Modern Painters Volume I (of V)
by John Ruskin
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In the Vandevelde (113) there is not a line of ripple or swell in any part of the sea; it is absolutely windless, and the near boat casts its image with great fidelity, which being unprolonged downwards informs us that the calm is perfect, (Rule V.,) and being unshortened informs us that we are on a level with the water, or nearly so. (Rule VII.) Yet underneath the vessel on the right, the gray shade which stands for reflection breaks off immediately, descending like smoke a little way below the hull, then leaving the masts and sails entirely unrecorded. This I imagine to be not ignorance, but unjustifiable license. Vandevelde evidently desired to give an impression of great extent of surface, and thought that if he gave the reflection more faithfully, as the tops of the masts would come down to the nearest part of the surface, they would destroy the evidence of distance, and appear to set the ship above the boat instead of beyond it. I doubt not in such awkward hands that such would indeed have been the case, but he is not on that account to be excused for painting his surface with gray horizontal lines, as is done by nautically-disposed children; for no destruction of distance in the ocean is so serious a loss as that of its liquidity. It is better to feel a want of extent in the sea, than an extent which we might walk upon or play at billiards upon.

Sec. 18. And Canaletto.

Among all the pictures of Canaletto, which I have ever seen, and they are not a few, I remember but one or two where there is any variation from one method of treatment of the water. He almost always covers the whole space of it with one monotonous ripple, composed of a coat of well-chosen, but perfectly opaque and smooth sea-green, covered with a certain number, I cannot state the exact average, but it varies from three hundred and fifty to four hundred and upwards, according to the extent of canvas to be covered, of white concave touches, which are very properly symbolical of ripple.

And, as the canal retires back from the eye, he very geometrically diminishes the size of his ripples, until he arrives at an even field of apparently smooth water. By our sixth rule, this rippling water as it retires should show more and more of the reflection of the sky above it, and less and less of that of objects beyond it, until, at two or three hundred yards down the canal, the whole field of water should be one even gray or blue, the color of the sky receiving no reflections whatever of other objects. What does Canaletto do? Exactly in proportion as he retires, he displays more and more of the reflection of objects, and less and less of the sky, until, three hundred yards away, all the houses are reflected as clear and sharp as in a quiet lake.

This, again, is wilful and inexcusable violation of truth, of which the reason, as in the last case, is the painter's consciousness of weakness. It is one of the most difficult things in the world to express the light reflection of the blue sky on a distant ripple, and to make the eye understand the cause of the color, and the motion of the apparently smooth water, especially where there are buildings above to be reflected, for the eye never understands the want of the reflection. But it is the easiest and most agreeable thing in the world to give the inverted image: it occupies a vast space of otherwise troublesome distance in the simplest way possible, and is understood by the eye at once. Hence Canaletto is glad, as any other inferior workman would be, not to say obliged, to give the reflections in the distance. But when he comes up close to the spectator, he finds the smooth surface just as troublesome near, as the ripple would have been far off. It is a very nervous thing for an ignorant artist to have a great space of vacant smooth water to deal with, close to him, too far down to take reflections from buildings, and yet which must be made to look flat and retiring and transparent. Canaletto, with his sea-green, did not at all feel himself equal to anything of this kind, and had therefore no resource but in the white touches above described, which occupy the alarming space without any troublesome necessity for knowledge or invention, and supply by their gradual diminution some means of expressing retirement of surface. It is easily understood, therefore, why he should adopt this system, which is just what any awkward workman would naturally cling to, trusting to the inaccuracy of observation of the public to secure him from detection.

Sec. 19. Why unpardonable.

Now in all these cases it is not the mistake or the license itself, it is not the infringement of this or that law which condemns the picture, but it is the spirit and habit of mind in which the license is taken, the cowardice or bluntness of feeling, which infects every part alike, and deprives the whole picture of vitality. Canaletto, had he been a great painter, might have cast his reflections wherever he chose, and rippled the water wherever he chose, and painted his sea sloping if he chose, and neither I nor any one else should have dared to say a word against him; but he is a little and a bad painter, and so continues everywhere multiplying and magnifying mistakes, and adding apathy to error, until nothing can any more be pardoned in him. If it be but remembered that every one of the surfaces of those multitudinous ripples is in nature a mirror which catches, according to its position, either the image of the sky or of the silver beaks of the gondolas, or of their black bodies and scarlet draperies, or of the white marble, or the green sea-weed on the low stones, it cannot but be felt that those waves would have something more of color upon them than that opaque dead green. Green they are by their own nature, but it is a transparent and emerald hue, mixing itself with the thousand reflected tints without overpowering the weakest of them; and thus, in every one of those individual waves, the truths of color are contradicted by Canaletto by the thousand.

Venice is sad and silent now, to what she was in his time; the canals are choked gradually one by one, and the foul water laps more and more sluggishly against the rent foundations; but even yet, could I but place the reader at the early morning on the quay below the Rialto, when the market boats, full laden, float into groups of golden color, and let him watch the dashing of the water about their glittering steely heads, and under the shadows of the vine leaves, and show him the purple of the grapes and the figs, and the glowing of the scarlet gourds carried away in long streams upon the waves, and among them, the crimson fish baskets, plashing and sparkling, and flaming as the morning sun falls on their wet tawny sides, and above, the painted sails of the fishing boats, orange and white, scarlet and blue, and better than all such florid color, the naked, bronzed, burning limbs of the seamen, the last of the old Venetian race, who yet keep the right Giorgione color on their brows and bosoms, in strange contrast with the sallow sensual degradation of the creatures that live in the cafes of the Piazza, he would not be merciful to Canaletto any more.

Sec. 20. The Dutch painters of sea.

Yet even Canaletto, in relation to the truths he had to paint, is spiritual, faithful, powerful, compared to the Dutch painters of sea. It is easily understood why his green paint and concave touches should be thought expressive of the water on which the real colors are not to be discerned but by attention, which is never given; but it is not so easily understood, considering how many there are who love the sea, and look at it, that Vandevelde and such others should be tolerated. As I before said, I feel utterly hopeless in addressing the admirers of these men, because I do not know what it is in their works which is supposed to be like nature. Foam appears to me to curdle and cream on the wave sides and to fly, flashing from their crests, and not to be set astride upon them like a peruke; and waves appear to me to fall, and plunge, and toss, and nod, and crash over, and not to curl up like shavings; and water appears to me, when it is gray, to have the gray of stormy air mixed with its own deep, heavy, thunderous, threatening blue, and not the gray of the first coat of cheap paint on a deal door; and many other such things appear to me which, as far as I can conjecture by what is admired of marine painting, appear to no one else; yet I shall have something more to say about these men presently, with respect to the effect they have had upon Turner; and something more, I hope, hereafter, with the help of illustration.

Sec. 21. Ruysdael, Claude, and Salvator.

There is a sea-piece of Ruysdael's in the Louvre[63] which, though nothing very remarkable in any quality of art, is at least forceful, agreeable, and, as far as it goes, natural; the waves have much freedom of action, and power of color; the wind blows hard over the shore, and the whole picture may be studied with profit as a proof that the deficiency of color and everything else in Backhuysen's works, is no fault of the Dutch sea. There is sublimity and power in every field of nature from the pole to the line; and though the painters of one country are often better and greater, universally, than those of another, this is less because the subjects of art are wanting anywhere, than because one country or one age breeds mighty and thinking men, and another none.

Ruysdael's painting of falling water and brook scenery is also generally agreeable—more than agreeable it can hardly be considered. There appears no exertion of mind in any of his works; nor are they calculated to produce either harm or good by their feeble influence. They are good furniture pictures, unworthy of praise, and undeserving of blame.

The seas of Claude are the finest pieces of water-painting in ancient art. I do not say that I like them, because they appear to me selections of the particular moment when the sea is most insipid and characterless; but I think that they are exceedingly true to the forms and time selected, or at least that the fine instances of them are so, of which there are exceedingly few.

On the right hand of one of the marines of Salvator, in the Pitti palace, there is a passage of sea reflecting the sunrise, which is thoroughly good, and very like Turner; the rest of the picture, as the one opposite to it, utterly virtueless. I have not seen any other instance of Salvator's painting water with any care, it is usually as conventional as the rest of his work, yet conventionalism is perhaps more tolerable in water-painting than elsewhere; and if his trees and rocks had been good, the rivers might have been generally accepted without objection.

Sec. 22. Nicholas Poussin.

The merits of Poussin as a sea or water painter may, I think, be sufficiently determined by the Deluge in the Louvre, where the breaking up of the fountains of the deep is typified by the capsizing of a wherry over a weir.

In the outer porch of St. Mark's at Venice, among the mosaics on the roof, there is a representation of the deluge. The ground is dark blue; the rain is represented in bright white undulating parallel stripes; between these stripes is seen the massy outline of the ark, a bit between each stripe, very dark and hardly distinguishable from the sky; but it has a square window with a bright golden border, which glitters out conspicuously, and leads the eye to the rest—the sea below is almost concealed with dead bodies.

On the font of the church of San Frediano at Lucca, there is a representation of—possibly—the Israelites and Egyptians in the Red Sea. The sea is typified by undulating bands of stone, each band composed of three plies (almost the same type is to be seen in the glass-painting of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as especially at Chartres). These bands would perhaps be hardly felt as very aqueous, but for the fish which are interwoven with them in a complicated manner, their heads appearing at one side of every band, and their tails at the other.

Both of these representatives of deluge, archaic and rude as they are, I consider better, more suggestive, more inventive, and more natural, than Poussin's. Indeed, this is not saying anything very depreciatory, as regards the St. Mark's one, for the glittering of the golden window through the rain is wonderfully well conceived, and almost deceptive, looking as if it had just caught a gleam of sunlight on its panes, and there is something very sublime in the gleam of this light above the floating corpses. But the other instance is sufficiently grotesque and imperfect, and yet, I speak with perfect seriousness, it is, I think, very far preferable to Poussin's.

On the other hand, there is a just medium between the meanness and apathy of such a conception as his, and the extravagance, still more contemptible, with which the subject has been treated in modern days.[64] I am not aware that I can refer to any instructive example of this intermediate course, for I fear the reader is by this time wearied of hearing of Turner, and the plate of Turner's picture of the deluge is so rare that it is of no use to refer to it.

Sec. 23. Venetians and Florentines. Conclusion.

It seems exceedingly strange that the great Venetian painters should have left us no instance, as far as I know, of any marine effects carefully studied. As already noted, whatever passages of sea occur in their backgrounds are merely broad extents of blue or green surface, fine in color, and coming dark usually against the horizon, well enough to be understood as sea, (yet even that not always without the help of a ship,) but utterly unregarded in all questions of completion and detail. The water even in Titian's landscape is almost always violently though grandly conventional, and seldom forms an important feature. Among the religious schools very sweet motives occur, but nothing which for a moment can be considered as real water-painting. Perugino's sea is usually very beautifully felt; his river in the fresco of S^ta. Maddalena at Florence is freely indicated, and looks level and clear; the reflections of the trees given with a rapid zigzag stroke of the brush. On the whole, I suppose that the best imitations of level water surface to be found in ancient art are in the clear Flemish landscapes. Cuyp's are usually very satisfactory, but even the best of these attain nothing more than the agreeable suggestion of calm pond or river. Of any tolerable representation of water in agitation, or under any circumstances that bring out its power and character, I know no instance; and the more capable of noble treatment the subject happens to be, the more manifest invariably is the painter's want of feeling in every effort, and of knowledge in every line.


[61] I state this merely as a fact: I am unable satisfactorily to account for it on optical principles, and were it otherwise, the investigation would be of little interest to the general reader, and little value to the artist.

[62] Parsey's "Convergence of Perpendiculars." I have not space here to enter into any lengthy exposure of this mistake, but reasoning is fortunately unnecessary, the appeal to experiment being easy. Every picture is the representation, as before stated, of a vertical plate of glass, with what might be seen through it, drawn on its surface. Let a vertical plate of glass be taken, and wherever it be placed, whether the sun be at its side or at its centre, the reflection will always be found in a vertical line under the sun, parallel with the side of the glass. The pane of any window looking to sea is all the apparatus necessary for this experiment, and yet it is not long since this very principle was disputed with me by a man of much taste and information, who supposed Turner to be wrong in drawing the reflection straight down at the side of his picture, as in his Lancaster Sands, and innumerable other instances.

[63] In the last edition of this work was the following passage:—"I wish Ruysdael had painted one or two rough seas. I believe if he had he might have saved the unhappy public from much grievous victimizing, both in mind and pocket, for he would have shown that Vandevelde and Backhuysen were not quite sea-deities." The writer has to thank the editor of Murray's Handbook of Painting in Italy for pointing out the oversight. He had passed many days in the Louvre before the above passage was written, but had not been in the habit of pausing long anywhere except in the last two rooms, containing the pictures of the Italian school. The conjecture, however, shows that he had not ill-estimated the power of Ruysdael; nor does he consider it as in anywise unfitting him for the task he has undertaken, that for every hour passed in galleries he has passed days on the seashore.

[64] I am here, of course, speaking of the treatment of the subject as a landscape only; many mighty examples of its conception occur where the sea, and all other adjuncts, are entirely subservient to the figures, as with Raffaelle and M. Angelo.



Sec. 1. General power of the moderns in painting quiet water. The lakes of Fielding.

There are few men among modern landscape painters, who cannot paint quiet water at least suggestively, if not faithfully. Those who are incapable of doing this, would scarcely be considered artists at all; and anything like the ripples of Canaletto, or the black shadows of Vandevelde, would be looked upon as most unpromising, even in the work of a novice. Among those who most fully appreciate and render the qualities of space and surface in calm water, perhaps Copley Fielding stands first. His expanses of windless lake are among the most perfect passages of his works; for he can give surface as well as depth, and make his lake look not only clear, but, which is far more difficult, lustrous. He is less dependent than most of our artists upon reflections; and can give substance, transparency, and extent, where another painter would be reduced to paper; and he is exquisitely refined in his expression of distant breadth, by the delicate line of ripple interrupting the reflection, and by aerial qualities of color. Nothing, indeed, can be purer or more refined than his general feeling of lake sentiment, were it not for a want of simplicity—a fondness for pretty, rather than impressive color, and a consequent want of some of the higher expression of repose.

Sec. 2. The calm rivers of De Wint, J. Holland, etc.

Sec. 3. The character of bright and violent falling water.

Sec. 4. As given by Nesfield.

Hundreds of men might be named, whose works are highly instructive in the management of calm water. De Wint is singularly powerful and certain, exquisitely bright and vigorous in color. The late John Varley produced some noble passages. I have seen, some seven years ago, works by J. Holland, which were, I think, as near perfection as water-color can be carried—for bona fide truth, refined and finished to the highest degree. But the power of modern artists is not brought out until they have greater difficulties to struggle with. Stand for half an hour beside the fall of Schaffhausen, on the north side where the rapids are long, and watch how the vault of water first bends, unbroken, in pure, polished velocity, over the arching rocks at the brow of the cataract, covering them with a dome of crystal twenty feet thick—so swift that its motion is unseen except when a foam globe from above darts over it like a falling star; and how the trees are lighted above it under all their leaves, at the instant that it breaks into foam; and how all the hollows of that foam burn with green fire like so much shattering chrysoprase; and how, ever and anon, startling you with its white flash, a jet of spray leaps hissing out of the fall like a rocket, bursting in the wind and driven away in dust, filling the air with light; and how, through the curdling wreaths of the restless, crashing abyss below, the blue of the water, paled by the foam in its body, shows purer than the sky through white rain-cloud; while the shuddering iris stoops in tremulous stillness over all, fading and flushing alternately through the choking spray and shattered sunshine, hiding itself at last among the thick golden leaves which toss to and fro in sympathy with the wild water; their dripping masses lifted at intervals, like sheaves of loaded corn, by some stronger gush from the cataract, and bowed again upon the mossy rocks as its roar dies away; the dew gushing from their thick branches through drooping clusters of emerald herbage, and sparkling in white threads along the dark rocks of the shore, feeding the lichens which chase and checker them with purple and silver. I believe, when you have stood by this for half an hour, you will have discovered that there is something more in nature than has been given by Ruysdael. Probably you will not be much disposed to think of any mortal work at the time; but when you look back to what you have seen, and are inclined to compare it with art, you will remember—or ought to remember—Nesfield. He is a man of extraordinary feeling, both for the color and the spirituality of a great waterfall; exquisitely delicate in his management of the changeful veil of spray or mist; just in his curves and contours; and unequalled in color except by Turner. None of our water-color painters can approach him in the management of the variable hues of clear water over weeded rocks; but his feeling for it often leads him a little too far, and, like Copley Fielding, he loses sight of simplicity and dignity for the sake of delicacy or prettiness. His waterfalls are, however, unequalled in their way; and, if he would remember, that in all such scenes there is much gloom as well as much splendor, and relieve the lustre of his attractive passages of color with more definite and prevalent grays, and give a little more substance to parts of his picture unaffected by spray, his work would be nearly perfect. His seas are also most instructive; a little confused in chiaroscuro, but refined in form and admirable in color.

Sec. 5. The admirable water-drawing of J. D. Harding.

Sec. 6. His color; and painting of sea.

J. D. Harding is, I think, nearly unequalled in the drawing of running water. I do not know what Stanfield would do; I have never seen an important piece of torrent drawn by him; but I believe even he could scarcely contend with the magnificent abandon of Harding's brush. There is perhaps nothing which tells more in the drawing of water than decisive and swift execution; for, in a rapid touch the hand naturally falls into the very curve of projection which is the absolute truth; while in slow finish, all precision of curve and character is certain to be lost, except under the hand of an unusually powerful master. But Harding has both knowledge and velocity, and the fall of his torrents is beyond praise; impatient, chafing, substantial, shattering, crystalline, and capricious; full of various form, yet all apparently instantaneous and accidental, nothing conventional, nothing dependent upon parallel lines or radiating curves; all broken up and dashed to pieces over the irregular rock, and yet all in unity of motion. The color also of his falling and bright water is very perfect; but in the dark and level parts of his torrents he has taken up a bad gray, which has hurt some of his best pictures. His gray in shadows under rocks or dark reflections is admirable; but it is when the stream is in full light, and unaffected by reflections in distance, that he gets wrong. We believe that the fault is in a want of expression of darkness in the color, making it appear like a positive hue of the water, for which it is much too dead and cold.

Harding seldom paints sea, and it is well for Stanfield that he does not, or the latter would have to look to his crown. All that we have seen from his hand is, as coast sea, quite faultless; we only wish he would paint it more frequently; always, however, with a veto upon French fishing-boats. In the Exhibition of 1842, he spoiled one of the most superb pieces of seashore and sunset which modern art has produced, with the pestilent square sail of one of these clumsy craft, which the eye could not escape from.

Sec. 7. The sea of Copley Fielding. Its exceeding grace and rapidity.

Before passing to our great sea painter, we must again refer to the works of Copley Fielding. It is with his sea as with his sky, he can only paint one, and that an easy one, but it is, for all that, an impressive and a true one. No man has ever given, with the same flashing freedom, the race of a running tide under a stiff breeze, nor caught, with the same grace and precision, the curvature of the breaking wave, arrested or accelerated by the wind. The forward fling of his foam, and the impatient run of his surges, whose quick, redoubling dash we can almost hear, as they break in their haste upon their own bosoms, are nature itself, and his sea gray or green was, nine years ago, very right, as color; always a little wanting in transparency, but never cold or toneless. Since that time, he seems to have lost the sense of greenness in water, and has verged more and more on the purple and black, with unhappy results. His sea was always dependent for effect on its light or dark relief against the sky, even when it possessed color; but it now has lost all local color and transparency together, and is little more than a study of chiaroscuro in an exceedingly ill-chosen gray. Besides, the perpetual repetition of the same idea is singularly weakening to the mind. Fielding, in all his life, can only be considered as having produced one sea picture. The others are duplicates. He ought to go to some sea of perfect clearness and brilliant color, as that on the coast of Cornwall, or of the Gulf of Genoa, and study it sternly in broad daylight, with no black clouds nor drifting rain to help him out of his difficulties. He would then both learn his strength and add to it.

Sec. 8. Its high aim at character.

Sec. 9. But deficiency in the requisite quality of grays.

Sec. 10. Variety of the grays of nature.

But there is one point in all his seas deserving especial praise—a marked aim at character. He desires, especially in his latter works, not so much to produce an agreeable picture, a scientific piece of arrangement, or delightful melody of color, as to make us feel the utter desolation, the cold, withering, frozen hopelessness of the continuous storm and merciless sea. And this is peculiarly remarkable in his denying himself all color, just in the little bits which an artist of inferior mind would paint in sienna and cobalt. If a piece of broken wreck is allowed to rise for an instant through the boiling foam, though the blue stripe of a sailor's jacket, or a red rag of a flag would do all our hearts good, we are not allowed to have it; it would make us too comfortable, and prevent us from shivering and shrinking as we look, and the artist, with admirable intention, and most meritorious self-denial, expresses his piece of wreck with a dark, cold brown. Now we think this aim and effort worthy of the highest praise, and we only wish the lesson were taken up and acted on by our other artists; but Mr. Fielding should remember that nothing of this kind can be done with success unless by the most studied management of the general tones of the picture; for the eye, deprived of all means of enjoying the gray hues, merely as a contrast to bright points, becomes painfully fastidious in the quality of the hues themselves, and demands for its satisfaction such melodies and richness of gray as may in some degree atone to it for the loss of points of stimulus. That gray which would be taken frankly and freely for an expression of gloom, if it came behind a yellow sail or a red cap, is examined with invidious and merciless intentness when there is nothing to relieve it, and, if not able to bear the investigation, if neither agreeable nor variable in its hue, renders the picture weak instead of impressive, and unpleasant instead of awful. And indeed the management of nature might teach him this; for though, when using violent contrasts, she frequently makes her gloom somewhat monotonous, the moment she gives up her vivid color, and depends upon her desolation, that moment she begins to steal the greens into her sea-gray, and the browns and yellows into her cloud-gray, and the expression of variously tinted light through all. Nor is Mr. Fielding without a model in art, for the Land's End, and Lowestoffe, and Snowstorm, (in the Academy, 1842,) of Turner, are nothing more than passages of the most hopeless, desolate, uncontrasted grays, and yet are three of the very finest pieces of color that have come from his hand. And we sincerely hope that Mr. Fielding will gradually feel the necessity of such studied melodies of quiet color, and will neither fall back into the old tricks of contrast, nor continue to paint with purple and ink. If he will only make a few careful studies of gray from the mixed atmosphere of spray, rain, and mist of a gale that has been three days hard at work, not of a rainy squall, but of a persevering and powerful storm, and not where the sea is turned into milk and magnesia by a chalk coast, but where it breaks pure and green on gray slate or white granite, as along the cliffs of Cornwall, we think his pictures would present some of the finest examples of high intention and feeling to be found in modern art.

Sec. 11. Works of Stanfield. His perfect knowledge and power.

Sec. 12. But want of feeling. General sum of truth presented by modern art.

The works of Stanfield evidently, and at all times, proceed from the hand of a man who has both thorough knowledge of his subject, and thorough acquaintance with all the means and principles of art. We never criticise them, because we feel, the moment we look carefully at the drawing of any single wave, that the knowledge possessed by the master is much greater than our own, and therefore believe that if anything offends us in any part of the work, it is nearly certain to be our fault, and not the painter's. The local color of Stanfield's sea is singularly true and powerful, and entirely independent of any tricks of chiaroscuro. He will carry a mighty wave up against the sky, and make its whole body dark and substantial against the distant light, using all the while nothing more than chaste and unexaggerated local color to gain the relief. His surface is at once lustrous, transparent, and accurate to a hairbreadth in every curve; and he is entirely independent of dark skies, deep blues, driving spray, or any other means of concealing want of form, or atoning for it. He fears no difficulty, desires no assistance, takes his sea in open daylight, under general sunshine, and paints the element in its pure color and complete forms. But we wish that he were less powerful, and more interesting; or that he were a little less Diogenes-like, and did not scorn all that he does not want. Now that he has shown us what he can do without such aids, we wish he would show us what he can do with them. He is, as we have already said, wanting in what we have just been praising in Fielding—impressiveness. We should like him to be less clever, and more affecting—less wonderful, and more terrible; and as the very first step towards such an end, to learn how to conceal. We are, however, trenching upon matters with which we have at present nothing to do; our concern is now only with truth, and one work of Stanfield alone presents us with as much concentrated knowledge of sea and sky, as, diluted, would have lasted any one of the old masters his life. And let it be especially observed, how extensive and how varied is the truth of our modern masters—how it comprises a complete history of that nature of which, from the ancients, you only here and there can catch a stammering descriptive syllable—how Fielding has given us every character of the quiet lake, Robson[65] of the mountain tarn, De Wint of the lowland river, Nesfield of the radiant cataract, Harding of the roaring torrent, Fielding of the desolate sea, Stanfield of the blue, open, boundless ocean. Arrange all this in your mind, observe the perfect truth of it in all its parts, compare it with the fragmentary falsities of the ancients, and then, come with me to Turner.


[65] I ought before to have alluded to the works of the late G. Robson. They are a little disagreeable in execution, but there is a feeling of the character of deep calm water in them quite unequalled, and different from the works and thoughts of all other men.



Sec. 1. The difficulty of giving surface to smooth water.

Sec. 2. Is dependent on the structure of the eye, and the focus by which the reflected rays are perceived.

I believe it is a result of the experience of all artists, that it is the easiest thing in the world to give a certain degree of depth and transparency to water; but that it is next thing to impossible, to give a full impression of surface. If no reflection be given—a ripple being supposed—the water looks like lead: if reflection be given, it in nine cases out of ten looks morbidly clear and deep, so that we always go down into it, even when the artist most wishes us to glide over it. Now, this difficulty arises from the very same circumstance which occasions the frequent failure in effect of the best drawn foregrounds, noticed in Section II. Chapter III., the change, namely, of focus necessary in the eye in order to receive rays of light coming from different distances. Go to the edge of a pond, in a perfectly calm day, at some place where there is duckweed floating on the surface,—not thick, but a leaf here and there. Now, you may either see in the water the reflection of the sky, or you may see the duckweed; but you cannot, by any effort, see both together. If you look for the reflection, you will be sensible of a sudden change or effort in the eye, by which it adapts itself to the reception of the rays which have come all the way from the clouds, have struck on the water, and so been sent up again to the eye. The focus you adopt is one fit for great distance; and, accordingly, you will feel that you are looking down a great way under the water, while the leaves of the duckweed, though they lie upon the water at the very spot on which you are gazing so intently, are felt only as a vague, uncertain interruption, causing a little confusion in the image below, but entirely indistinguishable as leaves,—and even their color unknown and unperceived. Unless you think of them, you will not even feel that anything interrupts your sight, so excessively slight is their effect. If, on the other hand, you make up your mind to look for the leaves of the duckweed, you will perceive an instantaneous change in the effort of the eye, by which it becomes adapted to receive near rays—those which have only come from the surface of the pond. You will then see the delicate leaves of the duckweed with perfect clearness, and in vivid green; but while you do so, you will be able to perceive nothing of the reflections in the very water on which they float—nothing but a vague flashing and melting of light and dark hues, without form or meaning, which, to investigate, or find out what they mean or are, you must quit your hold of the duckweed, and plunge down.

Sec. 3. Morbid clearness occasioned in painting of water by distinctness of reflections.

Sec. 4. How avoided by Turner.

Sec. 5. All reflections on distant water are distinct.

Hence it appears, that whenever we see plain reflections of comparatively distant objects, in near water, we cannot possibly see the surface, and vice versa; so that when in a painting we give the reflections with the same clearness with which they are visible in nature, we presuppose the effort of the eye to look under the surface, and, of course, destroy the surface, and induce an effect of clearness which, perhaps, the artist has not particularly wished to attain, but which he has found himself forced into, by his reflections, in spite of himself. And the reason of this effect of clearness appearing preternatural is, that people are not in the habit of looking at water with the distant focus adapted to the reflections, unless by particular effort. We invariably, under ordinary circumstances, use the surface focus; and, in consequence, receive nothing more than a vague and confused impression of the reflected colors and lines, however clearly, calmly, and vigorously all may be defined underneath, if we choose to look for them. We do not look for them, but glide along over the surface, catching only playing light and capricious color for evidence of reflection, except where we come to images of objects close to the surface, which the surface focus is of course adapted to receive; and these we see clearly, as of the weeds on the shore, or of sticks rising out of the water, etc. Hence, the ordinary effect of water is only to be rendered by giving the reflections of the margin clear and distinct (so clear they usually are in nature, that it is impossible to tell where the water begins;) but the moment we touch the reflection of distant objects, as of high trees or clouds, that instant we must become vague and uncertain in drawing, and, though vivid in color and light as the object itself, quite indistinct in form and feature. If we take such a piece of water as that in the foreground of Turner's Chateau of Prince Albert, the first impression from it is,—"What a wide surface!" We glide over it a quarter of a mile into the picture before we know where we are, and yet the water is as calm and crystalline as a mirror; but we are not allowed to tumble into it, and gasp for breath as we go down,—we are kept upon the surface, though that surface is flashing and radiant with every hue of cloud, and sun, and sky, and foliage. But the secret is in the drawing of these reflections.[66] We cannot tell when we look at them and for them, what they mean. They have all character, and are evidently reflections of something definite and determined; but yet they are all uncertain and inexplicable; playing color and palpitating shade, which, though we recognize in an instant for images of something, and feel that the water is bright, and lovely, and calm, we cannot penetrate nor interpret: we are not allowed to go down to them, and we repose, as we should in nature, upon the lustre of the level surface. It is in this power of saying everything, and yet saying nothing too plainly, that the perfection of art here, as in all other cases, consists. But as it was before shown in Sect. II. Chap. III. that the focus of the eye required little alteration after the first half mile of distance, it is evident that on the distant surface of water, all reflections will be seen plainly; for the same focus adapted to a moderate distance of surface will receive with distinctness rays coming from the sky, or from any other distance, however great. Thus we always see the reflection of Mont Blanc on the Lake of Geneva, whether we take pains to look for it or not, because the water upon which it is cast is itself a mile off; but if we would see the reflection of Mont Blanc in the Lac de Chede, which is close to us, we must take some trouble about the matter, leave the green snakes swimming upon the surface, and plunge for it. Hence reflections, if viewed collectively, are always clear in proportion to the distance of the water on which they are cast. And now look at Turner's Ulleswater, or any of his distant lake expanses, and you will find every crag and line of the hills rendered in them with absolute fidelity, while the near surface shows nothing but a vague confusion of exquisite and lustrous tint. The reflections even of the clouds will be given far off, while those of near boats and figures will be confused and mixed among each other, except just at the water-line.

Sec. 6. The error of Vandevelde.

And now we see what Vandevelde ought to have done with the shadow of his ship spoken of in the first chapter of this section. In such a calm, we should in nature, if we had looked for the reflection, have seen it clear from the water-line to the flag on the mainmast; but in so doing, we should have appeared to ourselves to be looking under the water, and should have lost all feeling of surface. When we looked at the surface of the sea,—as we naturally should,—we should have seen the image of the hull absolutely clear and perfect, because that image is cast on distant water; but we should have seen the image of the masts and sails gradually more confused as they descended, and the water close to us would have borne only upon its surface a maze of flashing color and indefinite hue. Had Vandevelde, therefore, given the perfect image of his ship, he would have represented a truth dependent on a particular effort of the eye, and destroyed his surface. But his business was to give, not a distinct reflection, but the colors of the reflection in mystery and disorder upon his near water, all perfectly vivid, but none intelligible; and had he done so, the eye would not have troubled itself to search them out; it would not have cared whence or how the colors came, but it would have felt them to be true and right, and rested satisfied upon the polished surface of the clear sea. Of the perfect truth, the best examples I can give are Turner's Saltash and Castle Upnor.

Sec. 7. Difference in arrangement of parts between the reflected object and its image.

Be it next observed that the reflection of all near objects is, by our fifth rule, not an exact copy of the parts of them which we see above the water, but a totally different view and arrangement of them, that which we should get if we were looking at them from beneath. Hence we see the dark sides of leaves hanging over a stream, in their reflection, though we see the light sides above, and all objects and groups of objects are thus seen in the reflection under different lights, and in different positions with respect to each other from those which they assume above; some which we see on the bank being entirely lost in their reflection, and others which we cannot see on the bank brought into view. Hence nature contrives never to repeat herself, and the surface of water is not a mockery, but a new view of what is above it. And this difference in what is represented, as well as the obscurity of the representation, is one of the chief sources by which the sensation of surface is kept up in the reality. The reflection is not so remarkable, it does not attract the eye in the same degree when it is entirely different from the images above, as when it mocks them and repeats them, and we feel that the space and surface have color and character of their own, and that the bank is one thing and the water another. It is by not making this change manifest, and giving underneath a mere duplicate of what is seen above, that artists are apt to destroy the essence and substance of water, and to drop us through it.

Sec. 8. Illustrated from the works of Turner.

Sec. 9. The boldness and judgment shown in the observance of it.

Now one instance will be sufficient to show the exquisite care of Turner in this respect. On the left-hand side of his Nottingham, the water (a smooth canal) is terminated by a bank fenced up with wood, on which, just at the edge of the water, stands a white sign-post. A quarter of a mile back, the hill on which Nottingham Castle stands rises steeply nearly to the top of the picture. The upper part of this hill is in bright golden light, and the lower in very deep gray shadow, against which the white board of the sign-post is seen entirely in light relief, though, being turned from the light, it is itself in delicate middle tint, illumined only on the edge. But the image of all this in the canal is very different. First, we have the reflection of the piles of the bank, sharp and clear, but under this we have not what we see above it, the dark base of the hill, (for this being a quarter of a mile back, we could not see over the fence if we were looking from below,) but the golden summit of the hill, the shadow of the under part having no record nor place in the reflection. But this summit, being very distant, cannot be seen clearly by the eye while its focus is adapted to the surface of the water, and accordingly its reflection is entirely vague and confused; you cannot tell what it is meant for, it is mere playing golden light. But the sign-post, being on the bank close to us, will be reflected clearly, and accordingly its distinct image is seen in the midst of this confusion. But it now is relieved, not against the dark base, but against the illumined summit of the hill, and it appears, therefore, instead of a white space thrown out from blue shade, a dark gray space thrown out from golden light. I do not know that any more magnificent example could be given of concentrated knowledge, or of the daring statement of most difficult truth. For who but this consummate artist would have had courage, even if he had perceived the laws which required it, to undertake in a single small space of water, the painting of an entirely new picture, with all its tones and arrangements altered,—what was made above bright by opposition to blue, being underneath made cool and dark by opposition to gold;—or would have dared to contradict so boldly the ordinary expectation of the uncultivated eye, to find in the reflection a mockery for the reality? But the reward is immediate, for not only is the change most grateful to the eye, and most exquisite as composition, but the surface of the water in consequence of it is felt to be as spacious as it is clear, and the eye rests not on the inverted image of the material objects, but on the element which receives them. And we have a farther instance in this passage of the close study which is required to enjoy the works of Turner, for another artist might have altered the reflection or confused it, but he would not have reasoned upon it so as to find out what the exact alteration must be; and if we had tried to account for the reflection, we should have found it false or inaccurate. But the master mind of Turner, without effort, showers its knowledge into every touch, and we have only to trace out even his slightest passages, part by part, to find in them the universal working of the deepest thought, that consistency of every minor truth which admits of and invites the same ceaseless study as the work of nature herself.

Sec. 10. The texture of surface in Turner's painting of calm water.

There is, however, yet another peculiarity in Turner's painting of smooth water, which, though less deserving of admiration, as being merely a mechanical excellence, is not less wonderful than its other qualities, nor less unique—a peculiar texture, namely, given to the most delicate tints of the surface, when there is little reflection from anything except sky or atmosphere, and which, just at the points where other painters are reduced to paper, gives to the surface of Turner the greatest appearance of substantial liquidity. It is impossible to say how it is produced; it looks like some modification of body color; but it certainly is not body color used as by other men, for I have seen this expedient tried over and over again without success; and it is often accompanied by crumbling touches of a dry brush, which never could have been put upon body color, and which could not have shown through underneath it. As a piece of mechanical excellence, it is one of the most remarkable things in the works of the master; and it brings the truth of his water-painting up to the last degree of perfection, often rendering those passages of it the most attractive and delightful, which from their delicacy and paleness of tint, would have been weak and papery in the hands of any other man. The best instance of it I can give, is, I think, the distance of the Devonport with the Dockyards.

Sec. 11. Its united qualities.

After all, however, there is more in Turner's painting of water surface than any philosophy of reflection, or any peculiarity of means, can account for or accomplish; there is a might and wonder about it which will not admit of our whys and hows. Take, for instance, the picture of the Sun of Venice going to Sea, of 1843, respecting which, however, there are one or two circumstances which may as well be noted besides its water-painting. The reader, if he has not been at Venice, ought to be made aware that the Venetian fishing-boats, almost without exception, carry canvas painted with bright colors, the favorite design for the centre being either a cross or a large sun with many rays, the favorite colors being red, orange, and black, blue occurring occasionally. The radiance of these sails and of the bright and grotesque vanes at the mast-heads under sunlight is beyond all painting, but it is strange that, of constant occurrence as these boats are on all the lagoons, Turner alone should have availed himself of them. Nothing could be more faithful than the boat which was the principal object in this picture, in the cut of the sail, the filling of it, the exact height of the boom above the deck, the quartering of it with color, finally and especially, the hanging of the fish-baskets about the bows. All these, however, are comparatively minor merits, (though not the blaze of color which the artist elicited from the right use of these circumstances,) but the peculiar power of the picture was the painting of the sea surface, where there were no reflections to assist it. A stream of splendid color fell from the boat, but that occupied the centre only; in the distance, the city and crowded boats threw down some playing lines, but these still left on each side of the boat a large space of water reflecting nothing but the morning sky. This was divided by an eddying swell, on whose continuous sides the local color of the water was seen, pure aquamarine, (a beautiful occurrence of closely-observed truth,) but still there remained a large blank space of pale water to be treated, the sky above had no distinct details and was pure faint gray, with broken white vestiges of cloud: it gave no help therefore. But there the water lay, no dead gray flat paint, but downright clear, playing, palpable surface, full of indefinite hue, and retiring as regularly and visibly back and far away, as if there had been objects all over it to tell the story by perspective. Now it is the doing of this which tries the painter, and it is his having done this which made me say above that "no man had ever painted the surface of calm water but Turner." The San Benedetto, looking towards Fusina, contained a similar passage, equally fine; in one of the Canale della Guidecca the specific green color of the water is seen in front, with the shadows of the boats thrown on it in purple; all, as it retires, passing into the pure reflective blue.

Sec. 12. Relation of various circumstances of past agitation, etc., by the most trifling incidents, as in the Cowes.

But Turner is not satisfied with this. He is never altogether content unless he can, at the same time that he takes advantage of all the placidity of repose, tell us something either about the past commotion of the water, or of some present stirring of tide or current which its stillness does not show, or give us something or other to think about and reason upon, as well as to look at. Take a few instances. His Cowes, Isle of Wight, is a summer twilight about half an hour, or more, after sunset. Intensity of repose is the great aim throughout, and the unity of tone of the picture is one of the finest things that Turner has ever done. But there is not only quietness, there is the very deepest solemnity in the whole of the light, as well as in the stillness of the vessels; and Turner wishes to enhance this feeling by representing not only repose, but power in repose, the emblem, in the sea, of the quiet ships of war. Accordingly, he takes the greatest possible pains to get his surface polished, calm, and smooth, but he indicates the reflection of a buoy, floating a full quarter of a mile off, by three black strokes with wide intervals between them, the last of which touches the water within twenty yards of the spectator. Now these three reflections can only indicate the farther sides of three rises of an enormous swell, and give by their intervals of separation, a space of from twelve to twenty yards for the breadth of each wave, including the sweep between them, and this swell is farther indicated by the reflection of the new moon falling, in a wide zigzag line. The exceeding majesty which this single circumstance gives to the whole picture, the sublime sensation of power and knowledge of former exertion which we instantly receive from it, if we have but acquaintance with nature enough to understand its language, render this work not only a piece of the most refined truth, (as which I have at present named it,) but to my mind, one of the highest pieces of intellectual art existing.

Sec. 13. In scenes on the Loire and Seine.

Again, in the scene on the Loire, with the square precipice and fiery sunset, in the Rivers of France, repose has been aimed at in the same way, and most thoroughly given; but the immense width of the river at this spot makes it look like a lake or sea, and it was therefore necessary that we should be made thoroughly to understand and feel that this is not the calm of still water, but the tranquillity of a majestic current. Accordingly, a boat swings at anchor on the right; and the stream, dividing at its bow, flows towards us in two long, dark waves, especial attention to which is enforced by the one on the left being brought across the reflected stream of sunshine, which it separates, and which is broken in the nearer water by the general undulation and agitation caused by the boat's wake; a wake caused by the waters passing it, not by its going through the water.

Sec. 14. Expression of contrary waves caused by recoil from shore.

Sec. 15. Various other instances.

Again, in the Confluence of the Seine and Marne, we have the repose of the wide river stirred by the paddles of the steamboat, (whose plashing we can almost hear, for we are especially compelled to look at them by their being made the central note of the composition—the blackest object in it, opposed to the strongest light,) and this disturbance is not merely caused by the two lines of surge from the boat's wake, for any other painter must have given these, but Turner never rests satisfied till he has told you all in his power; and he has not only given the receding surges, but these have gone on to the shore, have struck upon it, and been beaten back from it in another line of weaker contrary surges, whose point of intersection with those of the wake itself is marked by the sudden subdivision and disorder of the waves of the wake on the extreme left, and whose reverted direction is exquisitely given where their lines cross the calm water, close to the spectator, and marked also by the sudden vertical spring of the spray just where they intersect the swell from the boat; and in order that we may fully be able to account for these reverted waves, we are allowed, just at the extreme right-hand limit of the picture, to see the point where the swell from the boat meets the shore. In the Chaise de Gargantua we have the still water lulled by the dead calm which usually precedes the most violent storms, suddenly broken upon by a tremendous burst of wind from the gathered thunder-clouds, scattering the boats, and raising the water into rage, except where it is sheltered by the hills. In the Jumieges and Vernon we have farther instances of local agitation, caused, in the one instance, by a steamer, in the other, by the large water-wheels under the bridge, not, observe, a mere splashing about the wheel itself, this is too far off to be noticeable, so that we should not have even known that the objects beneath the bridge were water-wheels, but for the agitation recorded a quarter of a mile down the river, where its current crosses the sunlight. And thus there will scarcely ever be found a piece of quiet water by Turner, without some story in it of one kind or another; sometimes a slight, but beautiful incident—oftener, as in the Cowes, something on which the whole sentiment and intention of the picture in a great degree depends; but invariably presenting some new instance of varied knowledge and observation, some fresh appeal to the highest faculties of the mind.

Sec. 16. Turner's painting of distant expanses of water. Calm, interrupted by ripple.

Sec. 17. And ripple, crossed by sunshine.

Of extended surfaces of water, as rendered by Turner, the Loch Katrine and Derwent-water, of the Illustrations to Scott, and the Loch Lomond, vignette in Rogers's Poems, are characteristic instances. The first of these gives us the most distant part of the lake entirely under the influence of a light breeze, and therefore entirely without reflections of the objects on its borders; but the whole near half is untouched by the wind, and on that is cast the image of the upper part of Ben-Venue and of the islands. The second gives us the surface, with just so much motion upon it as to prolong, but not to destroy, the reflections of the dark woods,—reflections only interrupted by the ripple of the boat's wake. And the third gives us an example of the whole surface so much affected by ripple as to bring into exercise all those laws which we have seen so grossly violated by Canaletto. We see in the nearest boat that though the lines of the gunwale are much blacker and more conspicuous than that of the cutwater, yet the gunwale lines, being nearly horizontal, have no reflection whatsoever; while the line of the cutwater, being vertical, has a distinct reflection of three times its own length. But even these tremulous reflections are only visible as far as the islands; beyond them, as the lake retires into distance, we find it receives only the reflection of the gray light from the clouds, and runs in one flat white field up between the hills; and besides all this, we have another phenomenon, quite new, given to us,—the brilliant gleam of light along the centre of the lake. This is not caused by ripple, for it is cast on a surface rippled all over; but it is what we could not have without ripple,—the light of a passage of sunshine. I have already (Chap. I., Sec. 9) explained the cause of this phenomenon, which never can by any possibility take place on calm water, being the multitudinous reflection of the sun from the sides of the ripples, causing an appearance of local light and shadow; and being dependent, like real light and shadow, on the passage of the clouds, though the dark parts of the water are the reflections of the clouds, not the shadows of them; and the bright parts are the reflections of the sun, and not the light of it. This little vignette, then, will entirely complete the system of Turner's universal truth in quiet water. We have seen every phenomenon given by him,—the clear reflection, the prolonged reflection, the reflection broken by ripple, and finally the ripple broken by light and shade; and it is especially to be observed how careful he is, in this last case, when he uses the apparent light and shade, to account for it by showing us in the whiteness of the lake beyond, its universal subjection to ripple.

Sec. 18. His drawing of distant rivers.

Sec. 19. And of surface associated with mist.

We have not spoken of Turner's magnificent drawing of distant rivers, which, however, is dependent only on more complicated application of the same laws, with exquisite perspective. The sweeps of river in the Dryburgh, (Illustrations to Scott,) and Melrose, are bold and characteristic examples, as well as the Rouen from St. Catherine's Hill, and the Caudebec, in the Rivers of France. The only thing which in these works requires particular attention, is the care with which the height of the observer above the river is indicated by the loss of the reflections of its banks. This is, perhaps, shown most clearly in the Caudebec. If we had been on a level with the river, its whole surface would have been darkened by the reflection of the steep and high banks; but being far above it, we can see no more of the image than we could of the hill itself, if it were actually reversed under the water; and therefore we see that Turner gives us only a narrow line of dark water, immediately under the precipice, the broad surface reflecting only the sky. This is also finely shown on the left-hand side of the Dryburgh.

But all these early works of the artist have been eclipsed by some recent drawings of Switzerland. These latter are not to be described by any words, but they must be noted here not only as presenting records of lake effect on grander scale, and of more imaginative character than any other of his works, but as combining effects of the surface of mist with the surface of water. Two or three of the Lake of Lucerne, seen from above, give the melting of the mountain promontories beneath into the clear depth, and above into the clouds; one of Constance shows the vast lake at evening, seen not as water, but its surface covered with low white mist, lying league beyond league in the twilight like a fallen space of moony cloud; one of Goldau shows the Lake of Zug appearing through the chasm of a thunder-cloud under sunset, its whole surface one blaze of fire, and the promontories of the hills thrown out against it, like spectres; another of Zurich gives the playing of the green waves of the river among white streams of moonlight: two purple sunsets on the Lake of Zug are distinguished for the glow obtained without positive color, the rose and purple tints being in great measure brought by opposition out of browns: finally, a drawing executed in 1845 of the town of Lucerne from the lake is unique for its expression of water surface reflecting the clear green hue of sky at twilight.

Sec. 20. His drawing of falling water, with peculiar expression of weight.

Sec. 21. The abandonment and plunge of great cataracts. How given by him.

It will be remembered that it was said above, that Turner was the only painter who had ever represented the surface of calm or the force of agitated water. He obtains this expression of force in falling or running water by fearless and full rendering of its forms. He never loses himself and his subject in the splash of the fall—his presence of mind never fails as he goes down; he does not blind us with the spray, or veil the countenance of his fall with its own drapery. A little crumbling white, or lightly rubbed paper, will soon give the effect of indiscriminate foam; but nature gives more than foam—she shows beneath it, and through it, a peculiar character of exquisitely studied form bestowed on every wave and line of fall; and it is this variety of definite character which Turner always aims at, rejecting, as much as possible, everything that conceals or overwhelms it. Thus, in the Upper Fall of the Tees, though the whole basin of the fall is blue and dim with the rising vapor, yet the whole attention of the spectator is directed to that which it was peculiarly difficult to render, the concentric zones and delicate curves of the falling water itself; and it is impossible to express with what exquisite accuracy these are given. They are the characteristic of a powerful stream descending without impediment or break, but from a narrow channel, so as to expand as it falls. They are the constant form which such a stream assumes as it descends; and yet I think it would be difficult to point to another instance of their being rendered in art. You will find nothing in the waterfalls even of our best painters, but springing lines of parabolic descent, and splashing, shapeless foam; and, in consequence, though they may make you understand the swiftness of the water, they never let you feel the weight of it; the stream in their hands looks active, not supine, as if it leaped, not as if it fell. Now water will leap a little way, it will leap down a weir or over a stone, but it tumbles over a high fall like this; and it is when we have lost the parabolic line, and arrived at the catenary,—when we have lost the spring of the fall, and arrived at the plunge of it, that we begin really to feel its weight and wildness. Where water takes its first leap from the top, it is cool, and collected, and uninteresting, and mathematical, but it is when it finds that it has got into a scrape, and has farther to go than it thought for, that its character comes out; it is then that it begins to writhe, and twist, and sweep out zone after zone in wilder stretching as it falls, and to send down the rocket-like, lance-pointed, whizzing shafts at its sides, sounding for the bottom. And it is this prostration, this hopeless abandonment of its ponderous power to the air, which is always peculiarly expressed by Turner, and especially in the case before us; while our other artists, keeping to the parabolic line, where they do not lose themselves in smoke and foam, make their cataract look muscular and wiry, and may consider themselves fortunate if they can keep it from stopping. I believe the majesty of motion which Turner has given by these concentric catenary lines must be felt even by those who have never seen a high waterfall, and therefore cannot appreciate their exquisite fidelity to nature.

In the Chain Bridge over the Tees, this passiveness and swinging of the water to and fro are yet more remarkable; while we have another characteristic of a great waterfall given to us, that the wind, in this instance coming up the valley against the current, takes the spray up off the edges, and carries it back in little torn, reverted rags and threads, seen in delicate form against the darkness on the left. But we must understand a little more about the nature of running water before we can appreciate the drawing either of this, or any other of Turner's torrents.

Sec. 22. Difference in the action of water, when continuous and when interrupted. The interrupted stream fills the hollows of its bed.

Sec. 23. But the continuous stream takes the shape of its bed.

Sec. 24. Its exquisite curved lines.

When water, not in very great body, runs in a rocky bed much interrupted by hollows, so that it can rest every now and then in a pool as it goes along, it does not acquire a continuous velocity of motion. It pauses after every leap, and curdles about, and rests a little, and then goes on again; and if in this comparatively tranquil and rational state of mind it meets with an obstacle, as a rock or stone, it parts on each side of it with a little bubbling foam, and goes round; if it comes to a step in its bed, it leaps it lightly, and then after a little plashing at the bottom, stops again to take breath. But if its bed be on a continuous slope, not much interrupted by hollows, so that it cannot rest, or if its own mass be so increased by flood that its usual resting-places are not sufficient for it, but that it is perpetually pushed out of them by the following current, before it has had time to tranquillize itself, it of course gains velocity with every yard that it runs; the impetus got at one leap is carried to the credit of the next, until the whole stream becomes one mass of unchecked, accelerating motion. Now when water in this state comes to an obstacle, it does not part at it, but clears it, like a racehorse; and when it comes to a hollow, it does not fill it up and run out leisurely at the other side, but it rushes down into it and comes up again on the other side, as a ship into the hollow of the sea. Hence the whole appearance of the bed of the stream is changed, and all the lines of the water altered in their nature. The quiet stream is a succession of leaps and pools; the leaps are light and springy, and parabolic, and make a great deal of splashing when they tumble into the pool; then we have a space of quiet curdling water, and another similar leap below. But the stream when it has gained an impetus takes the shape of its bed, never stops, is equally deep and equally swift everywhere, goes down into every hollow, not with a leap, but with a swing, not foaming, nor splashing, but in the bending line of a strong sea-wave, and comes up again on the other side, over rock and ridge, with the ease of a bounding leopard; if it meet a rock three or four feet above the level of its bed, it will neither part nor foam, nor express any concern about the matter, but clear it in a smooth dome of water, without apparent exertion, coming down again as smoothly on the other side; the whole surface of the surge being drawn into parallel lines by its extreme velocity, but foamless, except in places where the form of the bed opposes itself at some direct angle to such a line of fall, and causes a breaker; so that the whole river has the appearance of a deep and raging sea, with this only difference, that the torrent-waves always break backwards, and sea-waves forwards. Thus, then, in the water which has gained an impetus, we have the most exquisite arrangements of curved lines, perpetually changing from convex to concave, and vice versa, following every swell and hollow of the bed with their modulating grace, and all in unison of motion, presenting perhaps the most beautiful series of inorganic forms which nature can possibly produce; for the sea runs too much into similar and concave curves with sharp edges, but every motion of the torrent is united, and all its curves are modifications of beautiful line.

Sec. 25. Turner's careful choice of the historical truth.

Sec. 26. His exquisite drawing of the continuous torrent in the Llanthony Abbey.

We see, therefore, why Turner seizes on these curved lines of the torrent, not only as being among the most beautiful forms of nature, but because they are an instant expression of the utmost power and velocity, and tell us how the torrent has been flowing before we see it. For the leap and splash might be seen in the sudden freakishness of a quiet stream, or the fall of a rivulet over a mill-dam; but the undulating line is the exclusive attribute of the mountain-torrent,[67] whose fall and fury have made the valleys echo for miles; and thus the moment we see one of its curves over a stone in the foreground, we know how far it has come, and how fiercely. And in the drawing we have been speaking of, the lower fall of the Tees, in the foreground of the Killiecrankie and Rhymer's Glen, and of the St. Maurice, in Rogers's Italy, we shall find the most exquisite instances of the use of such lines; but the most perfect of all in the Llanthony Abbey, which may be considered as the standard of torrent-drawing. The chief light of the picture here falls upon the surface of the stream, swelled by recent rain, and its mighty waves come rolling down close to the spectator, green and clear, but pale with anger, in gigantic, unbroken, oceanic curves, bending into each other without break or foam, though jets of fiery spray are cast into the air along the rocky shore, and rise in the sunshine in dusty vapor. The whole surface is one united race of mad motion; all the waves dragged, as I have described, into lines and furrows by their swiftness, and every one of these fine forms is drawn with the most studied chiaroscuro of delicate color, grays and greens, as silvery and pure as the finest passages of Paul Veronese, and with a refinement of execution which the eye strains itself in looking into. The rapidity and gigantic force of this torrent, the exquisite refinement of its color, and the vividness of foam which is obtained through a general middle tint, render it about the most perfect piece of painting of running water in existence.

Sec. 27. And of the interrupted torrent in the Mercury and Argus.

Now this picture is, as was noticed in our former reference to it, full of expression of every kind of motion: the clouds are in wild haste; the sun is gleaming fast and fitfully through the leaves; the rain drifting away along the hill-side; and the torrent, the principal object, to complete the impression, is made the wildest thing of all and not only wild before us, and with us, but bearing with it in its every motion, from its long course, the record of its rage. Observe how differently Turner uses his torrent when the spirit of the picture is repose. In the Mercury and Argus, we have also a stream in the foreground; but, in coming down to us, we see it stopping twice in two quiet and glassy pools, upon which the drinking cattle cast an unstirred image. From the nearest of these, the water leaps in three cascades into another basin close to us; it trickles in silver threads through the leaves at its edge, and falls tinkling and splashing (though in considerable body) into the pool, stirring its quiet surface, at which a bird is stooping to drink, with concentric and curdling ripples which divide round the stone at its farthest border, and descend in sparkling foam over the lip of the basin. Thus we find, in every case, the system of Turner's truth entirely unbroken, each phase and phenomenon of nature being recorded exactly where it is most valuable and impressive.

Sec. 28. Various cases.

We have not, however, space to follow out the variety of his torrent-drawing. The above two examples are characteristic of the two great divisions or classes of torrents—that whose motion is continuous, and whose motion is interrupted: all drawing of running water will resolve itself into the representation of one or other of these. The descent of the distant stream in the vignette to the Boy of Egremond is slight, but very striking; and the Junction of the Greta and Tees, a singular instance of the bold drawing of the complicated forms of a shallow stream among multitudinous rocks. A still finer example occurs in a recent drawing of Dazio Grande, on the St. Gothard, the waves of the Toccia, clear and blue, fretting among the granite debris which were brought down by the storm that destroyed the whole road. In the Ivy bridge the subject is the rest of the torrent in a pool among fallen rocks, the forms of the stones are seen through the clear brown water, and their reflections mingle with those of the foliage.

Sec. 29. Sea painting. Impossibility of truly representing foam.

More determined efforts have at all periods been made in sea painting than in torrent painting, yet less successful. As above stated, it is easy to obtain a resemblance of broken running water by tricks and dexterities, but the sea must be legitimately drawn; it cannot be given as utterly disorganized and confused, its weight and mass must be expressed, and the efforts at expression of it end in failure with all but the most powerful men; even with these few a partial success must be considered worthy of the highest praise.

As the right rendering of the Alps depends on power of drawing snow, so the right painting of the sea must depend, at least in all coast scenery, in no small measure on the power of drawing foam. Yet there are two conditions of foam of invariable occurrence on breaking waves, of which I have never seen the slightest record attempted; first the thick creamy curdling overlapping massy form which remains for a moment only after the fall of the wave, and is seen in perfection in its running up the beach; and secondly, the thin white coating into which this subsides, which opens into oval gaps and clefts, marbling the waves over their whole surface, and connecting the breakers on a flat shore by long dragging streams of white.

It is evident that the difficulty of expressing either of these two conditions must be immense. The lapping and curdling form is difficult enough to catch even when the lines of its undulation alone are considered; but the lips, so to speak, which lie along these lines, are full, projecting, and marked by beautiful light and shade; each has its high light, a gradation into shadow of indescribable delicacy, a bright reflected light and a dark cast shadow; to draw all this requires labor, and care, and firmness of work, which, as I imagine, must always, however skilfully bestowed, destroy all impression of wildness, accidentalism, and evanescence, and so kill the sea. Again, the openings in the thin subsided foam in their irregular modifications of circular and oval shapes dragged hither and thither, would be hard enough to draw even if they could be seen on a flat surface; instead of which, every one of the openings is seen in undulation on a tossing surface, broken up over small surges and ripples, and so thrown into perspectives of the most hopeless intricacy. Now it is not easy to express the lie of a pattern with oval openings on the folds of drapery. I do not know that any one under the mark of Veronese or Titian could even do this as it ought to be done, yet in drapery much stiffness and error may be overlooked; not so in sea,—the slightest inaccuracy, the slightest want of flow and freedom in the line, is attached by the eye in a moment of high treason, and I believe success to be impossible.

Yet there is not a wave or any violently agitated sea on which both these forms do not appear, the latter especially, after some time of storm, extends over their whole surfaces; the reader sees, therefore, why I said that sea could only be painted by means of more or less dexterous conventionalisms, since two of its most enduring phenomena cannot be represented at all.

Sec. 30. Character of shore-breakers, also inexpressible.

Again, as respects the form of breakers on an even shore, there is difficulty of no less formidable kind. There is in them an irreconcilable mixture of fury and formalism. Their hollow surface is marked by parallel lines, like those of a smooth mill-weir, and graduated by reflected and transmitted lights of the most wonderful intricacy, its curve being at the same time necessarily of mathematical purity and precision; yet at the top of this curve, when it nods over, there is a sudden laxity and giving way, the water swings and jumps along the ridge like a shaken chain, and the motion runs from part to part as it does through a serpent's body. Then the wind is at work on the extreme edge, and instead of letting it fling itself off naturally, it supports it, and, drives it back, or scrapes it off, and carries it bodily away; so that the spray at the top is in a continual transition between forms projected by their own weight, and forms blown and carried off with their weight overcome; then at last, when it has come down, who shall say what shape that may be called, which shape has none of the great crash where it touches the beach.

I think it is that last crash which is the great taskmaster. Nobody can do anything with it. I have seen Copley Fielding come very close to the jerk and nod of the lifted threatening edge, curl it very successfully, and without any look of its having been in papers, down nearly to the beach, but the final fall has no thunder in it. Turner has tried hard for it once or twice, but it will not do. The moment is given in the Sidon of the Bible Illustrations, and more elaborately in a painting of Bamborough; in both these cases there is little foam at the bottom, and the fallen breaker looks like a wall, yet grand always; and in the latter picture very beautifully assisted in expression by the tossing of a piece of cable, which some figures are dragging ashore, and which the breaker flings into the air as it falls. Perhaps the most successful rendering of the forms was in the Hero and Leander, but there the drawing was rendered easier by the powerful effect of light which disguised the foam.

Sec. 31. Their effect, how injured when seen from the shore.

It is not, however, from the shore that Turner usually studies his sea. Seen from the land, the curl of the breakers, even in nature, is somewhat uniform and monotonous; the size of the waves out at sea is uncomprehended, and those nearer the eye seem to succeed and resemble each other, to move slowly to the beach, and to break in the same lines and forms.

Afloat even twenty yards from the shore, we receive a totally different impression. Every wave around us appears vast—every one different from all the rest—and the breakers present, now that we see them with their backs towards us, the grand, extended, and varied lines of long curvature, which are peculiarly expressive both of velocity and power. Recklessness, before unfelt, is manifested in the mad, perpetual, changeful, undirected motion, not of wave after wave, as it appears from the shore, but of the very same water rising and falling. Of waves that successively approach and break, each appears to the mind a separate individual, whose part being performed, it perishes, and is succeeded by another; and there is nothing in this to impress us with the idea of restlessness, any more than in any successive and continuous functions of life and death. But it is when we perceive that it is no succession of wave, but the same water constantly rising, and crashing, and recoiling, and rolling in again in new forms and with fresh fury, that we perceive the perturbed spirit, and feel the intensity of its unwearied rage. The sensation of power is also trebled; for not only is the vastness of apparent size much increased, but the whole action is different; it is not a passive wave rolling sleepily forward until it tumbles heavily, prostrated upon the beach, but a sweeping exertion of tremendous and living strength, which does not now appear to fall, but to burst upon the shore; which never perishes, but recoils and recovers.

Sec. 32. Turner's expression of heavy rolling sea.

Sec. 33. With peculiar expression of weight.

Aiming at these grand characters of the Sea, Turner almost always places the spectator, not on the shore, but twenty or thirty yards from it, beyond the first range of the breakers, as in the Land's End, Fowey, Dunbar, and Laugharne. The latter has been well engraved, and may be taken as a standard of the expression of fitfulness and power. The grand division of the whole space of the sea by a few dark continuous furrows of tremendous swell, (the breaking of one of which alone has strewed the rocks in front with ruin,) furnishes us with an estimate of space and strength, which at once reduces the men upon the shore to insects; and yet through this terrific simplicity there is indicated a fitfulness and fury in the tossing of the individual lines, which give to the whole sea a wild, unwearied, reckless incoherency, like that of an enraged multitude, whose masses act together in frenzy, while not one individual feels as another. Especial attention is to be directed to the flatness of all the lines, for the same principle holds in sea which we have seen in mountains. All the size and sublimity of nature are given not by the height, but by the breadth of her masses: and Turner, by following her in her sweeping lines, while he does not lose the elevation of its surges, adds in a tenfold degree to their power: farther, observe the peculiar expression of weight which there is in Turner's waves, precisely of the same kind which we saw in his waterfall. We have not a cutting, springing, elastic line—no jumping or leaping in the waves: that is the characteristic of Chelsea Reach or Hampstead Ponds in a storm. But the surges roll and plunge with such prostration and hurling of their mass against the shore, that we feel the rocks are shaking under them; and, to add yet more to this impression, observe how little, comparatively, they are broken by the wind; above the floating wood, and along the shore, we have indication of a line of torn spray; but it is a mere fringe along the ridge of the surge—no interference with its gigantic body. The wind has no power over its tremendous unity of force and weight. Finally, observe how, on the rocks on the left, the violence and swiftness of the rising wave are indicated by precisely the same lines which we saw were indicative of fury in the torrent. The water on these rocks is the body of the wave which has just broken, rushing up over them; and in doing so, like the torrent, it does not break, nor foam, nor part upon the rock, but accommodates itself to every one of its swells and hollows, with undulating lines, whose grace and variety might alone serve us for a day's study; and it is only where two streams of this rushing water meet in the hollow of the rock, that their force is shown by the vertical bound of the spray.

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