Modern Painting
George Moore

Part 1 out of 4

E-text prepared by Eric Eldred, Marc D'Hooghe, Charles Franks, and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team






G. M.

_The Editor of "The Speaker" allowed me to publish from time to time
chapters of a book on art. These chapters have been gathered from the
mass of art journalism which had grown about them, and I reprint them
in the sequence originally intended_.

_G. M._




I have studied Mr. Whistler and thought about him this many a year.
His character was for a long time incomprehensible to me; it contained
elements apparently so antagonistic, so mutually destructive, that I
had to confess my inability to bring him within any imaginable
psychological laws, and classed him as one of the enigmas of life. But
Nature is never illogical; she only seems so, because our sight is not
sufficient to see into her intentions; and with study my psychological
difficulties dwindled, and now the man stands before me exquisitely
understood, a perfect piece of logic. All that seemed discordant and
discrepant in his nature has now become harmonious and inevitable; the
strangest and most erratic actions of his life now seem natural and
consequential (I use the word in its grammatical sense) contradictions
are reconciled, and looking at the man I see the pictures, and looking
at the pictures I see the man.

But at the outset the difficulties were enormous. It was like a
newly-discovered Greek text, without punctuation or capital letters.
Here was a man capable of painting portraits, perhaps not quite so
full of grip as the best work done by Velasquez and Hals, only just
falling short of these masters at the point where they were strongest,
but plainly exceeding them in graciousness of intention, and subtle
happiness of design, who would lay down his palette and run to a
newspaper office to polish the tail of an epigram which he was
launching against an unfortunate critic who had failed to distinguish
between an etching and a pen-and-ink drawing! Here was a man who,
though he had spent the afternoon painting like the greatest, would
spend his evenings in frantic disputes over dinner-tables about the
ultimate ownership of a mild joke, possibly good enough for _Punch_,
something that any one might have said, and that most of us having
said it would have forgotten! It will be conceded that such
divagations are difficult to reconcile with the possession of artistic
faculties of the highest order.

The "Ten o'clock" contained a good deal of brilliant writing,
sparkling and audacious epigram, but amid all its glitter and "go"
there are statements which, coming from Mr. Whistler, are as
astonishing as a denial of the rotundity of the earth would be in a
pamphlet bearing the name of Professor Huxley. Mr. Whistler is only
serious in his art--a grave fault according to academicians, who are
serious in everything except their "art". A very boyish utterance is
the statement that such a thing as an artistic period has never been

One rubbed one's eyes; one said, Is this a joke, and, if so, where is
the point of it? And then, as if not content with so much mystification,
Mr. Whistler assured his ten o'clock audience that there was no such
thing as nationality in art, and that you might as well speak of
English mathematics as of English art. We do not stop to inquire if
such answers contain one grain of truth; we know they do not--we stop
to consider them because we know that the criticism of a creative artist
never amounts to more than an ingenious defence of his own work--an
ingenious exaltation of a weakness (a weakness which perhaps none
suspects but himself) into a conspicuous merit.

Mr. Whistler has shared his life equally between America, France, and
England. He is the one solitary example of cosmopolitanism in art, for
there is nothing in his pictures to show that they come from the
north, the south, the east, or the west. They are compounds of all
that is great in Eastern and Western culture. Conscious of this, and
fearing that it might be used as an argument against his art, Mr.
Whistler threw over the entire history, not only of art, but of the
world; and declared boldly that art was, like science, not national,
but essentially cosmopolitan; and then, becoming aware of the anomaly
of his genius in his generation, Mr. Whistler undertook to explain
away the anomaly by ignoring the fifth century B.C. in Athens, the
fifteenth century in Italy, and the seventeenth in Holland, and humbly
submitting that artists never appeared in numbers like swallows, but
singly like aerolites. Now our task is not to disprove these
statements, but to work out the relationship between the author of the
"Butterfly Letters" and the painter of the portrait of "The Mother",
"Lady Archibald Campbell", "Miss Alexander", and the other forty-one
masterpieces that were on exhibition in the Goupil galleries.

There is, however, an intermediate step, which is to point out the
intimate relationship between the letter-writer and the physical man.
Although there is no internal evidence to show that the pictures were
not painted by a Frenchman, an Italian, an Englishman, or a
Westernised Japanese, it would be impossible to read any one of the
butterfly-signed letters without feeling that the author was a man of
nerves rather than a man of muscle, and, while reading, we should
involuntarily picture him short and thin rather than tall and
stalwart. But what has physical condition got to do with painting? A
great deal. The greatest painters, I mean the very greatest--Michael
Angelo, Velasquez, and Rubens--were gifted by Nature with as full a
measure of health as of genius. Their physical constitutions resembled
more those of bulls than of men. Michael Angelo lay on his back for
three years painting the Sistine Chapel. Rubens painted a life-size
figure in a morning of pleasant work, and went out to ride in the
afternoon. But Nature has dowered Mr. Whistler with only genius. His
artistic perceptions are moreexquisite than Velasquez's. He knows as
much, possibly even a little more, and yet the result is never quite
equal. Why? A question of health. _C'est un temperament de chatte_. He
cannot pass from masterpiece to masterpiece like Velasquez. The
expenditure of nerve-force necessary to produce such a work as the
portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell or Miss Alexander exhausts him,
and he is obliged to wait till Nature recoups herself; and these
necessary intervals he has employed in writing letters signed
"Butterfly" to the papers, quarrelling with Oscar over a few mild
jokes, explaining his artistic existence, at the expense of the entire
artistic history of the world, collecting and classifying the
stupidities of the daily and weekly press.

But the lesser side of a man of genius is instructive to study--indeed,
it is necessary that we should study it if we would thoroughly
understand his genius. "No man," it has been very falsely said, "is a
hero to his _valet de chambre_." The very opposite is the truth. Man
will bow the knee only to his own image and likeness. The deeper the
humanity, the deeper the adoration; and from this law not even divinity
is excepted. All we adore is human, and through knowledge of the flesh
that grovels we may catch sight of the soul ascending towards the
divine stars.

And so the contemplation of Mr. Whistler, the author of the "Butterfly
Letters", the defender of his little jokes against the plagiarising
tongue, should stimulate rather than interrupt our prostrations. I
said that Nature had dowered Mr. Whistler with every gift except that
of physical strength. If Mr. Whistler had the bull-like health of
Michael Angelo, Rubens, and Hals, the Letters would never have been
written. They were the safety-valve by which his strained nerves found
relief from the intolerable tension of the masterpiece. He has not the
bodily strength to pass from masterpiece to masterpiece, as did the
great ones of old time. In the completed picture slight traces of his
agony remain. But painting is the most indiscreet of all the arts, and
here and there an omission or a feeble indication reveal the painter
to us in moments of exasperated impotence. To understand Mr.
Whistler's art you must understand his body. I do not mean that Mr.
Whistler has suffered from bad health--his health has always been
excellent; all great artists have excellent health, but his
constitution is more nervous than robust. He is even a strong man, but
he is lacking in weight. Were he six inches taller, and his bulk
proportionately increased, his art would be different. Instead of
having painted a dozen portraits, every one--even the mother and Miss
Alexander, which I personally take to be the two best--a little
febrile in its extreme beauty, whilst some, masterpieces though they
be, are clearly touched with weakness, and marked with hysteria--Mr.
Whistler would have painted a hundred portraits, as strong, as
vigorous, as decisive, and as easily accomplished as any by Velasquez
or Hals. But if Nature had willed him so, I do not think we should
have had the Nocturnes, which are clearly the outcome of a
highly-strung, bloodless nature whetted on the whetstone of its own
weakness to an exasperated sense of volatile colour and evanescent
light. It is hardly possible to doubt that this is so when we look on
these canvases, where, in all the stages of her repose, the night
dozes and dreams upon our river--a creole in Nocturne 34, upon whose
trembling eyelids the lustral moon is shining; a quadroon in Nocturne
17, who turns herself out of the light anhungered and set upon some
feast of dark slumber. And for the sake of these gem-like pictures,
whose blue serenities are comparable to the white perfections of
Athenian marbles, we should have done well to yield a littlestrength
in portraiture, if the distribution of Mr. Whistler's genius had been
left in our hands. So Nature has done her work well, and we have no
cause to regret the few pounds of flesh that she withheld. A few
pounds more of flesh and muscle, and we should have had another
Velasquez; but Nature shrinks from repetition, and at the last moment
she said, "The world has had Velasquez, another would be superfluous:
let there be Jimmy Whistler."

In the Nocturnes Mr. Whistler stands alone, withouta rival. In
portraits he is at his best when they are near to his Nocturnes in
intention, when the theme lends itself to an imaginative and
decorative treatment; for instance, as in the mother or Miss
Alexander. Mr. Whistler is at his worst when he is frankly realistic.
I have seen pictures by Mr. Henry Moore that I like better than "The
Blue Wave". Nor does Mr. Whistler seem to me to reach his highest
level in any one of the three portraits--Lady Archibald Campbell,
Miss Rose Corder, and "the lady in the fur jacket". I know that Mr.
Walter Sickert considers the portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell to be
Mr. Whistler's finest portrait. I submit, however, that the attitude
is theatrical and not very explicit. It is a movement that has not
been frankly observed, nor is it a movement that has been frankly
imagined. It has none of the artless elegance of Nature; it is full of
studio combinations; and yet it is not a frankly decorative
arrangement, as the portrait of the mother or Miss Alexander. When
Hals painted his Burgomasters, he was careful to place them in
definite and comprehensible surroundings. He never left us in doubt
either as to the time or the place; and the same obligations of time
and place, which Hals never shirked, seem to me to rest on the
painter, if he elects to paint his sitter in any attitude except one
of conventional repose.

Lady Archibald Campbell is represented in violent movement, looking
backwards over her shoulder as she walks up the picture; yet there is
nothing to show that she is not standing on the low table on which the
model poses, and the few necessary indications are left out because
they would interfere with the general harmony of his picture; because,
if the table on which she is standing were indicated, the movement of
outstretched arm would be incomprehensible. The hand, too, is somewhat
uncertain, undetermined, and a gesture is meaningless that the hand
does not determine and complete. I do not speak of the fingers of the
right hand, which are non-existent; after a dozen attempts to paint
the gloved hand, only an approximate result was obtained. Look at the
ear, and say that the painter's nerves did not give wayonce or twice.
And the likeness is vague and shadowy; she is only fairly
representative of her class. We see fairly well that she is a lady _du
grand monde_, who is, however, not without knowledge of _les environs
du monde_. But she is hardly English--she might be a French woman or
an American. She is a sort of hybrid. Miss Rose Corder and "the lady
in the fur jacket" are equally cosmopolitan; so, too, is Miss
Alexander. Only once has Mr. Whistler expressed race, and that was in
his portrait of his mother. Then these three ladies--Miss Corder, Lady
Archibald Campbell, and "the lady in the fur jacket"--wear the same
complexion: a pale yellow complexion, burnt and dried. With this
conventional tint he obtains unison and a totality of effect; but he
obtains this result at the expense of truth. Hals and Velasquez
obtained the same result, without, however, resorting to such
meretricious methods.

The portrait of the mother is, as every one knows, in the Luxemburg;
but the engraving reminds us of the honour which France has done, but
which we failed to do, to the great painter of the nineteenth century;
and after much hesitation and arguing with myself I feel sure that on
the whole this picture is the painter's greatest work in portraiture.
We forget relations, friends, perhaps even our parents; but that
picture we never forget; it is for ever with us, in sickness and in
health; and in moments of extreme despair, when life seems hopeless,
the strange magic of that picture springs into consciousness, and we
wonder by what strange wizard craft was accomplished the marvellous
pattern on the black curtain that drops past the engraving on the
wall. We muse on the extraordinary beauty of that grey wall, on the
black silhouette sitting so tranquilly, on the large feet on a
foot-stool, on the hands crossed, on the long black dress that fills
the picture with such solemn harmony. Then mark the transition from
grey to white, and how _le ton local_ is carried through the entire
picture, from the highest light to the deepest shadow. Note the
tenderness of that white cap, the white lace cuffs, the certainty, the
choice, and think of anything if you can, even in the best Japanese
work, more beautiful, more delicate, subtle, illusive, certain in its
handicraft; and if the lace cuffs are marvellous, the delicate hands
of a beautiful old age lying in a small lace handkerchief are little
short of miraculous. They are not drawn out in anatomical diagram, but
appear and disappear, seen here on the black dress, lost there in the
small white handkerchief. And when we study the faint, subtle outline
of the mother's face, we seem to feel that there the painter has told
the story of his soul more fully than elsewhere. That soul, strangely
alive to all that is delicate and illusive in Nature, found perhaps
its fullest expression in that grave old Puritan lady looking through
the quiet refinement of her grey room, sitting in solemn profile in
all the quiet habit of her long life.

Compared with later work, the execution is "tighter", if I may be
permitted an expression which will be understood in studios; we are
very far indeed from the admirable looseness of handling which is the
charm of the portrait of Miss Rose Corder. There every object is born
unconsciously beneath the passing of the brush. If not less certain,
the touch in the portrait of the mother is less prompt; but the
painter's vision is more sincere and more intense. And to those who
object to the artificiality of the arrangement, I reply that if the
old lady is sitting in a room artificially arranged, Lady Archibald
Campbell may be said to be walking through incomprehensible space. But
what really decides me to place this portrait above the others is the
fact that while painting his mother's portrait he was unquestionably
absorbed in his model; and absorption in the model is perhaps the
first quality in portrait-painting.

Still, for my own personal pleasure, to satisfy the innermost cravings
of my own soul, I would choose to live with the portrait of Miss
Alexander. Truly, this picture seems to me the most beautiful in the
world. I know very well that it has not the profound beauty of the
Infantes by Velasquez in the Louvre; but for pure magic of inspiration,
is it not more delightful? Just as Shelley's "Sensitive Plant" thrills
the innermost sense like no other poem in the language, the portrait
of Miss Alexander enchants with the harmony of colour, with the melody
of composition.

Strangely original, a rare and unique thing, is this picture, yet we
know whence it came, and may easily appreciate the influences that
brought it into being. Exquisite and happy combination of the art of
an entire nation and the genius of one man-the soul of Japan incarnate
in the body of the immortal Spaniard. It was Japan that counselled the
strange grace of the silhouette, and it was that country, too, that
inspired in a dim, far-off way those subtly sweet and magical passages
from grey to green, from green again to changing evanescent grey. But
a higher intelligence massed and impelled those chords of green and
grey than ever manifested itself in Japanese fan or screen; the means
are simpler, the effect is greater, and by the side of this picture
the best Japanese work seems only facile superficial improvisation. In
the picture itself there is really little of Japan. The painter merely
understood all that Japan might teach. He went to the very root,
appropriating only the innermost essence of its art. We Westerns had
thought it sufficient to copy Nature, but the Japanese knew it was
better to observe Nature. The whole art of Japan is selection, and
Japan taught Mr. Whistler, or impressed upon Mr. Whistler, the
imperative necessity of selection. No Western artist of the present or
of past time--no, not Velasquez himself--ever selected from the model
so tenderly as Mr. Whistler; Japan taught him to consider Nature as a
storehouse whence the artist may pick and choose, combining the
fragments of his choice into an exquisite whole. Sir John Millais' art
is the opposite; there we find no selection; the model is copied--and
sometimes only with sufficient technical skill.

But this picture is throughout a selection from the model; nowhere has
anything been copied brutally, yet the reality of the girl is not

The picture represents a girl of ten or eleven. She is dressed
according to the fashion of twenty years ago--a starched muslin frock,
a small overskirt pale brown, white stockings, square-toed black
shoes. She stands, her left foot advanced, holding in her left hand a
grey felt hat adorned with a long plume reaching nearly to the ground.
The wall behind her is grey with a black wainscot. On the left, far
back in the picture, on a low stool, some grey-green drapery strikes
the highest note of colour in the picture. On the right, in the
foreground, some tall daisies come into the picture, and two
butterflies flutter over the girl's blonde head. This picture seems to
exist principally in the seeing! I mean that the execution is so
strangely simple that the thought, "If I could only see the model like
that, I think Icould do it myself", comes spontaneously into the mind.
And this spontaneous thought is excellent criticism, for three-parts
of Mr. Whistler's art lies in the seeing; no one ever saw Nature so
artistically. Notice on the left the sharp line of the white frock
cutting against the black wainscoting. Were that line taken away, how
much would the picture lose! Look at the leg that is advanced, and
tell me if you can detect the modelling. There is modelling, I know,
but there are no vulgar roundnesses. Apparently, only a flat tint; but
there is on the bone a light, hardly discernible; and this light is
sufficient. And the leg that is turned away, the thick, chubby ankle
of the child, how admirable in drawing; and that touch of darker
colour, how it tells the exact form of the bone! To indicate is the
final accomplishment of the painter's art, and I know no indication
like that ankle bone. And now passing from the feet to the face,
notice, I beg of you to notice--it is one of the points in the
picture--that jaw bone. The face is seen in three-quarter, and to
focus the interest in the face the painter has slightly insisted on
the line of the jaw bone, which, taken in conjunction with the line of
the hair, brings into prominence the oval of the face. In Nature that
charming oval only appeared at moments. The painter seized one of
those moments, and called it into our consciousness as a musician with
certain finger will choose to give prominence to a certain note in a

There must have been a day in Mr. Whistler's life when the artists of
Japan convinced him once and for ever of the primary importance of
selection. In Velasquez, too, there is selection, and very often it is
in the same direction as Mr. Whistler's, but the selection is never, I
think, so much insisted upon; and sometimes in Velasquez there is, as
in the portrait of the Admiral in the National Gallery, hardly any
selection--I mean, of course, conscious selection. Velasquez sometimes
brutally accepted Nature for what she was worth; this Mr. Whistler
never does. But it was Velasquez that gave consistency and strength to
what in Mr. Whistler might have run into an art of trivial but
exquisite decoration. Velasquez, too, had a voice in the composition
of the palette generally, so sober, so grave. The palette of Velasquez
is the opposite of the palette of Rubens; the fantasy of Rubens'
palette created the art of Watteau, Turner, Gainsborough; it obtained
throughout the eighteenth century in England and in France. Chardin
was the one exception. Alone amid the eighteenth century painters he
chose the palette of Velasquez in preference to that of Rubens, and in
the nineteenth century Whistler too has chosen it. It was Velasquez
who taught Mr. Whistler that flowing, limpid execution. In the
painting of that blonde hair there is something more than a souvenir
of the blonde hair of the Infante in the _salle carree_ in the Louvre.
There is also something of Velasquez in the black notes of the shoes.
Those blacks--are they not perfectly observed? How light and dry the
colour is! How heavy and shiny it would have become in other hands!
Notice, too, that in the frock nowhere is there a single touch of pure
white, and yet it is all white--a rich, luminous white that makes
every other white in the gallery seem either chalky or dirty. What an
enchantment and a delight the handling is! How flowing, how supple,
infinitely and beautifully sure, the music of perfect accomplishment!
In the portrait of the mother the execution seems slower, hardly so
spontaneous. For this, no doubt, the subject is accountable. But this
little girl is the very finest flower, and the culminating point of
Mr. Whistler's art. The eye travels over the canvas seeking a fault.
In vain; nothing has been omitted that might have been included,
nothing has been included that might have been omitted. There is much
in Velasquez that is stronger, but nothing in this world ever seemed
to me so perfect as this picture.

The portrait of Carlyle has been painted about an arabesque similar, I
might almost say identical, to that of the portrait of the mother. But
as is usually the case, the attempt to repeat a success has resulted a
failure. Mr. Whistler has sought to vary the arabesque in the
direction of greater naturalness. He has broken the severity of the
line, which the lace handkerchief and the hands scarcely stayed in the
first picture, by placing the philosopher's hat upon his knees, he has
attenuated the symmetry of the picture-frames on the walls, and has
omitted the black curtain which drops through the earlier picture. And
all these alterations seemed to me like so many leaks through which
the eternal something of the first design has run out. A pattern like
that of the egg and dart cannot be disturbed, and Columbus himself
cannot rediscover America. And, turning from the arabesque to the
painting, we notice at once that the balance of colour, held with such
exquisite grace by the curtain on one side and the dress on the other,
is absent in the later work; and if we examine the colours separately
we cannot fail to apprehend the fact that the blacks in the later are
not nearly so beautiful as those in the earlier picture. The blacks of
the philosopher's coat and rug are neither as rich, not as rare, nor
as deep as the blacks of the mother's gown. Never have the vital
differences and the beauty of this colour been brought out as in that
gown and that curtain, never even in Hals, who excels all other
painters in this use of black. Mr. Whistler's failure with the first
colour, when we compare the two pictures, is exceeded by his failure
with the second colour. We miss the beauty of those extraordinary and
exquisite high notes--the cap and cuffs; and the place of the rich,
palpitating greys, so tremulous in the background of the earlier
picture, is taken by an insignificant grey that hardly seems necessary
or helpful to the coat and rug, and is only just raised out of the
commonplace by the dim yellow of two picture-frames. It must be
admitted, however, that the yellow is perfectly successful; it may be
almost said to be what is most attractive in the picture. The greys in
chin, beard, and hair must, however, be admitted to be beautiful,
although they are not so full of charm as the greys in the portrait of
Miss Alexander.

But if Mr. Whistler had only failed in these matters, he might have
still produced a masterpiece. But there is a graver criticism to be
urged against the picture. A portrait is an exact reflection of the
painter's state of soul at the moment of sitting down to paint. We
read in the picture what he really desired; for what he really desired
is in the picture, and his hesitations tell us what he only desired
feebly. Every passing distraction, every weariness, every loss of
interest in the model, all is written upon the canvas. Above all, he
tells us most plainly what he thought about his model--whether he was
moved by love or contempt; whether his moods were critical or
reverential. And what the canvas under consideration tells most
plainly is that Mr. Whistler never forgot his own personality in that
of the ancient philosopher. He came into the room as chirpy and
anecdotal as usual, in no way discountenanced or put about by the
presence of his venerable and illustrious sitter. He had heard that
the Chelsea sage wrote histories which were no doubt very learned, but
he felt no particular interest in the matter. Of reverence, respect,
or intimate knowledge of Carlyle there is no trace on the canvas; and
looked at from this side the picture may be said to be the most
American of all Mr. Whistler's works. "I am quite as big a man as
you", to put it bluntly, was Mr. Whistler's attitude of mind while
painting Carlyle. I do not contest the truth of the opinion. I merely
submit that that is not the frame of mind in which great portraiture
is done.

The drawing is large, ample, and vigorous, beautifully understood, but
not very profound or intimate: the picture seems to have been
accomplished easily, and in excellent health and spirits. The painting
is in Mr. Whistler's later and most characteristic manner. For many
years--for certainly twenty years--his manner has hardly varied at
all. He uses his colour very thin, so thinly that it often hardly
amounts to more than a glaze, and painting is laid over painting, like
skin upon skin. Regarded merely as brushwork, the face of the sage
could hardly be surpassed; the modelling is that beautiful flat
modelling, of which none except Mr. Whistler possesses the secrets.
What the painter saw he rendered with incomparable skill. The vision
of the rugged pensiveness of the old philosophers is as beautiful and
as shallow as a page of De Quincey. We are carried away in a flow of
exquisite eloquence, but the painter has not told us one significant
fact about his model, his nationality, his temperament, his rank, his
manner of life. We learn in a general way that he was a thinker; but
it would have been impossible to draw the head at all and conceal so
salient a characteristic. Mr. Whistler's portrait reveals certain
general observations of life; but has he given one single touch
intimately characteristic of his model?

But if the portrait of Carlyle, when looked at from a certain side,
must be admitted to be not wholly satisfactory, what shall be said of
the portrait of Lady Meux? The dress is a luminous and harmonious
piece of colouring, the material has its weight and its texture and
its character of fold; but of the face it is difficult to say more
than that it keeps its place in the picture. Very often the faces in
Mr. Whistler's portraits are the least interesting part of the
picture; his sitter's face does not seem to interest him more than the
cuffs, the carpet, the butterfly, which hovers about the screen. After
this admission, it will seem to many that it is waste of time to
consider further Mr. Whistler's claim to portraiture. This is not so.
Mr. Whistler is a great portrait painter, though he cannot take
measurements or follow an outline like Holbein.

Like most great painters, he has known how to introduce harmonious
variation into his style by taking from others just as much of their
sense of beauty as his own nature might successfully assimilate. I
have spoken of his assimilation and combination of the art of
Velasquez, and the entire art of Japan, but a still more striking
instance of the power of assimilation, which, strange as it may seem,
only the most original natures possess, is to hand in the early but
extremely beautiful picture, _La femme en blanc_. In the Chelsea
period of his life Mr. Whistler saw a great deal of that singular man,
Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Intensely Italian, though he had never seen
Italy; and though writing no language but ours, still writing it with
a strange hybrid grace, bringing into it the rich and voluptuous
colour and fragrance of the south, expressing in picture and poem
nothing but an uneasy haunting sense of Italy--opulence of women, not
of the south, nor yet of the north, Italian celebration, mystic altar
linen, and pomp of gold vestment and legendary pane. Of such hauntings
Rossetti's life and art were made.

His hold on poetic form was surer than his hold on pictorial form,
wherein his art is hardly more than poetic reminiscence of Italian
missal and window pane. Yet even as a painter his attractiveness
cannot be denied, nor yet the influence he has exercised on English
art. Though he took nothing from his contemporaries, all took from
him, poets and painters alike. Not even Mr. Whistler could refrain,
and in _La femme en blanc_ he took from Rossetti his manner of feeling
and seeing. The type of woman is the same--beauty of dreaming eyes and
abundant hair. And in this picture we find a poetic interest, a moral
sense, if I may so phrase it, nowhere else to be detected, though you
search Mr. Whistler's work from end to end. The woman stands idly
dreaming by her mirror. She is what is her image in the glass, an
appearance that has come, and that will go leaving no more trace than
her reflection on the glass when she herself has moved away. She sees
in her dream the world like passing shadows thrown on an illuminated
cloth. She thinks of her soft, white, and opulent beauty which fills
her white dress; her chin is lifted, and above her face shines the
golden tumult of her hair.

The picture is one of the most perfect that Mr. Whistler has painted;
it is as perfect as the mother or Miss Alexander, and though it has
not the beautiful, flowing, supple execution of the "symphony in
white", I prefer it for sake of its sheer perfection. It is more
perfect than the symphony in white, though there is nothing in it
quite so extraordinary as the loving gaiety of the young girl's face.
The execution of that face is as flowing, as spontaneous, and as
bright as the most beautiful day of May. The white drapery clings like
haze about the edge of the woods, and the flesh tints are pearly and
evanescent as dew, and soft as the colour of a flowering mead. But the
kneeling figure is not so perfect, and that is why I reluctantly give
my preference to the woman by the mirror. Turning again to this
picture, I would fain call attention to the azalias, which, in
irresponsible decorative fashion, come into the right-hand corner. The
delicate flowers show bright and clear on the black-leaded fire-grate;
and it is in the painting of such detail that Mr. Whistler exceeds all
painters. For purity of colour and the beauty of pattern, these
flowers are surely as beautiful as anything that man's hand has ever

Mr. Whistler has never tried to be original. He has never attempted to
reproduce on canvas the discordant and discrepant extravagancies of
Nature as M. Besnard and Mr. John Sargent have done. His style has
always been marked by such extreme reserve that the critical must have
sometimes inclined to reproach him with want of daring, and ask
themselves where was the innovator in this calculated reduction of
tones, in these formal harmonies, in this constant synthesis, sought
with far more disregard for superfluous detail than Hals, for
instance, had ever dared to show. The still more critical, while
admitting the beauty and the grace of this art, must have often asked
themselves what, after all, has this painter invented, what new
subject-matter has he introduced into art?

It was with the night that Mr. Whistler set his seal and sign-manual
upon art; above all others he is surely the interpreter of the night.
Until he came the night of the painter was as ugly and insignificant
as any pitch barrel; it was he who first transferred to canvas the
blue transparent darkness which folds the world from sunset to
sunrise. The purple hollow, and all the illusive distances of the
gas-lit river, are Mr. Whistler's own. It was not the unhabited night
of lonely plain and desolate tarn that he chose to interpret, but the
difficult populous city night--the night of tall bridges and vast
water rained through with lights red and grey, the shores lined with
the lamps of the watching city. Mr. Whistler's night is the vast blue
and golden caravanry, where the jaded and the hungry and the
heavy-hearted lay down their burdens, and the contemplative freed from
the deceptive reality of the day understand humbly and pathetically
the casualness of our habitation, and the limitlessreality of a plan,
the intention of which we shall never know. Mr. Whistler's nights are
the blue transparent darknesses which are half of the world's life.
Sometimes he foregoes even the aid of earthly light, and his picture
is but luminous blue shadow, delicately graduated, as in the nocturne
in M. Duret's collection--purple above and below, a shadow in the
middle of the picture--a little less and there would be nothing.

There is the celebrated nocturne in the shape of a T--one pier of the
bridge and part of the arch, the mystery of the barge, and the figure
guiding the barge in the current, the strange luminosity of the
fleeting river! lines of lights, vague purple and illusive distance,
and all is so obviously beautiful that one pauses to consider how
there could have been stupidity enough to deny it. Of less dramatic
significance, but of equal esthetic value, is the nocturne known as
"the Cremorne lights". Here the night is strangely pale; one of those
summer nights when a slight veil of darkness is drawn for an hour or
more across the heavens. Another of quite extraordinary beauty, even
in a series of extraordinarily beautiful things, is "Night on the
Sea". The waves curl white in the darkness, and figures are seen as in
dreams; lights burn low, ships rock in the offing, and beyond them,
lost in the night, a vague sense of illimitable sea.

Out of the night Mr. Whistler has gathered beauty as august as Phidias
took from Greek youths. Nocturne II is the picture which Professor
Ruskin declared to be equivalent to flinging a pot of paint in the
face of the public. But that black night, filling the garden even to
the sky's obliteration, is not black paint but darkness. The whirl of
the St. Catherine wheel in the midst of this darkness amounts to a
miracle, and the exquisite drawing of the shower of falling fire would
arouse envy in Rembrandt, and prompt imitation. The line of the
watching crowd is only just indicated, and yet the garden is crowded.
There is another nocturne in which rockets are rising and falling, and
the drawing of these two showers of fire is so perfect, that when you
turn quickly towards the picture, the sparks really do ascend and

More than any other painter, Mr. Whistler's influence has made itself
felt on English art. More than any other man, Mr. Whistler has helped
to purge art of the vice of subject and belief that the mission of the
artist is to copy nature. Mr. Whistler's method is more learned, more
co-ordinate than that of any other painter of our time; all is
preconceived from the first touch to the last, nor has there ever been
much change in the method, the painting has grown looser, but the
method was always the same; to have seen him paint at once is to have
seen him paint at every moment of his life. Never did a man seem more
admirably destined to found a school which should worthily carry on
the tradition inherited from the old masters and represented only by
him. All the younger generation has accepted him as master, and that
my generation has not profited more than it has, leads me to think,
however elegant, refined, emotional, educated it may be, and anxious
to achieve, that it is lacking in creative force, that it is, in a
word, slightly too slight.


Of the great painters born before 1840 only two now are living, Puvis
de Chavannes and Degas. It is true to say of Chavannes that he is the
only man alive to whom a beautiful building might be given for
decoration without fear that its beauty would be disgraced. He is the
one man alive who can cover twenty feet of wall or vaulted roof with
decoration that will neither deform the grandeur nor jar the greyness
of the masonry. Mural decoration in his eyes is not merely a picture
let into a wall, nor is it necessarily mural decoration even if it be
painted on the wall itself: it is mural decoration if it form part of
the wall, if it be, if I may so express myself, a variant of the
stonework. No other painter ever kept this end so strictly before his
eyes. For this end Chavannes reduced his palette almost to a
monochrome, for this end he models in two flat tints, for this end he
draws in huge undisciplined masses.

Let us examine his palette: many various greys, some warmed with
vermilion, some with umber, and many more that are mere mixtures of
black and white, large quantities of white, for Chavannes paints in a
high key, wishing to disturb the colour of the surrounding stone as
little as may be. Grey and blue are the natural colours of building
stone; when the subject will not admit of subterfuge, he will
introduce a shade of pale green, as in his great decoration entitled
"Summer"; but grey is always the foundation of his palette, and it
fills the middle of the picture. The blues are placed at the top and
bottom, and he works between them in successive greys. The sky in the
left-hand top corner is an ultramarine slightly broken with white; the
blue gown at the bottom of the picture, not quite in the middle of the
picture, a little on the right, is also ultramarine, and here the
colour is used nearly in its first intensity. And the colossal woman
who wears the blue gown leans against some grey forest tree trunk, and
a great white primeval animal is what her forms and attitude suggest.
There are some women about her, and they lie and sit in disconnected
groups like fragments fallen from a pediment. Nor is any attempt made
to relate, by the aid of vague look or gesture, this group in the
foreground to the human hordes engaged in building enclosures in the
middle distance. In Chavannes the composition is always as disparate
as an early tapestry, and the drawing of the figures is almost as
rude. If I may be permitted a French phrase, I will say _un peu
sommaire_ quite unlike the beautiful simplifications of Raphael or
Ingres, or indeed any of the great masters. They could simplify
without becoming rudimentary; Chavannes cannot.

And now a passing word about the handicraft, the manner of using the
brush. Chavannes shares the modern belief-and only in this is he
modern--that for the service of thought one instrument is as apt as
another, and that, so long as that man's back--he who is pulling at
the rope fastened at the tree's top branches--is filled in with two
grey tints, it matters not at all how the task is accomplished. Truly
the brush has plastered that back as a trowel might, and the result
reminds one of stone and mortar, as Millet's execution reminds one of
mud-pie making. The handicraft is as barbarous in Chavannes as it is
in Millet, and we think of them more as great poets working in a not
wholly sympathetic and, in their hands, somewhat rebellious material.
Chavannes is as an epic poet whose theme is the rude grandeur of the
primeval world, and who sang his rough narrative to a few chords
struck on a sparely-stringed harp that his own hands have fashioned.
And is not Millet a sort of French Wordsworth who in a barbarous
Breton dialect has told us in infinitely touching strains of the noble
submission of the peasant's lot, his unending labours and the
melancholy solitude of the country.

As poet-painters, none admires these great artists more than I, but
the moment we consider them as painters we have to compare the
handicraft of the decoration entitled "Summer" with that of Francis
the First meeting Marie de Medicis; we have to compare the handicraft
of the Sower and the Angelus with that of "Le Bon Bock" and "L'enfant
a Pepee"; and the moment we institute such comparison does not the
inferiority of Chavannes' and Millet's handicraft become visible even
to the least initiated in the art of painting, and is not the
conclusion forced upon us that however Manet may be judged inferior to
Millet as a poet, as a painter he is easily his superior? And as
Millet's and Chavannes' brush-work is deficient in beauty so is their
drawing. Preferring decorative unity to completeness of drawing,
Chavannes does not attempt more than some rudimentary indications.
Millet seems even to have desired to omit technical beauty, so that he
might concentrate all thought on the poetic synthesis he was gathering
from the earth. Degas, on the contrary, draws for the sake of the
drawing-The Ballet Girl, The Washerwoman, The Fat Housewife bathing
herself, is only a pretext for drawing; and Degas chose these
extraordinary themes because the drawing of the ballet girl and the
fat housewife is less known than that of the nymph and the Spartan
youth. Painters will understand what I mean by the drawing being "less
known",--that knowledge of form which sustains the artist like a
crutch in his examination of the model, and which as it were dictates
to the eye what it must see. So the ballet girl was Degas' escapement
from the thraldom of common knowledge. The ballet girl was virgin
soil. In her meagre thwarted forms application could freely be made of
the supple incisive drawing which bends to and flows with the
character--that drawing of which Ingres was the supreme patron, and of
which Degas is the sole inheritor.

Until a few years ago Chavannes never sold a picture. Millet lived his
life in penury and obscurity, but thirty years of persistent ridicule
having failed to destroy Degas' genius, some recognition has been
extended to it. The fate of all great artists in the nineteenth
century is a score years of neglect and obloquy. They may hardly hope
for recognition before they are fifty; some few cases point the other
way, but very few--the rule is thirty years of neglect and obloquy.
Then a flag of truce will be held out to the recalcitrant artist who
cannot be prevented from painting beautiful pictures. "Come, let us be
friends; let's kiss and make it up; send a picture to the academy;
we'll hang it on the line, and make you an academician the first
vacancy that occurs." To-day the academy would like to get Mr.
Whistler, but Mr. Whistler replies to the academy as Degas replied to
the government official who wanted a picture for the Luxembourg. _Non,
je ne veux pas etre conduit au poste par les sargents de ville

To understand Manet's genius, the nineteenth century would have
required ten years more than usual, for in Manet there is nothing but
good painting, and there is nothing that the nineteenth century
dislikes as much as good painting. In Whistler there is an exquisite
and inveigling sense of beauty; in Degas there is an extraordinary
acute criticism of life, and so the least brutal section of the public
ended by pardoning Whistler his brush-work, and Degas his beautiful
drawing. But in Manet there is nothing but good painting, and it is
therefore possible that he might have lived till he was eighty without
obtaining recognition. Death alone could accomplish the miracle of
opening the public's eyes to his merits. During his life the excuse
given for the constant persecution waged against him by the
"authorities" was his excessive originality. But this was mere
subterfuge; what was really hated-what made him so unpopular-was the
extraordinary beauty of his handling. Whatever he painted became
beautiful--his hand was dowered with the gift of quality, and there
his art began and ended. His painting of still life never has been
exceeded, and never will be. I remember a pear that used to hang in
his studio. Hals would have taken his hat off to it.

Twenty years ago Manet's name was a folly and a byword in the Parisian
studios. The students of the Beaux Arts used to stand before his salon
pictures and sincerely wonder how any one could paint like that; the
students were quite sure that it was done for a joke, to attract
attention; and then, not quite sincerely, one would say, "But I'll
undertake to paint you three pictures a week like that." I say that
the remark was never quite sincere, for I never heard it made without
some one answering, "I don't think you could; just come and look at it
again--there's more in it than you think." No doubt we thought Manet
very absurd, but there was always something forced and artificial in
our laughter and the ridicule we heaped upon him.

But about that time my opinions were changing; and it was a great
event in my life when Manet spoke to me in the cafe of the Nouvelle
Athene. I knew it was Manet, he had been pointed out to me, and I had
admired the finely-cut face from whose prominent chin a closely-cut
blonde beard came forward; and the aquiline nose, the clear grey eyes,
the decisive voice, the remarkable comeliness of the well-knit figure,
scrupulously but simply dressed, represented a personality curiously
sympathetic. On several occasions shyness had compelled me to abandon
my determination to speak to him. But once he had spoken I entered
eagerly into conversation, and next day I went to his studio. It was
quite a simple place. Manet expended his aestheticism on his canvases,
and not upon tapestries and inlaid cabinets. There was very little in
his studio except his pictures: a sofa, a rocking-chair, a table for
his paints, and a marble table on iron supports, such as one sees in
cafes. Being a fresh-complexioned, fair-haired young man, the type
most suitable to Manet's palette, he at once asked me to sit. His
first intention was to paint me in a cafe; he had met me in a cafe,
and he thought he could realise his impression of me in the first
surrounding he had seen me in.

The portrait did not come right; ultimately it was destroyed; but it
gave me every opportunity of studying Manet's method of painting.
Strictly speaking, he had no method; painting with him was a pure
instinct. Painting was one of the ways his nature manifested itself.
That frank, fearless, prompt nature manifested itself in everything
that concerned him--in his large plain studio, full of light as a
conservatory; in his simple, scrupulous clothes, and yet with a touch
of the dandy about them; in decisive speech, quick, hearty, and
informed with a manly and sincere understanding of life. Never was an
artist's inner nature in more direct conformity with his work. There
were no circumlocutions in Manet's nature, there were none in his art.

The colour of my hair never gave me a thought until Manet began to
paint it. Then the blonde gold that came up under his brush filled me
with admiration, and I was astonished when, a few days after, I saw
him scrape off the rough paint and prepare to start afresh.

"Are you going to get a new canvas?"

"No; this will do very well."

"But you can't paint yellow ochre on yellow ochre without getting it

"Yes, I think I can. You go and sit down."

Half-an-hour after he had entirely repainted the hair, and without
losing anything of its brightness. He painted it again and again;
every time it came out brighter and fresher, and the painting never
seemed to lose anything in quality. That this portrait cost him
infinite labour and was eventually destroyed matters nothing; my point
is merely that he could paint yellow over yellow without getting the
colour muddy. One day, seeing that I was in difficulties with a black,
he took a brush from my hand, and it seemed to have hardly touched the
canvas when the ugly heaviness of my tiresome black began to
disappear. There came into it grey and shimmering lights, the shadows
filled up with air, and silk seemed to float and rustle. There was no
method-there was no trick; he merely painted. My palette was the same
to him as his own; he did not prepare his palette; his colour did not
exist on his palette before he put it on the canvas; but working under
the immediate dictation of his eye, he snatched the tints
instinctively, without premeditation. Ah! that marvellous hand, those
thick fingers holding the brush so firmly-somewhat heavily; how
malleable, how obedient, that most rebellious material, oil-colour,
was to his touch. He did with it what he liked. I believe he could rub
a picture over with Prussian blue without experiencing any
inconvenience; half-an-hour after the colour would be fine and

And never did this mysterious power which produces what artists know
as "quality" exist in greater abundance in any fingers than it did in
the slow, thick fingers of Edouard Manet: never since the world began;
not in Velasquez, not in Hals, not in Rubens, not in Titian. As an
artist Manet could not compare with the least among these illustrious
painters; but as a manipulator of oil-colour he never was and never
will be excelled. Manet was born a painter as absolutely as any man
that ever lived, so absolutely that a very high and lucid intelligence
never for a moment came between him and the desire to put anything
into his picture except good painting. I remember his saying to me, "I
also tried to write, but I did not succeed; I never could do anything
but paint." And what a splendid thing for an artist to be able to say.
The real meaning of his words did not reach me till years after;
perhaps I even thought at the time that he was disappointed that he
could not write. I know now what was passing in his mind: _Je ne me
suis pas trompe de metier_. How many of us can say as much? Go round a
picture gallery, and of how many pictures, ancient or modern, can you
stand before and say, _Voila un homme qui ne s'est pas trompe de

Perhaps above all men of our generation Manet made the least mistake
in his choice of a trade. Let those who doubt go and look at the
beautiful picture of Boulogne Pier, now on view in Mr. Van
Wesselingh's gallery, 26 Old Bond Street. The wooden pier goes right
across the canvas; all the wood piers are drawn, there is no attempt
to hide or attenuate their regularity. Why should Manet attenuate when
he could fill the interspaces with the soft lapping of such exquisite
blue sea-water. Above the piers there is the ugly yellow-painted rail.
But why alter the colour when he could keep it in such exquisite
value? On the canvas it is beautiful. In the middle of the pier there
is a mast and a sail which does duty for an awning; perhaps it is only
a marine decoration. A few loungers are on the pier--men and women in
grey clothes. Why introduce reds and blues when he was sure of being
able to set the little figures in their places, to draw them so
firmly, and relieve the grey monotony with such beauty of execution?
It would be vain to invent when so exquisite an execution is always at
hand to relieve and to transform. Mr. Whistler would have chosen to
look at the pier from a more fanciful point of view. Degas would have
taken an odd corner; he would have cut the composition strangely, and
commented on the humanity of the pier. But Manet just painted it
without circumlocutions of any kind. The subject was void of pictorial
relief. There was not even a blue space in the sky, nor yet a dark
cloud. He took it as it was--a white sky, full of an inner radiance,
two sailing-boats floating in mist of heat, one in shadow, the other
in light. Vandervelde would seem trivial and precious beside painting
so firm, so manly, so free from trick, so beautifully logical, and so

Manet did not often paint sea-pieces. He is best known and is most
admired as a portrait-painter, but from time to time he ventured to
trust his painting to every kind of subject-I know even a cattle-piece
by Manet--and his Christ watched over by angels in the tomb is one of
his finest works. His Christ is merely a rather fat model sitting with
his back against a wall, and two women with wings on either side of
him. There is no attempt to suggest a Divine death or to express the
Kingdom of Heaven on the angels' faces. But the legs of the man are as
fine a piece of painting as has ever been accomplished.

In an exhibition of portraits now open in Paris, entitled _Cent
Chefs-d'Oeuvre_, Manet has been paid the highest honour; he himself
would not demand a greater honour--his "Bon Bock" has been hung next
to a celebrated portrait by Hals....

Without seeing it, I know that the Hals is nobler, grander; I know,
supposing the Hals to be a good one, that its flight is that of an
eagle as compared with the flight of a hawk. The comparison is
exaggerated; but, then, so are all comparisons. I also know that Hals
does not tell us more about his old woman than Manet tells us about
the man who sits so gravely by his glass of foaming ale, so clearly
absorbed by it, so oblivious to all other joys but those that it
brings him. Hals never placed any one more clearly in his favourite
hour of the day, the well-desired hour, looked forward to perhaps
since the beginning of the afternoon. In this marvellous portrait we
read the age, the rank, the habits, the limitations, physical and
mental, of the broad-faced man who sits so stolidly, his fat hand
clasping his glass of foaming ale. Nothing has been omitted. We look
at the picture, and the man and his environment become part of our
perception of life. That stout, middle-aged man of fifty, who works
all day in some small business, and goes every evening to his cafe to
drink beer, will abide with us for ever. His appearance, and his mode
of life, which his appearance so admirably expresses, can never become
completely dissociated from our understanding of life. For Manet's
"Bon Bock" is one of the eternal types, a permanent national
conception, as inherent in French life as Polichinelle, Pierrot,
Monsieur Prud'homme, or the Baron Hulot. I have not seen the portrait
for fifteen or eighteen years, and yet I see it as well as if it were
hung on the wall opposite the table on which I am writing this page. I
can see that round, flat face, a little swollen with beer, the small
eyes, the spare beard and moustaches. His feet are not in the picture,
but I know how much he pays for his boots, and how they fit him. Nor
did Hals ever paint better; I mean that nowhere in Hals will you find
finer handling, or a more direct luminous or simple expression of what
the eye saw. It has all the qualities I have enumerated, and yet it
falls short of Hals. It has not the breadth and scope of the great
Dutchman. There is a sense of effort, _on sent le souffle_, and in
Hals one never does. It is more bound together, it does not flow with
the mighty and luminous ease of the _chefs d'oeuvre_ at Haarlem.

But is this Manet's final achievement, the last word he has to say? I
think not. It was painted early in the sixties, probably about the
same period as the Luxembourg picture, when the effects of his Spanish
travel were wearing off, and Paris was beginning to command his art.
Manet used to say, "When Degas was painting Semiramis I was painting
modern Paris." It would have been more true to have said modern Spain.
For it was in Spain that Manet found his inspiration. He had not been
to Holland when he painted his Spanish pictures. Velasquez clearly
inspired them; but there never was in his work any of the noble
delicacies of the Spaniard; it was always nearer to the plainer and
more--forgive the phrase--yokel-like eloquence of Hals. The art of
Hals he seemed to have divined; it seems to have come instinctively to

Manet went to Spain after a few months spent in Couture's studio. Like
all the great artists of our time, he was self-educated--Whistler,
Degas, Courbet, Corot, and Manet wasted little time in other men's
studios. Soon after his return from Spain, by some piece of good luck,
Manet was awarded _une mention honorable_ at the Salon for his
portrait of a toreador. Why this honour was conferred upon him it is
difficult to guess. It must have been the result of some special
influence exerted at a special moment, for ever after--down to the
year of his death--his pictures were considered as an excrescence on
the annual exhibitions at the _Salon_. Every year--down to the year of
his death--the jury, M. Bouguereau et Cie., lamented that they were
powerless to reject these ridiculous pictures. Manet had been placed
_hors concours_, and they could do nothing. They could do nothing
except stand before his pictures and laugh. Oh, I remember it all very
well. We were taught at the Beaux-Arts to consider Manet an absurd
person or else an _epateur_, who, not being able to paint like M.
Gerome, determined to astonish. I remember perfectly well the derision
with which those _chefs d'oeuvre_, "Yachting at Argenteuil" and "Le
Linge", were received. They were in his last style--that bright, clear
painting in which violet shadows were beginning to take the place of
the conventional brown shadows, and the brush-work, too, was looser
and more broken up; in a word, these pictures were the germ from which
has sprung a dozen different schools, all the impressionism and other
isms of modern French art. Before these works, in which the real Manet
appeared for the first time, no one had a good word to say. To kill
them more effectually, certain merits were even conceded to the "Bon
Bock" and the Luxembourg picture.

The "Bon Bock", as we have seen, at once challenges comparison with
Hals. But in "Le Linge" no challenge is sent forth to any one; it is
Manet, all Manet, and nothing but Manet. In this picture he expresses
his love of the gaiety and pleasure of Parisian life. And this
bright-faced, simple-minded woman, who stands in a garden crowded with
the tallest sunflowers, the great flower-crowns drooping above her,
her blue cotton dress rolled up to the elbows, her hands plunged in a
small wash-tub in which she is washing some small linen, habit-shirts,
pocket-handkerchiefs, collars, expresses the joy of homely life in the
French suburb. Her home is one of good wine, excellent omelettes, soft
beds; and the sheets, if they are a little coarse, are spotless, and
retain an odour of lavender-sweetened cupboards. Her little child,
about four years old, is with his mother in the garden; he has strayed
into the foreground of the picture, just in front of the wash-tub, and
he holds a great sunflower in his tiny hand. Beside this picture of
such bright and happy aspect, the most perfect example of that _genre_
known as _la peinture claire_, invented by Manet, and so infamously
and absurdly practised by subsequent imitators--beside this picture so
limpid, so fresh, so unaffected in its handling, a Courbet would seem
heavy and dull, a sort of mock old master; a Corot would seem
ephemeral and cursive; a Whistler would seem thin; beside this picture
of such elegant and noble vision a Stevens would certainly seem
odiously common. Why does not Liverpool or Manchester buy one of these
masterpieces? If the blueness of the blouse frightens the
administrators of these galleries, I will ask them--and perhaps this
would be the more practical project--to consider the purchase of
Manet's first and last historical picture, the death of the
unfortunate Maximilian in Mexico. Under a high wall, over which some
Mexicans are looking, Maximilian and two friends stand in front of the
rifles. The men have just fired, and death clouds the unfortunate
face. On the right a man stands cocking his rifle. Look at the
movement of the hand, how well it draws back the hammer. The face is
nearly in profile--how intent it is on the mechanism. And is not the
drawing of the legs, the boots, the gaiters, the arms lifting the
heavy rifle with slow deliberation, more massive, firm, and concise
than any modern drawing? How ample and how exempt from all trick, and
how well it says just what the painter wanted to say! This picture,
too, used to hang in his studio. But the greater attractiveness of "Le
Linge" prevented me from discerning its more solemn beauty. But last
May I came across it unexpectedly, and after looking at it for some
time the thought that came was--no one painted better, no one will
ever paint better.

The Luxembourg picture, although one of the most showy and the
completest amongst Manet's masterpieces, is not, in my opinion, either
the most charming or the most interesting; and yet it would be
difficult to say that this of the many life-sized nudes that France
has produced during the century is not the one we could least easily
spare. Ingres' Source compares not with things of this century, but
with the marbles of the fourth century B.C. Cabanel's Venus is a
beautiful design, but its destruction would create no appreciable gap
in the history of nineteenth century art. The destruction of "Olympe"

The picture is remarkable not only for the excellence of the
execution, but for a symbolic intention nowhere else to be found in
Manet's works. The angels on either side of his dead Christ
necessitated merely the addition of two pairs of wings--a convention
which troubled him no more than the convention of taking off his hat
on entering a church. But in "Olympe" we find Manet departing from the
individual to the universal. The red-headed woman who used to dine at
the _Ratmort_ does not lie on a modern bed but on the couch of all
time; and she raises herself from amongst her cushions, setting forth
her somewhat meagre nudity as arrogantly and with the same calm
certitude of her sovereignty as the eternal Venus for whose prey is
the flesh of all men born. The introduction of a bouquet bound up in
large white paper does not prejudice the symbolic intention, and the
picture would do well for an illustration to some poem to be found in
_"Les fleurs du Mal"_. It may be worth while to note here that
Baudelaire printed in his volume a quatrain inspired by one of Manet's
Spanish pictures.

But after this slight adventure into symbolism, Manet's eyes were
closed to all but the visible world. The visible world of Paris he saw
henceforth--truly, frankly, and fearlessly, and more beautifully than
any of his contemporaries. Never before was a great man's mind so
strictly limited to the range of what his eyes saw. Nature wished it
so, and, having discovered nature's wish, Manet joined his desire with
Nature's. I remember his saying as he showed me some illustrations he
had done for Mallarme's translation of Edgar Poe's poem, "You'll admit
that it doesn't give you much idea 'of a kingdom by the sea.'" The
drawing represented the usual sea-side watering place--the beach with
a nursemaid at full length; children building sand castles, and some
small sails in the offing.

So Manet was content to live by the sight, and by the sight alone; he
was a painter, and had neither time nor taste for such ideals as Poe's
magical Annabel Lee. Marvellous indeed must have been the eyes that
could have persuaded such relinquishment. How marvellous they were we
understand easily when we look at "Olympe". Eyes that saw truly, that
saw beautifully and yet somewhat grossly. There is much vigour in the
seeing, there is the exquisite handling of Hals, and there is the
placing, the setting forth of figures on the canvas, which was as
instinctively his as it was Titian's. Hals and Velasquez possessed all
those qualities, and something more. They would not have been
satisfied with that angular, presumptuous, and obvious drawing, harsh
in its exterior limits and hollow within--the head a sort of
convulsive abridgment, the hand void, and the fingers too, if we seek
their articulations. An omission must not be mistaken for a
simplification, and for all his omissions Manet strives to make amend
by the tone. It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful
syntheses than that pale yellow, a beautiful golden sensation, and the
black woman, the attendant of this light of love, who comes to the
couch with a large bouquet fresh from the boulevard, is certainly a
piece of painting that Rubens and Titian would stop to admire.

But when all has been said, I prefer Manet in the quieter and I think
the more original mood in the portrait of his sister-in-law, Madame
Morisot. The portrait is in M. Duret's collection; it hangs in a not
too well lighted passage, and if I did not spend six or ten minutes in
admiration before this picture, I should feel that some familiar
pleasure had drifted out of my yearly visit to Paris. Never did a
white dress play so important or indeed so charming a part in a
picture. The dress is the picture--this common white dress, with black
spots, _une robe a poix, une petite confection de soixante cinq
francs_, as the French would say; and very far it is from all
remembrance of the diaphanous, fairy-like skirts of our eighteenth
century English school, but I swear to you no less charming. It is a
very simple and yet a very beautiful reality. A lady, in white dress
with black spots, sitting on a red sofa, a dark chocolate red, in the
subdued light of her own quiet, prosaic French _appartment, le
deuxieme au dessus l'entre-sol_. The drawing is less angular, less
constipated than that of "Olympe". How well the woman's body is in the
dress! there is the bosom, the waist, the hips, the knees, and the
white stockinged foot in the low shoe, coming from out the dress. The
drawing about the hips and bosom undulates and floats, vague and yet
precise, in a manner that recalls Harlem, and it is not until we turn
to the face that we come upon ominous spaces unaccounted for, forms
unexplained. The head is so charming that it seems a pity to press our
examination further. But to understand Manet's deficiency is to
understand the abyss that separates modern from ancient art, and the
portrait of Madame Morisot explains them as well as another, for the
deficiency I wish to point out exists in Manet's best portraits as
well as in his worst. The face in this picture is like the face in
every picture by Manet. Three or four points are seized, and the
spaces between are left unaccounted for. Whistler has not the strength
of Velasquez; Manet is not as complete as Hals.


In the seventeenth century were Poussin and Claude; in the eighteenth
Watteau, Boucher, Chardin, and many lesser lights--Fragonard, Pater,
and Lancret. But notwithstanding the austere grandeur of Poussin and
the beautiful, if somewhat too reasonable poetry of Claude, the
infinite perfection of Watteau, the charm of that small French
Velasquez Chardin, and the fascinations and essentially French genius
of all this group (Poussin and Claude were entirely Roman), I think we
must place France's artistic period in the nineteenth century.

Nineteenth century art began in France in the last years of the
eighteenth century. It began well, for it began with its greatest
painters--Ingres, Corot, and Delacroix. Ingres was born in 1780,
Gericault in 1791, Corot in 1796, Delacroix in 1798, Diaz in 1809,
Dupre in 1812, Rousseau in 1812, Jacques in 1813, Meissonier in 1815,
Millet in 1815, Troyon in 1816, Daubigny in 1817, Courbet in 1819,
Fromentin in 1820, Monticelli in 1824, Puvis de Chavannes in 1824,
Cabanel in 1825, Hervier in 1827, Vollon in 1833, Manet in 1833, Degas
in 1834. With a little indulgence the list might be considerably

The circumstances in which this artistic manifestation took place were
identical with the circumstances which brought about every one of the
great artistic epochs. It came upon France as a consequence of huge
national aspiration, when nationhood was desired and disaster had
joined men together in struggle, and sent them forth on reckless
adventure. It has been said that art is decay, the pearl in the
oyster; but such belief seems at variance with any reading of history.
The Greek sculptors came after Salamis and Marathon; the Italian
renaissance came when Italy was distracted with revolution and was
divided into opposing states. Great empires have not produced great
men. Art came upon Holland after heroic wars in which the Dutchmen
vehemently asserted their nationhood, defending their country against
the Spaniard, even to the point of letting in the sea upon the
invaders. Art came upon England when England was most adventurous,
after the victories of Marlborough. Art came upon France after the
great revolution, after the victories of Marengo and Austerlitz, after
the burning of Moscow. A unique moment of nationhood gave birth to a
long list of great artists, just as similar national enthusiasm gave
birth to groups of great artists in England, in Holland, in Florence,
in Venice, in Athens.

Having determined the century of France's artistic period we will ask
where we shall place it amongst the artist period of the past.
Comparison with Greece, Italy, or Venice is manifestly impossible; the
names of Rembrandt, Hals, Ruysdael, Peter de Hoogh, Terburg, and Cuyp
give us pause. We remember the names of Ingres, Delacroix, Corot,
Millet, and Degas. Even the divine name of Ingres cannot save the
balance from sinking on the side of Holland. Then we think of
Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney, Wilson, and Morland, and wonder how
they compare with the Frenchmen. The best brains were on the French
side, they had more pictorial talent, and yet the school when taken as
a whole is not so convincing as the English. Why, with better brains,
and certainly more passion and desire of achievement, does the French
school fall behind the English? Why, notwithstanding its extraordinary
genius, does it come last in merit as it comes last in time amongst
the world's artistic epochs? Has the nineteenth century brought any
new intention into art which did not exist before in England, Holland,
or Italy? Yes, the nineteenth century has brought a new intention into
art, and I think that it is this very new intention that has caused
the failure of the nineteenth century. To explain myself, I will have
to go back to first principles.

In the beginning the beauty of man was the artist's single theme.
Science had not then relegated man to his exact place in creation: he
reigned triumphant, Nature appearing, if at all, only as a kind of
aureole. The Egyptian, the Greek, and the Roman artists saw nothing,
and cared for nothing, except man; the representation of his beauty,
his power, and his grandeur was their whole desire, whether they
carved or painted their intention, and I may say the result was the
same. The painting of Apelles could not have differed from the
sculpture of Phidias; painting was not then separated from her elder
sister. In the early ages there was but one art; even in Michael
Angelo's time the difference between painting and sculpture was so
slight as to be hardly worth considering. Is it possible to regard the
"Last Judgment" as anything else but a coloured bas-relief, more
complete and less perfect than the Greeks? Michael Angelo's artistic
outlook was the same as Phidias'. One chose the "Last Judgment" and
the other "Olympus", but both subjects were looked at from the same
point of view. In each instance the question asked was--what
opportunity do they afford for the display of marvellous human form?
And when Michael Angelo carved the "Moses" and painted the "St.
Jerome" he was as deaf and blind as any Greek to all other
consideration save the opulence and the magic of drapery, the
vehemence and the splendour of muscle. Nearly two thousand years had
gone by and the artistic outlook had not changed at all; three hundred
years have passed since Michael Angelo, and inthose three hundred
years what revolution has not been effected? How different our
estheticism, our aims, our objects, our desires, our aspiration, and
how different our art!

After Michael Angelo painting and sculpture became separate arts:
sculpture declined, and colour filled the whole artistic horizon. But
this change was the only change; the necessities of the new medium had
to be considered; but the Italian and Venetian painters continued to
view life and art from the same side. Michael Angelo chose his
subjects merely because of the opportunities they offered for the
delineation of form, Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese chose theirs
merely for the opportunities they offered for the display of colour. A
new medium of expression had been discovered, that was all. The themes
of their pictures were taken from the Bible, if you will, but the
scenes they represented with so much pomp of colour were seen by them
through the mystery of legend, and the vision was again sublimated by
naive belief and primitive aspiration.

The stories of the Old and New Testaments were not anecdotes; faith
and ignorance had raised them above the anecdote, and they had become
epics, whether by intensity of religious belief--as in the case of the
monk of Fiesole--or by being given sublime artistic form--for paganism
was not yet dead in the world to witness Leonardo, Raphael, and Andrea
del Sarto. To these painters Biblical subjects were a mere pretext for
representing man in all his attributes; and when the same subjects
were treated by the Venetians, they were transformed in a pomp of
colour, and by an absence of all _true_ colour and by contempt for
history and chronology became epical and fantastical. It is only
necessary to examine any one of the works of the great Venetians to
see that they bestowed hardly a thought on the subject of their
pictures. When Titian painted the "Entombment of Christ", what did he
see? A contrast--a white body, livid and dead, carried by
full-blooded, red-haired Italians, who wept, and whose sorrow only
served to make them more beautiful. That is how he understood a
subject. The desire to be truthful was not very great, nor was the
desire to be new much more marked; to be beautiful was the first and
last letter of a creed of which we know very little to-day.

Art died in Italy, and the subject had not yet appeared; and at the
end of the sixteenth century the first painters of the great Dutch
school were born, and before 1650 a new school, entirely original,
having nothing in common with anything that had gone before, had
formulated its aestheticism and produced masterpieces. In these
masterpieces we find no suspicion of anything that might be called a
subject; the absence of subject is even more conspicuous in the
Dutchmen than in the Italians. In the Italian painters the subject
passed unperceived in a pomp of colour or a Pagan apotheosis of
humanity; in the Dutchmen it is dispensed with altogether. No longer
do we read of miracles or martyrdoms, but of the most ordinary
incidents of everyday life. Turning over the first catalogue to hand
of Dutch pictures, I read: "View of a Plain, with shepherd, cows, and
sheep in the foreground"; "The White Horse in the Riding School"; "A
Lady Playing the Virginal"; "Peasants Drinking Outside a Tavern";
"Peasants Drinking in a Tavern"; "Peasants Gambling Outside a Tavern";
"Brick-making in a Landscape"; "The Wind-mill"; "The Water-mill";
"Peasants Bringing Home the Hay". And so on, and so on. If we meet
with a military skirmish, we are not told where the skirmish took
place, nor what troops took part in the skirmish. "A Skirmish in a
Rocky Pass" is all the information that is vouchsafed to us. Italian
art is invention from end to end, in Dutch art no slightest trace of
invention is to be found; one art is purely imaginative, the other is
plainly realistic; and yet, at an essential point, the two arts
coincide; in neither does the subject prevail; and if Dutch art is
more truthful than Italian art, it is because they were unimaginative,
stay-at-home folk, whose feet did not burn for foreign travel, and
whose only resource was, therefore, to reproduce the life around them,
and into that no element of curiosity could come. For their whole
country was known to them; even when they left their native town they
still continued to paint what they had seen since they were little

And, like Italian, Dutch art died before the subject had appeared. It
was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the subject
really began to make itself felt, and, like the potato blight or
phylloxera, it soon became clear that it had come to stay. I think
Greuze was the first to conceive a picture after the fashion of a
scene in a play--I mean those domestic dramas which he invented, and
in which the interest of the subject so clearly predominates--"The
Prodigal Son", for instance. In this picture we have the domestic
drama exactly as a stage manager would set it forth. The indignant
father, rising from table, prepares to anathematise the repentant son,
who stands on the threshold, the weeping mother begs forgiveness for
her son, the elder girl advances shyly, the younger children play with
their toys, and the serving-girl drops the plate of meat which she is
bringing in. And ever since the subject has taken first place in the
art of France, England, and Germany, and in like measure as the
subject made itself felt, so did art decline.

For the last hundred years painters seem to have lived in libraries
rather than in studios. All literatures and all the sciences have been
pressed into the service of painting, and an Academy catalogue is in
itself a liberal education. In it you can read choice extracts from
the Bible, from Shakespeare, from Goethe, from Dante. You can dip into
Greek and Latin literature, history--ancient and modern--you can learn
something of all mythologies-Pagan, Christian, and Hindoo; if your
taste lies in the direction of Icelandic legends, you will not be
disappointed in your sixpennyworth. For the last hundred years the
painter seems to have neglected nothing except to learn how to paint.

For more than a hundred years painting has been in service. She has
acted as a sort of handmaiden to literature, her mission being to make
clear to the casual and the unlettered what the lettered had already
understood and enjoyed in a more subtle and more erudite form. But to
pass from the abstract to the concrete, and, so far as regards
subject, to make my meaning quite clear to every one, I cannot do
better than to ask my readers to recall Mr. Luke Fildes' picture of
"The Doctor". No better example could be selected of a picture in
which the subject is the supreme interest. True that Mr. Fildes has
not taken his subject from novel or poem; in this picture he may have
been said to have been his own librettist, and perhaps for that very
reason the subject is the one preponderating interest in the picture.
He who doubts if this be so has only to ask himself if any critic
thought of pointing to any special passage of colour in this picture,
of calling attention to the quality of the modelling or the ability of
the drawing. No; what attracted attention was the story. Would the
child live or die? Did that dear, good doctor entertain any hopes of
the poor little thing's recovery? And the poor parents, how grieved
they seemed! Perhaps it is their only child. The picture is typical of
contemporary art, which is nearly all conceived in the same spirit,
and can therefore have no enduring value. And if by chance the English
artist does occasionally escape from the vice of subject for subject's
sake, he almost invariably slips into what I may called the derivative
vices--exactness of costume, truth of effect and local colour. To
explain myself on this point, I will ask the reader to recall any one
of Mr. Alma Tadema's pictures; it matters not a jot which is chosen.
That one, for instance, where, in a circular recess of white marble,
Sappho reads to a Greek poet, or is it the young man who is reading to
Sappho and her maidens? The interest of the picture is purely
archaeological. According to the very latest researches, the ornament
which Greek women wore in their hair was of such a shape, and Mr.
Tadema has reproduced the shape in his picture. Further researches are
made, and it is discovered that that ornament was not worn until a
hundred years later. The picture is therefore deprived of some of its
interest, and the researches of the next ten years may make it appear
as old-fashioned as the Greek pictures of the last two generations
appear in our eyes to-day. Until then it is as interesting as a page
of Smith's _Classical Dictionary_. We look at it and we say, "How
curious! And that was how the Greeks washed and dressed themselves!"

When Mr. Holman Hunt conceived the idea of a picture of Christ earning
His livelihood by the sweat of His brow, it seemed to him to be quite
necessary to go to Jerusalem. There he copied a carpenter's shop from
nature, and he filled it with Arab tools and implements, feeling sure
that, the manners and customs having changed but little in the East,
it was to be surmised that such tools and implements must be nearly
identical with those used eighteen centuries ago. To dress the Virgin
in sumptuous flowing robes, as Raphael did, was clearly incorrect; the
Virgin was a poor woman, and could not have worn more than a single
garment, and the garment she wore probably resembled the dress of the
Arab women of the present day, and so on and so on. Through the window
we see the very landscape that Christ looked upon. From the point of
view of the art critic of the _Daily Telegraph_ nothing could be
better; the various sites and prospects are explained and commented
upon, and the heart of middle-class England beats in sympathetic
response. But the real picture-lover sees nothing save two
geometrically drawn figures placed in the canvas like diagrams in a
book of Euclid. And the picture being barren of artistic interest, his
attention is caught by the Virgin's costume, and the catalogue informs
him that Mr. Hunt's model was an Arab woman in Jerusalem, whose dress
in all probability resembled the dress the Virgin wore two thousand
years ago. The carpenter's shop he is assured is most probably an
exact counterpart of the carpenter's shop in which Christ worked. How
very curious! how very curious!

Curiosity in art has always been a corruptive influence, and the art
of our century is literally putrid with curiosity. Perhaps the desire
of home was never so fixed and so real in any race as some would have
us believe. At all times there have been men whose feet itched for
travel; even in Holland, the country above all others which gave
currency to the belief in the stay-at-home instinct, there were always
adventurous spirits who yearned for strange skies and lands. It was
this desire of travel that destroyed the art of Holland in the
seventeenth century. I can hardly imagine an article that would be
more instructive and valuable than one dealing precisely with those
Dutchmen who went to Italy in quest of romance, poetry, and general
artistic culture, for travel has often had an injurious effect on art.
I do not say foreign travel, I say any travel. The length of the
journey counts for nothing, once the painter's inspiration springs
from the novelty of the colour, or the character of the landscape, or
the interest that a strange costume suggests. There are painters who
have never been further than Maidenhead, and who bring back what I
should call _notes de voyage_; there are others who have travelled
round the world and have produced general aspects bearing neither
stamp nor certificate of mileage--in other words, pictures. There are,
therefore, two men who must not be confused one with the other, the
traveller that paints and the painter that travels.

Every day we hear of a painter who has been to Norway, or to Brittany,
or to Wales, or to Algeria, and has come back with sixty-five
sketches, which are now on view, let us say, at Messrs. Dowdeswell's
Galleries, in New Bond Street, the home of all such exhibitions. The
painter has been impressed by the savagery of fiords, by the
prettiness of blouses and sabots, by the blue mountain in the distance
and the purple mountain in the foreground, by the narrow shade of the
street, and the solemnity of a _burnous_ or the grace of a _haik_
floating in the wind. The painter brings back these sights and scenes
as a child brings back shells from the shore--they seemed very strange
and curious, and, therefore, like the child, he brought back, not the
things themselves, but the next best things, the most faithful
sketches he could make of them. To understand how impossible it is to
paint _pictures_ in a foreign country, we have only to imagine a young
English painter setting up his easel in, let us say, Algeria. There he
finds himself confrontedwith a new world; everything is different: the
costumes are strange, the rhythm of the lines is different, the
effects are harsh and unknown to him; at home the earth is dark and
the sky is light, in Algeria the everlasting blue must be darker than
the white earth, and the key of colour widely different from anything
he has seen before. Selection is impossible, he cannot distinguish
between the important and the unimportant; everything strikes him with
equal vividness. To change anything of this country, so clear, so
precise, so characteristic, is to soften; to alleviate what is too
rude, is to weaken; to generalise, is to disfigure. So the artist is
obliged to take Algiers in the lump; in spite of himself he will find
himself forced into a scrupulous exactitude, nothing must be passed
over, and so his pictures are at best only the truth, photographic
truth and the naturalness of a fac-simile.

The sixty-five drawings which the painter will bring back and will
exhibit in Messrs. Dowdeswell's will be documentary evidence of the
existence of Algeria--of all that makes a country itself, of exactly
the things by which those who have been there know it, of the things
which will make it known to those who have not been there, the exact
type of the inhabitants, their costume, their attitudes, their ways,
and manner of living. Once the painter accepts truth for aim and end,
it becomes impossible to set a limit upon his investigations. We shall
learn how this people dress, ride, and hunt; we shall learn what arms
they use--the painter will describe them as well as a pencil may
describe--the harness of the horses he must know and understand;
through dealing with so much novelty it becomes obligatory for the
travelling painter to become explanatory and categorical. And as the
attraction of the unknown corresponds in most people to the immoral
instinct of curiosity, the painter will find himself forced to attempt
to do with paint and canvas what he could do much better in a written
account. His public will demand pictures composed after the manner of
an inventory, and the taste for ethnography will end by being confused
with the sentiment of beauty.

Amongst this collection of _documents_ which causes the Gallery to
resound with foolish and vapid chatter there are two small pictures.
Every one has passed by them, but now an artist is examining them, and
they are evidently the only two things in the exhibition that interest
him. One is entitled "Sunset on the Nile", an impression of the
melancholy of evening; the other is entitled "Pilgrims", a band of
travellers passing up a sandy tract, an impression of hot desert

And now I will conclude with an anecdote taken from one to whom I owe
much. Two painters were painting on the banks of the Seine. Suddenly a
shepherd passed driving before him a long flock of sheep, silhouetting
with supple movement upon the water whitening under a grey sky at the
end of April. The shepherd had his scrip on his back, he wore the
great felt hat and the gaiters of the herdsman, two black dogs,
picturesque in form, trotted at his heels, for the flock was going in
excellent order. "Do you know," cried one painter to the other, "that
nothing is more interesting to paint than a shepherd on the banks of
_a river_?" He did not say the Seine--he said a river.


Is the introduction of the subject into art the one and only cause for
the defeat of the brilliant genius which the Revolution and the
victories of Napoleoncalled into existence? Are there not other modern
and special signs which distinguish the nineteenth century French
schools from all the schools that preceded it? I think there are.

Throwing ourselves back in our chairs, let us think of this French
school in its _ensemble_. What extraordinary variety! What an absence
of fixed principle! curiosity, fever, impatience, hurry, anxiety,
desire touching on hysteria. An enormous expenditure of force, but
spent in so many different and contrary directions, that the sum-total
of the result seems a little less than we had expected. Throwing
ourselves back in our chairs, and closing our eyes a second time, let
us think of our eighteenth century English school. Is it not like
passing from the glare and vicarious holloaing of the street into a
quiet, grave assembly of well-bred men, who are not afraid to let each
other speak, and know how to make themselves heard without shouting;
men who choose their words so well that they afford to speak without
emphasis, and in whose speech you find neither neologisms, nor
inversions, nor grammatical extravagances, nor calculated brutalities,
nor affected ignorance, nor any faintest trace of pedantry? What these
men have to say is more or less interesting, but they address us in
the same language, and however arbitrarily we may place them, though
we hang a pig-stye by Morland next to a duchess by Gainsborough, we
are surprised by a pleasant air of family likeness in the execution.
We feel, however differently these men see and think, that they are
content to express themselves in the same language. Their work may be
compared to various pieces of music played on an instrument which was
common property; they were satisfied with the instrument, and
preferred to compose new music for it than to experiment with the
instrument itself.

It may be argued that in the lapse of a hundred years the numerous
differences of method which characterise modern painting will
disappear, and that it will seem as uniform to the eyes of the
twenty-first century as the painting of the eighteenth century seems
in our eyes to-day. I do not think this will be so. And in proof of
this opinion I will refer again to the differences of opinion
regarding the first principles of painting and drawing which divided
Ingres and Gericault. Differences regarding first principles never
existed between the leaders of any other artistic movement. Not
between Michael Angelo and Raphael, not between Veronese, Tintoretto,
Titian, and Rubens; not between Hals or any other Dutchman, except
Rembrandt, born between 1600 and 1640; or between Van Dyck and
Reynolds and Gainsborough. Nor must the difference between the methods
of Giotto and Titian cause any one to misunderstand my meaning. The
change that two centuries brought into art was a gradual change,
corresponding exactly to the ideas which the painter wished to
express; each method was sufficient to explain the ideas current at
the time it was invented for that purpose; it served that purpose and
no more.

Facilities for foreign travel, international exhibitions, and
cosmopolitanism have helped to keep artists of all countries in a
ferment of uncertainty regarding even the first principles of their
art. But this is not all; education has proved a vigorous and rapid
solvent, and has completed the disintegration of art. A young man goes
to the Beaux Arts; he is taught how to measure the model with his
pencil, and how to determine the movement of the model with his
plumb-line. He is taught how to draw by the masses rather than by the
character, and the advantages of this teaching permit him, if he is an
intelligent fellow, to produce at the end of two years' hard labour a
measured, angular, constipated drawing, a sort of inferior photograph.
He is then set to painting, and the instruction he receives amounts to
this--that he must not rub the paint about with his brush as he rubbed
the chalk with his paper stump. After a long methodical study of the
model, an attempt is made to prepare a corresponding tone; no medium
must be used; and when the, large square brush is filled full of
sticky, clogging pigment it is drawn half an inch down and then half
an inch across the canvas, and the painter must calculate how much he
can finish at a sitting, for this system does not admit of
retouchings. It is practised in all the French studios, where it is
known as _la peinture au premier coup_.

A clever young man, a man of talent, labours at art in the manner I
have described from eight to ten hours a day, and at the end of six or
seven years his education is completed. During the long while of his
pupilage he has heard, "first learn your trade, and then do what you
like". The time has arrived for him to do what he likes. He already
suspects that the mere imitation of MM. Bouguereau and Lefebvre will
bring him neither fame nor money; he soon finds that is so, and it
becomes clear to him he must do something different. Enticing vistas
of possibilities open out before him, but he is like a man whose limbs
have been kept too long in splints--they are frozen; and he at length
understands the old and terrible truth: as the twig is bent so will it
grow. The skin he would slough will not be sloughed; he tries all the
methods--robust executions, lymphatic executions, sentimental and
insipid executions, painstaking executions, cursive and impertinent
executions. Through all these the Beaux Arts student, if he is
intelligent enough to perceive the falseness and worthlessness of his
primary education, slowly works his way. He is like a vessel without
ballast; he is like a blindfolded man who has missed his pavement; he
is blown from wave to wave; he is confused with contradictory cries.
Last year he was robust, this year he is lymphatic; he affects
learning which he does not possess, and then he assumes airs of
ignorance, equally unreal--a mild, sophisticated ignorance, which he
calls _naivete_. And these various execution she is never more than
superficially acquainted with; he does not practise any one long
enough to extract what good there may be in it.

To set before the reader the full story of the French decadence, I
should have to relate the story of the great schism of some few years
ago, when the pedants remained at the _Salon_ under the headship of
Mr. Bouguereau, and the experimentalists followed Meissonier to the
Champs de Mars.[Footnote: See "Impressions and Opinions."]The
authoritative name of Meissonier, the genius of Puvis de Chavannes,
and the interest of the exhibition of Stevens' early work, sufficed
for some years to disguise the progress and the tendency of the
declension of French art; and it was not until last year (1892) that
it was impossible to doubt any longer that the great French
renaissance of the beginning of the century had worn itself out, that
the last leaves were falling, and that probably a long period of
winter rest was preparing. French art has resolved itself into pedants
and experimentalists! The _Salon_ is now like to a library of Latin
verses composed by the Eton and Harrow masters and their pupils; the
Champs de Mars like a costume ball at Elysee Montmartre.

In England it is customary for art to enter by a side door, and the
enormous subvention to the Kensington Schools would never have been
voted by Parliament if the bill had not been gilt with the usual
utility gilding. It was represented that the schools were intended for
something much more serious than the mere painting of pictures, which
only rich people could buy: the schools were primarily intended as
schools of design, wherein the sons and daughters of the people would
be taught how to design wall-papers, patterns for lace, curtains,
damask table-cloths, etc. The intention, like many another, was
excellent; but the fact remains that, except for examination purposes,
the work done by Kensington students is useless. A design for a piece
of wall-paper, for which a Kensington student is awarded a medal, is
almost sure to prove abortive when put to a practical test. The
isolated pattern looks pretty enough on the two feet of white paper on
which it is drawn; but when the pattern is manifolded, it is usually
found that the designer has not taken into account the effect of the
repetition. That is the pitfall into which the Kensington student
usually falls; he cannot make practical application of his knowledge,
and at Minton's factory all the designs drawn by Kensington students
have to be redrawn by those who understand the practical working out
of the processes of reproduction and the quality of the material
employed. So complete is the failure of the Kensington student, that
to plead a Kensington education is considered to be an almost fatal
objection against any one applying for work in any of our industrial

Five-and-twenty years ago the schools of art at South Kensington were
the most comical in the world; they were the most complete parody on
the Continental school of art possible to imagine. They are no doubt
the same to-day as they were five-and-twenty years ago--any way, the
educational result is the same. The schools as I remember them were
faultless in everything except the instruction dispensed there. There
were noble staircases, the floors were covered with cocoa-nut matting,
the rooms admirably heated with hot-water pipes, there were plaster
casts and officials. In the first room the students practised drawing
from the flat. Engraved outlines of elaborate ornamentation were given
them, and these they drew with lead pencil, measuring the spaces
carefully with compasses. In about six months or a year the student
had learned to use his compass correctly, and to produce a fine hard
black-lead outline; the harder and finer the outline, the more the
drawing looked like a problem in a book of Euclid, the better the
examiner was pleased, and the more willing was he to send the student
to the room upstairs, where drawing was practised from the antique.

This was the room in which the wisdom of South Kensington attained a
complete efflorescence. I shall never forget the scenes I witnessed
there. Having made choice of a cast, the student proceeded to measure
the number of heads; he then measured the cast in every direction, and
ascertained by means of a plumb-line exactly where the lines fell. It
wasmore like land-surveying than drawing, and to accomplish this
portion of his task took generally a fortnight, working six hours a
week. He then placed a sheet of tissue paper upon his drawing, leaving
only one small part uncovered, and, having reduced his chalk pencil to
the finest possible point, he proceeded to lay in a set of extremely
fine lines. These were crossed by a second set of lines, and the two
sets of lines were elaborately stippled, every black spot being
carefully picked out with bread. With a patience truly sublime in its
folly, he continued the process all the way down the figure,
accomplishing, if he were truly industrious, about an inch square in
the course of an evening. Our admiration was generally directed to
those who had spent the longest time on their drawings. After three
months' work a student began to be noticed; at the end of four he
became an important personage. I remember one who had contrived to
spend six months on his drawing. He was a sort of demigod, and we used
to watch him anxious and alarmed lest he might not have the genius to
devote still another month to it, and our enthusiasm knew no bounds
when we learned that, a week before the drawings had to be sent in, he
had taken his drawing home and spent three whole days stippling it and
picking out the black spots with bread.

The poor drawing had neither character nor consistency; it looked like
nothing under the sun, except a drawing done at Kensington--a flat,
foolish thing, but very soft and smooth. But this was enough; it was
passed by the examiners, and the student went into the Life Room to
copy an Italian model as he had copied the Apollo Belvedere. Once or
twice a week a gentleman who painted tenth-rate pictures, which were
not always hung in the Academy, came round and passed casual remarks
on the quality of the stippling. There was a head-master who painted
tenth-rate historical pictures, after the manner of a tenth-rate
German painter in a provincial town, in a vast studio upstairs, which
the State was good enough to provide him with, and he occasionally
walked through the studios; on an average, I should say, once a month.

The desire to organise art proceeded in France from a love of system,
and in England from a love of respectability. To the ordinary mind
there is something especially reassuring in medals, crowns,
examinations, professors, and titles; and since the founding of the
Kensington Schools we unfortunately hear no more of parents opposing
their children's wishes to become artists. The result of all these
facilities for art study has been to swamp natural genius and to
produce enormous quantities of vacuous little water colours and slimy
little oil colours. Young men have been prevented from going to
Australia and Canada and becoming rough farmers, and young ladies from
following them and becoming rough wives and themothers of healthy
children. Instead of such natural emigration and extension of the
race, febrile little pilgrimages have been organised to Paris and
Grey, whence astonishing methods and theories regarding the
conditions, under which painting alone can be accomplished, have been
brought back. Original Kensington stipple has been crossed with square
brush-work, and the mule has been bred in and in with open brush-work,
and fresh strains have been sought in the execution at the angle of
forty-five; art has become infinitely hybrid and definitely sterile.

Must we then conclude that all education is an evil? Why exaggerate;
why outstrip the plain telling of the facts? For those who are
thinking of adopting art as a profession it is sufficient to know that
the one irreparable evil is a bad primary education. Be sure that
after five years of the Beaux Arts you cannot become a great painter.
Be sure that after five years of Kensington you can never become a
painter at all. "If not at Kensington nor at the Beaux Arts, where am
I to obtain the education I stand in need of?" cries the embarrassed
student. I do not propose to answer that question directly. How the
masters of Holland and Flanders obtained their marvellous education is
not known. We neither know how they learned nor how they painted. Did
the early masters paint first in monochrome, adding the colouring
matter afterwards? Much vain conjecturing has been expended in
attempting to solve this question. Did Ruysdale paint direct from
nature or from drawings? Unfortunately on this question history has no
single word to say. We know that Potter learned his trade in the
fields in lonely communication with nature. We know too that Crome was
a house-painter, and practised painting from nature when his daily
work was done. Nevertheless he attained as perfect a technique as any
painter that ever lived. Morland, too, was self-taught: he practised
painting in the fields and farmyards and the country inns where he
lived, oftentimes paying for board and lodging with a picture. Did his
art suffer from want of education? Is there any one who believes that
Morland would have done better work if he had spent three or four
years stippling drawings from the antique at South Kensington?

I will conclude these remarks, far too cursive and incomplete, with an
anecdote which, I think, will cause the thoughtful to ponder. Some
seven or eight years ago, Renoir, a painter of rare talent and
originality, after twenty years of struggle with himself and poverty,
succeeded in attaining a very distinct and personal expression of his
individuality. Out of a hundred influences he had succeeded in
extracting an art as beautiful as it was new. His work was beginning
to attract buyers. For the first time in his life he had a little
money in hand, and he thought he would like a holiday. Long reading of
novels leads the reader to suppose that he found his ruin in a period
of riotous living, the reaction induced by anxiety and over-work. Not
at all. He did what every wise friend would have advised him to do
under the circumstances: he went to Venice to study Tintoretto. The
magnificences of this master struck him through with the sense of his
own insignificance; he became aware of the fact that he could not draw
like Tintoretto; and when he returned to Paris he resolved to subject
himself to two years of hard study in an art school. For two years he
laboured in the life class, working on an average from seven to ten
hours a day, and in two years he had utterly destroyed every trace of
the charming and delightful art which had taken him twenty years to
build up. I know of no more tragic story--do you?


Of the thirty or more great artists who made the artistic movement at
the beginning of the century in France, five will, I think, exercise a
prolonged influence on the art of the future--Ingres, Corot, Millet,
Manet, and Degas.

The omission of the name of Delacroix will surprise many; but though
Delacroix will engage the attention of artists as they walk through
the Louvre, I do not think that they will turn to him for counsel in
their difficulty, or that they will learn from him any secrets of
their craft. In the great masters of pictorial composition--Michael
Angelo, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Rubens--the passion and tumult of
the work resides solely in the conception; the execution is always
calculated, and the result is perfectly predetermined and accurately
foreseen. To explain myself I will tell an anecdote which is always
told whenever Delacroix's name is mentioned, without, however, the
true significance of the anecdote being perceived. After seeing
Constable's pictures, Delacroix repainted one of his most important
works from end to end.

Of Degas [Footnote: See essay on Degas In "Impressions and Opinions".]
and Manet I have spoken elsewhere. Millet seems to me to be a sort of
nineteenth century Greuze. The subject-matter is different, but at
bottom the art of these two painters is more alike than is generally
supposed. Neither was a painter in any true sense of the word, and if
the future learns anything from Millet, it will be how to separate the
scene from the environment which absorbs it, how to sacrifice the
background, how to suggest rather than to point out, and how by a
series of ellipses to lead the spectator to imagine what is not there.
The student may learn from Millet that it was by sometimes servilely
copying nature, sometimes by neglecting nature, that the old masters
succeeded in conveying not an illusion but an impression of life.

But of all nineteenth century painters Ingres and Corot seem most sure
of future life; their claim upon the attention and the admiration of
future artists seems the most securely founded. Looked at from a
certain side Ingres seems for sheer perfection to challenge antiquity.
Of Michael Angelo there can never be any question; he stands alone in
a solitude of greatness. Phidias himself is not so much alone. For the
art of Apelles could not have differed from that of Phidias; and the
intention of many a drawing by Apelles must have been identical with
that of "La Source". It is difficult to imagine what further beauty he
may have introduced into a face, or what further word he might have
had to say on the beauty of a virgin body.

The legs alone suggest the possibility of censure. Ingres repainted
the legs when the picture was finished and the model was not before
him, so the idea obtains among artists that the legs are what are
least perfect in the picture. In repainting the legs his object was
omission of detail with a view to concentration of attention on the
upper part of the figure. It must not however be supposed that the
legs are what is known among painters as empty; they have been
simplified; their synthetic expression has been found; and if the
teaching at the Beaux Arts forbids the present generation to
understand such drawing, the fault lies with the state that permits
the Beaux Arts, and not with Ingres, whose genius was not crushed by
it. The suggestion that Ingres spoilt the legs of "La Source" by
repainting them when the model was not before him could come from
nowhere but the Beaux Arts.

That Ingres was not so great an artist as Raphael I am aware. That
Ingres' drawings show none of the dramatic inventiveness of Raphael's
drawings is so obvious that I must apologise for such a commonplace.
Raphael's drawings were done with a different intention from Ingres';
Raphael's drawings were no more than rough memoranda, and in no
instance did he attempt to carry a drawing to the extreme limit that
Ingres did. Ingres' drawing is one thing, Raphael's is another; still
I would ask if any one thinks that Raphael could have carried a
drawing as far as Ingres? I would ask if any of Raphael's drawings are
as beautiful, as perfect, or as instructive as Ingres'. Take, for
example, the pencil drawing in the Louvre, the study for the
odalisque: who except a Greek could have produced so perfect a
drawing? I can imagine Apelles doing something like it, but no one

When you go to the Louvre examine that line of back, return the next
day and the next, and consider its infinite perfection before you
conclude that my appreciation is exaggerated. Think of the learning
and the love that were necessary for the accomplishment of such
exquisite simplifications. Never did pencil follow an outline with
such penetrating and unwearying passion, or clasp and enfold it with
such simple and sufficient modelling. Nowhere can you detect a
starting-point or a measurement taken; it seems to have grown as a
beautiful tendril grows, and every curve sways as mysteriously, and
the perfection seems as divine. Beside it Duerer would seem crabbed and
puzzle-headed; Holbein would seem angular and geometrical; Da Vinci
would seem vague: and I hope that no critic by partial quotation will
endeavour to prove me guilty of having said that Ingres was a greater
artist than Da Vinci. I have not said any such thing; I have merely
striven by aid of comparison to bring before the reader some sense of
the miraculous beauty of one of Ingres' finest pencil drawings.

Or let us choose the well-known drawing of the Italian lady sitting in
the Louis XV. arm-chair, her long curved and jewelled hand lying in
her lap and a coiffure of laces pinned down with a long jewelled
hair-pin. How her head-dress of large laces decorates the paper, and
the elaborate working out of the pattern, is it not a miracle of
handicraft? How exquisite the black curls on the forehead, and how
they balance the dark eyes which are the depth and centre of the
composition! The necklace, how well the stones are heaped, how well
they lie together! How well their weight and beauty are expressed! And
the earrings, how enticing in their intricate workmanship. Then the
movement of the face, how full it is of the indolent south, and the
oval of the face is composed to harmonise and enhance the lace
head-dress; and its outline, though full of classical simplifications,
tells the character with Holbein-like fidelity; it falls away into a
soft, weak chin in which resides a soft sensual lassitude. The black
eyes are set like languid stars in the face, and the flesh rounds off
softly, like a sky, modelled with a little shadow, part of the
outline, and expressing its beauty. And then there are the marvels of
the dress to consider: the perfect and spontaneous creation of the
glitter of the long silk arms, and the muslin of the wrists, soft as
foliage, and then the hardness of the bodice stitched with jewellery
and set so romantically on the almost epicene bosom.

It is the essentially Greek quality of perfection that brings Corot
and Ingres together. They are perfect, as none other since the Greek
sculptors has been perfect. Other painters have desired beauty at
intervals as passionately as they, none save the Greeks so
continuously; and the desire to be merely beautiful seemed, if
possible, to absorb the art of Corot even more completely than it did
that of Ingres. Among the numerous pictures, sketches, and drawings
which he left you will find weakness, repetitions, even commonplace,
but ugliness never. An ugly set of lines is not to be found in Corot;
the rhythm may sometimes be weak, but his lines never run out of
metre. For the rhythm of line as well as of sound the artist must seek
in his own soul; he will never find it in the inchoate and discordant
jumble which we call nature.

And, after all, what is art but rhythm? Corot knew that art is nature
made rhythmical, and so he was never known to take out a six-foot
canvas to copy nature on. Being an artist, he preferred to observe
nature, and he lay down and dreamed his fields and trees, and he
walked about in his landscape, selecting his point of view,
determining the rhythm of his lines. That sense of rhythm which I have
defined as art was remarkable in him even from his first pictures. In
the "Castle of St. Angelo, Rome", for instance, the placing of the
buildings, one low down, the other high up in the picture, the bridge
between, and behind the bridge the dome of St. Peter's, is as
faultless a composition as his maturest work. As faultless, and yet
not so exquisite. For it took many long and pensive years to attain
the more subtle and delicate rhythms of "The Lake" in the collection
of J. S. Forbes, Esq., or the landscape in the collection of G. N.
Stevens, Esq., or the "Ravine" in the collection of Sir John Day.

Corot's style changed; but it changed gradually, as nature changes,
waxing like the moon from a thin, pure crescent to a full circle of
light. Guided by a perfect instinct, he progressed, fulfilling the
course of his artistic destiny. We notice change, but each change
brings fuller beauty. And through the long and beautiful year of
Corot's genius--full as the year itself of months and seasons--we
notice that the change that comes over his art is always in the
direction of purer and more spiritual beauty. We find him more and
more absorbed in the emotion that the landscape conveys, more willing
to sacrifice the superfluous and circumstantial for the sake of the
immortal beauty of things.

Look at the "Lac de Garde" and say if you can that the old Greek
melody is not audible in the line which bends and floats to the lake's
edge, in the massing and the placing of those trees, in the fragile
grace of the broken birch which sweeps the "pale complexioned sky".
Are we not looking into the heart of nature, and do we not hear the
silence that is the soul of evening? In this, his perfect period, he
is content to leave his foreground rubbed over with some expressive
grey, knowing well that the eye rests not there, and upon his middle
distance he will lavish his entire art, concentrating his picture on
some one thing in which for him resides the true reality of the place;
be this the evening ripples on the lake or the shimmering of the
willow leaves as the last light dies out of the sky.

I only saw Corot once. It was in some woods near Paris, where I had
gone to paint, and I came across the old gentleman unexpectedly,
seated in front of his easel in a pleasant glade. After admiring his
work I ventured to say: "Master, what you are doing is lovely, but I
cannot find your composition in the landscape before us." He said: "My
foreground is a long way ahead," and sure enough, nearly two hundred
yards away, his picture rose out of the dimness of the dell,
stretching a little beyond the vista into the meadow.

The anecdote seems to me to be a real lesson in the art of painting,
for it shows us the painter in his very employment of nature, and we
divine easily the transposition in the tones and in the aspect of
things that he was engaged in bringing into that picture. And to speak
of transpositions leads us inevitably into consideration of the great
secret of Corot's art, his employment of what is known in studios as

By values is meant the amount of light and shadow contained in a tone.
The relation of a half-tint to the highest light, which is represented
by the white paper, the relation of a shadow to the deepest black,
which is represented by the chalk pencil, is easy enough to perceive
in a drawing; but when the work is in colour the values, although not
less real, are more difficult to estimate. For a colour can be
considered from two points of view: either as so much colouring


Back to Full Books