TOWARDS the close of my first lecture, I reached an interesting point in reference to the landscape-art of England and of the world, subsequent to that of Turner. The century which we all recently left, and that on which we have entered, have been able to teach us more of the material world than any which have preceded them. The processes of Nature have been studied, and its laws discovered, as they never were before. Even the nooks and corners of the earth have been ransacked by the insatiable pioneers of discovery. Old historic places, the shrines of earlier civilizationin Egypt, India and the easthave been explored with minutest care; but our Art has not followed at the same pace (I mean Art in combination with Science, and as applied by its hand-maiden, Archeology) into these regions. Many of our artists since the days of Turner have been content to keep to traditional grooves, and to work along conventional lines; much more than our scientific men, our philosophers, our historians, and our historical geographers. They have continued to copy from models; and, in consequence, have exhibited results which only satisfied an earlier age. I bring no indictment against them, because they admit the fact I now assert. Our landscape artists for many generations copied the trees and meadows, the rocks and the river-scenes, that delighted their predecessors. Turner, as we saw, broke away from all that slavery; but he had no successors, and he did not found or form a school.
I think, however, that the reaction of modern Science upon Art has been sure, though slow; and it has had numerous indirect results. As was inevitable, it brought Art back again to Nature; and made the general artistic consciousness of people more and more dissatisfied with blurred outlines, nondescript inventions, the clever bundling together of a mass of impressions as to Nature, instead of a faithful portrayal of objectivity. This has led the general mind of the race to look to Nature afresh; and to what end ? Not to tarry there, inspecting external beauty, however clearly revealed, but to pass within and beyond externality; finding a mystic meaning within it, due to its perpetual changes, and its apocalypse of what it never tarries to unfold.
The result is this. While the inheritor of old traditions, who reverences what is venerable and remote, is always more or less enslaved by themhis loyalty having its euthanasia in a sort of willing thraldomslowly, side by side with this, a new spirit is at work. Old traditions are broken up by a fresh perception of the meaning of Nature, and such a new love of its mystery and glory as we trace to a certain extent in the art of Turner.
In Turner’s work there was no fidelity to Nature, in the ordinary sense of that phrase; and yet, there were no abrupt departures from Nature. It may even be said that he was true to the higher Nature, by being false to the lower; because he had” the vision and the faculty divine” of seeing the higher at one and the same time within the lower, and yet above and beyond it. Be it granted to all commonplace critics that he was inaccurate as a delineator of things which the common eye perceives; nay, that he at times disregarded the real, simply because he saw and felt so much of the ideal within it. Topographical accuracy had no charm for him. He was never a maker of maps. More important still, he put colour into most of the drawings which he never saw; but only selected to enhance the beauty, or glory, or suggestiveness of Nature.
Be it admitted that Turner never painted trees with any dexterity, that he lacked what Hamerton called “the sylvan sense, the delight in forest scenery.” Hence, as we shall see, the French idealistsMillet, Corot, Rousseau, etc.surpassed him in this. Mr. Hamerton adds: “With a knowledge of landscape, vaster than any mortal ever possessed before him, his whole existence was a succession of dreams.
He would sit down and sketch an-other dream, in the very presence of the reality itself.”
Turner “hid himself,” in part intentionally; in part because he felt that “he could not interpret himself except by means of the brush.”* As a rule “he would never let anyone see him draw.” There were strange opposites in him, and these are only explainable by a simultaneous life in two worlds, with an almost dual-consciousness of p most consistent life in both of them.: A royal imagination, a supreme insight, a radiancy’ of touch, an ethereal poetic sense almost like that of Shakespeare, were allied to personal habits not always refined. He could live in squalor, and was not always noble in his personal trans-actions. One of his admirers even ventures to liken him to a hedgehog. But England, and the world, owe to him, and must forever owe innumerable debts. As Mr. Monkhouse says, he became “the converter of topography into Art;” and, in a much better sentence, he adds, that he “treated buildings as valuable chiefly for the breaking of sunbeams.” His marvellous gift of memory seems to have repelled some people, but what was its result ? He was able to record, to renew and perpetuate, the multitudinous impressions of Nature, which came to him in magical troops, and then vanished into these mystic chambers of his being; there to lie latent, securely locked up, without ever blending or confusing one another; and thence to be recalled, and reproduced with lordliest power, when they were needed.
It is curious that the majority of peasants, in the most beautiful countries of the world, are blind to the loveliness and glories around them; but it is not curious that peasant-people awaken to the interest of portrait-painting, before they are able to understand landscape-art. Probably the chief reason has been a selfish one. Some have thought that it would be useful to send on to posterity the vera effigies of important, or distinguished; men and women, chiefly because they were dead and gone, and could never be seen again; but for the transmission of landscape-art, of scenery that was always present, or would re-turn, what need for that ? These objects do not die as human things do.
I wish I could bring out satisfactorily the relations in which Turner stood to his predecessor Girtin, only two years his senior, and whom he surpassed immeasurably. They were not friends, and yet the younger admired the elder’s painting; and, of one of his pictures he said, “I never could have made anything like it.” But he was both selfish and secretive; and with all his unparalleled greatness was inordinately ambitious, from first to last, to eclipse every rival. I have already likened him to Abelard, the medieval sophistmost skilful of swordsmen, most selfish of disputantswho wished to humble his adversary, that he might reign alone.
These were his faults and failings, over which we need not tarry now. We think rather of his artistic greatness and the debt we owe to him. No artist ever had such a run of fortune in England leading to profit and independence. How different was the pioneer of the French school of ideal-realists, who had so many affinities with him. At the age of fifteen he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy and he was elected an associate when he was twenty-seven. He soon became the talk of the society-folk, and so rich that he said he did not know what to do with his money. He was vilified by the envious; but long afterwards he had perhaps the greatest hero-worship that any man has ever had, in the sustained eulogy of Ruskin.
Now let us grant at once that Turner’s technique was often faulty, and his power of reproducing reality imperfect. He soon gave up all attempt to do so. But why ? Because he came to see that Art was to him the vehicle for expressing what his inward eye beheld. He even came to regard the scrupulously exact Nature painter’s as dullards; and he lived to express, and to re-produce, what he and he alone saw.
In his Life of Turner Mr. Hamerton says “he used any colour that the experimentalizing ingenuity of modern chemistry could invent for the temptation of an artist.” But, as Mr. Hamerton also remarks, “his colour, in his most delicate work, hardly seems to be laid on the paper by any means known to us, but suggests the idea of a vapourized deposit.” Mr. Hamer-ton’s criticism and appreciation are so admirable that I continue to quote from him : ” He was always trying to paint the impossible.” But he also points out that Turner “excelled the artists of all time in his appreciation of mystery in Nature, and his superlatively excellent renderings of it;” while he adds that his eulogist, Ruskin, was “the first writer on Art who explained the value of mystery in painting.”‘ Again, he tells the story of an American purchaser of one of his pictures. Turner asked his friend Leslie “what the purchaser thought of it.” The reply was, “He thinks it indistinct,” to which Turner replied in a sort of good-humoured censure, “You should tell him that indistinctness is my fault and my merit.” Hamerton says that “the greatest technical merit in Turner’s colouring is his wonderfully brilliant performances in the upper notes;” and he adds that he “carried up more colour into the regions of light than any painter.” All this was due to his ideality. Claude was the pioneer of idealism in Art, but Turner outstripped him altogether, Constable was far more realistic, and the Pre-Raphaelitiesto whom we shall soon comewere still more so. Only note, here and now, that the great tidal wave of idealism in Art rose to its height in Turner.
I have already said that it is to be feared the day is not a distant one when most, if not all, of his great pictures will have disappeared; partly because of the bad pigments he made use of, partly because of the careless way in which he left so many of them exposed to the ,glare of the sun, and also because of the way in which he sometimes mixed up oil with water – colour. But, sad though it is, that is the ultimate fate of all plastic art. Where are now the pictures of Zeuxis and Apelles ? Our chief consolation is that the art-instinct of the human race survives, and is ineradicable, joy forever; and that new art products, better, I believe, than all those of the past, are certain to arise.
I may go even a step farther, and say that the time will come when Turner will be known and remembered mainly, not by his water-colours or his oils, but by the engravings which he gave to the world in the Liber Studiorum, and from those in his Rivers of France; while he will live longer still in the interpretative pages of his great ex-pounder, John Ruskin. Modern Painters, and other treasures of Art-criticism, will live and educate mankind for generations to come.
Enough if something from our hands have power To live, and act, and serve the future hour.
And what would the world now give if there had been an art critic like Ruskin in Greece in the days of Pericles, and in what Browning so happily calls it, in reference to the Italian workman-ship of a later age,
Art’s spring-birth, so dim and dewy.
I now pass from English Landscape Art to the work of two great Frenchmen, Corot and Millet. (Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, and Jean Francois Millet.)
AS in Turner’s case, you have now easy access to many books on the life work of both men, so that I need not en-large on that.
I wish to bring out their respective excellences, by comparing them with others, and especially with Turner. Well; Corot never could have painted a stormy sky as Turner did. He did not understand it. He loved peace, pursued it, and portrayed it. It is one of his great merits as a landscape artist that he knew the limit of his genius, and never tried to represent that Nature he loved so well, either in a blaze of glory, or in an agony of storm.
He knew his limitations, and was invariably modest in never parading them, as some relatively great menegoists at hearthave sought to magnify themselves by enlarging on their own infirmities. But wewho have profited so much by him, and learned so much from himmay perhaps try respectfully to point out what these limitations were. We in England instinctively compare him, as I have said, with our own Turner; and, in doing so, we find that Corot never opens up for us a door of entrance into the mystery of Nature. He would himself have disliked (or at least not cared for) an apocalypse of Beauty flashed out upon him from obscure hiding-places, casual glances from nooks and crannies. It was the common ongoings of Nature on sweet summer days, its peaceful reposeful face, that he delighted in. Even when in Rome, during that visit of his young manhood, when he painted the Coliseum, and St. Peter’s as seen from the Pincio, it was the peaceful aspects of the scenes that appealed to him. This was the outcome of temperamental and inherited tendencies.
Corot wrote: “I made my first drawing from Nature under the eye of the painter whose only advice to me was to render with the utmost fidelity everything that I saw before me.” Another of his teachers, Victor Bertin, taught him to introduce figures into his drawings, “without which he used to say that a landscape was uninhabitable,” but to do this by following precedent, or the old classical rules.
When he was twenty-nine years of age he went for three years to Rome. On his arrival there he became, as so many become, acutely conscious of his defects; and in a most interesting letter he wrote, “I could not draw at all. Two men stopped to chat together. I began to sketch them, part at a timethe head, for instance. They separated, and I had nothing but some bits of head on my paper. Some children were sitting on the steps of a church. I began again. Their mother called them away, and my book would be full of ends of noses, foreheads and tresses of hair. I determined that I could not come home again another time without a complete piece of work, and I tried for the first time a drawing par masse, a rapid drawing. I set myself to outline, in the twinkling of an eye, the first group I found. If it only staid a short time I had at any rate caught the character; if it staid long enough, I could get the details.”
Returning to France, and to its northern coast scenery, he writes thus, “With my brush in my hand I go out nutting through the woods, in my studio; and there also I can hear the birds singing, and the trees rustling in the wind; and I can see the streams and the rivers flowing on, carrying thousands of mirror pictures of sky and earth; and the sun rises and sets for me in my own house.”
Corot had no struggle with adversity like his great contemporary, Millet. He was never in want, although he was not always appreciated, and the judges of the Salon were sometimes hostile to him. But that did not disturb him, be-cause he believed that he had got into close touch with Nature in his own way, and that his hour of recognition would come. He waited for it without any impatience, or clamour, or chagrin at the delay. Nothing is finer in the way of appraisal than his own letters on his art. He said to one who had noted the wonderful atmosphere of his landscapes, and the feathery grace of his foliage: “Yes, the birds must be able to fly through the branches.” But listen to his own account of the life of an artist in his relationship to Nature. He wrote, “A landscape painter has a delightful day. He gets up about three A. M., before sunrise. He goes out, sits down under a tree, and waits, watching. At first there is little to be seen. * * * Everything is sweetly scented, and trembles under the wakening breeze of the dawn. * * * First one ray of sunlight then another. The flowerets awake. The birds begin to twitter their morning prayer. One sees nothing, yet all is there. * * * The sun arises. Everything sparkles and glitters, all is in full light, still soft and caressing; and I paint! I paint! The far distance in its simple contour and harmony fades into the sky, through an atmosphere of mist and ether. The flowers raise their heads, the birds flit to and fro. A peasant riding a white horse disappears down the narrow path. And the artist ? He paints!” * * * As the hours advance he writes: “We see too much. There is nothing left to the imagination. Let us go to breakfast at the farm. Work, my friends! I will rest! I will doze and dream of my morning scene. I will dream of my picture; and, later on, I will paint my dream.” * * * “The sun has sunk. There remains but a soft filmy touch of pale yellowthe last gleam from the sun which has dropped into the deep blue of nightmelting from soft green into a yet paler turquoise of an intangible delicacy and an indescribable liquid mistiness. Everything is fast fading, yet we know that everything is still there. All is vague, for Nature is falling asleep. * * * The illusion is over. The sun having gone to rest, the inner sunthe sun of the soul the sun of artarises. Good! my picture is finished.”
As his dexterous interpreter* writes, “Here we see the artist, the poet, the lover of Nature; we see also the man who never painted Nature in a convulsion. When the sun blazes at full mid-day, when it sets in an orgy of colour, Corot will have none of it.”
From first to last, there was no tragedy in Corot’s life, no sturm und drang. He was in-variably quiet, happy, simple, kindly, peaceful, contented. All his letters are serene; and he was most generous in his appreciation of others, his brother-artists whom he habitually placed above himself. When ignored by the critics, or the picture-dealers, his habitual consolation was ” I have my Art; that remains.” He likened his contemporary, Rousseau, to “a soaring eagle;” himself, to a “singing lark.” And we may never forgetposterity will never forgethis noble generosity to the widow of his friend, Francois Millet, not long before he died, when he (Corot) was receiving large payments for his pictures. He returned ten thousand francs to his agent, the dealer, and told him to pay one thousand every year for ten years “to the widow of my friend.”
He was not a cultivated artist. He read little, and took no interest in Science, or History, or Politics. But he went on his own way, and did his own work. If asked what was his specialty as an artistwhat differentiated him in a crowd of illustrious contemporariesI would say it was this: He never obtruded himself, or his own subjectivity, into any picture; nor did he ever try to photograph what was present to his eye. He seized a passing mood of Nature, a transient disclosure of it; and, what is more significant, when out in the fields and woods, he took briefvery briefnotes from Nature, to be afterwards worked out by him, and dealt with in a few touches. He did not try to give anything else; because these touches revealed much more than a canvas, daubed all over with minute detail, could possibly do.
The changes of the seasons were chronicled for us by him in a few rapid strokes. The boundless life of Nature, in her ever-fluctuating moods, was depicted with an immediacy and vividness that was arresting and joyous; but Corot did not allow us to linger over-long in one mood of rejoicing, by giving us too much to see on his canvases. He wrote, “If you crowd in too much, you weaken effect, or falsify every-thing in the effort to be too exact. No two hours of the day are just alike, and you cannot put both on one canvas.” He depicted all the sea-sons, and all. the hours; although he loved best the leafy summer, in its tremulousness, its ethereality, its transparency, its warmth, and its fulness of life. Over all his pictures we feel that a healthful breeze is blowing. But he recognized more than any other landscape painter in France, the glory of the changefulness of Nature, and the difficulty into which this brought the artist. Referring to the movements of the clouds, he writes, “`Stop!’” said I, “trying to emulate Joshua with the sun! But the clouds continued to drive, the sky changing continually in form and colour. I cried out to them to stand, if only for a moment, that I might not paint them wrongly; but no; as though a sky standing still would be a sky at all!”
I have said in quasi-criticism, that in his pictures jean Corot does not give us the mystery in Nature, the remote, the impenetrable, the inscrutable, which is so supremely fascinating in Turner’s work; but who, I ask, has ever let us feel the secret of Nature’s peace so wellits charm, in the gentle stir of leaves with their twinkling lights and fluttering, feathery loveliness, their whisperings of rest ? When I look on one of Corot’s finest landscapes and see the pale mist floating up from the bed of the stream, while the light of day dies out, and the stars begin to twinkle, I recall the lines of Keats,
There crept a little noiseless noise amongst the leaves Born of the very sigh that silence heaves.
We thank him for a score of other things on which I would fain enlarge, because of his introduction of idealism into Art, from which there has been so sad a degeneracy in the school of the Impressionists in France; but, I pass on to deal in even greater brevity with one who is a still more fascinating personality viz.: Jean Francois Millet.
THERE is no painter “in the artist list enrolled” who fascinates us in some respects in the same way as that French peasant, jean Francois Millet. He was “a son of the soil,” and other nations love him somewhat in the same way as Scotsmen love Robert Burns. I know how honoured he was across the Atlantic, and also how many of you in America recognized his greatness even before the French or the English did so. His own noble character, his admiration of simple peasant life, and his effort to transmit representations of it to posterity on his canvases, his grand struggle with adversity, his modestyalmost unconscious of the genius that underlay it, and quite unspoiled by the success that followed itall these have been recorded for the world by his friends, Sensier and Rousseau, and re-told in a charming manner by Miss Peacock.
Apart from his immortal picturesthe Gleaners, the Angelus, the Wood-Cutters, the Sower, the Shepherdessmany of his smaller ones are poems on canvas; such as the Well in the Ionides Collection at South Kensington, which tells us as much as any well I have seen, except the sacred one at Nazareth. The peasant genius of this half-educated boy went back inevitably and intuitively to Michael Angelo for strength, and to Poussin for gentleness. The records of his visits to the Paris Galleries, the Louvre and the Luxembourg, are profoundly interesting. He saw little in the latter but what was conventional, what Miss Peacock wisely calls the “repellent insipidity of invention and expression.” The greatly popular, but quite conventional, De la Roche had no charm for him. But, in the Louvrethat superb gallery of greatness, which casts its spell upon and over every lover of the Beautiful, and is to all art-lovers in Paris the chief centre of attraction in the cityhe found a new world disclosed to him, and in it he lived with congenial spirits from hour to hour.
The art critics of the day, who were also the adjudicators of the honours of the Parisian gallery, were not yet in sympathy withthey did not yet understandthose who were called “the men of 1830,” that wondrous little band of comrades who came to be known and talked of as “the Barbizon School;” a group quite as important in the history of Art as our own Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. That Nature should be a mirror of man in its most transient moods; that its shadowy evanescence, that its sudden disclosureswhich tarried for no eye to reproduceshould have interest to anyone, was in-comprehensible to the academic officials of the Salon; and so, the works of this group of painters were systematically shut out from view. For more than a dozen years Rousseau was so disparaged, and excluded, that it is said he was familiarly known as “Le grand refuse.” It mattered nothing. The group was not silenced. Their hour had not yet come; but it was coming.
And slowly the art critics opened their eyes to see what others had already seen, and the artists themselves joined in the tribute. Diaz wrote, “there is a newcomer, who has colour, movement and expression; a real painter.”
But it was not yet his hour of triumph, because his most distinctive style had not been reached. Energy, reality, robustness of life, strength of purpose, joyousness of work were shown; but he next painted the Sower, which is to be seen in your Boston Museum, with its inimitable suggestion of patient continuous labour, of cheerful perseverance in well-doing onwards to accomplishment. It was now that he saw, and said to his friend Sensier, “Art is not a partizan. It is a battlefield. Perhaps it is suffering that makes the artist express himself best.”
I would like to give you some idea of the Barbizon district, and of its simple forest-charm, but it is impossible here and now. I only say that it is questionable if anyone loved the woods more intensely than Millet did, unless it was the great Russian musical composer Tschaikovsky, or your own American prose-writer Thoreau, at Walden. But it is more important to give you some idea of the man, as disclosed in his own words. He wrote thus to Sensier, in a letter which reveals his limitation, as well as his strength:
“Peasant subjects suit my temperament best; for I must confess, at the risk of being taken for a Socialist, that the human side in Art touches me the most; and, if I could do what I liked best, I would undertake nothing either in landscape or figure-painting that was not the result of a direct impression, produced by some aspect of Nature. The joyous side never shews itself to me. I do not know where it is. I have never seen it. The most joyful thing I know is quietude, the exquisite enjoyment of silence, so delicious either in the forest, or in any cultivated spot.”
And thus he wrote in numerous letters to his friends; so that, whether he painted a sower in the fields, or peasants going to work, or a woman feeding hens, or a shepherd or shepherdess, all have the indefinable air of simplest realism, of peasant life as he knew it, in its hard toil and cheerful labour, which he delighted to portray; more especially the peasant shepherd-life of France, with its solitude, its watchfulness, its patient care. Certainly no artist ever painted these things as Millet did.
I cannot finish my estimate of the work of this French painter without quoting to you some of the words of that appreciator of his genius, Miss Netta Peacock, who writes thus: “Touched by a sense of the sacredness of the routine of field-life, of the mystery and miracle of changing seasons and yielding soil, Millet went straight to the heart of things for his material, in all humility and with the utmost sincerity. Solitude, real and profound, he has introduced into many of his pictures, but never isolation; for his figures have grown out of their surroundings. They are one with the Universe. Silence he has given usfar-reaching, stretched over the vast plains, brooding peacefully with outstretched wings over mother and sleeping child, or tired man and wife resting after the continuous toil of the day. * * * His figures are a type of the everlastingness of labour. Fate large-eyed and relentlessholds the worker in her grip; dumbly acquiescent, he waits upon Nature’s ever varying moods, and, in complete submission to eternal law and order, lives and dies.
“Though every chapter in the great Book of Humanity contains an idea, the only one that appealed with conviction to the tender-hearted peasant was that which dealt with those whose lives are cast in rugged places. His strength lay in his rare sense of kinship with the toilers of the land. * * * The functions of rustic labour, in their rythmic rise and fall, bear a certain affinity to religious ritual; they are removed from the domain of conscious effort, and become unconscious acts of worship. Thus it was that Millet understood the life of the fields.
“In the most humble realities of rural life he has shewn us eternal truths. In an attitude, he conveys the deep pathos of renunciation; in a gesture, the dignity of labour. His young girls are dreamers, watching geese, tending sheep, or momentarily roused from their unassailable tranquillity, to follow, with outstretched neck and straining eye, the flight of the bird on the wing. His women are mothers caring for the little ones with all the unplumbed tenderness of motherhood, or housewives faithfully fulfilling ordinary domestic duties, `the daily round, the common task.’ His men are workers with homes, earning by the sweat of their brow the daily bread for wife and child. Everything is precious, is holy; * * * the mystery, the sense of intimacy, the poetry extracted from little things, haunts us with the persistence of a half-forgotten melody.”
Another paragraph I may add, from its special reference to art-criticism: “In the full swing of the Romantic regeneration, Millet remained solitary and apart. He was a realist, full of stern ideals; an idealist who drew deep from life’s commonest truths. His work most convincingly conveys the temper of his mind and the colour of his thought. He was essentially a painter of character; he did not seek to portray Beauty for itself, but managed to convey the abiding loveliness of all that is humble, whether in Humanity or Nature.”
There have been many peasant artists, as well as noble peasant poets, “sons of the soil,” who have risen from lowly homesteads, and done superlative work, outrivalling all their superiors who became famous in the lines of conventional Art; but none, I think, have ever risen and retained from first to last the splendid peasant sympathies, and permanent ideals, that J. Francois Millet did. In most cases, the rise of a working-man to distinction means the abandonment of his peasant nature. The majority for-get who their ancestors were; and cannot, or will not, let you know anything about them. As one of my own clerical friends remarked, when he was transferred from a rural parish and came to live in a prosperous community of the nouveaux riches, and had to minister to them ecclesiastic-ally, “These people around me here seem never to have had any grandfathers or grandmothers, let alone their parents.” Now, in Millet we find from first to last in his career almost a glorying in the peasant-ancestry whence he came; while the constant note of sincerity and reality in all he did emanated from that source. He had a feeling for Nature quite unborrowed and distinctive, a sense of the grandeur of its ever-changing moods, with simple peasant toil in the forefront, hard day-labour in the fields while the sun was shining, with evening work indoors. He also had a perceptionas Turner hadof the mystery as well as of the loveliness of Nature, its latent powers of life, its bountifulness as well as’ its gifts to man; and all of it an ally to devotion. This it was which stirred up in him a life-long effort to reproduce these things on canvas; and just as with the Pre-Raphaelites in England, it was a reaction from the conventional Art which went before it.
RETURNING to England and to Turner, I remark in closing that no artist in the world ever had such an interpreter and vindicator as Turner had in Ruskin; and I go back to this subject in order to bring out some new points in reference to both men. I venture to say that Ruskin demonstrated to his day and generation that Turnerwhom so many of his contemporaries thought unnatural was the truest to Nature of any landscape artist that ever lived; so that he effected a revolution, not only in Art-criticism, and Art-appraisal, but also in Art-production. He proved, as well as affirmed, that the “real colour of Nature had never been attempted by any school.” He saw, and said, that “the finish and specific grandeur of Nature had been given ; but her fullness, space, and mystery, never.” He showed that “for conventional colour” Turner substituted a pure, straightforward rendering of facts, not of such facts as had been before attempted, but of all that is most brilliant and inimitable. “He went to the cataract for its iris, to the conflagration for its flame, asked of the sea its intensest azure, and of the sky its clearest gold.” More especially he shewed that “in his power of associating cold with warm light no one has ever approached him. The old masters, content with one simple tone, sacrificed to its unity all the exquisite gradations and varied touches of relief and change, by which Nature unites her advancing hours, one with another. They give the warmth of the sinking sun, over-whelming all things in its gold; but they do not give those gray passages about the horizon, whenseen through its dying lightthe cool and the gloom of night gather themselves for their victory.”
Again Ruskin writes, “Turner, and Turner only, could follow and render that mystery of decided line, that distinct, sharp, visible but in-extricable richness, which–examined part by partis to the eye nothing but confusion and defect; but, taken as a whole, is all unity, mystery and truth.” And he adds: “Turner introduced a new era in landscape Art by shewing that the foreground may be sunk for the sake of the distance; and that it is possible to express proximity to the spectator without giving anything like completeness to near objects.” Again, “if we have to express varied light, our first aim must be to get the shadows sharp and visible; and this is not to be done by blackness. They must be clear, distinct, and even shot with light,” as he puts it.
The marvellous secret of “Turner’s shadows is the way in which they adumbrate the light, and reveal its mystery. They speak to us whole volumes describing the power and glory of Nature, whether seen in the sky or on the hills, in the rivers or the sea, or the grass of the field. They interpret so much to us, and enable us to recognize new splendours in the commonplace.