so big a work
it is probable that assistants were employed to carry out Giotto’s
designs, and this will account for many slight discrepancies of style.
Certain frescoes, however--notably the last three of the series--show
such marked differences that we must suppose that one of these
assistants rose to the level of an original creative artist.

In the fresco of S. Francis kneeling before the Pope, we have already
noticed Giotto’s close connection with the artists of the Roman school.
Their influence is not confined to the figures and drapery; the
architecture--in which it may be noted, by the way, that Giotto has
already arrived instinctively at the main ideas of linear
perspective--with its minute geometrical inlays, its brackets and
mouldings, derived from classic forms, is entirely in the manner of the
Cosmati. But the composition illustrates, none the less, the differences
which separate him from the master of the Esau fresco. Giotto is at this
stage of his career not only less accomplished, but he has nothing of
that painter’s elegant classical grace. He has, instead, the greatest
and rarest gift of dramatic expressiveness. For though the poses,
especially of the bishop seated on the Pope’s left, lack grace, and the
faces show but little research for positive beauty or regularity of
feature, the actual scene, the dramatic situation, is given in an
entirely new and surprising way. Of what overwhelming importance for
the history of the world this situation was, perhaps Giotto himself
could scarcely realise. For this probably represents, not the
approbation of the order of minor brethren by Honorius III., which was a
foregone conclusion, but the permission to preach given by Innocent
III., a far more critical moment in the history of the movement. For
Innocent III., in whom the Papacy reached the zenith of its power, had
already begun the iniquitous Albigensian crusade, and was likely to be
suspicious of any unofficial religious teaching. It cannot have been
with unmixed pleasure that he saw before him this poverty-stricken group
of Francis and his eleven followers, whose appearance declared in the
plainest terms their belief in that primitive communistic Christianity
which, in the case of Petrus Waldus, had been branded by
excommunication. In fact, the man who now asked for the Papal blessing
on his mission was in most respects a Waldensian. Francis (the name
Francesco is itself significant) was probably by birth, certainly by
predilection[27] and temperament, half a Frenchman; his mother came from
Provence, and his father had business connections at Lyons; so that it
is not impossible that Francis was influenced by what he knew, through
them, of the Waldensian movement. In any case, his teaching was nearly
identical with that of Petrus Waldus; both taught religious
individualism and, by precept at all events, communism. It was,
therefore, not unnatural that Innocent should not respond at once to S.
Francis’ application. According to one legend, the Pope’s first advice
to him was to consort with swine, as befitted one of his miserable
appearance. But, whatever his spontaneous impulses may have been, he had
the good sense to accept the one man through whom the Church could again
become popular and democratic.

Of all that this acceptance involved, no one who lived before the
Reformation could understand the full significance, but Giotto has here
expressed something of the dramatic contrasts involved in this meeting
of the greatest of saints and the most dominating of popes--something
of the importance of the moment when the great heretic was recognised by
the Church.

In the fresco of S. Francis before the Sultan we have a means of
comparing Giotto at this period with the later Giotto of the Bardi
Chapel, in Florence where the same scene is treated with more intimate
psychological imagination; but here already the story is told with a
vividness and simplicity which none but Giotto could command. The weak
and sinuous curves of the discomfited sages, the ponderous and massive
contour of the indignant Sultan, show that Giotto’s command of the
direct symbolism of line is at least as great as Duccio’s in the Three
Maries, while his sense of the roundness and solid relief of the form
is, as Mr. Berenson[28] has ably pointed out, far greater. We find in
the Sultan, indeed, the type for which Giotto showed a constant
predilection--a well-formed, massive body, with high rounded shoulders
and short neck, but with small and shapely hands. As is natural in the
work of an artist who set himself so definitely to externalise the
tension of a critical moment, his hands are always eloquent; it is
impossible to find in his work a case where the gestures of the hands
are not explicit indications of a particular emotion. The architecture
in this fresco is a remarkable evidence of the classical tendencies
which he inherited from the Cosmati school. The Sultan’s throne has, it
is true, a quasi-Gothic gable, but the coffered soffit, and the whole of
the canopy opposite to it, with its winged genii, pilasters, and
garlands are derived from classic sources.

We have already considered the Presepio as an example of Giotto’s power
of giving the actual setting of a scene without losing its heroic
quality. It is also an example of his power of visualising the
psychological situation; here, the sudden thrill which permeates an
assembly at a moment of unwonted exaltation. It depicts the first
representation of the Nativity instituted at Greccio by S. Francis; it
is the moment at which he takes the image of the Infant Christ in his
arms, when, to the ecstatic imaginations of the bystanders, it appeared
for an instant transformed into a living child of transcendent beauty.
The monks at the back are still singing the Lauds (one can almost tell
what note each is singing, so perfect is Giotto’s command of facial
expression), but the immediate bystanders and the priest are lost in
wrapt contemplation of S. Francis and the Child.[29]

One of the most beautiful of the whole series is the fresco which
represents the nuns of S. Clare meeting the Saint’s body as it is borne
to burial. Throughout the series Giotto took Bonaventura’s life as his
text, and it is interesting to see how near akin the two renderings are,
both alike inspired by that new humanity of feeling which S. Francis’
life had aroused. Having described the beauty of the Saint’s dead body,
“of which the limbs were so soft and delicate to the touch that they
seemed to have returned to the tenderness of a child’s, and appeared by
many manifest signs to be innocent as never having done wrong, so like a
child’s were they,” he adds,

     Therefore it is not to be marvelled at if seeing a body so white
     and seeing therein those black nails and that wound in the side
     which seemed to be a fresh red rose of spring, if those that saw it
     felt therefor great wonder and joy. And in the morning when it was
     day the companies and people of the city and all the country round
     came together, and being instructed to translate that most holy
     body from that place to the city of Assisi, moved with great
     solemnity of hymns and songs and divine offices, and with a
     multitude of torches and of candles lighted and with branches of
     trees in their hands; and with such solemnity going towards the
     city of Assisi and passing by the church of S. Damiano, in which
     stayed Clara the noble virgin who is to-day a saint on earth and in
     heaven, they rested there a little. She and her holy virgins were
     comforted to see and kiss that most holy body of their father the
     blessed Francis adorned with those holy stigmata and white and
     shining as has been said.

Bonaventura, we see, had already conceived the scene with such
consummate artistic skill that it was, as it were, ready made for
Giotto. He had only to translate that description into line and colour;
and in doing so he has lost nothing of its beauty. Giotto, like
Bonaventura, is apparently perfectly simple, perfectly direct and
literal, and yet the result is in both cases a work of the rarest
imaginative power. Nor is it easy to analyse its mysterious charm.
Giotto was a great painter in the strictest and most technical sense of
the word, but his technical perfection is not easily appreciated in
these damaged works, and one cannot explain the effect this produces by
any actual beauty of the surface quality of the painting; it depends
rather on our perception, through the general disposition and action of
the figures, of Giotto’s attitude to life, of the instinctive rightness
of feeling through which he was enabled to visualise the scene in its
simplest and most inevitable form.

We come now to the three last frescoes of the series which show such
marked differences from the rest, though some of the peculiarities, the
minute hands and elegant features, appear in parts of some of the
preceding frescoes, notably in our last: we may imagine that an
assistant working under Giotto was, as the work progressed, given a
larger and larger share in the execution, and finally carried out the
three last frescoes alone. But this is pure hypothesis; all we can do at
present is to note the difference not only of types, but even to some
extent in the manner of conception, that they evince. One of them
recounts the story of a woman of Benevento devoted to S. Francis, who
died after forgetting one of her sins in her last confession. At the
intercession of the dead Saint she was allowed to come to life again,
finish her confession, and so defeat of his prey the black devil who had
already come for her soul. Here the whole spacing out of the composition
indicates a peculiar feeling, very different from Giotto’s. The artist
crowds his figures into narrow, closely-packed groups, and leaves vast
spaces of bare wall between. In this particular instance the result is
very impressive; it intensifies the supreme importance of the confession
and emphasises the loneliness and isolation of the soul that has already
once passed away. When we look at the individual figures the differences
are even more striking; the long thin figures, the repetition of
perpendicular lines, the want of variety in the poses of the heads, a
certain timidity in the movements, the long masks, too big in proportion
for the heads, the tiny elegant features, elongated necks, and minute
hands--all these characteristics contrast with Giotto’s tendency to
massive proportions and easy expansive movements. Not that these figures
have not great beauty; only it is of a recondite and exquisite kind. The
artist that created these types must have loved what was sought out and
precious; though living so long before Raphael, he must have been
something of a “pre-Raphaelite.”

We have no clue to the identity of this pseudo-Giotto; he is quite
distinct from Giotto’s known pupils, and indeed may rather have been a
contemporary artist who came under Giotto’s influence than one trained
by him. Besides the frescoes at Assisi, we are fortunate enough to
possess one other picture by this interesting artist. It is a small
altar-piece dedicated to S. Cecilia, which hangs in the corridor of the
Uffizi, and has been attributed both to Cimabue and to Giotto. The long
Rosetti-like necks and heads, the poses, in which elegance is preferred
to expressiveness, and the concentration of the figures so as to leave
large empty spaces even in these small compositions, are sufficient
grounds for attributing it to Giotto’s fellow-worker at Assisi.[30]

In the year 1298 Giotto entered into a contract with Cardinal
Stefaneschi to execute for him the mosaic of the “Navicella,” now in the
porch of S. Peter’s. We have in this the first ascertainable date of
Giotto’s life. It is one which, however, fits very well with the
internal evidences of his style, as it would give the greater part of
the last decade of the thirteenth century as the period of Giotto’s
activity in the Upper Church at Assisi. One other work on the evidence
of style we may attribute to the master’s pre-Roman period, and that is
the Madonna of the Academy at Florence. Here Giotto followed the lines
of Cimabue’s enthroned Madonnas, though with his own greatly increased
sense of solidity in the modelling and vivacity in the poses. It cannot,
however, be considered as a prepossessing work. It may be due to
restoration that the picture shows no signs of Giotto’s peculiar feeling
for tonality; but even the design is scarcely satisfactory, the relation
of the Madonna to the throne is such that her massive proportions leave
an impression of ungainliness rather than of grandeur. In the throne
itself he has made an experiment in the new Gothic architecture, but he
has hardly managed to harmonise it with the earlier classic forms of the
Cosmati, which still govern the main design. We shall see that in his
work at Rome he overcame all these difficulties.

In Rome Giotto worked chiefly for Cardinal Stefaneschi. This is
significant of Giotto’s close relations with the Roman school, for it
was Bartolo, another member of the same family, who commissioned the
remarkable mosaics of Sta. Maria in Trastevere, executed in 1290,
mosaics which show how far the Roman school had already advanced towards
the new art, of which Giotto’s work was the consummation.

The mosaic of the “Navicella,” which was the greatest undertaking of
Giotto’s activity in Rome, is unfortunately terribly restored. We can,
however, still recognise the astonishing dramatic force of the
conception and the unique power which Giotto possessed of giving a vivid
presentation of a particular event, accompanied by the most
circumstantial details, and at the same time suggesting to the
imagination a symbolical interpretation of universal and abstract
significance. Even the surprising intrusion of a _genre_ motive in the
fisherman peacefully angling on the shore does not disturb our
recognition of this universal interpretation, which puts so clearly the
relation of the ship of the Church, drifting helplessly with its
distraught crew, to the despairing Peter, who has here the character of
an emissary and intermediary, and the impassive and unapproachable
figure of Christ himself.

The daring originality which Giotto shows in placing the predominant
figure at the extreme edge of the composition, the feeling for
perspective which enabled him to give verisimilitude to the scene by
throwing back the ship into the middle distance, the new freedom and
variety in the movements of the Apostles in the boat, by which the
monotony of the eleven figures crowded into so limited a space is
evaded, are proofs of Giotto’s rare power of invention, a power which
enabled him to treat even the most difficult abstractions with the same
vivid sense of reality as the dramatic incidents of contemporary life.
It is not to be wondered at that this should be the work most frequently
mentioned by the Italian writers of the Renaissance. The storm-gods
blowing their Triton’s horns are a striking instance of how much Giotto
assimilated at this time from Pagan art.

But of far greater beauty are the panels for the high altar of S.
Peter’s, also painted for Cardinal Stefaneschi, and now to be seen in
the sacristy, where the more obvious beauties of Melozzo da Forli’s
music-making angels too often lead to their being overlooked. And yet,
unnoticed in the dark corners of the room, they have escaped the
attentions of restorers and glow with all the rare translucency of
Giotto’s tempera.

These are the first pictures we have examined by Giotto in which we are
able to appreciate at all the beauty and subtlety of his tone contrasts,
for not only have the frescoes of the upper church at Assisi and the
“Madonna” of the Academy suffered severely from restoration, but it is
probable that in his youthful works he had not freed himself altogether
from the harsher tonality of earlier art. Here, however, Giotto shows
that power which is distinctive of the greatest masters of paint, of
developing a form within a strictly limited scale of tone, drawing out
of the slightest contrasts their fullest expressiveness for the
rendering of form; a method which, though adopted from an intuitive
feeling for pure beauty, gives a result which can only be described as
that of an enveloping atmosphere surrounding the forms.[31]

The kneeling figure, presumably Cardinal Stefaneschi himself, in the
“Christ enthroned” is an admirable instance of this quality. With what
tender, scarcely perceptible gradations, with what a limited range from
dark to light is the figure expressed; and yet it is not flat, the form
is perfectly realised between the two sweeping curves whose simplicity
would seem, but for the masterly modelling, to prevent the possibility
of their containing a human figure. The portrait is as remarkable in
sentiment as in execution. The very conception of introducing a donor
into such a composition was new.[32] It was a sign of the new
individualism which marked the whole of the great period of Italian art,
and finally developed into extravagance. The donor having once found his
way into pictures of sacred ceremonial remained, but he not infrequently
found it difficult to comport himself becomingly amid celestial
surroundings; as he became more important, and heaven itself became less
so, he asserted himself with unseemly self-assurance, until at last his
matter-of-fact countenance, rendered with prosaic fidelity, stares out
at the spectator in contemptuous indifference to the main action of the
composition, the illusion of which it effectually destroys.

But here, where the idea is new, it has no such jarring effect; it is
not yet a stereotyped formula, an excuse for self-advertisement or
social display, but the direct outcome of a poetical and pious thought;
and Giotto, with his unique rightness of feeling, has expressed, by the
hand clinging to the throne and the slightly bent head, just the
appropriate attitude of humble adoration, which he contrasts with the
almost nonchalant ease and confidence of the angels. Even in so purely
ceremonial a composition as this Giotto contrives to create a human

In the planning of this picture Giotto has surpassed not only Duccio’s
and Cimabue’s versions of the Enthronement motive but his own earlier
work at Florence. The throne, similar in construction to that in the
Academy picture, no longer shows the inconsistencies of two conflicting
styles, but is of pure and exquisitely proportioned Gothic; the
difficult perspective of the arches at the side is rendered with
extraordinary skill though without mathematical accuracy. The relation
of the figure of Christ to the throne is here entirely satisfactory,
with the result that the great size of the figure no longer appears
unnatural, but as an easily accepted symbol of divinity. In the drawing
of the face of the Christ he has retained the hieratic solemnity given
by the rigid delineation of Byzantine art.

But if the “Christ enthroned” is a triumph of well-calculated
proportions, the “Crucifixion of S. Peter” which formed one side of the
triptych, is even more remarkable for the beauty of its spacing and the
ingenuity of its arrangement.

In designing such a panel with its narrow cusped arch and gold
background, the artist’s first consideration must be its effect as mere
pattern when seen on the altar at the end of a church. In his frescoes,
Giotto’s first preoccupation was with the drama to be presented; here it
was with the effect of sumptuous pattern.

And the given data out of which the pattern was to be made were by no
means tractable. The subject of the Crucifixion of S. Peter was
naturally not a favourite one with artists, and scarcely any succeeded
in it entirely, even in the small dimensions of a predella piece, to
which it was generally relegated. For it is almost impossible to do away
with the unpleasant effect of a figure seen thus upside down. The
outstretched arms, which in the crucifixion of Christ give a
counterbalancing line to the long horizontal of the spectators, here
only increases the difficulty of the single upright. But Giotto, by a
brilliant inspiration,[33] found his solution in the other fact given by
his subject--namely, that the martyrdom took place between the goals of
the Circus of Nero. By making these huge pyramids adapted from two
well-known Roman monuments (the Septizonium and the pyramid of Cestius),
he has obtained from the gold background just that dignified effect of
spreading out above and contracting below which is so effective in
renderings of the crucifixion of Christ, an effect which he still
further emphasises by the two angels, whose spreading wings and floating
draperies increase the brocade-like richness of the symmetrical pattern.

Nor, the pattern once assured, has Giotto failed of vivid dramatic
presentation. It is surprising to find crowded into so small a space so
many new poses all beautifully expressive of the individual shades of a
common feeling: the woman to the left of the cross leaning her head on
her hand as though sorrow had become a physical pain; the beautiful
figure of the youth, with long waving hair, who throws back both arms
with a despairing gesture; the woman lifting her robe to wipe her tears;
and, most exquisite of all, and most surprising, in its novelty and
truth to life, the figure of the girl to the left, drawn towards the
terrible scene by a motion of sympathy and yet shrinking back with
instinctive shyness and terror. In the child alone Giotto has, as was
usually the case, failed of a rhythmical and expressive pose. And what
an entirely new study of life is seen here in the variety of the types!
In one--the man whose profile cuts the sky to the left--he seems to have
been indebted to some Roman portrait-bust; another, on horseback to the
left, is clearly a Mongolian type, with slant eyes and pigtail, a
curious proof of the intercourse with the extreme East which the
Franciscan missionaries had already established. In the drawing of the
nude figure of S. Peter, in spite of the unfortunate proportion of the
head, the same direct study of nature has enabled Giotto to realise the
structure of the figure more adequately than any artist since Roman
times. One can well understand the astonishment and delight of Giotto’s
contemporaries at this unfolding of the new possibilities of art, which
could now interpret all the variety and richness of human life and could
so intensify its appeal to the emotions. One other peculiarity of this
picture is interesting and characteristic of Giotto’s attitude. In
painting the frame of his panel he did not merely add figures as
decorative and symbolic accessories, he brought them into relation with
the central action, for each of them gazes at S. Peter with a different
expression of pity and grief. Giotto had to be dramatic even in his

That Giotto remained in Rome till after the great Jubilee of 1300 is
shown by the fragment of his fresco of the Papal Benediction which still
remains on a pillar of S. John Lateran. There is every probability that
at this time he met Dante, who was collecting the materials for the
terrible portrait of Boniface VIII. which he drew in the “Inferno.”

The next ascertainable date in Giotto’s life is that of the decoration
of the Arena chapel at Padua, begun in 1305. Here at last we are on
indisputable ground. The decoration of this chapel was conceived by
Giotto as a single whole, and was entirely carried out by him, though
doubtless with the help of assistants, and although it has suffered from
restoration it remains the completest monument to his genius. The
general effect of these ample silhouettes of golden yellow and red on a
ground of clear ultramarine is extraordinarily harmonious, and almost
gay. But essentially the design is made up of the sum of a number of
separate compositions. The time had not come for co-ordinating these
into a single scheme, as Michelangelo did in the ceiling of the Sistine.
In the composition of the separate scenes Giotto here shows for the
first time his full powers. Nearly every one of these is an entirely
original discovery of new possibilities in the relation of forms to one
another. The contours of the figures evoke to the utmost the ideal
comprehension of volume and mass. The space in which the figures move is
treated almost as in a bas-relief, of which they occupy a preponderant
part. As compared with the designs at Assisi the space is restricted,
and the figures amplified so that the plastic unity of the whole design
is more immediately apprehended. I doubt whether in any single building
one can see so many astonishing discoveries of formal relations as
Giotto has here made. Almost every composition gives one the shock of a
discovery at


Giotto. Pietà      Arena Chapel, Padua

Plate VI.]

once simple, inevitable, and instantly apprehended, and yet utterly
unforeseeable. In most compositions one can guess at some of the steps
by which the formal relations were established. Here one is at a loss to
conceive by what flight of imagination the synthesis has been attained.
We will consider a few in greater detail.

Giotto was, I believe, the first artist to represent the Resurrection by
the _Noli me tangere_. The Byzantines almost invariably introduced the
Descent into Hades or the Three Maries at the Tomb. In any case it is
characteristic of Giotto to choose a subject where the human situation
is so intimate and the emotions expressed are so poignant. Here, as in
the “Navicella,” where he was free to invent a new composition, he
discards the bilateral arrangement, which was almost invariable in
Byzantine art, and concentrates all the interest in one corner of the
composition. The angels on the tomb are damaged and distorted, but in
the head and hands of the Magdalene we can realise Giotto’s greatly
increased power and delicacy of modelling as compared with the frescoes
at Assisi. It is impossible for art to convey more intensely than this
the beauty of such a movement of impetuous yearning. The action of the
Christ is as vividly realised; almost too obviously, indeed, does he
seem to be edging out of the composition in order to escape the
Magdalene’s outstretched hands. This is a striking instance of that
power which Giotto possessed more than any other Italian, more indeed
than any other artist except Rembrandt, the power of making perceptible
the flash of mutual recognition which passes between two souls at a
moment of sudden illumination.

In the “Pietà” (Plate) a more epic conception is realised, for the
impression conveyed is of a universal and cosmic disaster: the air is
rent with the shrieks of desperate angels whose bodies are contorted in
a raging frenzy of compassion. And the effect is due in part to the
increased command, which the Paduan frescoes show, of simplicity and
logical directness of design. These massive boulder-like forms, these
draperies cut by only a few large sweeping folds, which suffice to give
the general movement of the figure with unerring precision, all show
this new tendency in Giotto’s art as compared with the more varied
detail, the more individual characterisation, of his early works. It is
by this consciously acquired and masterly simplicity that Giotto keeps
here, in spite of the unrestrained extravagance of passion, the
consoling dignity of style. If one compares it, for example, with the
works of Flemish painters, who explored the depths of human emotion with
a similar penetrating and sympathetic curiosity, one realises the
importance of what all the great Italians inherited from Græco-Roman
civilisation--the urbanity of a great style. And nowhere is it felt more
than here, where Giotto is dealing with emotions which classical art
scarcely touched.

It is interesting that Giotto should first have attained to this perfect
understanding of style at Padua, where he was, as we know, in constant
intercourse with Dante. Dante must have often watched him, perhaps
helped him by suggestions, in decorating the chapel built with the
ill-gotten wealth of that Scrovegni whom he afterwards seated amid the
usurers on the burning sands of Hell.

It is mainly by means of the composition and the general conception of
pose and movement that Giotto expresses the dramatic idea. And regarded
from that point of view, these frescoes are an astounding proof of
Giotto’s infallible intuitions. The characters he has created here are
as convincing, as ineffaceable, as any that have been created by poets.
The sad figure of Joachim is one never to be forgotten. In every
incident of his sojourn in the wilderness, after the rejection of his
offering in the temple, his appearance indicates exactly his mental
condition. When he first comes to the sheepfold, he gazes with such set
melancholy on the ground that the greeting of his dog and his shepherds
cannot arouse his attention; when he makes a sacrifice he crawls on
hands and knees in the suspense of expectation, watching for a sign from
heaven; even in his sleep we guess at his melancholy dreams; and in the
scene where he meets his wife at the Golden Gate on his return, Giotto
has touched a chord of feeling at least as profound as can be reached by
the most consummate master of the art of words.

It is true that in speaking of these one is led inevitably to talk of
elements in the work which modern criticism is apt to regard as lying
outside the domain of pictorial art. It is customary to dismiss all that
concerns the dramatic presentation of the subject as literature or
illustration, which is to be sharply distinguished from the qualities of
design. But can this clear distinction be drawn in fact? The imaginings
of a playwright, a dramatic poet, and a dramatic painter have much in
common, but they are never at any point identical. Let us suppose a
story to be treated by all three: to each, as he dwells on the legend,
the imagination will present a succession of images, but those images,
even at their first formation, will be quite different in each case,
they will be conditioned and coloured by the art which the creator
practises, by his past observation of nature with a view to presentment
in that particular art. The painter, like Giotto, therefore, actually
imagines in terms of figures capable of pictorial presentment, he does
not merely translate a poetically dramatic vision into pictorial terms.
And to be able to do this implies a constant observation of natural
forms with a bias towards the discovery of pictorial beauty. To be able,
then, to conceive just the appropriate pose of a hand to express the
right idea of character and emotion in a picture, is surely as much a
matter of a painter’s vision as to appreciate the relative “values” of a
tree and cloud so as to convey the mood proper to a particular

Before leaving the Paduan frescoes, I must allude to those allegorical
figures of the virtues and vices in which Giotto has, as it were,
distilled the essence of his understanding of human nature. These
personified virtues and vices were the rhetorical commonplaces of the
day, but Giotto’s intuitive understanding of the expression of emotion
enabled him to give them a profound significance. He has in some
succeeded in giving not merely a person under the influence of a given
passion, but the abstract passion itself, not merely an angry woman, but
anger. To conceive thus a figure possessed absolutely by a single
passion implied, an excursion beyond the regions of experience; no
merely scientific observation of the effects of emotion would have
enabled him to conceive the figure of Anger. It required an imagination
that could range the remotest spaces thus to condense in visible form
the bestial madness of the passion, to depict what Blake would have
called the “diabolical abstract” of anger.

We come now to the last great series of frescoes by Giotto which we
possess, those of the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels of Sta. Croce, his
maturest and most consummate works. From the very first Giotto had to
the full the power of seizing upon whatever in the forms of nature
expressed life and emotion, but the perfect understanding of the
conditions of a suave and gracious style was only slowly acquired. In
the Florentine frescoes it is the geniality, the persuasiveness of the
style which first strikes us. They have, indeed, an almost academic
perfection of design.

The comparison of the “Death of S. Francis” here with the early fresco
of the subject at Assisi shows how far Giotto has moved from the literal
realism of his first works. At Assisi crowds of people push round the
bier, soldiers and citizens come in to see, there is all the shifting
variety of the actual event. Here the composition is sublimated and
refined, reduced to its purest elements. The scene is still vividly,
intensely real, but it is apprehended in a more pensive and meditative
vein. There is in the composition a feeling for space which imposes a
new mood of placidity and repose. This composition became the typical
formula for such subjects throughout the Renaissance, but it was never
again equalled. In spite of its apparent ease and simplicity, it is
really by the subtlest art that all these figures are grouped in such
readily apprehended masses without any sense of crowding and with such
variety of gesture in the figures. The fresco, which had remained for
more than a century under a coat of whitewash, was discovered in 1841
and immediately disfigured by utter restoration. The artist,[35] with a
vague idea that Giotto was a decorative artist, and that decoration
meant something ugly and unnatural, surrounded the figures with hard
inexpressive lines. We can, therefore, only guess, by our knowledge of
Giotto elsewhere, and by the general idea of pose, how perfect was the
characterisation of the actors in the scene, how each responded
according to his temperament to the general sorrow, some in humble
prostration, one with a more intimate and personal affection, and one,
to whom the vision of the ascending soul is apparent, wrapt in mystic

An interesting characteristic of these late frescoes is the revival
which they declare of Giotto’s early love for classical architecture. He
may well have recognised the pictorial value of the large untroubled
rectangular spaces which it allowed. In the “Salome” he has approached
even more nearly to purely classic forms than in his earliest frescoes
at Assisi. The building has an almost Palladian effect with its square
parapets surmounted by statues, some of which are clearly derived from
the antique. In the soldier who brings in the Baptist’s head he has
reverted to the costume of the Roman soldier, whereas, in the allegory
of Chastity, the soldiers wear mediæval winged helmets.

The fact that there is a free copy of this fresco by the Lorenzetti at
Siena made in 1331 gives us the period before which this must have been
finished. Here again the mood is singularly placid, but the intensity
with which Giotto realised a particularly dramatic moment is shown by a
curious detail in which this differs from the usual rendering of the
scene. Most artists, wishing to express the essentials of the story,
make Salome continue her dance while the head is brought in. But Giotto
was too deep a psychologist to make such an error. At the tragic moment
she stops dancing and makes sad music on her lyre, to show that she,
too, is not wanting in proper sensibility.

There is evidence in these frescoes of an artistic quality which we
could scarcely have believed possible, and yet, as it is most evident in
those parts which are least damaged, it is impossible not to believe
that Giotto possessed it; and that is the real feeling for chiaroscuro
which these paintings show. It is not merely that the light falls in one
direction, though even that was a conception which was scarcely grasped
before Masaccio, but that Giotto actually composes by light and shade,
subordinates figures or groups of figures by letting them recede into
gloom and brings others into prominent light. This is particularly well
seen in the “Ascension of S. John” where the shadow of the building is
made use of to unify the composition and give depth and relief to the
imagined space. It is also an example of that beautiful atmospheric
tonality of which I have already spoken. In the figure of S. John
himself, Giotto seems to have the freedom and ease which we associate
with art of a much later date. There is scarcely a hint of archaism in
this figure. The head, with its perfect fusion of tones, its atmospheric
envelopment, seems already nearly as modern as a head by Titian. Even
the colour scheme, the rich earthy reds, the intense sweet blues of the
figures relieved against a broken green-grey, is a strange anticipation
of Cinquecento art. It seems as though Giotto in these works had himself
explored the whole of the promised land to which he led Italian

It is true that we are conscious of a certain archaism here in the
relations of the figures and the architecture. A certain violence is
done to that demand for verisimilitude which, perhaps wrongly, we now
invariably make. But in the “Raising of Drusiana,” even this demand is
met. Here the figures all have their just proportions to one another,
and to the buildings, and to the town wall which stretches behind them.
The scene is imagined, not merely according to the conditions of the
dramatic idea, but according to the possibilities and limitations of
actual figures moving in a three dimensional space; even the perspective
of the ground is understood. Such an imaginative construction of three
dimensional space had its disadvantages as well as its advantages for
art, but in any case it is an astonishing indication of Giotto’s genius
that he thus foresaw the conditions which in the end would be accepted
universally in European art. There is scarcely anything here that
Raphael would have had to alter to adapt the composition to one of his
tapestry cartoons.

Of the dramatic power of this I need add nothing to what has already
been said, but as this is the last of his works which we shall examine
it may afford an example of some of the characteristics of Giotto’s
draughtsmanship. For Giotto was one of the greatest masters of line that
the world has seen, and the fact that his knowledge of the forms of the
figure was comparatively elementary in no way interferes with his
greatness. It is not how many facts about an object an artist can
record, but how incisive and how harmonious with itself the record is,
that constitutes the essence of draughtsmanship.

In considering the qualities of line, three main elements are to be
regarded: First, the decorative rhythm, our sense of sight being
constructed like our sense of sound, so that certain relations, probably
those which are capable of mathematical analysis, are pleasing, and
others discordant. Secondly, the significance of line as enabling us
imaginatively to reconstruct a real, not necessarily an actual, object
from it. The greatest excellence of this quality will be the
condensation of the greatest possible suggestion of real form into the
simplest, most easily apprehended line; the absence of confusing
superfluity on the one hand, and mechanical, and therefore meaningless
simplicity, on the other. Finally, we may regard line as a gesture,
which impresses us as a direct revelation of the artist’s personality in
the same way that handwriting does.

Now, with Giotto, beautiful as his line undoubtedly is, it is not the
first quality, the decorative rhythm, that most immediately impresses
us. That is not the object of such deliberate and conscious research as
with some artists. It is in its significance for the expression of form
with the utmost lucidity, the most logical interrelation of parts that
his line is so impressive. Here, for instance, in the figure of the
kneeling woman, the form is expressed with perfect clearness; we feel at
once the relation of the shoulders to one another, the relation of the
torso to the pelvis, the main position of the thighs, and all this is
conveyed by a curve of incredible simplicity capable of instant
apprehension. To record so much with such economy requires not only a
rare imaginative grasp of structure, but a manual dexterity which makes
the story of Giotto’s O perfectly credible should one care to believe

Giotto’s line, regarded as an habitual gesture, is chiefly striking for
its breadth and dignity. It has the directness, the absence of
preciosity, which belongs to a generous and manly nature. The large
sweeping curves of his loose and full draperies are in part the direct
outcome of this attitude.

It is difficult to avoid the temptation to say of Giotto that he was the
greatest artist that ever lived, a phrase which has been used of too
many masters to retain its full emphasis. But at least he was the most
prodigious phenomenon in the known history of art. Starting with little
but the crude realism of Cimabue, tempered by the effete accomplishment
of the Byzantines,[36] to have created an art capable of expressing the
whole range of human emotions; to have found, almost without a guide,
how to treat the raw material of life itself in a style so direct, so
pliant to the idea, and yet so essentially grandiose and heroic; to have
guessed intuitively almost all the principles of representation which it
required nearly two centuries of enthusiastic research to establish
scientifically--to have accomplished all this is surely a more
astounding performance than any other one artist has ever achieved.

But the fascination Giotto’s art exercises is due in part to his
position in the development of modern culture. Coming at the same time
as Dante, he shares with him the privilege of seeing life as a single,
self-consistent, and systematic whole. It was a moment of equilibrium
between the conflicting tendencies of human activity, a moment when such
men as Dante and Giotto could exercise to the full their critical and
analytical powers without destroying the unity of a cosmic theory based
on theology. Such a moment was in its nature transitory: the free use of
all the faculties which the awakening to a new self-consciousness had
aroused, was bound to bring about antitheses which became more and more
irreconcilable as time went on. Only one other artist in later times was
able again to rise, by means of the conception of natural law, to a
point whence life could be viewed as a whole. Even so, it was by a more
purely intellectual effort, and Leonardo da Vinci could not keep the
same genial but shrewd sympathy for common humanity which makes Giotto’s
work so eternally refreshing.


Castagno. Crucifixion      Fresco in St. Apollonia, Florence

Plate VII.]


The “artistic temperament”--as used in the press and the police court,
these words betray a general misunderstanding of the nature of art, and
of the artist whenever he becomes fully conscious of its purpose. The
idea of the artist as the plaything of whim and caprice, a
hypersensitive and incoherent emotionalist, is, no doubt, true of a
certain class of men, many of whom practise the arts; nothing could be
further from a true account of those artists whose work has had the
deepest influence on the tradition of art; nothing could be less true of
the great artists of the Florentine School.

From the rise of modern art in the thirteenth century till now Florence
and France have been the decisive factors in the art of Europe. Without
them our art might have reflected innumerable pathetic or dramatic
moods, it might have illustrated various curious or moving situations,
it would not have attained to the conception of generalised truth of

To Florence of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and to France of
the seventeenth and succeeding centuries we owe the creation of
generalised or what, for want of a better word, we may call
“intellectual” art.

In speaking of intellect it is necessary to discriminate between two
distinct modes of its operation. The intellect may seek to satisfy
curiosity by observation of the distinctions between one object and
another by means of analysis; but it may concern itself with the
discovery of fundamental relations between these objects, by the
construction of a synthetic system which satisfies the mind, both for
its truth to facts and its logical coherence. The artist may employ both
these modes. His curiosity about the phenomena of nature may lead him to
accurate observation and recognition of the variety and distinctness of
characters, but he also seeks to construe these distinct forms into
such a coherent whole as will satisfy the æsthetic desire for unity.
Perhaps the processes employed by the artist may not be identical with
the intellectual processes of science, but it is evident that they
present a very close analogy to them.

It is a curious fact that at the beginning of the fifteenth century
in Italy, art was deeply affected by both kinds of intellectual
activity. Curiosity about natural forms in all their variety and
complexity--_naturalism_ in the modern sense--first manifested itself in
European art in Flanders, France, and North Italy about the second
decade of the fifteenth century. It appears that Italy actually led the
way in this movement, and that Lombardy was the point of origin.
Pisanello and Jacopo Bellini are the great exemplars in Italy of this
idea of exploring indefatigably and somewhat recklessly all those
detailed aspects of nature which their predecessors, occupied in the
grand Giottesque style, had scorned to notice.

In Florence, too, this impulse was undoubtedly felt, but it is the great
distinction of the Florentine artists that, however much their curiosity
about particular forms may have been excited, their high intellectual
passion for abstract ideas impelled them more to the study of some
general principles underlying all appearance. They refused to admit the
given facts of nature except in so far as they could become amenable to
the generalising power of their art. Facts had to be digested into form
before they were allowed into the system.

We can get an idea of what Florence of the fifteenth century meant for
the subsequent tradition of European art if we consider that if it had
not been for Florence the art of Italy might have been not altogether
unlike the art of Flanders and the Rhine--a little more rhythmical, a
little more gracious, perhaps, but fundamentally hardly more

Although this typically Florentine attitude defined itself most clearly
under the stress of naturalism it was, of course, already characteristic
of earlier Florentine art. Giotto, indeed, had left the tradition of
formal completeness so firmly fixed in Florence that whatever new
material had to be introduced it could only be introduced into a clearly
recognised system of design.

Of Giotto’s own work we rarely get a sight in England, the National
Gallery having missed the one great chance of getting him represented
some twenty years ago. But though Lady Jekyll’s single figure of Christ
can by its nature give no idea of his amazing and almost unequalled
power of discovering unexpected inevitabilities of formal relations, it
gives none the less something of Giotto’s peculiar beauty of drawing,
wherein the completest reality is attained without any attempted
verisimilitude. In Mr. Harris’s Bernardo Daddi we get nearer perhaps to
Giotto as a composer, and even in his Giovanni da Milano, in spite of
some Lombard grossness and sentimentality, the great tradition still

Masaccio, represented here by Mr. Rickett’s single figure, is one of the
most mysterious personalities in art, and typically Florentine. His
mystery lies partly in our ignorance about him, partly in the difficulty
of grasping the rapidity of action, the precocity, of genius such as
his. Coming at the very beginning of the naturalistic movement he seized
with a strange complacency and ease upon the new material it offered,
but (and this is what astounds one) he instantly discovered how to
assimilate it perfectly to the formal requirements of design. So that
not only the discovery of the new material, but its digestion was with
him a simultaneous and almost instantaneous process. He was helped
perhaps by the fact that the new naturalism was as yet only a general
perception of new aspects of natural form. It was left for his younger
contemporaries to map out the new country methodically--to the group of
adventurous spirits--Brunelleschi, Donatello, Castagno, and Uccello--who
founded modern science, and gave to the understanding of classic art a
methodical basis. It is in this group that the fierce intellectual
passion of the Florentine genius manifests itself most clearly.
Perspective and anatomy were the two studies which promised to reveal to
them the secrets of natural form. The study of anatomy exemplifies
mainly the aspect of curiosity, though even in this the desire to find
the underlying principles of appearance is evident--on the other hand
perspective, to its first discoverers, appeared to promise far more than
an aid to verisimilitude, it may have seemed a visual revelation of the
structure of space and through that a key to the construction of
pictorial space.

To our more penetrating study of æsthetic (for of all sciences, æsthetic
has been the greatest laggard) it is evident that neither perspective
nor anatomy have any very immediate bearing upon art--both of them are
means of ascertaining facts, and the question of art begins where the
question of fact ends. But artists have always had to excite themselves
with some kind of subsidiary intoxicant, and perspective and anatomy,
while they were still in their infancy, acted admirably as stimulants.
That they have by now become, for most artists, the dreariest of
sedatives may make it difficult to conceive this. But at all events in
that first generation they excited their devotees to an ardent search
for abstract unity of design. And this excitement went on to the next
generation as exemplified by the works of the Umbro-Florentines--Piero
della Francesca and Signorelli--and in Florence itself of Pollajuolo.

But the scientific spirit once aroused was destined not to remain for
long so stimulating and helpful an assistant to the creation of design.
It was bound in the end to start trains of thought too complex and too
absorbing to occupy a subordinate place. Already in the rank and file of
Florentine artists, the Ghirlandajos, Filippino Lippis, and their
kindred, mere curiosity--naïve literalism--had undermined the tradition,
so that towards the last quarter of the century hardly any artist knew
how to design intelligibly on the scale of a fresco, whereas the merest
duffer of the fourteenth century could be certain of the volumes and
quantities of his divisions.

But it is with Leonardo da Vinci that the higher aspects of the
scientific spirit first came into conflict with art. Doubtless this
conflict is not fundamental nor final, but only an apparent result of
human limitations; but to one who, like Leonardo, first had a Pisgah
prospect of that immense territory, to the exploration of which four
centuries of the intensest human effort have been devoted without yet
getting in sight of its boundaries--to such a man it was almost
inevitable that the scientific content of art should assume an undue
significance. Up till Leonardo one can say that the process of digesting
the new found material into æsthetic form had kept pace with
observation, though already in Verrocchio there is a sign of yielding to
the crude phenomenon. But with Leonardo himself the organising faculty
begins to break down under the stress of new matter. Leonardo himself
shared to the full the Florentine passion for abstraction, but it was
inevitable that he should be dazzled and fascinated by the vast
prospects that opened before his intellectual gaze. It was inevitable
that where such vast masses of new particulars revealed themselves to
his curiosity their claim for investigation should be the most
insistent. Not but what Leonardo did recognise the necessity for his art
of some restriction and choice. His keen observation had revealed to him
the whole gamut of atmospheric colour which first became a material for
design under Monet and his followers. But having described a picture
which would exactly correspond to a French painting of 1870, he rejects
the whole of this new material as unsuitable for art. But even his
rejection was not really a recognition of the claims of form, but only,
alas! of another scientific trend with which his mind had become
possessed. It was his almost prophetic vision of the possibilities of
psychology which determined more than anything else the lines of his
work. In the end almost everything was subordinated to the idea of a
kind of psychological illustration of dramatic themes--an illustration
which was not to be arrived at by an instinctive reconstruction from
within, but by deliberate analytic observation. Now in so far as the
movements of the soul could be interpreted by movements of the body as a
whole, the new material might lend itself readily to plastic
construction, but the minuter and even more psychologically significant
movements of facial expression demanded a treatment which hardly worked
for æsthetic unity. It involved a new use of light and shade, which in
itself tended to break down the fundamental divisions of design, though
later on Caravaggio and Rembrandt managed, not very successfully, to
pull it round so as to become the material for the basic rhythm. And in
any case the analytic trend of Leonardo’s mind became too much
accentuated to allow of a successful synthesis. Michelangelo, to some
extent, and Raphael still more, did, of course, do much to re-establish
a system of design on an enlarged basis which would admit of some of
Leonardo’s new content, but one might hazard the speculation that
European art has hardly yet recovered from the shock which Leonardo’s
passion for psychological illustration delivered. Certainly literalism
and illustration have through all these centuries been pressing dangers
to art--dangers which it has been the harder to resist in that they
allow of an appeal to that vast public to whom the language of form is

In Florentine art, then, one may see at happy moments of equilibrium the
supreme advantages of intellectual art and at other and less fortunate
moments the dangers which beset so difficult an endeavour. It was after
all a Florentine who made the best prophecy of the results of modern
æsthetic when he said: “Finally good painting is a music and a melody
which intellect only can appreciate and that with difficulty.”


Paolo Ucello. St. George and the Dragon      Collection Jacquemart-André

Plate VIII.]


The Jacquemart-André collection is not merely one of those accumulations
of the art of the past by which it has become the fashion for rich
people to impose themselves on the wonder of an ignorant public. It
shows that the lady who created it did so partly, at all events, because
of a quite personal and intimate love of beautiful things, a love which
did not have to seek for its justification and support in the opinion of
the world.

The three pictures reproduced here are proof of the sincerity and
courage of Mdme. André’s artistic convictions. They offer scarcely any
foothold for the sentimental and associative understanding of pictures.
The “S. George” of Paolo Uccello (see Plate) might, it is true, be taken
as a “naïve,” “quaint,” or “primitive” rendering of an “old world”
legend--indeed, whilst I was admiring it I gathered from the comments of
those who lingered before it for a few seconds that this was the general
attitude--but to do so would be to misunderstand the picture completely.
Uccello, in fact, lends himself to misunderstanding, and Vasari, with
his eye to literary picturesqueness, has done his best to put us off the
scent. He made him an “original,” a harmless, ingenious, slightly
ridiculous crank, gifted, no doubt, but one whose gifts were wasted by
reason of his crankiness. And the legend created by Vasari has stuck.
Uccello has always seemed to be a little aside from the main road of
art, an agreeable, amusing diversion, one that we can enjoy with a
certain humorous and patronising detachment, as we enjoy the innocence
of some mediæval chronicler. Uccello, I admit, has lent himself to this
misunderstanding because from every other point of view but that of pure
design he comes up to the character Vasari has made current. No artist
was ever so helpless as he at the dramatic presentment of his theme.
Nothing can well be imagined less like a battle than his battle pieces,
nor if we think of the Deluge would our wildest fancies have ever
conceived anything remotely resembling the scene which he painted with
such literal precision, with such a mass of inconclusive and improbable
invention, in the Chiostro Verde of Sta. Maria Novella.

The idea of verisimilitude is entirely foreign to him. And here comes in
the oddity and irony of his situation. He was the first or almost the
first great master of linear perspective. The study of perspective
became so engrossing to him that according to Vasari it wasted his
talent as an artist.

Now perspective is the scientific statement of the nature of visual
appearance. To the modern artist it becomes an occasional assistance in
giving to his images an air of verisimilitude. Wherever a strict
adherence to the laws of perspective would give to his objects a strange
or unlikely look he frankly neglects it. But to Uccello perspective
seemed, perhaps wrongly, to have an altogether different value. To him
it appears to have been a method of recreating a visual world. That is
to say, he took certain data of appearance from observation, and by
handling them according to the laws of perspective he created a world,
which, owing to the simplicity of his data and the rigid application of
his laws, has far less resemblance to what we see than his
contemporaries and predecessors had contrived by rule of thumb. Had he
taken the whole of the data of observed form the application of the laws
of perspective would have become impossible, and he would have been
thrown back upon imitative realism and the literal acceptance of
appearance. Such was indeed what happened to the painters of Flanders
and the north, and such has become the usual method of modern realistic
art. But nothing was more abhorrent to the spirit of fifteenth-century
Florence than such an acceptance of the merely casual, and nothing is
more fundamentally opposed to the empirical realism of a Van Eyck or a
Frith than the scientific and abstract realism of Paolo Uccello.

This passion, then, for an abstract and theoretical completeness of
rendering led Uccello to simplify the data of observed form to an
extraordinary extent, and his simplification anticipates in a curious
way that of the modern cubists, as one may see from the treatment of his
horses in the National Gallery battle-piece.

It is one of the curiosities of the psychology of the artist that he is
generally trying very hard to do something which has nothing to


Baldovinetti. Virgin and Child      Collection Jacquemart-André

Plate IX.]

do with what he actually accomplishes; that the fundamental quality of
his work seems to come out unconsciously as a by-product of his
conscious activity. And so it was in Uccello’s case. If one had asked
him what his perspective was for, he would probably have said that when
once it was completely mastered it would enable the artist to create at
will any kind of visual whole, and that this would have the same
completeness, the same authenticity as an actual scene. As a matter of
fact such a conception is unrealisable; the problem is too complex for
solution in this way, and what happened to Uccello was that the
simplifications and abstractions imposed upon his observation of nature
by the desire to construct his whole scene perspectively, really set
free in him his power of a purely æsthetic organisation of form. And it
is this, in fact, that makes his pictures so remarkable. In the
Jacquemart-André picture, for instance, we see how the complex whole
which such a scene as the legend of S. George suggests is reduced to
terms of astounding simplicity; saint, horse, dragon, princess are all
seen in profile because the problems of representation had to be
approached from their simplest aspect. The landscape is reduced to a
system of rectilinear forms seen at right angles to the picture plane
for the same reason.

And out of the play of these almost abstract forms mainly rectangular,
with a few elementary curves repeated again and again, Uccello has
constructed the most perfect, the most amazingly subtle harmony. In
Uccello’s hands painting becomes almost as abstract, almost as pure an
art as architecture. And as his feeling for the interplay of forms, the
rhythmic disposition of planes, was of the rarest and finest, the most
removed from anything trivial or merely decorative (in the vulgar
sense), he passes by means of this power of formal organisation into a
region of feeling entirely remote from that which is suggested if we
regard his work as mere illustration. Judged as illustration the “S.
George” is quaint, innocent and slightly childish; as design it must
rank among the great masterpieces.

Two other pictures in the Jacquemart-André collection illustrate the
same spirit of uncompromising æsthetic adventure which distinguishes one
branch of the Florentine school of the fifteenth century, and lifts it
above almost all that was being attempted elsewhere in Italy even at
this period of creative exuberance.

Baldovinetti was at one time in close contact with Uccello, and of all
his works the “Madonna and Child” in the Jacquemart-André collection is
the most heroically uncompromising (Plate IX). No doubt he accepted more
material directly from nature than Uccello did. He was beginning to
explore the principles of atmospheric perspective which were destined
ultimately to break up the unity of pictorial design, but everything
that he takes is used with the same spirit of obedience to the laws of
architectonic harmony. The spacing of this design, the relations of
volume of the upright mass of the Virgin’s figure to the spaces of sky
and landscape have the unmistakable interdependence of great design.
Only a great creative artist could have discovered so definite a
relationship. The great mass of the rocky hill in the landscape and the
horizontal lines of the Child’s figure play into the central idea with
splendid effect. Only in the somewhat rounded and insensitive modelling
of the Virgin’s face does the weakness of Baldovinetti’s genius betray
itself. The contours are everywhere magnificently plastic; only when he
tries to create the illusion of plastic relief by modelling,
Baldovinetti becomes literal and uninspired. In his profile portrait in
the National Gallery he relies fortunately almost entirely on the
plasticity of the contour--in his late “Trinità” at the Accademia in
Florence the increasing desire for imitative realism has already gone
far to destroy this quality.

The third picture (see Plate) which I have taken as illustrating my
theme is not, it is true, Florentine, but its author, Signorelli, kept
so constantly in touch with the scientific realists of Florence that he
may be counted almost as one of them, nor indeed did any of them surpass
him in uncompromising fidelity to the necessities of pure design.
Certainly there is nothing of the flattering or seductive qualities of
the common run of Umbrian art in this robust and audacious composition,
in which everything is arranged as it were concentrically around the
imposing mass of the Virgin’s figure. The gestures interpreted
psychologically are not on the same imaginative plane as the design
itself. Signorelli was ill at ease in interpreting any states but those
of great tension, and here the gestures are meant to be playful and
intimate. As in the Uccello, the illustrative pretext is at variance
with the design which it serves; and as in the Uccello, the design
itself, the scaffolding of the architectonic structure, is really what


Signorelli. Holy Family      Collection Jacquemart-André

Plate X.]


It is a habit of the human mind to make to itself symbols in order to
abbreviate its admiration for a class. So Dürer has come to stand for
German art somewhat as Raphael once stood for Italian. Such symbols
attract to themselves much of the adoration which more careful
worshippers would distribute over the Pantheon, and it becomes difficult
to appreciate them justly without incurring the charge of iconoclasm.
But this, in Dürer’s case, is the more difficult because, whatever one’s
final estimate of his art, his personality is at once so imposing and so
attractive, and has been so endeared to us by familiarity, that
something of this personal attachment has transferred itself to our
æsthetic judgment.

The letters from Venice and the Diary of his journey in the Netherlands,
which form the matter of this volume, are indeed the singularly
fortunate means for this pleasant discourse with the man himself. They
reveal Dürer as one of the distinctively modern men of the Renaissance:
intensely, but not arrogantly, conscious of his own personality;
accepting with a pleasant ease the universal admiration of his genius--a
personal admiration, too, of an altogether modern kind; careful of his
fame as one who foresaw its immortality. They show him as having, though
in a far less degree, something of Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific
interest, certainly as having a quick, though naïve curiosity about the
world and a quite modern freedom from superstition. It is clear that his
dominating and yet kindly personality, no less than his physical beauty
and distinction, made him the centre of interest wherever he went. His
easy and humorous good-fellowship, of which the letters to Pirkheimer
are eloquent, won for him the admiring friendship of the best men of his
time. To all these characteristics we must add a deep and sincere
religious feeling, which led him to side with the leaders of the
Reformation, a feeling that comes out in his passionate sense of loss
when he thinks that Luther is about to be put to death, and that
prompted him to write a stirring letter to Erasmus, in which he urged
him to continue the work of reform. For all that, there is no trace in
him of either Protestantism or Puritanism. He was perhaps
fortunate--certainly as an artist he was fortunate--in living at a time
when the line of cleavage between the Reformers and the Church was not
yet so marked as to compel a decisive choice. The symbolism of the
Church still had for him its old significance, as yet quickened and not
discredited by the reformer’s energy. But intense as Dürer’s devotion
was, his religious feeling found its way to effective artistic
expression only upon one side, namely, the brooding sense which
accompanied it, of the imminence and terror of death. How much more
definite is the inspiration in the drawing of “Death on a Horse” (in the
British Museum), in the “Knight, Death and the Devil,” and in the allied
“Melancholia,” than it is in his renderings of the Virgin or indeed of
any of the scenes of Christian legend! It is this feeling, too, which
gives to his description of his mother’s death its almost terrible
literary beauty and power. Nor in the estimate of Dürer’s character must
one leave out the touching affection and piety which the family history
written by him in 1524 reveals.

So much that is attractive and endearing in the man cannot but react
upon our attitude to his work--has done so, perhaps, ever since his own
day; and it is difficult to get far enough away from Dürer the man to be
perfectly just to Dürer the artist. But if we make the attempt, it
becomes clear, I think, that Dürer cannot take rank in the highest class
of creative geniuses. His position is none the less of great importance
and interest for his relation on the one hand to the Gothic tradition of
his country, and on the other to the newly perceived splendours of the
Italian Renaissance.

Much must depend on our estimate of his last work, the “Four Apostles,”
at Munich. In that he summed up all that the patient and enthusiastic
labour of a lifetime had taught him. If we regard that as a work of the
highest beauty, if we can conscientiously put it beside the figures of
the Sistine Chapel, beside the Saints of Mantegna, or Signorelli, or
Piero della Francesca, then indeed Dürer’s labour was crowned with
success; but if we find in it rather a careful exposition of certain
theoretical principles, if we find that the matter is not entirely
transfused with the style, if we find a conflict between a certain naïve
crudity of vision and a straining after the grand manner, then we have
to say that Dürer’s art was the outcome of a magnificent and heroic but
miscalculated endeavour.

It is one of the ironies of history that the Romans, the only Philistine
people among Mediterranean races, should have been the great means of
transmitting to the modern world that culture which they themselves
despised, and that the Germans should have laboured so long and hard to
atone for the heroism of their ancestors in resisting that beneficent
loss of liberty. Nuremberg of the fifteenth century was certainly given
over to the practice of fine art with a pathetic enthusiasm, and it
remains as a sad but instructive proof of how little good-will and
industry avail by themselves in such matters. The worship of mere
professional skill and undirected craftsmanship is there seen pushed to
its last conclusions, and the tourist’s wonder is prompted by the sight
of stone carved into the shapes of twisted metal, and wood simulating
the intricacies of confectionery, his admiration is canvassed by every
possible perversion of technical dexterity. Not “What a thing is done!”
but, “How difficult it must have been to do it!” is the exclamation

Of all that perverted technical ingenuity which flaunts itself in the
wavering stonework of a Kraft or the crackling woodwork of a Storr,
Dürer was inevitably the heir. He grew up in an atmosphere where the
acrobatic feats of technique were looked on with admiration rather than
contempt. Something of this clung to him through life, and he is always
recognised as the prince of craftsmen, the consummate technician. In all
this side of Dürer’s art we recognise the last over-blown efflorescence
of the mediæval craftsmanship of Germany, of the apprentice system and
the “master” piece; but that Gothic tradition had still left in it much
that was sound and sincere. Drawing still retained something of the
blunt, almost brutal frankness of statement, together with the sense of
the characteristic which marked its earlier period. And it is perhaps
this inheritance of Gothic directness of statement, this Gothic realism,
that accounts for what is ultimately of most value in Dürer’s work.
There exists in the Kunsthistorisches Akademie at Vienna a painting of a
man, dated 1394, which shows how much of Dürer’s portraiture was
already implicit in the Nuremberg school. In this remarkable work,
executed, if we may trust the date, nearly a century before Dürer, there
is almost everything that interests us in Dürer’s portraits. Indeed, it
has to an even greater extent that half-humorous statement of the
characteristic, that outrageous realism that makes the vivid appeal of
the Oswold Krell, and the absence of which in Dürer’s last years makes
the Holtschuer such a tiresome piece of brilliant delineation.

Dürer was perhaps the greatest infant prodigy among painters, and the
drawing of himself at the age of twelve shows how early he had mastered
that simple and abrupt sincerity of Gothic draughtsmanship. One is
inclined to say that in none of his subsequent work did he ever surpass
this in all that really matters, in all that concerns the essential
vision and its adequate presentment. He increased his skill until it
became the wonder of the world and entangled him in its seductions; his
intellectual apprehension was indefinitely heightened, and his knowledge
of natural appearances became encyclopædic.

What, then, lies at the root of Dürer’s art is this Gothic sense of the
characteristic, already menaced by the professional bravura of the late
Gothic craftsman. The superstructure is what Dürer’s industry and
intellectual acquisitiveness, acting in the peculiar conditions of his
day, brought forth. It is in short what distinguishes him as the pioneer
of the Renaissance in Germany. This new endeavour was in two directions,
one due mainly to the trend of native ideas, the other to Italian
influence. The former was concerned mainly with a new kind of realism.
In place of the older Gothic realism with its naïve and self-confident
statement of the salient characteristic of things seen, this new realism
strove at complete representation of appearance by means of perspective,
at a more searching and complete investigation of form, and a fuller
relief in light and shade.

To some extent these aims were followed also by the Italians, and with
even greater scientific ardour: all the artists of Europe were indeed
striving to master the complete power of representation. But in Italy
this aim was never followed exclusively; it was constantly modified and
controlled by the idea of design, that is to say, of expression by means
of the pure disposition of contours and masses, and by the perfection
and ordering of linear rhythm. This notion of design as something other
than representation was indeed the common inheritance of European art
from the mediæval world, but


Rembrandt. Calumny of Apelles, after Mantegna      British Museum]


Mantegna. Calumny of Apelles      British Museum]


Dürer. Calumny of Apelles      British Museum

Plate XI.]

in Italy the principles of design were more profoundly embedded in
tradition, its demands were more clearly felt, and each succeeding
generation was quite as deeply concerned with the perfection of design
as with the mastery of representation. In the full Renaissance, indeed,
this idea of design became the object of fully conscious and deliberate
study, and the decadence of Italian art came about, not through
indifference to the claims of artistic expression, but through a too
purely intellectual and conscious study of them. The northern and
especially the Teutonic artists, who had not inherited so strongly this
architectonic sense, made indeed heroic efforts to acquire it, sometimes
by the futile method of direct imitation of a particular style,
sometimes--and this is the case with Dürer--by a serious effort of
æsthetic intelligence. But on the whole the attempt must be judged to
have failed, and northern art has drifted gradually towards the merely
photographic vision.

Dürer strove strenuously in both these directions. He unquestionably
added immensely to the knowledge of actual form and to the power of
representation, but his eagerness led him to regard quantity of form
rather than its quality. With him drawing became a means of making
manifest the greatest possible amount of form, the utmost roundness of
relief, and his studies in pure design failed to keep pace with this. In
the end he could not use to significant purpose the increased material
at his disposal, and from the point of view of pure design his work
actually falls short of that of his predecessor, Martin Schongauer, who
indeed was benefited by lacking Dürer’s power of representation.

From this point of view it may be worth while to examine in some detail
Dürer’s relations to Italian art. The earliest definite example of his
study of Italian art is in 1494, when he was probably in Venice for the
first time. It is a copy in pen and ink of an engraving of the “Death of
Orpheus” by some follower of Mantegna. The engraving is not the work of
a great artist, and Dürer’s copy shows his superior skill in the
rendering of form; but even here he has failed to realise the beauty of
spatial arrangement in the original, and his desire to enrich the design
with many skilfully drawn and convincing details results in a distinct
weakening of the dramatic effect. Again, in the same year we have two
drawings from engravings, this time by Mantegna himself. It is easy to
understand that of all Italians, Mantegna should have been the most
sympathetic to Dürer, and that he should have regretted more than any
other ill-fortune of his life,--more even than the similar fate that
prevented his meeting Schongauer,--Mantegna’s death just when he was
setting out to Mantua to learn from the great master. What Dürer saw in
Mantegna was his clear decision of line and his richly patterned effect.
In his pen-and-ink copies he tries to surpass the original in both these
ways, and indeed the effect is of greater complexity, with more fullness
and roundness of form. Where Mantegna is content with a firm statement
of the generalised contour of a limb, Dürer will give a curve for each
muscle. There is in Dürer’s copies a mass of brilliant detail; each part
is in a sense more convincingly real; but in doing this something of the
unity of rhythm and the easy relations of planes has been lost, and on
the whole the balance is against the copyist. It is curious that when in
time Rembrandt came to copy Mantegna he took the other way, and actually
heightened the dramatic effect by minute readjustments of planning, and
by a wilful simplification of the line.[40]

Dürer evidently felt a profound reverence for Mantegna’s designs, for he
has altered them but little, and one might well imagine that even Dürer
could scarcely improve upon such originals. But it is even more
instructive to study his work upon the so-called Tarocchi engravings.
Here the originals were not executed by an artist of first-rate ability,
though the designs have much of Cossa’s splendid style. Dürer seems,
therefore, to have felt no particular constraint about altering them.
His alterations (see Plate) show us clearly what it was that he saw in
the originals and what he missed. In all these figures Dürer gives
increased verisimilitude: his feet are like actual feet, not the
schematic abstract of a foot that contents the Italian engraver; his
poses are more casual, less formal and symmetrical; and his draperies
are more ingeniously disposed; but none the less, from the point of view
of the expression of imaginative truth, there is not one of Dürer’s
figures which equals the original, not one in which some essential part
of the idea is not missed or at least less clearly stated. In general
the continuity of the contour is lost sight of and the rhythm frittered
away. In the Pope, for instance, Dürer loses all the grave sedateness of
the original by breaking the symmetry of the pose, its


     Tarocchi print. Celestial sphere]


Dürer: after same

Plate XII.]

squareness and immovable aplomb. And with this goes, in spite of the
increased verisimilitude, the sense of reality. In the “Knight and Page”
not only is the movement of the knight missed by correcting a distortion
in the original, but the balance of the composition is lost by
displacing the page. In the “Primum Mobile” (see Plate) the ecstatic
rush of the figure is lost by slight corrections of the pose and by
giving to the floating drapery too complicated a design. It would be
tedious to go through these copies in detail, but enough has been said
to show how hard it was for Dürer, absorbed by his new curiosity in
representation, to grasp those primary and elemental principles of
design which were inherent in the Italian tradition.

About the same time we find Dürer studying both Pollajuolo and Lorenzo
di Credi. The copy of Pollajuolo is not a good example of Dürer’s art;
it certainly misses the tension and inner life of Pollajuolo’s nudes.
The Lorenzo di Credi, as might be expected, is in many ways more than
adequate to the original, though as compared even with Credi, Dürer has
not a clear sense of the correlation of linear elements in the design.

The next stage in Dürer’s connection with Italian art is his intimacy
with Jacopo de’ Barbari, who was settled in Nuremberg. From 1500 to 1505
this influence manifests itself clearly in Dürer’s work. Unfortunately
Barbari was too second-rate an artist to help him much in the principles
of design, though he doubtless stimulated him to pursue those scientific
investigations into the theory of human proportions which held out the
delusive hope of reducing art to a branch of mathematics.

It was not, however, until his second visit to Venice that Dürer
realised the inferiority, at all events, of Barbari, and it was then
that, through his amiable relations with Giovanni Bellini, he came
nearer than at any other moment of his life to penetrating the mysteries
of Italian design. It is in the letters from Venice, written at this
time, that his connection with the Venetian artists is made clear, and a
study of those writings will be found to illuminate in a most
interesting way Dürer’s artistic consciousness, and help to answer the
question of how he regarded his own work when seen in comparison with
the Venetians, and in what manner the Venetians regarded this wonder
worker from the north.


Mr. Holmes has risked a good deal in acquiring for the nation the new El
Greco. The foresight and understanding necessary to bring off such a
_coup_ are not the qualities that we look for from a Director of the
National Gallery. Patriotic people may even be inclined to think that
the whole proceeding smacks too much of the manner in which Dr. Bode in
past ages built up the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, largely at the expense
of English collections. Even before the acquisition of the El Greco
there were signs that Mr. Holmes did not fully understand the importance
of “muddling through.” And now with the El Greco he has given the
British public an electric shock. People gather in crowds in front of
it, they argue and discuss and lose their tempers. This might be
intelligible enough if the price were known to be fabulous, but, so far
as I am aware, the price has not been made known, so that it is really
about the picture that people get excited. And what is more, they talk
about it as they might talk about some contemporary picture, a thing
with which they have a right to feel delighted or infuriated as the case
may be--it is not like most old pictures, a thing classified and
museumified, set altogether apart from life, an object for vague and
listless reverence, but an actual living thing, expressing something
with which one has got either to agree or disagree. Even if it should
not be the superb masterpiece which most of us think it is, almost any
sum would have been well spent on a picture capable of provoking such
fierce æsthetic interest in the crowd.

That the artists are excited--never more so--is no wonder, for here is
an old master who is not merely modern, but actually appears a good many
steps ahead of us, turning back to show us the way. Immortality if you
like! But the public--what is it that makes them “sit up” so
surprisingly, one wonders. What makes this El Greco “count” with them as
surely no Old Master ever did within memory? First, I suspect, the
extraordinary completeness of its realisation. Even the most casual
spectator, passing among pictures which retire discreetly behind their
canvases, must be struck by the violent attack of these forms, by a
relief so outstanding that by comparison the actual scene, the gallery
and one’s neighbours are reduced to the key of a Whistlerian Nocturne.
Partly, for we must face the fact, the melodramatic apparatus; the
“horrid” rocks, the veiled moon, the ecstatic gestures. Not even the
cinema star can push expression further than this. Partly, no doubt, the
clarity and the balanced rhythm of the design, the assurance and grace
of the handling; for, however little people may be conscious of it,
formal qualities do affect their reaction to a picture, though they may
pass from them almost immediately to its other implications. And
certainly here, if anywhere, formal considerations must obtrude
themselves even on the most unobservant. The extraordinary emphasis and
amplitude of the rhythm, which thus gathers up into a few sweeping
diagonals the whole complex of the vision, is directly exciting and
stimulating. It affects one like an irresistible melody, and makes that
organisation of all the parts into a single whole, which is generally so
difficult for the uninitiated, an easy matter for once. El Greco,
indeed, puts the problem of form and content in a curious way. The
artist, whose concern is ultimately and, I believe, exclusively with
form, will no doubt be so carried away by the intensity and completeness
of the design, that he will never even notice the melodramatic and
sentimental content which shocks or delights the ordinary man. It is
none the less an interesting question, though it is rather one of
artists’ psychology than of æsthetics, to inquire in what way these two
things, the melodramatic expression of a high-pitched religiosity and a
peculiarly intense feeling for plastic unity and rhythmic amplitude,
were combined in El Greco’s work; even to ask whether there can have
been any causal connection between them in the workings of El Greco’s

Strange and extravagantly individual as El Greco seems, he was not
really an isolated figure, a miraculous and monstrous apparition thrust
into the even current of artistic movement. He really takes his place
alongside of Bernini as the greatest exponent of the Baroque idea in
figurative art. And the Baroque idea goes back to Michelangelo.
Formally, its essence both in art and architecture was the utmost
possible enlargement of the unit of design. One can see this most easily
in architecture. To Bramante the façade of a palace was made up of a
series of storeys, each with its pilasters and windows related
proportionally to one another, but each a co-ordinate unit of design. To
the Baroque architect a façade was a single storey with pilasters going
the whole height, and only divided, as it were, by an afterthought into
subordinate groups corresponding to the separate storeys. When it came
to sculpture and painting the same tendency expressed itself by the
discovery of such movements as would make the parts of the body, the
head, trunk, limbs, merely so many subordinate divisions of a single
unit. Now to do this implied extremely emphatic and marked poses, though
not necessarily violent in the sense of displaying great muscular
strain. Such poses correspond as expression to marked and excessive
mental states, to conditions of ecstacy, or agony or intense
contemplation. But even more than to any actual poses resulting from
such states, they correspond to a certain accepted and partly
conventional language of gesture. They are what we may call rhetorical
poses, in that they are not so much the result of the emotions as of the
desire to express these emotions to the onlooker.

When the figure is draped the Baroque idea becomes particularly evident.
The artists seek voluminous and massive garments which under the stress
of an emphatic pose take heavy folds passing in a single diagonal sweep
from top to bottom of the whole figure. In the figure of Christ in the
National Gallery picture El Greco has established such a diagonal, and
has so arranged the light and shade that he gets a statement of the same
general direction twice over, in the sleeve and in the drapery of the

Bernini was a consummate master of this method of amplifying the unit,
but having once set up the great wave of rhythm which held the figure in
a single sweep, he gratified his florid taste by allowing elaborate
embroidery in the subordinate divisions, feeling perfectly secure that
no amount of exuberance would destroy the firmly established scaffolding
of his design.

Though the psychology of both these great rhetoricians is infinitely
remote from us, we tolerate more easily the gloomy and


El Greco. Allegory      Collection Zuloaga

Plate XIII.]

terrible extravagance of El Greco’s melodrama than the radiant
effusiveness and amiability of Bernini’s operas.

But there is another cause which accounts for our profound difference of
feeling towards these two artists. Bernini undoubtedly had a great sense
of design, but he was also a prodigious artistic acrobat, capable of
feats of dizzying audacity, and unfortunately he loved popularity and
the success which came to him so inevitably. He was not fine enough in
grain to distinguish between his great imaginative gifts and the
superficial virtuosity which made the crowd, including his Popes, gape
with astonishment. Consequently he expressed great inventions in a
horribly impure technical language. El Greco, on the other hand, had the
good fortune to be almost entirely out of touch with the public--one
picture painted for the king was sufficient to put him out of court for
the rest of his life. And in any case he was a singularly pure artist,
he expressed his idea with perfect sincerity, with complete indifference
to what effect the right expression might have on the public. At no
point is there the slightest compromise with the world; the only issue
for him is between him and his idea. Nowhere is a violent form softened,
nowhere is the expressive quality of brushwork blurred in order to give
verisimilitude of texture; no harshness of accent is shirked, no crudity
of colour opposition avoided, wherever El Greco felt such things to be
necessary to the realisation of his idea. It is this magnificent courage
and purity, this total indifference to the expectations of the public,
that bring him so near to us to-day, when more than ever the artist
regards himself as working for ends unguessed at by the mass of his
contemporaries. It is this also which accounts for the fact that while
nearly every one shudders involuntarily at Bernini’s sentimental
sugariness, very few artists of to-day have ever realised for a moment
how unsympathetic to them is the literary content of an El Greco. They
simply fail to notice what his pictures are about in the illustrative

But to return to the nature of Baroque art. The old question here turns
up. Did the dog wag his tail because he was pleased, or was he pleased
because his tail wagged? Did the Baroque artists choose ecstatic
subjects because they were excited about a certain kind of rhythm, or
did they elaborate the rhythm to express a feeling for extreme emotional
states? There is yet another fact which complicates the matter. Baroque
art corresponds well enough in time with the Catholic reaction and the
rise of Jesuitism, with a religious movement which tended to dwell
particularly on these extreme emotional states, and, in fact, the
Baroque artists worked in entire harmony with the religious leaders.

This would look as though religion had inspired the artists with a
passion for certain themes, and the need to express these had created
Baroque art.

I doubt if it was as simple as that. Some action and reaction between
the religious ideas of the time and the artists’ conception there may
have been, but I think the artists would have elaborated the Baroque
idea without this external pressure. For one thing, the idea goes back
behind Michelangelo to Signorelli, and in his case, at least, one can
see no trace of any preoccupation with those psychological states, but
rather a pure passion for a particular kind of rhythmic design.
Moreover, the general principle of the continued enlargement of the unit
of design was bound to occur the moment artists recovered from the
debauch of naturalism of the fifteenth century and became conscious
again of the demands of abstract design.

In trying thus to place El Greco’s art in perspective, I do not in the
least disparage his astonishing individual force. That El Greco had to
an extreme degree the quality we call genius is obvious, but he was
neither so miraculous nor so isolated as we are often tempted to

The exuberance and abandonment of Baroque art were natural expressions
both of the Italian and Spanish natures, but they were foreign to the
intellectual severity of the French genius, and it was from France, and
in the person of Poussin, that the counterblast came. He, indeed, could
tolerate no such rapid simplification of design. He imposed on himself
endless scruples and compunctions, making artistic unity the reward of a
long process of selection and discovery. His art became difficult and
esoteric. People wonder sometimes at the diversity of modern art, but it
is impossible to conceive a sharper opposition than that between Poussin
and the Baroque. It is curious, therefore, that modern artists should be
able to look back with almost equal reverence to Poussin and to El
Greco. In part, this is due to Cézanne’s influence, for, from one point
of view, his art may be regarded as a synthesis of these two apparently
adverse conceptions of design. For Cézanne consciously studied both,
taking from Poussin his discretion and the subtlety of his rhythm, and
from El Greco his great discovery of the permeation of every part of the
design with a uniform and continuous plastic theme. The likeness is
indeed sometimes startling. One of the greatest critics of our time, von
Tschudi--of Swiss origin, I hasten to add, and an enemy of the
Kaiser--was showing me El Greco’s “Laocoon,” which he had just bought
for Munich, when he whispered to me, as being too dangerous a doctrine
to be spoken aloud even in his private room, “Do you know why we admire
El Greco’s handling so much? Because it reminds us of Cézanne.”

No wonder, then, that for the artist of to-day the new El Greco is of
capital importance. For it shows us the master at the height of his
powers, at last perfectly aware of his personal conception and daring to
give it the completest, most uncompromising expression. That the picture
is in a marvellous state of preservation and has been admirably cleaned
adds greatly to its value. Dirty yellow varnish no longer interposes
here its hallowing influence between the spectator and the artist’s
original creation. Since the eye can follow every stroke of the brush,
the mind can recover the artist’s gesture and almost the movements of
his mind. For never was work more perfectly transparent to the idea,
never was an artist’s intention more deliberately and precisely


Blake’s finished pictures have never received the same attention nor
aroused the same admiration as his wash-drawings, his wood-cuts, or his
engravings. It is difficult to account for this comparative neglect,
since they not only show command of a technique which admits of the
completest realisation of the idea, but they seem actually to express
what was personal to Blake in a purer form than many of his other works,
with less admixture of those unfortunate caprices which the false
romantic taste of his day imposed too often even on so original and
independent a genius. The explanation may perhaps lie in the fact that
to most people Blake, for all his inimitable gifts, appears as a
divinely inspired amateur rather than as a finished master of his art,
and they are willing to tolerate what they regard as his imperfect
control of form in media which admit only of hints and suggestions of
the artist’s vision.

There assuredly never was a more singular, more inexplicable phenomenon
than the intrusion, as though by direct intervention of Providence, of
this Assyrian spirit into the vapidly polite circles of
eighteenth-century London. The fact that, as far as the middle classes
of England were concerned, Puritanism had for a century and a half
blocked every inlet and outlet of poetical feeling and imaginative
conviction save one, may give us a clue to the causes of such a
phenomenon. It was the devotion of Puritan England to the Bible, to the
Old Testament especially, that fed such a spirit as Blake’s directly
from the sources of the most primeval, the vastest and most abstract
imagery which we possess. Brooding on the vague and tremendous images of
Hebrew and Chaldæan poetry, he arrived at such indifference to the
actual material world, at such an intimate perception of the elemental
forces which sway the spirit with immortal hopes and infinite terrors
when it is most withdrawn from its bodily conditions, that what was
given to his internal vision became incomparably more definite, more
precisely and more clearly articulated, than anything presented to his
senses. His forms are the visible counterparts to those words, like _the
deep, many waters_, _firmament_, _the foundations of the earth_, _pit_
and _host_, whose resonant overtones blur and enrich the sense of the
Old Testament. Blake’s art moves us, if at all, by a similar evocation
of vast elemental forces. He deals directly with these spiritual
sensations, bringing in from external nature the least possible content
which will enable him to create visible forms at all. But though he
pushed them to their furthest limits, even he could not transcend the
bounds which beset pictorial language; even he was forced to take
something of external nature with him into his visionary world, and his
wildest inventions are but recombinations and distorted memories of the
actual objects of sense.

By the strangest irony, too, the forms which came to his hand as the
readiest means of expressing his stupendous conceptions were in
themselves the least expressive, the least grandiose, that ever art has
dealt with. It was with the worn-out rags of an effete classical
tradition long ago emptied of all meaning, and given over to turgid
rhetorical display, that Blake had to piece together the visible
garments of his majestic and profound ideas. The complete obsession of
his nature by these ideas in itself compelled him to this: he was
entirely without curiosity about such trivial and ephemeral things as
the earth contained. His was the most anti-Hellenic temperament; he had
no concern, either gay or serious, with phenomena; they were too
transparent to arrest his eye, and that patient and scientific quarrying
from the infinite possibilities of nature of just the appropriate forms
to convey his ideas was beyond the powers with which nature and the poor
traditions of his day supplied him. Tintoretto, who had in some respects
a similar temperament, who felt a similar need of conveying directly the
revelations of his internal vision, was more happily situated. He was,
by comparison, a trivial and vulgar seer, but the richness and
expressive power of the forms which lay to his hand in Titian’s and
Michelangelo’s art enabled him to attain a more unquestionable

But, allowing for circumstances, what Blake did was surely more
considerable and implied a greater sheer lift of imaginative effort.
That it was an attempt which remained almost without consequences,
isolated and incomplete--marred, too, by a certain incoherence and want
of reasonable co-ordination--must be allowed, and may perhaps explain
why Blake is not universally admitted among our greatest.

The Byzantine style, he declares, was directly and divinely revealed to
him; and whether this were so, or whether he obtained it by the dim
indications of Ottley’s prints, or through illuminated manuscripts, the
marvellous fact remains that he did succeed in recovering for a moment
that pristine directness and grandeur of expression which puts him
beside the great Byzantine designers as the only fit interpreter of
Hebrew mythology. His “Flight into Egypt”[43] will at once recall
Giotto’s treatment of the subject in the Arena chapel at Padua; but the
likeness is, in a sense, deceptive, for Giotto was working away from
Byzantinism as fast as Blake was working towards it, and the two pass
one another on the road. For there is here but little of Giotto’s tender
human feeling, less still of his robust rationalism; what they have in
common, what Blake rediscovered and Giotto inherited, is the sentiment
of supernatural dignity, the hieratic solemnity and superhuman
purposefulness of the gestures. Even more than in Giotto’s version, the
Virgin here sits on the ass as though enthroned in monumental state, her
limbs fixed in the rigid symmetry which oriental art has used to express
complete withdrawal from the world of sense. No less perfect in its
expressiveness of the strange and exalted mood is the movement, repeated
with such impressive monotony, in the figures of Joseph and the
archangel. It is absurd, we think, to deny to the man who discovered the
lines of these figures the power of draughtsmanship. Since Giotto’s day
scarcely any one has drawn thus--simplification has been possible only
as the last effort of consummate science refining away the superfluous;
but here the simplification of the forms is the result of an instinctive
passionate reaching out for the direct symbol of the idea.

Blake’s art indeed is a test case for our theories of æsthetics. It
boldly makes the plea for art that it is a language for conveying
impassioned thought and feeling, which takes up the objects of sense


Blake. Bathsheba      Tate Gallery

Plate XIV.]

as a means to this end, owing them no allegiance and accepting from them
only the service that they can render for this purpose. “Poetry,” says
Blake, “consists in bold, daring, and masterly conceptions; and shall
painting be confined to the sordid drudgery of facsimile representations
of merely mortal and perishing substances, and not be, as poetry and
music are, elevated into its own proper sphere of invention and
visionary conception?” The theory that art appeals solely by the
associated ideas of the natural objects it imitates is easily refuted
when we consider music and architecture; in those at least the appeal to
the spirit is made directly in a language which has no other use than
that of conveying its own proper ideas and feelings. But in pictorial
art the fallacy that nature is the mistress instead of the servant seems
almost ineradicable, and it is difficult to convince people that
increased scientific investigation of phenomena, increased knowledge of
how things present themselves to our sight, changes the mode, but does
not necessarily increase the power, of pictorial expression. The
Byzantine artists, with a knowledge of appearances infinitely less than
that of the average art student of to-day, could compass the expression
of imaginative truths which our most accomplished realists dare not
attempt. The essential power of pictorial as of all other arts lies in
its use of a fundamental and universal symbolism, and whoever has the
instinct for this can convey his ideas, though possessed of only the
most rudimentary knowledge of the actual forms of nature; while he who
has it not can by no accumulation of observed facts add anything to the
spiritual treasure of mankind. Of this language of symbolic form in
which the spirit communicates its most secret and indefinable impulses
Blake was an eloquent and persuasive master. He could use it, too, to
the most diverse ends; and though the sublimity which is based upon
dread came most readily to his mind, he could express, as we have seen
in the “Flight into Egypt,” the sublimity of divine introspection. In
the “David and Bathsheba” (see Plate) he touches a different note, and
he shows his true power of symbolic expression in this, that it is not
by the treatment of the figure itself, not by any ordinary sensual
enticements, that he gives the atmosphere of voluptuous abandonment. It
is rather in the extravagant tropical flowers, in the architecture which
itself blossoms with oriental exuberance, in the fiery orange of the
clouds seen behind trees preternaturally virid, that the spirit is
bewildered with anticipations of extravagant bliss. The picture might be
described in Blake’s own terminology as the mental abstract of

All art gives us an experience freed from the disturbing conditions of
actual life. Blake’s art, more concentrated than most, gives us an
experience which is removed more entirely from bodily and physiological
accompaniments, and our experience has the purity, the intensity, and
the abstraction of a dream.


In spite of all the attacks of critics, in spite of the development of
emphasis and high flavour in modern romantic landscape, which might well
have spoilt us for his cool simplicity, Claude still lives, not, indeed,
as one of the gods of the sale-room, but in the hearts of contemplative
and undemonstrative people. This is surely an interesting and
encouraging fact. It means that a very purely artistic and poetical
appeal still finds its response in the absence of all subsidiary
interests and attractions. The appeal is, indeed, a very limited one,
touching only certain highly self-conscious and sophisticated moods, but
it is, within its limits, so sincere and so poignant that Claude’s very
failings become, as it were, an essential part of its expression. These
failings are, indeed, so many and so obvious that it is not to be
wondered at if, now and again, they blind even a sensitive nature like
Ruskin’s to the fundamental beauty and grandeur of Claude’s revelation.
But we must be careful not to count as failings qualities which are
essential to the particular kind of beauty that Claude envisages,
though, to be quite frank, it is sometimes hard to make up one’s mind
whether a particular characteristic is a lucky defect or a calculated
negation. Take, for instance, the peculiar _gaucherie_ of his
articulations. Claude knows less, perhaps, than any considerable
landscape painter--less than the most mediocre of modern
landscapists--how to lead from one object to another. His foregrounds
are covered with clumsily arranged leaves which have no organic growth,
and which, as often as not, lie on the ground instead of springing from
it. His trees frequently isolate themselves helplessly from their parent
soil. In particular, when he wants a _repoussoir_ in the foreground at
either end of his composition he has recourse to a clumsily constructed
old bare trunk, which has little more meaning than a stage property.
Even in his composition there are _naïvetés_ which may or may not be
intentional: sometimes they have the happiest effect, at others they
seem not childlike but childish. Such, for instance, is his frequent
habit of dividing spaces equally, both vertically and horizontally,
either placing his horizontal line half-way up the picture, or a
principal building on the central vertical line. At times this seems the
last word of a highly subtilised simplicity, of an artifice which
conceals itself; at others one cannot be sure that it is not due to
incapacity. There is, in fact, a real excuse for Ruskin’s exaggerated
paradox that Claude’s drawings look like the work of a child of ten.
There is a whole world of beauty which one must not look for at all in
Claude. All that beauty of the sudden and unexpected revelation of an
unsuspected truth which the Gothic and Early Renaissance art provides is
absent from Claude. As the eye follows his line it is nowhere arrested
by a sense of surprise at its representative power, nor by that peculiar
thrill which comes from the communication of some vital creative force
in the artist. Compare, for instance, Claude’s drawing of mountains,
which he knew and studied constantly, with Rembrandt’s. Rembrandt had
probably never seen mountains, but he obtained a more intimate
understanding by the light of his inner vision than Claude could ever
attain to by familiarity and study. We need not go to Claude’s figures,
where he is notoriously feeble and superficially Raphaelesque, in order
to find how weak was his hold upon character, whatever the object he set
himself to interpret. In the British Museum there is a most careful and
elaborate study of the rocky shores of a stream. Claude has even
attempted here to render the contorted stratification of the river-bed,
but without any of that intimate imaginative grasp of the tension and
stress which underlie the appearance which Turner could give in a few
hurried scratches. No one, we may surmise, ever loved trees more deeply
than Claude, and we know that he prided himself on his careful
observation of the difference of their specific characters; and yet he
will articulate their branches in the most haphazard, perfunctory
manner. There is nothing in all Claude’s innumerable drawings which
reveals the inner life of the tree itself, its aspirations towards air
and light, its struggle with gravitation and wind, as one little drawing
by Leonardo da Vinci does.

All these defects might pass more easily in a turbulent romanticist,
hurrying pell mell to get expressed some moving and dramatic scene,
careless of details so long as the main movement were ascertained, but
there is none of this fire in Claude. It is with slow ponderation and
deliberate care that he places before us his perfunctory and generalised
statements, finishing and polishing them with relentless assiduity, and
not infrequently giving us details that we do not desire and which add
nothing but platitude to the too prolix statement.

All this and much more the admirer of Claude will be wise to concede to
the adversary, and if the latter ask wherein the beauty of a Claude lies
he may with more justice than in any other case fall back on the reply
of one of Du Maurier’s æsthetes, “in the picture.” For there is
assuredly a kind of beauty which is not only compatible with these
defects but perhaps in some degree depends on them. We know and
recognise it well enough in literature. To take a random instance.
Racine makes Titus say in “Bérénice”: “De mon aimable erreur je suis
désabusé.” This may be a dull, weak, and colourless mode of expression,
but if he had said with Shakespeare, “Now old desire doth in his
death-bed lie, and young affection gapes to be his heir,” we should feel
that it would destroy the particular kind of even and unaccented harmony
at which Racine aimed. Robert Bridges, in his essay on Keats, very aptly
describes for literature the kind of beauty which we find in
Shakespeare: “the power of concentrating all the far-reaching resources
of language on one point, so that a single and apparently effortless
expression rejoices the æsthetic imagination at the moment when it is
most expectant and exacting.” That, _ceteris paribus_, applies admirably
to certain kinds of design. It corresponds to the nervous touch of a
Pollajuolo or a Rembrandt. But Claude’s line is almost nerveless and
dull. Even when it is most rapid and free it never surprises us by any
intimate revelation of character, any summary indications of the central
truth. But it has a certain inexpressive beauty of its own. It is never
elegant, never florid, and, above all, never has any ostentation of
cleverness. The beauty of Claude’s work is not to be sought primarily in
his drawing: it is not a beauty of expressive parts but the beauty of a
whole. It corresponds in fact to the poetry of his century--to Milton or
Racine. It is in the cumulative effect of the perfect co-ordination of
parts none of which is by itself capable of absorbing our attention or
fascinating our imagination that the power of a picture by Claude lies.
It is the unity and not the content that affects us. There is, of
course, content, but the content is only adequate to its purpose and
never claims our attention on its own account. The objects he presents
to us have no claim on him but as parts of a scheme. They have no life
and purpose of their own, and for that very reason it is right that they
should be stated in vague and general terms. He wishes a tree to convey
to the eye only what the word “tree” might suggest at once to the inner
vision. We think first of the mass of waving shade held up against the
brilliance of the sky, and this, even with all his detailed elaboration,
is about where Claude, whether by good fortune or design, leaves us. It
is the same with his rocks, his water, his animals. They are all made
for the mental imagery of the contemplative wanderer, not of the acute
and ardent observer. But where Claude is supreme is in the marvellous
invention with which he combines and recombines these abstract symbols
so as to arouse in us more purely than nature herself can the mood of
pastoral delight. That Claude was deeply influenced by Virgil one would
naturally suppose from his antiquarian classicism, and a drawing in the
British Museum shows that he had the idea of illustrating the Æneid. In
any case his pictures translate into the language of painting much of
the sentiment of Virgil’s Eclogues, and that with a purity and grace
that rival his original. In his landscapes Melibœus always leaves his
goats to repose with Daphnis under the murmuring shade, waiting till his
herds come of themselves to drink at the ford, or in sadder moods of
passionless regret one hears the last murmurs of the lament for Gallus
as the well-pastured goats turn homewards beneath the evening star.

Claude is the most ardent worshipper that ever was of the _genius loci_.
Of his landscapes one always feels that “some god is in this place.”
Never, it is true, one of the greater gods: no mysterious and fearful
Pan, no soul-stirring Bacchus or all-embracing Demeter; scarcely, though
he tried more than once deliberately to invoke them, Apollo and the
Muses, but some mild local deity, the inhabitant of a rustic shrine
whose presence only heightens the glamour of the scene.


Claude. Landscape      Prado, Madrid

Plate XV.]

It is the sincerity of this worship, and the purity and directness of
its expression, which makes the lover of landscape turn with such
constant affection to Claude, and the chief means by which he
communicates it is the unity and perfection of his general design; it is
not by form considered in itself, but by the planning of his tone
divisions, that he appeals, and here, at least, he is a past master.
This splendid architecture of the tone masses is, indeed, the really
great quality in his pictures; its perfection and solidity are what
enables them to bear the weight of so meticulous and, to our minds,
tiresome an elaboration of detail without loss of unity, and enables us
even to accept the enamelled hardness and tightness of his surface. But
many people of to-day, accustomed to our more elliptical and
quick-witted modes of expression, are so impatient of these qualities
that they can only appreciate Claude’s greatness through the medium of
his drawings, where the general skeleton of the design is seen without
its adornments, and in a medium which he used with perfect ease and
undeniable beauty. Thus to reject the pictures is, I think, an error,
because it was only when a design had been exposed to constant
correction and purification that Claude got out of it its utmost
expressiveness, and his improvisations steadily grow under his critical
revision to their full perfection. But in the drawings, at all events,
Claude’s great powers of design are readily seen, and the study of the
drawings has this advantage also, that through them we come to know of a
Claude whose existence we could never have suspected by examining only
his finished pictures.

In speaking of the drawings it is well to recognise that they fall into
different classes with different purposes and aims. We need not, for
instance, here consider the records of finished compositions in the
“Liber Veritatis.” There remain designs for paintings in all stages of
completeness, from the first suggestive idea to the finished cartoon and
the drawings from nature. It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary to remark
that it would have been quite foreign to Claude’s conception of his art
to have painted a picture from nature. He, himself, clearly
distinguished sharply between his studies and his compositions. His
studies, therefore, were not incipient pictures, but exercises done for
his own pleasure or for the fertility they gave to his subsequent
invention, and they have the unchecked spontaneity and freedom of hand
that one would expect in such unreflecting work. These studies again
fall into two groups: first, studies of detail, generally of foliage or
of tree forms, and occasionally of rocks and flowers; and secondly,
studies of general effects. Of the studies of detail I have already said
something. They have the charm of an easy and distinguished calligraphy,
and of a refined selection of the decorative possibilities of the things
seen, but without any of that penetrating investigation of their vital
nature which gives its chief beauty to the best work of this kind.

It is, indeed, in the second group of studies from nature that we come
from time to time upon motives that startle and surprise us. We find in
these a susceptibility to natural charms which, in its width of range
and freedom from the traditional limitations of the art of landscape,
is most remarkable. Here we find not only Claude the prim
seventeenth-century classic, but Claude the romanticist, anticipating
the chief ideas of Corot’s later development,[45] and Claude the
impressionist, anticipating Whistler and the discovery of Chinese
landscape, as, for instance, in the marvellous _aperçu_ of a mist
effect, in the British Museum.[46] Or, again, in a view which is quite
different from any of these, but quite as remote from the Claude of the
oil-paintings, in the great view of the Tiber, a masterpiece of hurried,
almost unconscious planning of bold contrasts of transparent gloom and
dazzling light on water and plain.

The impression one gets from looking through a collection of Claude’s
drawings like that at the British Museum is of a man without any keen
feeling for objects in themselves, but singularly open to impressions of
general effects in nature, watching always for the shifting patterns of
foliage and sky to arrange themselves in some beautifully significant
pattern and choosing it with fine and critical taste. But at the same
time he was a man with vigorous ideas of the laws of design and the
necessity of perfectly realised unity, and to this I suppose one must
ascribe the curious contrast between the narrow limits of his work in
oil as compared with the wide range, the freedom


Claude. Water-colour      British Museum

Plate XVI.]

and the profound originality of his work as a draughtsman. Among all
these innumerable effects which his ready susceptibility led him to
record he found but a few which were capable of being reduced to that
logical and mathematical formula which he demanded before complete
realisation could be tolerated. In his drawings he composes sometimes
with strong diagonal lines, sometimes with free and unstable balance. In
his pictures he has recourse to a regular system of polarity, balancing
his masses carefully on either side of the centre, sometimes even
framing it in like a theatrical scene with two _repoussoirs_ pushed in
on either side. One must suppose, then, that he approached the
composition of his pictures with a certain timidity, that he felt that
safety when working on a large scale could only be secured by a certain
recognised type of structure, so that out of all the various moods of
nature to which his sensitive spirit answered only one lent itself to
complete expression. One wishes at times that he had tried more. There
is in the British Museum a half-effaced drawing on blue paper, an idea
for treating the _Noli me tangere_ which, had he worked it out, would
have added to his complete mastery of bucolic landscape a masterpiece of
what one may call tragic landscape. It is true that here, as elsewhere,
the figures are in themselves totally inadequate, but they suggested an
unusual and intense key to the landscape. On the outskirts of a dimly
suggested wood, the figures meet and hold converse; to the right the
mound of Calvary glimmers pale and ghost-like against the night sky,
while over the distant city the first pink flush of dawn begins. It is
an intensely poetical conception. Claude has here created a landscape in
harmony with deeper, more mystical aspirations than elsewhere, and, had
he given free rein to his sensibilities, we should look to him even more
than we do now as the greatest inventor of the motives of pure
landscape. As it is, the only ideas to which he gave complete though
constantly varied expression are those of pastoral repose.

Claude’s view of landscape is false to nature in that it is entirely
anthropocentric. His trees exist for pleasant shade; his peasants to
give us the illusion of pastoral life, not to toil for a living. His
world is not to be lived in, only to be looked at in a mood of pleasing
melancholy or suave reverie. It is, therefore, as true to one aspect of
human desire as it is false to the facts of life. It may be admitted
that this is not the finest kind of art--it is the art of a self-centred
and refined luxury which looks on nature as a garden to its own
pleasure-house--but few will deny its genial and moderating charm, and
few of us live so strenuously as never to feel a sense of nostalgia for
that Saturnian reign to which Virgil and Claude can waft us.


Messrs. Carfax have on view the most complete collection of Beardsley’s
drawings that has hitherto been shown. The development of his precocious
and eccentric genius can here be studied in typical examples. We have
the drawings of his childhood--drawings inspired by Dicky Doyle and
Robida, but in which is already apparent his proclivity to the
expression of moral depravity. We pass at a leap from these crude and
artistically feeble works to the astonishing “Siegfried,” in which he is
already a complete and assured master of an entirely personal style.

From this time onwards, for the remaining six years of his life,
Beardsley kept on producing with the fertility of those artists whom the
presage of an early death stimulates to a desperate activity. His style
was constantly changing in accidentals, but always the same in
essentials. He was a confirmed eclectic, borrowing from all ages and all
countries. And true eclectic and genuine artist as he was, he converted
all his borrowings to his own purposes. It mattered nothing what he fed
on; the strange and perverse economy of his nature converted the food
into a poison. His line is based upon that of Antonio Pollajuolo. Again
and again in his drawings of the nude we see how carefully he must have
copied that master of structural and nervous line. But he uses it for
something quite other than its original purpose; he converts it from a
line expressive of muscular tension and virile force into one expressive
of corruption and decay. Mantegna, too, was a favourite with Beardsley,
who seems to have had a kind of craving for the opposites to his own
predominant qualities; and from Mantegna, the most austere of Italians,
he derived again and again motives for his illustrations of depravity.
The eighteenth century, China, Japan, even the purest Greek art, were
all pressed into his service; the only thing he could do nothing with
was nature itself. Here he was entirely at a loss, and whenever he
yielded to the pressure of contemporary fashions and attempted to record
impressions of things seen, as in the topical illustrations of plays
which he contributed to the _Pall Mall Magazine_, he failed to be even
mediocre. Everything that was to be in the least expressive had to come
entirely from within, from the nightmares of his own imagination.

His amazing gift of hand is perhaps the quality which most obviously
attracts attention, the quality which endeared him most to publishers
and process-block makers. It was the one indisputable quality he
possessed, not to be denied by the most adverse critic, and yet in
itself it is no more than thousands of journeymen artists--engravers,
die-cutters, and such like--have always possessed. Nor, to be perfectly
frank, is the quality of his line of a very high order; its precision is
not unfrequently mechanical. Whistler called him the last of the
writing-masters, and there was a truth in this, if we may add that the
style of writing which he favoured was degenerate. His long, meandering
flourishes ending in sharp spikes and dots, however firm and precise the
line, are often mean in intention and poor in quality. What is deserving
of real admiration is the fertility of his invention, the skill with
which he finds the formula which corresponds, in his peculiar language,
with what he wants to describe. As an instance, one may take the garden
background to the “Platonic Lament” in the Salome series, where the rose
trellis and cut yew-tree behind are brilliant examples of this kind of
epitomised description. Still more important artistically, and closely
connected with this power of invention, is the real beauty of his
spacing, the admirable planning of masses of black and white. At times,
as in the “Dancer’s Reward,” he rises almost to the height of the great
Greek vase-painters in this respect, though, if we look even at this in
detail, the line has an intricacy, a _mesquinerie_, which is the very
opposite of the Greek ideal of draughtsmanship.

No less remarkable is his success in the decorative planning of three
tones, of black, white, and grey, and he divides these with such subtle
skill that for once it is not a mere false analogy to talk of the colour
effect of designs in black and white; for he so disposes the three
tones, getting the grey by an evenly distributed network of fine black
lines, that each tone produces the sensation of something as distinct
from the others as do flat washes of different tints. The “Frontispiece
to Salome” is an excellent example of this.

Beardsley had, then, in an extraordinary degree the decorative impulse,
the motive which made the mediæval scribe flourish his pen all over the
margins of his vellum page; and, spurred by this impulse, he had the
patience of an Indian craftsman, covering whole sheets with minute dots
and scarcely perceptible lines. This instinct in its purest form rarely
makes for the finest art; it is only when controlled by a larger, more
genial sentiment for architectural mass that it becomes ennobled, and
with Beardsley, in spite of the bold oppositions of his blacks and
whites, in spite of his occasional wilful simplification, this rarely
occurred. One might even argue that to some extent Beardsley’s moral
perversity actually prevented him, in spite of his extraordinary
specific talent for design, from ever becoming a great designer. It is
just that _mesquinerie_ of line, that littleness and intricacy of the
mere decorator, that love of elegance rather than beauty, which on
purely artistic grounds one finds to be his great failing, that he
cherished as a means of expressing his diabolism. But if Beardsley was
corrupt, he was certainly sincere in his corruption. There is no
suggestion in his work, as in that of some modern artists, like Señor
Zuloaga, that corruption is an affectation taken up in order to astonish
the _bourgeoisie_. Beardsley is never funny or amusing or witty; his
attempts in this direction are contemptible; still less is he voluptuous
or seductive; he is very serious, very much in earnest. There is even a
touch of hieratic austerity and pomp in his style, as becomes the
arch-priest of a Satanic cultus. He has, indeed, all the stigmata of the
religious artist--the love of pure decoration, the patient elaboration
and enrichment of surface, the predilection for flat tones and precision
of contour, the want of the sense of mass and relief, the extravagant
richness of invention. It is as the Fra Angelico of Satanism that his
work will always have an interest for those who are curious about this
recurrent phase of complex civilisations. But if we are right in our
analysis of his work, the finest qualities of design can never be
appropriated to the expression of such morbid and perverted ideals;
nobility and geniality of design are attained only by those who,
whatever their actual temperament, cherish these qualities in their


When the first Post-Impressionist Exhibition was held in these Galleries
two years ago the English public became for the first time fully aware
of the existence of a new movement in art, a movement which was the more
disconcerting in that it was no mere variation upon accepted themes but
implied a reconsideration of the very purpose and aim as well as the
methods of pictorial and plastic art. It was not surprising, therefore,
that a public which had come to admire above everything in a picture the
skill with which the artist produced illusion should have resented an
art in which such skill was completely subordinated to the direct
expression of feeling. Accusations of clumsiness and incapacity were
freely made, even against so singularly accomplished an artist as
Cézanne. Such darts, however, fall wide of the mark, since it is not the
object of these artists to exhibit their skill or proclaim their
knowledge, but only to attempt to express by pictorial and plastic form
certain spiritual experiences; and in conveying these, ostentation of
skill is likely to be even more fatal than downright incapacity.

Indeed, one may fairly admit that the accusation of want of skill and
knowledge, while ridiculous in the case of Cézanne is perfectly
justified as regards one artist represented (for the first time in
England) in the present Exhibition, namely, Rousseau. Rousseau was a
customhouse officer who painted without any training in the art. His
pretensions to paint made him the butt of a great deal of ironic wit,
but scarcely any one now would deny the authentic quality of his
inspiration or the certainty of his imaginative conviction. Here then is
one case where want of skill and knowledge do not completely obscure,
though they may mar, expression. And this is true of all perfectly naïve
and primitive art. But most of the art here seen is neither naïve nor
primitive. It is the work of highly civilised and modern men trying to
find a pictorial language appropriate to the sensibilities of the modern


     Henri-Matisse. The Tea Party

     Plate XVII.]


     Pablo Picasso. Still Life

     Miss Stein

     Plate XVIII.]

Another charge that is frequently made against these artists is that
they allow what is merely capricious, or even what is extravagant and
eccentric, in their work--that it is not serious, but an attempt to
impose on the good-natured tolerance of the public. This charge of
insincerity and extravagance is invariably made against any new
manifestation of creative art. It does not of course follow that it is
always wrong. The desire to impose by such means certainly occurs, and
is sometimes temporarily successful. But the feeling on the part of the
public may, and I think in this case does, arise from a simple
misunderstanding of what these artists set out to do. The difficulty
springs from a deep-rooted conviction, due to long-established custom,
that the aim of painting is the descriptive imitation of natural forms.
Now, these artists do not seek to give what can, after all, be but a
pale reflex of actual appearance, but to arouse the conviction of a new
and definite reality. They do not seek to imitate form, but to create
form; not to imitate life, but to find an equivalent for life. By that I
mean that they wish to make images which by the clearness of their
logical structure, and by their closely-knit unity of texture, shall
appeal to our disinterested and contemplative imagination with something
of the same vividness as the things of actual life appeal to our
practical activities. In fact, they aim not at illusion but at reality.

The logical extreme of such a method would undoubtedly be the attempt to
give up all resemblance to natural form, and to create a purely abstract
language of form--a visual music; and the later works of Picasso show
this clearly enough. They may or may not be successful in their attempt.
It is too early to be dogmatic on the point, which can only be decided
when our sensibilities to such abstract forms have been more practised
than they are at present. But I would suggest that there is nothing
ridiculous in the attempt to do this. Such a picture as Picasso’s “Head
of a Man” would undoubtedly be ridiculous if, having set out to make a
direct imitation of the actual model, he had been incapable of getting a
better likeness. But Picasso did nothing of the sort. He has shown in
his “Portrait of Mlle. L. B.” that he could do so at least as well as
any one if he wished, but he is here attempting to do something quite

No such extreme abstraction marks the work of Matisse. The actual
objects which stimulated his creative invention are recognisable
enough. But here, too, it is an equivalence, not a likeness, of nature
that is sought. In opposition to Picasso, who is pre-eminently plastic,
Matisse aims at convincing us of the reality of his forms by the
continuity and flow of his rhythmic line, by the logic of his space
relations, and, above all, by an entirely new use of colour. In this, as
in his markedly rhythmic design, he approaches more than any other
European to the ideals of Chinese art. His work has to an extraordinary
degree that decorative unity of design which distinguishes all the
artists of this school.

Between these two extremes we may find ranged almost all the remaining
artists. On the whole the influence of Picasso on the younger men is
more evident than that of Matisse. With the exception of Braque none of
them push their attempts at abstraction of form so far as Picasso, but
simplification along these lines is apparent in the work of Derain,
Herbin, Marchand, and L’Hote. Other artists, such as Doucet and Asselin,
are content with the ideas of simplification of form as existing in the
general tradition of the Post-Impressionist movement, and instead of
feeling for new methods of expression devote themselves to expressing
what is most poignant and moving in contemporary life. But however
various the directions in which different groups are exploring the
newly-found regions of expressive form they all alike derive in some
measure from the great originator of the whole idea, Cézanne. And since
one must always refer to him to understand the origin of these ideas, it
has been thought well to include a few examples of his work in the
present Exhibition, although this year it is mainly the moderns, and not
the old masters, that are represented. To some extent, also, the absence
of the earlier masters in the exhibition itself is made up for by the
retrospective exhibition of Monsieur Druet’s admirable photographs. Here
Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh can be studied at least in the main
phases of their development.

Finally, I should like to call attention to a distinguishing
characteristic of the French artists seen here, namely, the markedly
Classic spirit of their work. This will be noted as distinguishing them
to some extent from the English, even more perhaps from the Russians,
and most of all from the great mass of modern painting in every country.
I do not mean by Classic, dull, pedantic, traditional,


Georges Rouault. Profile            Author’s Collection

     Plate XIX.]

reserved, or any of those similar things which the word is often made to
imply. Still less do I mean by calling them Classic that they paint
“Visits to Æsculapius” or “Nero at the Colosseum.” I mean that they do
not rely for their effect upon associated ideas, as I believe Romantic
and Realistic artists invariably do.

All art depends upon cutting off the practical responses to sensations
of ordinary life, thereby setting free a pure and as it were disembodied
functioning of the spirit; but in so far as the artist relies on the
associated ideas of the objects which he represents, his work is not
completely free and pure, since romantic associations imply at least an
imagined practical activity. The disadvantage of such an art of
associated ideas is that its effect really depends on what we bring with
us: it adds no entirely new factor to our experience. Consequently, when
the first shock of wonder or delight is exhausted the work produces an
ever lessening reaction. Classic art, on the other hand, records a
positive and disinterestedly passionate state of mind. It communicates a
new and otherwise unattainable experience. Its effect, therefore, is
likely to increase with familiarity. Such a classic spirit is common to
the best French work of all periods from the twelfth century onwards,
and though no one could find direct reminiscences of a Nicholas Poussin
here, his spirit seems to revive in the work of artists like Derain. It
is natural enough that the intensity and singleness of aim with which
these artists yield themselves to certain experiences in the face of
nature may make their work appear odd to those who have not the habit of
contemplative vision, but it would be rash for us, who as a nation are
in the habit of treating our emotions, especially our æsthetic emotions,
with a certain levity, to accuse them of caprice or insincerity. It is
because of this classic concentration of feeling (which by no means
implies abandonment) that the French merit our serious attention. It is
this that makes their art so difficult on a first approach but gives it
its lasting hold on the imagination.

     NOTE.--At least one French artist of great merit was un-represented
     at the Post-Impressionist Exhibitions--Georges Rouault, a fellow
     pupil with Matisse of Gustave Moreau. He stands alone in the
     movement as being a visionary, though, unlike most visionaries, his
     expression is based on a profound knowledge of natural appearances.
     The profile here reproduced (see Plate) will give an idea of his
     strangely individual and powerful style. (1920.)


The Burlington Fine Arts Club have arranged a most interesting
collection of drawings by dead masters. Abandoning the club’s usual
method of taking a particular period or country, the committee have this
time allowed their choice to range over many periods and countries,
excluding only living artists, and admitting one so recently dead as
Degas. This variety of material naturally stimulates one to hazard some
general speculations on the nature of drawing as an art. “H. T.,” who
writes the preface to the catalogue, already points the way in this
direction by some _obiter dicta_. He points out that the essence of
drawing is not the line, but its content. He says:

     A single line may mean nothing beyond a line; add another alongside
     and both disappear, and we are aware only of the contents, and a
     form is expressed. The beauty of a line is in its result in the
     form which it helps to bring into being.

Here the author has undoubtedly pointed out the most essential quality
of good drawing. I should dispute, rather by way of excessive caution,
his first statement, “A single line may mean nothing beyond a line,”
since a line is always at its least the record of a gesture, indicating
a good deal about its maker’s personality, his tastes and even probably
the period when he lived; but I entirely agree that the main point is
always the effect of two lines to evoke the idea of a certain volume
having a certain form. When “H. T.” adds that “Draughtsmen know this,
but writers on art do not seem to,” he seems to be too sweeping. Even so
bad a writer on art as Pliny had picked up the idea from a Greek art
critic, for in describing the drawing of Parrhasios he says:[50]

     By the admission of artists he was supreme in contour. This is the
     last subtlety of painting; for to paint the main body and centres
     of objects is indeed something of an achievement, but one in which
     many have been famous, but to paint the edges of bodies and express
     the disappearing planes is rare in the history of art. For the
     contour must go round itself and so end that it promises other
     things behind and shows that which it hides.

This is an admirable account, since it gives the clue to the distinction
between descriptive drawing and drawing in which the contour does not
arrest the form, but creates plastic relief of the whole enclosed
volume. Now, this plastic drawing can never be attained by a mere
_description_ of the edges of objects. Such a description, however
exact, can at the utmost do no more than recall vividly the original
object; it cannot enable the spectator to realise its plastic volume
more clearly than the original object would. Now, when we look at a
really good drawing we do get a much more vivid sense of a plastic
volume than we get from actual objects.

Unfortunately this is a very severe test to apply, and would, I think,
relegate to an inferior class the vast majority of drawings, even of
those in the present exhibition. The vast majority of drawings even by
the celebrated masters do appeal mainly by other more subsidiary
qualities, by the brightness of their descriptive power, and by the
elegance and facility of their execution. There is an undoubted pleasure
in the contemplation of mere skill, and there are few ways of
demonstrating sheer skill of hand more convincingly than the drawing of
a complex series of curves with perfect exactitude and great rapidity.
And when the curves thus brilliantly drawn describe vividly some object
in life towards which we have pleasing associations we get a complex
pleasure which is only too likely to be regarded as an æsthetic
experience when in fact it is nothing of the kind.

The author of the preface has quite clearly seen that this element of
brilliance in the execution of the line does frequently come into play,
and he considers this calligraphic quality to be always a sign of a
lowered æsthetic purpose, citing Tiepolo quite rightly as a great master
of such qualities. And he quite rightly points out that with the
deliberate pursuit of calligraphy there is always a tendency to
substitute type forms for individual forms. On the other hand, all good
drawing also tends to create types, since a type results from the
synthetic unity of the design. The real question here would seem to be
the fulness or emptiness of the type created, and it would be fair to
say that the calligraphic draughtsman accepted most readily an empty
type. For instance, one would have to admit that Ingres created a type,
and repeated it as much as Tiepolo, only Ingres continually generated
his type of form upon actual material, whereas Tiepolo tended merely to
repeat his without enriching it with fresh material.

The exhibition has been to some extent arranged around Ingres, and as
many of his drawings as possible have been collected. Ingres has long
been accepted in the schools as _par excellence_ the great modern master
of drawing. His great saying, “_Le dessin c’est la probité de l’art_,”
has indeed become a watchword of the schools and an excuse for
indulgence in a great deal of gratuitous and misplaced moral feeling. It
has led to the display of all kinds of pedagogic folly. Art is a passion
or it is nothing. It is certainly a very bad moral gymnasium. It is
useless to try to make a kind of moral parallel bars out of the art of
drawing. You will certainly spoil the drawing, and it is doubtful if you
will get the morals. Drawing is a passion to the draughtsman just as
much as colour is to the colourist, and the draughtsman has no reason to
feel moral superiority because of the nature of his passion. He is
fortunate to have it, and there is an end of the matter. Ingres himself
had the passion for draughtsmanship very intensely, though perhaps one
would scarcely guess it from the specimens shown in this exhibition.
These unfortunately are, with few exceptions, taken from that large
class of drawings which he did as a young man in Rome. He was already
married, and was poor. He was engaged on some of his biggest and most
important compositions, on which he was determined to spare no pains or
labour; consequently he found himself forced to earn his living by doing
these brilliant and minutely accurate portraits of the aristocratic
tourists and their families, who happened to pass through Rome. These
drawings bear the unmistakable mark of their origins. They are
commissions, and they are done to satisfy the sitter. Anything like
serious research for form is out of the question; there is little here
but Ingres’s extreme facility and a certain negative good taste.
Probably the only drawing


Ingres. Apotheosis of Napoleon      Le Vicomte d’Arcy

     Plate XX.]

here which shows Ingres’s more serious powers is the tight, elaborate
and rather repellent study for the “Apotheosis of Napoleon,” which is a
splendid discovery of composition within a round (see Plate). But the
real fact is, I believe, that Ingres’s power as a draughtsman hardly
ever comes out fully in his drawings; one must turn to his paintings to
see how great and sincere a researcher he was. In his drawings he was
too much pre-occupied with the perfect description of facts; when he
came to the painting he began that endless process of readjustment and
balance of contours which make him so great and original a designer. If
one places his drawings and studies from the nude for, say, his “Venus
Anadyomene” beside the photograph of the picture one gets some idea of
the tireless and passionate research for the exact correspondence of the
contours on either side of the figure which Ingres undertook. He throws
over one by one all the brilliant notations of natural form in the
studies, and arrives bit by bit at an intensely abstract and simplified
statement of the general relations. But though the new statement is
emptied of its factual content, it has now become far more compact, far
more intense in its plasticity. Here and there among Ingres’s
innumerable drawings one may find a nude study in which already this
process of elimination and balance has taken place, but the examples are
rare, and if one would understand why Ingres is one of the great masters
of design, one must face the slightly repellent quality of his oil
paintings rather than allow oneself to be seduced by the elegance and
ease of his drawings.

It would, I think, be possible to show that very few great designers
have attained to full expression in line. I suspect, indeed, that the
whole tradition of art in Europe, since about the end of the fifteenth
century, has been against such complete expression. If we compare the
great masterpieces of pure drawing such as the drawings of figures on
Persian pots of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and the few
remaining examples of drawings by the Italian primitives of the
fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, with the vast mass of European
drawings subsequent to that date, we see, I think, the contrast of aims
and purpose of the two groups. Somewhere about the time of Filippino
Lippi there was formulated an idea of drawing which has more or less
held the field ever since in art schools.

As most drawing has centred in the human figure we may describe it in
relation to that, the more so that this view of drawing undoubtedly came
in with the study of anatomy. The general principle is that there are
certain cardinal facts about the figure, or points of cardinal
importance in the rendering of structure--the artist is trained to
observe these with special care, since they become the _points de
repère_ for his drawing. And since they are thus specially observed they
are noted with a special accent. When once the artist has learned to
grasp the relations of these _points de repère_ firmly he learns also to
pass from one to the other with great ease and rapidity, not to say with
a certain indifference as to what happens in the passage. By this method
the essentials of structure and movement of a figure are accurately
given and the whole statement can be made with that easy facility and
rapidity of line which gives a peculiar pleasure. Such drawing has the
merit of being at once structurally accurate and more or less
calligraphically pleasing. The most admired masters, such as Vandyke,
Watteau, even to some extent Rubens, all exhibit the characteristics of
such a conception. Now in the earlier kind of drawing there were no
recognised _points de repère_, no particular moments of emphasis; the
line was so drawn that at every point its relation to the opposed
contour was equally close, the tension so to speak was always across the
line and not along its direction. The essential thing was the position
of the line, not its quality, so that there was the less inclination to
aim at that easy rapidity which marks the later draughtsmanship.
Essentially, then, this earlier drawing was less descriptive and more
purely evocative of form. It may well be that the demands made upon the
artist by the closer study of nature brought in by the Renaissance
became an almost insuperable barrier to artists in the attempt to find
any such completely synthetic vision of form as lay to hand for their
predecessors. We see, for instance, in Albert Dürer’s “Beetle” an
example of purely descriptive and analytic drawing with no attempt at
inner coherence of form. On the other hand, of course, all the great
formalists made deliberate efforts to come through the complex of
phenomena to some abstract synthesis. Fra Bartolomeo and Raphael clearly
made such abstraction a matter of deliberate study,[51] but as I have
pointed out in the case of Ingres, the


Corot. Pencil drawing      J. P. Heseltine, Esq.

     Plate XXI.]

obsession of fact has generally forced the artist to such a long series
of experiments towards the final synthetic form that it is only in the
finished picture that it emerges fully.

On the other hand, some modern masters have also found their way
through, more or less completely, and from this point of view few
drawings in the exhibition are as remarkable as the drawing of a seated
woman by Corot (see Plate). Here one supposes it may be a kind of
_naïveté_ of vision rather than the exhaustive process of an Ingres,
that has led Corot to this vividly realised plasticity of form. I find
the essentials of good drawing more completely realised here than in
almost any other drawing in the exhibition, and yet how little of a
professional draughtsman Corot was. It is hard to speak here of Degas’s
works as drawings. With one exception they are pastels and essentially
paintings, but they are of great beauty and show him victorious over his
own formidable cleverness, his unrivalled but dangerous power of witty

At the opposite pole to Corot’s drawing with its splendid revelation of
plastic significance we must put Menzel with his fussy preoccupation
with undigested fact. It is hard indeed to see quite how Menzel’s
drawings found their way into this good company, except perhaps as
drunken helots, for they are conspicuously devoid of any æsthetic
quality whatever. They are without any rhythmic unity, without any
glimmering of a sense of style, and style though it be as cheap as
Rowlandson’s is still victorious over sheer misinformed literalness.
Somewhere between Menzel and Corot we must place Charles Keane, and I
fear, in spite of the rather exaggerated claims made for him in the
preface, he is nearer to Menzel, though even so, how much better! The
early Millais drawing is of course an astounding attempt by a man of
prodigious gift and no sensibility to pretend that he had the latter. It
is a pity there are no Rossettis here to show the authentic inspiration
of which this is the echo.

I come now to the Rembrandts, of which there are several good examples.
Rembrandt always intrigues one by the multiplicity and diversity of his
gifts and the struggle between his profound imaginative insight and his
excessive talents. The fact is, I believe that Rembrandt was never a
linealist, that he never had the conception of contour clearly present
to him. He was too intensely and too inveterately a painter and a
chiaroscurist. The last thing he saw was a contour, and more than
anything else it eluded his vision. His vision was in fact so intensely
fixed on the interplay of planes, their modulation into one another, and
on the balance of directions, that with him the drawn line has a quite
peculiar and personal meaning. It is used first to indicate directions
of stress and movement, as, for instance, a straight line will be dashed
down to indicate, not the contour of a limb, but its direction, the line
along which stress of action takes place. He seems almost to dread the
contour, to prefer to make strokes either inside or outside of it, and
to trust to the imagination to discover its whereabouts, anything rather
than a final definite statement which would arrest the interplay of
planes. The line is also used to suggest very vaguely and tentatively
the division of planes; but almost always when he comes to use wash on
top of the line his washes go across the lines, so that here too one can
hardly say the line indicates the division so much as the approximate
position of a plane.

In conclusion I would suggest that, the art of pure contour is
comparatively rare in modern art. For what I should cite as great and
convincing examples of that art I would ask the reader to turn to the
“Morgan Byzantine Enamels” (_Burlington Magazine_, vol. xxi. pp. 3, 65,
127, 219, 290), the “Manafi-i-Heiwan” (_Burlington Magazine_, vol.
xxiii. pp. 224, 261), and to Vignier, “Persian Pottery” (_Burlington
Magazine_, vol. xxv. p. 211), while other examples might be found among
Byzantine and Carolingian miniaturists.

Now, this art depends upon a peculiarly synthetic vision and a peculiar
system of distortion, without which the outline would arrest the
movement of planes too definitely. There indeed is the whole crux of the
art of line drawing; the line generates a volume, but it also arrests
the planes too definitely: that is why in some great modern artists, as
we saw in the case of Rembrandt, there is a peculiar kind of dread of
the actual contour. It is felt by those who are sensitive to the
interplay and movement of planes that the line must in some way, by its
quality or its position, or by breaks or repetitions, avoid arresting
the imagination by too positive a statement. It was almost a peculiarity
of the early art that I have cited that it was able to express a form in
a quite complete, evenly drawn contour without this terrible negative
effect of the line. I say almost a peculiarity, because I think


     Henri-Matisse. Pen drawing

     Plate XXII.]

a few quite modern artists, such as Matisse (see Plate) and perhaps
Modigliani, have recovered such a power, but in the great mass of post
Renaissance drawing the art of the pure contour in line has broken down,
and the essential qualities even of the great linealists are only to be
seen fully in their paintings; the drawn line itself has had to take on
other functions.


In a society which is as indifferent to works of art as our modern
industrialism it seems paradoxical that artists of all kinds should loom
so large in the general consciousness of mankind--that they should be
remembered with reverence and boasted of as national assets when
statesmen, lawyers, and soldiers are forgotten. The great mass of modern
men could rub along happily enough without works of art or at least
without new ones, but society would be sensibly more bored if the artist
died out altogether. The fact is that every honest bourgeois, however
sedate and correct his life, keeps a hidden and scarce-admitted yearning
for that other life of complete individualism which hard necessity or
the desire for success has denied him. In contemplating the artist he
tastes vicariously these forbidden joys. He regards the artist as a
strange species, half idiot, half divine, but above all irresponsibly
and irredeemably himself. He seems equally strange in his outrageous
egoism and his superb devotion to an idea.

Also in a world where the individual is squeezed and moulded and
polished by the pressure of his fellow-men the artist remains
irreclaimably individual--in a world where every one else is being
perpetually educated the artist remains ineducable--where others are
shaped he grows. Cézanne realised the type of the artist in its purest
most unmitigated form, and M. Vollard has had the wit to write a book
about Cézanne and not about Cézanne’s pictures. The time may come when
we shall require a complete study of Cézanne’s work, a measured judgment
of his achievement and position--it would probably be rash to attempt it
as yet. Meanwhile we have M. Vollard’s portrait, at once documented and
captivating. Should the book ever become as well known as it deserves
there would be, one guesses,


Cézanne. Portrait of the Artist      Collection Pellerin

     Plate XXIII.]

ten people fascinated by Cézanne for one who would walk down the street
to see his pictures.

The art historian may sometimes regret that Vasari did not give us more
of the æsthetics of his time; but Vasari knew his business, knew,
perhaps, that the æsthetics of an age are quickly superseded but that
the human document remains of perennial interest to mankind. M. Vollard
has played Vasari to Cézanne and done so with the same directness and
simplicity, the same narrative ease, the same insatiable delight in the
oddities and idiosyncrasies of his subject. And what a model he had to
paint! Every word and every gesture he records stick out with the rugged
relief of a character in which everything is due to the compulsion of
inner forces, in which nothing has been planed down or smoothed away by
external pressure--not that external pressure was absent but that the
inner compulsion--the inevitable bent of Cézanne’s temperament, was
irresistible. In one very important detail Cézanne was spared by
life--he always had enough to live on. The thought of a Cézanne having
to earn his living is altogether too tragic. But if life spared him in
this respect his temperament spared him nothing--for this rough
Provençal countryman had so exasperated a sensibility that the smallest
detail of daily life, the barking of a dog, the noise of a lift in a
neighbouring house, the dread of being touched even by his own son might
produce at any moment a nervous explosion. At such times his first
relief was in cursing and swearing, but if this failed the chances were
that his anger vented itself on his pictures--he would cut one to pieces
with his palette knife, or failing that roll it up and throw it into the
stove. M. Vollard describes with delightful humour the tortures he
endured in the innumerable sittings which he gave Cézanne for his
portrait--with what care he avoided any subject of conversation which
might lead to misunderstanding. But with all his adroitness there were
one or two crises in which the portrait was threatened with the dreaded
knife--fortunately Cézanne always found some other work on which to vent
his indignation, and the portrait survived, though after a hundred and
fifteen sittings, in which Cézanne exacted the immobility of an apple,
the portrait was left incomplete. “I am not displeased with the shirt
front,” was Cézanne’s characteristic appreciation.

Two phrases continually recur in Cézanne’s conversation which show his
curious idiosyncrasies. One the often-quoted one of his dread that any
one might “_lui jeter le grappin dessus_” and the other “_moi qui suis
faible dans la vie_.” They express his constant attitude of distrust of
his kind--for him all women were “_des veaux et des calculatrices_”--his
dread of any possible invasion of his personality, and his sense of
impotence in face of the forces of life.

None the less, though he pathetically exaggerated his weakness he never
seems to have had the least doubt about his supreme greatness as an
artist; what troubled and irritated him was his incapacity to express
his “sensation” in such terms as would make its meaning evident to the
world. It was for this reason that he struggled so obstinately and
hopelessly to get into the “Salon de M. Bougereau.” His attitude to
conventional art was a strange mixture of admiration at its skill and of
an overwhelming horror of its emptiness--of its so “horrible

The fact is that Cézanne had accepted uncritically all the conventions
in the pathetic belief that it was the only way of safety for one “so
feeble in life.” So he continued to believe in the Catholic Church not
from any religious conviction but because “Rome was so strong”--so, too,
he believed in the power and importance of the “Salon de Bougereau”
which he hated as much as he feared. So, too, with what seems a
paradoxical humility he let it be known, when his fame had already been
established among the intelligent, that he would be glad to have the
Legion of Honour. But here, too, he was destined to fail. The weighty
influence and distinguished position of his friends could avail nothing
against the undisguised horror with which any official heard the dreaded
name of Cézanne. And it appeared that Cézanne was the only artist in
France for whom this distinction was inaccessible, even through
“influence.” Nothing is stranger in his life than the contrast between
the idea the public formed of Cézanne and the reality. He was one of
those men destined to give rise to a legend which completely
obscured the reality. He was spoken of as the most violent of
revolutionaries--Communard and Anarchist were the favourite
epithets--and all the time he was a timid little country gentleman of
immaculate respectability who subscribed whole-heartedly to any
reactionary opinion which could establish his “soundness.” He was a
timid man who really believed


     Cézanne. Gardanne

     Plate XXIV.]

in only one thing, “his little sensation”; who laboured incessantly to
express this peculiar quality and who had not the faintest notion of
doing anything that could shock the feelings of any mortal man or woman.
No wonder then that when he looked up from his work and surveyed the
world with his troubled and imperfect intellectual vision he was amazed
and perturbed at the violent antagonism which he had all unconsciously
provoked. No wonder that he became a shy, distrustful misanthrope,
almost incapable of any association with his kind.

I have suggested that Cézanne was the perfect realisation of the type of
the artist--I doubt whether in the whole of Vasari’s great picture
gallery there is a more complete type of “original.” But in order to
accept this we must banish from our mind the conventional idea of the
artist as a man of flamboyant habits and calculated pose. Nothing is
less possible to the real artist than pose--he is less capable of it
than the ordinary man of business because more than any one else his
external activities are determined from within by needs and instincts
which he himself barely recognises.

On the other hand the imitation artist is a past master of pose, he
poses as the sport of natural inclinations whilst he is really
deliberately exploiting his caprices; and as he has a natural instinct
for the limelight this variety of the “Cabotin” generally manages to sit
for the portrait of the artist. Cézanne, then, though his external life
was that of the most irreproachable of country gentlemen, though he went
to mass every Sunday and never willingly left the intimacy of family
life, was none the less the purest and most unadulterated of artists,
the most narrowly confined to his single activity, the most purely
disinterested and the most frankly egoistic of men.

Cézanne had no intellectual independence. I doubt if he had the faintest
conception of intellectual truth, but this is not to deny that he had a
powerful mind. On the contrary he had a profound intelligence of
whatever came within his narrow outlook on life, and above all he had
the gift of expression, so that however fantastic, absurd, or naïve his
opinions may have been, they were always expressed in such racy and
picturesque language that they become interesting as revelations of a
very human and genuine personality.

One of the tragi-comedies of Cézanne’s life was the story of his early
friendship with Zola, followed in middle life by a gradual estrangement,
and at last a total separation. It is perhaps the only blot in M.
Vollard’s book that he has taken too absolutely Cézanne’s point of view,
and has hardly done justice to Zola’s goodness of heart. The cause of
friction, apart from Cézanne’s habitual testiness and ill-humour, was
that Zola’s feeling for art, which had led him in his youth to a heroic
championship of the younger men, faded away in middle life. His own
practice of literature led him further and further away from any concern
with pure art, and he failed to recognise that his own early prophecy of
Cézanne’s greatness had come true, simply because he himself had become
a popular author, and Cézanne had failed of any kind of success.
Unfortunately Zola, who had evidently lost all real æsthetic feeling,
continued to talk about art, and worse than that he had made the hero of
“L’Œuvre” a more or less recognisable portrait of his old friend.
Cézanne could not tolerate Zola’s gradual acquiescence in worldly ideals
and ways of life, and when the Dreyfusard question came up not only did
his natural reactionary bias make him a vehement anti-Dreyfusard but he
had no comprehension whatever of the heroism of Zola’s actions; he found
him merely ridiculous, and believed him to be engaged in an
ill-conceived scheme of self-advertisement. But for all his contempt of
Zola his affection remained deeper than he knew, and when he heard the
news of Zola’s death Cézanne shut himself alone up in his studio, and
was heard sobbing and groaning throughout the day.

Cézanne’s is not the only portrait in M. Vollard’s entertaining
book--there are sketches of many characters, among them the few strange
and sympathetic men who appreciated and encouraged Cézanne in his early
days. Of Cabaner the musician M. Vollard has collected some charming
notes. Cabaner was a “philosopher,” and singularly indifferent to the
chances of life. During the siege of Paris he met Coppée, and noticing
the shells which were falling he became curious. “Where do all these
bullets come from?” Coppée: “It would seem that it is the besiegers who
send them.” Cabaner, after a silence: “Is it always the Prussians?”
Coppée, impatiently: “Who on earth could it be?” Cabaner: “I don’t know
... other nations!” But the book is so full of good stories that I must
resist the temptation to quote.


     Cézanne. The Artist’s Wife

     Plate XXV.]

Fortunately M. Vollard has collected also a large number of Cézanne’s
_obiter dicta_ on art. These have all Cézanne’s pregnant wisdom and racy
style. They often contain a whole system of æsthetics in a single
phrase, as, for instance: “What’s wanted is to do Poussin over again
from Nature.”

They show, moreover, the natural bias of Cézanne’s feelings and their
gradual modification as his understanding became more profound. What
comes out clearly, and it must never be forgotten in considering his
art, is that his point of departure was from Romanticism. Delacroix was
his god and Ingres, in his early days, his devil--a devil he learned
increasingly to respect, but never one imagines really to love, “_ce
Dominique est très fort mais il m’emm_----.” That Cézanne became a
supreme master of formal design every one would nowadays admit, but
there is some excuse for those contemporaries who complained of his want
of drawing. He was not a master of line in the sense in which Ingres
was. “The contour escapes me,” as he said. That is to say he arrived at
the contour by a study of the interior planes; he was always plastic
before he was linear. In his early works, such, for instance, as the
“Scène de plein air” (see Plate), he is evidently inspired by Delacroix;
he is almost a romanticist himself in such work, and his design is built
upon the contrasts of large and rather loosely drawn silhouettes of dark
and light. In fact it is the method of Tintoretto, Rubens, and

In the “Bathers resting,” painted in 1877, there is already a great
change. It is rather by the exact placing of plastic units than by
continuous flowing silhouettes that the design holds. Giorgione,
perhaps, is behind this, but no longer Tintoretto, and, above all,
Poussin has intervened.

In later works, such as the portrait of “Mme. Cézanne in a greenhouse,”
the plasticity has become all-important, there is no longer any
suggestion of a romantic _decor_; all is reduced to the purest terms of
structural design.

These notes on Cézanne’s development are prompted by the illustrations
in M. Vollard’s book. These are numerous and excellent, and afford a
better opportunity for a general study of Cézanne’s _œuvre_ than any
other book. In fact, when the time comes for the complete appreciation
of Cézanne M. Vollard’s book will be the most important document
existing. It should, however, have a far wider appeal than that. I hope
that after the war M. Vollard will bring out a small cheap
edition[53]--it should become a classic biography. To say, as I would,
that M. Vollard’s book is a monument worthy of Cézanne himself is to
give it the highest praise.


     Cézanne. Le ruisseau

     Plate XXVI.]


What a lover of the commonplace Renoir was! It is a rare quality among
artists. A theoretically pure artist exists no more than a Euclidean
point, but if such a being could exist, every possible actual sight
would be equally suitable as a point of departure for his artistic
vision. Everything would stir in him the impulse to creation. He would
have no predilections, no tastes for this or that kind of thing. In
practice every artist is set going by some particular kind of scene in
nature, and for the most part artists have to search out some unusual or
unexplored aspect of things. Gauguin, for instance, had to go as far as
Tahiti. When Renoir heard of this, he said, in a phrase which revealed
his own character: “Pourquoi? On peint si bien a Batignolles.” But there
are plenty of artists who paint more or less well at Batignolles or
Bloomsbury and yet are not lovers of the commonplace. Like Walter
Sickert, for instance, they find their Tahiti in Mornington Crescent.
Though they paint in commonplace surroundings, they generally contrive
to catch them at an unexpected angle. Something odd or exotic in their
taste for life seems to be normal to artists. The few artists or writers
who have shared the tastes of the average man have, as a rule, been like
Dickens--to take an obvious case--very imperfect and very impure
artists, however great their genius. Among great artists one thinks at
once of Rubens as the most remarkable example of a man of common tastes,
a lover of all that was rich, exuberant and even florid. Titian, too,
comes nearly up to the same standard, except that in youth his whole
trend of feeling was distorted by the overpowering influence of
Giorgione, whose tastes were recondite and strange. Renoir, in the
frankness of his colour harmonies, in his feeling for design and even in
the quality of his pigment, constantly reminds us of these two. Now it
is easier to see how an artist of the sixteenth or seventeenth century
could develop commonplace tastes than one of our own times. For with
the nineteenth century came in a gradual process of differentiation of
the artist from the average man. The modern artist finds himself so
little understood by the crowd, in his aims and methods, that he tends
to become distinct in his whole attitude to life.

What, then, is so peculiar about Renoir is that he has this perfectly
ordinary taste in things and yet remains so intensely, so purely, an
artist. The fact is perhaps that he was so much an artist that he never
had to go round the corner to get his inspiration; the immediate,
obvious, front view of everything was more than sufficient to start the
creative impulse. He enjoyed instinctively, almost animally, all the
common good things of life, and yet he always kept just enough
detachment to feel his delight æsthetically--he kept, as it were, just
out of reach of appetite.

More than any other great modern artist Renoir trusted implicitly to his
own sensibility; he imposed no barrier between his own delight in
certain things and the delight which he communicates. He liked
passionately the obviously good things of life, the young human animal,
sunshine, sky, trees, water, fruit; the things that every one likes;
only he liked them at just the right distance with just enough
detachment to replace appetite by emotion. He could rely on this
detachment so thoroughly that he could dare, what hardly any other
genuine modern has dared to say how much he liked even a pretty sight.
But what gives his art so immediate, so universal an appeal is that his
detachment went no further than was just necessary. His sensibility is
kept at the exact point where it is transmuted into emotion. And the
emotion, though it has of course the generalised æsthetic feeling, keeps
something of the fulness and immediacy of the simpler attitude. Not that
Renoir was either naïve or stupid. When he chose he showed that he was
capable of logical construction and vigorous design. But for his own
pleasure he would, as he himself said, have been satisfied to make
little isolated records of his delight in the detail of a flower or a
lock of hair. With the exception of “Les Parapluies” at the National
Gallery we have rarely seen his more deliberate compositions in England.
But in all his work alike Renoir remains the man who could trust
recklessly his instinctive reaction to life.

Let me confess that these characteristics--this way of keeping,


Renoir. Judgement of Paris.      Collection Halvossen

Plate XXVII.]

as it were, just out of reach of appetite--makes Renoir to me,
personally, a peculiarly difficult artist. My taste for exotic artists
such as Cosima Tura and his kin amounts at times to a vice.
Consequently, I am sometimes in danger of not doing Renoir justice,
because at the first approach to one of his pictures I miss the purely
accessory delight of an unexpected attitude. The first approach to one
of his pictures may indeed remind one of pictures that would be the
delight of the servants’ hall, so unaffectedly simple is his acceptance
of the charm of rosy-cheeked girls, of pretty posies and dappled
sunlight. And yet one knows well enough that Renoir was as “artful” as
one could wish. Though he had not the biting wit of a Degas, he had a
peculiar love of mischievous humour; he was anything but a harmless or
innocent character. All his simplicity is on the surface only. The
longer one looks, the deeper does Renoir retire behind veil after veil
of subtlety. And yet, compared with some modern artists, he was, after
all, easy and instinctively simple. Even his plastic unity was arrived
at by what seems a more natural method than, say, Cézanne’s. Whereas
Cézanne undertook his indefatigable research for the perspective of the
receding planes, Renoir seems to have accepted a very simple general
plastic formula. Whatever Cézanne may have meant by his celebrated
saying about cones and cylinders, Renoir seems to have thought the
sphere and cylinder sufficient for his purpose. The figure presents
itself to his eye as an arrangement of more or less hemispherical bosses
and cylinders, and he appears generally to arrange the light so that the
most prominent part of each boss receives the highest light. From this
the planes recede by insensible gradations towards the contour, which
generally remains the vaguest, least ascertained part of the modelling.
Whatever lies immediately behind the contour tends to become drawn into
its sphere of influence, to form an undefined recession enveloping and
receiving the receding planes. As the eye passes away from the contour,
new but less marked bosses form themselves and fill the background with
repetitions of the general theme. The picture tends thus to take the
form of a bas-relief in which the recessions are not into the profound
distances of pictorial space, but only back, as it were, to the block
out of which the bossed reliefs emerge, though, of course, by means of
atmospheric colour the eye may interpret these recessions as distance.
This is clearly in marked contrast to Cézanne’s method of suggesting
endless recessions of planes with the most complicated interwoven

Renoir’s drawing takes on the same fundamental simplicity. An Ingres
arrived at the simplified statement necessary for great design by a
process of gradual elimination of all the superfluous sinuosities which
his hand had recorded in the first drawing from nature. Renoir seems
never to have allowed his eye to accept more than the larger elements of
mass and direction. His full, rounded curves embrace the form in its
most general aspect. With advancing years and continually growing
science he was able, at last, to state this essential synthesis with
amazing breadth and ease. He continually increased the amplitude of his
forms until, in his latest nudes, the whole design is filled with a few
perfectly related bosses. Like Titian’s, Renoir’s power of design
increased visibly up to the very end of his life. True, he was capable
at all periods of conceiving large and finely co-ordinated compositions,
such as “Les Parapluies” and the “Charpentier family”; but at the end
even the smallest studies have structural completeness.


Houses are either builders’ houses or architects’ houses. Not that
speculative builders do not employ architects, but they generally employ
architects who efface themselves behind the deadly conventionality and
bewildering fantasy of their façades. Architects’ houses are generally
built to the order of a gentleman who wishes his house to have some
distinctive character, to stand out from the common herd of houses,
either by its greater splendour or its greater discretion. The builder’s
house, like the dresses of the lower middle class, is generally an
imitation of the gentleman’s, only of a fashion that has just gone out
of date and imitated badly in cheaper materials. No one defends it. It
is made so because you must make a house somehow, and bought because it
is the usual and therefore inevitable thing. No one enjoys it, no one
admires it, it is accepted as part of the use and wont of ordinary life.
The gentleman’s and architect’s house is different. Here time and
thought, and perhaps great ingenuity and taste are employed in giving to
the house an individual character. Unfortunately this individual
character is generally terribly conscious of its social aspect, of how
the house will look, not to those who live in it so much as to those who
come to visit. We have no doubt outlived the more vulgar forms of this
social consciousness, those which led to the gross display of merely
expensive massiveness and profusion. Few modern houses would satisfy Mr.
Podsnap. But its subtler forms are still apparent. They generally make
themselves felt in the desire to be romantic. As it requires much too
much imagination to find romance in the present, one looks for it in the
past, and so a dive is made into some period of history, and its
monuments studied and copied, and finally “adapted” to the more
elaborate exigencies of modern life. But, alas, these divers into the
past seem never to have been able to find the pearl of romance, for,
ever since the craze began in the eighteenth century, they have been
diving now here, now there, now into Romanesque, now into Gothic, now
into Jacobean, now into Queen Anne. They have brought up innumerable
architectural “features” which have been duly copied by modern
machinery, and carefully glued on to the houses, and still the owners
and the architects, to do them justice, feel restless, and are in search
of some new old style to try. The search has flagged of late, people
know it is useless, and here and there architects have set to work
merely to build so well and with such a fine sense of the material
employed that the result should satisfy the desire for comeliness
without the use of any style. I am thinking of some of Mr. Blow’s
earlier works where a peculiar charm resulted from the unstinting care
with which every piece of material had been chosen and the whole fitted
together almost as though the stones had been precious stones instead of
flints or bricks.

But on the whole the problem appears to be still unsolved, and the
architects go on using styles of various kinds with greater or less
degrees of correctness. This they no longer do with the old zest and
hope of discovery, but rather with a languid indifference and with
evident marks of discouragement.

Now style is an admirable thing, it is the result of ease and coherence
of feeling, but unfortunately a borrowed style is an even stronger proof
of muddled and befogged emotions than the total absence of style. The
desire for a style at all costs, even a borrowed style, is part of that
exaggerated social consciousness which in other respects manifests
itself as snobbery. What if people were just to let their houses be the
direct outcome of their actual needs, and of their actual way of life,
and allow other people to think what they like. What if they behaved in
the matter of houses as all people wish to behave in society without any
undue or fussy self-consciousness. Wouldn’t such houses have really a
great deal more character, and therefore interest for others, than those
which are deliberately made to look like something or other. Instead of
looking like something, they would then be something.

The house which I planned and built for myself was the result of certain
particular needs and habits. I had originally no idea of building a
house: I had so often heard the proverb that “Fools build houses for
wise men to live in,” that I had come to believe it, but I required a
house of a certain size for my family within easy reach of London. I
looked at a great many houses and found that those which had a
sufficient number of rooms were all gentlemen’s establishments, with
lodge, stabling, and green-houses. Now it was characteristic of my purse
that I could not afford to keep up a gentleman’s establishment and of my
tastes that I could not endure to. I was a town dweller, and I wanted a
town house and a little garden in the country. As I could not find what
I wanted, the idea came into my head that I must build it or go without.
The means at my disposal were definitely limited; the question was
therefore whether I could build a house of the required size with that
sum. I made a plan containing the number of rooms of the sizes I
required, and got an estimate. It was largely in excess of the sum I
possessed for the purpose. I feared I must give up my scheme when I met
a friend who had experimented in building cheap cottages on his estate,
and learned from him that the secret of economy was concentration of
plan. I also discovered in discussing my first estimate that roofs were
cheaper than walls. I thereupon started on a quite different plan, in
which I arranged the rooms to form as nearly as possible a solid block,
and placed a number of the rooms in a hipped or Mansard roof. It will be
seen that, so far, the planning of the house was merely the discovery of
a possible equation between my needs and the sum at my disposal.

But in trying to establish this equation I had found it necessary to
make the rooms rather smaller than I should have liked, and having a
great liking for large and particularly high interiors--I hate
Elizabethan rooms with their low ceilings in spite of their prettiness,
and I love the interiors of the baroque palaces of Italy--I determined
to have one room of generous dimensions and particularly of great
height. This large room surrounded by small rooms was naturally made
into a general living-place, with arrangements by means of a lift to
enable it to be used as a dining hall if there were more in the house
than could be accommodated in the small breakfast room.

The estimate for this new concentrated plan, in spite of the large
dimensions of the living place, came to little more than half the
estimate for the former plan, and made my project feasible, provided
that I could calculate all details and did not run into extras.

So far then there has been no question of architecture; it has been
merely solving the problem of personal needs and habits, and of cost,
and if architecture there is to be, it should, I think, come directly
out of the solution of these problems. The size and disposition of the
plan having thus been fixed, the elevations are given in outline, and
the only question is how the rectangle of each elevation is to be
treated. Doors and windows are the elements of the design, and here
again something will already be determined by needs or tastes. There is
need of a certain amount of light, and my own taste is to have as much
as possible, so that the windows had to be large rectangles. But when
all these things are determined by need there is still a wide margin of
choice--the size of the panes in the windows, the depth of recess of the
windows within the wall, the flatness or relief of each element. All
these and many more are still matters of choice, and it is through the
artist’s sense of proportion and his feeling for the plastic relief of
the whole surface that a work of mere utility may become a work of art.
In the case of the main elevation of my house I found that when all the
windows, including the long windows of the high living-place, were duly
arranged, there was a want of unity owing to the nearly equal balance
between the horizontal and vertical members. I therefore underlined the
slight projection of the central part (a projection enforced by by-laws)
by varying the material, replacing at this point the plaster of the
walls by two bands of red brick. In this way the vertical effect of the
central part was made to dominate the whole façade. The artistic or
architectural part of this house was confined, then, merely to the
careful choice of proportions within certain fixed limits defined by
needs, and neither time, money, nor thought were expended on giving the
house the appearance of any particular style.

I have gone thus at length into the history of my own house merely as an
example of the way in which, I think, a genuine architecture, and in the
end, no doubt, an architectural style, might arise. It requires a
certain courage or indifference to public opinion on the part of the
owner. My own house is neighboured by houses of the most gentlemanly
picturesqueness, houses from which tiny gables with window slits jut out
at any unexpected angle, and naturally it is regarded as a monstrous
eyesore by their inhabitants. Indeed, when I first came here it was
supposed that the ugliness of my house was so apparent that I myself
could not be blind to it, and should not resent its being criticised in
my presence. They were quite right, I did not resent it; I was only very
much amused.

To arrive at such a genuine domestic architecture as I conceive,
requires, then, this social indifference to surrounding snobbishness on
the part of the owner, and it requires a nice sense of proportion and a
feeling for values of plastic relief on the part of the artist who
designs the house, but it does not require genius or even any
extraordinary talent to make a genuine and honest piece of domestic
architecture which will continue to look distinguished when the last
“style” but one having just become _démodé_ already stinks in the
nostrils of all cultured people.


There are some thirty pictures by M. Jean Marchand now on view at the
Carfax Gallery in Bury Street. This gives one an occasion for reviewing
the work of this comparatively young artist. M. Marchand belongs, of
course, to the revolutionary movement of this century in that he derives
the general principles of his art from Cézanne, but he is the most
traditional of revolutionaries. Not by the wildest stretch of the
imagination could one conceive of M. Marchand deliberately or
consciously doing anything to astonish the public. It is quite true that
no genuine artist ever did, but some artists have found an added
piquancy in the thought that inventions that occurred to them would in
point of fact have this adventitious charm. But with M. Marchand such
possibilities seem more remote than with most of his compeers. An
extreme simplicity and directness of outlook and a touching sincerity in
all he does are the most prominent characteristics of his work. Not that
he makes one suppose him to be too naïve to play tricks with his art; on
the contrary, one sees that he is highly self-conscious and
intellectual, but that he knows the utter futility of any deliberate
emphasis on the artist’s part. He knows that any effect of permanent
value must flow directly from the matter in hand; that it is useless to
make anything appear more interesting or impressive than it is; that,
whatever his vision is, it must be accepted literally, and without any
attempt to add to its importance or effectiveness.

In short, M. Marchand is a classic artist--one might almost in these
days say a French artist, and count it as synonymous, but that one
remembers that the French, too, have had their orgies of romantic
emphasis, and have always ready to hand a convention of coldly
exaggerated rhetoric. Moreover, if one thinks of a nearly allied


Marchand. Still Life      Author’s Collection

Plate XXVIII.]

such as Derain, whose work is so terribly _interesting_, one sees that
to a quite peculiar degree M. Marchand exemplifies the sentimental
honesty of the French. I leave the question open whether this is a moral
trait, or is not rather the result of a clearer perception than we often
attain to of the extreme futility of lying where art is concerned.

Certainly one can imagine the temptations for a man of M. Marchand’s
great technical ability to choose some slightly wilful or fantastic
formula of vision and to exploit it for what it might bring out; for M.
Marchand was handicapped in any competition for notoriety by the very
normality and sanity of his vision. Compared to the descriptions of
sketches in “Jane Eyre,” his pictures would be judged to be entirely
lacking in imagination. He never tries to invent what he has not
actually seen. Almost any of the ordinary things of life suffice for his
theme--a loaf of bread or a hat left on the table, a rather vulgar
French château restored by Viollet-le-Duc with a prim garden and
decorous lake, a pot of aspidistra in a suburban window. These and the
like are the subjects of his pictures, and he paints the objects
themselves in all their vulgar everydayness. They do not become excuses
for abstract designs; they retain in his pictures all their bleak

Any one unfamiliar with his pictures who read such an account of his
work might think M. Marchand was a dull literalist, whose mere
accomplishment it is to render the similitude of objects. But such a
conclusion would be entirely wrong. However frankly M. Marchand accepts
the forms of objects, however little his normal vision distorts or
idealises them, however consciously and deliberately he chooses the
arrangement, he does build up by sheer method and artistic science a
unity which has a singularly impressive quality. I heard some one say,
in front of a still life which represented a white tablecloth, a glass
tumbler, an earthenware water-bottle and a loaf of bread, that it was
like Buddha. With such a description as I give of the picture the
appreciation sounds precious and absurd; before the picture it seems
perfectly just. For M. Marchand has attained the reward of his
inflexible honesty; his construction is so solid and unfaltering, he
builds up his designs with such massive and direct handling, that
without the slightest suggestion of emphasis, without any underlining,
the effect comes through; the material becomes expressive; he becomes a
creator, and not a mere adapter of form.

For the understanding of his personality it is interesting to consider
his Cubist period, since Marchand’s reaction to Cubism is typical of his
nature. Cubism, like S. Paul, has been all things to all men--at least
to almost all artists of the present generation. To some it has been a
doctrine and a revelation; to some it has been a convenient form of
artistic journalism; to some it has been a quick road to notoriety, to
some an aid to melodramatic effect. To M. Marchand it was just a useful
method and a gymnastic. He used it for just what it could give him as an
exercise in the organisation of form. It was to him like a system of
notation to a mathematician, a means of handling quantities which
without it would have been too elusive and too infinite to grasp. By
means of Cubism the infinity of a sphere could be reduced to half a
dozen planes, each of which he could learn to relate to all the other
planes in the picture; and the singular ease and directness of his
plastic construction seem to be due to his early practice of Cubist
methods. Having once learned by this process of willed and deliberate
analysis how to handle complex forms, he has been able to throw away the
scaffolding and to construct palpably related and completely unified
designs with something approaching the full complexity of natural forms,
though the lucid statement and the ease of handling which it actuates
testify to the effect of his apprenticeship in Cubism. Such a use of a
theory--as a method, not as a doctrine--seems to me typical of M.
Marchand’s balanced judgment, of his alert readiness to use any and
every means that could conduce to his slow and methodical development,
and hold out hopes of a continued growth.

M. Marchand, so assured, so settled an artist, is still young. In the
landscapes which he did in the South of France just before the war he
explored a peculiarly persuasive and harmonious scheme of colour, based
on warm ochres, earth reds, and dull blues. These pictures have the
envelopment and the sonorous harmony of some early Italian masters in
spite of the frank oppositions and the vigorous scaffolding of modern
design. In the later work done in the last year he shows a new sense of
colour, a new sharpness and almost an audacity, if one can imagine so
well-balanced a nature capable of audacity. He uses dull neutral
colours, the dirty white of a cloudy sky, harsh dull greens and blacks,
the obvious and unattractive colours that so frequently occur in nature;
but he uses them in such combinations, and with such accents of tone and
such subtly prepared accordances and oppositions, that these obvious
dull colours strike one as fascinating discoveries. This is the height
of artistic science, so to accept the obvious and commonplace that it
gives one the pleasant shock of paradox. It seems hardly rash to
foretell for him a solid and continually growing fame.


The work of re-reading and selecting from the mass of my writings as an
art critic has inevitably brought me up against the question of its
consistency and coherence. Although I do not think that I have
republished here anything with which I entirely disagree, I cannot but
recognise that in many of these essays the emphasis lies in a different
place from where I should now put it. Fortunately I have never prided
myself upon my unchanging constancy of attitude, but unless I flatter
myself I think I can trace a certain trend of thought underlying very
different expressions of opinion. Now since that trend seems to me to be
symptomatic of modern æsthetic, and since it may perhaps explain much
that seems paradoxical in the actual situation of art, it may be
interesting to discuss its nature even at the cost of being

In my work as a critic of art I have never been a pure Impressionist, a
mere recording instrument of certain sensations. I have always had some
kind of æsthetic. A certain scientific curiosity and a desire for
comprehension have impelled me at every stage to make generalisations,
to attempt some kind of logical co-ordination of my impressions. But, on
the other hand, I have never worked out for myself a complete system
such as the metaphysicians deduce from _a priori_ principles. I have
never believed that I knew what was the ultimate nature of art. My
æsthetic has been a purely practical one, a tentative expedient, an
attempt to reduce to some kind of order my æsthetic impressions up to
date. It has been held merely until such time as fresh experiences might
confirm or modify it. Moreover, I have always looked on my system with a
certain suspicion. I have recognised that if it ever formed too solid a
crust it might stop the inlets of fresh experience, and I can count
various occasions when my principles would have led me to condemn, and
when my sensibility has played the part of Balaam with the effect of
making temporary chaos of my system. That has, of course, always
rearranged itself to take in the new experience, but with each such
cataclysm it has suffered a loss of prestige. So that even in its latest
form I do not put forward my system as more than a provisional induction
from my own æsthetic experiences.

I have certainly tried to make my judgment as objective as possible, but
the critic must work with the only instrument he possesses--namely, his
own sensibility with all its personal equations. All that he can
consciously endeavour is to perfect that tool to its utmost by studying
the traditional verdicts of men of æsthetic sensibility in the past, and
by constant comparison of his own reactions with those of his
contemporaries who are specially gifted in this way. When he has done
all that he can in this direction--and I would allow him a slight bias
in favour of agreement with tradition--he is bound to accept the verdict
of his own feelings as honestly as he can. Even plain honesty in this
matter is more difficult to attain than would be admitted by those who
have never tried it. In so delicate a matter as the artistic judgment
one is liable to many accidental disturbing influences, one can scarcely
avoid temporary hypnotisms and hallucinations. One can only watch for
and try to discount these, taking every opportunity to catch one’s
sensibility unawares before it can take cover behind prejudices and

When the critic holds the result of his reaction to a work of art
clearly in view he has next to translate it into words. Here, too,
distortion is inevitable, and it is here that I have probably failed
most of accuracy, for language in the hands of one who lacks the mastery
of a poet has its own tricks, its perversities and habits. There are
things which it shies at and goes round, there are places where it runs
away and, leaving the reality which it professes to carry tumbled out at
the tail of the cart, arrives in a great pother, but without the goods.

But in spite of all these limitations and the errors they entail it
seems to me that the attempt to attain objective judgments has not
altogether failed, and that I seem to myself to have been always groping
my way towards some kind of a reasoned and practical æsthetic. Many
minds have been engaged alongside of mine in the same pursuit. I think
we may claim that partly as a result of our common efforts a rather
more intelligent attitude exists in the educated public of to-day than
obtained in the last century.

Art in England is sometimes insular, sometimes provincial. The
pre-Raphaelite movement was mainly an indigenous product. The dying
echoes of this remarkable explosion reverberated through the years of my
nonage, but when I first began to study art seriously the vital movement
was a provincial one. After the usual twenty years of delay, provincial
England had become aware of the Impressionist movement in France, and
the younger painters of promise were working under the influence of
Monet. Some of them even formulated theories of naturalism in its most
literal and extreme form. But at the same time Whistler, whose
Impressionism was of a very different stamp, had put forward the purely
decorative idea of art, and had tried in his “Ten o’clock,” perhaps too
cavalierly, to sweep away the web of ethical questions, distorted by
æsthetic prejudices, which Ruskin’s exuberant and ill-regulated mind had
spun for the British public.

The Naturalists made no attempt to explain why the exact and literal
imitation of nature should satisfy the human spirit, and the
“Decorators” failed to distinguish between agreeable sensations and
imaginative significance.

After a brief period during which I was interested in the new
possibilities opened up by the more scientific evaluation of colour
which the Impressionists practised, I came to feel more and more the
absence in their work of structural design. It was an innate desire for
this aspect of art which drove me to the study of the Old Masters and,
in particular, those of the Italian Renaissance, in the hope of
discovering from them the secret of that architectonic idea which I
missed so badly in the work of my contemporaries. I think now that a
certain amount of “cussedness” led me to exaggerate what was none the
less a genuine personal reaction. Finding myself out of touch with my
generation I took a certain pleasure in emphasising my isolation. I
always recognised fully that the only vital art of the day was that of
the Impressionists whose theories I disbelieved, and I was always able
to admit the greatness of Degas and Renoir. But many of my judgments of
modern art were too much affected by my attitude. I do not think I ever
praised Mr. Wilson Steer or Mr. Walter Sickert as much as they deserved,
and I looked with too


     Seurat. La Baignade

     Plate XXIX.]

great indulgence on some would-be imitators of the Old Masters. But my
most serious lapse was the failure to discover the genius of Seurat (see
Plate), whose supreme merits as a designer I had every reason to
acclaim. I cannot even tell now whether I ever saw his work in the
exhibitions of the early nineties, but if I did his qualities were
hidden from me by the now transparent veil of pointillism--a
pseudo-scientific system of atmospheric colour notation in which I took
no interest.

I think I can claim that my study of the Old Masters was never much
tainted by archæological curiosity. I tried to study them in the same
spirit as I might study contemporary artists, and I always regretted
that there was no modern art capable of satisfying my predilections. I
say there was no modern art because none such was known to me, but all
the time there was one who had already worked out the problem which
seemed to me insoluble of how to use the modern vision with the
constructive design of the older masters. By some extraordinary ill luck
I managed to miss seeing Cézanne’s work till some considerable time
after his death. I had heard of him vaguely from time to time as a kind
of hidden oracle of ultra-impressionism, and, in consequence, I expected
to find myself entirely unreceptive to his art. To my intense surprise I
found myself deeply moved. I have discovered the article in which I
recorded this encounter, and though the praise I gave would sound
grudging and feeble to-day--for I was still obsessed by ideas about the
content of a work of art--I am glad to see that I was so ready to scrap
a long-cherished hypothesis in face of a new experience.

In the next few years I became increasingly interested in the art of
Cézanne and of those like Gauguin and van Goch who at that time
represented the first effects of his profound influence on modern art,
and I gradually recognised that what I had hoped for as a possible event
of some future century had already occurred, that art had begun to
recover once more the language of design and to explore its so long
neglected possibilities. Thus it happened that when at the end of 1911,
by a curious series of chances, I was in a position to organise an
exhibition at the Grafton Galleries, I seized the opportunity to bring
before the English public a selection of works conforming to the new
direction. For purposes of convenience it was necessary to give these
artists a name, and I chose, as being the vaguest and most
non-committal, the name of Post-Impressionist. This merely stated their
position in time relatively to the Impressionist movement. In conformity
with my own previous prejudices against Impressionism, I think I
underlined too much their divorce from the parent stock. I see now more
clearly their affiliation with it, but I was none the less right in
recognising their essential difference, a difference which the
subsequent development of Cubism has rendered more evident. Of late the
thesis of their fundamental opposition has been again enforced in the
writings of M. Lhote.

If I may judge by the discussions in the press to which this exhibition
gave rise, the general public failed to see that my position with regard
to this movement was capable of a logical explanation, as the result of
a consistent sensibility. I tried in vain to explain what appeared to me
so clear, that the modern movement was essentially a return to the ideas
of formal design which had been almost lost sight of in the fervid
pursuit of naturalistic representation. I found that the cultured public
which had welcomed my expositions of the works of the Italian
Renaissance now regarded me as either incredibly flippant or, for the
more charitable explanation was usually adopted, slightly insane. In
fact, I found among the cultured who had hitherto been my most eager
listeners the most inveterate and exasperated enemies of the new
movement. The accusation of anarchism was constantly made. From an
æsthetic point of view this was, of course, the exact opposite of the
truth, and I was for long puzzled to find the explanation of so
paradoxical an opinion and so violent an enmity. I now see that my crime
had been to strike at the vested emotional interests. These people felt
instinctively that their special culture was one of their social assets.
That to be able to speak glibly of Tang and Ming, of Amico di Sandro and
Baldovinetti, gave them a social standing and a distinctive cachet. This
showed me that we had all along been labouring under a mutual
misunderstanding, _i.e._ that we had admired the Italian primitives for
quite different reasons. It was felt that one could only appreciate
Amico di Sandro when one had acquired a certain considerable mass of
erudition and given a great deal of time and attention, but to admire a
Matisse required only a certain sensibility. One could feel fairly sure
that one’s maid could not rival one in the former case, but might by a
mere haphazard gift of Providence


Derain. Still Life      Author’s Collection

Plate XXX.]

surpass one in the second. So that the accusation of revolutionary
anarchism was due to a social rather than an æsthetic prejudice. In any
case the cultured public was determined to look upon Cézanne as an
incompetent bungler, and upon the whole movement as madly revolutionary.
Nothing I could say would induce people to look calmly enough at these
pictures to see how closely they followed tradition, or how great a
familiarity with the Italian primitives was displayed in their work. Now
that Matisse has become a safe investment for persons of taste, and that
Picasso and Derain have delighted the miscellaneous audience of the
London Music Halls with their designs for the Russian Ballet, it will be
difficult for people to believe in the vehemence of the indignation
which greeted the first sight of their works in England.

In contrast to its effect on the cultured public the Post-Impressionist
exhibition aroused a keen interest among a few of the younger English
artists and their friends. With them I began to discuss the problems of
æsthetic that the contemplation of these works forced upon us.

But before explaining the effects of these discussions upon my æsthetic
theory I must return to consider the generalisations which I had made
from my æsthetic experiences up to this point.

In my youth all speculations on æsthetic had revolved with wearisome
persistence around the question of the nature of beauty. Like our
predecessors we sought for the criteria of the beautiful, whether in art
or nature. And always this search led to a tangle of contradictions or
else to metaphysical ideas so vague as to be inapplicable to concrete

It was Tolstoy’s genius that delivered us from this _impasse_, and I
think that one may date from the appearance of “What is Art?” the
beginning of fruitful speculation in æsthetic. It was not indeed
Tolstoy’s preposterous valuation of works of art that counted for us,
but his luminous criticism of past æsthetic systems, above all, his
suggestions that art had no special or necessary concern with what is
beautiful in nature, that the fact that Greek sculpture had run
prematurely to decay through an extreme and non-æsthetic admiration of
beauty in the human figure afforded no reason why we should for ever
remain victims of their error.

It became clear that we had confused two distinct uses of the word
beautiful, that when we used beauty to describe a favourable æsthetic
judgment on a work of art we meant something quite different from our
praise of a woman, a sunset or a horse as beautiful. Tolstoy saw that
the essence of art was that it was a means of communication between
human beings. He conceived it to be _par excellence_ the language of
emotion. It was at this point that his moral bias led him to the strange
conclusion that the value of a work of art corresponded to the moral
value of the emotion expressed. Fortunately he showed by an application
of his theory to actual works of art to what absurdities it led. What
remained of immense importance was the idea that a work of art was not
the record of beauty already existent elsewhere, but the expression of
an emotion felt by the artist and conveyed to the spectator.

The next question was, Of what kind of emotions is art the expression?
Is love poetry the expression of the emotion of love, tragedy the
expression of pity and fear, and so forth? Clearly the expression in art
has some similarity to the expression of these emotions in actual life,
but it is never identical. It is evident that the artist feels these
emotions in a special manner, that he is not entirely under their
influence, but sufficiently withdrawn to contemplate and comprehend
them. My “Essay in Æsthetic” here reprinted, elaborates this point of
view, and in a course of unpublished lectures I endeavoured to divide
works of visual art according to the emotional point of view, adopting
the classification already existing in poetry into Epic, Dramatic,
Lyric, and Comedic.

I conceived the form of the work of art to be its most essential
quality, but I believed this form to be the direct outcome of an
apprehension of some emotion of actual life by the artist, although, no
doubt, that apprehension was of a special and peculiar kind and implied
a certain detachment. I also conceived that the spectator in
contemplating the form must inevitably travel in an opposite direction
along the same road which the artist had taken, and himself feel the
original emotion. I conceived the form and the emotion which it conveyed
as being inextricably bound together in the æsthetic whole.

About the time I had arrived at these conclusions the discussion of
æsthetic stimulated by the appearance of Post-Impressionism began. It
became evident through these discussions that some artists who were
peculiarly sensitive to the formal relations of works of art, and who
were deeply moved by them, had almost no sense of the emotions which I
had supposed them to convey. Since it was impossible in these cases to
doubt the genuineness of the æsthetic reaction it became evident that I
had not pushed the analysis of works of art far enough, had not
disentangled the purely æsthetic elements from certain accompanying

It was, I think, the observation of these cases of reaction to pure form
that led Mr. Clive Bell in his book, “Art,” to put forward the
hypothesis that however much the emotions of life might appear to play a
part in the work of art, the artist was really not concerned with them,
but only with the expression of a special and unique kind of emotion,
the æsthetic emotion. A work of art had the peculiar property of
conveying the æsthetic emotion, and it did this in virtue of having
“significant form.” He also declared that representation of nature was
entirely irrelevant to this and that a picture might be completely

This last view seemed to me always to go too far since any, even the
slightest, suggestion of the third dimension in a picture must be due to
some element of representation. What I think has resulted from Mr. Clive
Bell’s book, and the discussions which it has aroused on this point is
that the artist is free to choose any degree of representational
accuracy which suits the expression of his feeling. That no single fact,
or set of facts, about nature can be held to be obligatory for artistic
form. Also one might add as an empirical observation that the greatest
art seems to concern itself most with the universal aspects of natural
form, to be the least pre-occupied with particulars. The greatest
artists appear to be most sensitive to those qualities of natural
objects which are the least obvious in ordinary life precisely because,
being common to all visible objects, they do not serve as marks of
distinction and recognition.

With regard to the expression of emotion in works of art I think that
Mr. Bell’s sharp challenge to the usually accepted view of art as
expressing the emotions of life has been of great value. It has led to
an attempt to isolate the purely æsthetic feeling from the whole complex
of feelings which may and generally do accompany the æsthetic feeling
when we regard a work of art.

Let us take as an example of what I mean Raphael’s “Transfiguration,”
which a hundred years ago was perhaps the most admired picture in the
world, and twenty years ago was one of the most neglected. It is at once
apparent that this picture makes a very complex appeal to the mind and
feelings. To those who are familiar with the Gospel story of Christ it
brings together in a single composition two different events which
occurred simultaneously at different places, the Transfiguration of
Christ and the unsuccessful attempt of the Disciples during His absence
to heal the lunatic boy. This at once arouses a number of complex ideas
about which the intellect and feelings may occupy themselves. Goethe’s
remark on the picture is instructive from this point of view. “It is
remarkable,” he says, “that any one has ever ventured to query the
essential unity of such a composition. How can the upper part be
separated from the lower? The two form one whole. Below the suffering
and the needy, above the powerful and helpful--mutually dependent,
mutually illustrative.”

It will be seen at once what an immense complex of feelings
interpenetrating and mutually affecting one another such a work sets up
in the mind of a Christian spectator, and all this merely by the content
of the picture, its subject, the dramatic story it tells.

Now if our Christian spectator has also a knowledge of human nature he
will be struck by the fact that these figures, especially in the lower
group, are all extremely incongruous with any idea he is likely to have
formed of the people who surrounded Christ in the Gospel narrative. And
according to his prepossessions he is likely to be shocked or pleased to
find instead of the poor and unsophisticated peasants and fisherfolk who
followed Christ, a number of noble, dignified, and academic gentlemen in
impossible garments and purely theatrical poses. Again the
representation merely as representation, will set up a number of
feelings and perhaps of critical thoughts dependent upon innumerable
associated ideas in the spectator’s mind.

Now all these reactions to the picture are open to any one who has
enough understanding of natural form to recognise it when represented
adequately. There is no need for him to have any particular sensibility
to form as such.

Let us now take for our spectator a person highly endowed with the
special sensibility to form, who feels the intervals and relations of


Raphael. The Transfiguration      Vatican

Plate XXXI.]

forms as a musical person feels the intervals and relations of tones,
and let us suppose him either completely ignorant of, or indifferent to,
the Gospel story. Such a spectator will be likely to be immensely
excited by the extraordinary power of co-ordination of many complex
masses in a single inevitable whole, by the delicate equilibrium of many
directions of line. He will at once feel that the apparent division into
two parts is only apparent, that they are co-ordinated by a quite
peculiar power of grasping the possible correlations. He will almost
certainly be immensely excited and moved, but his emotion will have
nothing to do with the emotions which we have discussed since in the
former case, ex-hypothesi, our spectator has no clue to them.

It is evident then that we have the possibility of infinitely diverse
reactions to a work of art. We may imagine, for instance, that our pagan
spectator, though entirely unaffected by the story, is yet conscious
that the figures represent men, and that their gestures are indicative
of certain states of mind and, in consequence, we may suppose that
according to an internal bias his emotion is either heightened or
hindered by the recognition of their rhetorical insincerity. Or we may
suppose him to be so absorbed in purely formal relations as to be
indifferent even to this aspect of the design as representation. We may
suppose him to be moved by the pure contemplation of the spatial
relations of plastic volumes. It is when we have got to this point that
we seem to have isolated this extremely elusive æsthetic quality which
is the one constant quality of all works of art, and which seems to be
independent of all the prepossessions and associations which the
spectator brings with him from his past life.

A person so entirely pre-occupied with the purely formal meaning of a
work of art, so entirely blind to all the overtones and associations of
a picture like the Transfiguration is extremely rare. Nearly every one,
even if highly sensitive to purely plastic and spatial appearances, will
inevitably entertain some of those thoughts and feelings which are
conveyed by implication and by reference back to life. The difficulty is
that we frequently give wrong explanations of our feelings. I suspect,
for instance, that Goethe was deeply moved by the marvellous discovery
of design, whereby the upper and lower parts cohere in a single whole,
but the explanation he gave of this feeling took the form of a moral and
philosophical reflection.

It is evident also that owing to our difficulty in recognising the
nature of our own feelings we are liable to have our æsthetic reaction
interfered with by our reaction to the dramatic overtones and
implications. I have chosen this picture of the Transfiguration
precisely because its history is a striking example of this fact. In
Goethe’s time rhetorical gesture was no bar to the appreciation of
æsthetic unity. Later on in the nineteenth century, when the study of
the Primitives had revealed to us the charm of dramatic sincerity and
naturalness, these gesticulating figures appeared so false and
unsympathetic that even people of æsthetic sensibility were unable to
disregard them, and their dislike of the picture as illustration
actually obliterated or prevented the purely æsthetic approval which
they would probably otherwise have experienced. It seems to me that this
attempt to isolate the elusive element of the pure æsthetic reaction
from the compounds in which it occurs has been the most important
advance of modern times in practical æsthetic.

The question which this simile suggests is full of problems; are these
chemical compounds in the normal æsthetically gifted spectator, or are
they merely mixtures due to our confused recognition of what goes on in
the complex of our emotions? The picture I have chosen is also valuable,
just at the present time, from this point of view. Since it presents in
vivid opposition for most of us a very strong positive (pleasurable)
reaction on the purely æsthetic side, and a violently negative (painful)
reaction in the realm of dramatic association.

But one could easily point to pictures where the two sets of emotions
seem to run so parallel that the idea that they reinforce one another is
inevitably aroused. We might take, for instance, Giotto’s “Pietà.” In my
description of that (p. 110), it will be seen that the two currents of
feeling ran so together in my own mind that I regarded them as being
completely fused. My emotion about the dramatic idea seemed to heighten
my emotion about the plastic design. But at present I should be inclined
to say that this fusion of two sets of emotion was only apparent and was
due to my imperfect analysis of my own mental state.

Probably at this point we must hand over the question to the
experimental psychologist. It is for him to discover whether this fusion
is possible, whether, for example, such a thing as a song really
exists, that is to say, a song in which neither the meaning of the words
nor the meaning of the music predominates; in which music and words do
not merely set up separate currents of feeling, which may agree in a
general parallelism, but really fuse and become indivisible. I expect
that the answer will be in the negative.

If on the other hand such a complete fusion of different kinds of
emotion does take place, this would tend to substantiate the ordinary
opinion that the æsthetic emotion has greater value in highly
complicated compounds than in the pure state.

Supposing, then, that we are able to isolate in a work of art this
purely æsthetic quality to which Mr. Clive Bell gives the name of
“significant form.” Of what nature is it? And what is the value of this
elusive and--taking the whole mass of mankind--rather uncommon æsthetic
emotion which it causes? I put these questions without much hope of
answering them, since it is of the greatest importance to recognise
clearly what are the questions which remain to be solved.

I think we are all agreed that we mean by significant form something
other than agreeable arrangements of form, harmonious patterns, and the
like. We feel that a work which possesses it is the outcome of an
endeavour to express an idea rather than to create a pleasing object.
Personally, at least, I always feel that it implies the effort on the
part of the artist to bend to our emotional understanding by means of
his passionate conviction some intractable material which is alien to
our spirit.

I seem unable at present to get beyond this vague adumbration of the
nature of significant form. Flaubert’s “expression of the idea” seems to
me to correspond exactly to what I mean, but, alas! he never explained,
and probably could not, what he meant by the “idea.”

As to the value of the æsthetic emotion--it is clearly infinitely
removed from those ethical values to which Tolstoy would have confined
it. It seems to be as remote from actual life and its practical
utilities as the most useless mathematical theorem. One can only say
that those who experience it feel it to have a peculiar quality of
“reality” which makes it a matter of infinite importance in their lives.
Any attempt I might make to explain this would probably land me in the
depths of mysticism. On the edge of that gulf I stop.


Albigensian crusade, 99

American and Chinese art, 74

Architecture, domestic, 183

----, styles in, 180

Art and Christianity, 87

---- and the Franciscan movement, 87, 88

---- and Poetry, 194

----, associated ideas in, 159

----, classic, 159

----, emotion and form in, 194

----, public indifference to, 168

----, Realistic, 159

----, Romantic, 159

Artist and the community, 168

----, pure, 175

Asselin, 158

Associated ideas in art, 159

Assisi, upper church at, 103

----, great church at, 87

Assyrian art, 80

“Athenæum,” 52

Author and Cézanne, 191

---- and Gauguin, 191

---- and Impressionists, 190

---- and the public, 192

---- and Old Masters, 190, 191

---- and Seurat, 191

---- and van Goch, 191

---- and Mr. Walter Sickert, 190

---- and Mr. Wilson Steer, 190

Author’s æsthetic, 188, 189

---- house, 180

Aztecs and Incas, 70

Babelon, M., 77

Babylon and Nineveh bas-reliefs, 78

Baldovinetti, 126

---- and Ucello, 126

Baldovinetti’s _Madonna and Child_, 126

---- portrait in Nat. Gall., 126

---- _Trinity_; Accademia, Florence, 126

Balfour, Mr., 60

Baroque architect, 136

---- art and Catholic reaction, 138

---- art and Poussin, 138

---- idea and El Greco, 135-139

---- idea and Michelangelo, 136, 138

---- idea and Signorelli, 138

---- in Spanish and Italian art, 138

Bartolommeo, Fra, 164

Bastien-Lepage, 17

Beardsley and Antonio Pollajuolo, 153

---- and Mantegna, 153

---- and Nature, 153

Beardsley’s art, influences on, 153

Beauty, nature of, 193, 194

Beethoven, 19

Bell, Mr. Clive, book on art, 195, 199

Bellini, Giovanni, and Dürer, 133

Berenson, Mr., 100

Bernini and El Greco, 135, 136, 137

Besnard, M., 96, 97

Blake and the Byzantine style, 142

---- and Giotto, 111, 142

---- and the Old Testament, 140, 141

---- and Michelangelo, 141

---- and Tintoretto, 141

---- on poetry, 143

Blake’s temperament, 141

Bleek, Miss, 64

Blow, Mr., 180

Bobrinsky, Prince, 79, 80

Bode, Dr., 134

Bourgeois attitude to art, 168

Bramante, 136

Braque, 158

Bridges, Robert, 147

British public, 190

Browning, 42

Brunelleschi, 4

Bumble, 42

Bushman and Assyrian art, 58

---- and Palæolithic art, 61-63

Byzantine style and Blake, 142

Cabaner, 172

Caravaggio, 5

Cézanne, 42, 158

---- and Delacroix, 173

---- and El Greco, 139

---- and Ingres, 173

---- and Marchand, 184

---- and Poussin, 173

---- and Renoir, 177, 178

---- and Rubens’ method, 173

---- and Tintoretto’s method, 173

---- and Zola, 172

----, criticism of, 156

---- misunderstood by his contemporaries, 169

----, Poussin and El Greco, 138, 139

---- the perfect type of artist, 168, 171

Cézanne’s character, 169, 170, 171

Chateaubriand, 6

_Charpentier family_, by Renoir, 178

Chelsea Book Club, 65

Chinese and American art, 74

---- and Negro cultures, 67

---- art and Matisse, 158

---- landscape, Claude and, 150

---- painting, 21

Chosroes relief, 78, 79

Christianity and art, 87

Cimabue and Giotto, 103, 106, 107_n_

Cinematograph, 13

Cinquecento art and Giotto, 114

Classic art, 159

Claude and Chinese landscape, 150

---- and Corot, 150

---- and Turner, 146

Claude and Whistler, 150

----, Ruskin on, 145, 146

---- and Leonardo da Vinci, 146

---- and Rembrandt, 146

---- “Liber Veritatis,” 149

----, influence of Virgil on, 148, 152

Claude’s articulations, 145

---- figures, 146

---- romanticism, 150

Coco style, 29

Colour, Giotto’s, 114

Conceptual art, 62, 63

Contour in painting, 160, 161

Copée, 172

Corot and Claude, 150

---- as a draughtsman, 165

Corot’s drawing of a seated woman, 165

Cosima Tura, 176

Cosmati, 99, 100, 104

Cossa, 132

Credi, Lorenzo di, and Dürer, 133

Critic’s function, 189

Cubism, 192

---- and Marchand, 186

---- and Ucello, 124

Daddi, Bernardo, and Giotto, 108_n_

Dante, 2, 97, 98, 108, 110, 116

David, 5

“Decorators,” 190

Degas, 20, 176, 190

---- as a draughtsman, 165

Delacroix and Cézanne, 173

Derain, 158, 159, 193

---- and Marchand, 185

Dickens, 175

Dickey Doyle, 153

Doucet, 158

Drama, Italian, beginning of, 101_n_

Drawing of contours, great examples, 166

---- of the figure, 164

---- of Italian Primitives, 163

---- of Renoir and Ingres compared, 178

----, Persian, 163

Druet’s, M., photographs, 158

Duccio and Giotto, 106

Dürer and the Gothic tradition, 129

---- and Leonardo da Vinci, 127

---- and Lorenzo di Credi, 133

---- and Giovanni Bellini, 133

Dürer and Jacopo de’Barbari, 133

---- and Mantegna, 131, 132

---- and Pollajuolo, 133

---- and Raphael, 127

---- and Schongauer, 132

Dürer’s “Beetle,” 164

---- letters and diary, 127

El Greco and Baroque idea, 135-139

---- and Bernini, 135, 136, 137

---- and British public, 134

---- and Cézanne, 139

----, Poussin and Cézanne, 138, 139

Emotion and form in art, 194, 197

England and French Impressionism, 190

English Art considered, 190

Fatimite textiles, 79

Figure drawing, 164

Filippino Lippi, 163

Flaubert, 199

Flemish and Florentine art, 124

---- painting and Giotto, 110

Florentine art, a characteristic of, 125

---- and Flemish art, 124

Forli, Melozzo da, 104

Form in art, 107

Francesca, Piero della, 4

Franciscan movement and art, 87, 88

Francis, St., 2, 87, 88, 112

French art classic, 158, 159, 184

French, English and Russian art compared, 158

Gamp, Mrs., 97

Gauguin, 158, 175

Germans, the, 129

Ghiberti’s commentary, 87

Giorgione, 175

Giotto and Barnardo Daddi, 108_n_

---- and Blake, in, 142

---- and Cimabue, 103, 106, 107_n_

---- and Cinquecento art, 114

---- and classical architecture, 113

---- and Duccio, 106

---- and European art, 115

---- and Flemish painting, 110

---- and Leonardo da Vinci, 116

---- and Lorenzetti, 113

---- and Masaccio, 113

---- and pre-Raphaelitism, 103

Giotto and Raphael, 115

---- and Rembrandt, 110

---- as draughtsman, 115, 116

Giotto’s colour, 114

---- figure of Joachim, 111

---- invention of Tempera, 105

---- _Pietà_, 110, 198

---- place as an artist, 116

Goethe, 197, 198

Gothic tradition and Dürer, 129, 130

Græco-Roman art, 76, 77, 78

Grunwedel, Dr., 76

Guatemala and Yucatan, 71

Head, Henry, F.R.S., 62

Herbin, 158

Hermitage, 79

Holmes, Mr. C. J., 134

Homer, 97

House, author’s, 180

Houses, architects’, 179

----, builders’, 179

----, dwelling, 180

Huxley, 8

Jacquemart-André collection, 123-126

“Jane Eyre,” 185

_Jeremiah_ of Michelangelo, 23

Johnson, Dr., 65

Joyce, Mr., 69, 73, 75

Kaiser Friedrich Museum, 47, 134

----, the, 47

Karlsruhe Museum, 78

Keats, 147

Keene, Charles, as a draughtsman, 165

Kingsborough, Lord, 71

Kraft’s stonework, 129

Krell, Oswald, 130

Kunsthistorisches Akademie, Vienna, 129

Incas and Aztecs, 70

Ingres, 164

---- and Cézanne, 173

---- as a designer, 163

---- as a draughtsman, 162

----, effect of poverty on his art, 162

Ingres’ drawing, _The Apotheosis of Napoleon_, 163

---- painting and drawing compared, 163

Lecoq, Dr., 76

Leeche’s drawings, 28

Lehmann, Dr., 74

Leonardo da Vinci, 4, 24

---- and Claude, 146

---- and Dürer, 127

---- and Giotto, 116

L’Hote, 158

----, M., writings of, 192

“Liber Veritatis” of Claude, 149

Limoges enamels, 77

Lincoln Cathedral, 78

Line, the function of, in drawing, 160

----, qualities of, 115

----, rarity of great design expressed in, 163

Loewy, Prof., 56, 57

Lorenzetti and Giotto, 113

Malatesta, Sigismondo, 87

Mantegna and Beardsley, 153

---- and Dürer, 131, 132

---- and Rembrandt, 132

Marchand, 158

----, a classic artist, 184

---- and Cézanne, 184

---- and Cubism, 186

---- and Derain, 185

Masaccio and Giotto, 113

Matisse, 158, 193

---- and Chinese art, 158

---- as a draughtsman, 167

Maya art, 71, 72, 73

Melozzo da Forli, 105

Meredith, 28

Mesopotamian art, 79

Michelangelo, 19, 23, 24, 109

---- and Baroque idea, 136, 138

---- and Blake, 141

Middle Ages, 29

Millais’ drawing, 165

Milton, 147

Minzel as a draughtsman, 165

Modigliani as a draughtsman, 167

Monet, 17, 190

Money, Mr., 48

Music, 15

----, psychology of, 199

National Gallery, 134

Nature, 24, 25

Naturalists, 190

Navicella mosaic, 104

Negro and European sculpture, 66

Neolithic art, 63

Nuremberg school, 130

Old Testament and Blake, 140, 141

Ottley’s prints, 142

Oxford movement, 6

_Pall Mall Gazette_, 154

_Parapluies, Les_, by Renoir, 176

Patine, 38, 39

Pelliot, M., 76

Perspective, 124, 125

Picasso, 157, 158, 193

_Pietà_, by Giotto, 110

Pindar, 87

Pliny on painting, 160, 161

Podsnap, Mr., 179

Poetry and art, 194

----, Blake on, 143

Pollajuolo, Antonio and Beardsley, 153

----, 147

---- and Dürer, 133

Pompeii, 30, 79

Post-Impressionism, 194

Post-Impressionists at the Grafton Gallery, 191, 193

----, criticism of, 156, 157

Poussin, 159

---- and Baroque art, 138

---- and Cézanne, 173

----, El Greco, and Cézanne, 138

Pre-Raphaelite movement, 190

Primitives, study of, in England, 198

_Primum Mobile_ in Tarocchi prints, 133

Psychologists and art, 54

Public indifference to art, 168

Racine, 147

Raphael, 19, 164

---- and Dürer, 127

Raphael’s “Transfiguration,” 196, 198

Realistic art, 159

Rembrandt, 5, 20, 147

---- and Claude, 146

---- and Giotto, 110

---- and Mantegna, 132

---- as a draughtsman, 165, 166

Rembrandt’s characteristics, 165

Renaissance, 76

Renoir and Cézanne, 177, 178, 190

---- and Titian, 178

Renoir compared to Giorgione and Titian, 175

Renoir’s “Charpentier Family,” 178

---- “Les Parapluies,” 176, 178

Robida, 153

Rodin, 38

Romans, the, 129

Romantic art, 159

Romanticism, Claude’s, 150

Ross, Dr. Denman, 21

Rossetti’s relationship to Millais, 165

Rousseau, 156

Rowlandson’s style in drawing, 165

Rubens, 164, 175

Ruskin, 14, 38

---- on Claude, 145, 146

S. Bonaventura, 87, 101, 102

S. Francis, 2, 87, 88, 112

_S. Peter’s Crucifixion_, by Giotto, 107

Sassanid art, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80

Schongauer and Dürer, 132

Scrovegni, 110

Sculpture, Greek, 57

Shakespeare, 147

Shaw, Mr. Bernard, 41

Shelley, 42

Sickert, Mr. Walter, 175

Sicily, 77

Siegfried, 153

Sigismondo Malatesta, 87

“Significant Form,” 199

Signorelli and Baroque idea, 138

---- and Florence, 126

---- and Ucello, 126

---- and Umbrian art, 126

Signorelli’s _Holy Family_, 126

Smith, Robertson, 9

Song, psychology of, 199

Spectator of a picture, psychology of, 196, 197

Spencer, Herbert, 8, 9

Stefaneschi, Cardinal, 103, 104, 105, 108_n_

Stein, Dr., 76

Storr’s woodwork, 129, 130

Subject picture, 53

Sung, 32

Tahiti, 175

Tarrocchi engravings, 132

Tempera, Giotto’s invention, 105

Tennyson, 24, 26

Tiepolo, 161, 162

Tintoretto and Blake, 141

Titian, 19, 175

---- and Renoir compared, 178

Tolstoy, 16, 18, 19

Tolstoy’s “What is Art?” 193, 199

Todi, Jacopone di, 87

_Tondo_ of Michelangelo, 23

Tongue, Miss, 57, 59

Tura, Cosima, 177

Turner and Claude, 146

Tussaud, Mme., 5

Ucello, 4

---- and Baldovinetti, 126

---- and Cubism, 124

Ucello and Van Eyck, 124

---- and perspective, 124, 125

---- and Signorelli, 126

Ucello’s “St. George,” 123, 125

Vandyke, 164

Van Eyck and Ucello, 124

---- Gogh, 158

Varnish, 139

Vasari, 87, 169

---- and Ucello, 123

Victorians and art, 65

Viollet-le-Duc, 185

Virgil’s influence on Claude, 148, 152

Von Tschudi, 139

Waldus, Petrus, 99, 100

Watteau, 164

Wells, H. G., 36

“What is Art?” by Tolstoy, 18

Whistler, 7

---- and Beardsley, 154

---- and Claude, 150

---- and Ruskin, 190

Whistler’s Impressionism, 190

Whittier, 26

Young, Brigham, 74

Yucatan and Guatemala, 71

Zola, 5

---- and Cézanne, 172

Zuloaga, Señor, 155

                                THE END



 [1] From notes of a lecture given to the Fabian Society, 1917.

 [2] New Quarterly, 1909.

 [3] Rodin is reported to have said, “A woman, a mountain, a
 horse--they are all the same thing; they are made on the same
 principles.” That is to say, their forms, when viewed with the
 disinterested vision of the imaginative life, have similar emotional

 [4] I do not forget that at the death of Tennyson the writer in the
 _Daily Telegraph_ averred that “level beams of the setting moon
 streamed in upon the face of the dying bard”; but then, after all, in
 its way the _Daily Telegraph_ is a work of art.

 [5] Athenæum, 1919.

 [6] Athenæum, 1919.

 [7] Reprinted with considerable alterations from “The Great State.”
 (Harper. 1912.)

 [8] Athenæum, 1919.

 [9] Burlington Magazine, 1910.

 [10] “The Rendering of Nature in Early Greek Art.” By Emmanuel Loewy.
 Translated by J. Fothergill. Duckworth. 1907.

 [11] “Bushman Drawings,” copied by M. Helen Tongue, with a preface by
 Henry Balfour. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1909. £3 3_s._ net.

 [12] This absence of decorative feeling may be due to the irregular
 and vague outlines of the picture space. It is when the picture must
 be fitted within determined limits that decoration begins. I have
 noticed that children’s drawings are never decorative when they have
 the whole surface of a sheet of paper to draw on, but they will design
 a frieze with well-marked rhythm when they have only a narrow strip.

 [13] This is certainly the case with the Australian Bushmen.

 [14] Athenæum, 1920.

 [15] Burlington Magazine, 1918.

 [16] Thomas A. Joyce, (1) “South American Archæology,” London
 (Macmillan), 1912; (2) “Mexican Archæology,” London (Lee Warner),
 1914; (3) “Central American Archæology,” London and New York (Putnam),

 [17] _The Burlington Magazine_, vol. xvii., p. 22 (April, 1910).

 [18] Burlington Magazine, 1910.

 [19] G. Migeon, _Gazette des Beaux-Arts_, June, 1905, and “Manuel
 d’Art Musulman,” p. 226.

 [20] I cannot help calling attention, though without any attempt at
 explaining it, to the striking similarity to these Sassanid and early
 Mohammedan water jugs shown by an example of Sung pottery lent by Mr.
 Eumorfopoulos to the recent exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts
 Club, Case A, No. 43. Here a very similar form of spout is modelled
 into a phœnix’s head.

 [21] The following, from the Monthly Review, 1901, is perhaps more
 than any other article here reprinted, at variance with the more
 recent expressions of my æsthetic ideas. It will be seen that great
 emphasis is laid on Giotto’s expression of the dramatic idea in his
 pictures. I still think this is perfectly true so far as it goes, nor
 do I doubt that an artist like Giotto did envisage such an expression.
 Where I should be inclined to disagree is that there underlies this
 article a tacit assumption not only that the dramatic idea may have
 inspired the artist to the creation of his form, but that the value
 of the form for us is bound up without recognition of the dramatic
 idea. It now seems to me possible by a more searching analysis of our
 experience in front of a work of art to disentangle our reaction to
 pure form from our reaction to its implied associated ideas.

 [22] _Cf._ H. Thode: “Franz von Assisi.”

 [23] Dr. J. P. Richter: “Lectures on the National Gallery.”

 [24] One picture, however, ascribed by Vasari to Cimabue, namely, the
 Madonna of the National Gallery, does not bear the characteristics of
 this group. Dr. Richter’s argument for giving the Rucellai painting
 to Duccio depends largely on the likeness of this to the Maesta, but
 there is no reason to cling so closely to Vasari’s attributions. If we
 except the National Gallery Madonna, which shows the characteristics
 of the Siennese school, these pictures, including the Rucellai
 Madonna, will be found to cohere by many common peculiarities not
 shared by Duccio. Among these we may notice the following: The eye
 has the upper eyelid strongly marked; it has a peculiar languishing
 expression, due in part to the large elliptical iris (Duccio’s eyes
 have a small, bright, round iris with a keen expression); the nose is
 distinctly articulated into three segments; the mouth is generally
 slewed round from the perpendicular; the hands are curiously curved,
 and in all the Madonnas clutch the supports of the throne; the hair
 bows seen upon the halos have a constant and quite peculiar shape; the
 drapery is designed in rectilinear triangular folds, very different
 from Duccio’s more sinuous and flowing line. The folds of the drapery
 where they come to the contour of the figure have no effect upon the
 form of the outline, an error which Duccio never makes. Finally, the
 thrones in all these pictures have a constant form; they are made
 of turned wood with a high footstool, and are seen from the side;
 Duccio’s is of stone and seen from the front. That the Rucellai
 Madonna has a morbidezza which is wanting in the earlier works can
 hardly be considered a sufficient distinction to set against the
 formal characteristics. It is clearly a later work, painted probably
 about the year 1300, and Cimabue, like all the other artists of the
 time, was striving constantly in the direction of greater fusion of

 [25] I should speak now both with greater confidence and much greater
 enthusiasm of Cimabue. The attempt of certain scholars to dispose of
 him as a myth has broken down. The late Mr. H. P. Horne found that
 the documents cited by Dr. Richter to prove that Duccio executed the
 Rucellai Madonna referred to another picture. I had also failed in
 my estimate to consider fully the superb crucifix by Cimabue in the
 Museum of Sta. Croce, a work of supreme artistic merit. In general my
 defence of Cimabue, though right enough as far as it goes, appears
 to me too timid and my estimate of his artistic quality far too low

 [26] The important position here assigned to the Roman school has been
 confirmed by the subsequent discovery of Cavallini’s frescoes in Sta.
 Cecilia at Rome (1920).

 [27] “Drunken with the love of compassion of Christ, the blessed
 Francis would at times do such-like things as this; for the passing
 sweet melody of the spirit within him, seething over outwardly, did
 often find utterance in the French tongue, and the strain of the
 divine whisper that his ear had caught would break forth into a French
 song of joyous exulting.” Then pretending with two sticks to play a
 viol, “and making befitting gestures, (he) would sing in French of
 our Lord Jesus Christ.”--“The Mirror of Perfection,” edited by P.
 Sabatier, transl. by S. Evans.

 [28] “Florentine Painters of the Renaissance and Central Italian
 Painters of the Renaissance,” by B. Berenson.

 [29] This was the first “representation” of the kind in Italy, and
 is of interest as being the beginning of the Italian Drama, and also
 of that infinite series of allegorical pageants, sometimes sacred,
 sometimes secular, which for three centuries played such a prominent
 part in city life and affected Italian art very intimately.

 [30] The Master of the Cecilia altar-piece has been the object of much
 research since this article was written, and a considerable number of
 important works are now ascribed to him with some confidence. He has
 been tentatively identified with Buffalonaceo by Dr. Siren. See _Burl.
 Mag._, December, 1919; January, October, 1920.

 [31] This quality is to be distinguished from that conscious
 naturalistic study of atmospheric envelopment which engrossed the
 attention of some artists of the cinquecento; it is a decorative
 quality which may occur at any period in the development of painting
 if only an artist arises gifted with a sufficiently delicate
 sensitiveness to the surface-quality of his work.

 [32] I cannot recall any example in pre-Giottesque art.

 [33] Derived, no doubt, but greatly modified, from Cimabue’s treatment
 of the subject at Assisi.

 [34] The attribution of the Stefaneschi altar-piece to Giotto is much
 disputed and some authorities give it to Bernardo Daddi. I still
 incline to the idea that it is the work of Giotto and the starting
 point of Bernardo Daddi’s style (1920).

 [35] His name was Bianchi. ‘Faut il se plaindre,’ says M. Maurice
 Denis in his Théories, ‘qu’un Bianchi, plutôt que les laisser périr,
 ait ajouté un peu de la froidure de Flandrin aux fresques de Giotto à
 Santa Croce.’

 [36] This passage now seems to me to underestimate the work of
 Giotto’s predecessors with which we are now much better acquainted

 [37] Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition of Florentine Paintings,

 [38] Burlington Magazine, 1914.

 [39] Introduction to Dürer’s Letters and Diary. Merrymount Press,
 Boston (1909).

 [40] See Plate, where I have also added Dürer’s version of the
 subject. This is of course a new design and not a copy of Mantegna’s
 drawing, though I suspect it is based on a vague memory of it. In
 any case it shows admirably the distinguishing points of Dürer’s
 methods of conception, his love of complexity, and his accumulation of
 decorative detail.

 [41] Athenæum, 1920.

 [42] Burlington Magazine, 1904.

 [43] Now in the possession of W. Graham Robertson, Esq.

 [44] Burlington Magazine, 1907.

 [45] As, for instance, in a wonderful drawing, “On the Banks of the
 Tiber,” in Mr. Heseltine’s collection.

 [46] It is not impossible that Claude got the hint for such a
 treatment as this from the impressionist efforts of Græco-Roman
 painters. That he studied such works we know from a copy of one by him
 in the British Museum.

 [47] Athenæum, 1904.

 [48] Preface to Catalogue of second Post-Impressionist Exhibition,
 Grafton Galleries, 1912.

 [49] Burlington Magazine, 1912.

 [50] I have had to paraphrase this passage, but add the original.
 Whether my paraphrase is correct in detail or not, I think there can
 be little doubt about the general meaning.

 Plin., _Nat. Hist._, xxxv. 67: “Parrhasius ... confessione artificum
 in liniis extremis palmam adeptus. Hæc est picturæ summa sublimitas;
 corpora enim pingere et media rerum est quidem magni operis, sed in
 quo multi gloriam tulerint. Extrema corporum facere et desinentis
 picturæ modum includere rarum in successu artis invenitur. Ambire enim
 debet se extremitas ipsa, et sic desinere ut promittat alia post se
 ostendatque etiam quae occultat.”

 [51] See No. 62, where, so far as possible, all the forms are reduced
 to a common measure by interpreting them all in terms of an elongated

 [52] Burlington Magazine, 1917: “Paul Cézanne,” by Ambroise Vollard
 (Paris, 1915).

 [53] This has been done. “Paul Cézanne,” by Ambroise Vollard (Paris).

 [54] Vogue, 1918.

 [55] Athenæum, 1919.

 [56] 1920.

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