Modern Painting
George Moore

Part 4 out of 4

sister-in-law would not have existed without me," I remember Manet
saying to me in one of the long days we spent together in the Rue
d'Amsterdam. True, indeed, that she would not have existed without
him; and yet she has something that he has not--the charm of an
exquisite feminine fancy, the charm of her sex. Madame Morisot is the
eighteenth century quick with the nineteenth; she is the nineteenth
turning her eyes regretfully looking back on the eighteenth.

Chaplin parodied the eighteenth century; in Madame Morisot something
of its gracious spirit naturally resides; she is eighteenth century
especially in her drawings; they are fluent and flowing; nowhere do we
detect a measurement taken, they are free of tricks--that is to say of
ignorance assuming airs of learning. That red chalk drawing of a naked
girl, how simple, loose, and unaffected, how purged of the odious
erudition of the modern studio. And her precious and natural
remembrance of the great century, with all its love of youth and the
beauties of youthful lines, is especially noticeable in the red chalk
drawing of the girl wearing a bonnet, the veil falling and hiding her
beautiful eyes. As I stood lost in admiration of this drawing, I heard
a rough voice behind me: "C'est bien beau, n'est pas?" It was Claude
Monet. "Yes, isn't it superb?" I answered. "I wonder how much they'll
sell it for." "I'll soon find out that," said Monet, and turning to
the attendant he asked the question.

"Pour vous, sept cents cinquante francs."

"C'est bien; il est a moi."

This anecdote will give a better idea of the value of Berthe Morisot
than seventy columns of mine or any other man's criticism.



Before sitting down to paint a landscape the artist must make up his
mind whether he is going to use the trees, meadows, streams, and
mountains before him as subject-matter for a decoration in the manner
of the Japanese, or whether he will take them as subject-matter for
the expression of a human emotion in the manner of Wilson and Millet.
I offer no opinion which is the higher and which is the lower road;
they may be wide apart, they may draw very close together, they may
overlap so that it is difficult to say along which the artist is
going; but, speaking roughly, there are but two roads, and it is
necessary that the artist should choose between them. But this point
has been fully discussed elsewhere, and I only allude to it here
because I wish to assure my readers that Mr. Steer's exhibition is not
"Folkestone at low tide" and "Folkestone at high tide".

In all the criticisms I have seen of the present exhibition it has
been admitted that Mr. Steer takes a foremost place in what is known
as the modern movement. I also noticed that it was admitted that Mr.
Steer is a born artist. The expression, from constant use, has lost
its true significance; yet to find another phrase that would express
the idea more explicitly would be difficult; the born artist, meaning
the man in whom feeling and expression are one.

The growth of a work of art is as inexplicable as that of a flower. We
know that there are men who feel deeply and who understand clearly
what a work of art should be; but when they attempt to create, their
efforts are abortive. Their ideas, their desires, their intentions,
their plans, are excellent; but the passage between the brain and the
canvas, between the brain and the sheet of paper, is full of
shipwrecking reefs, and the intentions of these men do not correspond
in the least with their execution. Noticing our blank faces, they
explain their ideas in front of their works. They meant this, they
meant that. Inwardly we answer, "All you say is most interesting; but
why didn't you put all that into your picture, into your novel?"

Then Mr. Steer is not an abortive genius, for his ideas do not come to
utter shipwreck in the perilous passage; they often lose a spar or
two, they sometimes appear in a more or less dismantled condition, but
they retain their masts; they come in with some yards of canvas still
set, and the severest criticism that can be passed on them is, "With a
little better luck that would have been a very fine thing indeed." And
not infrequently Mr. Steer's pictures correspond very closely with the
mental conception in which they originated; sometimes little or
nothing has been lost as the idea passed from the brain to the canvas,
and it is on account of these pictures that we say that Mr. Steer is a
born artist. This once granted, the question arises: is this born
artist likewise a great artist--will he formulate his sensation, and
give us a new manner of feeling and seeing, or will he merely succeed
in painting some beautiful pictures when circumstances and the mood of
the moment combine in his favour? This is a question which all who
visit the exhibition of this artist's work, now on view in the Goupil
Galleries, will ask themselves. They will ask if this be the furthest
limit to which he may go, or if he will discover a style entirely his
own which will enable him to convey all his sensation of life upon the

That Mr. Steer's drawing does not suggest a future draughtsman seems
to matter little, for we remember that colour, and not form, is the
impulse that urges and inspires him. Mr. Steer draws well enough to
take a high place if he can overcome more serious defects. His
greatest peril seems to me to be an uncontrollable desire to paint in
the style of the last man whose work has interested him. At one time
it was only in his most unguarded moments that he could see a
landscape otherwise than as Monet saw it; a year or two later it was
Whistler who dictated certain schemes of colour, certain harmonious
arrangements of black; and the most distressing symptom of all is that
Mr. Brabazon could not hold an exhibition of some very nice tints of
rose and blue without inspiring Mr. Steer to go and swish water-colour
about in the same manner. Mr. Steer has the defect of his qualities;
his perceptions are naive: and just as he must have thought seven
years ago that all modern landscape-painters must be more or less like
Monet, he must have thought last summer that all modern water-colour
must be more or less like Mr. Brabazon. This is doubly unfortunate,
because Mr. Steer is only good when he is Steer, and nothing but

How much we should borrow, and how we should borrow, are questions
which will agitate artists for all time. It is certain, however, that
one of the most certain signs of genius is the power to take from
others and to assimilate. How much did Rubens take from Titian? How
much did Mr. Whistler take from the Japanese? Almost everything in Mr.
Whistler already existed in art. In the National Gallery the white
stocking in the Philip reminds us of the white stockings in the
portrait of Miss Alexander. In the British Museum we find the shadows
that he transferred from Rembrandt to his own etchings. Degas took his
drawing from Ingres and his colour--that lovely brown!--from Poussin.
But, notwithstanding their vast borrowings, Rubens is always Rubens,
Whistler is always Whistler, and Degas is always Degas. Alexander took
a good deal, too, but he too remained always Alexander. We must
conquer what we take. But what Mr. Steer takes often conquers him; he
is often like one suffering from a weak digestion, he cannot
assimilate. I must except, however, that very beautiful picture, "Two
Yachts lying off Cowes". Under a deepening sky of mauve the yachts
lie, their lights and rigging showing through the twilight. We may say
that this picture owes something to Mr. Whistler; but the debt is not
distressing; it does not strike the eye; it does not prevent us from
seeing the picture--a very beautiful piece of decoration in a high key
of colour--a picture which it would be difficult to find fault with.
It is without fault; the intention of the artist was a beautiful one,
and it has been completely rendered. I like quite as well "The Casino,
Boulogne", the property, I note with some interest, of Mr. Humphry
Ward, art critic of the _Times_. Mr. Humphry Ward must write
conventional commonplace, otherwise he could not remain art critic of
the _Times_, so it is pleasant to find that he is withal an excellent
judge of a picture. The picture, I suppose, in a very remote and
distant way, may be said to be in the style of Wilson. Again a
successful assimilation. The buildings stand high up, they are piled
high up in the picture, and a beautiful blue envelops sky, sea, and
land. Nos. 1 and 2 show Mr. Steer at his best: that beautiful blue,
that beautiful mauve, is the optimism of painting. Such colour is to
the colourist what the drug is to the opium-eater: nothing matters,
the world is behind us, and we dream on and on, lost in an infinity of
suggestion. This quality, which, for want of a better expression, I
call the optimism of painting, is a peculiar characteristic of Mr.
Steer's work. We find it again in "Children Paddling". Around the long
breakwater the sea winds, filling the estuary, or perchance recedes,
for the incoming tide is noisier; a delicious, happy, opium blue, the
blue of oblivion.... Paddling in the warm sea-water gives oblivion to
those children. They forget their little worries in the sensation of
sea and sand, as I forget mine in that dreamy blue which fades and
deepens imperceptibly, like a flower from the intense heart to the
delicate edge of the petals.

The vague sea is drawn up behind the breakwater, and out of it the
broad sky ascends solemnly in curves like palms. Happy sensation of
daylight; a flower-like afternoon; little children paddling; the world
is behind them; they are as flowers, and are conscious only of the
benedictive influences of sand and sea and sky.

The exhibition contains nearly every description of work: full-length
portraits in oil, life-size heads, eight-inch panels, and some
half-dozen water-colours. A little girl in a starched white frock is a
charming picture, and the large picture entitled "The Sofa" is a most
distinguished piece of work, full of true pictorial feeling. Mr. Steer
is never common or vulgar; he is distinguished even when he fails. "A
Girl in a Large Hat" is a picture which became my property some three
or four months ago. Since then I have seen it every day, and I like it
better and better. That hat is so well placed in the canvas; the
expression of the face and body, are they not perfect? What an air of
resignation, of pensiveness, this picture exhales! The jacket is done
with a few touches, but they are sufficient, for they are in their
right places. And the colour! Hardly do you find any, and yet there is
an effect of colour which few painters could attain when they had
exhausted all the resources of the palette.


Whether the pictures in the Royal Academy be bad or good, the
journalist must describe them. The public goes to the Academy, and the
journalist must follow the traffic, like the omnibuses. But the
public, the English public, does not go to the Salon or to the Champ
de Mars. Why, then, should our newspapers waste space on the
description of pictures which not one reader in fifty has seen or will
see? I suppose the demon of actuality is answerable for the wasted
columns, and the demon of habit for my yearly wanderings over deserts
of cocoa-nut matting, under tropical skylights, in continual torment
from glaring oil-paintings. Of the days I have spent in those
exhibitions, nothing remains but the memory of discomfort, and the
sense of relief experienced on coming to a room in which there were no
pictures. Ah, the arm-chairs into which I slipped and the tapestries
that rested my jaded eyes! ... So this year I resolved to break with
habit and to visit neither the Salon nor the Champ de Mars. An art
critic I am, but surely independent of pictures--at least, of modern
pictures; indeed, they stand between me and the interesting article
ninety times in a hundred.

Only now and then do we meet a modern artist about whom we may
rhapsodise, or at whom we may curse: Claude Monet is surely such an
one. So I pricked up my ears when I heard there was an exhibition of
his work at Durand Ruel's. I felt I was on the trail of an interesting
article, and away I went. The first time I pondered and argued with
myself. Then I went with an intelligent lady, and was garrulous,
explanatory, and theoretical; she listened, and said she would write
out all I had said from her point of view. The third time I went with
two artists. We were equally garrulous and argumentative, and with the
result that we three left the exhibition more than ever confirmed in
the truth of our opinions. I mention these facts, not, as the
ill-natured might suppose, because it pleases me to write about my own
sayings and doings, but because I believe my conduct to be typical of
the conduct of hundreds of others in regard to the present exhibition
in the Rue Laffitte; for, let this be said in Monet's honour: every
day artists from every country in Europe go there by themselves, with
their women friends, and with other artists, and every day since the
exhibition opened, the galleries have been the scene of passionate

My own position regarding Monet is a peculiar one, and I give it for
what it is worth. It is about eighteen years since I first made the
acquaintance of this remarkable man. Though at first shocked, I was
soon convinced of his talent, and set myself about praising him as
well as I knew how. But my prophesying was answered by scoffs, jeers,
supercilious smiles. Outside of the Cafe of the Nouvelle Athenes,
Monet was a laughing-stock. Manet was bad enough; but when it came to
Monet, words were inadequate to express sufficient contempt. A shrug
of the shoulders or a pitying look, which clearly meant, "Art thou
most of madman or simpleton, or, maybe, impudent charlatan who would
attract attention to himself by professing admiration for such

It was thus eighteen years ago; but revolution has changed depth to
height, and Monet is now looked upon as the creator of the art of
landscape painting; before him nothing was, after him nothing can be,
for he has said all things and made the advent of another painter
impossible, inconceivable. He who could never do a right thing can now
do no wrong one. Canvases beside which the vaguest of Mr. Whistler's
nocturnes are clear statements of plain fact, lilac-coloured canvases
void of design or tone, or quality of paint, are accepted by a
complacent public, and bought by American millionaires for vast sums;
and the early canvases about which Paris would not once tolerate a
word of praise, are now considered old-fashioned. My personal concern
in all this enthusiasm--the enthusiasm of the fashionable
market-place--is that I once more find myself a dissident, and a
dissident in a very small minority. I think of Monet now as I thought
of him eighteen years ago. For no moment did it seem to me possible to
think of him as an equal of Corot or of Millet. He seemed a painter of
great talent, of exceptional dexterity of hand, and of clear and rapid
vision. His vision seemed then somewhat impersonal; the temper of his
mind did not illuminate his pictures; he was a marvellous mirror,
reproducing all the passing phenomena of Nature; and that was all. And
looking at his latest work, his views of Rouen Cathedral, it seems to
me that he has merely continued to develop the qualities for which we
first admired him--clearness of vision and a marvellous technical
execution. So extraordinary is this later execution that, by
comparison, the earlier seems timid and weak. His naturalism has
expanded and strengthened: mine has decayed and almost fallen from me.

Monet's handicraft has grown like a weed; it now overtops and chokes
the idea; it seems in these facades to exist by itself, like a
monstrous and unnatural ivy, independent of support; and when
expression outruns the thought, it ceases to charm. We admire the
marvellous mastery with which Monet drew tower and portico: see that
tower lifted out of blue haze, no delicacy of real perspective has
been omitted; see that portico bathed in sunlight and shadow, no form
of ornament has been slurred; but we are fain of some personal sense
of beauty, we miss that rare delicacy of perception which delights us
in Mr. Whistler's "Venice", and in Guardi's vision of cupolas,
stairways, roofs, gondolas, and waterways. Monet sees clearly, and he
sees truly, but does he see beautifully? is his an enchanted vision?
And is not every picture that fails to move, to transport, to enchant,
a mistake?

A work of art is complete in itself. But is any one of these pictures
complete in itself? Is not the effect they produce dependent on the
number, and may not this set of pictures be compared to a set of
scenes in a theatre, the effect of which is attained by combination?
There is no foreground in them; the cathedral is always in the first
plane, directly, under the eye of the spectator, the wall running out
of the picture. The spectator says, "What extraordinary power was
necessary to paint twelve views of that cathedral without once having
recourse to the illusion of distance!" A feat no doubt it was; and
therein we perceive the artistic weakness of the pictures. For art
must not be confounded with the strong man in the fair who straddles,
holding a full-grown woman on the palm of his hand.

Then the question of the quality of paint. Manet's paint was beautiful
as that of an old master; brilliant as an enamel, smooth as an old
ivory. But the quality of paint in Monet is that of stone and mortar.
It would seem (the thought is too monstrous to be entertained) as if
he had striven by thickness of paint and roughness of the handling to
reproduce the very material quality of the stonework. This would be
realism _a outrance_. I will not think that Monet was haunted for a
single instant by so shameful a thought. However this may be, the fact
remains that a _trompe-l'oeil_ has been achieved, and four inches of
any one of these pictures looked at separately would be mistaken by
sight and touch for a piece of stonework. In another picture, in a
haystack with the sun shining on it, the _trompe-l'oeil_ has again
been as cleverly achieved as by the most cunning of scene-painters. So
the haystack is a popular delight.



Mark Fisher is a nineteenth-century Morland; the disposition of mind
and character of vision seem the same in both painters, the outlook
almost identical: the same affectionate interest in humble life, the
same power of apprehending the pathos of work, the same sympathy for
the life that thinks not. But beyond these qualities of mind common to
both painters, Morland possessed a sense of beauty and grace which is
absent in Mark Fisher. Morland's pig-styes are more beautifully seen
than Mark Fisher could see them. But is the sense of beauty, which was
most certainly Morland's, so inherent and independent a possession
that we must regard it as his rather than the common inheritance of
those who lived in his time? Surely Mark Fisher would have seen more
beautifully if he had lived in the eighteenth century? Or, to put the
case more clearly, surely Morland would have seen very much as Mark
Fisher sees if he had lived in the nineteenth? Think of the work done
by Morland in the field and farmyard--it is in that work that he
lives; compare it with Mark Fisher's, subtracting, of course, all that
Morland owed to his time, quality of paint, and a certain easy sense
of beauty, and say if you can that both men do not stand on the same
intellectual plane.

To tell the story of the life of the fields, and to tell it sincerely,
without false sentiment, was their desire; nor do we detect in either
Morland or Mark Fisher any pretence of seeing more in their subjects
than is natural for them to see: in Jacques, yes. Jacques tried to
think profoundly, like Millet; Mark Fisher does not; nor was Morland
influenced by the caustic mind of Hogarth to satirise the animalism of
the boors he painted. He saw rural life with the same kindly eyes as
Mark Fisher. The difference between the two men is a difference of
means, of expression--I mean the exterior envelope in which the work
of the mind lives, and which preserves and assures a long life to the
painter. On this point no comparison is possible between the
eighteenth and nineteenth century painter. We should seek in vain in
Mark Fisher for Morland's beautiful smooth painting, for his fluent
and easy drawing, the complete and easy vehicle of his vision of
things. Mark Fisher draws well, but he often draws awkwardly; he
possesses the sentiment of proportion and the instinct of anatomy; we
admire the sincerity and we recognise the truth, but we miss the charm
of that easy and perfect expression which was current in Morland's
time. Mark Fisher is a man who has something to say and who says it in
a somewhat barbarous manner. He dreams hardly at all, his thoughts are
ordinary, and are only saved from commonplace by his absence of
affectation. He is not without sentiment, but his sentiment is a
little plain. His hand is his worst enemy; the touch is seldom
interesting or beautiful.

I said that Morland saw nature with the same kindly eyes as Mark
Fisher. I would have another word on that point. Mark Fisher's
painting is optimistic. His skies are blue, his sunlight dozes in the
orchard, his chestnut trees are in bloom. The melodrama of nature
never appears in his pictures; his lanes and fields reflect a gentle
mind that has found happiness in observing the changes of the seasons.
Happy Mark Fisher! An admirable painter, the best, the only
landscape-painter of our time; the one who continues the tradition of
Potter and Morland, and lives for his art, uninfluenced by the clamour
of cliques.


Mr. Sargent has painted the portrait of a beautiful woman and of a
beautiful drawing-room; the picture is full of technical
accomplishment. But is it a beautiful picture?

She is dressed in cherry-coloured velvet, and she sits on the edge of
a Louis XV. sofa, one arm by her side, the other thrown a little
behind her, the hand leaning against the sofa. Behind her are pale
yellow draperies, and under her feet is an Aubasson carpet. The
drawing is swift, certain, and complete. The movement of the arm is so
well rendered that we know the exact pressure of the long fingers that
melt into a padded silken sofa. But is the drawing distinguished, or
subtle, or refined? or is it mere parade of knowledge and practice of
hand? The face charms us with its actuality; but is there a touch
intimately characteristic of the model? or is it merely a vivacious

But if the drawing when judged by the highest standard fails to
satisfy us, what shall be said of the colour? Think of a
cherry-coloured velvet filling half the picture--the pale cherry pink
known as cerise--with mauve lights, and behind it pale yellowish
draperies and an Aubasson carpet under the lady's feet. Of course this
is very "daring", but is it anything more? Is the colour deep and
sonorous, like Alfred Stevens' red velvets; or is it thin and harsh,
like Duran? Has any attempt been made to compose the colour, to carry
it through the picture? There are a few touches of red in the carpet,
none in the draperies, so the dress is practically a huge splash
transferred from nature to the canvas. And when we ask ourselves if
the picture has style, is not the answer: It is merely the apotheosis
of fashionable painting? It is what Messrs. Shannon, Hacker, and
Solomon would like to do, but what they cannot do. Mr. Sargent has
realised their dreams for them; he has told us what the new generation
of Academicians want, he has revealed their souls' desire, and it
is--_l'article de Paris._

The portrait is therefore a prodigious success; to use an expression
which will be understood in the studios, "it knocks the walls silly";
you see nothing else in the gallery; and it wins the suffrages of the
artists and the public alike. Duran never drew so fluently as that,
nor was he ever capable of so pictorial an intention. Chaplin, for it
recalls Chaplin, was always heavier, more conventional; above all,
less real. For it is very real, and just the reality that ladies like,
reality without grossness; in other words, without criticism. So Mr.
Sargent gets his public, as the saying goes, "all round". He gets the
ladies, because it realises the ideal they have formed of themselves;
he gets the artists, because it is the realisation of the pictorial
ideals of the present day.

The picture has been described as marvellous, brilliant, astonishing,
superb, but no one has described it as beautiful. Whether because of
the commonness of the epithet, or because every one felt that
beautiful was not the adjective that expressed the sensation the
picture awoke in him, I know not. It is essentially a picture of the
hour; it fixes the idea of the moment and reminds one somewhat of a
_premiere_ at the Vaudeville with Sarah in a new part. Every one is on
the _qui vive_. The _salle_ is alive with murmurs of approbation. It
is the joy of the passing hour, the delirium of the sensual present.
The appeal is the same as that of food and drink and air and love. But
when painters are pursuing new ideals, when all that constitutes the
appearance of our day has changed, I fear that many will turn with a
shudder from its cold, material accomplishment.


A Kensington Museum student would have drawn that flower carefully
with a lead pencil; it would be washed with colour and stippled until
it reached the quality of wool, which is so much admired in that art
training-school; and whenever the young lady was not satisfied with
the turn her work was taking, she would wash the displeasing portion
out and start afresh. The difference--there are other differences
--but the difference we are concerned with between this hypothetical
young person of Kensington education and Mr. James, is that the
drawing which Mr. James exhibits is not a faithful record of all the
difficulties that are met with in painting an orchid. A hundred
orchids preceded the orchid on the wall--some were good in colour and
failed in drawing, and _vice versa_. Others were excellent in drawing
and colour, but the backgrounds did not come out right. All these were
destroyed. That mauve and grey orchid was probably not even sketched
in with a lead pencil. Mr. James desired an uninterrupted expression
of its beauty: to first sketch it with a pencil would be to lose
something of his first vividness of impression. It must flow straight
out of the brush. But to attain such fluency it was necessary to paint
that orchid a hundred times before its form and colour were learnt
sufficiently to admit of the expression of all the flower's beauty in
one painting. It is not that Mr. James has laboured less but ten times
more than the Kensington student. But all the preliminary labour
having been discarded, it seems as simple and as slight a thing as may
be--a flower in a glass, the flower drawn only in its essentials, the
glass faintly indicated, a flowing tint of mauve dissolving to grey,
the red heart of the flower for the centre of interest. A decoration
for where? I imagine it in a boudoir whose walls are stretched and
whose windows are curtained with grey silk. From the ceiling hangs a
chandelier, cut glass--pure Louis XV. The furniture that I see is
modern; but here and there a _tabouret_, a _gueridon_, or a delicate
_etagere_, filled with tiny volumes of Musset and two or three rare
modern writers, recall the eighteenth century. And who sits in this
delicate boudoir perfumed with a faint scent, a sachet-scented
pocket-handkerchief? Surely one of Sargent's ladies. Perhaps the lady
in the shot-silk dress who sat on an eighteenth-century French sofa
two years ago in the Academy, her tiny, plump, curved white hand,
drawn as well in its interior as in exterior limits, hanging over the
gilt arm of the sofa. But she sits now, in the boudoir I have
imagined, in a low arm-chair covered with grey silk; her feet lie one
over the other on the long-haired rug; the fire burns low in the
grate, and the soft spring sunlight laps through the lace curtains,
filling the room with a bland, moody, retrospective atmosphere. She
sits facing Mr. James's water-colour. She is looking at it, she does
not see it; her thoughts are far away, and their importance is slight.


The photograph of the portrait of Miss Alexander is as suggestive of
the colour as a pianoforte arrangement of _Tristan_ is of the
orchestration. The sounds of the different instruments come through
the thin tinkle of the piano just as the colour of the blond hair, the
delicate passages of green-grey and green, come through the black and
white of the photograph. Truly a beautiful thing! But "Before the
Mirror" reflects perhaps a deeper beauty. The influence of that
strange man, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, is sufficiently plain in this
picture. He who could execute hardly at all in paint, and whose verse
is Italian, though the author wrote and spoke no language but English,
foisted the character of his genius upon all the poetry and painting
of his generation. It is as present in this picture as it is in
Swinburne's first volume of Poems and Ballads. Mr. Whistler took the
type of woman and the sentiment of the picture from Rossetti; he saw
that even in painting Rossetti had something to say, and, lest an
artistic thought should be lost to the world through inadequate
expression, he painted this picture. He did not go on painting
pictures in the Rossetti sentiment, because he thought he had
exhausted Rossetti in one picture. In this he was possibly mistaken,
but the large, white, indolent shoulders, misshapen, almost grotesque
in original Rossettis, are here in beautiful prime and plenitude; the
line of the head and neck, the hair falling over the stooped shoulder
--a sensuous dream it is; all her body's beauty, to borrow a phrase
from Rossetti, is in that white dress; and the beauty of the arm in
its full white sleeve lies along the white chimney-piece, the fingers
languidly open: two fallen over the edge, two touching the blue vase.
Note how beautiful is the placing of this figure in the picture; how
the golden head shines, high up in the right-hand corner, and the
white dress and white-sleeved arms fill the picture with an exquisite
music of proportion. The dress cuts against the black grate, and the
angle of black is the very happiest; it is brightened with pink sprays
of azaleas, and they seem to whisper the very enchanted bloom of their
life into the picture. Never did Dutch or Japanese artist paint
flowers like these. And the fluent music of the painting seems only to
enforce the languor and reverie which this canvas exhales: the languor
of white dress and gold hair; languor and golden reverie float in the
mirror like a sunset in placid waters. The profile in full light is
thrilled with grief of present hours; the full face half lost in
shadow, far away--a ghost of a dead self--is dreaming with half-closed
eyes, unmindful of what may be. By her mirror, gowned in white as if
for dreams, she watches life flowing past her, and she knows of no use
to make of it.


Raphael was a great designer, but there are a purity and a passion in
Ingres' line for the like of which we have to go back to the Greeks.
Apelles could not have realised more exquisite simplifications, could
not have dreamed into any of his lost works a purer soul of beauty
than Ingres did into the head, arms, and torso of "La Source". The
line that floats about the muscles of an arm is illusive, evanescent,
as an evening-tinted sky; and none except the Greeks and Ingres have
attained such mystery of line: not Raphael, not even Michael Angelo in
the romantic anatomies of his stupendous creations. Ingres was a
Frenchman animated by the soul of an ancient Greek, an ancient Greek
who lost himself in Japan. There is as much mystery in Ingres' line as
in Rembrandt's light and shade. The arms and wrists and hands of the
lady seated among the blue cushions in the Louvre are as illusive as
any one of Mr. Whistler's "Nocturnes". The beautiful "Andromeda", head
and throat leaned back almost out of nature, wild eyes and mass of
heavy hair, long white arms uplifted, chained to the basalt,--how rare
the simplifications, those arms, that body, the straight flanks and
slender leg advancing,--are made of lines simple and beautiful as
those which in the Venus of Milo realise the architectural beauty of
woman. We shrink from such comparison, for perforce we see that the
grandeur of the Venus is not in the Andromeda: but in both is the same
quality of beauty. In the drawing for the odalisque, in her long back,
wonderful as a stem of woodbine, there is the very same love of form
which a Greek expressed with the benign ease of a god speaking his
creation through the harmonious universe.

But the pure, unconscious love of form, inherited from the Greeks,
sometimes turned to passion in Ingres: not in "La Source", she is
wholly Greek; but in the beautiful sinuous back of the odalisque we
perceive some of the exasperation of nerves which betrays our century.
If Phidias' sketches had come down to us, the margin filled with his
hesitations, we should know more of his intimate personality. You
notice, my dear reader, how intolerant I am of criticism of my idol,
how I repudiate any slight suggestion of imperfection, how I turn upon
myself and defend my god. Before going to bed, I often stand, candle
in hand, before the Roman lady and enumerate the adorable perfections
of the drawing. I am aware of my weakness, I have pleaded guilty to an
idolatrous worship, but, if I have expressed myself as I intended, my
great love will seem neither vain nor unreasonable. For surely for
quality of beautiful line this man stands nearer to the Greeks than
any other.


"Ladies Under Trees". Not Japanese ladies walking under Japanese
trees--that is to say, trees peculiar to Japan, planted and fashioned
according to the mode of Japan--but merely ladies walking under trees.
True that the costumes are Japanese, the writing on the wall is in
Japanese characters, the umbrellas and the idol on the tray are
Japanese; universality is not attained by the simple device of
dressing the model in a sheet and eliminating all accessories that
might betray time and country; the great artist accepts the costume of
his time and all the special signs of his time, and merely by the
lovely exercise of genius the mere accidents of a generation become
the symbolic expression of universal sensation and lasting truths. Do
not ask me how this transformation is effected; it is the secret of
every great artist, a secret which he exercises unconsciously, and
which no critic has explained.

Looking at this yard of coloured print, I ask myself how it is that
ever since art began no such admirable result has been obtained with
means so slight. A few outlines drawn with pen and ink or pencil, and
the interspaces filled in with two flat tints-a dark green, and a grey
verging on mauve.

The drawing of the figures is marvellously beautiful. But why is it
beautiful? Is it because of the individual character represented in
the faces? The faces are expressed by means of a formula, and are as
like one another as a row of eggs. Are the proportions of the figure
correctly measured, and are the anatomies well understood? The figures
are in the usual proportions so far as the number of heads is
concerned: they are all from six and a half to seven heads high; but
no motion of limbs happens under the draperies, and the hands and
feet, like the faces, are expressed by a set of arbitrary conventions.
It is not even easy to determine whether the posture of the woman on
the right is intended for sitting or kneeling. She holds a tray, on
which is an idol, and to provide sufficient balance for the
composition the artist has placed a yellow umbrella in the idol's
hand. Examine this design from end to end, and nowhere will you find
any desire to imitate nature. With a line Utamaro expresses all that
he deems it necessary to express of a face's contour. Three or four
conventional markings stand for eyes, mouth, and ears; no desire to
convey the illusion of a rounded surface disturbed his mind for a
moment; the intention of the Japanese artists was merely to decorate a
surface with line and colour. It was no part of their scheme to
compete with nature, so it could not occur to them to cover one side
of a face with shadow. The Japanese artists never thought to deceive;
the art of deception they left to their conjurers. The Japanese artist
thought of harmony, not of accuracy of line, and of harmony, not of
truth of colour; it was therefore impossible for him to entertain the
idea of shading his drawings, and had some one whispered the idea to
him he would have answered: "The frame will always tell people that
they are not looking at nature. You would have it all heavy and black,
but I want something light, and bright, and full of beauty. See these
lines, are they not in themselves beautiful? are they not sharp,
clear, and flowing, according to the necessity of the composition? Are
not the grey and the dark green sufficiently contrasted? do they not
bring to your eyes a sense of repose and unity? Look at the
embroideries on the dresses, are they not delicate? do not the
star-flowers come in the right place? is not the yellow in harmony
with the grey and the green? And the blossoms on the trees, are they
not touched in with the lightness of hand and delicacy of tone that
you desire? Step back and see if the spots of colour and the effects
of line become confused, or if they still hold their places from a
distance as well as close...."

Ladies under trees, by Utamaro! That grey-green design alternated with
pale yellow corresponds more nearly to a sonata by Mozart than to
anything else; both are fine decorations, musical and pictorial
decorations, expressing nothing more definite than that sense of
beauty which haunts the world. The fields give flowers, and the hands
of man works of art.

Then this art is wholly irresponsible--it grows, obeying no rules,
even as the flowers?

In obedience to the laws of some irregular metre so delicate and
subtle that its structure escapes our analysis, the flowers bloom in
faultless, flawless, and ever-varying variety. We can only say these
are beautiful because they are beautiful....

That is begging the question.

He who attempts to go to the root of things always finds himself
begging the question in the end....

But you have to admit that a drawing that does not correspond to the
object which the artist has set himself to copy cannot be well drawn.

That idea is the blight that has fallen on European art. The goodness
or the badness of a drawing exists independently of the thing copied.
We say--speaking of a branch, of a cloud, of a rock, of a flower, of a
leaf--how beautifully drawn! Some clouds and some leaves are better
drawn than others, not on account of complexity or simplicity of form,
but because they interpret an innate sense of harmony inherent in us.
And this natural drawing, which exists sometimes irrespective of
anatomies and proportions, is always Utamaro's.

I do not know how long I stood examining this beautiful drawing,
studying the grey and the green tint, admiring the yellow flowers on
the dresses, wondering at the genius that placed the yellow umbrella
in the idol's hand, the black masses of hair above the faces, so
charmingly decorated with great yellow hair-pins. I watched the beauty
of the trees, and was moved by the placing of the trees in the
composition, and I delighted in the delicate blossoms. I was enchanted
by all this bright and gracious paganism which Western civilisation
has already defaced, and in a few years will have wholly destroyed.

I might describe more prints, and the pleasure they have given me; I
might pile epithet upon epithet; I might say that the colour was as
deep and as delicate as flower-bloom, and every outline spontaneous,
and exquisite to the point of reminding me of the hopbine and ferns.
It would be well to say these things; the praise would be appropriate
to the occasion; but rather am I minded to call the reader's attention
to what seems to me to be an essential difference between the East and
the West.

Michael Angelo and Velasquez, however huge their strength in
portraiture and decoration, however sublime Veronese and Tintoretto in
magnificent display of colour, we must perforce admit to Oriental art
a refinement of thought and a delicacy of handicraft--the outcome of
the original thought--which never was attained by Italy, and which so
transcends our grosser sense that it must for ever remain only half
perceived and understood by us.


Before commenting on the very thoughtless utterances of two
distinguished men, I think I must--even at the risk of appearing to
attach over-much importance to my criticisms--reprint what I said
about _L'Absinthe_; for in truth it was I who first meddled with
the moral tap, and am responsible for the overflow:--

"Look at the head of the old Bohemian--the engraver Deboutin--a man
whom I have known all my life, and yet he never really existed for
me until I saw this picture. There is the hat I have always known,
on the back of his head as I have always seen it, and the wooden
pipe is held tight in his teeth as I have always seen him hold it.
How large, how profound, how simple the drawing! How easily and
how naturally he lives in the pose, the body bent forward, the
elbows on the table! Fine as the Orchardson undoubtedly is, it seems
fatigued and explanatory by the side of this wonderful rendering of
life; thin and restless--like Dumas fils' dialogue when we compare
it with Ibsen's. The woman that sits beside the artist was at the
Elysee Montmartre until two in the morning, then she went to the
_ratmort_ and had a soupe _aux choux_; she lives in the
Rue Fontaine, or perhaps the Rue Breda; she did not get up till
half-past eleven; then she tied a few soiled petticoats round her,
slipped on that peignoir, thrust her feet into those loose morning
shoes, and came down to the cafe to have an absinthe before breakfast.
Heavens! what a slut! A life of idleness and low vice is upon her
face; we read there her whole life. _The tale is not a pleasant one,
but it is a lesson_. Hogarth's view was larger, wider, but not so
incisive, so deep, or so intense. Then how loose and general Hogarth's
composition would seem compared to this marvellous epitome, this
essence of things! That open space in front of the table, into which
the skirt and the lean legs of the man come so well--how well the
point of view was selected! The beautiful, dissonant rhythm of that
composition is like a page of Wagner--the figures crushed into the
right of the canvas, the left filled up with a fragment of marble
table running in sharp perspective into the foreground. The newspaper
lies as it would lie across the space between the tables. The colour,
almost a monochrome, is very beautiful, a deep, rich harmony. More
marvellous work the world never saw, and will never see again: a maze
of assimilated influences, strangely assimilated, and eluding
definition--remembrances of Watteau and the Dutch painters, a good
deal of Ingres' spirit, and, in the vigour of the arabesque, we may
perhaps trace the influence of Poussin. But these influences float
evanescent on the canvas, and the reading is difficult and

I have written many a negligent phrase, many a stupid phrase, but the
italicised phrase is the first hypocritical phrase I ever wrote. I
plead guilty to the grave offence of having suggested that a work of
art is more than a work of art. The picture is only a work of art, and
therefore void of all ethical signification. In writing the abominable
phrase "_but it is a lesson_" I admitted as a truth the ridiculous
contention that a work of art may influence a man's moral conduct; I
admitted as a truth the grotesque contention that to read _Mdlle. de
Maupin_ may cause a man to desert his wife, whereas to read _Paradise
Lost_ may induce him to return to her. In the abominable phrase which
I plead guilty to having written, I admitted the monstrous contention
that our virtues and our vices originate not in our inherited natures,
but are found in the books we read and the pictures we look upon. That
art should be pure is quite another matter, and the necessity of
purity in art can be maintained for other than ethical reasons. Art--I
am speaking now of literature--owes a great deal to ethics, but
ethics owes nothing to art. Without morality the art of the novelist
and the dramatist would cease. So we are more deeply interested in the
preservation of public morality than any other class--the clergy, of
course, excepted. To accuse us of indifference in this matter is
absurd. We must do our best to keep up a high standard of public
morality; our living depends upon it--and it would be difficult to
suggest a more powerful reason for our advocacy. Nevertheless, by a
curious irony of fate we must preserve--at least, in our books--a
distinctly impartial attitude on the very subject which most nearly
concerns our pockets.

To remove these serious disabilities should be our serious aim. It
might be possible to enter into some arrangement with the bishops to
allow us access to the pulpits. Mr. So-and so's episcopal style--I
refer not only to this gentleman's writings, but also to his style of
figure, which, on account of the opportunities it offers for a display
of calf, could not fail to win their lordships' admiration--marks him
as the proper head and spokesman of the deputation; and his well-known
sympathies for the pecuniary interests of authors would enable him to
explain that not even their lordships' pockets were so gravely
concerned in the maintenance of public morality as our own.

I have allowed my pen to wander somewhat from the subject in hand; for
before permitting myself to apologise for having hypocritically
declared a great picture to be what it was not, and could not be--"a
lesson"--it was clearly incumbent on me to show that the moral
question was the backbone of the art which I practise myself, and that
of all classes none are so necessarily moral as novelists. I think I
have done this beyond possibility of disproof, or even of argument,
and may therefore be allowed to lament my hypocrisy with as many tears
and groans as I deem sufficient for the due expiation of my sin.
Confession eases the heart. Listen. My description of Degas' picture
seemed to me a little unconventional, and to soothe the reader who is
shocked by everything that lies outside his habitual thought, and to
dodge the reader who is always on the watch to introduce a discussion
on that sterile subject, "morality in art", to make things pleasant
for everybody, to tickle the Philistine in his tenderest spot, I told
a little lie: I suggested that some one had preached. I ought to have
known human nature better--what one dog does another dog will do, and
straight away preaching began--Zola and the drink question from Mr.
Richmond, sociology from Mr. Crane.

But the picture is merely a work of art, and has nothing to do with
drink or sociology; and its title is not _L' Absinthe_, nor even _Un
Homme et une Femme assis dans un Cafe_, as Mr. Walter Sickert
suggests, but simply _Au Cafe_. Mr. Walter Crane writes: "Here is a
study of human degradation, male and female." Perhaps Mr. Walter Crane
will feel inclined to apologise for his language when he learns that
the man who sits tranquilly smoking his pipe is a portrait of the
engraver Deboutin, a man of great talent and at least Mr. Walter
Crane's equal as a writer and as a designer. True that M. Deboutin
does not dress as well as Mr. Walter Crane, but there are many young
men in Pall Mall who would consider Mr. Crane's velvet coat, red
necktie, and soft felt hat quite intolerable, yet they would hardly be
justified in speaking of a portrait of Mr. Walter Crane as a study of
human degradation. Let me assure Mr. Walter Crane that when he speaks
of M. Deboutin's life as being degraded, he is speaking on a subject
of which he knows nothing. M. Deboutin has lived a very noble life, in
no way inferior to Mr. Crane's; his life has been entirely devoted to
art and literature; his etchings have been for many years the
admiration of artistic Paris, and he has had a play in verse performed
at the Theatre Francais.

The picture represents M. Deboutin in the cafe of the _Nouvelle
Athenes_ He has come down from his studio for breakfast, and he will
return to his dry-points when he has finished his pipe. I have known
M. Deboutin a great number of years, and a more sober man does not
exist; and Mr. Crane's accusations of drunkenness might as well be
made against Mr. Bernard Shaw. When, hypocritically, I said the
picture was a lesson, I referred to the woman, who happens to be
sitting next to M. Deboutin. Mr. Crane, Mr. Richmond, and others have
jumped to the conclusion that M. Deboutin has come to the cafe with
the woman, and that they are "boozing" together. Nothing can be
farther from the truth. Deboutin always came to the cafe alone, as did
Manet, Degas, Duranty. Deboutin is thinking of his dry-points; the
woman is incapable of thought. If questioned about her life she would
probably answer, _"je suis a la coule"_. But there is no implication
of drunkenness in the phrase. In England this class of woman is
constantly drunk, in France hardly ever; and the woman Degas has
painted is typical of her class, and she wears the habitual expression
of her class. And the interest of the subject, from Degas' point of
view, lies in this strange contrast--the man thinking of his
dry-points, the woman thinking, as the phrase goes, of nothing at all.
_Au Cafe_--that is the title of the picture. How simple, how
significant! And how the picture gains in meaning when the web of
false melodrama that a couple of industrious spiders have woven about
it is brushed aside!

I now turn to the more interesting, and what I think will prove the
more instructive, part of my task--the analysis of the art criticism
of Mr. Richmond and Mr. Crane.

Mr. Richmond says "it is not painting at all". We must understand
therefore that the picture is void of all accomplishment--composition,
drawing, and handling. We will take Mr. Richmond's objections in their
order. The subject-matter out of which the artist extracted his
composition was a man and woman seated in a cafe furnished with marble
tables. The first difficulty the artist had to overcome was the
symmetry of the lines of the tables. Not only are they exceedingly
ugly from all ordinary points of view, but they cut the figures in
two. The simplest way out of the difficulty would be to place one
figure on one side of a table, the other on the other side, and this
composition might be balanced by a waiter seen in the distance. That
would be an ordinary arrangement of the subject. But the ingenuity
with which Degas selects his point of view is without parallel in the
whole history of art. And this picture is an excellent example. One
line of tables runs up the picture from left to right, another line of
tables, indicated by three parts of one table, strikes right across
the foreground. The triangle thus formed is filled by the woman's
dress, which is darker than the floor and lighter than the leather
bench on which both figures are seated. Looking still more closely
into the composition, we find that it is made of several perspectives
--the dark perspective of the bench, the light perspective of the
partition behind, on which the light falls, and the rapid perspective
of the marble table in the foreground. The man is high up on the
right-hand corner, the woman is in the middle of the picture, and
Degas has been careful to place her in front of the opening between
the tables, for by so doing he was able to carry his half-tint right
through the picture. The empty space on the left, so characteristic of
Degas's compositions, admirably balances the composition, and it is
only relieved by the stone matchbox, and the newspaper thrown across
the opening between the tables. Everywhere a perspective, and these
are combined with such strange art that the result is synthetic. A
beautiful dissonant rhythm, always symphonic _coulant longours de
source_; an exasperated vehemence and a continual desire of novelty
penetrated and informed by a severely classical spirit--that is my
reading of this composition.

"The qualities admired by this new school are certainly the mirrors of
that side of the nineteenth-century development most opposed to fine
painting, or, say, fine craftsmanship. Hurry, rush, fashion, are the
enemies of toil, patience, and seclusion, without which no great works
are produced. Hence the admiration for an art fully answering to a
demand. No doubt impressionism is an expression in painting of the
deplorable side of modern life."

After "forty years of the study of the best art of various schools
that the galleries of Europe display", Mr. Richmond mistakes Degas for
an impressionist (I use the word in its accepted sense); he follows
the lead of the ordinary art critic who includes Degas among the
impressionists because Degas paints dancing lessons, and because he
has once or twice exhibited with Monet and his followers. The best
way--possibly the only way--to obtain any notion of the depth of the
abyss on which we stand will be by a plain statement of the facts.

When Ingres fell down in the fit from which he never recovered, it was
Degas who carried him out of his studio. Degas had then been working
with Ingres only a few months, but that brief while convinced Ingres
of his pupil's genius, and it is known that he believed that it would
be Degas who would carry on the classical tradition of which he was a
great exponent. Degas has done this, not as Flandren tried to, by
reproducing the externality of the master's work, but as only a man of
genius could, by the application of the method to new material.
Degas's early pictures, "The Spartan Youths" and "Semiramis building
the Walls of Babylon". are pure Ingres. To this day Degas might be
very fairly described as _un petit Ingres_. Do we not find Ingres'
penetrating and intense line in the thin straining limbs of Degas's
ballet-girls, in the heavy shoulders of his laundresses bent over the
ironing table, and in the coarse forms of his housewives who sponge
themselves in tin baths? The vulgar, who see nothing of a work of art
but its external side, will find it difficult to understand that the
art of "La Source" and of Degas's cumbersome housewives is the same.
To the vulgar, Bouguereau and not Degas is the interpreter of the
classical tradition.

'Hurry, rush, fashion, are the enemies of toil, patience, and
seclusion, without which no great works are produced.'

For the sake of his beloved drawing Degas has for many years locked
himself into his studio from early morning till late at night,
refusing to open even to his most intimate friends. Coming across him
one morning in a small cafe, where he went at midday to eat a cutlet,
I said, "My dear friend, I haven't seen you for years; when may I
come?" The answer I received was: "You're an old friend, and if you'll
make an appointment I'll see you. But I may as well tell you that for
the last two years no one has been in my studio." On the whole it is
perhaps as well that I declined to make an appointment, for another
old friend who went, and who stayed a little longer than he was
expected to stay, was thrown down the staircase. And that staircase is
spiral, as steep as any ladder. Until he succeeded in realising his
art Degas's tongue was the terror of artistic Paris; his solitary
days, the strain on the nerves that the invention and composition of
his art, so entirely new and original, entailed, wrecked his temper,
and there were moments when his friends began to dread the end that
his striving might bring about. But with the realisation of his
artistic ideal his real nature returned, and he is now full of kind
words for the feeble, and full of indulgence for the slightest
artistic effort.

The story of these terrible years of striving is written plainly
enough on every canvas signed by Degas; yet Mr. Richmond imagines him
skipping about airily from cafe to cafe, dashing off little
impressions. In another letter Mr. Richmond says, 'Perfect
craftsmanship, such as was Van Eyck's, Holbein's, Bellini's, Michael
Angelo's, becomes more valuable as time goes on.' It is interesting to
hear that Mr. Richmond admires Holbein's craftsmanship, but it will be
still more interesting if he will explain how and why the head of the
old Bohemian in the picture entitled "L'Absinthe" is inferior to
Holbein. The art of Holbein, as I understand it--and if I do not
understand it rightly I shall be delighted to have my mistake
explained to me--consists of measurements and the power of observing
and following an outline with remorseless precision. Now Degas in his
early manner was frequently this. His portrait of his father listening
to Pagan singing whilst he accompanied himself on the guitar is pure
Holbein. Whether it is worse or better than Holbein is a matter of
individual opinion; but to affect to admire Holbein and to decline to
admire the portrait I speak of is--well, incomprehensible. The
portrait of Deboutin in the picture entitled "L'Absinthe" is a later
work, and is not quite so nearly in the manner of Holbein; but it is
quite nearly enough to allow me to ask Mr. Richmond to explain how,
and why it is inferior to Holbein. Inferior is not the word I want,
for Mr. Richmond holds Holbein to be one of the greatest painters the
world ever knew, and Degas to be hardly a painter at all.

For three weeks the pens of art critics, painters, designers, and
engravers have been writing about this picture--about this rough
Bohemian who leans over the cafe table with his wooden pipe fixed fast
between his teeth, with his large soft felt hat on the back of his
head, upheld there by a shock of bushy hair, with his large battered
face grown around with scanty, unkempt beard, illuminated by a fixed
and concentrated eye which tells us that his thoughts are in pursuit
of an idea--about one of the finest specimens of the art of this
century--and what have they told us? Mr. Richmond mistakes the work
for some hurried sketch--impressionism--and practically declares the
painting to be worthless. Mr. Walter Crane says it is only fit for a
sociological museum or for an illustrated tract in a temperance
propaganda; he adds some remarks about "a new Adam and Eve and a
paradise of unnatural selection" which escape my understanding. An
engraver said that the picture was a vulgar subject vulgarly painted.
Another set of men said the picture was wonderful, extraordinary,
perfect, complete, excellent. But on neither side was any attempt made
to explain why the picture was bad or why the picture was excellent.
The picture is excellent, but why is it excellent? Because the scene
is like a real scene passing before your eyes? Because nothing has
been omitted that might have been included, because nothing has been
included that might have been omitted? Because the painting is clear,
smooth, and limpid and pleasant to the eye? Because the colour is
harmonious, and though low in tone, rich and strong? Because each face
is drawn in its distinctive lines, and each tells the tale of
instincts and of race? Because the clothing is in its accustomed folds
and is full of the individuality of the wearer? We look on this
picture and we ask ourselves how it is that amongst the tens and
hundreds of thousands of men who have painted men and women in their
daily occupations, habits, and surroundings, no one has said so much
in so small a space, no one has expressed himself with that simplicity
which draws all veils aside, and allows us to look into the heart of

Where is the drawing visible except in the result? How beautifully
concise it is, and yet it is large, supple, and true without excess of
reality. Can you detect anywhere a measurement? Do you perceive a
base, a fixed point from which the artist calculated and compared his
drawing? That hat, full of the ill-usage of the studio, hanging on the
shock of bushy hair, the perspective of those shoulders, and the round
of the back, determining the exact width and thickness of the body,
the movement of the arm leaning on the table, and the arm perfectly in
the sleeve, and the ear and the shape of the neck hidden in the shadow
of the hat and hair, and the battered face, sparely sown with an
ill-kempt beard, illuminated by a fixed look which tells us that his
thoughts are in pursuit of an idea--this old Bohemian smoking his
pipe, does he not seem to have grown out of the canvas as naturally
and mysteriously as a herb or plant? By the side of this drawing do
not all the drawings in the gallery of English, French, Belgian, and
Scandinavian seem either childish, ignorant-timed, or presumptuous? By
the side of this picture do not all the other pictures in the gallery
seem like little painted images?

Compared with this drawing, would not Holbein seem a little
geometrical? Again I ask if you can detect in any outline or accent a
fixed point from whence the drawing was measured, calculated, and
constructed. In the drawing of all the other painters you trace the
method and you take note of the knowledge through which the model has
been seen and which has, as it were, dictated to the eye what it
should see. But in Degas the science of the drawing is hidden from
us--a beautiful flexible drawing almost impersonal, bending to and
following the character, as naturally as the banks follow the course
of their river.

I stop, although I have not said everything. To complete my study of
this picture we should have to examine that smooth, clean, supple
painting of such delicate and yet such a compact tissue; we should
have to study that simple expressive modelling; we should have to
consider the resources of that palette, reduced almost to a monochrome
and yet so full of colour. I stop, for I think I have said enough to
rouse if not to fully awaken suspicion in Mr. Richmond and Mr. Crane
of the profound science concealed in a picture about which I am afraid
they have written somewhat thoughtlessly.

* * * * *

In the midst of a somewhat foolish and ignorant argument regarding the
morality and the craftsmanship of a masterpiece, the right of the new
art criticism to adversely criticise the work of Royal Academicians
has been called into question. I cull the following from the columns
of the _Westminster Gazette_;--

'Their words are practically the same; their praise and blame are
similarly inspired; the means they employ to gain their object
identical. So much we can see for ourselves. As for their object and
their _bona-fides_, they concern me not. It is what they do, not what
they are, that is the question here. What they do is to form a caucus
in art criticism, and owing to their vehemence and the limitation of
their aim, a caucus which is increasing in influence, and, to the best
of my belief, doing cruel injustice to many great artists, and much
injury to English art. It is for this reason, and this reason only,
that I have taken up my parable on the subject. I have in vain
endeavoured to induce those whose words would come with far greater
authority than mine to do so. I went personally to the presidents of
the two greatest artistic bodies in the kingdom to ask them to speak
or write on the subject, but I found their view to be that such action
would be misconstrued, and would in their position be unbecoming.'

The meaning of all this is that the ferret is in the hole and the rats
have begun to squeak already. Soon they will come hopping out of St.
John's Wood Avenue, so make ready your sticks and stones.

In April 1892 I wrote: 'The position of the Academy is as impregnable
as Gibraltar. But Gibraltar itself was once captured by a small
company of resolute men, and if ever there exist in London six
resolute art critics, each capable of distinguishing between a bad
picture and a good one, each determined at all costs to tell the
truth, and if these six critics will keep in line, then, and not till
then, some of the reforms so urgently needed, and so often demanded
from the Academy, will be granted. I do not mean that these six
critics will bring the Academicians on their knees by writing
fulminating articles on the Academy. Such attacks were as idle as
whistling for rain on the house-tops. The Academicians laugh at such
attacks, relying on the profound indifference of the public to
artistic questions. But there is another kind of attack which the
Academicians may not ignore, and that is true criticism. If six
newspapers were to tell the simple truth about the canvases which the
Academicians will exhibit next month, the Academicians would soon cry
out for quarter and grant all necessary reforms.'

I have only now to withdraw the word "reform". The Academy cannot
reform, and must be destroyed. The Academy has tried to reform, and
has failed. Thirty years ago the pre-Raphaelite movement nearly
succeeded in bringing about an effectual shipwreck. But when Mr.
Holman Hunt went to Italy, special terms were offered and accepted.
The election of Millais and Watts saved the Academy, and instead of
the Academy, it was the genius of one of England's greatest painters
that was destroyed. "Ophelia", "Autumn Leaves", and "St. Agnes' Eve"
are pictures that will hold their own in any gallery among pictures of
every age and every country. But fathomless is the abyss which
separates them from Sir John Millais' academic work.

The Academy is a distinctly commercial enterprise. Has not Sir John
Millais said, in an interview, that the hanging committee at
Burlington House selects the pictures that will draw the greatest
number of shillings. The Academy has been subventioned by the State to
the extent of three hundred thousand pounds, and that money has been
employed in arrogant commercialism. The Academy holds a hundred
thousand pounds in trust, left by Mr. Chantry for the furtherance of
art in this country; and this money is spent on the purchase of
pictures by impecunious Academicians, and the collection formed with
this money is one of the seven horrors of civilisation. The Academy
has tolerated genius when it was popular, it has trampled upon genius
when it was unpopular; and the business of the new art criticism is to
rid art of the incubus. The Academy must be destroyed, and when that
is accomplished the other Royal institutes will follow as a matter of
course. The object of the new art criticism is to give free trade to


Come to the New Gallery. We shall pass out of sight of flat dreary
London, drab-coloured streets full of overcoats, silk hats, dripping
umbrellas, omnibuses. We shall pass out of sight of long perspectives
of square houses lost in fine rain and grey mist. We shall enter an
enchanted land, a land of angels and aureoles; of crimson and gold,
and purple raiment; of beautiful youths crowned with flowers; of
fabulous blue landscape and delicate architecture. Know ye the land?
Botticelli is king there, king of clasped hands and almond-eyed
Madonnas. It was he who conceived and designed that enigmatic Virgin's
face; it was he who placed that long-fingered hand on the thigh of the
Infant God; it was he who coiled that heavy hair about that triangle
of neck and interwove it with pearls; it was he who drew the graceful
lace over the head-dress, and painted it in such innumerable delicacy
of fold that we wonder and are fain to believe that it is but the
magic of an instant's hallucination. Know ye the land? Filippo Lippi
is prince there, prince of angel youths, fair hair crowned with fair
flowers; they stand round a tall throne with strings of coral and
precious stones in their hands. It was Filippo Lippi who composed that
palette of grey soft pearly pink; it was he who placed that beautiful
red in the right-hand corner, and carried it with such enchanting
harmony through the yellow raiment of the angel youth, echoing it in a
subdued key in the vesture which the Virgin wears under her blue
garment, and by means of the red coral which decorates the tall throne
he carried it round the picture; it was he, too, who filled those
angel eyes with passion such as awakens in heaven at the touch of
wings, at the sound of citherns and cintoles.

Know ye the land where Botticelli and Filippo Lippi dreamed immortal
dreams? Know ye the land, Italy in the fifteenth century? Exquisite
angel faces were their visions by day and night, and their thoughts
were mystic landscapes and fantastic architecture; aureoles, roses,
pearls, and rich embroideries were parcel of their habitual sense; and
the decoration of a surface with beautiful colour was their souls'
desire. Of truth of effect and local colour they knew nothing, and
cared nothing. Beauty for beauty's sake was the first article of their
faith. They measured a profile with relentless accuracy, and followed
its outline unflinchingly, their intention was no more than to produce
a likeness of the lady who sat posing for her portrait, but some
miracle saved them from base naturalism. The humblest, equally with
the noblest dreamer, was preserved from it; and that their eyes
naturally saw more beautifully than ours seems to be the only
explanation. Ugliness must have always existed; but Florentine eyes
did not see ugliness. Or did their eyes see it, and did they disdain
it? Do they owe their art to a wise festheticism, or to a fortunate
limitation of sight? These are questions that none may answer, but
which rise up in our mind and perplex us when we enter the New
Gallery; for verily it would seem, from the dream pictures there, that
a time once existed upon earth when the world was fair as a garden,
and life was a happy aspiration. In the fifteenth century the world
seems to have been made of gold, jewellery, pictures, embroidered
stuffs, statues, and engraved weapons; in the fifteenth century the
world seems to have been inhabited only by nobles and prelates; and
the only buildings that seem to have existed were palaces and
cathedrals. Then Art seemed for all men, and life only for
architecture, painting, carving, and engraving long rapiers; and
length of time for monks to illuminate great missals in the happy
solitude of their cells, and for nuns to weave embroideries and to
stitch jewelled vestments.

The Florentines loved their children as dearly as we do ours; but in
their pictures there is but the Divine Child. They loved girls and
gallantries as well as we do; but in their pictures there are but the
Virgin and a few saints.

History tells us that wars, massacres, and persecutions were frequent
in the fifteenth century; but in its art we learn no more of the
political than we do of the domestic life of the century. The Virgin
and Child were sufficient inspiration for hundreds of painters. Now
she is in full-face, now in three-quarter face, now in profile. In
this picture she wears a blue cloak, in that picture she is clad in a
grey. She is alone with the Child in a bower of tall roses, or she is
seated on a high throne. Perhaps the painter has varied the
composition by the introduction of St. John leaning forward with
clasped hands; or maybe he has introduced a group of angels, as
Filippo Lippi has done. The throne is sometimes high, sometimes low;
but such slight alteration is enough for a new picture. And several
generations of painters seem to have lived and died believing that
their art was to all practical and artistic purposes limited to the
continual variation of this theme.

Among these painters Botticelli was the incontestable master; but
about him crowd hundreds of pictures, pictures rather than names.
Imagine a number of workmen anxious to know how they should learn to
paint well, to paint with brilliancy, with consistency, with ease, and
with lasting colours. Imagine a collection of gold ornaments, jewels,
and enamels, in which we can detect the skill of the goldsmith, of the
painter of stained-glass, of the engraver, and of the illuminator of
missals; the inspiration is grave and monastic, the destination a
palace or a cathedral, the effect dazzling; and out of this miraculous
handicraft Filippo Lippi is always distinct, soft as the dawn,
mysterious as a flower, less vigorous but more illusive than
Botticelli, and so strangely personal that while looking at him we are

To differentiate between the crowd of workmen that surrounded Filippo
Lippi and Botticelli were impossible. They painted beautiful things
because they lived in an age in which ugliness hardly existed, or was
not as visible as it is now; they were content to merge their
personalities in an artistic formula; none sought to invent a
personality which did not exist in himself. Employing without question
a method of drawing and of painting that was common to all of them,
they worked in perfect sympathy, almost in collaboration. Plagiarism
was then a virtue; they took from each other freely; and the result is
a collective rather than individual inspirations. Now and then genius
breaks through, as a storm breaks a spell of summer weather. "The
Virgin and Child, with St. Clare and St. Agatha", lent by Mrs. Austin
and the trustees of the late J. T. Austin, is one of the most
beautiful pictures I have ever seen. The temperament of the painter,
his special manner of feeling and seeing, is strangely, almost
audaciously, affirmed in the mysterious sensuality of the angels'
faces; the painter lays bare a rare and remote corner of his soul;
something has been said that was never said before, and never has been
said so well since. But if the expression given to these angels is
distinctive, it is extraordinarily enhanced by the beauty of the
colour. Indeed, the harmony of the colour-scheme is inseparable from
the melodious expressiveness of the eyes. Look at the gesture of the
hand on the right; is not the association of ideas strangely intimate,
curious, and profound?

But come and let us look at a real Botticelli, a work which convinces
at the first glance by the extraordinary expressiveness of the
drawing, by the originality of the design, by the miraculous
handicraft; let us look at the "Virgin and Child and St. John", lent
by Messrs. Colnaghi.

It is a panel some 36 by 25 inches, almost filled by a life-size
three-quarter-length figure of the Virgin. She is seated on the right,
and holds the Infant Saviour in her arms. In the foreground on the
left there is a book and cushion, behind which St. John stands, his
hands clasped, bearing a cross. Never was a head designed with more
genius than that strange Virgin, ecstatic, mysterious, sphinx-like;
with half-closed eyes, she bends her face to meet her God's kiss. In
this picture Botticelli sought to realise the awfulness of the
Christian mystery: the Mother leans to the kiss of her Son--her Son,
who is likewise her God, and her brain is dim with its ecstasy. She is
perturbed and overcome; the kiss is in her brain, and it trembles on
her lips. You who have not seen the picture will think that this
description is but the tale of the writer who reads his fancies into
the panel before him. But the intention of the painter did not
outstrip the power of expression which his fingers held. He expressed
what I say he expressed, and more perfectly, more suggestively, than
any words. And how? It will be imagined that it was by means of some
illusive line that Botticelli rendered the very touch and breath of
this extraordinary kiss; by that illusive line which Degas employs in
his expressions of the fugitive and the evanescent. How great,
therefore, is our surprise when we look into the picture to find that
the mystery and ecstasy of this kiss are expressed by a hard, firm,
dark line.

And the sensation of this strange ecstatic kiss pervades the entire
composition; it is embodied in the hand placed so reverently on the
thigh of the Infant God and in the eyes of St. John, who watches the
divine mystery which is being accomplished. On St. John's face there
is earthly reverence and awe; on Christ's face, though it is drawn in
rigid outline, though it looks as if it were stamped out of iron,
there is universal love, cloudlike and ineffable; and Christ's knees
are drawn close, and the hand of the Virgin holds them close; and
through the hand come bits of draperies exquisitely designed. Indeed,
the distribution of line through the picture is as perfect as the
distribution of colour; the form of the blue cloak is as perfect as
the colour, and the green cape falls from the shoulder, satisfying
both senses; the crimson vesture which she wears underneath her cloak
is extraordinarily pure, and balances the crimson cloak which St. John
wears. But these beauties are subordinate to the beauty of the
Virgin's head. How grand it is in style! How strange and enigmatic!
And in the design of that head Botticelli has displayed all his skill.
The fair hair is covered with delicate gauze edged with lace, and
overcoming the difficulties of that most rebellious of all
mediums--tempera!--his brush worked over the surface, fulfilling his
slightest thought, realising all the transparency of gauze, the
intricacy of lace, the brightness of crimson silk, the very gravity of
the embossed binding of the book, the sway and texture of every
drapery, the gold of the tall cross, and the darker gold of the
aureole high up in the picture, set against a strip of Florentine sky.


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