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NOTE IX. Verse 90.
As Fresnoy had condescended to give advice of a prudential kind, let me be permitted here to recommend to the artist to talk as little as possible of his own works, much less to praise them; and this not so much for the sake of avoiding the character of vanity, as for keeping clear of a real detriment; of a real productive cause which prevents his progress in his art, and dulls the edge of enterprize.
He who has the habit of insinuating his own excellence to the little circle of his friends, with whom he comes into contact, will grow languid in his exertions to fill a larger sphere of reputation: He will fall into the habit of acquiescing in the partial opinions of a few; he will grow restive in his own: by admiring himself, he will come to repeat himself, and then there is an end of improvement. In a painter it is particularly dangerous to be too good a speaker; it lessens the necessary endeavours to make himself master of the language which properly belongs to his art, that of his pencil. This circle of selfapplause and reflected admiration, is to him the world, which he vainly imagines he has engaged in his party, and therefore supposes that further enterprize becomes less necessary.
Neither is it prudent, for the same reason, to VOL. III.
talk much of a work before he undertakes it, which will probably thus be prevented from being ever begun. Even showing a picture in an unfinished state makes the finishing afterwards irksome; the artist has already had the gratification which he ought to have kept back, and made to serve as a spur to hasten its completion. R.
NOTE X. VERSE 101.
Supremely fraught with grace and majesty. It is a matter of great judgment to know what subjects are or are not fit for painting. It is true that they ought to be such as the verses here direct, full of grace and majesty ; but it is not every such
subject that will answer to the painter. The | painter's theme is generally supplied by the poet or historian : but as the painter speaks to the eye, a story in which fine feeling and curious sentiment is predominant, rather than palpable situation, gross interest and distinct passion is not suited to his purpose.
It should be likewise a story generally known ; for the painter, representing one point of time only, cannot inform the spectator what preceded the event, however necessary, in order to judge of the propriety and truth of the expression and character of the actors. It may be remarked that action is the principal requisite in a subject for
history-painting ; and that there are many subjects which, though very interesting to the reader, would make no figure in representation : such are those subjects which consist in any long series of action, the parts of which have very much dependency each on the other; or where any remarkable point or turn of verbal expression makes a part of the excellence of the story; or where it has its effect from allusion to circumstances not actually present. An instance occurs to me of à subject which was recommended to a painter by a very distinguished person, but who, as it appears, was but little conversant with the art; it was what passed between James II, and the old Earl of Bedford in the Council which was held just before the Revolution.* This is a very striking piece of history ; but so far from being a proper subject, that it unluckily possesses no one requisite necessary for a picture; it has a retrospect to other circumstances of history of a very complicated nature; it marks no general or intelligible action or passion ; and it is necessarily deficient in that variety of heads, forms, ages, sexes, and draperies, which sometimes, by good management, supply by picturesque effect the want of real interest in a history.
* Dalrymple’s Memoirs, i. 168. This writer has quoted no authority for the remarkable anecdote here alluded to; an inexcusable omission,
NOTE XI. Verse 107.
Then let the virgin canvass smooth expand,
I wish to understand the last line as recommending to the artist to paint the sketch previously on canvass, as was the practice with Rubens.
This method of painting the sketch, instead of merely drawing it on paper, will give a facility in the management of colours, and in the handling, which the Italian painters, not having this custom, wanted: by habit he will acquire equal readiness in doing two things at a time as in doing only one. A painter, as I have said, on another occasion, if possible, should paint all his studies, and consider drawing only as a succedaneum when colours are not at hand. This was the practice of the Venetian painters and of all those who have excelled in colouring; Corregio used to say, C'havea i suoi dessegni nella stremità dè penneli. The method of Rubens was to sketch his composition in colours, with all the parts more determined than sketches generally are ; from this sketch his scholars advanced the picture as far as they were capable : after which he retouched the whole himself.
The painter's operation may be divided into three parts : the planning, which implies the sketch of the general composition; the transferring that design to the canvass; and the finishing, or retouching the whole. If for dispatch the artist looks out for assistance, it is in the middle stage only be can receive it; the first and last operation must be the work of his own hand.
NOTE XII. VERSE 109.
Then, bold Invention, all thy powers diffuse, Of all thy Sisters, thou the noblest muse. The invention of a painter consists not in in. venting the subject, but in a capacity of forming in his imagination the subject in a manner best accommodated to his art, though wholly borrowed I from poets, historians, or popular tradition. For this purpose he has full as much to do, and perhaps more, than if the very story was invented: for he is bound to follow the ideas which he has received, and to translate them (if I may use the expression) into another art. In this translation the painter's invention lies; he must in a manner new-cast the whole, and model it in his own imagination : to make it a painter's nourishment, it must pass through a painter's mind. Having received an idea of the pathetic and grand in intellect, he has next to consider how to make it correspond with what is touching and awful to the eye, which is a business by itself. But here begins what in the language