They all deal with questions of technique, on effects of light and shadow, on the mystery of chiaroscuro. For Titian, in particular, he had an extravagant devotion,—he would ruin himself, he said, if he might only possess one of the great works of Titian. When he returned to England in , at the age of thirty, his talent was fully developed, and the connoisseurs were unanimous in hailing him as a new Van Dyck.
With the portrait of Miss 22 Gunning, afterwards the Duchess of Hamilton, he appeared in as a power in English art. At first he took up his quarters in St. The studio, which he built for himself, was as large as a ballroom, and furnished with a quite modern luxury. The large corridor that led to it had a gallery of pictures by old masters.
It was the age of the great literary and dramatic revival in England. Garrick stood at the zenith of his popularity, Burke had already made himself a name, Johnson had produced his Dictionary , Richardson had reached the summit of his fame, Smollett had written Peregrine Pickle , Gray had attracted notice by his verse.
All these and others who set the vogue in literature and the drama, the principal figures in politics, the leaders of fashion, lounged in that luxurious studio and gossiped with Reynolds of the theatre, both before and behind the scenes, of the doings in Parliament and the scandal of the Court, of literature and of art. At the time when Goldsmith was putting the finishing touches to his Travels he was a guest of the house. Gibbon, the historian, and Sterne, whose Sentimental Journey was just then the talk of the town, spent their vacant hours with him; and Burke as well, while he discussed with him his treatise on the Sublime and the Beautiful.
The whole English nobility also flocked to him. For forty years onwards from it was considered the proper thing to be painted by him. His pictures were multiplied immediately at the hands of the engravers. Only an incredible industry, enabling him for a long succession of years to paint almost without intermission with a facility and regularity like that of Rubens, rendered it possible for Reynolds to complete, exclusive of portraits, quite a number of religious and mythological pictures, of which he himself was especially proud.
On the stroke of eleven the first sitter arrived, who was succeeded by another an hour later. Although he remained a bachelor after Angelica Kauffmann had declined his hand, his house was a central gathering-point for noble London. The Literary Club was founded at his instigation, where with Johnson, Burke, Goldsmith, Gibbon, and Garrick he shared in conversation both profound and brilliant. He was made a baronet, and when the Royal Academy was founded in , became its first president.
The dinners of the Academy, which he organised at the distribution of prizes, play a part in the history of English cookery. Reynolds had promised that on each of these reunions he would speak on some question of art. In this manner originated, during his twenty-three years of office, those fifteen discourses upon painting which show the highest result of his literary energy. They were not his maiden essays. As far back as Johnson had invited him to publish an article upon Art in a journal which he had founded, The Idler.
In he made a journey through Holland and Flanders, upon which, anticipating Fromentin, he wrote an exceedingly fine book. In his Discourses so high a degree of literary talent was displayed that they were at one time said to be the work of Johnson or Burke. Originating from a vast insight, and expressed in a precise style, they treat of the laws of classic art, the variation in styles, the causes of the finest bloom in art. Certainly eclecticism is preached too. The modern artist, it is declared, can only stand on the shoulders of his forebears.
The great Italians must be his models, and of these the greatest is Michael Angelo. He was the first Englishman who added the praise of the elegant arts to the other glories of his country. In taste, in grace, in facility, in happy invention, and in the richness and harmony of colouring, he was equal to the greatest masters of the renowned ages In full affluence of foreign and domestic fame, admired by the expert in art and by the learned in science, courted by the great, caressed by sovereign powers and celebrated by distinguished poets, The traveller who rides from London to Birmingham passes through some of the fairest scenery in the island.
He finds himself in the heart of fresh and tender English nature. Small rivulets flow through the gently undulating country. Wide meadows clothe the soft hollows in the valleys with abundant green. In grassy enclosures deer and roes are feeding; they push forwards inquisitively as the train passes. Fragrant linden trees rise dreamily in the suave, park-like landscape, through which the Stour winds 25 along like a riband of silver.
On the bank of this enchanting stream Thomas Gainsborough, the son of a simple clothier, was born. In the scenery and the woods that were in the neighbourhood of his home, Gainsborough, who was so alive to all the beauty of nature, received the decisive impression of his life. Here he roamed as a boy, while he neglected his school lessons. He sketched the parks and castles of the neighbourhood. In his later life he used to say that there was no picturesque old tree trunk, no meadow or woodland glade or stream within a four-mile radius of Sudbury, that he did not retain a recollection of from his childish years.
Like Constable, when he was an old man, he still thought with gratitude of his home, of all that beauty upon which he had looked, and which had made him a painter. Here, in the green woods and fresh pastures of his birthplace, he trained himself. At the age of ten he was a painter.
A sojourn of four years in London seems to have added little to his ability. Elegant in his manners, lively in his conversation, a born gentleman, he might have become completely the man of fashion. First and last, the woods remained his chief delight. One morning, as he was painting there, he looked up from his easel and saw a young and beautiful girl in a light summer dress, peeping coquettishly from behind the trunk of a tree.
She blushed, he spoke to her shyly. Soon afterwards Margaret Burr became his wife, and the whole history of his life with her remains a charming idyll, like the spring morning on which he made her acquaintance. From Ipswich he went to Bath, the fashionable watering-place, where he painted the visitors who came in the summer for the cure. Finally, in the end his portraits met with approval in London. That gave him courage in to proceed thither himself; and there he took very modest rooms.
On his arrival he was as yet very little known; he came from the provinces, which he had till then never left, at a time when Reynolds stood at the pinnacle of his fame, and had visited Italy and Spain. Yet he gradually won a reputation. Franklin was one of the first to sit to him. Soon he became the favourite painter of the king and the royal family. Graham, Lady Montagu, Mrs. Siddons, Lady Vernon, Lady Maynard, and the names of many other celebrities and beauties are bound up with his. His life-work, excluding sketches, consists of no more than three hundred pictures, of which two hundred and twenty are portraits—a very small number in comparison with the four thousand paintings of Joshua Reynolds.
Thomas Gainsborough painted irregularly. Even when he was in his studio he might be seen standing for hours gazing out of his window dreamily at the grass. In other features of his life too he was equally different from Reynolds: unaccountably, he was one moment a brilliant, animated companion, the next plunged in melancholy. He dreamed much, while Reynolds painted and wrote. In the evenings he usually sat at home with his dear little wife, completed no treatises or discourses on his art, but made sketches or sometimes music. Reynolds was a scholar-painter, Gainsborough a painter-musician.
It was said of him that he painted portraits for money and landscapes for amusement, but that he made music because he needs must. He collected musical instruments as Reynolds did a library. Even in his pictures he gives his people, for preference, violins in their hands. To the Musical Club which he had founded in Ipswich he remained faithful all his life, and in that neighbourhood, or in Richmond or Hampstead, he spent the summer every year.
Here amidst that green nature it was also his wish to be buried. In the peaceful graveyard at Kew, Thomas Gainsborough sleeps tranquilly under the shady willows, far from the noise and tumult of the great city. Joshua Reynolds is certainly a great painter, and deserves the high veneration in which his compatriots hold him. It is not without a certain awe that, in the Diploma Gallery of the Royal Academy, one can look upon the armchair that he used during his sittings, upon which all who were famous in eighteenth-century England have sat.
Reynolds is one of the greatest English portrait painters, and, resembling most the classical masters, showed in the highest degree the qualities we admire in them. His colouring is of an amazing softness, depth, and strength; his chiaroscuro is warm and vaporous.
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Master of the whole mechanism of the human body, he possessed in the highest degree the rare art of setting persons surely and unconstrainedly on their feet. His portraits are pictures; one needs no whit to be acquainted with the persons they represent; they satisfy as works of art in themselves, and as psychological studies by a man who had the capacity of sounding the depths of the human heart. The complete catalogue of all those who sat for Sir Joshua during the space of half a century forms an uninterrupted commentary on the contemporary history of England.
There we see the skilful portrait of Sterne, with his look of witty mockery; the marvellous Bohemian, Oliver Goldsmith, who even then had the manuscript of his Vicar of Wakefield in his pocket; Johnson, who, in one, sits at his writing-table, on which stands an ink-pot and a volume of his English Dictionary , and in another is peering into a book with his short-sighted eyes screwed 28 up tightly, and his whole posture awkward and unwieldy.
Amongst his portraits of military dignitaries, that of General Lord Heathfield, the famous defender of Gibraltar, whom he painted in full uniform, is one of the most noticeable. Strong as a rock he stands there, with the key of the fortress in his hand.
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What a contrast between these figures and those of the contemporary French portraits! There, those friendly and smiling ministers, those gallant and dainty ecclesiastics, those scented, graceful marquises, who move with such elegant ease about the parquet floor, and from whose faces a uniform refinement has erased all the roughness of individuality; here, expressive, thoughtful heads, characters hardened in the school of life, many of the faces coarse and bloated, the glance telling of cold resolution, the attitude full of self-reliant dignity and gnarled, plebeian pride.
The same bourgeois element predominates in the pictures of the ladies. In the background an artistically arranged curtain, a column, or the view of the quiet avenues of some broad park. From Reynolds we get strong active women in their everyday clothes, and with thoughtful countenances: good mothers, surrounded by their children, whom they kiss and enfold in a tender embrace. The idea of half-symbolical representation has vanished, and in its place is introduced the idea of home and the family.
The pictures of children by this childless old bachelor were an artistic revelation to the existing generation, and are the delight of the world of to-day. In other portraits of ladies, that noticeable characteristic of the English nation, their predilection for domestic animals and for sport, finds an expression.
One feels that in the three centuries since Monna Lisa love has taken on a new and subtler nuance. The portrait of Mrs. Siddons is the most famous of the pictures of actresses which Reynolds painted, and Mrs. Siddons, of all the women of that time, is the one whose portrait occupied the painters most.
She was the daughter of Roger Kemble, the actor, and sister of that pretty actress, Mrs. Born to the boards, as it were, she had, when still a child, joined her parents on their Thespian pilgrimages, and had had many engagements in the provinces, at Birmingham, Manchester, and Bath, before she was recruited by the playwright Sheridan for the Drury Lane company in London.
Lady Macbeth was her great part; in that she was painted both by Romney and Lawrence. Reynolds painted her as the Tragic Muse. A diadem encircles her hair, she sits upon a throne, the throne rests upon clouds. Behind her stand two allegorical beings, Crime and Remorse, two quite unfortunate figures. But the principal figure is truly great, in its noble, regal attitude, and quite unconstrained in its dramatic pose.
Reynolds had the composition in his mind many weeks before Mrs.
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Siddons sat for him in the autumn of The original picture has been in the possession of the Grosvenor family since ; a second copy is in the gallery at Dulwich. Reynolds loved to depict his sitters in mythological or historical settings. Thus he painted Mrs. Sheridan as St. Garrick, in one of his pictures, is set between the allegorical figures of Tragedy and Comedy. Reynolds himself was frankly proud of these portraits in the mood of history. He was, as he said, in general only a portrait painter because the world required it; that which he aspired after was the great manner of historical painting.
And herein lies his principal weakness. He has endeavoured in his writings to propound a sort of general foundation of painting, has adopted the principles of the best painters in every land, was indefatigable in exploring the secrets of the old masterpieces, and has therefore won the praise of having set the English school, which had hitherto possessed no perfected tradition of painting, technically on firm feet.
He was the founder of a scientific technique of painting derived from the ancients,—the Lenbach of the eighteenth century. He made experiments all his life long to discover the stone of the wise Venetians; but he met with the same experience as Lenbach. According to my view, he ought to be paid in annual instalments, and only so long as his works last. With regard to the pose also, and similar conceptions, one can never quite get away from the thought of Van Dyck and other old masters.
He dearly loved the Romans and Venetians; we believe to-day that he loved almost too dearly the Bolognese. And just that fine, artistic education which he received in Italy and Holland, and the scientific method in which he practised his art, did harm to Reynolds, and brought into his pictures too much reminiscence, too many alien touches. He has in most cases understood it—how to bring into uniformity the numerous borrowings of his palette, all that he had taken from Leonardo, Correggio, Velasquez, and Rembrandt.
Yet he has never quite forgotten the old masters and looked only at his model, for the sake of the very daintiest lady or the freshest English boy. Hartley of Leonardo da Vinci, for that of Mrs. Sheridan of Raphael. There lacked in him that spontaneity which denotes the great master. By his 32 erudition in art, Sir Joshua elevated himself on the shoulders of all who had preceded him. He obtained thereby the piquant effects in his portraits, but it was at the price of the penalty that from many of his works it is rather a rancid odour of oil and varnish which exhales than the breath of life.
Gainsborough can certainly not be compared with Reynolds in the mass of his work. He was master neither of his powers of industry nor of his smooth and brilliant methods of painting that were always sure of their effect. In many of his pictures he gives the impression of a self-taught man, who sought to help himself to the best of his power.
Just as little has he the psychological acuteness of Reynolds. A portrait painter puts no more into a head than he has in his own; thus the acute thinker, Reynolds, was able to put a great deal into his heads, whilst Gainsborough, the dreamer, was often enough quite helpless when he confronted a conspicuously manly character. In his whole temperament a painter of landscape, before his model too he sat as before a landscape, with eyes that perceived but did not analyse. What, with Reynolds, was sought out and understood, was felt by Gainsborough; and therefore the former is always good and correct, while Gainsborough is unequal and often faulty, but in his best pictures has a charm to which those of the President of the Academy never attained.
Gainsborough, too, at his death murmured the name of an old master. Reynolds had lived for two years in Rome and explored all the principal cities of Italy, had visited Flanders and Holland, learnt to wonder at Rembrandt, and developed an enthusiasm for chiaroscuro. Gainsborough in his rural seclusion had been able neither by travel on the Continent to study the great masters of the past, nor to assimilate the traditions of the studio.
He contented himself with the beauties which he saw in his native country, studied them in their touching simplicity, without troubling himself about academic rules. He lived in London until his death, without once leaving England; and that gives to his pictures a distinct nuance. His execution is more personal, his colour fresher and more transparent. The very personages seem with him to be more elegant, more gracious, more modern than with Reynolds, in whose work, through their kinship to the Renaissance, they received a suggestion of style, classical and ancient. In his pictures the Englishman is clearly revealed, an Englishman of that delicacy and noble refinement which is present to a unique degree in the works of English painters of the present day.
The passage from Hogarth to Gainsborough marks a chapter in the history of English culture. Hogarth is the embodiment of John Bull; you can hear him growl, like some savage bull-dog. Reynolds, with his robustness as of the old masters, might be best compared with Tintoretto; Gainsborough, in his quite modern and fantastic elegance, is a more tender, subtle, and mysterious spirit, poet and magician at once, like Watteau.
There one listened to the full, swelling chords of the organ; here to the soft, dulcet, silvery notes of the violin. Reynolds loved warm, brown and red tones; Gainsborough essayed for the first time, in a series of his happiest creations, that scale of colour, coldly green and blue, in which to-day the majority of English pictures are still painted.
Everything with him is soft and clear; the tone of those blue or light yellow silks, which he loved especially, is that of the most transparent enamel; the background fades away into dreamy vapour, the figures are surrounded with an atmosphere of seduction. One can describe every piece of the clothing, 34 but it is impossible to reproduce the harmony of the painting, the rich, pure blue of the costume, which stands out against a lustrous, brown background of landscape.
How the stately youth stands, noble from head to foot, in the brown and green autumn landscape, with its canopy of sky!
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Master Bootall was by far the most elegant portrait painted in England since Van Dyck, and withal of a nervosity quite new. See that youthful pride in the gaze, that mobile sensibility in the pose! Have men grown different, then, or does the painter see further? One finds in Van Dyck no such expressively nervous physiognomy. The suggestion of melancholy, the deep reverie, the noble, aristocratic haughtiness,—Gainsborough was the first to discover that, and give it its full expression.
And the same man who painted the noble elegance of this youthful grand seigneur depicted also peasant children coming fresh from the green fields and woodlands of their village homes. But his women in particular are creatures altogether adorable. While Reynolds, the historical painter, liked to promote his into heroines, those of Gainsborough, with their pure, transparent skins, their sweet glances in which there lies so admirable a mixture of languishing fragility, innocence, and coquetry , are the true Englishwomen of the eighteenth century.
What a charming grace in the pose, what fine taste in the arrangement, what wonderful purity of colouring! With the exception of Watteau, I know of no older master who could have painted such moist, dreamy, sensuous, tender eyes. Gainsborough was no keen observer, but he was a susceptible, sensitive spirit who intercepted the soul itself, the play of the nerves, the slightest suggestion of spiritual commotion. There moves through the majority of his portraits a pathetic tenderness, a breath of dreamy melancholy, that the persons 35 themselves hardly possessed, but which he transfused into them out of himself.
Melancholy is the veil through which he saw things, as Reynolds saw them through the medium of erudition. Reynolds was all will and intelligence, Gainsborough all soul and temperament; and nothing can show the difference between them better than the fact that Reynolds, who had formed his style on early models, when he had no sitters painted historical pictures; whilst 36 Gainsborough in like circumstances painted landscapes.
Herein he was a pioneer, whilst Reynolds was an issue of the past. In the domain of landscape painting, too, the new germs of naturalism, which had ventured above ground on all sides in the fifteenth century, had been again stunted in the Great Renaissance. The theory had been promulgated in the sixteenth century—in accordance with the idealistic methods of the age—that it behoved the painter to improve upon nature just as much as upon the human body. With the lofty style of the great figure painters, and their artfully pondered composition, there corresponded a school of landscape which was likewise conceived of, in the first degree, as an honourable, architectural framing for a mythological episode.
England too possessed, in Richard Wilson , a believer in this doctrine, which became so widely promulgated in the seventeenth century through the influence of Claude Lorraine. The home of his soul was Italy. He scraped together a small sum of money by portrait painting, borrowed the rest, and felt himself in his element for the first time when he had reached Venice. Here, at the instance of Zucarrelli, he became a painter of landscapes, and was aided in his endeavours by Joseph 37 Vernet in Rome. He was on the way to become a painter in great request, and in many of his pictures he shows a most delicate notion of well-balanced and gracious composition in the manner of Claude.
But his success was of no long duration. The interpolated stage scenery of trees and the classic temples of this English Claude, contain nothing which had not been already painted better by the Frenchman. When the king, in order to assist him, asked him on one occasion to represent Kew Gardens in a picture, he composed an entirely imaginary landscape and illuminated it with the sun of Tivoli. The king sent him back the picture, mordant epigrams appeared in the journals, and Reynolds scoffed at him in his Discourses.
After that Wilson spent his days in the alehouse, until he got delirium, and died half starved at the age of seventy. The patriotic English were too much bound up with their own soil to acquire a taste for the exotic, ideal scenery of Wilson. There existed in them that patriotism, that feeling for home, which had turned the Dutch of the seventeenth century into landscape painters. In this province also they were destined to step in, as the inheritors of the Dutch, to bring the germ of intimate landscape to its full fruition.
Lovely and luxuriant valleys with their soft grass, sweet woodlands with their vari-coloured foliage, golden, swaying cornfields and picturesque little cottages, with that indescribable softness of atmosphere, must of themselves direct the eye of the writer and the painter to all these beauties. It was an Englishman who in the eighteenth century wrote the most memorable 38 book upon the charms of nature. James Thomson, in his Seasons , is the first great nature painter amongst the poets. Taine finds the whole of Rousseau anticipated in him. It is said that he only sent half a dozen landscapes to the Academy during the eighteen years that he exhibited there.
On the other hand, they hung in his house in Pall Mall in long rows on the walls of his studio. After his death his widow held a sale, at which fifty-six landscapes were sold. He, who passed his whole youth in the idyllic loveliness of the woods, was fitted to be the delineator of that mellow English nature. He understood the murmur of the brooks and the sighing of the winds. Like his own life, so regular and peaceful, gently 39 swaying as though to the friendly elements, are the trees in his pictures, with their peaceful tranquillity; no storm disturbs the calm of a Gainsborough picture.
His landscapes know no tempestuous grandeur; they are a playground for children, a place for shepherds to rest. As we look at them the tears spring to our eyes, and we know not whence they come. The solitary shepherd with his flock, the peasant returning from the wood with his bundle of faggots, whispering woods and open dales, sweet little peasant children with their pitchers in springtime,—that is what he loved to paint and what he painted, with as much sought-out refinement as with tender truth to nature.
Every year he used to return to his green pastures, and paint very early, when the sun rose. Before him rose a cluster of trees, all round the farm the flocks were grazing, thousands of busy bees flew buzzing from flower to flower; goats, with their kids, were feeding in the meadows, wild doves cooed, and the birds in the wood sang their praises to the Creator. Thus do the landscapes of Gainsborough affect us. They are soft and tender as some sweet melody in their discreet intimacy, without colorist effects, as wonderfully harmonious as nature herself. A young peasant woman, with her youngest child in her arms, is standing by the door of a country cottage, before which her other children are playing, some half naked; deep 40 contentment is all around, huge old oaks spread their sheltering branches over the roof on both sides; golden rays of sunshine dance across the meadow.
Only Frederick Walker has, in later days, painted such peasant women and such children, at once so tender and so natural. In the foreground a quiet pasture with cows, close by the herdsman, a Suffolk labourer; in the background a noble old Norman castle, perhaps Hedingham Castle, near Sudbury. It is through pictures like these that England has become the native-land of intimate landscape— paysage intime. As figure painters, as well as landscape painters, the English in the eighteenth century laid a course of their own, and it was not long before the other nations followed them.
Goethe compared the history of knowledge with a great fugue: the parts of the nations first come to light, little by little; and this analogy, already once made by Hettner, holds true in a very high degree of the history of art during the eighteenth century. The three great nations of culture—the German, the English, and the French—take up their parts in turn, and through all there sounds one common, equal, dominant note. England was in the vanguard of that great period of struggle known as the age of enlightenment.
Since the middle of the eighteenth century English influences had begun to fertilise the Continent. The truth and naturalness of English ideas were introduced as models, and England became in her whole culture the schoolmistress of the Continent. In every region war was declared against the pedantry brought over from the past, while new conditions were aimed at.
Obviously it was not so easy for other nations to take their stand on the basis of modern society. England had accomplished her revolution in the seventeenth century; France was only preparing herself for hers. For all other nations, too, the eighteenth century was a transition period, in which the old and the new civilisation of culture were parting—an age of prodigious controversy, full of Sturm und Drang. Men did homage to every kind of extravagance, and went into ecstasies over virtue. And, in the midst of all this contradiction, there exists that simple, virtuous middle class which is preparing to make the ascent which will lead it to power.
Into that salon enters abruptly a rough plebeian, with none of the fine tact of that company, yet a great, aristocratic spirit, a man who despised such a society and would make the world anew. Voltaire was the first on the Continent to break through social barriers, but none the less he coined his heart for gold in society. Rousseau signifies a great advance: he gave up his place, laid aside rapier, silk stockings, and perruque, and clothed himself after the manner 42 of a common man in order to earn his bread as a copier of music. He is, as Weigandt has called him, the first man of the bourgeois century, the first pioneer of the new age.
Against the traditions bequeathed by the past, which in the course of time had become over-refined and corrupt, he set up the natural conditions demanded by reason. His fight against inequalities of rank is, as it were, a foretaste of the revolution. I know no dishonourable inferiority other than that of character or education.
A man who is trained to an honourable mind is the equal of the world; there is no rank in which he would not be in his place. It is better to look down upon nobility than upon virtue, and the wife of a charcoal-burner is worthy of more respect than the mistress of a prince. The Nouvelle Heloise appeared in Werther abhorred rules in every sphere. Soon afterwards young Schiller came upon the scene with his first works, which were a declaration of war against all the foundations of human society, those manifestoes of revolution which, were they new writings to-day, no Court Theatre would dare to produce.
Fie, fie upon the flaccid, castrated century, that has no other use than to chew over again the deeds of the past. Let me imagine an army of fellows like you, and I see a republic arising in Germany, in comparison with which those of Rome and Sparta would be convents of nuns. Intrigue and Love even aims full at the rottenness and corruption of the actual time. The authors were the bold inciters to the battle. They were all leaders in the battle for liberty against fossilised tradition,—some in the field of poetry only, others in the whole sphere of intellectual life.
These are they who gave the signal for the war-cry of the Revolution—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; who rent asunder the old society, inaugurated the age of citizenship, and were at the same time the first to lose, as quite modern spirits, their faith in another world. Against an art that was more catholic than catholicism, courtly and mystical, there came by far the greatest reaction in Goya. From Roelas, Collantes, and Murillo to him there is hardly any transition.
Francisco Goya preached Nihilism in the home of belief. He denied everything, believed nothing, doubted of everything, even of that peace and liberty which he hoped to be at hand. That old Spanish art of religion and dogma was changed under his hands to an art of negation and sarcasm. His Church pictures are devoid of religious feeling, and his etchings replete with sneers at everything which was previously esteemed as authority. He scoffs at the clerical classes and the religious orders, laughs at the priestly raiment which covered the passions of humanity.
Spanish art, which began in a blind piety, becomes in Goya revolutionary, free, modern.
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His style in portraiture, his art of composition, his whole method,—all speak to our artists to-day in a language easily understood, and on many of them the influence of Goya is unmistakable. He is one of the most fascinating figures of the beginning of the century. As audacious as he was clever, as versatile as he was fantastic, a keen observer as well as a strong creative spirit, he fascinates and astonishes in his pictures, just as in his wonderful etchings, by a remarkable mixture of the bizarre and the original.
His pictures, whether they be violent or eccentric, tender or hard, gloomy or joyous, nearly always move and palpitate with life itself, and they will always keep their attraction. He was born in a village in the province of Aragon, the son of a small landed proprietor, in At the age of fourteen, having already painted frescoes in the church of his native-place, he went to Saragossa as an apprentice; and there he showed himself to be vivacious and passionate, and soon became the champion among his comrades in all their pastimes and brawls.
Italy, whither he fled on account of a duel, did not alter him. There were new love quarrels. He fought, stabbed a rival, was wounded himself, amused himself extremely, studied little, observed, admired, but neither painted nor copied anything. It was thanks to this indolence that the great past did not take him prisoner. He did not know much, but for what he knew he could thank himself. He loved the old painters, but platonically; their works did not lead him astray. In this lies the explanation of his qualities and his faults: that marvellous mixture of seductive grace and visible weakness, of subtlety and brutality, of refinement and ignorance.
He merits equally sympathy and blame, is as genial as he is unequal. But one would not wish him to be otherwise: if there had been more order and proportion in his works his good qualities would have been lost. He would have suffered in spontaneity, vivacity, originality, and quietly taken his anchorage in the sleepy haven of mediocrity. As he is, he is wholly the child of his country: from head to foot a Spaniard of the eighteenth century, a son of that downfallen Spain that was dying from loss of blood.
For hundreds of years a black cloud, extinguishing all joy, had hung over Spanish life, a cloud out of which, only here and there in dismal lightning flashes, there emerged obscure figures of sombre despots, sick ascetics, and silent martyrs. All mundane inclinations were suppressed, all sensuous desires prohibited. Men spent their nights with their eyes fixed upon the gory histories and passionate 46 exhortations of the Old Testament, hearing in imagination the menacing, thunderous voice of a dreadful God, until at last in their own hearts the fanatical inspiration of the prophetic seer awoke anew, and their feverish forms were torn asunder by ecstatic visions and religious hallucinations.
When Goya began his career the sinister country of the Inquisition had grown frivolous. An intoxicating odour of mundane voluptuousness penetrated everywhere, even into the convents themselves; the figures of the French Rococo Olympus had brought confusion into the Christian paradise. Spain no longer believed; it laughed at the Inquisition, trembled no more when it was threatened with the pains of Hell.
It had grown frivolous, wanton, epicurean, full of grace and laughter. The rosy-red and blue shepherds of the Trianon had made an entry into the sombre Court of Aranjuez. Literature, taste, and art were infected by French influences, Parisian sparks of wit, lightning esprit , and Parisian immorality; and the same rumbling earthquake which wrecked the throne of France was soon to shatter that of Spain.
But, like every great artist, he is not only the expression of his epoch, but also its leader; he almost anticipates the age which shall succeed it. Like a figure of Janus, on the border-line between two centuries, standing in a manner between two worlds, he was the last of the old masters and the first of the moderns—even in that special sense in which we employ the word to-day.
Through a commission to design cartoons for the Spanish manufactories of tapestry, he was brought into contact with the Court. Member of the Academy of San Fernando in , Pintor del Rey, with an income of 12, francs in , he became soon afterwards the Director of the Madrid Academy—the drollest Director of an Academy that man can imagine! Naturally he was the idol of the women, hated by the courtiers on account of his caustic wit, a terror to all husbands because of his perpetual intrigues, and at the same time feared as the best swordsman in Madrid, who drew his rapier with the indifference with which we light a cigarette.
Goya was far too great a sceptic to put a religious sentiment into matters in which he no longer believed; his talent was far too modern for the religious abstraction to be able to seize him. His frescoes in San Antonio de la Florida, at Madrid, exhibit a pretty, decorative motive—considerable movement, grace, and spirit.
The chief picture represents St. Antony of Padua raising a man from the dead. But all that interested him in it were the lookers-on. On a balustrade all around he has brought in the lovely, dainty faces of numerous ladies of the court, his bonnes amies , who lean their elbows on the balcony and coquette with the people down below. Their plump, round, white hands play meaningly with their fans; a thick cluster of ringlets waves over their bared shoulders; their sensual eyes languish with a seductive fire; a faint smile plays round their voluptuous lips. Several seem only just to have left their beds, and their vari-coloured, gleaming silks are crumpled.
One is just arranging her coiffure, which has come undone and falls over her rosy bosom; another, with a languishing unconsciousness and a careless attitude, is opening her sleeve, 48 whose soft, deep folds expose a snow-white arm. There is much chic in this Church picture. One very immodest angel is supposed to be the portrait of the Duchess of Alba, who was famed for her numerous intrigues.
In his portraits, too, he is unequal. He became the fashionable painter at the court. The politicians, poets, scholars, great ladies, actresses, all the famous folk of his epoch, sat to him. He daubed more than two hundred portraits; but they were good only when the subject amused him. His portraits of the Royal Family have something vicious and plebeian.
He is too little in earnest, too little of an official, to paint court pictures. One might imagine that he with difficulty restrained himself from laughing at the pompous futility which stood before him. It irritated him to be obliged to paint these great lords and ladies in poses so ceremonial, instead of making them, like the angels of San Antonio, throw up their legs and skip over parapets. The Queen, Marie Louise, is frankly grotesque; and the family of Charles IV look like the family of a shopkeeper who have won the big prize in a lottery, and been photographed in their Sunday clothes.
But, ah! In the Exhibition of Portraits at Paris, in , there was the portrait of a young man, dressed in gray, which excelled Gainsborough for grace. With what a noble nonchalance this young elegant stands there, reminding one, in attitude and costume, of the incroyables of Charles Vernet. With what equanimity does he look out on life, in his satisfaction at the good fit of his clothes. The same man who in those pictures of ceremony let himself go in a manner so brusque and frenzied, here revelled, a very Proteus in his chameleon-like qualities, in soft and mellow and seductive tones.
One might say that he has thought here of Prudhon and Greuze, and joined their study to the cult of Velasquez. Still more charming was he in his pictures of young girls, when he was himself fascinated by the attractions of his subjects. In them the candour and grace of budding youth, the whole poetry of young maidenhood, have won life and expression from the enamoured tenderness of an artist hand.
Seduced by beauty, he renounced all irony, thought only of those big, wide-opened eyes of velvet, those rosy young lips; of that warm carnation and the elegant slimness of that soft young neck that rose in delicate contour from the shoulders. Or again, that marvellous double portrait of La Maja in the Academy of San Fernando: a young girl painted once clothed and once nude, both pictures in exactly the same pose, and both flooded with the same extraordinary sensuous charm.
This is not the uncertain, sarcastic painter of those State pictures. It is an attentive observer, who depicts with sensitive devotion the harmonious lines of the irradiating, young, human body so worthy of celebration. The drawing is sure, the modelling of a marvellous tenderness. The heaving bosom, the slender limbs, the tantalising eyes—every part of that nervous body, with its ivory whiteness, stretched out on the milk-white couch made for love, breathes of pleasure and voluptuousness. In pictures of this kind Goya is wholly one of us.
Grown independent of every traditional rule, he abandoned himself entirely to his own impressions, and produced enduring works, vibrating with life, because he was himself fascinated with nature. He showed here an idea of modernity that almost makes him seem a contemporary of our own—that zeal for the pictorial, for colour and light, which attracts us so much to-day. They are very crude in decoration. Two or three neat young girls, with big, black, moist eyes, here and there pleasing details—a couple of men carrying a wounded companion—are unable to gloss over the heaviness of the composition and colour.
In his oil paintings he went much further in this direction. In that impetuous manner peculiar to him he endeavoured to get a firm grip on the pictorial side of Spanish life, at home and in the streets, wherever he found it. The most fearful subjects—such as the two great slaughter scenes in the French invasion, painted with such breadth and fierceness—alternate with incidents of the liveliest character.
Everything is jotted down, under the immediate influence of what has been observed, by rapid methods, and on this account produces an effect of sketches taken with complete directness from nature. In those careless pictures, swept with large strokes of the brush, there rises before us the mad drama of public holiday in the streets and in the circus: processions, bull-fights, brigands, the victims of the plague, assassinations, scenes of gallantry, national types—all observed with the acuteness of a Menzel.
A few dashes of colour, a few well-placed, bold strokes of the brush, and at once one sees the procession move, the groups passing each other by just as, in the marvellous sketches of the 51 funeral of Sardina, in the Academy of San Fernando, one can see the young couples revolve madly in the dance, and the lances of the bull-fighters redden the sand of the arena. The superabundance of such phantasy could not, of course, be achieved by the tardy brush. He required a quicker medium, that would permit him to express everything. He made an awful and jovial hecatomb of all the vices and the scandals of the age.
Whomsoever he pilloried was laid bare in all respects; physically and morally, no single trait of him was forgotten. And he did it so wittily that he compelled even the offended person to laugh. Neither Charles IV himself, nor the Court, nor the Inquisition, which bled most beneath his thrusts, dared to complain. Satirical representations of popular superstitions, bitter, mordant attacks on the aristocracy, the government, and all social conditions, unprecedented assaults on the crown, on religion and its doctrines, inexorable satires upon the Inquisition and the monastic orders, make up this most remarkable book.
It had hardly appeared in before the Inquisition seized it. Goya parried this stroke, however, by dedicating the plates to the king. A painter and a colorist, 52 in this book he displays his genius as an etcher. The outlines are drawn with light and genial strokes only; then comes the aquatinta , the colouring which overspreads the background, and gives localisation, depth, and light. A few scratches of the needle, a black spot, a light produced by a spot of white ingeniously left blank—that sufficed to give life and character to his figures. All the scenes of terror that occurred in Spain as a sequel to the French invasion and the glory of Napoleon here utter their cry of lamentation.
They are the political and philosophical testament of the old liberal, the keen free-thinker, the last and utmost fight for all that he loved against all that he hated. With sacred wrath and biting irony he waged war against the intrigues and hypocrisy of the obscurantists who throttle progress and suppress freedom of thought. With passionate wrath he rushed upon kings, priests, and dignitaries.
Everywhere there is the same hatred of tyranny, of social injustice, of human stupidity, the same incredulous effort after a dimly conceived ideal of truth and liberty. It is neither the amiable fairyland of Callot nor the bourgeois pessimism 53 of Hogarth. Goya is more inexorable and acute; his phantasy, borne on larger wings, takes a higher flight. He sees direful figures in his dreams, his laugh is bitter, his anger rancorous. He is a revolutionist, an agitator, a sceptic, a nihilist. His chronique scandaleuse grows into the epos of the age.
One understands why such a man should no longer feel secure in Spain, and, towards the close of his life, go into exile in France. There, too, in the home of the revolution, art, ever since the beginning of the century, had freed herself more from the tradition of the Renaissance, and betaken herself to the new way, which the Dutch, and soon afterwards the English, had laid down in the seventeenth century. All that had been produced in Paris, up to the close of the seventeenth century, had had its birthplace in the Italy of Leo X.
The light of the Italian Renaissance had suffused France ever since the appearance of Rosso and Primaticcio. Rome had been the cradle of Simon Vouet and Nicolas Poussin. Those religious pictures of Lebrun, arranged in panels, appeared with their theatrically elegant attitudes and their flowing drapery, with their slim, oscillating limbs and their florid gestures.
All Olympus, all the saints and the heroes, were set to work to do honour to the great king. Was it necessary to glorify his acts, then it was done by portraying him as Cyrus or Alexander. The people of the seventeenth century did not exist for painters. Lebrun and Mignard, as inheritors of Roman culture, hovered over life without seeing it.
Their ideals were a hundred and fifty years old, ingenious variations on the sixteenth-century pattern. Then came the death of the Grand Monarque , and with him the tradition of the Renaissance went also to its grave. The old 54 age was outworn, and the new began to supersede it. The world was weary of the majestic, the stiff, and the pompous, whose glamour had blinded it for sixty years. The sun-king was dead, and the sun of the Italian Renaissance had set.
French society breathed once more. The ostentation of the court had become an onerous ceremony, the monarchical principle an unendurable constraint. The nightmare that had oppressed it, the ennui that had come from Versailles, disappeared. Air and light and mirth penetrated the salons. People shook off the heavy yoke of majesty from their shoulders, abandoned their heroic, ostentatious palaces, and bought themselves petites maisons in the Bois. They had suffered, they wished to be glad; they had been bored, they wished to be amused. Enough of pater-nosters and stately etiquette!
Away with the antique temples and goddesses of Poussin! Away with the semblance of the heroic, with pomp and glamour, with the service of God and the service of lords! Long live Love! So thought France when Louis XIV was dead, and the man was already grown up in the Low Countries who was chosen to give a shape 55 to these dreams, to abolish the ascendency of gods and kings and heroes, and to show the upper classes their own image reflected in the mirror of art. Antoine Watteau , who guided the stream of French art into this new channel—of the Netherlands—was by birth and training a Fleming.
His birthplace, Valenciennes, although French territory since the Peace of Nymeguen, resembled in its whole character a Flemish town.
Rubens and Teniers are the two masters from whom his own art sprang. The men are short and sturdy, entirely Flemish. Only the costumes have changed with the mode. But the women are not in the least Flemish. The clean caps and tidy kerchiefs, the freshly ironed aprons, and neat little feet that trip so lightly and quickly along the street that no dirt seems to soil them, give these peasant girls a certain desirability in which it is not hard to discover the transition to French grace.
The elegant motions and fine heads point to that Watteau who was to become soon afterwards the unsurpassable delineator of feminine coquetry. Gillot and Rubens led him into the new road. The Teniers-like character of his figures disappeared, they became gracious and noble. In place of the magot came elegant French society. Volume The Black Goddess B. Volume War on Frogs B.
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