Alfred Stevens – Impressions Of A Painter

THE public easily confound romance with the true artistic poetry. One can by instinct become a painter of worth, but one can’t do a work of genius save by showing great good sense.

The sincere approbation of his confrères is for a painter the most flattering of recompenses.

So many painters stop when the hard part begins.

One comes into the world a draftsman just as one is born a colorist.

They ought to have an exhibition every five years where each artist could only expose a single figure which “says nothing.”

They ought to take from the Louvre more than fifteen hundred pictures. Woe unto the painter who only obtains the approbation of women! One is only a great painter on condition of being a master workman.

One must know how to paint a mustache hair by hair before one permits one’s self to wipe it in with a single stroke of the brush.

Nothing hurts a good picture more than bad neighbors.

A fine picture of which one admires the effect at a distance ought equally to bear analysis when one looks at it near to.

The critic of art has a penchant to occupy himself more with the literary side than with the technical part.

True artists have a preference for “les belles laides.”

We must be of our own time: we must submit to the influence of the sun, of the country in which we dwell, of our early education.

A man does not understand his art well under a certain age.

One should learn to draw with the brush as soon as possible.

Execution is style in painting.

Even a mediocre painter who paints his own period will be more interesting to futurity than one who, with more talent, has only painted times which he has never seen.

A picture can only be judged justly ten years after its execution. Painters who depict their own time become historians.

We can judge another artist’s sensibility from a flower that he has painted. In the art of painting one must first of all be a painter; the thinker comes afterwards.

A picture should not, as is commonly said, stand out from its frame; the very opposite should be said.

Time beautifies sound painting and destroys bad.

Bad painting cracks in stars; good painting becomes like fine crackle china.

To paint modern costume does not constitute a modernist. The artist attracted by modernity must above all be impregnated with a modern feeling.

By looking at the palette of a painter, we may know with whom we have to reckon.

The execution of a fine painting is agreeable to the touch.

A true painter is always a thinker.

Certain Dutch masters seem to have painted with precious stones ground into powder.

To have a master’s picture retouched is a crime that ought to be severely punished by law.

Nothing is pardoned in a single figure picture; many things are excused in a picture with several figures.

Painting is not done for exhibitions; refined work is smothered at the Salon; “shouters” come off better.

Nothing can equal the happiness felt by a painter when, after a day’s labor, he is satisfied with the work accomplished; but in the contrary case what despair is his!

The Flemings and the Dutch are the first painters in the world.

An arm by Rembrandt, though perhaps too short, is yet alive; an arm by the proficient in theory, though exact in proportion, remains inert.

Rubens has often been of harm to the Flemish School, while Van Eyck has never been anything but its benefactor.


BETWEEN 1820 and 1830 men began to wish to paint again. They were no longer willing to do without color or the delight of free and beautiful handling, and they tired of restricting their art to the delineation of Greek and Roman heroes with straight noses and curly hair. The love of light and color took them to the Orient, or they looked at the pictures of Rubens and Veronese and began to paint the Middle Ages and the Renaissance because they loved silks and brocades better than abstract draperies. Gradually it dawned upon them that the old masters had painted their own times and that they might do the same. They went into the fields and painted the landscape they saw there,— Troyon began to paint cattle, Millet to paint peasants, Courbet to paint the bourgeoisie. Finally, about 1860, they dared again the fashionable lady, not merely in portraiture, but as the subject of a picture. The last of the academic restrictions on the subject-matter of art was swept away.

And so we come back to the name with which we set out, that of Alfred Stevens, for no man has painted the modern woman of fashion as well as he. A Belgian by birth and early training, a Parisian by choice, he combined the wit and elegance of his adopted city with something of the old Dutch and Flemish schools,—the result being an art of his own with a flavor unlike any other. Manet and Whistler were just beginning their careers when Stevens was doing some of his best work, for there is charm in the sound and quiet painting of the sixties that I do not find to the same extent in that later work which shows him as the cleverest of virtuosi. Terborch or Vermeer, who told no stories, might not have understood the delicate mixture of irony and sentiment in such pictures as `Une Mère’ or ‘Une Veuve,’— they would hardly have cared for the fine literary skill and the exquisite restraint with which the incidents are presented,— but assuredly they would have appreciated the just notation of light and color, the perfect drawing, the absolute rendering of substance and texture. They would have seen in him a craftsman of their own lineage, a pupil of whom they might be proud. In `La Dame Rose,’ of the Brussels Museum, they would have found a picture after their own hearts, and while they might miss something of its serious beauty in his later canvases, neither they nor any true painter that ever lived could fail to admire the combination of subtle tone and color, with extreme ease and brilliancy of manipulation, which makes them almost unique in art. For us there is the added interest in the earlier paintings that the dresses of forty years ago have already become historic costumes, and have taken on, as such, a picturesqueness which we cannot yet find in those of twenty years later, which are merely out of fashion.