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Title: Lectures on Painting - Delivered to the students of the Royal Acadamy
Author: Armitage, Edward
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Lectures on Painting - Delivered to the students of the Royal Acadamy" ***

                         LECTURES ON PAINTING



                         EDWARD ARMITAGE, R.A.

                               NEW YORK
                          G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
                        27 & 29 WEST 23D STREET

                               _Press of
                          G. P. Putnam’s Sons
                               New York_


These Lectures are a selection from those delivered by me to the
students of the Royal Academy during the term of my professorship,--that
is, between the years 1876 and 1882.

I have limited the selection to twelve, partly to keep the book of a
modest size, and partly because many of the omitted lectures (and
especially those which treat of the great masters of the fifteenth,
sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries) would hardly be comprehensible
without the numerous engravings with which they were illustrated at the
time of delivery.

I ought, perhaps, to apologize for the roughness of my explanatory
diagrams, but as they only aspire to represent the rude sketches done
with white chalk during the actual delivery of the lectures, let us hope
they will be leniently dealt with.

It is a common practice with writers who are not yet hardened offenders,
to seek some excuse for rushing into print, and the excuse usually
offered is the “urgent entreaty of valued friends.” I certainly cannot
avail myself of this customary but I fear often uncandid plea.

My only reason for publishing must be looked for in the large and very
attentive audiences I have always had. This evident appreciation of my
teaching by the Royal Academy students, has led me to think that some of
these lectures might be interesting and instructive to other students
outside the Academy, and possibly even to those who do not intend to
follow art as a profession, but who would be glad to have a little
daylight thrown on a subject which, though much written and lectured
about of late years, does not seem to have been often treated in a
simple, practical manner.

At the same time I am fully aware that the practical part of drawing can
only be learned by real work; and I am also inclined to believe that a
knowledge of the old masters and their various schools is better
acquired by frequent visits to galleries where their works can be seen,
than by second-hand description from a lecture.

In my opinion, the special duties of a professor and lecturer on Art
ought to be, first, the general pilotage of the schools through the
quicksands and mud-banks with which the deep-water channel leading to
excellence is beset on every side; and, secondly, the alimentation of
that subtle flame without which the architect degenerates into a
builder, the sculptor into a statuary, and the painter into a

E. A.

_February, 1883._


LECTURE                                                             PAGE

I. ANCIENT COSTUMES                                                    1

II. BYZANTINE AND ROMANESQUE ART                                      37


IV. “DAVID” AND HIS SCHOOL                                            91

V. ON THE MODERN SCHOOLS OF EUROPE                                   119

VI. ON DRAWING                                                       151

VII. COLOR                                                           182

VIII. ON DECORATIVE PAINTING                                         207

IX. ON FINISH                                                        233

X. ON THE CHOICE OF A SUBJECT                                        260


XII. COMPOSITION OF INCIDENT PICTURES                                310

                         Lectures on Painting.



I do not purpose in this lecture to enter much into detail. Such a
course would indeed be impossible, without having a large collection of
costumes at hand to explain and illustrate my meaning as I go on. I may
attempt something of this kind in a future year, but my object to-night
is to make a few general observations on the dress of the ancients.

I will begin with the ancient Jews, from Noah downward. We have no
pictorial record of the dress of the patriarchs; we have therefore no
fixed data to guide us. We may, however, safely assume that a
straight-cut under-garment was commonly worn; that a long, ample drapery
or cloak was thrown over the shoulders; and that the head was protected
from the sun by a cloth, or possibly by some kind of skull-cap. Turbans
are essentially Mahometan, and the painters of the Flemish and Dutch
schools were certainly wrong in representing Abraham with a turban.

The costume I have suggested as appropriate to the patriarchal age is
identical with the dress of the modern Arabs, and there is no doubt
that, if not identical, it really was very similar. I think, however,
that in painting Biblical subjects we ought to be careful not to carry
the similitude too far. I see no objection to clothing Ishmael or any of
the tribes of the desert like modern Arabs; but the Jews, even in the
time of Abraham, were a peculiar people, and we may very well suppose
that they would modify their dress in such a manner as would distinguish
them from the wandering and predatory tribes.

Besides, there is always a danger, in dressing Abraham or Jacob like an
Arab chieftain, of importing into your picture that familiarity which
breeds contempt. It has often been done in modern times, but I cannot
say I approve of this easy way of solving the difficulty.

I should put the cloak on differently to what the Arabs do. I should
avoid the camel’s-hair cord which encircles the head, and thus, whilst
preserving the simplicity of that early period, my patriarchs would not
be mistaken for modern Arabs.

The women of remote Jewish antiquity, the Sarahs, the Rebeccas, etc.,
should be clothed in similar simple garments. Whatever may be said in
favor of dressing the men like Arabs, it would never do to introduce the
female Arab fashions into Biblical pictures. Their dress is peculiarly

The women of the patriarchal age wore long straight-cut robes, longer
than those of the men, gathered round the waist by means of a cord or
narrow sash. They would have a cloth on their heads, falling a long way
down the back; and the young women would probably have their arms bare.


The ancient Jews certainly wore sandals (or shoes, as they are
translated in our version of the Bible). These sandals were worn
out-of-doors only, and consisted most likely of a rude leather sole,
fastened to the foot and ankle by means of ligatures made of skin.

I will now pass on to the costumes of Assyria and ancient Egypt.

If we were to take literally the sculptured bas-reliefs of Nineveh, and
the numerous wall-paintings of Egypt, we should come to the conclusion
that the dress of those ancient peoples was of a very stiff, formal
character. Such, however, was probably not the case. The stiffness and
formality noticeable in these works is due rather to the want of skill
in the sculptors than to the fashions of the period. In the Nineveh
sculptures we notice everywhere the hair and beards of the kings
arranged in symmetrical curls, which would lead one to suppose that
these monarchs must not only have had beards of a very peculiar nature,
but must have spent a great deal of time under the hands of the barber.

On further examination, however, we find that the manes of the lions are
treated in the same way, and hence we conclude that these regular,
basaltic-looking curls were merely the artist’s conventional way of
representing crisp or knotted hair. The heavy fringes of the foldless
dresses must be interpreted in the same way. We learn from them that
Assyrian kings, priests, and high officials _did_ wear fringes to their
dresses, but it does not follow that these fringes were like those of a
drop-curtain, or that the dresses were tight and uncomfortable.

The peculiar-shaped hat is probably very much like what really _was_
worn. Something of the sort is still to be found in Persia and on the
Indian frontiers.

In treating of ancient Egyptian costume we must, in the same way as with
Assyrian, make a liberal allowance for the imperfections and mannerisms
of the art of the period. There is no doubt that the square shoulders
and narrow hips of the Egyptian figures were not pure inventions of the
artists. The peculiarity has often been noticed in ancient mummies and
skeletons. The artists doubtless exaggerated and embellished what was
possibly thought a beauty, just as we see more modern artists
exaggerating the human form in another direction.

The heavy fringes and tassels of the Assyrians seem to have been unknown
in Egypt. The male costume is generally very simple and even scanty. A
cloth, about two feet wide, wound single round the waist so as to allow
the hips and thighs to be covered, with the end brought from behind
between the legs, and tucked in to the waist, is in most cases the only
covering. Besides this garment, there is often a close-fitting kind of
bodice with straps or braces over the shoulders. Of shirts and tunics
there are a few examples cut in the Greek fashion, but these probably
belong to a much later period than the time of the Pharaohs.

We must not, however, argue that because we have no satisfactory
representation of these under-garments that therefore they did not
exist. We read in Genesis, that Pharaoh arrayed Joseph in vestures of
fine linen, and there is abundant evidence elsewhere that the rich
Egyptians wore not only fine linen under-clothing, but rich mantles

The women in the ancient Egyptian paintings are represented in an
impossibly tight dress descending to the ankles, but as no female could
either walk or sit down in such a garment, we must suppose that the
painters of the period did not know how to represent folds and therefore
adopted this short and easy way of indicating clothing. This is
evidently a case where it would be absurd to follow literally the old
authorities. According to Herodotus, this robe was the only garment of
the ancient Egyptian women, but there are indications on many of the
bas-reliefs that some kind of thin tunic or under-garment was also

Most of the women in the ancient paintings, however, have no clothing
above the waist; but the neck and shoulders are adorned with a number of
necklaces, and we notice over the shoulders the same kind of bands I
have already mentioned in speaking of the men’s dress.

Of course, if you have a Cleopatra to paint, you may allow yourselves a
great departure from the scantiness of the ancient wardrobe.

The Roman fashions were in Cleopatra’s time grafted on the Egyptian, and
there are plenty of sculptures of the time of Adrian representing
Egyptian priestesses, sacrifices, and processions, which give ample
materials for dressing Cleopatra and her attendants, both male and

The most singular and striking feature in the costume of the ancient
Egyptians is the head-gear. This takes the most fantastic and
extraordinary shapes. Many of these queer head-coverings are royal
crowns. Thus, _a_ was the crown of Lower Egypt, and was of a red color;
_b_, of Upper Egypt, and white; _c_, the crown of the two countries
united, which union took place about 3000 years B.C. Some of these
singular forms are doubtless heraldic imitations of flowers and


It is probable also that many of them are mere symbols and were never

The rather hackneyed bird head-dress was peculiar to the queens of
Egypt, and this, like the male crowns, was never worn except on state
occasions. Thus it would be incorrect to give Pharaoh’s daughter the
bird head-dress. If she had a right to it at all, she would not wear it
when going out to bathe with her attendants. She would probably have a
kind of veil fastened round her head with an ornamental band, but she
would no more think of putting on the insignia of royalty than our Queen
would dream of wearing her crown when taking a drive in the Highlands.

The Egyptian men shaved their heads, and commonly wore either a
skull-cap or the well-known cloth which we find everywhere from the
gigantic sphinx to the most minute coin.


The best authorities give this head-dress an obtuse-angled triangle
shape, but I never could make any thing of this hypothesis.

I am rather inclined to think that this most characteristic of Egyptian
coiffures was an elongated piece of heavy cloth; the lower half of which
was split into three divisions.

When the cloth was tied on the head, the two outer divisions were
brought over the shoulders, the middle one being left to hang down the

A very becoming and very common head-dress of the women was a narrow
band or fillet round the black hair. This fillet was often embroidered
with gold and bright colors, and a large water-lily, or an imitation of
one, was fastened to it in front and projected over the forehead.


At the British Museum upstairs you will find modern representations of
Egyptian warriors with their horses and chariots.

These are kings or great conquerors, and their clothing is exceptional.
If I had to paint Pharaoh pursuing the Israelites, I should not be
guided entirely by these representations without further research; but
they give an idea of what the Egyptian paraphernalia of war was like in
the time of Moses.

The caution I would give you in painting Egyptian subjects is not to
overdo the Egyptian element. If in your researches you find an
extraordinary head-dress like a chemical retort, or a patent cowl for a
smoky chimney, do not be in a hurry to introduce it. Be satisfied with
the simpler and more generic forms of Egyptian head-gear.

The transition from Egyptian to Greek costume, like the transition from
Egyptian to Greek art, was very gradual. Without, however, stopping to
speculate on the costume of the dubious Homeric period, we will proceed
at once to the _terra firma_ of the historical age.

I shall always use the word “tunic” to designate the under-garment, or
that which was worn next the skin. If the tunic were never more seen
than _our_ under-garments, its fashion and form would be of little
importance: but as it often (especially in early times) was the _only_
garment worn, it is well to consider its construction.

The tunic for both men and women was made either of wool, linen, or some
material resembling cotton. It was called by the Greeks “chiton,” and
appears to have been of two kinds, the Dorian and the Ionian.

The “Dorian” (the earliest form) was a short woollen shirt for the men,
without sleeves, and for the women a long linen garment, also without

These chitons were, however, not made like our shirts and chemises. They
consisted simply of two square pieces of stuff, one for the front and
one for the back. These pieces were linked together on the shoulders by
the means of clasps, brooches, or fibulæ, and the different varieties of
the Dorian chiton were mainly due to the degree in which they were sewn
together at the sides. The pieces never appear to have been united above
the waist or girdle, but below this zone they were sometimes united on
both sides down to the ground. Sometimes one side was open as high as
the middle of the thigh.

The Spartan girls, who were very active and athletic, adopted this
fashion, as it gave their limbs freer play. When they married, and gave
up active games, they wore the chiton close. The Amazons are always
represented with this slit-up garment. Sometimes (as in the Bacchantes)
one side is entirely open. Sometimes there is but one girdle, the usual
one round the waist, which is said to have been put on under instead of
over the garment it was intended to confine. In this case the chiton
must have been tucked into the girdle, and this may have been done
occasionally. But there are plenty of antiques where the girdle is
plainly visible outside. Sometimes there is a second girdle round the
hips, the use of which was to shorten the dress by pulling it up through
it, and then allowing it to flap over, so that this hip girdle is never

Before finishing with the Dorian chiton, I ought to mention that in cold
weather two (and sometimes three) chitons were worn, one over the other.
The rich people had inner chitons, made expressly for the purpose, but
the poor simply wore their old and shabby ones next the skin, and their
best of course outside.

The Ionic chiton was a long and very loose garment, made shirt fashion,
and with sleeves that seldom came below the elbow. These sleeves were
often slit up, and fastened at intervals with small clasps or studs.

The Doric was the older garment of the two.

In later times the Ionic chiton worn by the men was of two kinds. The
chiton worn by the freemen was a garment with openings, and sometimes
even sleeves, for both arms. On the other hand, that peculiar to slaves
had an opening only for the _left_ arm, leaving the right shoulder and
breast bare.


The “diploidion” and “hemi-diploidion” are supposed by Müller and other
authorities to have been a kind of double chiton, but I do not think
this hypothesis to be correct. I rather believe these names to have been
given to a kind of short mantle, which was quite independent of the
chiton. Although, as I have already stated, the chiton was constantly
worn alone, yet no person could be considered what we should call full
dressed without the “pallium” or cloak. In Sparta, although the young
girls invariably wore the chiton alone, it would have been considered
highly improper for any married woman to appear without some upper
garment. Indeed, unless the climate has changed very much within the
last two thousand years, a cloak, (and a good thick one too) would be
indispensable. The only time I have ever landed at Athens snow lay thick
on the ground, and a bitter cold wind swept down from Hymettus.

The pallium was square-cut, but not necessarily a square. There were
several ways of putting it on. It was sometimes wound round the body and
thrown over the left shoulder. It was sometimes fastened on the right
shoulder with a clasp, leaving the right arm free. In short, there were
as many ways of wearing it as we have of wearing a Scotch plaid.

The pallium was of all degrees of thickness and of every variety of
color; scarlet, purple, saffron, olive, and pale green seem to have been
the most fashionable colors.

For the poorer classes the pallium served as a covering by night as well
as a garment by day. It was to them a blanket; and there is no doubt
that our word “pall” is derived from pallium.

The “peplon,” or shawl, was worn in Greece by the women only. It was
much ampler and made of thinner material than the pallium; we find,
however, that the Orientals of both sexes wore something very similar,
and when we read of David or any other personage of the Bible rending
his garment, the shawl is most probably meant.

The modes of wearing the peplon were at least as numerous as the ways of
adjusting the pallium. In many of the ancient alto-reliefs women are
represented with both arms and hands concealed by the peplon. Indeed,
there does not seem to have been much coquetry displayed in wearing the
peplon. It was emphatically one of those garments used for comfort and
not for show. Nevertheless, from the fineness of the material and the
great area of the peplon, it was, perhaps, more picturesque and graceful
than more formal pieces of finery.

The Greek “chlamys” is best translated by the word scarf. Sometimes it
seems exactly to correspond with what we understand by “scarf,” being a
narrow strip of fine material, often embroidered and sometimes
ornamented with a fringe. The drapery which is often introduced to give
relief to a nude statue, is generally some kind of chlamys. The drapery
of the Apollo Belvidere is a familiar example.

There is another garment which was sometimes worn by the Greek women
over the long tunic. This was a sleeveless short tunic much ornamented,
but without a girdle. We have many examples of this dress in the figures
on the Greek vases. I am told that modern milliners call this kind of
thing a peplum, but this is quite a misnomer. A peplum or peplon is, as
we have seen, an ample shawl.

When the chlamys was worn as a cloak, it was either fastened in front
below the neck or on the right shoulder; in both cases by means of a
brooch. As the chlamys when cut as a scarf would be wretchedly meagre
and poor when worn as a cloak, it was modified and extended in shape,
and, indeed, in this form (were it not for the thinness of the material)
it would be hardly distinguishable from the pallium.

The female scarfs were almost always used _as_ scarfs and not as cloaks.
They were more ornamented than those of the men, and were often
embroidered with gold.

The Coa vestis, or robe of Cos, was made of the finest silk, and was as
transparent as our thinnest veils. It was generally dyed either deep
blue or purple, and I need hardly add, was never worn by any respectable

Greek women do not appear to have worn much covering for the head,
except when they got old. In youth the hair was so abundant and the art
of arranging it was carried to such perfection, that to hide it would
have been a great blunder. To protect themselves from the sun’s rays in
summer and from the storms in winter they had parasols and umbrellas,
shaped exactly like the modern Japanese article. These they either
carried over their heads themselves, or had a female slave to carry

Nothing, to my mind, shows the exquisite taste of the Greeks more than
the way the women arranged their hair. The bands and jewels with which
the hair was often adorned, rather assisted nature instead of
distorting her. If we compare these classical coiffures with the
frightful wigs worn by the Roman ladies under the Cæsars, or with the
plaited tresses of mediæval times, or again with the powder and pomatum
structures of the last century, we are struck by the great superiority
of the Greek fashion.

I am not giving a lecture on hair-dressing, and will say nothing about
modern times, beyond emphatically condemning every fashion which
distorts the shape of the head.


The Greek modes of arranging the hair, however elaborate, never leave us
in doubt as to what is underneath. We can always trace the shape of the
head. We never fancy that the knots, chignons, and tresses conceal a
sugar-loaf or a small portmanteau.

Sometimes, as in the Medici Venus, the hair was gathered in a knot in
the front part of the head, but generally the knot was placed behind,
where it balanced the face, and broke the nearly straight line formed by
the neck and the back of the head.

The bands and fillets with which the head was often encircled are very
graceful adjuncts. A crescent or diadem is often seen on the heads of
goddesses, queens, and princesses; and it is not easy to conceive a more
noble or royal ornament.

Nets made either of thread or silk were also worn to confine the hair,
but these nets fitted close to the head and were not much used for the
chignon, as with us in the days of beavers’ tails.

The women of Lesbos had a peculiar way of dressing their hair, which
savors rather more of the later Roman than of the Greek fashions. You
will notice that none of these coiffures are suggestive of wigs. If
false hair _was_ worn, it was worn with judgment and discretion, and was
never allowed to mar the symmetry of the head.

Greek men, like the women, seldom covered their heads, except when on a
journey or at work in the sun.

The simplest and probably the oldest head-covering for the men was the
conical skull-cap as seen on the head of Ulysses, but there are examples
of soft broad-rimmed hats made either of felt, leather, or straw. These
would have been worn by field laborers, masons, etc.

The Phrygian cap is worn at the present day by almost all Mediterranean
fishermen. This is the famous cap of liberty, and although in very bad
repute since the French Revolution, it is a comfortable and inoffensive

The first helmets were modifications of the Ulysses cap. The material
was changed from straw or felt to thick leather or brass. A couple of
feathers were sometimes added, and sometimes doubtless the leather or
brass was ornamented with gold and precious stones.

After a time it was found that this primitive helmet did not protect the
face; so a large piece was added in front. This covered the face, but
was soldered to the helmet and not movable. It is this immovability of
the vizor which throws the whole helmet back when the face is uncovered,
and it is this backward position which gives the peculiar character to
the Greek helmet. We see it constantly in the statues of Minerva, and we
have adopted it for our figure of Britannia.


In later times still further improvements were made. A movable vizor was
invented and flaps to protect the ears, and the coal-scuttle shape went
out of fashion.

The defensive body-armor of the Greeks consisted of a close-fitting
leather jerkin terminating at the hips. Strips of leather loosely
connected together sprang from the bottom of this jerkin, and reached
nearly half-way down the thigh. Both the jerkin and the strips of this
petticoat were often strengthened by bands of metal. Armor was also worn
below the knees. These greaves protected the shins, but did not encircle
the whole leg.

There can be no doubt, from the descriptions of Homer and other ancient
authors, that all this defensive armor was worn, but many of the
elaborately ornamented and embossed breast-plates and greaves which are
to be seen in every museum (though nominally Greek) are the works of a
much later age.

Before finishing what I have to say about Greek costume, I ought to
mention the coverings for the feet. These were of manifold shapes and
fashions; sometimes they consisted of a mere sole fastened to the foot
with thongs; sometimes the toes were covered, but as there were no sides
nor heel-piece the thongs were still necessary. The most elegant form
was that which we see in the statue of Diana.

In the very early days of Greece, it was considered effeminate to
protect the foot, but at a later period every one except children,
slaves, and ascetic philosophers wore some kind of sandal when they went
out; and in the last two centuries before the Christian era, great
luxury and elegance were displayed in the adornment of those sandals.

The costumes of some of the nations inhabiting Asia Minor differed
greatly from those worn by the Greeks.

In several of the maritime provinces which had frequent intercourse, and
indeed had been colonized by the Greeks, this difference was not very
marked, although even here there was an Oriental or Assyrian element
introduced; but the dresses of Phrygia were much more Assyrian than
Greek. In the first place, the Phrygians, like Oriental people
generally, had a dislike to expose any part of the body, consequently
they wore tight sleeves reaching down to the wrist. Drawers or
close-fitting hose covered their legs and feet, and over these they wore
regular shoes made of soft leather.

To complete the costume, an armless tunic was worn, reaching to below
the knees and girt by a leather belt. The whole of this rather elaborate
dress was often embroidered and ornamented with the richest colors. It
was altogether an effeminate and a gorgeous dress, such as Paris might
have worn when he captivated Helen.

The dress of the women bore a greater resemblance to the Greek; but
fashion insisted on having the arms and feet covered. Whilst the women
of Lydia and the maritime provinces indulged in the most coquettish and
elegant Greek fashions, the ladies of the interior had quite a Persian
way of dressing. A very long close-fitting tunic or gown with tight
sleeves reaching to the wrist, with a girdle for married women, and
ungirt round the waist for young girls, seems to have been the usual
costume. Like the men, they wore shoes, and often the Phrygian cap.

If the men were fond of embroidered garments, it may be guessed that the
ladies were not behind in the matter of ornament. Many of their dresses
were figured all over with spots, stars, and a kind of shawl pattern,
whilst the coiffures sometimes developed into sultana-like turbans, and
were enriched with the most showy jewels.

Jewelry of all kinds was indeed worn profusely by both sexes, and it was
a common saying in ancient Greece, when a man was effeminate or
voluptuous, that he ought to go to Lydia and have his ears pierced.

Before passing on to the dresses of Imperial Rome, it will not be out of
place to consider the important question of how to clothe the personages
of the New Testament.

I call this question an important one, because the New Testament is,
_par excellence_, the great field for subjects of a high class, and in
the present era of research and investigation, it cannot be a matter of
indifference to the painter how the Founder of Christianity and his
disciples were dressed.

The Mosaic laws strictly forbade any representation of living organisms.
We have therefore nothing to guide us in our research, as we have for
Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek costume. The dress of the Jewish priests
is tolerably minutely described in Leviticus, and is indeed almost
identical with that worn at the present day; but we have no authority
whatever for the ordinary dress of the Jews in the time of Tiberius.

The old masters almost invariably adopted some shade of red and blue
for the dress of Christ, and the same colors were also generally
reserved for the robes of the Virgin Mary.

This choice of colors seems to have originated somewhere about the sixth
century, but it was not till much later that the Church adopted these
colors so exclusively that the artist had no option in the matter. This
traditional choice of colors became more and more binding as ages rolled
on. It has lasted even to the present day, and few painters of religious
subjects for church decoration would venture upon a departure from the
time-honored red and blue.

The practice may have some advantages. In the first place, these colors
(when in combination) have come to have a kind of sacred significance,
and from being reserved for the highest personages of the New Testament,
they serve the same purpose that was formerly fulfilled by the nimbus.

They attract the eye to the principal figure in the composition. Again,
they are strong primary colors; their juxtaposition in a picture is
unusual, and therefore likely to draw attention to the figure which is
clothed in them.

The disadvantages are, first, the difficulty of harmonizing two such
colors as red and blue (a difficulty enormously increased when there are
several figures in the composition); and, secondly, the great
improbability that our Saviour or the Virgin Mary ever _were_ so

In the _very_ early ages of Christianity, we never find this red and

The Saviour, unless enthroned in glory, is generally represented as the
Good Shepherd, and his garments are white or some shade of gray.

It may be argued that as he personates the Good Shepherd, the artists of
course give him a shepherd’s dress, but that this dress may have been
totally unlike the one he actually wore.

This is perfectly true, and I am not recommending the blind adoption of
this shepherd’s tunic. I merely mention these earliest representations
of Christ, as an answer to those who argue for the antiquity of the red
and blue. If in the absence of precise information we allow ourselves to
be guided by precedent, it is only logical to go to the _earliest_

The truth is that there are two distinct methods of treating subjects
from the New Testament, especially those where Christ himself is

One is the traditional or mediæval method, and the other the
naturalistic or (as I prefer to call it) the natural method, the word
“naturalistic” being generally applied to the grotesque style of the
early German and Dutch masters.

The first or traditional method seems to me more suitable for
stained-glass windows and for church decoration generally, than for
easel pictures. In decorative work no one expects to see the apostles
and saints clad in the homely garments they certainly wore.

The figures are to a certain extent symbolical; they represent the
personages beatified; and gorgeously colored mantles with jewelled
borders, nimbi, and other mediæval ornaments are not so much out of

Even here I would depart from the traditional red and blue for the dress
of Christ. White and gold are more suggestive of perfection and purity
than strong colors, and I cannot help thinking that the red tunic which
tradition gives to St. John is singularly inappropriate to his

I do not, however, wish to extend my remarks in this direction, but
rather to confine what I have to say about costumes to real, and not to
ideal dresses.

If there exists a danger of degrading the ancient Jewish patriarchs by
giving them the dress which they probably wore, the danger becomes
greatly intensified when we have to deal with the sacred personages of
the New Testament. Nevertheless, I think that something might be done
toward an approximation to truth without any irreverence.

In the first place, I would discard all strong positive reds, blues, and
purples for the dresses, as inappropriate. To wear garments of these
bright hues was the prerogative of kings, emperors, and great generals,
and it is quite out of keeping with the spirit of the New Testament to
clothe its personages in these imperial colors.

White, dull yellow, brown, and black are the colors to which I should
principally adhere. Linen, bleached and unbleached, goats’ hair, and
wool of all shades, from creamy white to sooty black, would be the

Clemens of Alexandria says: “All dyed colors should be avoided in dress,
for these are far away from man’s need and from truth; and besides they
give proof of evil in the inward disposition.”

Tertullian, who wrote about two hundred years after Christ, has a whole
chapter denouncing the iniquity of dyed colors.

Now it is hardly conceivable that these early Christian writers would
have fulminated against red, purple, and blue garments if Christ and his
apostles had been in the habit of wearing them.

Secondly, I should endeavor, while preserving the tunic and outer cloak
or pallium, to give to these garments something of an Oriental
appearance. There is not much scope for doing this with the tunic. Rich
men, like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus, would wear long tunics
reaching to their ankles; but it is very doubtful whether Christ
himself, who denounces the scribes on account of their loving to go in
long clothing, would wear a garment of this description.

The women would have two tunics, one over the other, with short or long
sleeves, but never with the open sleeves of the Greek women.

The under tunic (which would, in fact, be the Roman stola) would reach
to the feet. The upper one would be shorter, and embroidered or
ornamented with colors.

The pallium or cloak, both of the men and the women, should have a
fringe; not a heavy gorgeous one, like the Assyrian kings, but a thin
light one.

In the 22d chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses commands: “Thou shalt make thee
fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture,” and in the Book of
Numbers these fringes are again ordained. When we consider how
particular the Jews were in observing their law, we may assume, as a
fact, that the cloak or outer garment of the New Testament would have a
fringe, and this would at once give it a Jewish or Oriental character.
Broad vertical stripes again, either on the tunic or the cloak, of a
different colored wool to the garment itself, would be unlike Greek or
Roman fashions, and would be perfectly allowable.

Thirdly, I should not hesitate (when the subject required it) about
covering the heads of my figures.

In most Biblical pictures by the old masters, particularly of the Roman
school, we find the figures bareheaded.

There does not seem to be any special reason for this, and whatever may
have been the practice in Italy, it certainly could not be the custom in
Syria and Palestine to expose the head to the burning rays of the sun.

St. Peter and the other Galilee fishermen may very likely have worn some
kind of Phrygian cap, and we may be quite sure that all the personages
of the New Testament would have had some protection for the head;
probably a loose cloth bound round the head with a cord.

Some writers have said that they merely threw a portion of the cloak
over their heads. This they very likely did on an emergency, but when
undertaking a journey or wandering about the country, they must have had
a proper head-covering.

As to the shoes, I should avoid both the elegant sandal of the Greeks,
and the elaborate leggings and straps of the Roman soldier.

The ordinary Jew, of the class to which the apostles belonged, was not
in the habit of wearing any foot-covering at home, but when on a journey
he would protect the soles of his feet with leather or goat-skin.

It is a mistake to suppose that garments made of coarse materials are
incompatible with dignity. Any one who has seen the fishermen of the
Adriatic or the Arabs of the desert, knows the contrary. It is not the
material, but the amplitude of the garment and the mode of wearing it,
which give grandeur and dignity.

We, as artists, have no means of making our personages speak. All we can
do is to take care that their gestures, appearance, and dress, shall
not be inconsistent with the words they are supposed to utter. If we
bear this in mind, and at the same time honestly endeavor to clothe them
according to their station in life, we cannot be far wrong.

Before leaving the subject of the New Testament, I should like to say a
few words about the position the Jews assumed at their meals. I
endeavored to get at the truth a year or two ago, and the results of my
investigations were these.

The rich Jews, like the rich Romans, reclined at their meals; the poor
either stood or sat. Of this there can be no doubt, and it is only what
might have been expected. The rich would have a proper dining-hall,
fitted with a triclinium or couch. The poor would dine in the same room
in which they worked, and would have no place for so bulky a piece of
furniture as a broad couch.

As for the Last Supper, it must be recollected that the room where it
was eaten was an upper room, and therefore very unlikely to be furnished
with a triclinium; and, secondly, it was more in keeping with Christ’s
teaching to adopt the humble fashion of sitting rather than the
luxurious one of reclining. Finally, all the Evangelists use the word
“sat” and “sitting,” which, if correctly translated, ought surely to
settle the question.

On the whole, therefore, I think that Leonardo, Andre del Sarto,
Raffaelle, and all the old masters were right in giving the figures a
sitting posture, and that modern innovators are wrong in assuming that
because Roman patricians and their imitators in Judæa reclined at their
meals, our Lord, and his disciples would also adopt the same position.

The costume of the ancient Romans under the kings was very like that of
the Greeks. The resemblance was especially noticeable in military
costume. If, therefore, you have to paint any Roman or Sabine warriors
of the time of the early kings, you should take Greek armor as your
model, rather than the late Roman, such as is seen in the reliefs of the
Trajan column. The Romans, however, appear never to have worn the
peculiar Greek helmet which protected the face.

In these early times there is no reason to suppose that the civil dress
differed materially from that of the Greeks. Both sexes wore the tunic
and pallium (or cloak). The Roman “toga” was a large semicircular


The question as to the exact shape of the toga has never been settled,
and most likely never will be. The older authorities say that it was
rectilinear on one side and curvilinear on the other; but more modern
writers say it was of the shape of two segments of a circle joined
together. I am inclined to favor this latter opinion. It would in this
case be folded in two before being put on, and the complicated and
multitudinous folds would be easily accounted for.

It is doubtful when it was first worn, but it certainly was in fashion
during the kings, and it would therefore be the proper clothing for Numa
Pompilius, the elder Brutus, Tarquin, and the other personages of that
period. The mode of wearing it in these ancient times was slightly
different to the fashion which prevailed in the time of the Cæsars.
Instead of being brought round the body _under_ the right arm it was
laid _over_ the shoulder, thus covering the whole right arm. This must
have been extremely inconvenient, and although when sitting in judgment
or taking part in some state ceremonials, the ancient Roman senators may
have muffled themselves up in this way, it is impossible to believe that
they did not adopt some more comfortable way of draping themselves when
actively employed.

We are told that in early times the toga was the _only_ garment worn by
the men, but I suspect that this is a mistake. I rather think that a
short sleeveless tunic was always worn.

I shall refer to the toga again, but I wish to proceed chronologically,
and to finish what I have to say about the costume of the earliest Roman
period. Whatever may have been the custom with the men, the women
certainly wore a long tunic, and a shorter one underneath. It is well
to avoid giving them the chlamys, as we have no evidence that they wore
it: but a cloak was certainly customary. It was either of the toga,
semicircular make, or cut square like the Greek pallium. Care should be
taken, in dressing Roman figures of this period, to keep the costumes
very simple and primitive.

The togas of the Roman kings are said to have been striped with purple.
Pliny mentions this, and in a matter of this sort he is likely to have
been correct.

Silk was introduced into Europe about this time, but the material was
far too costly to be generally worn. We may suppose that a luxurious
monarch like Tarquinius Superbus may have worn a tunic of Oriental silk,
but luxury of this kind was not general, as it became six hundred years
later under the emperors.

The same stern sobriety of costume should be observed in painting
subjects of the Consulate.

Scipio Africanus, Regulus, Coriolanus, and the other heroes of this
period, should be clothed with Spartan plainness. White (or at any rate
monochromatic) cloaks and togas, armor composed of iron, bronze, and
leather would be the proper clothing during the Consulate.

We now come to the Imperial period; and here I would remark that in the
Augustine age, luxury had not reached that point of extravagance and
bad taste which it acquired afterward. The toga was still the ample
woollen cloak of preceding ages, and was worn over a simple short tunic.
I ought, however, to mention that in the time of Augustus the toga began
to be discarded in favor of more convenient garments. It was, however,
always worn on ceremonial or state occasions, and great care was taken
with the adjustment of the folds. A Roman gentleman would dress for a
dinner at Lucullus’, or a grand show at the Colosseum, by putting on a
clean white toga.

The toga pulla was made of the wool of black sheep. It was of a coarser
texture than the white toga, and was worn by mourners. The toga picta
was, as its name implies, embroidered with colors. The toga prætexta had
a purple or rather what we should call a lake-colored border. It was
worn by young people, and also by magistrates and other officials. The
purple and white striped toga, already mentioned as having been worn by
the old Roman kings, was also worn, under the Empire, by the “equites,”
or mounted knights. The emperor alone had the privilege of wearing a
toga entirely of purple. The female cloak of this period was the palla,
which is only another form of the word pallium. It differed only from
the toga in being rectangular.

The long tunic worn over the inner one (the gown in short) of the Roman
matrons was called a “stola.” The lower part of it was crimped or
plaited, so as to form a kind of flounce. This explains the numerous
minute folds we see about the feet and ankles in many of the portrait

I ought not to omit mentioning a very important article of female dress,
viz., the “strophium.” It was the same as the Greek “strophion,” and
seems to have been of universal use. It was a broad band, supposed to
have been made of kid leather, and was wound round the waist to give
support, and to improve what dressmakers call the figure. It was put on
over the inner tunic, and therefore corresponds exactly with the modern
corset. It does not appear that either the Greek or Roman ladies
attached any value to a thin waist, and this strophium was worn for
comfort and not in compliance with the fashion.

The Romans (I am still speaking of the Augustan age) wore in time of war
the “sagum.” This was a cloak made of thick woollen material, and
fastened in front or on the shoulder with a brooch. It was, in fact,
identical with some forms of the Greek chlamys. The “paludamentum” was
the same kind of garment, made of finer wool, and used by the officers.
The sagum and paludamentum were not exclusively military, as in time of
war it was the custom for civilians to throw aside their togas and
assume this war-like garb. The “lacerna” was very commonly worn by the
Roman citizens either simply over the tunic, or in cold weather over the
togas as well. It was very much the same kind as the sagum, and worn in
the same way. It was almost always of a dark color. The “pœnula” was
a circular cloak, with a hole in the middle to put the head through. It
was slit open in front from the bottom, about half-way up, so as to give
a little freedom to the arms. It was made of thick cloth, and generally
had a hood. It was a garment essentially for bad weather, and must have
greatly resembled our Inverness capes, or rather what is called a

The want of head-coverings amongst the higher classes of both the
ancient Greeks and Romans has always struck me as being very singular.
The Etruscans, like the semi-oriental peoples of Asia Minor, had a great
variety of head-gear.

Caps of all shapes, more or less richly ornamented, were common amongst
the Etruscans; but the Roman citizens (at least the upper ten thousand)
seem to have had nothing to protect the head from the sun’s rays. We all
know that habit will do a great deal; our Bluecoat boys do not suffer by
going about bareheaded; but I cannot help thinking that an elderly Roman
senator must occasionally have found the want of a hat on his way to the

You will not often have to paint pictures of the ancient Etruscans. I
need not therefore say much about their rich and varied dresses. I may,
however, mention that their wardrobe bore about the same relation to the
Roman costume that the Asia Minor dresses did to the Greek. There was
an Oriental and sometimes an Egyptian tendency about the cut and
ornamentation of their garments. Instead of the classical sandal of the
Romans they wore shoes, and even boots, made of some soft material. In
short, they were more effeminate in their tastes. The more wealthy an
Etruscan was, the richer would be his garments. He resembled in this
respect many modern Orientals, whereas his neighbor of ancient Rome
would (at least in the Augustan age) affect the greatest simplicity.

A Roman patrician would as soon think of decking himself out in an
embroidered and spangle tunic, as an English gentleman would of assuming
the plush and gorgeous livery of a Belgravian footman.

Luxury and effeminacy of dress began to creep into fashion in Rome as
early as the time of Tiberius, who (probably because he did not wish to
have any imitation of the finery of his own court) promulgated very
strict sumptuary laws as to dress.

These laws were enforced and even made more stringent by some of his
successors, but fashion was too strong even for Roman emperors; and
under such sovereigns as Heliogabalus, but little was left of the
ancient Roman simplicity. In one particular alone did the Romans of the
Decadence contrast favorably with their neighbors the Etruscans--I mean
in the matter of jewelry. The Roman noble, even of the most degraded
period, never decked himself out with necklaces, armlets, and breast
ornaments of gold like the Etruscan. The only jewelry he wore was a
signet ring.

The Roman ladies were less sparing of ornament, but even they did not
load themselves with gold trinkets of every description after the
Oriental and Etruscan fashion. Much of this Roman jewelry was of very
beautiful design, and has been most conscientiously imitated by

With regard to the fashion of wearing the hair and beard, it is certain
that up to the third century B.C., the Romans wore their hair long and
did not shave.

If, therefore, you have to paint any subject of the time of the kings,
it would be incorrect to represent your personages with cropped hair and
clean shaven, as though they were Romans of the later Consulate and
Augustan age.

Some Sicilian barbers, who came over to Rome about the beginning of the
third century B.C., introduced the custom of shaving and having the hair
cut short, and this custom continued without intermission until the time
of Hadrian or Trajan, when beards came into fashion again. The
Sybarites, of a later period than this, used to oil their hair and
sprinkle it with gold-dust. Wigs were also worn, by men as well as by
women. If the emperor of the time happened to have a crop of thick curly
hair, it was astonishing what a number of curly crops of hair suddenly
appeared in Rome. Perhaps we need not go as far back as ancient Rome
for phenomena of this kind. It is needless for me to describe the stiff,
tasteless style of hair-dressing which prevailed amongst the ladies of
the later Empire. It was their uncouth artificial coiffures which were
imitated in France and England about the beginning of the century. It
was this pseudo-classical style both of hair-dressing and apparel which
made our grandmothers and great-grandmothers such unlovable objects.

A real classical revival after the puff and powder of the preceding
generation, a return to the best Greek and Roman fashions, would have
been a great blessing both to society in general and to the arts
especially; but such classicism as prevailed under the first Napoleon
was hardly an improvement on the perruques and pig-tails that preceded

The Roman military dress is so well known from the bas-reliefs of the
times of Trajan, Hadrian, and Vespasian, that I need not go into any
details respecting it. The only remark I would make is, that the linen
drawers we see indicated in the sculptures, were not worn in the army
before the wars of Gaul and Germany.

The dresses of the time of Constantine and his successors are very
little known.

To some artists this is rather an attraction, as affording an
opportunity of invention in costume, which is denied to them in a
better known period; and it must be admitted that, provided they keep to
what was likely to have been worn, no one can prove them to be wrong.

There are a few coins and medals in existence which give some idea of
the appearance of an emperor or great personage, but of the dress of the
common people we know nothing for certain.

In conclusion, I would remark that correctness in the matter of costume
is far more necessary to an artist now than it was formerly. In this age
of archæology and research we find, even on the stage, the most
scrupulous fidelity observed, and it behooves us, as artists, not to lag

You will find, both in the Academy library and at South Kensington, many
excellent works on costume, and with such a mass of information within
your reach it will be unpardonable if you fall into the anachronisms and
absurdities of our ancestors.



In the lectures I am about to deliver on Early Italian Art, I shall not
enter into minute detail, nor shall I attempt a history of _all_ the
painters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries who deserve mention.
All I can hope to give you is a sort of bird’s-eye view of the various
phases through which the Art of Painting passed from its lowest ebb to
its highest development.

I feel as if you were a party of excursionists about to be personally
conducted across a great art continent, and as if it behooved me, as
your conductor, to perform my duty with judgment and discretion.

We shall have a vast desert to cross, where nothing is found to break
the dull and ugly monotony of the scene. We cannot do better than take
the express train for this part of our journey, and get over the ground
as quickly as possible.

Substituting miles for years, we shall, when we have accomplished
something like a thousand miles, begin to notice signs of a more fertile
soil. These indications will be very faint at first, but after a time
the objects of interest will become more frequent, and we shall leave
our train and take to riding or driving so as to get a better view of
what we are passing. After a drive of a hundred miles the country will
become so interesting that we shall buckle on our knapsacks and perform
the rest of the journey on foot.

To continue the parallel, I would remind you that you are only
excursionists, and not leisurely travellers desirous of becoming
thoroughly acquainted with the products of the country they are about to

To acquire a thorough knowledge of the decay and revival of art, it
would be necessary to consult the numerous and learned treatises on the
subject, and to study the political and social state of Italy during the
Middle Ages.

Such a study, though doubtless very instructive, would be rather a dry
subject for a lecture, even if I were equal to the task. I shall,
therefore, attempt nothing of the kind, and having always had a tender
feeling for those whose attendance here is compulsory, and admiration
for those who come of their own free will, I shall endeavor to be as
little tedious as possible, whilst imparting to you a sort of _résumé_
of mediæval painting and the early Italian schools.

The designs and paintings which have been discovered in the catacombs
are commonly held to be the earliest specimens we possess of Christian
art; and if by Christian art we mean the representation of Biblical and
New Testament subjects, they undoubtedly _are_ the earliest. If,
however, by Christian art we mean the peculiar style which grew up and
was fostered by the early Church, we must look elsewhere, for these
paintings are essentially pagan in style.

In common with the paintings of the Constantine baths, and with the
numerous decorative designs discovered in the pagan catacombs of the
period, they are clearly derived direct from classical sources.

They vary in merit according to the skill of the artist who executed
them, and also according to the epoch of their production, those of the
second century being infinitely superior to those of the third and
fourth. In the earliest of these paintings, the Good Shepherd replaces
Orpheus, Elias replaces Apollo, and so on, but the style is in no way
distinguishable from contemporary Roman wall-paintings. The arabesque
ornamentation of the panels is exactly similar, and although the
subjects are such as Moses striking the rock, Jonah swallowed by the
whale, Daniel in the lions’ den, and various Christian miracles, these
interesting works cannot be considered in any other light than specimens
of late Roman art adapted to the illustration of Scriptural subjects.

These catacomb paintings look to me more like copies of better things
than original paintings. They appear to have been done by decorative
artists, who would naturally be more at home with the ornamental
borders and arabesques than with the figures. We may often notice this
kind of inequality of work in modern houses.

The skilled workmen employed by the professional decorator will execute
with consummate neatness all the ornamental parts, but if any figure is
introduced into the panels it will be a coarse replica of some Pompeii
muse, nymph, or cupid, possibly quite good enough for the purpose, but
hardly indicative of the state of art of the period.

In the paintings of the third and fourth centuries there is a very
noticeable decline in the drawing and execution, but there is still a
reminiscence of a classical style. The draperies are still disposed with
something like taste, and the heads, though very rude and clumsy, have
not the barbaric hideousness of a later period. The last flicker of the
antique lamp is to be found in those catacomb paintings of the fourth
and fifth centuries.

When I say that they are not Christian in style, I mean that they are
not ecclesiastical. Speaking strictly, from a common-sense rather than
from an art point of view, it appears to me that the simple garments and
the un-nimbi’d heads of the personages are more in keeping with the
spirit of the New Testament than the gold and the gorgeous ornamentation
of a later period. However that may be, viewed simply as works of art,
they are the natural sequence to Pompeii and the later forms of Roman
mural painting.

The case is very different with the large Roman and Ravenna mosaics of
the fourth and fifth centuries, but before proceeding to criticise these
productions, I should wish to say a few words about antique mosaic work.

The art of depicting objects by means of small cubes of marble, stone,
or terra-cotta was invented about 300 years before the Christian era.

From a very simple beginning it gradually developed itself, until under
the first emperors we find the most complicated ornaments, and even
large historical compositions, executed in mosaic. The use of mosaic for
the floors of temples and dwelling-houses was universal wherever the
Romans spread. It was not confined to Imperial Rome or to luxurious
Pompeii, but is invariably found wherever a wealthy Roman planted his
villa, whether in the vicinity of the great Sahara Desert, or in the
less savage neighborhood of the Isle of Wight. As your average modern
Briton cannot do without his carpets, so the ancient Roman could not be
happy without his tessellated pavement. In spite, however, of this
widespread fashion, we do not find mosaic used as a means of wall
decoration; it was almost exclusively employed for floors and tables.
Some of these small cabinet pieces are beautifully inlaid, and, as works
of art, are by no means contemptible. In a very few which have been
preserved to us, we find specimens of the “opus sectile” of the Romans.
This differed from ordinary mosaic by the tesseræ being cut into the
form of the object to be depicted, and then accurately put together like
a puzzle map. The well-known four pigeons perched on a tazza, discovered
at Tivoli, is, I believe, the most beautiful specimen extant of the
ordinary Roman cabinet mosaic.

The examples of Roman tessellated work applied to perpendicular surfaces
are so rare and so unimportant that we cannot consider them as
prototypes of the subsequent gigantic mosaic wall-pictures. The
intermediate links are at any rate wanting. There is one, and only one,
mosaic, that of St. Costanza, near Rome, which might be viewed as the
missing link. It is supposed to have been executed toward the end of the
fourth century, and belongs essentially to the decorative school of
ancient pagan art. Indeed, so numerous are the little cupids and genii,
and so prodigal has the artist been of vine tendrils, that the building
containing it was formerly supposed to have been a temple of Bacchus. It
is now, however, known that this, the earliest specimen of wall mosaic,
was executed not in honor of Bacchus, but as a monument to the Christian
Emperor Constantine’s two daughters.

Not until the fifth century do we get to those colossal figures, those
blue and gold backgrounds, those richly ornamented draperies, which
constitute the true starting-point of ecclesiastical art. We often hear
that Cimabue is the father of modern art, but the only reason for
making him a kind of art Adam is because his name has been handed down
to us. The real fathers of modern Christian art are the nameless authors
of these gorgeous though somewhat grim mosaics.

Most art historians have included these splendid works in the later
Roman period. They cannot certainly be called truly Byzantine, although
they have a decided Byzantine flavor about them, and it is probable that
many of them were executed by Greek or Byzantine artists; but, on the
other hand, they are so strikingly dissimilar to late Roman work that
they ought to be classed in a school by themselves. The forms of the
figures are of course stiff and lifeless, if compared to the antique or
to sixteenth-century art; but they are quite graceful and animated when
compared with the dead ugliness of the real Byzantine work. There is a
certain grandeur, _sui generis_, about them (particularly in the
Justinian and Theodora mosaics of Ravenna) quite independent of their
size and gorgeous ornamentation, which we never find in later Byzantine

The mosaics of the sixth century are in no way different in style from
those of the fifth. The finest specimens of this period are the
well-known mosaics of SS. Cosmo and Damiano in Rome. The head and figure
of the gigantic Christ, which forms the centre, has been much eulogized
by critics; but I confess I was disappointed when I last saw this
mosaic. Size, and perhaps antiquity, have a good deal to do with the
awe-inspiring qualities attributed to this work.

If the art displayed in this figure were really of a high quality, some
of its beauty would be retained in a reproduction on a small scale.
However much the panels of the Sistine Chapel may be reduced, they
always retain their original grandeur, whereas this over-praised figure
appears to me to lose all its imposing appearance when copied or
engraved on a small scale.

Of historical or Biblical compositions, properly so-called, there are
none extant of this period. The cause of this is partly no doubt owing
to the nature of the materials then in use. Mosaic is certainly not
suitable for figures in action, nor for complicated compositions; but
there is also another reason for the absence of subject-pictures during
the whole of the long interval between the early Roman emperors and
Giotto, and that is, they were not wanted.

There were no wealthy patricians in those dark ages who required their
villas decorated, no Mæcenas to give a helping hand to struggling
genius. The Church was the only patron the poor artists of the period
had, and a very hard and narrow-minded patron she was, reducing men who
(for aught we know) may have had some talent, to the level of mere
workmen and artificers, strictly limiting the range of their subjects
and fettering them with traditional rules.

We are now fast approaching the true Byzantine period of art. Historians
tell us that Byzantine or Greek Christian art was the offspring of the
Eastern Church, influenced originally by ancient Greek art. It seems
hard to believe that these hideous deformities should have descended
from ancient Greek sculpture. It is a kind of Darwinian theory turned
upside down, but still it may be true.

Ancient Greek does not necessarily mean the art of Phidias and
Praxiteles. It may mean the barbaric sculpture which preceded the advent
of these great masters, and I confess there is something in the odious
grimace and the stiff draperies of Byzantine figures which reminds me of
certain very early Greek work.

The introduction of the Byzantine style into Italy seems to have been
very gradual. The school existed at Constantinople certainly in the
fifth century, and possibly much earlier.

Its influence may be traced in the large Italian mosaics of the sixth
century, but it was not till near the year 700, when Constantinople was
fairly established as the capital of the world, that it became in all
its ugliness the dominant school in Italy.

The Church of the fifth and sixth centuries, with all its
narrow-mindedness in the choice of subjects, gave the artist a certain
amount of liberty in his drawing and flesh-painting, but about the year
700 even this liberty was denied him.

Certain types were invented by monkish painters, that is, by men who
were violently opposed to every thing that made life agreeable. These
men, it is needless to say, were quite untrained artists, but in their
uncouth way they endeavored to substitute their own ideal of humanity
for the real thing, and they succeeded only too well. The ghastly type
being once firmly established, all subsequent artists of this school
were obliged to conform to it. In the second Nicene Council, A.D. 787,
it was decreed that:

“It is not the invention of the painter which creates the picture, but
an inviolable law, a tradition of the Church. It is not the painters,
but the holy fathers, who have to invent and to dictate.

“To them manifestly belongs the composition, to the painter only the

As I have already stated, there is good reason for believing that the
holy fathers not only dictated the composition, but interfered pretty
considerably with the execution, insisting as they did on ascetic,
cadaverous heads and an indiscriminate use of gold.

There may have been another cause besides morbid asceticism which in the
ninth century caused the Church to adopt such an unearthly type of
humanity; namely, the fear of the Jews and Mahometans, who were very
numerous at Constantinople.

It was natural that the growing sanctity of the grim mosaics should be
associated in the minds both of Jew and Mahometan with idol-worship,
and accordingly we find that the Emperor Leo the Isaurian wished to
conciliate his non-Christian subjects by the prohibition of all
representation of the human form.

This, however, did not suit the monks. A synod was called, and
ultimately it was agreed that sculpture alone should be interdicted; but
may we not suppose that a kind of compromise was made about painting,
and that it was settled that any near approach to the human form should
be tabooed, that art in short was to be of the nature of that which
graced the Auld Brig of Ayr?--

    “Forms like some bedlam statuary’s dream,
     The crazed creations of misguided whim,
     Forms might be worshipped on the bended knee,
     And still the second dread command be free,
     Their likeness is not found on earth, in air, or sea.”

Kugler’s description of these Byzantine heads is so good that I cannot
refrain from giving it. He says:

“The large ill-shaped eyes stare straight forward; a deep unhappy line,
in which ill-humor seems to have taken up its permanent abode, extends
from brow to brow beneath the bald and heavily-wrinkled forehead. The
nose has the broad ridge of the antique still left above, but is narrow
and pinched below, the anxious nostrils corresponding with the deep
lines on each side of them.

“The mouth is small, but the somewhat protruding lower lip is in
character with the melancholy of the whole picture. As long as such
representations are confined to gray-headed saints and ecclesiastics
they may be tolerated, but when the introduction of a kind of smirk is
intended to convey the idea of a youthful countenance this type becomes
intolerable. Even the Madonna, to whose countenance the meagreness of
asceticism was hardly applicable, here assumes a thoroughly peevish
expression, and was certainly never represented under so unattractive an

I have given you this quotation from Kugler, in order to show you the
opinion of a learned and liberal-minded writer, who certainly cannot be
called a severe critic.

He goes on to compare Byzantine with Chinese art, which is, I think,
rather hard upon the poor Celestials.

Both styles of figure-painting are equally conventional, and equally
untrue to nature, but Chinese figures are far more cheerful and
decorative than the unhappy Byzantine.

A room decorated by a Chinese artist would be a pleasant place to live
in; but who except a long-distance walker, a forty days’ faster, or one
of our modern votaries of self-inflicted martyrdom, would care about
inhabiting a house hung with Byzantine pictures?

In these pictures the draperies gradually became more and more wooden,
until at last they got to be thoroughly in keeping with the heads. There
was a traditional arrangement of folds derived from the late Roman
works, but this arrangement, though originally founded on sound
principles, became in the hands of Byzantine artificers most untrue and
stupid. The folds used to be indicated by a number of unmeaning straight
lines, regardless of the form underneath.

The one redeeming feature in the art of Byzantium was the treatment of
ornament. Founded partly on the late Roman as existing in numerous
temples of Asia Minor during the reign of the Cæsars, and partly on the
Persian style as seen at Persepolis, Palmyra, and elsewhere, Byzantine
ornamentation is both rich and graceful. The Arabs and Moors carried the
intricacies of Byzantine tracery still further, until the _ne plus
ultra_ was reached at the Alhambra; but to my taste the original
Byzantine style of ornamentation is bolder and more effective than the
elaborate Mauresque.

There is no want of taste or invention betrayed here. Indeed there is
far more variety than in the somewhat overloaded Roman style of
ornamentation, as may be seen at once by comparing Byzantine capitals
with the debased Corinthian of the Romans. This excellence (not only in
architectural detail but in every department of ornamental art) shows
clearly that when the artists had free play they where not deficient in
taste, and that we must ascribe the utter badness of Byzantine
figure-painting to the proper cause; namely, to the veto the Church
seems to have set on the study of the human form.

The principal difference between the Byzantine and Romanesque
ornamentation is the more frequent occurrence in the latter of
geometrical patterns, formed principally by squares and equilateral
triangles intersecting each other. The walls and pavements of the
Romanesque churches of Italy abound with examples of this geometric
decoration. In Romanesque ornament again, gold and mosaic are not so
universally used as in Byzantine; but the transition between the two
styles was so gradual, and they were so closely connected, that it is
almost impossible to draw the line between them.

Italy was in a very miserable and disturbed state during the dark
centuries of the Middle Ages, being overrun by barbarous invaders and
often afflicted by internecine wars, so that even without the leaden
hand of the Church stifling all original talent, it is very improbable
that any improvement in art could have been made.

For art to thrive, it is absolutely necessary that a country should be
undisturbed and tolerably prosperous; although it by no means follows
that a prosperous country _must_ produce great artists. Take, for
instance, the Republic of Venice during the Middle Ages, which, whilst
Italy was being vexed with endless invasions and civil war, enjoyed
great prosperity; and yet not a single attempt was made by her artists
to emancipate themselves from the dead level of Byzantine rules. On the
contrary, the famous early mosaics of St. Mark’s are amongst the most
characteristic specimens of Byzantine art which have been preserved to

Of their original splendor (as far as gold and workmanship could
contribute to it) there can be no doubt, but of legitimate art there is
no trace. Like all the work of this school, whether mosaic or fresco,
the figures are done by routine, and are as lifeless and mean in
character as the worst Byzantine types. Of course I am speaking of the
series of _early_ mosaics in St. Mark’s. The later ones executed in the
twelfth century, although very Byzantine in character, partake largely
of the general improvement which was noticeable at that time.

The tremendous rapidity with which Byzantine frescoes used to be
executed is no excuse for their badness. Had the artists given ten times
the labor they would have done no better. All original design was
prohibited; every thing was done from tracings of previous works. These
tracings were reproduced on the wall to be painted, and the flesh tints
were filled in with a uniform flat color, sometimes of a brick-dust and
sometimes of a green hue. The draperies were done in the same way,
first a flat tint and then a few unmeaning black lines to represent
folds. This process was entirely mechanical, the lines having no respect
whatever for the limbs underneath.

To give you a better idea of the rapidity with which whole churches can
be decorated in the Byzantine style, I will give Didron’s description of
Oriental fresco-painting. He was at Mount Athos about forty years ago,
and had the opportunity of seeing a monk and his five assistants at
work. Mount Athos has for the last thirteen centuries been the
headquarters and principal laboratory of Byzantine art, and a countless
number of pictures on wood are to this day exported thence as articles
of commerce to the Russian Empire. M. Didron says: “One pupil spread the
mortar on the wall; the master drew the outline, without either cartoon
or tracings; another pupil laid on the colors; a third gilt the nimbi,
painted the ornaments, and wrote the inscriptions, which the master
dictated to him from memory; and lastly, two boys were fully occupied in
grinding and mixing the colors.”

The subject was a Christ and eleven apostles (life size), and the time
taken to complete the work was under an hour!

I am not quite sure but what a couple of months’ experience in the Mount
Athos workshops might not be of advantage to some of our students in the
antique school.

Our traveller adds (I think quite unnecessarily) that the work seemed to
him very rude and coarse--but it can be easily understood that at this
rate a whole church could be covered with frescoes in a few days. “C’est
magnifique, mais ce n’est pas de l’art.”

From what I have said, you will understand the unchangeable nature of
Byzantine art. Pictures painted in this style may be more or less neatly
executed, but their artistic merit varies very little, whether they be
of the seventh or the nineteenth centuries, whether they decorate St.
Mark’s at Venice or an obscure monastery on Mount Athos. As an
illustration of this, note a picture in the National Gallery, by a Greek
artist of the name of Emmanuel. The date of this work is 1650. It was
therefore painted long after Titian, Raffaelle, P. Veronese, and all the
great masters had departed this life, and yet with all their glorious
works before his eyes what does this primeval artist produce? All I can
say is, “Go and see for yourselves.” Other schools have their ups and
downs. The Italian, the Flemish, the French, and the English schools
have all had, and will continue to have, their periods of elevation and
depression; but Byzantine painting always maintains its dead level, and
will continue to do so as long as the Greek Church lasts.

Pictures of this school are often associated with ideas of sanctity,
not only in holy Russia but in Western Europe. Almost all
miracle-working pictures belong to this class. The Calabrian peasant, or
the Andalusian muleteer, who would probably be unmoved by the Madonna di
S. Sisto, is wrought up to a high pitch of religious fervor at the
shrine of some olive Byzantine Virgin, with her pinched peevish face and
wooden shoulders.

That this class of pictures has at all times been held to be peculiarly
sacred, is proved from the fact that at Venice (even in the time of
Titian) the cultivation of the stiff Byzantine style, for popular
devotion, was maintained in juxtaposition with that of the most
perfectly developed form of painting.

We may smile at the Venetian religious world, but I am not sure that at
the present day an analogous tendency could not be imputed to some of

Is there not to some æsthetic nostrils a kind of odor of sanctity about
mediæval perspective and composition? It is true that our revivalists do
not wish to go back to the Byzantine period for our religious art; the
Romanesque or at any rate the Quattro Cento style is the correct thing.
But why go back at all? I can quite understand that in restoring an old
cathedral it would be desirable to do so; but in a modern building
(whether gothic or not) to reproduce forms which we know to be
incorrect, and to introduce perspective which we know to be absurd,
seems to me to be carrying our reverence for the past a little too far.

A letter appeared in the _Times_ last summer which is so much to the
purpose that I really must read it to you:--

     “_To the Editor of the ‘Times.’_”

                                                   June 30th.

     “SIR,--I have before me a design for a window which it is proposed
     to place in a village church in Lincolnshire, as one of a group
     memorial of the late vicar, his widow, and two sons, clergymen, one
     of them a missionary of the Church Missionary Society who died in
     India. May I be allowed to describe the design? The window is of
     two lights. The dexter represents a cardinal in red hat and
     stockings, red robe with blue lining, and a nimbus round his head
     of a color resembling olive-green. The sinister light has an
     archbishop with mitre, pall, polychromatic vestments, and a blue
     nimbus round his head; in his left hand a pastoral staff, and in
     his right the Sacred Heart, crimson, with gold flames issuing from
     the top. The drawing is signed by an eminent London firm, and is
     submitted by the present vicar as a suitable memorial of his
     predecessor, who was an Evangelical of the old school, and of his
     widow, a lady whose dread of ‘Popery’ was almost morbid.”

Writers on art are fond of asserting that in spite of the repulsive
ugliness of the Byzantine types, we ought to be grateful to the school
for keeping the lamp of art alive during seven or eight centuries; but I
think that the history of the great revival does not bear out this
assertion. We find Giotto and his followers hampered with the old
traditions. We find Byzantine work rampant in Venice down to the time of
the Bellinis, impeding and indeed excluding all the various forms of
progress which were spreading over Northern Italy; and it may be noticed
that all the faults and weaknesses of the early Italian painters are
traceable to Byzantine sources. I question very much whether the revival
of art would not have been more rapid and complete had the Byzantine
school never existed.

The early reformers, Cimabue, Giotto, and Duccio, would have had the
great mosaics of the fifth century, and such remnants of ancient pagan
art as were then known, to inspire them. They would have been unfettered
by Byzantine tradition, and I think it probable that their works would
have been better in every respect.

Every one with any experience knows that it is easier to instil sound
principles of art into one who is totally uninstructed, than into one
who has already contracted a bad style of drawing; and as it is with
individuals, so also is it with schools and phases of art.

Then again it must be remembered that although the Byzantine school was
the dominant one during the Middle Ages, there were, in Italy, France,
and Germany, artists who had no connection with it, and whose
compositions, as seen in manuscripts and missals, will bear favorable
comparison with similar work by Greek artists of the same period.

I must refer you again to d’Agincourt’s book, where you will find a
great number of outlines from these miniatures.

In judging these works you must not, however, form your opinion as to
their merits entirely by d’Agincourt’s illustrations. They give a very
fair idea of the drawing and composition, but the charm of these small
paintings lies in their color and execution, which are sometimes very

The Bayeux tapestry, for instance, though charming in the original,
becomes very uninteresting and ugly when translated into black and

The transition from Byzantine to Romanesque art was so gradual that it
is very difficult to decide when the change took place. Byzantine rules
and traditions had taken such firm root, that it was not till the end of
the fourteenth century that its influence was finally overcome.

We are, however, approaching the time of Guido da Siena and Guinto da
Pisa, and it is pleasant at last to know (or to suppose we know) the
names of two artists after centuries of anonymous work. The fact of
these names having been preserved shows at any rate that their bearers
were not mere workmen bound to execute the morbid fancies of the Church,
but painters of some repute, whose creations, though still very cramped
and stiff, show better modelling and a more intelligent execution than
are to be found in the works of their predecessors.

Every one has heard of Cimabue, but comparatively few have seen his
frescoes. I imagine that his best work is in the Church of St. Francis
at Assisi. I once spent six weeks at Assisi, and devoted a good deal of
time to the wall-paintings of the church.

The frescoes of Cimabue seemed to me infinitely better than his panel
pictures, but they were (even then) in such a state of decay that it was
difficult to form an opinion of them. This was twenty-two years ago, and
since that time I believe that the progress of decay has been very rapid
indeed. The Arundel Society had some admirable _fac-simile_ drawings of
these works executed five years ago.

It is curious how much more rapidly all the old frescoes are decaying
now than formerly.

I attribute this accelerated rate of ruin to the presence of gas in the
towns. At Pisa the Campo Santo frescoes are deteriorating much more
rapidly than before the introduction of gas into the town. I don’t know
whether Assisi is now blessed with a gasometer, but if it is, poor old
Cimabue’s work is doomed.

His famous Madonna, which was carried in triumphant procession through
the streets of Florence, is painted quite in the Greek style. The flesh
is better modelled, and the draperies of the surrounding angels are much
better drawn, than in any previous example of Byzantine work, but I
cannot understand the enthusiasm of the Florentines.

The specimen we have in the National Gallery appears to me to have been
much re-painted; the heads especially (although ugly enough to be early
work) are of a later character, and are painted in the fumbling,
uncertain way which is characteristic of restorers.

There are other artists of this period whose works show a great
improvement on the old Byzantine. These are Toriti, who executed some
fine mosaics in Rome; the brothers Cosmati, also of Rome; and Gaddo
Gaddi, the Florentine. The mosaics of the last named in the dome of the
baptistery at Florence are very highly commended, but they appear to me
rather improved Byzantine than true Romanesque. Indeed, with the single
exception of Cimabue’s frescoes at Assisi, I don’t know of any work of
the thirteenth century which has a true Romanesque character at all.
Giotto was (as every one knows) the pupil of Cimabue, and I believe that
the truth of the old story about Cimabue finding him when a shepherd boy
occupied in drawing a sheep, and taking him back to Florence as an
apprentice, has not yet been doubted. We can easily imagine the respect
and awe which this shepherd lad would feel for the greatest painter of
the capital, and can readily believe that the work of his early youth
would be founded entirely on that of his master. It is more than
probable that he served his apprenticeship at the great sanctuary of
piety and art which arose after the death of St. Francis at Assisi. At
any rate it is there that his earliest known, and to my mind his best,
works are to be found. The series of frescoes illustrative of the life
of the saint, may be considered as the starting-point of historical
painting in Italy. Compare the figures in these frescoes with the best
work of Cimabue, and notice what an enormous advance has been made. Here
we have natural, if somewhat timid, action, well-proportioned figures,
and skilful arrangement of drapery. I confess I was surprised to hear
that these works were anterior to his larger frescoes in the lower
church, which represent the glorification of St. Francis, and which
appeared to me to indicate a step backward toward Cimabue. It is
probable that in these last-named frescoes, which adorn the compartments
under the high altar, Giotto did not venture to depart much from the
traditional arrangement of his predecessors, and accordingly we find the
poor, meagre composition and the horizontal lines of heads cherished by
the thirteenth century painters.

Giotto would require a whole lecture to himself, were I to attempt an
account of what he did at Padua, Florence, Rome, and Naples. His
_chefs-d’œuvre_ are said to be in Florence, at the Church of St.
Croce. No less than four chapels in this church were decorated by him;
but, alas! there is very little left. Time, whitewash, and the
restorers, have done their work pretty effectually. Still, the mere
outlines of many of the groups show that these works may very well have
been the finest that the master ever produced.

I have seen the Arena Chapel at Padua, which is literally covered with
Giotto’s frescoes. It is many years since I was there, and very
possibly, were I to revisit the chapel, I might form a different
opinion, but at the time I was disappointed with the paintings, which
appeared to me weak in design and feeble in execution.

When we recollect that Giotto had the customs and prejudices of eight
centuries to contend against, no antiques at hand to guide and purify
his taste, no great predecessors to imitate, we cannot help paying
homage to the genius of the man who produced the St. Francis series of
frescoes at Assisi, and numberless other works, both at Florence and
elsewhere. I think that the true explanation of his wonderful success is
to be found in the old sheep-drawing anecdote. It shows that even as a
shepherd boy he felt that nature was the foundation of art. Instead of
working by mere routine, like the Byzantine painters, or, like his
master Cimabue, endeavoring to improve in the same direction, he went
direct to nature both for his compositions, his action, and his drapery.

To us it may appear the simplest thing in the world to make studies from
nature for our pictures, but in the time of Giotto such a course would
be unusual, and would be placed in the category of happy thoughts.

It may be argued that if he had lived in the tenth or eleventh century
instead of the fourteenth, he would never have been allowed by his
patrons to attempt such daring innovations. He must have remained in the
old beaten track. This is no doubt true enough, and there may have been
during the dark ages a dozen embryo Giottos whose genius had been
strangled by ecclesiastical leading-strings; but we are none the less
indebted to the man who gave the death-blow to the barbarous mechanical
craft which for long centuries had usurped the place of art.

Although anxious to do full justice to Giotto as a great art reformer, I
must admit that he had some very unpleasant peculiarities which were
blindly adopted, and, indeed, exaggerated, by many of his followers. The
most repulsive of these peculiarities is the sameness and meanness of
his heads. In the only specimen we have of his in the National Gallery
this fault is not conspicuous, but it is very noticeable in the pictures
of his school. Indeed, the family likeness which pervades all the heads
in the large Orcagna is almost ludicrous. In Giottesque heads the eyes
are a great deal too close together and never fairly open. The nose is
thin and pinched, and the jaws weak and shapeless. The type, in short,
is diametrically the opposite of the antique, and is (it must be
confessed) a very ignoble one.

The constant recurrence of this mean type is more apparent in his later
than in his early works, and it is probable that many of these
stereotyped heads were executed by his assistants, but nevertheless
Giotto is answerable for them.

Italian sculpture, as well as Italian painting, is greatly indebted to
Giotto, for it was he who designed the reliefs for the bronze gates of
the baptistery at Florence. These designs were executed in masterly
style by Andrea Pisano, and may be looked upon as the starting-point of
Italian sculpture. In fact, it is as the father of modern art rather
than as a perfect painter that the name of Giotto ought to be held in
reverence. Many of his successors of the next century, whom I shall
mention in the course of my lectures, approached much nearer to
perfection than did Giotto. The composition of their pictures is less
archaic, the heads have more individual character and are much better
drawn; but we ought always to bear in mind, that had Giotto never lived,
we should never have had a Masaccio, a Filippo Lippi, or a Beato
Angelico, and probably neither a Leonardo nor a Raffaelle.

Louis Quatorze is reported to have said: “L’etat c’est moi”; and Giotto
might with equal truth have declared: “L’art Romanesque c’est moi,” so
all-pervading was his influence. Besides the works of his immediate
followers, such as Taddeo Gaddi and Orcagna, Italy abounds with
Giottesque frescoes, whose authors are unknown, or at least doubtful.

The most important of these nameless works are the large frescoes which
cover the walls of the Capella degli Spagnuoli, in Sta. Maria Novella at
Florence. When I first saw these frescoes they were ascribed to Taddeo
Gaddi and Simone Memmi of Siena; but modern critics have justly, I
think, pronounced against this authorship. They appeared to me to be of
a later date, but I may have been misled by the disgraceful way in which
they have been retouched.

This retouching, or rather repainting, has been the ruin of many of the
early frescoes, and it is most extraordinary that in Italy (of all
places in the world) such barbarous mangling should ever have been
allowed. The real culprits are not the obscure bunglers who did the
work, but the ignorant monks or town councillors who employed them.

These Sta. Maria Novella frescoes are very characteristic of the
allegorical mania of the Romanesque period. One of them, we are told, is
meant to represent the “Wisdom of the Church,” but the allegory is so
obscure and the component parts so heterogeneous, that with the best
intentions it is all but impossible to understand the painter’s meaning.
Why should Grammar have a globe in her hand? and why should Logic have a
serpent under her veil? What has Abraham done that he should be
associated with arithmetic? and why should John of Damascus (who, for
some occult reason, typifies Hope) be mending his pen? If the strange
jumble in this fresco is bewildering, what shall we say to the
companion fresco which represents “the activity of the Church”? A dozen
or more different centres of activity are in full play simultaneously.
The faithful are portrayed in one part of the fresco as men and women,
and in another part as a flock of sheep. The Dominicanes, or Dominicans,
are playfully represented as black and white dogs, who are defending the
sheep against wolves. St. Dominic himself is preaching against heretics,
who are entreating pardon and burning their books; but it is hopeless to
give an idea of the confusion of imagery, of the blending of piety with
punning in this extraordinary fresco. If I again refer in the course of
my lectures to the Romanesque allegories, it is not that I am fascinated
by them, but because they are so numerous and so typical of the period
that it is impossible to ignore them.

It would, of course, be unjust to blame the artists for these
allegories, or for the numerous “Inferno” pictures. They probably had to
execute and make the best of the subjects that were given them. Dante
may very likely be answerable for much of the questionable taste of the
fourteenth century.

I shall endeavor, in my next lecture, to steer a middle course between
the modern blind adoration of the fifteenth century work, and the
cynical Philistinism which can discover nothing worthy of notice in this
interesting period.[1]



Before proceeding to speak of the painters of the eighteenth century, it
will not be out of place to give a general sketch of the state of the
art toward the close of the seventeenth. I trust that in my last lecture
I made it clear to you that after Rubens and Vandyke no painter of any
talent appeared, to support the fame of the Flemish school, but that in
the northern provinces of Flanders and in Holland a whole constellation
of imitative painters arose, who, for truthful color and exquisite
skill, have rarely been equalled, and never surpassed. This brilliant
outburst of talent did not, however, last very long. Indeed, it may be
said with truth, that all the best Dutch pictures were painted within
the space of sixty years--from about 1620 to 1680. We then perceive a
gradual decline of the school, not such a rapid decay as overtook the
Antwerp and Brussels academies, but a perceptible inferiority both in
the color and the handling; the former became more opaque and heavy, and
less true, whilst the latter lost a good deal of its admirable

I know of no Dutch paintings of first-rate excellence unless it be some
of Van Huysum’s flower-pieces which were executed in the eighteenth

If we turn to Italy, we find the art of painting, which had been
partially arrested in its downward course by the Eclectic and
Naturalistic schools, now getting lower and lower. Devoid alike of
original conception or good execution, the Italian painters of this time
were little better than coarse decorators. When I say that Luca Giordano
towers like a giant over his contemporaries, it will be easily
understood what a pigmy race they must have been.

In France, Poussin, Lesueur, Lebrun, and Claude Gelée, all died in the
latter half of the seventeenth century, leaving no worthy successors
behind them.

Germany, owing perhaps to her long civil wars and political troubles,
had produced no great artist since Holbein, and the English school was
as yet non-existent, so we may easily comprehend the very low level to
which art sank toward the beginning of the eighteenth century. When I
say that the English school was non-existent in the seventeenth century,
I do not mean that there were no painters in England. The Stuart princes
were generally liberal patrons of art, but all the best painters
patronized by them were foreigners. Vandyke, Sir Peter Lely, and even
Sir G. Kneller, were all foreigners, and the country was inundated with
third-rate Flemish and Italian painters. Of the latter, Verrio is a good
typical example. Charles II employed him to cover the ceilings and walls
of his palaces with tasteless sprawling allegories, and we learn from
Walpole that the sums paid by the king, or rather by the unfortunate
country, for these wretched parodies of Italian decorative painting,
were very considerable.

I think that of late years Sir Peter Lely has had scant justice done to
his talent. A contemporary of Vandyke, his portraits have many points of
resemblance with those of that master. His inferiority is chiefly
noticeable in the hands, dresses, and accessories of his portraits, but
his female heads are often very beautiful, and are singularly
characteristic of the period.

Sir Godfrey Kneller, although he lived well into the eighteenth century,
must be looked upon as a seventeenth-century painter, all his best work
having been done when he was comparatively young. He is another of those
predecessors of Reynolds whom it has been the fashion to villify and
decry. I have seen portraits by Kneller which were infinitely better
than much of the highly-praised portraiture of the last century; but
unfortunately this clever though intensely vain artist regarded painting
more as a lucrative trade than as a liberal profession. No one can wish
that Kneller had devoted his talents to the stupid allegorical style
then in fashion, instead of sticking to portraits; but what may be
wished is that he had been more conscientious, and less greedy for
money, in the particular branch of art to which he devoted himself.

In speaking of court patronage I noticed that the painters encouraged by
the Stuarts were all foreigners, but this does not seem to have been
done from systematic neglect of native talent, but simply because no
painters worthy of the name were born in England. The only real
Englishman of the century who rose above mediocrity was William Dobson,
and he had no reason to complain of want of royal patronage, for King
Charles appointed him at a very early age to be court painter on the
death of Vandyke, and used to call him the English Tintoretto.

From what I have seen of Dobson’s I don’t think I should have compared
him to Tintoretto. Nevertheless I consider him as a genuine artist, and
had he not died at the age of thirty-six he would probably have achieved
much greater fame.

I ought not to omit mentioning John Riley, whose work was often taken
for Lely’s. Walpole describes him as having been humble and modest, and
adds that with a quarter of Kneller’s vanity he might have persuaded the
world that he was as great a master. I think the anecdote told of him
greatly in his favor, that Charles II, after sitting to him, exclaimed,
on seeing the picture, “Is this like me? then, oddsfish! I am an ugly
fellow.” In such an age of flattery and falsehood it is quite
refreshing to meet with an honest painter.

To give you an idea of the deplorable state of the art of painting
toward the beginning of the eighteenth century, I will quote from Horace
Walpole, who, although by no means a good art-critic, was a man of great
taste and shrewdness. Speaking of the accession of the House of Hanover,
he says:--“We are now arrived at the period in which the arts were sunk
to the lowest ebb in Britain. From the stiffness introduced by Holbein
and the Flemish masters we were fallen into a loose and (if I may use
the word) dissolute kind of painting. Sir Godfrey Kneller still lived,
but only in name, which he prostituted by suffering the most wretched
daubings of hired substitutes to pass for his works, while at most he
gave himself the trouble of painting the face of the person who sat to
him. His successors thought they had caught his free manner when they
neglected drawing and finishing.”

Walpole goes on to deplore the frightful fashions of the period, and
remarks that Dahl, D’Agar, Richardson, Jervas, and others, “rebuffed by
such barbarous forms, and not possessing genius enough to deviate from
what they saw, clothed all their personages with a loose drapery and
airy mantles, which not only _were_ not but _could_ not be the dress of
any age or nation. All these casual and loose wrappings were imitated
from nothing; they seldom have any folds or chiaroscuro, drawing and
color being equally forgotten.”

There are hundreds of these portraits still in existence, but they are
generally relegated to attics and dark corridors of old country-seats,
and no one ever thinks of looking at them. The owner does not like to
make a bonfire of the effigies of his ancestors, but he stows them away
where they will not be seen. Setting aside all questions of art, these
insipid productions are valueless as likenesses. We feel that not only
the dresses, but the faces themselves could not be of any age or nation.

Walpole, like most men of his time, cared but little about historical or
decorative painting, and his remarks on the decadence of art relate
solely to portraiture, but there is no doubt that figure-painting had
deteriorated just as much.

George I, was totally devoid of taste, and the second George (as is well
known) hated “boetry and bainting.” The only employers of artists (I
cannot call them patrons) were country gentlemen and a few noblemen who
wanted their portraits painted. The wonder to me is, not that the
portraits of Richardson and Jervas are so bad, but that they are not

As the century proceeded, portrait-painting in England did not improve.
We find that, between 1730 and 1750, Thomas Hudson was at the head of
the profession, and no words can express better than this fact how deep
the art had sunk. The only representative of large historical painting
at the beginning of the century was Sir James Thornhill. I do not feel
for this artist the same antipathy that I do for his predecessors,
Verrio and Laguerre.

Indeed, I think that had Sir James lived at any other period he would
have become a really great artist.

He was a very fair draughtsman, and understood the art of grouping with
taste and dignity; but he had not the genius necessary to break away
altogether from the ignoble style of his day.

It would be a profitless task to enumerate the crowd of insipid foreign
painters who found a market for their work in England during the first
half of the eighteenth century. I prefer passing on at once to Hogarth,
who stands up like a giant amongst his dwarfish contemporaries. _He_ at
any rate possessed original genius, and his manual skill, though
inferior to that of the best Dutchmen, was by no means contemptible. His
portraits are amongst the best and most characteristic of the century,
and I can find nothing in his attempts at a higher kind of art, as
illustrated by his “Sigismunda” (in the National Gallery), to justify
either the savage onslaught of Walpole or the contemptuous pity of
Reynolds. On the contrary, it appears to me that this much-abused
picture is a very respectable performance, and I fail to see any
presumption in a skilful and accomplished artist like Hogarth seeking
to escape from the loathsome task of always painting scenes of vice,
misery, or folly.

Sir Joshua ought to have recollected his own “Death of Dido,” and other
attempts in what he calls “the great historical style,” before taxing
Hogarth with imprudence and presumption.

As in these lectures I have often ventured to criticise, and, as some
may think, to speak disrespectfully of our first President and his
discourses, I should like to state that though I do not admire his
pictures as universally as some do, I consider him to have been a
thorough artist; by which I mean that he was saturated with love for his
profession. To him, painting, instead of being a task, was the greatest
pleasure in life, and in pursuit of this pleasure he was indefatigable.
We owe him a deep debt of gratitude as the great regenerator of art in
this country.

The great French art-reformer, David, went back to the antique, and to
nature (who is older still); and this seems to me the more logical
method. But there is no doubt that, practically (considering Sir
Joshua’s own idiosyncrasies and the state in which he found English
portraiture), an intelligent study of the old masters was the best rope
for hauling British art off the mudbank on which she had so long been

The name of Reynolds as a portrait-painter is almost as much respected
abroad as it is here. Most of his work is faded and otherwise much
deteriorated, but fortunately the excellent engravings of his portraits
will to all ages preserve his fame as a man of great power, taste, and

I confess myself quite unable to appreciate Gainsborough’s pictures as
they are at present appreciated. I don’t mean to say that I undervalue
_all_ his work. I have seen heads by him which I admired exceedingly,
but I must protest against the blind fetishism which would compel us to
accept as good work any weak, trashy picture which bears his name. I
have read laudatory notices both of him and Romney which would tempt one
to say with Borachio, “See what a deformed thief this Fashion is!”

I would recommend young artists to bear in mind a pithy old saying, to
the effect that “One man may steal a horse while another may not look
over the hedge”; and to beware of treating landscape, or portraiture
either, in the Gainsborough style. Should they be misled into any thing
of the kind, they will find to their cost that the loose, flimsy manner
which is greatly admired in the fashionable painter of the last century,
will not be tolerated for one instant in a modern picture.

Amongst the early members of this Academy, Cotes, Dance, and Ramsay were
all portrait-painters, who have, in my opinion, fully as good a right
to celebrity as Gainsborough; but their merits are ignored, whilst
inferior works attributed to Gainsborough fetch thousands of pounds.

Amongst the figure-painters of the eighteenth-century academicians, I
consider Copley to have been far the best. When I compare his honest,
manly work with that of his contemporaries, Angelica Kaufman and West, I
am always struck by its immeasurable superiority. Indeed, considering
that portraiture had been the only branch of the art cultivated in
England since the days of Holbein, and bearing in mind how
figure-drawing had been neglected, I look upon Copley’s pictures with
something like admiration.

I cannot feel the same respect for Barry’s paintings at the Adelphi,
although the effort evinced in these paintings is worthy of all praise.
It was a much-needed protest against the all-absorbing fashionable
portraiture of the day; but unfortunately the artist’s drawing was
neither correct nor refined enough for this kind of work, and I fear it
must be allowed that the execution of these heroic subjects is both weak
and pretentious. In my opinion there are but two English figure-painters
of the eighteenth century whose merit would be acknowledged by an
intelligent foreign critic--by one, in short, who was ignorant of the
market value of pictures, and whose judgment was, therefore, wholly
unbiased. These two painters would be Hogarth and Copley. We will now
see what sort of artists this century of puff and powder produced in

In France the seventeenth century had been a very remarkable period for
art, for it was then that Poussin, Lesueur, Claude Gelée, and Lebrun all
lived and died. Thus, while in England all historical and landscape
painting was a complete blank, France produced some of the greatest
artists that have ever lived. They (at least three of them, Poussin,
Lesueur, and Claude) were great in the largest sense of the word.
Classic, religious, and landscape painting must always, _ceteris
paribus_, take precedence of homely genre and prosaic portraiture.
Invention is a higher quality than power of imitation, particularly
when, as in the case of these three painters, the inventive power flowed
without effort and was exercised with rare taste and judgment. With
these three great artists I coupled Lebrun, not because I consider him
by any means their equal, but because he was the founder of a good deal
of the art which found favor in France during the eighteenth century. It
is with this century that we have to deal; so, without further preamble,
I will begin with Jean Jouvenet.

This artist (but little known out of France) narrowly escaped becoming a
great painter. His early pictures have a good deal of Poussin’s
classical manner about them. Lebrun thought so highly of the young
artist that he employed him as an assistant in the large battle-pieces
he was executing for Louis XIV at Versailles.

Here he no doubt acquired a good deal of Lebrun’s vigor and facility,
but lost the pure taste and classical feeling he had derived from
Poussin. He was a very prolific painter, and all his works are either
life-size or larger than life. They are remarkably well drawn and
vigorously colored, but they lack the one quality which makes Lesueur’s
work so attractive, viz., simplicity and reverential feeling.

It is by no means necessary that the painter of religious subjects
should be an ascetic, nor even what is commonly called a religious man,
but it is necessary that he should import into his work some of the
spirit of Christianity, just as it is necessary for the painter of pagan
heroes and nymphs to imbue himself with the spirit of classical art
until it becomes a second nature to him.

In Jouvenet’s numerous pictures of New Testament subjects the action is
too violent, and the painter has evidently thought more about displaying
his own skill than doing justice to his subject.

In Rubens’ Biblical pictures we often find the same kind of vulgar
bustle and common types, but every thing is pardoned to Rubens on
account of his brilliant color.

Jouvenet’s color, though fairly good, was not of that transcendent
quality which would condone his very unbiblical style of composition.

With all his faults, Jouvenet is rather a favorite of mine. I like his
thoroughly masculine style of work, and I admire his indomitable pluck
and industry. It is related of him that some ten years before his death
he became afflicted with paralysis, which completely crippled his right
arm. He then took to painting with his left, and on recovering partially
the use of his right fingers he used to hold his brush in his right hand
and guide it with his left. It is said that the work thus done is hardly
inferior to what he produced before his paralysis. Contrast this
devotion and love for his art with the tradesman-like indifference of
the English face-painters, of the Knellers, the Jervases, and the
Richardsons, and others who, as soon as they had acquired wealth,
shirked work as much as possible.

Antoine Watteau is another artist of great power and originality, who
made a very marked impression on the Continental schools of the
eighteenth century. Although he died at the early age of thirty-seven he
became quite a _chef d’école_. Lancret was the best of his imitators,
but dexterous and clever as Lancret’s pictures are, they hardly equal
the best of Watteau’s. We have often read and heard about the humble
beginnings of artists, who subsequently became famous, but the poverty
and squalor of Watteau’s student life have, I should think, never been
rivalled. He left his native town, Valenciennes, for Paris without money
and with hardly a rag to cover him. With difficulty he obtained work at
a kind of sign-painter’s, whose principal business was in the religious
votive picture line. A number of young students were employed by this
dealer, and quantity was more insisted on than quality. Watteau got
three francs a week, and as he was an excellent workman he had a bowl of
soup given him every day. He did not stay very long with this man, but
for many years his poverty compelled him to work for others. During all
this time he never ceased taking every opportunity of sketching from
nature, and thus laid the foundations of his subsequent extraordinary
facility. Ultimately he was fortunate enough to meet with the best kind
of patron, not a pompous big-wig who condescended to sit for his
portrait, but a gentleman who possessed a first-class collection of
drawings by the old masters, and who allowed Watteau to sketch and copy
to his heart’s content. This completed our artist’s education. He formed
his style of color on P. Veronese and Rubens, but his elegant and
_spirituel_ drawing and the crisp dexterity of his touch were all his
own. It may surprise some to hear that the painter of the frivolous,
masquerading scenes and of the foppish humors of his day was of a mild
and rather melancholy disposition, longing for the quiet of a country
life, and the unsophisticated joys of a poultry-yard and cabbage-garden.
Watteau’s fame increased after his death, when it was found that not one
of his numerous imitators could equal him. This fame was completely
swept away by the great classical wave which deluged France toward the
close of the century. This wave in its turn receded, and Watteau is now
again at high-water mark.

The able French critic, M. Villot, asks apropos of this flux and reflux
of popular estimation--“Pourquoi ne pas rendre justice en tout temps
(quel que soit le genre, quelle que soit la forme) à l’originalite, à la
force, au sentiment, en un mot au vrai génie?” The answer is, Who is to
determine what “vrai génie” is? It is just because the art-world in the
time of David could see no genius in Watteau that they treated his work
with the most ignominious contempt, and it is because the present French
school is intensely anticlassical that the paintings of the first Empire
are looked upon with loathing. I am afraid that fashion rules public
opinion in art as much as she does in dress.

There are very few artists and still fewer critics who can (like M.
Villot) give an unprejudiced opinion about two such dissimilar painters
as Watteau and David.

They (like politicians) take either one side or the other. They are
swayed by party, and we all know what that means. We all know the
respectful homage paid by Liberals to Conservatives, and _vice versâ_.

I now come to the painters who are most typical of the eighteenth
century. These were the brothers Vanloo and Boucher. I group them
together, as their style and the subjects they treated were so similar
that for my purpose these three or four painters may be treated as one.

Gifted with a marvellous facility of brush, with great industry, and
with no scruples about purity of style, these facile decorative painters
got through an incredible amount of work. Boucher especially fairly
glutted the market with pictures and drawings of every conceivable
subject, and as (although a man of pleasure) he made it a rule to work
ten hours a day, it may be understood that a good deal of this work was
mechanical and commonplace.

The color of all the pictures of this school is as fictitious as the
drawing, but for all that it is not disagreeable from a decorative point
of view; and none but very clever men could have ignored nature with so
little impunity. When I was a student in Paris, the traditions of the
David school had not died out, and to call an artist a Boucher or a
Vanloo was the _ne plus ultra_ of insult. Old David himself, however,
seems to have been more just to Boucher, for when one of his fanatical
classical followers was railing against that master, “I can tell you,”
says David, “that it is not given to every one to be a Boucher.” No
doubt he was right. It is _not_ given to every one to produce over
10,000 works of art, none of which can be said to be much below
mediocrity, and some greatly above it.

Boucher, and even the much-abused Vanloo, were infinitely better
painters in every respect than any artist Italy could produce at this
period. They at any rate had a style of their own, which is more than
can be said for Maratti, Pomponi, and the other miserable followers of
the once great Italian school.

The style was neither noble nor pure, but it was all the better suited
for the decoration of Louis XV apartments. Another figure-painter
contemporary with Boucher and the Vanloos was Greuze.

This artist is a very striking illustration of the power of fashion over
the popularity of a painter. It is not many years ago since a good
specimen of Greuze was worth more than a fine Rembrandt or Van der
Helst. This strange Greuze mania lasted a few years, and then happily
died gradually away.

There is a certain prettiness about his female heads, and I have seen
portraits by him which were remarkably good; but his pictures, such as
“The Malédiction paternelle” and the “Fils puni,” are a curious mixture
of nambypambyism and melodrama.

There were two popular engravings of these pictures, which in Louis
Philippe’s time were great favorites with the lower bourgeoisie; and it
was curious to note how universally they were disliked by all artists,
and how universally admired by all retired grocers, pork-butchers, and
shopkeepers in general.

His _chef-d’œuvre_ is supposed to be the “Cruche cassee” at the
Louvre; and during the Greuze epidemic, hundreds of copies were made of
this (to me) rather offensive picture.

I shall reserve David and his school for my next lecture, but before
finishing what I have to say about the French artists of the eighteenth
century, I wish to mention the portrait-painter Rigaud, and one or two
landscape-painters. Portrait-painting in France was never debased to a
trade as it was in England. Many of the historical painters I have
mentioned executed portraits, and very fine ones too, but the best
portraitist of the century was Hyacinthe Rigaud. His full-length of
Louis XIV is really a grand work. His biographer informs us that he
worked with his brush for sixty-two years, and averaged thirty portraits
a year during the whole of that period. In addition to this he made a
point of retouching the numerous copies and replicas which were made of
his royal portraits. He painted five kings and innumerable princes and
scions of royal blood. Probably no artist ever lived who painted so many
great personages, or who gave such general satisfaction. No man,
however, could possibly get through such a colossal amount of work
without the quality suffering, and there is in Rigaud’s portraits of
minor personages a monotony and mechanical sameness which is very
tiresome, although I never yet saw a portrait by Rigaud which was ill
drawn or badly posed.

It appears that this excellent artist distinguished himself in early
life by his careful academical studies--studies which he continued long
after he became well known as a portrait-painter; and the good results
of this training are evident from the masterly treatment of the hands
and all the accessories in his portraits. It is strange that Sir Joshua
Reynolds, who was liberal enough (at any rate toward artists who were no
longer living), should never have mentioned the portraits of Rigaud.

Another excellent French painter of the eighteenth century was Joseph
Vernet, the father of Carle and grandfather of Horace Vernet. His views
of the seaports of France are evidence of his honest style of work and
indefatigable industry. An able French critic, speaking of these and
other numerous sea-pieces by Vernet, remarks that although he may not
have the delicacy of touch possessed by Vandevelde, nor the glowing
color of Claude, yet no landscape painter ever was more thorough and
uniformly good than Vernet. His figures are always admirably arranged,
and painted with great skill, and his way of viewing nature was simple,
unaffected, and broad. Unfortunately his pictures have become very dark
and brown, and the hanging of all the seaport views together in one
gallery is not a happy arrangement. One’s first impression, on entering
the room, is that they are a collection of old maps, and it is only
after close and patient examination that their good qualities became

Hubert Robert was another of the conscientious and indefatigable workers
of the eighteenth century, whose pictures are hardly known at all in
England. His forte was the delineation of old Roman buildings, and the
Louvre possesses several examples of his careful, honest work. On
account of his great reputation as an architect, he was much employed by
Louis XV at Versailles, in designing the garden terraces and park
buildings, and it was probably on this account that he was looked upon
as a Royalist, and thrown into prison at the time of the great
Revolution. There he remained for ten months, employing his time in
sketching and painting his fellow-prisoners. Although he expected every
day to be carted off to the guillotine, the pictures and portraits which
he executed at this terrible time show no sign of careless haste or
nervous indecision. They are extremely valuable as being true records of
the scenes which took place in the prisons, but they are seldom seen in
public galleries, as they were given by the painter to his companions in
misfortune, and are treasured as heirlooms by their descendants.

When I mention that our painter was sixty years old at the time, I think
it will be conceded that he was made of the right stuff.

Having exhausted what I can afford time to say about the French schools
of the eighteenth century, I would gladly pick out a few Italian
painters of merit of that period, but I find it utterly impossible to
do so. They were a race of bad copyists, without a spark of originality
or independence of feeling. They had traditional receipts for covering
large wall-spaces with figures in the Pietro di Cortona and Carlo
Maratti style; and as the century wore on, these “pasticcios” became
more and more insipid and commonplace. It is better by far to have a
style of one’s own, though it be frivolous like Watteau’s, or artificial
like Boucher’s, than to go on manufacturing pictures by routine. The
only exception I know of to the universal decrepitude of the Italian
eighteenth-century painters is Canaletti. He may not have been a great
genius, but, at any rate, he was not an imitator of others, and his
canal views of Venice are a great deal more truthful than any I have
ever seen.

I am aware that his way of painting a ripple on the water was too
mechanical, but his buildings are admirable; and whenever I go to Venice
I am always more reminded of Canaletti’s pictures than of Turner’s. I am
not expressing the heretical opinion that Canaletti was a greater
_artist_ than Turner. I am merely stating, as a matter of fact, that
Canaletti’s Venice is much more like the real place than Turner’s; and
it appears to me that an architectural painter should (of all painters)
adhere strictly to local truth.

I cannot find amongst the German painters of the eighteen century one
single artist of first-rate excellence. All the national talent seems
to have found expression in the sister art of music. We find Handel,
Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and a host of other musical giants, but not
one man of exceptional stature amongst the painters.

Raphael Mengs was undoubtedly the best. Kugler tells us that from his
twelfth year he was set to draw from the finest antiques, and from the
masterpieces of M. Angelo and Raffaelle. He afterward studied color from
Titian, chiaroscuro from Correggio, and so on. In short, he had a most
thorough and systematic art education. He was a painstaking and
intelligent man, and yet, though crammed with knowledge, he failed to
leave a great name. The truth appears to be that he lacked originality
and self-dependence. His pictures, therefore, though almost faultless in
composition and drawing, are somehow cold and unsatisfactory.

Then there is Dietrich, whose peculiar talent lay in the imitation of
other masters. Rembrandt, Ostade, and many other Dutch masters were most
closely imitated by this artist.

Denner, the most minute finisher that ever lived, and Sieboldt the
portrait-painter, who had a smooth, highly polished manner of painting
(not unlike Denner’s), pretty well exhaust the list of popular artists
in Germany.

In the Netherlands, as I have already stated, the race of charming
“genre” and landscape painters died out with the seventeenth century,
but Van Huysum and his followers Roepel and Van Os carried the art of
flower-and fruit-painting to a point which it never reached before.

Many of the Italian painters of this century were very fond of
introducing festoons of flowers in their pictures, and Boucher was
pretty liberal too of Pompadour roses, but these floral accessories were
treated in a decorative fashion, and could not be compared to Van
Huysum’s exquisitely finished and richly colored flower pieces.

To summarize what I have said about eighteenth-century painting, we find
in England a very low level of dull portraiture until Reynolds
revolutionized the art; historical painting altogether absent; incident
painting with only one good representative (Hogarth), and
landscape-painting also with only one (Richard Wilson), unless we count
Crome, Cotman, and Constable as belonging to this century. It will,
however, be observed, that during the latter half of the century, art
was in a continued state of progress. The portraits which satisfied the
public of the early Georges were no longer tolerated. Landscape art was
seriously studied, and even what is called historical painting was
feebly struggling into life.

In France, on the contrary, we find the art barometer falling during the
century, until the fall was rudely arrested by David. Her painters were
incomparably superior to ours in the early part of the century, but the
all-pervading influence of the Vanloos and Bouchers demoralized fatally
the whole school, and prepared the way for the great classical revival.

Art was in a woful plight in Italy, hardly any better in Germany, and
dead or not yet born in other countries. So that the eighteenth century,
or at least the greater part of it, may be described in meteorological
language as a widespread depression. This depression has, however, long
passed away, and it rests with the coming generation of painters to take
care that it should not occur again. We cannot control the weather. When
a telegram is received from New York announcing “a disturbance which
will develop energy” (meaning in plain English that we must look out for
squalls), we cannot avert the coming storm; but when we are threatened
from Paris, Vienna, or Rome, with an epidemic of false or meretricious
art, we _can_ resist the temptation of following, like the sheep of
Panurge, any cracked bell-wether who may happen to be in fashion. Let
every young artist work hard and conscientiously, and when he has
thoroughly learned the technical part of his profession and stored his
mind with knowledge likely to be useful to him, let him determine to
carry out his own ideas, regardless whether they happen to coincide with
the prevailing craze of the day, and I will venture to prophesy that no
such a collapse of art as afflicted the first half of the eighteenth
century will ever occur again.



In my last lecture I traced the progress or rather the retrogression of
the French school of painting during the eighteenth century. I explained
how, beginning fairly well with such painters as Lebrun, Sebastian,
Bourdon, and Rigaud, the school gradually degenerated, and lost all
traces of the pure and noble style of Poussin and Lesueur. Boucher and
the numerous tribe of the Vanloos deluged the country with a species of
art which, however suitable for decorative purposes in Louis XV
galleries and boudoirs, could not be called historical painting, and the
false sentiment, conventional color, and meretricious style peculiar to
the school (if pardonable in the original founders) became unendurable
in their followers and imitators. It is not surprising, therefore, that
almost simultaneously with the great national Revolution, an art
revolution should also have occurred.

At the time of _our_ great Revolution, when we set the example of
beheading royalty, Cromwell and his Roundheads were antagonistic to all
art (at least to all painting), and no revival was possible. A gloomy
Puritanism would tolerate nothing but dull portraiture. In France,
however, the case was different. Atheism and the worship of the goddess
of Reason, though, of course, antagonistic to religious art, were not
opposed to pagan or classic painting, and in the interval immediately
preceding the establishment of the Empire, art suffered no

On the contrary, every thing was done to enlist the services of the best
painters toward the glorification of the new régime; and as David, the
most able artist of his day, happened to be an enthusiastic student of
the antique, it is not surprising that he acquired unlimited influence
over the school.

Artists (particularly when they are such men as David) do not spring up,
like mushrooms, in a day, and it may surprise some to hear that he was
born as early as 1748, and had therefore reached the mature age of
forty-four when the Revolution broke out. He received his artistic
education in the atelier of Vien. That painter, though not free
altogether from the mannerism of the period, adhered more closely to
nature than did the painters of the Vanloo school.

Vien rose to great eminence under Louis XVI, and held for many years the
directorship of the French Academy at Rome. His pupil, David, having
after three unsuccessful attempts at last obtained the prix de Rome,
accompanied his master, and it was not till his residence in Rome that
he finally and completely emancipated himself from the Vanloo school.
His study from the antique was unremittent. He drew more than he
painted, but the few pictures he executed at this period were the best
he ever did. I know of nothing in the whole range of art more exquisite
in arrangement and drawing than the drapery of the woman in his
“Belisarius.” This and several other excellent pictures were bought by
Louis XVI, and the Count d’Artois, afterward Charles X, so that David in
his best time was any thing but a ferocious revolutionist.

When the terrible time at last came, David appears to have given up his
art, and to have joined the party of Robespierre. His biographer says,
“Il se laissa entrainer,” but there is no doubt that he was a willing
convert, and his name is associated with some of the most atrocious acts
of the Jacobins. It is possible that, having once connected himself with
that sanguinary set, he found he could not draw back, and _must_ be as
cruel and ferocious as his colleagues. It is difficult to believe that a
man who had such an exquisite and refined taste for form (and especially
the human form) should have taken a pleasure in ordering wholesale

After narrowly escaping the fate of his friend Robespierre, he wisely
returned to art and humanity; nor did he ever afterward take any share
in the political convulsions of his country. He was much patronized by
the first Napoleon, as the huge official pictures at Versailles amply
testify. Official pictures, particularly during the hideous fashions
which marked the Empire, must have been very awkward things to
undertake, and David, with all his good qualities, had not the gift of
color, which alone could enliven and give interest to such subjects as
the crowning of Napoleon and the distribution of the eagles to the

He had, however, _one_ quality in the highest perfection, and that was
drawing. His monochrome cartoon for the great coronation picture is
really a wonderful production. All the figures are completely nude, and
it is a pity that his pontiffs, princes, and ambassadors could not be
left in the state in which he first drew them from Academy models.

When he came to draw figures in violent action, as in his “Romans and
Sabines” and the “Leonidas,” his drawing becomes rather stiff and
constrained. This, coupled with his disagreeable color, makes these
pictures odious in the sight of most artists, and to none more odious
than to Frenchmen. But even in these works, if individual portions,
heads, arms, and legs, are examined critically, it will be found how
thoroughly masterly the drawing is. There is in his figures no display
of anatomy (which display, by the way, generally indicates _ignorance_
rather than knowledge of anatomy), no ugly realism perpetuating the
bunions and other deformities of his models; and, on the other hand,
none of that fictitious decorative style of drawing which is so
characteristic of Louis XV painters. David was a very great draughtsman,
not exactly in the sense in which M. Angelo is considered a great
draughtsman. He was singularly deficient in imagination, in power of
grouping, and in poetic feeling; but probably no man ever lived who
could paint so good an Academy figure. It may also be said of him, that
he was not only a great master of drawing, but a great drawing-master.
Such a man was sadly wanted after the demoralization of eighteenth
century art; and, notwithstanding the jeers of the modern realists, I
maintain that the pre-eminence of the French historical painters over
those of other nations during the better part of this century is
entirely due to old David and his teaching. Amongst his actual pupils
may be mentioned Girodet, Drouais, Gros, Gérard, and Ingres; but his
influence extended far beyond the walls of his atélier, and it is no
exaggeration to say that the correct and refined though manly style of
drawing inaugurated by David permeated the whole French school.

Of the above-mentioned pupils Drouais was undoubtedly the most
promising. His picture of the “Canaanitish Woman,” which is now at the
Louvre, was his “prix de Rome” work, corresponding to our gold-medal
pictures, and it certainly is a most remarkable work for a young man. It
has very little of the stiff academic manner about it. Moreover, there
is a feeling for color in it which is very rare in the David school.
Unfortunately Drouais died in his twenty-fifth year, and France lost a
man who fairly promised to be one of the greatest painters she ever had.

Gérard followed pretty closely in the footsteps of his master. His
touch, however, was softer, and his color less unpleasant. Moreover, he
abandoned Greek and Roman warriors, and painted a great variety of more
pleasing subjects, from “Cupid and Psyche” down to the “Entry of Henry
IV into Paris.”

Pierre Guérin was another artist of this group, who, although not a
pupil of David, adopted his style completely. Guérin was an excellent
draughtsman, but his taste in composition was theatrical, and in almost
all his pictures his figures have a stagey look, as if they were on the
boards of the Théatre Français, declaiming Racine. His picture of
“Phèdre and Hyppolite” is a good example of this histrionic tendency.

Both Gérard and Guérin were content to emulate not only the fine drawing
of the master, but his false, unpleasant color, and their figures have,
like David’s, rather the appearance of painted statues. Moreover, there
is a degree of effeminacy about such pictures as the “Cupid and Psyche”
of Gérard, and the “Dido and Æneas” of Guérin which we never find in old
David’s work. Neither of these painters appears to me to have in any
way improved on the style of their master, whereas Girodet, Gros, and
Ingres grafted on to the correct drawing of David qualities of their

Girodet emancipated himself completely from the stiff academic attitudes
which David gave to his figures when he wanted to depict action. The
scene from the “Deluge” (which every one who has been to the Louvre must
have seen) is outrageously artificial; nevertheless, supposing it
possible that a family of antediluvians should have performed the
acrobatic feat here depicted, the action in all the figures is perfectly
true. Moreover, there is a freedom and spirit about the attitudes which
we do not find in David’s work.

This picture competed with David’s “Romans and Sabines” for the grand
decennial prize given in 1810, and the judges very justly gave the prize
to Girodet. In the “Endymion” and the “Burial of Atala,” both at the
Louvre, Girodet deserted the David system of coloring and adopted a
color suitable to the subjects, which to my thinking is very impressive
and poetic.

The dead Atala is a most lovely creation, perfect in every way. Indeed,
I consider it to be the _chef-d’œuvre_ of the whole school. Girodet’s
talent for composition was very great. He illustrated Virgil, Anacreon,
Racine, and other poets with exquisite taste and skill. I have seen some
of these illustrations. They are more picturesque than Flaxman’s, and
much more refined in drawing. Girodet was himself a poet of no mean
order, and his translations from the Greek classics proves him to have
been an accomplished scholar.

I should have much liked to have illustrated what I have been saying
about these really great artists with a few engravings from their works.
When I was a student in Paris one might have picked up any number of
them from the portfolios on the quays, but now they are extremely
scarce. The school has long since gone out of fashion in France, and in
England it never was in fashion.

Before proceeding to speak of Gros, Ingres, and Granet, who, although
pupils of David, departed gradually from their master’s style, I should
like to notice two painters, Prudhon and Géricault, whose art was
altogether antagonistic to the stiff classicism of the period.

The former went to Rome in 1782, and, unlike his countrymen, devoted his
time to the study of the old masters instead of adhering to nature and
the antique. There is a pretty and true anecdote connected with this
journey to Rome, which I should like to tell you. Whilst competing for
the prix de Rome, one of his fellow-competitors was taken ill and was
obliged to give up. Prudhon, out of compassion for the poor fellow, who
had overworked himself, left his own picture and finished his rival’s
in such a style that he gained him the prize. The successful candidate
was, however, not to be outdone in generosity, so he told the whole
story to the judges, assuring them that had it not been for Prudhon’s
assistance, his picture would by no means have been the best. Upon
hearing this, the judges revised their decision, and declared Prudhon to
be the victor.

I am not aware whether so much generosity on the one hand, and modesty
on the other, is common amongst prize candidates and gold medallists. I
fancy it is the exception rather than the rule, and this must be my
excuse for relating the story.

Prudhon’s pictures are very inferior to his small drawings. He never was
a thorough draughtsman like his contemporaries, and when he attempted
life-size figures, the form becomes incorrect and very vague. His
favorite masters appear to have been Correggio and Andrea del Sarto, but
he exaggerated their softness until his figures lost all texture and
appeared to be made of cotton wool.

In aiming at breadth, he again overshot the mark. Simplicity is a very
desirable quality, and one which is rarely found in our Academy schools,
but at the same time, when carried to such extremes as in Prudhon’s
“Crucifixion” it degenerates into mannerism. Of his small drawings I
cannot speak too highly. They are greatly admired in France, but little
known in England.

The other eccentric nonconformist to the David tradition, namely,
Géricault, is much better known in England than Prudhon. His famous
picture of the “Medusa Raft” was not liked when first exhibited in
Paris. It was brought over to London, where it was much more
appreciated. On its return to Paris, M. de Forbin, the director of the
national collection, in vain urged the government to purchase it. It was
disliked by Louis XVIII’s ministers, and it took M. de Forbin three
years to persuade them to grant £200 for its purchase. After this it
suddenly rose to great popularity, which went on increasing until my
student days, when it was universally acknowledged to be the
_chef-d’œuvre_ of the modern French school. It is no doubt a fine,
vigorous work, full of action and energy, but my enthusiasm was always
rather cold compared to that of my fellow-students. Its realism appears
to me to lie more in the execution than in the conception. It is too
melodramatic to be true. We admire the technical qualities of the
painting, the vigorous drawing, and the appropriate, if somewhat sombre,
color, but somehow we feel that the _mise en scène_ lacks truth, that
the painter has thought more about displaying his own power than
realizing the dreadful scene he had to depict. Compared with the
artificial, classical works of David, this picture is nature itself; but
measured by the modern standard of pictorial truth, it must be confessed
that it is not quite satisfactory. The sea ought surely in such a
subject to play an important part. We miss altogether the long swell
which always follows a storm, and the helpless condition of a rude raft
as it plunges and rises on the big waves. Géricault’s single wave, which
threatens to break over the raft, is a pasteboard, theatrical one, which
need cause no alarm. To criticise the setting of the sail from a
nautical point of view would be too matter-of-fact; but I cannot help
thinking that if the canvas had been listlessly flapping, and
consequently useless as a sail, the picture would have been truer, and
therefore more touching.

Géricault’s other works in the Louvre are rather gigantic sketches than
pictures. They all evince great power and facility, but the action is
generally unnecessarily violent, and the relative proportion between man
and horse not properly observed. In spite of his faults, Géricault was,
however, a very great artist, and may justly be considered as the
founder of the _école romantique_, which subsequently developed itself
so greatly in France.

We now come to Gros, who, although originally a pupil of David,
abandoned in after-life the style of his master. Gros spent a good deal
of his youth in Italy, and having pleased Buonaparte by a picture
representing the battle of the Bridge of Arcola, the young general
attached him to his staff, and thus fixed the painter’s career.

Every one who has been to Paris knows the gigantic pictures
commemorative of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, the “Pestiferés de
Jaffa,” the “Battaille des Pyramides,” and last, though not least, the
“Battaille d’Aboukir.” This picture may be accepted as the
_chef-d’œuvre_ of that noble style of battle-painting which is
intermediate between the academic manner of David and the thoroughly
naturalistic style of modern battle-painters. The composition of this
picture has always struck me as being most masterly, and I strongly
recommend all students to study the subtle manner in which the lines of
the groups and the masses of light and shade are made to express the
action, quite independent of the individual attitudes. Murat, who is
charging at the head of the French cavalry, looks like the forerunner of
a great wave which is about to break over the unfortunate Turks, and the
whole composition, viewed as a composition, is a masterpiece. The
relative proportions of the figures are not properly observed, but the
spirit and skill displayed are so great that this fault passes almost
unnoticed. I do not wish to underrate the battle-pieces of H. Vernet,
Bellanger, and Raffet, and I admire exceedingly those of De Neuville,
but I must say that the art which could produce on canvas such an epic
poem as this “Battaille d’Aboukir” is of a higher quality; and when we
recollect that the figures are considerably larger than life, our
respect and admiration for old Gros must be proportionately increased.
When considerably past fifty, Gros went to Brussels to visit his old
master, David, who was living there in exile, and for whom he had always
entertained the greatest affection.

Unfortunately for Gros, he allowed himself to be persuaded by the old
man to give up painting modern battles, and to go back to the Greeks and
Romans. A few attempts in this direction, made by Gros on his return to
Paris, were so severely criticised, and greeted with such roars of
laughter, that poor Gros drowned himself from sheer vexation. A
coroner’s jury would have justly returned a verdict of temporary
insanity, for previous to his suicide Gros had shown many symptoms of
mental aberration independent of his egregiously bad pictures.

His rival Ingres survived him for thirty years. This painter (also a
pupil of David) departed from the master’s style, but in quite a
different direction to that taken by Gros. Slow, laborious, and
fastidious, he was a long time before gaining the front rank of French
painters, which, however, when once gained he kept for forty years. He
largely modified the David interpretation of the antique by studying the
works of Raffaelle, and importing into his own much of the simplicity,
dignity, and grace which characterize the best works of the great Roman
painter. He deserves, however, more honor as the founder of a school
than as a great painter. He may be said to have supplemented the
schooling in draughtsmanship which the French artists got under David.
I can name but one _very_ great artist amongst his pupils, namely,
Flandrin, but there is no doubt that his severe and dignified style
influenced, perhaps unconsciously, most of his younger contemporaries.
My own master, P. Delaroche, was eclectic in his art; that is, he
endeavored to unite the spirit and life of Gros with the severe drawing
of Ingres. He was not always very successful in the attempt, but
fortunately he had qualities of his own which will rescue his fame from
the fate which attends that of most eclectic artists.

These qualities were great dramatic power and exquisite taste in the
arrangement of his figures. I can bear witness to the care he bestowed
on composition, never grudging time or labor if he could in any way
improve the action of his figures or the outline of his groups. I have
known him to efface no less than seventeen finished figures during the
progress of his great mural painting at the Ecole des Beaux Arts; thus
destroying at least two months’ work, simply because he was dissatisfied
with the grouping.

His atelier was about equally divided between the Ingrests and the
partisans of the _école romantique_, but although a few men of extreme
views would often quarrel over the respective merits of Ingres and
Delacroix, the great majority were much better employed in endeavoring
to draw and paint the model they had before them.

Some of Ingres’ portraits are fine works of art, but they want life. Old
David’s portrait of “Pius VII” is far better than Ingres’ best. I
consider the _chef-d’œvre_ of Ingres to be the painting which he
executed for one of the ceilings of the Louvre, representing the
“Apotheosis of Homer.” This work has been removed to where it can be
seen more comfortably, but when _in situ_ it looked very noble and
dignified, especially when contrasted with the trashy commonplace
_plafonds_ of the neighboring rooms.

Many a young student has gazed with admiration at this work until he got
a pain in his neck, and it is the powerful influence for good which the
“Apotheosis of Homer” had on the then rising generation which
constitutes Ingres’ best claim to the celebrity he enjoyed during a long

Surprise has been recently expressed at Ingres’ prejudice against
anatomy. It is perfectly true that he disliked the look of a skeleton,
and small blame to him, but I don’t think he was opposed to any of the
students consulting the anatomical figure. He had never learned any
thing about either bones or muscles himself, and therefore could not see
any benefit to be derived from the study. His contempt for anatomy as an
adjunct to art was shared by a good many other French masters, nor can I
much wonder at it when I recollect the courses of anatomy we used to
attend. A professor from the Ecole de Médecine would give a dozen dry
lectures on the bones and muscles, just as if he were addressing a lot
of medical students who would be called upon in after years to perform
difficult surgical operations.

What would interest us, and be of use to us as artists, was never

I don’t know whether a more artistic kind of anatomy is now taught in
Paris; if not, I sympathize greatly with the students who attend the

Another pupil of David’s who for a few years made a great sensation was
Leopold Robert, the painter of “The Pêcheurs de l’Adriatique,” “The
Moissonneurs,” and similar scenes of Italian peasant life. Two of these
pictures are now hung in the Louvre, and it is marvellous to me how they
could ever have been much admired by artists.

I am not surprised at their popularity with the general public, for they
made a very nice pair of engravings, and there is a beauty about the
women which is captivating at first sight; but the figures are all
posing, as if for a photographic group, and these once celebrated
pictures _now_ appear to me rather contemptible. L. Robert (like Gros)
committed suicide, and it was perhaps on this account that the two men
used often to be compared together, sometimes (I am ashamed to say) to
the disadvantage of Gros.

Granet is the last artist I shall mention who actually studied in
David’s atelier. He never attempted the heroic style like Girodet,
Guérin, and many others, nor did he endeavor, like Leopold Robert, to
idealize Italian fishermen and peasants. He began with architectural
interiors, and during a long life never changed his style. His figures,
generally of medium or small size, are remarkably well drawn. Their
action is perfectly natural, and they are always in their right places.
Few artists ever lived whose work was more thorough and faultless than
old Granet’s. An excellent colorist, a sound draughtsman, and by no
means deficient in poetic feeling, he had but one blemish, and that was
the habit of using bad materials.

I remember his large picture of the Mass at Assisi soon after it was
painted. The dim but glowing light of the church was admirably rendered,
but now, alas! the picture has become so black that it is difficult to
make out the figures. I believe he was in the habit of using dark-red
grounds for his pictures, and this no doubt accounts for their so
rapidly losing their brilliancy.

Granet was a native of Aix, near Marseilles, and in his old age returned
to his native town, but used to contribute regularly to the annual
exhibition in Paris; and his pictures were always admired, not only by
the public, but by all the young artists, with whom he was a great

I trust I have shown you that David, whatever we may think of his
pictures, was at any rate a successful schoolmaster, or what the French
call a _chef d’école_, and his influence continued to be felt very
perceptibly in the second generation.

Abel de Pujol, Leon Coignet, Delaroche, Couture, Flandrin, Alaux, etc.,
were all pupils either of Guérin, Ingres, or Gros, and they all
preserved the David traditions of sound and careful drawing. Indeed,
Flandrin carried the noble draughtsmanship of his master Ingres to such
perfection that it seems to me impossible to advance any farther in this

The two great pictorial heretics of this period were Delacroix and
Decamps. The former learned his art under Guérin, and the latter under
A. de Pujol, but in their case the maxim about “training up a child in
the way he should go” certainly did not hold good, for both these great
artists threw the time-honored atelier traditions overboard, and
proceeded on diametrically opposed principles. Being both great
colorists, and both unusually gifted with true artistic feeling, they
succeeded at last in rivalling, if not eclipsing, the fame of their more
orthodox contemporaries. With Delacroix, especially, the battle was a
long one, and I well remember his “Entry of the Crusaders into
Constantinople” (perhaps the finest picture he ever painted) being
rejected at the Salon, and in the following year being hung at the top
of the gallery. Decamps was much more careful about his drawing than
Delacroix, and his pictures being always small, he did not give so much
offence to “Ces Messieurs de l’Institût.”

If I were addressing a French audience I should certainly not think of
mentioning Ary Schäffer; but as in England he enjoys a kind of
reputation, a few words about him may not be out of place. In the early
part of his career he followed in the track of Delacroix, and the
pictures he painted at this time show a great feeling for color.

All at once (after achieving considerable success in this style) he went
about on the other tack, gave up color, and took to imitating Ingres. He
was always a poor draughtsman. His “Paolo and Francesco,” and many of
his best-known religious pictures, are wretchedly drawn, but there is a
pretension to purity of style about them which takes people in. It is
not many years ago since Schäffer, on the strength of these sentimental
works of art, was considered in England to be the first of French

If we proceed to my own time, which I may call the third generation from
David, we find decidedly less of that precision of drawing for which the
French school was famous. There are, of course, exceptions, and one or
two very notable ones, but the number of weak draughtsmen amongst
painters of mature years has certainly increased. It is, however, when
we come to consider the pictures of the younger generation that we find
how very much the impulse given by David to correctness and refinement
of drawing has exhausted itself. French literature (speaking of course
generally) is either mawkishly sentimental or brutally realistic, and
these unpleasant characteristics seem to be reflected in the painting of
many of their popular artists.

Eccentricity appears now to be the surest road to fame. Formerly it
required a great deal of talent to leave successfully the beaten track,
but now the eccentric painter finds himself famous, not in spite of his
grotesque peculiarities, but on account of them. I consider the modern
French school to be in a very critical state. They have acquired color,
but at too great a sacrifice. Beauty and dignity of form, noble
composition, and all the higher qualities of art, become rarer every
year, and will, if the present downward tendency continue, soon be
extinct. Of course I am speaking of historical painting, either sacred
or profane; of the art, in short, of Girodet, Géricault, Gros, Ingres,
and Flandrin; and I think it will be generally allowed that no school
can hold its place in the art-world which allows the noblest branch of
the profession to wither and decay.

I will now proceed to consider the influence of David on other European
schools. This influence was very marked in Italy, where an uneasy
feeling that their once famous school had sunk very low had prevailed
for some time. Raphael Mengs was too feeble, and Pompeo Battoni too
meretricious, a painter to regenerate Italian art, but when David
appeared, an effort was made. The antique was again studied, the
pernicious practice of imitating the old masters was abandoned, and
Nature, the fountainhead of all art, was more conscientiously imitated.

David’s example thus produced, amongst others, Benvenuto and Camuccini,
both of whom were infinitely greater painters than had appeared in Italy
for a century. Unfortunately, the revival so successfully begun was
suffered to die out. The race of copyists became again in the ascendant,
and no doubt reaped a rich harvest when, after the great Napoleonic
wars, the Continent was overrun by wealthy dilettanti anxious to obtain
(if not a genuine Caracci or Guido) at least a good imitation of one.
The mania for collecting grimy old masters at last died out, and
considering the shameless way in which the purchasers were imposed upon,
it is a wonder that it lasted so long. When, however, this happy event
took place, and a healthier taste became fashionable, Italian artists
could not supply the demand. Small landscapes and pretty little costume
pictures were painted in abundance, but for Biblical or historical art
the public had to turn to the foreigner, to Overbeck or Cornelius.

Things are not quite so bad in Italy at the present day, but the school
is very insignificant as compared with those of France, Belgium,
England, and Germany.

In Germany the great art-revival began between 1810 and 1820. Cornelius
and Overbeck, the two founders of the modern German school of historical
painting, can neither of them be included among the followers of David,
and yet it is not improbable that had the French school remained as it
was under Boucher and Vanloo, Germany would also have been content to go
on in the vicious routine of the eighteenth century. David, therefore,
though not the progenitor, may have been the indirect cause of the
modern German school. Winkleman’s laborious researches, and the flood of
light he threw on classical art and antiquities, had fully prepared the
way for a revival; and in Cornelius, Germany found a man after her own
heart. In 1825, when he was still young, he was made Director of the
Academy at Munich, and commenced the gigantic series of mural paintings
with which his name will always be associated. He had a great number of
scholars, and his manner is more or less perceptible in all their works.
It is a manner I never _did_ like, and probably never shall. The effort
made by the artist is too evident, and all the personages seem to be
acting a part. This is particularly noticeable in Kaulbach’s and
Piloty’s large compositions. These works were greatly admired in
Germany, and are so still, but I believe their popularity is on the

As for Overbeck, he never could have become the founder of a durable
school. Ascetic, exclusive, and narrow in his art views, the only charm
of his pictures is indissolubly connected with the personal character of
the painter. His admiration for Perugino and the Umbrian school was
genuine and unbounded. He abhorred Titian and loathed Correggio. With
such ideas on art he may justly be called an anachronism, and it will be
easily understood that however leniently and even favorably we may judge
the work of an enthusiast like Overbeck, we should not be disposed to
extend the same leniency to his imitators.

We will now examine what influence the great classical revival,
inaugurated by David, had on British art. I think it must be allowed
that this influence (if it ever existed at all) was very slight. Our
artists were content to tread in the path pointed out to them by Sir J.
Reynolds, and to study with more or less intelligence the old masters.
Their knowledge of the human form was very imperfect, and there were at
that time no large ateliers where they could acquire such knowledge. The
Continent was closed to them, and they were therefore debarred from
seeing the works of David, Girodet, Guérin, and Gérard. It is probable,
too, that even had they been able to visit the Paris galleries
occasionally, they would have been greatly disgusted; for it must be
confessed that the later works of David are singularly repellent to an
eye educated on Titian and Rubens.

In England, particularly during the reign of George III, there was no
demand for large figure subjects. The government did nothing for
historical art.

The churches were ugly square boxes with whitewashed walls, sometimes
be-plastered with black or white marble commemoration tablets, but in
which paintings were tabooed. Private individuals could not, of course,
find room in their houses for large pictures; so, as a natural
consequence, the English school was forced into another direction, and
we find accordingly the best and ablest artists of this period amongst
the portrait and landscape painters.

A little of old David’s precision of drawing would not have hurt some of
them, but landscape art depends more on color and effect than on fine
perceptions of form, and careful study of the antique is obviously
unnecessary to a man whose mission it is to paint mountains and trees,
storm and sunshine.

Of the few artists who executed large figure pictures at this time I
shall say very little, for the simple reason that there is very little
to say. We all know Benjamin West’s pictures, and are fully aware of
their tameness and insipidity.

I think that West is a striking example of a man who succeeded in
impressing his character on his work. Highly respectable, prosaic,
unimaginative, and rather goody, we find all these characteristics
reproduced in his pictures, and yet many of these pictures, particularly
“Death on the Pale Horse,” created a perfect furore at the time, and the
prices the artist got for his works would be considered high even at the
present day.

Hilton was undoubtedly the best of the very few artists who endeavored
to revive large historical painting in England. He was at any rate a
good draughtsman and an accomplished painter, but his too palpable
imitation of the old masters will always prevent his taking rank with
such men as Girodet, Géricault, or Gros.

Fuseli, with all his bombast and affectation of anatomical knowledge,
showed occasionally that he possessed real genius. I know nothing finer
in the whole English school than his ghost scene of “Hamlet.” The ghost
is not one of those artificial bogies, so common in the works of Blake
and Flaxman, but a right royal ghost, who stalks with gigantic strides
across the stage. Fuseli was a very uneven painter. His pictures are
generally ludicrous, but sometimes show real talent. He wanted ballast,
and if West could have spared him a few tons of lead, both painters
would have been greatly benefited.

My present lecture is on David and his school, and therefore I might
have omitted altogether the contemporary English painters. However, as I
have mentioned some, I should be sorry to omit from my very short list
the name of Stothard. Of all the English figure-painters of this period,
Stothard had the greatest feeling for composition. With a little more
power and correctness in his drawing, he would have been an English
Prudhon. Even with all his feebleness of draughtsmanship he is to me
always attractive. There is so much _bonhomie_ about his work, such an
absence of pretence and humbug, and so evident a desire always to do his
best, that although we cannot close our eyes to his shortcomings, we may
well condone them for the sake of the good honest feeling which pervades
almost all his compositions.

I prefer to pass unnoticed one or two aspirants to high art, who in the
first half of the present century were thought a good deal of. Some
people still believe in them, but as I never did, I would, rather say
nothing about them, particularly as their work is foreign to the subject
of my lecture.

It is pleasant to turn from a kind of art with which I have no sympathy,
to more recent efforts, and to be able to speak more favorably of
English historical painting before closing my lecture.

We have had in Etty a colorist both brilliant and original; a painter
who proved that it was quite possible to excel in color without
imitating either the Venetians or Rubens; and in Dyce a draughtsman of
the most severe and refined kind, a master of composition, and a most
thorough artist.

I have often heard it remarked that Dyce’s mural paintings are very
Germanic in style, but to my thinking there is but the slightest
likeness to any work of the Munich or Dusseldorf masters. His figures
never have the labored self-conscious action which is so characteristic
of the school of Cornelius. Of course, frescoes representing King Arthur
and his knights must have a sort of family resemblance to illustrations
of the Niebelungen legends, but the resemblance is merely superficial. A
closer comparison will prove how much more true, and therefore more
dramatic, is the action in Dyce’s figures.

There is an old adage which tells us that “knowledge is power,” but in
art this hardly holds good. You may have plenty of knowledge and yet not
have power; though, on the other hand, you can hardly have true power
without knowledge.

Dyce had both in an eminent degree, whereas Schadow, Kaulbach, Piloty,
and most of the great German artists, though decidedly learned painters,
had not the power of turning their learning to good account.

It is obvious that I cannot continue my remarks down to the present
time, but I may be allowed to express an opinion that (in this Academy
at least) feeble mysticism or blatant quackery is no longer associated
with high art. We have, of course, our faults, but history-painters do
not, as formerly, lag hopelessly behind their colleagues in genre,
portrait, and landscape art.

This happy result is entirely due to a return to old David’s system of
teaching; namely, to a diligent study of the antique, supplemented by a
long course of drawing from nature. Such an excellent competition as we
recently had for the gold medal would have been simply impossible fifty
years ago.

I don’t want to flatter the rising generation, nor to tell them that
they have twice as much talent as their fathers, and ten times as much
as their grandfathers; but what I wish to point out is, that by patient
study and diligent work a much higher result can be obtained than by
spasmodic effort or crazy enthusiasm.



My first lecture of the present course will be devoted to a kind of
review of the various painting schools of modern Europe. As one of the
jurors at the Paris International Exhibition, I had a rare opportunity
of comparing one school with another, and I think that a lecture
embracing the conclusions I came to, may be more interesting to you, and
possibly more instructive, than a discourse on the works of the old

National schools of art can at this present time hardly be said to
exist, at least not in the sense in which they existed 300 years ago. In
those times the attributes and characteristics of each school were
sharply defined. The Roman, the Venetian, the Spanish, the German, and
the Flemish, were as distinct in character as it was possible to be.
Now, however, the national characteristics are very slight, and in many
countries there seem to me to be none. The French and the German are the
two great Continental schools from which the others spring. England,
Austria, Spain, and perhaps Holland, have certain features of their own;
that is, speaking generally, one would know an English, Austrian,
Spanish, or Dutch picture at once.

The Scandinavian and Danish schools are feeble offshoots of the German.

The Belgian is a vigorous branch of the French, and the Swiss is a less
robust child of the same parent.

The Italian seems to me to be a mixture of French and Spanish, with a
little of the old Italian element surviving. By the old Italian element
I do not mean a reminiscence of Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, or Titian,
but rather of Carlo Dolce or Sassoferrato.

Russian and especially American art are of a nondescript character, and
the reasons are sufficiently obvious.

A young American or Russian artist goes to Paris or Rome, and puts
himself to school under a certain master. After a time he will paint
pictures more or less like his master’s; he will exhibit them, and may
get rewards and medals for them; but he can hardly be called a
representative of the American or Russian school. No American thinks of
studying art in New York or Boston, and no Russian artist dreams of
finishing his artistic education in St. Petersburg or Moscow. There can,
therefore, be no American or Russian school properly so called.

I shall begin my lecture with a few words about our noble selves. I will
give you rather the opinion of the best French artists than my own. As
this opinion was expressed with perfect sincerity, and came from
competent and independent judges, I think we may derive a lesson from

It has, I know, often been remarked that French artists appreciate best
whatever is most unlike their own work, and it was a feeling of this
kind which consoled the Belgians for the favor with which the English
galleries were regarded. I confess that there is a good deal of truth in
the remark.

English painting is so unlike French that there can be no direct rivalry
between the two schools, whereas in Belgian work the rivalry is
unpleasantly close.

I may, perhaps, be allowed to add, that for the same reason those
English painters who approximate most to the French school were
precisely those who were the least appreciated. Novelty has a great
charm, particularly to a Frenchman. If you ask a Parisian to dinner and
wish to please him, do not give him delicate little French dishes, with
light claret to drink. Give him half a codfish followed by a sirloin of
beef, with plenty of bitter ale to wash it down with, and he will bless
you and afterward cherish the memory of these _alimens vraiment

Novelty of treatment was, however, certainly not the only reason of the
success of the English school.

In the first place, it was noticed that there was a certain refinement
and elegance about the English galleries which was very pleasant to the
jaded juror who had just been wading through long rows of coarse
imitations of French art.

The English school was thought very highly of not on account of its
color, still less on account of its drawing, but chiefly for the sake of
the refined thought and invention shown in some of the pictures.

Then, again, in some cases, the novelty of the mode of execution, or the
delicacy of the color, pleased our foreign judges; but I am quite sure
that the popularity which English art has undoubtedly gained in Paris is
due more to our brains than to our brushes.

The remarks and criticisms I heard in Paris all tend to confirm the
opinion I have often expressed about the importance of originality in
painting; of every artist, in short, thinking out his subject for
himself, with nature as his only guide. Of course, novelty of treatment,
unless combined with truth, is valueless. It would not be difficult to
mention some novelties about which the remarks of my French friends
would be the reverse of complimentary.

The first quality in the pictorial rendering of a subject must be truth,
the second novelty or originality, and the third feeling or poetry.
Where these three qualities are combined in a picture, it will more than
hold its own in the eyes of competent judges against works far more
brilliantly executed.

It must not, however, be supposed that foreign artists were delighted
with _all_ they saw in the British galleries. Our old faults--namely,
indifferent drawing, and feeble, scratchy execution--were often noticed,
but were not nearly so prominent as twenty-three years ago. I have no
doubt we have improved in these respects, but I also think that our
foreign judges are apt to be much more lenient than of old as regards

Their own drawing is not what it used to be in the days of Ingres and
Flandrin. They have acquired other qualities, but they seem to me to
have lost the art of expressing beautiful form. Of course, in my remarks
to-night I shall speak of the _general_ tendency of the schools. In
every school there are exceptions to the rule, and amongst the French
painters of the day there are at least one or two striking exceptions to
the general decline of drawing power.

To return to the English galleries. It would be impossible to retail to
you the unfavorable remarks that were made without becoming disagreeably
personal. This adverse criticism of a few pictures gave perhaps more
value to the verdict that, speaking generally, the English school was
distinguished by its intellectual, refined, and, above all, thoroughly
national character.

Let us hope that as years roll on we may gain more power in drawing and
more manliness of execution, without losing any of those national
qualities which have carried us so creditably through the ordeal of an
International Exhibition.

We will now leave the British section, and proceed to the French
galleries. French art seems to me to be in a transition state. Public
taste has been unsettled by the enormous success of Fortuny, Regnault,
Corot, Daubigny, and other still more eccentric painters. Eccentricity
is too often mistaken for genius, and coarseness for power. The last
Salon (or annual exhibition) was the worst I ever saw. Of course, the
French section of the International was rich both in quantity and
quality, but I did not notice a single really fine picture that had been
painted within the last three years. To what are we to attribute this
unsatisfactory state of things? Although it has often been said that
republicanism is fatal to art, it is difficult to believe that the
present French Government can have any influence either for good or evil
on artists’ studios. Indeed, French sculpture, which is certainly
improving, is there to negative any such theory.

The reason of the decline of the _older_ men is obvious enough. They
have ceased to paint for fame; they paint for money. Country-houses,
carriages, horses, and last, but perhaps not least, madame’s toilette,
must be paid for, and the consequence is the production of what in a
humbler sphere of art would be called pot-boilers. These inferior works
are eagerly purchased at very high prices, and the artist, finding he
can coin as much money as he likes, takes less and less pains, till
finally decadence sets in, and the men who from their age ought to be in
the zenith of their artistic power, find themselves quite incapable of
rivalling the productions of their youth.

The cause for the manifest dearth of rising talent amongst the younger
men must be looked for elsewhere. That this dearth really exists there
can be no doubt. The French themselves allow it. Medals which used to be
given at the close of the Salon for painting are now given for
sculpture. There must be some reason for this marked decline. My old
friends shrug their shoulders and say: “Oh, the kind of teaching which
we had in our youth is now voted rococo. Sensational art” (by which they
mean art that will produce a sensation) “is now the fashion.” The press
has great power in France, and French critics, with few exceptions, like
what is strange and eccentric. There are symptoms, however, that this
quackery in art has had its day. The last two Salons have been too queer
even for the new school of critics, and we may therefore hope that the
sensational fit is over, and that the school may return again to the
sound principles of design and drawing for which it has hitherto always
been distinguished. I wish it understood that the deterioration I have
been mentioning was not very noticeable on the walls of the
International Exhibition. We had there the cream of all that had been
painted in France for the last ten years; and although the pictures
bearing the greatest names were rather disappointing, there was evidence
of abundance of talent in all departments of oil-painting.

The last years of the Empire and the first years of the Republic seem to
have been particularly prolific in good work. The portraits of that
period, the battle episodes, the nude figures, the still-life pictures,
are all characterized by a solidity and thoroughness which we rarely
find now. The most unsatisfactory feature in the work of this period is,
to my mind, the landscape. I confess to a want of appreciation of either
Corot or Daubigny; and as almost every landscape-painter is an imitator
of either one or the other, as a matter of course I cannot like their

The landscape school of which I am speaking appears to me never to get
beyond a sketch, and _le culte du laid_ (the worship of ugly subjects)
is carried too far.

The greatest modern landscape-painters France ever had were Marillat and
Theodore Rousseau, and I think they are much better models to follow
than Corot or Daubigny.

As I am criticising, I may observe that much as I admire French pictures
of a few years back, I must say that I think the key in which these
works are painted too low; and there is another more serious fault
which I have often noticed; namely, the want of _naïveté_. The colors
are simple enough, but the execution is obtrusive. In the portraits
especially, one thinks more of the artist than of the sitter, whereas in
certain portraits of the Belgian and German galleries at the
International, the artist and his execution were completely forgotten,
so life-like and natural were the heads.

In speaking of French painting it is as difficult to generalize as it
would be of English. One man paints his whole picture in a low key,
another paints white figures on a black background, one plasters his
color on with a trowel, another models it rather thin. Still I think I
may safely say that the majority of French pictures are painted with
thick, opaque color and in a very low key.

Mannerism is perhaps the rock on which most rising reputations are
shipwrecked, not only in France but everywhere else. A clever young
artist paints a really fine picture, full of feeling, originality, and
poetry, but rather low in tone. He has an immense success; a success
which he too often ascribes to the wrong cause. The consequence is that
his next picture will probably be less poetical, but still darker in
color. His friends and admirers, instead of pulling him up sharp, are
more prodigal than ever in their praise. He gets a higher price for the
second picture than he did for the first. It is, therefore, not
surprising that our promising artist paints lower and lower in color
every year, until at last he becomes a confirmed mannerist.

The same danger exists in every department of the art. A young
portrait-painter will perhaps have exhibited a full-length,
distinguished by great character and breadth, but coarsely painted. The
praise which he justly earns for this portrait prompts him to paint his
next still more coarsely, and he too degenerates into a mannerist.

Mannerisms of various kinds are rampant in the present French school,
and are in the present state of public opinion too strong for the more
sober truthful work, which I am happy to say is not yet altogether

Unfortunately the encouragement given to these mannerists (or
“impressionists” as they love to be called) is not wholly derived from
their friends of the press; it proceeds also from artists of real talent
who ought to know better.

This seems to me the gravest symptom in the present condition of the
French school. It is of little importance how enthusiastic the various
literary or dilettanti cliques may be about their favorites. These are
mere fashions, which sooner or later die a natural death, but when
artists of standing give in to the prevailing delusions, the mischief
becomes serious.

I can hardly believe that these artists of talent really admire the
productions of which I am speaking, but they are afraid of going
against the stream of journalism, or else they wish to appear liberal in
approving what is so diametrically opposed to their own practice. At any
rate they acquiesce, and humbug flourishes. Before leaving the French
painters, I ought, perhaps, to say something about the subjects
principally affected by them.

No one can go through a French exhibition without being struck by the
number of ghastly and horrible subjects which meet the eye on every
side, and which seem to vie with each other in cruelty and brutality.

Death and suffering in every form have always been favorite subjects
with French artists. Delaroche was continually painting murders and
executions, but the comparatively mild form of horrors affected by him
is not sensational enough for the modern school.

“Scene of the Inquisition--A man being Tortured to Death”; “Rizpah
Driving away the Vultures from the Bodies of her Seven Sons, who are
Swinging in the Wind”; “Roman Conspirators Drinking the Blood of a Slave
whom they have just Murdered for this Festive Purpose”; “Nero
Experimentalizing with Poison on his Slaves”; “Apollo Flaying Marsyas
alive,”--are a few of the many pretty subjects which were conspicuous in
the French galleries of the International Exhibition. One artist (and a
very distinguished one too) has improved even upon these subjects, and
delights in painting not only death but decomposition.

At the Ecole des Beaux Arts the subject given last year to the students
for their diploma pictures was “Augustus Causes the Tomb of Alexander
the Great to be Opened, and Places a Crown of Gold on the Head of the

When we reflect that Alexander had been dead some three hundred years,
it will easily be understood that his body was in that half-putrid,
half-mummified condition which is apparently so attractive to the
artistic world in France.

Another marked characteristic of a French exhibition is the number of
nude female figures. This is notoriously very objectionable to many
English visitors, but for my part I would rather see a dozen nude nymphs
than a decapitated figure or a putrid corpse. Many of these figures are
done by young painters as a kind of supplement to their art education;
and instead of being offended at their frequency, I am always glad to
see so much laudable ambition. I only wish we had a few more similar
efforts in our English exhibitions. The Hanging Committee would, of
course, eliminate those which were objectionable either from want of
technical skill or from any other cause, and the remainder might be
allowed to hang on our walls and irritate Mrs. Grundy.

A third characteristic of a French exhibition is the general excellence
of what are called rustic pictures. The peasants are real peasants, and
not models dressed up as such.

There is almost always in this class of subjects an honest attempt to
give a truthful version of nature. There is a completeness about them
that is very charming.

The pictures of flowers, fruit, fish, and every thing coming under the
head of _nature morte_, seem to me equally good. In fact, one hardly
ever sees a bad still-life picture in a French exhibition. I suppose the
jury is more strict about fruit, oysters, and copper kettles than about
humanity, and particularly female humanity.

Pictures of animal life are, I think, less common than in English
exhibitions. Dogs especially are seldom painted. This may be partly
owing to the currish aspect of French dogs. Our bloodhounds, mastiffs,
newfoundlands, deerhounds, and all the aristocracy of the canine race,
are hardly ever seen in France; and it must be confessed that a
stumpy-tailed mongrel or a clipped poodle is not a very tempting model.
The French are not a doggy nation. A well-off Parisian will often keep a
couple of ugly pointers, but it is always understood that “Stop” and
“Komeer” are indispensable “pour la chasse,” and not to be regarded as
pets or companions.

Finally, in every modern French exhibition the influence of Fortuny is
very perceptible; I believe, however, that almost all the disciples of
this school are Spaniards or Italians residing in Paris, and that the
French artists who devote themselves to microscopic painting have the
good taste to follow the lines of Meissonier rather than those of

We will now examine the Belgian pictures.

Belgian art is derived entirely from France. At the International
Exhibition one passed from the French to the Belgian galleries without
being aware of the change of nationality. I think, however, that the
branch is at present in a healthier state than the parent stem. When I
compare the recent mural paintings which have been executed in Belgium
with similar work done in Paris, I am struck with the vast superiority
of the Belgian. Again, in landscape the Belgians are far in advance of
their neighbors. Comparisons are proverbially odious, so I will not
incur odium by comparing English landscape with Belgian, but I should
recommend those who think that we specially excel in this branch of the
art to go and look at what the Belgians are doing. The great men of the
Belgian school--the men whose names are familiar to every artistic
circle in Europe--are declining in power even more rapidly than their
colleagues in France, but there seems to me to be more hope about the
younger men. The Belgian portrait-painters are, I think, inferior to the
French as a rule, but there were one or two portraits in the Belgian
galleries which attracted a great deal of attention from their
unaffected simplicity, and in this respect contrasted very favorably
with some more showy French work. The history pictures, again, were more
careful and better drawn than analogous French work. There was less
striving after effect and singularity, and much better composition. They
reminded me more of what French painting used to be before the school
became afflicted with what may be called “sentimental radicalism” in

I was glad to notice that Baron Leys, the painter of the strange
mediæval pictures of the Antwerp town-hall, has not left a school of
mediævalists behind him. The quaint ugliness of an old Flemish picture
is interesting because it is real, but in these modern works the uncouth
drawing and constrained stiff attitudes of the early Flemings are
assumed, and therefore offensive. No doubt there are several excellent
artists living who have studied under Leys, but they have all of them
abandoned the affectation of their master.

The influence of Rubens and his school is not perceptible in modern
Belgian work. This is rather curious when we consider the immense amount
of Rubens-worship which is perpetually going on at Antwerp. Rembrandt,
Franz Hals, and Vanderhelst have had much more influence on the Belgian
school than Rubens, but the modern artists of Brussels are not a race
of copyists. They evidently study nature a good deal, and this, it
appears to me, is the secret of their strength. On the whole I have
formed a very favorable opinion of the Belgian school, and when I recall
to mind the excellent mural paintings at Ypres and Courtray, I must say
that the old Parisian sneer about the “contrefaçon Belge” is quite
inapplicable at the present day.

It is manifestly unfair to compare the German gallery of the Great
Exhibition with the French, English, or Belgian section. The pictures
sent by Germany were hastily got together at the eleventh hour, and were
notoriously inadequate specimens of German art. Still they were
interesting, as showing the tendency of the school.

The first impression on entering the German gallery was a favorable one.
It was like entering a gallery of old masters after a surfeit of garish,
crude modern pictures. A closer examination led one, however, to form a
less favorable opinion of the peculiarities of German art. The imitation
of the old masters is, in my opinion, carried too far. Reminiscences of
Holbein and Albert Durer crop up everywhere, and many pictures which are
not directly imitative of the old masters have a brown old-varnished
appearance. There may not have been any thing offensively bad or
ludicrously absurd in the German gallery, but on the other hand, with a
few exceptions, there appeared to me to be a sad want of originality.
These exceptional pictures were humble and unpretentious enough both in
subject and dimensions, but full of truth and character.

The artist, Knaus, enjoys a great reputation both in Germany and Europe
generally. His color, though true, is not very attractive. There is no
great charm in his execution. The nature of his subjects precludes fine,
classical drawing or noble composition. It may be asked, What, then, is
his great merit? It is simply the intense realism of his figures. We
always feel that we must have seen and known his peasants, his children,
and his Jews. He has the same power of seizing types which John Leech so
eminently possessed. Whether he quite deserves to be in the front rank
of European painters is another question, but it is interesting to note
the reputation such an artist has obtained in Germany, where art, though
often learned, is seldom truthful or harmonious.

It has often been said that German art is never seen at its best in
easel pictures, and that to express an opinion about it one ought to go
to Germany, and study the mural paintings which abound there. It is more
than twenty-five years since I visited either Munich or Berlin, and I am
therefore not qualified to give an opinion about the _present_ state of
art in Germany. I confess I was not favorably impressed with what I
_then_ saw; and have often in the course of these lectures found fault
with Kaulbach and his school for neglecting Horace’s well-known
precept, “Artis est celare artem.”

The large mural works at Munich and Berlin used to be considered by
Germans as the highest development of heroic painting. They asserted
that their country was at the top of the ladder in high art, just as it
undoubtedly was in music, and my criticisms on their great painters have
always been provoked by this assertion. I have never stigmatized these
decorative paintings as being absolutely bad or contemptible, but as
being unworthy of the great esteem in which they were held.

I hear that at the present time other artists have in great measure
superseded those of the school of Kaulbach, and that the highly
artificial style of thirty years ago has been almost abandoned.

Scandinavian and Danish art are derived from Germany, as Belgian and
Swiss are derived from France. In the case of Norway and Sweden,
however, all the best artists emigrate to more southern regions; and
small blame to them, for when daylight begins at ten and ends at two,
there is not much time for painting pictures. These artists, who are
mostly landscape-painters, return to their native countries in summer
and make their sketches and studies; but the pictures themselves are
painted either in Germany, Belgium, or France.

In Denmark the winter days are rather longer, and we find at Copenhagen
a feeble attempt at a native school, bearing about the same relation to
Dusseldorf or Berlin, that Birmingham or Liverpool would to London.

Leaving these humble followers of the German school, we will now enter
the Austrian and Hungarian galleries.

Some French critic compared Austrian art to a noisy brass band, and the
comparison is not inapt. No doubt the band is a very good one; the
trumpets are loud, the trombones sonorous, and the big drum
unexceptionable. Still it is not the kind of harmony which would please
a musician. Austrian and Hungarian art, though apparently fascinating to
the multitude, is too rich and cloying for a more fastidious taste. If
you can fancy a mixture of plum-pudding and lobster-sauce, you will form
a good idea of the most celebrated Austrian pictures. As the French
school has a weakness for the horrible, and the English for the homely,
so the Austrian delights in the showy. Pageants, royal receptions, and
ceremonies of mediæval times are the subjects which the leading Austrian
artists revel in; subjects in which there is not much story to tell, no
human emotions to portray, nothing but silks, velvets, armor, and
trappings to paint. All these accessories are marvellously well
executed, a great deal too well indeed for the heads and the flesh; but
it is this overpowering execution, united with a pseudo-Venetian
coloring, which captivates the French bourgeois, just as it would
captivate the London cockney.

I wish to observe that I am speaking of the large Austrian and Hungarian
pictures which attracted so much attention at the Paris exhibition.
Amongst the portraits and the smaller pictures there were some which
would have done credit to any school. Vigorous in drawing and execution,
full of character, and harmonious though rather dark in color, they
appeared to me far superior to the kindred pictures from North Germany.
I should have formed a very high estimate of the Austrian school if two
or three of the principle pictures had been absent.

It may be asked why, if these large pictures were so offensively
meretricious, the jury awarded them medals of honor?

I should be very sorry to have to defend all the decisions of the
international jury, but in the present case I think I may say with truth
that it was not admiration for this kind of art which dictated the

Before leaving the Austrian and Hungarian galleries, I would observe,
that whatever may be thought of the pretentious richness of these large
pictures, there exists at any rate an Austrian school, and that this
school seems full of power and vitality. Austrians, do not, as a rule,
paint their pictures in Paris or Rome. Others may, like myself, deplore
the overpowering gorgeousness of a good deal of their work, but amongst
the canvasses of more modest proportion there was abundant evidence of
sound training and original invention.

Dutch art is very national; that is, the subjects are national. Muddy
seas, flat meadows with groups of cattle, canal and street scenes--in
short, the same kind of subjects which were formerly painted by Teniers,
Vandevelde, De Hoogh, and Paul Potter, are still the favorites with the
Dutch artists.

In the Dutch school, as seen at the Great Exhibition, there was a
laudable absence of priggishness or sensationalism, but the pictures
appeared to me to lack the neat precision of touch and the delicacy of
color which distinguished the old Dutchmen.

Pathos will cover a multitude of sins, and in some of the best modern
Dutch work this quality is not wanting; but in subjects which do not
admit of pathos, such as the old familiar scenes of Teniers and Ostade,
something more is wanted than indifferent execution and dull,
inoffensive color. I am inclined to think that Dutch art was not only
fairly, but even favorably represented at the Paris Exhibition, for in
several recent visits to Holland I was always struck by the want of
development of modern art. There are no great mural painters as in
Belgium; the Church, being Protestant, does nothing for art. The rich
Dutch citizens and merchants are equally unsympathetic; in short, there
is no demand for a high class of art, so there is no supply.

I never heard of a Dutch collector who patronized modern painters. His
rooms are always filled with Ostades, Wouvermans, Vanderveldes, etc., or
more frequently with wretched copies of these masters; but in these
private collections, which are scattered all over Holland, one never
meets with a good picture by a modern artist. Under these circumstances
I think it very creditable to Dutch artists that painting should not
have declined more than it has in Holland.

Swiss art can only be regarded as provincial French. It is, however
(like the Dutch), very national in its subjects. Glaciers, snow
mountains, pine forests, and châlets were the usual subjects in the
Swiss section. Even the figure-subjects were redolent of
Switzerland--peasants, guides, hunters, and tourists were the principal
_dramatis personæ_. If a fault is to be found with these innocent works
of art, it is that they look as if they were meant for the tourist or
the Alpine Club market. A traveller who is detained by rain for a week
at Interlacken would be just the man to purchase a good view of the
Jungfrau, or perhaps he might be tempted by a group of Bernese
Oberlanders at home. The native Swiss pictures are too much like their
wood carvings, not works of good art but pleasant souvenirs.

We will now cross the Alps and say a few words about Italian art.

Italy was wretchedly represented at the Great Exhibition. None of her
greatest artists had contributed. The best pictures were by two or three
Parisian Italians, and the worst by men whose proper abode ought to be
Hanwell or Colney Hatch. It has often been remarked that modern Italians
labor under the same disadvantage which afflicts a man who has had
illustrious progenitors. He may not be a greater fool than other men,
indeed he may be rather above the average, but he gets no credit for it.
People are always contrasting him with his illustrious father or his
glorious grandfather, and the poor fellow has hard work to get any
justice done him. This may be true enough at Venice, Florence, or Rome,
where the _chefs-d’œuvre_ of the old masters are in very close
proximity. I can well understand that a stranger who has been feasting
his eyes all the morning on Titians and Paul Veroneses, should find the
descent very precipitous to the level of a modern Italian studio; but in
Paris there were no such formidable rivals to fear, and it is much to be
regretted that Italy did not put forth her whole strength. I am
inclined, however, to give another reason why modern Italian art has
suffered from the proximity of so many _chefs-d’œuvre_ by the old
masters, and that is the temptation to become copyists. Wealthy
Americans, if they cannot carry away the originals, will have copies,
and the harvest to be derived from this source by a clever painter is so
rich a one that he is often tempted to abandon the paths of originality
and virtue, and become a copyist.

Of course the leading painters would not accept a commission for a copy
of Beatrice Cenci, but there have been (and doubtless are still)
artists fitted for better things, who _do_ accept these commissions and
are glad of them. A friend of mine a good many years ago asked me to
call and see a copy of this celebrated portrait which had just arrived
from Italy. He had given the painter a commission for it two years
before. I could not say much in praise of it. It was a fair average
copy, but I could not help remarking that the artist had been a precious
long time about it. “Oh,” says my friend, “mine was the seventh order
for a Beatrice Cenci in his book, and he told me that nothing would
induce him to paint more than four copies a year of this head. He had
other work to attend to,” etc., etc. If a man once gets into the way of
earning his living by copying, he will never get out of it (at least not
in Italy).

Independently of downright copying there is the danger of imitating, and
this is a danger to which Italian art has always been very much exposed.
No good can ever come of imitating the old masters, but when the masters
so imitated are men like Carlo Maratti or Luca Giordano, the downfall of
the school is indeed precipitate.

Italian painters, like Italian sculptors are very skilful workmen, but
they do not appear ever to get beyond a certain point of excellence.

The new school of Rome may be said to have been founded by Fortuny, and
in this school execution is every thing. Doubtless this phase of
Italian art is better than the dreary decadence of the first half of the
century, but I cannot say I am a great admirer of the new style. I will
speak of Fortuny and his followers presently, when I get to the Spanish
school, but before leaving the Italian Court I may mention that there
were some specimens of microscopic painting which were marvellous if
they were really legitimate pictures and not painted photographs.
Admitting, however, that they were genuine pictures, the very fact of
their looking like colored photographs relegates them to an inferior
style of art. They are curiosities, and not much more.

In justice to the Italian section I should mention that if the oil
pictures were bad, the water-colors by Rota were excellent.

There seems to me no reason whatever why Italy, the land of art (_par
excellence_), should lag behind in the international race. Italians are
quick, intelligent, and imaginative. If they would steer a middle course
between the tame imitations of the old masters and the sensational
quackeries of contemporary art, I have no doubt they would take a high
place in the European school.

The Spanish gallery was one of the most interesting in the whole
exhibition. One or two of the large pictures showed great power and
originality. I believe these pictures were painted by Spaniards
residing in Rome. Indeed all the best Spanish pictures are painted
either in Paris or Italy. There is no native school, as in the days of
Velasquez and Murillo.

The most attractive wall in this gallery was that devoted to the works
of Fortuny. Fortuny’s mode of painting, his delicate sense of color, and
the novelty of his subjects, took the artistic world by storm some
fifteen years ago. Since that time a host of imitators have arisen,
mostly Spaniards or Italians, so that the modern Spanish school has come
to be identified with his very peculiar kind of art.

I have no doubt that if one were to go to Spain and visit the studios of
the resident artists, one would find very little of the Fortuny element.
Probably the pictures would be more like Portuguese work, which of all
European schools is the most backward. Setting aside, however, the
question as to how far the Fortuny style can be called national, I will
hazard a few remarks about its merits and faults.

In the first place, I think we ought to welcome any novelty in art,
provided the novelty is not downright absurd, and a man who like Fortuny
revolutionized modern art (at any rate in the south of Europe),
certainly deserves consideration.

His pictures are characterized by a wonderful delicacy of execution and
brilliancy of color. His drawing is firm and masterly. With all these
good qualities I cannot consider him to have been a great artist. In
the first place, the subjects he affected were of the most frivolous and
meretricious description. Secondly, the general effect in his pictures
is not sufficiently attended to. I have heard them compared to those
sheets one sometimes sees composed of a jumble of small photographs.
Each individual figure or gaudy bit of stuff is perfect by itself, but
the whole picture is deficient in effect.

Finally, the execution wants that breadth and manliness which are so
conspicuous in the best works of Meissonier. Much as I admire any man of
genius who departs from the beaten track and creates a style of his own,
I cannot help thinking that Fortuny has been much over-rated.

Many of his followers’ works resemble the crude wall-papers and chintzes
which used to be common before South Kensington was in existence.

Pinks, light blues, and coal-tar dyes of the most violent hues (colors
which would drive our æsthetic amateurs mad) here run riot. The
execution is always clever, but the offence against good taste in color
is not to be got over. I do not recollect any landscape work in the
Spanish gallery except as backgrounds to the figure pictures. If I were
a Spanish artist I should leave the fripperies of the boudoir, and turn
my attention to the grand forms of rock and forest which abound in the
Asturias, or to the sierras of Andalusia, with their semitropical

Of Russia and the United States as picture-producing countries but
little can be said. There are a few Russians scattered over Germany,
France, and Italy, who paint and exhibit pictures which pass muster more
or less creditably.

Some give a Russian flavor to their work by painting Muscovite peasants,
sledges, wolves and bears, but even these national pictures might have
been done by French or German artists as far as the execution goes. The
eye was not impressed in the Russian gallery, as it was in the English,
Austrian, or Spanish departments, by some national peculiarity.

The large picture which obtained one of the medals of honor was painted
in Rome. It represented one of the most barbarous episodes of Nero’s
persecution of the Christians.

I thought it clever as a decorative work, but very weak in drawing.

There were in the Russian gallery some good heads very boldly and
forcibly painted. Their authors, though their names ended in “sky,”
“vich,” or “koff,” were pupils of the French or German schools, and
therefore these works, though painted by Russians, can hardly be
considered as characteristic of the school. The Byzantine element was
not in the least traceable in the Russian galleries. Probably Byzantine
pictures were excluded, as coming under the head of manufactures.

Greece exhibited a few pictures of modest proportions, and still more
modest merit; but even this faint commendation cannot be accorded to
Portugal, whose small contribution was ludicrous for its badness.

The art of the United States is even less national than the Russian.
American artists seldom give us reminiscences of their country, and the
American gallery was exactly like some of the rooms in the French Salon.

From their admiration of Parisian art it is probable that the American
school of the future will, like the Belgian, be a branch of the French,
unless indeed some American Fortuny should be raised in the States who
would give an original impulse to Transatlantic art.

French critics were rather hard on the American figure-painters for
choosing such subjects as the death of Cleopatra.

What in the world, they said, had Cleopatra and the Nile to do with
America? About as much, I should say, as Nero and his atrocities had to
do with France. According to these gentlemen, French artists may choose
their subjects from any period and from any country; the same license
may be allowed to Belgium, Germany, and possibly to England; but the
American is to confine himself to the short and not very picturesque
history of his own country.

This seems to me very unfair, but at the same time I should have liked
to have seen amongst the landscapes something more national than views
of Bougival or Fontainebleau.

I have now taken you all round the picture galleries of the
International Exhibition, and I may with truth say that we have no cause
to be ashamed of the position we hold in the European art-world. The
French were at home and able to exhibit nearly all their best works of
the last ten years. We, from reasons that are very well known, were
unable to do so, and yet we held a very respectable position. I am not
John Bull enough to say, as some of my friends at the hotel did, that
our school is the first in Europe. But what I _do_ say is that English
art (speaking of course generally) is in a thoroughly healthy state;
that English artists (also speaking generally) think more of their
subjects and less of themselves than Frenchmen, Belgians, or Austrians
do; that whilst some of the leading foreign schools are past the zenith
of their power, we, on the contrary, seem to be improving steadily, and
gradually getting rid of our faults. Some may be inclined to attribute
this marked improvement to the extraordinary sums of money which have of
late years been spent on art in this country, some to the existence
amongst us of a school of high-art criticism, some to foreign influence.
I attribute it to none of these causes, but solely to better training
and a more scrupulous regard for nature.

It may be thought that in boasting about our better training I am
blowing the academic trumpet pretty loudly, but I am not speaking so
much of the training you get here and at other London art schools, as of
the training which every young painter has to give himself after he has
learned the A B C of his art. It is this training especially which is
better than it used to be. The commonplace slap-dash way of going to
work of former days is now the exception and not the rule with young

One man may be careless or weak in his drawing, but he may have a keen
sense for truthful atmospheric effect, and he labors away at his picture
until he approximates to the out-of-door look of nature; another (a
portrait-painter perhaps) wearies out his sitters in his endeavors to be
truthful; a third will patiently brave the elements on a bare Scotch
moor, humbly trying to imitate the fitful patches of sunshine and mist
on the hillside before him.

All this is what I call good training. It is honest, conscientious work,
and it is this which tells favorably on a school, rather than Manchester
patronage or Oxford æsthetics.

       *       *       *       *       *

I would observe, in conclusion, that in the appointment of our new
President we have another cause for self-congratulation. It would be out
of place here for me to dwell on all his qualifications for the
important post he fills, but I should not like my first lecture under
his presidency to pass without expressing my thorough satisfaction with
the choice we have made. To say more would probably be unpleasant to
him, to have said less would have been unpleasant to me.

I may, however, point out that the progress of the English school of art
does by no means rest with the President of the Royal Academy (however
excellent he may be); it depends on the individual exertion of every
member of the profession, from the President down to the probationer who
seeks admission to the schools. Let us all do our best to produce
careful, honest, and original work, and I have no doubt of the result.



Drawing is the backbone of all great work, and it is an art which, if
neglected when you are young, does not appear ever to be acquired in

Most artists improve in color, and particularly in execution, as they
get older, but in drawing they seldom acquire greater correctness. They
acquire facility, but not accuracy. It is, therefore, of the highest
importance that all students should carry out their studies in drawing
as far as they possibly can whilst they are young. I am not speaking of
their chalk studies alone, but also of their painted studies.

It often happens that as soon as a student gets a palette on his thumb,
he considers himself completely emancipated from all the trammels of
correct drawing, and after sketching his figure with a few hasty strokes
of charcoal or red chalk, he smears on his color at once. I have known
some who would not condescend to make any preliminary outline at all,
but went in for drawing with the brush.

I can quite understand that when you first begin painting, the novelty
of the material and the difficulties of color should prevent your
drawing with the same precision and firmness as you would with charcoal
and chalk; but when these difficulties are overcome, you should endeavor
to return to your former precision. It is very difficult, when once a
slovenly habit of drawing has been contracted, to return to accuracy;
but nevertheless it is possible.

The fact is, that an artist, to excel as a draughtsman, should consider
himself a student all his life.

The school of painting ought to be the school of drawing in color, and
no student ought to be allowed to color a badly drawn figure or head.
This was always the rule, not only in Delaroche’s School, but in all the
_ateliers_ of his contemporaries; and as more than half the present
members of the Institute were students in these schools, the system
cannot have been a bad one.

It may surprise some of you to hear the time that was spent in drawing
the figure before beginning to paint.

The model used to sit for six consecutive days: from seven to twelve in
summer, and from eight to one in winter, and an hour was allowed every
day for intervals of rest.

During the whole first day’s sitting, nothing but drawing was done.
Sometimes the shades of the figure were rubbed in with bitumen or some
transparent brown, but no color was ever used. The master would come
early on the Tuesday, and until he had passed, as it were, every
student’s drawing, no one who studied seriously would think of laying
on color. Six hours, therefore, out of the twenty-four were spent before
the actual painting began; but, at any rate, good solid foundations had
been laid: well-proportioned and carefully drawn figures were the rule
and not the exception, and if the student had not time to finish his
work by the end of the week, he would have at any rate a large portion
of the figure carefully studied.

When a figure is well drawn, the master will take a pleasure in giving
the student some hints about the color, and will perhaps take the
palette himself; but to give instruction in color when there is no
drawing, is like furnishing a house before the walls are built.

I have noticed that some of you in the life school attach too much
importance to the mere outline, and neglect the structure and internal
markings of your figures. Now the bones and principal markings of a
figure are of infinitely more consequence than the outline; it is _they_
which give the action and proportion, and in every stage of
figure-drawing they should be accurately and clearly defined, to serve
as landmarks from which the outline may be mapped out. If you were
drawing a head, you would not trace a sharp outline of the hair, ears,
and cheeks, without having first indicated the position of the eyes,
nose, and mouth. Why then should you proceed on a different principle in
drawing a figure?

There is another bad habit of drawing which has of late become too
common in the schools, and which I, as visitor, have often protested
against; and that is the practice of blackening the figure all over,
with the intention of working out the details with breadcrumb or the
eraser. It maybe that this is the most expeditious way of producing a
smoothly-finished drawing, but I am sure it is not the most artistic

An Academy figure should be drawn on the same principle that a ship is
built. If you visit a ship-builder’s yard you will see vessels in all
stages of progress, but the future character and destination of each are
discernible almost from the first laying down of the keel. You can tell
at a glance whether the future vessel is to be a clipper yacht, a
collier brig, or a barge. If you revisit the yard a month or two
afterward, you will find great progress. The builder has got the
planking on, but the vessels have retained their original form. In
another month, perhaps, they will be found decked, caulked, coppered,
and ready for launching; but they have never lost the original lines
given them.

So it should be with your Academy figures. They will, of course, be less
complete on the third and fourth days than on the ninth or tenth; but in
no stage of their progress should they present the formless, hopeless
appearance they too often do.

Let me hasten to add that this inartistic way of drawing (though too
common here) is not universal, and that those who have chosen the better
path will find the benefit of it hereafter.

I will now proceed to give you a few words of advice about
figure-drawing after you have left the schools and are painting pictures
of your own.

It will seldom happen that when you have to introduce a nude or
semi-nude figure into your picture, you can copy the model exactly as
you would in the Academy schools. _There_ all you have to do is to copy
what you see, but if you have to represent a Moses, a Prometheus, or an
Andromeda, and your model has short legs and deformed feet, it will not
do to be too literal in your copy of him.

Artists often say on these occasions that the model puts them out, and
that they can get on better without nature. Of course, if they copy all
the defects of their model they may, to a certain extent, be right in
saying that they do better without nature; but even in this case I doubt
it. Nature, though cramped and vulgarized, is better than feeble
reminiscences of Michael Angelo or Carracci. An accomplished draughtsman
will constantly refer to nature without servilely copying her. It is not
possible that the great sculptors of antiquity found (even in Greece)
such matchless specimens of humanity as the Theseus, the fighting
gladiator, or the Milo Venus. It is still more incredible that they
evolved these perfect forms out of their inner consciousness. No; they
idealized and improved what they found, not so much by taking the head
of one model and putting it on the shoulders of another, adding the arms
of a third, as by the much more subtle process of keen and artistic
observation of various types of beauty.

To descend from the time of Phidias to our own days, you must (if you
wish to excel) pursue the same method. Do not copy all the defects of
your model, but, on the other hand, do not fancy you can draw without a
constant reference to nature. It is far from my intention to deprecate
the study of anatomy, and particularly that kind of artistic anatomy
which our Professor so ably teaches, but I am sure he would agree with
me in saying that anatomy _alone_ would only enable you to build up a
coldly correct form of the human figure without either beauty or

Anatomy, and, I may add, academic studies generally, must be looked upon
as the grammar of figure-painting, and we all know that however
necessary it may be for a writer to be grammatical, grammar alone will
not give him an elegant or even a clear style.

So it is in drawing and painting. The knowledge of anatomy and drawing
which you acquire here is not the end of art, but only the beginning.

It would be out of place in this lecture to give you rules of proportion
for the human figure. These rules you can learn (if you care about
learning them) elsewhere, but it may be well for me to give you a few
hints as to when and where it is right to depart from them. First, as to
the size of the head. You probably all know that the head measures from
one seventh to one eighth of the height of the figure. Seven and a half
heads to the figure is a good average proportion. If, however, you have
to draw figures of heroic size, you will have to make the head barely
one eighth, and the larger the size of your figures the smaller ought to
be the relative size of the head. Michael Angelo exceeded even these
limits, and some of his imitators, who have always copied his defects
rather than his good qualities, have caricatured him by giving their
figures a height of ten or eleven heads. There is a point beyond which
the sublime becomes the ridiculous.


Whilst on this subject, I would observe that these proportions can only
be depended on when the head is neither inclined up nor down. An
upturned head measured from the chin to the top of the head is always
much shorter than one whose facial angle is vertical, and a head
inclined downward and measured in the same way is considerably longer.

In colossal figures, the hands and feet should be in proportion to the
head, and therefore rather small for the body and limbs.

It is generally advisable to make the leg, from the patella downward,
somewhat longer than it is in nature. Length of leg gives style and
elegance to a figure.

In many of the antique statues (the Apollo and the Venus de Medici, for
instance) this method of improving nature seems carried to excess, and I
should recommend a middle path between the extreme length of the antique
tibiæ and the short Dachshund-like legs of our models.

It must be remembered, that if you preserve the centre of the figure
where it ought to be, you can only lengthen the tibia at the expense of
the femur; and although a great length from the knee to the instep may
be desirable, yet a very short thigh is certainly not an element of
beauty. In short, and even in medium-sized models, the middle of the
figure is generally too low, so that you may increase the length of the
leg without at all diminishing the proportions of the thigh. It is a
curious fact, that sitting and especially kneeling figures by the side
of standing ones always appear small if represented of their exact
relative size. I have always found this to be the case, and have
invariably had to increase the dimensions of my kneeling figures,
although by so doing I knew I was violating strict truth. As another
instance of a case where a departure from perfect accuracy is necessary,
I may mention the drawing of foreshortened arms and legs, particularly
when they are only slightly foreshortened. Unless the outline and
muscular development are kept rather fuller than it is in nature, the
limbs will look withered and poor.

Style in drawing is not synonymous with correctness. There can be no
true style without a certain amount of correctness, but, on the other
hand, a drawing may be very correct and yet deficient in style.
Photographs are a good illustration of the distinction.

No one will dispute the general accuracy of photography, and yet how few
photographs possess the element of style!

A fine style of drawing may be defined as the delineation of beautiful
forms in a masterly and simple manner. It must be founded on nature, but
purified and refined by the continual study of the antique.

The execution should not be timid and labored, and on the other hand it
should not obtrude itself by its dexterity. Michael Angelo and Raffaele
are generally accepted as the great masters of style in drawing, and it
is very noticeable how simple and unobtrusive their execution is.

Michael Angelo’s departure from natural proportions, and his often
forced attitudes, give great offence to many modern artists,
particularly to the mediævalists; and instead of recognizing in him (as
Sir Joshua did) the great master (_par excellence_) of style in
drawing, they strongly object to his peculiarities. For myself, I cannot
say that I worship him to the extent that Sir Joshua did; but when I
recollect the timid and meagre drawing of the Florentine and Umbrian
schools of the period, and compare these poor forms with Michael
Angelo’s “Creation of Adam and Eve” in the panels of the Sistine Chapel,
I must acknowledge that his great reputation as a draughtsman and
designer is fully deserved.

Sir J. Reynolds, in his discourses, with which most of you are familiar,
has entered very fully into the question of style, or of what used in
his day to be called the great style or the grand style.

I am not going to inflict on you many quotations from the celebrated
discourses, but there is one sentence which I shall quote, as it will
serve as a text on which to graft my own remarks on the subject of
style. The passage is this:

“The whole beauty and grandeur of the art consists in being able to get
above all singular forms, local customs, particularities, and details of
every kind.”

It appears to me that Sir Joshua ought to have added at the end of his
condemnation of “singular forms, particularities, and details of every
kind,” the words, “when they are mean or trivial.” Forms may be full of
character, and even beautiful, though singular. Many of the antique
fawns’ heads, though singular enough, have the elements of style in
them. Raffaelle’s cripple at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple is
singular to the verge of grotesqueness, but he in no way detracts from
the grand style of the cartoon. Many other examples of singular forms
might be given from the works of acknowledged masters of style.

Then, again, if by “details” ugly details are meant, I quite agree with
Sir Joshua in thinking them incompatible with a grand style, but it is
detail which gives individuality to a figure; and in the fighting
gladiator, the dancing fawn, and indeed in all the masterpieces of
antiquity, the detail is most elaborate.

Neglect of detail is the besetting sin of those painters who aim at the
grand style. They fail to see that the same process of selection may be
applied to the detail, as well as to the general proportions of the

In a portrait you must of course copy your sitter. You must take him as
you do a wife, for better, for worse. He may have a cast in his eye or a
conspicuous pimple on his nose, which, of course, as a faithful
portraitist you are bound to reproduce. You are under no such obligation
if you are painting an ideal head from the same individual. You may omit
the pimple, and make him look straight. But your same sitter may have
finely-formed furrows across his brow, or delicate expressive wrinkles
extending from the corners of his eyes. Are you, in painting an ideal
head, to neglect these landmarks of age and wisdom? I say, by no means,
neither in painting nor sculpture.

The word “ideal,” from a misconception of its meaning, has come to be
almost a term of reproach, and at a recent lecture at the Royal
Institution some ridiculous parody of Canova was nick-named “Ideal,” and
contrasted unfavorably with a masterly portrait bust by Donatello.

This is about as fair as if I, holding a brief on the other side, were
to produce the Theseus as a specimen of the ideal, and Madame Tussaud’s
effigy of the Claimant, of the realistic.

The “ideal,” or what Sir Joshua calls the grand style, means a
generalization of beautiful forms, but it has nothing to do with neglect
of detail, except when such detail is trivial, ugly, or superfluous.

It must also be remembered that detail does not mean furrows, wrinkles,
and veins alone; it means also minute correctness in rendering of form.

The outward contour of any portion of the human form is never perfectly
spherical, nor perfectly elliptic, nor perfectly straight, and it is the
delicate perception and artistic execution of form which constitutes

Take the original of “The Laocoon,” and a common fourth-rate garden cast
of the statue which has stood half-a-dozen English winters, and has had
the benefit of several good coats of paint. In this cast all the
beautiful passages of the original have disappeared, and the neglecters
of detail get what they think so desirable, namely, a general want of
precision and individuality. Michael Angelo himself, who is Sir Joshua’s
high-priest of the grand style, gives plenty of detail whenever his work
is not meant to be seen at a distance. In his “Moses” and other statues
even the veins are carefully studied.

It is the custom, in this as in most other academies, for the student to
begin with the Antique, and finish with the Life. The object of this is
of course to avoid multiplying difficulties at first, and to accustom
him to draw from an inanimate object before he proceeds to copy one that
is always more or less moving.

I should, however, very much wish that those who are ambitious of
following the highest walk of art would supplement their life studies by
a return to the antique.

They would then perceive beauties which they little dreamt of during
their apprenticeship. They would acquire a fine taste for form, and
would learn to generalize the knowledge they had acquired in the life

I would make this class of students the highest in the Academy, so that
no one should feel that by returning to the antique he was being
subjected to degradation. In this last stage of the student’s
education, artistic studies from the antique should be made, and not
what are called finished drawings, such as are at present executed to
compete for prizes. The character and beauty of the antique should be
given rapidly, and by simple means.

Before proceeding to speak of the difficult problem of drawing objects
in motion, I should wish to impress on your minds the importance of
being able to draw tolerably from memory.

All drawing is, strictly speaking, an effort of memory. You cannot look
at your model and trace lines on your paper at one and the same time;
there must be an interval of a second or two, and all that you have to
do to acquire facility in drawing from memory, is gradually to prolong
this interval.

If you visit a large forge, you are sure to see men in violent action,
either working the rolling-mill, or forging large masses of iron under
the Nasmyth hammer. You may be certain that their action is perfectly
natural, and that it is not only natural but most appropriate to the
work they are about. Men who have been rolling boiler-plate for years
are sure to set about their work in the most practical way. Sketching on
these occasions is impossible, except, perhaps, to a newspaper
correspondent, but there is nothing to prevent your watching the action
of these men intently.

You will notice the various positions the body arms, and legs assume to
accomplish various tasks; how each action is fitted to the work. You
will endeavor to draw from memory what you have noticed. Your drawings
will doubtless be very imperfect, but they will be infinitely better
than what you could have produced before taking stock of what you saw at
the forge.

In London you may not have opportunities of seeing much in the way of
action that is worth drawing, but even in London people skate, play lawn
tennis, and other games which give rise to action, and in the country
there is always plenty to observe if you keep your weather eye open.

Every one cannot become a Horace Vernet, but I think that any fairly
good draughtsman may, after examining an object carefully, learn to
reproduce it two or three hours later when he reaches home; and this
kind of power (though never cultivated in academic schools) is one which
every young artist ought to endeavor to acquire. Very young children
(unless they are asleep) cannot be studied in the deliberate manner in
which a professional grown-up model is studied. Wild animals, again, are
difficult things to draw, because they cannot be depended upon to retain
the same position for any length of time.

It is in these cases that an artist who has exercised his memory has an
enormous advantage over one who is merely a good academic draughtsman.

       *       *       *       *       *

I will now turn to the question of how to represent objects which are
meant to appear in motion, as a man walking, running, or striking, a
horse galloping, etc. I do not intend to investigate the laws of motion,
nor to point out the muscles which are brought into action by violent
movement, but simply to analyze the appearance to our sense of vision of
these various actions.

In drawing inanimate objects which are at rest, that which is apparent
to the eye really exists, and therefore by drawing what you see, you
will be mathematically correct; but even this apparent truism does not
hold good in every case.

For example, take the usual pictorial method of representing a star,
which, although astronomically incorrect, gives the impression a bright
star produces on our organs of sight, and is therefore the proper
method. Seen through a telescope the planets become round disks, and the
brightest fixed stars mere points, and there can be no doubt of the
non-existence of any radiation; and yet the _appearance_ of it is so
constant that the terms “star-shaped,” “star-fish,” etc., are always
used to designate objects of this form; and it is quite consistent with
the soundest principles of art to represent what _appears_ to be, rather
than what _is_.

When we come to consider moving objects, we find plenty of contradiction
between what appears to be and what is. There are many moving objects
which present no difficulty. Driving clouds or a ship in full sail are
easily drawn, because, although moving rapidly through the air, their
form varies very little as they proceed, and their apparent form is in
no way different from their true form. Even the ever-heaving waves of
the open sea, though by no means easy to draw correctly, offer no
discrepancy between what you see and what _is_.

The big Atlantic rollers, and particularly the short, steep, irregular
waves one sometimes meets with in the Channel, are awkward things to
draw, especially to a sea-sick artist; but, at any rate, unless he is
very far gone, he sees nothing which does not really exist, and no
effect of wind on the waves is so rapid that he cannot see it.

The case, however, is widely different if you have to represent a
rotating wheel. The spokes of the wheel are there, but it is impossible
to see them. All you will be able to make out is a kind of flickering
radiation, with perhaps some faint traces of concentric circles caused
by mud spots or other marks on the spokes.

Even when the wheel turns very slowly the spokes become blurred and
confused, and when it revolves briskly they are lost sight of

This is an extreme case, in which nothing in the way of spokes is
distinguishable, and therefore nothing can be done; but when we see a
man running or a horse galloping we _do_ distinguish the legs both of
man and horse. We get a decided impression both of form and action, and
it is our business as artists to convey that impression on paper or
canvas. It is _not_ our business to draw man or horse in positions which
may be true, but which are contrary to our own impressions. That there
are plenty of such positions I hope to prove by means of these diagrams.

We have here two men walking, one of whom has his left leg forward and
the other his right leg.


This diagram represents them going along fair heel-and-toe, perhaps not
very elegantly, but at any rate it conveys the idea of walking.

Now it is self-evident that, in walking, the legs must pass each other
at every step. Let us endeavor to draw our pedestrian at the moment when
one leg is passing in front of the other, and we shall find it
impossible to give the idea of fair heel-and-toe walking.


Now, why is this? The reason appears to me to be twofold; in the first
place, at each step there is a momentary pause when both feet are on
the ground; and the eye seizes on this pause, and naturally associates
the position the legs are in with the action of walking. Secondly, it is
only in this position that any idea can be given of the length of the
step and the rate of the man’s progress. A photograph taken at the
moment when one leg is passing the other, would not convey the
impression of forward movement.

In nature it is the actual motion of the leg which causes the attitude
to appear all right; but if we could arrest it instantaneously, the
action would appear as cramped in nature as it does on paper.

During a thunder-storm at night, if you should ever happen to see a
walking or a running man illumined by a flash of lightning, you will
notice that he does not appear to be moving at all, unless the flash
occurs just at the time when his legs are fully extended. I have myself
seen the curious effect of a sudden flash of light on a moving carriage
and horses. The horses, though trotting fully eight miles an hour, did
not seem to be moving, and every spoke in the wheels was as plainly seen
as if they had not been rotating.

What I have said about the action of walking applies equally to running.
The attitude appears always more or less cramped unless the moment is
seized when the runner’s legs are fully extended.

The illustration of running given in Flaxman’s lectures is wrong in more
than one particular. In the first place, the heel ought not to touch
the ground; it never does in running. Secondly, the figure appears
poised on his right foot; indeed, he would fall rather backward than
forward; and it is essentially necessary, in expressing the action of
running, that the figure should appear to fall forward whenever one foot
is on the ground.


In drawing the human figure either running or walking, this must always
be attended to, otherwise the figure looks like an academy model, with
his hind foot comfortably propped up on a box. It is possible that for a
fractional part of a second, a running man’s leg might assume the
vertical position given it by Flaxman; but this position, even if true,
is one of those which ought never to be selected.


In the next fractional part of the second, the foot being arrested by
the ground, and the body moving rapidly forward, the leg must assume a
slanting position, and our man will be off his balance, and under the
necessity of rapidly bringing to the front his other leg; and thus the
idea of running is given, as in the preceding diagram.

Flaxman’s floating and aërial female figures are exquisitely graceful,
and here he is seen at his best; but I think that the action of his male
figures is rather academic; that is, they suggest too much the
life-school, where the model is placed in a position which he can hold
for a considerable length of time.

I am quite aware that in a severe bas-relief composition, or in a grave
historical picture, a runner should not be represented as he might
appear at Lilliebridge grounds, or racing after a cricket-ball at
Lord’s. He should proceed more by comparatively slow bounds than by
quick steps, but the sentiment of forward impetus should be just the
same. There is a fine example of a running figure in one of Raffaelle’s
_stanze_. I think it is in the “Heliodorus Expelled from the Temple.”

In the next diagram, the action approximates to Flaxman’s, but there is
this important difference, that the left foot is in the air, and we feel
that before it gets a good grip of the ground, the body will have moved
on considerably, and the balance of the figure will have a strong
forward tendency, as in the last illustration.

Any attempt to represent a man running whilst one leg is crossing the
other, will be just as hopeless as to give the idea of walking under
similar conditions.


In the action of striking, the proper moment for the draughtsman to
seize is either just before or just after the blow has been given. Here,
again, if the arm were arrested midway, the attitude of the striker
would appear cramped and absurd. Moreover, there would be nothing in the
position of the arm to indicate whether the blow was a heavy or a light

Exactly the same remarks apply to the action of throwing. By accurately
giving the thrower’s preparatory position, the power of the throw can be
indicated; and the same may to a certain extent be done by taking him
after the stone or ball has left his hand, but nothing satisfactory can
come of attempting to draw him in an intermediate stage.

If we have to represent men rowing, the best way is to draw them leaning
forward and with outstretched arms, the oars just catching the water.


The degree in which they are reaching forward is the key to the length
of the stroke, and, therefore, in great measure, to the velocity of the
boat. If they are rowing a race, or spurting, their arms and backs would
be almost horizontal; if they are merely paddling, their bodies would be
only gently inclined forward. We have no means in painting, drawing, or
photography, of indicating the number of strokes per minute, any more
than we have of timing the rapidity of a man’s steps when he is walking
or running; but we can in both cases indicate clearly the _length_ of
the stroke or step, and the length is generally a pretty good index of
the rapidity.

Supposing that, with the idea of being original, an artist should choose
to represent the moment when the stroke is half rowed through, when the
bodies of the crew are comparatively upright, and the arms beginning to
bend, can any one suppose that his drawing would have the same spirit
as if he had taken the previous moment, when the men were all extended?

From these examples we may deduce the rule, that to represent action of
any kind, the figure should be extended to the full limit of the
position necessary to produce that action.

Having established this rule, we will now consider how far it is
applicable to the action of animals.

We find but little amongst the works of the old Italian masters which
can by any stretch of fancy be called a galloping horse.

But few of them attempted horse-painting at all, and those who did make
the attempt were content to reproduce with more or less skill the heavy
shapeless war-horse of Roman sculpture. These portly animals were
represented either at rest or pawing the ground. Sometimes, as in
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Fight for the Standard,” they are rearing, kicking,
biting, and displaying every form of equine vice; but we very seldom
come across a real galloping or even a trotting horse, until the end of
the sixteenth century.

Rubens’ horses are often represented galloping, but it must be confessed
that they are not getting over the ground very fast. The hind legs are
invariably on the ground and the fore legs well bent; just straighten
them a little, and you have the prototype of the modern rocking-horse.

This old-fashioned way of representing a horse galloping was blindly
adopted by successive generations of artists through the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. I believe that Carl Vernet (the father of Horace)
was the first to innovate. His studies of horses are admirable. Whether
walking, trotting, or galloping, their action is always spirited and
suggestive. His method has never been improved upon, and probably never

It is now about two years since a very remarkable series of
instantaneous photographs, representing a horse at full gallop, were
brought over to England from America. They were executed with great
skill and care by an ingenious gentleman of San Francisco, and have been
tested in London by means of an instrument called the praxinoscope,
which brings them in succession and at regular intervals before the eye.
Their effect seen in this way is marvellous. The grotesque, absurd
figures start into life, and the result is a wonderful representation of
a race-horse at full speed.

There is therefore no room for doubting the absolute correctness of
every one of these diagrams, which I have had enlarged for this lecture.
I need not describe in detail the manner in which the original negatives
were taken. It will be sufficient to say that electricity was absolutely
indispensable for the operation.

Twelve cameras were set up in a line with the track; they were placed
twenty-seven inches apart, and each negative was taken instantaneously
as soon as the galloping horse was opposite the camera. The word
“instantaneously” does not at all represent the rapidity with which the
negatives were taken. It was calculated that the time for each operation
was under 1/2000th Part of a second. The interval between the production
of the negatives was one twenty-fifth of a second, which, if multiplied
by twelve, will give about half a second for the completion of the
series. The original photographs are of course mere dark silhouettes,
but it is very wonderful that any result at all should have been
obtained in the 1/2000th part of a second. We are told that the
“celebrated flyer Sally Gardner was ridden by the jockey Domm at a 1:40
gait in front of the apparatus.” The 1:40 gait translated into English
means that Sally Gardner was going at the rate of a mile in one minute
forty seconds, which certainly is a great pace even for a Derby winner.

Now, it has been known for a great many years that the usual sporting
way of representing a racer at full gallop is not correct. Stonehenge,
in his book on the horse, published more than twenty years ago, says:--

“To represent the gallop pictorially in a perfectly correct manner is
almost impossible; at all events it has never yet been accomplished; the
ordinary and received interpretation being altogether erroneous. When
carefully watched, the horse in full gallop will be seen to extend
himself very much, but not nearly to the length which is assigned to him
by artists. To give the idea of high speed, the hind legs are thrust
backward and the forelegs forward in a most unnatural position, which,
if it could be assumed in reality, would inevitably lead to a fall and
most probably to a broken back.”

Stonehenge goes on to observe that “many artists have tried to break
through the time-honored recipe for drawing a galloping horse, but that
the eye at once rebels. The new version may be scientifically correct,
but the mind refuses its assent to the idea of great pace which is
desired to be given.”

Amongst the “many artists” alluded to by Stonehenge I may mention my old
acquaintance John Leech. Leech was far too keen an observer to be
satisfied with the absolute truth of the ordinary method of representing
a horse going across country, and accordingly he tried all kinds of
positions for the legs, but always had to go back to some modification
of the usually accepted one, viz., all four legs off the ground, and all
more or less extended. He remarked to me thirty years ago how
impracticable it was to represent the true action of a galloping horse

I wonder what Stonehenge and Leech would have said, could they have seen
these extraordinary photographs. Out of the series of twelve there are
only two (Nos. 2 and 3) which give the least idea of galloping, and in
these two all the legs are tucked under the horse in a bunch. Well may
the editor of the _Field_ have written back to America to say that there
was some mistake, as, barring two, which looked something like
galloping, all the others represented the horse as more or less
stationary. To me they looked more like the tricks of a highly-trained
steed in a circus.

However grotesque the position of a horse’s legs may be, we must (per
force) accept them as truthful, and to those sceptics who cannot
reconcile their minds to this fact, I would observe that four-footed
animals don’t fly; their legs not only touch the ground, but must at one
particular 2000th part of a second be vertical, and I am quite sure that
under these conditions the cleverest draughtsman would fail to make the
horse appear galloping. Géricault, Horace Vernet, and all the best
delineators of horses galloping, have represented them with all the feet
in the air and the legs more or less extended.

It has now been proved, beyond the possibility of doubt, that this
position is never assumed by the horse. Does it follow that the pictures
of these artists are all wrong? By no means. Speaking scientifically,
they _are_ wrong, but science and art, though often bracketed together,
are very distinct, and ought to be independent of each other; so that if
the old-fashioned way of representing a racer conveys to the mind a
better idea of speed than any of these diagrams, we ought to continue to
wallow in our ignorance. It is impossible to say what the art of the
future may be. We may get valuable hints from these and future
instantaneous photographs; we may learn to modify, to a considerable
extent, the time-honored sporting way of depicting horseraces, but I can
hardly believe that the struggle for the Derby of 1981 will be
represented as above.[2]


The other paces of the horse, the walk and the trot, have also been
photographed by the same gentleman. The results are curious, but there
is nothing so outrageously absurd as the “1:40 gait” photographs.

In conclusion, I would caution you against being disquieted by any
modern investigation of the true action of animals. In art, whatever
appears right _is_ right, and this seems to me to constitute one of the
differences between art and science. I have already said that in drawing
men or animals in motion artists are limited to one momentary position,
and that care should be taken that _that_ momentary position be
characteristic of the general action. Thus in the greyhound pursuing the
hare, the legs appear even more extended than in the racing horse, and
we ought accordingly to represent them in this way, regardless of the
literal truth.

What we call action, both in men and animals, is not the attitude at one
particular moment, but the combination of various attitudes in rapid
succession. To give a perfect representation of action lies, therefore,
beyond the province of art. All we can do is to select, or sometimes
even to invent, an attitude which, whether true or not true, shall
accurately give the general impression of what we want to represent.

We have heard a good deal lately of a new school of painters calling
themselves Impressionists. I need hardly say I have but little sympathy
with their work. To neglect form, as they ostentatiously do, is to
abandon voluntarily the highest quality of art; but I must confess that
in drawing animated objects in motion, I am somewhat of an Impressionist

Wherever from the rapidity of the movement any deliberate drawing of the
form is out of the question, I hold it to be much safer to trust to
general impressions than to be guided by the results of instantaneous



Lectures on color are generally semi-scientific discourses. The lecturer
explains the theory of primaries and secondaries, and the optical
effects produced by contrast, illustrating what he has got to say on the
subject by means of colored diagrams. Those who are interested in the
singular effect produced by what are called simultaneous and successive
contrasts of color had better consult Chevreuil’s book on color, which
has been translated into English, and is a very exhaustive work on the

From a very slight knowledge of the book I should say that it was more
likely to be of use to the designer and manufacturer than to the artist.
The author deals almost entirely with flat surfaces of color, and the
weakest part of the book is that where he tackles the complex problem of
reducing to rule the coloring of pictures. Some of his theories appear
to me very fanciful, and some are quite contrary to my own experience.
Indeed, it is a question to me whether a scientific knowledge of optics
in their relation to color can be of any use to an artist in his

After this preamble you will not be surprised if I do not exhibit
to-night any prisms or kaleidoscopic effects of color. Moreover, I don’t
know enough of the subject to venture to lecture on it.

I shall give you the results of my experiences (_quantum valeant_) not
only about colors, but about such prosaic matters as brushes, palettes,
and mediums. It appears to me that many a student is kept back or
discouraged because his palette is in a hopeless mess; his brushes are
like old birch-brooms, and his canvas is slippery and greasy.

If you were learning to write, instead of learning to paint, you would
not provide yourselves with stumpy worn-out pens, bad ink, and cartridge
paper. You would get fairly good pens and ink and white foolscap, so as
to give yourselves a chance.

I don’t wish you to be fastidious about the choice of your materials.
This is as bad as being too careless; nor do I want to bind you to use
the colors and brushes which I myself find most convenient for life

All I desire is that you should not multiply your difficulties
unnecessarily by using bad materials.

Before, however, entering on these details, I wish to make a few
observations about the effect and contrast of colors.

In the first place, I would observe that, pictorially speaking, no color
can, taken individually, be called either pretty or ugly. The dullest
mud-color, if in its right place, is charming; and the most delicate
mauve, if in the wrong place, hideous.

Dirt has been defined as matter in the wrong place. No one while digging
among his flower-beds would call the rich mould “dirt,” but if he
proceeds to wipe his spade with his pocket-handkerchief, he will
certainly “dirty” it. In the same way when in a picture we speak of a
color being ugly or dirty, all we mean is that it appears so with
reference to its surroundings. Take the same color and put it in a more
harmonious setting, and it will appear all right.

We are told by scientific writers on color, that the primaries (red,
yellow, and blue) harmonize with their secondaries, viz., red with
green, yellow with purple, and blue with orange. This is no doubt true
in a general way, but it is by no means invariably true. Any color will,
under certain conditions, harmonize with any other, provided they are of
the proper shade, and the surrounding setting and background are
suitable; whilst, on the other hand, we often see in pictures by bad
colorists the most orthodox combination of reds and greens, which,
instead of being harmonious, are painfully discordant.

The truth is that color cannot be subjected to theoretical rules. The
only safe book for the student to consult is the Book of Nature. He will
there find no limit to the harmonious combinations of the primary and
secondary colors. Do the golden blossoms of the ragwort or the
blue-bells of the wild hyacinth not harmonize with their respective
green leaves? Are the orange orchards of the South, or the mingled blue,
green, and gold of the peacock’s plumage, unpleasant to the eye? And yet
these combinations of color violate the rules laid down by theorists.

Another obvious truth to be gleaned from Nature, and which may be made
applicable to art, is that she varies her tints according to climate. In
the plumage and coloring of exotic birds and insects we find the most
gorgeous combinations of bright colors. In the parrot-house of the
Zoölogical Gardens we see red and blue, orange and purple, blue and
green plumages of the most brilliant hues. The coloring of these birds,
although not as discordant as their voices, seems in our gray climate
too crude and violent, but in their native tropical forests, with an
intensely blue sky overhead, the crudity would disappear, and they would
be as much in keeping with the surrounding scenery as eagles and hawks
are on our mountains, black and white seafowl on our coasts, or sparrows
in our streets.

The truth appears to be that in color there are various scales of
intensity and strength. If the key-note, or, in other words, the most
decided color in your picture, be strong and vivid, you will have to
carry out the whole picture on the same scale. If it be of a delicate or
neutral tint, you must treat the remainder of the picture accordingly.

Good specimens of old stained-glass windows, where the strongest reds,
blues, greens, and yellows are seen in juxtaposition, are fine examples
of a powerful rich harmony of color, and many pictures of the Dutch
school are very good illustrations of harmony of a delicate gray kind.

This sort of low-toned harmony is much more easily obtained than the
stronger and richer kind. The reason for this is that faults of color
and errors of taste are much less conspicuous in a gray picture than in
a brilliantly colored one. In the former all the costumes are of a
whitey-brown, buff, or slate color, and an injudicious distribution of
these Quaker-like tints would be hardly noticeable; but in a work where
strong reds, yellows, blues, and blacks predominate, the substitution of
one color for another would be fatal to the picture.

In landscape again, it is far easier to paint the gray land of mountain
and mist than the brilliant sunshine of the South. Any one who honestly
attempts to depict the blue Mediterranean sparkling in the sunshine will
probably be severely criticised, whilst his neighbor who has painted the
kind of Highland scenery we all know so well, will get praised for his
painstaking truthfulness, although his picture may be in every respect
inferior as a transcript of nature to the Southern one.

The axiom to be derived from this is, that whatever your subject may be,
whether figures or landscape, it is comparatively easy to succeed as a
colorist in a low or gray scale of color.

I do not mean to recommend any shirking of difficulties, and if your
subject is of a nature which requires brilliant coloring, by all means
endeavor to paint it up to the mark; but in decorative work, and in
pictures which admit of a tender and soft coloring, you will do well to
select grays, bluish greens, and broken tints generally.

Your shortcomings will be less conspicuous, and you will avoid the risk
of becoming tawdry and vulgar.

Some men are born with a strong natural feeling for color, and a good
many more fancy they have this gift without really possessing it. Some
have an exceptionally dull sense for color, and although they may be
quite able to distinguish red from green, yet they cannot be taught to
discriminate between different shades of the same color.

To students belonging to any of these three classes I am afraid my
lecture will be of no use.

The first--that is, the born colorists--will instinctively use
harmonious tints, and their natural feeling will be a better guide to
them than any lectures. The second class--namely, those who fondly
believe themselves to be colorists--will, of course, not attend to any
thing I may say; and those to whom nature has denied a sense of color
are unteachable, just as it is hopeless to teach music to a man who has
no ear.

The great majority, however, of students belong to none of these
exceptional classes. They have an average sense of color, just as they
have an average sense of form; and although I am quite aware that
practice and experience will alone improve and develop their power of
coloring, yet a few practical hints may facilitate and shorten their

I assume that whatever method is adopted for painting flesh, the object
ought to be to get it like nature. I don’t mean necessarily like the
model, but like what nature would be under the conditions imposed by the
subject, and it is very necessary continually to bear in mind what those
conditions are. It will not do (if you have an open-air subject to
paint) to copy your model faithfully as he appears in the studio, and
then put in a sky and background from your out-of-door studies.

Although the whole picture might truly be said to be painted from
nature, yet it would certainly not look right. The figures would have
been painted under one condition of light, and the landscape under

You cannot be expected, except under peculiar circumstances, to paint
direct from your model out-of-doors, but you may take careful notice of
the difference between studio light and shade and open-air effect. I
must do modern painters the justice to say that this difference is much
more generally recognized than it was twenty years ago. Formerly a
group of figures used to be painted with more or less care from models
as they appeared in the studio, the aperture which admitted light being
often not more than three or four feet wide. It was immaterial to the
artist whether the scene of his subject was an apartment similarly
lighted, or an open heath; and the consequence was that the picture,
however cleverly it might be painted, had an unreal appearance whenever
a landscape background was introduced. This discrepancy must have been
felt, and hence no doubt we may account for the perfectly conventional
landscape backgrounds we notice in many pictures by the masters of the
last century. Instead of the old artifice of spoiling the landscape for
the sake of the figures, it is much better and healthier art to paint
the figures to suit the landscape. We cannot do this completely unless
we paint the whole picture on the spot, and then we should not have the
same command over the arrangement of the groups as we have in the
studio; but we _can_ make an approximation toward this desirable end,
and it is satisfactory to notice that many young artists, both French
and English, are making efforts in this direction, and thus studying the
ever-varying effects of color and light in the only way in which they
ought to be studied. If you do not feel equal to the task of thus
modifying your studio work, choose some subject where the scene is an
interior, analogous to your own room, and then you may copy literally
the color and light and shade of your models and draperies.

I am not going to give any recipe for painting flesh; some English
artists and the great majority of foreigners paint it in at once as near
nature as they can. Others model it first in what is technically called
dead color, and finish with transparent or semi-transparent tints. If
the result is good, it matters little how it has been obtained. Every
artist has his own method, and he generally adheres to it, either
because he is accustomed to it, or because it suits his style of
composition and drawing. I shall therefore confine the remarks I have to
make on color to the harmonious arrangement of backgrounds, draperies,
and costumes.

First, as to backgrounds. It is a curious fact, which any one can
verify, that if you have painted a head and you find the color too hot
and red, the proper remedy is to paint the background of a cool green or
some cold color. Naturally one would suppose that on the principle of
contrasts the cool-colored background would make the head appear redder.
Such, however, is certainly not the case. A vermilion curtain behind
your rubicund gentleman would make him appear more objectionably
rubicund, but a cool gray or green would have the contrary effect.

On the other hand, if you want warmth of color in your head, paint a red
background to it. If you try to give warmth to it by setting it in a
cold background you will make it look more ghastly than it did.

The only explanation I can offer for this apparent anomaly is that the
eye gets filled or saturated with the color of the background until the
head seems to partake of it. In the first example the eye gets filled
with cool green, and thus the redness of the head becomes less apparent.
In the second example, the optic nerves get accustomed to a hot color,
and so the pallor of the head disappears.

In my opinion a colored sketch or water-color drawing gains brilliancy
by being mounted on a white ground, whereas, according to theory, the
dazzling whiteness of the mount ought to make the drawing look dingy.

In the same way, supposing you have painted a series of figures for the
decoration of a pediment or frieze, and you find that your figures are
dull and heavy in color, how are you to remedy this without repainting
them? My answer would be, Give them a gold or light bright-colored
background. It is not only that this bright background enlivens the
whole work, but it has the effect of making each individual figure
appear less dull in color.

Although experience has taught me that these apparently anomalous
effects are produced with color, yet, of course, where black and white
alone are concerned, the law of contrast follows its natural course;
that is, if you want to give brilliancy to a white spot, surround it
with black; and if you want to give darkness to a black spot, surround
it with white.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a composition of several figures, it is almost always desirable to
assist the effect by selecting white or light-colored draperies for the
figures in the light, and dark colors for the figures in the shade.

This principle may, of course, be carried too far, but as a general rule
it may be depended on.

A good deal has been said by Sir J. Reynolds and others in praise of a
simple palette, and with much of this I cordially agree; still I think
that in the ordinary practice of figure-painting nine or ten colors are

If I give you my own palette, it is not that I wish to dictate to you
what colors to employ, but simply as a foundation for the remarks I am
going to make about the colors generally used. First, with regard to


White lead is the pigment all but universally used in oil-painting. Many
years ago I tried zinc-white. It was strongly recommended, on the ground
that it did not turn yellow or black with age like white lead. I believe
it has this good quality, but it wants opacity and body; and although I
think it might be used with great advantage in skies, or for scumbling,
I don’t think it can ever replace white lead for flesh-painting.

We next come to Naples yellow. I am no chemist, and do not profess to
tell you what Naples yellow is made of, any more than I could inform you
of what London butter is made. There are a great many shades of this
useful color, but I think that the pale greenish variety is the most
serviceable. The French have _jaune de Naples ordinaire_, _jaune
brilliant_, and three shades of _jaune Pinard_. Our colormen have pale
and deep Naples yellow, of various shades, and lemon yellow besides. Of
all these varieties, I prefer the light-colored _jaune Pinard_. In
painting flesh it will be found useful, especially in the reflected
light of the shadows, where white lead would probably create heaviness
and opacity; but it is in light-colored draperies, in gold-embroidered
brocades, and in glowing sunsets that Naples yellow of some kind becomes
indispensable. Yellow ochre ought to be a simple earth, tinted yellow in
nature’s laboratory; but, like the aforesaid Naples yellow, you cannot
tell what the contents of the tube you purchase as yellow ochre really

The _terra chiara_, which, in Italian fresco, replaces our yellow ochre,
is perfectly durable, but no yellow ochre that I ever bought in London
would resist the action of the lime.

Hence I conclude that the yellow ochre of the trade is not a genuine
earth. However that may be, it is quite indispensable on the palette,
and in oil-paintings seems perfectly durable. Roman ochre, golden ochre,
and other varieties are quite unnecessary if you have yellow ochre on
your palette; but brown ochre is capital for one particular purpose, and
for nothing else that I know of. The purpose of which I am speaking is
for painting a dead white luminous bit of wall or pavement. If you
mellow your white lead with a very little brown ochre, you will get a
luminous compound which is neither yellow nor red, and is totally
dissimilar to your flesh tint.

Of raw sienna I would speak with great respect, as it is perfectly
durable in fresco-work, where yellow ochre drops off the wall and
disintegrates every thing it is mixed with. Nevertheless, raw
sienna wants body; when ground in oil, and except perhaps for
landscape-painting, I hardly ever use it.

Before exhausting the yellows, I may mention that the only violent
yellow you ought ever to admit on your palette is cadmium. Chromes of
all kinds are rank poison, and cadmium, though quite safe, is a
difficult color to manage with discretion.

Light red is burnt ochre, and is one of the most useful colors of the
palette for painting flesh. Mixed with white and a very little yellow it
is the foundation of all flesh-painting. The French light red, or
“_brun rouge_,” as it is called, is much better than ours. It is a
little more pink in color, and is generally pleasanter to work with.

We now come to vermilion. Of this color there are two kinds in common
use, the Chinese and the so-called extract of vermilion. I should think
it hardly necessary to have both kinds on the palette, but some artists,
who are much better colorists than I can pretend to be, think otherwise;
and although they omit altogether umbers and browns of all sorts, yet
never lay their palette without both sorts of vermilion.

Burnt sienna is the next color on our palette, and is of universal use.
It is the best color to use for giving warmth to shades, and for
preparing draperies or stuffs which are ultimately to be blue or green.
Of course, one may use it too much, but it never gives opacity and
heaviness, which any other red would do if employed for a similar

There are many other reds. Venetian red is hardly to be distinguished
from light red. Indian red is a deep laky red, and very opaque. I don’t
think it is much used now, but formerly it was in great request for
painting flesh. Etty was very fond of it.

The so-called Mars reds are perfectly durable, but all these colors are
quite unnecessary.

Of the lakes the most useful for general purposes is madder lake. Some
of them, such as yellow lake and scarlet lake, are very fugitive and
not safe to use. Rose madder and purple madder are expensive, and,
except for very rich stuffs, are seldom wanted. There are several
varieties of brown and yellow madders, which may be used with advantage
in landscape, but which are never really wanted for figure-painting.

Green is a color which is not absolutely necessary if you have blue on
the palette, still it is sometimes very useful for the half tones. Oxide
of chromium is the best of the decided greens, but I think that the
French _vert de Cobalt_ is more generally useful. This is a bluish
green, and a most excellent color for painting skies.

_Terra verte_ has no body in it, and I find it turns black very
speedily. Malachite green is a sickly color that I cannot recommend; and
what we used to call emerald green, but which the French call _vert
veronese_, is rank poison on the palette.

Almost all the rich dark greens required for foliage and verdure in
landscape-painting can be obtained by a judicious mixture of blues and
yellows. French ultramarine, mixed with raw or burnt sienna, gives a
strong dark green, which is not at all heavy, and every
landscape-painter discovers new combinations of blues and blacks with
yellows and reds, which enable him to give the infinite variety of

As for blues, the only colors I can recommend are cobalt and French
ultramarine. The colors known as ultramarine ash and mineral gray are
sometimes useful, but they can very easily be imitated on the palette. I
never use either Prussian, Antwerp, or any other cyaneous blue; and I
think that, at any rate for figure-painting, they are unnecessary.

You will observe that I have not put any brown on the palette, not even

I am quite aware that with many painters, especially English ones, raw
umber is considered a _sine quâ non_, and I thought so myself a few
years ago.

I took, however, a dislike to it from a conviction that it turned black,
and I fancy that I have done better since I discarded it. It is very
seldom seen on the palettes of foreign artists. Asphaltum and bitumen
are very seductive colors, but, as every one knows, they have been the
ruin of many excellent pictures, and it is well to steer clear of them.
I think, however, that either color, when mixed with white lead, is
tolerably safe, and nothing else that I know of gives so effectively and
pleasantly the gray hair and fur of animals.

In blacks, you have ivory or blue black, both excellent colors, and
there is also a charcoal black which is much more gray than either of
the others, and has very little body. I think, when mixed with white,
that it may be useful in painting clouds. It is generally gritty and
badly ground, but for the purpose I mention, I don’t think this fault
matters much.

Before taking leave of the palette, I may be expected to say something
about brushes and mediums.

First, as to brushes:

As to the size of the brushes, this depends very much on the taste and
habits of the artist.

I am fond of small ones myself, not necessarily sables, but small hog’s
hair tools, and I should recommend them to beginners, who wish to
express form as well as color in their work.

I never use flat brushes for painting flesh, and very seldom for any
thing else, but this is merely an old habit.

Every one is perfectly right to use the tools which he finds the most
convenient, only let them be good of their kind, and always kept in
working order.

Now as to mediums:

This is a subject on which I speak with diffidence, as opinions vary
greatly about these compounds. I think, however, that I may safely say
that the less they are used by students the better. By mediums, I mean
the various copal jellies which are sold in tubes, and placed on the
palette like the colors.

I do not say that they are unsafe to use in moderation, but moderation
is said by teetotalers to be a virtue more difficult to practise than
total abstinence.

For a great many years I used them, and have only quite lately discarded
them altogether in favor of clarified poppy oil. This oil is a very slow
drier, and is, therefore, peculiarly suitable for Academy students’
work. It continually happens that a student prepares a larger portion of
the figure than he can finish in one day. The next day it is too dry to
continue the modelling, and yet not dry enough for glazing and

If he has painted it with poppy oil, he will find it in a very workable
state for two or even three days.

Nothing can be safer, provided of course the picture is painted
throughout with the same slow drier. The best and purest poppy oil is
known by the name of _huile chromophile_. It has a strong smell of
castor-oil, which to susceptible persons may be rather an objection.

I shall not attempt a criticism of the various oils and essences which
are to be found at the color-man’s. What is one man’s meat is another
man’s poison, and I even go farther and say, that the same man at one
period of his career will swear by some compound which a few years
afterward he will regard with special aversion. The only advice I give
to young artists is to use the simplest materials they can, both for
mediums and colors; and I may add, that the better the colorist, the
simpler his palette generally is.

I have seen on some foreign artists’ palettes as many as six different
kinds of lake, when one would have been quite sufficient, and I need
hardly say that whatever other merit their pictures may have had, they
were not distinguished for brilliant color.

After all, it is only natural that it should be so.

An artist who is not a good colorist must (unless he is blinded by
conceit) have some suspicion of his deficiency, and would naturally
endeavor by a more elaborate palette to remedy his shortcomings, just as
some of our bad cooks endeavor to improve their cuisine by a liberal use
of made sauces. With artists as with cooks, the remedy is unsuccessful;
in both cases it is taste that is wanted, and not a multiplicity of

If a student has a germ of feeling for color, he may develop it into a
plant of respectable growth. He will probably never become a great
colorist, but he may at any rate learn to attain a certain degree of
harmony and propriety, qualities which are not always found in the works
of noted colorists.

I would strongly deprecate the habit of painting pictures up to
exhibition pitch. Paint them up to the pitch you see in nature, and you
will have quite enough to do. Exasperation is not force, and although a
soberly-colored work may be eclipsed on the exhibition walls by a
dazzling neighbor, yet it will more than hold its own when removed from
the glare and glitter of its surroundings.

Color, as understood by many people, means violent contrasts of reds,
blues, and yellows. Now, I am far from saying that strong contrasts and
positive colors are always inharmonious. We have (even in our climate)
plenty of wild flowers to prove the contrary. The scarlet poppy, the
blue corn flower, the common yellow buttercup, are all as positive in
color as red, blue, and yellow well can be, but the green stalk and
leaves of each plant harmonize perfectly with the flower, and the
contrast, though strong, is never offensive. The kind of contrasts I am
deprecating are perhaps best known by the epithet “vulgar.” Look at the
cheap colored glass windows which abound in our country churches, and
which are generally much admired by the congregation. As a rule, the
more crude the colors, the more grateful are the farmers and their wives
to the donors of these windows for giving them something cheerful to
look at during the service. We need not go into the country for
specimens of vulgar taste in color. I never pass a London pillar
letter-box without an uncomfortable feeling, particularly after it has
been newly painted.

The post-office authorities are certainly not bound to educate the eye
of the British public, and their object in painting these post-boxes
vermilion was of course to make them more conspicuous, just as a red
flag is used to indicate danger. But the daily press, and particularly
that sheet which claims the largest circulation in the world, praised
the authorities for “giving us a bit of color” to refresh the eye. Had
these letter-boxes been painted of a laky Indian red, or of a bronze
color, they would have been unobjectionable, but no one would have
thought of commending them as “bits of color.”

Again, if we consider the scheme of clothing the volunteer regiments in
scarlet, and try to account for the enthusiasm with which certain corps
have hailed the innovation, we shall find that the “bit of color” is at
the bottom of it. It can hardly be supposed that the gallant East-end
volunteers wish to be mistaken for militiamen; it must be that the
scarlet cloth is thought becoming, both by themselves and their female
relatives. If I am not mistaken, the West-end corps, such as the
Queen’s, the Inns of Court, and especially the artists, will be very
loth to give up their gray uniforms and don the national red.

I am afraid that the average Englishman’s taste in color (though much
improved of late years) is still but little more refined than the West
African’s. If he no longer buys hideous wall-papers and vulgar carpets,
it is not that he dislikes them, but that he does not know where to get
them, so great has been the improvement in our manufactures. If we turn
from the English Philistine to the English artist, we find ourselves at
the opposite pole. He has often such a horror of loud, vulgar tints,
that he is apt to fall into the affectation of painting on too subdued
a scale, and I would caution you against this affectation. Truth is not
necessarily dull, nor is simplicity monochromatic. There is no danger of
the general public, which delights in the red coats of our soldiers, and
thinks the crudest colored dyes the prettiest, encouraging you to paint
sad olive pictures. The danger comes from the select few who are gifted
with æsthetic tastes, and who, having recently awakened to the fact that
crude contrasts do not constitute color, fall into the opposite extreme,
and praise whatever is negative and colorless.

The dismal view of nature seems to me an unhealthy view; and although it
may be commended as a reaction against vulgar, tawdry color, the art
which it tends to foster is morbid and unsound.

Beauty of color is a much more subtle and indefinable quality than
beauty of form. We are all pretty well agreed that the antique is the
nearest approach to perfection of form which has ever been made, but we
are by no means agreed about color. Some will think that Titian was the
greatest colorist that ever lived, some Velasquez, some Paul Veronese,
and some Rembrandt; and it is not only individual opinions that differ,
but the collective opinion of the age. We all are familiar with
instances of pictures which are now highly prized for their color, but
which within the present century failed to gain admission to any

Delacroix’s pictures used to be regularly rejected, or very badly hung,
and these same pictures are now considered the gems of the gallery at
Versailles. On our side of the Channel we used to turn out Muller’s,
and, I believe, Constable’s pictures. These acts of what we should call
injustice were not committed from any Academic spite or jealousy. They
were simply the expression of the general public opinion at that time.

It may be noted that our predecessors in this country were by no means
indifferent to color. On the contrary, they prided themselves on being
the _crème de la crème_ of colorists, and any one who expressed
admiration for the color of Gros and Géricault would be looked upon as a
kind of traitor to the English school.

It was a generally accepted article of belief in England, that the
French could draw, but knew nothing about color, and that for fine
coloring you must look at home.

We have less national prejudice now, and I hope that we are in a better
path toward forming a right judgment than our predecessors were. They
almost always judged of the color of a picture by comparing it with
similar works by the old masters, and if it reminded them of Titian,
Correggio, Rubens, or some other acknowledged colorist, it was
pronounced a fine thing. If it were unlike the work of any accepted
master of color, it was thought nothing of, however true it might be to
nature. Hence as Constable’s pictures resembled neither Claude, Cuyp,
nor Ruysdael, they were disliked by the connoisseurs of the period, and
were quite unsalable.

A remnant of this artificial way of judging pictures still lingers
amongst us, but, speaking generally, the present generation has ceased
to take this narrow view of color.

Mistakes in judgment are no doubt made, and posterity may pronounce a
different verdict on some of our favorites; still the principle on which
we decide whether a man is to be called a colorist or not, is sound.

The principle is briefly this:--That however unusual or novel the
coloring of a picture may be, if it reminds one vividly of some harmony
of nature, if there is space and air in it, and if the same atmosphere
pervades the whole canvas, it is the work of a real colorist.

I have abstained in this lecture from giving you any of the
old-fashioned recipes for coloring (such as keeping the shades warm and
lights cool, and _vice versâ_), because I think that all such rules have
a tendency to cramp and fetter the artist who follows them. Nothing can
be more dissimilar than the works of the Florentine Ghirlandajo and the
portraits of Rembrandt, and yet few will deny the right of both these
painters to rank as colorists. I might bracket Titian with Rubens, or
Correggio with Ostade, to show how broad is the path which leads to
excellence in color.

An innate sense of the harmonious color in nature, and a steadfast
determination, by hook or by crook, to reproduce an echo of this harmony
on your canvas, must ultimately lead to a good result.

No original colorist could tell you by what process he arrives at the
effects he obtains. His only secret (if secret it be) is that he
observes more closely and intelligently than other men. It is not the
colors he uses, nor the canvas, nor the medium, nor even the technical
skill of his hand which cause his pictures to look like nature, whilst
his neighbor’s look like paint. It is simply what phrenologists would
call his bump of color, but what I (who do not believe in bumps) would
term his keen appreciation of the harmony of nature, and his retentive
memory which enables him to reproduce in his studio the fleeting effects
he has seen.

I cannot promise you that by adopting the same method you will all
become great colorists; but of this you may rest assured, that habits of
observation and repeated attempts at rendering honestly and faithfully
what you have seen, will tend to improve your color far more than all
the rules that have ever been laid down, and all the lectures that have
ever been delivered.



By decorative painting, I mean moral figure-painting. Ornamental designs
are a very important factor in all decorative work, but as this branch
of the art is out of my province, I shall say nothing about it.

The great mistake most artists make when they have a large wall-space to
decorate with figures, is to proceed in the same way as they would for
an easel picture. Elaborate finish, powerful light and shade, expression
and individuality in the heads, are all excellent qualities in an easel
picture, but they are by no means necessary in decorative work.

On the other hand, a well-balanced and harmonious composition, a pure
and grand style of drawing, and great breadth and luminosity of coloring
are absolutely essential for good decorative work.

These are all qualities which are never got by dexterity of hand, dodges
about color, or chance, to which much of the fascination of oil-painting
on canvas must be attributed. They are only attainable by patient and
laborious work. I will endeavor to show you, step by step, what the
nature of this work is.

It is always advisable for decorative work of any importance to make a
cartoon of the size of the painting, and, if possible, after the
completion of the cartoon, to have it put up _in situ_, so that the size
of the figures, the arrangement of the groups, and the general effect
may be judged of.

If the result is satisfactory, the work may be considered three parts
done. Should there, however, be any alterations required, they should be
carried out on the cartoon. Nothing which requires alteration should be
left knowingly. There will always be plenty of unforeseen changes
suggesting themselves during the progress of the painting, without
complicating matters by having an imperfect cartoon.

For fresco-painting a cartoon is absolutely necessary.

In the course of this lecture I will describe the process of
fresco-painting. Before, however, proceeding to speak of the different
methods of painting, we will first consider the preliminary operations.

The first thing to be done, even before a stroke of charcoal sullies the
spotless purity of our cartoon paper, is to get an idea of the kind of
arrangement which it will be best to adopt. This pursuit of an idea for
the general arrangement of our subject is of course entirely brain-work,
but as soon as an idea is got, the hand comes into play; not, however,
with charcoal on the big cartoon, but with pen and ink or pencil in the

I always think the clearest way of describing any process is to take an
example. We will therefore take an example, and suppose that we are
lucky enough to have the decoration of a town-hall or some similar
building in a large seaport town entrusted to us, and that it has been
suggested to us by our employers that groups of figures representing all
countries would be appropriate.

Very well, we don’t at once seize a stick of charcoal and begin drawing
promiscuously. We think first how we can best fit our subject into the
space allotted to us.

How are we to arrange our personages? Shall we group them irrespective
of their nationality, like the figures in Delaroche’s “Hemicycle”; or
shall we adopt a kind of geographical arrangement? Shall we have a
centre figure or group? Shall we introduce architecture into the
background, as Raffaelle has done in the “School of Athens”?

These and a dozen other questions of vital importance to our design have
all to be settled before the cartoon is begun, and we must be guided in
our settlement very much by the nature of the building, the shape of the
panel, the height of the work from the ground, etc. The decorative
painter ought always to bear in mind that his work is supplementary to
that of the architect. Inattention to this self-evident truism has been
the cause of many failures. In an easel picture we order the frame to
suit the picture. We don’t paint the picture to suit the frame; but in
mural painting the reverse ought always to be the rule. Of course, there
are cases--as, for instance, in museums and picture galleries--where the
works of art are the jewel and the building the setting; but these works
of art are not decorative. The very word decorative implies subserviency
to that which has to be decorated.

To return to our imaginary work; I will suppose we have decided that a
central group of figures is desirable, and that England, as the greatest
maritime power in the world, ought to occupy the place of honor.
Moreover, not being of the “Perish India” school, we think that she
ought to be supported by her colonies. We will, therefore, surround her
with figures representing Canada, India, Australia, etc.

Having so far settled our scheme of composition, we must abandon our
idea of a geographical arrangement. We find that it is more logical to
arrange our figures according to the importance of the countries they
represent, than according to their latitude and longitude. We will
accordingly place in the immediate vicinity of our central group,
representatives of France, the United States, Germany, Italy, etc. We
then gradually descend to less civilized countries, until finally we
reach the remote corners, which we reserve for barbarians like our late
enemy King Coffee.

The next point for our consideration would be, ‘How are we to represent
England?’ Certainly not as a pseudo-classical Minerva with a trident in
her hand, and the British lion at her feet; still less as an obese,
ill-tempered John Bull. We may leave this venerable joke to the comic

We must try and invent something new, which shall be characteristic of
England, and yet neither commonplace nor grotesque.

We may, however, leave the costume and action of our Britannia for
future consideration. We have made up our minds that Britannia must be
typified by a female figure, but farther than this we need not go at
present. Having got the key-note (as it may be called) of the
composition, we shall have no difficulty in determining that all the
other civilized countries must also be represented by female figures.

It will not probably be advisable to clothe these figures in their
respective national costumes; such a mode of treatment would be
incompatible with a grand style of decoration. It will, nevertheless, be
quite allowable to vary their features and complexion according to the
nationality they represent, and to give them something, either flowers,
fruit, grain, or produce, which will help to identify them.

Having got thus far, we may begin to map out our groups on the cartoon.

We do not engage models until we have approximately decided on the
various attitudes we wish our figures to assume.

Some must be standing, some sitting, and very possibly some kneeling or
reclining. We try these various attitudes on the cartoon, sketching them
in very lightly with soft charcoal. We transfer and shift them about
until we get an harmonious and pleasant arrangement of line, not too
symmetrical, and yet sufficiently so to give an air of grandeur and
repose to the work. These figures need not, of course, be more than
indicated, but they ought to be tolerably correct in proportion, and the
attitudes should be natural, or at any rate possible.

It is here that a knowledge of anatomy is especially useful to the young
artist. When a man has been drawing figures for forty years he ought to
draw the human form very much as he forms the letters of the alphabet
when writing; but until long experience has given him this kind of
facility, he will find his studies of anatomy and proportion of the
greatest benefit to him. He will save many a long and profitless
morning’s work from a model, and save his pocket too.

It is when the cartoon is in this state of progress--that is, when the
size of the figures, the general arrangement of the different groups,
and their relative position have been settled approximately--that it is
so desirable to hoist it up to its place on the wall. Any alteration
can be made now much easier than later; certain figures or even whole
groups may want to be shifted a few inches, certain actions modified,
the line of heads may require revisal, and so on; and it is obvious that
what can be done now with a few lines of charcoal, would at a later
period involve a great amount of rubbing out and a great waste of labor.

Having at last decided on the proportions and positions of the various
groups and single figures, we may now begin to work from the living
model; and here it may perhaps not be out of place if I give you some
advice about the selection of your models.

I would strongly advise you to engage those who are intelligent and apt,
rather than those who may be better proportioned, but who are stiff and
awkward. What you want in the present stage of your work is natural and
graceful action, and with some models it is hopeless to struggle in this

When I was a student in Paris, there were some three or four models who
were so intelligent (and I may say so artistic) that they naturally put
themselves into the attitudes wanted, and even suggested and assumed
other positions which were often adopted by the artist.

In violent and spontaneous action suitable for battle pictures these
models were invaluable, and the decline of many a great reputation in
historical painting dates from the death of these humble assistants,
some of whom could neither read nor write. I am afraid the race is
extinct, but even in the present generations of models some are far
superior in artistic feeling to others. In our present cartoon, however,
we do not require any violent action; all we need is perfect ease and

As our personages are to be clothed, it will be unnecessary to make
careful nude studies. Nevertheless, it will be well to get rough outline
drawings from the nude of all the figures, just to correct and verify
the proportions of our personages.

Two or three of these nude studies can be made in a day. If the artist
is an experienced draughtsman, there may not be much to correct on the
large cartoon; but let him be ever so experienced, there is always
something wrong about the attitude of figures drawn without models, and
occasionally very gross mistakes are made.

I knew a very clever draughtsman in Paris who made the mistake of giving
one of his figures two right hands, and he did not find it out until he
began to work from nature.

In an outstretched arm, the twist of the radius and ulna makes all the
difference about the position of the thumb, and if the thumb be placed
on the wrong side of the hand, you immediately make a right hand of what
ought to be a left, and _vice versâ_.

I will assume now that we have corrected the drawing of our cartoon
from our small nude studies.

We are fully aware that the drawing of every figure will have to be
perfected from nature, that is, the head, neck, arms, hands, and feet;
but we are satisfied that the attitudes are all possible, and that there
is no great fault in the proportions. _Now_, therefore, we may look out
for models for the heads, arms, feet, etc., and work with chalk or
charcoal (if it can be fixed) on the cartoon itself.

And here let me caution you against ever working from a model whom you
know to be unsuitable. If, as often happens, you engage a model, and
find when you have got him into position that he won’t do, pay him his
sitting and send him away. It is better to lose five shillings than to
lose five shillings and your morning’s work into the bargain.

At this stage of progress we ought to be draping our figures as well as
drawing the heads and hands.

Whatever may be said about small easel pictures, I am quite sure that
for large mural work a lay figure is indispensable. In adjusting
draperies on a lay figure a good deal of ingenuity, and, above all, a
good deal of patience, are necessary.

Nothing is so stupid as a lay figure, and many artists prefer studying
their draperies on the living model; but the studies thus done will very
seldom have the precision and finish of those done from the lay figure.
They are, therefore, less suitable for large cartoon-work.

I will now suppose that all our figures are draped, and the heads and
hands finished. There still remains the selection of the different
symbols or attributes which are to give nationality to our personages,
and here we must endeavor to reconcile truth with pictorial fitness. We
have the whole vegetable and animal kingdom to choose from, and it will
go hard if we cannot fit each female figure with some flower, fruit,
bird, or beast, which shall be typical of the country she represents and
at the same time ornamental and graceful.

The cartoon is now at last finished, and the next thing to be done is to
make a colored sketch. I need not go through this process at length.
Every one knows that the scheme of color intended at first is often
abandoned, and minor changes are innumerable. At last, however, we get
what we think a good result, and all our preliminary work is over. Not
quite, however, for we have to trace the cartoon on transparent paper,
and prick the tracing.

Some artists omit the tedious process of pricking the tracing, but the
labor that is thus saved is fully counterbalanced by the trouble of
following all the lines of the tracing with a point before an impression
can be got, whereas with a pricked tracing a bag of pounded charcoal
does the work at once.

       *       *       *       *       *

I will now give a short account of the different mediums principally in
use for mural painting.

The first medium I shall notice is oil, or some modification of oil. The
great objection to oil for mural work is the impossibility of seeing the
painting when it faces the light. An absorbent ground will to a certain
extent mitigate this evil. The use of spirits of turpentine, benzine,
and other essences, will also contribute toward giving a flat surface;
but do what we will, we can never get in an oil-painting the pure, clear
qualities of water-color or fresco.

The compound known as Parris’ medium and sold by Roberson, is not a bad
thing for diminishing the shine of oil-painting. It is made of white wax
dissolved in spirits of lavender, but I am inclined to think that an
absorbent ground prepared with parchment size and whiting is the best
preventive of the greasy surface inseparable from oil-painting. The
great desideratum in all mural and decorative oil-painting is that every
part should have an equal amount of shine.

Take an ordinary oil-picture and place it opposite the light. The
lighter parts will be tolerably well seen, but the oily or gummy darks
will reflect the light of the sky and spoil the effect completely.

All we can aspire to, in decorative oil-painting, is to give to the dark
parts as little shine as there is in the light ones, where white lead
and opaque colors generally have been freely used.

I cannot say as much in favor of wax as a medium for grinding the colors
in. It is neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring; that is, it has
neither the richness of oil nor the luminosity of fresco. Most of the
modern decorative pictures in the Paris churches are painted with this
medium. The colors are much the same as for oil-painting, but the
blacks, browns, and lakes have a very dull appearance. The fluid medium
used for painting is a kind of essential oil of lavender, so that this
method, if somewhat deficient in light, is at any rate overflowing with

I have found that to use the ordinary oil-colors diluted with a medium
composed of wax, mastic varnish and turpentine, is by far preferable to
legitimate wax-painting. The colors are much more manageable and dry
brighter, without having any more shine than when actually ground with

What is called encaustic painting has also wax as a foundation, but is
quite a different process to “_peinture à la cire_.” “Encaustic” implies
burning, and in this method of painting the colors are laid on rather
thick, and when the work or any portion of it has to be finished, a hot
iron is applied to melt the wax and allow the brush to do its softening
and finishing work.

The Pompeii paintings are mostly done in this way, but it is very
unfitted for large figure-painting.

Distemper has many excellent qualities, but its want of durability will
always prevent its being used for costly and important work.

It might, however, be made much more durable than it generally is, by a
careful selection of materials.

Distemper is generally associated with scene-painting or some temporary
work, for which any rubbish can be used; but if care were taken about
the size and the colors, and above all if some coating of silica were
floated over the finished painting to protect it from damp and
atmospheric changes, I see no reason why this very pleasant method
should not be generally used.

The so-called silica method has been much used in Germany under the name
of Wasserglas. I have no experience in this method, and therefore cannot
enter into detail. Speaking generally, the process consists in painting
on a dry surface with colors simply ground in water, and fixing the
colors afterward by the spray of silicated water. I believe that after
this silication the work can be retouched and even repainted; subject,
however, to another fixing by silication.

We now come to the best and grandest style of decorative work; namely,
legitimate fresco. People who don’t know much about painting are very
apt to call any picture on a wall a fresco, but I suppose I need hardly
tell you that oil-or wax-paintings on walls are no more frescoes than is
an oil sketch on paper a water-color.

In all the methods of painting I have mentioned, some medium is used to
fix the color. It is either oil, copal, wax, size, or silica, but in
fresco no vehicle of any kind except water is used. How then is the
color fixed? How have Michael Angelo’s and even Giotto’s frescoes lasted
to the present day? We all know that if some powdered color is mixed
with water and applied by a brush to a wall, it will stick as long as it
is wet, but as soon as the water evaporates, the color returns to the
powder it was before, and falls off, or brushes off with the slightest
friction. The reason that frescoes can be dusted and washed without
effacing the color, is that they were originally painted on _wet_
mortar, and the lime of which the mortar is composed has the property of
retaining and fixing the color.

I will now describe the whole process of fresco-painting.

The first care ought to be the wall. A brick wall is the best, but stone
will do very well, provided every precaution has been taken against
damp. On this wall there ought to be a coating of strong rough mortar
about half an inch thick. The surface ought not to be smoothed with the
trowel, but left rather uneven. As soon as this mortar is thoroughly
dry, the fresco may be begun. I have already told you that all real
fresco is painted on wet mortar, but the mortar, or _intonaco_, as the
Italians call it, is not the rough stuff which has already been used for
coating the wall. The composition of this intonaco is all-important, and
I am perfectly convinced that the rapid decay of our modern frescoes is
due entirely to the bad quality of the intonaco.

The lime should be thoroughly slaked, so as to deprive it of its caustic
properties, but it does not follow that it should be twenty or thirty
years old. Lime can be kept in a slaked state and skimmed until it
almost ceases to be lime at all, and this worn-out material is unfit for
fresco. Then the sand should be gritty and hard to the touch. Clean
river-sand collected in a granite country is very good; ground lava is
used by modern Italian fresco-painters.

I do not know where the sand supplied to the fresco-painters of
Westminster Palace came from, but it was a great deal too fine and soft
to the touch.

The older and more worn-out the lime is, the sharper and more tenacious
ought to be the sand.

Having got some well-slaked but not worn-out lime and some good hard
sand, the mortar that is required for the day’s use should be made fresh
every day, or at least as often as twice a week.

When I was painting some frescoes at Islington, I got my intonaco from a
man who had had great experience. Instead, however, of sending me the
lime and sand separate, he sent me about twenty small barrels of
ready-made mortar. My work took me nearly two years, and every morning
my plasterer had to go with a pick-axe and hack a piece of dry mortar
out of the barrels.

This he beat up with water and spread it for my day’s work, smacking his
lips as if he had got a most delicious compound on his trowel. I knew no
better then, but now I am surprised, not that the frescoes should be
decaying, but that the decay should not be more rapid. Improper colors
and the omnipresent gas may have had something to do with the decay of
all frescoes painted in London, but from experience I can assert with
confidence that the main cause has been the weakness of the lime and

We will suppose in our imaginary decoration that we don’t fall into this
mistake, that we get lime of the proper strength and clean granite sand.
We will also suppose that we don’t get a dozen barrels of mortar made
up, but have our intonaco mixed fresh every other day.

The first thing to be painted is the sky or background, whatever it may
be. We mark out on the wall with charcoal the extreme extent of this
background. We don’t trace the outline of the heads, but make our black
mark well beyond where this outline should be.

The plasterer ought to be an early riser, so that by nine or ten o’clock
when we arrive we may find the mortar all ready for us, even in surface,
and tolerably firm or “set” as it is called.

I never could get an English plasterer to _throw_ the mortar against the
wall, as is done by Italian and French workmen. When spoken to about it
he always seemed to think he ought to know his own trade best, or
perhaps the Union forbids him to make the mortar stick too close.

His way of smearing or buttering the wall answers pretty well on a very
rough surface, but on smooth stone or tiles it would not do at all. In
Italy it is not at all uncommon to see marble columns coated with
frescoes more than four hundred years old. The intonaco in these cases
is very thin, not above one eighth of an inch in thickness.

As a rule the thinner the intonaco the better it will stick.

We will suppose now that we have painted our flat background and
finished our first day’s work. We now get our pricked tracing, and
holding it so as to fit the panel, we apply our charcoal bag to the
outline of the heads. When we remove the tracing-paper we find a black
dotted line which gives us the outline against the sky. With a knife or
a sharp spatule we cut away the superfluous mortar. The cut should not
be at right angles with the wall, or the outline will be sure to be
injured next day when the fresh mortar is joined on to it.

It should be inclined at an angle of fifty or sixty degrees. I always
make a point of doing this cutting job myself. The dotted line is
sometimes indistinct, and I have to cast a glance at the cartoon. Where,
therefore, there is any complication of outline or the least
indistinctness, this operation ought to be done by the artist.

Before leaving, we make a charcoal mark as before, which will completely
cover our next day’s work and leave us a remnant to cut away. Our
plasterer fits in the new mortar up to the charcoal mark the next
morning, and so we proceed bit by bit as if we were putting together a
puzzle, until the whole is completed.

It is hardly necessary to say that it is very desirable that each
cutting should correspond with some natural division of the work. Thus,
in painting a female head, we might paint the hair and diadem the first
day, and go on with the face and neck the next, stopping at the
necklace. In real fresco nothing can be retouched. Every day’s work must
be finished and complete in the minutest detail.

I will now say something about the colors and execution of fresco.

In fresco (as in distemper) the colors in drying become of a much
lighter shade. It is, therefore, very desirable to have a piece of some
very absorbent material at hand to try the tints on. There are two
distinct modes of painting fresco. One is the solid body-color method,
as practised by M. Angelo, Raffaelle, and all the other masters of that
period. The other is the thin water-color method.

If we adopt the first mode, we get a porcelain or metal palette, and
set the colors on it just as we do for oil-painting. Lime takes the
place of white lead. The only yellow it is safe to use, at least in
England, is raw sienna; probably, however, Mars yellow, which is derived
from iron, might be used with safety. Light red of various kinds and
burnt sienna are the principal reds. Oxide of chromium is the green. Raw
and burnt umber are quite safe, as is also black. Blue is a very
difficult color to manage in fresco.

It seems very antagonistic to lime, and it is almost impossible to paint
a blue sky properly graduated. On the other hand, raw umber takes very
kindly to fresco. Lakes and all vegetable colors are to be strictly

The brushes ought to be hog’s hair tools, but long and soft, so as not
to disturb the surface of the wet mortar.

Painting fresco in this opaque, solid method is a very similar process
to oil-painting. It is best to begin with the shades and work up to the
lights, no scumbling is practicable, but at the end of the day, when the
surface is becoming too dry for solid painting, thin washes of color may
be used with great advantage.

The Italian terra rossa, burnt sienna, raw sienna, and even vermilion,
may be of great service for these light glazings.

It will take three or four days (and often more, if the intonaco is
thick and the weather cool) before the colors begin to lose their dark,
wet tint.

The beginner must not be discouraged if the colors seem to be drying not
as he intended. Some colors take a longer time than others, and it is
well to have a little patience. The old masters generally retouched
defective parts with what was called _fresco secco_ (dry fresco), but
which was simply some compound of white of egg, vinegar, and garlic; but
it is much better to cut the defective portions out, to have fresh
intonaco laid on, and to repaint them. If once you begin to retouch, the
whole work seems to require it, and you never know where to stop.

The second method of painting fresco is totally different. I very much
prefer it, as the work is done more rapidly, and the colors hardly
change at all in drying. Besides (as far as my experience goes), the
result is more durable.

As soon as the fresh intonaco for the day’s work is sufficiently set,
you mix some lime with water very fluid, something like milk (good milk,
I mean, and not milk and water).

You float this over the intonaco, and in about ten minutes you may give
it a second coating of lime-water. This ought to smooth the surface, and
remove any little grains of sand.

You now trace your outline as before with the tracing paper and the bag
of charcoal. You have no palette, but half-a-dozen small tumblers.

Into one of these you put a small lump of raw umber and about the same
quantity of oxide of chromium. You add water, and mix them well
together. The result is of course a brownish olive green.[3] You pour
half the mixture into another tumbler, and add water, thus getting a
weaker solution of the same mixture. You repeat the process into a third
tumbler, and get a still weaker tint.

With these three or more tints you begin to model your head, beginning
with the dark parts and working up to the light. You must bear in mind
that no rubbing out is possible; you cannot wash or sponge out as in
water-color drawing.

You must therefore be very careful in approaching the light parts, and
copy the cartoon as carefully as possible.

You continue thus to draw and model with your green color until the head
looks like a finished drawing. This operation will take from two to four
hours, according to the nature of the head.

You now take three clean tumblers and put a small lump of light red or
terra rossa into one of them, add water, and mix as before; you make
weaker solutions, just as you did with the green. If the head is that of
an old man or a bronzed warrior, you ought to add raw sienna to the
light red, but for ordinary complexions the light red is quite
sufficient. You apply this flesh tint in washes with a very broad and
soft brush, using the stronger solution for the lips and cheeks, the
medium for the intermediate parts, and the weakest for the high lights.
No modelling is required; the modelling has already been done, and this
tinting is very soon accomplished.

You now take either burnt sienna pure, or burnt sienna and umber, and
with a fine sable give strength and precision to the darkest parts, such
as the nostrils, the division of the lips, the inside of the ears, etc.
If a little black is necessary for the eyebrow or eyelashes, you now
give these little finishing touches, and your head is complete.

You have not used one grain of lime or of any solid color; the wall is
stained rather than painted, and you have none of those strange and
capricious changes of color to fear which are so constantly occurring in
the solid method, where lime is used freely as a pigment.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have now gone through the whole process of fresco-painting as far as I
know it. I shall conclude with a few general observations.

The fresco-painter ought to be of a nature capable of continued
exertion. Whatever the work is, whether head, torso, or drapery, it must
be finished in a day. He must not, on the plea of headache or
seediness, give himself a half-holiday. He may of course abstain from
work for a whole day, or for a week if he likes, but those little
snatches of rest, involving a game at lawn-tennis, a good lunch, or a
look at the papers, to which many artists are rather partial, are denied

He is always working against time, and although this is trying at first,
he soon gets accustomed to it.

Secondly, he must be a man of fixed purpose. He has got his cartoon and
his colored-sketch, and he must turn a deaf ear to all suggestions of
alterations when once these preliminaries are settled.

An alteration in the turn or size of a head, or a change in the action
of a figure, are very easily carried out in an oil picture, but in a
fresco it is a very serious matter to begin alterations.

Thirdly, he must not mind a bit what the workmen and people about the
building think of him. I believe that the upper ten thousand (at least
the æsthetically inclined amongst them) do not hold mural decoration in
contempt, but the working class invariably take the fresco-painter in
his blouse and on his scaffold to be one of their own fraternity.

If they were to see the same artist in a handsome studio painting
somebody’s portrait in a gilt frame, they would at once suppose he was a
gentleman, but coloring a wall is a very ungentlemanly occupation.

When I was painting a large monochrome work at University Hall, there
were some plumbers and glaziers employed in repairing gas-pipes and
mending windows. One of them came down into the hall where I was at
work, and began to look about for something amongst the pots and colors
on my table. Apparently he did not find what he wanted, so he turned
round and called to me, “I say, governor, you don’t happen to have a bit
of putty in your pocket?”

Fourthly and finally, the mural painter ought to be satisfied with
moderate pay.

At the Tercentenary Rubens Festival celebrated at Antwerp, last year, an
Art Congress was held, at which I assisted.

The principal question proposed for discussion was an eminently
practical one. It was; “How can monumental and decorative painting be
best encouraged and revived at the present time?”

In answer to this practical question I gave what I thought a practical
answer. After passing in review various difficulties with which modern
artists had to contend, I summed up by saying that the real impediment
to the development of mural painting was its enormous cost, and I
pointed out that it was only by the artist accepting very moderate pay,
and having at his command a staff of efficient pupils who would be
willing to work under him for little or no remuneration, that such works
as were executed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries could again
become common. I said a good deal respecting the costliness of large
mural paintings done by modern artists of any repute, and on the other
hand gave examples of modern work, which, with the help of efficient
assistants, had been done not only well but at a moderate cost.

At the conclusion of my paper, up jumped a gifted orator, who knew no
more about painting than a cobbler, and in a torrent of eloquence swept
away the few grains of common-sense I had ventured to import into the

It was a sacrilege (according to him) to profane the temple of high art
with a dirty question of pounds, shillings, and pence.

Art was a subtle essence, a delicate perfume. Art was a religion. Art
appealed to all our higher sympathies, and it was only by educating
people up to a kind of art-millennium pitch that we could hope to see
our public buildings decorated with historical paintings. He sat down
and mopped himself amidst loud applause, and I felt considerably
humiliated. We had a great deal more of this sort of thing at the
congress. The few artists who were present sat dumb, and the high
æsthetic gentlemen had it all their own way, so that the congress, which
might have served some practical end, finished in vapor and smoke.

In spite, however, of this termination of the discussion, I am still
convinced that until mural painters have sufficient love for their art
to accept a small remuneration, decorative work of a high class will

For the mural painter’s work, Manchester millionnaires do not vie with
each other. No spirited and enterprising dealers beset his studio, eager
to secure whatever he has on the easel. All of what Dr. Johnson called
the “Potentiality of becoming rich beyond the dreams of avarice” is
denied him. Pay of course he must have, but his patrons are generally
committees or corporate bodies of some kind, who seldom give fancy

Let him therefore console himself with the thought that his is the
highest and noblest branch of the profession, and that whilst
high-priced easel pictures are relegated to private galleries and
dining-rooms, only to reappear at intervals at Christie’s salerooms,
_his_ work is a fixture, and can always be seen by the public.

With the hope that it may be admired as well as seen I shall conclude my



It has always been a disputed point, both amongst artists and writers on
art, how near an approach to absolute truth is desirable in painting;
some insisting on photographic accuracy, whilst others go to the
opposite extreme, and consider mere suggestiveness to be the great
desideratum in painting.

Much may be argued in favor of both sides of the question, but a medium
course is certainly the best.

Imitation of nature is no doubt the foundation-stone of all sound
painting, and the natural inference would be, that the closer the
imitation the better the picture. But, on the other hand, a picture
which is not an exact counterpart of the object portrayed, but leaves
something to be imagined, is generally more interesting than a more
perfect copy would be.

This fact is particularly noticeable in pictures of flowers, fruit, and
still life generally.

A picture which at a little distance gives thoroughly the character of
the fish, game, or flowers it is intended to represent, will be much
more masterly and artistic if the scales of the fish, the feathers of
the birds, and the petals of the flowers are not individually studied
with microscopic care, but treated in a broad, suggestive manner.

In a painting so handled the loss of a few minute details is more than
compensated by greater freshness of color, and the charm inseparable
from a rapid and dexterous execution.

If it were possible to combine the two qualities, if we could get
breadth and brilliancy united with minute finish, it would even then be
doubtful whether the picture would be any the better for the additional
pains bestowed upon it.

In looking at pictures, we require to be deceived only up to a certain
point, and the whole question depends on where to fix that point. In
to-night’s lecture I intend to investigate this subject, and to extend
my remarks to other kindred questions connected with the finish of a
work of art.

All writers and lecturers on art are pretty well agreed that excessive
finish is undesirable. I mean such finish as one sees in Bellini’s
portrait of the Doge, where each individual hair is painted, and where
every wrinkle or pimple is studied as though it were of the utmost

There is, however, a kind of finish of an infinitely more objectionable
kind than Bellini’s.

If Bellini elaborated small details to an extensive extent, they were at
any rate thoroughly and honestly studied. His minute, delicate work
always had a laudable object, whether it were the exact rendering of a
stray hair or the microscopic modelling of the wrinkles about the eyes.
But the finisher of whom I am now speaking has no object, beyond

Bad proportions and gross errors in drawing are nothing to him provided
he gets a smooth, uniform surface. Like the old-fashioned provincial
drawing-master, who taught oils, water-colors, and Poonah painting,
smoothness and finish are with him synonymous terms.

Probably most of you are happily ignorant of the lost art of Poonah
painting and drawing, and I certainly do not mean to waste our time in
describing it. It will be sufficient to say that the process was almost
entirely mechanical, and that the results exhibited the maximum of
smoothness combined with the minimum of art.

It used often to be taught in young ladies’ schools. It would be both
invidious and unjust to compare the work of any Academy student with
these inane productions, but I wish to warn you, as I have often warned
you before, against confounding “finishing” with mere polishing.

Intelligent finishing consists in correcting small faults of detail, in
revising the relative values of the shades and half-tones, in giving
definite form to the fingers and toes, or any portion of the figure
which may have been neglected. Unintelligent finishing, or what I call
polishing, consists in getting a nice even grain for all the modelling
of the figure. This polishing process may not in itself be
objectionable, but it becomes objectionable when it interferes (as it
too often does) with necessary alterations and modifications.

You probably all know that I am no advocate of _sketching_ in the
schools. However much I may admire the nude studies of the great
masters, I do not wish to see the same kind of work attempted by the
students. I am decidedly for “finish,” “_high finish_” even, but by the
term _I_ mean accuracy of drawing and modelling, and not neatness or
evenness of execution.

To return to the Doge’s portrait, which I have taken as a thoroughly
good specimen of minute finishing.

It is perfectly true that if you go close up to it and examine it with a
lens, you will find it much more like nature than would be a head by
Titian or Rembrandt if subjected to the same microscopic investigation;
but pictures are not meant to be microscopic objects any more than human

If in some foreign town I meet unexpectedly my old friend Smith, I
should probably recognize him some fifty yards off. I should say: “That
must be Smith, it is so like his figure and general appearance.” As I
approach him I begin to distinguish his features, and I become more and
more certain, until finally I grasp his hand and all doubt as to his
identity vanishes. It is Smith all over, and, as I remark, not a bit
changed since I last saw him.

I do not pull out a pocket lens and count the number of gray hairs in
his whiskers, or the small warts about his eyes.

It appears to me that a life-size portrait should be treated in the same
way. Viewed from the end of the gallery, it should resemble the person
it represents, and the likeness should become more and more striking the
nearer we approach, until we get within a very short distance.

If we approach still nearer, the brush-work of the artist begins to
appear, and finally, if we examine the features with a lens, we can
discover but very little left of the resemblance which was so striking
at a reasonable distance.

The whole question is, What _is_ a reasonable distance? In portraits by
the minute finishers, the point at which the work looks its best is
evidently too near, and I think that in a good deal of modern painting
it is too far off.

A life-size head should look its best at from about six to ten feet
distance. Nearer than six feet the impasto and brush touches of the
painter would be too apparent, and beyond ten feet the delicate
modelling of details would begin to be lost.

Artists and the art-loving portion of the public delight no doubt in
going close up to a fine Titian, Rembrandt, or Vandyck, but this is to
see how the marvellously life-like effect has been produced (to learn a
lesson in short), but not to view the work from the most favorable
standpoint. I think it will be found that, generally speaking, the old
masterpieces of portraiture are best seen within the distances I have

There are, no doubt, exceptions. Thus the portraits of Holbein gain by
being studied closely, and those of Velasquez are best appreciated at a
considerable distance, whilst the figures of Van der Helst are so
admirably painted that they will bear a very close scrutiny as well as a
distant view.

If an artist has the precision of a Holbein or the consummate execution
of a Van der Helst, there is no harm in his following finish in
portraiture almost to its extreme limit; but if not, he had better rest
and be satisfied with less literal work.

In spite of a few honorable exceptions, the tendency of modern artists
is, however, not toward the finish of Holbein, but rather in the
opposite direction.

No one can walk through a Paris exhibition without being struck by the
enormous amount of sketchy, imperfect work; the best specimens of which
have, at a great distance, a look, a reminiscence of nature, but when
viewed nearer, resolve themselves into smears of paint, generally
plastered on with the knife.

Now it is this kind of work which is so attractive to the modern
connoisseur. The peasant, the workman, the soldier pass it by with a
laugh, or sometimes with an expression of bewilderment. The cultured
artist shrugs his shoulders, but tries to view it leniently, as he would
the work of a savage; but the _dilettanti_ and those who have a
smattering of art-knowledge delight in it. It flatters their vanity to
supplement out of their inner consciousness the artist’s short-comings.

These pictures get talked about in the salons and praised in the
newspapers, whilst good, honest, sober work is comparatively ignored.
Public taste having thus declared itself, it is not surprising that an
ever-increasing crop of these young “impressionists” should be
forthcoming to minister unto it.

There is another kind of departure from truth in connection with finish,
which is, I think, almost as much to be deprecated. I mean where the
heads are painted in a different style to the rest of the picture.

If we go back to the old masters, we shall never find this fault.
Examine any of their works. Recall to mind the Raffaelles, the Titians,
the Correggios, or the Poussins of the National Gallery, and observe
that the draperies, accessories, and backgrounds are all in keeping with
the heads. If, as in Perugino’s and Raffaelle’s early works, the
painting of the flesh is delicate and smooth, though dry and hard, you
will find the same qualities and defects in the whole picture.

If, on the other hand, as in Titian and Paul Veronese, the
flesh-painting is rich and free, the draperies will be equally so. Take
Rubens, again; how homogeneous is _his_ work! Let us suppose that a
picture by this master were unexpectedly discovered, and that by some
accident all the flesh-painting in it had been destroyed, would any one
hesitate, on inspection of what remained, in attributing it to Rubens?
Would not the good and bad qualities of the master be apparent in every

As the opposite extreme to the slapdash Rubens, take the careful Gerard
Dow, and observe how the delicate and minute finish of the heads is
carried out into every detail of his pictures. If we examine any genuine
work of Rembrandt or of David Teniers, we shall always find the same
homogeneous qualities. The heads may (as is often the case in Rembrandt)
be more carefully painted than the unimportant parts of the picture; or
contrariwise, as in David Teniers, we may sometimes find a stoneware
flagon more elaborated than the hand of the boor who is holding it, but
we recognize everywhere the touch of the master.

I know of no example amongst the old masters where the kind of disparity
in style which I am deprecating is observable.

In certain modern pictures, however, this homogeneous quality in
painting is sadly wanting. In the so-called Spanish school (by which I
mean the school of Fortuny), the background, draperies, and accessories
are painted with a crisp dexterity which is quite marvellous, whilst the
heads are labored like colored photographs.

The contrast is sometimes so great that it is difficult to believe that
the picture is not the work of two artists. This fault has become
apparent in certain pictures of the Austrian school; but the contagion
does not appear to have extended to us, at least not to our

I have, however, noticed a tendency amongst a few of our water-color
figure-painters toward this singular modern peculiarity.

The difficulties of giving color, form, and expression to a head, and at
the same time preserving a free style of painting, are no doubt much
greater in water-color than in oil, but I think it so desirable that a
work should be homogeneous that I would sacrifice a good deal in the way
of finish and even of expression in the faces, to obtain that quality.

If a man has great versatility with his brush and wishes to display it,
let him paint one picture in the style of Holbein or Memling, and
another in the style of Velasquez, but he should not in the same picture
(and _à fortiori_ in the same figure) attempt to unite two dissimilar
styles of painting.

One of the principal difficulties young artists have to encounter in
finishing a figure-picture is the management of their drapery.

If they are painstaking and make an intelligent use of their models they
will succeed with their heads, hands, and all their flesh-painting; or
if they do not succeed, the way to success is so obvious that I need say
but little about it.

I assume that our young artist has gone through a course of study, and
is able to paint a nude figure or a head from nature tolerably
correctly. His difficulty will be, not in copying his models, but in
making use of them without copying them.

He should form an ideal in his mind of the personage he means to
represent, and take care to select either from professional models or
from his friends those who approach nearest to this ideal. He will
probably have to make use of casts. The small heads of the warriors on
the Trajan Column are admirable in character and very suggestive. Casts
from the mediæval heads of Pisano, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia are
also very useful.

All these and other means toward his end will suggest themselves to him,
but his course is not so clear when he comes to tackle his draperies.

Every student must be aware that draperies adjusted on the lay figure
and carefully copied, have always an unnatural and trivial look about
them. The form underneath, if expressed at all, is the form of the lay
figure, and not that of nature. It will not do therefore in a picture to
adjust the drapery on a lay figure and copy the result.

This _may_ be done with advantage for those folds which hang altogether
independent of the figure, but for all those which are in the slightest
degree connected with the form underneath, some other method must be

No doubt the best method of all (were it possible) would be to dress up
the living model and paint direct on to the picture, but this is seldom

Long before the artist has had time to study the folds, the model moves,
and all has to be done over again.

If an artist has great experience with drapery, and the attitude is a
very easy one, he may make a charcoal study which will serve him for the
picture without having subsequently to readjust his drapery on the lay
figure, but no young hand would be able to do this in a satisfactory
way. He must go more systematically to work. He must first get a
characteristic study of the nude figure. I mean such a study as the old
masters used to make, giving the exact attitude and the form of the
salient parts. He must then make a replica in charcoal of this study and
adjust the drapery on his living model. On this replica he will now, as
far as he can, reproduce the arrangement of the folds he has before him.
There are plenty of studies by Raffaelle and the old masters which
explain better than words can, the process I am trying to describe.

He has now two working drawings to guide him, viz., his original nude
study, and the study from the draped model. Having thus as it were laid
his foundations, he may drape his lay figure and paint direct from it on
to his picture, taking care (as he proceeds) to correct the form from
his preliminary studies. He will thus be doing sound, honest work, and,
even if dissatisfied with his finished drapery, he has always his
studies to fall back upon.

Some artists, especially French and Italians, make a great use of
photography, and, if kept within bounds, I see no objection whatever to
the practice. It would hardly be legitimate art to dress up and pose a
number of models and have them photographed with the intention of
transferring the group to canvas, but it is perfectly allowable to call
in the aid of photography for draperies or costumes, where, from the
action of the figures, it would be impracticable to draw the folds from

All portrait-painters know that it is not easy to get ladies and
gentlemen to sit for their clothes, and it is far better to get help
from a good photograph than from a model or a lay figure whom the
clothes do not fit. I have no doubt that if photography had been known
in the time of Raffaelle he would have largely availed himself of it. He
often copied whole figures from his predecessors, and this is certainly
more reprehensible.

I now approach the vexed question as to how far the draperies,
background, and accessory parts of a picture should be finished without
detracting from the heads.

Most of you will doubtless recollect the passage in Sir Joshua’s
discourses where, speaking of drapery, he says: “It is the inferior
style that marks the variety of stuffs. With the historical painter the
clothing is neither woollen, nor linen, nor silk, nor satin nor velvet:
it is drapery, nothing more.”

I would fain believe that Sir Joshua meant to say that it was beneath
the dignity of high art to trouble itself with surface texture, in which
case I should certainly agree with him; but I am afraid this is hardly
what he _did_ mean. However that may be, it is certainly not the
inferior style which by intelligent arrangement and careful study of the
folds expresses the nature and quality of the various stuffs. How is it
possible (using Sir Joshua’s own words) to “dispose the drapery with the
nicest judgment, and to copy it carefully,” without clearly expressing
the material out of which it is made?

Satin and velvet are very seldom wanted in pictures of subjects taken
from the Bible, ancient history, or mythology. The figures should be
clothed in woollen or linen stuffs, and without descending to minute
imitation of texture, the nature of these garments should be clearly

If in Raffaelle’s frescoes, and in the works of the Roman school
generally, we are in doubt as to whether the draperies are meant for
wool, linen, or silk, it is because their folds were _not_ “studied
with the greatest care,” and often _not_ “disposed with the nicest
judgment.” In many of Raffaelle’s works, and particularly in those of
Giulio Romano, we feel that the draperies are wholly imaginary, and
hence the vague uncertainty as to the material.

This uncertainty, instead of being a quality to be imitated, appears to
me as a blemish to be avoided.

In the highest style of landscape-painting, again, although it would
doubtless be absurd for the artist to elaborate his foliage leaf by
leaf, yet there would be nothing beneath the dignity of his art in
faithfully giving the general characteristics of the oak, the beech, the
ash, the bay, and the olive, so that each species should be distinctly
recognized in the picture.

I am quite aware that in many classical landscapes by Poussin and the
old masters, it is difficult to specify the kind of trees they contain,
but the botanical uncertainty in which we are left, instead of enhancing
the merit of the work, rather lessens it.

I remember going through an Italian gallery with a mixed company, and
coming upon a magnificent Titianesque landscape.

This arrested the attention of all the party, and was greatly admired,
until some botanical Philistine asked what kind of trees the artist had
meant to represent. We none of us could tell; I thought they were
evergreen oaks, another said they were elms, a third apple-trees, and so
on; but we were all in doubt.

“Well,” says the questioner, “it cannot be much of a picture if the
trees are done so badly that no one can tell what they are.”

Our Philistine was no doubt wrong, but, at the same time, the work would
have been all the better, and would have lost none of its imposing
grandeur if the specific characters of the trees had been given with
greater care.

I am glad to note that almost all modern landscape-painters are fully
alive to the fact that a tree is not merely a tree, but a particular
species of tree, and that the species can be thoroughly indicated
without in any way lessening the grand character of the work.

To return to draperies and costumes.

The artists of the Byzantine and Romanesque periods used to paint their
heads of a conventional and very ugly type, without any attempt at
individuality, and bestow all their care on the draperies, nimbi, and
accessory parts, often enriching their work with real jewels.

This fashion, which was rampant in the Byzantine period, began to wane
in the fourteenth century, but lingered on almost till Leonardo da
Vinci’s time.

During what may be called the golden age of art (that is, from
Leonardo’s time down to Poussin’s) the proper balance of finish between
flesh and drapery seems to have been well observed, but in the last
century (especially in this country) the artists of the time reversed
the practice of the old Byzantine painters; that is, they painted the
heads of the sitters as well as they could, and left the dress and
accessories to be put in by their assistants.

Bad as the flesh-painting was, the treatment of the dress was still more
slovenly and inartistic. The apologists for this style of work say that
the head is everything in a portrait, and that no one cares about the
dress and background, but this was certainly not the opinion of the old
masters. To take a familiar example. Is not the head of Gavartius
greatly improved by the exquisitely-painted frill which surrounds it?
Or, again, is not the life-like flesh in Bordoni’s female portrait
rendered still more life-like by the gorgeous color and masterly
execution of the crimson dress?

Our National Gallery teems with examples of the same kind, where
judicious finish of the accessory parts assists rather than mars the
effect of the flesh-painting.

I do not wish to be understood as insisting that in all cases the dress
and background should be as much finished as the heads, but there is a
great difference between unfinished work and bad work, and it is this
difference which the advocates for neglecting accessories seem unable to
understand. I do not find fault with a certain charming unfinished
portrait group by Rubens in the Louvre, because the accessory parts are
merely indicated, but I _should_ find fault with it if they were
clumsily and inartistically painted. The kind of work I am protesting
against is that which is often noticeable in portraits of the
Gainsborough and Lawrence schools, where the shoulders and hands are
quite shapeless, and the folds of the dress utterly impossible.

It is very refreshing to me to emerge from a gallery containing pictures
of this class, and to enter one devoted to pictures of the Dutch school.
I feel as if I had reached _terra firma_ after floundering about in a
quagmire. We never find a want of intelligent and careful drawing in the
hands and dresses of portraits by Rembrandt, Van der Heist, Franz Hals,
Terburg, and all the other masters of the school.

It may be objected that I am deprecating a fault which no longer exists,
that my expressions of antipathy to a slovenly treatment of the
accessory parts of a picture are out of date, and that the commonplace,
simpering full-lengths of fifty years ago, with their impossible
shoulders and badly-drawn hands, are no longer seen in an Academy
exhibition. I am quite willing to grant this, but it does not follow
that because this pseudo-Lawrence sort of work is no longer seen on the
walls of the Academy, that therefore it is defunct.

There is a large and ever-increasing class of young artists who are
treading in the footsteps of the old masters, who grudge no time and
spare no pains in the study of their hands, costumes, and every thing
which will give finish and completeness to their work; but, on the other
hand, there are still many who, to save themselves trouble, and perhaps
misled by the present extraordinary popularity of Gainsborough, are
satisfied with the most careless and weak treatment of all accessories
in their pictures.

That these pictures are not often seen on the Academy walls is due to
the rejecting power of the Council, and not to the non-existence of
their authors.

       *       *       *       *       *

Having thus, I trust, given you to understand that by the word “finish”
I mean something quite different from mere smoothness or polish, I will
now give you a few hints as to how the work of finishing a picture is to
be accomplished.

It was the habit of Horace Vernet to make a very rough pen-and-ink
sketch for his elaborate battle-pieces. He would then, without further
preamble, have his models, and paint direct from them on to the blank
canvas, finishing every thing as he went on.

When the whole canvas was covered, the picture was finished.

I remember, on one occasion, he painted a most gorgeous Arab saddle,
holsters, stirrups, and all, and several weeks afterward painted the
horse which bore it.

Cocked-hats, kepis, etc., he would knock off by the dozen, and then,
when he could get his trooper models, he would paint the wearers. He was
always, in the matter of finish, putting the cart before the horse. I
don’t think that he did this intentionally, but he was of an impatient
nature, and could not bear to sit idle, waiting for his sitters.

He was not a great colorist, like his contemporary Delacroix, nor a
great draughtsman, like Flandrin, but his pictures have a manly,
business-like look about them, and a homogeneous quality which is
perfectly marvellous, considering the heterodox way in which they were
put together.

No living artist, and probably none that ever lived, could have taken
such liberties with his _modus operandi_ without the most disastrous
results; and I feel sure that no one present here to-night would think
of painting a figure-picture in this haphazard fashion.

Supposing the subject of the picture to be the time-honored one of “King
John Signing Magna Charta.”

Instead of (like Vernet) beginning by painting a mediæval inkstand, and
then perhaps doing a bit of tapestry background, proceeding onward
toward the figures, the proper process would be to get the figures done
first, and finish with the accessory parts.

I will assume, therefore, that this has been done, that the composition
of the groups has been thoroughly studied, that a colored sketch has
been made, and that each individual figure has been carefully studied
from nature. The picture, however, after all this work, would probably
be far from finished.

The general effect would have to be revised; certain portions which had
cost hours, and even days of labor, would have to be sacrificed; other
important parts, such as heads and hands, to be altered. Finally, the
general scheme of color, which was pleasing enough in the sketch, but
had somehow deteriorated in the picture, would have to be attended to.

A conscientious artist has often great difficulty in knowing _when_ his
picture may be called finished.

Some men will carry their striving after perfection too far, and waste
their time over really trivial details, or, like Penelope, be always
undoing their previous day’s work. This is, no doubt, better than being
too easily satisfied, but these vacillating artists should recollect
that alterations are not always improvements.

On the whole, I think it may be safely said, that when the artist has
fully carried out on the larger scale the intentions of his sketch, his
work may be said to be done.

By the word “fully” I mean that each figure should be executed in such a
way as to give force and pathos to his version of the subject. In the
designing of hands, for instance, there are fifty ways (to return to
our King John) of holding a pen. He should not hold it as if he were
writing “Yours truly”; he should betray unwillingness mixed with fear
both in his face and his hands.

The burly barons, again, should not appear to be inviting their monarch
to kindly sign his name. Their hands ought to express a resolve that he
_should_ sign it, and in their muscular knotty fingers should be
indicated a foreshadowing of the consequences if he refused.

Attention to all these points is what constitutes “finish” rather than
the elaboration of detail.

My master, Paul Delaroche, was a great adept at this dramatic
completeness; indeed, it was this quality alone which earned him his
reputation. His drawing was sound and correct, but nothing more; his
color was generally inky and cold, but the dramatic force and
truthfulness of his figures were quite enough to insure him a very high
place amongst the artists of the nineteenth century.

When he was painting his well-known “Napoleon after Waterloo,” he wanted
a pair of muddy boots. Some artists would have thought the mud-splashes
of no importance whatever, and would have daubed them in at random;
others, more careful, would have made their model put the boots on, and
sent him for a walk in the muddy streets; but Delaroche, reflecting that
boots are differently splashed after riding to what they are after
walking, hired a horse, and got one of his pupils to don the jackboots,
and take a good gallop across the plain St. Denis. The boots were
splashed to perfection, and it did not take the master long to do them
full justice.

Intelligent brain-work is of a higher order of excellence, and
contributes more largely toward the completion of a work of art than
mere execution. I am far from underrating executive skill, but the term
is rather an elastic one, and generally includes good drawing and good
color as well. Taken in its restricted sense, as meaning merely
brilliant manual dexterity, I hold it to be of but little value. Of
course a certain amount of dexterity is necessary, otherwise a fine
sense of form could not be adequately expressed. If Leonardo and
Raffaelle had not possessed considerable manipulative skill, they could
not have produced a “Last Supper” and a “Madonna de S. Sisto.” Where
would Holbein have been if he had not had great precision of touch as
well as the keenest perception of form? Every painter should have
sufficient power in his hand to give expression to what he feels, but
this is not the kind of manual dexterity to which I have said I attach
little importance. I mean the showy, impudent kind of work of which
there are always numerous examples in foreign exhibitions--the kind of
work which is too common amongst modern Italian painters, and which
seems to be rampant in the Austrian capital.

To return to my subject, namely, the finishing of a picture. I would
advise all young artists to beware of making alterations either in the
composition or in the scheme of color of their pictures, when they are
in an advanced state. A very slight change often brings in its wake many
others, and gets the whole work into a muddle. Observations about
incorrect drawing or faulty proportions are always valuable, as these
imperfections can be remedied without disturbing the rest of the
picture, but beware of suggestions which may in any way affect the
general scheme of coloring.

Thus, if it is suggested to you that a certain mass of white drapery
would be better dark, and you happen to agree with the suggestion, do
not be in a hurry to carry out the change. Try the effect with charcoal
or water-color first, and if the result does not please you, no harm has
been done. Even if it _does_ please you, you should make a large
allowance for the charm of novelty. You have had your picture before
your eyes for a long time, and the change may be agreeable to you at
first sight; and yet, if you carry it out, you may repent. Of course, if
you do not agree with the suggestion, dismiss it from your minds.

The man who listens to every piece of advice that is given him will
never finish his work. You probably all know the story of the artist
with many candid friends, who got so bewildered by their criticisms that
he provided a large piece of chalk and requested each of them to mark
the part he desired altered. By the end of the day the surface of the
picture was like a section of a chalk-pit.

A long experience has taught me that nothing ought to be left undone in
the hope of retouching the picture on the so-called varnishing days.
Such anticipations are almost always illusory; and it does not matter
whether you have one or three days for retouching.

It often happens that one would like to have the picture home again and
repaint it, but the few changes one has time to make during the
purgatorial varnishing time are so trifling, that, except to the artist
himself, they do not affect the general appearance of the picture, and
they often interfere considerably with the rubbing-in of medium or some
temporary varnish, which is generally indispensable for the exhibition
of pictures painted with the ordinary materials.

As the professorship of sculpture is still vacant, I am not trespassing
on any one’s ground if I say a word or two about finish in sculpture.

In this art, even more than in painting, excessive smoothness is too
often mistaken for high finish.

The sculptors of the female figure especially, are too prone to efface
(even in the clay) details which ought to be carefully preserved; and
after the figure has been cast in plaster, the work of polishing goes on
with file and sand-paper, until the few touches of nature which had been
left are effaced.

The great mischief, however, is usually done when the plaster is copied
into marble. The paid statuary who does this work strives to give still
greater roundness to the already smooth and rounded limbs, and he
generally succeeds too well. When the marble is ready for the
finishing-touches of the sculptor, he sometimes endeavors to regain a
little of the natural element, but generally he consoles himself with
the reflection that high art is incompatible with detail, and so his
Venus or nymph leaves his studio for the exhibition or the patron’s
gallery, there to be admired as a model of beautiful carving and of
exquisite taste; of the former, on account of its soft, boneless
appearance; and of the latter, because, though a nude figure, there is
no reminiscence of nature about it.

There is less of this kind of insipid sculpture now than formerly.

Terra cotta, which, as every one knows, is the direct impression of the
artist’s modelling, has to a great extent supplanted marble, and the
smooth pseudo-classical nymphs of forty years ago are rather out of

French sculptors of the nude have, in their horror of smoothness, gone
into the opposite extreme; and, thinking to give more realism to their
work, have adopted a coarse granular style of modelling for their
surface texture. I question, however, whether this new fashion at all
meets the objection every artist must entertain toward the old style of

Even supposing we grant that, in nature, the skin is of a granular
hummocky texture, such as we see in the plaster statues by Carpeaux and
his school, I cannot allow that any thing is gained by this piece of

Carpeaux himself was a man of genius, and in _his_ work, nature (though
not of a very beautiful kind) is apparent everywhere; but his imitators,
like most imitators, copy his eccentricities rather than his good

The real objection to the work of the Canova school of sculpture is not
that the surface is unlike the human skin, but that unintelligent
carving and excessive polishing tend to obliterate all character and
individuality of form.

This objection can only be met by sculptors aiming at a more
discriminating perception of form, as well as what (from want of a
better word) I may call a more conservative style of execution.

The excellence of the masterpieces of antiquity does not lie either in
their smoothness or in their surface texture, but in the beauty of their
proportions, and in the thorough though never obtrusive knowledge of
anatomy displayed in the modelling of every part.

These qualities, in sculpture as well as in drawing, are what constitute
“finish,” and not mere surface polishing on the one hand, or on the
other a coarse imitation of the cellular tissue of the skin.



Before beginning to treat of the composition of a picture, I should like
to make some remarks on the choice of a subject. Of course, no rule can
be laid down in this matter. What strikes one artist as being a very
good subject will appear totally uninteresting to another. It is,
perhaps, fortunate that this should be so. The taste of the general
public is at least as varied as that of the profession, and thus every
one can be suited. I remember an old gentleman who has now been dead
many years, but who in his day was a great patron of artists, telling me
that he preferred pictures with little or no subject in them. He liked
what he called nice “satiny” bits of painting, and the less story there
was in them to distract his attention from the “satiny” painting the
better. I fancy that this want of appreciation of composition is more
common than is generally supposed. For one person who notices the skill
shown in the general arrangement of a picture, fifty will be found to
admire its color and execution.

Now I do not wish in any way to depreciate the charm of harmonious color
and brilliant execution. Of all qualities in painting they are,
perhaps, the most captivating; but they are not the alpha and omega of
art. I purpose, therefore, to devote several lectures to the study of
composition, and acting in conformity with the precept about “first
catching your hare before you proceed to cook it,” we will this evening
review the various kinds of subjects generally chosen by artists.

In my lecture on the International Exhibition, I mentioned with
disapproval a certain class of subjects much affected by the modern
French school. The artists seem to have ransacked history for every
incident that was most loathsome and horrible. I am not at all
squeamish, and should not object to blood and torture occasionally, but
it is the morbid treatment of these ghastly subjects and their frequency
which are offensive.

Perhaps it is hardly necessary to caution English students against
painting death and putrefaction. They generally have a laudable desire
to sell their pictures, and this desire would naturally tend to keep
their subjects sweet. Some letters on the dismal tendency of modern
British art appeared in the _Times_ last autumn, and certainly I am not
prepared to say that the writers were wholly in the wrong.

But if they had had an opportunity of comparing our school with the
French, I think the letters would not have been written. Why, our
deathbed scenes, funerals, etc., are positively cheerful, compared with
the sensational pictures of a French exhibition. No; whatever the faults
of English pictures may be, I don’t think the subjects can be called

On the contrary, I should say, speaking generally, that they are too
frivolous. Pictures are continually being painted which have little or
no subject. The costumes of the period are pretty, the mild incident
depicted happened, or might have happened, and these are quite
sufficient reasons to many young artists for painting the picture.

I am far from saying that such a picture must be a bad one. It may be,
and often is, charming in color, arrangement, and execution.

Indeed, the better the painting, the more one regrets that so much good
work should be spent on so trivial an incident.

Before proceeding to what I have to say about the choice of a subject, I
would impress upon you that I only profess to give you my own opinions.

If any student or young artist has a great fancy for a certain subject,
the probability is that he will treat it better than he would one less
congenial to him, and I should be very sorry to dissuade him from it.
Indeed, I should be much pleased to find that he had a subject at all.
If there is a rock ahead for the English school, it is a tendency to
shirk the difficulties of composition.

Pictures representing single figures (mere models dressed up as
men-at-arms, milk-maids, or Highland lassies) are much commoner now
than they used to be. Of course, in the minor exhibitions of London one
expects to find plenty of work of this class, but the preponderance of
these subjectless figure-pictures is becoming very marked even at the
Academy; and as lecturer on painting, I should be neglecting my duty if
I failed to notice it. It may be that these pictures pay, but art is not
a trade; and even from a commercial point of view, I would suggest that
there is such a thing as over-stocking the market.

The whole domain of history, both sacred and profane, is open to the
artist, besides which there are innumerable subjects which are not
strictly historical, but are suggested by history. Finally, to those who
prefer illustrating the poets, there are Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and
a whole host of more modern writers. Surely in such a vast quarry it
cannot be difficult to dig out good subjects suitable to every mind.
Many subjects are too hastily rejected because they have already been
painted; when probably a new reading is very possible, or by slightly
altering the moment chosen, the subject assumes another aspect.

In a former lecture I mentioned, as a familiar instance, the parable of
the good Samaritan. Here is a trite and hackneyed subject enough. Every
one has painted it, and yet it would be very possible, by altering the
moment depicted, to give a new version of it.

Take the moment when the good Samaritan intrusts the wounded traveller
to the care of the innkeeper, and leaves him money, adding that whatever
more he may spend will be repaid him; and you have a capital subject,
which has never, to my knowledge, been painted. Again, imagine the
return of the Samaritan after a few days’ absence, and the gratitude of
the injured man, now nearly restored to health, and you have another
first-rate subject.

As an extreme example, take the “Holy Family.” How often has this
subject been painted! Raffaelle alone painted it over thirty times, and
I should think that there are at least a thousand original Holy Families
in existence; and yet the subject seems to me as fresh as ever. The
reason of this is, because it embodies the purest form of maternal love
in the same way that the good Samaritan illustrates human kindness.

Maternal love and humanity are many-sided, and hence the subjects which
illustrate them will be many-sided too.

Some artists shrink from taking known subjects from a laudable modesty.
They could not think of entering into rivalry with Raffaelle or André
del Sarto.

I deem this modesty unnecessary, provided they bestow on their work
original thought and invention.

If they attempt to rival the _manner_ of the great masters, then they
may be taxed with presumption, but no artist need be deterred from
painting such subjects as the “Last Supper,” or the “Walk to Emmaus,”
because many great masters have treated the same themes. I have probably
said enough in defence of taking subjects which have already been
painted, and will now attempt some classification of subjects suitable
for the higher class of figure-pictures.

The term “Religious,” in connection with art, ought, I think, to be
confined to those subjects in which Divine personages are introduced, or
to those which embody some miracle. Thus “The Creation of Adam,” “The
Holy Family,” “The Raising of Lazarus,” or “The Conversion of St. Paul,”
would all come under the head of religious subjects; but I think the
term misapplied when speaking of such subjects as “Hagar in the Desert,”
“The Finding of Moses,” “Samson and Delilah,” etc., which have no
religious element in them, although they are of course strictly

It is almost needless for me to remark that the Old and New Testament
offer an inexhaustible field for pictorial illustration. The Bible is
more read and better known than any other book in the world, and this
alone would preëminently distinguish it as a source whence artists
should derive subjects for their pictures; but besides this, the
costumes from Noah down to St. Paul are simple and dignified,
suggesting the highest style of art.

There are reasons which militate against young artists (or old ones
either) attempting this highest class of religious subjects, the
principal of which is the fear of failure; failure in this class being a
much greater humiliation than in a lower walk of art. But there is also
another good reason, and that is, the want of a market for their work.

Our churches do not, as a rule, purchase Biblical pictures, and our lay
patrons of art naturally enough object to importing a “Crucifixion” or a
“Noli me Tangere” into galleries and rooms full of mundane-subject

There seems, however, no reason why the second class of Scriptural
subjects (those, I mean, which are simply historical or anecdotic)
should not be more often painted than they are.

Of allegory and allegorical subjects I need hardly say any thing. For
mere decorative purposes they may sometimes be eligible, but even then I
think them quite out of date, and should be sorry to see a revival of
the painted riddles which were so much the fashion in the time of Giotto
and his followers.

Such semi-allegorical subjects as Reynolds’ “Garrick between Tragedy and
Comedy” are permissible enough, because they are easily comprehended;
but the allegories I object to are those which are totally
incomprehensible without a page or two of letterpress to explain their

Mythology offers a much better field than allegory for decorative
purposes. “Juno in her Peacock-drawn Car Ascending to Olympus,” “Orpheus
and Eurydice,” “Prometheus Vinctus,” etc., etc., are all splendid

There is a _bourgeois_ objection to them on the ground that nobody now
cares for Juno or any of the heathen gods and demi-gods; but I should
like to ask these objectors if they think that any one cares now for the
“Vicar of Wakefield” and his family, or for “Tom Jones” and his Sophia,
and yet pictures illustrative of these old-fashioned novels are painted
every day, and often meet with great success.

It is quite a mistake to suppose that in order to admire or appreciate
pictures we _must_ take a lively interest in the biography of the
_dramatis personæ_. Jove, Mars, Venus, and Hercules are of interest to
us _now_, just as they probably were to the Athenians in the time of
Phidias and Praxiteles, namely, as representatives of power, courage,
beauty, and strength; and so long as these qualities are valued by the
human race, so long will their personifications continue to be

Historical subjects may be divided into two classes:--

1. Those where the interest is solely derived from the rank or
historical importance of the personages depicted.

2. Those which, from their nature, are dramatically interesting,
independently of the names of the personages.

What are commonly called “official pictures” belong to the first class,
such as coronations, royal marriages, and ceremonials of all
descriptions. Such pictures as Terburg’s “Council of Trent,” and others
of the same kind, belong to this category, because all the interest of
the work lies in the faithful portraiture of the figures. Deprive the
figures of their historical importance, and all interest in the subject
(_as_ a subject) vanishes. Of course the picture may have technical
excellences which may make it interesting and valuable, but this has
nothing to do with the point at issue.

Any trivial incident from the domestic lives of Queen Elizabeth, Charles
I, Cromwell, Frederick the Great, etc. (specimens of which are to be
found in every exhibition), belong essentially to this class of

I would hardly class our old friend, “Alfred Minding the Cakes,” with
these subjects, simply because he did _not_ mind them; and the contrast
between the disguised monarch’s thoughtful and anxious look and the
humble task to which he had been set is sufficiently interesting _per
se_. Had he done his task cleverly, and toasted the muffins to a turn,
this time-honored but apocryphal subject would have been a good specimen
of the class I am speaking of.

The following are a few more subjects which will illustrate my
meaning:--“Milton Dictating ‘Paradise Lost’ to his Daughters”; “Francis
I Picking up Titian’s Brush”; “Sir Isaac Newton Watching an Apple Fall”;
“Hampden Refusing to Pay Ship-money.” In all these and similar subjects
you will observe that no human passions are concerned. The only reason
for painting them at all is either because such famous men as Titian,
Francis I, and Milton are engaged in them, or because they led to very
important scientific and political consequences, as in the falling apple
and the ship-money instances.

I would give as instances of the second class of historical
subjects:--“The Death of Seneca”; “Charlemagne Crossing the Alps”;
“Cæsar Landing in Britain”; “Queen Boadicea Haranguing the Iceni.”

These are all well known, and, indeed, rather hackneyed subjects, but
they will serve as examples of what I mean. There is a certain dramatic
quality about them which fits them for pictorial treatment,
independently of the particular history attached to each; and these are,
in my opinion, the best kind of historical subjects.

Events which do not concern the life of any particular person are also
very pictorial, provided always there is plenty of the dramatic element
in them:--“A Man Escaping to a City of Refuge”; “A Departure of
Emigrants”; “A Rescue from Fire”; “Launching the Life-Boat”; “Return
from Victory,” are all eminently suitable for painting, and yet there
are no kings and queens, nor even distinguished statesmen, poets, or
philosophers to be introduced. There are human interests of various
kinds to be excited, and this is quite enough.

War episodes are always interesting. We do not care to know the exact
spot or date of the engagement, we have no curiosity about the names of
the combatants, nor even much about their nationality. The scene itself
is sufficiently exciting without any accompanying explanation. It is
true that there are plenty of highly uninteresting battle-pictures, but
the fault lies with the treatment and not with the subject.

In selecting a subject, no matter whether from mythology, Scripture,
history, fiction, or every-day life, care should be taken to choose one
which has unity of action. There ought to be a story in your subject,
but not more than _one_ story. In your secondary groups you may have
separate action and by-play, but they ought somehow to be connected with
the main story of the picture, and instead of distracting the attention
from the subject, they ought rather to assist in concentrating it. Where
there is more than one centre of interest in a picture, the effect,
dramatically speaking, is weakened.

The old masters often disregarded the tolerably self-evident rule.

The famous Transfiguration picture of Raffaelle is a well-known instance
in point. The interest is divided between the Transfiguration proper
and the demoniac boy. Although some of the figures are pointing upward,
yet the faces are all turned toward the demoniac, and he is certainly
the principal focus of interest.

This blemish in Raffaelle’s picture is all the more unaccountable, as no
mention is anywhere made of a demoniac having been present at the time;
but the old masters (especially those of the German schools) abound in
incongruities of this kind. I remember seeing somewhere a picture of the
“Martyrdom of St. Lorenzo.”

The saint is about to be roasted alive, but the largest and most
prominent figure in the picture is one of the executioners, who is
making a horrible face, having got some of the smoke in his eye. The
introduction of these irrelevant and grotesque episodes cannot be
justified, however well they may be painted; and if it be granted that
it is undesirable to _select_ a subject in which there is more than one
centre of interest, how much more objectionable is it to _invent_
disturbing incidents which are not recorded in the text of the subject.

As an extreme instance of a bad selection of subject, I have always
thought that nothing could beat Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man.” The
lines suggest seven distinct subjects having no connection whatever with
each other. Each is very good of its kind; to attempt to amalgamate them
all into one picture is quite absurd. The result is extremely
unpleasant; suggesting a company of strolling players, each rehearsing
his part, or perhaps the court-yard of a mediæval lunatic asylum.

In justice to Mulready I ought to mention that he did not _select_ “the
seven ages of man” as a subject for his picture. He had the impossible
task imposed upon him by a liberal but injudicious patron.

For decorative work (for a frieze, for instance) such subjects as the
“seven ages of man” are well suited, because each “age” can be treated
separately, forming as it were a picture of itself, the only bond of
union between the seven being that the figures should be of the same
proportion, and should be similar in style and execution.

Another good rule to observe in selecting a subject is to choose one
which has illustrative action in it. What I mean by this is that the
action of the figures should be sufficient to explain the subject. You
cannot put words issuing from their mouths as is done in caricature, you
must therefore explain your story by action and expression. We will take
as examples two not dissimilar subjects. One shall be a meeting of
conspirators, and the other a conference of philosophers. Of course, I
don’t mean to insinuate that there is any analogy between philosophers
and conspirators, but that in both cases we have five or six figures
seated round a table. In the first we should represent our conspirators,
in close conclave, leaning over the table with their heads near
together, one or two perhaps grasping their daggers, another looking
round anxiously--in short, it would be very evident from the expression
and attitude of the figures that they were about some villainous work.

If we now turn to the other subject, the conference of philosophers, how
are we to express the purport of their conversation? What facial muscles
are called into play when men are talking metaphysics or expounding
their theories of evolution? It is clear that, however exquisite the
execution of the picture may be, the subject of it will be
unintelligible, without explanation, and even with the necessary
elucidation it will be inferior to the conspirators in dramatic

The subject I gave you in the life-school some time ago (I mean Peter’s
denial of Christ) is an eminently good one, because if properly treated
it is impossible to mistake the meaning of the figures. The menacing
interrogatory of the woman, Peter’s alarm for his personal safety, and
the jeers of the soldiers who are sitting round the fire, are all well
adapted for pictorial expression. Any one who had never read the New
Testament, an unconverted Chinaman for instance, would say at once:
“This young woman is taxing a middle-aged man with something he denies,
but there is such downright assertion in her action and such fear mixed
up with his denial, that the accusation, whatever it is, must be true.”

No subject can be called a really good one which requires a long
explanation to make it intelligible. Thus subjects in which the figures
are assuming characters which do not properly belong to them are unfit
for painting. For example, in the “conspirators” just mentioned, it
might very well have happened that to conceal their sinister designs
they assumed the mask of joviality, but you should not select this
particular phase of the story.

On the stage, this kind of make-believe is managed by an “aside.” The
actor takes the audience into his confidence when he says, “Here comes
the king, let us dissemble,” and accordingly for the next ten minutes or
so you are to understand that he is not the obsequious sycophant he
pretends to be, and lest by chance you should forget that he is
dissembling, he will come forward and frown, clench his fist or point
contemptuously over his shoulder at his fellow-actor, who, strangely
enough, never seems to see these ominous gestures.

All this is understood and accepted on the stage, but it does not do in
a picture. I would, therefore, advise you as much as possible to choose
subjects which can be understood at a glance. Let your personages appear
in their natural characters, and not assuming parts which do not belong
to them.

Acts of mercy, such as clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting
the sick, etc., are all good subjects, because the meaning is explained
directly by the action of the figures.

Speaking for myself, I have but little sympathy with subjects taken from
works of fiction.

The artist who selects them for pictorial treatment seems to me to
abnegate whatever creative power he may possess, and to become an
illustrator or translator of other men’s thoughts. Homer, Dante, and
Milton are of course exceptional poets. Their creations are heroic, and
the personifications of their heroes would be either nude or sternly
classical. Besides, they never descend to minute particulars, and the
artist is left very much to his own invention. The more detail an author
gives, and the more picturesque the detail, the less fitted are his
works for figure-pictures. Scott and Dickens are eminently unpaintable;
that is, it is a hopeless task to illustrate them. Pictures taken from
their works are always disappointing. The Ivanhoes, the Mrs. Gamps, and
the Pecksniffs of our imagination are always superior to their effigies
on canvas, and this is more or less the case with the personages of
Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Molière.

Costume has a great deal to do with the choice of a subject, and this,
no doubt, is the reason why the works of Shakespeare, Cervantes, and
Molière are such favorite hunting-grounds for artists. If the Prince of
Denmark had been a modern heir-apparent, attired in a frock coat, tweed
trousers, and a chimney-pot hat, or if Malvolio had worn the dress of an
ordinary British butler, we should not often see them painted.

For one picture taken from Thackeray’s modern novels, we find dozens
illustrating Tennyson’s “Idyls of the King,” or his “Holy Grail.”

Now, although the question of costume must always be an important factor
in the selection of a subject, it ought not to be the only one. A
picture should not be painted _merely_ for the sake of the costumes.
This seemed to me the principal fault in the large Austrian pictures of
the International Exhibition; and I may add that it is a fault which is
not altogether unknown in England.

There is one more class of subjects which I have not yet noticed, and
that is the domestic or “genre” class; the pictures, in short, of
every-day life. Pictures of this kind are much less dependent on a good
choice of subject than those which illustrate some historical incident.
They are generally prized for the brilliancy and harmony of their color,
or for the delicacy of their execution; and if these qualities exist in
a high degree, the subject is a minor consideration.

Still it ought to be a consideration, and in choosing subjects of this
class you should prefer those which are typical of the personages you
have to represent. If you attempt rustic pictures, not only should your
figures look like peasants, but the subject should be thoroughly

A dirty ploughman plodding wearily homeward along a muddy lane on a dull
November evening seems commonplace and prosaic enough, and yet the
subject would not be deficient in pictorial interest. It would be
typical of the man’s hard and comfortless life. It would be in perfect
harmony with his furrowed face, his bony limbs, and his stooping gait.

It would not only represent that particular ploughman in that particular
lane, but it would give a true though mournful impression of
farm-laborers generally.

I should much prefer for the subject of a picture, a common episode from
the life of a laborer to an uncommon one.

Again, if I wished to represent the same man at home, I should endeavor,
without exaggeration, to give the squalor of his surroundings, and
should not, out of my inner consciousness, evolve an ideal peasant
surrounded by a comely family, and looking (as Dickens has somewhere
said) as if he had “spent his little All in soap.”

Artists understand pretty well nowadays that in painting rustic
subjects, honesty is the best policy. The great success of the French
painter, Millet, was due entirely to his uncompromising honesty of
purpose, and to the unerring judgment with which he selected his

There _are_ pretty girls (even in France) amongst the peasant class,
although they are certainly rare. There are plenty of _fête_ days when
every woman makes herself as smart as she can; but Millet knew better
than to paint pretty girls and smart dresses. Instead of this, he
depicted the true types of French peasantry, gaunt, hard-featured women,
dressed in the coarsest garments, and shod with wooden sabots. The
novelty of truth was unwelcome at first to the Parisian public. They had
so long been accustomed to Opera Comique peasants that they had lost
relish for the genuine article; but by degrees they began to perceive
that these uncouth figures were very like the Jeannes and the Victoires
they knew _à la campagne_. Moreover, they did not fail to observe that
the subjects chosen by the artist were of that homely, agricultural kind
peculiar to the French peasantry. They smelt of the village dunghill,
and this was the great secret of their success.

I am often told by people who don’t know much about art, that they have
thought of “such a capital subject for a picture,” and it generally
turns out to be something odd or incongruous, and not at all fitted for
painting. For several years we have had pictures sent in for exhibition,
representing children playing at judge and jury, police-courts,
auctions, etc. In these pictures the children are all dressed up to
represent policemen, barristers, plaintiffs, and defendants. Moreover,
they have so thoroughly learned their parts that their action is no
longer childlike. Some of these pictures are very well painted, but the
principle is so wrong and false that we now invariably refuse them

Children should, in a picture, be engaged on something childlike. Thus
it would be perfectly natural for children to play at being wild beasts,
making use of any bear or wolf skin which happened to be handy.
Coach-and-horses, hen-and-chickens, are again legitimate games for
children, and therefore proper for painting; but in the arts we don’t
want elaborately got-up burlesque.

A group of young children on the sea-sands, at work with their wooden
shovels, would by some be thought a stupid kind of subject, hardly
worthy of being painted at all; but make the same children overtaken by
the tide, with a steep cliff behind them, and probably you will have a
great success, especially if you make your little figures expressing
their fear or courage in a theatrical and unchildlike manner.

The first group would be a typical one--typical of the seaside and
childhood; the second would not be absolutely impossible (like the
bewigged and behelmeted youngsters above mentioned), but it would be
somewhat exceptional, and therefore, in my opinion, not so suitable for
painting as the first group.

In the same way with landscape, the spot you select for pitching your
umbrella should not be mean and ugly, neither should it be
overpoweringly grand and beautiful. Pictures representing the Falls of
Niagara or the gorges of the Rocky Mountains are generally failures. I
have in a former lecture praised the Belgian landscape-painters, and I
think that a good deal of their merit lies in the happy choice of
subjects. They are certainly not classical, like the old school of
French landscape-painters, nor do they affect the dreariest commonplace,
like some of the moderns. They neither paint precipices and snowy
mountains, nor dull stretches of poplar-skirted high-road. Their
pictures are to me most interesting, not only on account of their
technical excellence, but from the good taste shown in the selection of
the subjects.

Incidents which are out of harmony with the character of the persons
engaged, form capital materials for caricature. The late John Leech
showed the nicest discrimination in his selection of subjects. When he
gave us pictures of character, nothing could be better than his sporting
scenes, or his bits from the mining districts. When he wanted to raise a
laugh at something paradoxical, he would give us a lot of mutes making
merry after a respectable funeral, or a used-up swell eating periwinkles
with a pin on the top of a ’bus. In both these cases it was the sharp
contrast between the usual habits of the persons and their exceptional
occupation at the time which made the fun, and very good fun it was
too; but in an oil picture which takes some months to paint, the humor
ought to be of a more delicate kind. I know of no better example of the
kind of humor I mean than Wilkie’s “Blind Fiddler.”

Before closing my lecture I should wish to notice a certain kind of
pictures which do not fit in well with any of the classes I have
mentioned. The pictures I mean are those which are painted expressly to
teach some lesson, or to inculcate some moral precept. The great
originator of this kind of art was Hogarth. Before him nothing of the
sort had ever been done, and since his death no artist has equalled him
in this particular line. Much, however, as I admire Hogarth as a
painter, I cannot coincide with all the praise that has been showered on
him as a great moral teacher. He has often been compared to Molière, but
the great Frenchman attacked the vices and follies of his day with a
sharp rapier, whereas Hogarth wielded a heavy bludgeon. Indeed, I think
it very doubtful whether our art can be converted into an active agent
in the cause of morality. The touches of ridicule which a clever writer
uses with so much effect are very apt to become ponderous when embedded
in oil paint. Hogarth’s reputation may well be allowed to rest on his
numerous technical excellences without hoisting him upon a pedestal as a
great apostle of morality. In like manner the name of Cruickshank will
be preserved as the clever draughtsman and caricaturist, and not as the
champion of teetotalism.

In mitigation, however, of Hogarth’s sledge-hammer style of belaboring
vice, we must bear in mind that the age in which he lived was a very
gross and brutal one, and that his “Rake’s Progress,” his “Marriage à la
Mode,” and similar works, which to us appear exaggerated or caricatured,
were considered by his contemporaries to be very true to nature.

To return to the proper business this evening, which is not to criticise
painters and their work, but to discuss subjects for painting, I cannot
say I particularly delight in the class under notice.

Whoever takes up these subjects becomes (involuntarily perhaps) a kind
of missionary agent for the cause he takes up, whether it be
teetotalism, humanitarianism, or the redressing of the wrongs of our old
friend, the “poor governess”; and as with some other agents, his zeal
often outruns his discretion, and he is apt to thrust forward his moral
too obtrusively. When this kind of picture is painted in pairs, after
the fashion of Hogarth’s “Industrious and Idle Apprentice,” there is a
sort of poster or advertisement flavor about the work, reminding one a
little of “what I was, and what I am” in connection with Mrs. Allen’s
hairwash, or of “before and after using anti-fat.”

No one can, of course, object to such antithetic pictures as “Summer and
Winter,” “Peace and War,” “Youth and Age,” etc.; but where the practice
of showing both sides of the medal becomes objectionable, is when the
work is evidently intended to be didactic. I don’t know what effect
these didactic pictures may have on others, but I always feel a kind of
impatience at having the contrast between virtue and vice thrust before
me in this infant-school fashion.

I do not wish in these lectures to enter upon the domain of high-art
ethics; I have a very decided aversion to the union of painting with
abstruse theories of all kinds, but a few words on morality in art may
not be out of place.

It must be generally allowed that certain pictures have an immoral
tendency: we may, therefore conclude by analogy that others have a moral
tendency, but beyond this general truism it is difficult to get.

The art-loving portion of the public needs no Lord Chamberlain to
ostracise immoral subjects, but on the other hand, it is rather
intolerant of what are called “goody” pictures. Let us rather, instead
of preaching homilies with our brush, endeavor to set an example of
pictorial morality by adherence to truth, by abstaining from clap-trap
tricks and meretricious execution; by ceasing to pilfer ideas and modes
of painting from other artists, and by general honesty of purpose.

If we do this, we may rest assured that our work will have a healthier
influence than it would have if more directly enlisted in the cause of



The art of composing figure-pictures may be divided into two categories,
to each of which I intend devoting a lecture.

The first category will comprise all decorative or semi-decorative work,
where grandeur and harmony of line is the great desideratum; the graphic
rendering of the subject being of minor importance.

The second category would include almost all easel pictures which aspire
to represent some historical event, or to illustrate some anecdote. In
these pictures the graphic rendering of the subject is the first
desideratum, and the pleasant harmony of line only the second.

We will deal this evening with the laws of composition for decorative

I ought perhaps to avoid using the word “laws”; art is not an exact
science, and no strict law can be laid down about a matter of taste.
Still there are certain principles which seem to be accepted by all
masters of composition, and certain others which, although not generally
accepted, occur to me as likely to be of use to you.

The golden rule for the arrangement of figures in a picture, is that the
nature of the subject ought to dictate the lines of the composition. If
you have to paint a subject of a quiet, majestic, and dignified class, a
subject for all ages, where you wish to express perfect repose and
stability, you cannot do better than go back to the pyramid. This
pyramidical theory of composition has been much quizzed and laughed at,
but that is because the old-fashioned dilettanti who advocated it wanted
to apply it universally. Now it is clearly unsuitable for subjects of
action, or for filling with figures low long panels; but for altar
pieces, or for pictures which are destined for central places, it is at
once the most natural and the most effective method. The quiet and
serene dignity of many of the ancient Holy Families and other subjects
of sacred art is due mainly to the pyramidical form of grouping.

Sometimes the form is that of a truncated pyramid, as in the Hemicycle
at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where the object of the painter was to
represent an ideal Areopagus of Art.

In the compositions of Masaccio and Filippino Lippi we have good
examples of a horizontal style of arrangement. The structure of these
groups is suggestive of solid simple architectural forms, and has a kind
of dignity of its own; but though suitable enough for frescoes of the
fifteenth century, it is hardly picturesque or varied enough for modern

Mural paintings, particularly when they represent grave or sacred
subjects, should more or less partake of this horizontal and rectilinear
form of composition.

A certain amount of deviation is necessary, and it is in fixing the
limit of this deviation that the skill of the artist is shown.

Too little would make his composition formal and lifeless.

Too much would take away from the symmetry which befits such subjects.

The Stanze of Raffaelle are noble examples of skill and taste in

Nothing can be finer than his “School of Athens,” his “Parnassus,” and
his “Theology.”

Here we find variety of line combined with a dignified simplicity. It is
the arrangement and composition of these grand frescoes which in my
opinion justifies the position Raffaelle holds in the history of art,
rather than the beauty of his Madonnas or the bold drawing of his
somewhat over-rated cartoons.

Later artists of the Roman school overdid the picturesque element, and
lost the stately simplicity which characterizes the second manner of

In modern times, Ingres’ “Apotheosis of Homer” is a good example of what
a mural painting should be. Severe in drawing and dignified in
composition, it is yet by no means deficient in those more attractive
qualities which are commonly expressed by the word “picturesque.”

Flandrin’s frieze at St. Vincent de Paul is another magnificent specimen
of an exquisite sense of fitness. There is hardly a figure in the whole
procession of apostles, saints, and martyrs, which could be improved. I
know of no modern work which is so perfect of its kind.

It is, of course, preposterous to suppose that good composition can be
taught in a couple of evenings; but if I succeed in impressing on you
the importance of this rather neglected branch of study, I shall not
have lectured in vain.

We will begin with the simplest problem, namely, how to fill up with
figures an elongated rectangular space or frieze.

The most obvious method is to set up a row of figures of the same size
and all in profile, as was done by the ancient Egyptians. Now this mode
of treatment, though suitable enough for the Nile temples, would
obviously be unfit for buildings of the nineteenth century.

The figures should preserve a certain regularity, a certain frieze-like
arrangement, and yet the attitudes should be varied, and the work should
not look as if it had been done by machinery.

The first improvement on the Egyptian method would be to break the
monotony by here and there grouping two or even three figures together.
As in these groups of two or three one figure must be behind the others,
and therefore farther off from the spectator, it would be smaller, the
head would be lower, and you would at once get a little variety in the
line of heads. To vary your line of heads simply by arguing that some
people are six feet high whilst others are only five, does not answer in
decorative painting. You _may_ assume that the male figures are bigger
than the female, but you must proceed as if your men were all of the
same (or very nearly) of the same height, and your women ought also to
vary very little in stature. Children you may introduce of any size,
from the infant in arms to the youth or maiden of fifteen; but let them
be unmistakably children, and not little men and women.

The individual action of the figures would of course depend very much on
the destination of the work. If it were intended for the decoration of a
church, the figures would of course represent patriarchs, apostles, or
martyrs, and a severe and simple arrangement would be necessary. If, on
the other hand, your frieze were to decorate a theatre or ball-room, the
figures should have more action, and naturally the lines would be more
broken. Whatever the subject, however,--whether maskers, musicians, or
morris-dancers,--there should be a certain frieze-like symmetry in the
composition. You should never forget that you are engaged on a
decorative work, and not on an easel picture.

A rule which it is well to observe in all decorative work is to avoid
cutting off any portion of the figures. This is quite unavoidable in
many easel pictures. If you have a crowd of people to represent, you
cannot isolate some of them so completely that no portion of the others
should be visible.

An easel or gallery picture is bounded on every side by the frame, and
the eye is not shocked at all by seeing portions of the figures cut off.
Although every one knows that the figures do not extend behind the
frame, yet it is easy to suppose that they do, and the eye allows itself
to be cheated into this belief; but in decorative or mural painting
there is no solid framework round the picture isolating it from the
surrounding wall. There may be an ornamental border or possibly a light
moulding, but this is not enough to permit the practice. Michael Angelo,
in his decorations of the Sistine Chapel, often carried his figures and
draperies right out of the panels allotted to them, and this boldness
adds to the grand, free character of the work.

The problem of how to fill up the irregular-shaped wall spaces which
continually occur both in Gothic and Palladian architecture is of course
more complex.

These spaces have generally curved sides, and in many of them--as, for
instance, the spandrels of arches--the curve is concave. Straight
horizontal lines of heads which are generally so desirable for long
rectilinear spaces here become very objectionable.

Bold convex outlines for the groups, and an arrangement for the heads
which does not suggest either horizontal or vertical lines, ought to be
the rule in these cases.

Nothing can be finer than M. Angelo’s treatment of the sybils and
prophets in the Sistine Chapel. There is a majestic dignity about them
which is due rather to their full convex outlines than to their colossal

On the other hand, in many of the compositions by the early Florentines
we have long horizontal rows of heads which seem out of harmony with the
arched space they fill. The circular nimbi take off somewhat from the
meagre character of these lines, and there is considerable beauty about
the individual figures, but viewed as decorative works they are very

It is, of course, impossible to devise rules for all conditions of
decorative and historical painting, but a few general hints may be
useful to you.

1st. Beware of concave lines for the outlines of your groups.

2d. Avoid sharp angles, and particulary right angles, unless you wish to
draw special attention to them.

3d. Be very careful about the relative position of the heads, so that
viewed as points of interest they do not form any regular geometrical

These three rules seem to me the most important ones to be observed in
the composition of decorative figure-pictures, and we will examine them

The first rule I have given is to avoid concave forms for the general
outline of the groups. There is no rule without exceptions, and to this
one there are a good many; still it will be found that, speaking
generally, convex outlines give grandeur wherever they are introduced.
This convexity in the form of the groups need not be dependent on the
outlines of the figures themselves; it may be got by introducing drapery
or other accessories. I know of no example showing the value of full
convex outlines more strikingly than the Madonna di S. Sisto. In the
pictures of the Umbrian school, on the contrary, we find extreme poverty
of line. The figures themselves are not particularly attenuated, but
they are not sufficiently connected together nor enveloped in those
useful pieces of flowing drapery which give such grandeur and fulness to
the works of Fra Bartholomeo, Sebastian del Piombo, and other painters
of the Roman school.

I have in former lectures entered fully into the subject of convex lines
being almost always associated with forward movement, and concave with
retreat, and need not go over the same ground again.

I would, however, observe that the terms boldness and convexity are
almost synonymous when applied to outline; thus when we speak of a
mountain having a bold outline, we mean that though steep and
precipitous it is bluff or convex in form. A mountain with a depression
on the top, or surmounted by a sharp-pointed cone, would hardly ever be
noted for its bold outline.

The second rule to which I wish to call your attention is the avoidance
of right angles in the composition of your figures.

All angles, unless they be obtuse ones, are to be deprecated, but the
most objectionable of all are the right angles. In a single figure,
rectangular outlines are not so unpleasant, but I cannot agree with
those who think that the big seated Egyptian figures with which we are
all familiar, owe their grandeur to their rectangular contour. I have no
doubt but that these gigantic figures in their native swamp, and
illumined by an Egyptian moon, would look very imposing, but the solemn
grandeur of their aspect would be due to their size and to their
surroundings, and not to their harsh rectangular outline. If the “Moses”
of Michael Angelo could be magnified to the size of these figures and
transported to the banks of the Nile, I fully believe he would be far
more impressive.

Simplicity and grandeur are often bracketed together as though the terms
were almost synonymous; but they certainly are not so. The street and
chapel architecture of the Georgian era was simple even to baldness, but
no one can call it grand.

It is not, however, in single figures that right angles are so much to
be avoided, as in complicated groups of several figures. Here they
arrest and distract the eye, giving harshness to the composition, and
destroying the look of spontaneous action and easy-flowing movement
which figures always should have.

Rubens in his “Descent from the Cross” has avoided these disagreeable
angles, but in many of his more careless compositions, where there is
violent action, they are painfully conspicuous, in spite of his liberal
use of flying draperies. Hence his cavalry skirmishes, though full of
violence and contortion, are quite wanting in spontaneous “go.”

Right angles in a group of figures convey the idea of immovability.
Hence, although generally undesirable, it is well sometimes to introduce


Thus a kneeling warrior firmly planted to resist onslaught might with
propriety have both knees right angles.


In this case we wish to give the idea of fixture, and therefore
rectangular forms are not only allowable but very useful. Again, in the
case of a wounded man endeavoring to raise himself, the angle formed by
his right arm might with propriety be a right angle, because we want to
show that the man is wounded and cannot raise himself without


If he were uninjured and in full possession of his strength, we ought to
represent his springing up in some other way.

In the very frequent case of two arms crossing each other, they should
not cross at right angles.

There is no reason here for expressing immovability at the point where
the arms cross, and therefore the formality of right angles should be

We will now pass on to the third rule, namely, that relating to the
heads of the figures.

Whatever the subject of the picture, the eye is always attracted to the
heads. It is therefore of the highest importance that their relative
positions should be carefully considered.


In the annexed diagram, it is of no use arguing that one of the heads is
a full face, another three-quarters, a third a profile, and the fourth a
back view of the head. The four heads are all points of interest. They
are equidistant, and placed on a segment of the same circle, and, turn
them whichever way you will, you cannot get rid of the unpleasantness of
the arrangement, so long as you keep them in their present relative


In the next figure we have four heads suggesting a quadrilateral of
lozenge shape.[4] This is also very objectionable, and it is a case of
frequent occurrence. In both these diagrams, by shifting the position of
one of the heads, we should break up the symmetrical arrangement which
so much offends the cultivated eye.


There is no objection, in a composition of many figures, to placing two
or more heads on the same horizontal line. Indeed, in many cases it is
most advantageous to do so; but what ought to be avoided is having heads
on the same _vertical_ line. If you have a kneeling or sitting figure in
front of an erect one, arrange your kneeling figure so that the one head
shall not be perpendicularly below the other.


If you have two erect figures, arrange your kneeling figure so that the
head shall not come on the same vertical line as either of the other
heads, or half-way between the two.[5] I might urge a good deal more
about the extreme importance of a picturesque and irregular arrangement
of the heads; but I have probably said enough to call your attention to
this very prominent feature in good designing, and will now give a few
hints about other kindred matters.


Converging lines are to be avoided, unless there is something of
interest to which you wish to direct attention at the point of
convergence. This is by no means an exaggerated specimen of the evil;
but the effect of these four arms all converging toward one point is
unpleasant. If the personages were disputing over a manuscript, or
trying to clutch a bag of gold lying on the table, then the manuscript
or the gold would be the centre of interest in the picture; and
converging lines would not only be excusable, but absolutely necessary.
Where there is nothing of particular interest at the point where the
lines meet, the eye feels disappointed at being misled.


Although converging lines are generally to be avoided, it often happens
that a repetition of the same kind of curve gives force and unity of
purpose to a group. Observe the convex curves formed by the backs of
these suppliants. Their repetition gives unity of purpose. A
perpendicular kneeling figure might individually be just as expressive,
but as one of a group he would take away somewhat from the general
character of unity in supplication.

One of the most difficult problems the designer of large mural pictures
has to solve, is to introduce with good effect raised arms and hands,
especially when they belong to the background figures. When possible, it
is better to keep them out of sight altogether; but in some subjects you
would by so doing inevitably lose expression and animation, and it
becomes necessary to introduce here and there an upraised arm with
extended hand. This is easy enough to do if you are reckless about the
lines of your composition, but if you are fastidious, it is a very
difficult problem.

In the first place, they distract the eye, destroying the full bold
outline of your groups, and, secondly, there is a comic element about
them which it is rather difficult to avoid. When, as in many of
Raffaelle’s Loggie, the whole of the figures which are raising their
arms are seen, the effect is bad and trivial; but there is nothing
particularly comical about it. When, however, an arm crops up here and
there from the unseen figures of the background, it is difficult to
avoid the ludicrous. Cases may occur when a whole forest of hands will
have to be raised, as in an oath of allegiance; but here the action of
raising the arms is inseparable from the subject.

My remarks apply only to upraised arms as indicative of wonder, joy, or

All these hints about designing may appear to some of you rather
far-fetched, but if ever you get experience in decorative painting, I
think you will find they are not far from the truth.

The art of good grouping is not of spontaneous growth. You may have a
general idea of how you are to fill your canvas or wall-space, and that
idea may be a good one, but all the details of the groups have to be
worked out bit by bit. A change in the attitude of one figure will be
almost sure to entail a change in a good many others, and it often
happens that, after giving yourself a good deal of trouble, you will
have to go back to your first idea.

A conscientious and fastidious designer may be compared to an Arctic
explorer picking his way in an ice-pack. He will have to saw through one
ice-barrier, to blow up another with gunpowder, to circumvent a third,
and when, after surmounting all these difficulties, he thinks his course
clear and open water at hand, he may have to retrace his steps and seek
some other channel.

I am perfectly aware that in painting small easel pictures all this
groping after fine lines may be unnecessary, nay, even detrimental to
the life-like spirit of the composition.

“Our own correspondent’s” sketches at the seat of war (if done on the
spot, which I am afraid they not always are) will be not only more
interesting but better composed than if he had sat at home and trusted
to his imagination; but in this lecture I am not dealing with easel
pictures and realistic subjects, and I repeat that in decorative
figure-painting excellence can only be obtained by a continuous process
of altering, modifying, adding, and omitting.

In the same way that the lines and general grouping of a picture should
be arranged with a view to expressing the subject with dignity and
grandeur, so the management of light and shade should tend toward the
same end, and it is as impossible to lay down strict rules for light and
shade as for outline designing. Didactic writers on art will tell you
that the principal light ought to fall on the principal figure--

    “Fair in the front in all the blaze of light,
     The hero of thy piece should meet the sight.”

Sir Joshua Reynolds remarks very justly on this piece of doggerel, that
there is no necessity for the principal figure to be placed in the
middle of the picture, or receive the principal light. He goes on to say
that “this conduct, if always observed, would reduce the art of
composition to too great a uniformity,” and that “it is sufficient if
the place he holds, or the attention of the other figures to him, denote
him the hero of the piece.”

In works which partake strongly of a decorative character this axiom
about “Fair in the front in all the blaze of light” for the principal
figure may be tolerably true, but in historical pictures something more
unforeseen is wanted.

In the often-painted subject of the “Death of Cæsar,” I should be very
much inclined to put the Cæsar in the shade, and the tyrannicides with
their flashing daggers in the light. It appears to me that to throw a
shade over the face of the prostrate emperor would somehow or other
convey the idea of the shadow of death, which is overspreading him, and
the reproachful “Et tu Bruté” would come with greater pathos from a
figure half-veiled in shadow than from one in broad daylight. We will
suppose now that instead of having the death of Cæsar to paint we have
the “Stoning of St. Stephen.” The subject is analogous. The young man
named Saul and the Jewish executioners of Stephen were not common
assassins any more than the murderers of Cæsar. Shall we, therefore,
adopt the same plan with the figure of Stephen as we did with that of
Cæsar and put him in the shade? I say, Certainly not. Stephen was the
first Christian martyr. We read that his face was as that of an angel,
and he ought to be surrounded by an angelic halo of light, and this
treatment need not be dictated by the text. We should come to the same
conclusion simply on the grounds of pictorial fitness. Stephen was a
voluntary martyr, and gloried in his own death. Cæsar was assassinated
much against his will; and although we are told that he covered his face
with his toga and died with dignity, yet he certainly cannot be called
a martyr.

I have introduced these two subjects to show you how hopeless it is to
attempt to lay down general rules such as old Du Fresnoy gives us in his
poem on the art of painting. Every new theme you undertake to illustrate
ought to have a treatment special to itself if you wish to produce a
fresh and original picture. When the master of a vessel is starting on a
voyage, he would not steer S. W. by W. ½ W. because that happened to be
the course he steered the last time he was at sea, nor would he run up
his skyscrapers and set his studding-sails because he carried all his
light canvas the last voyage out.

He would consult his chart, the state of the tide, the direction of the
wind, and act accordingly. In short, for this new voyage, the condition
of the wind, tide, and barometer being new, he would give new orders to
his mate and crew.

Substituting the brain for the master, the hand for the mate, and the
brushes for the crew, we ought to set about our pictures much in the
same way.

After giving the subject of light and shade a good deal of thought, it
appears to me that there is only _one_ rule which invariably applies to
all pictures, and that is, that there should be a uniform scale of tone
throughout the work. The gradient, from light to shade, may be very
steep as in Rembrandt, or very gentle as in P. Veronese, but this
gradient or transition should not be abrupt in one part of the picture,
and gentle in another. The whole work (whatever scale you adopt) should
be homogeneous.

Sir. J. Reynolds and others have endeavored to ascertain the proportion
of light to shade in the works of the old masters. I believe these
experimental blots have been made rather with a view to black and white
than legitimate light and shade; but whatever their object, I don’t
think that any theory can be built up on them. I am convinced that what
the old masters called the _chiaro-oscuro_ of their pictures was a
matter of feeling, and sometimes of accident, but never of calculation.

Theorists often talk learnedly about secondary and tertiary lights, but
the artist never dreamt of them. They are nothing more than the efforts
he has made, and the means to which he has resorted, in order to connect
the highest light of his principal group with the gloom of his

Rembrandt’s vigorous light and shade and Correggio’s luminous breadth
ought to be ascribed to the natural idiosyncrasies of the painters,
intensified probably by the conditions under which their works were
executed. They were assuredly not the results of calculation or

Modern artists are often credited by their critics with subtleties of
which they are perfectly innocent. They introduce into their pictures
certain harmonies of tone or color by a kind of pictorial instinct, but
certainly not in obedience to theoretical laws.

In designing a composition of many figures, it is natural to begin with
the principal group or centre of interest. When you have got this
satisfactorily arranged, you proceed with the less important figures,
and it is here that beginners (and some who are by no means beginners)
often come to grief.

They get a fine action or a noble attitude for some accessory figure,
and they are so much in love with it that they _must_ introduce it,
whether it is in keeping with the principal group or not. It may (viewed
as a single figure) be very good, and yet be injurious to the general
harmony of the composition.

Recollect that accessory figures, however good in themselves, if they
mar the general effect, ought to be sacrificed.

By so doing you will doubtless raise a cry of lamentation from your
friends. They will say, “What _could_ have induced you to have scraped
out that figure? Why, it was the best thing in the picture,” and so on.
To which you might reply that you did not want it to be the best thing
in the picture, and therefore you erased it.

It was this tendency to introduce some favorite figure where it was not
wanted, which rather mars Raffaelle’s latest manner, as exemplified in
the “Transfiguration,” and in the “Incendio del Borgo”; and what in
Raffaelle was only an incipient tendency became a confirmed habit in
the work of his imitators.

Sir J. Reynolds, in his discourses, is continually urging the student of
composition to think how the old masters would have treated the subject
he is engaged upon, and advises him to imitate their style and manner.
Indeed, the sixth discourse is devoted entirely to this principle of
imitation. Now, if we were vastly superior to M. Angelo, Raffaelle, and
Titian, and held the same relative position to them that they did to
their predecessors, I could understand our occasionally adopting their
figures, after greatly improving them; but as we should not be likely to
improve any figure we had appropriated, we had much better leave the old
masters alone. Plagiarism, or, to use a plainer word, “stealing,” can
only be excused when the plagiarist makes a better use of the property
he has appropriated than the original possessor did.

Sir Joshua certainly says that you should “imitate,” and not copy
servilely. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if
Philippino Lippi could have seen Raffaelle transferring _his_ St. Paul
into the famous cartoon of the saint preaching at Athens, no doubt he
would have felt flattered. But how about Raffaelle? Is it not true that
this plagiarism on Raffaelle’s part detracts somewhat from his fame?
Does not every one, on seeing the Carmine Chapel at Florence, and
recognizing the familiar figure of St. Paul, think somewhat more of
Philippino Lippi and somewhat less of Raffaelle? I believe that nothing
can be more fatal to the career of an artist than _intentional_
imitation of another man’s work. I say “intentional,” because we are all
more or less imitators quite unconsciously. We often confound a
reminiscence of something we have seen in a picture with a reminiscence
of nature, and so become unconscious imitators; but this is a very
different thing from deliberately setting aside our own ideas and
endeavoring to fancy what would be the ideas of some one else.

It may be argued that Sir J. Reynolds addressed his advice to students
and not to mature artists, but the habit of imitating others, when once
acquired, is not easily got rid of. A certain degree of excellence may
doubtless be attained by following this method, provided the masters
imitated are excellent, but, after all, it is only a kind of reflected
light, and not to be compared to the electric light of original genius.
Besides, the student who follows Sir Joshua’s advice may begin by
honestly attempting to paint his pictures in the _style_ of Raffaelle
without downright imitation of the figures, but he soon learns to adopt
Raffaelle’s attitudes, Raffaelle’s expression, and even Raffaelle’s
mannerisms. He becomes, in short, a mere copyist. If this be deplorable
in the case of the imitator of Raffaelle, how much more deplorable is it
to adopt the modes of thought and expression of an inferior master! It
may be thought by some that in these lectures I often speak
disrespectfully of the old masters, but it is certainly not my intention
so to do. I have the greatest respect for many of them, though not for
all; but I respect nature and truth still more, and it appears to me
that the true artist should go to the fountain-head for his ideas and
inspiration, and not to second-hand sources.

It may be answered that it is all very well saying that an artist should
go to nature and rely on his own powers of creation and invention, but
supposing he is relying on a broken reed; suppose he cudgels his brain
in vain for ideas, what is he to do? In this case I should advise him,
instead of borrowing from the old masters, that he should turn his
attention to portrait-painting, landscape, or some branch of the
profession where the creative and imaginative faculties are not much
required. He may have great imitative power with a dexterous execution;
he may be a charming colorist, or, again, he may be a refined and
accomplished draughtsman, and yet be totally unable to give dramatic
vitality to a scene he has not himself witnessed.

It has always been the fashion to apply the term “high art” to heroic or
Scriptural figure-subjects, but I think there is almost as much high art
in a noble portrait of Titian or a fine landscape by Claude as in any
historical painting whatever. I object to the term altogether; but if it
means any thing, it ought to mean a dignified and poetic view of nature,
in contradistinction to a trivial or prosaic view. It ought certainly
never to be applied to a pasticcio of the old masters, however plausible
such an imitation may be.

In my opinion there is high art in Turner’s early pictures, because in
them we get the man’s own poetic interpretation of nature, but in those
works where he attempts to rival Claude I can see nothing but the labor
of a skilful imitator.

I have wandered away from the proper subject of this lecture, and have
but little time left; but before concluding I should wish to explain
that although I am continually urging the extreme importance of
_originality_ in painting, I do not mean forced singularity or oddity. I
mean by the word, the expression of the painter’s own sober ideas. A
sane man should produce sane work. It may not be very powerful, it may
in no way recall Michael Angelo, but it will have qualities of its own.
How charming, simple, and unaffected are Flaxman’s designs until he got
inoculated with the Sistine Chapel lymph! After this inoculation we
notice (at least I do) a great change for the worse in his compositions.
To graft successfully, the parent stem ought to be of the same nature as
the scion or graft. Now Flaxman’s nature was gentle, and very
appreciative of beauty and grace. With such a nature he ought to have
abstained from attempting the grand and the terrible.

If Flaxman erred in grafting Michael Angelo’s manner on his own, what
shall we say about Blake? Flaxman was at any rate a good draughtsman,
but Blake’s ignorance of the first principles of drawing makes his
Michael Angelesque imitations simply ludicrous. The successful attempts
which have been made of late years to rehabilitate Blake, and to elevate
him into a kind of British Michael Angelo, make me almost despair of
high art in this country. I do not wish to speak contemptuously of Blake
as a poet, but in his pictures (even supposing he had grand ideas) I
cannot accept the will for the deed. The frog in the fable had grand
ideas when he wished to rival the ox in size, and yet he only made
himself ridiculous. Were I to express all I think about the Blake
revival, I could hardly confine myself to parliamentary language. I
will, therefore, in closing my lecture, simply protest to the best of my
power against this strange infatuation.



In my last lecture I treated the art of composition as applied to
decorative or semi-decorative work--of work intended rather to cover a
given wall-space with noble and picturesque forms than to give a
dramatic version of any particular incident. My present lecture will be
devoted to the composition and arrangement of figure-pictures, whether
Biblical, historical, or anecdotic, whose object is to represent in the
most forcible way any given incident.

We are far more particular now about the arrangement, or what the French
call the _mise en scène_, of a picture, than the old masters ever were.
We may not be able to paint like Titian or Correggio, but we attempt an
approximation to truth which they never did; and not only is a modern
historical painter more truthful about the costumes of his personages
and the architecture of his backgrounds, but in the disposition and
action of his figures he honestly endeavors to represent the scene as it
actually may have occurred. When I say that the modern painter does
this, I mean that in my opinion he _ought_ to do it. I am quite aware
that many artists prefer to look at nature through the spectacles of
the old masters, but it appears to me that all art should be in some
measure representative of the age in which it exists. When we come upon
a Romanesque, Umbrian, Venetian, Flemish, or eighteenth-century work of
art, we can tell at a glance to what period it belongs, and I think that
our own time, being one of original thought and research, should in some
measure be similarly reflected in our painting.

I have no objection to Gothic architects repeating in modern buildings
the narrow staircases, the dim lighting, and other inconvenient
peculiarities of the style.

Were they to give us large plate-glass windows and noble flights of
steps, they would cease to be Gothic architects; but I don’t think that,
however much we painters may admire the old masters, we ought to adopt
their modes of composition when we know them to be the result of
ignorance, error, or carelessness.

The present graphic method of treating figure-pictures is of quite
modern growth, and the innovation extends to all kinds of subjects.
Compare any of Giulio Romano’s, Rubens’, or Lebrun’s battle-pieces with
those of Raffet, Horace Vernet, or, better still, De Neuville. How
unreal the old masters appear!

Recall to mind the Romans of David and his school, and compare them with
the best modern representations of Roman manners and customs. In the
one case we may admire the noble drawing and even the classical lines of
the composition, but we are never transported back to the scene; whereas
in certain modern pictures we feel on much more intimate terms with the
personages. We fancy we are actually a spectator at the Colosseum or a
participator in a _fête intime_.

The realism of modern art is due partly to a greater knowledge of, and a
greater attention to, costume, architecture, furniture, and all the
properties of the stage on which we place our personages, but it is also
due to our making truth a primary object.

An incident may be treated truthfully in fifty different ways, but some
of these versions of it will be dull, some obscure, and some vulgar, and
it is for the artist to select a rendering which, though perfectly
truthful, shall be neither dull, obscure, nor vulgar. As soon as he
loses sight of truth he ceases to be a realistic painter. He may produce
a beautiful picture, but it will partake more or less of what I call
semi-decorative work. It is sometimes very difficult to fix a
boundary-line between realistic and decorative painting. To which class,
for instance, belong the cartoons of Raffaelle? Although designed for
tapestry, and therefore for decorative purposes, there is too much truth
and reality about them to allow of their being classed among purely
decorative works; whilst, on the other hand, we can hardly admit that
they are like the scenes they are meant to represent.

The heads are Italian rather than Jewish or Oriental, and sometimes (as,
for instance, in the “Miraculous Draught of Fishes”) pictorial liberties
are taken which are quite inadmissible in realistic work.

I may here observe that in this lecture I shall not use the word
realistic in the bad sense in which it has generally come to be used.

The term is now generally employed to designate some ugly or offensive
piece of reality which is prominently thrust upon our notice by the
artist; as when Quintin Matseys gives us wrinkled and abnormally ugly
old men, or when a modern French painter throws all his talent into
depicting the thick viscosity of a pool of arterial blood. Reality is
only in rare instances repellent, and I can see no good reason for
confining the word to these exceptional cases.

In historical, or what may be called incident pictures, the main object
of the artist ought to be to tell his story forcibly, clearly, and

We have seen that in work partaking of a decorative character the
principal object of the designer should be to group his figures in a
noble and picturesque manner, to attend to his drawing, and if possible
to add the charm of agreeable color to his work.

In realistic historical painting he has something else to occupy his
thoughts. He must by no means neglect the lines of his groups, he must
avoid disagreeable angles, equidistant heads, convergent lines where
they are not wanted, and all the other rocks and shoals on which many a
composition has been wrecked, but in addition to this he must tell his
story truthfully and clearly.

Much more latitude in the matter of arrangement may be allowed him than
would be conceded to the painter of decorative subjects.

He may (if he thinks fit) huddle up all his figures into a corner of the
canvas, or he may place them all in the centre, leaving the sides

In short, he may take great liberties with the laws of composition,
provided always these liberties tend to assist in giving reality to the

The more picturesque or melodramatic the subject, the more he may depart
from the usual rules of composition.

Paul Delaroche was, I think, the first of the numerous cohort of modern
painters who have striven to combine truthful sentiment with pictorial
fitness, and of all his works the “Assassination of the Duc de Guise” is
perhaps the most striking.

The arrangement of this picture is as dramatic as it is truthful. On one
side of the picture we have the murdered duke lying on his back, stone
dead. The group of assassins are quite separated from their victim, and
are giving themselves no further trouble about him; and yet the greatest
ignoramus, who knew nothing whatever about the story, would have no
hesitation in divining it, so graphically is the incident told.

Again, if we recall to mind another and a better known picture by the
same master, I mean that known as “Les Enfants d’Edouard,” we find the
same subtle taste displayed.

I may here note that the color of neither of these pictures is in any
way remarkable. Indeed, that of the “Princes” is positively bad, being
very purple and inky; but their enduring popularity rests on a more
solid foundation than mere color. It rests entirely on their truthful
and poetic treatment. I call the treatment “poetic,” because a dull
prose reading of both these subjects would have represented the murders
as actually being committed, whereas by choosing the moment in the one
case immediately _after_ the murder, and in the other just _before_, the
artist avoids all the stabbing, hacking, and smothering business, and
increases rather than diminishes our interest in the victims. Gerome’s
“Death of Cæsar” is another example of novel treatment of a hackneyed
subject. He also represents the deed as done. The conspirators have
sneaked off. The benches of the senate-house are all but deserted, the
only occupant being a very fat senator, who is fast asleep on one of the
benches, somewhere near the centre of the amphitheatre. How much more
empty the senate-house looks, with this portly old Roman snoring on his
bench, than it would do if entirely deserted!

I do not wish to lecture on modern pictures, but I mention this “Death
of Caesar” by Gerome as an instance of a happy departure from the usual
treatment of the subject. Indeed, it appears to me that all
assassinations, martyrdoms, executions, and such-like subjects, if
painted at all, should be approached in some roundabout way.

The action of stabbing, cutting a head off, or sending a bullet through
a man’s body, is instantaneous; and although an executioner, with his
drawn sword and uplifted arm about to decapitate his victim, may be
startling and sensational at first sight, yet after a time the feeling
of horror or of pity gives place to a sort of impatience that he is so
long before striking the blow.

One of the Orleans princes had a picture of a military execution, which
he admired very much at first. By and by, however, he got tired of it,
and ultimately sold it or gave it away, not because it was too much for
his feelings, but because he was heartily sick of seeing the squad
taking aim day after day and month after month, and never firing.

Although the best modern masters of dramatic composition have probably
been guided by sentiment rather than by rule, still a few observations
on the treatment of certain subjects may not be out of place in this
lecture. Thus, if the subject be a departure of pilgrims or emigrants,
the figures should be placed on that side of the canvas which is
opposed to the direction in which they are going. If it be an arrival,
they should be placed on the side opposed to the direction whence they
came. In both these cases, the large portion of canvas without figures
is not wasted; it assists materially in telling the story.

In the first case, it represents the journey to be undertaken, and in
the second the journey just performed. If we had to paint a shipwrecked
sailor who has just reached the shore, we ought to let very little of
the shore be seen, but plenty of raging sea. Here the interest of the
subject lies in the formidable dangers he has escaped, so we ought to
devote the greater portion of our canvas to the breakers, and relegate
our mariner and the bit of slippery rock to which he is clinging to a

If, on the other hand, we wished to represent our shipwrecked man
clinging to a spar in the open sea, with no land visible, we ought to
place him right in the middle of the canvas, so as to give the
impression of hopeless isolation; and if we wished to convey the idea
that he might possibly be rescued, we would paint a sail on the horizon,
and near the edge of the picture. I should place it near the edge, in
order that it might appear to have just come in sight, and that hope of
rescue was dawning. If we were to put the same vessel in the middle of
the picture, and bearing down upon the drowning man, we might feel
equally certain that he would be saved, but the effect would hardly be
as dramatic.

Again, let us suppose that we have an elongated space to fill, and that
the subject is a “fugitive escaping.” Where ought we to place him on the
canvas? If we place him in the middle, he will look too much like a
professional runner doing his ten miles within the hour, and we should
feel inclined to pull out our watches and time him. Supposing him to be
running from right to left, if we place him near the right side of the
picture we shall not know whether his pursuers are not close at hand,
and as our sympathies are always with the fugitive, whether he be a
prisoner of war, a convict, or a fox, we should be glad to see him safe
over to the other side of the picture.

If we place him near the left edge our wish is gratified. There is now
the whole width of the picture intervening between him and any sign of
pursuit, and we feel naturally, though perhaps illogically, that he has
a better chance of escape.

The word “artful” has come to signify cunning, and is always taken in a
bad sense, but I suppose that originally it meant literally “full of
art,” full of that curious compound of observation, good-sense, and
poetic feeling which is so noticeable in Raffaelle, Poussin, and all the
great masters of composition.

In the examples I have given you there has always been some good reason
for placing the figures on one side of the picture, but where no good
reason exists, it ought not to be done.

It may not be out of place here to say something about the size of the
figures in proportion to the canvas. This is a very important element in
the composition of a picture, and many a good and careful work has been
spoiled by the figures being either too large or too small for the

In these days, when the general destination of pictures is to decorate
dining-rooms or to fill small galleries, space ought to be economized.
We should avoid, as a rule, large areas of background; but, on the other
hand, when the figures are too large for the canvas the effect is very
unpleasant. An erect figure with the head bent down should have space
enough above it to allow of the head being raised, otherwise the figure
has an uncomfortable look, as if she could not lift up her head without
rapping it against the frame.


Indeed all stooping, sitting, or kneeling figures should have space
enough allowed them to stand up in. They should not, in short, look as
if they had been put into those attitudes in order to pack them into the

The mannerism of introducing figures too large for the canvas originated
probably with the old German masters of the Albert Durer school. With
them, however, it was not a mannerism but a habit contracted by

In those early days the graving tools were very rude and coarse;
moreover, the blocks were small, hence it became imperative to design
the figures as large as possible; and the habit thus acquired spread to
drawings and pictures.

When, on the other hand, the figures are too small, the picture
generally looks stagey, as if the artist had taken his composition from
some genteel comedy-scene at a theatre. Cases frequently occur where it
is desirable to keep the figures small, as in a caravan march across the
desert, or in a procession moving down a cathedral nave.

In the one case it is desirable to give an idea of the boundless waste
of sand, and in the other the architecture of the cathedral is probably
more interesting than the individual action of the priests composing the
procession, and therefore the figures should be very small for the

As to the _actual_ dimensions of the figures in historical or “genre”
subjects, there is only one size which I think objectionable, and that
is rather smaller than life. Figures of four and a half or five feet
high seldom look well. Half life-size, or rather more, is a very good
proportion, and any size below this, down to the microscopic figures of
Breughel or Meissonnier, is equally good.

In my former lectures on composition, I gave you several examples of the
kind of mental analysis which ought to be brought to bear on every
subject you wish to design. It will, I think, be unnecessary to go
through all this again, as you are, I trust, more skilled in the art of
composition than you were five years ago.

Nevertheless it may not be unprofitable to some of you, if I work out
again one or two of my old subjects. One of the themes I selected was
from Exodus:--

“When Moses was grown, he went out unto his brethren, and looked on
their burdens, and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, and he looked
this way, and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew
the Egyptian.”

The subject to be the first part of the quotation, that is, where Moses
is watching the Egyptian smiting the Hebrew.

Very well. Now there are two distinct centres of interest in this
subject. One is the brutal treatment of the Hebrew by his taskmaster,
and the other is the indignation of Moses. Under any circumstances, it
would be advisable to sacrifice one of those centres of interest to the
other; but the context absolutely prohibits all idea of uniting the
three figures together in one group. Moses was certainly not visible to
the two men. We must, therefore, allow a considerable space between the
figures, and the question now arises: Which is to be our foreground

Either mode of treatment seems to me equally good, but supposing I fancy
making the Moses the principal figure in the picture, how am I to
express what is passing in his mind? The other two figures will be in
violent action, therefore it will be well to represent Moses in a quiet
attitude, but with an expression of concentrated indignation about him.

I just hastily sketch an erect figure (any indication of a human figure
will do) to represent Moses. I have some ideas floating in my mind about
making him clutching at his dagger, and about the expression I will
throw into his eyes, and so on; but, for the present, I leave all this
alone, and occupy myself with the general arrangement of the picture.

I find that with my erect figure of Moses, it will be better to make the
picture an upright one, and it will be necessary to make him in hiding,
or partly concealed by some building, otherwise he would be in full view
of the Egyptian, and I should not be in keeping with the word “spied” of
the text. I, therefore, put in a line or two to represent a building
behind which he might be hiding.

Now for the two men. I don’t at present elaborate the group at all.

I think the most natural reading is to suppose the Israelite on the
ground, having fallen under his burden, and the Egyptian standing over
him, and beating him; but for the present, I make a kind of scrawl which
might mean any thing. I do not quite like the place I have put it in; I
rub it out, and shift it. I am better pleased with the place now, but
the group looks too large; I rub it out again, and make it smaller. Now
I find the Moses is not quite in his right place, I shift _him_ about
until I get him right; and here let me point out the great advantage of
a rough indication at first. Had I drawn my principal figure carefully,
with all the expression I meant to convey, I should have hesitated about
rubbing him out, and my composition would eventually have suffered.

Designing a subject is like drawing a figure. In figure-drawing you do
not begin (at least you ought not) with sketching the eyes, nose, and
mouth. It is sheer waste of time to do so, as the chances are ten to one
in favor of your having to shift the head or to alter its inclination.
You make a simple oval with a line down the centre to indicate the
inclination, and then you go on with the rest of the figure. If you have
to change the head, you can do so in two or three strokes. The same
method applies to the hands and feet. Students will often draw the
fingers and toes, and when the master comes round he finds that the
hands and feet are in their wrong places, and the work has to be done
again. Never begin the detail of a figure until you feel sure that every
thing is in its right place, and that the general proportions are
correct. In the same way, in composition never begin to elaborate the
figures until you feel sure that your groups are in their right places
and of the proper size.

To return to our subject. I will suppose now that I have got my figures
where I want them to be. I can go ahead now in all confidence. I can try
various attitudes for my striking and prostrate figures. I can try
different modes of giving to Moses the kind of expression I wish him to
have. I stick to the ground plan of my design, and also to the general
features of the arrangement, but I select my details as I go on.

Now let us suppose that I have elected to take the other view of the
subject. In this case the picture would be reversed; that is, the
struggling figures would be in the foreground, and the Moses behind. I
proceed always in the same manner. I make a very rough indication of my
two figures, an indication which need not define either arms, bodies, or
legs, but which gives me an approximate idea of the size and general
shape of the group. This being done, it remains to place the Moses. It
is clear I must not put him very far off, or his action and expression
would be lost. On the other hand, I must not place him very near, or the
interest would be equally divided between him and the other figures.

I might perhaps, by merely introducing his head with a pair of angry
eyes glaring at the Egyptian, do something which would be original and
telling; and in this case, with the head only seen, he might be quite
close to the struggling group. All these different versions of the
subject should be carefully considered before I finally adopt any one of
them; but when once I have made my choice, I ought to stick to it. There
will be plenty of modifications to carry out in the individual action of
the figures without again disturbing the general arrangement of the

Another of my old illustrations of the reasoning an artist ought to
bring to bear on his subject, was “The Return of a Crusader.” Now here
the first question which suggests itself is: Where shall we place our
returning warrior? On the road, catching a first glimpse of his home? on
his threshold? or fairly inside his house and surrounded by his family?

Something may be said in favor of all three readings, but if we place
him at a distance on the road he will be alone, or at best accompanied
only by a retainer or two, and we shall lose the best and most pathetic
element in the subject.

If we place him inside the house and surrounded by his family, we shall
certainly avoid the objection to the first treatment, but I think that
the best moment to choose is when he has just crossed his threshold,
with the open door behind him.

Admitting that we place him here, our first and most obvious idea would
be to make him the centre of a group, his wife clinging to his neck, his
children to his legs, his old dog licking his hand, and the ancient
retainer blubbering for joy in a corner. On second thoughts, however, it
might strike us that this treatment would be a little theatrical; it
would savor too much of the _tableau vivant_. Could not something more
true to nature (and therefore better) be devised?

Let us remember that our crusader has not been away for merely a month
or two on a foraging expedition; he has been away for years. The boy he
left has become a young man; the infant a young girl, and she, of course
does not remember him at all. Time and the sun of Palestine have also
changed _him_ greatly; his ruddy British complexion has vanished, his
hair is grizzled, his polished armor is rusty, and hardly holds

Then again his arrival is totally unexpected. He has not (as a more
modern warrior would have done) telegraphed to his wife to expect him by
the next train. All these causes tend to make it probable that on
presenting himself on his own threshold, there would be a short period
of uncertainty, of suspense, and of hope in the air, before he would be
fully recognized. With the daylight at his back, his face would be in
the shade, which would be an additional reason for his wife not rushing
into his arms at once. Her face would, of course, be in the full light,
and ought to express a yearning, eager hope. This expression would be
difficult to depict, but all emotional expressions which are not
downright sensational _are_ difficult.

It is very likely that in this, as in the other example I have given
you, I might, when I came to the actual execution of the picture, adopt
a different moment of time and a different treatment to the one which at
present seems best to me.

My object in giving you these illustrations is not so much to recommend
this or that particular mode of treatment, as to show you how you ought
to examine a subject from every point of view before committing
yourselves to one particular reading.

In the prize for design which is associated with my name, I purposely
gave a whole day (or one third of the time allowed) for the competitors
to examine the subject in all its aspects, so as not to commit
themselves hurriedly to a treatment of which they might repent when it
was too late. For finished pictures, taking three months to paint, one
third of the time would be too large a proportion to spend in making up
one’s mind about the general arrangement; but even in this case I think
that more time might often be advantageously devoted to the design and
less to the execution than is generally done.

I cannot refer to these sketches without expressing my great
satisfaction at the progress made within a very few years. Some of you
probably recollect the first competition, and will doubtless agree with
me that not only are the prize sketches greatly superior to those of the
first year or two, but the general average is also very much higher.

Now I don’t suppose that (taking the average) you are a much cleverer
set of students than your predecessors of six years ago, and therefore
the marked improvement of which I have been speaking is due entirely to
your attention having been drawn to the very important, and I may add
attractive, study of composition.

Although a great advocate for this study, I cannot say I approve of
sketching clubs as usually constituted. Experienced painters may perhaps
join them with impunity; their evening’s contribution is always a faint
echo of something they have done fifty times before, but no good can
come of any young artist cudgelling his brains to produce something
original in two hours.

I don’t think a professor of music would approve of his pupils meeting
once a fortnight to improvise something on a given subject.

The result would be a farrago of stolen melodies and borrowed passages
which could not lead to any good. He who had the best memory and the
cleverest execution would carry off the honors of the evening.

The original genius, if there happened to be one present, would be

The same kind of thing would happen in a sketching club; the thoughtful
and fastidious members would become discouraged, and perhaps give up
composition altogether.

I think that friendly artistic gatherings are not only very enjoyable
but very useful. A man who systematically keeps aloof from all his
colleagues, generally deteriorates; but the object of these gatherings
should be the interchange of ideas, and not the production of crude,
hasty sketches.

An historical or figure painter ought, in addition to his knowledge of
the human frame, to study the connection between mind and expression,
and to steer a middle course between the facial monotony of Giotto,
Orcagna, and the early masters, and the grotesque grimacing of the
Mantegna school. The works of Lebrun and Lavater on facial expression
are ridiculous and useless; indeed, nature is the only book we ought to
consult if we wish truly to depict the effects of anger, fear, love, and
all the other human passions. Instead, therefore, of extending my
observations in this direction, I will return to the proper object of my
lecture and give you a few more hints about the arrangement of a

Many artists, in designing historical or what I call historical incident
pictures, prefer oblique to parallel perspective. There are reasons for
and against this practice, and I am far from condemning oblique
perspective in every case; but I think that, speaking generally, the
simpler method is preferable. Oblique perspective has the merit of being
more picturesque and less formal; but, on the other hand, it is less
easily understood, and although perfectly correct, often gives a
figure-picture a lop-sided look.

In every picture, the horizon should be either above or below the centre
of the canvas, and not bisect it into two equal portions. This is
evident enough in landscape-painting, but the reasons for observing this
rule in figure-pictures (particularly in those where the scene is the
interior of a room, and no horizon is visible) are not so obvious.

Practically, however, it will almost always be found desirable to place
the horizon considerably below the centre.

Similarly the point of sight (which in parallel perspective would, of
course, coincide with the vanishing point) should not be in the centre
of the picture, unless, indeed, the subject happens to be one of the
severest kind.

It should be nearest to that side of the picture from which the light

Suppose the figures in a picture to be lighted from the left of the
spectator, and that the picture is hung in its proper light. You would
not stand exactly opposite the centre of the canvas to get a good view.
You would naturally place yourself a little on the side whence the light
comes. Hence it is desirable that the point of sight should also be on
that side.

Where the perspective is parallel, the eye is not at all shocked when
the point of sight is fairly out of the picture.

Indeed, in pictures which represent a small area, the effect is more
agreeable when the lines converge toward a point outside.

In the determination of all these points, as also in settling the height
of your horizon, you must allow yourselves to be guided by the nature of
your subject.

What is right in one case is wrong in another.

In a “Prometheus Bound” you might with great propriety place your
horizon below the picture altogether. Here, quite at the bottom of the
canvas, you see the peaks of high mountains; the real horizon would
therefore be a long distance below.


It would not be impossible to suggest subjects where the horizon should
be above the picture, but I have probably said enough to show that
exceptional subjects must be exceptionally dealt with.

Beginners (when they have a subject of several figures to paint) will
often find it of great assistance to make a small clay model of the
whole design, and to clothe their little figures with rags of different
shades, until they get an effect which they think will do. The figures
would be mere rough clay sketches, just enough to give an idea of the
proportions and attitudes. The rags should be wetted with clay water,
and then the folds when dry will become quite stiff, so that the figures
can be moved about without disturbing the arrangement of drapery.

This plan is particularly applicable whenever the scene of the picture
is a confined room or cell, with a strong concentrated light.

Over the board on which your little figures are standing, you put an
empty box or packing case, and you cut a hole in the side of the case,
to represent the window. If you find the light on your group too
concentrated, you can enlarge the hole, or cut a small aperture on the
opposite side, so as to diffuse the light. In lamp or fire-lit subjects,
this “maquette” method is most valuable. You admit no daylight into the
box, but you place a small lamp or night-light wherever you wish the
fire to be, and you have nothing to do but to copy the effect.

You must, of course, bore a small spy-hole at the point of sight.

In my early days in Paris, when _pictures_ were painted, and not single
figures for the market, almost every young artist had his little
puppet-show, into which he was continually peeping during the progress
of his work. Some of the pictures thus painted were badly composed, some
were clumsily executed, some were crude in color, but all had a truthful
look about them as far as light and shade were concerned.

The real shadows, the reflected light, and the half-tones were all in
their right places and of the right value.

When a man has been painting pictures for twenty or thirty years, he
knows pretty well what his effect ought to be under certain conditions.
He knows when he may venture to copy the effect of light on the model
before him, and when he must depart from it, but the beginner has no
experience to guide him, and I would strongly recommend him to try the
little clay figures. The whole group of say ten figures could be
modelled in two days. The legs of those which are to be clothed in
flowing drapery need, of course, not be indicated at all, and the
roughest approximation to nature in the attitudes is all that is
necessary, provided effect _only_ is wanted. Of course, if you wish to
study _drapery_ from your small figures, you will have to elaborate them
with greater care, and probably have to make them larger than would be
convenient for the other purpose.

Another advantage of pursuing this method is that it gives a little
practice in modelling, and I think that every figure-painter ought to be
able to give expression to his ideas in clay just as well as on canvas.
There is no necessity for his learning to work out detail in the clay;
he need never model nose, eyes, or mouth, and still less fingers and
toes, but he ought to be able to give proportion and action to a small
clay figure, just as easily as he would sketch with charcoal on a sheet
of paper.

Before I have done with my little clay figures, I think it right to
caution you against relying too implicitly on the effects of light and
shade of your miniature figures. They are intended to serve as aids, but
not as models to be servilely copied. When copied too closely, the
shades are generally too black, and there is an absence of half-tones,
which gives rather a harsh look to the picture.

An ingenious fellow-student of mine improved on the method by rigging up
a light semi-transparent canvas box instead of the wooden one. He cut
the usual opening to admit the light, and the canvas sides of the box
let in just daylight enough to take away all unnatural blackness from
the shadows. It may be asked: Why have a box at all? Why not model the
little figures, clothe them, and put them on your studio table? In the
first place, the light you require for your picture may be dissimilar to
the light of your studio; and, secondly, one of the principal advantages
of the box system is that the sides of the box represent the sides of
the hall or room of the picture, so that you see at a glance how the
shadows of the groups are cast, you see which portions of the figures
stand out dark, and which light, against the background. In short, you
get a much more complete idea of what you propose painting than you
could possibly manage in any other way.

For out-of-door subjects, where the light ought to be generally
diffused, this method is altogether inapplicable, but for any prison,
catacomb, or cloister scene, it will be found extremely useful.

In a composition of several figures, you will, after arranging your
groups, often find large portions of the ground or floor space
unoccupied. Don’t be in a hurry to fill up these spaces with unmeaning
accessories. They are sometimes most valuable, as giving rest to the
eye, and ought often to be preserved. At any rate, they ought never to
be filled up promiscuously with objects which do not assist in telling
the story.

I remember when I was a student we had a stopgap always ready in the
shape of a pot of some sort or other. If Joseph was being sold by his
brethren, and there was an awkward corner in the foreground, we would
put in a water-pot. The Egyptian merchants who bought him would be sure
to carry large pots with them. If Æneas was escaping from Troy with his
father on his back, there would certainly be a large amphora in the
corner, supposed to be too heavy for him to carry. The captive Jews
could not wail by the waters of Babylon without a whole set of pots
occupying the nooks and corners of the composition.

Now, an Oriental water-jar or an Etruscan vase may be beautiful objects
and nice things to paint, but this is no reason why they should be
invariably used as stop-gaps. In a subject like Hagar in the desert, the
empty water-bottle is an essential element in the story; or again, in
Rebecca at the well, you may paint pots to your heart’s content, but in
subjects where they are out of place it is best to refrain if you
possibly can. All stop-gaps are very objectionable; and if I mention
this particular kind, it is because it is the one usually resorted to. I
do not by any means wish to imply that you are to leave a disagreeable
vacant corner unoccupied, but whatever you put in it, whether it be some
cast-off cloak, fruit, or flowers, dog or cat, or even the irrepressible
jar, it ought not to look as if it had been purposely put there to fill
up a hole. Doubtless it _would_ be put there with that intention, but
the artifice ought not to be readily detected.

My main object to-night has been to impress upon you that in designing
figure-subjects you are not to take the first commonplace ideas which
may occur to you, but to reason your subject out, and select whatever
treatment you think most telling.

By so doing, you are on the only true high-road to originality.

There is a kind of originality, or rather eccentricity, which may be
easily enough attained by ignoring the natural laws of action, of light,
and of color; but I am speaking of originality united with excellence.
This, I am convinced, is seldom (if ever) attained by sitting idle and
waiting for some happy thought to turn up. You must use your brains
constantly, from the first charcoal sketch down to the finishing-touches
on the Exhibition walls.

Before closing this course of lectures, I should wish to disclaim any
desire of imposing my individual opinions upon any of you. Like every
one who has thought a good deal about painting and painters, I have
formed my own ideas, and have, I think, expressed them pretty freely;
but it would be quite contrary to my theory of free thought in art that
you should accept as proven all the opinions I have expressed. Art (as I
have already observed) is not a science. I cannot take up the white
chalk and prove to you by _x_ + _y_ that my views are right and all
others wrong. What would become of our friends the critics, if this
could be done?

But although all assertions on art must be mere expressions of
individual opinion, it appears to me that the professor of such a
many-sided art as painting is better employed in giving his honest
convictions (whether they coincide or not with the prevalent opinion of
the day) than in prudently confining himself to dry history or hazy


       *       *       *       *       *


     =Method of Learning to Draw from Memory.= By MADAME E. CAVE. From 4th
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=Method of Teaching Color.= By MADAME CAVE. 12mo, cloth 1 00

     ⁂ This work was referred by the French Minister of Public
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     =Methode Cave=, _pour apprendre a dessiner_ juste de mémoire d’aprés
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     =Linear Perspective.= By HENRY HODGE, of the Winchester School. 4to,
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     =Pottery: How it is Made, Its Shape and Decoration.= By GEORGE WARD
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     “Attractive, practical and suggestive. * * * We commend it most
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     “The most practical work on the subject I have seen.”--M. MORSE,
     _Prof. of Drawing, New York_.

     “Thoroughly scientific and thoroughly practical.”--SUSAN V. CARTER,
     _Prin. School of Design, Cooper Union, New York_.

     =Conversations on Art Methods.= By THOMAS COUTURE. Translated from
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     “Mr. Couture was not only an artist, but the sharpest literary
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     “The book itself is of rare value. The faithful, spirited
     translation is in such good English that it might be taken for an
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     “It is amusing to the general reader, and it is of great practical
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     familiar, so that when, as he often must, he deals with the
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     obscure.”--_Worcester Spy._

     “Very curious and suggestive are Couture’s ideas about the old
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     “A volume so characteristic, so entirely stamped with the
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     peculiar expressions, his eccentricities of manner, and almost seem
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     in the hands of every student, and many besides artists will find a
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     “M. Couture has laid bare, in these ‘Conversations,’ the whole
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     art is made clear, and the application of obvious principles is so
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     art-critic, and interesting to the general reader. It is the work
     of an artist with his pen as well as with his brush; the
     composition forming a beautiful and artistic poem rendered in the
     most rhythmical prose. We close this book with regret, it is a rare
     treat, and we feel assured no one will read it once without turning
     to it again and again.”--_Robinson’s Epitome of Literature._


     DUC. Translated by VIRGINIA CHAMPLIN. Octavo, with 130
     illustrations. 2 00

     A work full of practical suggestions, not only for the student of
     art or of decorative designing, but for students and teachers in
     other departments. The author’s theories of the art of teaching are
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     =ART SUGGESTIONS FROM THE MASTERS.= Selected from the Works of
     Artists and Writers on Art, with Reference to their Practical Value
     for Art Students. Compiled by SUSAN N. CARTER, Principal of the
     Woman’s Art School, Cooper Union. 1 25

     the French, by S. E. STEWART. With an Introduction by ROBERT SWAIN
     GIFFORD. 1 25 /

     CONTENTS: Elementary Drawing--Elementary Principles of Drawing from
     Nature--The First Principles of Painting--The Occupation of a Young
     Painter first Commencing his Art--Elements of
     Composition--Introduction to High Art--On Drawing in its most
     Beautiful Expression--The Portrait--Confession--The Times in which
     we Live--The Critic--A Review of the Schools for more than Thirty
     Years--The Golden Medium--Jean Goujon--Monsieur X--Eugene
     Delacroix--Decamps--On Painting--Titian--The Sketch--On
     Composition--Simplicity in Composition--Exaltation--Originality--A
     few Words on Antique Art--On French Art--Prudhon--The Fathers of
     their Country--My Master Gros--Is Art Superior to Nature?--Divine

     “This fascinating little book is thrice welcome. It is important to
     the practical painter, valuable to the connoisseur and cultivated
     art critic, and interesting to the general reader. It is the work
     of an artist with his pen as well as with his brush, the
     composition forming a beautiful and artistic poem rendered in the
     most rhythmical prose. We close this book with regret; it is a rare
     treat; and we feel assured no one will read it once without turning
     to it again and again.”--_Robinson’s Epitome of Literature._

     “Very curious and suggestive are Couture’s ideas about the old
     masters and the modern French painters. The great point in all this
     book is to impress on artists that they should dare, above all
     things, to be themselves.”--_New York Times._

     “A volume so characteristic, so entirely stamped with the
     individuality of the writer, that those who know him recognize his
     peculiar expressions, his eccentricities of manner, and almost seem
     to see his familiar gestures through its pages. * * * It should be
     in the hands of every student, and many besides artists will find a
     charm and a pleasure in reading it. It will take an important place
     in art literature.”--_Catholic World._

     “We heartily recommend the book to all who are seeking to cultivate
     their artistic perceptions, whether as practical artists or
     connoisseurs.”--_Christian Union._

       *       *       *       *       *




     Supt. of Woman’s Art School of Cooper Union:

     I.--=Sketching from Nature.= By THOMAS ROWBOTHAM. Reprinted from the
     thirty-eighth English edition. 27 illustrations. 16mo, boards 50

     II.--=Landscape Painting in Oil Colors.= By W. WILLIAMS. Reprinted
     from the thirty-fourth English edition. 16mo, boards 50

     III.--=Flower Painting.= By Mrs. WM. DUFFIELD. Reprinted from the
     twelfth English edition. 12 illustrations. 16mo, boards 50

     IV.--=Figure Drawing.= By C. H. WEIGALL 50

     V.--=Water-Color Painting.= By AARON PAULEY. Reprinted from the
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     VI.--=An Artistic Treatise on the Human Figure.= By HENRY WARREN.
     16mo, boards 50

     VII.--=Sketching in Water-Colors.= By HATTON 50

     VIII.--=Drawing in Black and White, Charcoal, Crayon, Pencil, and
     Pen and Ink.= By S. M. CARTER 50

     “We can, from personal knowledge, recommend them as excellent
     hand-books for amateurs.”--_Christian Union._

     “The rules and principles they lay down are safe and practical
     guides to the student.”--_N. E. Journal of Education._

     =ART SUGGESTIONS FROM THE MASTERS.= Selected from the works of
     artists and writers of art, with reference to their practical value
     for art students. Compiled by SUSAN N. CARTER, Principal of the
     Woman’s Art School, Cooper Union. 12mo, cloth extra $1 25

     “Full of good advice, and of interest and importance to students,
     artists, and lovers of art.”--_N. Y. Herald._

     “A good idea, deserving of success. The volume is made up of
     artistic and often brilliant selections.”--_Philadelphia Times._

     =CAVÉ= (E.) =Method of Learning to Draw from Memory.= From fourth
     Parisian edition. 12mo, cloth 1 00

     Mme. Cavé * * * renders invaluable service to all who have marked
     out for themselves a career of art.”--_Extract from a long review
     in the Revue des Deux Mondes, written by_ DELACROIX.

     A work full of practical suggestions, not only for the student of
     art or of decorative designing, but for students and teachers in
     other departments. The author’s theories of the art of teaching are
     both original and practical.

     “It is a valuable, carefully-prepared work, full of practical hints
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     special field of work.”--_Chicago Tribune._

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     with vitrifiable and common oil color; with a full bibliography of
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     boards 1 25

     “Attractive, practical, and suggestive. * * * We commend it most
     heartily to all who take any interest in the subject of
     pottery.”--_Boston Traveller._

     =PELLEGRIN= (V., M.S.A., Professor at the Military School of St.
     Cyr.) =Perspective=. The Theory and Practice of Linear Perspective,
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     Artists, Art Students, etc. 12mo, with chart 1 00

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     VINTON, _School of Mines, Columbia College_.

     “Comprehensive, and contains all that the student
     requires.”--VIRGINIA GRANBERY, _Prof. of Drawing, Packer Institute,

     “The most practical work on the subject I have seen.”--M. MORSE,
     _Prof. of Drawing, New York_.

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     “Thoroughly scientific and thoroughly practical.”--SUSAN N. CARTER,
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     Part II, in press.

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    ---- In Advanced Series. Text 12mo, plates. 4to. In preparation.
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     =TREADWELL= (John H.) =Pottery and Porcelain=. A Manual for Amateurs.
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     “A highly creditable and most useful addition to American art
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 [1] For the reason stated in my preface, I have not thought it
 expedient to publish my lectures on the great masters of the
 fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.

 [2] These uncouth attitudes are faithful reproductions of Nos. 1 and 7
 of the instantaneous photographic series.

 [3] The old masters used terra verte for this preparatory modelling;
 but modern terra verte will not withstand the action of the lime,
 so it is necessary to compound a substitute, and the above mixture
 answers very well.

 [4] Taken from the “Acouchement de la Reine” (one of the “Medici”
 series) by Rubens.

 [5] All these diagrams illustrate a faulty arrangement.

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