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makes it interesting ; and a general fact may be as new as a particular one, and then it would be not less, but more interesting ; as a new general law of nature would be more interesting, because more important, to us than a new solitary fact, supposing it to be one in which we had no personal interest.
We admit that this answer does not apply to the assertion, that objects of peculiar forms and colors are more interesting in actual nature than those of more general occurrence, but only to this argument, and to the proposition which is sought to be proved by it. That fact may be, and probably is,
But whether it be or not, it is a very different question whether such things are therefore more proper for painting; and we have just endeavoured to show that they are not. But be that
the argument is not less absurd which reasons from facts of history to the appearances of visible things. If the author will call the representation of an object a " statement of a fact," as he repeatedly does, he may as well call the form and color of it “ predicates”; but it would be much simpler and better, where one means to tell the truth and to be understood, to call things by their right names.
Again, the author contends that form is more important in painting than color ; and he proves it thus :
According to Locke, Book II. ch. 8, there are three sorts of qualities in bodies ; first, the bulk, figure, number, situation, • and motion or rest of their solid parts, those that are in them, whether we perceive them or not.” These he calls primary qualities. Secondly, the power that is in any body to operate after a peculiar manner on any of our senses (sensible qualities). And thirdly,” &c. Now, by Locke's definition, above given, only bulk, figure, situation, and motion or rest of solid parts are primary qualities. Hence all truths of color sink at once into the second rank. He, therefore, who has neglected a truth of form for a truth of color has neglected a greater truth for a less one.”
Now, if this childish pedantry proves any thing, it proves that objects ought to be painted of no color at all ; color being, according to Locke, not in the object, but in the eye. But of what importance is that? The painter is concerned with the appearance of things, not with their philosophical
But we shall follow the author no farther ; it has not been
our object to refute his opinions respecting the comparative value of the old and modern landscapes, because, so far as resemblance to nature is concerned, the facts which he asserts, and on which he mainly relies, are not of a kind capable of proof or of resutation. We can prove that a rainbow is
wrong, if it be by the side of the sun, or a shadow, if it be at right angles to it; but the want of truth in the forms and colors of clouds, mountains, rocks, trees, and water, unless the departure be violent, must remain a matter of opinion. And when he asserts the departure to be violent and habitual, he asserts a fact which, if true, is obvious to every body, and yet it is here stated for the first time, to any thing like the same extent, for two hundred years. And so far as it is a question, not of resemblance, but of other qualities, such as harmony of forms and colors, invention and sentiment, we can only say we differ from him, and endeavour to show from the exaggerated and violent tone of his remarks, and his want of consistency, that, in a matter in which he sets up his own opinion against that of so many others, he is not entitled to the personal confidence which we yield to a sober and modest critic; and that it is safer to suppose that he is misled by passion or prejudice, than that so many have been wrong before him who have appeared to judge coolly and candidly.
Against all this, we are quite willing to admit, is to be placed his evident ability and familiarity with the subject. The parts of the book not infected by these peculiar opinions are extremely valuable ; his remarks on the painting of sky and water are particularly admirable ; and, indeed, there are scattered throughout the book so many just and novel observations, that, notwithstanding its absurd partialities, we know none more useful to the landscape-painter who will read it with a proper allowance for them.
After doing this justice to the author's ability, though we feel under no obligation to account for his singular opinions, it will certainly be more agreeable, and probably more just, if, without charging him with any unworthy motives as a personal partisan, we can attribute them to some other cause. And it is but the first step that we need to seek, for he has evidently conceit and passion enough to account for all the rest. Now we think it pretty evident, though he has not so stated, that he is an amateur in water-colors, that feeble substitute for painting, which has done much to ruin English art and Eng
lish taste. He claims in his preface to have been “ devoted from his youth to the laborious study of practical art” ; but the person to whom the work is commonly attributed is unknown as a professional artist, and we think the whole character of it belongs to the sketcher, and not to the painter. It wants the deep and artist-like feeling that is incompatible with this dabbling in water upon drawing-paper. If Michael Angelo could say of oil, that it was only fit for women and children in comparison with fresco, what would he have said at seeing “the greatest and only perfect landscape-painter spending his days before a drawing-board upon a table, washing in lakes and bistre with a camel’s-hair pencil and scraping out lights with a penknife? We have said that this waterpainting has ruined the art in England; and how can it be otherwise, when prices that would well remunerate an artist for solid and manly pictures in oil are paid in profusion for these mere conventional sketches in the most feeble and perishable material ? We do not mean to underrate the difficulty of these trifles, but to deny their value, when done. doubt not that the mechanical skill required for drawing in water-color is even greater than for painting in oil or fresco. But then one person can do it almost as well as another, if he will but give time enough to it. In point of mere execution, which we confess we think the principal merit these things can have, we have seen such drawings by a fashionable lady that we thought quite as good as those which are here exalted above the works of Claude, Gaspar, and Salvator. We doubt not, nay, we know, that in this we show our own ignorance ; for we do not profess to be learned nor to have any deep taste in this paper-staining, though we have seen a great deal of it, and Turner's among the rest. But we do know, that if art is to be brought down to such a standard, it is no longer worth contending for.
Perhaps, however, we have not yet sufficiently informed our readers that all this clamor for the supremacy of the modern artists is founded upon so much beauty and grandeur as can be comprehended in a sheet of drawing-paper, and expressed by the colors of Reeves's or Newman's paint-boxes ; just the thing that girls are taught to do at boarding-schools tolerably well, and which the well-educated ladies and gentlemen of England, to their great credit, frequently do most admirably. Nineteen twentieths of the modern pictures here pre
ferred to the works of the old masters are mere water-color drawings; this whole book is devoted to establishing their supremacy over the best productions of antiquity. Mr. Turner is, it is true, not a water-color painter only. He has painted masterly things in oil ; but that was long ago ; his recent works in that way are but a kind of imitation of water-colors, made grotesque by the strength of the material ; and so far does our author's prejudice carry him in favor of what we suppose to be his own practice, that even his admiration of Turner gives way before it. He will hardly allow any merit to his earlier and really magnificent oil paintings, called here “ academical pictures,” apparently to avoid too obvious a preference for water over oil. His Temple of Jupiter and other Italian compositions are dismissed as “nonsense pictures,” – for no reason that we can understand, except that they are immeasurably beyond the capacity of water-colors.
There is no single fact that seems to us so indicative of the hopeless decline of art in England as the positive mania there is for these feeble sketches. It pervades France too, as well as England. One has only to go into the several exhibitions of water-color painters that are open every year in London, and see the multitude of these productions, and how soon the word “sold " is marked upon them, and learn what prices are paid, to be satisfied that it is vain to contend with such people for any thing better in art. It is the same in Paris. . Thousands of francs are paid for little water-color drawings, while Couture's magnificent painting of the Banquet in the Decline of Rome, which we were unfortunate enough to see only in an unfinished state, went out of the last Exposition without finding a purchaser. This is but one phase of that egoistical spirit of modern times that has followed the march of wealth and of a wide and superficial education, and which is for other reasons fatal to art. Those who are able to buy pictures buy that which flatters their vanity ; they or their children draw in water-colors, and they are unwilling to exalt that art which is hopelessly above their reach; or at least, they have looked so long on their own domestic manufactures, that they have lost all sensibility to any thing better. This may sound strange to those who do not know how universal an accomplishment of polite life this water-color drawing has become, and to what perfection it is carried both by amateurs and artists. But we really believe it is one of the most for
midable enemies that landscape art has now to encounter, so much does it absorb the patronage and degrade the taste of the rich. It is some consolation, however, that since Count D'Orsay paints in oil, it may possibly become the fashion to paint and to buy paintings; but the change would give a sore lesson to the vanity of amateurship.
We do not mean to be understood to question the value of water-color to the landscape-painter as a preparative; there is no other material in which sketches can be made with sufficient rapidity to catch the fleeting effects of light and color. A thorough facility in it should be a part of the education of every landscape-painter, but to be used only as a kind of short-hand to preserve hints which may recall facts. To substitute it for oil is like going back from phonetic writing to hieroglyphics. It is necessarily either merely conventional in its own way, or, if more is sought from it, it becomes a poor imitation of that which is done much better, and to the same extent much easier, in oils. This is the difference between the English water-colors and the French. The English are simply, but beautifully conventional. The best of them aim at nothing more ; indeed, so unlike nature are they in fact, that it requires some use to be able to relish them; and then, like all objects of an artificial taste, they acquire a factitious value beyond that which is naturally agreeable. A truly good landscape in oils is a thing of which the most uncultivated mind at once perceives the beauty. Place the most ignorant person before one of Claude's pictures, or even one of Gaspar's, for perhaps Salvator is somewhat too poetical, - and he will feel it at once, as he would a beautiful scene in nature. But give such a person one of Turner's, or Fielding's, or Harding's water-colors, and it is probable he will not know even what it is intended to represent. Those blotches of color, which, to the amateur, seem so exquisite in tone and position, and which recall clouds and woods and deep pools of dark water among the hills, will to him appear like unmeaning accidents. This by no means diminishes the value of such a sketch to the artist. He sees in it the embryo picture in all its beautiful and natural harmony and detail. But this is not the use now made of them. They do not assist, but supersede, painting ; and those who have learned this handwriting on the wall, and the interpretation thereof, insist upon it that it is superior to that of which it is