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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY
OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES

FROM THE LIBRARY OF
JIM TULLY



GIFT OF
MRS. JIM TULLY



TURNER



UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUMf

G. F. WATTS

BY J. E. PHYTHIAN

BURNE-JONES

BY J. E. PHYTHIAN

RODIN

BY FREDK. LAWTON

WHISTLER

BY FRANK RUTTER

ROSSETTI

BY FRANK RUTTER







CROSSING THE BROOK.



TURNER



J. E. PHYTHIAN



AUTHOR OF

K-^ " ,



f MODERN PAINTING, " G. T. WATTS,
"BURNC-JONES," ETC.




WITH TWENTY-FOUR. ILLUSTRATIONS



NEW YORK
MITCHELL KENNERLEY



Art

Library



CONTENTS

i

PAGE
I. ART, LIFE AND NATURE . I

II. LIFE AND LIFE-WORK . . . 36

in. TURNER'S READING OF EARTH . . 118

IV. AN EPIC OF HUMANITY . . .150

INDEX . . 193



850152



I
ART, LIFE AND NATURE

THERE is a story, one that might be difficult to
authenticate, of a mediaeval monk, who, having de-
parted this life, and being asked in his next stage of
existence how he had enjoyed the beautiful world he
had just left, replied that he had never seen its beauty.
Had such a question been asked, under such con-
ditions, this might well have been the reply, for Ruskin
tells us that a monk of the Grande Chartreuse, when
asked why the windows of the monastery faced in-
wards on a courtyard, instead of outwards over the
valley, replied that he and his fellows had not gone
there to look at the mountains. Browning, in ' Fra
Lippo Lippi,' sets talking a monk who was alive to
the beauty of the world, and its wonder and power,
' the shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades,
changes, surprises,' and who asked the captain of the
guard, a man who had seen the world, if he felt
thankful



2 TURNER

For this fair town's face, yonder river's line,
The mountain round it and the sky above,
Much more the figures of man, woman, child,
These are the frame to ?

And though Lippi was a very unmonkish monk,
and, in his keen enjoyment of the beauty around him,
in advance, as the artist must needs be, of most of his
contemporaries, yet he and the other artists of his time
were but the harbingers of a day when men would
have a much deeper and wider appreciation of the
beauty of their dwelling-place than had been possible
in earlier ages. The story of how mankind has
gradually come into enjoyment of this priceless source
of happiness, which yet may be free to all, has often
been told, and need not be formally repeated here. It
will inevitably come up incidentally as we discuss the
art of Turner in the following pages ; but it is to our
immediate purpose to notice that, since Fra Lippo
Lippi's day, landscape, after occupying a merely sub-
ordinate position in the art of painting, has completely
achieved its independence.

Browning recognises the old subordination in the
words he puts into the Prate's mouth. The fair
town's face, the river's line, the mountain and the
sky, are the frame to the figures of man, woman and
child ; and in the< pictorial art of that time they were



ART, LIFE AND NATURE 3

never more than this. The beauty of nature, and of
nature as modified by the hand of man for his own
use, was never painted alone, entirely for its own sake.
To-day, the pictures in which there is only landscape,
or in which the figures are wholly subordinate to the
landscape, form, perhaps, the greater number of all the
pictures painted. Probably the word artist, which is
really one of very general significance, would at once
suggest to ninety-nine out of every hundred people a
landscape painter.

The word landscape is a very unsatisfactory one for
the purpose it has to serve. Its inadequacy is obvious
when we consider that writers, not unfrequently, but
not always without an apology, use the word seascape.
And if seascape, why not skyscape also ? Even land,
sea and sky do not in themselves exhaust the land-
scape painter's subject-matter. Nor do we reach the
end when we have included all easily visible, natural
objects, living and lifeless. Just as when cattle occupy
an entirely subordinate place in a picture, we do not
think it necessary to catalogue it as a ' landscape with
cattle ' ; so, if human figures occupy only such place,
we are content with the term landscape. Yet no hard
and fast line can be drawn. That dear old pedant
Polonius had all the divisions and subdivisions of
dramatic art at his tongue's end. We make land-



4 TURNER

scape cover not only the world of earth, air and
water, with living things, including man, if they be
merely incidents in the general scene, but also, if
similarly incidental, the objects that are man's handi-
work, cottages, houses, churches, castles, boats and
ships on the sea in short, anything that is to be
seen ; so that, in common acceptation, a street-scene,
in which all of untouched nature that is in evidence
may be a mere vestige of sky above the house-roofs,
is a landscape.

All these considerations, it may be said, are but so
much commonplace. Yet it is necessary not merely to
have them in mind, but to insist upon them, when we
are approaching the art of Turner ; for if we are to
call him a landscape painter we must give a very
catholic interpretation of the range of the subject-
matter to be included within the term. The inadequacy
of the word becomes so obvious when we consider his
life-work, even if we exclude the pictures and drawings
that come clearly or doubtfully under other recognised
categories, that we cannot accept it as descriptive of
the content of his art, and hardly even as a label
negatively to mark off its content from that of works
that must strictly be classed as portraiture, genre,
history or what else. That Turner himself recognised
this is evident from the titles of some of his pictures,



ART, LIFE AND NATURE 5

such as The Bay of Ba'ue, Apollo and the Sibyl, and
The Sun rising in a Mist, Fishermen cleaning and selling
Fish. If we generalised such titles, and the contents
of the pictures, we should use such phrases as Landscape
and Mythology, Landscape and History, Landscape and
Genre, and very often the word landscape would
not be entitled to precedence.

Referring to an earlier volume of this series, the one
on G. F. Watts, I find myself repeating here, with
little more change than some elaboration and variation
of phrase, what was said there in the course of a com-
parison of Turner with Watts. The latter desired
to paint, and his desire was in the main accomplished,
an epic of humanity. It is obvious from Turner's
works, and from his literary efforts, that, in his own
way, he had the same purpose, with the difference I
quote from the earlier volume that what ' Turner
looked on and showed us from a distance, Watts
looked at and showed us from close at hand ; nay, we
may say, from within.' Elsewhere I have had occa-
sion to compare Watts' landscapes with the descriptive
language of the Psalmist, and the same comparison
holds good for Turner's pictures. His subject was
essentially the world as the dwelling-place of man.
Was the thought of God as within humanity and all
the phenomena of life and nature as constant with



6 TURNER

Turner as it certainly was with Watts ? I cannot say.
With this possible reservation, the words of the great
hymn of praise are an exact literary parallel to many
if not most of Turner's paintings, and I will not merely
refer to the words, but will quote them, because they
will arouse the thought and feeling that are needed for
a fully sympathetic appreciation of Turner's work.
' He watereth the hills from His chambers : the earth
is satisfied with the fruit of Thy works. He causeth
the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service
of man : that he may bring forth food out of the
earth ; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man,
and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which
strengtheneth man's heart. The trees of the Lord are
full of sap ; the cedars of Lebanon which he hath
planted ; where the birds make their nests : as for the
stork, the fir-trees are her house. The high hills are
a refuge for the wild goats ; and the rocks for the
conies. He appointed the moon for seasons : the sun
knoweth his going down. Thou makest darkness and
it is night : wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep
forth. The young lions roar after their prey, and
seek their meat from God. The sun ariseth, they
gather themselves together, and lay them down in their
dens. Man goeth forth unto his work and to his
labour until the evening. O Lord, how manifold are



ART, LIFE AND NATURE 7

Thy works ! in wisdom hast Thou made them all :
the earth is full of Thy riches.'

The drawing Datur Hora Quieti, reproduced as an
illustration to Rogers' Poems, may be instanced as one
of the great number of Turner's works that justify this
comparison. In fact, it should be said that the com-
parison ought not to have been given such prominence
unless his work as a whole justified it. But we need
not do more at the moment than take this single
illustration. The drawing is only a small one, but
the impressiveness of Turner's works is far from being
dependent on their size. He could express in inches
a sense of space and grandeur that artists of no mean
capacity could not give with feet of canvas to work
upon. The means by which he did this will be
considered later. Just now it is enough for us to
observe that this little drawing gives us rather a vision
than a vista ; and this not merely in the purely land-
scape elements, in the stretching away of hill and vale
and gleaming river to the faint, far-off horizon, with
the majesty above them of the setting sun among the
myriad cloudlets that owe to him their splendour of
varied colour, but also in the visible evidences of man's
life and activity. The ruined castle on the hill calls
up the thought of the coming and going of the
generations of men. How many feet have trod the



8 TURNER

bridge, where in earlier days would be a ford, the castle
guarding its passage ? The church spire reminds us
that man has ever been a worshipper, however various
may have been the gods he has worshipped. The
boats by the river-bank bid us think of commerce
between city and city, between country and country,
between continent and continent, and of adventure and
discovery. The windmill tells of the gathering in and
use of harvest ; and, lastly, we have one pulse-beat of
this incalculable length of life, the close of the single
day, the ploughmen going homeward with their horses,
leaving idle till the morrow the implement of which
the invention preceded all written history ; for, once
again, the night is coming in which no man can work,
and there is given once more the hour of rest which is
both a fulfilment and a promise.

All Turner's work, when he had passed through
his apprenticeship his many apprenticeships, one ought
rather to say and when both the man and his art had
matured, was wrought in a mood of exaltation that
was not merely aesthetic. Can it be said that there
was a spiritual element in his art ? The reader may
have winced or smiled when I said that perhaps
the thought of God was not as constant with Turner
as it was with Watts. But whether we can find a
name for it or not, there was a thought, that quickened



ART, LIFE AND NATURE 9

ever into emotion, other than the mere sensuous feeling
for visible beauty. Men have ever been worshippers,
we have just said, however various have been the
objects of their worship. Again and again Turner
shows in his work that he recognised this enduring
human trait. Did he worship, and if so, what ? The
cynic may answer that he worshipped fame, and money
as an earnest of fame. Those who do not mistake a
man's weakness for his strength will look to his life-
work, and some of them may say that Turner
worshipped the sun, that the worship grew upon him
with growing years, till at last he sacrificed everything
to the endeavour through his art to pay tribute to the
splendour of the sunlight. It is surely best not to
limit and define. Who would trust any man's power
so to sound the depths of his own nature, so to explore
and map them out, as to be able to set forth in formal
terms that which he truly worships, that in which, the
mighty complex in which, he lives and moves and has
his being ? Here, at the moment, all we need is to
affirm that Turner, the artist, was a worshipper, that he
bowed down before, and therefore exalted himself in
the contemplation of, the invisible within the visible.
This is why there is in his work a beauty that nature
cannot show ; a beauty, one must hasten to say, not
surpassing, but different from that of nature, no



io TURNER

mere imitation of what nature sets before us, but, like
music, a new creation.

This is true of all art, and of every artist, I may be
told. The reply is, yes, and pre-eminently true of
Turner. Is not every artist, consciously or uncon-
sciously, a Platonist, seeking everywhere the types
of which visible things are but the imperfect forms ?
Could Plato have seen a Turner landscape would he
not at once have given to painting a place in his
Republic ? Art is infinitely more than imitation. It
begins, indeed, with departure from imitation ; so that
truth to nature, in the sense of a record, as exact
as possible, of visible things, is precisely the wrong
criterion by which to judge it. 1 have been trying to
keep away from it, have substituted for it just now
poor words of my own, but it must come for its own
sake and for the authority it bears. The artist, to be
worthy the name, must make to shine

The light that never was on land or sea,

he must have

The consecration and the poet's dream.

Here I can see myself being charged with empha-
sising at the very beginning of this little book the
* literary ' element in Turner's pictures. Such em-
phasis I at once admit, but take objection to the



ART, LIFE AND NATURE n

epithet 'literary.' Mr. Cosmo Monkhouse describes
Turner as ' the great composer of chromatic harmonies
in forms of sea and sky, hills and plains, sunshine and
storm, towns and shipping, castles and cathedrals.'
Some of the forms rarely wanting in Turner's works
are omitted here, though named elsewhere. There
is no mention of men, women, children and animals.
The final significance of the Datur Hora Quieti, we
have seen, depends on the ploughmen going home
from their day's work. And if we interest ourselves
in these ' forms,' as well as in the chromatic harmonies,
are we confusing art with literature ?

Let us answer this last question by reference to
a literary counterpart of the Datur Hora Quieti the
opening verse of Gray's ' Elegy.' Here we have the
work of a composer of verbal, of literary harmonies.
The mere sound of the words would be harmonious
even if they had no meaning. How often one reads
aloud or recites both prose and verse merely for the
sake of the beauty of sound ! This is one purely
literary element in both prose and poetry. But
beyond this there is the meaning of the words ; and
the choice of the best words to express the meaning
is another literary element. But still there is the
meaning. Is the meaning literature ? The chief value
of the verse we are considering is that it calls up



iz TURNER

sights and sounds that we have seen and heard and
that stir our emotions. The words are idle words
unless they evoke a picture ; they would be meaning-
less to one who had never heard the evening bell
or the cattle lowing as they returned to the farm at
milking-time ; or who had never seen as in Turner's
drawing the weary ploughman going homewards as
the darkness settled down. These things could be
seen and heard, and the emotion evoked by them
be felt without any translation into words. That is to
say, literature does but give expression to what exists
independently of it. Ruskin, in one of his Oxford
lectures, half regrets that we cannot use such a word as
' spiriture ' or ' animature ' to denote that which exists
as thought or feeling before literary expression is given
to it, and to a large part of which, painting, just as
well as literature, and often better than literature, can
also give expression.

The spheres of literature and painting in this respect
are not identical, they do not exactly coincide in
fact they are very far from coinciding but they do
overlap. We are not concerned here to attempt a
delimitation of their respective spheres ; but only to
protest against painting being accused of trespassing on
the domain of literature whenever it does not content
itself with creating the visible harmonies which are



ART, LIFE AND NATURE 13

the counterpart of the harmonies of sound created by
literature.

That Turner sought to express through painting
such things as Virgil and Ovid, Scott, Byron and
many another had expressed in words is obvious ; and
no criticism of his life-work can be complete that does
not take account of his success or failure in this
respect ; and the success or failure is not to be
measured by merely quantitative comparison. Hamer-
ton says that all the meaning in the Liber Studiorum,
which was the subject of some of Ruskin's most
eloquent passages, could be packed into a couple of
sonnets, and then would not be worth much. Here is
the literary fallacy at work. We do not want
Turner's glowing art turned into even the most glow-
ing of words. A poem translated from one language
into another loses much of its value ; how much
greater must be the loss involved in translation from
one art to another ! Even if there be gain there is
also loss. We do not wish to break the Grecian
urn after reading Keats' ode to it.

To one of the best known of his imaginative
Italian landscapes, Lake Avernus, Turner gave the
sub-title The Golden Bough. Searching the picture
for an explanation of it, we find a female figure hold-
ing up in her left hand a bough which she has



14 TURNER

evidently cut down with the sickle in her right hand.
I can well recollect the time when, as a boy, I used to
look at the engraving of this picture without any
knowledge of the mythological significance of this
figure, and yet was vaguely moved by it, and felt that
somehow it deepened the beauty of the landscape.
Even then it had an emotional value. How much
greater is that value now after one has read and read
again Dr. Frazer's ' Golden Bough,' in which the mean-
ing of the figure is explained with such fulness of
erudition. Dr. Frazer gives a reproduction of this
picture as a frontispiece to his book. Would he have
done so had he not felt that the picture had an
emotional value that no verbal poetry, that no learned
research, could supersede ? The figure bearing the
Golden Bough, the other figures dancing round a fire,
the others, again, seated with the classical vases near
them, the temples overlooking the lake, the fragments
of masonry all these are not to be dismissed as
1 literary ' intruders in the landscape, out of place in a
painting because their emotional effect upon us largely
depends upon our knowledge of the history of the
changing beliefs of mankind ; nor is that emotional
effect to be measured by estimating the amount of in-
formation of the kind we get from books, they immedi-
ately, by our merely looking at them, convey to us.



ART, LIFE AND NATURE 15

With mythological interest of this kind, with
historical interest, and with the interest we derive
from scenes of everyday life, Turner's work is replete.
Writers who have emphasised these elements in his
works, such as Ruskin and Mr. Stopford Brooke, have
been called subjective critics, presumably because they
interest themselves in the subjects of the pictures is
there also a suggestion that they read into Turner
something that is not there, but only exists in their
inner consciousness ? Turner, however, was a sub-
jective painter, in the sense both of putting in his
pictures records of human doings that he had ob-
served, or heard or read about, and of endeavouring
to express through his art his own thoughts and feelings
with regard to the significance of human life. It is
open to a critic to deal only with the pictorial element
in Turner's work, with that which corresponds to the
purely literary element in prose and poetry, and to
ignore what we will call the spiritual element. But in
so doing he will criticise, not Turner's work, not the
whole of what the artist set himself to do, but only a
part of it ; and often the pictorial and the spiritual
elements are so completely fused that neither can be
adequately appreciated and discussed without reference
to the other. The subjective critics may not succeed
in exactly interpreting Turner's meaning, just as



i 6 TURNER

hearers may misinterpret preachers, and readers,
poets ; but they may be trusted to correct each other ;
at least they will be having regard to the artist's
obvious purpose ; and, after all, the proper function
of prophet, poet or poet-painter is not to impose his
own thought upon others as absolute truth, but to
make his individual, and therefore fallible contribution,
to the thought of mankind. Ruskin may have read
things into Turner ; the things themselves may be
none the worse for that. We owe more to him than
to those who have read nothing, of the same kind, in
Turner ; even though he have at times misinterpreted
his author we shall find Turner thus describing him-
self and though his own interpretations of life be not
as certainly right as he himself was inclined to think
them.

Cosmo Monkhouse speaks of Turner's art as full
of feeling for his fellow-creatures, and as showing
men at work in the fields, on the seas, in the mines,
in the battle, bargaining in the market, and carous-
ing at the fair. But he adds that the note of
domesticity is wanting, that we are never shown
men at home, and he thinks that this is attributable
to his never himself having experienced the charm
of home. The lack of this note in Turner's work,
he says, is one of the principal reasons why his



ART, LIFE AND NATURE 17

art has never been truly popular in home-lcving,
domestic England.

I have talked with many people who do not care
for Turner's art, but I have never once heard this
reason given for their indifference to it, or active dis-
like of it. The reasons almost unfailingly given are
the indistinctness, the lack of reality, the exaggeration
amounting to positive untruthfulness in his works. Nor
does one hear the works of Constable, Cox, De Wint,
and others of our landscape painters praised on account
of the incidents of home-life given in them, but for
their naturalness, for their reminding people of what
they themselves have seen. This, however, is, after all,
not very far away from what Monkhouse says. It is
not the lack of homely incident in Turner's work that
makes it unpopular there is, indeed, not a little of it
but the lack of a sense of the homely, familiar,
natural look of things. The story of the lady who
said to Turner that she never saw in nature such skies
as he put in his pictures, and of his reply, ' No, ma'am,
but don't you wish you could ? ' has not lost, nor is
likely for long enough to lose, its significance. Am I
the only Turner enthusiast who feels it at times a relief
to turn away from his chromatic harmonies to more
simply rendered landscape ? One feels at times, with
regard to Turner's work, somewhat as Dean Hole
c



1 8 TURNER

must have felt when, in a gorgeous flower-garden, he
took a friend by the arm and said, ' Let us go into the
kitchen-garden and cool our eyes on the lettuces ! '

But can we not turn away from pictures by Turner
that are stimulating and exciting to others by him that are
perfectly restful, and so find relief without going to other
artists ? Ruskin says, in * The Harbours of England,'
that nothing is so perfectly calm as Turner's calmness,
and instances the drawing of Scarborough, engraved in
that work. He shows that the effect of tranquillity is
obtained by elaborate artifices of reflection and repetition,
natural forms being modified, and various objects being
introduced, for the especial purpose. ' Observe,' he
says, ' the anxious doubling of every object by a visible
echo or shadow throughout this picture.' He tells us
further that 'the highest art is full of these little
cunnings, and it is only by the help of them that it can
succeed in at all equalling the force of the natural im-
pression.' This last sentence may be open to discussion ;
but it is enough for us to note here that it was by such
elaborate artistry that Turner sought to record the
impressions he had received from nature, that the
artistry is felt by the spectator even if he do not give


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