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His Estimate Of Turner In 1853.
I tell you the truth which I have given fifteen years of my life to asecrtain, that this man, this Turner, of whom you have known so little while he was living among you, will one (lay take his place beside Shakspeare and Verulam, in the annals of the light of England. Yes: beside Shakspeare and Verulam, a third star in that central constellation, round which, in the astronomy of intellect, all other stars make their circuit. By Shakspeare humanity was unsealed to you; by Verulam the principlet of nature; and by Turner her aspect. All these were sent to unlock one of the gates of light, and to unlock it for the first time. But of all the three, though not the greatest, Turner was the most unprecedented in his work. Bacon did what Aristotle had attempted; Shakspeare did perfeclly what jEschylus did partially; but none before Turner had lifted the veil from the face of nature; the majesty of the hills and forests had received no interpretation, and the clouds passed unrecorded from the face of the
heaven which they adorned, and of the earth to which they ministered. ,
In 1869 Mr. Ruskin published a volume on the Greek myths of cloud and storm, entitled The Queen of the Air. In it we find a historical parallel drawn between Luini, an Italian painter, born in the second half of the fifteenth century, and Turner. In order to understand what is said about Turner, we must read part of what is said about Luini, which we may do with the less reluctance, because Mr. Ruskin never wrote more beautifully.
Turner And Luini.
Luini has left nothing behind him that is not lovely; but of his life I believe hardly anything is known beyond remnants of tradition, which murmur about Lugano and Saronno, and which remain ungleaned. This only is certain, that he was born in the loveliest district of Xorth Italy, where hills and streams and air meet in softest harmonies. Child of the Alps, and of their divinest lake, he is taught, without doubt or dismay, a lofty religious creed, and a sufficient law of life, and of its mechanical arts. Whether lessoned by Leonardo himself, or merely one of many, disciplined in the system of the Milanese school, he learns unerringly to draw—unerringly and enduringly to paint. His tasks are set him, without question, day by day, by men who are justly satisfied with his work, and who accept it without any harmful praise or senseless blame. Place, scale, and subject arc determined for him on the cloister wall or the church dome; as he is required, and for sufficient daily bread, and little more, he paints what he has been taught to design wisely, and has passion to realize gloriously; every touch he lays is eternal, every thought he conceives is beautiful and pure; his hand moves always in radiance of blessing; from day to day his life enlarges in power and peace; it passes away cloudlessly, the starry twilight remaining arched far against the night .
Oppose to such a life as this that of a great painter amidst the elements of modern English liberty. Take the life of Turner, in whom the artistic energy and inherent love of beauty were, at least, as strong as in Luini; I but, amidst the disorder and ghastliness of the lower streets of London, i his instincts in early infancy were warped into toleration of evil, or even ^ into delight in it. He gathers what he can of instruction by questioning and prying among half-informed masters; spells out some knowledge of classical fable, educates himself, by an admirable force, to the production of wildly majestic or pathetically tender and pure pictures, by which he cannot live. There is no one to judge them or to command him; only some of the English upper classes hire him to paint their houses and parks, and destroy the drawings afterward by the most wanton neglect. Tired of laboring carefully, without cither reward or praise, he dashes out into various experimental and popular works, makes himself the servant of the lower public, and is dragged hither and thither at their will; while yet, helpless and guideless, he indulges his idiosyncrasies till they change J into insanities; the strength of his soul increasing its sufferings and giving force to its errors; all the purpose of life degenerating into instinct, and the web of his work wrought, at last, of beauties too subtle to be understood, his liberty, with vices too singular to be forgiven—all useless, because magnificent idiosyncrasy had become solitude, or contention, in the midst of a reckless populace, instead of submitting itself in loyal harmony to the Art laws of an understanding nation. And the life passed away in darkness; and its final work, in all the best beauty of it, has already perished, only enough remaining to teach us what we have lost. ^
Few things from the pen of Ruskin have surprised rue more than th is passage. I have never been able to endorse it, nor can I believe that Ruskin would have written it, had he not at the moment been in a state of fierce and, I think, unreasonable indignation against "liberty" as opposed to "law." Finally,
in 1878, be speaks quietly, moderately, rightly, of Turner. I quote the decisive words.
The Final Estimate.
He produced no work of importance till he was past twenty; working constantly, from the day he could hold a pencil, in steady studentship, with gradually-increasing intelligence, and, fortunately for him, rightlyguided skill. His true master was Dr. Munro: to the practical teaching of that first patron, and the wise simplicity of water-color study in which he was disciplined by him and companioned by Girtin, the healthy and constant development of the youth's power is primarily to be attributed. The greatness of the power itself it is impossible to over-estimate. As in my own advancing life I learn more of the laws of noble art, I recognize faults in Turner to which once I was blind; but only as I recognize also powers which my boy's enthusiasm did but disgrace by its advocacy.
I am disposed to think that, in the same amount of space, Ruskin has never said anything so true, so pertinent, so informing, of Turner, as what we have in these lines. ,
HIS OWN DRAWINGS.
"D USKIN has sometimes appeared to prefer the name of artist to that of author; and during a few weeks, at the close of the exhibition of his Turner drawings in Bond Street in 1878, he placed beside these a series of his own, amply representing his claim to the designation. An admirable opportunity was thus obtained by students of Ruskin and of Turner for comparing their works, and forming a clear, comprehensive, definite opinion as to the relation in which the great critic stands to the great artist.
What is art? A good many years ago I had occasion to consider this question very carefully, and I stated the result in an essay on the Elementary Principles of Criticism. Working upon lines which had been followed to a certain point by Professor Masson, and by that acute and far-seeing critic, the late Mr. Brimley, of Cambridge, I pronounced art, in its essential nature, to be a "mimic creation" of man's, the product of those instincts which urge him to imitate nature, and still more to make use of her forms and colors to create organic unities of his own. The imitative and the creative instincts are distinguishable, and even admit of being developed at the expense of each other; but it is seldom, perhaps it is never, practicable to discriminate them in the producing impulse of art, or to assign to each its part in a poem or a picture. In the harmonious union of the two—imitation, the lower, ministering to creation, the higher—the artist finds the ruling principle of his method of work; and the genuine art-product—the true picture, the living poem—exhibits imitation and creation, what
the artist finds in nature, and what he gives to nature, indisso-,' lubly blended. Whether, however, we dwell upon the imitativo element or upon the creative element in art, stress is to be laid upon the appropriation to man of the art-product . He delights in it first of all, and he delights in it last of all, not because it records for him any fact in nature (then he were a natural historian), not because it reveals to him any secret of nature (then he were a man of science), but because it is the child of his soul, the Pallas of his brain. The differentia of art—that which it shares neither with science nor with religion —is thus ascertained; and when this has been done, it becomes a simple matter to classify the several fine arts by the materials with which they work, sculpture employing light and shade, music clothing itself in sound, poetry making use of language, painting rejoicing in color.
"This theory," I wrote twenty years ago, " finds a prima facie vindication in its applicability to practical problems." In the interval I have always, more or less, been studying art, and I have never found the theory fail me. I have studied the art of Turner more closely and constantly than that of any other artist, and I have arrived at the conviction—a conviction which deepened with every year of increasing knowledge— that, on the whole, Turner's education in art and practice of art were perfect, and that his works are expressive illustrations, and authoritative, monumental "examples, of what art ought to be.
In Turner's works there is always implicit recognition of man's sovereignty over nature; there is always the transforming touch by which nature becomes art. This vital element may be seen on a small scale or on a great; in the few strokes of the hand by which the line-harmonies of two or three laurel leaves arc abstracted and fixed, or in the serene might of imagination by which the cliffs and ash-trces of Bolton Abbey are dowered with new and immortal beauty. But it is never