« PreviousContinue »
dite softness, as Mr. Westall, An- necessarily a middle line or central gelica Kauffman, and others, have point, any thing short of which is done in their effeminate perform- deficiency, and any thing beyond it ances ? Are we to leave out of the excess, being the average form to scale of legitimate art, the extremes which all the other forms included in of infancy and old age, as not middle the same species tend, and apterms in man's life? Are we to strike proximate more or less. Then this off from the list of available topics average form as it exists in nature and sources of interest, the varieties should be taken as the model for art. of character, of passion, of strength, What occasion to do it out of your activity, &c.? Is every thing to wear own head, when you can bring it the same form, the same colour, the under the cognizance of your senses ? same unmeaning face ? Are we only Suppose a foot of a certain size and to repeat the same average idea of shape to be the standard of perperfection, that is, our own want of fection, or if you will, the mean proobservation and imagination, for portion between all other feet. How ever, and to melt down the inequa- can you tell this so well as by seeing lities and excrescences of individual it? How can you copy it so well as nature in the monotony of abstrac- by having it actually before you? tion? Oh no! As well might we But, you will say, there are particuprefer the cloud to the rainbow; the lar minute defects in the best-shaped dead corpse to the living moving actual foot which ought not to be body! So Sir Joshua debated upon transferred to the imitation. Be it Rubens's landscapes, and has a whole so. But are there not also particular chapter to inquire whether accidents minute beauties in the best, or even in nature, that is, rainbows, moon- the worst shaped actual foot, which light, sun-sets, clouds and storms, are you will only discover by ocular inthe proper thing in the classical style spection, which are reducible to no of art. Again, it is urged, that this measurement or precepts, and which is not what is meant, viz. to exclude in finely developed nature outweigh different classes or characters of the imperfections a thousand fold, things, but that there is in each class the proper general form being conor character a middle point, which is tained there also, and these being the point of perfection. What mid- only the distinctly articulated parts dle point? Or how is it ascertained ? of it with their inflections which no What is the middle age of childhood? artist can carry in his head alone ? Or are all children to be alike, dark For instance, in the bronze monuor fair? Some of Titian's children ment of Henry VII. and his wife, in have black hair, and others yellow or Westminster Abbey, by the famous auburn: who can tell which is the Torregiano, the fingers and finger most beautiful ? May not a St. John nails of the woman in particular are be older than an infant Christ? Must made out as minutely, and, at the not a Magdalen he different from a same time, as beautifully as it is posMadonna, a Diana from a Venus ? sible to conceive; yet they have Or may not a Venus have more or exactly the effect that a cast taken less gravity, a Diana more or less from a fine female hand would have, sweetness. What then becomes of with every natural joiut, muşcle, and the abstract idea in any of these nerve, in complete preservation. Does cases? It varies as it does in na- this take from the beauty or magture; that is, there is indeed a ge- nificence of the whole? No: it agperal principle of character to be ad- grandizes it. What then does it take hered to, but modified everlastingly from? Nothing but the conceit of the by various other given or nameless artist that he can paint a hand out of circumstances. The highest art, like his own head (that is, out of nothing, nature, is a living spring of uncon, and by reducing it again as near as strained excellence, and does not pro- can be to nothing, to a mere vague duce a continued repetition of itself, image) that shall be better than any like plaster-casts from the same thing in nature. A hand, or foot, is figure. But once more it may be not one thing, because it is one word insisted, that in what relates to mere or name; and the painter of mere form or organic structure, there is abstractions had better lay down his pencil at once, and be contented to Ark, and that walk, run, or creep write the descriptions or titles under upon it. No, he does not paint only works of art. Lastly, it may be ob- what he has seen in his mind's eye, jected that a whole figure can never but the common objects that both he be found perfect or equal; that the and others daily meet-rocks, clouds, most beautiful arm will not belong to trees, men, women, beasts, fishes, the same figure as the most beautiful birds, or what he calls such. He is leg, and so on. How is this to be then an imitator by profession. He remedied ? By taking the arm from gives the appearances of things that one, and the leg from the other, and exist outwardly by themselves, and clapping them both on the same have a distinct and independent nabody? That will never do; for how ture of their own. But these know ever admirable themselves, they their own nature best; and it is by will hardly agree together. One will consulting them that he can alone have a different character from the trace it truly, either in the immediate other; and they will form a sort of details, or characteristic essences. natural patchwork. Or, to avoid this, Nature is consistent, unaffected, will you take neither from actual powerful, subtle: art is forgetful, models, but derive them from the apish, feeble, coarse. Nature is the neutralizing medium of your own original, and therefore right: art is imagination. Worse and worse. Copy the copy, and can but tread lamely in them from the same model, the best the same steps. Nature penetrates in all its parts you can get; so that into the parts, and moves the whole if you have to alter, you may alter as mass : it acts with diversity, and in little as possible, and retain nearly necessary connexion; for real causes the whole substance of nature.* You never forget to operate, and to coninay depend upon it that what is so tribute their portion. Where, thereretained, will alone be of any spe- fore, these causes are called into play cific value. The rest may have a to the utmost extent that they ever negative merit, but will be positively go to, there we shall have a strength good for nothing. It will be to the and a refinement, that art may imivital truth and beauty of what is tate but cannot surpass.
But it is taken from the best nature, like the said that art can surpass this most piecing of an antique statue. It fills perfect image in nature by combining a gap, but nothing more. It is, in others with it. What! by joining to fact, a mental blank.
the most perfect in its kind some2. This leads us to the second thing less perfect? Go to,--this arpoint laid down before, which was, gument will not pass. Suppose you that the highest art is the imitation of have a goblet of the finest wine the finest nature, or in other words, of that ever was tasted: you will not that which conveys the strongest sense mend it by pouring into it all sorts of of pleasure or power, of the sublime or samples of an inferior quality. So beautiful.
the best in nature is the stint and The artist does not pretend to ina limit of what is best in art: for art vent an absolutely new class of ob- can only borrow from nature still, jects, without any foundation in na- and, moreover, must borrow entire ture. He does not spread his palette objects, for bits only make patches. on the canvas, for the mere finery of We defy any landscape-painter to the thing, and tell us that it makes à invent out of his own head, and by brighter show than the rainbow, or jumbling together all the different even than a bed of tulips. He does forms of hills he ever saw, by adding not draw airy forms, moving above a bit to one, and taking a bit from the earth, « gay creatures of the another, any thing equal to Arthur's element, that play i' th' plighted seat, with the appendage of Salisbury clouds,” and scorn the mere mate- Crags, that overlook Edinburgh. rial existences, the concrete descend- Why so? Because there are no levers ants of those that came out of Noah's in the mind of man equal to those
* I believe this rule will apply to all except grotesques, which are evidently taken from opposite natures.
with which nature works at her ut- same object. We were satisfied bemost need. No imagination can toss fore ; but it seems the painter was and tumble about huge heaps of not, and we naturally sympathise earth as the ocean in its fury can. with him. This craving after quanA volcano is more potent to rend tity is a morbid affection. A landrocks asunder than the most splash- scape is not an architectural elevaing pencil. The convulsions of na- tion. You may build a house as ture can make a precipice more high as you can lift up stones with frightfully, or heave the backs of pulleys and levers, but you cannot mountains more proudly, or throw raise mountains into the sky merely their sides into waving lines more with the pencil. They lose probagracefully than all the beau idéal of bility and effect by striving at too art. For there is in nature not only much; and, with their ceaseless greater power and scope, but (so to throes, oppress the imagination of speak) greater knowledge and unity the spectator, and bury the artist's of purpose.
Art is comparatively fame under them. The only error of weak and incongruous, being at once these pictures is, however, that art a' miniature and caricature of na- here puts on her seven-league boots, ture. We grant that a tolerable and thinks it possible to steal a march sketch of Arthur's seat, and the ad- upon nature.
Mr. Martin might joining view, is better than Primrose make Arthur's Seat sublime, if he Hill itself, (dear Primrose Hill! ha! chose to take the thing as it is; but faithless pen, canst thou forget its he would be for squaring it according winding slopes, and valleys green, to to the mould in his own imagination, which all Scotland can bring no pa- and for clapping another Arthur's rallel?) but no pencil can transform Seat on the top of it, to make the or dandle Primrose Hill (our favour- Calton Hill stare! Again, with reite Primrose Hill) into a thing of spect to the human figure. This has equal character and sublimity with an internal structure, muscles, bones, Arthur's seat. It gives us some pain blood-vessels, &c. by means of which to make this concession; but in doing the external surface is operated upon it, we flatter ourselves that no according to certain laws. Does the Scotchman will have the liberality in artist, with all his generalizations, any way to return us the com- understand these, as well as nature pliment. We do not recollect a more does ? Can he predict, with all his striking illustration of the difference learning, that if a certain muscle is between art and nature in this re- drawn up in a particular manner, it spect, than Mr. Martin's very sin- will present a particular appearance gular, and, in some things, very me
in a different part of the arm or leg, ritorious pictures. But he strives to or bring out other muscles, which outdo nature. He wants to give were before hid, with certain modimore than she does, or than his sub- fications ? But in nature all this is ject requires or admits. He sub- brought about by necessary laws, divides his groups into infinite little- and the effect is visible to those, and ness, and exaggerates his scenery those only, who look for it in actual into absolute immensity. His figures objects. This is the great and masare like rows of shiny pins; his ter-excellence of the Elgin Marmountains are piled up one upon the BLES, that they do not seem to be back of the other, like the stories of the outer surface of a hard and imhouses. He has no notion of the movable block of marble, but to be moral principle in all art, that a part actuated by an internal machinery, may be greater than the whole. "He and composed of the same soft and reckons that if one range of lofty flexible materials as the human body. square hills is good, another range The skin (or the outside), seems to above that with clouds between must be protruded or tightened by the nabe better. He thus wearies the ima- tural action of a muscle beneath it. gination, instead of exciting it. We This result is miraculous in art: in see no end of the journey, and turn nature it is easy and unavoidable. back in disgust. We are tired of the That is to say, art has to imitate or effort, we are tired of the monotony produce certain cffects or appears of this sort of icduplication of the ances without the natural causes : but the human understanding can its greatest triumphs, and to make it hardly be so true to those causes as as mechanical as a shaded profile. So the causes to themselves; and hence far, so good. But the reason he gave the necessity (in this sort of simu- was bad, viz. that the limbs could not lated creation) of recurring at every remain in those actions long enough step to the actual objects and ap- to be cast. Yet surely this would pearances of nature. Having shown take a shorter time than if the model so far how indispensable it is for art sat to the sculptor ; and we all agreed to identify itself with nature, in oro that nothing but actual, continued, der to preserve the truth of imita- and intense observation of living nation, without which it is destitute of ture could give the solidity, comvalue or meaning, it may be said to plexity, and refinement of imitation follow as a necessary consequence, which we saw in the half animated, that the only way in which art can almost moving figure before us. * Be rise to greater dignity or excellence this as it may, the principle here is by finding out models of greater stated does not reduce art to the imidignity and excellence in nature. tation of what is understood by comWill any one, looking at the Theseus, mon or low life. It rises to any point for example, say that it could spring of beauty or sublimity you please, merely from the artist's brain, or that but it rises only as nature rises it could be done from a common, ill. exalted with it too. To hear these made, or stunted body? The fact is, critics talk, one would suppose there that its superiority consists in this, was nothing in the world really worth that it is a perfect combination of art looking at. The Dutch pictures were and nature, or an identical, and as it the best that they could paint: they were spontaneous copy of an indi- had no other landscapes or faces bevidual picked out of a finer race of fore them. Honi soit qui mal y pense. men than generally tread this ball of Yet who is not alarmed at a Venus earth. Could it be made of a Dutch- by Rembrandt ? The Greek statues man's trunk-hose? No. Could it be were (cum grano salis) Grecian youths made out of one of Sir Joshua's Dis- and nymphs; and the women in the courses on the middle form? No. streets of Rome (it has been remarkHow then? Out of an eye, a head, ed t) look to this hour as if they had and a hand, with sense, spirit, and walked out of Raphael's pictures. energy to follow the finest nature, as Nature is always truth: at its best, it appeared exemplified in sweeping it is beauty and sublimity as well; masses, and in subtle details, with though Sir Joshua tells us in one of out pedantry, conceit, cowardice, or the papers in the Ivler that in itaffectation! Some one was asking at self, or with reference to individuals, Mr. H-ydn's one day, as a few it is a mere tissue of meanness and persons were looking at the cast from deformity. Luckily, the Elgin Marthis figure, why the original might bles say no to that conclusion: for not have been done as a cast from they are decidedly part and purcel nature ? Such a supposition would thereof. What constitutes fine 11&account at least for what seems ture, we shall inquire under another otherwise unaccountable—the incre- head. But we would remark here, dible labour and finishing bestowed that it can hardly be the middle form, on the back and other parts of this since this principle, however it might figure, placed at a prodigious height determine certain general proportions against the walls of a temple, where and outlines, could never be intelthey could never be seen after they ligible in the details of nature, or apwere once put up there. If they plicable to those of art. Who will were done by means of a cast in the say that the form of a finger nail is first instance, the thing appears in- just midway between a thousand telligible, otherwise not. Our host others that he has not remarked: we stoutly resisted this imputation, are only struck with it when it is which tended to deprive art of one of more than ordinarily beautiful, from * Some one finely applied to the repose of this figure the words :
symmetry, an oblong shape, &c. the idea in the mind, then it is that The staunch partisans of this theory, we see the true perfection of art. however, get over the difficulty here The forehead should be “ villainous spoken of, in practice, by omitting the low;" the eye-brows bent in; the details altogether, and making their eyes small and gloating; the nose works sketches, or rather what the pugged, and pointed at the end, with French call ebauches, and the English distended nostrils; the mouth large daubs.
and shut; the cheeks swollen; the 3. The IDEAL is only the selecting a neck thick, &c. There is, in all this particular form which expresses most process, nothing of softening down, completely the idea of a given charac- of compromising qualities, of finding ter or quality, as of beauty, strength, out a mean proportion between difactivity, voluptuousness, &c. and which ferent forms and characters; the sole preserves that character with the great- object is to intensify each as much est consistency throughout.
as possible. The only fear is “ to Instead of its being true in general o’erstep the modesty of nature," and that the ideal is the middle point, it run into caricature. This must be is to be found in the extremes ; or, it avoided; but the artist is only to is carrying any idea as far as it will stop short of this. He must not outgo. Thus, for instance, a Silenus is rage probability. We must have as much an ideal thing as an Apollo, seen a class of such faces, or someas to the principle on which it is thing so nearly approaching, as to done, viz. giving to every feature, prevent the imagination from revoltand to the whole form, the utmost ing against them. The forehead degree of grossness and sensuality must be low, but not so low as to that can be imagined, with this ex- lose the character of humanity in the ception (which has nothing to do brute. It would thus lose all its with the understanding of the ques- force and meaning. For that which tion), that the ideal means by cus- is extreme and ideal in one species, tom this extreme on the side of the is nothing, if, by being pushed too good and beautiful. With this re- far, it is merged in another. Above serve, the ideal means always the all, there should be keeping in the something more of any thing which whole and every part. In the Pan, may be anticipated by the fancy, and the horns and goat's feet, perhaps, which must be found in nature (by warrant the approach to a more anilooking long enough for it) to be ex- mal expression than would otherwise pressed as it ought. Suppose a good be allowable in the human features ; heavy Dutch face (we speak by the but yet this tendency to excess must proverb)-this, you will say, is
be restrained within certain limits. but it is not gross enough. You have If Pan is made into a beast, he will an idea of something grosser, that cease to be a God! Let Momus disis, you have seen something grosser tend his jaws with laughter, as far and must seek for it again. When as laughter can stretch them, but no you meet with it, and have stamped farther; or the expression will be it on the canvas, or carved it out of that of pain and not of pleasure. the block, this is the true ideal, Besides, the overcharging the exnamely, that which answers to and pression or action of any one feature satisfies a preconceived idea; not will suspend the action of others. that which is made out of an abstract The whole face will no longer laugh. idea, and answers to nothing. In But this universal suffusion of broad the Silenus, also, according to the mirth and humour over the counnotion we have of the properties and tenance is very different from a placharacter of that figure, there must cid smile, midway between grief be vivacity, slyness, wantonness, &c. and joy. Yet a classical Momus, by Not only the image in the mind, but modern theories of the ideal, ought a real face may express all these to be such a nonentity in expression. combined together; another may ex- The ancients knew better. They press them more, and another most, pushed art in such subjects to the which last is the ideal; and when the verge of “ all we hate,” while they image in nature coalesces with, and felt the point beyond which it could gives a body, force, and reality to not be urged with propriety, i. e.