Modern Painters Volume I (of V)
by John Ruskin
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Sec. 14. The two distinct qualities of light to be considered.

Light, with reference to the tone it induces on objects, is either to be considered as neutral and white, bringing out local colors with fidelity; or colored, and consequently modifying these local tints, with its own. But the power of pure white light to exhibit local color is strangely variable. The morning light of about nine or ten is usually very pure; but the difference of its effect on different days, independently of mere brilliancy, is as inconceivable as inexplicable. Every one knows how capriciously the colors of a fine opal vary from day to day, and how rare the lights are which bring them fully out. Now the expression of the strange, penetrating, deep, neutral light, which, while it alters no color, brings every color up to the highest possible pitch and key of pure, harmonious intensity, is the chief attribute of finely-toned pictures by the great colorists as opposed to pictures of equally high tone, by masters who, careless of color, are content, like Cuyp, to lose local tints in the golden blaze of absorbing light.

Sec. 15. Falsehoods by which Titian attains the appearance of quality in light.

Falsehood, in this neutral tone, if it may be so called, is a matter far more of feeling than of proof, for any color is possible under such lights; it is meagreness and feebleness only which are to be avoided; and these are rather matters of sensation than of reasoning. But it is yet easy enough to prove by what exaggerated and false means the pictures most celebrated for this quality are endowed with their richness and solemnity of color. In the Bacchus and Ariadne of Titian, it is difficult to imagine anything more magnificently impossible than the blue of the distant landscape;—impossible, not from its vividness, but because it is not faint and aerial enough to account for its purity of color; it is too dark and blue at the same time; and there is indeed so total a want of atmosphere in it, that, but for the difference of form, it would be impossible to tell the mountains (intended to be ten miles off) from the robe of Ariadne close to the spectator. Yet make this blue faint, aerial, and distant—make it in the slightest degree to resemble the truth of nature's color—and all the tone of the picture, all its intensity and splendor, will vanish on the instant. So again, in the exquisite and inimitable little bit of color, the Europa in the Dulwich Gallery; the blue of the dark promontory on the left is thoroughly absurd and impossible, and the warm tones of the clouds equally so, unless it were sunset; but the blue especially, because it is nearer than several points of land which are equally in shadow, and yet are rendered in warm gray. But the whole value and tone of the picture would be destroyed if this blue were altered.

Sec. 16. Turner will not use such means.

Sec. 17. But gains in essential truth by the sacrifice.

Sec. 18. The second quality of light.

Now, as much of this kind of richness of tone is always given by Turner as is compatible with truth of aerial effect; but he will not sacrifice the higher truths of his landscape to mere pitch of color as Titian does. He infinitely prefers having the power of giving extension of space, and fulness of form, to that of giving deep melodies of tone; he feels too much the incapacity of art, with its feeble means of light, to give the abundance of nature's gradations; and therefore it is, that taking pure white for his highest expression of light, that even pure yellow may give him one more step in the scale of shade, he becomes necessarily inferior in richness of effect to the old masters of tone, (who always used a golden highest light,) but gains by the sacrifice a thousand more essential truths. For, though we all know how much more like light, in the abstract, a finely-toned warm hue will be to the feelings than white, yet it is utterly impossible to mark the same number of gradations between such a sobered high light and the deepest shadow, which we can between this and white; and as these gradations are absolutely necessary to give the facts of form and distance, which, as we have above shown, are more important than any truths of tone,[17] Turner sacrifices the richness of his picture to its completeness—the manner of the statement to its matter. And not only is he right in doing this for the sake of space, but he is right also in the abstract question of color; for as we observed above (Sect. 14,) it is only the white light—the perfect unmodified group of rays—which will bring out local color perfectly; and if the picture, therefore, is to be complete in its system of color, that is, if it is to have each of the three primitives in their purity, it must have white for its highest light, otherwise the purity of one of them at least will be impossible. And this leads us to notice the second and more frequent quality of light, (which is assumed if we make our highest representation of it yellow,) the positive hue, namely, which it may itself possess, of course modifying whatever local tints it exhibits, and thereby rendering certain colors necessary, and certain colors impossible. Under the direct yellow light of a descending sun, for instance, pure white and pure blue are both impossible; because the purest whites and blues that nature could produce would be turned in some degree into gold or green by it; and when the sun is within half a degree of the horizon, if the sky be clear, a rose light supersedes the golden one, still more overwhelming in its effect on local color. I have seen the pale fresh green of spring vegetation in the gardens of Venice, on the Lido side, turned pure russet, or between that and crimson, by a vivid sunset of this kind, every particle of green color being absolutely annihilated. And so under all colored lights, (and there are few, from dawn to twilight, which are not slightly tinted by some accident of atmosphere,) there is a change of local color, which, when in a picture it is so exactly proportioned that we feel at once both what the local colors are in themselves, and what is the color and strength of the light upon them, gives us truth of tone.

Sec. 19. The perfection of Cuyp in this respect interfered with by numerous solecisms.

For expression of effects of yellow sunlight, parts might be chosen out of the good pictures of Cuyp, which have never been equalled in art. But I much doubt if there be a single bright Cuyp in the world, which, taken as a whole, does not present many glaring solecisms in tone. I have not seen many fine pictures of his, which were not utterly spoiled by the vermilion dress of some principal figure, a vermilion totally unaffected and unwarmed by the golden hue of the rest of the picture; and, what is worse, with little distinction, between its own illumined and shaded parts, so that it appears altogether out of sunshine, the color of a bright vermilion in dead, cold daylight. It is possible that the original color may have gone down in all cases, or that these parts may have been villanously repainted: but I am the rather disposed to believe them genuine, because even throughout the best of his pictures there are evident recurrences of the same kind of solecism in other colors—greens for instance—as in the steep bank on the right of the largest picture in the Dulwich Gallery; and browns, as in the lying cow in the same picture, which is in most visible and painful contrast with the one standing beside it, the flank of the standing one being bathed in breathing sunshine, and the reposing one laid in with as dead, opaque, and lifeless brown as ever came raw from a novice's pallet. And again, in that marked 83, while the figures on the right are walking in the most precious light, and those just beyond them in the distance leave a furlong or two of pure visible sunbeams between us and them, the cows in the centre are entirely deprived, poor things, of both light and air. And these failing parts, though they often escape the eye when we are near the picture and able to dwell upon what is beautiful in it, yet so injure its whole effect that I question if there be many Cuyps in which vivid colors occur, which will not lose their effect, and become cold and flat at a distance of ten or twelve paces, retaining their influence only when the eye is close enough to rest on the right parts without including the whole. Take, for instance, the large one in our National Gallery, seen from the opposite door, where the black cow appears a great deal nearer than the dogs, and the golden tones of the distance look like a sepia drawing rather than like sunshine, owing chiefly to the utter want of aerial grays indicated through them.

Sec. 20. Turner is not so perfect in parts—far more so in the whole.

Now, there is no instance in the works of Turner of anything so faithful and imitative of sunshine as the best parts of Cuyp; but at the same time, there is not a single vestige of the same kind of solecism. It is true, that in his fondness for color, Turner is in the habit of allowing excessively cold fragments in big warmest pictures; but these are never, observe, warm colors with no light upon them, useless as contrasts while they are discords in the tone; but they are bits of the very coolest tints, partially removed from the general influence, and exquisitely valuable as color, though, with all deference be it spoken, I think them sometimes slightly destructive of what would otherwise be perfect tone. For instance, the two blue and white stripes on the drifting flag of the Slave Ship, are, I think, the least degree too purely cool. I think both the blue and white would be impossible under such a light; and in the same way the white parts of the dress of the Napoleon interfered by their coolness with the perfectly managed warmth of all the rest of the picture. But both these lights are reflexes, and it is nearly impossible to say what tones may be assumed even by the warmest light reflected from a cool surface; so that we cannot actually convict these parts of falsehood, and though we should have liked the tone of the picture better had they been slightly warmer, we cannot but like the color of the picture better with them as they are; while Cuyp's failing portions are not only evidently and demonstrably false, being in direct light, but are as disagreeable in color as false in tone, and injurious to everything near them. And the best proof of the grammatical accuracy of the tones of Turner is in the perfect and unchanging influence of all his pictures at any distance. We approach only to follow the sunshine into every cranny of the leafage, and retire only to feel it diffused over the scene, the whole picture glowing like a sun or star at whatever distance we stand, and lighting the air between us and it; while many even of the best pictures of Claude must be looked close into to be felt, and lose light every foot that we retire. The smallest of the three seaports in the National Gallery is valuable and right in tone when we are close to it; but ten yards off, it is all brick-dust, offensively and evidently false in its whole hue.

Sec. 21. The power in Turner of uniting a number of tones.

The comparison of Turner with Cuyp and Claude may sound strange in most ears; but this is chiefly because we are not in the habit of analyzing and dwelling upon those difficult and daring passages of the modern master which do not at first appeal to our ordinary notions of truth, owing to his habit of uniting two, three, or even more separate tones in the same composition. In this also he strictly follows nature, for wherever climate changes, tone changes, and the climate changes with every 200 feet of elevation, so that the upper clouds are always different in tone from the lower ones, these from the rest of the landscape, and in all probability, some part of the horizon from the rest. And when nature allows this in a high degree, as in her most gorgeous effects she always will, she does not herself impress at once with intensity of tone, as in the deep and quiet yellows of a July evening, but rather with the magnificence and variety of associated color, in which, if we give time and attention to it, we shall gradually find the solemnity and the depth of twenty tones instead of one. Now in Turner's power of associating cold with warm light, no one has ever approached, or even ventured into the same field with him. The old masters, content with one simple tone, sacrificed to its unity all the exquisite gradations and varied touches of relief and change by which nature unites her hours with each other. They gave the warmth of the sinking sun, overwhelming all things in its gold; but they did not give those gray passages about the horizon where, seen through its dying light, the cool and the gloom of night gather themselves for their victory. Whether it was in them impotence or judgment, it is not for me to decide. I have only to point to the daring of Turner in this respect, as something to which art affords no matter of comparison, as that in which the mere attempt is, in itself, superiority. Take the evening effect with the Temeraire. That picture will not, at the first glance, deceive as a piece of actual sunlight; but this is because there is in it more than sunlight, because under the blazing veil of vaulted fire which lights the vessel on her last path, there is a blue, deep, desolate hollow of darkness, out of which you can hear the voice of the night wind, and the dull boom of the disturbed sea; because the cold, deadly shadows of the twilight are gathering through every sunbeam, and moment by moment as you look, you will fancy some new film and faintness of the night has risen over the vastness of the departing form.

Sec. 22. Recapitulation.

And if, in effects of this kind, time be taken to dwell upon the individual tones, and to study the laws of their reconcilement, there will be found in the recent Academy pictures of this great artist a mass of various truth to which nothing can be brought for comparison, which stands not only unrivalled, but uncontended with, and which, when in carrying out it may be inferior to some of the picked passages of the old masters, is so through deliberate choice rather to suggest a multitude of truths than to imitate one, and through a strife with difficulties of effect of which art can afford no parallel example. Nay, in the next chapter, respecting color, we shall see farther reason for doubting the truth of Claude, Cuyp, and Poussin, in tone,—reason so palpable that if these were all that were to be contended with, I should scarcely have allowed any inferiority in Turner whatsoever;[18] but I allow it, not so much with reference to the deceptive imitations of sunlight, wrought out with desperate exaggerations of shade, of the professed landscape painters, as with reference to the glory of Rubens, the glow of Titian, the silver tenderness of Cagliari, and perhaps more than all to the precious and pure passages of intense feeling and heavenly light, holy and undefiled, and glorious with the changeless passion of eternity, which sanctify with their shadeless peace the deep and noble conceptions of the early school of Italy,—of Fra Bartolomeo, Perugino, and the early mind of Raffaelle.


[16] Of course I am not speaking here of treatment of chiaroscuro, but of that quantity of depth of shade by which, coeteris paribus, a near object will exceed a distant one. For the truth of the systems of Turner and the old masters, as regards chiaroscuro, vide Chapter III. of this Section, Sec. 8.

[17] More important, observe, as matters of truth or fact. It may often chance that, as a matter of feeling, the tone is the more important of the two; but with this we have here no concern.

[18] We must not leave the subject of tone without alluding to the works of the late George Barrett, which afford glorious and exalted passages of light; and John Varley, who, though less truthful in his aim, was frequently deep in his feeling. Some of the sketches of De Wint are also admirable in this respect. As for our oil pictures, the less that is said about them the better. Callcott has the truest aim; but not having any eye for color, it is impossible for him to succeed in tone.



Sec. 1. Observations on the color of G. Poussin's La Riccia.

There is, in the first room of the National Gallery, a landscape attributed to Gaspar Poussin, called sometimes Aricia, sometimes Le or La Riccia, according to the fancy of catalogue printers. Whether it can be supposed to resemble the ancient Aricia, now La Riccia, close to Albano, I will not take upon me to determine, seeing that most of the towns of these old masters are quite as like one place as another; but, at any rate, it is a town on a hill, wooded with two-and-thirty bushes, of very uniform size, and possessing about the same number of leaves each. These bushes are all painted in with one dull opaque brown, becoming very slightly greenish towards the lights, and discover in one place a bit of rock, which of course would in nature have been cool and gray beside the lustrous hues of foliage, and which, therefore, being moreover completely in shade, is consistently and scientifically painted of a very clear, pretty, and positive brick-red, the only thing like color in the picture. The foreground is a piece of road, which in order to make allowance for its greater nearness, for its being completely in light, and, it may be presumed, for the quantity of vegetation usually present on carriage-roads, is given in a very cool green gray, and the truth of the picture is completed by a number of dots in the sky on the right, with a stalk to them, of a sober and similar brown.

Sec. 2. As compared with the actual scene.

Not long ago, I was slowly descending this very bit of carriage-road, the first turn after you leave Albano, not a little impeded by the worthy successors of the ancient prototypes of Veiento.[19] It had been wild weather when I left Rome, and all across the Campagna the clouds were sweeping in sulphurous blue, with a clap of thunder or two, and breaking gleams of sun along the Claudian aqueduct lighting up the infinity of its arches like the bridge of chaos. But as I climbed the long slope of the Alban mount, the storm swept finally to the north, and the noble outline of the domes of Albano and graceful darkness of its ilex grove rose against pure streaks of alternate blue and amber, the upper sky gradually flushing through the last fragments of rain-cloud in deep, palpitating azure, half ether and half dew. The noonday sun came slanting down the rocky slopes of La Riccia, and its masses of entangled and tall foliage, whose autumnal tints were mixed with the wet verdure of a thousand evergreens, were penetrated with it as with rain. I cannot call it color, it was conflagration. Purple, and crimson, and scarlet, like the curtains of God's tabernacle, the rejoicing trees sank into the valley in showers of light, every separate leaf quivering with buoyant and burning life; each, as it turned to reflect or to transmit the sunbeam, first a torch and then an emerald. Far up into the recesses of the valley, the green vistas arched like the hollows of mighty waves of some crystalline sea, with the arbutus flowers dashed along their flanks for foam, and silver flakes of orange spray tossed into the air around them, breaking over the gray walls of rock into a thousand separate stars, fading and kindling alternately as the weak wind lifted and let them fall. Every glade of grass burned like the golden floor of heaven, opening in sudden gleams as the foliage broke and closed above it, as sheet-lightning opens in a cloud at sunset; the motionless masses of dark rock—dark though flushed with scarlet lichen,—casting their quiet shadows across its restless radiance, the fountain underneath them filling its marble hollow with blue mist and fitful sound, and over all—the multitudinous bars of amber and rose, the sacred clouds that have no darkness, and only exist to illumine, were seen in fathomless intervals between the solemn and orbed repose of the stone pines, passing to lose themselves in the last, white, blinding lustre of the measureless line where the Campagna melted into the blaze of the sea.

Sec. 3. Turner himself is inferior in brilliancy to nature.

Tell me who is likest this, Poussin or Turner? Not in his most daring and dazzling efforts could Turner himself come near it; but you could not at the time have thought or remembered the work of any other man as having the remotest hue or resemblance of what you saw. Nor am I speaking of what is uncommon or unnatural; there is no climate, no place, and scarcely an hour, in which nature does not exhibit color which no mortal effort can imitate or approach. For all our artificial pigments are, even when seen under the same circumstances, dead and lightless beside her living color; the green of a growing leaf, the scarlet of a fresh flower, no art nor expedient can reach; but in addition to this, nature exhibits her hues under an intensity of sunlight which trebles their brilliancy, while the painter, deprived of this splendid aid, works still with what is actually a gray shadow compared to the force of nature's color. Take a blade of grass and a scarlet flower, and place them so as to receive sunlight beside the brightest canvas that ever left Turner's easel, and the picture will be extinguished. So far from out-facing nature, he does not, as far as mere vividness of color goes, one-half reach her;—but does he use this brilliancy of color on objects to which it does not properly belong? Let us compare his works in this respect with a few instances from the old masters.

Sec. 4. Impossible colors of Salvator, Titian;

There is, on the left hand side of Salvator's Mercury and the Woodman in our National Gallery, something, without doubt intended for a rocky mountain, in the middle distance, near enough for all its fissures and crags to be distinctly visible, or, rather, for a great many awkward scratches of the brush over it to be visible, which, though not particularly representative either of one thing or another, are without doubt intended to be symbolical of rocks. Now no mountain in full light, and near enough for its details of crag to be seen, is without great variety of delicate color. Salvator has painted it throughout without one instant of variation; but this, I suppose, is simplicity and generalization;—let it pass: but what is the color? Pure sky blue, without one grain of gray, or any modifying hue whatsoever;—the same brush which had just given the bluest parts of the sky, has been more loaded at the same part of the pallet, and the whole mountain thrown in with unmitigated ultramarine. Now mountains only can become pure blue when there is so much air between us and them that they become mere flat, dark shades, every detail being totally lost: they become blue when they become air, and not till then. Consequently this part of Salvator's painting, being of hills perfectly clear and near, with all their details visible, is, as far as color is concerned, broad, bold falsehood—the direct assertion of direct impossibility.

In the whole range of Turner's works, recent or of old date, you will not find an instance of anything near enough to have details visible, painted in sky blue. Wherever Turner gives blue, there he gives atmosphere; it is air, not object. Blue he gives to his sea; so does nature;—blue he gives, sapphire-deep, to his extreme distance; so does nature;—blue he gives to the misty shadows and hollows of his hills; so does nature: but blue he gives not, where detail and illumined surface are visible; as he comes into light and character, so he breaks into warmth and varied hue; nor is there in one of his works, and I speak of the Academy pictures especially, one touch of cold color which is not to be accounted for, and proved right and full of meaning.

I do not say that Salvator's distance is not artist-like; both in that, and in the yet more glaringly false distances of Titian above alluded to, and in hundreds of others of equal boldness of exaggeration, I can take delight, and perhaps should be sorry to see them other than they are; but it is somewhat singular to hear people talking of Turner's exquisite care and watchfulness in color as false, while they receive such cases of preposterous and audacious fiction with the most generous and simple credulity.

Sec. 5. Poussin, and Claude.

Again, in the upper sky of the picture of Nicolas Poussin, before noticed, the clouds are of a very fine clear olive-green, about the same tint as the brightest parts of the trees beneath them. They cannot have altered, (or else the trees must have been painted in gray,) for the hue is harmonious and well united with the rest of the picture, and the blue and white in the centre of the sky are still fresh and pure. Now a green sky in open and illumined distance is very frequent, and very beautiful; but rich olive-green clouds, as far as I am acquainted with nature, are a piece of color in which she is not apt to indulge. You will be puzzled to show me such a thing in the recent works of Turner.[20] Again, take any important group of trees, I do not care whose—Claude's, Salvator's, or Poussin's—with lateral light (that in the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, or Gaspar's sacrifice of Isaac, for instance:) Can it be seriously supposed that those murky browns and melancholy greens are representative of the tints of leaves under full noonday sun? I know that you cannot help looking upon all these pictures as pieces of dark relief against a light wholly proceeding from the distances; but they are nothing of the kind—they are noon and morning effects with full lateral light. Be so kind as to match the color of a leaf in the sun (the darkest you like) as nearly as you can, and bring your matched color and set it beside one of these groups of trees, and take a blade of common grass, and set it beside any part of the fullest light of their foregrounds, and then talk about the truth of color of the old masters!

And let not arguments respecting the sublimity or fidelity of impression be brought forward here. I have nothing whatever to do with this at present. I am not talking about what is sublime, but about what is true. People attack Turner on this ground;—they never speak of beauty or sublimity with respect to him, but of nature and truth, and let them support their own favorite masters on the same grounds. Perhaps I may have the very deepest veneration for the feeling of the old masters, but I must not let it influence me now—my business is to match colors, not to talk sentiment. Neither let it be said that I am going too much into details, and that general truths may be obtained by local falsehood. Truth is only to be measured by close comparison of actual facts; we may talk forever about it in generals, and prove nothing. We cannot tell what effect falsehood may produce on this or that person, but we can very well tell what is false and what is not, and if it produce on our senses the effect of truth, that only demonstrates their imperfection and inaccuracy, and need of cultivation. Turner's color is glaring to one person's sensations, and beautiful to another's. This proves nothing. Poussin's color is right to one, soot to another. This proves nothing. There is no means of arriving at any conclusion but close comparison of both with the known and demonstrable hues of nature, and this comparison will invariably turn Claude or Poussin into blackness, and even Turner into gray.

Whatever depth of gloom may seem to invest the objects of a real landscape, yet a window with that landscape seen through it, will invariably appear a broad space of light as compared with the shade of the room walls; and this single circumstance may prove to us both the intensity and the diffusion of daylight in open air, and the necessity, if a picture is to be truthful in effect of color, that it should tell as a broad space of graduated illumination—not, as do those of the old masters, as a patch-work of black shades. Their works are nature in mourning weeds,—[Greek: oud hen helio katharo tethrammenoi, all hypo symmigei skia].

Sec. 6. Turner's translation of colors.

It is true that there are, here and there, in the Academy pictures, passages in which Turner has translated the unattainable intensity of one tone of color, into the attainable pitch of a higher one: the golden green for instance, of intense sunshine on verdure, into pure yellow, because he knows it to be impossible, with any mixture of blue whatsoever, to give faithfully its relative intensity of light, and Turner always will have his light and shade right, whatever it costs him in color. But he does this in rare cases, and even then over very small spaces; and I should be obliged to his critics if they would go out to some warm, mossy green bank in full summer sunshine, and try to reach its tone; and when they find, as find they will, Indian yellow and chrome look dark beside it, let them tell me candidly which is nearest truth, the gold of Turner, or the mourning and murky olive browns and verdigris greens in which Claude, with the industry and intelligence of a Sevres china painter, drags the laborious bramble leaves over his childish foreground.

Sec. 7. Notice of effects in which no brilliancy of art can even approach that of reality.

Sec. 8. Reasons for the usual incredulity of the observer with respect to their representation.

Sec. 9. Color of the Napoleon.

But it is singular enough that the chief attacks on Turner for overcharged brilliancy, are made, not when there could by any possibility be any chance of his outstepping nature, but when he has taken subjects which no colors of earth could ever vie with or reach, such, for instance, as his sunsets among the high clouds. When I come to speak of skies, I shall point out what divisions, proportioned to their elevation, exist in the character of clouds. It is the highest region,—that exclusively characterized by white, filmy, multitudinous, and quiet clouds, arranged in bars, or streaks, or flakes, of which I speak at present, a region which no landscape painters have ever made one effort to represent, except Rubens and Turner—the latter taking it for his most favorite and frequent study. Now we have been speaking hitherto of what is constant and necessary in nature, of the ordinary effects of daylight on ordinary colors, and we repeat again, that no gorgeousness of the pallet can reach even these. But it is a widely different thing when nature herself takes a coloring fit, and does something extraordinary, something really to exhibit her power. She has a thousand ways and means of rising above herself, but incomparably the noblest manifestations of her capability of color are in these sunsets among the high clouds. I speak especially of the moment before the sun sinks, when his light turns pure rose-color, and when this light falls upon a zenith covered with countless cloud-forms of inconceivable delicacy, threads and flakes of vapor, which would in common daylight be pure snow white, and which give therefore fair field to the tone of light. There is then no limit to the multitude, and no check to the intensity of the hues assumed. The whole sky from the zenith to the horizon becomes one molten, mantling sea of color and fire; every black bar turns into massy gold, every ripple and wave into unsullied, shadowless, crimson, and purple, and scarlet, and colors for which there are no words in language, and no ideas in the mind,—things which can only be conceived while they are visible,—the intense hollow blue of the upper sky melting through it all,—showing here deep, and pure, and lightless, there, modulated by the filmy, formless body of the transparent vapor, till it is lost imperceptibly in its crimson and gold. Now there is no connection, no one link of association or resemblance, between those skies and the work of any mortal hand but Turner's. He alone has followed nature in these her highest efforts; he follows her faithfully, but far behind; follows at such a distance below her intensity that the Napoleon of last year's exhibition, and the Temeraire of the year before, would look colorless and cold if the eye came upon them after one of nature's sunsets among the high clouds. But there are a thousand reasons why this should not be believed. The concurrence of circumstances necessary to produce the sunsets of which I speak does not take place above five or six times in the summer, and then only for a space of from five to ten minutes, just as the sun reaches the horizon. Considering how seldom people think of looking for sunset at all, and how seldom, if they do, they are in a position from which it can be fully seen, the chances that their attention should be awake, and their position favorable, during these few flying instants of the year, is almost as nothing. What can the citizen, who can see only the red light on the canvas of the wagon at the end of the street, and the crimson color of the bricks of his neighbor's chimney, know of the flood of fire which deluges the sky from the horizon to the zenith? What can even the quiet inhabitant of the English lowlands, whose scene for the manifestation of the fire of heaven is limited to the tops of hayricks, and the rooks' nests in the old elm-trees, know of the mighty passages of splendor which are tossed from Alp to Alp over the azure of a thousand miles of champaign? Even granting the constant vigor of observation, and supposing the possession of such impossible knowledge, it needs but a moment's reflection to prove how incapable the memory is of retaining for any time the distinct image of the sources even of its most vivid impressions. What recollection have we of the sunsets which delighted us last year? We may know that they were magnificent, or glowing, but no distinct image of color or form is retained—nothing of whose degree (for the great difficulty with the memory is to retain, not facts, but degrees of fact) we could be so certain as to say of anything now presented to us, that it is like it. If we did say so, we should be wrong; for we may be quite certain that the energy of an impression fades from the memory, and becomes more and more indistinct every day; and thus we compare a faded and indistinct image with the decision and certainty of one present to the senses. How constantly do we affirm that the thunder-storm of last week was the most terrible one we ever saw in our lives, because we compare it, not with the thunder-storm of last year, but with the faded and feeble recollection of it. And so, when we enter an exhibition, as we have no definite standard of truth before us, our feelings are toned down and subdued to the quietness of color which is all that human power can ordinarily attain to; and when we turn to a piece of higher and closer truth, approaching the pitch of the color of nature, but to which we are not guided, as we should be in nature, by corresponding gradations of light everywhere around us, but which is isolated and cut off suddenly by a frame and a wall, and surrounded by darkness and coldness, what can we expect but that it should surprise and shock the feelings? Suppose, where the Napoleon hung in the Academy last year, there could have been left, instead, an opening in the wall, and through that opening, in the midst of the obscurity of the dim room and the smoke-laden atmosphere, there could suddenly have been poured the full glory of a tropical sunset, reverberated from the sea: How would you have shrunk, blinded, from its scarlet and intolerable lightnings! What picture in the room would not have been blackness after it? And why then do you blame Turner because he dazzles you? Does not the falsehood rest with those who do not? There was not one hue in this whole picture which was not far below what nature would have used in the same circumstances, nor was there one inharmonious or at variance with the rest;—the stormy blood-red of the horizon, the scarlet of the breaking sunlight, the rich crimson browns of the wet and illumined sea-weed; the pure gold and purple of the upper sky, and, shed through it all, the deep passage of solemn blue, where the cold moonlight fell on one pensive spot of the limitless shore—all were given with harmony as perfect as their color was intense; and if, instead of passing, as I doubt not you did, in the hurry of your unreflecting prejudice, you had paused but so much as one quarter of an hour before the picture, you would have found the sense of air and space blended with every line, and breathing in every cloud, and every color instinct and radiant with visible, glowing, absorbing light.

Sec. 10. Necessary discrepancy between the attainable brilliancy of color and light.

It is to be observed, however, in general, that wherever in brilliant effects of this kind, we approach to anything like a true statement of nature's color, there must yet be a distinct difference in the impression we convey, because we cannot approach her light. All such hues are usually given by her with an accompanying intensity of sunbeams which dazzles and overpowers the eye, so that it cannot rest on the actual colors, nor understand what they are; and hence in art, in rendering all effects of this kind, there must be a want of the ideas of imitation, which are the great source of enjoyment to the ordinary observer; because we can only give one series of truths, those of color, and are unable to give the accompanying truths of light, so that the more true we are in color, the greater, ordinarily, will be the discrepancy felt between the intensity of hue and the feebleness of light. But the painter who really loves nature will not, on this account, give you a faded and feeble image, which indeed may appear to you to be right, because your feelings can detect no discrepancy in its parts, but which he knows to derive its apparent truth from a systematized falsehood. No; he will make you understand and feel that art cannot imitate nature—that where it appears to do so, it must malign her, and mock her. He will give you, or state to you, such truths as are in his power, completely and perfectly; and those which he cannot give, he will leave to your imagination. If you are acquainted with nature, you will know all he has given to be true, and you will supply from your memory and from your heart that light which he cannot give. If you are unacquainted with nature, seek elsewhere for whatever may happen to satisfy your feelings; but do not ask for the truth which you would not acknowledge and could not enjoy.

Sec. 11. This discrepancy less in Turner than in other colorists.

Sec. 12. Its great extent in a landscape attributed to Rubens.

Nevertheless the aim and struggle of the artist must always be to do away with this discrepancy as far as the powers of art admit, not by lowering his color, but by increasing his light. And it is indeed by this that the works of Turner are peculiarly distinguished from those of all other colorists, by the dazzling intensity, namely, of the light which he sheds through every hue, and which, far more than their brilliant color, is the real source of their overpowering effect upon the eye, an effect so reasonably made the subject of perpetual animadversion, as if the sun which they represent were quite a quiet, and subdued, and gentle, and manageable luminary, and never dazzled anybody, under any circumstances whatsoever. I am fond of standing by a bright Turner in the Academy, to listen to the unintentional compliments of the crowd—"What a glaring thing!" "I declare I can't look at it!" "Don't it hurt your eyes?"—expressed as if they were in the constant habit of looking the sun full in the face, with the most perfect comfort and entire facility of vision. It is curious after hearing people malign some of Turner's noble passages of light, to pass to some really ungrammatical and false picture of the old masters, in which we have color given without light. Take, for instance, the landscape attributed to Rubens, No. 175, in the Dulwich Gallery. I never have spoken, and I never will speak of Rubens but with the most reverential feeling; and whatever imperfections in his art may have resulted from his unfortunate want of seriousness and incapability of true passion, his calibre of mind was originally such that I believe the world may see another Titian and another Raffaelle, before it sees another Rubens. But I have before alluded to the violent license he occasionally assumes; and there is an instance of it in this picture apposite to the immediate question. The sudden streak and circle of yellow and crimson in the middle of the sky of that picture, being the occurrence of a fragment of a sunset color in pure daylight, and in perfect isolation, while at the same time it is rather darker, when translated into light and shade, than brighter than the rest of the sky, is a case of such bold absurdity, come from whose pencil it may, that if every error which Turner has fallen into in the whole course of his life were concentrated into one, that one would not equal it; and as our connoisseurs gaze upon this with never-ending approbation, we must not be surprised that the accurate perceptions which thus take delight in pure fiction, should consistently be disgusted by Turner's fidelity and truth.

Sec. 13. Turner scarcely ever uses pure or vivid color.

Hitherto, however, we have been speaking of vividness of pure color, and showing that it is used by Turner only where nature uses it, and in no less degree. But we have hitherto, therefore, been speaking of a most limited and uncharacteristic portion of his works; for Turner, like all great colorists, is distinguished not more for his power of dazzling and overwhelming the eye with intensity of effect, than for his power of doing so by the use of subdued and gentle means. There is no man living more cautious and sparing in the use of pure color than Turner. To say that he never perpetrates anything like the blue excrescences of foreground, or hills shot like a housekeeper's best silk gown, with blue and red, which certain of our celebrated artists consider the essence of the sublime, would be but a poor compliment. I might as well praise the portraits of Titian because they have not the grimace and paint of a clown in a pantomime; but I do say, and say with confidence, that there is scarcely a landscape artist of the present day, however sober and lightless their effects may look, who does not employ more pure and raw color than Turner; and that the ordinary tinsel and trash, or rather vicious and perilous stuff, according to the power of the mind producing it, with which the walls of our Academy are half covered, disgracing, in weak hands, or in more powerful, degrading and corrupting our whole school of art, is based on a system of color beside which Turner's is as Vesta to Cotytto—the chastity of fire to the foulness of earth. Every picture of this great colorist has, in one or two parts of it, (key-notes of the whole,) points where the system of each individual color is concentrated by a single stroke, as pure as it can come from the pallet; but throughout the great space and extent of even the most brilliant of his works, there will not be found a raw color; that is to say, there is no warmth which has not gray in it, and no blue which has not warmth in it; and the tints in which he most excels and distances all other men, the most cherished and inimitable portions of his color, are, as with all perfect colorists they must be, his grays.

It is instructive in this respect, to compare the sky of the Mercury and Argus with the various illustrations of the serenity, space, and sublimity naturally inherent in blue and pink, of which every year's exhibition brings forward enough and to spare. In the Mercury and Argus, the pale and vaporous blue of the heated sky is broken with gray and pearly white, the gold color of the light warming it more or less as it approaches or retires from the sun; but throughout, there is not a grain of pure blue; all is subdued and warmed at the same time by the mingling gray and gold, up to the very zenith, where, breaking through the flaky mist, the transparent and deep azure of the sky is expressed with a single crumbling touch; the key-note of the whole is given, and every part of it passes at once far into glowing and aerial space. The reader can scarcely fail to remember at once sundry works in contradistinction to this, with great names attached to them, in which the sky is a sheer piece of plumber's and glazier's work, and should be valued per yard, with heavy extra charge for ultramarine.

Sec. 14. The basis of gray, under all his vivid hues.

Throughout the works of Turner, the same truthful principle of delicate and subdued color is carried out with a care and labor of which it is difficult to form a conception. He gives a dash of pure white for his highest light; but all the other whites of his picture are pearled down with gray or gold. He gives a fold of pure crimson to the drapery of his nearest figure; but all his other crimsons will be deepened with black, or warmed with yellow. In one deep reflection of his distant sea, we catch a trace of the purest blue; but all the rest is palpitating with a varied and delicate gradation of harmonized tint, which indeed looks vivid blue as a mass, but is only so by opposition. It is the most difficult, the most rare thing, to find in his works a definite space, however small, of unconnected color; that is, either of a blue which has nothing to connect it with the warmth, or of a warm color which has nothing to connect it with the grays of the whole; and the result is, that there is a general system and undercurrent of gray pervading the whole of his color, out of which his highest lights, and those local touches of pure color, which are, as I said before, the key-notes of the picture, flash with the peculiar brilliancy and intensity in which he stands alone.

Sec. 15. The variety and fulness even of his most simple tones.

Sec. 16. Following the infinite and unapproachable variety of nature.

Intimately associated with this toning down and connection of the colors actually used, is his inimitable power of varying and blending them, so as never to give a quarter of an inch of canvas without a change in it, a melody as well as a harmony of one kind or another. Observe, I am not at present speaking of this as artistical or desirable in itself, not as a characteristic of the great colorist, but as the aim of the simple follower of nature. For it is strange to see how marvellously nature varies the most general and simple of her tones. A mass of mountain seen against the light, may, at first, appear all of one blue; and so it is, blue as a whole, by comparison with other parts of the landscape. But look how that blue is made up. There are black shadows in it under the crags, there are green shadows along the turf, there are gray half-lights upon the rocks, there are faint touches of stealthy warmth and cautious light along their edges; every bush, every stone, every tuft of moss has its voice in the matter, and joins with individual character in the universal will. Who is there who can do this as Turner will? The old masters would have settled the matter at once with a transparent, agreeable, but monotonous gray. Many among the moderns would probably be equally monotonous with absurd and false colors. Turner only would give the uncertainty—the palpitating, perpetual change—the subjection of all to a great influence, without one part or portion being lost or merged in it—the unity of action with infinity of agent. And I wish to insist on this the more particularly, because it is one of the eternal principles of nature, that she will not have one line nor color, nor one portion nor atom of space without a change in it. There is not one of her shadows, tints, or lines that is not in a state of perpetual variation: I do not mean in time, but in space. There is not a leaf in the world which has the same color visible over its whole surface; it has a white high light somewhere; and in proportion as it curves to or from that focus, the color is brighter or grayer. Pick up a common flint from the roadside, and count, if you can, its changes and hues of color. Every bit of bare ground under your feet has in it a thousand such—the gray pebbles, the warm ochre, the green of incipient vegetation, the grays and blacks of its reflexes and shadows, might keep a painter at work for a month, if he were obliged to follow them touch for touch: how much more, when the same infinity of change is carried out with vastness of object and space. The extreme of distance may appear at first monotonous; but the least examination will show it to be full of every kind of change—that its outlines are perpetually melting and appearing again—sharp here, vague there—now lost altogether, now just hinted and still confused among each other—and so forever in a state and necessity of change. Hence, wherever in a painting we have unvaried color extended even over a small space, there is falsehood. Nothing can be natural which is monotonous; nothing true which only tells one story. The brown foreground and rocks of Claude's Sinon before Priam are as false as color can be: first, because there never was such a brown under sunlight, for even the sand and cinders (volcanic tufa) about Naples, granting that he had studied from these ugliest of all formations, are, where they are fresh fractured, golden and lustrous in full light compared to these ideals of crag, and become, like all other rocks, quiet and gray when weathered; and secondly, because no rock that ever nature stained is without its countless breaking tints of varied vegetation. And even Stanfield, master as he is of rock form, is apt in the same way to give us here and there a little bit of mud, instead of stone.

Sec. 17. His dislike of purple and fondness for the opposition of yellow and black. The principles of nature in this respect.

What I am next about to say with respect to Turner's color, I should wish to be received with caution, as it admits of dispute. I think that the first approach to viciousness of color in any master is commonly indicated chiefly by a prevalence of purple, and an absence of yellow. I think nature mixes yellow with almost every one of her hues, never, or very rarely, using red without it, but frequently using yellow with scarcely any red; and I believe it will be in consequence found that her favorite opposition, that which generally characterizes and gives tone to her color, is yellow and black, passing, as it retires, into white and blue. It is beyond dispute that the great fundamental opposition of Rubens is yellow and black; and that on this, concentrated in one part of the picture, and modified in various grays throughout, chiefly depend the tones of all his finest works. And in Titian, though there is a far greater tendency to the purple than in Rubens, I believe no red is ever mixed with the pure blue, or glazed over it, which has not in it a modifying quantity of yellow. At all events, I am nearly certain that whatever rich and pure purples are introduced locally, by the great colorists, nothing is so destructive of all fine color as the slightest tendency to purple in general tone; and I am equally certain that Turner is distinguished from all the vicious colorists of the present day, by the foundation of all his tones being black, yellow, and the intermediate grays, while the tendency of our common glare-seekers is invariably to pure, cold, impossible purples. So fond indeed is Turner of black and yellow, that he has given us more than one composition, both drawings and paintings, based on these two colors alone, of which the magnificent Quilleboeuf, which I consider one of the most perfect pieces of simple color existing, is a most striking example; and I think that where, as in some of the late Venices, there has been something like a marked appearance of purple tones, even though exquisitely corrected by vivid orange and warm green in the foreground, the general color has not been so perfect or truthful: my own feelings would always guide me rather to the warm grays of such pictures as the Snow Storm, or the glowing scarlet and gold of the Napoleon and Slave Ship. But I do not insist at present on this part of the subject, as being perhaps more proper for future examination, when we are considering the ideal of color.

Sec. 18. His early works are false in color.

The above remarks have been made entirely with reference to the recent Academy pictures, which have been chiefly attacked for their color. I by no means intend them to apply to the early works of Turner, those which the enlightened newspaper critics are perpetually talking about as characteristic of a time when Turner was "really great." He is, and was, really great, from the time when he first could hold a brush, but he never was so great as he is now. The Crossing the Brook, glorious as it is as a composition, and perfect in all that is most desirable and most ennobling in art, is scarcely to be looked upon as a piece of color; it is an agreeable, cool, gray rendering of space and form, but it is not color; if it be regarded as such, it is thoroughly false and vapid, and very far inferior to the tones of the same kind given by Claude. The reddish brown in the foreground of the Fall of Carthage, with all diffidence be it spoken, is, as far as my feelings are competent to judge, crude, sunless, and in every way wrong; and both this picture and the Building of Carthage, though this latter is far the finer of the two, are quite unworthy of Turner as a colorist.

Sec. 19. His drawings invariably perfect.

Not so with the drawings; these, countless as they are, from the earliest to the latest, though presenting an unbroken chain of increasing difficulty overcome, and truth illustrated, are all, according to their aim, equally faultless as to color. Whatever we have hitherto said, applies to them in its fullest extent; though each, being generally the realization of some effect actually seen, and realized but once, requires almost a separate essay. As a class, they are far quieter and chaster than the Academy pictures, and, were they better known, might enable our connoisseurs to form a somewhat more accurate judgment of the intense study of nature on which all Turner's color is based.

Sec. 20. The subjection of his system of color to that of chiaroscuro.

One point only remains to be noted respecting his system of color generally—its entire subordination to light and shade, a subordination which there is no need to prove here, as every engraving from his works—and few are unengraved—is sufficient demonstration of it. I have before shown the inferiority and unimportance in nature of color, as a truth, compared with light and shade. That inferiority is maintained and asserted by all really great works of color; but most by Turner's as their color is most intense. Whatever brilliancy he may choose to assume, is subjected to an inviolable law of chiaroscuro, from which there is no appeal. No richness nor depth of tint is considered of value enough to atone for the loss of one particle of arranged light. No brilliancy of hue is permitted to interfere with the depth of a determined shadow. And hence it is, that while engravings from works far less splendid in color are often vapid and cold, because the little color employed has not been rightly based on light and shade, an engraving from Turner is always beautiful and forcible in proportion as the color of the original has been intense, and never in a single instance has failed to express the picture as a perfect composition.[21] Powerful and captivating and faithful as his color is, it is the least important of all his excellences, because it is the least important feature of nature. He paints in color, but he thinks in light and shade; and were it necessary, rather than lose one line of his forms, or one ray of his sunshine, would, I apprehend, be content to paint in black and white to the end of his life. It is by mistaking the shadow for the substance, and aiming at the brilliancy and the fire, without perceiving of what deep-studied shade and inimitable form it is at once the result and the illustration, that the host of his imitators sink into deserved disgrace. With him, as with all the greatest painters, and in Turner's more than all, the hue is a beautiful auxiliary in working out the great impression to be conveyed, but is not the source nor the essence of that impression; it is little more than a visible melody, given to raise and assist the mind in the reception of nobler ideas—as sacred passages of sweet sound, to prepare the feelings for the reading of the mysteries of God.


[19] "Caecus adulator— Dignus Aricinos qui mendicaret ad axes, Blandaque devexae iactaret basia rhedae."

[20] There is perhaps nothing more characteristic of a great colorist than his power of using greens in strange places without their being felt as such, or at least than a constant preference of green gray to purple gray. And this hue of Poussin's clouds would have been perfectly agreeable and allowable, had there been gold or crimson enough in the rest of the picture to have thrown it into gray. It is only because the lower clouds are pure white and blue, and because the trees are of the same color as the clouds, that the cloud color becomes false. There is a fine instance of a sky, green in itself, but turned gray by the opposition of warm color, in Turner's Devonport with the Dockyards.

[21] This is saying too much; for it not unfrequently happens that the light and shade of the original is lost in the engraving, the effect of which is afterwards partially recovered, with the aid of the artist himself, by introductions of new features. Sometimes, when a drawing depends chiefly on color, the engraver gets unavoidably embarrassed, and must be assisted by some change or exaggeration of the effect; but the more frequent case is, that the engraver's difficulties result merely from his inattention to, or wilful deviations from his original; and that the artist is obliged to assist him by such expedients as the error itself suggests.

Not unfrequently in reviewing a plate, as very constantly in reviewing a picture after some time has elapsed since its completion, even the painter is liable to make unnecessary or hurtful changes. In the plate of the Old Temeraire, lately published in Finden's gallery, I do not know whether it was Turner or the engraver who broke up the water into sparkling ripple, but it was a grievous mistake, and has destroyed the whole dignity and value of the conception. The flash of lightning in the Winchelsea of the England series does not exist in the original; it is put in to withdraw the attention of the spectator from the sky which the engraver destroyed.

There is an unfortunate persuasion among modern engravers that color can be expressed by particular characters of line; and in the endeavor to distinguish by different lines, different colors of equal depth, they frequently lose the whole system of light and shade. It will hardly be credited that the piece of foreground on the left of Turner's Modern Italy, represented in the Art-Union engraving as nearly coal black, is in the original of a pale warm gray, hardly darker than the sky. All attempt to record color in engraving, is heraldry out of its place: the engraver has no power beyond that of expressing transparency or opacity by greater or less openness of line, (for the same depth of tint is producible by lines with very different intervals.)

Texture of surface is only in a measure in the power of the steel, and ought not to be laboriously sought after; nature's surfaces are distinguished more by form than texture; a stone is often smoother than a leaf; but if texture is to be given, let the engraver at least be sure that he knows what the texture of the object actually is, and how to represent it. The leaves in the foreground of the engraved Mercury and Argus have all of them three or four black lines across them. What sort of leaf texture is supposed to be represented by these? The stones in the foreground of Turner's Llanthony received from the artist the powdery texture of sandstone; the engraver covered them with contorted lines and turned them into old timber.

A still more fatal cause of failure is the practice of making out or finishing what the artist left incomplete. In the England plate of Dudley, there are two offensive blank windows in the large building with the chimney on the left. These are engraver's improvements; in the original they are barely traceable, their lines being excessively faint and tremulous as with the movement of heated air between them and the spectator: their vulgarity is thus taken away, and the whole building left in one grand unbroken mass. It is almost impossible to break engravers of this unfortunate habit. I have even heard of their taking journeys of some distance in order to obtain knowledge of the details which the artist intentionally omitted; and the evil will necessarily continue until they receive something like legitimate artistical education. In one or two instances, however, especially in small plates, they have shown great feeling; the plates of Miller (especially those of the Turner illustrations to Scott) are in most instances perfect and beautiful interpretations of the originals; so those of Goodall in Rogers's works, and Cousens's in the Rivers of France; those of the Yorkshire series are also very valuable, though singularly inferior to the drawings. But none even of these men appear capable of producing a large plate. They have no knowledge of the means of rendering their lines vital or valuable; cross-hatching stands for everything; and inexcusably, for though we cannot expect every engraver to etch like Rembrandt or Albert Durer, or every wood-cutter to draw like Titian, at least something of the system and power of the grand works of those men might be preserved, and some mind and meaning stolen into the reticulation of the restless modern lines.



Sec. 1. We are not at present to examine particular effects of light.

It is not my intention to enter, in the present portion of the work, upon any examination of Turner's particular effects of light. We must know something about what is beautiful before we speak of these.

At present I wish only to insist upon two great principles of chiaroscuro, which are observed throughout the works of the great modern master, and set at defiance by the ancients—great general laws, which may, or may not, be sources of beauty, but whose observance is indisputably necessary to truth.

Go out some bright sunny day in winter, and look for a tree with a broad trunk, having rather delicate boughs hanging down on the sunny side, near the trunk. Stand four or five yards from it, with your back to the sun. You will find that the boughs between you and the trunk of the tree are very indistinct, that you confound them in places with the trunk itself, and cannot possibly trace one of them from its insertion to its extremity. But the shadows which they cast upon the trunk, you will find clear, dark, and distinct, perfectly traceable through their whole course, except when they are interrupted by the crossing boughs. And if you retire backwards, you will come to a point where you cannot see the intervening boughs at all, or only a fragment of them here and there, but can still see their shadows perfectly plain. Now, this may serve to show you the immense prominence and importance of shadows where there is anything like bright light. They are, in fact, commonly far more conspicuous than the thing which casts them, for being as large as the casting object, and altogether made up of a blackness deeper than the darkest part of the casting object, (while that object is also broken up with positive and reflected lights,) their large, broad, unbroken spaces, tell strongly on the eye, especially as all form is rendered partially, often totally invisible within them, and as they are suddenly terminated by the sharpest lines which nature ever shows. For no outline of objects whatsoever is so sharp as the edge of a close shadow. Put your finger over a piece of white paper in the sun, and observe the difference between the softness of the outline of the finger itself and the decision of the edge of the shadow. And note also the excessive gloom of the latter. A piece of black cloth, laid in the light, will not attain one-fourth of the blackness of the paper under the shadow.

Sec. 2. And therefore the distinctness of shadows is the chief means of expressing vividness of light.

Sec. 3. Total absence of such distinctness in the works of the Italian school.

Sec. 4. And partial absence in the Dutch.

Hence shadows are in reality, when the sun is shining, the most conspicuous thing in a landscape, next to the highest lights. All forms are understood and explained chiefly by their agency: the roughness of the bark of a tree, for instance, is not seen in the light, nor in the shade: it is only seen between the two, where the shadows of the ridges explain it. And hence, if we have to express vivid light, our very first aim must be to get the shadows sharp and visible; and this is not to be done by blackness, (though indeed chalk on white paper is the only thing which comes up to the intensity of real shadows,) but by keeping them perfectly flat, keen, and even. A very pale shadow, if it be quite flat—if it conceal the details of the objects it crosses—if it be gray and cold compared to their color, and very sharp edged, will be far more conspicuous, and make everything out of it look a great deal more like sunlight, than a shadow ten times its depth, shaded off at the edge, and confounded with the color of the objects on which it falls. Now the old masters of the Italian school, in almost all of their works, directly reverse this principle: they blacken their shadows till the picture becomes quite appalling, and everything in it invisible; but they make a point of losing their edges, and carrying them off by gradation; in consequence utterly destroying every appearance of sunlight. All their shadows are the faint, secondary darknesses of mere daylight; the sun has nothing whatever to do with them. The shadow between the pages of the book which you hold in your hand is distinct and visible enough, (though you are, I suppose, reading it by the ordinary daylight of your room,) out of the sun; and this weak and secondary shadow is all that we ever find in the Italian masters, as indicative of sunshine. Even Cuyp and Berghem, though they know thoroughly well what they are about in their foregrounds, forget the principle in their distances; and though in Claude's seaports, where he has plain architecture to deal with, he gives us something like real shadows along the stones, the moment we come to ground and foliage with lateral light, away go the shadows and the sun together. In the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, in our own gallery, the trunks of the trees between the water-wheel and the white figure in the middle distance, are dark and visible; but their shadows are scarcely discernible on the ground, and are quite vague and lost in the building. In nature, every bit of the shadow would have been darker than the darkest part of the trunks, and both on the ground and building would have been defined and conspicuous; while the trunks themselves would have been faint, confused, and indistinguishable, in their illumined parts, from the grass or distance. So in Poussin's Phocion, the shadow of the stick on the stone in the right-hand corner, is shaded off and lost, while you see the stick plain all the way. In nature's sunlight it would have been the direct reverse—you would have seen the shadow black and sharp all the way down, but you would have had to look for the stick, which in all probability would in several places have been confused with the stone behind it.

And so throughout the works of Claude, Poussin, and Salvator, we shall find, especially in their conventional foliage, and unarticulated barbarisms of rock, that their whole sum and substance of chiaroscuro is merely the gradation and variation which nature gives in the body of her shadows, and that all which they do to express sunshine, she does to vary shade. They take only one step, while she always takes two; marking, in the first place, with violent decision, the great transition from sun to shade, and then varying the shade itself with a thousand gentle gradations and double shadows, in themselves equivalent, and more than equivalent, to all that the old masters did for their entire chiaroscuro.

Sec. 5. The perfection of Turner's works in this respect.

Now if there be one principle, or secret more than another, on which Turner depends for attaining brilliancy of light, it is his clear and exquisite drawing of the shadows. Whatever is obscure, misty, or undefined in his objects or his atmosphere, he takes care that the shadows be sharp and clear—and then he knows that the light will take care of itself, and he makes them clear, not by blackness, but by excessive evenness, unity, and sharpness of edge. He will keep them clear and distinct, and make them felt as shadows, though they are so faint, that, but for their decisive forms, we should not have observed them for darkness at all. He will throw them one after another like transparent veils, along the earth and upon the air, till the whole picture palpitates with them, and yet the darkest of them will be a faint gray, imbued and penetrated with light. The pavement on the left of the Hero and Leander, is about the most thorough piece of this kind of sorcery that I remember in art; but of the general principle, not one of his works is without constant evidence. Take the vignette of the garden opposite the title-page of Rogers's Poems, and note the drawing of the nearest balustrade on the right. The balusters themselves are faint and misty, and the light through them feeble; but the shadows of them are sharp and dark, and the intervening light as intense as it can be left. And see how much more distinct the shadow of the running figure is on the pavement, than the checkers of the pavement itself. Observe the shadows on the trunk of the tree at page 91, how they conquer all the details of the trunk itself, and become darker and more conspicuous than any part of the boughs or limbs, and so in the vignette to Campbell's Beechtree's Petition. Take the beautiful concentration of all that is most characteristic of Italy as she is, at page 168 of Rogers's Italy, where we have the long shadows of the trunks made by far the most conspicuous thing in the whole foreground, and hear how Wordsworth, the keenest-eyed of all modern poets for what is deep and essential in nature, illustrates Turner here, as we shall find him doing in all other points.

"At the root Of that tall pine, the shadow of whose bare And slender stem, while here I sit at eve, Oft stretches tow'rds me, like a long straight path, Traced faintly in the greensward."


Sec. 6. The effect of his shadows upon the light.

So again in the Rhymer's Glen, (Illustrations to Scott,) note the intertwining of the shadows across the path, and the checkering of the trunks by them; and again on the bridge in the Armstrong's Tower; and yet more in the long avenue of Brienne, where we have a length of two or three miles expressed by the playing shadows alone, and the whole picture filled with sunshine by the long lines of darkness cast by the figures on the snow. The Hampton Court in the England series, is another very striking instance. In fact, the general system of execution observable in all Turner's drawings, is to work his grounds richly and fully, sometimes stippling, and giving infinity of delicate, mysterious, and ceaseless detail; and on the ground so prepared to cast his shadows with one dash of the brush, leaving an excessively sharp edge of watery color. Such at least is commonly the case in such coarse and broad instances as those I have above given. Words are not accurate enough, nor delicate enough to express or trace the constant, all-pervading influence of the finer and vaguer shadows throughout his works, that thrilling influence which gives to the light they leave, its passion and its power. There is not a stone, not a leaf, not a cloud, over which light is not felt to be actually passing and palpitating before our eyes. There is the motion, the actual wave and radiation of the darted beam—not the dull universal daylight, which falls on the landscape without life, or direction, or speculation, equal on all things and dead on all things; but the breathing, animated, exulting light, which feels, and receives, and rejoices, and acts—which chooses one thing and rejects another—which seeks, and finds, and loses again—leaping from rock to rock, from leaf to leaf, from wave to wave,—glowing, or flashing, or scintillating, according to what it strikes, or in its holier moods, absorbing and enfolding all things in the deep fulness of its repose, and then again losing itself in bewilderment, and doubt, and dimness; or perishing and passing away, entangled in drifting mist, or melted into melancholy air, but still,—kindling, or declining, sparkling or still, it is the living light, which breathes in its deepest, most entranced rest, which sleeps, but never dies.

Sec. 7. The distinction holds good between almost all the works of the ancient and modern schools.

I need scarcely insist farther on the marked distinction between the works of the old masters and those of the great modern landscape-painters in this respect. It is one which the reader can perfectly well work out for himself, by the slightest systematic attention,—one which he will find existing, not merely between this work and that, but throughout the whole body of their productions, and down to every leaf and line. And a little careful watching of nature, especially in her foliage and foregrounds, and comparison of her with Claude, Gaspar Poussin, and Salvator, will soon show him that those artists worked entirely on conventional principles, not representing what they saw, but what they thought would make a handsome picture; and even when they went to nature, which I believe to have been a very much rarer practice with them than their biographers would have us suppose, they copied her like children, drawing what they knew to be there, but not what they saw there.[22] I believe you may search the foregrounds of Claude, from one end of Europe to another, and you will not find the shadow of one leaf cast upon another. You will find leaf after leaf painted more or less boldly or brightly out of the black ground, and you will find dark leaves defined in perfect form upon the light; but you will not find the form of a single leaf disguised or interrupted by the shadow of another. And Poussin and Salvator are still farther from anything like genuine truth. There is nothing in their pictures which might not be manufactured in their painting-room, with a branch or two of brambles and a bunch or two of weeds before them, to give them the form of the leaves. And it is refreshing to turn from their ignorant and impotent repetitions of childish conception, to the clear, close, genuine studies of modern artists; for it is not Turner only, (though here, as in all other points, the first,) who is remarkable for fine and expressive decision of chiaroscuro. Some passages by J. D. Harding are thoroughly admirable in this respect, though this master is getting a little too much into a habit of general keen execution, which prevents the parts which ought to be especially decisive from being felt as such, and which makes his pictures, especially the large ones, look a little thin. But some of his later passages of rock foreground have, taken in the abstract, been beyond all praise, owing to the exquisite forms and firm expressiveness of their shadows. And the chiaroscuro of Stanfield is equally deserving of the most attentive study.

Sec. 8. Second great principle of chiaroscuro. Both high light and deep shadow are used in equal quantity and only in points.

The second point to which I wish at present to direct attention has reference to the arrangement of light and shade. It is the constant habit of nature to use both her highest lights and deepest shadows in exceedingly small quantity; always in points, never in masses. She will give a large mass of tender light in sky or water, impressive by its quantity, and a large mass of tender shadow relieved against it, in foliage, or hill, or building; but the light is always subdued if it be extensive—the shadow always feeble if it be broad. She will then fill up all the rest of her picture with middle tints and pale grays of some sort or another, and on this quiet and harmonious whole, she will touch her high lights in spots—the foam of an isolated wave—the sail of a solitary vessel—the flash of the sun from a wet roof—the gleam of a single whitewashed cottage—or some such sources of local brilliancy, she will use so vividly and delicately as to throw everything else into definite shade by comparison. And then taking up the gloom, she will use the black hollows of some overhanging bank, or the black dress of some shaded figure, or the depth of some sunless chink of wall or window, so sharply as to throw everything else into definite light by comparison; thus reducing the whole mass of her picture to a delicate middle tint, approaching, of course, here to light, and there to gloom; but yet sharply separated from the utmost degrees either of the one or the other.

Sec. 9. Neglect or contradiction of this principle by writers on art.

Sec. 10. And consequent misguiding of the student.

Now it is a curious thing that none of our writers on art seem to have noticed the great principle of nature in this respect. They all talk of deep shadow as a thing that may be given in quantity,—one fourth of the picture, or, in certain effects, much more. Barry, for instance, says that the practice of the great painters, who "best understood the effects of chiaroscuro," was, for the most part, to make the mass of middle tint larger than the light, and the mass of dark larger than the masses of light and middle tint together, i.e., occupying more than one-half of the picture. Now I do not know what we are to suppose is meant by "understanding chiaroscuro." If it means being able to manufacture agreeable patterns in the shape of pyramids, and crosses, and zigzags, into which arms and legs are to be persuaded, and passion and motion arranged, for the promotion and encouragement of the cant of criticism, such a principle may be productive of the most advantageous results. But if it means, being acquainted with the deep, perpetual, systematic, unintrusive simplicity and unwearied variety of nature's chiaroscuro—if it means the perception that blackness and sublimity are not synonymous, and that space and light may possibly be coadjutors—then no man, who ever advocated or dreamed of such a principle, is anything more than a novice, blunderer and trickster in chiaroscuro. And my firm belief is, that though color is inveighed against by all artists, as the great Circe of art—the great transformer of mind into sensuality—no fondness for it, no study of it, is half so great a peril and stumbling-block to the young student, as the admiration he hears bestowed on such artificial, false, and juggling chiaroscuro, and the instruction he receives, based on such principles as that given us by Fuseli—that "mere natural light and shade, however separately or individually true, is not always legitimate chiaroscuro in art." It may not always be agreeable to a sophisticated, unfeeling, and perverted mind; but the student had better throw up his art at once, than proceed on the conviction that any other can ever be legitimate. I believe I shall be perfectly well able to prove, in following parts of the work, that "mere natural light and shade" is the only fit and faithful attendant of the highest art; and that all tricks—all visible, intended arrangement—all extended shadows and narrow lights—everything in fact, in the least degree artificial, or tending to make the mind dwell upon light and shade as such, is an injury, instead of an aid, to conceptions of high ideal dignity. I believe I shall be able also to show, that nature manages her chiaroscuro a great deal more neatly and cleverly than people fancy;—that "mere natural light and shade" is a very much finer thing than most artists can put together, and that none think they can improve upon it but those who never understood it.

Sec. 11. The great value of a simple chiaroscuro.

But however this may be, it is beyond dispute that every permission given to the student to amuse himself with painting one figure all black, and the next all white, and throwing them out with a background of nothing—every permission given to him to spoil his pocketbook with sixths of sunshine and sevenths of shade, and other such fractional sublimities, is so much more difficulty laid in the way of his ever becoming a master; and that none are in the right road to real excellence, but those who are struggling to render the simplicity, purity, and inexhaustible variety of nature's own chiaroscuro in open, cloudless daylight, giving the expanse of harmonious light—the speaking, decisive shadow—and the exquisite grace, tenderness, and grandeur of aerial opposition of local color and equally illuminated lines. No chiaroscuro is so difficult as this; and none so noble, chaste, or impressive. On this part of the subject, however, I must not enlarge at present. I wish now only to speak of those great principles of chiaroscuro, which nature observes, even when she is most working for effect—when she is playing with thunder-clouds and sunbeams, and throwing one thing out and obscuring another, with the most marked artistical feeling and intention;—even then, she never forgets her great rule, to give precisely the same quantity of deepest shade which she does of highest light, and no more; points of the one answering to points of the other, and both vividly conspicuous and separated from all the rest of the landscape.

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