« PoprzedniaDalej »
Moab, at a price which, though perilous to themselves, was equally disgraceful to the public who had disregarded them, and inadequate to the deserving of their gifted producer.
We shall now give our readers some general idea of the substance of these volumes, not in the form of a strict analysis, but more in that of a copious table of contents; for so continuously does one part fit into, and grow out of what precedes it, that any summary must necessarily give an imperfect conception of the whole. After some introductory remarks, in which he admits and vindicates his direct opposition to the general opinion, in placing Turner and other modern landscape painters above those of the seventeenth century, Claude, Gaspar Poussin, Salvator Rosa, Canaletti, Hobbima, &c.; and, after separating those painters who have enjoyed the title of old masters from their greater predecessors of the fifteenth century, and specially excluding Nicholas Poussin from his depreciation, he proceeds to define greatness in art
“Painting, or art generally, as such, with all its technicalities, difficulties, and particular ends, is nothing but a noble and expressive language, invaluable as the vehicle of thought, but by itself, nothing. He who has learned what is commonly considered the whole art of painting, that is, the art of representing any natural object faithfully, has as yet only learned the language by which his thoughts are to be expressed. He has done just as much towards being that which we ought to respect as a great painter, as a man who has learned how to express himself grammatically and melodiously has towards being a great poet. The language is, indeed, more difficult of acquirement in the one case than in the other, and possesses more power of delighting the sense, while it speaks to the intellect, but it is, nevertheless, nothing more than language, and all those excellences which are peculiar to the painter as such, are merely what rhythm, melody, precision and force are in the words of the orator and the poet,—necessary to their greatness, but not the tests of their greatness. It is not by the mode of representing and saying, but by what is represented and said, that the respective greatness either of the painter or the writer is to be finally determined.
“Speaking with strict propriety, therefore, we should call a man a great painter only as he excelled in precision and force in the language of lines, and a great versifier, as he excelled in precision or force in the language of words. A great poet would then be a term strictly, and in precisely the same sense applicable to both, if warranted by the character of the images or thoughts which each in their respective languages conveyed.
"Take, for instance, one of the most perfect poems or pictures (I use the words as synonymous) which modern times have seen :—the Old Shepherd's chief-mourner.' Here the exquisite execution of the glossy and crisp hair of the dog, the bright sharp touching of the
green bough beside it, the clear painting of the wood of the coffin and the folds of the blanket, are language-language clear and expressive in the highest degree. But the close pressure of the dog's breast against the wond, the convulsive clinging of the paws, which has dragged the blanket off the trestle, the total powerlessness of the head laid, close and motionless, upon its folds, the fixed and tearful fall of the eye in its utter hopelessness, the rigidity of repose which marks that there has been no motion nor change in the trance of agony since the last blow was struck on the coffin-lid, the quietness and gloom of the chamber, the spectacles marking the place where the Bible was last closed, indicating how lonely has been the life—how unwatched the departure of him who is now laid solitary in his sleep ;-these are all thoughts—thoughts by which the picture is separated at once from hundreds of equal merit, as far as mere painting goes, by which it ranks as a work of high art, and stamps its author, not as the neat imitator of the texture of a skin, or the fold of a drapery, but as the Man of Mind."-Vol. i. pp. 7, 8.
We have here the first of those exquisite descriptions of pictures which form not the least singular and delightful part of the book. He illustrates this as follows :
“ Most pictures of the Dutch school, for instance, excepting always those of Rubens, Vandyke, and Rembrandt, are ostentatious exhibitions of the artist's power of speech, the clear and vigorous elocution of useless and senseless words: while the early efforts of Cimabue and Giotto are the burning messages of prophecy, delivered by the stammering lips of infants. It is not by ranking the former as more than mechanics, or the latter as less than artists, that the taste of the multitude, always awake to the lowest pleasures which art can bestow, and blunt to the highest, is to be formed or elevated. It must be the part of the judicious critic carefully to distinguish what is language, and what is thought, and to rank and praise pictures chiefly for the latter, considering the former as a totally inferior excellence, and one which cannot be compared with nor weighed against thought in any way nor in any degree whatsoever. The picture which has the nobler and more numerous ideas, however awkwardly expressed, is a greater and a better picture than that which has the less noble and less numerous ideas, however beautifully expressed."-P. 9.
He thus defines the greatest picture to be that which conveys to the spectator the greatest number of the greatest ideas. This definition renders it necessary for him to determine what kind of ideas can be received from art, and which of them are the greatest.
These he classifies into, 1st, Ideas of Power; 2d, of Imitation ; 3d, of Truth; 4th, of Beauty ; 5th, of Relation, in which last, he includes all the intellectual and moral relations
perceived in the product of art, or in what it resembles and suggests. Wherever power, of any kind or degree, bodily or mental, has been exerted, the marks or evidence of it are stamped on its results; it is impossible that it should be lost or wasted, or without record, and therefore, whatever has been the subject of a great power bears about with it the image of that which made it, and is, in the true meaning of the word, excellent,” as distinguished from “ beautiful, _“ useful,” _ “ good,” as signifying that the thing to which it is applied required and bears evidence of a great productive power, and the faculty of perceiving what such a power or powers are, is the faculty the spectator has, of perceiving excellence.
The chapter on Ideas of Imitation is full of original and most valuable matter, directed against the most prevalent and mischievous of the many popular fallacies in regard to the kind of meaning to be put into, and the kind of pleasure to be extracted from, pictorial art.
Ideas of imitation act by producing the simple pleasure of surprise, and not of surprise in its higher sense, but exactly the samć nature as that excited by jugglery or sleight of hand. It is therefore the lowest legitimate source of pleasure from art, if it be legitimate. This is true both of the objects and of the feeling produced by their imitation. We can paint a cat or a fiddle so that they might be mistaken for reality, but we cannot so imitate the ocean or the Alps. We can mimic fruit but not a tree, flowers, but not a pasture; finally, imitation is contemptible, because it is easy, requiring nothing more than a true eye, a steady hand, and moderate industry, and yet, with the common people especially, this is the great wonder of a picture, so that we have seen them more delighted with a brass pan or a bunch of onions in one of Wilkie's pictures than impressed by his fine truthfulness and deep pathos,-his perfect story-telling power. It is the lower and the easier pleasure of the two.*
* We cannot give our readers a better example of what is here said regarding imitation than in two pictures which many of them must have seen,-Adam and Eve, by Dubufe,—the Temptation and Expulsion. These pictures have been seen by nearly a million and a half of men and women, and must lave brought £30,000 to their owners. They are spoken of by all sorts of people as productions of high art, as full of beauty and moral power, and yet, as from the known we may sometimes infer the unknown, especially if it be opposite,—from the false the truc, we would give as a help to any one desiring to have an idea of great and good painting, to think of it as the reverse of this Paradise Lost according to Dubufe. It is simply, we hope, to the cleverness of the imitation, and the power of the mere subject, owing to our Bibles and Milton, that these pictures owe their singular success. Of ideas of any kind they are utterly destitute. Eve, the mother of man
Ideas of Truth.- This subject now expands and ascends. Truth, as applied to art, signifies the faithful statement, either to the mind or senses, of any fact of nature, material or spiritual. We can only give a short extract from this chapter :
“ We shall see, in the course of our investigation of ideas of truth, that ideas of imitation not only do not imply their presence, but even arc inconsistent with it; and that pictures which imitate so as to deceive, are never true. But this is not the place for the proof of this; at present we have only to insist on the last and greatest distinction between ideas of truth and of imitation—that the mind, in receiving one of the former, dwells upon its own conception of the fact, or form, or feeling stated, and is occupied only with the qualities and character of that fact or form, considering it as real and existing, being all the while totally regardless of the signs or symbols by which the notion of it has been conveyed. These signs have no pretence, nor hypocrisy, nor legerdemain about them ;-there is nothing to be found out, or sifted, or surprised in them ;—they bear their message simply and
kind, she who was “ wisest, virtuouscst, discreetest, best,” as well as “fairest of her daughters,” is, if she can rightly be called any thing, an awkward imbecile girl, with a very white skin and very soft blue eyes.
Adam," the goodliest man of men since born,” is either a showy peruquier, with his hair and beard well cared for, or more likely, a crack dragoon, equally well shaped and stupid, and who, as the favourite model of the Parisian artists, has stood, or lain, or moved, in al conceivable conditions, as every conceivable hero in history, Scripture, mythology, mediæval romance, and that most singular product of the human mind-the French drama. lle is represented with skin distressingly clean, and fingers such as the keeper of the garden was not likely to have, sitting, and turning his cyes away from Eve, and looking up with an air of languid surprise and despair, as if at that moment he had heard the great bell of the Intalides tolling his hour, and was puzzled a good deal how to get out of that incoherent paradise, so as to reach his barracks in time. The Expulsion is better in this respect, that it has some action, which is always interesting, and the drawing is really better as well as more showy, but it is just as destitute of ideas. The devil we could not make out at first, till we saw him apparently hanging and burning at the same time, with a Byronic grin upon his face.
And one million and a half of people have seen this ! and £30,000, or more, has been spent ! Its only merit is in its being a successful imitation of the colour of the skin and the form of a man and woman, who are not so much naked as without their clothes, and what is more, they are rather pictures--the Temptation of a wax model of Adam and Eve, the Expulsion-of two statues of the same. We would have no hesitation as to our taking all our family, wife and daughters, to see a picture of this subject, when it comes from a man like-minded with him who wrote the book of Genesis or the Paradise Lost. But we protest against such treatment of such a subject. No man has a right to publishi, and no public has a right to reward, such a production to such an extent. No man but one of the highest imagination, the purest mind, could bring before the world an Adam or an Eve that would equal the idea almost every person of sensibility and sense has of our great parents, either from our Bibles, or from Milton, or from our instinctive thoughts ; and when he did treat it, he would put forth all his power, and would conceal and suggest much that he would despair to express.
The following is the reason of the well-known fact, that sketches give often greater sensation of power than finished works :—“In all art, every touch in effect does individually less in proportion as the work approaches perfection. The first five chalk touches bring a head into existence out of nothing. No other five touches will ever do as much." This, he shews, is true of the sensation of power, not of its intellectual perception, which is cognizant of higher excellence; so that there is in reality greater power in the completion than in the commencement. “ Therefore, in praising pictures for ideas of power, we must not look at the keenest sensation, but to the highest estimate of the whole mind.” He defines sublimity as being found wherever anything elerates the mind, wherein it contemplates and perceives anything above itself. The sublime is therefore not distinct from the beautiful or from other sources of pleasure in art; it is only a particular mode and manifestation of them; so that we may have a sublime beauty. “Burke refers sublimity to the sense of self-preservation, and gives, as an instance, death; and there are few things so great as death; it banishes all littleness in its contemplation; it is truly sublime; but it is not so by reason of our fear of it, but by our contemplating its real nature; not from an instinctive shudder and struggle, but our deliberate measurement of the doom. There is more sublimity in the words, though after this skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, than in their cry of terror to the mountains, í fall on us, and to the hills, cover us.'”
“ The landscape painter must always have two great and distinct ends—the first to induce in the spectator's mind the faithful conception of any natural object,—the second to guide his mind to those objects more wortlıy of its contemplation, and to inform of the thoughts and feelings with which these were regarded by the artist himself.” Some painters do only the first the spectator is alone—“ the artist is his conveyance not lis companion, his horse not his friend.” Turner, above all other men, fulfils in the highest degree both conditions. We were convinced of this before, but our author has given us the reasons of our conviction, and given us ready answers to all who ask us.
We shall never forget our delight when we saw the first excellent picture of this great master,—it was “ Palestrina.” It illustrated perfectly all our author says—its material elements are exact. Tliere was its airy fulness and freedom, its heaven and earth making one imagery,—its daylight, its sunlight, its magical shadows. Its city set upon a hill, the houses clinging to the rocks like swallows' nests—its waters murmuring on for ever, moving down and into the picture, and sending up their