RODIN has always drawn a great deal. He has sometimes used the pen, sometimes the pencil. Formerly he drew the outline with a pen, and then added the shading with a brush. These wash-drawings so executed looked as if made from bas-reliefs or from sculptured groups. They were purely the visions of a sculptor.
Later he used a lead pencil for his drawings from the nude, washing in the flesh tones in color. These drawings are freer than the first; the attitudes are less set, more fugitive. In them the touch seems sometimes almost frenzied a whole body held in a single sweep of the pencil and they betray the divine impatience of the artist who fears that a fleeting impression may escape him. The coloring of the flesh is dashed on in three or four broad strokes, the modelling summarily produced by the drying of the pools of color where the brush in its haste has not paused to gather the drops left after each touch. These sketches fix the rapid gesture, the transient motion which the eye itself has hardly seized for one half second. They do not give you merely line and color; they give you movement and life. They are more the visions of a painter than of a sculptor.
Yet more recently Rodin, continuing to use the lead pencil, has ceased to model with the brush. He is now content to smudge in the contours with his finger. This rubbing produces a silvery gray which envelops the forms like a cloud, rendering them of almost unreal loveliness ; it bathes them in poetry and mystery. These last studies I believe are the most beautiful. They are at once luminous, living, and full of charm.
As I was looking at some with Rodin, I said to him how much they differed from the over-finished drawings which the public usually approve.
” It is true,” he said, ” that it is inexpressive minutiae of execution and false nobility of gesture which please the ignorant. The crowd cannot understand a daring impression which passes over useless details to seize only upon the truth of the whole. It can understand nothing of that sincere observation which, disdaining theatrical poses, interests itself in the simple and much more touching attitudes of real life.
” It is difficult to correct the errors that prevail on the subject of drawing.
” It is a false idea that drawing in itself can be beautiful. It is only beautiful through the truths and the feelings that it translates. The crowd admires artists, who, strong in subject, elegantly pen contours destitute of significance, and who plant their figures in pretentious poses. It goes into ecstasies over poses which are never seen in nature, and which are considered artistic because they recall the posturings of the Italian models who offer themselves at the studio door. That is what is generally called beautiful drawing. It is really only sleight-of-hand, fit to astonish boobies.
” Of course, there is drawing in art as there is style in literature. Style that is mannered, that strains after effect, is bad. No style is good except that which effaces itself in order to concentrate all the attention of the reader upon the subject treated, upon the emotion rendered.
” The artist who parades his drawing, the writer who wishes to attract praise to his style, resemble the soldier who plumes himself on his uniform but refuses to go into battle, or the farmer who polishes the ploughshare instead of driving it into the earth.
” You never think of praising either drawing or style which is truly beautiful, because you are carried away by the interest of all that they express. It is the same with color. There is really neither beautiful style, nor beautiful drawing, nor beautiful color; there is but one sole beauty, that of the truth which is revealed. When a truth, when a profound idea, when a powerful feeling bursts forth in a great work, either literary or artistic, it is evident that the style, or the color and the drawing, are excellent; but these qualities exist only as the reflection of the truth.
” Raphael’s drawing is admiredand justlybut it should not be admired only for itself, for its skilful balance of line; it should be admired for what it signifies. What forms all its merit is the sweet serenity of soul which saw with the eyes of Raphael and expressed itself with his hand, the love in him which seems to overflow from his heart upon all nature. Those who, lacking his soul, have sought to borrow the linear cadences and the attitudes of his figures, have never executed any but insipid imitations of the great master of Urbino.
” In the drawing of Michael Angelo it is not his manner, not the audacious foreshortening nor the skilful anatomy that should be admired, but the desperate force of the Titan. Those imitators who, without his soul, have copied in their painting his buttressed attitudes and his tense muscles have made themselves ridiculous.
” In the color of Titian, what should be admired is not merely a more or less agreeable harmony, but the meaning that it offers. His color has no true beauty except as it conveys the idea of a sumptuous and dominant sovereignty.
” In the color of Veronese, the true beauty exists in its power to evoke in silvery play of color the elegant conviviality of patrician feasts.
” The. color of Rubens is nothing in itself ; its flaming wonder would be vain did it not give the impression of life, of joy, and of robust sensuousness.
” There does not perhaps exist a single work of art which owes its charm only to balance of line or tone, and which makes an appeal to the eyes alone. Take, for example, the stained-glass windows of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries if they en-chant us with the velvety depths of their blues, with the caress of their soft violets and their warm crimsons, it is because their colors express the mystic joy which their pious creators hoped to win in the heaven of their dreams. If certain bits of Persian pottery, strewn with flowers of turquoise blue, are adorable marvels of color, it is because, in some strange manner, their exquisite shades trans-port the soul into I know not what valley of dreams and faery. So, all drawing and all harmony of colors offer a meaning without which they would have no beauty.”
” But do you not fear that disdain of craft in art ? ” I broke in.
” Who speaks to you of disdaining it? Craft is only a means. But the artist who neglects it will never attain his end, which is the interpretation of feeling, of ideas. Such an artist would be like a horseman who forgot to give oats to his horse.
” It is only too evident that if drawing is lacking, if color is false, the most powerful emotion cannot find expression. Incorrect anatomy would raise a laugh when the artist wished to be most touching. Many young artists incur this disgrace to-day. As they have never studied seriously, their unskilfulness betrays them at every turn. Their intentions are good, but an arm which is too short, a leg which is not straight, an inexact perspective, repels the spectator.
” In short, no sudden inspiration can replace the long toil which is indispensable to give the eyes a true knowledge of form and of proportion and to render the hand obedient to the commands of feeling.
And when I say that craft should be forgotten, my idea is not for a moment that the artist can get along without science. On the contrary, it is necessary to have consummate technique in order to hide what one knows. Doubtless, to the vulgar, the jugglers who execute eccentric flourishes of line, who accomplish astounding pyrotechnics of color, or who write long phrases encrusted with unusual words, are the most skilful men in the world. But the great difficulty and the crown of art is to draw, to paint, to write with ease and simplicity.
” You see a picture, you read a page; you notice neither the drawing, the color, nor the style, but you are moved to the soul. Have no fear of making a mistake; the drawing, the color, the style are perfect in technique.”
” Yet, Master, can it not happen that great and touching chefs-d’oeuvre are wanting in technique? Is it not said, for instance, that Raphael’s color is often bad and Rembrandt’s drawing debatable? ”
” It is wrong, believe me. If Raphael’s master-pieces delight the soul, it is because everything in them, color as well as drawing, contributes to the enchantment. Look at the little Saint George in the Louvre, at the Parnassus in the Vatican, at the cartoons for the tapestry at South Kensington; the harmony in these works is charming. Sanzio’s color is different from Rembrandt’s, but it is exactly suited to his inspiration. It is clear and enamelled. It offers fresh, flowery, joyous tonalities. It has the eternal youth of Raphael himself. It seems unreal, but only because the truth as observed by the master of Urbino is not that of purely material things ; his is the domain of feeling, a region where forms and colors are transfigured by the light of love. Doubtless an out-and-out realist would call this coloring inexact ; but a poet finds it true.
” What is certain is that the color of Rembrandt or of Rubens joined to Raphael’s drawing would be ridiculous and monstrous, just as Rembrandt’s drawing differs from that of Raphael, but is not less good. Raphael’s lines are sweet and pure ; Rembrandt’s are often rude and jarring. The great Dutchman’s vision was arrested by the roughness of garments, by the asperity of wrinkled faces, by the callousness of plebeian hands ; for to Rembrandt beauty is only the antithesis between the triviality of the physical envelope and the inner radiance. How could he express this beauty composed of apparent ugliness and moral grandeur if he tried to rival Raphael in elegance? You must recognize that his drawing is perfect because it corresponds absolutely to the exigencies of his thought.”
” So, according to you, it is an error to believe that the same artist cannot be at once a great colorist and a great draughtsman? ”
” Certainly, and I do not know how this idea has become as firmly established as it seems to be. If the great masters are eloquent, if they carry us away, it is clearly because they possess exactly all the means of expression that are necessary to them. I have just proved it to you in the case of Raphael and Rembrandt. The same demonstration could be made in the case of all the great artists. For instance, Delacroix has been accused of ignorance of drawing. On the contrary, the truth is that his drawing combines marvellously with his color; like it, it is abrupt, feverish, exalted, it is full of vivacity, of passion; like it, it is sometimes mad, and it is then that it is the most beautiful. Color and drawing, one cannot be admired without the other, for they are one.
” Where the demi-connoisseur deceives himself is in allowing for the existence of but one kind of drawing; that of Raphael, or perhaps it is not even that of Raphael, but that of his imitators, that of David or of Ingres. There are really as many kinds of drawing and of color as there are artists.
” Albrecht Durer’s color is called hard and dry. It is not so at all. But he is a German; he generalizes; his compositions are as exact as logical constructions; his people are as solid as essential types. That is why his drawing is so precise and his color so restrained.
” Holbein belongs to the same school. His drawing has none of the Florentine grace; his color has none of the Venetian charm; but his line and color have a power, a gravity, an inner meaning, which perhaps are found in no other painter.
” In general, it is possible to say that in artists as deliberate, as careful as these, drawing is particularly tight and the color is as cold as the verity of mathematics. In other artists, on the contrary, in those who are the poets of the heart, like Raphael, Correggio, Andrea del Sarto, line has more suppleness and color, more winning tenderness. In others whom we call realists, that is to say, whose sensibility is more exterior, in Rubens, Velasquez, Rembrandt, for example, line has a living charm with its force and its repose, and the color sometimes bursts into a fanfare of sunlight, sometimes fades into mist.
” So, the modes of expression of men of genius differ as much as their souls, and it is impossible to say that in some among them drawing and color are better or worse than in others.”
” I understand, Master; but in refusing the usual classification of artists as draughtsmen or colorists, you do not stop to think how you embarrass the poor critics. Happily, however, it seems to me that in your words those who like categories may find a new method of classification. Color and drawing, you say, are only means, and it is the soul of the artist that it is important to know. So painters should be grouped according to their dispositions. For example, Albrecht Durer with Holbein both are logicians. Raphael, Correggio, Andrea del Sarto, whom you have named together, make a class in which sentiment is predominant; they are in the front rank of the elegiacs. Another class would be composed of the masters who are interested in active existence, in daily life, and the trio of Rubens, Velasquez and Rembrandt would be its greatest constellation. Finally, artists such as Claude Lorraine and Turner, who considered nature as a tissue of brilliant and fugitive visions, would comprise a fourth group.”
Rodin smiled. ” Such a classification would not be wanting in ingenuity,” he said, ” and it would be much more just than that which divides the colorists from the draughtsmen.
” However, because of the complexity of art, or rather of the human souls who take art for a language, all classification runs the risk of being futile. So Rembrandt is often a sublime poet and Raphael often a vigorous realist.
“Let us force ourselves to understand the masters let us love them let us go to them for inspiration; but let us refrain from labelling them like drugs in a chemist’s shop.”