Imágenes de páginas

upon a peculiarity which he negatively exaggerates by allowing it to stand alone. That he carries this too far in some cases and thus becomes extravagant may be admitted without in any way shattering the principle of art upon which he works. In Little Dorrit for instance, he wishes to intimate that Monsieur Rigaud is a sly Mephistophelian rascal, but he does not go into the man's back history to do it; nor does he dissect Rigaud's psychological nature or genealogical record to show the causes impelling him toward evil. He simply takes him seated on a ledge in the Marseilles prison and says of him:

“When Monsieur Rigaud laughed a change took place in his face that was more remarkable than prepossessing. His moustache went up under his nose, and his nose came down over his moustache, in a very sinister and cruel manner."

Does that not place the foxy, crafty Rigaud instantly before us ?

In Our Mutual Friend the few lines descriptive of Rogue Riderhood as he stands in the doorway of the lawyer's office to give evidence against Gaffer, rubbing with uneasy hand a wet fur cap against the grain, tell the man and his character better than a chapter of words. In word pictures the artist successfully catches the mind's eye by few but vivid flashes. It is not an easy task, for instance, to imagine the waters of the Nile turned to blood under the outstretched rod of Aaron. We are slow to grasp the scene and not even the account in E.codus brings it fully before us. But when Théophile Gautier, in Le Roman de la Momie, tells us in one sentence of the scarlet waves that broke in "pink foam” upon the shore, the imagination starts with a sudden bound. If I may be allowed the mixed metaphor that “pink foam ” is the spark in the powder magazine. And again the true artist always induces his audience to meet him more than half way. Like the children who followed the Pied Piper, they see visions, but the Piper inspires the visions by “three notes” from a simple cane. Mr. Besant in his Art of Fiction tells us that when that great master of fiction, Charles Reade, “in his incomparable tale of The Croister and The Hearth, sends Gerard and Dennis the Burgundian on that journey through France, it is with the fewest possible words that he suggests the sights and persons met with on the way; yet so great is the art of the writer, that, almost without being told, we see the road, a mere rough track, winding beside the river and along the valleys; we see the silent forests where lurk the routiers and the robbers, the cutthroat inn, the merchants, peasants, beggars, soldiers who go riding by; the writer does not pause in his story to tell us all this, but we feel it—by the mere action of the piece and the dialogue we are compelled to see the scenery; the life of the fifteenth century passes before us with hardly a word to picture it.”

I know not why writers, sculptors, and painters should take such pains to omit and to suggest when it is so much easier to fill in and to elaborate unless there be some deep method in it all. Their doing so is not simply trickery as we have been often told; nor is it a shrewd playing with, a baiting of one's imaginative appetite. Rather is it a conscious knowledge of the limitations of artistic power and a recognition that the people for whom art is created have a part to play in its proper understanding. Art-biography if it were truly written would be one long wail over the unattainable. For never an artist lived whose idea fell not short in realization. The endeavor always plays sad havoc with the conception. The mind roams free; it dwells in ærial palaces, wraps itself round with golden cloud embroideries, catches strains from the poetry of the gods, listens to the music of the spheres. The hand is shackled by a limit of possibilities; however skilled there is a point beyond which it may not go. The eye sees and the hand reaches up to grasp the soaring beauty, but every restraining touch upon the butterfly wings “brushes their brightest hues away.” How peurile the poet's thought when he has it pinned down to earth in verse! How insipid compared with his conception is the face showing upon the painter's canvas! What else but an recognition of the impossible in art ever led Velasquez in his picture of the Crucifixion to half hide the face of Christ under his long, flowing hair? Was not his doing so a further recognition of the possible in the beholder's imagination? In these two concessions Velasquez proved himself a great artist. He knew there never had been painted a satisfactory face of Christ. Doubtless then as now people found fault with the type and to paint the godlike was impossible. So he painted not the divine

but the purely human, not the living but the dead from which the godlike had flown. It was a shrewd Velasquez that chose the human nature of Christ instead of the divine; it was a wise Velasquez that half covered from view that human face, leaving just enough of it for suggestion; it was a great Velasquez that relegated to each person's imagination the transforming of that human face into one of divinity.

It seems a paradoxical statement to say that an artist often gains by what he leaves out, but a moment's reflection will bring the general truth home to us even within our own experience outside of the arts. The instances of it are numerous among the painters, though the bold application of it so far as the omitting of half a face as in Velasquez? Crucifixion is seldom met with. A modern painter, J. F. Millet, offers an approach to this in his masterpiece, the Sower. The whole picture is rather indefinite in treatment—what a realist would call “blottesque ” I presume. The foreground is in the dusky shadow of a hill; above the hill is the high light of the evening sky and against this sky appears a roughly treated ox-team. In the foreground with his swinging motion strides the Sower. He is the most finished of any object in the picture, and yet he is only suggestion. Foot, leg, hand, and arm are consciously blurred though well-enough modeled and endowed with great action; the clothes appear coarse though their texture is not actually told ; and if one looks up into the face hoping to peer into the eyes and read a character therein he will be disappointed. The peasants hat is pulled down low on the head, the forehead and eyes are cast in deep shadow, and the whole face is but a hint, an intimation. But how well it is given ! How quick we are to grasp Millet's meaning! The sun has gone down but still the Sower works; the sweat and dust of a long day are upon his face and forehead but he heeds them not; he is weary and worn but the long stride never falters, the swinging hand still scatters the grain. What a hard, cheerless, almost hopeless life is that of the tiller of the fields, and what a hero he is to breast it so nobly! He flinches not under the severity of fate but with sad serious eyes fronts the inevitable. And who heeds while he struggles for the grudged existence? The children hunger, the wife weeps, the man

sighs, but the great world rolls on unmoved. There is a wealth of poetry to be gotten from the subject, yet it is not all in the picture; we come to know the meaning of toil and sorrow and yet Millet tells us but a part of it. The poetry is somewhat in our own minds; Millet's task was to touch it into life by the suggestive means of form and color. He never thought to tell us exactly what he himself thought of the peasant; he did not eliminate the mystery by detail, nor crush out the viewer's imagination by realistic facts; he told a subtle half truth and left the other half to be supplied by the spectator.

How puerile and unsatisfactory is exact art in comparison with suggestive art is shown in the products of those young Parisian imitators of Millet who are to-day painting the sabotshod peasantry of France. Almost any one of the imitators is a better technician than Millet and it is not by virtue of more skillful fingers that Millet is superior. Their line and color and texture and light are oftentimes beyond criticism, and they paint the peasantry in the open fields quite as honestly as did their master; but somehow their pictures do not give us as much pleasure. We settle the matter in our own minds by saying “They have not Millet's genius;" but that, I opine, is only another way of saying “They have not Millet's power of suggestion.” They paint well but they paint too much; they present us with encyclopedic facts the truth of which we admit and then pass on having no food for further thought or stimulant for the imagination.

A different style of treatment from the modern Parisians, a style similar to that of Millet, marked the products of the Fontainebleau—Barbizon landscapists—those discoverers whom the world of art so persistently misunderstood and whom the world of exact thinkers does not now believe in. To the realist a landscape by Corot is an enigma. He declares that “it is not true,” by which he doubtless means that it is not exactly true, or the whole truth. He cannot understand why Corot does not make an inventory with a paint brush of all the leaves on a given tree, of all the blades of grass on a given foreground, of all the rocks on a given hillside. The realist is after truth, but Corot is after beauty and so he sweeps away the leaves, and grass, and petty minutiæ with a large brush and calls us, by the absence of distracting details at the sides, to look up at the central beauty of light. And this is so essentially Shakspearian in conception and execution that I may be allowed to quote again that line from the Merchant of Venice:

“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank." The dramatist it will be observed fixes attention on the moonlight, that chief feature of night, and without another word the whole landscape rises before us. This is precisely what Corot does. He makes us see the light alone, leaving the trees, the grass, and all that to our imagination.

Corot was Shakspearian enough to seize upon the all-predominant feature of landscape, light, and for that reason if for no other he was the greatest landscape painter of his age. His masterpieces, like the Orpheus and the Danse des Amours, are considered masterpieces almost solely because of their emphasis of light, and when, as in some of his works, he sinks down to the emphasizing of air or foliage as the leading features his art loses proportionately. Rousseau was in many respects a better technician than Corot, but he was not so singular in aim nor so lofty in conception. The solidity of the earth, the volume of foliage, the color effects of the clouds were his themes, but treated in a broad manner never detailed, except in his earlier and poorer works, and always full of suggestion. Diaz in reflected light and the color of the foliage, Daubigny in grey tone and atmosphere, Decamp in warmth of color and light, Dupré in stormy skies, are all so many instances at hand showing a similarity of treatment if a difference of theme. Each one suggests the sub-features by intensifying the main features; none of them fritters away strength in an attempt to rival the work of a photographer's camera, or pays much attention to supernumeraries when more important actors are upon the stage. It requires your modern realist to give the mole hill as high a value as the mountain ; to weary us with a burden of geographical and botanical statistics; to stuff us like roast turkeys with bread and butter lawns, sage and carawayseed foliage, and onion-skin skies. The great French landscapists whom I have named used the forms of nature in a more effective manner. They all understood the meaning of

« AnteriorContinuar »