It is generally acknowledged that the greatest masters of painting that the world has known are Titian, Velasquez, and Rembrandt, and to each of the triumvirate we apply the word genius. Among the many definitions of that abused word is one which states that genius consists not in seeing more than other people, but in seeing differently. We acknowledge genius in a painter when, over and above masterly technical power, he presents to us a view of life or of nature which we may never have seen, but which we are convinced is the vision of deeper eyes than our own, and is true. The seer has seen it, and it is only because of the dimness or narrowness or worldliness of our outlook that we do not perceive it also.

A great painter writes us a letter, tells us of the things he has seen or heard or felt, gives us news of the world wherein he lives. He expresses his personality to us, and personality in art is a thing incalculable. Corot's Arcadia landscape delights us because it is the distilled essence of the vision, heart, and character of the personality called Corot. Personality may be expressed by a Rembrandt, abundantly. It may also be expressed by a Velasquez, negatively.

We must be vigilant, in judging a painter, to distinguish between his own personality and the personality of those who interpret him to us. The more we give of ourselves to a painter or an author, the greater is the return of his appeal and interest. Cleave the wood of your brain and you find him brimming with communications, raise the stone of your imagination and he is revealed.

A certain critic, who had devoted his life to the study of Reynolds, while lecturing upon the achievement of that master, threw upon the screen a certain large subject-picture, not one of Reynold's happiest efforts, but a laboured and unattractive design which, we know, gave Reynolds an infinity of trouble.

So scientific, so interesting was this critic's analysis of the picture, so absorbing the attributes he read into it, that many of his audience were persuaded that they were looking upon a Reynolds masterpiece, whereas they were but hypnotised by the subtleties of the critic's mind working upon Reynolds.

Conversely the criticism of some writers tends towards depreciation because of their predilection for objective as opposed to subjective criticism. The late P.G. Hamerton, writing upon Rembrandt, says, "The chiaroscuro of Rembrandt is often false and inconsistent, and in fact he relied largely on public ignorance. But though arbitrary, it is always conducive to his purpose."

"Conducive to his purpose!" There is much virtue in those four words. Rembrandt probably knew as well as anybody that his lighting of a picture was not a facsimile of the lighting of nature, or rather not the chiaroscuro as seen by the average eye; but he had an aim, a vision before him, and he did not hesitate to interpret that vision in his own way. Who dares to say that Rembrandt was disloyal to nature? Our concern is not what we should have done, but what Rembrandt did, seeing with his own eyes. And the questions we should ask ourselves are:—Is the interpretation of the world as seen through his eyes beautiful, suggestive, profound, and stimulating? Does the statement of his personality in paint add to our knowledge, educate our æsthetic perceptions, and extend our horizon by showing us things that our imperfect vision does not see except through him?


1656. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Comparisons are not only odious, but foolish. No sensible critic attempts a comparison between Titian, Velasquez, and Rembrandt. He accepts them as they are, and is grateful. But even the most obscure of mortals may have his preferences, and a curious chapter in the lives of individuals who have concerned themselves with painting would be the bewildering way in which the pendulum of their appreciation and admiration has swung backwards and forwards from Titian to Velasquez, from Velasquez to Rembrandt, and sometimes back to Titian. It is often a question of mood.

There are moods when the regal abundance, the consummate craftsmanship of Titian, the glow and splendour of his canvases, the range of them from The Man with the Glove in the Louvre to the Bacchus and Ariadne, force us to place him on the summit of Parnassus. We are dazzled by this prince of painters, dominating Venice at the height of her prosperity, inspired by her, having around him, day by day, the glorious pictures that the genius of Venice had produced. We follow his triumphant career, see him courted and fêted, recognise his detachment from the sorrow and suffering of the unfortunate and unclassed, and amid the splendour of his career note his avidity for the loaves and fishes of the world. Unlike Rembrandt, fortune favoured Titian to the end. His career was a triumphal progress. We stand in that small room at the Prado Museum at Madrid and gaze upon his canvases, sumptuous and opulent, diffusing colour like a sunset, indifferent to their story or meaning, happy and content with the flaming feast outspread for our enjoyment. We stand before his Entombment at the Louvre, dumb before its superlative painting, with hardly a thought for the tragedy that it represents. Titian accepts the literary motive, and the artist in him straight forgets it. We walk from The Entombment to the little chamber where Rembrandt's Christ at Emmaus hangs, and the heart of Rembrandt is beating there. To Titian the glory of the world, to Rembrandt all that man has felt and suffered, parting and sorrow, and the awakening of joy. We do not compare the one painter with the other; we say: "This is Titian, that is Rembrandt; each gives us his emotion." Foolish indeed it seems in the face of these two pictures, and a thousand others, to say that art should be this or that,—that a picture should or should not have a literary or a philosophical motive. Painters give us themselves. We amuse ourselves by placing them in schools, by analysing their achievement, by scientific explanations of what they did just by instinct, as lambs gambol—and behind all stands the Sphinx called Personality.

There are moods when the appeal of Velasquez is irresistible. Grave and reticent, a craftsman miraculously equipped, detached, but not with the Jovian detachment of Titian, this Spanish gentleman stalks silently across the art stage. Hundreds of drawings of Rembrandt's exhibit evidence of the infinite extent of his experiments after perfection. The drawings of Velasquez can be counted on the fingers of one hand. He drew in paint upon the canvas. From his portraits and pictures we gather not the faintest idea of what he felt, what he thought, what he believed. One thing we know absolutely—that he saw as keenly and as searchingly as any painter who has ever lived. What he saw before him he could paint, and in the doing of it he was unrivalled. His hand followed and obeyed his eye. When the object was not before him, he falls short of his superlative standard. The figures of Philip IV., of Olivares, and of Prince Baltazar Carlos in the three great equestrian portraits are as finely drawn as man could make them. Velasquez saw them; he did not see the prancing horses which they ride, consequently our eyes dropping from the consummate figures are disappointed at the conventional attitudes of the steeds. Velasquez, like Titian, moved from success to success; both were friends of kings, both basked in royal favour, neither had the disadvantage, or perhaps the great advantage, like Rembrandt, of the education of adversity. Velasquez made two journeys into Italy; he knew what men had accomplished in painting, and if he was not largely influenced by Titian and Tintoretto, their work showed him what man had done, what man could do, and indicated to him his own dormant powers.

Rembrandt was sufficient unto himself. There are moods when one is sure that he stands at the head of the painting hierarchy. In spite of his greatness, we feel that he is very near to our comprehension. What a picture of the old painter towards the end of his life that saying of Baldinucci presents. We are told that near the close of his career, absorbed in his art, indifferent to the world, "when he was painting at his easel he had come to wipe his brushes on the hinder portions of his dress."

Rembrandt looms out like some amorphous boulder, stationary, lichen-stained, gathering time unto itself. He travelled so little that it can be said he was untravelled. The works of other painters affected him not at all. We are without proof that he was even interested in the work of his contemporaries or predecessors. Life was his passion. One model was as good as another. He looked at life, and life fired his imaginations. He painted himself fifty times; he painted his friends, his relations, and the people he met while prowling about the streets. His pencil was never idle. Imagination, which confuses the judgment of so many, aided him, for his imagination was not nourished by vanity, or the desire to produce an effect, but flowed from the greatness of his brooding heart. He stood alone during his life, an absorbed man, uninfluenced by any school; he stands alone to-day. The world about him, and his thoughts and reflections, were his only influences. He read few books, and the chief among them was the Bible. Mr. Berenson has written an exhaustive and learned work on Lorenzo Lotto, analysing his pictures year by year, and exhuming the various painters who influenced Lotto at the different periods of his life. Mr. Berenson's book extends to nearly three hundred pages. The influences of the painting fraternity upon Rembrandt would not provide material for the first paragraph of the first page of such a book.

His fame is assured. He is one of the great triumvirate. "He was greater, perhaps," says Mr. Clausen, "than any other painter in human feeling and sympathy, in dramatic sense and invention; and his imagination seemed inexhaustible."

The Ryks Museum at Amsterdam may be said to have been designed as a shrine for his Night Watch. Near by it hangs The Syndics of the Cloth Company, excelled, in this particular class of work, by no picture in the world; but it is by the portraits and the etchings that the sweep, profundity, and versatility of Rembrandt's genius is exemplified. Truly his imagination was inexhaustible.

It is an education to stand before his portraits in the National Gallery. Observe the Old Lady, aged 83, the massive painting of her face, and the outline of her figure set so firmly against the background. Here is Realism, frank and straightforward, almost defiant in its strength. Turn to the portrait of A Jewish Rabbi. Here is Idealism. You peer and peer, and from the brown background emerges a brown garment, relieved by the black cap, and the black cloak that falls over his left shoulder. Luminous black and luminous brown! Brown is the side of the face in shadow, brown is the brow in shadow. All is tributary to the glory of the golden brown on the lighted portion of the face. The portrait composes into a perfect whole. The dim blacks and browns lead up to the golden brown illuminating the old weary head, that wonderful golden brown—the secret of Rembrandt. This old Jew lives through the magic art of Rembrandt. He crouches in the frame, wistful and waiting, the eternal type, eternally dreaming the Jews' dream that is still a dream.