ADVICE TO FUTURE R.A.'s.* THE teaching conveyed in these lectures is generally sound and sensible. It is not always novel, it is sometimes unconsciously paradoxical, and sometimes a strenuous attempt to avoid paradox makes it wilfully paradoxical. Yet if it was followed by the pre- sent students of the Royal Academy we might have some well founded hopes for the future Royal Academicians, and the lectures themselves will be found pleasant reading beyond the world of artists.
Lietints on Painting Deleva`ed at the Rood Academy. By Henry O'Neil, A.R.A. London: Bradbury and Evans.
Mr. O'Neil starts fair, and tries to do justice to the most oppo- site schools of painting. But we think he fails fully to appreciate either the beauties or the faults of the Venetians, as it seems im- possible to abate their excellencies, and equally impossible to give
them absolute supremacy. The way Mr. O'Neil steers between these two shoals is more edifying to the spectator than to the
learner. Giving Titian all the credit he deserves for his greatest pictures, such as the "Assumption of the Virgin" and the "Massacre of St. Peter Martyr" (a very different saint from St. Peter), Mr. O'Neil tries to show that Titian's brilliancy of colour limits him to certain subjects, and would have kept him out of any competition with Michael Angelo. "If the representations of the Prophets painted by Michael Angelo," he says, "had been imbued with the life-like colouring of Titian, it is possible that pleasure, and of a high nature, might have been imparted by the addition, but the solemn feeling they instil—which if not wholly, is yet chiefly owing to the negation of the technical qualities of painting, would have been disturbed and weakened by their presence." Four pages later he returns to the charge. "Although we may say that Titian was the finest colourist the art has produced, yet a picture in which brilliancy of colour is not in sympathy with the character of the subject would not gain, but rather lose power, by possessing the peculiar charm of the artist." Do not these two passages imply that Titian was a brilliant colourist rather than a great one? Yet the "St. Peter Martyr" which Mr. O'Neil has cited is a 'sufficient answer. It is true that in pictures where brilliancy of colour was in harmony with the subject, the brilliancy produced by Titian was something marvellous. But this does not prove that brilliancy was the only quality he could command, that he was excluded by nature from a mastery of those rich and sombre tints which, to our thinking, are more likely than a negation of the technical qualities of paint- ing to inspire a solemn feeling. What impresses us in Michael Angelo is the design, and where the power of drawing is not obtrusive, the thought has a better chance of being heeded. But as drawing was Titian's weak point—remember the story of his painting a Jupiter and Danae at Rome, and being visited by Michael Angelo, who said that if Titian's power of drawing had been as great as his other gifts his works would have been unsur- passable—it was natural that he should try to cover that defect by a more lavish use of colour. In Titian, too, the thought was not as prominent as in Michael Angelo, yet this is not the effect of the colour, but rather the cause of it. Titian's failing is pointed out in that saying of 'fintoretto's, on which Mr. O'Neil builds a rather mistaken theory—" The drawing of Michael Angelo and the colouring of Titian." We shall revert to the theory, but Tintorett,o's words prove that he did not agree with Mr. O'Neil about the inadequacy of Titian's colouring for Michael Angelo's treatment of subjects. Nor did Michael Angelo himself, when he retained Sebastian del Piombo to give a life-like colouring to figures which only needed that clement of life. •
We do not exactly see why Mr. O'Neil is more severe on the Venetian way of representing classical subjects than on their- historical pictures. In one place, he says, "Notwithstanding the marvellous colour and richness of composition we see in the works of the greatest Venetian masters, we turn away from their illus- trations of classical subjects with a regret that such high powers should have been squandered on such unpropitious themes." Yet
a little later, while granting the charge of anachronism against the Venetian painters for admitting contemporaries into Biblical pieces, he adds, "But forget the mere title of the subject, and their works possess every quality necessary for the embodiment of the truth and beauty of nature in its highest state of perfection." Why may not the same excuse be found for the classical pictures of the Venetians ? We should be tempted to deny that the power which produced the "Bacchus and Ariadne," to instance but one work out of an innumerable multitude, was squandered on unpropitious themes ; but if these works are not true to the classics, are they not true to nature in its highest perfection? In other parts of this book Mr. O'Neil acknowledges that the painter must draw largely on the resources of his own time. "Human nature . . . . must have its prototype at all times, however affected by local circumstances ; and the keen observer can find in the life around him persons whose outward forma may serve for the embodiment of his ideal images." Or, to give the same idea more fully,—
" In more recent times, artists have attempted to awaken a fresh interest in Scriptural subjects by a stricter attention to local truth. Let us inquire how far this attempt to impart local character succeeds in realizing the ideas formed of the personages of Scripture. There are deeper truths than those which are merely apparent to the eye,
and in the rendering of which painting surely may rank with poetry.
Moreover, events which have occurred long ago, especially those of a mysterious nature, and of which the actors are regarded with special veneration, are but as dreams; and therefore, in their pictorial illustration, a strong approach to Nature is calculated to destroy the mental picture. When we think of the celebrated personages of Sacred history, we have little thought of their local character, but regard them as typical of human nature in general rather than of any particular race ; and the clinging tenderness of Ruth, or the lofty courage of Judith, can be fully imparted to a face without insisting on any peculiarity of feature in the nation to which they belonged. Take, for instance, one of those gorgeous supper scenes, painted by Paul Veronese ; whatever dissatis- faction is felt on looking at the picture, arises from the absence of divinity in the representation of our Saviour or of any other sacred character introduced, rather than from a want of attention to local truth. By the introduction of Jewish men and women, in lieu of Venetians, he might have imparted a more correct idea of the locality of the scene, but, most certainly, what he might have gained thereby in truth, he would have lost in beauty. Perhaps the most satisfactory representa- tion of our Saviour, as man, is that painted by Titian in a picture called The Tribute-Money,' now in the gallery at Dresden. The elevated character of the face, with its solemn and sorrowing expression, go far to realize our idea of that divine personage ; and yet, no doubt, it was painted from a Venetian, for it has no resemblance to the peculiar character of the Jewish race; and, as an eloquent writer has truly observed, he who cannot paint a Madonna from an Englishwoman, could. scarcely hope to succeed were he to ransack the whole world of Jewry for a model."
Yet substitute the word Greek for Jewish, and the same remarks may be made about the classical pictures of the Venetians as Mr. O'Neil has made about Titian and Veronese. It is of course out of the question to blame the early painters for not aiming at that literal accuracy which has only been discovered since their time. It is more to the point to ask how far any modern painters may be allowed to dispense with it. After Mr. Holman Hunt's exact reproduction of the scene in the Temple as it probably happened, are we to put up with Academical renderings of the doctors and the child Jesus, with majestic heads that express nothing, and in a well proportioned building that might be anything? To such a question the example of the old masters is no answer. Their earliest object was to give the teaching of any Scriptural scene ; but gradually this motive forsook them, and they made each Scriptural scene into a pageant. Mr. Hunt's object was to realize the scene as it must have occurred, and to let its reality speak to our eyes after the idealism of the early masters, the gorgeous show of the later masters, and the vapid conventionality of the moderns. We do not think of the accessories of a picture when we think of the great scenes of sacred history ; our minds dwell on the thought, not on the mode of expression. But the painter must not only express the thought, he must show us the scene ; and if he does so in such a manner that we cannot believe in its reality, he fails to impress us. If indeed it is his object to dwell chiefly on the thought, he can manage with few accessories. In Titian's " Tribute-Money " the faces of our Lord and the Pharisee make up the picture. But Paul Veronese's large pictures are composed of purely Venetian details, and the thought is never hinted at. Here we can only apply another of those sound maxiffis which Mr. O'Neil throws oat, but which he does not enforce, that conspicuous unreality is to be as much avoided as too obtrusive reality.
The theory formed by Mr. O'Neil about Tintoretto, which we have characterized as mistaken, leads us on to consider his general views on the subject of teaching. He thinks Tintoretto could not have uttered that celebrated saying in earnest, "for he was far too great an artist not to feel that his own drawing and colouring were better adapted for the embodiment of his concep- tions than if his figures had really been drawn by Michael Angelo and then coloured by Titian." But what Tintoretto meant was that he would endeavour to emulate the drawing of the one and the colouring of the other. In him this was perfectly legitimate, for be had such an independence of genius that he could hope to rival the merits of both without copying their peculiarities. The Bolognese school, on the other hand, did not attempt to learn from their predecessors, but to borrow from them ; and they borrowed with such mechanical skill that the practised eye can tell at once to -whom each part of any picture belongs. We do not, however, conclude from this that "all copying is lost labour," and that "studying under a very great master has led to the decline of art in every country where it once flourished." The greatest masters have been known to copy, and the greatest masters have studied under those who, till they appeared, seemed to have carried art to absolute perfection. But then the greatest masters knew how to copy, and how to profit by teaching. They added something of their own, even when they stole ; at all events they stole so com- pletely as to make things their own. When Rossini met with a good idea in a stupid opera, and cribbed it instantly, remarking "that is far too good for such a fool," no one thought the fool
had any right to remonstrate. It was very different when Rossini took the grand ideas of Beethoven and reduced them to a popular leveL So, too, with Mr. O'Neil's theory on tuition. The pupil of a great master runs the risk of sacrificing his own indivi- duality, and copying instead of learning. But till a man's style is formed it is impossible to tell whether his individuality has been sacrificed, whether his master's abilities have been of "that high order which seems to smother and defy all emu- lation." The first steps in a career are almost always imita- tive. Raphael's early pictures cannot be distinguished from Peru.gino's. Correggio, the most independent and most individual of artists, took ideas at first from Leonardo. Thackeray acknow- ledged that he began by imitating Fielding. In all these cases the individuality came of itself when the mind was ripe for it, and the grown man profited by the lessons learnt in his youth. But there have been many other instances where a man begins by imi- tating others and never gets beyond it, and where the maturest development of his style is a deceptive imitation of his own youth- ful imitations. Here it matters little whether a man studies under a great master or a small one ; it is idle to talk of his emulating excellence when nature has not given him the faculty of emulation, or of his forming a thorough individuality when he is dependent on the mannerisms of others for a mannerism that is not even genuine.