MY aim in this course of Lectures will be in some respects different from that of my accomplished predecessors, as they have been written more with a view to suggest than to teach ; and because I wish to open up some pathways not yet familiar to everyone, rather than to traverse those districts of which all students of Art have some knowledge.
The specialty of the group of artists who will come before us, and the abiding charm of their work, is the way in which eachin a different mannerdealt with what I venture to call ultimata in Art; that is to say, with subjects which the ordinary eye does not see, because they are remote from commonplace. The result has been that, whether in landscape or in figure-paintingin their representations of Nature, or of Humanitythey have opened up new pathways for us, suggesting much more than they have disclosed. They have all carried us, more or less, from the real to the ideal; disclosing higher existences, through lower symbols; so that to what is sometimes said in disparagement, or in criticism”that is not what I ever saw in Nature,” or “that is not what the man, or the woman was, when I saw them”the reply is just, and adequate, “No; it is not what you then saw, but what you might have seen, what Nature was about to disclose to sympathetic souls, but did not to your eye at that particular time; and, in reference to portraiture, you missed what the man or the woman was about to be, what they were in the making, but had not then attained to, and therefore did not manifest at the time to your perception.’.” This is most obvious, be-cause all the moods of Nature, and all the ex-pressions of Humanity, change.
It is impossible to trace out by retrospect all the causes which have led to any great changewhether in artistic, literary, philosophical, scientific or social revivalsin the history of the world;. The threads of influence are so numerous, and their interaction is so very subtle. But the study is a most fascinating one; and while of the two subjects whichin response to his kind offerI suggested to your director that I should take upviz., I, “The Evolution of Greek Art, in relation to some of its antecedents in the East; and the causes of its rise, decline and fall;” or II, “The Art of Britain from Turner to the Present Day, with a few Continental influences ab extra” I chose the latter, as probably the most useful to the audience I might expect in Chicago; both to genuine students of Art, and amateur listeners to lectures upon it. In the course of these lectures I shall have to glance at one or two other than British developments in Europe, especially in France; just as I would have dealt with collateral movements around Hellas in dealing with ancient Greek Art. But it will be mainly to English work that my lectures will be devoted.
After Turner is dealt with, I must speak of Corot, and jean Francois Millet in France. I shall then return to England and try to trace the evolution of British Art through the influence of Ruskin, and the work of that remarkable Brotherhood known as the Pre-Raphaelitesespecially Dante Gabriel Rossettiand then deal with such masters of English Art as George Frederick Watts, and Edward Burne-Jones, coming down to other workers of great merit and contemporary fame.
BORN in London, with the Strand for his playground in boyhood, the effectof Turner’s upbringing in the mighty city has to be taken into account. One can feel the atmosphere of London in much of his future artistic work, its manifold throbbing life, its alternate light and gloom. Its future expansiveness, and its untroubled sense of mystery, were the outcome of that early London life.
It is hardly necessary now to recall the peculiarities of his youth and adolescence; his uncouthness, his taciturnity, his jealousy, or his ignoble ambition to rival others, who were with him (as Browning puts it) “in the artist list en-rolled.” It is not too much for his most ardent admirers (of whom I am one) to admit that he was “cabined and confined” within the circle of his own subjective genius, the limits of which he himself knew quite well. He could never have been the member of an artistic brotherhood, even if he had had access to one in his youth. Camaraderie was impossible to Turner. If we compare him as a man with his great successors in EnglandRossetti, Morris, Burne-Jones and Wattswe find that he always worked in solitude, and tried to keep himself most. carefully alone. He would never allow anyone to see him painting, except on one or two memorable occasions; and his strange vagaries, on “varnishing day” in the Royal Academy, have been recorded by all his biographers. Along with his supreme originality in water-colour, his carelessness as to oil-painting must be recorded, his almost reckless habit of choosing his pigments without care; and leaving his pictures, when finished, stowed away in wet and dusty rooms, seemingly quite careless as to their future fate. I am here as the advocate, and the glorifier, of Turner. I wish to magnify his supremacy in Art, as Ruskin did; but I shall intersperse my eulogy with some qualifying criticism, and with a brief allusion to his career. He inherited a sensuous nature, and he did not bridle his passions ; but perhaps he could not have done the artistic work he did, if he had accustomed him-self more constantly to the use of the bearing-rein. Who knows ? I have tried to follow his career from house to house in London, just as I have followed Wordsworth in his wanderings; but it is not so easy to trace the erratic painter as it is to follow the great poet from first to last. The house in Maiden Lane in which he saw the light of day was an eight-roomed dwelling in a street not squalid at that time. It is now gone, having been taken down in 1821. The boy artist, son of a hairdresser, was not specially well educated; but fairly so for the time, and for his parentage. He wrote both prose and poetry tolerably well in his manhood; but in old age he lost the power of clear and accurate composition. This was probably due to the kind of life he led, quite as much as to anything else. I need not refer to his early sketch of the Church at Mar-gate, or to his colouring of engravings before he was eleven years or age. At fifteen he went to the Royal Academy Schools, and also began to work in Sir Joshua Reynolds’ house as a privileged copyist. In 1793, when 18 years of age, he left the Academy Schools, and his independence began. In the previous year, however, he commenced his “tours” as a sketcher. And now we find him a youth of keenest observational power, and gigantic memory, of rare imaginative vision, sensitive and sensuous, restless, irritable, proud, defiant, diffuse in his tastes, a knight-errant in art, very ambitious, and curiously reticent because of his knowledge that there was a strain of insanity in his family. He had to create a career for himself, and he did it.
Before him landscape art hardly existed in England. There were topographical sketchers or renderers, but no artists, except Girtin and Wilson. In this direction Turner struck out a line of his own ; and his numerous “tours” in Great Britain and France were all undertaken with that end in view, to localize what he saw in plastic art, to memorialize the Landscape, the Cathedrals, Castles, Rivers, Bridges, Ruins, etc. Occasionally, however, his drawings were not from Nature, or what he saw before him, but were idealizations of the work of his predecessors. In his tours he was mostly alone, although he sometimes accompanied his young contemporary, Girtin. Had Girtin lived (he died when he was 28) he might have rivalled Turner in water-colour; he had so noble an artistic outlook, and was so completely devoid of jealousy. He was perhaps the most precocious of all English artists, more realistic than Turner, more receptive, less ideal; but not topographic, although minutely true to Nature. He never exaggerated, or invented as Turner did, glorifying the actual by his idealization.
There is no doubt that Turner’s debt to others was very slight, and, at its utmost, almost unconscious. He owed a little to Claude Lorrain ; but, amongst the greater landscapists of the past, his debt to such men as Salvator Rosa, Pousin, and to Cuyp, was almost nil.
It is easy to follow his _career from his early colouring of prints along with Girtin, to his architectural studies; and, when a pupil of the Royal Academy, his being allowed to copy in Sir Joshua Reynolds’ studio; and his receiving a commission to take drawings of the places he visited. From the first he was a great pedestrian. He had good health, enjoyed plain living, and could work for fifteen hours a day without fatigue in these early years.
In 1808 Turner was elected professor of Perspective to the Royal Academy, a post for which he was singularly unfitted. His knowledge of architectural perspective was almost a blank. He held the post for many years, but did no good work in it. It is pleasanter to his admirers to forget that episode, and to turn to his friendship for, and his long residence with, Walter Fawkes, of Farnley Hall in Yorkshire. That friendship was a specially noteworthy circumstance in his career, and in the development of his art. Fawkes was one of Turner’s best patrons, and he has the honour of having divined his genius very truly. Turner got to love Wharfedale, and to understand its charm. The same is true,-though to a less extent, of his friendship with Lord Egremont at Petworth; and testimony is not lacking that he was at this time a light-hearted, merry creature. One of his friends writes that “his laughter and fun, when an in-mate of our cottage, was immeasurable, particularly with the young, “, while others speak of his cheery companionship in travel.
Turner’s artistic departure from the real or actual world was due to his effort to portray a finer kind of Beauty than the actual world disclosed. From his boyhood he never wished to copy Nature, to reproduce it literally; but to glorify it by the creation of a new type or style of Beauty, which he saw ever floating before his inward eye, of which the actual world only gives us hints, or broken fragments. The creation of a new type of Beauty thus became the end, or aim, of his art; not an arbitary selection of fragments, and their combination in a new artificial synthesis ; but the production of a fresh unity, compacted by that which every joint of the new fabric supplied. He began by assimilating the work of others, by ambitious acquisitiveness. But, in water-colour, he was an original explorer. He was not the first to work in it, but he designed new methods of work, and re-handled the old ones; and he has had no rival, or equal, in this.
It was more than unfortunate that so great a painter was often stirred up to jealousy, and led into efforts to eclipse other artists; not exactly to dethrone them (he could not do that), but to shew to his contemporaries that he could excel them. Like Abelard, the mediæval sophist, he could not rejoice in a rival’s success; and he seemed to find a stimulus to his own work in the effort to surpass that of others. It was a very curious thing, the production of his Liber Studio-rum, in rivalry of Claude’s Liber Veritatis; for Claude’s 200 drawings were mere reminiscences of his own pictures, jottings set down to remind him of what he had formerly produced; Turner’s were intentional efforts to displace a rival.
But when all is said it remains a historic fact of prime significance that there never was in the long evolution of the world’s Art so great a landscape-painter as Turner. His was a supremely original genius, almost like that of Shakespeare; or if we come down to contemporaries in kindred arts, like Beethoven in Music, and Wordsworth in the poetry of Nature. In the
Liber Studiorum, in the Rivers of France, in his latest drawings of Venice and the Venetian sea-board, he is absolutely without a rival. But we must raise the farther question: ” In what did his greatness specially and distinctively lie ? ” for vague eulogy is of no use to serious students of Art.
Well; in all the great landscapes of Turner you may have observed that humanity is introduced, just as Wordsworth introduced man into his profoundest poetry of Nature. Almost never in his oils or water-colours, or in the Liber, did Turner attempt to draw Nature apart from man. I do not now mean that he threw the spirit of humanity into his nature-pictures, but that he brought living humanity, as Corot did, into his pictures. Perhaps in the very noblest landscape-art man is excluded; that is to say, he is not explicitly or realistically brought in; because the end aimed at is the disclosure of some aspect of the outer Universe surrounding and embracing him, which isso to sayits secret, its inner soul, its meaning made apparent by an apocalypse; so that all its phases thus revealed are allegories typical of man, as in the peace of evening, or the the fury of the storm.
But there is more than this. A landscape of the highest class must have unity in it, must be a harmonious whole, not a number of bits of scenery joined together in a random fashion; and if humanity is brought into landscape painting (just as landscape forms the best background to figure-painting), it must be such humanity as befits the place, the time, and the scene. It must be congruous to them, and must never obtrude. If figures occupy too large a space on the canvas, if they catch the eye of the spectator, and detain it from the landscape, they are out of place, and interfere with what the latter has to tell us, or reveal. But observe, it is not meant by this that the great landscape-artist is thinking of artistic unities in the old conventional sense, and that he therefore takes liberties with Nature, bringing into his reproductions of it conventions which are really fictions; for he omits much, as well as introduces much. It is in what he omits that we discover his mastery; and the landscape-harmony which Turner gave us was a blending of the scattered glories of light, the atmosphere of earth and sky, in a fresh unity.
You may note in this connection the mastery of the French artist, Milletthe underlying humanity of his landscapes, in the Gleaners, the 4ngelus, the Shepherdess, in the Girl watching the flight of the geese and listening to their cackle overhead; and later on, I shall compare the two. But let me now quote to you the words of a great modern English landscape artist, Mr. Alfred Hunt, one of the most remarkable of the success-ors of Turner, who, writing of his master’s work in The Nineteenth Century (February, 1891), said, “Turner’s cows are useful or beautiful chiefly as recipients of sunshine, or types of repose. Their anatomy is of the wildest. They are imperfect parts of a perfect whole. No landscape,” Mr, Hunt goes on to say (and I may tell you that my old friend was equally great as a writer and an artist), “no landscape, however simple in subject, quiet in tone, and unrestful in effect, admits (so to speak) of all-round realization; but a poetical landscape-painter is bound to deal with every truth which suits his imaginative purpose, and the moment that light and colour, and that quality of perfect relation between them which we call tone, have become essential to that purposethen the interdependence of every part, in relation to the whole, and the most delicate pouring out of the most subtle means toward that effect, become vital to him. The power of composition is the landscape painter’s special gift. The true look of a bewitching piece of sunlit-distance cannot be given at all, unless the instinct of the artist has worked into his scheme of colour, in some other part of his picture, the very touch of colour (with its own relative truth) which can make that dis-tance look both intense and delicate with ethereal light. Colours, textures, masses, shadow, spectacles of light are the notes of his music; the harmonic faculty becomes supreme. The landscapists of the last generation from Turner down-wards took this view of their art, and studied Nature in accordance with it. They liked fine bursts of atmospheric effect, and good views with associations of romantic intent, in which to exercise their powers of picturesque arrangement and inventive design. But as `nothing save genius’ could do this, it is now a question whether that mode of regarding Nature is not in danger of passing away from us altogether.”
In that same admirable article, Mr. Hunt points out that “with photography and realism” we are now “farther removed from the ideal of Turner than he was from Claude;” and he adds, in an excellent sentencewhich is a key to the whole work of the Pre-Raphaelites in landscape Artthat “the aspirant of today will find, however gratefully and reverently he studies the ways and works of famous men who loved nature before him, that his love is different from theirs, and must be told in its own way.”
He then goes on to trace a parallel between the work of the imaginative painter and the poet; and he asks a question which can best be put in his own expressive words:
“In our art of poetical landscape-painting, so far as the stir and passion of nature are concerned, is there any set group or kind of natural aspectfrom the waving reeds of the stream to the splendours of storm and sunsetin which any young artist would not feel that we are far indeed from having yet used the full resources of Nature’s representable truths to set forth her inimitable beauty ?” He then compares the work of David Cox, and Constable, with that of Turner; the “rough and ready likeness of Nature”- which the former “set themselves to win,” with that “refined expression of all subordinate parts in fit measure of subordination, which the latter sought for, and attained.”
I have purposely lingered over this article, which I fear very few of my audience may have seen; but I now pass from these wise words of my friend to tell you what I have come to think of Turner, approaching him from the view-point of a philosophical critic or appraiser. I may perhaps mention that it was when I held the Chair of Philosophy in St. Andrews that I began my detailed study of him. It would be extremely foolish for anyone to say that Turner was the greatest of all painters; but I maintain and proclaim (in season and out of season) that he was the greatest landscape painter that ever lived. It has been the fashion of some to speak of the chief workers in any special realm of EENTH CENTURY
achievement as the Shakespeares of that realm. If that be a legitimate way of expressing admiration due to insight, it may be justly said that Turner was the Shakespeare of Landscape Art, just as Beethoven was the Shakespeare of Music. And why ? For this reason: No other artist ever entered into the innermost recesses of the Temple of Nature in the same way, and brought out her secrets with him afterwards; giving us both form and colour in all their variety and unity, their mystery and prodigality, their spaciousness, their vividness, their transparency. He took up, and all unconsciously included within the circle of his genius, the scattered excellences of many predecessors; and he has given us such an apocalypse of the Beautiful that of him alone is the expression true that as a painter he has shewn us the poetry of Nature. This is mainly due to the fact that he gave us the humanity of Nature, not by bringing man into his foregrounds (al-though he does that also), but by suggesting a human element within the material framework of Nature. And what is the result ? It is this: We see a tenderness, a grace, a radiance, in some of his landscapes; a conflict, a pathos, a struggle, a revolt, even an agony, in others of them. We see the solemn tragedy of his own life, enacted and re-enacted on the stage of the theatre of Nature, on sea, and land, and sky; the joy, the extasy, the sadness, the “riddle of the painful earth.” The range of his sympathy with Nature’s moods has had no parallel, before or since, but they all tend to triumph, and ultimate victory.
But just as the figure-painter must have a model to sit to him, and so far to copy, the landscape painter must have Nature before him to reproduce. He cannot build up a scene out of his own inner subjectivity, his memory, or power of invention; nor can he trust to the reproductive work of those who have painted before him. He must go out into the presence of Nature, taking with him, as Wordsworth said, “a heart that watches and receives.” In “a wise passiveness,” he must wait to see those fugitive splendours, which the ordinary eye never sees, and which one gifted with “the inward eye” sees only now and then. He cannot collect, or store up, his impressions of Nature as in a cabinet, or register them in a catalogue. In fact, he is not, and can never be, “a collector.” The fugitive splendour, the subtle spirit, the rare apocalypse of Naturetransient, kaleidoscopic, evanescent that is what he rejoices in. But alas! he can only record one passing mood, one transient glimpse, and leave it to suggest a thousand more. And here it is that the greatness of the idealist is . seen. He knows his limitations. He knows that he cannot record the evanescence just referred to; but he tries to make the little sterile bit of realism which he displays on his canvas suggest these immeasurable, unrecordable, idealistic things.
Here, again, it is that Turner is supreme. His drawings “might be fairly described as a series of experiments to discover with what system of colour it is possible to give the greatest amount of colour-truth, consistently with truth of light and shade; and will always remain more or less unintelligible to those who do not love landscape colour passionately, and see in its strength, variety and subtlety, the means of representing distinct moods of thought and feeling.” (A. Hunt.)
I may further signalize the chief point in Mr. Hunt’s admirable article. It was this: that in and by Art alone we cannot “reproduce the union which subsists in Nature between colour and light.” It would require a lecture by itself to discuss this question. I only state what Mr. Hunt affirmed. His’ enthusiastic devotion to Turner, who, he says, “first caught a glimpse of the full scope of landscape-art,” was paramount. He felt and taught that we must all follow iii his foot-steps. But, said he, “gifts which would enable their possessor to make a name as a painter of the human form, and of the spirit which dwells therein, mustin a landscape painterbe combined with a temper which will make Nature, and the spirit which dwells in Nature, his deepest love, and the reproduction of her Beauty the very labour of his life.”
Sir Walter Armstrong has said that Turner “seldom painted the sky itself. The dome of mysterious blue, with white cloud cathedrals standing against its infinity, had no charm for him. , His interest was given to those vapours and exhalations which, as it were, project over the earth against the illimitable depths, and substitute an infinite mysteriousness for external space. The skies of the South came to him too late to be received cordially into his scheme of Art. Their spacious purity, their detachment and indifference to humanity, suggested conditions to which his spirit could not sympathetically turn.” *But I think that there can be little doubt that Turner’s later pictures of Natureespecially his water-colour sketches of mountain and cloud, of landscape suffused with mystery were amongst the finest things he ever did. Let me first recall, in a sentence, some of his triumphs after 1838, The Storm, The Slave Ship, Bacchus and Ariadne, The Burial of Wilkie, The Carnival of Venice, The Sun of Venice (and other Venetian studies), his Rain, Steam and Speed. It is true that these glorious Venetian studies of his latest period are no longer to be seen in that atmosphere of glory through which they were first beheld. What survives is but the ghost of the past. But take his Rain, Steam and Speed, and I think that in it we have one of his finest later pictures because of its symbolic unity. As Sir Walter Armstrong says, “neither Rain, nor Speed, nor even Steam can really be painted; but, of all the three the painter can give a symbol, which is an organic whole. Turner saw his creation as a pattern in depth, as well as in width and height, as a pattern in mystery as well as in assertion, in movement as well as in repose. Through all these veils and quietudes he sends force rushing at us concrete but indefinite. In colour we have almost the masterpiece of Turner: a marvellous iridescence, an opalescent multitude of vaporous atoms, floating in the sun, veiling and transforming the landscape.” *He does not “mimic Nature, he supplements her, creating as it were in her wake, and giving proof as he goes of his own share in the elemental forces.’
I should perhaps here ask you to remember the enormous number of Turner’s works. It has no parallel in the history of Art; “21,000 pictures, drawings, and sketches by his hand are extant; or one for every day of his working life,” says Armstrong. Compare that with the 700 of Raeburn. His life was, as has well been said, “a miracle of industry;” his “observation never slept.” With him “to observe was to absorb.”
All this continuous observation and ceaseless receptivity, this selecting recording and assimilating, this sympathetic symbolic portraiture, carried on for so years, has nothing like it in the long history of Art. He knew that he could do better than others around him ; and although (it must be owned to his disadvantage), he did it to outstrip them, and to be in the van, the intensity of his taciturn love of Nature on its mystic side, his intuitive seizure of its multitudinous changeful glory, was one of the causes which kept him all these years as an industrious worker, glorying in the symbolism of Nature, while trying to reproduce its infinite variety and mystery.
And to the old questionwhich will be repeated and repeated time out of mindHow are Turner’s pictures so fascinating to the young idealist in Art ? this must be the reply. He was no photographer, but he understood and was able to reproduce the infinite variety of Nature, its changes and its mystery, the kaleidoscopic rearrangement of all that it shews when we first see it. His pictures are explanations, not of that which his senses grasped at first-sight, nor of that which his imagination seized at second-sight, and projected on the canvas created by himself, but of what lay deeper still.
I have just referred to the total absence of photographic copying (of course his work was antecedent to photography) or realistic reproduction in his landscapes. But this was allied to a very remarkable realismthat is to say, truthful reproduction of Nature in her most fugitive impressions. Turner knew how to interpret Nature by `the light that never was on sea or land,’ without inventing either processes or pro-‘ducts; and so his finest landscapes were trans-figurations, in the noblest sense of the term. He was the most receptive student of Nature that ever traversed her river-sides, her dales, her sea-coasts, and her mountain-tracks. By so doing he entered into a heritage that was sent on to him, absorbed it, and reproduced it for his contemporaries and successors.
It is most instructive to compare him, as I have said, with his contemporaries, as well as with predecessors and successors in the hierachy; with Girtin, with Daubigny, with Constable, with Corot, with Millet, and Rousseau. In all of these, although in very different ways, there was a reaction from Claudism, from the stale copying of the models of the past, by formal rule and a process prescribed.
But I would require to deliver a course of lectures on the Liber Studiorum, and the still more glorious Rivers of France, or deal with his vignettes to Rogers’ poems, and many another book, to give you a full idea of the glory of this one man as a landscape-artist.
Some of my audience may have heard the remark made by a foolish and audacious man, when looking on one of Turner’s greatest pictures, “I never saw the like of that in Nature.” “Don’t you wish you had seen it ?” was the reply. It leads me to a farther point in the appraisal of this great chief of landscape art. He “disdained the real,” as some put it, in his picture of Kilchurn Castle in Scotland, and still more explicitly in his drawing of The Chateau of Amboise, in his Rivers of France. His was unquestionably a disdainful ignoring of literal accuracy. He would have replied in spiritcould he have been troubled to do soto any questioner, “What do you mean by accuracy ? A topographer is not an artist. A great contemporary picture may be a pictorial legend. It may have been most care-fully `composed;’ but have neither reality, nor identity, in it.”
We must admit that there was some audacity in all this, on Turner’s part. His disdain for the reproduction of the actual before his outward eye, when he saw a more glorious ideal floating before his inward vision, was stupendous ; and explains much of his seemingly erratic work. His exaggerations were notorious, and his occasional loss of the real beauty of architecture through this ignoring of realistic accuracy. But the question always recurs, What is “accuracy” in Art, or Philosophy, or even in Theology ? If there is no imagination behind it, a great picture may be a pictorial legend. Fidelity to what is before your eyes does not insure a reproduction of the real, although there must be no outrage on it, and no discarding of it; so that, as one critic puts it, “a tower does not look like a stack, nor an obelisk like a factory chimney.”
There is a pleasant story told of Turner’s travelling in Italy from Florence to Rome, in company with U. R. J. Evans of Dublin. They worked together on their way, in those delightful days of unconventional if somewhat dilatory travel, each ignorant of who the other was. When they talked of their work afterwards, Evans said: “When we compared our drawings the difference was strange. I assure you there was not a single stroke of Turner’s that I could see like Nature, not a line nor an object; and yet my work was worthless in comparison with his. The whole glory of the scene was in his.”
The periods in his artistic life have been divided out by some as parallel to what we see in Plato’s philosophical one; those of apprenticeship, of travel, and of mastership, or lehrjahre, wanderjahre, and meisterjahre. But while there is a surface resemblance, the parallel may be overdone; and some, who made use of it, afterwards gave it up, Ruskin for example. It may be best to abandon the chronological arrangement, although Ruskin fell back on decades; and also the arrangement of his work in water-colour (as Sir Walter Armstrong does) according to their character, ingenious though it is, the first class containing his “drawings which ran parallel to his work in oil;” the second “his drawings for the line-engraver;” the third his ” drawings in body-colour on tinted paper;” the fourth his “colour-sketches and dreams of beauty on white paper, built up with a subtlety and dexterity in the use of transparent colour, which no other painter has approached.”
It is as a Nature-painter, pure and simple, that I have chiefly studied him; in which, however, he always blended incident, the historic sense, and humanity, with and in Nature. Take, for example, his Hannibal crossing the Alps. A storm of snow and wind meets the great Carthaginian general with his army, wending their way wearily along and underneath. Note the complete title which he selected for his picture. It was “Snow-storm. Hannibal crossing the Alps,” Nature first, humanity second; and both combined in superlative style. It is a wonderful bit of imaginative daring, this welding of humanity with Nature. Similarly in his glorious Bay of Baiae, his Ulysses deriding Polyphmus, the Sun of Venice, the Golden Bough, the Approach to Venice, and The Fighting Temeraire. Alas! that the superlative Bay of Baiae, with its old wonder-charm, is doomed. Its delicate opalescent colour gone. The Ulysses is even worse, that mail-suit which was the eye of the picture being scarce distinguishable now. How terribly reckless he was in his choice, and use, of pigments! and how the world now suffers from his recklessness. And yet we are receiving from time to time at our National Gallery in London, at the Tate Gallery, and elsewhere, many priceless relics of his genius.
Perhaps his most interesting landscape picture in the first of these galleries is the “Fighting Temeraire” being tugged into its last berth; its universal popularity being due to its still glorious colour, to its subject, its associations with Trafalgar and the Victory, as it was next to the flag ship in the fighting line. But it is most of all the combination of historic incident and patriotic sentiment, with the beauty of water and sky, and the tragedy of the great ship being towed away to be broken up, and to die as the daylight is seen dying in the west.
I am sure I am correct in saying that Turner brought Humanity into his pictures of Nature, just as Wordsworth brought it into his poems on Nature. The parallel was singularly close ; but I cannot work it out here and now. His debt to his predecessors was great, but he surpassed them all by conquests of those territories in which they had worked in a fragmentary manner before him. And the result was (as Zeller says of Plato’s relation to his predecessors) that “he was neither an envious imitator, nor an irresolute eclectic.”
His work on the Liber Studiorum was a sort of intermediate effort between his early water-colour and his later work in oil, before he re-turned to his yet grander water-colour; and it coincided with his wanderjahre, the glorious series of The Rivers of France being by far the finest of his sketches in foreign lands. I have already said that it is interesting to trace the evolution of his genius through all its stages to the end, and it is noteworthy that it did not shew it-self full-robed till he threw aside the idea of criticizing his contemporaries and predecessors; when “at the last,” as Sir Walter Armstrong puts it, “he had thrown rivalry, and reminiscence, and fear of judgment overboard,” “looking neither to the right, the left, nor behind him, but ahead.”
While the greatest of water-colourists, he at first tried to make that medium a rival to oil, and he succeeded in doing so; but he came to see that both were equally good for the presentation and perpetuation of the Beautiful. They were, in their provinces, distinct each from each; but they were harmonious in the end they aimed at and achieved.
It is usually a great presumption for any worker in realms outside that of plastic Art to venture on the criticism of a master to whom the world .is so much beholden; but perhaps I may venture to say just this, that he at times threw into his work so much detail, and elaborated so much, that he almost over-magnified its mysteriousness while he never over-praised its glory.
Many a writer has referred to his power of selection from Nature, and his frequent compression of the scenes he has reproduced. His artistic memory was marvellous, both as to form and colour, and it would sometimes seem that he could summon up from “the vasty deep” as many things as Shakespeare’s gigantic memory could, and utilize them nearly as well; butand here we see the hand of the masterhe made wise choice from that storehouse of memory ; and, as in the sister art of literary composition, it was by what he left out, and in that to which he gave no expression, that we see the hand of the master.
It is indeed a sad reflection that the colour in some of the finest of Turner’s pictures has now faded beyond recovery. Alas! their ownerschance proprietorshave not all acted as Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Henry Vaughan didwho covered them with veils, or kept them in closed cabinets for most of the year. When the year 2000 A. D. is reached it is very likely that most if not all of the loveliest will have disappeared. Those works of ethereal loveliness, which delight us now, will have vanished into the dim and formless void. Let us hope that one or other of two things and I cannot say which is bestwill occur. Either (1) that by some new scientific process our adepts at preservation will have discovered one better than photography, by means of which these treasures of the past may be transmitted to a future age; or (2) that, out of the turmoil and distorted outlook of the present hour, a new race of artists will ariseas I am certain that poets willto rival the glories of our magnificen t Turnerian era. If they do so, I am sure it will be. by first entering into their heritage as the assimilators of the spirit of this rare “Prophet of the Beautiful.”