Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

latter. There are persons, however, who cannot employ themselves better than in taking an inventory of works of art (they want a faculty for higher studies,) as there are works of art, so called, which seem to have been composed expressly with an eye to such a class of connoisseurs. In them are to be found no recondite nameless beauties thrown away upon the stupid vulgar gaze; no “graces snatched beyond the reach of art;” nothing but what the merest pretender may note down in good set terms in his common-place book, just as it is before him. Place one of these half-informed, imperfectly organised spectators before a tall canvas with groups on groups of figures, of the size of life, and engaged in a complicated action, of which they know the name and all the particulars, and there are no bounds to their burst of invo. luntary enthusiasm. They mount on the stilts of the subject and ascend the highest Heaven of Invention, from whence they see sights and hear revelations which they communicate with all the fervour of plenary explanation to those who may be disposed to attend to their raptures. They float with wings expanded in lofty circles, they stalk over the canvas at large strides, never condescending to pause at any thing of less magnitude than a group or a colossal figure.

The face forms no part of their collective inquiries; or so that it occupies only a sixth or an eighth proportion to the whole body, all is according to the received rules of composition. Point to a divine portrait of Titian, to an angelic head of Guido, close by—they see and heed it not. What are the “ looks commercing with the skies,” the soul speaking in the face, to them ? It asks another and an inner sense to comprehend them; but for the trigonometry of painting, nature has constituted them indifferently well. They take a stand on the distinction between portrait and history, and there they are spellbound. Tell them that there can be no fine history without portraiture, that the painter must proceed from that ground to the one above it, and that a hundred bad heads cannot make one good historical picture, and they will not believe you, though the thing is obvious to any gross capacity. Their ideas always fly to the circumference, and never fix at the centre. Art must be on a grand scale ; according to them, the whole is greater than a part, and the greater necessarily implies the less. The outline is in this view of the matter the same thing as the filling-up, and “ the limbs and flourishes of a discourse” the substance. Again, the same persons make an absolute distinction, without

knowing why, between high and low subjects. Say that you would as soon have Murillo's Two Beggar-Boys at the Dulwich Gallery as almost any picture in the world, that is, that it . would be one you would chuse out of ten (had you the choice), and they reiterate upon you, that surely a low subject cannot be of equal value with a high one. It is in vain that you turn to the picture: they keep to the class. They have eyes, but see not; and upon their principles of refined taste, would be just as good judges of the merit of the picture without seeing it as with that supposed advantage. They know what the subject is from the catalogue ! Yet it is not true, as Lord Byron asserts, that execution is every thing, and the class or subject nothing. The highest subjects, equally well-executed (which, however, rarely happens) are the best. But the power of execution, the manner of seeing nature, is one thing, and may be so superlative (if you are only able to judge of it) as to countervail every disadvantage of subject. Raphael's storks in the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, exulting in the event, are finer than the head of Christ would have been in almost any other hands. The cant of criticism is on the other side of the question ; because execution depends on various degrees of power

in the artist, and a knowledge of it on various degrees of feeling and discrimination in you: but to commence artist or connoisseur in the grand style at once, without any distinction of qualifications whatever, it is only necessary for the first to chuse his subject, and for the last to pin his faith on the sublimity of the performance, for both to look down with ineffable con. tempt on the painters and admirers of subjects: of low life. I remember a young Scotchman once trying to prove to me that Mrs, Dickons was a superior singer to Miss Stephens, because the former excelled in sacred music, and the latter did not. At that rate, that is, if it is the singing sacred music that gives the preference, Miss Stephens would only have to sing sacred music to surpass herself and vie with her pretended rival; for this theory implies that all sacred music is equally good, and therefore better than any other. I grant that Madame Catalani's singing of sacred music is superior to Miss Stephens's ballad-strains, because her sing. ing is better altogether, and an ocean of sound more wonderful than a simple stream of dulcet harmonies. In singing the last verse of “God save the King" not long ago, her voice towered above the whole confused noise of the orchestra, like an eagle piercing the clouds, and poured

“such sweet thunder” through the ear, as excited equal astonishment and rapture!

Some kinds of criticism are as much too insipid as others are too pragmatical. It is not easy to combine point with solidity, spirit with moderation and candour. Many persons see nothing but beauties in a work, others nothing but defects. Those cloy you with sweets, and are " the very milk of human kindness,” flowing on in a stream of luscious panegyrics; these take delight in poisoning the sources of your satisfaction, and putting you out of conceit with nearly every author that comes in their way. The first are frequently actuated by personal friendship, the last by all the virulence of party-spirit. Under the latter head would fall what may be termed political criticism. The basis of this style of writing is a caput mortuum of impotent spite and dulness, till it is varnished over with the slime of servility, and thrown into a state of unnatural activity by the venom of the most rancorous bigotry. The eminent professors in this groveling department are at first merely out of sorts with themselves, and vent their spleen in little interjections and contortions of phrase :-cry Pish at à lucky hit, and Hem at a fault, are smart on personal de. fects, and sneer at “ Beauty out of favour and

« AnteriorContinuar »