Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

London world. If a second Michael Angelo were born to paint St. Paul's, where would he find the sympathetic spirit appropriate for his work, from which to draw his inspiration? St. Paul's is part of an institution which the advanced minds of the time consider at best useful for the present only, to be gradually demolished when the light spreads, and which those who have still the warmest faith in the dogmas of Christianity think cold and unsatisfying. A Church which is merged in the political system of a country may be safe,' and not likely to commit spiritual extravagances, but is hardly one which feeds imaginative art, or appreciates such work if by accident it crosses its way. Even Michael Angelo would have found it difficult, we think, to have created anything religiously impressive out of the spirit of the Church and State. Perhaps Sir F. Leighton and Mr. Poynter may succeed in decorating St. Paul's conformably with such a spirit; but, if they fail in making work which will to all ages be lastingly impressive, it will be more fair to account for such a failure by considering the hopeless conditions under which they work, than to ascribe it solely to a want of imaginative power in these artists. Ignorant criticism has done much, we believe, to achieve this hopelessness. By all means let there be a profession of critics, men who make a livelihood by writing on art and spreading its right influence; but such a profession, requiring the rarest com bination of qualities, would number among its members only two or three in a generation, we believe, were it reserved for the really capable.

We must realise the truth of two important facts if we wish to understand and overcome the difficulties standing in the way of the existence of a great school of art, holding the same kind of position as those which flourished in Greece and Italy. The first is, that exhibitions of pictures and the criticisms written on them, produce conditions in art most destructive of high aim and intention, therefore destructive of what alone can be called high art, and secondly, that the art which is worth doing at all takes the best, in fact the whole of a specially gifted man's life and brain, and to appreciate his work we must take time and trouble, or remain contented to be in a position of not being able to judge. Even if time and trouble are taken, unless we are gifted with a specially fine taste for the arts, our criticism would be worthless as a guide to others. Our being highly educated and cultivated in other lines will not give us a love or a subtle appreciation of beauty, either in art or nature. An original fine taste is a rare gift, and, sad to say, the way the world goes seems diametrically opposed to the conditions for making it less rare. Intensity, patience, and harmony are ingredients which seem to be more and more left out of modern life. Life goes too quickly, and too separately, so to say, for there to be much of these qualities in it. There seems to be no time to pause and be steeped

by an impression. We have to unhinge our minds and hop off to something quite different before we have done much more than glance at a picture. We are continually in what Mr. Bagehot used to call the 'kangaroo attitude of mind.' To avoid utter confusion in the modern whirl and hurry, our occupations get mapped out in the day like the lessons at a school. Religion, if people have any so called, at one hour, business at a great many, society ditto, and 'general culture,' which includes visiting picture galleries at a few. There is often a merging in the two last by those whom art really wearies. One of the results of these conditions of modern life is, that by instinct the world, even the world who cares most for pictures, finds that the work which can be best seized and enjoyed in this superficial way, is that in which superficial excellences are most obvious, thought and sentiment rather in the way. Moreover, artists find technical proficiency to be more remunerative used as an end than as a means.

This snare is affecting all art more or less, with the exception of a few great men who do not look to the walls of an exhibition to test the worth of their work. It partly consists in the undue effect which is obtained, in a mass of pictures put close together, of the mosaic-like manner of work, the frank putting down of one touch next another, and leaving it alone, however right or wrong the touch may be. This may be an unavoidable method of study in a school where the time given in which to paint in a model is very limited, and where really finely-finished complete painting is impossible, but it is a method which contains in it, we think, no worthy aim for a great school of art. It is bracing and has certain advantages in a certain stage of study, but it entirely excludes the possibility of rendering the highest subtlety of form, colour, or expression. By its incompleteness, perfection of quality in painting is out of the question. What is obtained is merely an exhibition of proficiency of eye and hand, an abstract rendering of Nature's facts without any feeling of revelling in the delight of her beauty. It ignores all the effects of transparency, of light flitting across and mystifying colour, of colour under the glow of diffused light-of all, in fact, that works the unrivalled charm of Giorgione or Titian and along with this technical commonplace character of work we have the expressional commonplace conditions which seek incidents of an unimpressive ordinary character, according well with the ready unpoetical aim of the handling.

Take a head painted by Giovanni Bellini and a head by Legros, and the difference is seen in perfection, resulting from distinct aims in work, the difference between a riddle solved and a poem created. In the riddle we have the difficulties of putting into right drawing the various curves and different surfaces of a face on a flat canvas, putting these moreover into right tone and colour in as few touches

and in as unnecessarily short a time as possible, overcome in a masterly way. In the poem we have delicate subtle perfect workmanship, lovely form sought after and steeped in exquisite colour, all used as a means to an end, made subservient to the longing to express what is most pure and elevating. Who cares to ask how many touches are in such work, how long such a picture took to paint? To leave behind him even one poem-picture, one beautiful utterance of such an artist's soul, would more than justify a great man's existence, such delight does it give to those who appreciate it. In order to revive a great school we must work into our art the good side of our modern conditions. To be real, our art must be a development from our real life; but if it is to be great art, and a powerful living influence, it must be developed from the earnest highest life of our time, not from that side where amusement is the theory of life and weary emptiness the reality.

We feel almost resentful towards a M. Tissot's and a M. Legros' skill, not feeling the admiration which perhaps we ought in a degree to feel, considering how difficult every kind of excellence in painting is, because it is so provoking to see such power and industry used on such trivial subjects. What good or pleasure can such a picture as M. Tissot's lady in yellow flounces going in to a party, exhibited last summer at the Grosvenor Gallery, be to any one? It is not funny, it is not pretty, there is no story. It is very like what it is intended to represent, and M. Tissot must be very clever to be able to make it so like. It must be very nice to be so clever, but again no one but M. Tissot can be the better. We can see the reality of the flounces any day in Russell and Allen's windows in Bond Street, and there is nothing in the painting of them which makes them more valuable painted than real, and the young lady seems made but to be dressed up in them. With what different results did Hogarth study a similar class of subject! He linked incidents in social life to real human interests. Again, in M. Legros' St. Jerome, what is there to attract or influence any but those who care to see a half-naked model correctly drawn, with a skull beside it to justify its naming? Giovanni Bellini painted a St. Jerome which is in our National Gallery. It is painted perfectly, it is entirely charming as a picture; but what makes it useful and delightful to the world beyond artist cliques is the feeling pictured in it of the calm happiness, the pure saintly nature, enjoyed in a hermit's life of study and prayer. It preaches, through its atmosphere of sunlit purity, a triumph of the contemplative side of Christianity with which the painter is in sympathy, and his expression of it elevates all those who seize the feeling of ascetic heroism, be they Christians or not.

M. Tissot and M. Legros are remarkable painters in the school to which they belong, and possess gifts which influence a large class of students, and obtain for their work prominent places on the walls

of the Grosvenor Gallery; and, in the present hurried state in which society lives, more than ever is it true that no success is like success.' Still, even the admirers of their work cannot pretend that it produces any food for thought or emotion, save that of admiration for technical skill-an admiration, be it remembered, which cannot fully be felt by any who are not aware of the technical difficulties of art, whereas a picture in which there is thought or feeling as well as beauty is interesting to all who have mind and sympathy with poetry, though quite ignorant of the process through which it is expressed. There is always a much wider difference between superficial interests and sympathies than between those which lie at the core of human things. All classes have the common interests of living and dying, loving and hating, feeling cheered by the sun and by beauty, depressed by darkness and ugliness, of wondering where we came from and where we are going to; and great poets and painters never forget that such are the important human interests, and give them the prominence in their work which they have in their own thought, shadowing the detail of passing incident with a secondary importance. The overcoming of technical difficulties, a display of professional skill, must for ever remain a very secondary interest to the public at large, the recalling and impressing ideas and feelings on subjects of common interest ever a first. It is a suggestive fact also that it is among the poet-painters alone we find the completest perfection in execution, so subtle is the connection between brain and hand; the more beauty of feeling there is in the one the more power of expressing it unconsciously creeps into the other.

6

It might be interesting to those whom pictures affect for us to try and puzzle out what it is in a picture which makes it great-a real treasure to the world. It is not certainly because there is in it merely an imitation of anything in nature, though Leonardo da Vinci's saying that the best painting is that which is most like the thing it attempts to represent might seem to imply it. But the greatness of his 'Last Supper' and the Vierge aux Rochers' lies in the impressive realisation of a poetic nobility felt by Leonardo. The wonderful Christ-Child in the 'Vierge aux Rochers' is very like what he intended to paint, but it was no child he saw with his eye only, it was a vision in his brain, a vision which arose out of the emotions caused by the beautiful story. No painter ever became a great artist merely because he painted things exactly as he saw them from an external view. Pigments, however cleverly arranged and handled so as to imitate nature, must ever remain inadequate to express anything like her beauty, and cannot be a real gain to the treasures of the world unless they also translate the sensibility of a superior human mind and feeling. Nature, being the large-handed, generous creature she is, seems to fling her most beautiful effects apparently with little method and reckless squandering. She seems to require a translator

to accentuate them and make them appreciated, and this she supplies by the gift of the artist instinct, which not only seizes the beauty, but detaches it and encloses it, so that an impressive, simplified, and unchangeable form for it is created. It is that power of putting into a form, that power of selection and rendering of nature's beauties, the special artist's genius, which puts him, as Socrates says, in the first rank; he is a creator. It is all nature's work, the beauty and the artist-gift of reproducing the beauty-as Polixenes says in the Winter's Tale when Perdita objects to the streaked gillyflowers, because art has had to do with their creation as well as nature.

Perdita. For I have heard it said,

There is an art which in their piedness shares
With great creating nature.

Polixenes. Say there be;

Yet nature is made better by no mean,

But nature makes that mean; so o'er that art
Which you say adds to nature, is an art

That nature makes.

Now we believe the conditions of modern life unconsciously destroy much of the art that nature makes in the form of the creative faculty, as well as that beauty of landscape which the monstrosities of modern structures deform. Modern life ignores the peculiar sensibilities of the creative faculty, and has little sympathy for that quality of the artist nature which vibrates with a sense of awe and wonder to nature's beauties, which may be called the miracles of the artist's religion. As Wordsworth describes the lover of nature, he is Wedded to this goodly universe In love and holy passion.

Modern life is so grown up, so knowing, so efficient and practical, so far away from the beautiful happy wondering of childhood, that, as a rule, it cannot sympathise with the artist nature which has so much of the child in it; a child, but of a bigger, more God-like

race

Though sensitive, yet in their weakest part
Heroically fashioned.

We may laugh at the Freshwater builder, but most of us, more or less, live our lives practically to his tune: Trees is ornaments; what we wants is utility.'

The ordinary talent, which can fit into utilitarian ideas, which can be used up in manufacture and in the painting of portraits of people, and landscapes which are valuable for the sake of likeness, has an education provided for it by the schools of art and design spread all over the country; and a market in the many who, not caring for art as art, care for representations of themselves, their belongings, and their favourite views: but we fail to see any educa

« AnteriorContinua »