Frederick G. Stephens.

Sir Edwin Landseer online

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the crisp and glossy hair of the dog, the bright sharp touch of the
green bough beside it, the clear painting of the wood of the coffin and
the folds of the blanket, are language - language clear and expressive
in the highest degree. But the close pressure of the dog’s breast
against the wood, the convulsive clinging of the paw which has dragged
the blanket off the trestle, the total powerlessness of the head laid,
close and motionless, upon its folds, the fixed and tearful fall of
the eye in its utter hopelessness, the rigidity of repose which marks
that there has been no motion nor change in the trance of agony since
the last blow was struck on the coffin-lid, the quietness and gloom
of the chamber, the spectacles marking the place where the Bible was
last closed, indicating how lonely has been the life - how unwatched
the departure of him who is now laid solitary in his sleep; - these
are all thoughts - thoughts by which the picture is separated at once
from hundreds of equal merit, as far as mere painting goes, by which
it ranks as a work of high art, and stamps its author not as a neat
imitator of the texture of a skin, or the fold of a drapery, but as the
man of mind.” - “Modern Painters,” ii., 1851, p. 8.

[40] On this picture Mr. Ruskin delivered an admirable
criticism: - “Again, there is capability of representing the essential
character, form, and colour of an object, without external texture.
On this point much has been said by Reynolds and others; and it is,
indeed, perhaps, the most unfailing characteristic of a great manner of
painting. Compare a dog of Edwin Landseer with a dog of Paul Veronese.
In the first, the outward texture is wrought out with exquisite
dexterity of handling, and minute attention to all the accidents of
curl and gloss which can give appearance of reality, while the hue
and power of the sunshine, and the truth of the shadow on all these
forms is necessarily neglected, and the larger relations of the animal
as a mass of colour to the sky or ground, or other parts of the
picture, utterly lost. This is Realism at the expense of Ideality, it
is treatment essentially unimaginative.” In a note to this paper the
critic added: - “I do not mean to withdraw the praise I have given,
and shall always be willing to give, such pictures as the ‘Highland
Shepherd’s Chief Mourner,’ and to all in which the character and
inner life of the animals are developed. But all lovers of art must
regret to find Mr. Landseer wasting his energies on such inanities as
the ‘Shoeing,’ and sacrificing colour, expression, and action to an
imitation of a glossy hide,” - “Modern Painters,” ii., 1846, p. 194.
There is a grain of fallacy mixed with the noble truth of this - it did
not follow that the sacrifices here enumerated were due to love for
painting the horse’s glossy hide. The picture was defective as stated
here, but not because of the realism it exhibited. The defects were
inherent, not due to the imitation. Lacking the nobler qualities, the
meaner ones became unworthily and ungracefully prominent. The superb
_tour de force_ in the painting of the feathers of “Spaniels of King
Charles Breed” (see above) does not appear mean, although it is at
least equal in successful imitation to the hide in question.

[41] His name “in the world” was “Neptune;” “in society” his female
companion’s name was “Venus.”

[42] Several of the descriptions here given have been adapted from
fuller ones made by the author before the pictures, and for previous
publication in the _Athenæum_ journal, during a long series of years.
They thus partake of the character of studies from nature.

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Online LibraryFrederick G. StephensSir Edwin Landseer → online text (page 11 of 11)