16 FEBRUARY 1850, Page 19


A mAiquer. of portrait-painting would be a hipfhly useful work in a country where the craft is so extensively practised as it is in Enq- land; but Mr. Burnet has not yet supplied it. His characteristic quarto presents a strain of agreeable chatty advice, not very system- atically arranged, nor very substantial and distinct. It has seve- ral hints gathered from the works or practice of the old masters, especially Vandyke, Velasquez, and Titian; but the advice is too general and vague, or too small and empirical, to serve much use. Mr. Burnet tells the pupil what to do, rather than how to do it ; and the specific direction is almost limited to the smallest details, such as the mode of treating the corners of the mouth, or the eye- lashes. We call these scraps of advice empirical, because they are given solely on the authority of practice, without any principle. In like manner you are told that Vandyke repeated the colour of the hair in the backgrounds, to produce harmony and unity : but why does it do so? That he balanced the lights in the figure by corresponding lights in the background : but why ? It is curious, that although the writer holds up Titian as the finest of portrait- painters, he does not recommend him for a model; giving the preference rather to Vandyke or Velasquez. He repeats Wilkie's advice to soften the errors of common nature from the ideal type, especially temporary accidents, such as " the dimples on the cheek of. youth or the wrinkles of age." "In regard to actual resemblance," says Wilkie, "there are those whom nothing. Will satisfy but a real, striking, startling likeness, something which a child might not only know but mistake for the reality. Those who demand such a proof from art may find it in the merest daub, [?] in the harshest ca- ricature, but will look for it in vain in the finest pictures." "Now, although this extract," says Burnet, contains much correct rea- soning, I cannot refrain from putting the student on his guard lest he should generalize too much and leave out those connecting links in the features, on which expression so much depends." [But what is the principle to guide these discriminations?] "That likeness does not depend upon detail, may be proved by our instant recognition of any one of our friends even across the street, where scarcely a feature can be defined. Likeness will be found to be more in the general form and the masses of dark and half tints." . . . . "The extreme darks and their exact distance from each other are greatly conducive to likeness ; as also marking the points where high lights fall, par- ticularly on the forehead, nose, and cheekbone." . . . . "In finishing, the essential parts often lose their ascendancy and the introduction of the de- tail is given with too great severity. [I] Hence the breadth is destroyed ; and the whole being in this way too much defined, the countenance loses the lifelike and moving character of nature." . . . . "Expression contributes more than any other means to give animation and an attractive character to the likeness.

Precisely : but how to get that expression ? This is begging the whole question between teacher and learner. "The seat of sweet., soft, feminine character, lies in the outer corner of the eyes, especially the lower eyelid, and the corners of the mouth : this the painter should catch towards completion, with a few delicate touches. Dig- nity lies in the under-lip and chin, and the upper orbit of the eye and fore- head."

• Practical Hints on Portrait-Painting : illustrated by Examples from the Works of Vandyke and other Masters. By John Burnet, E.R.S., Author of "Letters on Landscape-Painting," " Rembrandt and his Works," 8m. Published by Bogue.

But how to do this ? what are the touches ; and especially what the principle ? Mr. Burnet sees that Titian generalized, and yet attained strong individual expression—indeed, the strongest aspect of life that is to be found in any painter whatsoever ; but our au- thor fails to catch the principle on which Titian does so, without the delusive completeness of imitation that is sought only by painters of still life. You see much the same in Rembrandt, who certainly did not idealize in the classic direction; the same in Raphael, whose pencil is not rapid and "fleeting," as Mr. Burnet admires, but steady, and unmistakeably definite. We believe that a true rationale of portrait-painting might be found in the works of Titian, some of its more popular characteristics being illustrated from Vandyke,—certainly the most popular of portrait-painters, and the soundest of those that enjoy such univer.

sal first place, the first place, it is to be noted that all the great Rortrait- painters, down to Vandyke, were versed in the practice of historical painting. Now it cannot be too often repeated, that every picture which deals with life must be a veritable design. The "sitter" cannot keep up, for the convenience of the limner, the passing cha- racteristics of life—the transient motions of the muscles, the nervous fire of the eye, the set of the hair, which never repeats its forms : the painter, therefore, must treat his original as a subject, to be con- ceived in his own mind, and reproduced as a product of the ima- gination; the "sitter" being only a memorandum. A tenacious and faithful imagination, a firm and faithful hand, are more neces- sary to the portrait-painter than a " dashing" hand or a fanciful knack at idealizing. The true portrait-painter makes the most of his subject as it is; the flatteringulealizer makes a fancy sketch, which mortifies from its glaring falsehood. The leading traits of the character are the essential elements of the design, and they must be firmly and forcibly made out ; the minor or more ordinary traits may be more generally treated : a principle which explains how a picture may not delude and may yet fill the mind of the spectator with the full force of living na- ture. Thus, Hazlitt said of the Young Man with the Glove, in the Louvre, that the eyes seemed to rest upon you with a living pre- sence : which is true, because the forms and tints are those of life ; although there is no attempt to make the whole figure stand out of the canvass like a piece of scene-painting. Mr. Burnet quotes distinctions which other English critics have drawn between outward and inward nature : but the painter can only deal with outward nature, and to talk of his painting the soul within, as some do, is nonsense. The distinction lies between/ the painting of the fixed forms inherent in the quiescent contour; and those very transitory forms which occur under strong emotion. or rapid action: the forms characteristic of the inner passions when they are outwardly developed. Thus, the eye made mo- mentarily tense and intense, the expanded arch of the upper lid as the eye flashes, the momentary expansion of the nostril, the start• ing fibres in the arm, the hair lifted to the gust,—these are traits which are gone as soon as seen, traits which mark emotion and change : if they are absent, we see the " still life " of human na- tare ; if they are there, we are said to " see the soul." They cannot be too clearly and firmly defined : they may be caricatured ; or the heavy or hesitating hand may fail to catch the true form, as the dull eye may fail to notice it ; and then attention will be forced. to a defined failure.

Sketchy productions often suggest what the painter is not com- petent to make out, for want of exact discrimination of eye or fidelity of hand. But the principle is always the same : force must be concentrated on the characteristics in which the character and interest of the design centre. Prominently to elaborate traits or details remote from that centre of the design, diverts the at- tention, ands) enfeebles rather that enforces the effect of life.

This is not the place to show how the principle of lifelike trait-painting is to be worked out in detail—that must be left to technical works ; but, wanting such a principle, Mr. Burnet's book. remains an unsatisfactory guide to a highly practical and tangible. art.

Some etchings agreeably illustrate the text, by showing, new and then, the kind of thing that the author means ; but they are not very closely applied.