Notebook, 1993-

Eastlake's Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters

Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock [One-time President of the Royal Academy], Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters [Formerly titled: Materials for a History of Oil Painting]. Vol. One. New York; Dover Publications, Inc. 1960 [Originally published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1847]

Professional Essays - Natural Contrasts

As long as things are compared together their beauty will be identified with the points on which they differ, but the sum of these differences will be found to be their characteristic qualities. Hence the great principle of imitative art that contrast is as character, importance, and beauty, and hence the spell which rivets the attention on the points of interest, and regulates the gradations of interest in the spectator. The contrasts in nature by which the eye is principally informed, viz. those of forms and colours, are differences of kind; the contrasts of light and dark, hard and soft are differences of degree. These, we may suppose, comprehend the chief contrasts in imitative art, but it is scarcely necessary to observe that there is no quality which is perceptible to the senses which can be a quality at all but as differing from that which it is not. The qualities of transparency, solidity, smoothness, proximity, &c., can only strike us to be such by a comparison with some approach to opacity, lightness, roughness, distance, and so forth. The vast field of observation which is spread before the painter accounts at once both for the rarity and also for the variety of excellence in this art, and shows how natural it is for a nation, a school, or an individual to select such portions of this translation of nature as the authority of custom, accident or inclination may direct. Thus we find [p. 321] the Venetian school delighted in the vivacity which results from contrast of colours; while the Flemish and Dutch schools dwelt rather on gradations of light and shade, and hardness and softness; excellences but imperfectly practised by the Venetians. Each school had its exceptions. In Italy, Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgione, and Correggio tempered more or less the display of colour with the gradations of chiaroscuro, while Rubens, Rembrandt, and Reynolds added the colour of Italy to the fascination of the Northern schools. The quantity of distinctness, and the greater or less rapidity of gradation in what relates to the conduct of a picture are the points in which schools fluctuate most. On the hazardous question "which is to be preferred?" we do not hesitate to assert that the representation which offers the greatest sum of such contrasts as agree with the general, remembered, or permanent impressions of nature is to be preferred to the truth with which a particular of extraordinary appearance is rendered. The works of art which a now immutable decision has placed in the first class exhibit in their several departments the largest facts or appearances of nature which were the object of study in that department. The excellence of such works in one or more qualities is often accompanied with very slender pretensions in others; hence the mistake often arising in the criticism of the arts, and the difference of opinion even among artists who see [p. 323] nothing but their darling excellence. In a word, the excellence of imitative representation may be defined to be its conformity to the style of the arts--to the style of the particular art--and to its fitness to address human beings; in other words, its general means, it specific means, and its only end. [p. 323]



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