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 - Palette Knife

The expression of alternate sharpness and softness in the boundaries of forms, [whether forms of substance, of light, or of colour,] is indispensable to truth of imitation in painting, and by whatever mode this peculiar contrast is attained it can hardly fail to insure a picturesque and apparently free execution. An enlightened friend of Reynolds, Sir George Beaumont, often heard that great colourist say that accidental appearances in nature had better be produced by accidental operations. The same amateur was of opinion that the success of water-colour painters in skies was greatly owing to the unavoidable rapidity and uncontrolled freedom with which the forms of their clouds were produced. Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that not only certain forms of material things, but the fantastic shapes of masses and accidents of light, the capricious patches and breakings of colour on various surfaces, and the gemlike and irregular crispness of brilliant lights are all better rendered by methods which may be said to be, at least partly, accidental; and it is indeed only when accident is thus called in to imitate accident, that the infinite variety of nature can be said to be approached.

At the same time all depends on a right use of this principle. Nothing can be more seemingly at variance with such a proposed mode of imitation than the scientific studies and careful practice which [p. 375] aim at distinct appearances and immutable facts. The knowledge of anatomy and of beauty of form in the human figure and in animals, for instance, are referable to fixed laws; and the attist in such studies professes to define the types of excellence. It is one of the difficulties and privileges of painting that the most apparently opposite aims may, and must at different times, regulate its practice; the unprejudiced artist has, in short, to know and feel when the precision of science is to be his guide, and when that precision would endanger the very truth of imitation which he proposes.

Without entering further into the question what should, and what should not be the objects of precision, [the living form being admitted to stand pre-eminent among the recognized and definite objects,] it is to be remarked that whatever may be the degree of precision which the boundaries of some objects require--and they can never require undeviating hardness or softness--an irregular crispness in the lights is never out of place, whether in flesh, armour, drapery, or sky. The question what degree of softness is necessary to balance that crispness has been variously answered, according to the taste of painters, and it must also depend on the distance at which the work is to be seen. All such questions of degree must necessarily be left undetermined. We have here only to speak of the operations or methods. Much may depend on mechanical contrivances, and [p. 376] on varying and contrasting the operations. For example, although the brush may, in a bold hand, be employed to produce a sharp, crisp and irregular handling, and although it must be considered an indispensable instrument to assist even this kind of execution, yet it is not so entirely independent of the will as a harder instrument. In the peculiar practice here referred to, the brush may be considered the instrument of softness, the palette knife of crispness and sharpness. The first may represent imperceptible gradation, the other the abrupt edge and point of a crystal sharpness; the one typifies the cloud, the other the gem. By the palette knife is to be understood a very flexible ivory blade; several such, varying in the breadth of their extremity from an inch to almost a point, may be used. Their flexibility at the point of course increases with use, by degrees the point wears away and becomes less regular, and is not the worse for being so.

In all pictures there must be a scheme of light and dark, warm and cold. It is plain, therefore, that the will of the artist should be most exercised in the largest scale, and least so in the smallest details. The same may be observed of forms; their general proportions and true relation of masses are more important than the accuracy of minute parts. In the latter, freedom can do no harm. [p. 377]



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