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of right,—thus wounding their vanity by impugning their judgment; the other, necessarily narrow of number, composed of men of general knowledge and unbiassed habits of thought, who would recognize in the work of the daring innovator a record and illustration of facts before unseized, who would justly and candidly estimate the value of the truths so rendered, and would increase in fervor of admiration as the master strode farther and deeper, and more daringly into dominions before unsearched or unknown; yet diminishing in multitude as they increased in enthusiasm : for by how much their leader became more impatient in his step—more impetuous in his success—more exalted in his research, by so much must the number capable of following him become narrower, until at last, supposing him never to pause in his advance, he might be left in the very culminating moment of his consummate achievement, with but a faithful few by his side, his former disciples fallen away, his former enemies doubled in numbers and virulence, and the evidence of his supremacy only to be wrought out by the devotion of men,s lives to the earnest study of the new truths he had discovered and recorded.
Such a mind has arisen in our days. It has gone on from strength to strength, laying open fields of conquest peculiar to itself. It has occasioned such schism in the schools of criticism as was beforehand to be expected, and it is now at the zenith of its power, and, consequently, in the last phase of declining popularity.
This I know, and can prove. No man, says Southey, was ever yet convinced of any momentous truth without feeling in himself the power, as well as the desire of communicating it. In asserting and demonstrating the supremacy of this great master, I shall both do immediate service to the cause of right art, and shall be able to illustrate many principles of landscape painting which are of general application, and have hitherto been unacknowledged.
For anything like immediate effect on the public mind, I do not hope. "We mistake men,s diseases,', says Richard Baxter, "when we think there needeth nothing to cure them of their errors but the evidence of truth. Alas ! there are many distempers of mind to be removed before they receive that evidence." Nevertheless, when it is fully laid before them, my duty will be done. Conviction will follow in due time.
I do not consider myself as in any way addressing, or having to do with, the ordinary critics of the press. Their writings are not the guide, but the expression, of public opinion. A writer for a newspaper naturally and necessarily endeavors to meet, as nearly as he can, the feelings of the majority of his readers ; his bread depends on his doing so. Precluded by the nature of his occupations from gaining any knowledge of art, he is sure that he can gain credit for it by expressing the opinions of his readers. He mocks the picture which the public pass, and bespatters with praise the canvas which a crowd concealed from him.
Writers like the present critic of Blackwood,s Magazine* deserve more respect—the respect due to honest, hopeless, helpless imbecility. There is something exalted in the innocence of their feeblemindedness : one cannot suspect them of partiality, for it implies feeling; nor of prejudice, for it implies some previous acquaintance with their subject. I do not know that even in this age of charlatanry, I could point to a more barefaced instance of imposture on the simplicity of the public, than the insertion of these pieces of criticism in a respectable periodical. We are not insulted with opinions on music from persons ignorant of its notes; nor with treatises on philology by persons unacquainted with the alphabet; but here is page after page of criticism, which one may read from end to end, looking for something which the writer knows, and finding nothing. Not his own language, for he has to look in his dictionary, by his own confession, for a word f occurring in one of the most important chapters of his Bible; not the commonest traditions of the schools, for he does not know why Poussin was called
* It is with regret that, in a work of this nature, I take notice of criticisms, which, after all, are merely intended to amuse the careless reader, and be forgotten as soon as read; but I do so in compliance with wishes expressed to me since the publication of this work, by persons who have the interests of art deeply at heart, and who, I find, attach more importance to the matter than I should have been disposed to do. I have, therefore, marked two or three passages which may enable the public to judge for themselves of the quality of these critiques; and this I think a matter of justice to those who might otherwise have been led astray by them—more than this I cannot consent to do. I should have but a hound's office if I had to tear the tabard from every Rouge Sanglier of the arts—with bell and bauble to back him.
t Chrysoprase, (Vide No. for October, 1842, p. 502.)
"learned ;', * not the most simple canons of art, for he prefers Lee to Gainsborough ;f not the most ordinary facts of nature,
* Every school-boy knows that this epithet was given to Poussin in allusion to the profound classical knowledge of the painter. The reviewer, however, (September, 1841,) informs us that the expression refers to his skill in " Composition."
t Critique on Royal Academy, 1843. "He" (Mr. Lee) "often reminds us of Gainsborough's best manner; but he is superior to him always iu subject, composition, and variety."—Shade of Gainsborough 1—deep-thoughted, solemn Gainsborough,—forgive us for re-writing this sentence; we do so to gibbet its perpetrator forever,—and leave him swinging in the winds of the Fool's Paradise. It is with great pain that I ever speak with severity of the works of living masters, especially when, like Mr. Lee's, they are well intentioned, simple, free from affectation or imitation, and evidently painted with constant reference to nature. But I believe that these qualities will always secure him that admiration which he deserves—that there will be many unsophisticated and honest minds always ready to follow his guidance, and answer his efforts with delight; and therefore, that I need not fear to point out in him the want of those technical qualities which are more especially the object of an artist's admiration. Gainsborough's power of color (it is mentioned by Sir Joshua as his peculiar gift) is capable of taking rank beside that of Rubens; he is the purest colorist—Sir Joshua himself not excepted—of the whole English school; with him, in fact, the art of painting did in great part die, and exists not now in Europe. Evidence enough will be seen in the following pages of my devoted admiration of Turner; but I hesitate not to say, that in management and quality of single and particular tint, in the purely technical part of painting, Turner is a child of Gainsborough. Now, Mr. Lee never aims at color; he does not make it his object in the slightest degree—the spring green of vegetation is all that he desires; and it would be about as rational to compare his works with studied pieces of coloring, as the modulation of the Calabrian pipe to the harmony of a full orchestra. Gainsborough's hand is as light as the sweep of a cloud—as swift as the flash of a sunbeam; Lee's execution is feeble and spotty. Gainsborough's masses are as broad as the first division in heaven of light from darkness; Lee's (perhaps necessarily, considering the effects of flickering sunlight at which he aims) are as fragmentary as his leaves, and as numerous. Gainsborough's forms are grand, simple, and ideal; Lee's are small, confused, and unselected. Gainsborough never loses sight of his picture as a whole; Lee is but too apt to be shackled by its parts. In a word, Gainsborough is an immortal painter; and Lee, though on the right road, is yet in the early stages of his art; and the man who could imagine any resemblance or point of comparison between them, is not only a novice in art, but has not capacity ever to be anything more. He may be pardoned for not comprehending Turner, for long preparation and discipline are necessary before the abstract and profound philosophy of that artist can be met; but Gainsborough's excellence is based on principles of art long acknowledged, and facts of nature universally apparent; and I insist more particularly on the reviewer's want of feeling for his works, for we find him puzzled by the epithet "silver," as applied to the orange blossom,—evidently never having seen anything silvery about an orange in his life, except a spoon. Nay, he leaves us not to conjecture his calibre from internal evidence; he candidly tells us (Oct. 1842) that he has been studying trees only for the last week, and bases his critical remarks chiefly on his practical experience of birch. More disinterested than our friend Sancho, he would disenchant the public from the magic of Turner by virtue of his own flagellation ; Xanthias-like, he would rob his master of immortality by his own powers of endurance. What is Christopher North about? Does he receive his critiques from Eaton or Harrow—based on the experience of a week,s birds,-nesting and its consequences? How low must art and its interests sink, when the public mind is inadequate to the detection of this effrontery of incapacity! In all kindness to Maga, we warn her, that, though the nature of this work precludes us from devoting space to the exposure, there may come a time when the public shall be themselves able to distinguish ribaldry from reasoning, and may require some better and higher qualifications in their critics of art, than the experience of a school-boy, and the capacities of a buffoon.
It is not, however, merely to vindicate the reputation of those whom writers like these defame, which would but be to anticipate by a few years the natural and inevitable reaction of the public mind, that I am devoting years of labor to the development of the principles on which the great productions of recent art are based. I have a higher end in view—one which may, I think, justify me, not only in the sacrifice of my own time, but in calling on my readers to follow me through an investigation far more laborious than could be adequately rewarded by mere insight into the merits of a particular master, or the spirit of a particular age. , It is a question which, in spite of the claims of Painting to be
because it proves a truth of which the public ought especially to be assured that those who lavish abuse on the great men of modern times, are equally incapable of perceiving the real excellence of established canons, are ignorant of the commonest and most acknowledged principia of the art, blind to the most palpable and comprehensible of its beauties, incapable of distinguishing, if left to themselves, a master's work from the vilest school copy, and founding their applause of those great works which they praise, cither in pure hypocrisy, or in admiration of their defects.
called the Sister of Poetry, appears to me to admit of considerable doubt, whether art has ever, except in its earliest and rudest stages, possessed anything like efficient moral influence on mankind. Better the state of Rome when " magnorum artificum frangebat pocula miles, ut phaleris gauderet equus," than when her walls flashed with the marble and the gold, "nee cessabat luxuria id agere, ut quam plurimum incendiis perdat." Better the state of religion in Italy, before Giotto had broken on one barbarism of the Byzantine schools, than when the painter of the Last Judgment, and the sculptor of the Perseus, sat revelling side by side. It appears to me that a rude symbol is oftener more efficient than a refined one in touching the heart, and that as pictures rise in rank as works of art, they are regarded with less devotion and more curiosity.
But, however this may be, and whatever influence we may be disposed to admit in the great works of sacred art, no doubt can, I think, be reasonably entertained as to the utter inutility of all that has been hitherto accomplished by the painters of landscape. No moral end has been answered, no permanent good effected, by any of their works. They may have amused the intellect, or exercised the ingenuity, but they never have spoken to the heart. Landscape art has never taught us one deep or holy lesson; it has not recorded that which is fleeting, nor penetrated that which was hidden, nor interpreted that which was obscure; it has never made us feel the wonder, nor the power, nor the glory, of the universe ; it has not prompted to devotion, nor touched with awe; its power to move and exalt the heart has been fatally abused, and perished in the abusing. That which ought to have been a witness to the omnipotence of God, has become an exhibition of the dexterity of man, and that which should have lifted our thoughts to the throne of the Deity, has encumbered them with the inventions of his creatures.
If we stand for a little time before any of the more celebrated works of landscape, listening to the comments of the passers-by, we shall hear numberless expressions relating to the skill of the artist, but very few relating to the perfection of nature. Hundreds will be voluble in admiration, for one who will be silent in delight. Multitudes will laud the composition, and depart with the praise of Claude on their lips,—not one will feel