23 JANUARY 1841, Page 18



THE conversation reported last week was subsequently resumed ; and the discussion having excited some interest, we are induced to give the concluding dialogue. Smudge. I am desirous of renewing our conversation, Mr. Spec- tator, for the purpose of convincing you of the fallacy of your theory, as applied to high art, and of the pernicious influence it would have on our school of painting, if carried into effect. Spec. I am quite willing to yield to conviction, Mr. Smudge, if you will prove by argument what you assert ; and I desire no better ground than that you have chosen : indeed, I should have led the conversation in that direction, but that the object of our discussion was to enable Mr. Fact to choose the method of teaching he preferred for his son.

Smudge. I don't wonder at his choice : he knows nothing of art, and looks only to the utility to his son of being able to make out the shapes of objects correctly.

Spec. That is precisely my view of the subject, so far as regards the mass of people : the express purpose of the system of teaching I advocate is to enable every one to convey ideas of form that can only be expressed by lines ; the only difference in the case of a youth des- tined for the profession of an artist would be to extend and consolidate the basis of science.

Smudge. What ! make him more learned in perspective, and a more finished draughtsman, in order to qualify him to paint fine pictures?

Spec. Assuredly : adding a thorough knowledge of anatomy, and the properties and laws of light and colour.

Smudge. Then the painter is to be mathematician, and optician, chemist, and anatomist as well : why not sculptor, architect, and engi- neer?

Spec. Why, if it comes to that, LEGNA.RDO DA VINCI, MICHAEL ANGELO, and RAFFAELLE were learned in these sciences.

Smudge. Sir, "there were giants in those days." The principle of the division of labour was not then known. I suppose you would have painters grind their own colours, like the Dutch painters. Spec. If need be, certainly ; and many pictures would be more brilliant and last longer were this practice generally adopted. Smudge. Well, I must allow you the merit of consistency ; you "go the whole hog," as the Yankees say. And when the student has spent half his life in acquiring the " science " of his art, as you term it— though where he is to get all this knowledge I'm at a loss to know— what time has he left for the practice of painting? By the time he was an accomplished artist he would be about leaving the world.

Spec. The old adage, "Life is short and art is long," is indeed very unpalatable to modern artists ; who would seem to reverse it, according to their practice. Your doubt where the student is to get all the know- ledge requisite for a proficient painter, has indeed some validity, for there is no academy where he could acquire it ; nor, indeed, where it is thought necessary.


Smudge. Nor s it. Your theorizing, Sir, is all very well ; but this' is a practical age : it is not what a man knows, bat what he does, that constitutes success.

Spec. True ; but what a man knows influences what he does.

Smudge. Yes ; and an artist may know so much that he will do nothing: the most learned artists are not always the best painters- FUSELI, for instance.

Spec. No; hut the greatest painters have been the most learned men ; CORREGIO and RUBENS, for example, in addition to the illustrious men I have named. In our own country, REYNOLDS and FLexmax ; and among contemporaries, EASTLAKE, TURNER, CALLcorr, MUL-, READY, and others.

Smudge. What I mean is, that the pursuit of science is apt to dis- gust the youthful aspirant of taste with its dry details, and divert the student from the practice of art : it requires a very powerful genius to overcome the influence of these exact studies, and turn them to account— to say nothing of the immense application required ; and the chances are, that the free scope of invention and the daring of hand are cramped, after all.

Spec. Why, it is one of the very best effects of this discipline of mind, that inferior geniuses—"aspirants of taste," as you call them, who would fain be great artists, but have not the power—are diverted to other pursuits : the art itself has suffered, and still suffers, in the esti- mation of the world, by the crude, flashy performances of shallow, self- confident pretenders, and the feeble efforts of unqualified drudges ; who, if the approach to the "Temple sacred to Genius" were more difficult, would not now, like "Fools, rush in where angels fear to tread." As to knowledge restricting the flight of imagination, it is a mere figment. Was it the case with liarrAELLE ?

Smudge. He is an exception like SHAKSPERE in letters. But the minute and exact style of LEONARDO DA VINCI was owing to that ; and MICHAEL ANGELO'S knowledge of anatomy was the bane of his style, only in a less degree than in FUSELI'S case. Spec. I see no minuteness of style in LEONARDO'S studies of heads for his "Last Supper "; and his highly elaborated style of painting small pictures was a consequence of the state of art at that time, just as RAFFAELLE'S early style is traceable to his master PERITOINO ; but the style of both these great men expanded afterwards. As for the excessive development of anatomical detail in IdicaAra. Astozw's works, it is rather an evidence of ultra vehement physical energy, than a mere display of knowledge ; a defect falling far short of the mania of mannerism of FUSEL; but of a similar kind. But the abuse of knowledge is no argument fonts disuse : had FUSEL' known anatomy better, he would not have perpetrated such monstrous exaggerations ; he imposed on the ignorant by thrusting on their attention as evidences of power distortions that proved his weakness. Smudge. Why science, in your estimation, seems the remedy for the aberrations of genius, as well as its means of soaring. Spec. Yes : cramping the hand," "checking the invention," you call it.

Smudge. Now let me ask you one or two questions. Which is, in your opinion, the best school of art for a painter to study drawing in ? Spec. I'm not competent to decide between the French, the Flemish, and the German ; certainly not the English. Say the French, for argu- ment's sake.

Smudge. And the productions of which school do you prefer ? Spec. Those of the English first, the German next ; the French I dislike.

&nudge. So, then, you prefer the productions of the school which is the worst for learning to draw, and dislike those of that which you con- sider the best. You have demolished your case, Sir. It is the excessive study of form that destroys the beauty of the French pictures. Spec. I don't think so. It is the conception—the gross, affected style of treating subjects, that is offensive in French art : their know- ledge of colour is defective, and their taste bad ; but this is not the consequence of their good drawing. Smudge. What ! do you deny that the flat, cold, rigid style of painting in the French and Germans is the consequence of their strongly-defined outlines ?

Spec. No: yet a harsh outline is not the inevitable result of good drawing, but the consequence of bad painting. Form ought to be ex- pressed without predominance of outline : drawing is a means, not the end. Their science is good, but their art is defective : with us the science is defective, and the art good.

Smudge. And our art is good in consequence of our "science," as you call it, being defective.

Spec. Do you seriously mean to adhere to that assertion, Mr. Smudge ?

Smudge. Not literally : what I mean to say is, that in studying the science too much, you injure the quality of the art. What has made English art so good ?

Spec. The necessity for concealing the defects of its science. Smudge. Well, that is complimentary to English genius, certainly. Spec. Yes, it is, in sober earnest : the genius of our painters has been shown in the success with which they have overcome the defi- ciencies of their method. STOTHARD is an instance : his half faces and bodiless figures, without bone or substance, are nevertheless full of grace and beauty ; for nothing could destroy the feeling of the ideal in his mind : he made up in colour and touch for the faults of his drawing. Smudge. And if he had drawn like RAFFAELLE, we should have missed his "touch," and perhaps his fine colouring. Spec. I don't think so ; as you may see in the figures he introduces copied from RAFFAELLE whereas, could he have drawn the figures, he would have been appreciated by twenty where he is now admired by one. Do TURNER'S ridiculous figures constitute the beauty of his effects ?

Smudge. No; but the absence of outline in his building does. Spec. True ; or rather say, the presence of form or substance. Smudge. Well, the painters of the present day are in a fair way of putting your doctrines to the test: the fashion is all for definition. Mecum HERBERT, REDGRAVE—all the young men are following in the French school ; and we shall wish for the days of Sir JOSHUA and GAINSBOROUGH back again, when our exhibitions reflect back the stage tableaux and the wax-work groups.

Spec. Again, you are confounding peculiarities and excellences : the hard manner of MACLISE and HERBERT is not the consequence of their good drawing, but of their defective painting ; and I cannot consent to class REDGRAVE With them, any more than EASTLAKE, MULREADY, or WEBSTER, who all draw beautifully ; indeed, but for a tendency to the petite, I think REDGRAVE'S style of painting is unexceptionable. Smudge. You except the very fault arising from definition. Details are incompatible with breadth of effect.

Spec. I do not think so ; nay, I quote REDGRAVE'S pictures in proof to the contrary. But what do you mean by " breadth "?

Smudge. Oh! every artist knows what breadth means ; we are not met to discuss terms : of course it is the reverse of these cut-up pic- tures—a broad, general effect, where the picture strikes as a whole. Spec. What I understand by "breadth" is the union of light with light and dark with dark, in gradations melting one into the other, and producing a powerful harmonious ensemble.

Smudge. Exactly : and to effect this is impossible with minute details. Spec. I appeal again to REDGRAVE'S pictures in proof of the con- trary; for there I see solid well-defined forms, bright local colours, and high finish, without wiriness or confusion.

Smudge. Mr. REDGRAVE is a favourite of yours. Spec. I instance him only as the one of those you quoted whose style is least obnoxious to your censure.

Smudge. Wait and see. But one more question, and I've done. Your dogma is, that knowledge or science is the basis of art : according to that, you would have every miniature-painter study anatomy ? Spec. Of course. You could not have instanced a more flagrant want of knowledge than the miniature-painters, taken as a body, manifest. Smudge. Well, as I said before, you do not flinch from carrying out your principles : but it is too ludicrous. Fancy a skull or a skeleton

in the studio of a fashionable limner, instead of the lay figure! How delighted the lady sitters would be to have their defects of form and feature faithfully copied.

Spec. That has nothing to do with the principle. Any ordinary face and hands that Nature ever made, would be less deformed than the shapeless cheeks, boneless arms, and fingers like white slugs, that one sees in miniatures, which seem all eyes and hair. But even if flattery be a branch of the portrait-painter's art, a knowledge of the anatomy would enable him to subdue defects of feature with greater skill, and

without losing the individual character : he would substitute skill in art for mere mannerism and systematic falsification.

Smudge. He would be more likely to substitute form for expression. Spec. Why, is not physiognomical expression the result of facial form ? How does the sculptor convey the likeness else ?

Smudge. We are talking of painting : likeness depends upon the look of the eyes and mouth, and that mast be caught by the tact of' the artist—it is not definable.

Spec. The look of the eye depends more on effect of colour than form, perhaps ; but the expression of the mouth can never be properly given unless the artist knows how to draw it properly—that is, to indi- cate the muscles which produce the action of the lips: hence you rarely see likeness in the expression of the mouth. Smudge. Because it's the most difficult feature to represent, owing to its varying expression : to seize the true one is the instinct of art. Spec. We come back again to the same point : according to you, all is instinct and vague generalization ; and I am substituting knowledge and definition.

Smudge. Yes, you would teach young artists on the plan of poor SASS, who made his pupils niggle at an antique figure till they pro- duced a laboured mechanical drawing, all cut up, without a particle of feeling. Spec. And I would add, with very little spirit or intelligence. No, Mr. Smudge, SASS turned out some clever men, but not by what he taught them : now the new master of his academy, Mr. WHEELWRIGHT, is a more rational teacher : he lets the students draw in their own style, so long as they define the forms correctly ; and in order that they may understand the proportions, he teaches them to draw the skeleton within their outline. Anatomy, however, is very imperfectly taught in this country ; and it never will be properly studied till a series of anatomi- cal demonstrations are provided for artists exclusively : still, every one can draw from the skeleton ; and if the bones were well understood, the student could not be far wrong, while the knowledge of the muscles would be easier acquired. HarnoN has made anatomy a popular science by his lectures to the mechanics. Smudge. Pshaw ! And you would let every pupil form his own style ? A pretty medley of styles we should have. Spec. We have already—if such deserve to be called "style." Give him knowledge and principles to proceed upon, and every artist of ori- ginality will form his own style; as it is, they all follow their leaders, like a flock of sheep. Smudge. Better follow a leader in the right path than go astray. Spec. But they follow the wrong path.

Smudge. Then I've no more to say.