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Randall Davies

In the preceding chapters we have traced the development of painting for five centuries—from the beginning of the fourteenth, that is to say, to the end of the eighteenth—in Italy, in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Spain, and lastly in France and England. In the nineteenth the story is confined to the last two alone, as with one or two minute exceptions the art of painting had by this time entirely ceased to be worth consideration in any of the others.

By the will of God, in the year 1240, we are told by Vasari, Giovanni Cimabue, of the noble family of that name, was born in the city of Florence, to give the first light to the art of painting.

Meantime we must turn our attention to Holland, where Frans Hals, who was born only three years later than Rubens, namely in 1580, was the forerunner of Rembrandt, Van der Helst, Bol, Lely, and a host more of greater or less painters, who made their country as famous in the seventeenth century for art as their fathers had made it in the sixteenth for arms.

The man who began all this street fighting was a Frenchman—Eugène Delacroix. While still a youth he was bullied, and the bully was such a redoubtable giant that it took somebody with the grit and genius of Delacroix to tackle him, but tackle him he did. The story of the fight, which is a long and glorious one, is so admirably told in Madame Bussy's life of Delacroix, that I have obtained permission to give the essence of it in her own words.

While according all due honour, and probably more, to Cimabue as the originator of modern painting, it is to his pupil, Giotto, that we are accustomed to look for the first developments of its possibilities. Had Cimabue's successors been as conservative as his instructors, we might still be not very much better off than if he had never lived.

But the greatest of all the Dutch painters, in some ways the greatest painter that has ever lived, was Rembrandt van Ryn (1606-1669). Beside him all the rest seem merely commonplace, and their works the product of this or that demand, according to their different times and circumstances, executed with more or less skill.

In England, meantime, great things were being accomplished amid peaceful surroundings. In portraiture Lawrence soon became supreme, and what excellence he possessed was accentuated on his death in 1830 by the appointment of Sir Martin Archer Shee as his successor in the Presidency of the Royal Academy. That was the end of portraiture in England until a new school arose.

Coming to the second period in the development of the new art—roughly, that is to say, from 1400 to 1450—Vasari observes that even where there is no great facility displayed, yet the works evince great care and thought; the manner is more free and graceful, the colouring more varied and pleasing; more figures are employed in the compositions, and the drawing is more correct inasmuch as it is closer to nature.

The painters of genre, by the number, quality, and diversity of whose pictures the Dutch School is specially distinguished, may be roughly divided into three classes; namely, those who studied the upper, the middle, and the lower classes respectively.

Let us now cross the channel again, and see what is going on there, in 1863. Evidently there is something on, or there would not be so much excitement. As we approach the Capital we are aware of one name being prominent in the general uproar—that of Édouard Manet.

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