28. In my last Lecture I laid before you evidence that the greatness of the master whom I wished you to follow as your only guide in landscape depended primarily on his studying from Nature always with the point; that is to say, in pencil or pen outline. To-day I wish to show you that his preëminence depends secondarily on his perfect rendering of form and distance by light and shade, before he admits a thought of color.
I say "before" however—observe carefully—only with reference to the construction of any given picture, not with reference to the order in which he learnt his mechanical processes. From the beginning, he worked out of doors with the point, but indoors with the brush; and attains perfect skill in washing flat color long before he attains anything like skill in delineation of form.
29. Here, for instance, is a drawing, when he was twelve or thirteen years old, of Dover Castle and the Dover Coach; in which the future love of mystery is exhibited by his studiously showing the way in which the dust rises about the wheels; and an interest in drunken sailors, which materially affected his marine studies, shown not less in the occupants of the hind seat. But what I want you to observe is that, though the trees, coach, horses, and sailors are drawn as any schoolboy would draw them, the sky is washed in so smoothly that few water-color painters of our day would lightly accept a challenge to match it.
And, therefore, it is, among many other reasons, that I put the brush into your hands from the first, and try you with a wash in lampblack, before you enter my working class. But, as regards the composition of his picture, the drawing is always first with Turner, the color second.
30. Drawing: that is to say, the expression by gradation of light, either of form or space. Again I thus give you a statement wholly adverse to the vulgar opinion of him. You will find that statement early in the first volume of "Modern Painters," and repeated now through all my works these twenty-five years, in vain. Nobody will believe that the main virtue of Turner is in his drawing. I say "the main virtue of Turner." Splendid though he be as a colorist, he is not unrivaled in color; nay, in some qualities of color he has been far surpassed by the Venetians. But no one has ever touched him in exquisiteness of gradation; and no one in landscape in perfect rendering of organic form.
31. I showed you in this drawing, at last Lecture, how truly he had matched the color of the iron-stained rocks in the bed of the Ticino; and any of you who care for color at all cannot but take more or less pleasure in the black and greens and warm browns opposed throughout. But the essential value of the work is not in these. It is, first, in the expression of enormous scale of mountain and space of air, by gradations of shade in these colors, whatever they may be; and, secondly, in the perfect rounding and cleaving of the masses alike of mountain and stone. I showed you one of the stones themselves, as an example of uninteresting outline. If I were to ask you to paint it, though its color is pleasant enough, you would still find it uninteresting and coarse compared to that of a flower, or a bird. But if I can engage you in an endeavor to draw its true forms in light and shade, you will most assuredly find it not only interesting, but in some points quite beyond the most subtle skill you can give to it.
32. You have heard me state to you, several times, that all the masters who valued accurate form and modeling found the readiest way of obtaining the facts they required to be firm pen outline, completed by a wash of neutral tint. This method is indeed rarely used by Raphael or Michael Angelo in the drawings they have left us, because their studies are nearly all tentative—experiments in composition, in which the imperfect or careless pen outline suggested all they required, and was capable of easy change without confusing the eye. But the masters who knew precisely before they laid touch on paper what they were going to do—and this may be, observe, either because they are less or greater than the men who change; less, in merely drawing some natural object without attempt at composition, or greater in knowing absolutely beforehand the composition they intend; it may be, even so, that what they intend, though better known, is not so good:—but at all events, in this anticipating power Tintoret, Holbein and Turner stand, I think, alone as draughtsmen; Tintoret rarely sketching at all, but painting straight at the first blow, while Holbein and Turner sketch indeed, but it is as with a pen of iron and a point of diamond.
33. You will find in your educational series many drawings illustrative of the method; but I have enlarged here the part that is executed with the pen, out of this smaller drawing, that you may see with what fearless strength Holbein delineates even the most delicate folds of the veil on the head, and of the light muslin on the shoulders, giving them delicacy, not by the thinness of his line, but by its exquisite veracity.
The eye will endure with patience, or even linger with pleasure, on any line that is right, however coarse; while the faintest or finest that is wrong will be forcibly destructive. And again and again I have to recommend you to draw always as if you were engraving, and as if the line could not be changed.
34. The method used by Turner in the Liber Studiorum is precisely analogous to that of Holbein. The lines of these etchings are to trees, rocks, or buildings, absolutely what these of Holbein are; not suggestions of contingent grace, but determinations of the limits of future form. You will see the explanatory office of such lines by placing this outline over my drawing of the stone, until the lines coincide with the limits of the shadow. You will find that it intensifies and explains the forms which otherwise would have escaped notice, and that a perfectly gradated wash of neutral tint with an outline of this kind is all that is necessary for grammatical statement of forms. It is all that the great colorists need for their studies; they would think it wasted time to go farther; but, if you have no eye for color, you may go farther in another manner, with enjoyment.
35. Now to go back to Turner.
The first great object of the Liber Studiorum, for which I requested you in my sixth Lecture to make constant use of it, is the delineation of solid form by outline and shadow. But a yet more important purpose in each of the designs in that book is the expression of such landscape powers and character as have especial relation to the pleasures and pain of human life—but especially the pain. And it is in this respect that I desired you (Sect. 172) to be assured, not merely of their superiority, but of their absolute difference in kind from photography, as works of disciplined design.
NEAR BLAIR ATHOL.
From the painting by Turner.
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36. I do not know whether any of you were interested enough in the little note in my catalogue on this view near Blair Athol, to look for the scene itself during your summer rambles. If any did, and found it, I am nearly certain their impression would be only that of an extreme wonder how Turner could have made so little of so beautiful a spot. The projecting rock, when I saw it last in 1857, and I am certain, when Turner saw it, was covered with lichens having as many colors as a painted window. The stream—or rather powerful and deep Highland river, the Tilt—foamed and eddied magnificently through the narrowed channel; and the wild vegetation in the rock crannies was a finished arabesque of living sculpture, of which this study of mine, made on another stream, in Glenfinlas, only a few miles away, will give you a fair idea. Turner has absolutely stripped the rock of its beautiful lichens to bare slate, with one quartz vein running up through it; he has quieted the river into a commonplace stream; he has given, of all the rich vegetation, only one cluster of quite uninteresting leaves and a clump of birches with ragged trunks. Yet, observe, I have told you of it, he has put into one scene the spirit of Scotland.
From the painting by Turner.
[View mezzotint version]
37. Similarly, those of you who in your long vacations have ever stayed near Dumblane will be, I think, disappointed in no small degree by this study of the abbey, for which I showed you the sketch at last Lecture. You probably know that the oval window in its west end is one of the prettiest pieces of rough thirteenth-century carving in the kingdom; I used it for a chief example in my lectures at Edinburgh; and you know that the lancet windows, in their fine proportion and rugged masonry, would alone form a study of ruined Gothic masonry of exquisite interest.
Yet you find Turner representing the lancet window by a few bare oval lines like the hoop of a barrel; and indicating the rest of the structure by a monotonous and thin piece of outline, of which I was asked by one of yourselves last term, and quite naturally and rightly, how Turner came to draw it so slightly—or, we may even say, so badly.
38. Whenever you find Turner stopping short, or apparently failing in this way, especially when he does the contrary of what any of us would have been nearly sure to do, then is the time to look for your main lesson from him. You recollect those quiet words of the strongest of all Shakespeare's heroes, when any one else would have had his sword out in an instant:
"Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them ...
Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it
Without a prompter."
Now you must always watch keenly what Turner's cue is. You will see his hand go to his hilt fast enough, when it comes. Dumblane Abbey is a pretty piece of building enough, it is true; but the virtue of the whole scene, and meaning, is not in the masonry of it. There is much better masonry and much more wonderful ruin of it elsewhere; Dumblane Abbey—tower and aisles and all—would go under one of the arches of buildings such as there are in the world. Look at what Turner will do when his cue is masonry,—in the Coliseum. What the execution of that drawing is you may judge by looking with a magnifying glass at the ivy and battlements in this, when, also, his cue is masonry. What then can he mean by not so much as indicating one pebble or joint in the walls of Dumblane?
39. I was sending out the other day, to a friend in America, a chosen group of the Liber Studiorum to form a nucleus for an art collection at Boston. And I warned my friend at once to guard his public against the sore disappointment their first sight of these so much celebrated works would be to them. "You will have to make them understand," I wrote to him, "that their first lesson will be in observing not what Turner has done, but what he has not done. These are not finished pictures, but studies; endeavors, that is to say, to get the utmost result possible with the simplest means; they are essentially thoughtful, and have each their fixed purpose, to which everything else is sacrificed; and that purpose is always imaginative—to get at the heart of the thing, not at its outside."
40. Now, it is true, there are beautiful lichens at Blair Athol, and good building at Dumblane; but there are lovely lichens all over the cold regions of the world, and there is far more interesting architecture in other countries than in Scotland. The essential character of Scotland is that of a wild and thinly inhabited rocky country, not sublimely mountainous, but beautiful in low rock and light streamlet everywhere; with sweet copsewood and rudely growing trees. This wild land possesses a subdued and imperfect school of architecture, and has an infinitely tragic feudal, pastoral, and civic history. And in the events of that history a deep tenderness of sentiment is mingled with a cruel and barren rigidity of habitual character, accurately corresponding to the conditions of climate and earth.
41. Now I want you especially to notice, with respect to these things, Turner's introduction of the ugly square tower high up on the left. Your first instinct would be to exclaim, "How unlucky that was there at all! Why, at least, could not Turner have kept it out of sight?" He has quite gratuitously brought it into sight; gratuitously drawn firmly the three lines of stiff drip-stone which mark its squareness and blankness. It is precisely that blank vacancy of decoration, and setting of the meager angles against wind and war, which he wants to force on your notice, that he may take you thoroughly out of Italy and Greece, and put you wholly into a barbarous and frost-hardened land; that once having its gloom defined he may show you all the more intensely what pastoral purity and innocence of life, and loveliness of nature, are underneath the banks and braes of Doune, and by every brooklet that feeds the Forth and Clyde.
That is the main purpose of these two studies. How it is obtained by various incidents in the drawing of stones, and trees, and figures, I will show you another time. The chief element in both is the sadness and depth of their effect of subdued though clear light in sky and stream.
42. The sadness of their effect, I repeat. If you remember anything of the Lectures I gave you through last year, you must be gradually getting accustomed to my definition of the Greek school in art, as one essentially Chiaroscurist, as opposed to Gothic color; Realist, as opposed to Gothic imagination; and Despairing, as opposed to Gothic hope. And you are prepared to recognize it by any one of these three conditions. Only, observe, the chiaroscuro is simply the technical result of the two others: a Greek painter likes light and shade, first, because they enable him to realize form solidly, while color is flat; and secondly, because light and shade are melancholy, while color is gay.
So that the defect of color, and substitution of more or less gray or gloomy effects of rounded gradation, constantly express the two characters: first, Academic or Greek fleshliness and solidity as opposed to Gothic imagination; and secondly, of Greek tragic horror and gloom as opposed to Gothic gladness.
43. In the great French room in the Louvre, if you at all remember the general character of the historical pictures, you will instantly recognize, in thinking generally of them, the rounded fleshly and solid character in the drawing, the gray or greenish and brownish color, or defect of color, lurid and moonlight-like, and the gloomy choice of subjects, as the Deluge, the Field of Eylau, the Starvation on the Raft, and the Death of Endymion; always melancholy, and usually horrible.
The more recent pictures of the painter Gérôme unite all these attributes in a singular degree; above all, the fleshliness and materialism which make his studies of the nude, in my judgment, altogether inadmissible into the rank of the fine arts.
44. Now you observe that I never speak of this Greek school but with a certain dread. And yet I have told you that Turner belongs to it, that all the strongest men in times of developed art belong to it; but then, remember, so do all the basest. The learning of the Academy is indeed a splendid accessory to original power, in Velasquez, in Titian, or in Reynolds; but the whole world of art is full of a base learning of the Academy, which, when fools possess, they become a tenfold plague of fools.
And again, a stern and more or less hopeless melancholy necessarily is under-current in the minds of the greatest men of all ages,—of Homer, Aeschylus, Pindar, or Shakespeare. But an earthy, sensual, and weak despondency is the attribute of the lowest mental and bodily disease; and the imbecilities and lassitudes which follow crime, both in nations and individuals, can only find a last stimulus to their own dying sensation in the fascinated contemplation of completer death.
45. Between these—the highest, and these—the basest, you have every variety and combination of strength and of mistake: the mass of foolish persons dividing themselves always between the two oppositely and equally erroneous faiths, that genius may dispense with law, or that law can create genius. Of the two, there is more excuse for, and less danger in the first than in the second mistake. Genius has sometimes done lovely things without knowledge and without discipline. But all the learning of the Academies has never yet drawn so much as one fair face, or ever set two pleasant colors side by side.
46. Now there is one great Northern painter, of whom I have not spoken till now, probably to your surprise, Rubens; whose power is composed of so many elements, and whose character may be illustrated so completely, and with it the various operation of the counter schools, by one of his pictures now open to your study, that I would press you to set aside one of your brightest Easter afternoons for the study of that one picture in the Exhibition of Old Masters, the so-called "Juno and Argus," No. 387.
So-called, I say; for it is not a picture either of Argus or of Juno, but the portrait of a Flemish lady "as Juno" (just as Rubens painted his family picture with his wife "as the Virgin" and himself "as St. George"): and a good anatomical study of a human body as Argus. In the days of Rubens, you must remember, mythology was thought of as a mere empty form of compliment or fable, and the original meaning of it wholly forgotten. Rubens never dreamed that Argus is the night, or that his eyes are stars; but with the absolutely literal and brutal part of his Dutch nature supposes the head of Argus full of real eyes all over, and represents Hebe cutting them out with a bloody knife and putting one into the hand of the goddess, like an unseemly oyster.
That conception of the action, and the loathsome sprawling of the trunk of Argus under the chariot, are the essential contributions of Rubens' own Netherland personality. Then the rest of the treatment he learned from other schools, but adopted with splendid power.
47. First, I think, you ought to be struck by having two large peacocks painted with scarcely any color in them! They are nearly black, or black-green, peacocks. Now you know that Rubens is always spoken of as a great colorist, par excellence a colorist; and would you not have expected that—before all things—the first thing he would have seen in a peacock would have been gold and blue? He sees nothing of the kind. A peacock, to him, is essentially a dark bird; serpent-like in the writhing of the neck, cloud-like in the toss and wave of its plumes. He has dashed out the filaments of every feather with magnificent drawing; he has not given you one bright gleam of green or purple in all the two birds.
Well, the reason of that is that Rubens is not par excellence a colorist; nay, is not even a good colorist. He is a very second-rate and coarse colorist; and therefore his color catches the lower public, and gets talked about. But he is par excellence a splendid draughtsman of the Greek school; and no one else, except Tintoret, could have drawn with the same ease either the muscles of the dead body or the plumes of the birds.
48. Farther, that he never became a great colorist does not mean that he could not, had he chosen. He was warped from color by his lower Greek instincts, by his animal delight in coarse and violent forms and scenes—in fighting, in hunting, and in torments of martyrdom and of hell: but he had the higher gift in him, if the flesh had not subdued it. There is one part of this picture which he learned how to do at Venice, the Iris, with the golden hair, in the chariot behind Juno. In her he has put out his full power, under the teaching of Veronese and Titian; and he has all the splendid Northern-Gothic, Reynolds or Gainsborough play of feature with Venetian color. Scarcely anything more beautiful than that head, or more masterly than the composition of it, with the inlaid pattern of Juno's robe below, exists in the art of any country. Si sic omnia!—but I know nothing else equal to it throughout the entire works of Rubens.
49. See, then, how the picture divides itself. In the fleshly baseness, brutality and stupidity of its main conception, is the Dutch part of it; that is Rubens' own. In the noble drawing of the dead body and of the birds you have the Phidias-Greek part of it, brought down to Rubens through Michael Angelo. In the embroidery of Juno's robe you have the Dædalus-Greek part of it, brought down to Rubens through Veronese. In the head of Iris you have the pure Northern-Gothic part of it, brought down to Rubens through Giorgione and Titian.
50. Now, though—even if we had given ten minutes of digression—the lessons in this picture would have been well worth it, I have not, in taking you to it, gone out of my own way. There is a special point for us to observe in those dark peacocks. If you look at the notes on the Venetian pictures in the end of my "Stones of Venice," you will find it especially dwelt upon as singular that Tintoret, in his picture of "The Nativity," has a peacock without any color in it. And the reason of it is also that Tintoret belongs, with the full half of his mind, as Rubens does, to the Greek school. But the two men reach the same point by opposite paths. Tintoret begins with what Venice taught him, and adopted what Athens could teach: but Rubens begins with Athens, and adopts from Venice. Now if you will look back to my fifth Lecture you will find it said that the colorists can always adopt as much chiaroscuro as suits them, and so become perfect; but the chiaroscurists cannot, on their part, adopt color, except partially. And accordingly, whenever Tintoret chooses, he can laugh Rubens to scorn in management of light and shade; but Rubens only here and there—as far as I know myself, only this once—touches Tintoret or Giorgione in color.
51. But now observe farther. The Greek chiaroscuro, I have just told you, is by one body of men pursued academically, as a means of expressing form; by another, tragically, as a mystery of light and shade, corresponding to—and forming part of—the joy and sorrow of life. You may, of course, find the two purposes mingled: but pure formal chiaroscuro—Marc Antonio's and Leonardo's—is inconsistent with color, and though it is thoroughly necessary as an exercise, it is only as a correcting and guarding one, never as a basis of art.
52. Let me be sure, now, that you thoroughly understand the relation of formal shade to color. Here is an egg; here, a green cluster of leaves; here, a bunch of black grapes. In formal chiaroscuro, all these are to be considered as white, and drawn as if they were carved in marble. In the engraving of "Melancholy," what I meant by telling you it was in formal chiaroscuro was that the ball is white, the leaves are white, the dress is white; you can't tell what color any of these stand for. On the contrary, to a colorist the first question about everything is its color. Is this a white thing, a green thing, or a blue thing? down must go my touch of white, green, or dark blue first of all; if afterwards I can make them look round, or like fruit and leaves, it's all very well; but if I can't, blue or green they at least shall be.
53. Now here you have exactly the thing done by the two masters we are speaking of. Here is a copy of Turner's vignette of "Martigny." This is wholly a design of the colored school. Here is a bit of vine in the foreground with purple grapes; the grapes, so far from being drawn as round, are struck in with angular flat spots; but they are vividly purple spots, their whole vitality and use in the design is in their Tyrian nature. Here, on the contrary, is Dürer's "Flight into Egypt," with grapes and palm fruit above. Both are white; but both engraved so as to look thoroughly round.
54. All the other great chiaroscurists whom I named to you—Reynolds, Velasquez, and Titian—approached their shadow also on the safe side—from Venice: they always think of color first. But Turner had to work his way out of the dark Greek school up to Venice; he always thinks of his shadow first; and it held him in some degree fatally to the end. Those pictures which you all laughed at were not what you fancied, mad endeavors for color; they were agonizing Greek efforts to get light. He could have got color easily enough if he had rested in that; which I will show you in next Lecture. Still, he so nearly made himself a Venetian that, as opposed to the Dutch academical chiaroscurists, he is to be considered a Venetian altogether. And now I will show you, in a very simple subject, the exact opposition of the two schools.
55. Here is a study of swans, from a Dutch book of academical instruction in Rubens' time. It is a good and valuable book in many ways, and you are going to have some copies set you from it. But as a type of academical chiaroscuro it will give you most valuable lessons on the other side—of warning.
Here, then, is the academical Dutchman's notion of a swan. He has laboriously engraved every feather, and has rounded the bird into a ball; and has thought to himself that never swan has been so engraved before. But he has never with his Dutch eyes perceived two points in a swan which are vital to it: first, that it is white; and, secondly, that it is graceful. He has above all things missed the proportion, and necessarily therefore the bend of its neck.
56. Now take the colorist's view of the matter. To him the first main facts about the swan are that it is a white thing with black spots. Turner takes one brush in his right hand, with a little white in it; another in his left hand, with a little lampblack. He takes a piece of brown paper, works for about two minutes with his white brush, passes the black to his right hand, and works half a minute with that, and, there you are!
You would like to be able to draw two swans in two minutes and a half yourselves. Perhaps so, and I can show you how; but it will need twenty years' work all day long. First, in the meantime, you must draw them rightly, if it takes two hours instead of two minutes; and, above all, remember that they are black and white.
57. But farther: you see how intensely Turner felt precisely what the Fleming did not feel—the bend of the neck. Now this is not because Turner is a colorist, as opposed to the Fleming; but because he is a pure and highly trained Greek, as opposed to the Fleming's low Greek. Both, so far as they are aiming at form, are now working in the Greek school of Phidias; but Turner is true Greek, for he is thinking only of the truth about the swan; and De Wit is pseudo-Greek, for he is thinking not of the swan at all, but of his own Dutch self. And so he has ended in making, with his essentially piggish nature, this sleeping swan's neck as nearly as possible like a leg of pork.
That is the result of academical work, in the hands of a vulgar person.
58. And now I will ask you to look carefully at three more pictures in the London Exhibition.
The first, "The Nativity," by Sandro Botticelli. It is an early work by him; but a quite perfect example of what the masters of the pure Greek school did in Florence.
One of the Greek main characters, you know, is to be απροσωπος, faceless. If you look first at the faces in this picture you will find them ugly—often without expression, always ill or carelessly drawn. The entire purpose of the picture is a mystic symbolism by motion and chiaroscuro. By motion, first. There is a dome of burning clouds in the upper heaven. Twelve angels half float, half dance, in a circle, round the lower vault of it. All their drapery is drifted so as to make you feel the whirlwind of their motion. They are seen by gleams of silvery or fiery light, relieved against an equally lighted blue of inimitable depth and loveliness.
It is impossible for you ever to see a more noble work of passionate Greek chiaroscuro—rejoicing in light. From this I should like you to go instantly to Rembrandt's "Portrait of a Burgomaster" (No. 77 in the Exhibition of Old Masters).
59. That is ignobly passionate chiaroscuro, rejoicing in darkness rather than light.
You cannot see a finer work by Rembrandt. It has all his power of rendering character, and the portrait is celebrated through the world. But it is entirely second-rate work. The character in the face is only striking to persons who like candle-light effects better than sunshine; any head by Titian has twice the character, and seen by daylight instead of gas. The rest of the picture is as false in light and shade as it is pretentious, made up chiefly of gleaming buttons in places where no light could possibly reach them; and of an embossed belt on the shoulder, which people think finely painted because it is all over lumps of color, not one of which was necessary. That embossed execution of Rembrandt's is just as much ignorant work as the embossed projecting jewels of Carlo Crivelli; a real painter never loads (see the Velasquez, No. 415 in the same exhibition).
60. Finally, from the Rembrandt go to the little Cima (No. 93), "St. Mark." Thus you have the Sandro Botticelli, of the noble Greek school in Florence; the Rembrandt, of the debased Greek school in Holland; and the Cima, of the pure color school of Venice.
The Cima differs from the Rembrandt, by being lovely; from the Botticelli, by being simple and calm. The painter does not desire the excitement of rapid movement, nor even the passion of beautiful light. But he hates darkness as he does death; and falsehood more than either. He has painted a noble human creature simply in clear daylight; not in rapture, nor yet in agony. He is dressed neither in a rainbow, nor bedraggled with blood. You are neither to be alarmed nor entertained by anything that is likely to happen to him. You are not to be improved by the piety of his expression, nor disgusted by its truculence. But there is more true mastery of light and shade, if your eye is subtle enough to see it, in the hollows and angles of the architecture and folds of the dress, than in all the etchings of Rembrandt put together. The unexciting color will not at first delight you; but its charm will never fail; and from all the works of variously strained and obtrusive power with which it is surrounded, you will find that you never return to it but with a sense of relief and of peace, which can only be given you by the tender skill which is wholly without pretense, without pride, and without error.