LECTURE V. LINE

126. You will, I doubt not, willingly permit me to begin your lessons in real practice of art in the words of the greatest of English painters: one also, than whom there is indeed no greater, among those of any nation, or any time,—our own gentle Reynolds.

He says in his first discourse:—"The Directors" (of the Academy) "ought more particularly to watch over the genius of those students, who being more advanced, are arrived at that critical period of study, on the nice management of which their future turn of taste depends. At that age it is natural for them to be more captivated with what is brilliant, than with what is solid, and to prefer splendid negligence to painful and humiliating exactness."

"A facility in composing, a lively and, what is called, a 'masterly' handling of the chalk or pencil, are, it must be confessed, captivating qualities to young minds, and become of course the objects of their ambition. They endeavour to imitate these dazzling excellences, which they will find no great labour in attaining. After much time spent in these frivolous pursuits, the difficulty will be to retreat; but it will then be too late; and there is scarce an instance of return to scrupulous labour, after the mind has been debauched and deceived by this fallacious mastery."

127. I read you these words, chiefly that Sir Joshua, who founded, as first President, the Academical schools of English painting, in these well-known discourses, may also begin, as he has truest right to do, our system of instruction in this University. But secondly, I read them that I may press on your attention these singular words, "painful and humiliating exactness." Singular, as expressing the first conditions of the study required from his pupils by the master, who, of all men except Velasquez, seems to have painted with the greatest ease. It is true that he asks this pain, this humiliation, only from youths who intend to follow the profession of artists. But if you wish yourselves to know anything of the practice of art, you must not suppose that because your study will be more desultory than that of Academy students, it may therefore be less accurate. The shorter the time you have to give, the more careful you should be to spend it profitably; and I would not wish you to devote one hour to the practice of drawing, unless you are resolved to be informed in it of all that in an hour can be taught.

128. I speak of the practice of drawing only; though elementary study of modelling may perhaps some day be advisably connected with it; but I do not wish to disturb, or amuse, you with a formal statement of the manifold expectations I have formed respecting your future work. You will not, I am sure, imagine that I have begun without a plan, nor blame my reticence as to the parts of it which cannot yet be put into execution, and which there may occur reason afterwards to modify. My first task must unquestionably be to lay before you right and simple methods of drawing and colouring.

I use the word "colouring" without reference to any particular vehicle of colour, for the laws of good painting are the same, whatever liquid is employed to dissolve the pigments. But the technical management of oil is more difficult than that of water-colour, and the impossibility of using it with safety among books or prints, and its unavailableness for note-book sketches and memoranda, are sufficient reasons for not introducing it in a course of practice intended chiefly for students of literature. On the contrary, in the exercises of artists, oil should be the vehicle of colour employed from the first. The extended practice of water-colour painting, as a separate skill, is in every way harmful to the arts: its pleasant slightness and plausible dexterity divert the genius of the painter from its proper aims, and withdraw the attention of the public from excellence of higher claim; nor ought any man, who has the consciousness of ability for good work, to be ignorant of, or indolent in employing, the methods of making its results permanent as long as the laws of Nature allow. It is surely a severe lesson to us in this matter, that the best works of Turner could not be shown to the public for six months without being destroyed,—and that his most ambitious ones for the most part perished, even before they could be shown. I will break through my law of reticence, however, so far as to tell you that I have hope of one day interesting you greatly (with the help of the Florentine masters), in the study of the arts of moulding and painting porcelain; and to induce some of you to use your future power of patronage in encouraging the various branches of this art, and turning the attention of the workmen of Italy from the vulgar tricks of minute and perishable mosaic to the exquisite subtilties of form and colour possible in the perfectly ductile, afterwards unalterable clay. And one of the ultimate results of such craftsmanship might be the production of pictures as brilliant as painted glass,—as delicate as the most subtle water-colours, and more permanent than the Pyramids.

129. And now to begin our own work. In order that we may know how rightly to learn to draw and to paint, it will be necessary, will it not, that we know first what we are to aim at doing;—what kind of representation of nature is best?