Reference has already been made to one of the modes in which the invention of painting is endeavoured to be accounted for, in being first used to represent certain ideas, or to imitate certain objects in nature, and to form symbols of them for conventional purposes,as we still find practised among barbarous people who have not attained the science of writing, and who express their wants, in many cases, by rude sketches of the object desired.
In this manner it is evident that this art was very early used both by the Egyptians and the Greeks. Such, however, could not be the case until some time after its invention, when a certain degree of skill had been acquired in its pursuit. Consequently hieroglyphical and other rude figures cannot be considered even to have constituted the sustaining medium of the arts either of painting or sculpture.
One particular branch of painting, portrait painting, is alleged to have been first invented by a Grecian maid imitating or tracing on a wall the outline of the shadow of her sleeping lover. But this we must regard rather as an illustration of the mode, than as a literal history of the invention of the art. Shadows present at once a correct and a striking representation of the outline of any object, and are very easy to copy ; they constitute, in fact, a sort of intermediate work between nature and art, between reality and the representation. Hence, it is reasonable to suppose that they would first attract the notice and engage the attention of persons whose turn of mind led them to attempt artistical efforts in however humble a way. As shadows are said to have led to the invention of painting, so also to the latest discovery allied to the pursuit of that art with which we are acquainted, that of photography, have shadows mainly contributed.
The reflection of shadows in nature, or on a mirror, where not only the outline but the colouring and light and shade of objects are portrayed, would also serve directly to suggest the idea of a pictorial representation, more especially of landscape scenery. As shadows may be deemed the inventive cause of painting, so the impressions left by objects pressing on earth or stone may in the same manner be considered as the inventive cause of engraving, which is a branch of this art.
Admiration of different colours, of objects and scenes in nature, is, as I have observed, inherent in our nature. This feeling of admiration at once urges us on to desire to possess the object admired, and this leads to efforts for the imitation of it, which is the mother of art.
So soon as the outline of any object had been successfully portrayed, it is but natural to suppose that the other not less marked visual qualities of the object, its different colours and hues, and the various gradations of light and shade with which it is marked, would be next imitated. Indeed, so eager has been the desire for advancement in this art, that these latter effects have been in many instances aimed at before the art of delineating a correct outline was attained.
According to some authorities painting ought to be considered as rather a derivative than a strictly original art, having been primarily exercised by the colouring, according to nature, of statues representing human and animal forms, and being subsequently attempted on plain surfaces, independent of these statues, but in imitation of them. It appears to me, however, most according to reason and nature, to conclude that its origin arose in the way which I have stated, and that it was quite as independent in its invention as was its sister art of sculpture. Each probably aided the other in their progress, and borrowed one from the other in order to forward their advancement.