chapter 1, pp. 1-32.
PAINTING AND ENGRAVING.
PAINTING IS THE ART OF EXPRESSING ALL THE CONCEPTIONS OF THE SOUL, BY MEANS OF ALL THE REALITIES OF NATURE; REPRESENTED UPON A SMOOTH SURFACE BY THEIR FORMS AND COLORS.
The offspring of a common Cradle, Architecture, two arts issued one after the other from the maternal bosom, Sculpture and Painting. The latter in the beginning was nothing more than a coloration of the surfaces of the temple and its reliefs, a coloration symbolic rather than imitative. Later it detached itself from the walls; it became an independent art, living its own life, mobile and free. But even when completely emancipated it played only a secondary role. The art, par excellence, of mythological antiquity was not, could not be, painting; this we learn by induction, although time has spared us no ancient paintings except those of Pompeii which, in genius and culture, was a Grecian city. Under the empire of mythology which referred all creation to man and recognized in the gods Only perfect men, rendered immortal by beauty, the favorite, the dominant art, must have been sculpture. Those beautiful realities, the rivers, the mountains, the trees and the flowers, the infinite heaven, the immense sea, were represented only by human forms. The Earth was a woman crowned with towers; the Ocean and its depths were figured by a boisterous god, followed by tritons and nereids; its roaring was only the sound of marine shells blown by half-human monsters. The bark of the oak concealed the modest Hamadryad, the green prairie was a couchant nymph, and Spring herself bore the name and tunic of a Young girl. How could painting display its brilliancy and eloquence when Nature, which contains in itself the treasury of light, and in this treasury all the colors of the palette, was wanting to its representations?
What has happened? By what evolution has painting taken the first place? It is Christianity which has supplanted sculpture, by placing beauty of soul above that of the body. When a religion full of terror and impregnated with a melancholy poetry succeeded to the serenity of Paganism, the artist found above him only an invisible God; before him troubled and mortal beings. Dethroned from his pedestal, man falls into the midst of the accidents, trials, and griefs of life. He is plunged again into the bosom of nature. He wears the costume of the times in which he lives. and, subject to the influences of the sky under which he is born, and the landscape that surrounds him, he receives their impressions, reflects their colors. The artist will necessarily represent the human figure by its peculiar, even accidental characteristics, for this painting will be the most fitting art, because it furnishes to expression immense resources, air, space, perspective, landscape, light and shadow, color.
In the domain of Pagan sculpture man was naked, tranquil, and beautiful. In the realm of Christian painting he will be troubled, modest, and clothed. Nakedness now makes him blush, the flesh is a shame to him, and beauty causes fear. Henceforth he will seek his pleasures in the moral world, he will need an expressive art, an art which to touch or charm him borrows all the images of creation. This art is painting. Aiming to express internal sentiments, painting has not, like sculpture, need of the three dimensions. Faithful to its primitive purpose, which was to decorate walls, it uses only smooth surfaces, plane, concave, or convex; for appearance suffices and must suffice. Why? Because if it were palpable it would become sculpture. The cubic reality would take from the image its essentially spiritual character and shackle the flight of the soul. Framed in real things, its expression would lack unity, would be contradicted by the changing spectacle of nature, by the ceaselessly varying light of the sun, and its factitious colors would grow pale, would fade out before those of the colorist, par excellence. The statue, elevated sometimes upon a pedestal, sometimes upon the capital of a column, or isolated in its niche, which forms a foundation, an abiding place for it, has an independent and separate existence, is a world in itself. Monochrome, it forms a contrast with all the natural colorations which, far from injuring its unity, enhance it, render it more striking. The painter, on the contrary, having to represent not so much situations, like sculpture, but actions, and all the infinitely varied scenes that pass upon the stage of life, must choose suitable natural objects to surround his figures, must find means to characterize the landscape and to complete the expression of it, that is to say, the light and the color.
Color is in painting an essential, almost indispensable element, since having all Nature to represent, the painter cannot make her speak without borrowing her language. But here a profound distinction presents itself.
Intelligent beings have a language represented by articulate sounds; Organized beings, like animals and vegetables, express themselves by cries or forms, contour, carriage. Inorganic nature has only the language of color. It is by color alone that a certain stone tells us it is a sapphire or an emerald. If the painter can by means of some features give us a clear idea of animals and vegetables, make us recognize at once a lion, a horse, a poplar, a rose, it is absolutely impossible, without the aid of color, to show us an emerald or a sapphire. Color, then, is the peculiar characteristic of the lower forms of nature, while the drawing becomes the medium of expression, more and more dominant, the higher we rise in the scale of being. Therefore painting can sometimes dispense with color, if, for example, the inorganic nature and the landscape are insignificant or useless in the scene represented.
Thus we find verified, one by one, all the members of our definition, the one being only the corollary of the other.
Painting, so often and for so long a time defined "the imitation of nature," had been misunderstood in its essence, and reduced to the role filled by the colored photograph. The end has been confounded with the means. Such a definition could not be maintained after the birth of that science of sentiment which we call aesthetics, after the day in which it became almost an art. There is now not a single critic, not a single artist, who does not see in nature, not simply a model to imitate, but a theme for the interpretations of his mind. One considers it as a repertoire of pleasing or terrible objects, of graceful or imposing forms which will serve him to communicate his emotions, his thoughts. Another compares nature to a piano, upon which each painter plays in turn the music that pleases him. But nobody would define painting as imitation, and confound thus the means with the end, the dictionary with eloquence.
If painting were simple imitation, its first duty would be to paint objects in their true dimensions. Colossal figures as well as miniatures would be forbidden, for both are symbols rather than imitations, commemorative rather than imitative images. It would condemn the prophets of Michael Angelo as well as the little figures of Terburg and the diminutive pastures of Paul Potter, in which the cattle are no larger than the hand. Dwarfed or enlarged to this point such figures address themselves only to the imagination, forming no part of the real world. The mind alone renders them life-like. If it is true, for instance, that a man or an animal may appear as small as the hand when one perceives them at a great distance, it is also true that the eye sees them indistinctly, but the smaller the objects, the more exactly must they be painted, since they can only be seen near at hand, so that, while nature indicates distance by vagueness of form, the artist neutralizes distance by precision of form. One readily accepts these agreeable fictions, persuaded that painting is not the pleonasm of reality, but the expression of souls by the imitation of things. Thus. it is no longer art which revolves around nature, but nature that revolves around art as the earth around the sun.
WITHOUT AIMING EITHER AT UTILITY OR MORALITY, PAINTING IS CAPABLE OF ELEVATING THE SOUL OF NATIONS BY THE DIGNITY OF ITS REPRESENTATIONS, AND OF REFORMING THE MANNERS OF MEN BY ITS VISIBLE LESSONS.
A Greek painter having represented, in one of his pictures, Palamedes put to death by his friends upon the perfidious denunciation of Ulysses, it is related of Alexander the Great, that every time he cast his eyes upon the picture, he trembled and turned pale, because it reminded him that he had caused the death of his friend Clitus. This story, which repeats itself every day in life in a thousand ways, makes comprehensible the force of the lessons that painting may contain. Without being either a missionary of religion, a teacher of ethics, or a means of government, painting improves our morals, because it touches us and can awake in us noble aspirations or salutary remorse. Its figures, in their eternal silence, speak more loudly and emphatically to us than could the living philosopher or moralist - men like ourselves. Their immobility sets our mind in motion. More persuasive than the painter who has created them, they lose the character of a human work because they seem to live a loftier life and to belong to another, to an ideal world. The morality that painting teaches us is so much the more captivating because instead of being imposed upon us by the artist it is accepted by ourselves. The spectator respects and admires it, regarding it as his own work. Believing he has discovered it, he willingly submits to it, thinking to obey only his own thought.
Thus painting purifies people by its mute eloquence. Moreover, whatever may be the nature of its images, they always benefit the mind, at first because they address themselves to the mind and excite it, afterwards because in representing to us heroic actions or familiar things, they offer us a Choice in life.
"In sculpture," says Joubert, "the expression is all on the surface; in painting it ought to be within; in this, beauty is in intaglio; in relief in that." The philosopher writes his thought for those who can think as he does and who know how to read. The painter shows his thought to all who have eyes to see. That hidden and naked Virgin - Truth - the artist finds without seeking. He puts a veil upon her, encourages her to please, proves to her that she is beautiful, and when he has reproduced her image he makes us take her and he takes her himself for Beauty.
In communicating to us what has been felt by others, and what perhaps we should never have felt ourselves, the painter gives new strength and corn-pass to the soul. Who knows of how many impressions, fugitive in appearance, the morality of a man is composed, and upon what depend the gentleness of his manners, the correctness of his habits, the elevation of his thoughts? If the painter represents acts of cruelty or injustice, he inspires us with horror A certain scene in the Inquisition, in which Granet saw only the sombre effect of a dim light, will teach us toleration. A historical episode will tell us better than a book can do what we should admire, what hate. A painting in which one sees young negroes garroted, insulted, whipped, crowded into the hold of vessels, will bring about the abolition of slavery as surely and as quickly as the severest formulas of the law. "The Unhappy Family" of Prud'hon would move all the fibres of charity better than the homilies of the preacher. In a picture, nay, in a simple lithograph without color, Charlet has expressed by the physiognomy and gestures of a child, better still than by the legend written below the print, this sentiment of childish but exquisite delicacy: "Those to whom we give, we must not waken." A Greuze, a Chardin, without pedantry, counsel peace and honesty. Again, let a Dutch painter, a Slingelandt, a Metsu, represent to us, in a picture without figures, the preparations for a modest breakfast which awaits the master and mistress of the house, or only a cage of birds at a window, a bouquet of flowers in a vase this simple subject has in painting not only a savor that the reality itself would not possess, but an unexpected signification, a moral value. Your thought
is carried at once towards the delights of the household, of family life. This little spectacle, individual though it be, answers to a general idea, and if it is. presented by an artist who has been secretly moved or charmed by it, he will bring a whole world before the eyes of the imagination. You will feel the grace of private life, the naivete and tenderness of the domestic hearth, the interchange of affectionate epithets, all that the ancients understood by that touching and profound word, house, domus.
Retired within a dwelling that has ever some door open towards the ideal, the true artist has generally a morality quite superior to that of ordinary men. We meet at the galleys, in the prisons, on the benches of the assize court, individuals of all professions One never sees there an artist. "Doubtless the artist is the son of his epoch," says Schiller, in "Letters upon aesthetic Education," "but woe to him if he be also the disciple, the favorite of it. Let some beneficent divinity snatch the child early from the bosom of its mother, feed him upon the milk of a better age, and let him grow up and attain his majority under the far-off sky of Greece. Grown to manhood, let him return, a foreigner, to the Present, not to delight it by his appearance, but rather, terrible as the son of Agamemnon, to purify it. It is true he will receive his materials from the present, but the form he will borrow from a nobler epoch, and even, outside of time, from the absolute, immutable unity of his own essence. Thence, issuing from the pure ether of his celestial nature, flows the source of beauty, that the corruption of generations and ages never disturbs. His material, fancy may dishonor as it has ennobled, but the form, always chaste, escapes its caprices. For long the Roman of the first Century had bent the knee before his emperors, hut the statues always stood upright, the temples remained sacred in the eyes of those who jested at the gods, and the noble style of the edifices that sheltered a Nero or a Commodus protested against their infamous practices. When the human race loses its dignity, it is art which saves it. Truth continues to live in the illusion, and the copy will one day serve to reestablish the model."
It is because painting is burdened with no official instruction that she gently forms us anew, makes us better. The law is less obeyed because it enforces obedience, moral teachers less heeded because they command. Art knows how to persuade, knowing how to please.
FAINTING HAS LIMITS THAT LITERAL IMITATION MAY RESTRICT, THAT FICTION WIDENS, BUT THE MIND ALONE CAN ELEVATE.
WHATEVER may be the extent of its domain, and it is immense, painting has limits. These are not marked by a trenchant line, they insensibly melt into each other and are lost in the other arts whose frontiers begin before its are reached. More exact than music, painting defines sentiments and thoughts by visible forms and colors, but it cannot, like music, transport us into the ethereal regions, the impenetrable worlds. Less ponderous than sculpture and less the slave of the material used, it addresses itself to the mind by simple semblances, conquers space by means of a fiction, but not having the three dimensions of extension, cannot render beauty palpable to us, make it live in the midst of us, under the sun that enlightens us, and in the air that we breathe. Painting holds the middle place between sculpture that we can see and touch, and music that we can neither see nor touch.
Limited to the presentation of a single action of life, and in that action to a single moment, the painter has, it is true, the liberty of choosing; but this liberty is not without limits, his choice is not unrestricted. If the limits of motion are infinitely broader for the painter than for the sculptor, he must avoid exaggerated, convulsive movements, as these offend the beholder in a representation that is to be lasting. The same is true of movements whose duration is offensive. It is unseemly to paint the portrait of a man bursting with laughter. The reason is apparent. Laughter is accidental, and if admissible in a composition that suggests it, where it does not fill the entire picture, it is repugnant to us to see a play of the muscles so fleeting, forever characterize a face, and immortalize itself upon the canvas, to impose upon us forever its stereotyped and unvarying grimace. On the contrary, in the portrait of a sad woman or a melancholy poet, there is nothing to displease, because sadness is less transitory in life than the burst of laughter, and the one, more in harmony with the permanent state of the soul, leads us back to it gently and without effort, while the other draws us from it abruptly and often with violence. There is after all nothing sadder than to have ever present the image of extravagant gayety, imprinted on the portraits of those who have ceased to live or who will soon be among our ancestors.
Thus painting does not always express all it is capable of expressing, does not pass to the limits of its domain. Doubtless, paroxysms of passion are not forbidden to it but it shows greater skill to suggest than to paint them. Diderot, the most impetuous and the boldest of critics, has shown that painting becomes greater by imposing narrower limits upon itself, and that, instead of representing a tragic denouement, it is more fitting to announce it by indicating in the present action the moment that has preceded and that which is to follow. Suppose the painter wishes to represent the sacrifice of Iphigenia, should he place before our eyes the gaping and bloody wound which the knife of the priest has just opened? No, horror would be changed to disgust. But if he appeals to us at the moment the tragedy is preparing, if he paints "the victimarius who approaches with the wide basin that is to receive the blood of Iphigenia," he will thrill us with horror and delight, because the spectacle, as yet not being horrible, the horror of it will be imagined instead of seen. Each will conceive and feel it according to the constitution of his own mind.
A remarkable thing, which, however, I believe has not been noticed, is that the domain of painting ends just where the illusion of the senses ought to begin. It is certainly not unexampled that a picture should deceive the eye, at least for a moment. A Teniers, a Chardin, could paint a cake, a loaf of bread, oysters on the shell, in a way to excite the sensation of hunger. Velasquez has proven in his famous picture of the "Wine Drinkers." and in that of the "Aguador," or water-carrier of Seville, that he could imitate a glass of water or one of wine in a way to excite thirst, and, for a moment, deceive the eye. Nevertheless, if the painter's ambition rested there, if he sought such triumphs of deception, he would soon pass the limits of his art. Admit that, to increase the illusion, he may add a factitious light to the light of day, let him light up his picture artificially from before or behind by means of certain transparencies, the illusion would be heightened, and the imitation having reached its utmost limit, would perhaps for the moment produce a greater impression than the reality itself. But we are no longer in the field of painting. Optical and physical phenomena, mingled with the resources of art, have made of the picture a diorama.
But what happens? This astonishing illusion produces at last almost the effect of wax figures. You see before you a real church, illuminated and filled with people, but they are motionless, and the church is silent as the desert. Or you are shown a real landscape, a Swiss view, over which your eye runs, which bristles with firs and rocks and is washed by a lake full of freshness, but this landscape that passes through all the changes of light, from dawn till sunset, contains only dead figures, cattle that neither live nor move, and boats frozen in a lake of lead. The greater the truth, the more the falsehood betrays itself; the more deceitful the painting, the less it deceives us. After a moment's contemplation we comprehend nothing of this church in which priest and people seem to have been struck with paralysis; this resplendent choir in which no light shines, no shadow moves, we find unlifelike; impossible this Swiss landscape, in which, at all hours of the day, the figures are changed to statues, the animals glued to the ground. By a singular return of truth, the illusion which deceived us is precisely that which undeceives us. So true it is that man is powerless to imitate inimitable nature, and that in the art of the painter natural objects are introduced not to represent themselves but to represent a conception of the artist. So true is it, finally, that the semblance is a means of expression agreed upon rather than an absolutely imitative proceeding, since the last step in imitation is precisely that in which it no longer signifies anything.
The role, then, that fiction plays in art is important; but fortunately, fiction, instead of restricting the limits of art, enlarges, extends them. As upon the stage we have agreed to hear Cinna or Britannicus express themselves in French, so we allow the artist to paint upon his canvas a flying figure, or draw upon a vase in imitation of the Greeks, such or such figures incompatible with all illusion, all verisimilitude, as, for example, fauns and bacchantes that walk on the air without support, whose pure silhouettes, full of natural grace, move, flattened on a monochrome background, without chiaro 'scuro and without relief.
Everybody knows the story, that has been repeated to weariness, of the Greek painter who imitated a basket of grapes skillfully enough to deceive the birds. There is in this fable an essential and significant feature, a feature unnoticed, and that Lessing has recalled in the "Laocoon." The basket in the picture of Zeuxis was carried by a young boy. But the painter might have said: "I have spoiled my master-piece; if I had executed the child as well as the grapes, the birds would not have come near the basket for fear of the boy." It was only a vain scruple of modesty; one might have consoled Zeuxis by saying to him: Your figure painted with all possible truth would not have frightened the birds, because the eyes of animals see only what they see; man, on the contrary, looking at a painting, fancies movement in immobility, reality in appearance. What his eye does not see, he perceives in the depths of that dark chamber we call imagination.
Man alone has the privilege of being seduced, deceived by a secret connivance of his thought with that of the painter. Admirable illusion, which, without cheating the eye, gives change to the mind. Marvelous falsehood, which, by the complicity of our soul, moves us more forcibly than truth, like those dreams which are sometimes more sorrowful, sometimes more charming than life itself.
ALTHOUGH PAINTING IS THE EXPRESSIVE ART, PAR
EXCELLENCE, IT IS NOT LIMITED IN CHARACTER, IT
CAN UNITE EXPRESSION TO BEAUTY IN IDEALIZING ITS
FIGURES BY STYLE, THAT IS TO SAY BY MANIFESTING
TYPICAL TRUTH IN LIVING INDIVIDUALITIES.
There exists between expression and beauty an immense interval and even an apparent contradiction. The interval is that which separates Christianity from antiquity. The contradiction consists in this, that pure beauty - I speak here of plastic beauty - does not readily harmonize with instantaneous changes of countenance, with the infinite variety of individual physiognomy, and with the endless mobility of the same physiognomy undergoing the innumerable impressions of life, and passing from serenity to terror, from gayety to sadness, from the grimaces of laughter to the contortions of grief.
The stronger the expression, the more physical beauty is sacrificed to moral beauty. That is why pagan sculpture is so measured in its expression. Instead of concentrating it upon the face which it would have disfigured, the sculptor lets it permeate the whole figure; he puts it in the gesture, which is the expression of the soul in movement, or in the attitude which is its expression in re-pose. The frightful cries uttered by Laocoon in the grasp of the serpents, the antique sculptor has reduced to sighs, that he might not disfigure the features of his hero; but the poet has reproduced these cries, clamores horrendos, and the painter can represent them, but he must restrain himself within certain limits if he wishes to choose the side of dignity and grandeur. He must idealize his figure by style.
What do these words signify? For the painter as for the sculptor, to give style to a figure, is to impress a typical character upon that which would only present an individual truth. Thus painting, when it aims at style, has a tendency to draw near to sculpture. But between the two arts there is a sensible difference. An animated expression that might be represented upon canvas would be shocking in marble.
It is repugnant to the sculptor to express certain vices which by their baseness would make the face ugly; but the painter can depict them. Yet, to preserve the conditions of style, he must seek p generic accents. If, for example, he wishes to paint a hypocrite, this hypocrite must have all the traits of hypocrisy, must appear to us, not as a Tartuffe, but as Tartuffe himself.
Vile instincts, gross sensuality, lechery, drunkenness, all that makes man like the brute, sculpture dared not represent in the human face; therefore antique genius sought in the depths of the water tritons and syrens, in the woods the goat-footed satyr, the sylvan faun and the centaur. The great artists of antiquity would not mar the beauty of man by the signs of degrading passions, they contented themselves with sculpturing human vices in the precursors of humanity, in those beings not yet enfranchised from original bestiality, that were nevertheless respected, as savage ancestors, as the imperfect and mysterious gods of primitive nature.
But what sculpture refused to immortalize in marble or bronze, what she would not render palpable, the painter traces upon canvas, because instead of presenting tangible bodies, the canvas presents only impalpable images; instead of offering us the thickness of things she offers only the mirage. Real, ugliness is forbidden to sculpture; apparent, painting does not reject the ugly, because it has a thousand means of mitigating its expression, of rendering it acceptable by the prestige of light and the language of color, by accompanying circumstances, by the choice of accessories. When Raphael introduced deformity into a work of style, as in the famous cartoon, "The Cure of the Lame Man" at the gate of the temple, he redeems and elevates it by effacing the purely accidental features, which would but impoverish the composition, to insist upon decisive, characteristic features. Seen on a grand scale, the deformities of nature lose their miserable aspect, and may appear in the loftiest representations of painting, whether transfigured by the soul of the artist or used as a striking contrast to beauty itself.
Style, then, in the art of the painter is not exactly what it is in the art of the sculptor. One adores beauty to such an extent as to fear expression, which he lessens; the other seeks expression, not even rejecting ugliness, which he idealizes.
PAINTING CAN ELEVATE ITSELF TO THE SUBLIME, BUT BY THE INVENTION OF THE ARTIST RATHER THAN BY THE APPLIANCES PECULIAR TO HIS ART.
IF the sublime be, as it were, a view of the infinite, it wou1d seem that the arts of design, which are compelled to imprison every idea in a form, cannot be sublime. It may happen nevertheless that the painter, moved by thoughts to which he has given no form, strikes the soul as a thunderbolt would the ear. It is then by virtue of the thought perceived but not formulated that the pic-ture becomes sublime.
Examples are rare. With regard to the sublime, Rembrandt was the Shakespeare of painting. The Gospel several times inspired him with ideas which have been rendered by no contour and are indicated only by the impalpable expression of light. There is a hasty sketch by this great painter, in bistre, of "The Supper at Emmaus." The artist wished to translate the passage of Scripture, "Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from before them." In the drawing of Rembrandt the figure of Christ is absent, and upon the seat from which he has just vanished, we see only a fantastic and mysterious light - Astonished, frightened at the disappearance of their guest and the appearance of this light, the two disciples devour with their eyes the vacant and illuminated seat where a moment before they touched the hand of a friend, heard his voice, and broke bread with him. Is not that a stroke of sublimity, that impalpable light expressing at once a vanished God, an invisible God?
Nicholas Poussin touched the sublime when he conceived one of his most celebrated pictures, "The Shepherds of Arcadia." In a wild, woody country, the sojourn of the happiness sung by the poets, shepherds walking with their loves have discovered under a thicket of trees a tomb, with this half effaced inscription, Et in Arcadia ego (I, too, lived in Arcadia). These words issuing from the tomb sadden their faces and the smiles die upon their lips. A young woman, nonchalantly leaning upon the shoulder of her lover, remains mute, pensive, and seems to listen to this salutation from the dead. The idea of death has also plunged into a reverie a youth who leans over the tomb, with bowed head, while the oldest shepherd points out with his finger the inscription he has just discovered. The landscape that completes this quiet and silent picture shows reddened leaves upon the arid rocks, hillocks that are lost in the vague horizon, and afar off some-thing ill-defined is perceived that resembles the sea. The sublime in this picture is just that which one does not see; it is the thought that hovers over it, the unexpected emotion that fills the soul of the spectator, transported suddenly beyond the tomb, into the infinite unknown. Some words engraved upon marble are here the only form, the only sign of the sub-lime. The painter remains, as it were, a stranger to the moral shock the philosopher has wished to im-press upon us. A greater painter than Poussin, Rembrandt was able, in some sort, to bring the sublime within the appliances of his art in expressing it by light.
It is moreover with poetry as with painting. The touches of genius of a Shakespeare, a Corneille, as well as the grand passages of Scripture, have no form, or have one in which art plays no role; hence they can be translated into all the languages of the world. Emanating from the sentiment of the infinite, the sublime in painting could not be attached to a form, girdled by a contour. Whether it burst forth in the work of Rembrandt, or is divined in the picture of Poussin, the sublime is intangible as light, invisible as the soul.
THE METHODS PECULIAR TO PAINTING FORCE THEM-SELVES UPON THE ARTIST As SOON As HE INVENTS HIS SUBJECT, AND CONCEIVES THE FIRST IMAGE OF IT.
THE aim of the arts of design being to manifest the beautiful, to render it visible and palpable, the plastic or representative form is essential, peculiar to them. For painting, especially, the means are optical, because it translates sentiments and ideas upon a smooth surface, and its images, merely appearances, do not depend upon the touch, which is the sight of the body, but upon sight, which is the touch of the soul.
To invent, for the painter, is to imagine, to bring before his eyes the persons and things that he evokes in his imagination, under the empire of a sentiment that animates him, or a thought that besets him Here the grandeur of painting is at once attested by the first of its laws, which is to choose the sentiments or thoughts it will express, the figures it will represent, the theatre of action, the character of the accompanying objects. The poet, the writer, know of no monster so odious that art cannot make pleasing to the eye, because the eyes to which poetry speaks are those of the mind; but the painter of ignoble spectacles does. not relate them; he shows them, and having but an instant in which to show them, his images strike us without warning, without preface; they are not only ignoble, but coarse; they disgust us. The first law, then, of painting, is to avoid hideous or repulsive subjects.
Many people, it is true, affect to think that all subjects are good, and there is nothing ignoble in painting; that there are no gluttons, no baboons that the wit of Teniers does not make pleasing, that there is no dirty vagabond under the pencil of Brauwer, that Ostade interests us in the deformed, or rather unformed peasants that dance in a cabaret with the elegance of bears, - but, if we admit this, we must add that painters are not ignoble when they do not intend to be so, or when their representations are redeemed by a stroke of satire. When Brauwer seeks vagrants in their cellars to imitate their horrible grimaces, and their red, drunken faces; when he so sympathetically paints them vomiting wine and insults, he employs a talent full of warmth, delicacy, and harmony, to make us pardon what he wishes to make us admire.
As soon as he chooses a subject, the artist should think of the picturesque and distrust the literary beauties which may have charmed him in the books or recitals that have inspired it. What a painter should borrow from a poet, is not what he has read in his poems, but what he has seen; the living, acting idea, the sentiment when it becomes movement.
Suppose a painter wishes to express what he has heard, or has thought himself, that Voltaire is the personification of the eighteenth century, that all proceeds from his genius and is to be absorbed in it again, that he is the centre whence issue and to which return all the rays of philosophy. How could he give a picturesque form to an idea so metaphysical, so abstract? An artist who excels in invention has solved this problem in the happiest, the most admir-able manner, in one of those cartoons ordered by the State, in 1848, for the monumental decoration of the French Pantheon. This cartoon represents "The Staircase of Voltaire." We see ascending and descending all the philosophers of the times, all distinguished for intelligence, with the exception of Rousseau, who, in the eighteenth century, was the precursor of ours. Placed at the top of the stair-way, Voltaire is dismissing one of his visitors, d'Alembert, to whom he gives an article for the "Encyclopaedia." Upon a lower step Diderot awaits the termination of the adieus to accompany d'Alembert. Thus are formulated in vivid images, in speaking figures, speculations of the mind that one might have thought foreign to painting, and it is by methods peculiar to it, that painting has expressed them, by making them visible, giving them a body.
In this same series of cartoons in which picturesque invention abounds, and which were to form a universal history and palingenesis of the human race, the author, Paul Chenavard, has consecrated one of the grandest compositions to the obscure beginnings of Christianity, when the new god was noiselessly sapping the foundations of pagan Rome. This vast scene is divided into two horizontal zones. In the upper, filled. with sunlight, passes the pompous and noisy cortege of a triumphant Caesar, with his lictors, his generals,. his trophies, his conquered prisoners, his eagles, and his elephants. The lower zone, silent and dark, represents the first Christians at prayer in the Catacombs, which they have dug like a tomb under the steps of the conqueror, and in which the Roman Empire will soon be broken up. It is impossible to relate history more clearly and vividly by the figurative language of art, mute language that engraves itself upon the memory of peoples in ineffaceable lines, like the eloquence of the Athenian orator which left its needles in the heart.
Invention is a rare quality among painters, rare even among the great masters. Leonardo da Vinci, that investigating genius, profoundly inquisitive, a prey to all the disquietudes of his art, advised his pupils to look sometimes attentively at the accidental spots upon old walls, the jaspered stones, the veins of marble, the shadings, as things offering to an idle imagination singular combinations of lines and forms and unexpected motives. Generally when they invent, painters only find, invenire, in fable, poetry, religion, history, subjects already invented by the poets, already illustrated and consecrated by tradition. As. if imagination were a faculty rather Northern and Germanic, there have been few inventors more powerful than Albert Durer and Rembrandt. Moreover it has been agreed to regard as an invention of the painter, every new manner of conceiving a known subject.
Why are the men of the North more inventive ? Perhaps because they are more habituated to interior life, to meditation, reflection. Solitude is imperative to facilitate that prolonged attention, that persistent and profound meditation, which are the source of great thoughts, because, little by little, warming the mind, they end by enkindling enthusiasm. As a miser ever finds opportunities for acquisition, because always thinking of it, so the artist can find means of enrich-ing his mind if his thoughts are ever thus directed. Meditation is precisely what the painters of to-day lack. Impatient to produce, urged on, eager to follow the breathless march of a civilization driven by steam, they do not give themselves time to meditate, and that in an art for which all the men of genius have worked as if they had no genius. "Painting," said Michael Angelo, "is a jealous Muse; she desires lovers who give themselves up to her without reserve, with undivided heart."
Again, whether he invent his motives, or discovers them in a poet, or renews them from the ancients, the painter ought to conceive them in vivid figures, and, drawing them from the vague obscurity in which imagination perceives them, make them visible, palpable. If he is not the first creator of his thought, he ought to recreate it by rendering that which was poetical picturesque, by making a representation what was only an idea, a sentiment or a dream.
Thus from the moment of the birth of invention the art of the painter is distinguished from all other arts. For the pleasure of citing a hemistich of Horace the resemblance of painting to poetry has too often been affirmed. It is fitting, in this book, to show, not only the bonds that unite them, but the limits that separate them.