페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

his art, viz., in what does a true portrait differ from a correct likeness?

Has it ever happened to the reader to be present in a family when one of its members has produced from his pocket a Calotype or Daguerreotype likeness of himself which he has just had taken. It is, we shall suppose, a sharp and good impression ; after many trials the artificer has selected it as the best, and he bas not deceived his employer. It is a perfect likeness; and still, though everybody knows for whom it must be intended, and everybody admits that it must be like, no one for a time can trace the resemblance. First, the children mark how well the hair is done, and the whiskers, and the shirt collar, and all the other immovable portions; then the features, one by one, are compared and found to be accurate; if it be a fine example, perhaps the very texture of the skin can be traced, and every imperfection, at all events, is infallibly to be found in its proper place. Nothing, in short, can exceed its accuracy in every respect. At last there is a discussion about the expression, and in this it is thought that a key to the difficulty may be found; but no—the expression also is one by no means alien to the face, with which every one who knows the individual is perfectly familiar, and which all agree that he very probably would assume on the occasion. Notwithstanding all this, however, the likeness continues to be not only not a pleasing one, but not even a striking one. Now, let the same individual betake himself to a really good portrait painter, and let the result of his labours be carried in the same unexpected manner into the midst of his family circle, and the very reverse of all this immediately takes place. The first impression produced on every one is that of marvellous likeness. It is the man himself, as they have always known him, as they have always thought of him, liker almost than himself as he sits amongst them. But then, when they commence to examine the details, it seems almost as if the likeness were vanishing from their sight. In many respects these are positively inaccurate. The nose is straighter, and possibly more prominent; the mouth firmer, the eyebrows overshadow the keen and vigilant eyes even more decidedly than in the original; the whole person is more vigorous; and though both the colour and texture of the skin have been preserved with astonishing truth, les traces de la petite verolle, (if the individual partook of the misfortune of Mirabeau,) have probably disappeared. In all these respects it is less true to nature than the Calotype, and yet it is not only a more pleasing object of contemplation, but positively more like the individual on the whole. Now, how is this mystery of greater likeness arising from inaccuracy than from accuracy to be explained ? It is simply that the character of the individual

Individual Idealiaztion-the Portrait.

93

has been seized, not as it presents itself at any one given point of time, but as it manifests itself habitually. In the portrait you have actually more of the man than in the Calotype, more of him than you have in himself at any one moment. It is the concentrated image of him, not as he lives only, but as he has lived and will live, nay even, but for accidental misfortunes, as he might have lived. The primary intention of nature with regard to him the artist has fulfilled; he has accomplished the idea which lay at the root of his life, and which his friends unconsciously associated with him. The ideal not of a man, or of a class, but of the individual man whom you have known, stands before you; and you are strangely satisfied. But though many, and perhaps most persons who have bestowed any thought on the subject at all, will agree with us, that something similar to that which we have described must be achieved, or at least attempted, by the portrait painter who lays claim to the character of an artist, there is, if we mistake not, a very considerable amount of error which prevails on the part both of artists and critics with reference to the method which must be adopted for its attainment. We are told, and told truly, that the artist must abstract and generalize, that he must analyze before he paints; but then what is usually understood by this is simply that he is to lay aside individual peculiarities and imperfections, in order that he may bring his subject nearer to the generic idea of man, which is supposed to be some strange negation of all individual qualities; and the result is, that instead of being developed and strengthened, the generic qualities, as manifested in the individual, are stripped and emasculated, and what is presented to us is not a loftier and grander specimen of the species of man which nature intended, but a being enfeebled by the softening down and paring away of those characteristics through which, and through which alone, the generic qualities were manifested. It is not by taking from, but by adding to individual existence that the portrait painter's work is to be done. His effort must be not to denude the generic qualities of their accidents, but, by discovering and exhibiting them in these accidents themselves, to give unity and harmony and meaning to what seemed blind caprice. In this sense the portrait painter is truly an interpreter of nature, for before he can trace one feature with security, he must have read the riddle which she has written on the whole countenance.

But it may be objected that no confessional is attached to the studio, and that consequently unless the painter forms a league with the priest, it is impossible, according to our principles, that he can paint at all. We reply, he must form his theory, a true one if he can, if not a false one, but at all events one to which lie consistently adheres. He may paint a saint or a hypocrite, a hero or a bully, a knave or a fool, but he will produce but a feeble and unsatisfactory portrait, if he attempts to paint a man without determining for the nonce, at all events, to which of these categories he belongs. The character which rightly or wrongly he has thus adopted must be the centre thought, the dominant idea, around which the minor characteristics range themselves like ministering spirits.

Such then, as it seems to us, is the principle upon which individual idealization must proceed. The whole man must be heightened and intensified, by heightening and intensifying the individual characteristics of which he is made up, whilst unity and harmony is communicated to the image by subordinating the minor features to the dominant and ruling idea. These views will be further illustrated if we attend to the distinction between portraiture, as we have here described it, and caricature, which Aristotle, if he had troubled himself about the matter, would probably have laid down as a tapékBaois of individual idealization. Caricature, even more decidedly than portraiture, depends on the subordination of minor characteristics to one dominant characteristic, but the difference lies here: in caricature the characteristic selected is not the leading idea of the whole individual existence, around which the character, bodily as well as mental, has formed itself, and of whose colouring, so to speak, every feature partakes, but the most prominent external pecuJiarity, which is magnified to such an extent as to destroy all harmony in the image, whilst the other characteristics, instead of being strengthened and intensified, are diminished so as to give to the whole a mean and ludicrous appearance. Let us take a well known example. Suppose a caricature of Lord Brougham is desired : the most striking peculiarity in his countenance is a square portion of flesh which is pendulous from his nose. With this the caricaturist begins: this he adopts as his leading idea, and to this he subordinates all the other features in that remarkable face, till he renders the whole image absurd and laughable. What you have is not Lord Brougham, with his nose of an abnormal form, but Lord Brougham's nose immensely magnified, to which is appended a likeness of his other features greatly diminished. Now, let a painter take him up: the first characteristic he would fix upon would probably be the intense activity of his nervous system, as exhibited in the restless life of his whole countenance. He would say to himself, “ Here is a man of unusually quick and versatile parts;" and this idea once adopted he would work into each individual feature, as lie painted it, till it became the involuntary exclamation of every spectator on first glancing at the canvass. The nose unquestion

[blocks in formation]

ably he would not ignore, but by raising and strengthening the other features he would bring it into such harmony with the whole idea that its irregularity would cease to be very obtrusive.

We have dwelt on this portion of our subject with some earnestness, not from

any idle fancy that what we have said is to possess the character of an æsthetic discovery to the better instructed and sounder headed portion of our readers, but from a firm conviction that to a forgetfulness of the principles which we have attempted to revive on the part of the general public, and of those popular artists who reflect its sentiments, is to be ascribed that want of confidence at the present time so prevalent in all artistic efforts which professedly depart from the letter of individual nature. Against the spurious idealization which consists either in taming down individual characteristics or in magnifying accidental peculiarities, the charges of feebleness on the one hand, and exaggeration on the other, are most justly directed; but the error consists in supposing that every departure from nature, as she presents herself in special circumstances, must be in one or other of these directions.

So much then for individual idealization, the first step which the artist makes out of the region of actual existence, and short of which he cannot stop, if he is to lay claim to the character of an artist at all. The next step is one very frequently attempted, with more or less success, by modern artists, and which commonly forms the limit of their endeavours,—we mean specific idealization, or the seizing of the type of a particular species or class of men, animals, or things. It was at this that the whole school of Dutch painters aimed, and it was in this that our own Wilkie was so signally successful. His Blind Fiddler” is the type of all blind fiddlers; and in his “ Rent Day," his “ Village Politicians,” his “ Chelsea Pensioners,” and others of his pictures, we have frequent examples of most complete success in this department. The object of the painter is here to subordinate the individual peculiarities, not to the leading idea of the individual life, but to the most prominent peculiarity of the class of which it is intended that the subject shall serve as a representative. The field of action is, in a certain sense, a wider one than in individual portraiture, the generalization stands on a broader basis; and if the subject selected be such as to admit of the free exhibition of generic qualities in and through the specific, the work will border upon the higher department of which we have next to speak. Suppose the type to be aimed at is that of a soldier or an orator, the appropriate image will not differ greatly from a work of ideal art, properly so called. The full expression of the specific qualities, of the idiosyncrasies of class, is here not only consistent with an exhibition of the generic qualities of man, but seems absolutely to demand it. Even the canon according to which nature has proportioned the human figure, may not only be adhered to with propriety, but can scarcely be departed from with impunity. The specific peculiarities, in short, from the very nature of the case, must be exhibited in a well proportioned and fully developed human form ; and these peculiarities are in themselves of so simple and universal a kind, as to be perfectly consistent with that unity of purpose which must ever be conspicuous in works of art of the highest kind. But such are by no means the subjects usually chosen by artists who devote themselves to this department; on the contrary, those cases in which the generic qualities must of necessity be subordinated to, and as it were obscured by the specific offer to many persons, for reasons not difficult to discover, a temptation scarcely to be resisted. The more abnormal any object or class of objects is, the more easily will an effect of a certain kind be produced, and a certain species of success be secured by its representation ; for when the qualities of the genus are thrown into the shade, no great amount of skill is required to make those of the species stand forth with peculiar vividness. Let us take an example. The Irish have long been distinguished for their powers of public speaking, and their orators possess so many peculiarities as to render it quite possible that an artist should present a type of the class. In addition to the peculiarities of an Irishman, however, he would in this case require to bestow on his subject the qualities of a well formed and largely developed man, the better classes in Ireland being large and handsome. Now, one-tenth part of the ability which would be requisite thus to preserve the Irishman in, and present him through the generic qualities of well developed manhood, would suffice, if the artist were permitted to subordinate these entirely to peculiarities of race, which he probably would be entitled to do if he were representing an Irishman of the people. In the former case, the normal human form being preserved without any serious alteration, would form a continual element of likeness, against which the typical peculiarities, so to speak, would have to struggle ; whereas in the latter, it might be distorted to any extent which was requisite, to bring out the specialities of the case with greater force. It is for this reason that the subjects selected by artists in this department are usually those, the effect of whose occupations or habits is to destroy the symmetry of their form. Tailors and shoemakers with bent backs, blear eyes, and wrinkled faces, fat cooks with thick arms, bloated drunkards with thin legs, idiots with “foreheads villanous low,” grinning from ear to ear; such were the favourite subjects of the Dutch masters, and if they have not

« 이전계속 »