Perdita: I have heard it said,
There is an art which shares with great creating nature.
Polixexes: Say there be;
Yet nature is made better by no mean.
But nature makes that mean; so. o'er that art
Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art
That nature makes.
There is an art
Which doth mend nature,—change it rather; but
The art itself is nature.—The Winter’s Tale
Defined in its widest sense, art is the power of doing something that we are accustomed to distinguish from nature s handiwork, whether it be the fashioning of a garment or the molding of a statue of the Olympian Jove. While all things created, or all of which we have any knowledge, may be classed under the terms nature and art, it is often difficult to distinguish between the two, especially since nature, properly speaking, includes art, just as the greater includes the less, the one being merely the application of the other's potencies to certain ends. Though man may use and direct the properties of matter, the united energies of mankind cannot add to them in the smallest degree, even the intelligence, taste, and muscular force which contrive, design, and execute being themselves the productions of nature, which, as John Stuart Mill remarks, is "the collective name for all facts, actual and possible.”
Whether in forethought, plan, or constructive skill, nature is herself the greatest of all artificers; for as was remarked by the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, "That which in the works of human art is done by hands, is done with much greater art by nature." The best of artists are those who have followed most closely in her footsteps, not with slavish imitation but as a student follows some great master, reproducing, so far as in him lies, the spirit and not the statistics of that which nature has fashioned. It was through their susceptibility to nature's impressions, fostered by careful training, that in sculpture, and to a certain extent in painting, the Greeks excelled all other artists who came before or after them, still serving as models for those who would make of art a language intelligible to the people,—and this is one of its highest functions.
"Is painting simply an imitative art?" asked Carolus Duran in a self-answered question to one of his student classes. "No it is above all an art of expression. There is not one of the great masters of whom this is not true. Even those who were most absorbed by outward beauty understood that they neither could nor ought to reproduce anything but the spirit of nature either in form or color.
Thus have these great masters interpreted nature, without attempting to give a literal translation, and this interpretation is precisely what makes the personality of each of them. Without this individual point of view there can be no really original work.”
Truth, it has been well observed, is the first thing in art, and the second, and the third; but the truth is so vast that it cannot be told all at once no man ever knew the whole, and while it has many able enunciators, of it, each one emphasizing the portion that appeals most strongly to his tastes, his interests, or his temperament. Just as of the world itself, no individual knows thoroughly more than a fragment or at best a few fragments, so in the world of art, the opinions of others are only of value when considered from their own point of view, so far, that is, as they can see from the spot which they occupy on the great sphere of art.
As to the nature and scope of the fine arts, as distinguished from those which are merely useful or mechanical, there is little difference of opinion, the one administering to the sense of the beautiful and the other to the practical needs of life. Neither difficult to determine in what may be called the intermediate arts, which serve in a measure for either purpose, the part that they play in both. Yet when we search after closer definitions, we are brought face to face with a mass of opinions and speculations as conflicting and voluminous that have any arisen in the wide range of human thought.
Granted that all the arts may be classed as beautiful or useful, or as a combination of both, such questions have been propounded as What is beauty? What place do the beautiful arts hold in relation to the universe, to mankind, and to each other? But here we are treading on the province of aesthetics, with which our theme is not concerned.
Among the Greeks, the Romans, and other nations of antiquity the fine arts were not distinguished as a separate group, the techne of the Greeks including the mechanic arts and the ingenuae arts of the Romans having also a wider application. Their classification apart under terms equivalent to fine or beautiful, as those which minister to the love of beauty and not to material needs or comforts is of much later and, somewhat uncertain date. When an art or craft fulfils both these purposes, it is only in the former sense that it partakes of the aesthetic. Thus the making of a vase, so far as it is intended merely as a receptacle for flowers or for similar use is a useful art; but its ornamentation, belongs to the decorative, or if in the form of a design executed with exceptional skill, to the beautiful arts. And so with architecture which, in providing a building suitable for shelter and accommodation comes under the province of mechanics, but in the disposition of masses, lines, and surfaces, the harmony of proportion, the contrast of colors, and the alternation of light and shade ranks as one of the fine arts. Yet the two may be so closely intermingled as to allow the architect but a narrow license; for in carrying out his conceptions of the artistic, he must never lose sight of the practical.
By common, or at least by general consent, the fine arts in their proper sense are restricted to architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry; though perhaps a better definition would be to call these the greater arts, for there are many others that might be classed among minor or subordinate branches. Thus in the builder and carpenters work, or in landscape gardening, there may be much that is related to architecture and architectural decoration; the craft of the goldsmith, silversmith, jeweler, of the worker in ceramics, glass-cutting, embroidery, pattern-weaving have at least something in common with painting or sculpture, while acting and even dancing can become to a certain degree the interpretation of poetry and music. All these and scores of others are something more than mere industries or dexterities; for with the qualities of convenience and use they combine those of beauty and pleasure.
Plato, who taught that the realities of life are but the distant reflections of truer realities, declared the fine arts to be the veriest show of shows, ranking them far below agriculture, the herding of cattle, or the making of shoes; for the one, he says, produces merely semblances, while the others produce utilities. Cicero divided art into two classes; that by which something is discerned or contemplated, and that by which something is done or produced, giving geometry as an example of the former and music as one of the latter. While even in the days of Euclid geometry was rather termed a science, there are in all sciences, even in the abstract sciences, certain elements of art. Thus, understanding by geometry a collection of investigations, deductions, and problems as to the properties and measurement of space and magnitude, while this of course is science, there is also the skill in making these investigations and deductions, or in solving these problems, which, if not the art of geometry, is at least the art of the geometer. So with astronomy; when used, for example, merely as an adjunct to navigation, it is but an elementary science; when studied as in observatories, revealing more of the panorama of the universe and of the procession of the spheres, it verges closely upon the arts. So also with geology, which as an aid to the discovery of veins of gold and silver, of lead and copper, has a function very different from that which restores to us lost creations and reclothes in living forms the dry bones of species that have disappeared in the aeons of the past.
Among the principal branches of art, it is only with architecture, sculpture, and painting that are at present concerned, though minor and auxiliary branches, especially art manufactures and decorative art, will be treated in other portions of this work.
Beginning therefore with architecture as the oldest of the three, we may trace its origin to the time when men forsook their cave-dwellings and made themselves tents of skin or huts of branches and mud; not to the savage or savage tribe that first constructed such tents or huts,—for this is merely the builder's craft—but to him who first arranged the skins or branches in such fashion as to please the eye rather than to afford him shelter or personal comfort. Here is the inception of architecture considered as one of the fine arts. Even in the Paleolithic ages there also existed in some rude form both sculpture and painting. Of imitative sculpture the prototype may be found in the cave of some hunter who debarred from the chase on a rainy day, perhaps long before the Noachian era, passed the time in carving on the handle of his weapon figures of the animals he had slaughtered. As to pictorial art it is claimed by Pliny that the Egyptians were acquainted with it several thousand years before it was known to the Greeks. Be this as it may, it is generally conceded that the first attempts by any nation were in the shape of rough outlines of the human form traced on bark or stone, such as have been found among the decorations of Egyptian tombs.
Art has been termed the universal language of mankind, of which traces are to be found not only in the land of the Pharaohs and in the valley of the Euphrates, where tradition has placed the origin of the human race; not only among the mythical heroes whom Homer and Virgil describe, but in Scandinavian forests, in Celtic remains, in the mounds that tell of a bygone civilization on the banks of the Mississippi, and amid the islands of the southern seas. In these primitive forms is seen the mysterious incentive to art common to all nations that have attained to a certain degree of civilization, interpreting and giving sensible expression to their thoughts, though it may be a feeble expression; for in its higher sense the art of one nation may be traced back for thousands of years, while another may still be looking for its birth.
The process of artistic development differs but little from the series of processes employed in the composition of a single picture, save that the former is the work of nations or schools and the latter of individuals. First comes the rough charcoal sketch, so rough that only a professional artist would know its meaning, yet serving to indicate the boundaries assigned to various portions of the subject. Then follows a more careful outline, within which the color is laid on in masses, but yet with a view to the filling in of detail, the detail itself requiring several repetitions one after the other or one within the other, together with gradations of coloring, film above film, until the painting has reached the highest degree of excellence of which the artist is capable. So it is with the progress of art throughout the ages, except that here is the result, not of the conception and execution of a single workman, but of successive generations of workmen in every quarter of the world. The rude charcoal sketch of some father of art, whose lifetime is barely sufficient for the task, is followed by the various stages above described, each successive era showing an improvement in accuracy of detail and nicety of discrimination. So also it is as to the law of progress in the various branches of science.
Just as in science there is art, so in art there is a strong element of the scientific, and that in its widest sense; for in certain directions, and up to a certain point, the former is as essentially utilitarian and progressive as are chemistry or electricity. While to the genius of the artist is due whatever of the spiritual his picture may express, real progress is not in poetic or other conceptions, but in the scientific treatment of these conceptions; and thus it is that art has developed so unequally. The renaissance period, for example, was noted for its superior methods of portraying figure, whether human or angelic, while in landscape there was no very marked improvement.
Color attained in the canvases of Titian and his contemporaries a richness and splendor that have never been excelled; yet, necessary to the rendering of truths and ideas, there were processes of which Titian knew nothing, or if he did, never used them in the expression of his art. While a painter may never become famous through being merely scientific, he is compelled in a measure to be so, because his profession calls for the application of scientific principles almost as much as do those of the architect or engineer. The true artist is ever grateful for the aids of science and docile to its teachings, for while it cannot take the place of artistic observation, it may save him from many mistakes.
Though with many subdivisions, the several branches of pictorial art may be divided into landscapes, marines, genre, portraiture, and historic paintings, the last including mythological and kindred subjects. While all of these have many admirers, landscape is perhaps the most popular, and when handled by a master's touch, the highest form; for this is what appeals most strongly to the imagination, giving to the majesty of nature the added majesty of art. Take, for instance, a picture whose theme is selected in the Bernese Oberland, as of the Jungfrau at sunrise, with all its beauty and sublimity reproduced on canvas, so far as reproduction is possible. Here it is not only the fields of perpetual snow, the glaciers and walls of granite, seamed with cascades, with ice-born rivers, or with the filmy veil of waterfalls; but emotions are thus awakened such as no other scene could stir or quicken. There is first of all the sense of infinity, mingled with awe and wonder at the work of the great artificer, together with a sense of our own insignificance, as of the grass on these mountain sides. Then there is a sense of companionship with bygone generations, which once have looked on these marvels on which we also shall presently cease to look, a sense of the unknown of life and death, suggested by this line of virgin snow blushing in the light of the morning sky.
The aim of him who would strive after perfection in painting is first, the conception and illustration of nature in its purest form; second, the blending of the natural with the ideal, so as to produce the finest impression of which art is capable. As a celebrated art critic remarks, "With such purposes in view, consisting of such a multiplicity of parts, and requiring such an uncommon assemblage of powers, mechanical and mental; of hand, of eye, of knowledge, of judgment, of imagination, and of indefatigable perseverance in study and practice, to enable a man to perform any one part with tolerable success, it can be no wonder that painting has not as yet reached the desired perfection; nor ought we to be surprised to find even the most celebrated masters materially defective in one or more of its branches, those who possessed invention having been often deficient in execution; those who studied coloring having often neglected drawing; and those who attended to form and character having been too apt to disregard composition and the proper management of light and shadow.” It is only through a combination of the qualities mentioned by the critic that the highest form of expression is attained; and to him who has riot this faculty, though the most finished master of technique, one may say as did Millet to a certain Parisian artist: "Your execution is good, and you can paint; but what have you to tell?"
As to the present condition of art, it may be said that its leading exponents are striving for improvement in technical methods and for a truer harmony of color and proportion, striving to give to their pictures the tranquility of expression characteristic of the old masters, yet with due regard to modern conditions and discoveries, so far as they consist with true artistic aims. Now that the scientific impetus has expended its force, after increasing so largely the range of art, the painter is at liberty to devote himself entirely to these higher purposes.
But even the foremost of painters may be only too well content to equal in other vein the best achievements of the past; for the great river of art. flowing ever onward, but raising its current only at irregular intervals, may not as yet be able to rise above the mark attained in the classic and renaissance periods.
On the other hand one of the great drawbacks to improvement in art is the power of the past over the present; for the great masters of former days rule us with a tyranny that we would never endure from the living. Though nothing could be further from their desire than that anyone should slavishly imitate their works, yet because these works are of superlative excellence, they almost act as a barrier to original achievement; so that there are few among the great names of former ages that have not been misused for the restraint of modern talent and modern genius. By all means let us render due homage to the dead; but it cannot be rendered by aping their compositions as a monkey apes humanity. Could Raphael live among us in the flesh, as he does in his paintings, it would almost make him ashamed of his art to learn how he has served as a model for generation after generation of copyists. Rather should his disciple say, as did Correggio, after a close scrutiny of one of his pictures, "I also am a painter." And this, if doing the best of which he is capable, he may say without conceit, howsoever humble his sphere; for he who gave to us in 'The Transfiguration,' one of the sublimest of human conceptions, did not disdain to paint a dead elephant or to design a perfume-burner. Neither is it fair to the living nor just to the dead to restrict our admiration to the works of any one master or school; for all that is excellent is worthy to be admired, whether the work of the living or the dead. For centuries real artists have been plentiful; today they are more plentiful than ever they were, and from each one may be learned a lesson that none but he can teach so well.
As Ruskin in substance remarks, while respect for the ancients is the salvation of art, it sometimes blinds us to its ends, increasing the power of the painter while diminishing his liberty. Yet if it be among overzealous disciples an encumbrance to the inventive faculty, it also serves as a protection from modern audacity. "The whole system and discipline of art, the collected results of the experience of ages might, but for the fixed authority of antiquity, be swept away in the rage of fashion or lost in the glare of novelty."
With the increase of wealth and leisure, and the superior culture and refinement fostered by their possession, the fine arts have gradually asserted themselves among the influences that lend grace to national prosperity and add luster to a nation's glory. Without art and literature, indeed, what would become of the memory of those bright examples which stimulate to noble deeds, of the great incidents and great men whose history embodies all that is best worth preserving in the annals of the race? What is it, if not her art and literature, that gave to Greece immortality, notwithstanding the calamities of bygone ages while the commerce, and craft of the Phoenicians, who had no superiors in ancient times, belong to the forgotten past? Whether in the field of science, of invention, or of industrial development, there are few things better worth preserving than what may be expressed on a piece of painted canvas, or in a block of marble which the sculptor's chisel has touched into life.
"The only real function of art," says one of the foremost of critics "is to state a true thing or to adorn a serviceable one." While some of our finest paintings and sculptures have been purely the off spring of the imagination, there are few who will care to take exception to the latter clause as of this definition. Though, in former ages, there are many whose sole object in life is the pursuit of the means of life, the lack of beauty, or call it decoration, whether in private home, or public hall, or sacred temple, unnoticed even in the earlier portion of the present century, has now been either remedied or regarded as an evil to be remedied. To adorn objects of common utility with artistic instead of with trade finish, is no longer considered as beyond the legitimate sphere of art, and thus it is that the decorator, formerly classed almost on a par with the mechanic, has attained to the dignity of a profession, provided he display the sense of beauty, the power of observation, the dexterity, and nicety of touch, without which there can be at best but a makeshift of art.
While sculpture may be the greatest of the arts, painting is of more general interest, at least to our modern tastes. For every piece of sculpture by the old masters there are hundreds of paintings, and these are probably viewed and criticized more widely and intelligently than when they appeared fresh from the master's brush. Yet painting is more independent of ancient models and precedents than the art of the sculptor or the architect; for the latter has been developed from historic influences which are still in a measure dominant, while the former has much of novelty, not only in subject but in method and aim. For several centuries the leading architects of Europe attempted little more than the copying of classic forms and details, and even when a reaction came, it was not in the direction of originality, such as was suitable to the needs and conditions of a progressive civilization, but rather to a still more slavish imitation of other and inferior schools.
Even at the present day we are not entirely free from such influences, and especially is this true of American architecture; for if in some countries, as in Holland and Switzerland, there is what may be termed a national style, it not as yet be said to exist in United States, where are many buildings belong to every order, and not a few that belong to no order. Yet this is better than the mere aping of antique fashions; for archaeology is not architecture, and a Gothic town-hall which may have been well suited to the Middle Ages is not adapted to nineteenth century requirements.
As in all professions, learned or otherwise, love of art is the first requisite of success. Like Ruskin's good doctor whose fee is of less consequence to him than the life of his patient, the highest reward of the artist is in the creation of the artistically beautiful. He who would live by art must first live for art. In painting and sculpture as in literature there are a thousand efforts for every accomplishment, a thousand canvases and marbles for every composition which will live as artistically excellent. While nature is the only artist to whom we can look for perfect truth and originality, he who paints from nature should combine the creative with the imitative faculty; for the true artist cannot be merely a copyist.
As to fame, a few words may here be said; for this in different degrees is necessary, not only to artists but to men in various callings and conditions of life. There are some to whom celebrity is either a birthright or achieved without effort of their own, and who need not, therefore, seek after fame as even to secure a livelihood, to say nothing of higher motives. Thus Turner is spoken of as a famous painter; but no one would speak of emperor or tzar as being famous, since fame belongs to them by virtue of their authority and rank. There are others who while they may care little for celebrity in itself, require it in a certain measure, and none more so than the artist and the man of letters, for to them it is almost a commercial necessity. It is not today as with the Florentine painters, who could find in their own city and its neighborhood patrons and admirers sufficient to satisfy their desire for renown and reward. In single communities, and especially in small communities, there is no adequate field for intellectual work, since comparatively few can appreciate it or care to pay for it; hence a market for such work must be sought not among thousands but among millions; for neither artist nor author can hope for purchasers in any considerable number until he has first become famous.
A painter without reputation, it has been said, is like a pastor without a flock, fame being one of the conditions requisite to the exercise of his craft. Yet the works of art that find most purchasers are not those which appeal to the higher artistic faculties, but to the capabilities of small ones; and hence it is that the majority of painters do not attempt high art, but rather such as will afford them the readiest compensation for their toil and time. The depiction of faces figures, and costumes, for instance, under the excuse of some, incident which will attract attention, as in Sargent's 'Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth.'—a full length portrait of the tragedienne in the act of placing the crown on her head—is a favorite mode of catering to the popular taste. This is excusable, for we cannot be always looking for nobility of subject, and much of the grandest in art is coupled with simplicity of theme.
Thus a peasant in the hands of Millet supplies finer art than a kaiser in the hands of a court painter; a sand-dune by Mesdag, or a canal by Jakob Maris is better than alpine range or ocean storm when treated by inferior artists. But while the subject may be simple it should not be trivial, and above, all it should not be vulgar; for in art one may always aspire but should never condescend.
Of Rosa Bonheur it is related that in order, to study animal life, she frequented the abattoirs of Paris in masculine garb, made sketches in the public streets, or wherever opportunity offered, and purchasing a sheep, kept it in an apartment adjoining her atelier until she became familiar with every portion of its anatomy. In this there was no affectation of eccentricity, but merely a desire to prepare herself thoroughly for the branch of art which she first selected as her special sphere. And here was one of the secrets of her success, a secret within the reach of all; for to possess in the memory just standards of comparison, and to possess them clearly and thoroughly, should be one of the first aims in the self-education of an artist. A figure-painter, for example, who is not thoroughly acquainted with the structure of the human body, and with its gradual changes of outline between childhood and age may give us little more than a mass of flesh and bones almost devoid of expression. In landscapes and marines one who has not closely observed the ever-shifting moods of nature, is apt to place on canvas not what nature has made but merely a caricature of nature.
The artist's eye sees nature almost with another sense; but the true artistic sight cannot exist, even in men of genius, without artistic training. To make a thorough study of any of nature's handiwork, whether a landscape, let us say, or a human being, there must first of all be a close and careful examination of the subject, and no one but an artist would care to spend day after day in grasping the details of a landscape or hour after hour in scrutinizing the features of a man. Ingres, as Alphonse Kerr relates, refused to paint the portrait of the duke of Orleans unless he were granted a hundred and fifty sittings. There are few among us who would care to undergo such an ordeal; but let us hope both artist and duke accomplished their task with becoming patience.
Religion has ever been a favorite theme with artists, and especially was this the case among nations less devoted to the worship of mammon than is the present age. Not only do religious annals afford an abundance of excellent topics, but the true artistic spirit is akin to the devotional, placing before us and bringing us into close communion with the works of the supreme artist, so that it may almost be said that art itself is a religion.
Yet it will have little to do with religious fanaticism, which, to mortify the flesh, would turn the eye from all the loveliness of earth. It is alike the privilege and duty of all, and especially of artists, to take pleasure in Gods works, to find their greatest delight in the beauty that is everywhere around them; hence, with the superstition that condemns all pleasure as sinful art can have no sympathy.
As the range of art was never so wide as at the present day, so never perhaps was there so much of interest in its achievements, or so much of sympathy with its spirit; for its unknown lovers are far more numerous than its more demonstrative patrons. With aristocracy, apart from the question of patronage, it has at least this in common, that both tend to refinement, elegance, and grace, portrait and figure painters preferring above all other subjects the true-born aristocrat. With democracy it has little affinity; for while some of the best and highest art takes for its theme the lives and struggles of the poor, they are not as a rule inviting topics to the brethren of the craft. But art is neither aristocratic nor democratic, nor is it restricted, though it may in a measure be classified by nations and schools. Rather is it universal; and of this property so often ascribed to it, there is no stronger evidence than the obliteration of all distinctions as to rank or wealth among those who, possessed of the artistic spirit, meet on the common plane of art. Not that I would here suggest any necessary connection between wealth and art, except that wealth is in a measure necessary to the growth and even to the existence of art, just as it is to the development of culture and civilization. A cottage may be more pleasing to the artists eye than a palace of a thousand chambers, a peasant’s garb than an emperor’s robes of state, and a model in common clay than a statue in purest gold.
The demand for works of art, as I have said, was never so great as at the present time, and hence in part it is that art, like journalism, no longer guides but is guided by public taste and opinion, and to these the artist must in a measure conform. When there is no desire for a certain class of pictures, as for those which treat of historic or mythological subjects, let us say, the painter, though he excel in these branches, may be forced to betake himself to other fields, in which perhaps he has many more skilful competitors; for few are perfectly at home in several departments. Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Ingres, for example, were finished masters of portraiture and figure painting; yet the landscapes which they drew as a setting to their figures were little better than amateur workmanship, while the figures which Corot inserted in his exquisite landscapes seldom rose above mediocrity. Whatever his sphere, he who is capable of producing that which is excellent will not want for encouragement, though for a time it be not appreciated; nor is it necessary that his productions should have the authority of precedent. To surpass in lines where others have surpassed is well; but to surpass in work for which there is no precedent is better; for next to truth in art is originality. One may admire the pure ideality of the Greeks, the beauties of the renaissance masters or the realism of the moderns, without spending his life in slavish imitation of any of them; for no one can become really great until first he has learned to rely on himself.
While there is originality of treatment, a higher form of originality consists in what the Greeks called idea, meaning not merely a thought but an image or object conceived by the mind, as when Raphael conceived his Madonnas or Correggio his 'Diana Returning from the Chase.' Nor is it necessary that art should serve any moral purpose or attempt to convey any moral lesson; on the contrary, attempting to do so, it often sinks below the level of art in its truer sense. A drunken satyr, for instance, may be much better art than Cruikshank’s series entitled 'The Bottle,' which, though extremely popular and many times reproduced, are little better than so many temperance lectures on canvas. In the figure paintings of Rubens, whom his time was considered the high-priest of form, there is much that administers to the lust of the flesh; but even in his sacred subjects there is little suggestive of religion or morality, for such he used merely as artistic motifs. Though only the depraved prefer pictures whose tone is vicious merely on that account, there are few who would care to censure the great Flemish master; for to the artist there is nothing vicious in the depiction of vice or of that which caters to vice.
By an able critic the entire history of art has thus in substance been summarized. Egyptian art was merely typical, aiming only at the development and expression of types; Greek art was devoted to the worship of form, and that of the middle ages to the spirit of asceticism, while with the renaissance came a rehabilitation of the beautiful, and later an adaptation of art to common life. Then, with the French revolution, arose a war between the classicists and romanticists, followed by a period of confusion, out of which sprang the school of realism, destined to reconcile art with the spirit of modern intelligence. In this condensed description it is not of course intended to cover the entire field, and to some of its statements, especially the closing words, there are many who will take exception. While realism may be serviceable and truth essential to art, both are inferior to the aesthetic quality, just as in building the mason's craft, though more necessary, is inferior to that of the architect. There is much that is beautiful in art which has no pretension to greatness; there is much that is great which is utterly devoid of the beautiful; while the highest of all is a combination of the beautiful, the great, and the true.
The progress which recent ages have witnessed is largely due to the revival of classic models and classic styles inaugurated by the renaissance, though this movement was attended with a certain laxity of morals; for renaissance palaces were by no means the homes of purity, nor was its luxury untainted with vice. A certain degree of license, it would seem, is almost inseparable from extreme intellectual activity; but however this may be regretted, it is better than the condition of affairs prevailing in the dark ages, when both art and science sank almost below the level attained in China and Japan. For confirmation of this latter statement, we have but to look at the waxwork visages and figures of the monastic era, when there were none but monkish artists to design or execute.
Still, as in centuries that are past, art has but little influence over the majority of mankind, who see only the objects portrayed, while the art itself is hidden from their sight; but this detracts not from a power and dignity that belong to no other human agency. Though it move not all, or even many, there is no power that appeals so strongly to the higher faculties, albeit as compared with more positive forces, as that of wealth, its strength may appear as weakness; for it is essentially a spiritual power, and of all powers the most subtle and delicate. In dignity it is often as with the verse of Milton or with the prose of Johnson, whose poverty men could see, but could not see their genius; for genius appeals not to the multitude, exclaiming rather, as did the sibyl of old, "Procul, O procul este, profani!"
It must, however, be admitted that modern conditions do not tend to exalt the power and dignity of art. In olden times students applied themselves to their profession almost as members of a guild, each one subject to certain regulations, and serving his apprenticeship in the studio of an acknowledged master. Raphael, for instance, had many pupils, all skilled in some branch of art, and not a few of them his faithful imitators, believing that by repeatedly copying his works, they might in time approximate if not attain to the glories of his art. When sufficiently advanced in their craft, their reproductions were always salable, especially after receiving, as often they did, a few touches from the master’s hand. But the modern painter must obtain his education and his patrons by other means; for schools of art, as once they existed, are almost a thing of the past. Hence it is that purely artistic considerations are of little weight as compared with the chance of making a fortune or the necessity of earning a livelihood; for he who has achieved success in a lower range of art cannot afford to devote himself to higher aims.
As a rule middlemen, under the name of picture dealers, have usurped the business relations that formerly existed between artist and patron, gradually making good their hold on the leading art centers of the world. While this, if properly conducted, may be a legitimate branch of trade, it is by no means one that fosters legitimate art; for the dealer does not look on pictures from an aesthetic point of view, but merely with a view to the market, striving to create a demand for such works as he desires to sell and this without, scruple as to the means employed. With him there is no such thing as a critical knowledge of art and, often there is no taste for it the best of canvases, being looked upon merely as commodities to be sold at a profit, and the sooner the better, for so he will more rapidly turn over his money.
While the connoisseur will pay no heed to his opinions, it is not so with the customers whom he regards as his prey, puffing his wares, like a common tradesman, so long as the public will listen to him, and the public will listen to much. How different the effect of such transactions from those of true lovers of art, who after careful discrimination buy their pictures not as chattels to be disposed of for gain, but as the companions of a lifetime! Yet the system is not without its benefits; for a purchaser will be more apt to give a thousand dollars for a picture which the dealer has bought for half that sum, than to give five hundred if negotiating with the artist himself. Moreover the best recommendation that an artist, can have is that his works have sold for an extravagant price, and the higher the figure the greater his reputation.
Over the painter's, as over the sculptor's art, still hangs, as in bygone ages, the specter of decadence; but happily it is only a specter, for in both there is much of progress, though more perhaps of transition than of either. The development of art has been aptly compared to the course of a running stream ever, changing in direction, in depth, in hue and quality, now shining in brilliant light and color, now lying in somber pools, now sinking into the sands, but only to reappear in some new region, and never entirely vanishing into the outer darkness. Thus, when classic art died with the spirit that created it, in the middle ages it again awoke to life, first in Italy, then in Spain and the Netherlands, and there becoming stagnant or shallow, displayed itself in France. If, as some would have us believe, the current of real art has sunk to its lowest ebb among this nation of artists, it is only because it has been diverted to another land, or rather should we say to many lands; for art belongs to all the world, and no one nation can forever maintain the preeminence.
The present method of transacting business through picture dealers is at least as honest as that which prevailed in the middle ages; and if purchasers choose to pay dearly for the endorsement of a dealer of repute, the artist is none the poorer for it. On the contrary dealers have largely increased the market value of art, the painter receiving much more for his work, even though the former may pay him only half the price obtained for it, than he would have done without his interposition. The purchaser betakes himself to the dealer because he mistrusts his own knowledge of art, and the artist sells to him as a matter of necessity or convenience; thus both are satisfied, and many impositions are avoided, especially in the substitution of copies for originals. In the middle age and renaissance periods, even the most famous artists, as Perugino and Leonardo da Vinci, sold to their patrons many a picture for which they had furnished merely the design, leaving the execution to pupils or assistants. They had also different scales of prices to suit the pockets of their customers, varying from that of an altar-piece, which would be entirely the work of the master's hand, to the trifle paid for the decoration of a dish or ewer, which would be handed over to the youngest apprentice.
In this connection it may be of interest to mention here and in later chapters the prices paid for works of the better class among various nations and at various epochs.
The Greeks, who rewarded well those who excelled in any craft, whether pertaining to the useful or beautiful, paid their artists much higher prices than are received in modern times, in relation, that is, to the purchasing power of money. It is probable that no nineteenth century sculptor earned so large an income as Phidias and Praxiteles, the former, whom Quintilian styles the sculptor of the gods, excelling in the grand and sublime, and the latter in the delicate and graceful. Apelles, when court painter to Alexander the Great, received for a portrait of that monarch 20 talents in gold, or the equivalent of about $23,600, while his 'Venus Anaduomene' was taken by Augustus Caesar in lieu of 100 talents in tribute. Zeuxis became so rich through the sale of his paintings that he refused to sell his later works at any price, though he often gave them away. Parrhasius’ paintings of 'Archigallus, Priest of Cybele,’ and of 'Meleager and Atalanta,’—the former mentioned by Pliny and the latter Archigallus, by Suetonius—were valued respectively at the equivalent in sesterces of $40,000 and $24,000, both being transferred to Rome among thousands of other Greek masterpieces, and finding a home in the palace of Tiberius.
It was not until near the close of the republican era that the Romans began to acquire a taste for art. After capturing Tarentum during the second Punic war. Quintus Fabius Maximus gave orders that all the money and plate should be sent to Rome, but that the pictures and statuary should be left alone as not worth removing. Cato the Censor declaimed against works of art as injurious to the wellbeing of the republic. Later, after Mummius, Sylla, and others had filled Roman fanes and palaces with the treasures of Grecian art, generals vied with each other in securing the choicest specimens from conquered lands. It is said that in the reign of Augustus 80,000 statues adorned the streets and squares, the temples and mansions of the imperial city, while elsewhere in Italy, and in the provinces, were many valuable collections. The later emperors squandered their millions freely, though less on legitimate works of art than on barbaric splendor, as Nero on his golden palace and Domitian in gilding the temple of Capitoline Jove. To their own artists the Romans never paid such prices as did the Greeks, and in truth they had few artists worthy of the name, except those who were brought from Greece, many of them as slaves whose task was to decorate Roman villas and gardens.
During the renaissance period, and while the art genius of Italy was at its best, there were some who made fortunes by the exercise of their craft, but more even among the great masters who could barely earn a livelihood. Titian, it is said, though the statement is doubtful, received so little for his works that he lived in indigence until more than fifty years of age, later receiving a pension from Charles V, and probably making more from a contract for supplying grain than from all the productions of his brush. Raphael left property valued at $150,000 as the financial results of his brilliant but brief career; for he died at the age of 37. Yet he was glad to accept a mere trifle for some of his most valuable works, as for the 'Connestabile Madonna,' purchased by the tzar of Russia, in 1871, for $66,000, and for the 'Ansidei Madonna,’ bought for the National gallery, London, in 1884, for $350,000, more than double the price ever paid for a picture up to that time. For years Michael Angelo subjected himself to the severest privation and to incessant toil, in order to earn for his father, his brothers, and himself the barest necessaries of life. The fresco paintings of Correggio for the cathedral were rewarded with the munificent and the church of St. John at Parma, though the task of an entire decade, sum of 820 sequins, out of which he must pay for his own colors. His later years were passed in comfort, but only through marrying a wealthy bride, and his death, as is related, was caused by carrying home, on a hot day, 50 scudi in copper, the price of one of his pictures, fatigue and exhaustion bringing on his final illness.
Hogarth was one of the most successful of eighteenth century painters, receiving £200 for his portrait of Garrick in Richard III; yet one of his canvases sold at public sale in London, not many years ago, for more than he earned in his lifetime. Sir Joshua Reynolds fared better, leaving a fortune of £80,000; but he was the fashionable painter of his time, and fashion, then as now, had much to do with success. During the earlier portion of the present century, the financial outlook for artists was far from encouraging. Corot, for instance, lived on the small income which his father could afford him, and even when sixty years of age, had not found a single purchaser for his paintings, except among his brother artists. Millet received his first recognition from a Boston connoisseur, who bought an assortment of his best works for an insignificant sum. To a Parisian dealer he offered in vain for 300 francs a picture that has since been sold for 87,000 francs. "I dare not pass before the butcher's door," he writes to a friend, “for we have not in the house sufficient to pay his bill, and such has been our condition for a score of years.”
While many of the artists of former days acquired both honor and profit, it is probable that real art was never more highly appreciated than within recent years, men of established repute receiving for their works, if of equal merit, almost as much as is paid for those of the old masters. For Meissoniers $20,000 has been given to the artist in person, and that by dealers who had their own profit to make. For the best canvases of famous European painters $10,000 to $15,000 may be considered as an average price, and from $2,000 to $3,000 for the choicest productions of men of inferior but respectable standing. Nevertheless good pictures, like good wine, become more valuable with age. The 'Sardanapalus' of Eugene Delacroix, for instance, offered to and refused by the French government for $400, sold in 1872 for nearly $20,000, several of his lesser works, contained in the Laurent Richard collection, selling in the following year at from $6,500 to $11 500. For, Rousseau’s and Troyon’s about equal prices were obtained, while for Corot’s, which went a-begging during the artist’s lifetime, $2,800 to $4,600 was realized.
London, it is said, is the paradise of painters, and especially of landscape painters, who find here a better market than in any other city in the world. Of a certain artist who paints landscapes with cattle in the foreground and ruined abbeys or castles in the middle distance it is stated that he makes $50,000 a year and there are others with even larger incomes; but like everything else in England, the designs must be of a certain pattern, for the people are slow to tolerate innovation in whatever form. While Americans are at least as liberal in their patronage of art, they will pay high prices only to foreigners, whereas, other things being equal, the Englishman prefers to spend his money among his own countrymen. Yet French and other works of real merit find in both countries a ready sale.
A few remarks on art literature and criticism may here be in place, and the more so that to add one more to the myriads of books that have already been written on art in all its branches schools, and nationalities, may require some explanation of its raison d’ etre. First of all be it said that the present work was undertaken without prejudice, truth and fairness being the first considerations in speaking of artists and their efforts; nor is criticism its special aim, but rather description and comparative illustration.
Many are the excellent treatises devoted to architecture, sculpture, and painting, some covering the entire range of one or more of these branches, and others relating to a single country or to a single school the word, school being here applied in its narrower sense, to a group of sculptors or painters, working under the direction or influence of an acknowledged master. Of these schools, now numbered among the institutions of the past, each had its own models, its own ideals, its own methods of elucidation and execution most of them, tending to artistic development, though none were perfect and none were entirely original. But as with schools of science, the time has long gone by when government aid or the patronage of religion was necessary to their existence. In all departments of professional life men of thought and action are springing from the soil, seeking for themselves their training and patronage, and thus it is that schools of art have almost ceased to exist, while art schools and institutes are everywhere.
Kugler in his Handbook to Art History, and after him Lubke in his History of Art, were among the first to traverse the entire field, representing it if not with fullness, certainly with distinctness of outline. Descriptive of separate branches of art, but of the art of all nations, are such works as the Histoire des Peintres de toutes les Ecoles by Auguste Blanc, and the History of the Plastic Arts by Karl Schnaase, the latter also completing in seven volumes a History of the Fine Arts, and through the close investigation and scholarly style in which he traces the influence of artistic creations on peoples and epochs, doing much to awaken or increase the interest that recent years have witnessed in the expression as well as in the annals of art. Then for works restricted to nationality, we have, for example, in Italy. Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Woermann and Woltmann, though here the lives of painters alone would furnish a good sized library, pictures of superior merit being considered almost as the works of divine and not of human hands. In France art descriptions and criticisms are almost as numerous as works of art. Berger, Claretie, and Leclerq ranking high among standard authors on the subjects of their choice. For England there are Redgrave, Shepherd, and Britton, Ruskin and Eastlake being more catholic in their tastes, as also are Goodyear and Radcliffe, who represent the United States in authorship if not in theme.
As to art criticism and description, it may further be said that in nearly all the leading journals of the day an article is devoted to these subjects, not only on account of their interest, but as an acknowledgment of the importance of the fine arts. While these may be merely skimmed by the majority of readers, such criticism and description are a natural and inevitable outgrowth in every country where there is activity in art. If all were written by competent persons, they would be of great benefit both to the public and to the profession; but unfortunately, for one who is so qualified, there are hundreds who imagine themselves to be so.
The true function of the critic is rather to explain than to criticize, first himself to understand and then to help others to understand; for the subject is so vast and difficult, so subtle and complicated that even after years of study one may still be only on the threshold of the great temple devoted to universal art. Criticism, it has been said, is easy, but art is difficult, albeit to the average observer the compositions of painter or sculptor appear so simple and their intent so obvious that each one fancies himself competent to pronounce on their merits and defects. Yet no one, however ignorant, however unconscious of his ignorance, wishes to be reminded of it, and especially those to whom works on art are addressed.
Among the latter are doubtless many well acquainted, not only with the schools but with the history of art in all its varieties, and with the relation of these varieties one to another. There are also men ranking high among those whom the world esteems, deeply learned, possessed of wealth and refinement, and yet with as little knowledge of art as was claimed by Scott or Byron, whose conceptions as expressed on printed page have nevertheless been often translated on canvas.
Thus he whose theme is art submits his work to many classes of readers, and if his task be worthily fulfilled, he must speak with sincerity and largeness of view, learning, so far as is possible what the artist has learned and feeling as he has felt. At best he cannot feel assured that his message will be received; for the world, though it be not versed in art, often sees better than the artist himself, and prefers to draw conclusions of its own, rather than accept them at the dictation of critic or connoisseur. Even among critics themselves there are many who declare, with Proudhon, that authority in art is inadmissible; that it is enough for any man to consult himself to be in a position to form a judgment no matter on what work of art; for the eye can be trained only through what it sees, and not by dogmas or theories. While in this remark there is much of truth, it is not altogether true; rather should it be said that universal authority is inadmissible, since no man can acquire in a single lifetime the knowledge which it presumes. Yet on special branches, whether few or many, authority is and ever has been acknowledged, provided it be worthy of recognition and pretend not to be the arbiter but the minister of public taste.
With artists and art critics, as with other men, real merit is accompanied with humility; not the humility that makes a man mistrust his own power and opinions; but that which causes him to think little of what he can do or say, as compared with what the world has done and said. Here and there may be one who is too modest to claim the position that the world would willingly accord him; but this is a failing rather than a virtue, for as Aristotle says, "He who has no brains and does not know it is a fool; but he who has brains and does not know it is a greater fool.” The real artist, like the man of affairs, not only knows his business but is aware that he knows it, and cannot be easily persuaded to the contrary. Of Titian Michael Angelo declared that he could not draw; but Titian knew he could draw, just as Shakespeare or Dante knew they could write. Yet none of these men were puffed with conceit of their own ability, and least of all did they expect their fellowmen to fall down and worship them.