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Title: A Child's Guide to Pictures
Author: Caffin, Charles H.
Language: English
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                          A CHILD’S GUIDE TO
                               PICTURES

                            [Illustration:

           _Copyright, 1906, by Detroit Publishing Company._

                 View on the Seine. _Homer D. Martin._

               (_Also called “The Harp of the Winds.”_)
                                   ]



                          A CHILD’S GUIDE TO
                               PICTURES

                                  BY
                           CHARLES H. CAFFIN
                   AUTHOR OF “HOW TO STUDY PICTURES”

                               NEW YORK
                      THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY
                                 1908


                          COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY
                      THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY

                         Published, July, 1908

                       THE TROW PRESS, NEW YORK



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

    I. THE FEELING FOR BEAUTY                                         11

   II. ART AND HER TWIN SISTER, NATURE                                21

  III. NATURE IS HAPHAZARD; ART IS ARRANGEMENT                        30

   IV. CONTRAST                                                       40

    V. GEOMETRIC COMPOSITION                                          55

   VI. GEOMETRIC COMPOSITION (_Continued_)                            63

  VII. THE ACTION, MOVEMENT, AND COMPOSITION OF THE FIGURE            75

 VIII. THE CLASSIC LANDSCAPE                                          83

   IX. NATURALISTIC COMPOSITION                                       95

    X. NATURALISTIC COMPOSITION (_Continued_)                        106

   XI. THE NATURALISTIC LANDSCAPE                                    117

  XII. FORM AND COLOR                                                129

 XIII. COLOR                                                         144

  XIV. COLOR--VALUES--SUBTLETY                                       160

   XV. COLOR--TEXTURE, ATMOSPHERE, TONE                              180

  XVI. COLOR--TONE                                                   204

 XVII. BRUSH-WORK AND DRAWING                                        219

XVIII. SUBJECT, MOTIVE, AND POINT OF VIEW                            230



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                  FACING
                                                                    PAGE

View on the Seine                    _Homer D. Martin_     _Frontispiece_

La Disputá del Sacramento            _Raphael_                        56

Jurisprudence                        _Raphael_                        66

The Manitou Lunette                  _E. H. Blashfield_               86

Dido Building Carthage               _J. M. W. Turner_                92

The Sower                            _J. F. Millet_                  100

Young Woman Opening a Window         _J. Vermeer_                    108

Crossing the Brook                   _J. M. W. Turner_               118

Paysage                              _J. B. C. Corot_                128

Washington Crossing the Delaware     _E. Leutze_                     140

Prince Balthazar Carlos              _Velasquez_                     168

The Little White Girl                _J. M. Whistler_                176

The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine _Correggio_                     192

Light and Shade                      _George Inness_                 202

Evening                              _Anton Mauve_                   246



A CHILD’S GUIDE TO PICTURES



CHAPTER I

THE FEELING FOR BEAUTY


Some of you, I expect, collect photographs of pictures in connection
with your history studies. These portraits of the principal characters
and pictures, illustrating great events, places, costumes, and modes of
living of the period, add greatly to the interest of your reading. They
bring the past time vividly before your eyes.

But it is not this view of pictures that we are going to talk about in
the present book. I shall have very little to say about the subjects of
pictures--partly because you can find out for yourselves what subjects
interest you; but mostly, because the subject of a picture has so very
little to do with its beauty as a work of art. For it is this view of a
picture, as being a work of art, that I shall try to keep before you.

I remember seeing the photograph of a picture hanging in a place of
honor on the wall of a girl’s room; and I asked her why she had chosen
this particular one out of many that she had. You see that, in order to
help anyone, you have to try to get into their minds, and find out how
their minds are working; and as much of my work is with girls and boys,
I try to get from them hints as to the best way of helping them. Well,
this girl, let me tell you, bubbled over with life and fun, swam like a
fish and climbed trees like a squirrel; but she had her thoughtful
moods, when, as often as not, she would lay out her collection of
photographs of pictures on the floor, and not only look at them, but
think about them. And I have no doubt that she was in one of those
moods, when she chose out this particular print and hung it on her wall,
in order that she might see it often.

So I asked her why she had chosen it, and she said: “Because I liked
it.” I asked her why? “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. Now that is just the
sort of girl or boy for whom I am writing this book. Not that I think
that girl would have liked her picture any better for knowing why she
liked it. Then, “What is the good,” you ask, “of writing a book to help
her to know?” A very shrewd question and quite to the point. Let me try
to answer it.

When the girl said she did not know why she liked the picture, I think
she meant that she could not put into words what she felt. It was the
feeling with which the picture filled her that made her like it. I could
understand what she meant, because I remembered an experience of my own.
The first time that I saw Raphael’s _Disputá_, which decorates a wall in
one of the rooms of the Vatican in Rome, I had set out with my
guidebook, intending to study all the paintings by Raphael that
decorate these rooms. I entered the first room and, I suppose, looked
round the walls and saw three other paintings; but all I recall during
this visit was the _Disputá_. I sat down before it and remained seated!
I do not know how long, but the morning slipped away. What I thought
about as I looked at the picture I cannot tell you. My impression is
that I did not think at all; I only felt. My spirit was lifted up and
purified and strengthened with happiness. Returning to my hotel, I read
about the picture in the guidebook. It appeared that one of the figures
represented Dante. I had not noticed it, and as I read on I found out
other things that I had missed; that, indeed, the whole subject, so far
as it could be put into words, had escaped me. I had no knowledge of
what the painting was about; only I had felt its beauty.

Since then I have studied the picture and discovered some of the means
that Raphael employed to arouse this depth of feeling, and the knowledge
has helped me to find beauty in other things.

So, to go back to my girl friend, I would not disturb the beauty of her
feeling with teachy-teachy talk, any more than I would talk while
beautiful music was being played. But, suppose in a simple way I could
make her understand that I, too, felt the beauty of the picture; and, as
I have learned a little how to express feeling in words, should try to
tell her how I felt the beauty. Might it not add to her pleasure, if she
discovered that I was putting into words some of the feeling that she
herself had, and perhaps suggesting other beauties that she had not
felt?

Well, that is what I hope to do for you in this book, to put some ideas
into your head, that will lead you to look for and find more and more
beauty in pictures and in nature and in life. Ideas, mark you, not
words. We shall have to use words, but words are of no account, unless
they make you feel the idea contained in them.

I say feel; and you will notice I have used these words, feel and
feeling, several times already. I have done so because I want to impress
upon you that the enjoyment of beauty, whether in pictures or any other
form, comes to us through feeling. It may lead to thinking, and perhaps
should, but it does not begin with thinking or reasoning, as does, for
example, algebra or geometry. Nor can we, as we say, “get it down fine,”
in the way we do with the Latin declensions. When you have learned them
thoroughly, you know them once and for all, and you know about them just
what every other girl and boy who has learned them knows. With feeling
it is otherwise. What _you_ feel is different to what _I_ feel; we can
never feel alike. No two people can. So I am not going to tell you what
you ought to feel about pictures; nor am I going to try and persuade you
to like one and not like another. Therefore, this book would not be much
help to you in passing an examination about pictures, if anything so
foolish could be supposed. But I hope it may start your imagination off
in a great many new directions, and help you to discover more and more
of beauty not only in pictures, but in life.

For we should study pictures not solely for their own sake, but also as
a means of making our lives fuller and better. If you ask me what is the
most beautiful thing in the world, I shall not say art, although I am
writing about pictures--but life--its fullness of possibility and
abundance of opportunity. Especially young life; the lives of you girls
and boys, who, as yet, have so few mistakes to regret, so much to look
forward to of promise and fulfillment. What you will make of those lives
of yours may depend a little upon schools and teachers, parents and
friends, money and health, and many other things, but most of all upon
your own wills. I wonder if you have read the life of Robert Louis
Stevenson?

He had only such education as many other boys of his time had, little or
no money, and very poor health. But what a deal he made of his own life
and how he helped the lives of others! What a fellow he was for fun, and
how he loved wisdom; a great worker and a greatly conscientious one; not
satisfied unless his work was the very best that he could make it. And
the reason was that he loved beauty as well as wisdom; and in his life
and writings, because in his own inward thoughts wisdom and beauty went
hand in hand. I know of no better example of the full life; of a life
made the most of, in the best and truest sense, with gladness and
strength for itself and for the lives of others. While his body sleeps
on an island mountain, overlooking the vast beauty of sky and ocean, his
spirit stays with us.

The secret of the fullness of Stevenson’s life was that, so far as in
him lay, he left no portion of the garden of his life uncultivated.
There were no waste places, every part was fruitful. He did the best
that he could for his poor, weak body; kept his intellect bright with
learning, his fun alert with hope, his friendships warm with sympathy;
and kept his life and work sweetened and purified and strengthened by
the love of beauty. He was in a high sense in love with life--his own
life, the lives of others, and life in art and nature, and the abundant
harvest of his garden is the love that countless men and women and
children bore him and still maintain.

Such fullness of life is rare. Boys and girls, and for that matter men
and women, cultivate some part of themselves, and let the rest go to
waste. And the part which is most apt to be overlooked is the sense of
beauty. We train our bodies and our minds, but neglect those five
senses, which are just as much a part of us. It is true that men train
their senses for the practical purposes of business: the watchmaker, for
instance, his delicacy of touch; the tea producer, his senses of taste
and smell; the mariner, his senses of sight and sound. But business,
though necessary, is not everything. We do not confine the exercise of
our bodies and minds to work and business, but use them also for
enjoyment, and train them for this purpose. Do we not learn to swim,
play ball and tennis, and practice other bodily exercises for the pure
enjoyment of them? Or in our leisure moments busy our brains with study
of bees, machinery, history, all kinds of difficult subjects not as
work, but as a relief from work? We call them our “hobbies,” and indulge
them for pleasure, and find that the pleasure improves our health and
spirits, and in the end even makes us do our necessary work better, and
so find more pleasure in that also. For it is in what we know best and
can do best that we really take most pleasure. And though life cannot be
all pleasure, yet pleasure, rightly understood, should be one of the
chief aims of life. And one of the chief sources of pleasure is to be
found in the beauty that reaches our minds through the senses,
especially through the senses of sight and sound.

Let me illustrate in a simple way how one child will gain pleasure from
her senses while another doesn’t. Both have their five senses in working
order--smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound--and have been in the woods
gathering flowers. They reach home. One throws her handful down on a
sofa, table, or chair, or the nearest bit of furniture, and goes off to
do something, or it may be nothing, leaving the flowers to wither and
become an untidiness. What made her gather them? Perhaps, because she is
full of health and had to run about and do something; perhaps, because
she has not quite gotten over the fondness that most of us had, as
babies, for breaking and tearing things. It amused her to break the big
stems and tear off the vines or pull up the little plants. Or possibly
she was really attracted by the beauty of the flowers, but soon tired of
them, and went off to other things.

Not so, however, with her companion. She spreads a paper on the table,
lays out her flowers, brings one or two vases, and settles down to the
pleasure of arranging them. She picks up a flower, and while she waits
to decide in which vase it shall be put, see how delicately she handles
it! You can tell in a moment she has a feeling of love and tenderness
toward the flower. She puts it in a vase, and then her eye travels over
the other flowers to decide which shall bear it company. What color,
what form of flower will match best the first one? And while she is
making the choice almost unconsciously she sniffs the fragrance of that
spray of honeysuckle. Well, she lingers so long over the pleasure of
arranging her flowers that we have not time to stay and watch the whole
proceeding; but presently, when we come back, we find the vases filled
and set about the room where they will look their best; this one in the
dark corner with the wall behind it; another on the window sill, so that
the light may shine through the petals of the flowers. And we think to
ourselves what taste the girl has! For (have you ever thought of it?) we
use the word taste, which originally described only the sense of tasting
things with the tongue, in order to sum up a finer use of the senses of
sight and sound.

And this finer use of the senses, such as Stevenson cultivated, so that
his life and works are beautiful as well as wise and good, we too may
cultivate, and it is the object of this book to help us do it. I call it
a guide to pictures, but I want to make it much more than that--a guide
for the wonderful organs, your senses, that they may grow more and more
to feel the beauty that is all about us in nature and in life, as well
as in pictures and other works of art. So beauty is really our subject,
beauty in nature and in art. The two are separate, though united as twin
sisters.

As I write, many of you are enjoying your summer vacations, face to face
with nature. The health of the mountains or the sea is in your blood;
your bodies know the joy of active movement; your minds are filled with
the interest of new scenes and adventures, of sports and fun with
friends. But every once in a while I think it likely that your happiness
is increased by something beautiful you have seen in nature. Perhaps
even now, as you read these words, there comes to you the memory of some
sunset, or moonlight on the water, of early morning mist creeping among
the tree tops, or I know not what of nature’s beauty, suddenly revealed
to you because you were in the mood to receive it.

You were in the company of a friend, and you drew your arm closer
through his or hers, and both were the happier for the beauty that was
before you and had entered into your hearts. Or perhaps you were alone,
and the eagerness came over you to make some record of your joy--in a
letter to a friend or in some poem for no eyes but your own. You felt
the need to give utterance to your joy in nature’s beauty. You had in
you a little of the desire that stirs the artist.

And this brings us to the other kind of beauty, which is not of nature,
though it is of nature’s prompting--the beauty created by the artist. We
are going to study the work of artists who create beauty in pictures.
But do not make the mistake some people do, of thinking that it is only
painters who are artists. An artist is one who fits some beautiful
conception with some beautiful form of expression. His form of
expression, or as we say, his art, may be sculpture, painting, or
architecture; or some handicraft, as of metal or porcelain or
embroidery; or it may be music, the composing of music or the rendering
of it by instrument or voice; it may be acting or some forms of dancing;
it may be poetry or even prose. The artist, in a word, is one who not
only takes beauty into his own soul, but has the gift of art that
enables him to communicate the beauty to others by giving it a form or
body. If he be a musician, he gives it a form of sound; if a painter, a
form visible to the eye. It is his power of creating a form for the
beauty which he feels that makes him an artist. And in its various
forms--poetry, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and the
rest--art is man’s highest expression of his reverence for and joy in
beauty.



CHAPTER II

ART AND HER TWIN SISTER, NATURE

_A Work of Art is Distinguished by Selection_


In the previous chapter we talked about beauty, and noted that there
were two kinds--beauty in nature and beauty in art. Let us now look a
little more closely into this distinction, so that we may grasp the idea
of what a work of art is.

Since what the painter puts onto his canvas is visible to the eye, it
will generally represent or suggest some form in nature. So the painter
is a student of nature. But not in the same way as the botanist who
studies the forms of trees and plants which grow above the ground, or
the geologist who explores the secrets of the earth below the ground.
These we call scientists or scientific students, because the object of
their study is exact knowledge of nature. They address themselves
directly to our _intellects_ and teach us to _know_ the _facts_ of
nature accurately; but the painter appeals first to our _sense of sight_
and helps us to _feel_ more deeply the _beauty_ of the visible world.

Unless we thoroughly grasp this difference we shall never properly
understand what painters try to do, nor be able properly to enjoy their
pictures. So here, at the beginning of our talks together, let us look
into this difference.

We have said that the painter represents or suggests some form in
nature. Sometimes he represents the actual appearance of nature, as when
he paints a portrait or a landscape. At other times he suggests the
possible appearance of things, which he has never seen but only
imagines, as the old Italian painters did when they made pictures of St.
George, killing the dragon, or of Christ in the manger, with a choir of
angels hovering above. They had never seen a dragon, but from their
study of the lizard, which in hot countries like Italy may constantly be
seen basking on the hot rocks or darting away at your approach, they
imagined a form and painted it so that it suggests an actual creature.
So, for their angels, they studied the forms and movement of children,
as they ran and played, with hair and skirts streaming in the wind; also
the wings and the flight of birds, and the appearance of the sky. Nature
was, as it still remains, the artist’s teacher. Just in what way he
learns of her and uses her lessons, I am going to try and show you. But
first let me remind you that nature and art, though so close together
that I have called them twin sisters, are quite separate. I do so
because many people confuse them together. Frequently you will hear a
person say of some view of nature that it is “beautiful as a picture.”
Well, very likely it is, but as we shall see, not in the same way. Or
some one will exclaim, as he stands in front of a picture, “It looks
like nature.” So it does; and yet it is not really like nature. Why
both these remarks are in a small way true, but in the big sense not
true, we shall discover, I hope, presently. Meanwhile, suppose we lay
the book aside and look out of the window.

Are you living in the country or city? In either case you are looking
out at nature, as the painter understands the word. For, while we who
are not painters, when we talk of nature, have in mind the earth and sky
and water, and the living things that move therein, as beasts, birds,
and fishes, and the forms that live but do not move, trees and flowers
and seaweed, for example, and also the chief of living and moving
creatures--man; the painter uses the word nature in a wider sense. With
him it means everything outside himself, so that it includes things made
by man: streets, buildings, chairs, and tables--the thousand and one
objects that man’s brain and handiwork have fashioned out of the
materials of nature.

But you are waiting at the window, looking out, perhaps, upon a
street--a row of buildings, many people on the sidewalks, carriages and
carts, passing before your eyes; or else into the garden of your country
home, with its trees and shrubs and flowers, and possibly a view of
fields and hills and woods. In each case the woodwork of the window
frames in the view. Move slowly backward and you will notice that the
view grows smaller and smaller; advance again and the view spreads out
farther and farther; step to the left and some of the view on that side
disappears, but you will see more toward the other side. Imagine for a
moment that the woodwork of the window is a picture frame and you are
deciding how much of the outside view you will include in the picture.
If you own a kodak and are in the habit of taking pictures, you move the
camera or your position until the image in the “finder” seems to be
about what you wish to photograph. Whether you thus use the “finder” or
the window frame, you are selecting a bit of nature for a picture.

This should make clear to you one of the differences between nature and
art. Nature extends in every direction all round the artist, an unending
panorama from which he _selects_ some little portion to form the subject
of his work of art. But he carries his selection still farther, for even
in the part of nature that he has selected there is so much more than he
could ever put into his picture. Take another look out of the window.
What a mass of details the whole presents! And, if we fix our eye on any
one of its parts, it also is made up of a number of details. It would be
impossible for the artist to paint them all. And so, also, if your view
from the window is a country scene and you look at one object, that elm,
for example. Do you think it would be possible for an artist to paint
all the scales of the bark, all the spreading limbs, much less all the
little branches and twigs and the countless leaves?

As the artist cannot possibly paint everything, he must choose or select
what he will leave out and what he will put in. Once more, the
characteristic of art is _selection_, while that of nature is
abundance. We talk of nature’s prodigality; we say that she is prodigal
of her resources, flinging them around as a prodigal or wasteful man
flings around his money. You know, for example, how the dandelion
scatters its seeds broadcast over the lawn; how the daisies spread over
the fields until the farmer calls them the “white weed”; how the woods
become choked with undergrowth and the trees overhead crowd one another
with their tangle of branches. The lawns and fields must be continually
weeded; the woods cleared and thinned. Man, in fact, when he brings
nature under the work of his hand, is continually selecting what he
shall weed out and what he shall let remain. And so the artist with the
work of _his_ hand--his work of art.

Suppose we make believe that we are watching an artist as he begins his
work of selection. The one over there, sitting under a big, white
umbrella with his easel in front of him, will serve our turn. If he will
let us look over his shoulder, we shall see that with a few strokes of
charcoal upon his canvas he has already selected how much of the wide
view in front of him he will include in his picture. It finishes, you
see, on the right with a bit of that row of trees that stand against the
sky, and on the left with that small bush, so that in between is a
little bit of the winding road, with a meadow beyond dotted with cows.
He has squeezed some of the paint from the tubes on to his palette, and
takes up his brushes. Now watch him “lay in,” as he would say, “the
local colors”; that is to say, the general color of each locality or
part of the scene.

The general color of the sky is a faint blue; of the trees on the right,
a grayish green; of the bush on the left, a deeper green; of the meadow,
a yellowish green, while that of the road is a pinkish brown, for the
soil of this part of the country, we will suppose, is red clay. All
these local colors he lays in, covering each part with a flat layer of
paint so that his canvas now presents a pattern of colored spaces. Yet
already it begins to “look like something.” We can see, as it were, the
ground plan, on which the artist is going to build up his picture. But
now he must stop, for his paints are mixed with oils and take some time
to dry, and he cannot work over the paint while it is sticky.

A few days later we pay him another visit. He has been busy in our
absence; the picture looks to us to be finished, and we begin to compare
it with the natural scene in front of us. In nature those trees on the
right stand so sharply against the sky that we can count their branches.
Evidently the artist hasn’t, for in his picture he has left out a great
many of them; indeed, he has put in only a few of the more prominent
ones. See, too, how he has painted the trees; he hasn’t put in a single
leaf. Instead he has represented the foliage in masses, lighter in some
parts where the sun strikes, darker in the shadows. When we compare his
trees with the real ones, they are not a bit the same, and yet the
painted ones look all right; we can see at once that they are maples
and in a general way very like the real ones.

The artist hears us talking, and he says: “My business, you see, is not
to make real trees; that’s nature’s business; I’m a maker of pictures,
and in them I only _suggest_ that the trees are real. I try to make you
feel that these are maple trees”--and he points to that part of the
picture with his brush--“and I hope also to make you feel their beauty.
I don’t give you an imitation of nature, but a suggestion of nature’s
truth.

“Now see,” he says, “how I have painted those cows: just a few dabs of
brownish red and black and white, showing against the green of the
grass. Do they suggest cows to you?” “Yes,” we say in chorus.

“Well, I hope they do,” he replies, “and that you don’t say ‘yes’ merely
to please me. But if you had never seen a cow would you know from these
dabs what a cow is really like?

“I am sure you wouldn’t,” he goes on without waiting for an answer; “and
if the farmer gave me a commission to paint his favorite prize cow, I am
sure he wouldn’t be satisfied with these dabs. And I should not blame
him. No, in that case I should place the cow where I could study it
closely: the long, straight line of the back, the big angle of the hips,
the strong-ribbed carcass, and its covering of glossy hair, the mild
liquid eyes, and damp nose. These and a great deal more I should paint,
if I were near the cow. But look at those cows over yonder. They are a
long way off, and consequently look very small. I can’t see in them the
different points that I know a cow has; to my eyes from where I sit they
look as I have painted them. For an artist does not paint what he
_knows_ to be _there_, but what he can _see_ from _here_.

“Look,” he continues, picking up a tiny pointed brush. “See what
happens, when I paint what I know to be there!” And with quick, deft
strokes he proceeds to sharpen the lines of the back of one of his cows
in the picture, and give her four very decided legs; to hang a tail; and
give her horns; and titivate the head, put in an eye and make the tongue
curl round the muzzle.

“Why, it looks like a toy cow!” we exclaim. And so it does.

And now, instead of intruding any longer on our artist friend’s time,
let us see where our visit to him has brought us.

We have noted that one difference between nature and art is, that nature
is inexhaustible in her effects, and that an artist selects from her
only some little part to make his work of art. Secondly, that he does
not paint the whole of what he has selected, but out of it again selects
certain parts; sufficient not to imitate the original, but to suggest
its appearance. Thirdly, that natural truth is not the same as artistic
truth; that while the scientific man studies one thing at a time so that
he may know what is there, the artist tries to obtain an impression of
the whole scene, and paints each part of it, not as he knows it to be,
but as he can see it from his fixed position.

By this time you can better understand that to say of nature “It is as
beautiful as a picture,” is a loose way of talking. Nature is beautiful
in the endless variety of its effects; a picture, for the one or two
effects, choicely selected by the artist. And to say of a picture that
it looks like nature is equally inaccurate, for the artist does not
imitate nature but suggests it, which, as we have seen, is a very
different thing.

However, I should tell you, that some painters do imitate nature. I have
seen a picture in which the painter had represented a five-dollar bill,
pinned on a board, and so accurately had he imitated the bill and the
board that, until you were close to them and passed your hand over the
flat canvas, you would not know it was a picture. And there is a story
told of a Greek painter, Zeuxis, that he once imitated a bunch of grapes
so exactly, that the birds flew down and pecked at it.

But, although it is a fact that a great many people think this exact
imitation of nature a very fine thing, they do so because they have not
seen many pictures or found out what a work of art really is. I am
inclined to think that, by the time you have finished this book, if not
sooner, you will look upon such examples of skill and patience as labor
in vain, so far as art is concerned.

It is all very well for the _conjurer_ to boast that the quickness of
his hand deceives your eye. But the aim of the artist is not deception.



CHAPTER III

NATURE IS HAPHAZARD: ART IS ARRANGEMENT


We have seen that the characteristic of nature is abundance, while that
of art is selection. Now let us note another difference between the
two--nature is haphazard, art is arrangement.

I do not forget that nature works by laws; that the workings of nature
are not accidental, but the result of certain causes which produce
certain effects; so that the operations of nature produce an endless
chain of cause and effect. Thus in the fall, because the sap flows
downward in the tree, the fiber of the leaf’s stalk is gradually
weakened, until the leaf by degrees loses its hold on the branch, and,
because everything obeys the law of gravitation, falls to the ground.
But where will it fall? That may depend upon the force and direction of
the wind. It may happen that the wind is from the north or from the
west; that its breath is soft, or that it blows a gale. I say it “may
happen” so or so; for this is our habit of speech. When we don’t
understand the cause from which an effect springs, we use the word
“happen,” as if the affair were an accident or chance.

But a scientific man would say that such words as “accident” and
“chance” are inaccurate, and would tell us why the wind was blowing from
a certain direction at a certain moment, and tell us why it was soft or
fierce. And yet, why should the tiny leaf have been ready to let go just
at the moment when the breeze came? Upon what particular spot will the
dandelion seed, after floating far in the air, alight? We may believe
that the moment and the place are controlled by one Great Mind to whom
everything is plain. But to our finite minds, whose capacity to
understand is limited, such things are not plain. They seem to us like
chance, and their results appear to our eyes haphazard.

Compare, for example, the appearance of nature with that of a well-kept
garden. The latter has straight paths, intersecting one another; trim
borders with rows of lettuces and radishes; separate plots, reserved for
peas, corn, spinach, potatoes, and other crops. Even the straggling
vines of the cucumbers are kept within certain bounds. Everywhere is an
appearance of order and arrangement, beside which the tangle of growth
in the woods, or even the dotting of trees on the hillside, seems
haphazard. Or look out into the street, which, as you remember, in the
painter’s sense of the word is a part of nature. The city authorities
have laid out the lines of the street, but the buildings vary in size
and style; each one according to what happened to be the need and the
taste of the man who built it. And the appearance of the sidewalk and
roadway will vary from day to day and hour to hour, according to what
may be the number and the character of the people and of the vehicles,
as they happen to move or stand still. Compared with that garden, the
appearance of the street is haphazard.

Compare two parlors. One is a medley of furniture and bric-a-brac, of
all sorts of sizes and shapes and colors, picked up at auction sales, or
in the shops, each because it happened to be a bargain or to strike a
moment’s whim, and then set in the parlor where there happened to be
room for it. The other parlor, on the contrary, shows signs of order and
arrangement. There are fewer objects in it, and they have been carefully
chosen and arranged for the double purpose of making the room
comfortable and agreeable to the eye. It is an illustration of good
taste in _selection_ and _arrangement_.

The haphazard of nature we enjoy. But the confusion of the parlor
distresses us, if we have any sense of selection and arrangement. This
sense the artist possesses in a marked degree, and on it he bases the
making of his picture.

We have already noticed how he selects, but may have to mention it again
in describing how he arranges, since the two acts are mixed up together,
as when you select some flowers and then arrange them in a vase.

When we first made the acquaintance of the artist in the previous
chapter, he had already, you will remember, “roughed in” with his
charcoal the objects he was going to paint. We were so interested in
what he had selected, that we paid little attention to the arrangement
of the objects. It is this that we are now going to study.

His canvas is on the easel, its bare white surface inclosed within the
four sides. He is going to fill this space, not only for the purpose of
suggesting to us the appearance of the scene he has selected, but in
such a way that the actual arrangement of the objects--the pattern which
they make upon the canvas--shall give us pleasure. This he calls his
composition. The word, as you know, if you have studied Latin, means
simply “putting”, or “placing together.” But, as the artist uses it, it
always means that the placing together shall produce an effect that is
_pleasing to the eye_. It is only when it does, that the result can
properly be called a work of art. For you will recall what we said in
the first chapter, that the artist is one who fits his conception with a
beautiful form. And this form is his composition.

Now, before we go any farther with the artist’s method of composition,
let me invite you to do a little composing on your own account. That
wall in your special room or den where you hang your favorite
photographs--how is it arranged? Are the photographs pinned up
higgledy-piggledy, so as to crowd as many as possible on the wall? Is
your only idea just to hang them up where you can see them? Or have you
placed them together in such a way that their actual arrangement, as
they spot the open space of your wall, is agreeable to your eye? For, in
a way, your wall, before you hung the photographs, was like the bare
canvas of the artist. The four edges inclosed it; the space is yours to
do with it what you wish.

Suppose, now, that you are starting with the wall bare. Your family has
moved into a new house, or the old one is being repaired. There is your
plaster wall, as white as the artist’s canvas. You are allowed to decide
what shall be done with it. What will _you_ do with it?

Oh! you are going to choose a paper. Well, what shall it be? Yes,
pretty, of course. But pretty by itself, or when your pictures are hung?
For, if you choose a paper with a large pattern of many bright colors,
it may interfere with the effect of the pictures. You don’t wish to do
this? Then it will be well to choose a paper that is not too prominent;
one that has a small pattern, or none at all, only a single tint. Some
people prefer a neutral tint; one, that is to say, which is neither one
thing nor the other; not very green, or blue, or red, or yellow, but
rather so; some color that is difficult to define. For, because this
paper does not attract particular attention, it allows the photographs,
hung upon it, to show up more prominently.

However, the papering is your affair, and you have made your selection.
At last the workmen, their ladders, their paste pots, and shavings are
cleared out of the room and you can begin to arrange it. You have placed
the furniture where it best fits in, looks best, and seems most
comfortable, and now you turn your attention to each of the four walls.
Once more, is the placing of the photographs to be higgledy-piggledy,
“any-old-how,” just to show them, or are you going to arrange them
carefully, so as to make each wall a pleasing composition?

We will suppose you decide upon the latter plan. How will you proceed? I
can imagine you choosing one of two ways.

Either you will select your biggest picture, or the one you prize most,
and place it in the middle of the wall, and then place the others on
each side of it, so as to balance one another. Or, you will feel that
such an arrangement would be too stiff and formal, too obviously
balanced, and will sprinkle the pictures over the wall space, so that
their arrangement is irregular and looks as if it were accidental, and
yet seems balanced. For, if you are trying to arrange your pictures in
the way in which they seem to you to look best, consciously or
unconsciously you are working to secure a balance.

Yes, one of the principles of artistic composition is balance. Like all
the principles, adapted by artists, it is founded on an instinct of
human nature. Have you ever noticed that when a man carries a bucket of
water, he holds the free arm away from his body? He does it by instinct,
to offset the drag of the bucket on his other arm and to balance his
body. Have you ever walked upon the steel rail of a railroad track? Most
of us have, I imagine. We tread pretty firmly for a little while, and
then we totter. Out go our arms immediately to restore our balance. We
walk up and down the deck of an ocean liner, when the sea is rough, and
slope our bodies to the movement of the vessel. Why? To keep our
balance. If we lose it we are hurled across the deck in a very
undignified fashion. On the contrary, what a beautiful spectacle is
presented when a good skater balances backward and forward; perhaps an
even more beautiful one, when a good dancer who feels the joy of
movement sways to the rhythm of the music.

So, to maintain a balance is an instinct of human nature; to lose it
produces ugly results; while beautiful ones may be secured from it,
especially if the balance is rhythmic.

Another principle, then, of artistic composition is rhythm, and this,
too, is founded on an instinct of human nature. Let us see what rhythm
is. A small boy has found an old pot, catches up a stick, and begins to
belabor the pot and make himself a nuisance. By and by he gets tired of
his own noise, imagines his pot a drum, and hits it with rhythmic
strokes, one following the other in measured beats. Watch how his legs
begin to move to the time of the strokes, and how the other youngsters
fall in behind him. Left, right, left, right, on they march; their legs
and shoulders swinging to the rhythmic beat. I wonder if they know they
are following an instinct, pretty nearly as old as humanity. Probably
they don’t, and wouldn’t care if they did. All they know is that they
are having a good time. That’s just it! And they are having the same
sort of good time that the primitive man gave his friends, when he first
hit on the idea of clapping his hands together in rhythm. Later on he
found he could get more stirring effects and save his hands by rhythmic
hammering of one piece of wood upon another. Then came along a primitive
Edison who perfected the principle and put tom-toms on the market. And
so, in time, music came to be invented. For the basis of music and of
the pleasure that is received from it is its measured beat or rhythm.

It is, however, not only from the actual measured beat, appealing to our
ear, that we gain pleasure, but also from the suggestion of rhythm to
our sense of sight.

A man stone deaf can enjoy watching a dance. He has never heard a sound
in his life, but his sense of sight is stirred to pleasure by the
spectacle of measured repetition of the movements. Similarly, the
measured repetitions of stationary objects gives us pleasure,--the
measured repetition, for example, presented by the West Point cadets, as
they suddenly halt, either in close formation or in open ranks. “How
beautiful!” we exclaim. And it is because the Athenians realized the
beauty of measured repetition and the pleasure that it gives to the
sense of sight, that they surrounded their great temple, the
_Parthenon_, with ranks of columns, arranged at equal distance from one
another. For, though they may have learned the beauty of repetition from
studying the tree stems in the woods, yet, when they built their work of
art, they avoided the haphazard of nature, and introduced order and
arrangement by making the repetitions measured.

Behind the columns, however, high up on the outside of the temple wall
they set a frieze or band of figures. It extended clear around the
temple, representing a procession of people on their way to the great
festival of the goddess Athene. The remains are now in the British
Museum; but, doubtless, you have seen casts of portions of it, and will
recall some in which young men are riding, the head of each horse
overlapping the body of the one in front of it. There is here no longer
an actual measured repetition, as in the case of the columns. The bodies
are not separated by exact intervals, nor do they repeat the same forms.
The youths differ, so do the horses, and the actions of the forms are
dissimilar. And yet the arching of the horses’ necks, the prancing of
the forelegs, and the bodies of the youths swaying to the movement of
the horses are so arranged, that there is no break or interruption or
confusion, but the whole _seems_ to flow up and down regularly. There
are no actual, measured intervals or actual repetitions, yet the feeling
of both is suggested. The arrangement of the forms is rhythmic, in that
it _suggests_ rhythm. And the principle of this also the Greeks found in
nature, as you may, if you watch the waves rolling shoreward.

But all this while the artist’s canvas is standing white and bare upon
the easel, and must continue to stand. For, when he gets to work, I want
you, not only to see what he does, but feel the meaning of his
intention. And we can best enter into another person’s feeling, if we
have experienced something of his feeling in ourselves. So, I have
rummaged among our own experiences, in order to make you feel how much
we have in common with the artist. He and ourselves are creatures of
like nature, with similar senses, similar sources of pleasure and pain,
and similar instincts leading us to do and to like similar things. Only
the artist has keener senses, and has cultivated his instincts and study
of nature, and has drawn from them certain practical hints to help him
create his work of art.

Among the instincts that we share with him are, as I have tried to
show--first, an instinctive preference for order and arrangement;
secondly, the need of balance and the pleasure we receive from it;
thirdly, the increased pleasure we derive from balance, when it is
accompanied with rhythmic repetitions. These are the principles on which
he relies when he makes his composition. For let me repeat, and not for
the last time, that the purpose of his composition is not only to
suggest some scene of nature, but to make the composition itself a
source of pleasure to our sense of sight.



CHAPTER IV

CONTRAST


In the previous chapter we discussed balance and repetition as elements
of composition. We have now to study another element--that of contrast.
This also results from a natural love of change and variety. How sick we
should get of candy, if we had nothing else to eat! how tired of
sunshine, if there were never a cold or wet day to make the sun seem
extra beautiful by contrast! “Jack,” as we know, “will become a dull
boy,” if his studies are not enlivened by play; but how worse than
dull--stupid and ill-tempered--if his play were not relieved by
something serious. Yes, contrast is the salt of life, without which
living would be tasteless and insipid. More than this, I can hardly
believe that a boy or girl can grow up to be brave and true, a really
fine specimen of manhood or womanhood, unless some shadow of hardship
and pain has passed over the sunny period of youth. We have to learn to
take the bitter with the sweet, and it is through meeting each, as it
comes along, as a part of the day’s work, that we gradually build up
character.

So contrast, it seems, serves two purposes in life--it adds to the
pleasure of life, and it gives force and worth to character. Its
effects in art are very similar. The artist employs it to give variety
and at the same time character and distinction to the pattern of his
compositions.

You can find out for yourselves how he does this, if you take a piece of
paper, a pencil, a pair of compasses, and a straight-edge. First draw a
rectangle. This is the space to be filled or developed into a
composition. Now draw a vertical line up the center of it. You will
admit that this is not interesting by itself; but cut it at right angles
with a horizontal line, and immediately the figure begins to have some
character. Immediately, also, if you have any eye for balance--and
almost everybody has--you will begin to notice that it makes a great
difference at just what point the horizontal line cuts the vertical. In
the first place, whether the arms of the horizontal are or are not the
same length--then, at how high or how low a point on the vertical line
they branch out. You can experiment with these two lines until the cross
seems to you to look its best.

You could not draw anything much simpler than this figure; and yet it is
sufficient to illustrate two principles of contrast in
composition--first, that the contrast is interesting, and second, that
it is made more interesting, when the contrasted parts are carefully
balanced. Now take the compasses and, centering on the point of
intersection of the two lines, describe a circle. The latter will
introduce into the figure a still further contrast between curved and
straight lines. And again your sense of balance will be brought into
play. How far will you make your circle extend? It is for you to say,
because you are trying to satisfy your own feeling for what will look
best. Now, as a contrast to this circle, add four smaller ones at the
extremities of the cross. Next, from the center of the big circle draw
radiating lines. As a last touch of contrast, suppose you draw a segment
of a circle in each of the four corners of the rectangle.

By this time we have built up a composition, the pattern of which
consists of contrasts. But, as I dare say you have noticed, it also
consists of repetitions. And once more I will remind you that both the
repetitions and the contrasts are balanced. Contrast, repetition, and
balance--these are the simple elements of composition.

Our pattern or composition is a very simple form of geometric figure. If
you feel disposed, you can amuse yourself by devising other kinds of
simple patterns; starting, for example, with a circle inside your
rectangular space; or, selecting, to begin with, a circular frame and
starting with a triangle or square inside of it, and in either case
continuing to build up or embroider your design with additional
features. In this way by varying the shape of your original frame and
the character of the pattern that you put in it, you can go on
indefinitely inventing designs. All these, I want you to observe, are
geometric in character. They are based upon the figures which you find
in geometry--the square, rectangle, triangle, and circle.

Now just as the acorn may in time become the great oak tree, so this
simple basis of geometric design is at the root of the compositions of
the great Italian pictures and of thousands of other pictures, even to
our own day. Their compositions are based upon a geometric plan. The
only difference is that your plan is clearly visible, while theirs is
more or less disguised. The reason is that they do not fill their
spaces, as you did, with simple lines, but with forms--figures, columns,
buildings, draperies, trees, hills, and so on. Consequently, when we
speak of the “lines” of their compositions, we often mean rather the
direction which the figure, or the object whatever it may be, takes.
Thus, a standing figure may take the place of your vertical line; the
slightly undulating top of the hills behind it may correspond to your
horizontal line; a curving group of angels, floating in the air, may
suggest your circle; while your diagonal line may be replaced in the
picture by the branches of a tree that spread in a diagonal direction.
In other words, what you have done (shall I say?) stiffly with compasses
and straight-edge, the artists do freely and loosely. Yet, I repeat it,
underneath this seeming freedom, if you search for it, you will find the
basis of a geometric design. This I hope to show you in the following
chapter. Meanwhile, there is another use for contrast that you should
know.

It is the contrast between the light and the dark parts of a picture. It
is employed, in the first place, to make the objects in the picture look
more real. If you fix your eyes on any object in the room or out of
doors, you will observe that some parts of it are light and some dark,
and that there are various degrees of lightness and darkness. It is the
light on an object that enables us to see it. If there were no light on
it--if it were in complete darkness, that is to say--nothing would be
visible. And, while it is the light that enables us to see the object,
it is the degree of light on some parts of it and the various degrees of
darkness on others that enable us to realize the shape of it. In other
words, the contrast of light and dark, received by the eyes,
communicates to our brain the sense of form and bulk.

That it should do so seems to be the gradual result of a habit,
unconsciously acquired. Those who study such things tell us that we
began to perceive things, not through the sense of sight, but by the
sense of touch. The baby reaches out its little hand to feel for the
mother’s breast; it burrows its way to her warm body; is comforted by
the feel of her arms around it. When the child is older and you present
her with a doll, you may be disappointed that she does not at once show
pleasure. Instead of her face lighting up with joy, as you hoped it
would, she stares at the doll in rather a dull way. But presently she
stretches out her hands, and takes the doll into them and begins to feel
it all over, and at length clasps it in her arms against her body. It is
by the sense of touch that she seems to have assured herself that the
doll is “real.” When she is older, however, if you offer her a new doll,
immediately her face lightens with gladness of welcome. For, in the
meantime she has learned to know a doll by sight, and now when she gets
it into her hands she turns it round and round that she may look at it,
patting the face, however, and the dress, and lifting up the lace of the
petticoats and handling the sash, because, although she has grown to
recognize things by her sense of sight, she has not lost her delight in
the sense of touch. Nor will she, I hope, as she grows older. Indeed,
artists, knowing how much pleasure people derive from the feel of
things, take great pains, as we shall see in another chapter, to paint
the surfaces, or, as they suggest it, the _texture_ of objects, in such
a way as to make us feel how pleasant it would be to touch them.
Besides, it makes the figure seem so much more real, if they suggest to
us that, if we touched the face, it would feel like flesh; or, if we
could pass our hand over the dress, it would seem soft and mossy like
velvet, or smooth and polished like satin.

But, to return to the contrast of light and dark. Although it is by this
contrast that we get an impression of the form or bulk of an object,
most people are not aware of the fact. They have grown up in the habit
of recognizing things by sight, without being conscious of how they do
so. They just see things. Artists, however, have had to learn the reason
and how to apply it to painting.

       *       *       *       *       *

The history of modern painting extends back about six hundred years. In
the thirteenth century, the paintings which decorated some of the
churches in Italy were painted in what is called a conventional way.
That is to say, a certain custom was followed by all the painters. They
represented the heads and hands of their figures, but the bodies were
covered with draperies, under which there was little or no suggestion of
any form or bulk. For the whole figure appeared flat. It was as if you
should make a little figure of clay or paste, and then pass a roller
over it, until its thickness is flattened down into nothing but length
and breadth. The figures, in fact, gave no appearance of being real and
lifelike because, as artists would say, there was no drawing in them.
There was nothing to suggest that the figures had real bodies.

By degrees, however, people grew tired of these unlifelike figures, and
a painter named Giotto (1266?-1337) became the leader of a new motive in
painting. It was simply to try and make the figures look real and the
scenes in which they appeared seem natural. Instead of following a
convention, he used his eyes and studied nature. He was no longer
satisfied to fill in the background of his picture with a flat gold tint
as the conventional painters had done. He wished to increase the reality
of his figures by representing them in real surroundings, sometimes in a
room, sometimes out of doors. Instead of being content to make his
pictures flat, representing only length and breadth, he set to work to
create the suggestion of the third dimension--depth. He would try and
make you feel that you could walk from the foreground of his picture,
step by step, through to the background; and that, as you reached each
figure or object in the scene, you could pass your hand round it and
feel that it had real bulk. I said “step by step” and I lay stress on
it. For what Giotto tried to represent was not merely some figures in
front and then a big gap that you had to jump over before you reached
the background, but what the artists call the “successive planes” of the
scene--the step-by-step appearance of the scene.

Perhaps you will grasp better what this means if, when you next go to
the theater, you carefully observe the scenery, representing some
outdoor effect. On each side of the stage, very likely representing tree
trunks, there is a series of “wings,” one behind another at a distance
of say five feet, while across the stage, hanging down from the “flies,”
is a series of cut cloths, representing foliage, that correspond with
the wings and seem to be branches of the tree trunks. Well, these cloths
and their wings correspond to the “successive planes” of a picture. They
lead gradually back and you can actually walk in and out of them. But,
when you reach the back cloth, you are stopped, so far as your legs are
concerned. If you are sitting in the auditorium, however, your eye goes
traveling on and on a long distance, for the back cloth is itself a
picture, in which there is an _illusion_ of successive planes.

The artist’s word for representing the successive planes is perspective.
If you stand between the rails of a trolley line or railroad and look
along it, the lines seem to draw together or converge. Yet in reality
you know that they are equidistant from each other all the way along.
But, since our power of seeing becomes less and less as objects are
farther removed from us, so to our diminishing sight the size and
distinctness of the space between the rails appears also to diminish. In
the same way you will observe that the width of the street seems to
diminish, and the people and wagons appear smaller and smaller,
according as they are seen farther and farther back in the successive
planes. The houses, too--you know that if you stood in front of any of
the houses, exactly facing it, the upright sides would appear to be, as
they are, of equal height, and that the windows and cornice would appear
in parallel horizontal lines. Yet, as you stand in the street and look
along the houses on either side, they present a different appearance. In
the case of each house the upright side, nearer to you, seems higher
than the one farther off, and the rows of windows and the line of the
cornice appear to slope downward. For the houses as they take their
places in the receding or successive planes seem to diminish in size.

This, you see, is another example of what we have already said, that the
artist does not paint what he knows to be facts, but the appearances, as
he sees them from the point where his eyes are--his “point of sight.”
You remember how in an earlier chapter that artist represented, or
rather suggested the cows in the distance by a few dabs. That was how he
saw them from his point of sight. I could not tell you then, but you
will understand now, that he was obeying the law of perspective, and was
representing the cows as they appeared in their own proper plane of the
scene. Do you remember that when he drew in their horns and tails and
other details, they looked like toy cows? We can now see why. They
contradicted their surroundings; they no longer were at home in their
own plane; their plane was a good way off, but they were represented as
if close to our eyes; and, as we saw how small they were, they seemed to
us like toy cows.

You see, it is entirely a matter of how things look to the eyes. The
painter, as I have said, does not represent the facts as he knows them
to be, but the impressions which the facts make upon his eyesight; and
these impressions, by the way in which he renders them, he hands on to
us. His picture is not nature, but a suggestion or illusion of nature.

Now, although Giotto had discovered that, to make you feel that you
could walk back through his pictures, he must represent the successive
planes, he only partly found out how to do it. It was not until nearly a
hundred years later that a painter named Masaccio learned how to fill
the whole of his picture with a suggestion of atmosphere, so that the
objects took their places properly in their proper planes, and it was
still later before artists thoroughly worked out the methods of
perspective.

The greatest difficulty that they had to surmount was how to
“foreshorten” their figures, or represent them in “foreshortening.” A
simple way of understanding what this means is to stand in front of a
mirror and stretch out your arms to left and right, like the arms of a
cross. Each extends a long way. But now bring them in front of you and
stretch them toward the mirror. At once they look shorter, or at any
rate you cannot see their length. They appear foreshortened. Or you may
practice a still more “violent” example of foreshortening, if you are
able to place the mirror where you can see your body, when lying down
with the feet toward it, for now the whole length of the body appears
foreshortened in the mirror. The surface of the latter, you observe,
corresponds exactly with the surface of a picture. It is a flat plane
upon which is produced the appearance of successive or receding planes,
and though you cannot see the length of your body because it is
foreshortened, you are made to feel its length.

It was a long time before artists overcame the difficulty of
representing this effect; and the first pictures in which it was
accomplished were naturally regarded as wonders. Since it is not the
purpose of this book to teach you to draw I will mention only one of the
principles involved. It is the one we have already been discussing--the
contrast of light and dark, or, as it is called, “chiaroscuro.” Artists
soon discovered that, if an object has bulk, that part of it which is
nearest to the light will reflect most light; the parts less near, less
light; while the parts that are exposed to no light will appear dark. As
this was how the artists saw the objects, it was so they tried to
represent them. They learned to “model” the object, that is to say, to
represent it as having bulk, by reproducing in their pictures the
contrasts of light and dark. At first the contrasts were crude, chiefly
of the very light and very dark, but by degrees the artists became more
skillful and learned to represent also all the varying gradations of
less light and less dark. By this time they were better able to surmount
the difficulty of foreshortening.

You will see how, if you will again stand in front of the mirror and
stretch out one arm toward it. The simplest test is made, if you can
arrange that the light shall be directly at your back, for then it is
reflected by the mirror on to the front of you. In this case you will
notice that your outstretched hand receives the most light, because it
is nearest to the light. If it were represented in this way in a
picture, our habit of seeing the highest or brightest light on the
highest or most directly exposed surface of an object would make us feel
that the hand projected in front of the body.

If, however, you stand before the mirror with light falling upon you
from one side, the picture in the mirror will be quite different in
appearance. The light and shadow will be more broken up and diversified.
Some part of your hand, it may be simply the edges of the fingers, will
catch a high light, even if it is not the highest; and light probably
will fall on your forearm, between the wrist and elbow, and again upon
the upper part of the arm. Broadly speaking, your arm presents three
planes of form--the hand, the forearm, and the upper arm. And, though
to your untrained eye the light on all of these planes may seem the
same, to an artist’s eye it would vary according to the angle at which
the light hits the plane, or, as the artist himself would say, according
to the angle of the plane. These angles vary all over the figure, as you
may be able to see if you examine your picture in the mirror. To mention
a few, in a general way, there are several angles around each of the
shoulders, about the breast, round the neck, while the face, with its
projecting nose, its receding eye sockets, its rounded cheeks and so on,
presents a regular patchwork of angles of plane. Or shall I say, the
whole figure presents a whole multitude of facets like a cut diamond?
Only, unlike the diamond, its facets are uneven in size and irregular in
shape. And just as the light on the facets, here very light and
elsewhere not so light, informs us of the shape of the diamond, so do
these differently lighted angles of plane, when presented in a picture,
give us the suggestion of the figure’s shape.

And now study the shadows in your mirror picture. They result from the
opposite of what we have been talking about. In their case the angles of
plane are turned away from instead of toward the light, and some parts,
such as the hollows of the folds of your dress or coat, seem to catch no
light at all and to be quite dark. I expect you find it much easier to
detect the various gradations of dark or shadows than those of the
light. And a great many artists, especially in olden times, seem to have
seen the shadows more than the lights--for they represent the former
with more subtlety, that is to say, with a keener eye for variations,
than they do the latter. Indeed, the subtle rendering of light is
particularly an accomplishment of modern artists.

Well, if you have carefully studied your portrait in the mirror, I think
you must have discovered how large a part the contrast of light and
shadow plays in the appearance of the figure, and therefore, what an
equally important part it plays in producing an illusion of reality in
the picture. I do not forget that an artist by simply drawing an outline
with a pen or pencil can also suggest to us the appearance of an object.
But, if he does so, it is by the help of ourselves, for he relies on our
imagination to supply what he has omitted.

Finally, before we leave the mirror portrait, I should like to ask you
in which of the following ways you see it: Do you see it as a bold,
simple composition of light and dark? Or are you conscious of a hundred
and one little details about the clothes and face and hair and so on?
The former is what artists call the “broad” way of seeing nature. Many
artists see nature in this way and represent in a bold, free, broad
manner simply the big general facts. Others, on the other hand, as you
may be, are conscious at once of the great variety of details of which
the whole is composed, and represent the subject in a highly detailed
manner. Neither is _the_ right nor _the_ wrong way. Thousands of fine
pictures have been painted in both ways. On the other hand, if you find
you grow to like one way more than another, it will be because you
yourself, as well as the artist, have the habit of receiving impressions
in that way. Do not on that account think other people wrong for
receiving impressions differently and therefore preferring the other
sort of picture. We cannot help having preferences, but they shouldn’t
prejudice us against the preferences of others.



CHAPTER V

GEOMETRIC COMPOSITION


In the previous chapters we talked about the elements of composition. We
found that the composition or arrangement of figures and objects in the
picture is designed by artists for two purposes: Firstly, to represent
some subject; and, secondly, to represent it in such a way that the
arrangement itself will be a source of pleasure. This second purpose is
what makes the picture a work of art. And we found that the artist, in
order to make his composition give pleasure to our sense of sight,
relies upon the pleasure that we derive from repetition and contrast,
and upon the instinct that we all have for keeping our balance. The
elements of composition, in fact, are repetition and contrast in a state
of balance, sometimes with the added charm of rhythm. We also found that
one way in which artists contrive to make this balance of repetition and
contrast is by playing, as we may say, upon the simple geometrical
patterns of the rectangle, triangle, and circle.

Now let us study an actual example, and for the purpose I have chosen
Raphael’s _Disputá_.[1] It is painted on a wall of one of the “Stanze”
or suite of rooms in the Vatican, the home of the Pope, in Rome. Raphael
painted many other decorations in these rooms, but this was his first
one, executed when as a young man of twenty-five he had been summoned
from Florence to work for the powerful pope, Julian II. Raphael had been
a pupil of Perugino, and he took one of the geometrical designs that his
master had already used. The pupil, however, improved upon it.

Observe, first, the shape of the space that Raphael was called upon to
decorate. It is known as a lunette or moon-shape. Now it was this space
and no other, that for the time being, he had to decorate. What he put
into it, must be suggested by, one may almost say, must grow out of, the
particular shape of this space. In fact, the outside lines of the
lunette, and the lines inside, must _together_ form the pattern of the
composition. Now observe how he did it. Briefly, he put into it a number
of curved lines, that would repeat the curve of the outside, and
sometimes also be in contrast to it. Likewise he introduced horizontal
lines, to repeat the bottom edge, and vertical ones in contrast. Let us
examine it more closely.

Not quite in the center but nearly so, is a small circle, on which
appears a dove. This circle arrests our eye, and its effect is to make
us feel very certainly that part of the composition is above it and part
below. It is repeated above by a much larger circle. This is not
completed; for its regularity of

[Illustration]

[Illustration: La Disputá del Sacramento. _Raphael._]

shape is interrupted by the two figures, seated one on each side. The
circle seems to pass behind these till it merges with the clouds below.
Both the small and the large circles repeat the outside curves of the
lunette. On the other hand the curve of the clouds, and the figures
seated upon them form a contrasting curve, and there is another one
higher up, formed by the two groups of floating angels. In the center,
above the larger circle, is a figure with a nimbus that points up,
carrying our eye toward an imaginary center, somewhere outside the
picture, from which start the radiating lines. So the impression of that
part of the picture that we have been examining is of uplift. By
successive steps the eye and, through it, the imagination, are invited
to mount up.

And now for the part below the small circle, separated from what is
above by an open space of clear blue sky. Do you notice that the band of
figures stretching across this part takes the form of a curve, repeating
the curves of the circles but contrasted with the two important curves
of cloud? Its effect is to prevent one’s gaze from soaring altogether
upward. This downward curve, as it were, tethers the composition to the
ground firmly in the two corners. And now note that the central feature
of this lower part is the altar, an equilateral, in strongest possible
contrast to the curves and circles above it. That it may have still
stronger emphasis, observe how its horizontal lines are repeated down to
the bottom of the picture by the steps, so that the eye, as it were,
mounts the steps to this central feature. Further the equilateral is
again enforced and also balanced by the vertical and horizontal lines,
forming a suggestion of equilateral figures in the corners. The one on
the right is actually a doorway; the black part is the door. Some
artists might have felt it was a drawback to have a bit thus cut out of
the picture. Not so Raphael. There, as elsewhere in these rooms, he
takes the doorway into his composition and makes it serve a very useful
purpose of emphasising the corner, and then invents another structure to
strengthen equally the corner opposite.

Now note the radiating lines of the pavement. In a general way they
repeat the radiation of the lines at the top of the picture; but they
are farther apart and bolder, as befits the bolder character of the
lower part. Have you discovered the point from which these lines of the
pavement radiate? By using a straight edge to each in turn, you will
find that all the lines, if continued would meet within the little
circle of ornament that stands upon the altar. To this point also the
gaze of many of the figures is directed.

Some of the figures, however, are standing so that though they gaze
towards this center, the lines of their bodies lead our gaze upward as
well as towards the center. Then again, beside the altar is a figure
with its arm pointing upward, so that our eye and imagination are not
permitted to stop at the little circle. For Raphael had to bind the
lower and upper parts together and make one united composition. Very
easily the stretch of the sky might have divided the whole into two
parts. Lest it should, he has softened the contrast of the lower and
upper curves by introducing on the one side a building, on the other a
low hill with delicate trees springing upward.

Now let us pause for a moment, and observe the general effect of the
lines, which we can do by turning to the skeleton drawing on transparent
paper. It lays bare the plan of the composition, and we can see that it
is a geometric composition of repetition and contrasts, of horizontal,
vertical, diagonal and curved lines, balanced so as to unite into one
single impression. To myself the impression is of looking into the
interior of a circular building, with a vaulted roof. I remember just
such a building in Rome; the Pantheon, built in honor of all the gods,
but now, as in Raphael’s time, a temple of the Church. As you enter it
an altar faces you across the stretch of pavement, and the lines of the
architecture, as it circles round you and above you, are very similar to
these lines, while overhead the ribs or radiating lines of the vaulted
ceiling suddenly stop, for there is a circular opening at the top,
through which you can see the sky, and the light strikes down through it
in diagonal shafts of light.

I wonder if Raphael had the Pantheon in mind when he composed this
picture? Very likely, for he must have seen it; and he had a wonderful
gift for receiving impressions and making use of them. And this
building, both for its unusual shape and particularly from that
wonderful opening, carrying one’s imagination upward from finite space
to the infinite spaciousness of sky, is peculiarly impressive. It fits
in also with the conception that Raphael seems to have formed of the
subject which the picture commemorates.

For the name of the picture is misleading. It does not represent a
dispute or argument, as the title _Disputá_ would suggest. The real
subject is an allegory of the Holy Catholic Church--the Church on Earth
and the Church in Heaven, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.
And it is the idea of the Church on Earth as held by the Roman Catholic
Church that is represented. You may not be a Roman Catholic yourself,
any more than I am, but none the less let us try to enter reverently for
a few minutes into the conception of the picture, since it will help us
to see how wonderfully the composition grows out of the idea.

To the Roman Catholic the highest act of worship is the service of the
Mass. Here, in consequence, the altar at which it is celebrated is made
the most prominent feature of the lower part of the picture. It forms,
as it were, a keystone of the arch of figures; the bishops, doctors, and
faithful of the Church on Earth. Their worship is directed towards the
altar on which rests the receptacle in which the Sacred Bread is
reserved. On earth the Church reveres the Bread as the Body of Christ; a
symbol of the Body of the risen Christ in Heaven. Above the altar hovers
a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, through whom the Words of Holy
Scripture make known the Glory of the Christ. The sacred books are
borne by baby forms, “for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Above the
symbol of the Holy Spirit, sits enthroned the Christ, with hands
uplifted, showing the wounds that the nails made. On one side sits the
Virgin Mother, on the other, John the Baptist, who prepared the way
before Him; while to right and left is a row of Apostles, Saints, and
Martyrs. Above the circle of glory appears the figure of God the Father,
with hands upraised in blessing. On either side of Him float angels and
the sky is thick with baby faces of Cherubs and Seraphs, singing
“Hosanna.” Down through their midst descend shafts of golden light from
the far off infinite Sun of Righteousness.

Whether or not Raphael had in mind the Pantheon, his rendering of the
allegory far excels the grandeur even of the beautiful temple. For his
own temple is composed of earth and sky. “The Earth is His Tabernacle,”
and the ceiling thereof the vault of the Heavens themselves. Suspended
in it is the vision of the Holy Trinity, and the throngs of the heavenly
hosts, whose praise and adoration are the mighty echo of the prayers and
praises down below on earth.

Thus, you see, with what simple clearness Raphael grasped the idea that
Pope Julian II asked him to commemorate. It is as logical as a
proposition in geometry, and on simple principles of geometric design he
built up the idea into a picture. How the simplicity of the idea has
been elaborated with a variety of beautiful thoughts, and how the
simplicity of the design of the structure has been hung, as it were,
with rich embroideries of detail, I must leave you to search out for
yourselves. If you do, you will find that each figure represents some
example of repetition or contrast, each a separate beauty and meaning.

In conclusion I will ask you one question. Do you perceive the rhythm
that prevails in this balance of repetition and contrast: how from the
bottom of the composition the successive waves of pattern flow upward,
as the thoughts of the Faithful mount in successive waves of prayer and
adoration?



CHAPTER VI

GEOMETRIC COMPOSITION (_Continued_)


Here is another example of geometric composition. It is also by Raphael
and is painted on one of the walls in the same room that the _Disputá_
decorates. But, while the latter’s geometric plan was very noticeable,
this one is more disguised and the whole design has a much greater
appearance of freedom. It is recognised by artists as one of Raphael’s
most beautiful compositions, and one of the finest examples of space
decoration in existence.

But before we examine the plan on which the decoration of this space has
been built up, let us study the subject. It is usually called
_Jurisprudence_, that is to say the principle of Law--both the making
and the administering of laws. In the _Disputá_ the subject, as you
remember, was _Religion_; in two of the other panels in this same room
Raphael has represented _Philosophy_ and _Poetry_. Here he set himself
to represent the idea of _Law_. The _idea_, you observe. In all these
four panels, it is an idea, not an event or incident, that is
represented; but an idea--something that has existence only in the mind.
For all the subjects represent abstract ideas; ideas, that is to say,
abstracted or removed from the experience of the senses. We cannot, for
example, see religion or Law; nor touch, taste, smell, nor hear them. We
can see the policeman on his beat, or the judge in court, or the members
of the legislature--the men who, respectively, maintain, administer, and
make the laws; and we can see the record of the laws in books. But the
idea or principle of Law which has caused men to construct all this
machinery for the making and enforcing of the laws, exists only in the
mind.

Therefore, when Raphael was asked to paint the subject of
_Jurisprudence_ or _Law_, something that no one has ever seen or will
see, what did he do? He asked himself the question: When people have a
respect for Law, how does it show itself in their acts? In the first
place they are very careful in the making of the laws; they found them
upon the experience of the past and shape them to fit the needs of the
future; they exhibit PRUDENCE. Secondly, in the enforcing of the laws,
they exhibit two qualities: FIRMNESS and MODERATION. Though they firmly
uphold the law, they remember that

    “earthly power doth then show likest God’s
     When mercy seasons justice.”

Raphael, then, determined to represent the idea of Law, by representing
three of its qualities: _Prudence_, _Firmness_ and _Moderation_. These
three again are abstract ideas. No one has ever seen them or will see
them; we can only see the results of them, the acts which they
influence man to do. So if _Prudence_, _Firmness_ and _Moderation_ have
no visible shape, how could he represent them to the eye? He probably
took a hint from a form of a stage play that was popular in his day. At
any rate he did what the authors of these “Moralities” or “Allegories”
were in the habit of doing. For they introduced as characters in their
plays the Vices and Virtues; making an actor, for example, personify
Gluttony or embody in his own person the idea of Gluttony. Thus, a fat
man would be chosen for the part, and he would pad himself so as to look
still fatter; he would make his face shining and greasy, and perhaps
cover the front of his coat with grease, to suggest what a greedy and
dirty feeder he was. He would come on the stage eating, and anything he
had to say or do would help the audience to realise that the only thing
he lived for was to stuff himself with food. This was called an
embodiment or personification of Gluttony; for the idea of Gluttony was
suggested in the person of the actor by the peculiarities of his body
and behaviour. While the personifications of the Vices were for the most
part comic, those of the virtues were beautiful or heroic, so that these
Moralities or Allegories were as popular with the crowd as with people
of taste. Sometimes the allegory was represented, not with figures
moving about the stage, speaking and acting, but as a stationary group,
in which the figures were raised on steps, so that a very imposing
composition or tableau was presented. And no doubt, when these were
given on a grand scale artists often arranged the spectacle.

On the other hand, the artists were not slow to adopt the same idea in
their pictures. The great altarpieces and large decorations, painted by
the Italian artists of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries are to all
intents and purposes allegories. Such certainly is this _Jurisprudence_
of Raphael’s. He has personified the three virtues of _Prudence_,
_Firmness_ and _Moderation_. To _Prudence_ he has given two faces. One
is old, for it gazes back over the long past; the other has the
freshness of youth, as it peers into the future. It is looking at itself
in a mirror. Why? For everything in these allegories is intended to
convey a meaning to the minds of the spectators. Perhaps there are two
reasons. The face is gazing at the reflection of itself, as it now is;
for Prudence, besides taking note of the past and looking toward the
future, must know the present. Again, since a mirror reflects what is in
front of it and shows us our face as others see it, it was used by the
artists as an emblem of Truth. And to know the truth is wisdom, and to
act according to truth and wisdom is prudence. So, when you see a figure
holding the emblem of the mirror, you may be sure the artist is
personifying the idea of Truth, or Wisdom, or Prudence, or all three
combined.

On the bosom of _Prudence_ is a winged head; perhaps intended for the
head of Medusa, which turned to stone every one who looked at it. If so,
it is an

[Illustration]

[Illustration: Jurisprudence. _Raphael._]

emblem here of the terribleness of _Prudence_, when offended. She is
gentle in herself, but a terror to evil doers. At her side a baby form
holds a torch. This was used as the emblem of that which enlightens the
world--Learning; and suggests here that Prudence is illuminated by
learning, perhaps also, that truth and wisdom and prudence are
themselves lights which lighten the darkness of the world.

The figure to the right of the Torch-bearer offers _Prudence_ a bit and
reins. It is with these that men control horses; so they were adopted by
painters as an emblem of control; and, knowing this, we recognise that
the woman who holds them is intended to personify _Moderation_. Her
whole bearing suggests modesty, which is a form of moderation, for both
words imply that a person has the sense to know how far it is right to
go, and where it is fit to stop.

But note the figure of the woman on the right. She is of powerful build,
seated in a positive sort of attitude that has nothing of the gentle
retiring character of the other figures. She is a personification of
_Firmness_, armed for defense, with helmet, cuirass, and greaves. But,
though she carries no weapon of offense, she holds in leash one of those
pumas with which the ancients used to hunt big game. She will, if
necessary, pursue and pull down the law’s transgressors. Meanwhile she
bears an oak branch, the emblem of strength and victory in civil life,
as opposed to the laurel of war, for her victories are those of peace.
The little Cupids, or _Amorini_, as the Italians call them, except the
two who carry the mirror and torch, are put in simply to increase the
beauty of the composition.

I have dwelt first upon the subject of this decoration, because it is a
key to so many of the old paintings and to many modern ones as well.
Their subjects represent abstract ideas personified, embodied in human
form; the particular idea being shown by the emblems which accompany
each figure. People had come to recognise that such and such an emblem
indicated such and such an idea, and, whenever a painter wished to
suggest that idea, he represented a figure with the familiar emblem.

Now, too, that we have grasped the meaning of this allegory of Raphael’s
we can better enter into his manner of representing it. Since the idea
is an abstract one, he has expressed it in an abstract way. That is to
say, he has not attempted to represent real life, or the figures as
doing any real thing. It is true they are life-like and their actions
are quite natural; but the positions in which they have been placed were
chosen in order that the arrangement of their limbs and bodies might
produce an effect of beautiful rhythmic balance. Perhaps this was
Raphael’s only thought, for he was above everything an artist, whose
work in life it is to create forms of beauty. Yet he had a mind so ready
to receive all kinds of impressions that, living as he did in a very
lawless age, when men were guided more by self than justice, he may have
realised how beautiful would be a reign of law and order.

Anyhow, this decoration in a wonderful way possesses just those
characteristics that would belong to a state of society in which justice
or justness were the natural habit and not merely a thing enforced by
law. How simple life would be if every man did to others what he would
have them do to him, and instead of rivalry and suspicion, what a
harmony there would be! It is harmony and simplicity that are the chief
characteristics of this decoration.

The simplicity is very marked. There are three principal figures. I
believe, if there were nothing else but these, the balance of the
composition would be complete, and certainly the allegory would be
explained. But balance is not necessarily harmony. In a school debate,
for instance, ten of you on the right of the room may say “aye,” and ten
on the left may say “no,” to a subject which is being discussed between
you. There is a balance--ten on one side, opposed to ten on the other.

But in this decoration there is harmony. You have only to look at the
picture to be sure of it. You cannot detect any rivalry between the
three figures, although one of them is so much more massive than either
of the other two. All of them seem drawn together into one chord of
feeling, the leading note of which is the head of Prudence, lifted above
the heads of her companions and seen alone against the open space of the
sky and in the place of chief importance--the center of the arc of
space. Please remind me presently to say a word about the placing of
this head, for just now I do not wish to interrupt the subject that we
are considering--the harmony of the composition.

This is brought about particularly by the _Amorini_ that, as it were,
bind the three figures into a garland of festoons. Note, first, the two
which are on the extreme right and left. The wing and arm of the former
and the inclination of the latter’s whole body suggest diagonal lines.
These cut across the angles of the space, or as they say in geometry,
subtend the angles; tying their two arms together and also offering a
strong contrast to their direction. The baby figures also keep the
composition from running away to nothing at the corners, for they serve
the purpose of making the pattern curl up at each end. Or suppose we
think of the pattern of the composition, as if it were partly made up of
a wreath, such as we use at Christmas time to festoon our houses.
Imagine a nail driven into the wall where the head of the baby on the
left hand is. Attach the wreath to it. Now drive another nail into the
puma’s head and between this one and the first nail, let a loop of the
wreath hang down so that it follows the direction of the baby’s body and
a bit of the oak stem. This direction, if you look at the picture,
suggests a festoon. Now continue to make festoons--first along the arm
of _Firmness_ up to the hand of the Cupid; now another from that point
along the line on the Cupid’s wing and arm and up the arm of the next
little figure; another from the top of the mirror, following the curve
of the arm of _Prudence_ up to her head. So far, on the left side of
the painting we have four small festoons. But I wonder if you can make
out another one a long one, the ends of which are fastened to the head
of _Prudence_ and that of the baby in the left corner. It follows the
slope of the figure of _Prudence_ until it reaches her foot, the
direction of which starts it across the gap between her and _Firmness_,
where the line reappears, following the folds of the latter’s drapery,
at first along the floor and then above her greave up to the baby’s
head.

And now for the right hand side of the painting. In the first place
there is a repetition of the long festoon. This one is suspended from
the head of _Prudence_ to the top of the wing of the Cupid in the right
hand corner. It dips down along the curve of the torch, down through the
folds of _Moderation’s_ drapery to her feet and then rises up and passes
round the back of the child. But hanging above this main festoon are
_two_ rows of smaller ones. Firstly we find a very shallow festoon from
the head of _Prudence_ to the hand which holds the bit; another from
this point to the top of the head of _Moderation_. Below this, however,
is again a festoon from the bit, along the droop of the reins to the
hand which holds them, from which point there is still another along the
arm up to the head.

Now, I do not for a moment wish you to think that Raphael chose points
in his composition and then arranged that the lines of the limbs and
draperies should form festoons between them. In examining his work, I am
trying not to tell you how he did it, but to explain what has been
done. And here, clearly visible, are what I have called, festoons. We
might describe them by some other name--as ripples of movement. For as
the water in some shallow brook ripples over and between the stones
dancing in the sunshine, so these curves of movement, now in light and
now in shadow, flow between these figures and flow over them, until the
whole composition is a woven mass of rhythmic undulations. Rhythmic?
Yes, it is just because these ripples or festoons present such a
beautiful example of rhythm, that I have dwelt upon them. In fact it is
the rhythmic movement of the composition that gives to this painting its
greatest charm.

In the following chapter I shall have more to say about the rhythmic
movements of the figures. Let us conclude this one with a few words
about the geometric plan on which the composition of the “Jurisprudence”
is based. As I have said, it is not nearly so apparent as that of the
_Disputá_. The latter’s plan looks as if it might have been laid out
with straight edge and compasses. It was, as I have told you, adapted
from a composition by Raphael’s master, Perugino, and he, very possibly,
may have adapted it from some one else’s plan; for in those days,
artists did not see any harm in starting with another man’s design, and
altering it a little, or perhaps making it more elaborate to suit their
own purpose for the moment. But in the short time that elapsed between
the painting of the _Disputá_ and the _Jurisprudence_ the pupil had made
great strides. He had found his own strength and was working in the
glory of it. Therefore the _Jurisprudence_ exhibits a freedom of design,
which so disguises the ground plan, that it is difficult to be sure of
what it is, although one still feels that it is geometrical.

The first thing we note is that the artist has strengthened the bottom
line of the lunette by repetition. He has carried a stone bench along
the entire width, which also serves as a seat for the figures. Do you
see the advantage of making the figures seated? If Raphael had
represented them in a standing position, he would have had to make them
smaller in order to get them entirely into the space; and this would
have lessened the feeling of bigness in the composition. So he invented
a device by which he could represent them seated. Further, he has raised
the bench in the center by the addition of another step, so as to lift
the composition naturally in the part where the space to be decorated is
highest.

Thus from the corners, or angles of the lunette there is on each side a
gradual rise up to the head of _Prudence_, that suggests a pyramid or a
triangle within the curved space. The same triangular effect is repeated
in the pattern, made by the figures of _Prudence_ and the Cupid who
holds the torch. The curve of the torch is so arranged as to balance the
slope of the woman’s legs. So the geometric plan may be the repetition
of a smaller, inside a larger triangle, contrasted with the curve of the
lunette. On the other hand, if you look at the painting again, you
notice that the Cupid with the torch is balanced by the one who holds
the mirror. Their bodies have a vertical or upright direction, and then
the tops of the torch and the mirror supply points which the eye seems
to join by a horizontal line, so that a rectangle occupies the center of
the composition as it does in the _Disputá_. This strong contrast of a
rectangular form to the curve of the lunette, and then again the
contrast of the diagonal lines, formed by the Cupids’ figures across the
angles of the space, may be the simple geometric elements out of which
this composition grew.



CHAPTER VII

THE ACTION, MOVEMENT AND COMPOSITION OF THE FIGURE


When a few pages back I spoke of the _movement_ of the figures I was
using the word as artists understand it. They do not mean by it that the
figure is represented as moving its limbs or body. For this they use the
word “action.” They speak of the action of the figure. But when they
talk of “movement” they refer to the _way_ in which the action is
expressed. They mean that one, continuous stream of energy winds in and
out through all the undulations of the action. Thus, in the figure of
_Moderation_: the action consists in the fact that she is seated, with
her legs extended to one side, while her body turns in the opposite
direction, and while the hands are stretched out in the direction that
the body faces, the head is turned away. If you compare the action of
this figure with that of either of the others, you will see how much
more complicated it is; how many more windings it makes. And an artist
would say that this figure has a fine _movement_, because through all
the windings or undulations of action one can feel a continuous stream
of energy; so that every part of the figure contributes exactly its
natural share to the action, and the lines of the figure, from the toe
to the hand that holds the bit, flow continuously and harmoniously. The
only way in which you can see for yourself how fine the movement is, is
to study it very carefully, and by degrees you will begin to discover
how wonderfully the flow of movement is expressed. It may help you, if
you put yourself into the same position, that is to say, make your own
body represent this action. At first it may seem a little awkward, but
presently, as you adjust your body to the actions, you will find that it
seems easy and natural, for you will have secured a perfect poise. And,
after all, it is the perfect poise in the action of this figure of
_Moderation_ that helps to make the movements so fine.

Now turn to the figure of _Prudence_. Here the action is much simpler.
The body faces in the same direction that the legs extend. But it leans
back a little. If you try the action yourself, you will find it
difficult, for the stretching out of the legs makes you wish to bring
your body forward, so as to make the balance easy. But Raphael, knowing
this, has made _Prudence_ prop up her body, as it were, by leaning its
weight on her left arm. Do you see how this forces up her left shoulder?
The representation of this and the drawing of the arm make us feel what
a pressure of weight downwards the hand has to support. Artists, you
will find, usually make some one part of the figure carry the chief
weight. Sometimes they may paint a standing figure in which the weight
passes straight down through the figure and is supported evenly by the
two feet, like a column bearing down on to its base. But, more often,
they make one leg carry the chief weight, or, as in this figure, one
arm. Then it becomes very interesting; first, to study the part of chief
_muscular strain_, and secondly, to note how all the other parts of the
action harmonise with it. For example, in this figure of Prudence,
although the arm sustains the chief pressure, a considerable amount must
bear down through her trunk[2] on to the seat. But, if we compare her
trunk with that of _Moderation_, I think we shall feel at once that the
latter is supporting the greater weight. In fact, the point of greatest
muscular action in the figure of _Moderation_ is at the base of the
trunk.

But to return to _Prudence_. We have noted that the left shoulder is
raised higher than the right. Now observe the inclination of the head as
it leans gently forward on the neck to gaze into the mirror and the easy
action of the arm that holds the light mirror. Equally easy and without
effort is the action of the legs. In fact, except for the firm quiet
pressure on the arm, the whole figure suggests a gracious repose. Not
only is the expression of the face sweetly meditative, but the same
_feeling_, as the artists would say, of exquisite repose pervades the
entire figure. You should learn to look for this in pictures. Do not be
satisfied only with a beautiful face; but expect to find the beauty and
the same kind of beauty expressed in the action and movement of the
figure. For it is in this expression of feeling that an artist shows his
skill.

Compare the feeling in the figure of _Moderation_. It is no less marked,
though the feeling expressed is a different one. It is also quiet and
gracious, but it does not suggest repose. Corresponding with the
flexible, winding movement, the feeling is rather one of reaching out,
as if in pleading or tender invitation. However, it is often very
difficult to explain in words just what the feeling of a figure
expresses; and perhaps it is better not to try to do so. The main thing
for you is to get the habit of _feeling_ the feeling.

Now let us study the feeling of _Firmness_. Like that of the central
figure, it suggests repose; but a repose not so much of gracious
meditation, as of strength and force. In a moment, if need be, this
figure would rise to its feet, thrill with alertness and put forth its
strength. Meanwhile, as it sits, the line of pressure is straight down
through the center of the trunk, and it is the lower muscles of the back
that are supporting the chief weight. One shoulder is raised, not
however, because it has to bear any pressure as in the case of the
central figure, but simply because the trunk inclines a little toward
the puma. Observe, though, that the head is held erect over the central
line of the figure. If it were not, the feeling of firm strength in the
figure would be lessened. On the other hand the face is turned to one
side, in order that by its contrast of direction the movement of the
whole figure may be more effective.

For, I wonder if you have noticed that the movement in every case
presents a chain of contrasts and repetitions. Start, for example, with
the left foot of _Firmness_, and move your finger over the direction of
the figure; first up the calf of the leg to the knee; then off toward
the right to the hip; then leftward up the body, then again to the right
at the slope of the shoulders; then slightly to the left up the neck,
and lastly note the face turned to the right. You will have found that
your finger has described a series of zig-zags. If you start with the
other foot, the figure will equally present a series of zig-zags, though
some differ from the former ones.

Similarly, if you begin with the foot of _Prudence_, your eye travels up
to the knee; then horizontally toward the lap; next up the slight
backward slope of the body; then in the opposite direction, when you
reach the neck and head. The contrasts in the figure of _Moderation_ are
so marked, that I am sure you can make the zig-zag for yourself.

I have used the word zig-zag because I want you to feel how marked the
contrasts are, and to realise that it is by means of these contrasts
that an artist composes his figures. The zig-zag, however, in the actual
figure has rounded angles; it is indeed rather a series of alternate
curves to right and left, somewhat like the curves described by a
skilful and graceful skater, cutting figures on the ice. And it is this
series of curves that give the effect of rhythm as well as harmony to
the figures in this picture. For, as you may have seen for yourself, the
principles on which an artist composes a single figure are the same as
those he uses in the composition of several figures into one picture. He
relies upon repetitions and contrasts to produce a balance, which
because of its rhythm of parts shall ensure a harmonious whole.

The only difference in the case of the picture is that the composition
is made up, not only of figures, but of the empty spaces of the
background also. As artists would say, the composition is an arrangement
of full and empty spaces; and its beauty depends upon the harmony and
balance between them. In the Jurisprudence, for example, it is
remarkable how the space filled by the figure of _Prudence_, corresponds
in size and even in its wedge shape to the empty space formed by the
upper and lower step of stonework. For the rest, the quantity of space
occupied by the other two figures seems to be about equal to the empty
spaces around them, though the latter, instead of being solid masses are
broken up and distributed. But you will notice, how large a stretch of
empty space is left at the top of the lunette, so that the eye is drawn
upward and the dignity of the whole decoration thereby elevated. Note
also, what a quiet impressive spot the head of Prudence makes against
the background of the sky. There is, as it were, nothing to disturb its
gracious repose. This device of setting a figure against the background
of the sky, Raphael may have learned from one of his masters, Perugino.
At any rate, both employed it, with beautiful effect.

You may often see in nature the beauty of this effect; when, for
example, on the top of some rising ground a tree, or a figure, or a
church spire, stands against the sky. If the object is motionless, it
seems to become more impressive because of the vastness of the sky. Or,
should the objects be children at play (I can remember a picture of
this), then their sport seems to take on more joyousness, freedom, and
buoyancy, from the vastness of the sky.

And now, a short description of the way in which this decoration was
painted. It is what is called “fresco,” an Italian word that means
“fresh.” The name is used because the painting is done while the plaster
of the wall is still fresh, that is to say, not “set” or dry. The
following is the process. The wall was first covered, as in our houses
to-day, with a coat of rough-cast plaster, which was allowed to dry
thoroughly. In the meanwhile the artist had prepared full-sized drawings
of his figures. As soon as he was ready, a thin coating of smooth-finish
plaster was spread over such portion of the lunette as he could paint in
a day. Upon this the drawing was placed and an assistant would go over
all the lines with a blunt-pointed tool, pressing hard enough on the
paper to leave a mark in the plaster underneath. There, when the paper
was removed, appeared the figure, enclosed in grooved lines. Then the
artist set to work and laid in the color, using paint that was mixed,
not with oil, but with water to which some gluey substance was added.
The plaster, you remember, was still damp, but since it contained plenty
of cement, dried or “set” quickly, and as it dried, the paint dried with
it, and became a part of the plaster. When it was done, the artist, if
he wished, could add a few decisive strokes. The following day another
portion of the lunette would be treated in the same manner and so on
until the whole was painted. It is a method, you see, that left the
artist no chance of fumbling over his work. He had to make up his mind
beforehand exactly what he meant to do, and to do it quickly. Hence,
with an artist so skilled as Raphael, the work has the extra charm that
belongs to what has been done easily and fluently. You know how much
pleasanter it is to listen to an easy, fluent speaker than to one who
hesitates and corrects himself continually. So, too, in a work of art,
the feeling that it has grown easily under the artist’s hand adds to our
enjoyment of it. It seems to be a spontaneous expression of himself.



CHAPTER VIII

THE CLASSIC LANDSCAPE


We have seen in the previous chapters how Raphael built up composition
from a simple geometric plan, on the principles of repetition and
contrast, rhythmically balanced. Other Italian artists worked upon the
same lines, and with such skill and grandeur of invention that the
Italian pictures, especially of the Sixteenth Century, are still
considered the finest examples of this sort of composition. It is
distinguished by being what we may call “formal,” or “conventional.”

The figures are arranged, that is to say, not as you would be likely to
see them in actual life, but according to a rule or formula or
convention. The idea has been not to represent a real scene, but to
display the figures and their surroundings in such a way as to produce
an effect of beauty; sometimes a simple one, more often one of great
impressiveness or magnificent splendor. The figures and other objects
have been so arranged and so drawn as to furnish an orderly pattern of
beauty and dignity. The subjects of the pictures might be taken from the
Bible story or from the legends of ancient Greece, or be simply invented
to set forth the pride that the people took in their cities--the pomp
and glory of Venice, for example. But, no matter what the subject might
be, the aim of the artist was first and foremost to paint a thing of
beauty. And in this search for beauty he soon discovered how much
depended upon the surroundings of his figures and the objects that he
introduced.

When he desired the simpler kind of beauty he set his figures in lovely
landscape scenery with hills and trees and winding streams; when he was
bent on grander effects, he added architectural settings. For the
architects of that day were erecting noble buildings with columns and
arches, vaulted roofs and domes; partly in imitation of the remains of
Roman architecture, but also designed in a fresh spirit of invention to
fit the new purposes for which the buildings were required. Thus arose
that vast temple of the Roman Church, St. Peter’s. It is what is called
a classic building; because its style is in many respects like that of
the old classic Roman temples, which in their turn had represented a new
use of the still older classic style of Greek architecture.

The painters, then, inspired by the work of the architects, discovered
how much dignity they could give to their own compositions by
introducing architectural features. Sometimes they would introduce
columns, or a flight of steps or a balustrade, sometimes a whole
building; or represent the figures grouped in a street or square,
surrounded by buildings, or often inside a building, standing under a
vaulted ceiling. These are only a few of the architectural features, so
freely used by the Italian painters. Let us study their value to the
composition.

Some people who live in country homes are fond of flowers. They grow
cluster-roses, honeysuckle, wistaria and other long-armed climbing
plants over their verandahs. If they are fond of gardening and not
satisfied merely with a lawn and a few shrubs, they will erect arches
and trellis-work on which vines may cling and cluster. In the first
place, they know that these slender, straggling plants will thrive
better, if they have some support; they will not be so torn by the
buffets of the wind, and their limbs and leaves and flowers will get
more sunshine. Secondly, they will show to better advantage, because of
the contrast of their winding, wreathing forms and irregular masses with
the firm, strong, simple lines of the verandah or trellis-work. United
they form a prettier composition, than would the vines and
cluster-roses, if huddling in an unsupported tangle.

The principle is the same in the composition of a picture, where the
vines are represented by the action of the figures. To their irregular
masses of drapery and undulating lines of limbs the architecture
presents at once the contrast and support of decided lines and clearly
defined masses. And since the classic style of architecture, which was
used, is so noble, it added nobility to the composition. Even the penny
photographs of the Italian pictures will prove to you that this is so.
Study them and find this out for yourselves.

Now, the example of the Italians, in this respect, was followed by other
nations, especially the French. The latter continue to this day the
painting of beautiful pictures in which the figures are combined with
landscape and architecture. And our own American artists are doing the
same thing, as you can see if you have a chance of visiting the Library
of Congress, at Washington, or any other of the public buildings
throughout this country, in which the walls have been decorated with
mural paintings.[3]

So far we have been speaking of the use of architecture to support the
figures. In time, however, artists found a new use for it. They employed
it to support the landscape; which brings us to a talk about what is
called the “Classic Landscape.”

Nowadays, when so many artists paint nothing else but landscape
pictures, it may seem strange that the Italians of the Fifteenth and
Sixteenth Centuries used landscape only as a support for the figures. It
was not because they were blind to the beautiful scenery of their own
country, for, when they did introduce it into their pictures, they
represented it in a very lovely way. But always as a background to the
figures, which you are made to feel are the principal features of the
picture. The reason is that the public for whom they painted demanded
figure subjects. The Church required pictures that would bring home to
the hearts of the people who could not read the beauty of the Bible

[Illustration: The Manitou Lunette. _E. H. Blashfield._]

Story; rich men and women wished to decorate their palaces with scenes
from the old Greek legends; while cities adorned their public buildings
with allegorical subjects in which the pride they took in their own
municipal life was set forth in figures, personifying the character of
its greatness. Moreover, those were stirring times in which the rivalry
between the cities and between the noble families led to constant wars
and plottings. Men, beginning as nobodies, rose rapidly to power. Not,
as they do to-day in our country, by using their brains and energy in
the peaceful pursuits of industry and trade and learning; but through
brute force, guided by brains that schemed to win by fraud and violence.
So it was man that, as we say, cut the chief figure in these times;
man’s power and woman’s beauty. Mankind was so interested in itself that
it spared little thought for the beauty of nature. It is true that
architects built noble houses on sites commanding beautiful views and
laid out the gardens with fountains, trees and flowers. Even this
however, was for the glorification of some man or woman. But the love of
nature which leads artists to paint landscapes and the public to value
such pictures is a different thing. In the love of nature man forgets
himself; he is absorbed in the beauty of the natural world outside
himself; he is fond of nature for its own sake.

It was not until the Seventeenth Century that artists began to study and
paint the landscape in this spirit. When they did so, the landscape took
the first place in their pictures, and the figures, if any were
introduced, became the unimportant features, kept small and put in
merely to enliven the scene. By this time landscape painting, as a
subject distinct in itself, branched out into two directions--the
_naturalistic_ and the _formal_. The _naturalistic_ was practised by the
Dutch artists, who painted the out of door life and appearance of
Holland so truthfully, that to-day when we look at their pictures we can
see the meadows and streams, the mills and the farms, exactly as they
were three hundred years ago. But the subject of natural landscape we
will study later on.

The other kind of landscape I have called _formal_ because, instead of
being drawn directly from nature, it was made up, like the Italian
figure pictures, according to a rule or formula or convention. Just as
in those pictures the figures were represented as grander and more
beautiful than people usually are in real life, and were arranged for
the purpose of a handsome composition in attitudes that people do not
usually assume, so with the formal landscapes. The artists tried to make
them more grand and imposing than ordinary nature, and composed them
according to an artificial plan. They did not in their picture represent
any real scene in nature, but built up a number of natural details into
a composition, constructed on a geometric plan. And especially they
introduced details of classic architecture; so that these formal designs
are often called _classic_ landscapes.

If you turn to the illustration you will see at once that the artist has
not represented the natural landscape. The very title, _Dido Building
Carthage_, shows the classic influence. The subject is taken from
Virgil’s Æneid, Book I, line 420. Turner, the great English artist, who
in 1815 painted this picture, had never seen Carthage; nor had he ever
seen any spot on earth like the one represented here. What he had seen
was the work of Claude Lorrain, a French artist of the Seventeenth
Century, who lived in Italy and invented this kind of landscape. Turner
himself preferred to paint the natural landscape; but, since the people
of his own day admired the _classic_ landscape of Claude and his
followers, he wished to prove that he also could paint like Claude, if
he chose; and as well as the French artist. Therefore, when he died, he
left this picture and another classic landscape, _The Sun rising in a
Mist_ to the National Gallery, on condition that they should be hung
alongside of two by Claude Lorrain. So, while studying this picture we
are really studying the principles on which Claude built up the
_classic_ landscape, and on which his followers worked for nearly two
hundred years, until the love of nature won out and the _naturalistic_
landscape took its place.

The geometric plan of this picture is very simple. You can discover it
by joining the upper and lower opposite corners by two diagonal lines
that cut each other in the center. This produces four triangles; of
which the top is given to the sky, the bottom to the water, and the two
sides to the land and buildings and trees. Sky and water occupy more
space than the other two parts; but since the latter are filled with
details of bold design, they attract extra attention, so that the
balance between the full and empty spaces is kept true.

The balance is a harmonious one. You will perhaps realise better what
this means if you think for a moment of a balance that is not
harmonious; for instance of a pair of hanging scales, in one pan of
which there is a flat round one pound weight, exactly balancing a pound
of candy in the other pan. We should not call this a harmonious balance.
If we examine why it is not, it will help us to understand the meaning
of harmony in composition. The reason is that there is no relation
between the box of candy and the one pound weight, except that each
weighs the same. On the other hand, in the picture every detail has some
relation to the other details, and all are related to the whole. The
whole, in fact, is a woven mass of contrasts and repetitions, in exact
relation; very much as a composition of music is made up of exactly
related contrasts and repetitions of sound notes. Alter one of these and
there will be a discord, unless some other notes are altered to restore
the harmony. Similarly if the artist had altered the shape of one of the
details in his picture, or its color, or its lightness or darkness,
there would have been a discord in the effect of his picture; it would
no longer present the appearance of perfect oneness. He would have to
alter some other parts to restore the harmony.

In studying the picture to try and discover how the effect of harmony is
produced we find ourselves studying the contrasts and repetitions of
which it is composed. And, first the contrasts. One big one is the
contrast of the architecture with everything else in the picture--the
contrast of these quiet stately masses, which seem so firm and strong,
compared with the shimmering surface of the water and the tremulous
mistiness of the sky; the contrast also of their decided lines with the
irregular spotting of the figures, and with the irregular masses of the
trees and foliage. The big tree, although it is motionless in the quiet
air, seems as if a breeze would stir it; the water has ripples of
motion; some of the figures appear to be moving, while others are only
still for the moment, and the sky--it is palpitating with the actual
stir of the atmosphere, as the upper air gradually cools and draws up
the warmer air from below, and this warmer air cools into mistiness. But
the buildings stand immovable and solid. While all around them either
moves or could move, they seem to suggest the force and permanence of
what does not change. Or perhaps we may feel that grand as the buildings
are, stately and magnificent, yet the sky is lovelier, for the buildings
are limited to their one size and shape, while the sky seems a part of
that which has no limits or boundaries. It draws off our imagination
into the mystery of distance and of the unknown. So the impressions
which the contrast of the architecture arouses are not only such as the
eye can see, but such also as the imagination can feel. This, no doubt,
is one of the secrets of the pleasure which so many people have found
and still find in _classic_ landscapes.

And now for another series of contrasts: those supplied by the lights
and darks. In the original picture these contrasts would depend partly
on the color of the various objects; but here, in the black and white
reproduction, we may think of the pattern simply as one of very dark
spots and very light ones, threaded together by others of varying depths
of greyness. Again, what an important part the sky plays! It is a flood
of light, against which everything forms a silhouette,[4] more or less
dark, relieved by spots and streaks of light. The water, but for the
pathway of reflection, is shrouded in shadow. Shadow, too, is wrapping
itself round the tall building on the left, and slumbers drowsily among
the trees on the opposite hill slopes. The artist, you will notice, has
varied the distribution of shadows. On the left the gradation from very
dark to very light is continuous. It is as if the first building struck
a loud strong note, and the sound gradually diminished toward the
distance. On the right, however, the foreground is lighter, and the dark
gradually increases, swelling up, as they say in music, in a _crescendo_
effect and then passing in a _diminuendo_ far off into the distance. In
fact, on both sides of

[Illustration: Dido Building Carthage. _J. M. W. Turner._]

the picture the arrangement of dark and light is rhythmical. I have only
touched upon the broad general plan of contrasted darks and lights, and
must leave you to study for yourselves the intricate and subtle effects
with which the picture abounds; for example, the fine threads and little
dots of light and dark that form a tangle on the left bank; or, on the
right, the mass of leafage in half shadow against which the trunk of the
tree shows very dark. You know the old proverb about leading a horse to
the water. I can draw your attention to these things, but I can not make
you feel their beauty. I think, however, I can promise you, that, if you
are sufficiently interested in what we are talking about to really study
this picture, to explore carefully the lighter parts and peer into the
shadows to see what lurks within them, its beauty will make itself known
to you.

As I myself am examining a black and white reproduction of this picture,
that lies before me while I write these lines, there is music coming
from the next room. It has stopped, and I wish it would begin again; for
music seems to fit in with the impressions that this picture stirs in my
imagination. Nor is this merely a fanciful idea. Music is one art and
painting is another. They are different, it is true, but yet are sisters
with much in common. And why not? For they come from the same
parents--the hand and the mind of man. And through the harmony of the
light and dark of which this picture is composed there floats, it seems
to me, the fancy of a melody. I think it comes from out the endless
distance of that sky; gently floating toward us, and crooning over the
objects in the foreground, as a mother murmurs a lullaby over her baby
while it falls asleep. But it is not altogether crooning, for see that
tree’s dark, round mass of tone! How it thumps itself into our notice,
while its force spreads up the hill, and then leaps across the water,
and stirs with a different kind of energy in the dark building on the
left. There is nothing of the feebleness and the helplessness of a baby
in this picture. It suggests rather, big and mighty effort, growing
toward the time of rest. It is not the music of a lullaby I seem to
hear, but the evening hymn of sturdy workers as they cease for a little
from their toil.



CHAPTER IX

NATURALISTIC COMPOSITION


In the preceding chapters we have been studying _formal_, or
_conventional_, composition. We have seen how the artists arrange their
groups of figures and the position and gestures of each figure according
to a rule or formula or convention, the basis of which is a geometric
plan, on which they build up a balance of repetitions and contrasts. And
we have noted that these formal compositions are artificial
arrangements; that the figures are not grouped as you might expect them
to be in real life, nor in positions that men and women usually assume.
And these formal compositions we have seen were also called, _classic_;
the last example being the _classic landscape_ in which nature has been
made to look more grand by the addition of features of classic
architecture.

We reach now another principle of composition. It is the arrangement
adopted by the artist, whose motive is to make his picture represent
nature naturally; so I call it _naturalistic composition_. But, as we
have noted before, the artist is not satisfied merely to represent
nature; he wishes in the first place to make his picture a thing of
beauty. Nature is not always beautiful; so he selects from nature and
arranges his subject in such a way, that we shall not only recognise how
true the picture is to nature, but feel also how beautiful it is as a
work of art. Its beauty, you see, is founded, not upon a formal plan,
but on its truth to nature.

Here for example, is _The Sower_ by the French artist, Jean François
Millet. If we have ever seen a man scattering grain, we recognise at
once the picture’s truth to life. But Millet’s intention was not only to
make us know what the man is doing, but to create an impression on our
minds that shall make us feel a sense of beauty, through the way in
which the picture represents the incident. As a young man, Millet had
studied the examples of Greek and Roman sculpture in the Museum of the
Louvre in Paris, and learnt through them the classic principles of
composition--the balance obtained by rhythmical repetition and contrast.
And these principles, as we shall see presently, are applied to this
figure of _The Sower_. I hope to show you that this is the secret of the
picture’s beauty. Although the _action_ of the figure inside the shabby
clothes is quite natural, the _movement_ is rhythmical. In fact it
represents a mixture of the _classical_ and the _naturalistic_ motive.

Firstly, the _naturalistic_. We know at a glance what the man is doing.
The forms in the picture, the colors, the light and shade, make an
impression on the eye which is immediately telegraphed to one of the
centers of the brain. The result is that we know the picture represents
a man in a field sowing grain, while from the color and light in the
sky, and the shadows creeping over the field, we know that it is
twilight.

This direct thought stirs us to further thinking; for we recall that
laborers start for their work in early morning, so this one has probably
been toiling all through the day. But we notice that his actions are
still vigorous, he should be tired, yet he is working as sturdily as at
any time during the day; perhaps with even more energy, in order that he
may finish sowing the field before the darkness comes. In fact, the
arrangement of forms, colors, and light and shade has made a strong
impression on the thinking part of the brain, stirring us not only to
observe, but to draw conclusions. And this, of course, is what Millet
meant that it should do.

But this was not all that he intended. Most people of his day must have
thought it was; for nearly all the critics, or persons who are supposed
to be able to judge of the value of a picture, and nearly all the
connoisseurs, who are supposed to be able to appreciate its beauty,
turned up their noses and shrugged their shoulders. “This is horrible!”
they exclaimed. “A common laborer in his dirty clothes, doing his
miserable work. Ugh! how vulgar! This is not art; for art should be
concerned with beauty. Why does not the fellow paint some beautiful girl
in beautiful draperies? Phew! Take the picture away, it smells of the
farm.”

You see they confined their criticisms and appreciation to what the
picture was about--its subject; and because they did not like the
subject, they condemned the picture. They got no further than _knowing_
and _thinking_, they did not permit themselves to _feel_. But it was on
their feelings also that Millet wished to make an impression. Through
the arrangement of line, form, color, and light and shade he sought to
stir that other part of the brain to which messages are telegraphed by
the senses, with a result that we are made to _feel_. Let us analyse the
composition; and see how it illustrates the principle that we have been
discussing of balance, and rhythmic repetition, and contrast.

We will begin with the latter. Note, then, how the sloping line of the
field cuts across the picture. This diagonal line is contrasted with the
perpendicular sides of the picture, and with the upright direction of
the figure of the man. It forms, however, another contrast; it divides
the light from the dark. The sun has gone down behind the slope; so
that, while the sky is still luminous with a lovely glow, the ground is
in shadow, dreary and heavy looking. So, too, the figure of the man. The
light is at his back, so that what we see of him is shrouded in gloom.
Against the gloom of the ground his figure shows comparatively
indistinctly, but the upper part stands very sharp against the light.
There is a strong contrast between its heaviness and gloom and the
lovely radiance of the waning light; while down below the figure looms
out of the gloom and heaviness, as if it were a part of them that had
gathered into definite shape. Yes, though his head may stand against
the sky, the man is part of the earth.

Right away, is there nothing in this to make us feel? Millet, at any
rate, had often felt the poignancy of contrast, in his own life and in
the lives of others. He had known what it was to see his wife and
children short of food, to have his own stomach empty, while his mind
was full of beautiful ideas, and his cottage full of pictures, that some
day men would buy, but not yet. He had seen little bright faced children
standing at the open grave of the father or the mother; the happy young
bride at the altar, and among the congregation the young widow; and
evening after evening, as the darkness fell, the lonely figures in the
field, toiling out their short lives, whilst behind them spread the
everlasting beauty of the sunset, and a few miles off in Paris, where he
came from, the lights were gleaming and people were making ready for
pleasure, though there too, as he knew from his own experience, people
starved. Yes, it is through experience that we learn to feel deeply, and
it is to experience that the contrast of this picture appeals.

When we recognise that by this contrast of light and darkness, Millet
sought to express the dreary routine, day in day out, early and late, of
the peasant’s lot in a world where nature is so beautiful, and there can
be so much beauty in life, we may imagine to ourselves what would be the
effect of raising or lowering the diagonal line. To have given more
lighted space, would have made the figure stand out too prominently so
that it would have dominated the scene, and the scene itself would have
seemed too spacious. Velasquez, in his equestrian portraits, kept the
horizon line low, so that _Philip IV_, for example, or his minister,
_Olivarez_, is made to appear a very important person in a very large
world. But Millet wished us to feel the lowliness of the peasant, bound
close to the earth in very narrow surroundings. Again, to have raised
the horizon line, would have destroyed the balance between light and
darkness, which now is absolutely true. This balance suggests a feeling
of repose; shall I say of acquiescence in the necessity of the contrast?
For Millet did not consider himself a reformer whose work is to set
things right and to do away with contrasts; but an artist, whose aim was
to harmonise the contrasts and to find some balance between the lights
and darks of life; just as Stevenson out of his weakness and strength
made his life a beautiful one.

And now let us study the lines of the figure. In the first place you
will agree that they enclose a form which is unmistakably that of a man
sowing grain. It was necessary for Millet to arrange the lines, in some
way that should convey this impression. But there are many other ways in
which they might have been arranged, so as to obtain this result. For in
the act of sowing a man takes many positions and any one of these would
have done, if all the artist had desired was to make us _know_ that the
man was sowing. But Millet wished to do more.

As a boy he toiled in his father’s fields, so he had

[Illustration: The Sower. _J. F. Millet._]

a fellow-feeling for the peasants; and as he watched them, day after day
laboring so faithfully, he found a big idea in their work. It was
something like this--work is necessary, and to do our own share of it as
well as we can is the big thing for each of us. And the oldest work of
all and the most necessary is the growing of the wheat. To-day the seed
is laid in rows by machine-drills; but in Millet’s time it was scattered
by hand, just as it had been since man began to sow. This sower, then,
that he watched was a descendant of a long line of sowers, stretching
back to the beginning of civilisation; and still in the fields of
Barbizon he was doing his humble share of the world’s necessary work.
Millet felt the bigness of this idea; and in his imagination the man was
no longer Jacques or Jean--a sower; he became “The Sower,” a type--a big
heroic type. Then, as Millet felt him to be, so he set to work to paint
him, choosing such lines as would convey this big feeling to us.
Observe, first, the balance of the figure: how the weight of the body is
planted almost equally on both feet. If you try to put yourself in the
position, you will find that you can raise neither foot without moving
the body. If you wish to raise the back foot, you must move the body
forward till the weight is on the right foot; or, if you would raise
this latter, you must move the body back till the weight is over the
left foot. The center of gravity or of mass runs down through the body
and between the legs. Now sway your body backward and forward a few
times, and then bring forward the left leg in front of the right, so
that the position of the feet is reversed. Now sway again forward and
backward. I ask you to do this that you may feel how freely the body
moves in this position. And I ask you to stride, that you may feel that
the position in the picture is only a momentary one, leading on to a
natural advance. For this perfect poise of the body on the feet is not a
stationary one, that in time will seem stiff, but part of a moving one,
that has the freedom and the naturalness of life. And the movement is a
swift one. We can feel it is so from the length of the stride; for it is
only when you are moving quickly, that you can take long strides, and
still preserve the balanced, rhythmic swing of the body.

We have spoken of the poise of the body on the legs; now let us note the
action of the right arm. The action, I need hardly say, begins with
taking a handful of grain from the bag; then the arm is swung back to
the right to its full extent, and then again brought back to the bag.
Between these two points--that of the bag and that of the full
extent--the arm is poised in motion, just as the action of the body was
poised between the backward and forward motion of the legs. We can feel
that the arm is moving, and, at this instant it is moving backward, for
our own experience when we walk and swing our arms naturally is that
each arm goes back as the leg on that side goes forward. The man’s arm
will reach its furthest point backward when he brings his full weight on
the right foot. In a word, the poise of the arm and the poise of the leg
correspond. They present an example of repetition of balance. It is
enforced, you will observe, in the composition by the arm being made
parallel to the direction of the backward leg. This is another instance
of repetition; and there are still others: the repetitions of the waist
line, the shoulders, and the hat brim; of the bandage on the left leg,
the line from the shoulder through the thigh, the apron, hanging over
the arm, and of the echo, as it were, of these, in the tail of the
distant ox and the arm of the driver. These repetitions, and others that
you may discover for yourself, help to bind the composition together and
also to make it rhythmic.

And now for contrast, we have noted the big one made by the diagonal
line, dividing the composition into light and dark. Let us note those
appearing in the figure. First there is the big contrast of the figure’s
own diagonal line from the shoulders down through the right leg. It is
contrasted most forcibly with the sides of the picture, the horizon
line, and the direction of the right arm and the left leg. The latter
are practically at right angles to the figure--strongest of all
contrasts of line. It is to all these vigorous contrasts that the energy
and assertion of the figure are mainly due. But there are other
contrasts in the figure. Do you notice that the swing of the arm brings
the trunk of the body, or the torso, as it is called, along with it?
Swing your own arm and you will find your torso following its direction.
If the man’s arm were to reach its full extension, his left shoulder
would appear and his torso would front us nearly full. If his hand
should reach the bag, the right shoulder would come forward until the
torso would be seen almost in profile. However, neither of these
extremes is presented. The swing of the torso is poised between the two.
But do you observe that the swing of the torso and arms is across the
path of direction of the swing of the legs? While they swing forward and
backward, the arms and torso swing alternately from right to left and
left to right.

Imitate this action with your own body, step forward briskly with a
swinging stride and at the same time swing your arms and torso. If you
feel the exhilaration of the action as I think you will, you will
realise that it is the wonderful way in which Millet has suggested this
contrast of the swing, that makes the action of the figure so stirring.
By the contrast of its lines, it expresses energy; by the contrast of
swing, so free, so rhythmic, so vigorous, it lifts us to enthusiasm.

But finally observe the position of the head and the direction of its
gaze. While below it the torso and arms swing from side to side, the
head is fixed, leaning a little forward in the direction of the onward
movement, its eyes firmly set on what is ahead. Within the head is the
brain which directs all the action of the figure. But the face is
shadowed over, and through the shadow the features appear coarse and
heavy. We feel that the brain, though prompting the man to do his work
to the utmost, is after all a dull brain, in pitiful contrast to the
vigor of the body. Heroic though the figure is in the grandeur of its
free, swift movement, as grand, if you will take my word for it, as a
Greek statue, yet it is but that of a humble peasant, unconscious that
he is doing aught but that which he has to do.

There you have the idea as it presented itself to the imagination of
Millet!

“The Sower” is a striking illustration of the point with which I started
this book; that the beauty of a picture does not depend upon the
subject, but upon the way it is represented.



CHAPTER X

NATURALISTIC COMPOSITION (_Continued_)


In _The Sower_, by Millet, we found that, though the composition was
naturalistic, it was based upon the classic principle of rhythm of line.
We shall not discover this principle in the present picture of a _Young
Woman Opening a Window_. The arrangement of the figure and its
surroundings is simply natural.

The picture is by Johannes Vermeer[5] of Delft, so called because this
town in Holland was his birthplace and the scene of his life’s work.
Born in 1632, he is one of those famous Dutch artists of the Seventeenth
Century, of whom I have already spoken. We were talking of landscape
painting and mentioned that in this century the art branched out in two
directions. Landscape up to that time having been used as a background
for figures, became then an independent art, cultivated for its own
sake; and the artists treated it in two ways. On the one hand, some
applied the principles of geometric composition to an artificial
building up of bits of nature into what is called the formal, or classic
landscape; while other painters represented the natural landscape
naturally. These latter were the Dutchmen, who treated figures also in
the same realistic spirit. That is to say, whether they painted
portraits or figure pictures or landscapes, their aim was to represent
the actual subject as they really saw it. They did not substitute an
artificial arrangement for the natural appearance of people and things;
nor did they try to obtain beauty by altering and improving upon nature.
Their motive or purpose was to render the beauty that is actually in
nature. So, for the most part, they chose subjects of familiar every day
life.

This picture, for example, represents simply a glimpse of home life, of
a Dutch girl in well-to-do circumstances. Perhaps the artist intended to
make a portrait of her; probably his intention was only to paint a genre
picture, that is to say, an incident of every day life. Not so much,
however, for the sake of representing the incident, as of making it
contribute to a subject of abstract beauty. How he has done this I hope
we shall see presently. Meanwhile, I want you to grasp the distinction
between simply representing an incident, as you or I might have seen it,
if we had been present, and Vermeer’s motive of using the incident as a
peg on which to hang some beauty of light and color and texture. I mean,
it was the beauty of light and color and texture that made him pleased
to paint this picture; and probably he would have been just as pleased
if some other girl had been standing there, or some other objects had
been spread upon the table.

Perhaps a familiar example will illustrate this distinction. Two people
start off for an afternoon’s walk. One sets out because he wishes to
call upon a friend who lives on the other side of the wood. To pay this
call is the object of his walk; for the friend is building a new house.
As he walks along he is busy wondering how far it is advanced, whether
the plasterers have finished their work; and as he returns home he is
thinking about the house he has seen and how he himself, when he builds
a house of his own, will plan it differently. In fact, the incident of
his friend’s being engaged in building is what interests him, and has
been throughout the afternoon the motive of his walk. His companion, on
the other hand, agrees to go along with him, not so much because he is
interested in the house, although he is to some extent, but mostly
because he loves a walk. He enjoys the exhilaration of the exercise; he
is fond of the wood through which they have to pass. He will have a
chance to hunt for the first signs of spring--the early skunk-cabbage,
the shy peep of the violet through the dead leaves underfoot, the rose
blush of the maples overhead, the piping and flicker of the first
bird-arrivals and so on. The real motive of his walk is the joy of
exercise and of the beauties met with on the way. Visiting the house was
but an excuse.

There is the same distinction among painters. To some the representation
of the incident is the main thing; to others, the rendering of the
beauties which it involves. Vermeer, like the other Dutch artists, of
the Seventeenth Century, belonged to the latter

[Illustration: Young Woman Opening a Window. _Johannes Vermeer._

(_Property of The Metropolitan Museum of Art._)]

class. Since, however, his subject is the peg on which he hangs his
arrangement of light and color, let us begin by examining it.

A young woman is standing between a table and a window. With one hand
she opens the casement while the other grasps the handle of a brass
pitcher that stands in an ewer of the same material. Perhaps she is
going to water some flowers that are outside on the window sill. Her
costume consists of a dark blue skirt, buff-colored bodice, and a broad
collar and hood-like cap of thin white linen. The table is covered with
an oriental cloth, on which is a yellow jewel case, while over the blue
chair lies a cloak of lighter blue. On the gray wall hangs a map. This
and the table cloth may remind us, that the Dutch of that period,
although they were fighting for their political liberty against Spain,
found means to build ships and carry on trade across the sea with far
distant countries. Possibly the girl was the daughter of some
sea-captain or prosperous merchant.

Anyhow the picture, beside being a beautiful painting, is very
interesting to us to-day as an illustration of the domestic life of a
Dutch girl of some two hundred and fifty years ago. And the same
interest belongs to all the old genre pictures. They make the past still
alive to our eyes; just as the genre pictures painted to-day will show
some future generation how we lived. But this, I repeat, was not
Vermeer’s first thought. On the other hand, I do not wish you to think
that he was not himself interested in the subject of his picture. He
was, I am sure; but in another way. He, no doubt, arranged the figure
with great care and carefully selected and grouped the surrounding
objects. But, in placing the girl, he did not try to get the graceful
lines that Raphael, for example, would have imagined. Vermeer’s desire
was to keep the pose and gesture natural. In this he was simply
following the general motive of the artists of his country and of that
time. But his own particular motive in representing the girl in the act
of opening the window was that the clear outside light might stream in
at the back of her figure and blend with the dimmer light of the
interior.

I said that we would study the kind of beauty that this picture
possesses; and it is to be found in the rendering of the light. The
Italians, busy with their grand classic compositions, would not have
thought of this. Their motive was the beauty of form, arrayed in
beautiful draperies, and so arranged that the figures should produce
beautiful patterns of line and form. To make a motive of the beauty of
natural light was a discovery of the Dutch.

They were artists, you see, and therefore in love with beauty. But they
confined themselves, almost entirely, to real subjects of every day
life, and accordingly had to find out the beauty that may be in these
familiar things. And it was not long before they learned how much the
beauty of things depends upon the light in which they are seen.

Before we go any further in our study of the picture, let us see if we
cannot be sure of this from our own experience. Whether you live in a
city or in the country, how differently you feel when you start out in
the morning, according as the day is fine or not. Under a bright sky
everything takes on a cheerfulness that is communicated to our own
spirit. Let the sky become downcast and the appearance of objects
becomes dulled. Often too, some familiar object that we have passed time
and time again without particular notice, suddenly attracts us. How
beautiful! we exclaim. If we try to discover the reason of the beauty,
we shall find very likely, that it is due to some effect of light. It
need not be a bright light, on the contrary, it may be a soft light,
such as wraps itself around objects like a gauzy veil, when the sky is
thick with vapor. Do you remember that line of Tennyson’s--“Waves of
light went over the wheat”? He had been watching a field of wheat,
spread out smoothly like a pale golden carpet in the yellow sunshine.
Suddenly, a soft breeze passes over it, and as the stems bend their
heavy heads of grain, and recover themselves, ripples of light travel
across the field. The poet notes it in his memory, for a future poem.
So, if we use our eyes, we may note countless examples of the beauty
which is added to the simplest things by light. In fact, the changing
effect of light will correspond to the changing expressions that pass
over the human face.

The Dutch artists, as soon as they became really interested in the
nature and life around them, quickly recognised this fact, and made it
the chief motive of their pictures. They were no longer satisfied with
mere realism; that is to say, to make the figure and the objects around
it look as real in the pictures as they did in actual reality. They
sought to render the expression of which these objects were capable,
under the influence of light. If you do not understand this I think you
will, if you place a bunch of flowers in some dark corner of the room,
look at it a little while, and then move it to the window. Now, as the
light falls upon the flowers and shines through the petals, the whole
bunch is transfigured. It has taken on a new appearance of beauty. Like
a face that has suddenly lighted up with an expression of happiness, the
flowers seem alive with radiance. They too, have their expression and it
will change with the changing of light. For look at them again toward
evening, when the light is low, and their faces, not less beautiful,
will show a quite different expression.

Now the light which streamed in at that window in Delft, when Vermeer
painted this picture, was a very cool, pure light; one would say, from
seeing the original picture, a morning light in Spring, it is so pure
and fresh and fragrant. Yes, one can even feel the fragrance of its
freshness, so exquisitely has the artist suggested to us the impression
of the lighted air that steals into the room, filling it with purity.
See, how it bathes the wall; even the bare gray becomes radiant; how it
gleams on the girl’s shoulder, and filters through her cap, making it
in parts transparent, so that one sees the background color through it.
Note also, how it roams among the objects in the room, caressing the
under part of the girl’s right arm, bringing out the softness and
plumpness of her left wrist; splashing the ewer and touching the
pitcher, the table cloth, and other details with glints of sparkle, like
notes of gladness in a melody of tender freshness.

Even in the reproduction one can feel the freshness that pervades the
room, and the delicate quality of the lighted atmosphere that envelopes
the figures and fills every part of the scene. I mean, that not only is
this effect of light visible to our eyes, but it also stirs in us a
sentiment or feeling of gladness and refreshment. Still more will the
original, if you have a chance of seeing it in the Metropolitan Museum,
New York, where, though a very small picture, it is one of the gems of
the collection. For there you will feel also the effect of the color,
yellow, gray, and various hues of blue. They are all cool colors, the
blues especially, and very pure in hue, which increases the sensation of
freshness.

A moment ago I spoke of the picture as being like a melody. It will
suggest to some imaginations the blitheness of a spring-song. The fact
that a painting may sometimes seem to have the tunefulness or harmony of
music I have already mentioned in a previous chapter. The reason is that
painting and music, although different arts, have certain elements in
common. Later on, when we shall speak of color, I shall try to suggest
to you the correspondence between sound notes in music and color notes
in painting. But for the present I will remind you of an element, common
to both arts, of which we have already spoken--rhythm. In Raphael’s
_Jurisprudence_, I pointed out to you the rhythm of movement in the
figures. It flows through the forms of the figures in rippling,
wave-like lines of direction. But nothing of that sort is apparent in
Vermeer’s picture. There are repetitions and contrasts in the
arrangement of the full and empty spaces; but they represent rather a
pattern of spots; we are not conscious of any rhythm of line. Then, in
what does the rhythm consist?

If you think of that line of Tennyson’s--“Waves of light went over the
wheat,” you may perhaps discover for yourselves the kind of rhythm in
this picture. To give you time to think it out, before I tell you, let
me ask you, if you have noticed that in a flower-bed in the garden a
number of blossoms of different colors will “dwell together in unity,”
but if you pick some of these and bring them indoors and begin to
arrange them in a vase, the colors will seem to clash. That they do not
appear to clash in the flower bed is because the out-of-door light
envelopes everything, soothes the violence of the colors and brings them
all into an appearance of harmony. Similarly in this picture, the light
streaming through the window brings all the different spots of color
into a single harmony of effect. They are no longer separate and
independent, but drawn together and united by the veil of lighted
atmosphere. Of this again, we will speak when we reach the subject of
color.

But the rhythm of this picture, in what does it consist? Yes, in the
movement, not of form, but of light. Uniting all the colors into a
single harmony, it flows in and out through the lighter and darker parts
of the composition; sometimes in a broad sweeping flood, as on the wall;
sometimes in little pulses of movement, as it leaps from point to point;
now losing itself in the hollow of a shadow, then reappearing in the
gleam of a fold; all the while streaming through the picture in a
continuous ebb and flow. In fact, as we study it, we gradually find that
the light does for the parts of this composition what the lines of
direction did in Raphael’s--it unites them in a rhythmic movement.

Do not be disturbed, if at first reading these words convey little
meaning to you; or if at first sight you do not feel the rhythm of the
composition. It is there, however, and some day, if you are really going
to be a student of pictures, you will feel it yourself.

For the present, if you will accept my word for it, I wish you to
understand that this rhythmic effect of out-of-door light represented a
new motive in painting. The Italians of the great period did not see it.
It was the discovery of the Dutch realists, those artists of Holland in
the Seventeenth Century, whose study was the real appearances of nature
and life.[6] Their pictures were not as grand as the Italians’; for
they were small in size, and were not built up on the magnificently
formal plan that gives such a dignity and distinction to the Italian
pictures. Nor are their subjects so heroic and impressive. They
represent only the facts of every day life. Yet they have a great beauty
of their own, because they rely on the inexhaustible beauty of light.

It is on this same beauty that after two hundred years artists of our
own day are relying. They have gone back to the example of Vermeer and
the other Dutch artists, and are applying it to the study of similar
subjects. They are painting nature as it shows itself to them in its
envelope of lighted atmosphere.



CHAPTER XI

THE NATURALISTIC LANDSCAPE


We come now to the other arm of the Y, about which we spoke in a
previous chapter. Landscape had been used as a background to the
figures, until in the Seventeenth Century some artists began to make it
the chief subject of their pictures. But no sooner was landscape
painting practised as a separate art than it branched into two
directions. We followed one of these and saw how Claude Lorrain invented
the formal, or classic landscape; taking bits of nature, some from one
place, some from another, and building them up into an artificial
composition, which he made more grand by the addition of classic
architecture. It was not unlike the way in which a handsome house is
built; the materials,--stone, wood, marble, and so on--are brought
together from various places, hewed to certain shapes designed by the
architect, and then put together according to the rule or formula of
building. The main difference is that, though the classic landscape does
not represent any actual spot in nature, it still bears a resemblance to
nature. But it is nature worked over by the fancy of man, and improved
according to his own idea of what is beautiful. The artist did not
paint nature because he loved it as it is but because it furnished him
with material for making a handsome picture. And this picture-making use
of landscape continued to be popular with artists and the public well on
into the Nineteenth Century.

Meanwhile the other branch of landscape painting had been started in the
Seventeenth Century by the Dutchmen. They, as we have seen, were
interested above everything in themselves, their own lives and
surroundings. This was the state of mind of the whole people, and the
artists gave expression to it in their pictures. They too, were
picture-makers, who by their skill of painting and their love of beauty
made their pictures beautiful works of art. But the subjects that they
represented were seldom imaginary ones. They painted what they actually
saw; and with so much truth that their art has been called an art of
portraiture. They made portraits of people, portraits of the outdoor and
indoor life, and portraits of their towns and harbors, and of the
country that surrounded them. So, by comparison with the formal or
classic landscape, we may call their landscapes naturalistic, for they
represented nature as it actually appeared to their eyes.

But their art died with them. As soon as Holland had secured her
independence, her artists began to travel to foreign countries,
especially to Italy. There they set themselves to imitate the great
Italians, and so far as landscape was concerned, joined in the popular
taste for the classic kind. It was not

[Illustration: Crossing the Brook. _J. M. W. Turner._]

until a hundred years later, namely at the end of the Eighteenth
Century, that an English artist, Constable, revived the naturalistic
style of landscape. He was a miller’s son, whose boyhood had been spent
amid the simple loveliness of nature. Later he went to London and
studied painting; but while he worked in the big city, his heart was in
the country, and he suddenly made up his mind to go back to the old
scenes, and paint what he knew and loved. He had seen some of the
landscapes of the old Dutchmen, and resolved that he would do what they
had done. In his own words, he would be a “natural painter.”

It was not long before the example of Constable led some of the younger
French artists to study the old Dutch pictures in the Louvre. They were
dissatisfied with the methods of painting upheld by the older artists.
It seemed to them a waste of time to set up a model in a studio, and
then, instead of drawing it as they saw it, to correct it according to
some standard of perfection. Nor did they find any interest in putting a
number of such figures into artificial groups, in order to build up some
grand composition, supposed to represent some classical subject or story
of the old time. They were full of interest in the life of their own
time, which was the period following the Revolution, when France felt
young again and vigorous, and the young artists and poets and
fiction-writers were eager to express in their work their joy in the
reality of life. When life was so real and so full of promise, why
should they look back to the times of the great Italians and occupy
themselves with the artificial and make-believe?

Among these younger men was one, Theodore Rousseau. He was not only
independent in character and determined to see things with his own eyes
and to represent them as he saw them and felt them, but he had a great
love of nature. This led him away from the city into the country; where
he studied the skies and the trees, and all the objects of the landscape
with an ever increasing love and knowledge, until he came to know
nature, as few have done, and to feel toward it, as a man feels toward
that which he loves best in all the world. His favorite spot in nature
was that which surrounds the Palace of Fontainebleau, an ancient
residence some thirty miles from Paris, of the kings of France. It is a
rolling tract of ground, broken up with rocky glens and thick with
forest trees, especially the oak. On the outskirts of this enchanting
garden of wildness, in the little village of Barbizon, Rousseau made his
home, and around him gathered other artists, fascinated by the beauty of
nature. Among them was the Jean François Millet whose picture, _The
Sower_, we have already studied. He for the most part painted the
peasants, working in the fields or tending their flocks; but the others,
among them Dupré, Corot, and Diaz, painted the landscape, while Troyon
introduced cows into his pictures and Jacque, sheep. With all of them
the motive was to represent nature as they saw and felt it. They are
known as the Fontainebleau-Barbizon group of artists, and their example
has had very great influence on modern art. I shall speak of it
presently; meanwhile will continue the story of naturalistic landscape.

It is a very interesting fact that while these French artists were going
straight to nature for their subjects and inspiration, some American
artists, knowing nothing of the Frenchmen, were doing the same thing. A
similar love of nature and longing to paint it as they saw and felt it
drew them from the city to the beautiful spots that border on the Hudson
River. Their leader was Thomas Cole, who made his headquarters among the
hills and valleys, the waterfalls and luxuriant vegetation of the
romantic Catskills. Other names are those of Thomas Doughty, Asher B.
Durand, John F. Kensett. Sometimes they painted the grander aspects of
the scenery; the broad Hudson sweeping past its headlands, or the lakes
with their girdle of mountains; but quite as often the simpler
loveliness of smiling meadows and cosy farms. But always with the
sincere wish to represent, as faithfully as they could, the natural
beauty that they loved.

Gradually, however, as the country expanded Westward and the pioneer
spirit of the nation was aroused, American artists began to attempt
bigger subjects. Church, Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran attacked the
colossal wonders of the Yellowstone and the Rockies. It was no longer
the beauty of nature that inspired them, so much as its marvelousness
and immensity. As many people believe, they tried to do something that
is beyond the power of painting to express. For on the comparatively
tiny space of their canvasses they did succeed in expressing some of the
appearances of nature’s grandeur, but they hardly made you feel it. I
believe myself it is impossible that they should; for an artist can only
make you feel in his picture something of what he himself has felt; and
he must have thoroughly mastered his own feeling before he can express
it. But in the presence of the stupendous works of nature, as far as my
experience goes, the feeling masters ourselves. Amid the vastness of the
height and depth and breadth and the grandeur and glory and marvel of it
all, our spirit is swept out of us. We see the mighty volume of water
coming over Niagara and hear the roar of its might; but not as we gaze
into the face of a friend and listen to the voice that we have learned
to know and love so well. In the one case our feeling is all brought to
a center of attraction, in the other it is caught away and carried
beyond our comprehension. We can only lose ourselves in wonder.

Well, artists discovered the truth of this. Constable and Rousseau lead
the way, and now it is the usual habit of the landscape artists to study
nature as one studies the face and form, the expression and action of a
friend. One cannot know a number of friends as intimately as one or two.
So they have confined their pictures to the few and simple aspects of
nature; one little fragment at a time, studied with loving intimacy and
represented with the faithfulness of sincere and thorough knowledge. In
doing so, they have learned like Johannes Vermeer and other Dutch
artists of the Seventeenth Century, that much of the beauty and almost
all the expression on the face of nature are due to the effects of
natural light. Light has become the special study of the modern painters
of the naturalistic landscape. And they have carried it further than the
other artists did. Helped by the scientific men, who have examined into
the color of light, the modern artist has found out how to represent a
great variety of the effects of light: cool or warm light, the light at
a particular hour of the day, at a particular season of the year, and in
a particular kind of weather. In fact, the light that he represents in
his pictures is a faithful rendering of some one of the countless
conditions of natural light.

You remember how the light in Vermeer’s picture drew all the parts of
the composition into a harmonious whole and gave it rhythm. So too, in
these modern naturalistic landscapes the artist has ceased to depend
upon line and form in making the composition. The latter is now rather
an arrangement of masses of lighted color. We will talk more about this
when we come to color; for the present, it is enough to remember that we
must not expect to find in modern naturalistic landscapes the same
handsome patterns of composition that we find in the classical. The
modern have less dignity, but a more intimate charm. We do not stand
apart from the scene and admire it; we rather enter in to it and enjoy
it. It is something with which we are familiar in nature, but we are
made to feel a greater beauty in it through the personal feeling that
the artist has put into his work. The French have a term for this kind
of landscape, which well expresses the artist’s motive and the feelings
which his picture inspires in us. They call it the “paysage intime.”[7]
Literally translated this means “intimate landscape”; but it may be
rendered more freely a landscape in which we recognise how intimately
the artist has studied his subject.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have given you a sketch of the growth of naturalistic landscape in the
Seventeenth Century up to our own day, when this branch of painting has
become fully as important as that of figure subjects. Now let me briefly
describe the change that has taken place in the motive of the landscape
painter.

The motive, or aim of the early Dutchmen was to make their pictures
resemble as much as possible the actual landscape. They were, as I have
said, “portraits” of the natural surroundings. In their desire that the
portraits should be lifelike these artists painted in as many of the
details as they could. Moreover their point of view was objective. By
“point of view” I mean the way in which they looked at the landscape;
and I call it “objective,” because they looked at it simply as an object
in front of them to be painted as nearly as possible lifelike. This is
the usual point of view of the modern photographer. You go to him to
have your portrait taken. He poses you as an object in front of his
camera. His aim is to make a portrait that will be like you, and will
also please you because it is a good-looking picture. He will do the
same for the next person that comes to him, and for the next, and so on.
All of them are simply objects to be photographed. He has no personal
feeling toward any of them; his point of view is objective. But, suppose
he makes a portrait of his own child. He will wish it to be more than a
likeness that any one would recognise. He wants it to be a reminder in
after years, when she is grown up and changed, of how she used to look
as a little one, in moments when to her mother and himself she seemed
more than ever a darling. To him, you see, she is not merely an object
to be photographed; his point of view towards his own child is not
objective; on the contrary it is influenced by his personal love for
her; the picture is to be a likeness plus something more--a reflection
of his own feeling. This personal kind of point of view is called
“subjective,” the opposite to objective. Perhaps you will understand the
difference between the two more clearly by the following sentence: “The
photographer photographs Mrs. X.” The photographer is the subject of the
verb, photographs, “Mrs. X.” is the object. In this case the object is
of more importance than the subject because it is Mrs. X. who pays the
money and has to be considered. But change the words in this way--“The
father photographs his little one.” Now, so far as the taking of the
photograph is concerned, the father is the more important. He is the
subject of the verb, the one who is going to do something and do it his
own way, so as to represent something which he, the subject, has in his
mind. His point of view is entirely his own--the subjective. Observe how
this will affect the way in which he takes the photograph.

The little one has just come in, we will say, from a romp in the meadow.
Her hair is tumbled and the light plays through the silky strands; there
is a sparkle of sunshine in her eyes; her lips are parted in a sunny
smile as she stretches out to her father a podgy hand, tightly clasping
a bunch of daisies. “Little love” he thinks to himself, “what a
picture!” He seizes his camera, and tells her to stand still a minute.
What is it, do you think that he is going to try and catch? I need
hardly say it is the radiance in her face. Perhaps her podgy hand too;
but first and chiefly that expression of happiness and love; for it is
an echo, as it were, of the happiness and love that he feels in his own
heart toward her. If he succeed, the picture will be as much an
expression of his own subjective feeling toward the child, as of the
child herself.

If you see what I mean you can now begin to understand how Constable,
and, even more, Rousseau and the other Fontainebleau-Barbizon artists
looked at nature. No longer an objective point of view, like the old
Dutchmen’s, it was a subjective one. To them nature was not merely an
object of which to make a portrait. It was something they loved, and,
because they loved it, they painted it, and in such a way that their
pictures embodied the feeling which they had for nature. They are full
of the artist’s personal feeling, or as it is sometimes called,
sentiment. A landscape of Rousseau’s sets our imagination working. It
may represent an oak tree and a rocky boulder, half hidden in ferns and
vines, some little spot in the forest of Fontainebleau. As we look at it
we become more and more conscious of the strength and vigor of the tree;
the firmness of its huge trunk, the mighty muscles of its brawny arms,
the grip which it has upon the ground, and our imagination may begin
thinking of the roots hidden below the ground. While the branches spread
out to the sunshine and the air, the unseen roots reach out and grip the
soil and grapple with the rocks, anchoring firmly the tree against the
storms of weather and time. And perhaps we begin to feel, as Rousseau
himself did, that the oak is a symbol of the might of nature; and how
she silently works on regardless of the changes that happen in the lot
of comparatively short-lived men. Or we look at one of Corot’s pictures
of the twilight, in which the trees seem to have sunk asleep in blurs of
shade against the pale, faint light that is fading from the sky; and the
hush and tenderness of the daily miracle of nature’s rest steals over
our spirits. It is as if we were listening to the pensive melody of
some sweet lyrical poem, very gently and reverently read; such a one,
perhaps, as Longfellow’s “Hymn to the Night.” On the other hand, to
receive an impression like that of Rousseau’s picture, we must choose a
poem that tells, not of rest, but of the grandeur of human effort, and
must read it in a strong voice and confidently, as if we were sure that
to be strong and faithful to the end was a grand thing.

Indeed, so many landscapes, not only by the Fontainebleau-Barbizon
artists, but also by modern men who are following in their footsteps,
are full of the suggestion of poetry, and we speak of them as poetic
landscapes. This does not mean that they illustrate any particular poem,
but that they affect one’s imagination in somewhat the same way as
poetry does. The reason is that such artists have the spirit of poets.
For nature arouses in them deep emotions, and their pictures, like the
poet’s verses, not only describe the beauty of nature, but express the
sentiment, or feeling, of their own souls.

On the other hand you must not expect to find this suggestion of poetry
in all modern naturalistic landscape. There are still artists whose
point of view, like that of the old Dutchmen, is objective. They are
content to paint the beauty of nature simply as it shows itself to their
eyes. Nor need we argue as to which is the better way, this, or the
subjective point of view. We may prefer the one or the other; though,
perhaps, it is better for us to keep our minds open to the beauties of
both.

[Illustration: Paysage. _J. B. C. Corot._]



CHAPTER XII

FORM AND COLOR


When we began to speak about composition we continually used the words
“line and form.” Gradually, however, as we left the subject of formal
composition and talked of naturalistic composition, we found ourselves
substituting the words “colored masses.”

It would seem then as if there were a distinction between these two
things; that form was on one side of the fence and color on the other.
Yet that would contradict our experience; for we know that everything
which has a form or shape, visible to the eye, has also color that we
can see. And most things that have color are seen to have a shape or
form. Not all; for example, when the sky is a cloudless blue, or when we
gaze over a distant expanse of sea. Still, as a general experience,
color and form are identical. The face of a friend--you recognise it by
its color as well as by the form of the features; and, should you have
the sorrow of looking upon that face when it is dead, the change in the
color would make you recognise the once familiar features as strangely
different.

Yet, notwithstanding the identity of form and color, we find a certain
separation between the two, when we come to study pictures. The reason
is that some artists are more sensitive to form, others to color. As I
have already said, an artist paints only the particular impression of an
object which his eye receives. Every eye has its own particular way of
seeing. Even the eye, most sensitive to form, will not see it as other
eyes will; nor will any one color seem the same to every eye that is
chiefly interested in color. This is only another way of saying that the
varieties in nature are inexhaustible. Nevertheless, although no two elm
trees are exactly alike, all elm trees are sufficiently similar to be
recognised at once as elm trees. So with artists, some group themselves
as painters of form; others, of color. In the old Italian days this
distinction separated the artists of Florence from those of Venice. The
Florentines--Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, among the
greatest--were masters of form; the Venetians, especially in the persons
of Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, and Paul Veronese, were masters of
color. The one group saw especially the shapes of things, the other saw
the world as an arrangement of spots or masses of color.

The Florentines, in consequence of their interest in form, took great
pains with the outlines of their figures. The outlines were clearly
defined; in the mural paintings the figures were enclosed by an actual
line; and always the figure shows distinctly against the background.
For, having drawn the figure very carefully, the artist did not let the
color, that was afterwards laid on, lap over the line or interfere with
the subtle undulations of the outline. They were in fact, a school of
great draughtsmen, who relied principally on the beauty and vigor of the
drawing. The Venetians, however, were great colorists, relying on color;
and may be spoken of as painters rather than draughtsmen. Yet they too,
of course, were masters of drawing. They could represent the action of
the figure as well as the Florentines, but unlike the latter, did not
care for the clear outline. On the contrary, they softened or blurred
the outline slightly, in closer imitation of nature.

If, for example, you look carefully at a tree, you will not find that
its shape is enclosed by a hard line. The light creeps round the edges
of the trunk and of the masses of foliage in such a way that the
outlines are softened or slightly blurred. It is the same with a figure
seated in a room; here and there its edges may seem sharply cut out
against the background, but in other parts the edges will seem to melt
into the background. In other words, as we look at the figure, what we
are most conscious of is not its outline, but its mass of color in
relation to the other masses of color that surround it.

Now, this distinction, between the way in which the Florentines and the
Venetians saw and represented objects, still appears in modern art. In
fact, ever since the days of the great Italians there have been artists
who relied on drawing and artists who relied on color. For over a
hundred years the importance of drawing has been upheld by the great
school of art in Paris maintained by the French government. One of its
famous teachers, Ingres, used to tell his pupils “form is everything,
color is nothing.” Perhaps he only meant by this that, as long as they
were pupils, the only necessary thing for them to think about and learn
to represent was form. Because to draw well is so important for any
artist, and it is a thing that can be thoroughly taught and learned. The
French school takes as its standard of excellence the perfect forms of
classic sculpture and the great works of the Florentine artists.
Although the student may be drawing from a living model whose form is
not perfect, he is taught to correct the imperfections of this or that
part, in order that the figure, as it appears in his drawing, may be as
near as he can get it to classic perfection. But color, as we shall see
presently, is so much a matter of each person’s feeling, that it is
impossible to reduce the teaching of it to any method or standard. So
perhaps that is what Ingres had in mind. He meant that, for the time
being, his students should consider form to be everything, color
nothing.

On the other hand it is generally understood that he meant much more
than this, that he was telling his pupils what he himself considered to
be the whole duty of an artist. Let us try and enter into his point of
view.

I can imagine some of my readers saying that the phrase, “form is
everything; color, nothing,” is nonsense; because color plays so
important a part in our enjoyment of sight. Just think what a dreary
world it would be, if everything, for instance, were a uniform gray!
Quite true, and Ingres probably would have agreed. As a _man_, he no
doubt enjoyed the pleasures of color. But it was as an artist that he
was speaking. He was stating what he believed to be the proper subject
of his own art.

In the first place he was evidently one of those artists who see the
shape rather than the color of things; to whom form makes an
irresistible appeal. In the second place--and mark, for this is very
important--he was not thinking of how things appear in the actual world,
but how they should be represented in art. He was one of those artists
who are not interested in naturalistic painting; who do not profess to
paint nature. On the contrary, like the great Italians, he only borrowed
from nature certain materials in order to build them up into a formal
composition of his own creation. He would have told you that he was not
representing the works of nature but creating for himself a totally
different thing--a work of art.

On the other hand, many artists will reply, that the work of art need
not be a totally different thing. That they themselves, like the Dutch
of the Seventeenth Century and all the modern painters of the
naturalistic composition, combine the two. It is by representing
nature, that they create a work of art.

Here, you see, is a sharp conflict of points of view. One group of
artists, loving nature, desires to represent it; the other, perhaps not
loving nature less, certainly loves art more. This latter group,
therefore, tries to improve on nature, and to use it only for the
creation of something that it feels to be different and superior to
nature. While the one set of men wed nature to art, the other divorce
art from nature. Between the two there is a Great Divide, which no
amount of talking can bridge over. The only conclusion to be reached is
that there is right on both sides. For the one group, because of the
kind of men composing it, its own way is the right way; and for the
other, for the same reason, _its_ way. We, as lookers on at the dispute,
will do well to learn to see the beauty in both kinds of picture.

You may as well know the names by which the two points of view are
known. With one, the _naturalistic_, we have already become acquainted.
The other is called by the artists who practise it the “idealistic.”
They will tell you that they paint “ideal” subjects. By those, however,
who disagree with them, their point of view and method are apt to be
called _Academic_.

The word ideal, used in this sense, has the meaning “more perfect than
in real life.” When a person says: “The ideal way to spend a summer
holiday”--we know even before he utters the next words, “would be,”
that he is going to tell us something that he does not expect to enjoy.
It is how he would have things, if he could arrange them according to
his own idea of perfection. Now this is what the artist means when he
calls his picture an ideal one.

Personally, I do not like this use of the word, because it seems to
imply that this kind of picture is superior to the other. And the
artists who paint this kind of picture believe that it is; we, however,
who are simply students of pictures, longing to enjoy the beauty of all
kinds of motive and ways of painting, will not admit this. We go back to
the fact with which I started this book: that the value of a picture
does not depend upon the subject but the way in which the artist has
rendered it. Because a man portrays some noble incident from poetry or
the Bible, or invents some scene out of his brain, it does not follow
that his picture will represent a higher degree of beauty or a finer
imagination than one which only represents some simple scene in nature.
I will go further and say that some of the pictures of “still life”[8]
by the Frenchman, Antoine Vollon, or our own American artist, Emil
Carlsen, exhibit more beauty, yes, and even more imagination than many
ambitious figure subjects. Why is this? How can a picture of a pumpkin
and vegetables by Vollon, or one of Carlsen’s subjects, such as a
creamy porcelain vase, and a lemon, and one or two other delicately
colored objects on a white tablecloth, show more beauty and imagination
than, for instance, an imposing picture like Leutze’s _Washington
Crossing the Delaware_?

The answer is that Vollon and Carlsen exhibit more feeling for beauty
and more imagination in matters that especially belong to painting,
while Leutze went outside of painting. Let me explain myself. Leutze saw
beauty in the heroism of Washington and his soldiers, fighting against
tremendous odds for a great cause in the terrible cold of winter. His
imagination was kindled by the importance of the cause and the devotion
of those who fought for it. It was the facts, as they appealed to his
mind, and the ideas that his mind formed about them which he tried to
represent. But the special field for the artist, as I have already said,
is not covered by his mind but by his eyes. It is with what he can see
that he should be first and chiefly concerned--the beauty of the visible
world. And his imagination as an artist is chiefly shown in the capacity
that his mind has for discovering unexpected beauties and rendering
them. Thus to ourselves, and even to some artists, a pumpkin may seem
but a bright orange mass, with a rough or shiny rind as the case may be;
an attractive spot of color and shape, a thing to be admired for a
moment and then forgotten. Another artist, on the contrary, sees a great
deal more in it. He sees subtle differences of color, according to the
way the light falls on it, various delicate differences in the
roughness or smoothness of the rind; curiously beautiful accidents of
color, as it reflects the colors of other objects near it; mysteries of
shadow, some deep and strong, others so faint that an ordinary eye might
not detect them. These and other qualities, that his sensitive eyes
perceive, create impressions in his brain that fill his imagination with
a sense of beauty somewhat as music does. He cannot tell you why he
enjoys it so much, or explain in words the effect it has on his
imagination. The whole impression is a vision of his imagination,
excited by the sense of sight, and this vision he sets to work to
interpret on his canvas, in order that it may be communicated to our
eyesight, and, in turn, excite our imagination. We receive from form and
color feelings of pleasure that we cannot describe in words but which
are not less real on that account. It is an abstract enjoyment, free
from any distinct connection with words or facts. On the other hand, in
_Washington Crossing the Delaware_ it is the record of facts, presented
in the picture, that chiefly interests us. Neither the forms nor the
arrangement of color have in themselves any separate abstract quality of
beauty.

So, it is not upon the beauty of the things seen by the eyes, but upon
the interest of things understood by the mind that Leutze depended. He
really neglected his own proper field of painting, for that of the
writer or orator. Therefore, he put himself at a disadvantage; for I
think you will admit, that a good speaker or writer could describe the
incident in a much more thrilling way than the picture does.

But we have strayed somewhat from our point. We were speaking of
idealistic pictures, and noted that they are so called because the
artist instead of representing nature as it is, corrects it and improves
upon it in order to bring it up to what he considers an “ideal” standard
of perfection. I mentioned that these pictures and the motive which
prompts them are also called “Academic.”

The reason is that the school in Paris which teaches these principles of
painting is maintained by the Academy of the Fine Arts; and its example
has been followed by many other European Academies of painting. So, when
we speak of a picture being Academic in character, we mean that its
motive and manner of painting follow the rules laid down by the schools.
To repeat a word we have frequently used before, they are based on the
Academic _Formula_. Previously it was the _Classic_ formula of which we
spoke. This, you remember was the rule or plan for building up a formal
composition, sometimes strengthened by the introduction of classic
architecture and often representing some scene or story of classic
legend. And it is upon this classic formula that the Academic practice
is largely based. So when a modern artist paints a picture after the
fashion of Raphael’s _Jurisprudence_, we can speak of its manner and
motive as being Academic, Classic, or Idealistic. Sometimes, in fact,
the meaning of these words is practically the same, but not always.

For at times an Academic painter will choose an everyday subject of
ordinary life, yet his picture will not be naturalistic. There are two
ways in which he may miss the truth of nature. Either he will try to
improve upon the actual facts, or he will leave out the light and
atmosphere in which the objects appear in nature. We may find examples
of both these contradictions of the natural truth in Leutze’s picture.
He was trained in the Academy of Düsseldorf, a city on the Rhine; at a
time when that school had abandoned Classical subjects for incidents
from history, or scenes from German legends, or what it called
genre-pictures of peasant life. But these last were not genre in the
sense that the old Dutch pictures were. For the latter reproduced the
actual habits and life of the times, whereas the Düsseldorf artists
presented fancy pictures in which the peasants were grouped, as if they
were taking part in some scene in an opera or other theatrical
performance. This artificial treatment appears in _Washington Crossing
the Delaware_.

It is supposed to represent a historical incident. Do you think it has
the value of history; that the incident really happened as it is here
depicted? The artist, of course, was not present; he was compelled to
shape the facts of the incident according to what he had read about
them, or, as I rather suspect, according to what his fancy had pictured
them. History tells us that the crossing began early in the evening of
December 25, 1776, and lasted until four a.m. the following morning.
Does this picture represent the dimness of a winter twilight, much less
the gloom of night? I might ask the further question, is any kind of
natural light suggested in this picture? I feel confident the answer is
“no.” Leutze probably had no thought of representing this aspect of the
truth; the Düsseldorf School paid no attention to the real appearances
of light; or to the effect that light would have upon the appearance of
the figures. Their outlines are sharply defined; every figure is
rendered with about equal distinctness; no effort has been made to
represent them in relation to one another, with varying degrees of
clearness and obscurity. A similar artificiality appears in the
representation of the ice. It is true the lights and shadows and gleam
of the surfaces of real ice have been studied; so that the painting
conveys the idea of ice; but this is a very different thing from the
painted blocks representing the effects of real ice, as seen in real
light.

So we find that Leutze, though wishing to give us a vivid representation
of the incident, has neglected a number of important facts relating to
the hour of the occurrence and to the conditions of atmosphere and
light, as they must have affected the appearance of the scene. He was
simply not interested in these matters. Then, what of the point on which
he evidently relied--the grouping of the figures in the foreground? It
is a ticklish job to pull a boat through a mass of floating ice-cakes.

[Illustration: Washington Crossing the Delaware. _Emanuel Leutze._

(_Property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art._)]

Do you think that Washington and the flag-bearer would have increased
the difficulty and peril by standing up? Don’t you know that to stand up
in a boat even on smooth water is a foolhardy thing to do? It is a
frequent cause of accident and loss of life in pleasure parties. On an
occasion so serious as this would the leader have been guilty of such
folly? Certainly not. Washington and every man, not actually engaged in
navigating the boat, would have been sitting low down, so as to help
preserve the balance and offer as little resistance as possible to the
wind. Here, then, is another indifference to facts in this so-called
historic picture. But Leutze did not care about facts. His motive was to
bring out the heroic character of the events. So he made Washington
strike a heroic attitude. It is the way in which a popular actor takes
the center of the stage and strikes an attitude and waits for the
applause. Leutze wanted a central figure around which to build up his
composition and, in order to support the central figure, reared another
behind it holding aloft the flag. Thus he wins applause, at once, for
the star actor and the patriotic sentiment of the scene. In fact his
composition is similar in intention and arrangement to the grouping of
figures on the stage of a popular theater. It is theatrical. I do not
say dramatic, but theatrical, between which two ideas there is this
distinction. When we speak of a scene being dramatic we mean that the
action of the plot has been vividly expressed by means that create an
illusion of truth--that the characters behave as they might be expected
to do in real life under the circumstances. By theatrical, on the other
hand, we imply that the behaviour of the actors, instead of “holding the
mirror up to nature,” is regulated so as to produce an artificial
effectiveness. Such a scene we call theatrical, or stagey. And the same
words, in my opinion, can be applied to this picture. For Leutze failed
to realise, not only that truth may be stronger than fiction, but also
that it may be more impressive than artificial effectiveness. The true
word spoken in simple earnestness, the true act done simply, often move
men’s imagination, where loud rhetoric and ostentatious conduct leave it
cold. So, too, in a picture, a deeper sentiment may be aroused by simple
truth of representation, than by a display of mock heroics.

In this picture, you will observe, we have been discussing the Academic
point of view applied to the representation of an incident that really
happened. The painter undertook a real subject, but has not rendered it
as it would have really appeared to us, had we been there to see the
event. This is a charge that can be brought against many so-called
historical pictures, and against those smaller ones, the genre pictures,
which are supposed to represent incidents of actual everyday life. When
painted in the Academic manner they are not true to life, but
artificially concocted.

On the other hand, as I have said, many Academic pictures, choosing
classical or idealistic subjects, make no pretence of representing
life. They try to improve on life by making their forms more beautiful
than they actually are in nature; and build up compositions which must
not be compared with the way in which people group themselves in real
life. In such pictures we do not look for natural beauty but for that of
the artist’s own invention.

So, to bring the subject to a finish, we must bear in mind that there
are two distinct ways of painting a picture. If the artist has tried to
represent nature, we must learn to compare it with nature; if on the
contrary, he has tried to paint a subject of “ideal perfection,” we must
not find fault with its unnaturalness. We may prefer the one or the
other kind; but should not let our preference interfere with our
judgment of the different merits of each. Until we recognise the “Great
Divide” between the Academic and the Naturalistic points of view, we
shall not get very far in our appreciation of pictures.



CHAPTER XIII

COLOR


It was mentioned in the previous chapter that artists may be divided
into two classes: those who are particularly interested in the shape or
form of what they see, and those who see the world as an arrangement of
“colored masses.” It is the latter way of seeing things that we are now
going to consider.

We know that everything visible to the eye has color. When we think of a
garden lawn, an impression of green comes into our mind. Green, an
artist would say, is the local color of the lawn--the general hue which
distinguishes it from the paths and flower beds. There may be dandelions
spotted about the grass; indeed it is a lucky lawn that is not overrun
with them; yet, notwithstanding the yellow patches, the local color of
the lawn is green. And this is true, although here and there the grass
may appear yellow in the warm sunshine, or, where the shadows of the
trees lie, may have a bluish tinge; or again, in the distance may appear
to be almost gray. You see then, that when we begin to talk about color,
we do not think only of the general hue or local color, but also of the
changes which take place in its appearance, according as it is subject
to light and shadow or is seen near or further off.

Now let us take another case. A woman, we will suppose, has a quantity
of white cotton material which she proposes to dye blue. She buys some
indigo, and puts it in a tub of water. Into this dye-bath she plunges
the cotton, and then hangs it on a line to dry. When she has taken it
down and ironed it, it presents a uniform hue of blue, its local color.
But what happens when she has made it up into a dress? The local color
remains the same; but the appearance is no longer of a uniform hue. In
some parts the blue is paler or whiter than the local color, in other
parts darker; for now the material is not spread out smoothly, the light
no longer falls upon every part of it in the same way. The skirt, for
example, hangs in folds; and the full light strikes directly only on the
raised edges of the pleats. Into the hollow of the fold less light
penetrates, and at different angles.

Just what do we mean by angle of light? We must remember that the rays
of light coming from the sun, radiate or travel outward in straight
lines, as the spokes of a wheel radiate from the hub; except that the
spokes of light are not confined to a flat circle, but radiate in all
directions from every part of the sun’s orb. But to return to the wheel.
Let us suppose that it is a buggy’s wheel, and that the buggy is jacked
up, so that we can turn the wheel easily. We will do so until one of the
spokes is pointing straight down to the ground, and, to make sure that
it is exactly vertical, we will suspend in front of it a string with a
weight attached to its lower end. If the spoke follows exactly the
direction of this plumb line, then we know that it is pointing down
directly to the surface of the ground. We know, in fact, that the
direction of the spoke is at right angles to the surface of the ground;
or, which amounts to the same thing, we may say that the surface of the
ground is at right angles to the direction of the spoke.

But what about the direction of the other spokes of the wheel? With them
the plumb line will not help us. We must get a straight stick, say the
handle of the stable broom. If we hold this along the direction of
either of the spokes, nearest to the center one, we shall find that when
the handle touches the ground, it will be at a point further off from
the hub, and not at a right angle to the ground but at an acute angle.
If we try the same experiment with the next spoke, we may need a longer
stick, for the point where it reaches the ground will be still further
from the hub, and the angle of direction will be still more acute. If we
follow on to the next spoke, we shall probably find that its direction,
when extended, does not reach the ground. It points above it. Perhaps it
hits the barn wall; and then again comes the question: does it hit the
wall at a right angle or at an acute angle? The answer to this, if you
think a moment, will depend upon the position, not only of the spoke,
but also of the wall. For example, the spoke may point directly at the
wall, so that when you stand at the corner of the barn and run your eye
along the wall, the spoke will make a right angle with the wall’s
vertical direction. But the wall has another direction--a horizontal
one; and this may slope away from the direction of the spoke, so that if
you stand in front of the wall, your stick makes with it an acute angle.
Evidently under some circumstances a single direction may make with the
surface of the wall both an acute and a right angle.

By this time our experiment, which started out so simply, has become
perhaps a little puzzling to follow. But I don’t mind if it has; for I
wish you to realise that, although this matter of direction and angles
is simple in principle, it works out in a very complicated way. The more
we realise this, the more we shall realise the wonderful effects of
light upon color. As a beginning, let us imagine that the hub of the
wheel is a center of heat, white-hot, and that the spokes are rays of
light, not stationary like the woodwork but travelling outward at great
speed. The shaft of light that runs straight down and strikes the ground
at right angles to the surface, would make the spot where it touches
very bright. The second shaft, however as it reaches the ground further
off from the hub will illumine the spot with less light. Moreover, since
it hits an acute angle and is travelling fast, some of it will glance
off the spot. It will be reflected from the surface back and forth,
somewhat as a ball is tossed backwards and forwards from the hands of a
group of children.

This fact of reflection and the fact that the so-called angle of
reflection is the same as the angle of incidence, or, in other words,
the angle at which the light falls upon the object, explains a familiar
sight. Have you never seen, late in the afternoon, when the sun is above
the horizon, a blaze upon a hill side, so bright that your first thought
is it must be a house on fire? You saw it suddenly; and, if you walk a
few steps to the right or left, it as suddenly disappears; to reappear,
however, when you resume your former position. By this time you know it
is not a fire, but the reflection of the sun from some window or tin
roof. The light, striking down upon it, glances off, and, as you happen
to be in the line of its angle of reflection, strikes you full in the
eyes. But move your position, so as to get out of the “line of fire,”
and the reflected ray passes you by without attracting your notice.

Here is another example of reflected light, which you yourself can
control. Do you remember the fairy _Tinker Bell_, in “Peter Pan”; how
she appeared as a patch of light, dancing over the walls? Very likely
when you returned from the theater you made her appear on the walls of
your home. As you sat at the breakfast table you picked up a tumbler of
water, or a bright bladed knife, and moved it about until it caught the
light and tossed it across the room on to the wall, where you could make
the fairy hover by gently shaking the glass or knife. On the other hand
by changing the position of the glass or knife you could cause her to
disappear; to reappear if you wished it, on another part of the wall.

Now after considering the difference between direct and reflected light,
let us go back to the blue dress. We were saying, you will remember,
that the skirt no longer presented an appearance of uniform hue. For the
local color of the material had become affected by the way in which the
light reached the folds. On the raised edges the blue appears almost
white; in the bottom of the hollows, where no light penetrates, it
appears to be almost black. Meanwhile on the sloping edges of the folds
there are varying degrees of lighter or darker blue, according as the
material approaches nearer to the light, or recedes further from it. In
other words, the light strikes the surfaces of the dress at different
angles; there are varieties of reflections, and some parts of the skirt
are almost entirely removed from the action of the light.

But all this time we have been speaking of light, and yet the subject of
this chapter is color. Well, the reason is, that color is light and
light is color. If we were shut up in a cellar from which all light was
excluded, we should see no color. Our eyes would experience no
sensations of sight whatever, and, if we were left there a long time,
our eyes, not being used, would probably lose their sense of sight. But,
if after we had been in a cellar a little while surrounded by “thick
darkness” as the old English expression is--meaning a darkness so
opaque that the eye cannot penetrate it--the window shutter should be
opened a trifle, then immediately our eyes would experience a sensation
of color. The shaft of light, cutting across the darkness, would look
white; but, if it hit upon a shelf of apples, our eye would receive a
sensation of green or red or yellow. If light is color, why should it
seem white in one case and some other hue in another? It is because in
the whiteness of light are contained all the colors of which we are
conscious. Very likely you know the experiment by which the truth of
this is shown. Supposing you are still in the cellar and place in the
pathway of the shaft of light a prism--that is to say, a bar of glass
not round or square, but triangular--what will happen? The glass being
transparent, the light will pass through it. But not in a straight line;
for, as it hits one of the sloping surfaces of the prism, it will be
bent out of its course; and then, as it reaches the opposite sloping
side, it will again be bent into another direction. So the light in its
passage through the prism will have been twice bent out of its original
direction; and, when it emerges, it will be no longer a single shaft of
white light, but will appear as a broad band of many colored lights;
red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. We may call this succession, a
scale of color lights. They correspond in hue and order to the bands or
scale of colored lights in the rainbow, for the latter is the result of
an act of nature, which on a very large scale is like our experiment
with the prism. Only nature’s prism is formed by a bar of rain on which
strikes a shaft of light through a slit in the thick upper clouds.

With this scale of colored lights scientists have made delicate
experiments. They have analysed the colors more exactly; discovering,
that is to say, the distinct degrees of color, for instance, between the
red and the orange, as the one passes into the other; and again between
the orange and the yellow, the yellow and the green, and so on. Then,
after discovering the succession of monochromatic tints, as they call
them, by optical instruments, they have tested the power of the human
eye to discriminate, or detect the difference between these various
tints. Notwithstanding that the difference between the latter is so
slight, they have found that the eye is sensitive to something like two
million monochromatic tints. I mention it not to trouble you with
figures but to stir your imagination; for such a fact should fill us
with admiration not only of the marvellous qualities of light but also
of the marvellous capacity of the human eye. It helps us to begin to
realise the miracle of light and the immense field of study that lies
open to the artist who is a colorist, to whom, that is to say, it is the
color of the visible world that most appeals.

Light, then, contains within itself all colors. When light falls upon an
object, for example, a leaf, the latter absorbs some of the colors of
the light and throws off others. The part thrown off in the case of the
leaf is what we call its color: green, or it may be greenish yellow, or
a bluish green, or in autumn, crimson. Every substance has this power of
absorbing some of the light and of throwing off the rest; and it is the
different chemical properties of different substances that decide which
of the colors of light they will absorb and which they will throw off;
or, as we say, causes them to be a certain color.

We have spoken of the human eye being sensitive to an immense variety of
colors. Let us consider the meaning of sensitive. In the first place,
the eye receives an impression that causes it to telegraph to the brain
a record of the hue; but it means more, for the word sensitive implies a
capacity to feel. In some way or other the brain receives an impression
of feeling. Just how it does, I understand, is not known; but scientists
tell us that these impressions of sight, while they are not quite
similar to the feelings aroused by sound, have something in common. Just
as some sounds give pleasure while others are disturbing, so with
colors--we receive from them sensations of pain or pleasure. According
to the degree of our sensitiveness to sound or color our feelings are
aroused. It may be only slightly, or it may be more intensely. It is
pleasant, for example, to hear the sound of the robin’s note, and, as we
peep out of our bedroom window to look at him, we may catch sight of the
yellow or red notes of color that the tulips are beginning to make
against the dark earth. They too will give us pleasure. And in both
cases our pleasure may go no further than just a little enjoyment of
their note of color or sound. Or, on the other hand, they may stir our
imagination. We recognise their notes as the first signs of spring.
Nature in her mysterious way has whispered alike to the robin and the
tulip that the rigor of winter is over; that spring is come with its
birth of new life, bringing beauty and happiness in its train. And in
ourselves, as we recognise the notes of spring, life leaps up with a new
sense of the beauty and happiness of living. Those notes, in fact, which
began by giving only simple pleasure to our ear, have stirred ideas in
our minds; they have become associated in our imagination with a fuller
and higher sense of life.

On the other hand, some notes of sound distress us. The unexpected
discharge of a gun may strike us unpleasantly; the roar of the wind and
the rain against the window fill us with melancholy; the cry of a
creature in pain, even before we know whence the cry comes or the reason
of it, may cut us like a knife. I mean, that sounds, quite apart from
any definite thoughts that we associate with them, may hurt us. So may
colors. I might illustrate this by saying that sometimes when we enter a
room the color of the carpet, perhaps green with red roses as big as
cabbages, and the color of the furniture, which may be of gold
upholstered in blue, seem to start up and hit us a bang in the eye. But
perhaps you like smart colors, so I will offer another example.
Shakespeare said--

                        She never told her love,
    But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,
    Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,
    And with a green and yellow melancholy,
    She sat, like patience on a monument,
    Smiling at grief.

Shakespeare’s opportunity of seeing pictures had been very limited. In
fact, I am sure that he was not thinking of pictures when he described
melancholy as “green and yellow.” Either he had an instinctive dislike
of this combination that probably he could not have explained; simply he
felt it to be disagreeable; or he may have associated it in his
imagination with something he had observed. Perhaps for instance, since
he speaks in the next line of a “monument,” he may have been thinking of
the green and yellow stains on old tombstones, so that “green and
yellow” suggested to him the very opposite of “damask cheek” with its
rosiness of healthy life; in fact the signs of wasting and decay.
Anyhow, to Shakespeare’s imagination these colors represented something
disagreeable. That is the point. Colors, like sounds, may excite
feelings of distress or pleasure.

And, if single notes may give pleasure, how much more a number of them.
It is when a number of them are combined into a composition that a
harmony is produced. The musician creates a harmony of sound, the
painter a harmony of color. The secret of a harmony is the relation that
the separate notes of sound or color in it bear to one another. If I
try to explain this, it is not because I wish to tell you how to make a
color harmony, but because I hope the explanation may help you to enjoy
it. Perhaps we may get an idea of what relation means if we think of a
football team. It consists of a number of individuals with separate
duties. Some play forward, others half-back, quarter-back, and so on.
When each member not only does his own work as well as possible but
plays well into the hands of the other members, we speak of the
excellence of the team work. And in nine cases out of ten it is not
brilliant individual play, but fine all-round team-work that wins the
game. The different members are so well related to one another, that the
whole team works harmoniously.

It is similar in a harmony of colors. For perhaps you see that what I
wish you to understand is not that a few bright colors make a harmony,
but that it is the result of a combination. There must be team-work
among the colors. They count as individual spots of color, but still
more in relation to all the other colors. There may be one or more crack
players--I mean predominant[9] notes of color,--but they will have
colleagues or assistants--colors of the same hue but differing in
degree--which will repeat or echo their effect, with variations all over
the canvas. These subordinate colors and the crack ones will play in and
out, backing one another up, and, as it were, passing the ball backward
and forward into one another’s hands; acting in such exact relation to
one another, that their efforts result in a perfect harmony of effect.

But so far we have been thinking only of one team, working out its
scheme of attack and defense in practice play. There is a more
complicated play, namely, when the team is pitted against a rival team.
So in color. An artist will introduce rivalry, or competition into his
color scheme; namely, two crack notes of color that, seen by themselves,
would produce a disagreeable sensation. Why does he do so? Because he
knows the value of contrast and discord; just as you know it is more fun
to watch a game of football between two well-matched rival teams than
the merely practice play of one of them. For now the artist is pitting
one set of colors against another set; the crack players on both sides
and their backers-up--the colors of different but closely related hue;
and the game between them is fast and furious--an interplay of likes and
unlikes, of repetitions and of contrasts. The excitement of the game
results from the even balance of the two rival sets of colors, swaying
backward and forward over the gridiron--I mean the canvas--massing here
and there, then scattering in a burst of animation--the two teams so
evenly matched that their rivalry only makes the give and take of the
game more brilliantly harmonious.

Such, in a way, is the harmony of color, as it appears in the pictures
of a true colorist. It has a focal point of intensity where the effect
is massed, but all about it, scattered over the canvas, is the
interplay of related similarities and contrasts, all of which combine
into a harmonious whole.

It may help you, as it has helped me, to understand the combination of
these numberless repetitions and contrasts of color, if I tell you of an
experience of sound that I remember. I was one of a party walking in the
Swiss mountains, and at a turn in the path we came upon a man, sitting
with a gun across his knees. For a small amount this mountaineer was
prepared to let off his gun. We paid, he fired. There was a sharp
report--a focal point of sound--then a neighboring mountain side sent
back an echo, which was caught by another that sent it back, whence
again it was re-echoed from another mountain peak, and so on, back and
forth, until in a moment or two, the whole mountain world resounded with
a wondrous roar. From a single note of sound, which made a very slight
impression had grown a multiplication of slightly differing sounds. For
the first echo was slightly different to the original note, and then
again the echo of this echo differed slightly, so too the echo that came
next and the one that followed that, and so on through a scale of
slightly varying tones, that finally merged into one huge swell of
throbbing sound, as of some mighty organ music--a harmony of tumult. It
was a wonderful sensation, and has helped me to realise the wonder of
color harmony. For an artist generally founds his color scheme upon one
or two notes of color, and then by representing the echoes of these
colors, as they are reflected at different angles from the various
planes of surface, gradually elaborates or works out a maze of related
colors that merge into a harmony.

On the other hand it is not only by painting the interplay of
reflections that an artist produces a harmony of color. There is a less
complicated way, represented in Japanese prints and paintings, and in
the work done by some of our artists who have adopted their method. In
this case the color is flat; the objects, that is to say, are not
modeled by lights and darks. The form, instead of being actually
represented is only suggested. Consequently there are no reflections and
the colors are laid on flatly and smoothly. But they are most carefully
related to one another; both in quantity and tint. The artist, for
example, may use only rose and lavender and black. But his sense of
color is first shown in his choice of the particular tints of rose and
lavender and black, and then secondly, in his distribution of these on
the white paper. Perhaps he determines to make the black his crack
player. But he wishes to produce a balance of harmony of all his colors,
so he carefully considers how large a space the chief spot of black
shall occupy, and then what quantity of the remaining spaces shall be
occupied by the rose and lavender and the white paper. Having thus
worked out the ground plan of the scheme, he may elaborate it by
repeating some of the black in other parts of the picture, and by
introducing echoes of the rose and lavender in the large spot of black.
The echoes, in this case, you observe, are not reflections, they are
simply repetitions in smaller quantities of the colors of the main
spots. His composition, in fact, is a pattern of main spots, and their
echoes; the whole presenting a unity and harmony because the colors are
in exact relation.

And when this has been done either in a simple harmony or a more
elaborate one, with the true feeling of a colorist, no alteration can be
made in any part of the picture without producing a discord, destroying,
that is to say, the exquisite balance of the whole. I mean, that if, for
instance, you were to cut off a part of the picture in order to make it
fill a frame, you would destroy the harmony of the whole. For now the
relation of the colors will have been disturbed. There is no longer the
same balance in the quantity of each, nor do they occupy the same
related position in the composition.

In a word, as we said above, the secret of color harmony is the relation
of the separate colors to one another and the whole.



CHAPTER XIV

COLOR (_Continued_)--VALUES--SUBTLETY


So far in our talk on color we have laid stress on three points: first,
that color is light; secondly, that color is affected by light; thirdly,
that the painter who is a colorist arranges color in relation to other
colors, so as to produce a harmony.

The reason was, that I wished you not to think of color as paint.
Paints, or as artists call them, pigments, are only the materials that
man has invented to imitate the real thing. The real thing is nature’s
color. Pigments we will speak of later.

From early ages man has been attracted by nature’s colors and has tried
to imitate them in order to brighten up his own person and his
surroundings. He began by smearing his own body with some form of dye or
pigment, either to make himself more attractive or to strike terror into
his enemies. As he became more civilised and learned to weave wool and
cotton and flax, he dyed his blankets and clothing, and added gay
borders and patterns to the local color. Growing more skilful in the
fashioning of clay pots, and bows and arrows, and other articles of war
and domestic use, he decorated them with colored designs. Little by
little he learned how to imitate the beauty of nature’s coloring. But,
at first, it seems to have been the brightness of color that attracted
him; just as to-day, a great many children and, for that matter,
grown-ups as well, prefer gay colors. Manufacturers and merchants know
this. Accordingly, to suit the taste of a great many customers who still
have the primitive child-man’s love of gay-colored things, they fill the
markets with gaudy-colored carpets and wall-papers, and gaudily
upholstered furniture, gaudy curtains, cushions and so forth. And people
buy them, so that thousands of households are furnished in a way that to
any one who loves nature’s coloring, seems horrible. Yes, this is a
strong word. But if you will believe me, not too strong to express the
feelings of distress that such parlors excite in people whose taste is
more civilised. They are as much distressed, as if the parlor were
filled with roosters, parrots and monkeys, all crowing, and screeching
and chattering together in a horrible discord of sound.

Perhaps you do not like my hinting that people who prefer these noisy
colors are not yet fully civilised. You have been taught that we are
living in a very civilised age, with all sorts of modern improvements
that the people of the past never thought of, much less enjoyed. This of
course is perfectly true. Science and mechanical inventions have made
living easier; travel is cheaper, education has advanced, books are
within the reach of everybody and, best of all, we have more pity for
the poor, and the sick and the afflicted, and try to make their lot
less terrible. Yes, and in thousands of other ways we are more
civilised. Yet, even so, we may be far from enjoying all the
opportunities of civilisation that this wonderful age offers.

How many girls and boys, I wonder, who have enjoyed the benefits of a
good education, when they reach the age in which they can choose for
themselves what they will read, select the best books? I mean by the
best books, those that in history, poetry, biography, travel, science,
and fiction, really give us the best kind of knowledge of men and life.
Are there not thousands of readers who are satisfied to read nothing
else but the latest novel, no matter how trashy it may be? Thousands,
indeed, who are not bettering their minds and lives, as really civilised
people should try to do; but allowing the garden of their hearts and
souls to become laid waste and barren, just as your flower garden would
soon be, if you turned loose in it the poultry and the pigs.

The truth with such readers is, that, though they enjoy the blessings of
civilisation, they have missed one of civilisation’s finest products.
They have not _good taste_, their _taste_ is _bad_. And bad taste is
like a poison. If it is allowed to remain in the system it will in time
affect the whole body. None of us can make a habit of reading trash
without sooner or later becoming trashy and cheap and commonplace in our
thoughts, conversation, choice of friends and conduct.

However, as you are reading this book, I hope it is a sign that you do
not care for trashy reading. So let us get back to the subject of taste
in matters of color. If one looks back over the past, there is no doubt
that as people became more civilised, one of the ways in which they
showed improvement was in color taste. They gradually ceased to be
attracted only by the brightness of color; they began to find beauty in
the relation of one color to another; to try to produce a harmony of
colors.

I wonder whether, as you have been reading, it has occurred to you to
think: Why does the author object to bright colors? He says we learn to
love color by studying nature’s coloring. Are there not bright colors in
nature? Is it wrong to like them?

Certainly not; nor do I object to bright colors. I am often delighted
with them. But, in the first place, bright colors do not look the same
in nature as they do in a parlor. Secondly, art, as we have said before,
is different to nature. The artist does not imitate everything he sees
in nature, but from it selects this and that to make his work of art.

Nothing in our garden makes a brighter spot than the giant poppy. Its
wide and flaring crimson cup, stained with the purple of its stamens,
burns like a flame. I love the brave show poppies make, ranged at
intervals along the borders or massed in a clump with a setting of
greenery around them. For, to prevent their brilliance overpowering the
garden, they need plenty of space and abundance of contrasting colors. I
cannot imagine anything more noisy and gaudy than a little yard entirely
filled with them. The reason they need space is that they may be
surrounded with plenty of atmosphere. It is this which makes so great a
difference between effects of color out of doors and indoors. Out of
doors the atmosphere acts like a veil, softening the sharpness of colors
and forms and helping to draw them together into a unity of effect. It
is indeed, more like a succession of veils, for between us and nearby
objects is a certain amount of atmosphere; while objects further off,
and still further off, and further off still, are separated from us by
continually increasing quantities of atmosphere. And these planes of
atmosphere, as we called them in Chapter IV, act like veils of gauze
through which everything is seen. As I have said, they help to subdue
the colors and draw them into relation with one another, and so suggest
an effect of harmony. In a room, however, especially a small one, we
cannot get far enough away from objects to permit much atmosphere to
come in between. There is not so much distance to lend enchantment to
the view. Consequently, though we may enjoy the beauty of a few of those
poppies in a bowl on our table, we should find a carpet or curtains or
sofa of the same color much too gaudy and overpowering. The effect would
be much as if, while the piano was being played, someone should blow
loudly on a tin horn. The noise would disturb the harmony of the music;
we should shut our ears or turn the tin horn disturber out of the room.
So when we enter a gaudily furnished room, we should like to shut our
eyes to the discord of color, and, if we had our way, would banish the
disturbing objects to the junk-shop.

But now for the second reason why some of nature’s colors, beautiful in
themselves, may be less so when introduced into a room or picture. For
the furnishing of a room, like the composing of a picture, should, as
far as possible, be a work of art, and the artist, as you recollect,
does not imitate nature. He selects from nature. Out of her unlimited
storehouse of form and color he chooses for his purpose some few effects
at a time and combines them in his work of art; guided in his choice and
arrangement by the principles of beauty he has discovered in nature,
particularly by the principle of harmony. And in this respect he has an
advantage over nature. For the light and atmosphere cannot choose the
colors and objects which they help to harmonise. Even after they have
done their best, there may be so many of those poppies that, while their
colors are subdued and brought into some relation with the other colors,
the relationship is still too distant--the difference between the two
colors too wide--to produce a perfect harmony. But the artist, since he
can pick and choose what he will put into his picture, is able to avoid
this difficulty; just as a young couple when they start housekeeping can
generally avoid having things that will disturb the harmonious
arrangement of their parlor. I say “generally,” for sometimes,
notwithstanding their own taste, they receive from some kind but
tasteless friend, the present of a piece of furniture that plays the
tin-horn to all their ideas of harmony. This is a hard case. They do not
wish to offend Mrs. So-and-so or Aunt Jane, and yet they do not like
having to live with something offensive to their own feelings!

We have said so much about the artist working for a harmony of colors,
that I ought to warn you that you will not see color harmonies in all
pictures. For a great many painters are not colorists. Bouguereau, for
example, was interested chiefly in form. If he represented a young girl,
drawing water from a well, he painted her flesh pink; her dress,
perhaps, blue; the stone-work of the wall, gray; the wood work of the
bucket, brown; and, if there was a bush in the picture, of course,
painted it green. His only purpose in choosing this color or that color
was to represent the general appearances of the figure and other
objects. He only _saw_ color, never _felt_ it. He never even saw it, as
it really is; or he would hardly have painted all his girls and women
the same kind of pinky or creamy china-color. In fact, color to him was
quite unimportant. If he could _draw_ the girl beautifully he was
satisfied. So it is beautiful form we must look for in his pictures; the
color does not count.

Then there is another kind of painter; Vibert, for example, whose
pictures were popular in this country. He liked to paint a cardinal in a
scarlet cassock, either in or out of doors. The scarlet makes a big
bright spot in the pictures. Vibert was evidently fond of color; but in
a very crude or unrefined sort of way. He had the primitive man’s or
child’s fondness for gay or brilliant hues; and since there are many
people with the same child-like instinct, he sold his pictures easily.
He too, for the most part only _saw_ color. Or, if he felt it at all,
only in the very simple way of liking one color better than another.
Color never stirred in him deep feelings. He never felt it as a musician
feels sound. He never wove the related colors into a harmony. He was a
gay painter, but not a colorist.

I wonder whether you are beginning to understand the difference? What I
have said may help to point the way to an understanding, but no amount
of reading can make you feel the beauty of color, or enter into the
feelings of an artist who is a colorist; and enjoy his work. This you
can only do for yourself by using your own eyes. Nor do I mean by this
that you should now and then look at a picture, or once in a while open
your eyes to the beauty of nature. What I suggest is that you should get
into the habit of keeping your eyes open to the beauty of the world. If
you do, you will have your reward. And the more you watch out for
beauty, and so train your feeling and taste, the more you will discover
beauty in unexpected directions. Especially you will find that some of
the most beautiful color harmonies are made up of colors, that a little
while ago you would not have felt to be beautiful.

It is not difficult, for example, to enjoy the beauty of nature’s
coloring when the sun is shining brightly. But, because it is so easy,
some painters who are colorists will not care to represent it in their
pictures. They will wait for what they call a gray day--when the sun is
hidden behind clouds of mist. Or, like Corot, they will prefer the early
morning or late evening, when the sky is very pale, and the colors of
nature are very subdued. Or, like Whistler, who painted _The White
Girl_, a girl in white, standing on a white rug in front of a white
wall, they will choose some subject in which the difference between the
colors is very slight. In a word they are looking, not for splendid but
for subtle harmonies. Those grand Venetian colorists of the Sixteenth
Century, Titian, Tintoretto, and Paul Veronese, and the great Flemish
colorist of the Seventeenth Century, Peter Paul Rubens, for the most
part gloried in harmonies of splendour, Velasquez, however, Rubens’s
contemporary, whose life was spent in the service of Philip IV of Spain,
proved himself to be one of the world’s greatest colorists by the
soberness and subtlety of his harmonies. A large part of his work
consisted in painting the portraits of the King, the Royal Family, and
the chief State officers. The taste of the Court was opposed to bright
colored costumes; indeed the prevailing colors were black and gray, with
occasional touches of relief, such as blue or pale rose. Yet out of
these few colors he made wonderful harmonies. To his sensitive eye a
black cloak was not a mass of thick darkness. As the light shone upon
the various surfaces at different angles, he discovered all sorts of
nuances, as the French say, or

[Illustration: Prince Balthazar Carlos. _Velasquez._]

shades and degrees of lighter and darker black, in fact, a scale of
tints out of which he composed a harmony. It was the same way with the
grays and drabs. We often call these neutral colors, by which we mean
that there is no particular color in them. But Velasquez did not look at
grays and drabs in this way. Having to paint them he searched them for
possibilities of beauty, and found them in the nuances, occasioned by
the action of light. And out of the scale of these nuances he composed
harmonies.

To these nuances artists have given a name--values. We know the ordinary
use of the word. It represents the relation of something to a certain
fixed standard. Thus, we take a dollar as a standard; and say the value
of this knife is fifty cents, or of that two dollars. These knives
differ in value; or, on the other hand, we may have two or more knives
that correspond in value. Or, again, if some of you are arranging a
picnic as a Dutch treat, one of the party may undertake to bring ten
cents’ worth of eggs, another ten cents’ worth of crackers, and so on.
Though every one of twenty boys and girls brings something different,
the value of each contribution is the same.

Now applying this to colors, you may see that the point to which I am
leading you is this. Just as the knife varies in value from other
knives, so may one tint of black vary from another tint of black; one
tint of red from another tint of red; one tint of yellow from another
tint of yellow. Equally, since a certain quantity of crackers may have
the same value as a certain quantity of cheese, so may a certain tint
of red have the same value as a certain tint of yellow. But what is the
standard by which one kind of color can be compared with another?

The standard of value adopted by a painter, is light. The value of any
color depends upon the amount of light reflected from it. Thus, if you
look at a man dressed in black, you will notice that the black upon the
shoulder, or the chest, or whatever part receives the greatest quantity
of light, will seem less black than those parts which receive less
light. And it may be only in the hollows or shaded parts that the black
looks really black. Well, each one of these separate degrees of black
represents to the painter a separate value of black.

Perhaps you will say--Why this is only a repetition of what was said
about the painting of reflections of light and the shadows on the blue
skirt! You are right. Then--why, you ask, this new term--values? Well,
it was when the modern man discovered that the painting of these
reflections and shadows could be made a means of producing harmonies of
color; that, indeed, harmonies could be produced out of the reflections
alone, that they invented this new name. They had discovered a new
principle of harmony, depending upon the varieties of light on color,
and they gave to these varieties the new name of values. Not that the
principle was really a new one. It was an old one discovered by
Velasquez and at the same time by the Dutch--Vermeer among them.[10]
But about 1860 some modern artists from studying the works of these men
made a new discovery of the principle.

Before discussing the importance of the rediscovery, let us turn back to
the other use of that word values. If you remember, the word is used not
only of the differences in degree in tint of some one color; for
example, the different values of black, of green, of red and so on, but
it is also used as a standard to compare a color of one hue with a color
of another hue. Let me remind you of that Dutch treat picnic to which
everybody brought a contribution of equal value. I need not tell you
that the ten cents’ worth of soda crackers will make a bigger parcel
than the ten cents’ worth of cheese, while ten cents’ worth of----’s
“fine chocolate” would make a very small parcel indeed. Now, colors
differ in the same way. All colors throw off a certain quantity of
light, but the amount varies.

You remember, we said that the cause of color was the fact, that light
which is made up of all colors penetrates every object in nature; that
each object absorbs a certain quantity of the color and throws off the
remainder. And that this remainder is what appears to our eyes as the
color of the object. But while we think of this remainder as color, do
not let us forget that it is light. And, recollecting that color is
light, we can understand that one color has more or less light in it
than another.

I wish to make sure that you do understand this, so let us try to
illustrate it. We are in the habit of estimating things by percentage.
Suppose then that we think of the light of the sun as representing one
hundred points. Scientists have discovered that objects which we call
yellow absorb only some twenty of these points; that, in fact, the
quantity of light thrown off by what we call yellow, or in other words
its value, is some eighty per cent. What we call red, however,
represents some sixty per cent. of light; green, about forty per cent.

Now supposing an artist wishes to combine these colors in a Dutch
picnic; if he wishes, that is to say, to combine these colors, so that
they will contribute equally to the whole composition of color. He will
use a great deal less yellow than red, and less of either of these
colors than green. The packet of green, like the crackers; will be
bigger than the cheese, or red; the yellow, or chocolate, smallest of
all.

Let us imagine a picture that will illustrate this. But before we do so
I must remind you that what we are talking about is color harmonies, and
particularly those harmonies of color in which the modern artist
delights. He learned them, as I have said, from Velasquez, who was
debarred from using brilliant colors, he learned them also from the old
pictures of the Dutchmen, like Vermeer; lastly he learned them from
studying the pictures and prints of the Japanese. The effect of all
these examples was to make him prefer subtlety to splendour.

I have already explained the meaning of subtlety and subtle. Both are
derived from a Latin word which means “finely woven”--fine spun threads
of silk or linen, woven closely together into a strong but very delicate
and thin fabric. So when we speak of a subtle distinction we have in
mind a distinction that is very slight; as between two tints of yellow.
To many eyes they will seem the same; whereas an eye more subtly
sensitive to degrees of color can distinguish the difference. We may say
of such an eye, that it has a very delicate sense of sight, or subtlety
of vision. Subtlety implies delicacy; and when we speak of the subtlety
of an artist’s color harmonies--how subtle they are--we have in mind a
delicate, exquisite, refined use of color. He has not used many colors;
nor obtained his effects by force of strong contrasts. On the contrary,
it is by subtle relation of a few colors, by the subtle differences in
their values that a harmony, distinguished by its exquisite delicacy, is
produced.

Our own American artist, the late James McNeill Whistler, was one of the
first of the modern artists to paint this sort of harmony. He painted
four pictures of a girl in a white dress, which he afterwards entitled
“Symphonies in White,” numbering them one, two, three, and four, just as
a musician’s works are distinguished by a number. For Whistler felt that
there is some similarity between the harmonies of color and those of
sound notes, and tried in his pictures to produce subtle effects as
musicians do. In one of this series he represents the girl in a white
dress, standing on a white rug, before a white wall. The only variation
from the white is afforded by her dark hair and the flesh coloring of
her face and hands. These are what we may call “accents”--notes of color
that stand out with prominence and decision. The rest is a symphony in
white.

He might have made his problem easier by throwing a strong light upon
the figure from one side. This would have made some parts of the dress
shine out with the brightness of very high lights, and would have caused
the figure to cast a shadow on the wall. This would have produced a
harmony of contrasts; a bold contrast of color values, easier to paint.
But Whistler was intent on something very subtle--a harmony of
similarities. So he placed the figure in a dull light, that was evenly
distributed over the rug, the figure, and the wall, with the result that
the distinctions between the color values were very slight, very subtle.
This means that it was difficult to make the different masses of white
distinct from one another. The artist, you see, had to make it appear
that the girl’s white figure was nearer to us than the white wall; to
make us feel that, while the wall is flat, the figure has roundness and
bulk; and that, while the wall is an upright surface, the rug represents
a horizontal one. Yes it was indeed a very difficult problem, because
the only possible way of solving it was to render the very slight
differences in the quantity of light, reflected from each and every
part of the white surfaces, according to the angle at which the light
reached any part, and the distance each part was from the eye of the
artist. And no doubt the keen mind of Whistler was interested in the
subtlety of the problem. But this was not all. His feeling as an artist
was equally subtle. It delighted in the subtleties of color values.

However, he also enjoyed effects of brighter color. I have asked you to
imagine this picture of Whistler’s because it illustrates the first
meaning of “values”--namely the different quantities of light that may
be contained in one and the same color. I wish to illustrate now the
other meaning of “values”--which has to do with the quantity of light
contained in one color as compared with that in another color; for
example, with the percentage of light contained in red as compared with
that contained in blue, or green, or white, or any other color. For this
purpose I have chosen the second in Whistler’s series of symphonies in
white: _The Little White Girl_. You can look at the reproduction and see
for yourself that part of the color scheme, or color harmony, certainly
the most important part, consists of the figure of the girl in white.
You will notice how it illustrates what we have been saying about the
other white girl. It is evenly lighted, there are no contrasts of
extreme light and dark; the dress is a woven tissue of subtly different
values of white. But in this case Whistler has treated the white dress
as the theme or chief motive, as a musician would say, and has woven
around it a composition of variations. It is the variations that I wish
you now particularly to notice. They may be put under two heads. First,
the reflection of the girl’s head in the mirror; second, the various
spots of color that surround her.

Suppose we begin with the latter. On the mantel-shelf, close to the
flesh-color of the girl’s hand and the white of her sleeve is a Japanese
jar, decorated in white and blue, and beside it a Japanese box covered
with that smooth shiny surface called lacquer, and of a scarlet color,
like a geranium. Down below appear the sprays of camelias with dark
green glossy leaves and white and rosy blossoms. The fan repeats these
colors, but with a difference. There is red in it, but of a different
value to the red of the box and flowers; blue, but of another value than
that on the vase; green, which differs in value from the leaves.
Secondly, in the mirror is a repetition of the girl’s head and of
certain colors in the room. But the reflected head, as you can see in
the reproduction, is in a lower key than the real one. The colors are
lower in value; there is not so much light in them; for the mirror has
absorbed some of it. You may test a mirror’s appetite for light by
holding your handkerchief close to it. You will see that the white of
the reflection is much greyer than the handkerchief, or according to the
quality of the glass, it may seem slightly blue. At any rate its value
will be lower than that of the handkerchief; just as in this picture,
the reflected colors of the

[Illustration: The Little White Girl. _J. M. Whistler._]

flesh and hair are lower in value than the actual head.

Now, looking at the picture, we note that the figure occupies about one
half of the composition. It illustrates, as did _The Sower_, the use of
a main diagonal line, though the feeling suggested by it is different.
In _The Sower_, you will remember, the diagonal helped to give vigor and
alertness to the figure; while here, on the contrary, its suggestion is
one of very gracious quiet. For the slope of this diagonal is not so
steep as in the other picture; nor do the directions of the arms and
head present such abrupt contrasts. The left arm it is true, is nearly
at right angles--itself a strong contrast; but it is so quietly laid
along the mantel-shelf, which supports its weight, that there is no
suggestion of effort. Meanwhile, the other arm, hanging so easily, is
almost parallel to the main diagonal. The line also of the neck gently
carries on the lines of the shoulders, and, as the head is slightly
tilted back, its downward pressure is supported by the shoulder that
rests on the shelf. The whole suggestion of the figure, in fact, is one
of rest. There is no conscious bodily effort to interfere with the
reverie in which the girl’s mind is wrapt. She may be buried in her
thoughts or she may be absorbed in the beauty of the box and vase, at
which she seems to be looking. “Seems,” I say, for it is difficult to be
sure that she is conscious of them. Her gaze seems fixed to a far
vision, as if she had begun by looking at these objects, and then, as
her thoughts passed beyond them, had let the gaze of her eyes follow.
She seems buried in some girlish reverie, wrapt “in maiden meditation,
fancy free.” To me it is a very lovely figure not because of the
features of the face--opinions may differ about the face being beautiful
in the ordinary sense of having beautiful features. Its beauty to me
lies in its expression; in its expression of some lovely mood of a
girl’s spirit. And I find the figure beautiful, because all through it
is the movement of the same expression. This must have been in
Whistler’s mind when he painted her. But he was conscious, perhaps, of
another side of her nature; that she had moods of brightness as well. At
any rate he chose to contrast with the pensive calm of the girl herself
the bright animated spots of color that surround her.

These spots of color, if you examine the picture carefully, really play
the part of the shadows in the chiaroscuro of old pictures. Chiaroscuro,
you remember, is the pattern of light and dark. Here the red box and the
blue of the vase and the green and rose, of the camelias, yes, and even
the face in the mirror, the marble shelf and fireplace--all represent
the dark spots. But not dark in the old way of being shadows. They are
dark as compared with the white of the dress, because their colors
reflect less light than the white; their values are lower. Thus they
serve the purposes of a dark contrast and yet they themselves are very
light. This, in a nutshell, is what the new study of values, that was
learnt from Velasquez and from Vermeer, and the other Dutchmen, really
means. It has enabled the artist to be even more true to life in the
representation of objects, and at the same time to make his
color-harmonies purer, clearer and more transparent; in one word,
luminous; permeated, that is to say, with a suggestion of light, that in
nature permeates the atmosphere and brings all objects into an
appearance of harmonious unity.

How this particular picture is helped by a contrast, not of the old
fashioned dark and light, as in the _Descent from the Cross_ but of
values of color, you can see for yourself, even from the reproduction.
Still more would you realize it could you see the freshness and purity
and gladsomeness of the original. Contrasts are needful in the
composition of a work of art--they are one of the sources of its beauty.
But imagine if you can, having shadows and darkness brought into
contrast with this white robed figure! How they would contradict the
expression of its exquisite purity and loveliness! As it is, the
contrast of lower values does not in the least jar upon the expression;
on the contrary, it gives it a greater meaning, since it suggests the
atmosphere of happiness and brightness that has helped to color the
beauty of the girl’s spirit.



CHAPTER XV

COLOR (_Continued_)--TEXTURE, ATMOSPHERE, TONE


In our previous talk about color we have laid great stress on the
relation of one color to another. We have not thought of red, for
example, as beautiful by itself, but as one of a family of colors, whose
beauty consists in their relation to one another. And this related
beauty we have spoken of as color harmony.

“Behold how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together
in unity.” So said the Psalmist, and his words might be applied to the
unity of colors. He did not mean that everybody shall be of a like mind;
there will always be differences of character among relations and the
best of friends; but they will agree to differ; and their very
differences make their unity or harmony the more real and good. Such is
the harmony among colors; a union of differences or contrasts, as well
as of similarities; of variety of values of color related into a
harmonious unity.

On the other hand, though the beauty of colors is chiefly to be found in
their relations to one another, there are separate possibilities of
beauty to each color. And if each displays its own share of these the
general beauty of the harmony will be increased. Some of the
possibilities are texture, quality, and tone.

Texture first. It is derived from the Latin word, _textum_,--something
woven. Texture, in its original meaning, represents what has been
produced by weaving. A lady, when she is shopping, presses the linen or
silk, or cotton goods between her fingers in order to judge of their
texture; whether it is closely or loosely woven, whether it is hard or
smooth to the touch. Secondly, the word is used of a thing made by any
other means than weaving. We speak, for example, of the texture of
paper; and judge of its texture by the feel of it. Thirdly, it has come
to be used of any material, whether made by man or nature. Thus we say
that oak has a very close texture; glass is of firm but brittle texture;
butter is greasy in texture, and so on. Finally, the word is used in a
very general way to describe the character of any substance, especially
the kind of surface that it has. So we say of the flesh of a healthy
baby, that its texture is firm and silky; and we speak of the glossy
texture of a polished table; the downy texture of a young chicken’s
breast, or the velvety texture of a peach. In one word, texture is the
quality of a thing that we discover by touching it.

Texture appeals to our sense of touch. It excites in us a variety of
feelings, pleasant or unpleasant. I need not tell you how disagreeable
the texture of sharp rocks may be to your bare feet, when you are
bathing; what a relief it is to them to feel the texture of sand. Some
of you, I am sure, are conscious of the pleasure you derive from
handling things. You have discovered for yourselves what a lot of
feeling you have in the tips of your fingers. You would enjoy handling
the red box in Whistler’s picture: and your touch would be very careful
and delicate. Not alone because the box is valuable, but because it is
only with a delicate touch that you can appreciate the exquisite
smoothness of the lacquer.

The latter is a varnish composed of the gum of a certain tree. The
Japanese workman lays it over the box very thinly, and, when it is
thoroughly dried, rubs the surface until it is perfectly smooth. Then he
applies another coating of lacquer and again rubs, continuing the
process several times, until at last, the surface shows not a single
flaw or inequality, and is smooth and silky beyond the description of
any words. It is only by the look of it, and still more, by the feel of
it, that you can appreciate the exquisite finish of the surface; and
your delight in it is mingled with almost a reverence for the patience
and love of the craftsman, who could work so long and so faithfully to
make this little work of art perfect in its beauty and beautiful in its
perfection. Compared with this lacquer box, the texture of an ordinary
polished table or piano seems coarse and commonplace.

I might go on to speak of the different kinds of sensation that you
would enjoy if you touched the waxy petals of the camelia. But it is not
necessary. For if you have a joy in the sense of touch I need not try
to tell you about it. I will only ask you to wait a few minutes, until
we see how the enjoyment derived from texture enters into the
appreciation of a picture.

Meanwhile, if any of you have not as yet been conscious of getting this
sort of pleasure through your fingers, let me say that this does not
prove that you have no feeling for textures. I think that you have had
it unconsciously; for I suspect that the pleasure that you take in
flowers is not only because of their shape and color. As you have
examined the beauty of roses, the texture of their petals has not
escaped you. In one case, how silky; in another, how softly crumpled; in
another, how delicately waxen! You may never have put these ideas into
words, or even been conscious of them; but do you not see, now I mention
these textures, that they have had a good deal to do with your pleasure
in the roses? It may be, after all, the difference in the texture that
makes you prefer one rose to another.

However, whether this be so or not, the fact remains that a great number
of people derive pleasure from the textures of objects. So let us now
see how the artist, who, as I have said before, has instincts and
feelings like our own, takes advantage of this feeling for texture to
add to the beauty of his picture.

We shall often see a picture in which the textures are not represented.
Even modern pictures sometimes fail in this respect; and it is a very
common fault with early American pictures, painted by artists who had
not the advantage of training that the modern student enjoys. I will
quote the case of John Singleton Copley, a very famous painter of the
Colonial Period, who lived in Boston and made portraits of the
well-to-do men and women of the time, just preceding the Revolution.
Before the latter broke out, he went to England, where he spent the rest
of his life and was highly thought of. His portraits are handsome as
pictures for they represent men and women, mostly of elegant manners in
handsome clothes. They also give the impression of being good
likenesses. Yet his pictures lack animation. The figures and the
costumes are stiff and hard. This is partly due to there being no
suggestion of atmosphere surrounding them. The picture is not filled
with air and light, as we found Vermeer’s was. But there is another
reason. Copley was unskilful in the presentation of textures.

The flesh and hair, the materials of the costumes, the furniture and
ornaments, present no differences of texture. All seem to have a
uniformly hard surface, as if they were made of wood or tin. The result
is that the whole picture seems hard and stiff--lacking in animation. If
you ask me why this lack of animation is caused by the artist’s neglect
of textures, I think the answer is that Copley has not given to
everything in his picture its own separate, particular character. For
when you come to think of it,--and the dictionary meaning of the word
textures, bears me out--the character of everything depends so much upon
its texture; whether it is hard or soft, smooth or rough, glossy or
dull, and so on. Now, if there were a number of girls and boys in the
room, all sitting round with the same dull expression on their faces, we
should say that the whole group lacked animation. What makes a party
animated and lively, is the fact that it is composed of a number of
persons, each having a separate character to which he or she gives free
play. The more easily and naturally each exhibits his or her character,
the more animated and lively will be the fun of the party.

Now, do you not see how this applies to a picture? The artist invites a
number of different textures to his party or composition. Surely the
party will be lacking in animation if he does not bring out the special
character of each. The lady’s face and hands will not contribute their
full share to the animation of the whole composition, unless the
character of their texture is expressed. It will not be enough to
represent only the coloring of the flesh, for its beauty depends also
upon its firmness and softness. Her satin dress will lose half its
charm, if we are only made to see its shine and gloss. We know satin to
be also soft and thin, ready to arrange itself in all sorts of delicate
folds. This is a chief charm in the character of satin; and if this
particular satin does not exhibit these qualities of texture, the dress
will not do its proper share in helping the animation of the figure.
Well! if you agree with me about the satin dress, I think that you will
see that the same thing holds good of the table on which her arm is
resting, and the glass vase with carnations in it that stands near her
hand. Do you not think that the character of the hand will be better
expressed, if the separate characters also of the polished wood, the
hard shiny cut glass, and the soft velvety flowers are playing their
part? They may not be so important as the woman and her dress, but in a
composition as in a party, everybody must do their share, if the affair
is to be a complete success.

The first great masters in the rendering of textures were the old
Flemish artists of the Fifteenth Century--the brothers Hubert and Jan
van Eyck, for example, and Hans Memling. Their country,--what we now
call Belgium--had long been famous for its textiles. Silks, linens,
cloths and velvets--its gold and silver and other metal work, its
manufacture and decorating of glass. The Flemish were a nation of
craftsmen, skilled in the production of the most beautiful articles of
domestic use and church worship. And this love for objects of beautiful
workmanship was shared by her painters. They represented them in their
pictures. They painted not only the character of the men and women of
the time, but the character of the life in which they lived, and did
this by surrounding them with the furniture and objects that gave
distinction to their lives. So the very rug on the floor, the glass in
the windows, the mirror on the wall in its highly wrought frame, as well
as the clothes worn by these quiet, serious men and women, have a
choiceness of feeling. The room is not simply furnished, much less is it
cluttered up with all kinds of tasteless Department Store “objets
d’art.” Every thing in it has its own distinction of beauty, suggesting
the taste and refinement of its owners, and so by its own character
contributing to our appreciation of the character of the men and women
in the picture.

Another great master of texture was the German artist of the Sixteenth
Century, Hans Holbein the younger. He too loved things of delicate and
exquisite craftsmanship and often made designs of such things for the
workmen of his native city, Augsburg. So he was fond of introducing such
articles into his pictures. It was a joy to him to paint them, each one
with its own individual character of texture. Still, notwithstanding his
love of them, he only puts them into his pictures when their character
will help the character of his main subject. So, when he paints the
portrait of a rich merchant of taste, like Georg Gyze in his office, he
surrounds him with many objects related to his work--inkpot, seal,
scissors, ledger, and can for holding string, letters, and a scale for
weighing money. There is a profusion of beautifully fashioned objects,
but they all by their separate characters help us to understand more
fully the character of the merchant himself. On the other hand, since
characterization was Holbein’s main purpose, he treats the portrait of
the great scholar Erasmus, differently. Here he introduces only a small
writing desk, a sheet of paper on it, and a pen in the scholar’s hand.
These remind us that Erasmus was a writer; while the handsome rings on
his fingers and a piece of finely woven material on the wall, tell us of
another side of his character--that beside his love of learning, he had
a taste for the beautiful things of life.

Looking back then over what we have been saying, we find that when the
artist suggests to us the different kinds of sensation we may receive
from touching things, he greatly increases the expressiveness of his
pictures. By rendering or representing the textures, as well as the form
and color of objects, he accomplishes at least four results. Firstly, he
makes the objects more life-like; we feel as if we might really handle
them and receive the sensation that such objects, if they were real,
would give us. Secondly, he gives us a more keen enjoyment of their
beauty; consciously or unconsciously we receive a sensation of the
pleasure of handling them. Thirdly, the increased life-likeness and
beauty increases the general animation of the whole picture. Fourthly,
this rendering of the separate character of each object contributes to
our understanding and appreciation of the character of the whole
subject. To sum up, the rendering of textures suggests reality, beauty,
animation, and character.

       *       *       *       *       *

Atmosphere we have already alluded to in previous chapters. We saw how
Vermeer filled the scene of his picture with lighted air; and, in
discussing color, we talked of it first as light, and then went on to
study how the light which is in the air affects the light which is
reflected from all objects that are visible. We found that colors differ
from one another in the quantity of light they contain: in what artists
call their values; the value of red, for example, being different from
the value of blue or green. Also we found that each single color may
have variations of value, according to the quantity and direction of the
light which falls upon it.

All this, you may say, has more to do with light than atmosphere. But
the two are really united. What we call atmosphere, as you know, is the
volume of gases which surrounds the earth. The particles from these
gases are lit up by the light. We cannot see the particles, only the
reflections of light thrown off by them. But though we cannot see the
particles themselves, they can interfere with our seeing of other
things. It is the layers or veils of atmosphere that lie between us and
a distant hill, that prevent our seeing the bright green grass on the
latter and the dark green fir trees. Seen through the atmosphere, the
colors of the hill appear subdued, the very form and bulk of the ground
flattened and, perhaps, indistinct.

This effect of atmosphere is one of the things that we are now going to
discuss. The other is that atmosphere penetrates everywhere. Suppose we
begin with the second point. The atmosphere is in one respect like
water; it is a fluid. It flows in and out and around about and fills the
whole space that is not occupied by some other body. But have you
thought what this means to an artist? Or at least to some artists; for
we said that Copley’s pictures contained little or no suggestion of
atmosphere. And the same may be said of a great many pictures by modern
artists. They represent the form and color of things, but do not suggest
that they are surrounded, or, as is often said, enveloped in atmosphere.

Why is this? Well! in the first place, as you remember, there are many
artists who do not profess to represent nature. When they use nature as
a model, it is for the purpose only of getting the forms of nature, and
these they improve upon, as they will tell you, so as to make the forms
in their picture “ideally perfect.” These “Academic” or “classic”
painters[11] as I have already said, think of art as separate from
nature. On the other hand, even among those who think of art as a means
of interpreting nature, there are many artists who never put atmosphere
into their pictures. Or, if they do, it is not nature’s atmosphere.

Then what sort of atmosphere is it? I call it a studio atmosphere,
because it is manufactured in the studio. The artist, feeling the need
of softening the hard outlines of his figures and of subduing any
harshness of color, spreads over the picture thin layers of transparent,
slightly colored varnish. Through these glazes, as they are called, the
forms and colors are seen, somewhat as if you were looking at them
through a piece of colored glass, and the effect is to merge or bathe
them in a glow of atmosphere.

This was a usual practice with the great colorists of the Italian
Renaissance. Correggio’s pictures, for example, are prized for their
golden glow. It is one of the reasons of their beauty. But then, his
idea was not to interpret nature. His subjects were drawn from the
Bible, or the Christian religion, or Greek Mythology, and he treated
them as his imagination suggested. He saw them through the glow of his
own imagination, and surrounded them with a glow that seems to place
them far away from actual things in a beautiful world of their own.
Similarly, modern colorists, when they create pictures out of their own
imagination, will suffuse them with an artificial atmosphere that helps
to express the spirit of the scene. In fact, these atmospheric effects,
produced by glazing, are beautiful and proper in their place. But their
place is not in pictures that profess to be studies of nature. In these
it is as wrong to suggest an unnatural atmosphere, as it is to leave out
all suggestion of atmosphere whatsoever, which is, perhaps, the more
usual fault.

Since the true rendering of atmosphere is a part of the true
representation of light and color, you will not be surprised to learn
that it appeared in the pictures of Velasquez and of the Dutchmen of the
Seventeenth Century. We have already spoken of it in the case of
Vermeer. It was from these artists that modern colorists, beginning
about 1860, have learned to study the effects of atmosphere and light.
They have carried the study even further than the older men. Indeed, the
rendering of light and atmosphere has been the most distinct triumph of
modern painting. There are two reasons for this.

One is, that with the advance of scientific studies and mechanical
inventions, people have become more than ever interested in the every
day facts of life; and the writers, painters, and sculptors, following
with the stream, have studied more and more how to represent life and
its surroundings, not as we may dream they should be, but as they are
known to our actual experience. They have become ardent “realists” or
“naturalists.” “Realists,” because they are occupied with what we are in
the habit of calling the realities of life.[12] “Naturalists,” because
they love nature and try to represent her actual appearances, as they
are enveloped in and affected by light and atmosphere.

The second cause of the modern advance in rendering these qualities is
again due to scientific discoveries. Scientific men have made a close
study of light and color and the painters have profited by the results.
Painting, in a measure, has joined hands with science.

However, now that we have seen why some artists do not put atmosphere
into their pictures, and

[Illustration: The Mystic Marriage of St. Catharine. _Correggio._]

that among those who do some manufacture an atmosphere of their own,
while others try to render nature’s atmosphere, let us study for
ourselves the effect of atmosphere in nature. It will help us, if I
begin by telling what we expect to find. First then, that the outlines
of objects are softened; secondly, that the bulk of things seems
flattened; and thirdly, that as objects recede or stand further off from
our eyes, their forms becomes more and more indistinct and their colors
change.

As to the first. Suppose you are standing on a street or country road,
and a wagon passes you. While it is close in front of you, the body of
the wagon and the wheels and the man driving, all are clearly outlined;
you can distinguish distinctly the parts of the wagon and the character
of the man’s figure, whether it is fat or thin, strong or weak-looking,
and so on. But, as the wagon passes along the road, its appearance
changes. At first, it is the smaller details that disappear; they have
become merged in the general mass; then the outlines of this mass grow
less and less distinct; you could not be sure now, unless you had seen
the wagon close, exactly what its build is; nor does one part seem
nearer to you than another, its bulk has become flattened, and gradually
the whole affair looks to be only a patch of color against the color of
the road.

Do you remember, it was as patches we saw the cows which we met early in
our talk? The reason then given for their appearance was that our eyes
were not strong enough to distinguish their details at such a distance.
And this reason also holds good in the case of the wagon. But it is not
only the distance that reduces our power of seeing, but also the layers,
or veils of atmosphere that hang between us and the object. We are sure
of this on a foggy day, when the mist lies low over the country or city,
and trees and tall buildings loom up like blurs, and everything beyond
the distance of a few hundred paces is blotted from sight. But the fog
or mist is only the atmosphere more moist than usual and with its
moisture condensed by cooling.

When you breathe on a mirror, the damp of your breath is condensed by
the coolness of the glass. A film of mist forms over the mirror. Of an
evening you may see the mist lying over the river or meadows; for the
sun is gone down and the earth and air are cooling. But the upper air
cools more quickly than the lower part, since the latter is still warmed
by the heat stored in the earth. So, as the cooler air from above drops
down, it acts like a mirror to the breath of the earth or the air that
lies close over it; and this air is condensed into mist. All through the
night both air and earth are cooling, but the earth more slowly, so that
there is still a meeting of cooler and warmer air and consequent
condensations, and the mist is hovering over the meadows when the next
morning’s sun rises. As the sun mounts up, it begins to spread its
warmth and the upper air is the first to feel it. Growing warm, it
rises, drawing up after it the cooler air below. And as the cooler air
is sucked up, the warmer air closes in behind it; until, as this
circulation of cool and warm continues, the warmth at last reaches down
to the mists above the earth. And then commences that beautiful sight
that you may see on some summer mornings. The mists, that a while ago
lay like a blanket over the sleeping earth, begin to stir, as if they
themselves were awakening from sleep. They tremble a little, then slowly
stretch themselves, and begin to rise to meet the warmth of day. And as
they rise, little wisps of mist become detached from the main body and
float up and disappear, until gradually the whole rising mass is rent
asunder by the currents of warm air into shreds and wreaths, which curl
and float and soar and at last lose themselves in the warmth that now
wraps the earth.

Later in the day, if the weather is very hot the air, close above the
ground, becomes so heated that it rises very quickly, and we see a
shimmer of light upon its shifting patches. I mention this, because I
wish you to think of atmosphere, not only as veils of gauze hung between
us and objects we are looking at, but also as a moving, palpitating,
vibrating fluid. We will talk a little more about this presently.
Meanwhile, let us note some of the effects of atmosphere upon form and
color.

We have mentioned that it softens the outlines of objects. This is only
another way of saying that the objects appear less distinct; that even a
chimney, though it cuts against the sky in strong contrast, has not
really hard sharp outlines. At first sight you will think, perhaps,
that it has; just as the cornices of the roofs may seem to you to have
hard lines, and the windows and doorways to be sharply outlined. But
they do not appear so to an artist’s eye, and will not to yours in time,
if you are observant. Suppose an artist with pen and ink should draw one
of these houses, using a straight edge to make the outline hard and
sharp. This is how an architect draws the design of a house, because his
object is to make an exact drawing for the builder to work by. But, if
you have seen one of these architectural drawings, you will recognise, I
think, that it does not look natural; that somehow or other it is too
precise and tight and hard to suggest the appearance of an actual house.
If this were his object, the architect himself would draw the house
differently. He would make what is called a free-hand drawing. He would
no longer represent the edges of cornices and chimneys and so on, with
continuous lines; he would “break them up”; lifting his pen for a moment
and leaving a tiny space of white before he continues the line; making
the line thicker or thinner as he went along, and occasionally pressing
on his pen to produce a dot. In these ways he will break up all the
edges and outlines that they may not be too hard, but may have the less
distinct appearance that the lines of the actual house present to his
eye. For the same reason when he draws any bits of carving, such as the
capitals of the columns of the front door, he will not represent every
detail exactly, as if he were making a working drawing for the carver.
He will leave out some and break up others, so that, although he plainly
indicates the style and character of the ornament, it will not seem hard
and sharp, but softened, and a trifle indistinct, as the capital appears
to his eye. He will, in fact, make allowances for the softening effects
of atmosphere.

Up to this point we have imagined the penmanship to be concerned only
with the lines. Now let us see how a great pen-artist, like Joseph
Pennell, or Edwin A. Abbey, would carry his drawing further. He would
see the house, not as a skeleton of lines, but as a mass, part of which
is silhouetted against the sky, while the rest is seen in relation to
the other buildings or objects that stand near it. Each according to his
own individual technique, that is to say, his own particular way of
using the pen, will make his building a mass distinct from the masses of
the other buildings, of the ground, and of the sky. And on the masses of
buildings he will make the windows appear as they do in the actual
building--namely, as patches, darker in color than the walls. All this
he will do, because to his eye the different objects, under the
influence of the atmosphere, appear as masses of various colors in
relation to one another. More than this, when you have grown to
appreciate fully the work of Pennell and Abbey, you will find that,
though it is done in black and white, it seems to suggest color.

Elsewhere I have spoken of the fact that many artists, especially modern
ones, see nature as an arrangement of colored spaces or masses in
relation to one another. This implies that they are very little
conscious of the edges or outlines of the masses. If they think of them
at all, it is to try and prevent your noticing them in their pictures.
They paint, for example, the head, and shoulders, and cheek of a man, a
bust portrait--with a dark background. If you examine the picture
closely, you will not find a sharp line, separating the head from the
background. In fact the color of the hair and cheek seems to extend a
little way into the dark of the background. The artist has dragged his
brush round the head, so that it is impossible to say just where the
background begins. The reason for this you understand, as soon as you
step back and look at the picture from a short distance off. The head
appears very solid; we can believe there is really a hard skull beneath
the full flesh of the cheeks and the tight skin of the forehead. Yet the
head does not seem to be stuck against the background, like a postage
stamp on an envelope. Indeed, if the picture is well painted, the dark
part is not really a background. That is to say, it is not merely
something behind the head; it seems to have depth and to go back, but it
also comes forward and surrounds the head. The latter does not stick out
of the picture, it keeps its place back within the frame, enveloped in
atmosphere that, though it is very dark, is penetrable. You feel, that
is to say, that your hand could be pushed through it without coming up
against some wall, as it were, that would stop it.

Now I particularly wished you to notice that the head suggested to us
that hardness of the skull and the varying firmness and tightness of the
flesh. For it proves that the softening of the outline will not
interfere with the feeling of hardness and strength, or firmness in the
mass. The effect, indeed, is to increase it, since out attention is
concentrated on the head and not distracted to the outline. On the other
hand, do not suppose that the softening of outlines is always intended
to increase the suggestion of solidity. It may be part of an entirely
opposite intention; namely, to lose sight of the idea of solidity of
mass. For example, the French landscape artist, Corot, often represented
the masses of the trees as soft, dark blurs against the soft light of
the sky. For he loved especially the early dawn and late evening, when
the light is very faint and in the hush the trees loom up like quiet
spirits. He wished you to feel their presence, but not to be conscious
of their solidity and bulk. He, you see, used the softened outline for a
different purpose; which shows that in art, as in other matters, a
single principle may be applied variously in different cases.

These tree-presences of Corot are painted very flatly. The roundness of
their bulk disappears into a flat mass. It was one of the ways in which
he avoided the suggestion of solidity. But here again comes in the fact
that a principle may have other applications; for flatness does not
necessarily make the object appear unsubstantial. A house does not look
so, yet its front may be flat. And Corot, as other artists, and as you
may, if you use your eyes, had discovered that in the open air all
objects appear flatter than they do indoors. The reason is that in the
case of a room lighted by windows, the light is always stronger near the
windows than it is in parts of the room further removed. The light is
unequally distributed, so that there are more shadows to throw up the
bulk of objects. But out of doors the light is more diffused; more
equally distributed. Moreover, we view things from a greater distance,
so that more atmosphere intervenes. The effect of both these facts is to
make the masses of objects seem flatter. The lawn from a little distance
may look very smooth; but, when you walk over it, you find the grass
needs to be cut and the bumps to be rolled before you can play croquet.
That maple, too, is a sturdy, solid fellow, but as you see its mass of
pale green against the darker mass of hemlock, both seem flatter than
they do when you are climbing among their branches.

In speaking of the softening of outline and flattening of bulk due to
atmosphere we have frequently alluded to the effect of distance on the
appearance of objects. The further off the latter are, the more
atmosphere will intervene, the less distinct will they appear. In the
case of distant hills, the ups and downs of the ground, the bulk of the
trees, even the stability and massiveness of “the everlasting hills,”
may be softened and flattened into what seems to be only a faint mass of
color.

Perhaps we have walked over these hills and know them to be carpeted
with grass; the greens also of the maples, oaks, cypress, each with its
separate hue, attracted our attention. But to-day, from a distance, all
these greens are lost in a vaporous hue of blue. It is this effect of
atmosphere on color that we will now talk about. It is easy to notice in
the case of the hills because of the great quantity of atmosphere that
intervenes between us and them. But, if there were a row of maples
extending from the hills to us, so placed that we could look along their
entire length, we should find the appearance of their color gradually
changing, as they recede from our eyes. In a word, to the sensitive eye
of the artist the colors of even nearby objects are affected by
atmosphere.

Now, those hills appear to be blue; another day, they will incline more
to grey; yet another day to violet or purple, or pinkish. In winter
time, around New York, they would very likely take on a dry, whitish
color. In fact, the color will vary according to the condition of the
atmosphere and the quality of the light; depending upon how moist or
dry, how warm or chill, the atmosphere may be, and whether the light is
yellow or golden, grey or white, full or feeble, and so on. It is these
constant variations of lighted atmosphere that give continually fresh
interest to the beauty of nature. Nature never wearies us by being
always the same. It is like a human face, whose expression is
continually changing.

Sometimes we see a beautiful human face, with almost perfect features.
But behind that beautiful mask may be a very dull, uninteresting mind.
If so, the expression of the face will be passive, the opposite, that is
to say, to active. It will not leap from grave to gay; kindle, sparkle,
grow tender, or angry and joyful by turns. It will be--“faultily
faultless, icily regular, splendidly _null_”--no expression. And we may
even tire of its beauty; while a face, less perfect in features, may win
us more and more and hold our interest by the charm of its continually
varying expression. The more we think of it, the more do we realise that
beauty depends upon expression. It is the same with nature as with the
human face. Its beauty is affected by expression and this is produced by
the varieties in the lighted atmosphere.

A moment’s thought will satisfy you of this. Nature’s features vary with
the seasons, but change little from day to day. Every morning, during
the summer vacation, the same objects greet your eye, but how
differently you feel towards them, according to what we call the
weather, which after all is the condition of the atmosphere. One day the
familiar features of the landscape will take on an expression of
gladness, some other day of dullness; and the more we study the
features, the more variable will their expression appear from hour to
hour, day to day, and season to season.

I spoke just now of the movement of the atmosphere. It is a fluid, that
one day may be as still as a forest pool, another day may be stirred
like the

[Illustration: Light and Shade. _George Inness._]

ocean. We cannot see its particles, but we do see the light reflected
from them; and, I suppose, it is the differences in the appearances of
the lighted reflections that make us conscious of the stillness or
movement of the atmosphere on days when there is no wind. We need not be
very sensitive to nature to notice these differences of the atmosphere
at different seasons of the year; how, on certain winter days, the air
seems absolutely motionless; while on other days it seems alert and
sprightly; how in early spring it seems astir with gentle life, while in
summer or autumn it may be alive with animation or heavy with drowsy
languor.

The motionless air of winter has been rendered with marvellous truth by
John H. Twachtman; the stir of spring by Dwight W. Tryon; the active air
of summer by Childe Hassam, and its languorous drowsiness by George
Inness. All these are American artists, whom I mention only as examples.
For much of the beauty of modern art, both American and foreign, is due
to the sensitive rendering of the variations in the atmosphere. For, the
best artists now-a-days are not satisfied to paint the features of
nature only; they aim to depict the varying expressions on her face. And
the chief cause, as I have said, of these variations is the constant
change in the conditions of the lighted atmosphere.



CHAPTER XVI

COLOR (_Continued_)--TONE


We shall frequently hear the words tone, tonal, tonality, applied to
pictures. People say, for example, this picture is rich in tone; that
has fine tonal qualities; another has a delicate tonality. It is rather
difficult to explain what these words mean, for they do not seem to be
used in the same way by everybody. However, let us try.

It is clearly a word derived from music, where its meaning is more
definite. We speak of a piano’s tone, by which we mean that, though it
sounds the same notes as another piano, the quality of the sounds
differs. We shall be using the word quality often in the present
chapter, so let us be sure we understand its meaning. It is from the
Latin word _qualis_, which means of what kind. Of what kind is this
piece of dress goods; what is its quality, compared with another piece,
at first sight similar? Is it all wool, for example, while the other is
cotton mixture? Is it softer, while the other is harder and drier? Will
the one stand washing, while the other will shrink? Similarly, when the
same note is struck on two pianos the tone of one may be rich, mellow,
resonant, while that of the other is thin, raw, and metallic.

Why is the tone superior? You know, I suppose, that when a piano string
is struck it vibrates. That is to say, it ceases to be a straight line,
and becomes agitated into a series of waves. In order to increase the
volume of the sound a thin layer of wood, called the sound board, is
placed beneath the strings. As the string vibrates, this board vibrates
in sympathy, and so the volume of sound is increased and enriched. Now
the least thing may disturb the perfection of this sympathetic
vibration. Accordingly, the superiority of the one piano is due to the
fact that all its parts are of finer make and material, and are more
perfectly adjusted to one another. They are in so perfect a relation,
that there is no jar in any part, and thus the body of the instrument is
a united whole.

The tone of the piano, then, is due to the perfect relation existing
between the parts of the piano. Applying this idea to a picture: it
would seem that tone is the result of all the colors being so perfectly
related to one another, that the vibration or rhythm of the whole
color-harmony is increased.

Now this is certainly, in a general way, the meaning of the word tone.
So, although the word itself is new to you, the idea contained in it is
not. We have talked a good deal about color-relations, rhythm, and
harmony. You remember our talk on Vermeer’s picture. Well, his is a
tonal picture, because of the perfect relation of all the colors to one
another. It is beautiful in tone; its tonality is exquisite. And do you
remember one particular feature of its exquisiteness? I pointed out to
you that it is full of lighted atmosphere, and that the atmosphere seems
to vibrate; that its rhythm passes through and through the picture,
uniting all the masses of color into a harmonious whole. We noted the
difference between this kind of rhythm and that in Raphael’s
_Jurisprudence_, where the rhythm is the result of line. You could not
describe that picture as tonal; for in it color plays a very unimportant
part. Raphael was busied with the relations, not of color, but of line.

I have reminded you of the rhythm of atmosphere in Vermeer’s picture,
because some people describe tone, as the result of fusing all the forms
and colors into a whole by enveloping them in atmosphere. But I think,
if you have followed our talks carefully, you will see that this use of
the word tone is pretty much the same as the one we have arrived at. For
you cannot see the effects of atmosphere except in relation to the
coloring of nature. And I like our explanation better than this one,
because it is broader, and therefore includes more. It includes, for
example, all Japanese prints. Many of them exhibit no suggestion of
atmosphere; yet they are always tonal in the sense that their colors are
in perfect relation.

Now, let me tell you of another definition of tone, which again is
included in our own. Some people will tell you that a picture is tonal,
because there is some one prevailing hue of color in it. By
“prevailing” we mean that some one color plays the most important part.
In Vermeer’s picture, you may remember, it was blue. The girl’s skirt
made a strong spot of blue. We are aware of other colors in the picture,
but they play subsidiary parts. What we are most conscious of is a sense
of blue throughout the picture--a prevailing tone of blue. So in
Whistler’s _White Girl--Symphony in White, Number One_, there is a
prevailing tone of white.

But this is only another way of saying that in each picture the colors
are in a perfect relation to one another. Whether there are more or
fewer colors, and whether we receive an impression of many colors or one
in particular, does not really affect the question. When all is said and
done, tone is the result of color relations, so arranged that they
produce a rhythmic harmony.

       *       *       *       *       *

An artist, when he paints a tonal picture, has in mind the relative dark
and light of colors, and their relative coolness and warmth. Let me
explain. First the relative coolness or warmth of colors. The artist
regards blue as the coolest hue. As a matter of fact violet reflects
even less light than blue; still, for his practical purposes, an artist
says that the cool hue is blue, and he associates with it violet and
green. On the other hand, yellow, he treats as warm, and associates with
it red and orange.

And, if you consider for a moment, the distinction of warm and cool
hues, which is practised by artists and founded on the nature of light,
appeals to our own experience. You will have no hesitation in feeling
that a bunch of violets, surrounded by green leaves, gives you a feeling
of coolness, as compared with another bunch composed of red and yellow
poppies.

Accordingly, if an artist has made up his mind that his tonal harmony
shall be a cool one, he either composes it entirely of cool hues, or
sees to it that some one or all of them shall “prevail.” The warmer hues
may be introduced for the sake of contrast, but very sparingly. And, of
course, he will reverse his use of the hues, if he wishes the tone to be
a warm one. This you could have guessed for yourselves; but I point it
out because most people, I believe, prefer a warm picture. If it
represents the sun setting in a mass of crimson over which the sky is
orange, passing to yellow; and the effect of this warm light is shown on
the surrounding trees and meadow, so that everything seems to be kindled
into a dreamy warmth, we easily find the picture very beautiful. It is
so attractive in its richness and mellow warmth, that the quiet coolness
of that picture opposite may seem tame by comparison, and we pass it by.
On the other hand, if, recognising the difference of the intention, we
study the latter picture carefully, we may very likely come to admire it
even more than the warmer one, by reason of the very quietness of its
appeal, or because of the purity and freshness of feeling that probably
pervade it.

And now for the artist’s other habit of considering the relative
lightness and darkness of hues. It comes into play, whether his tonal
arrangement be a cool one or a warm one. For by this means he introduces
contrasts of color; and as we have pointed out, it is by contrasts as
well as by similarities, that a harmony is produced.

There are two ways of considering the difference between light and dark.
One is to treat it as an arrangement of _chiaroscuro_, the other as an
arrangement of _values_. This is a distinction that I have already
explained; but I will refresh your memory of it, in its special
application to tone.

Chiaroscuro, as you remember, means light and dark. So it could be used
of the light and dark of values; but, as a matter of fact, it is applied
to the distribution of light and shadows, adopted by the artists of
older times, and still used by many modern ones. In applying it, they
represented the light, as coming from one direction, usually from behind
their backs; and as striking the objects and figures in the picture at
an angle, either on the right side or on the left. They also took care
that the light should be concentrated or particularly bright at one
spot. On the contrary, the artist who considers the light and dark of
values, sees the light _in_ the scene he is painting, and observes that
it pervades all parts of it.

But, to return to the chiaroscuro; its effect is to produce strong
contrasts of light and shade: high lights, nearly white in the parts
most exposed to the light, and shadows almost black, in the parts most
removed. To offset these strong contrasts the artist uses strong hues.
The pure colors of red, yellow, green, blue, may be used in large
masses. The result is a tonal harmony of great richness, striking
magnificence, or surprising impressiveness.

Of the last kind is Rubens’ _Descent from the Cross_. If you study a
photograph of it, you will see that the light _does_ come from within
the scene. It flows from the Saviour’s body; and the light, as it
spreads, illumines certain parts of the surrounding figures, especially
the heads and hands; just the parts in fact, in which there is most
expression of feeling. The sacred Body has the pallor of death, it is
almost white, while black prevails elsewhere throughout the picture, the
only other colors being the flesh tints of the faces and hands, and some
dull green and red. It is an admirable example of the strong contrast of
black and white, and, let me add, of the amazing effect that such
contrast has on the imagination. For it is a picture that arouses one’s
emotions of awe and pity and reverence to an extraordinary degree; and
the more you study it, the more you will realise that the source of its
appeal is the chiaroscuro. The latter, though the light is within the
scene, is purely arbitrary. Rubens, that is to say, did not try to
imitate the effects of real light and darkness; he chose to be the
arbiter or judge of how he would distribute them. And in the arrangement
he had three purposes. First, he wished to secure the modeling of the
figures; note the muscular force he has given to some of the men; the
pathetic droop of the Virgin’s figure; and the pitiable limpness of the
Saviour’s form. Secondly, he was able to make this composition of
contrasts one of most impressive grandeur. Thirdly, as I have already
hinted in speaking of the figures of the Saviour and the Virgin, he
could by means of this superb invention of light and darkness, fill us
with profound emotion.

So much for the older method of considering the relations between light
and dark. The modern one, depending on the light and dark of values,
derived from the example of Velasquez and of Vermeer and other Dutchmen
of the Seventeenth Century, I have recently explained in connection with
Whistler’s _White Girl, Symphony in White Number Two_. So I will only
remind you that in this picture there is practically no contrast of
shadow. The whole scene is bathed in a uniform light. But the contrast
of dark is obtained by putting in certain objects, the red box, the blue
vase, and so on, the values of which are lower than that of the white
dress. The artist has thought of darkness, not as the result of shadow,
but of certain colors being darker in themselves, because they reflect
less light than others. If this is not quite clear to you, perhaps it
will be, if you refer to the chapter in which this picture is discussed.

On the other hand, the modern artist, even if he works by values rather
than by chiaroscuro, must often wish to paint a scene that does involve
shadows. We know that the scene may be filled with light and yet there
will be certain places where the light is intercepted, so that shadows
are formed. Our lawn in summer is aglow with warm light, but every tree
and bush casts its shadow. Or the same spot in winter is covered with
snow and the air is bright with cool light; yet here and there a trunk
of a tree spreads a thin layer of shadow.

But the difference is in the way the modern artist regards shadow. He
has studied nature for the purpose of representing the actual effects of
nature; and, in so doing, has discovered that the secret of all effects
is due to the action of light. So he has learned to look at everything,
shadows included, in its relation to light. A shadow to him, then, is
not something different from light; it is a lessening of the light. Some
of the light has been intercepted by the foliage of the tree, so that
less light reaches the ground. It may be that very little light filters
through the leaves. But, whether more or little, the spot from which the
light has been intercepted, still contains some light. Even what we
usually call the shadows have light in them.

So, while chiaroscuro is a contrast of light and dark, the contrast of
values may better be described as one of light and less light.

Observe how this works. Since the modern artist sees light in shadows,
he also sees color in them. And their color varies according to the
quality of the light and according to the local color of the spot
affected. The local color of your lawn is green; therefore, even under
the trees, where little light reaches the grass, the latter will still
contain a greenish hue, though the value of it will be much lower than
that of the sunlit lawn. On the other hand, the hue of the shadow will
also be affected by the quality of the light, differing according as the
light is dull or brilliant, and as it inclines to white or yellow. This
is too intricate a subject to attempt to discuss here, but I mention it
in order that, if you are wide awake and interested, you may amuse
yourself by studying these effects in your walks abroad.

A simple way of starting the subject is to study the hue of the shadow
cast by your hand on a sheet of white paper. I am working by the light
of a Welsbach burner, and the shadow of my hand is a pale reddish
purple. The other day, on a bright February morning, I laid my hand on a
piece of white paper and the shadow was bluish. In each case, owing to
the amount of light reflected from the white paper, the shadow was very
transparent, and beautiful in its delicacy and softness.

Well, this little example illustrates what artists have discovered about
shadows lying on snow. They are very transparent, very delicate, and
tend toward a hue of blue or plum color, according to the quantity of
light.

Now to sum up our remarks on tone. When we speak of a picture having
tonal qualities, we mean that the artist has so combined the related
darks and lights and the related coolness and warmth of his colors that
he has produced a harmony, threaded through and through with a
suggestion of rhythm or vibration. And the vibration will be most felt,
when the suggestion of atmosphere pervades the picture.

In the case of the _Descent from the Cross_ we have already hinted at
the power of tone to arouse emotion. I may add that tone always makes a
strong appeal to feeling--to abstract feeling. The tonal harmony of an
opal, whose pinks and greens are suffused with creamy atmosphere,
arouses in us delight, quite apart from any suggestion to our mind. The
delight is one of pure feeling. Can you not see that, if an artist uses
the tonal harmony of the opal as a color scheme for a picture, the
harmony would still delight us in an abstract way? It would be
interwoven now with the subject of his picture, and we need not try, nor
do we wish to separate them. But the sentiment of the figure or the
scene will be all the more tender and lovely for the harmony with which
it is suffused.

I have in mind, for example, the pictures by the American artist, Thomas
W. Dewing. They show you one or two women standing or sitting,
apparently lost in reverie, while placed beside them may be a table and
a vase and on the wall a mirror. If you ask me what the picture is
about, I will say: Nothing. There is no subject to them in the sense
that you can describe: who the girl is, why she is there, and what she
is doing. So, instead of talking to you about the figures, I should try
to draw your attention to the subtlety and beauty of the tonal harmony.
I should recommend you to look at it with a mind as free from outside
thoughts, as when you were looking at the opal. Then by degrees,
perhaps, as the beauty of the tone winds itself about your imagination,
you will begin to find some sentiment of beauty suggested by the girl
herself.

What I wish you to understand is that an artist, who has the gift of
composing tonal harmonies, employs them to express the abstract feelings
or emotions that he has regarding his subject. A celebrated example is
Whistler’s _Portrait of the Artist’s Mother_, that now hangs in the
Luxembourg Gallery, in Paris. I expect you have seen photographs of it
and remember that it represents an oldish lady, in a white lace cap and
black gown, with her hands folded over a handkerchief on her lap. We see
her figure seated in profile, in front of a grey wall. On it are two
little black-framed pictures, and on one side hangs a dark green
curtain.

When it was first exhibited the artist called it “An Arrangement in
Black and Grey.” It may be that he did not wish to drag his Mother into
publicity or make a parade of his feelings as a son. But there was
another reason, a much greater one. The abstract feelings that he had
for his Mother--the love, reverence, and appreciation of her dignity and
tenderness--took color in his artist’s mind in an arrangement of black
and grey. What a poet might have put into the rhythm and harmony of his
verse, Whistler has expressed through the rhythm of a tonal harmony of
color.

Another artist who was not a tonalist, might have contrived to put into
the face and hands and into the lines of the figure as much dignity and
gracious tenderness. But his picture would not move us so deeply as this
one. For Whistler--how shall I describe it?--has woven the dignity and
tenderness into every part of the canvas. The mother sits alone with her
own thoughts, but all about her is the music of color, choiring the love
and reverence of her son. No wonder the picture takes its hold upon us;
until we see in it not a mother, but the _type_ of what the conception
of Mother means to us.

Its tonal harmony is one that is distinguished by sobriety and
reticence. It consists of quiet and sober colors; it does not talk to
our hearts in brilliant glowing words. It moves us rather by its silence
and reserve, its reticence. I mention this because, at first, perhaps,
you will be more attracted by brilliant and glowing harmonies; and they
are beautiful too. They may fill us, as those of Rubens do, with
triumphant joy; or plunge us into poignant emotion as do Rousseau’s
sunsets. But, just as our capacity of feeling knows no limits, so there
is no limit to the variety of the tonal harmonies that may stir it. And
we shall grow to find some of the most exalting and beautiful sensations
in those harmonies that are very quiet, subtle, and that speak to our
imagination in a “still small voice.”

As a farewell illustration, to sum up the meaning of the quality and
expression of tone, let me return to sound tones. Have you ever thought
of quality and expression in the case of your own voice? I do not mean
the singing voice. Many of us do not possess this kind of voice; but we
all have a speaking and reading voice. What are the quality and
expression of yours? I am thinking now of the way you use it; of the
quality and expression of the sounds you utter.

When you speak; do you drawl “through your nose” or chatter very
quickly? Are the sounds shrill or harsh or monotonous? Perhaps you have
never stopped to consider. It is astonishing how few people do. Most
people think of their voice only as a contrivance for uttering words:
they turn it on and off like a faucet and let the words run. How
frequently one sees a pretty girl or woman, tastefully dressed and of
charming manners, who is altogether pleasing as long as she keeps her
mouth shut. But the moment she opens it, half her charm vanishes. There
is no tone in her voice; no varieties of light and shade in the pitch of
the sounds, no varieties of quietness or warmth in her speech; no rhythm
of effect. Even if it is not harsh, it is disagreeably monotonous.

Or somebody else reads a passage from Shakespeare, say _The Balcony
Scene_ in “Romeo and Juliet.” He is not as bad a reader as he might be;
for example, he does not stumble over the words or jump over the
punctuation. In fact, he reads intelligently, with considerable
attention to the meaning of the speeches. And yet, after all, he reads
very badly, for his voice fails entirely to bring out the music of the
verse. The scene is one of the loveliest ever written, and it was
written to be spoken aloud, so that the loveliness of the thought might
be conveyed in sounds of corresponding loveliness. But of this our
reader seems ignorant. He does not appear to know that Shakespeare
intended every vowel sound to be uttered in such a way as to bring out
the particular quality of its beauty; and arranged the sequence of the
sounds, so that one should flow into another in an exquisite rhythm of
rising and falling melody. This reader “murders” the beauty of the
scene, because there is no quality in the tone of his voice and no tonal
expression. Do you understand what I mean?

If you have not thought of this before, I hope you will give it some
attention in future. For it is in the power of everyone of us to improve
the quality and expression of our voices.



CHAPTER XVII

BRUSH-WORK AND DRAWING


Now that we have come to an end of our talk upon color, I must say a
little about brushwork. I hope to show you that a good painter may use
his brush in such a way that there is quality and expression in the
actual strokes.

I say a good “painter,” because I am thinking of that distinction I
pointed out to you, between artists who are really painters or
colorists, and those who are, more strictly speaking, draughtsmen. The
latter, you will remember, pay particular attention to the lines of
their figures, and then in spreading the paint, are careful that it
shall not interfere with the outlines. On the other hand, the man who
is, strictly speaking, a painter, sees his figures as colored masses.

I tried to show you that each method is right from its separate point of
view. But at the time we talked about this, we had not studied the
meaning of quality and expression. So I put off telling you about the
possibilities of quality and expression in line. We will talk about it
now, and then return to the brushwork.

Remember, what we are to think of now is a drawing of a figure or
object, represented simply in outline, with no added strokes to suggest
light and shade. It may have been done with a pencil or brush, or in one
of many other ways; but it is only outline. Now many people think the
only purpose of the outline is to enclose the figure, so that we may see
what the figure is. They may think the figure is beautiful, because it
represents something of which they are fond; the plump body of a baby,
for instance. But suppose the figure represents an old worn-out beggar,
with long scraggy arms and bare, misshapen feet. Would they see any
beauty in it? I expect not.

Yet, although there may be no beauty in the figure, there may be a great
deal in the lines which enclose it. If so, the beauty of line, of which
we are now talking, must be an abstract beauty; due to something in the
line itself, independently of the figure with which it is associated.

Suppose you draw a line on a piece of paper. What is the result? The
line has taken a certain direction, and it is of a certain kind. It is
thick or thin, or it begins thin, grows thicker and then diminishes in
width, or vice versa. It may be faint or distinct; firm or wavering, and
so on. Which ever kind it is it will be so, either because you wished it
to be of that kind, or because you couldn’t make it otherwise. In either
case, it is you that have made the line what it is. If you have enough
skill, you can make the line exactly what you wish.

Again, the direction of the line is the result of a movement of your
hand and arm. Very likely you moved uncertainly: you were not even sure
in what direction it was moving. But, if you were a skilful and
practised draughtsman, don’t you suppose you could so regulate the
movement of your hand and arm, that the line would take the exact
direction you desired? Yes, you would have as much control over the
direction and character of the line, as a musician has over the keys of
a piano, over which his hands move in various directions, sounding the
various notes.

But is the skill in doing this all that makes a good musician? You know
that he must also play, as we say, with feeling. This means, first, that
he must be able to feel the beauty of the music; secondly, that he knows
how to move his arms and touch the notes so as to draw forth from them
just the quality of sound that the feeling demands, and to make the
whole body of sounds render an expression of the feeling.

Now, just as the feeling passes from the brain of the musician into the
tips of his fingers, so it does with an artist. You will see him, as he
tries to tell you about the beauty of something, circling his hand in
the air, meanwhile curving his fingers and thumb, as if he were trying
to grasp the beauty. It is an instinctive movement, due to his habit of
expressing his conception with his hand. A sculptor will do much the
same thing, only he is more apt to close his fingers and express his
meaning with his thumb--the part of his hand that he uses most in
modeling.

One of the most beautiful examples of feeling in the hand is illustrated
in the modeling of a vase. The potter stands before a “wheel,” or table,
the top of which revolves. There is a spike in it that holds in place
the lump of clay. But while we watch, it has ceased to be a lump. It has
grown up under the potter’s hands and is a hollow vessel, every moment
changing its shape slightly, as with his fingers or the palm of his hand
he brings it nearer and nearer to the design that is in his brain. He
stops for a moment, and we think that he has finished. But, no, he is
only criticising it. It is not yet quite as he feels it should be; and
again the wheel revolves and the hand,--oh! so tenderly--coaxes the clay
to receive exactly the line of beauty that he feels.

And from the potter we may gain another insight into the beauty of an
artist’s line. I said that the clay grew up into the required form. And
certainly if you have seen the operation, you will say that growth is
just the word. Now in the line of all beautiful drawings there is the
feeling of growth. Not in a metaphorical way, but most literally, the
line grows under the artist’s hand, impelled by the feeling in him that
he is trying to express.

Let me tell you a little experience of my own. Though I am not an
artist, I have often made drawings. One day I was enlarging a piece of
ornament, in which there were scrolls of acanthus leaves; big cabbagy
sort of leaves, with a curving spine and crinkly edges. The chief point
was to get fine winding lines into the curves. For a long time I
imitated the copy as well as I could, when suddenly I seemed to feel
within me just how the curve should go. It was not a matter of seeing
the copy, but of feeling the actual growth in my brain. And lo! a
miracle, for one moment my hand was able to do what my brain prompted.
That leaf actually grew under my hand. I could feel it growing. And of
course that was the best bit of the whole drawing. The rest was
mechanical; this bit really lived. Well, in my case that was a miracle
and has never been repeated. But in that moment I learned two
things--firstly, what must be the joy of an artist in the act of
creation; and, secondly, that an artist’s line may be a living growth;
and, in the case of really fine draughtsmen, always is.

Since then I have watched the growth of trees and plants, and
discovered, as you may for yourself, the separate beauty and character
that belong to the lines of growth of each separate plant and tree. And,
when you have done so, you will come back to the study of line in
drawing, convinced that the beauty of line consists in its expression of
life and character. Not only the life and character of the object
represented, but the life and character of feeling in the artist.

Now perhaps you will realise how a drawing, though it represents only an
ugly old beggar man, may be beautiful. Life, in all its forms is
wonderful, even if sometimes horrible. And the expression of it by a
thing so slight as a line is beautiful, because we need not trouble
about the object represented, but be satisfied to enjoy only the life
and character that the line expresses.

It will also help you to understand and appreciate the abstract quality
of line, if you study Japanese drawings and prints. For their way of
representing figures and objects is not the same as ours, nor do we
always know what the subject of the picture is about. Therefore we are
better able to enjoy the line in an abstract way, apart from all
consideration of the things that are represented.

       *       *       *       *       *

After this little talk on line, we may now pass to brushwork. It is no
longer the thin edge that we are to keep in mind, but the mass, great or
small, as the case may be; the mass of a gown, for example, or the mass
of one of its folds.

I need not tell you that an artist’s hands may be alive with feeling
when he holds a brush, just as when he has a pencil in them. In fact,
what we have said about feeling and expression in line may be applied to
brushwork. In the case of a man who is not merely a filler in of spaces
with paint, but is by instinct a painter, the brushwork grows into life
beneath his hand. Sometimes he lays aside his brush and takes a
palette-knife, with which to spread the paint on the surface or to
scrape the part already painted. Sometimes he uses no tool at all, but
kneads the paint with his thumb. Whether he employs these or other
methods, is a matter of comparative unimportance. The main thing for us
to realise is that, whatever means he employs, it is because he is
giving expression to some feeling in his mind. There is a passage of
feeling from his mind through his arm to his hand, and thence to the
canvas.

The swifter the passage is, the more vitality, as a rule, will there be
in the brushwork. The reason is, that in such a case the artist is sure
of himself. The feeling in his mind is so clearly comprehended; he so
thoroughly feels what he wishes to express, and is so sure of the way to
render it, that there is no hesitation or sign of fumbling in the
result. It has grown freely and naturally and the result gives us that
keen and direct pleasure that we derive from what is brimful of life.

You know how stimulating it is to listen to a speaker, whose words flow
from his thoughts without any humming and hawing; and whose words
naturally and exactly express the thought. In such a man’s talk there is
a living growth of thought. As you proceed in your study of painting you
will learn to feel in brushwork either the presence or absence of such
living growth.

You will find sometimes, however, that the brushwork, which at first
seems very much alive, is not really a living growth. It is more like
the clever tricks that you perform with your bodies in a gymnasium. It
is merely an exhibition of vigor. I may liken this to the oratory of
another sort of speaker, who has a great gift of the gab but very few
ideas. He pours out of his mouth a stream of vigorous, showy,
fine-sounding words; and fascinates you for a few minutes with the
“exuberance of his verbosity.” But presently, when you come to think it
over, you discover how pretentious and slip-shod the whole speech was.
He was exhorting to patriotism; but, where Lincoln would have left us
with a few choice thoughts, so perfectly expressed that they will remain
for ever in the memory, this man has only bedecked his generalities with
a confusion of words. His speech is not golden, but cheap tinsel.

Well! you will find that there are painters also, so much in love with
the exuberance of their own cleverness, that they are satisfied to do
nothing but make a gymnastic display of it.

You will find too, that there are others, to whom the mere manual
dexterity is so objectionable, that they deliberately try to make you
lose sight of any brushwork in their pictures. Whistler was one of
these. He used to say that a picture is finished, when the artist has
completely disguised the means by which it has been produced. He wished
the expression of his feeling to reach our imagination immediately and
fully, without any other consideration blocking the way or interfering
with our appreciation.

His method of painting was deliberate; a little added to-day, something
more another day; the whole process extending, frequently, over several
years. For the feeling which he wished to express was a very subtle
one, so the living growth of it, as of many things in nature, was slow.
On the other hand, most of the great painters seem to have been swift
workers; or at any rate their final result gives one the impression of
having been executed in the vigor and glow of a swiftly working mind.

The best way to learn to appreciate brushwork is to stand close to a
picture, and observe the various kinds of strokes and dabs and streaks.
They seem to have no meaning. But step back. Then all or most of the
separate brush marks will have disappeared. They are merged into one
another and their meaning becomes clear. Then, after having thoroughly
studied the effect which the artist has produced, you may again step
close up to the canvas and examine the means by which he has attained
it.

If it is a landscape you are studying, you will find, possibly, that the
sky, which from a distance seems to be grey, is really composed of
streaks of blue and pink and grey. It is, in the first place, by these
streaks of the brush, and, secondly, by the infusion of several colors,
that the artist has succeeded in making his sky have the appearance of
atmosphere, extending far and far back. Then, if you examine the trees,
you may possibly find the strokes short and stubby, so as to bring out
the character of the foliage; while, what from a distance gave the
impression of being simply green, is also found on closer inspection to
contain many spots of other colors. It is in this way that the action of
light upon the foliage has been suggested; so that the trees from a
distance do not seem hard and heavy but penetrated with light and
atmosphere.

In this way, stepping nearer to and further from the picture, and
continually asking yourself: What is the impression that the artist
wished to convey and why has he done so and so? you will soon find that
you are getting an insight into the quality and expression of brushwork.

Now one word more. A little while ago I alluded to “finish.” What is
“finish”? Most people think it means that every part of a picture should
be brought up to a uniform degree of polish and precision. It should be
sleek and shiny, like our shoes, when the man has finished shining them.

Certainly you will see many pictures that seem to justify this
explanation. But as a rule they will not be examples of good painting.
You remember our talk on texture. Well, only some textures are sleek and
shiny and polished. So, if this whole picture is of that character, some
of the textures must have suffered. Then again, life is not uniform, it
does not show itself in all people and things in the same way. Therefore
it is very likely that the uniform polish and precision of this picture
has interfered with its expression of life. The whole thing is
mechanical rather than vital.

No, you must be prepared to find in well painted pictures, all sorts of
conditions of not seeming to be finished; all kinds of different styles,
coarse, refined, bold, dashing, reticent, and tender, brilliant, and
modest; almost as many different styles and conditions as there are
painters. For a painter’s use of the brush is an expression of his own
individuality and life, as well as of the life and character of the
subjects he represents.

I have already told you Whistler’s definition of “finished.” It is
perhaps too much a product of his own personality to be of general
service. One more applicable to all kinds of painters and pictures is
the following. An artist has finished his picture, when he has succeeded
in making it express the feeling that inspired it. This will include
Whistler’s definition, and also the practice of a Titian, a Rubens, or a
Velasquez, whose brush strokes are visible to this day, as witnesses of
the living growth of their conceptions.

Further it will include many pictures that to your eyes seem unfinished.
They look like sketches, and, therefore, you think, cannot be considered
as a finished picture. But go slowly with a thought of that sort. As you
advance in appreciation you will find that many a drawing of a few lines
only, and many a little picture, composed of a few touches of color,
have in them more of the living growth of feeling, more of the charm of
abstract beauty than thousands of so-called finished pictures, in which
the original feeling, if there were any, has been submerged in an ocean
of trivialities.



CHAPTER XVIII

SUBJECT, MOTIVE, AND POINT OF VIEW


At the beginning of our talks, you may remember, I told you I should not
have much to say about the subjects of pictures. For I wished at the
start to make you realise, that what a picture is about is of much less
importance than the way in which the subject is treated. A fine subject
may be treated in such a way as to make a very bad picture, while a good
picture may be composed of a subject in which one is not particularly
interested. In fact, I wished to help you to look at a picture first and
foremost as a work of art; a thing beautiful in itself because of its
composition of form and color; beautiful in an abstract way, that is to
say, apart from the ideas suggested by the subject. My aim has been to
try to teach you to admire a picture in an abstract way, as you admire a
Japanese or Chinese vase, simply and solely for its beauty of form and
color.

This is not the usual way. Most people begin by taking interest in the
subject of a picture, and very many never get any further in their
appreciation. On the other hand I felt that, if I could once get you
interested in the abstract qualities of a picture, you would be started
right, and that your interest in the subject would be sure to follow
after. So our talk about subject has been put off until now.

Pictures are sometimes sorted into groups according to their subject.
There are religious pictures; pictures of myths and legends or imaginary
subjects; portraits; landscapes; historical pictures, like _Washington
crossing the Delaware_; genre pictures or scenes of every day life;
still-life subjects, representing flowers and fruits, dead birds, beasts
and fishes, and objects of man’s handiwork; decorative subjects and
mural paintings. But this grouping does not settle the matter, since
each of these subjects can be treated in more than one way. How it is
treated depends upon the motive and point of view of the artist.

So, the simplest way to grasp this matter of subject is first of all to
find out what is meant by an artist’s motive and point of view. As
usual, let us start with dictionary meanings of these words and then see
their application to what we are discussing.

Motive, then, is that which causes a thing to move, which impels it.
What is the motive power of that train? Is the power that moves it steam
or electricity? What is the motive of any particular artist, the force
which impels him to adopt a certain method or to work in a certain
direction?

Point of view on the other hand, is the point at which a person stands
to view something. You may watch a procession in the street from the
point of view of a window. But the word is more often used, not of
where your body stands, but of where your mind stands. According to our
birth and bringing up; that is to say, as the result of what we inherit
from our forebears, and have acquired by education and experience, we
each have our own point of view. For example, you will not hesitate to
say that your point of view is American. You read about the Panama
canal. You are not only interested, but proud, because Americans are
digging it. If the French, who began it, were carrying on the work, your
interest in it would be less and your pride nil. When you travel abroad,
at any rate for the first time, you will not be able to help making
critical comparisons between the way they do things in Europe and at
home. You will be apt to see everything from the point of view of an
American. Your point of view is the result of your being what you are.
And it is the same with an artist. Being what he is, and what he cannot
help being, he has his own particular personal point of view. Being what
he is, he also has his own individual motive. Through the union of
motive and point of view, he sees things in his own way and in his own
way is impelled to represent them.

Since each artist is a person different to all other persons, the
varieties of motive and point of view are infinite. There is no end to
the variety; and, as you grow older, and continue your study of
pictures, you will find more and more interest in looking into and
discovering just what is the particular motive and point of view of
each artist. For he cannot help betraying them in his pictures, any more
than you can help betraying yours, if, being a partisan of Yale, you are
watching a football game between Yale and Harvard. Just as your behavior
will betray your feelings, so is a picture the expression of an artist’s
personal likes and dislikes. In studying pictures, therefore, you are
also studying the personality of the men who painted them.

I wish you to feel that this sort of study has no limits. Its interest
will last you, as long as you live. At the same time my aim is to help
you to enter upon the study. And at the start everything should be made
as simple as possible. So, although motives and points of view are
infinite in variety, let us see if we cannot find some simple clue to
the study of them. I think it may be found in dividing all artists into
two big groups. On the one side, those who are inclined to represent the
world as they see it to be; on the other side, those who represent
things according to their own ideas. It is the great division between
the _naturalistic_ or _realistic_ and the _idealistic_ motive and point
of view. Some artists are naturalists, or realists; others are
idealists; a great many are a mingling of the two.

This broad general distinction must be thoroughly understood. For you
can see that it would be impossible to enter into the merits of an
_idealistic_ picture, if you insist on approaching the study of it from
the _naturalistic_ point of view. And vice versa. The only way to
appreciate a picture is to approach it from the point of view of the man
who painted it. We must try to enter into his mind and find out his
motive and see the subject as he saw it.

When we have done so, we may not like his picture. That is another
matter. Perhaps his motive and point of view, when we have discovered
them, do not please us. Our own are so different, that he and we cannot
really agree. Or possibly, while we agree with his motive and point of
view, we do not feel that he has expressed them well. In either case,
his picture is not for us. At least, not to-day; for, as we grow older,
we shall find that our own motive and point of view are apt to change.
We have studied more, and know more, and may find that pictures, we once
did not care for, we now admire; and, on the other hand, that the
pictures we once liked have ceased to please us.

Now for a talk about the difference between _naturalistic_ or
_realistic_ and _idealistic_. When the art of painting began to revive
in Italy at the end of the Thirteenth Century, the first aim of the
artists was to make their pictures more really resemble life and nature.
I have already told you of Giotto, who gave roundness and natural
gestures to his figures, made the objects look more real, and suggested
the depth and distance of their surroundings. Next of Masaccio, who gave
his figures still more resemblance to life, and filled in their
surroundings with a suggestion of atmosphere. Then I told you of
Mantegna, who from the study of the remains of classic sculpture gave
further naturalness of life and vigor to his figures; until, by degrees,
from the observation of nature and the study of the classic sculpture,
artists reached proficiency in the natural rendering of the figure. So
far as form was concerned, their figures were absolutely natural. But,
as yet, the _naturalistic_ motive and point of view had not included the
seeing and rendering of nature’s light. That was to come later.

On the other hand, the study of classic sculpture, while helping the
progress toward naturalism, had started some artists in the direction of
a new motive and point of view. For now the appreciation of the antique
sculpture became increased and supplemented by the study of scholars,
who were translating and explaining the newly discovered writings of the
Greeks and Romans. Plato was the special favorite, and the Italians of
the end of the Fifteenth Century learned from him the motive of
_idealism_ and the _idealistic_ point of view.

They learned from his writings to think not only of things, but of
ideas. Even to consider ideas of more importance than things; especially
the idea of beauty. You will remember that in speaking of Raphael’s
_Allegory of Jurisprudence_, we said that Jurisprudence represented an
abstract idea: the conception of what justice is in itself and of the
qualities of Prudence, Firmness, and Temperance that it involves, apart
from the machinery for making and administering the law. Men make laws,
and some are good and some are bad. Even the good ones are not always
perfectly administered. To-day, in America, our conception or idea of
law is higher than our methods of putting it in practice. Everywhere,
always, men’s ideals are higher than their conduct.

Ideals, then, which are the motives, resulting from ideas, represent the
highest effort of man after what is best and most beautiful. Most
beautiful because it is best and best because it is most beautiful.

Such was part of what artists learned from Plato. Do you see how they
applied it to their art? To Leonardo da Vinci, one of the first Italian
artists to become influenced by the classic spirit, the teaching
appealed in some such way as the following: The idea of Beauty is
separate from the things or objects in which it is manifested; just as
we may have an idea of smell apart from any particular flower; or of
love, apart from the object of our love. The highest ideal for an artist
is to express in his pictures something of this abstract idea of beauty,
to give to his figures beauty and grandeur of form and noble heads; to
put them in positions of grace and dignity. He will not paint human
nature as he sees it to be, with all its imperfections, but will people
his pictures with a race of men and women and children of ideal beauty.

This was the motive that inspired those noble Italian pictures of the
Sixteenth Century. It was from the high standpoint of abstract beauty
that the artists looked at their subject. Their point of view was
_idealistic_. But this was not the only thing that made their pictures
noble. The artists were inspired also by a great demand on the part of
the people of their day. Religion held a strong place in the hearts of
the people. They called for pictures to beautify the churches and, at
the same time, to teach those that could not read the beauties of
religion. To-day people have learned to read, and books to a large
extent serve the purpose that pictures used to do. But in those days the
people needed pictures; and it was this strong need, acting like rich
soil to the beautiful plant of idealism, that helped to produce these
wonderful pictures. They are the most wonderful that the modern world
has ever seen, just because of this union of two most strong
motives--the religious need of the people and the exalted love of beauty
of the artists.

But note the character of these pictures. Sometimes, for example, the
Virgin is seated on a throne, surrounded by angels and apostles, saints
and bishops; or at other times, Christ and his apostles are represented
in some scene from the New Testament story. The first presents an
entirely imaginary arrangement of the figures; the second makes no
pretence to representing the scene as it may have actually occurred. The
apostles, many of whom were fishermen, have heads as noble as
philosophers; robes arranged in beautiful folds of drapery, and conduct
themselves with the grace and dignity of some fine classic statue. Every
line, every arrangement of form and space, is designed to assist in
building up a composition of ideal beauty.

Or with the same motive the artist would treat some subject of Greek
mythology, such as the story of Psyche. This again was a response to a
strong need of the public. Not so wide a one as the religious need, but
still a strong one, for among the cultivated classes there was an
intense interest in the old classic myths.

Or from the same _idealistic_ point of view the artist would decorate
the walls of a City Hall. To this also he was impelled by a strong
public need: the desire of the citizens to express their pride in
themselves and their city by means of beauty. For by this time the
Italians had learned to express all their highest ideals in forms of
ideal beauty.

But a change came. The Italians, long a prey to foreign enemies and
quarrelling among themselves, at length lost their liberty and their
pride in themselves. Other nations surpassed them in learning and
culture; and even Religion lost its intense hold on the public mind.
With the loss of high ideals the glory of _idealistic_ painting in Italy
waned and disappeared.

But artists of other lands continued to regard the _idealistic_ painting
of the Italians as a model of what came to be called “the Grand Style.”
During the Seventeenth Century Spanish artists imitated it in their
religious pictures. But elsewhere it was used chiefly for great works of
decoration; as by Rubens in Flanders (Belgium) and Le Brun in France.
The former, for example, built up a series of magnificent compositions
in honor of Marie de Médicis, the wife of Henry IV of France. They are
now in the Louvre in Paris. Le Brun’s vast paintings and tapestries,
that decorate the palace of Versailles, were designed to extol the glory
in war and peace of Louis XIV, who at the end of his long reign left his
country poor and his subjects miserable.

In fact, _idealistic_ painting that had once been great, because
nourished by an intense religious motive or by the motive of civic
pride, had sunk to being a means of flattering the vanity of monarchs or
pandering to the luxury of the idle rich. So during the Eighteenth
Century it continued to languish. The form alone remained, growing less
and less beautiful; the old spirit of it was dead.

A new one, however, arose and had a brief spell of life, for it was
based on the awakened desire of the French people for liberty. In the
years before the Revolution David painted _idealistic_ pictures. He
chose his subjects from the history of the Roman Republic, in order that
by the example of its patriotism he might stir his own countrymen to
action. The models for his figures he took from old Roman sculpture. His
pictures fitted the temper of the time and helped the cause of liberty;
but when Napoleon made himself Emperor David passed into his service,
and the high motive for his _idealistic_ pictures ceased.

Later painters have turned again to Italy, and by building up imposing
arrangements of figures have tried to make the spirit of Italian
idealism live again. They have not succeeded. Perhaps for two reasons.
First, that the old Italian compositions are mostly of an allegorical
character, and allegory does not interest the modern mind. We are
interested in realities. Second, that those compositions were based on
the beauty of form of the human figure; the artists made their forms as
perfect as possible and placed them in an artificial arrangement that
would produce a pattern or composition of beauty and dignity. But modern
art is more concerned with rendering the natural appearances of the
world; and, if it idealises them, does so, as we shall presently see, by
means of light and atmosphere.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, that Seventeenth Century, in which Italian _idealistic_
painting dwindled, saw a new outburst of the _naturalistic_ or
_realistic_ motive in two parts of the world; simultaneously, in Spain
and Holland.

I have already told you how Velasquez in Spain and the Dutch artists
devoted themselves to the study of the persons and things actually
present to their eyes. They were _realists_ or _naturalists_. Holland
had cut herself off from Flanders and the splendid vice-regal Court of
Brussels, and her own noblemen were busy fighting for their country’s
freedom. So there was no demand for her artists to paint handsome
decorations. She had also cut herself off from the Roman Catholic
religion; and in the churches of the Reformed Faith there was no demand
for great religious pictures. These two motives were lacking; but she
had another one--a very strong one--the love of country and the pride of
the people in themselves. It was strong enough to produce a great school
of painters of little pictures, distinguished for their great truth to
nature.

Among these Dutch artists, however, was at least one who was not only a
_realist_ but an _idealist_. This was Rembrandt. It is of his idealism
that I will speak here; and, to illustrate it, will tell you of a small
religious picture in the Louvre: _The Visit to Emmaus_. You remember
that Christ in the evening of the day of his Resurrection came upon two
of his disciples and joined them in their walk to the village of Emmaus.
Not recognising him, they talked of what had happened. It was not until
the little party had reached the inn, and the Saviour raised his hands
in blessing the food, that their eyes were opened and they knew him. It
is this moment that Rembrandt represented.

When you see this picture you will find no grandeur in it such as the
Italian pictures have. The figures are those of poor ordinary men.
Rembrandt, being also a realist, drew them from the real types of poor
Jews in the Ghetto, or Jew-quarter of Amsterdam. There is nothing of
imposing dignity even in the Saviour’s form and face. Whatever may be
the idealism in the picture, it does not depend on form. Its motive is
different from that of the Italians. Its motive is light. From Christ’s
figure spreads a light. Is not one of his titles--The Light of the
World? And the light, flowing from this humble figure, illumines the
faces of his humble companions and, passing up to the vaulted ceiling,
sheds through the gloom a mystery of tremulous glow. The picture like
the subject it celebrates, is a miracle--a miracle of light.

Do you see how this was an expression of idealism? Rembrandt in studying
the world around him had discovered, like other artists of his time, the
beauty of light. Light by degrees represented to him the highest element
of beauty in the visible world. While the great Italians had found the
ideal or highest conception of abstract beauty in form, Rembrandt found
it in light. Therefore, when he painted this picture and wished to show
that these figures, though humble looking, were not ordinary men, and
that the event was no ordinary meeting at a village inn, he proceeded to
idealise the scene according to his own conception of ideal beauty. He
introduced into it the beauty and mystery of light.

Please note that word mystery. A mystery is what passes beyond our
knowledge and understanding, something that cannot be grasped by our
mind and intelligence. Thus we speak of the mystery of life: scientists
have discovered how the various forms of life have been developed on the
earth, but the origin of life is still a mystery to them. Even when
they have traced life back to the smallest conceivable beginning, they
are as far off from knowing what started that smallest beginning into
life. But because they do not know, do they say “Oh, what we do not know
is not worth the knowing”? No indeed! they realise, that hidden in the
mystery is a truth, even more wonderful than what they know.

Or again, some beautiful summer night by the sea-shore you are looking
out over the water. The moon is low and her rays make a pathway of
light. You gaze along it and at first the waves are clearly visible,
heaving in the light; further off, the movement of the waves disappears;
only a luminous glow remains, growing fainter and fainter, till far away
it melts into that thin line where sky and water meet--the horizon. Do
you know that horizon really means boundary, the limit of our sight, the
point beyond which our eye has no power to see? But is there nothing
beyond? If we took ship and sailed beyond that pathway of light, should
we ever reach the horizon? We should only sail on to find the horizon
continually beyond our reach.

Or we turn our gaze from the water to the sky. Above us, further than
eye can travel, it extends. It is studded with innumerable stars. We may
know the names of some of them, and have learned about their movements
and their distance from the earth; but what do we know, what does any
one, even the wisest and most learned, know of them, compared with our
ignorance of them? It will be well for us, as we gaze into the mystery
of the heavens, to be thinking less of the little knowledge that we have
than of the miracle, the wonder, of what transcends man’s understanding;
of the vast, impenetrable mystery that surrounds our lives. To do so
will fill us with, what we call, a spiritual joy; a joy, that is to say,
which goes beyond knowledge, and affects that higher capacity of feeling
that, not knowing what it is, we call spirit. This highest feeling, that
we call spiritual, has always in it some element of mystery. The truth
of this was curiously expressed by a little girl of my acquaintance, who
was very fond of having her mother read poetry to her. I asked her if
she understood a certain poem. “Of course not,” was her quick reply,
“what fun would there be in poetry if you could understand it?”

Well, I have spoken at length of Rembrandt, because his way of
idealising a scene through the beauty and mystery of light, has become
the way of modern artists. But it was not until nearly two hundred years
after his death that the world came round to this way. In the mean time
Rembrandt and the other Dutch painters of his Century, like Velasquez,
had been forgotten. The painters were busy trying to keep alive the
other notion of idealism, the Italian one, based on form. Indeed, it was
not until naturalism again became popular, that idealism by means of
light was renewed.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have already told you of the revival of _naturalism_ at the beginning
of the Nineteenth Century; how the English landscape painter,
Constable, was followed by the French landscapists of the
Barbizon-Fontainebleau group. You remember that their point of view was
nature as it is visible to the eye, but their motive was also to express
the feelings of love with which it inspired themselves.

Then, about the middle of the Century appeared Gustave Courbet who
loudly proclaimed himself a _realist_. He meant by this that he was not
moved by sentiment, as the Barbizon _naturalists_ were; that he believed
that the only thing which concerned a painter was to paint what he could
see, as it appeared to his eye alone. He wished to limit his art to what
is visible to sight. So he thought it was foolish for an artist to
attempt to represent a scene from the Bible or any historical subject or
subject invented by the imagination. As the artist had never seen these
things, he had no business, as a painter, to try and represent them. He
was going outside his own art and meddling with some one else’s: the art
of the writer or actor, for example.

Courbet’s point of view of _realism_ and his motive, to paint only what
he could see, were carried further by another Frenchman, Édouard Manet.
He had become a student of the works of Velasquez, from whom he had
learnt: firstly, a new way of viewing his subject; secondly a new way of
rendering what he saw. This new way of viewing the subject is what is
now called “_impressionism_.”

I am sorry to have to trouble you with a new word; but I think you are
prepared for it, since impressionism professes to be only a more natural
and real way of seeing things. Of _seeing_ things, that is the point. It
does not take account of what things are, but of the _impression_ they
produce upon our mind, when they appear before our eyes. You are at work
in school, and a stranger enters the class room. He converses for a few
minutes with the teacher and then goes out. What sort of man was he? If
there are twenty children in the class, and each, on arriving home,
relates the circumstance of the visit, there will probably be twenty
different impressions of the visitor’s appearance. They will agree in
some points and differ in others; yet each one of the impressions may be
a true one--as far as it goes. How far it goes will depend on the
quickness and thoroughness of your observation. But anyhow, it will not
include a great number of details; it will rather be a general
impression.

If you look out of window into a street, you may see a number of figures
on the sidewalks. You receive a general impression of figures, moving or
standing still; some men, some women, representing various spots of one
color. Now a _realistic_ painter might say, “Each one of those figures
represents a real person; I will paint him as he really is; and, to do
so, will ask him to stand still long enough for me to study him exactly
in all his visible details.” “And if you do,” retorts the
_impressionist_ painter, “you will paint something so real, that it will
be too real. For you never could see these people in

[Illustration: Evening. _Anton Mauve._]

this way, if you look at them on the street. The greater part of the
details would be lost in the general impression.”

Well! the more you think of it, the more right you see the
_impressionist_ is--from his point of view. He says, if you are going to
be natural, be really natural; if you want to make your pictures look
real, make them real in a natural way. If the only thing in art is to be
as like nature as possible, and to represent things only as they would
appear, if you suddenly looked at them, the _impressionist_ is right.
And what makes this way of looking at things particularly interesting is
the fact, that it is so often the momentary effect in nature that is
most beautiful: the effect that lasts but a moment, that is fugitive or
fleeting, caught in an instant, before it changes to something else. You
know what I mean from your own experience. A certain expression passes
over your friend’s face. “Oh! if I could only photograph her now,” you
exclaim; but by the time you have arranged your camera, it is gone, and
cannot be brought back to order. Well, it is just that fugitive,
fleeting expression of a subject that the _realist_, who is an
_impressionist_, tries to represent in his pictures.

So far I have tried to explain the _impressionist’s_ point of view. Now
let us consider his way of _rendering_ what he sees. The whole secret of
it is the part which light plays in the appearance of things. Manet and
the other impressionists, among whom Claude Monet and Whistler are the
most important, see every thing, as Vermeer did, enveloped in light.
But they have gone further than he.

They have studied much more closely the ever varying qualities of light,
as it differs according to place and season and even time of day. Monet
has painted a series of pictures the subject of every one of which is
the same haystack. At least that is how some people might describe them.
But, if they enter into Monet’s point of view, they would say that the
real subject is not the haystack but the effect of light upon its
surface, and, as the effect of light is different in every case, none of
the pictures are similar to one another. Each represents a separate
fugitive expression of light. Monet, in them and other pictures, has
recorded with extraordinary subtlety the impression presented to his
eye. For Monet’s _impressionism_ was also _naturalistic_.

Whistler, on the other hand, with no less subtlety, rendered also the
impression that the things seen had made on his imagination. He was an
_idealistic impressionist_. He painted, for example, a number of
night-scenes, or “nocturnes,” as he called them. The actual objects in
them are of less importance than Monet’s haystack, because in the dim
light of twilight or night they are only faintly visible. Whistler did
not wish us to be aware of the form of the bridge, or the boat, the sea
and shore, or whatever the objects may be. He wished us to be conscious
of them only as Presences looming up like spirit-forms in the mystery of
the uncertain light. Such nocturnes as _Battersea Bridge_ and the
sea-shore picture, _Bognor-Nocturne_, appeal to us like Rembrandt’s
_Visit to Emmaus_. Just as the latter’s forms were humble, so the bridge
itself is an ordinary sort of structure, and the sea-shore and the boats
are without any unusual distinction. Yet in each case the scene has been
idealised through the mystery of light, and appeals to our spiritual
imagination. After two hundred years Rembrandt’s new principle of
_idealisation_, founded upon the abstract beauty of light instead of on
the abstract perfection of form, has been accepted by modern artists.

To a greater or less degree all artists, whether _naturalists_ or
_idealists_, who are painting in the modern spirit have been influenced
by Monet and Whistler. The example of these two has spread far and wide
the study and rendering of light. But, while their followers agree in
this motive, they are independent in their points of view. There are
some whose point of view, like Monet’s, is _objective_. They are content
to render the _impression_ made upon their eyes. But, as their eyes see
differently from Monet’s, their pictures are different from his. Each is
the record of a separate personality. Equally, while others, like
Whistler are _subjective_, recording the _impression_ produced upon
their minds, their pictures vary according to the character and quality
of their separate minds. In fact, in later times, a notable feature of
painting is its diversity of motives and points of view.

Let me try to explain this. Ever since the American and French
Revolutions, there has been a gradually increasing interest in what we
call individuality. The main object of these revolutions was to
establish the right of each and every individual to life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness, and the idea of government now is to give
every individual the chance of making the most of his or her
possibilities. Your teachers, for example, are not running their classes
as machines; they are trying to make a personal study, so far as
possible, of each one of you, in order to help you to develop your
particular individuality. For a long time this has been the principle of
education and government. The result is that there has been a universal
increase in individuality, since numbers of people who had some special
possibility have had a chance to develope it. To-day, in fact, there is
probably nothing that counts more than individuality. This being so it
is natural that we should look for it in art. And, if we do, we shall
find it.

In former times there were “schools of art.” In Italian art, we speak,
for example, of the Florentine School, the Venetian School, the Roman
School; or we speak of the Flemish School, and Dutch Schools and so on.
In each case the artists, living in a certain city or country, had
sufficient resemblance among themselves in their motives and methods of
painting to produce a certain separate style. So, to-day, if an expert
sees an old picture, he is able to say at once and, more often than not
correctly, that it belongs to such and such a school.

But an expert of a hundred years hence, when he sees our modern
pictures, will not speak of Schools. He may see at once that the picture
is by an American, a German, or a French artist, for difference of race
and habit of life and thought do still stamp in a general way the
pictures of each separate country. But even within the limits of any one
country there are as many varieties of motive and point of view as there
are individuals.

So in modern times, more than ever before, there is an individual,
personal note in pictures, just as there is in books. The artist makes
the picture an expression of his own personal feelings. This is one
reason why modern pictures are inferior to the old ones in grandeur and
dignity. The older ones were not only larger in size, as a rule, but
they were impersonal, like a fine building is. The architects who
designed the Capitol at Washington put their own personal expression
into it. But we do not feel it, as we look at their work. On the
contrary, it is the impersonal, monumental dignity of the work that
impresses us. But in most modern pictures, instead of what is
impersonal, we receive a distinct impression of intimacy, of sharing the
artist’s feeling. And it is the expression of this that we not only look
for but enjoy discovering. We often speak of it as the sentiment of the
picture.

This sentiment may be of all sorts and shades of feeling, “from grave to
gay, from lively to severe.” It may be romantic in spirit, appealing to
us through the suggestion of what is weird and surprising; it may be
full of the tenderness or of the trumpet call of poetry; it may invite
us to gentle reverie, or stir in us a profound and poignant emotion. But
I have said enough to point your way.

       *       *       *       *       *

In conclusion let me sum up the contents of this long chapter. We have
seen that there are two main streams of motive and point of view; the
_idealistic_ and the _naturalistic_. The former flows from the artist’s
desire to represent his conception of ideal beauty, the latter from his
love of nature. We have seen that they have alternately reached their
highest flood, because the conditions of the times supplied a great
public need to which each in turn responded. Lastly, we have seen that
gradually both tendencies have undergone a change. Whereas originally
both the naturalistic and the idealistic motive were concerned with
form, they came to be concerned particularly with light.

Therefore, when you look at a picture, ask yourself: Has the artist
simply tried to render the visible appearance, or has he also tried to
make the subject interpret some feeling of his own?

If he is simply rendering the visible appearance: Has he been conscious
only of form, or has he viewed the form in its envelope of lighted
atmosphere? Further, has he tried to represent the visible appearance,
as we should find it to be, if we studied each and every part of it
separately; or he has tried to give the impression of the entire scene,
as it really reached his eyes?

If he is interpreting through the subject his own feeling: What is the
quality of the feeling? Does the picture simply express the artist’s
consciousness of the grandeur or the loveliness of nature, or does it
also interpret his feeling for the mystery of things not seen?

Here are a few hints for you in setting out to explore the vast country
of motive and point of view.


THE END


FOOTNOTES:

[1] Pronounced dees-poo-táh, with the accent on the last syllable. See
page 13.

[2] The body between the neck and the commencement of the legs.

[3] Mural--(Latin _murus_, a wall), having to do with a wall; in this
case a decoration on a wall.

[4] In 1759 a M. de Silhouette was minister of finance, and he was
so economical that the French used his name as a nickname for cheap
things, among others for the profile portraits cut out of black paper,
which were then popular. In time, the word came to be used for any dark
mass seen against a light one.

[5] Pronounced Yo-hann-es Fair-mair.

[6] We shall find it was discovered also by the Spanish artist,
Velasquez, in the same century.

[7] Pronounced pa-ee-sahje an-teem.

[8] Still life, or as the French call it “dead nature” includes,
firstly, picked flowers, fruit and vegetables, and dead animals, and
secondly, vases, pots, and other objects of man’s handicraft.

[9] Showing a mastery over others.

[10] Turn back to his picture and see how all this that we are now
discussing is there illustrated.

[11] See page 88.

[12] Later on I shall have something to say about these so called
realists. I shall say to them, as Hamlet said to Horatio, “There are
more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”





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