Picture Composition – Reserve

Another bifurcation of simplicity is Reserve. In the simple statement of the returning Roman general : “I came, I saw, I conquered,” all that the senate desired to know was stated and it gained force by virtue of what was left unsaid. Anything else might have gratified the curiosity of his auditors, but the man, in holding this secret, made himself an object of interest. Rembrandt has told us that the legitimate gamut of expression lies some distance between the deepest dark of our palette and its highest light. Expression through limitations is dignified, a quality which the strain to fill all limits sacrifices. It is the force quickly squandered by the young actor, who ” overacts,” disturbing the balance of forces in the other parts.

Upon the pivot of Reserve the opposing creeds of the Impressionists and Tonists bear with most contention. The former would lash their coursers of Phoebus with unsparing hand from start to finish ; the latter prefer the “Waiting` Race,” every atom of force governed and in control, held for the opportunity, when increasing strength is necessary. It is the difference between aiming at the bull’s-eye or the whole target.

The recent tendency of illustration to produce a result in three or four fiat tones is another voice proclaiming for reserve. The new movement in decorative art may rightly claim this acknowledgment to it. In the work of Jules Guérin it is interesting to note how the bit and bridle of these two factors of breadth have been applied to every stroke, now and then only, detail being allowed its say, and in but a still small voice.

With the large number of pictorial ideas now being recast in the decorative formula it is necessary to have a clear notion of the purpose and the limitations of decorative art, that this new art may not be misunderstood nor con-founded with the purely pictorial.

Decoration is essentially fiat. It represents length and breadth. It applies primarily to the flat vertical plane. It deals with the symbols of form, with fact by suggestion, with color in mass. It substitutes light and dark for nature’s light and shade. Conceptions evolved upon the flat vertical plane deal with pictorial data as material for heraldic quartering, with natural fact as secondary to the happy adjustment of spaces. Nature to the decorative mind presents a variegated pattern from which to clip any shape which the color design demands.

The influence on pictorial art of the decorative tendency, has brought much into the pictorial category which has never been classified.

The Rose Croix influence has witnessed its seed maturing into the art nouveau, and what was nurtured under the forcing glass of decoration has suddenly been transplanted into the garden of pictorial art. In consequence it would appear that the constitution of the latter required amendments as being scarce broad enough to accommodate the newer thing. It is difficult, for instance, to reconcile the crowded and spotted surfaces in Mr. Maurice Prendergast’s pictures, to the requirements of the balanced conception. It must be recognized however that their first claim for attraction is their color which is usually a harmony in red, yellow and blue, and when the crowds of people or buildings do not form balancing combinations they oft-times so fill the canvas as to leave excellent spaces, more commanding through their isolation than the groups choking the limits of the canvas. More often however these crowds may be found to hang most beautifully to a natural axis and to comply with all the principles of pictorial structure.

In his park scene, showing several tiers of equestrians one above the other, the chief charm is the idea of continuous movement which the scene conveys. The detail, wisely omitted, if supplied would arrest the attention and a challenge on this basis would follow. It would then be found that what we accepted as an impression of natural aspect we would demand more of as a finished picture. It is because it is more decorative than pictorial and because its pictorial parts are rendered by suggestion, that it makes so winning an appeal.

The quaint and fascinating concepts of Mr. Bull in the range of animal delineation are all struck in the stamp of this newer mould, and the list is a constantly increasing one of the illustrators whose work bears this sign.