1902 Encyclopedia > Drawing


DRAWING. Although the verb to draw has various meanings, the substantive drawing is confined by usage to that of design, and is treated as if it were a synonym of design. The word comes from the Latin trahere, or from a kindred Gothic word, so that traction and drawing are nearly related, and preserve still the same meaning when applied to the work of animals or machines, as we say that a traction engine draws so many tons. Another form of the same word is dray, the strong low vehicle used by brewers and carriers. It may be worth while to inquire what is the connection between the idea of a dray horse and that of a drawing-master.

The primitive idea, which is the common origin of both senses of the word to draw, is that of moving something in one’s own decision. Thus, a horse draws a plough; but a carpenter does not draw his plane, he pushes it, and we should say that a locomotive drew a train when the locomotive was in front, but not when it was behind. The same idea is preserved in the fine arts. We do not usually say, or think, that a sculptor is drawing when he is using his chisel, although he may be expressing or defining forms, nor that an engraver is drawing when he is pushing the burin with the palm of the hand, although the result may be the rendering of a design. But we do say that an artist is drawing when he uses the lead pencil, and here we have a motion bearing some resemblance to that of the horse or engine. The fingers of the artist draw the pencil point along the paper. The analogy may be clearly seen in certain circumstances. When the North American Indians shift their camps they frequently tie a tent-pole on each side of the horse like a shaft, leaving the ends to drag along the ground, whilst their baggage is laid on cross pieces. Here we have a very close analogy with artistic drawing. The poles are drawn on the ground as a pencil is on paper, and they leave marks behind them corresponding to the lines of the pencil.

The same analogy may be observed between two of the senses in which the French verb tirer is frequently employed. This verb is not derived from trahere, but may be ultimately traced, like our own verb to tear, to the Ionic GREEK. It was formerly used by good writers in the two senses of our verb to draw. Thus Lafontaine says, "Six forts chevaux tiraient un coche," and Cailliéres wrote, "II n’y a pas longtemps que je me suis fait tirer par Rigaud," meaning that Rigaud had drawn or painted his portrait. At the present day the verb tirir has fallen into disuse amongst cultivated Frenchmen with regard to the drawing and painting, but it still for printing, as for example "cette gravure sera tirée á cent exemplaires," but here rather in the sense of pulling than of drawing."

A verb much more nearly related to the English verb to draw in traire, which has trait for its past participle. It comes from trahere, and is so little altered as to be scarcely even a corruption of the original Latin form. Traire is now used exclusively for milking cows and other animals, and the analogy between this and artistic drawing is not obvious at first, nevertheless there is a certain analogy of motion, the hand passing down the teat draws the milk downwards. The word trait is much more familiar in connection with art as "les traits du visage," the natural markings of the face, and it is very often used in a figurative sense, as we say "traits of character." It is quite familiar in portrait, derived from protrahere.

The ancient Romans used words which expressed more clearly the conception that drawing was done in line (delineare) or in shade (adumbrare), though there are reasons for believing that the words were often indicrimately applied. Although the modern Italian have both traire and trarre, they use delineare still in the sense of artistic drawing, and also adombrare.

The Greek verb GRREK is familiar to the English reader in "graphic" and in many compounds, such as photograph, &c. It is worth that the Greeks seem to have considered drawing and writing as essentially the same process, since they used the same word for both. This point to the early identify of the two arts when drawing was a kind of writing, and when such writing as men had learned to practice was essentially what we should call drawing, though of a rude and simple kind. "The origin of the hieroglyphics of Egypt," says Dr Wilson (Pre-Historic Man, chap. Xviii), "is clearly traceable to the simplest form of picture-writing, the literal figuring of the objects designed to be expressed. Through a natural series of progressive stages this infantile art developed itself into a phonetic alphabet, the arbitrary symbols of sounds of the human voice." Even in the present day picture writing is not unfrequently resorted to by travelers as a means of making themselves intelligible. There is also a kind of art which is writing in the modern sense and drawing at the same time, such as the work of the mediaeval illuminators in their manuscripts.

The mental processes by which man has gradually become able to draw, in our modern sense of the word, may be followed, like the development of a chicken in the egg, be examining specimens at various stages of formation. His first efforts are remarkable for their highly abstract character, because the developed intellect has few and simple ideas, and takes what is perceives in nature without being embarrassed by the rest. It seizes upon facts rather than appearances, and the primitive artist is satisfied when the fact has been clearly stated or conveyed by him. The study of appearances, and the effort to render them, come much later; and the complete knowledge of appearance is the sign of a very high state of civilization, implying most advanced artistic culture both in the artist and in the public to whom he addresses himself. The work of the primitive artist is an affirmation of the realities that he knew without mystery or confusion. In all early Egyptian work you see at once that the artist intended to draw, whereas the finest modern drawing is often so mysterious as to be most obscure to those who have not made a special study of the fine arts. The primitive artist knew that his work was really that of a writer, and as the sign-painter of the present day takes care to make his letters plain in order that they may be read, so the early Egyptian draftsman had no thought of any more delicate truth of appearance that, that which sufficed to let people clearly understand what his figures and symbols were intended for. There was no conception of what artists call "effect," which enters into the greater part of modern drawing, until a very much later period.

We may mentioned briefly two survivals of primitive art in our own day, which have for their purpose a high degree of legibility. These are coast-of-arms and trade-marks, Heraldic drawing, when properly done, is executed on primitive principles, and is a survival of the earliest uses of graphic art, being really a kind of writing intended to be recognizable by the illiterate when they saw it in shield or banner. Modern trade-marks, of which the use has greatly extended of late years, are of the same class, and are often designed with a simplicity of intention like that of remote antiquity.

Archaic forms of drawing are thus not all extinct even in our own day, and certain arts are practised among us which compel the modern mind to recover by effort and study something of that simplicity and decision which were instinctive in earlier ages. Book-binding, illuminating, and designing for pottery are often rightly practised in these days in an archaic spirit. In some of the best modern caricatures there are peculiarities which belong to early symbolic drawing, in which, as Dr Wilson says, "the figures are for the most part grotesque and monstrous from the very necessity of giving predominance to the special feature in which the symbol is embodied."

The first idea of drawing is always delineation, the marking out of the subject by lines, the notion of drawing without lines being of later development. In primitive work the outline is hard and firm, but inferior markings are given also. When the outline was complete, the primitive artists would proceed at once in many cases to fill up the space inclosed by it with flat colour, but he did not understand light and shade and gradation. The historical development of drawing may always be seen in the practice of children when left to draw for their amusement. They begins, as the human race began, with firm outlines, representing men and animals, usually in profile. The next thing they do, if let to their own instincts, is to fill up the spaces so marked out with colour, the brightest they can get. This is genuine primitive art.

By referring to the earliest kind of drawing we perceive how drawing may exist without certain elements which in modern times are usually associated with it. We generally conceive of drawing in close association with perspective, and at least with some degree of light and shade, but it may exist independently of both. This may perhaps help us to a definition of drawing. Such a definition would need to be exceedingly comprehensive, or else it would certainly exclude some of the many arts into which drawing more or less visibly enters. A modern critic would be very likely say that a figure was deficient in drawing if it was deficient in perspective, and yet the two are easily separable, as for example in the work of the mechanical draftsman; or drawing may be associated wit ha kind of perspective which is visually false, as isometric perspective. We might say that drawing was the imitation of form, but a moment’s reflection would enable us to perceive that it may create forms without imitating, as it does in many fanciful conceptions of ornamental designers. It might be suggested that drawing was the representation on a flat surface of forms which are not flat, but the most variously curved surfaces, as in vases, are frequently drawn upon, and flat objects are sometimes represented on rounded surfaces. The Greeks were so logical in their use of GREEK for both drawing and writing that it is not possible to construct a definition comprehensive enough to include all the varieties of drawing without including writing also. If we say that drawing is a motion which leaves significant marks, we are as precise as the numerous varieties of the art will permit us to be.

The first step in the arts of design is a resolute and decided conventionalism. Drawing always begins with line, and there are no lines in nature. The natural world presents itself to the eye as an assemblage of variously coloured patches or spaces, always full of gradation both in shade and colour, but in all this there is no such thing as a real line. Even the sea0-horizon, which is commonly spoken of a line, is not so in reality, it is only the ending of a coloured space. The conventionalism of the line being once admitted, it may be considered as neither good not bad in itself, but a simple necessity. Beyond this, however, in the use of the line when it has once been adopted, there may be artistic merit or demerit.

All primitive line-drawing gives a version of natural truth which is idealized in one way or the other, and it is always conventional not only in the same of using conventional means, but also in that of interpreting natural forms with conventional amplifications or omissions. The temper of a primitive civilization always led its artists to the expression of certain customary ways of seeing things which were transmitted traditionally by art, so that the artists in their turn become the means of imposing the authority of public sentiment upon their successors. The liberty of individual artists, even to draw what may seem such a simple things as the outline of a human figure, is dependent upon the degree in which the civilization under which they live is or is not traditional.

To understand the effect of customary ways of seeing things on the use of pure line in drawing, the reader is recommended to study some specimens of early design as it was practised in China, in Japan, in Egypt, in Assyria, and in Greece. It is easy, in these days, to procure photographic reproductions of ancient design when the student does not live near museum. He will perceive at once in the five countries four entirely different ways of seeing and designing the curvature of lines, although the Chinese and Japanese ways are nearer to each other than they are to the Egyptian or the Greek; whilst on the other hand, different as the two later may be, they are nearer to each other than to the art of China or Japan.

A certain kind of curvature is dominant in Chinese art, along with the preference for certain easily recognizable forms. In Japanese drawings the curves are wilder. Bolder, more unexpected, more audacious; and when the Japanese designer chose to make use of angles he was, from the same tendency to vivacity and exaggeration, disposed to prefer acute angles. In both Chinese and Japanese work, when at its best, there is often the most exquisite beauty and delicacy of line, especially in the contours of female faces; and there is frequently a masterly power in the interpretation of natural truth, or certain portions of natural truth, by means of the utmost simplicity.

In ancient Egypt the line was quieter and less "tormented" than in China or Japan, the curvature more restrained, and the artistic expression generally rather that of calm dignity than vigorous action. Egyptian art was kept within the strictest limits by the most powerful conventionalism that ever existed, but the student of drawing will find much in it that is well worth his attention. The Egyptian draftsmen attained to a most noble use of line, combining a serious and disciplined reverse with much delicacy of modulation. The true grandeur of Egyptian work has only been apprehended of late years, because it was formerly supposed that its conventionalism, was due to simple ignorance of nature and want of skill in art. It is of various degrees of excellence, and there were inferior artists in the early Egyptian schools, as in others; but we are often started by magnificent power in conventionalizing natural material, and by a peculiar sense of beauty. There is in Egyptian design a singular combination of tranquil strength with refinement.

Assyrian design is very familiar to us through the ancient wall-sculptures, where the line is often rather engraved then carved, so that we can see quite plainly what were the qualities of drawing which the Assyrian artists valued. They, too, conventionalized nature, but sought for those curves and accents of line which express manly beauty rather than feminine. They drew, in their own way, admirably well, with great firmness and self-command, knowing always exactly what equivalents or representatives to give for the lines and markings of nature, in accordance with the spirit of their artistic system. Their art is much more strongly accentuated than the Egyptian, and we might even say that it is more picturesque while it is less tranquil. Assyrian design has more of the spirit of painting in it than Egyptian, and less of the spirit of sculpture. The Assyrian line tends to the expression of energy in action, the Egyptian to strength and beauty in repose.

Notwithstanding the high degree of power and skill attained in linear design by nations which existed before the artistic development of Greece, it must ever remain an inexplicable marvel that the Greek designers should have attained, apparently without effort and simply by the gift of nature, to a degree of perfection in the use of line which had never been approached before and has never been equaled since. The mainly beauty of an Assyrian king at a lion hunt, with his curly beard and his muscular legs, and his arm mighty to bend the bow, is grand indeed, but with a purely barbaric grandeur; the half-feminine beauty of an Egyptian deity lives chiefly in the serene face – the body is often frankly architectural, and has always rather the qualities of a column then those of the living flesh. But in Greece the curves of the line were for the first time made to express the fullness and grace of life, with an ideal perfection coming from the exquisite innate taste and refinement of the artists, and never to be found in any single model. How much knowledge and taste may be expressed by a simple line may be seen in any Greek vase of the best time, especially if there are both draped and naked figures, of both sexes, in the composition.

The leading principles of Greek design on vases was the expression of form by pure, firm, and accurate line. Spaces were distinguished by flat tints of red, black, and white, but there was no shading to indicate modeling. When local colour could be easily hinted at by markings of black thicker than a simple outline, it was frequently done, as it was continually in Japanese art, but care was taken that these broader black markings should never be important enough to alter the true character of the design, as essentially a work in simple line. Thus, a woman’s hair might be drawn with broad touches to make us see that it was darker than her flesh, and the dark hand round the edges of her dress would be given in pure black of its own width. Nor was this the only device by which a certain degree of local colour was suggested to the eye, though it was not really imitated. The red did for ordinary flesh colour, and white for flesh-colour intended to be of more than ordinary fairness. Great spaces of black were reserved for the background, by which a striking relief was given to the figures. This is the regular principle of Greek vase decoration, though the artists did not strictly confine themselves to it, but would also work in simple black and white, as in the Portland vase, or introduce brighter colour sparingly, like the turquoise of the mantle of Thetis and in the wings of Eros in the vase of Camirus. This use of colour, however, did not in the least interfere with the unflinching system, of Greek drawing, which was, in the strictest sense of the word, delineation. In this it differs absolutely from many modern kinds of drawing which avoid the line as much as the Greeks delighted in it. This is not intended as an expression either of praise or blame; it is simply a statement of fact.

The truth is that Greek line-drawing is simply the most perfect condition of a very early form of art. It is the child’s idea of drawing, carried out with the knowledge and taste of men who lived in the early youth of the human race and were not disturbed and distracted by the discoveries and experiments of modern Europeans. Amongst its other peculiarities may be mentioned its beautiful independence of anatomy. No anatomical markings are ever given simply as such. The figures are living men and women with their skins on, not écorchés in a dissecting room. There is less of the anatomical tendency in Greek art than in Assyrian. When the Assyrian artist wishes to make you feel that a man’s leg is very strong he maps out every muscles and tendon as far as his knowledge will allow, but the Greek contents himself with showing the vigour and ease of the strong man’s action. It is, however, in the representation of the female form that the grace of the Greek line-drawing is most conspicuous and most unprecedented. There had been before some lithe feminine grace of motion even in Egyptian art, but it is stiffness and awkwardness themselves in comparison with the Greek.

The right progress of art-education in modern times could not be better assured than by following in the case of each individual student that course of development which humanity itself has followed. True and careful lines, in combination with the colouring of spaces in a few flat tints, are the natural beginning. What a child does with infantile unsuccess for its amusement the beginner in serious art should be taught to so carefully and well fro his instruction. The accurate use of line is the first thing to be learned with the pencil point and the equal laying of a flat tint is the first thing to be learned with the brush.

Even at so early a stage in art as the use of the simple line, we find ourselves face to face with one of the most remarkable peculiarities of the fine as distinguished form the mechanical arts. It does not require much critical acumen to discover that accuracy is one thing in a line and beauty another. The student ought to work at first for accuracy, but form beautiful works of art which are not in themselves accurate copies of nature but copies idealized at least in some degree by the taste and feeling of the artist. All works of art that are worth studying are ideal in one way or another. We have spoken of the Greek line, which is one of the most highly idealized of all artistic expressions. The Greek artists when they outlined an objects always greatly simplifies the outline by omitting many minor accidents of angle and curvature which a modern picturesque artist would seek for because of their variety. But simplification does not explain all that the Greek mind did to alter nature in design. Its sense of beauty and elegance was so exquisite that it continually amplified what was meager in the model, reduced what was superabundant, and corrected what was awkward. All this could be done, and was done, with the simple line alone without any help from chiaroscuro, and it is one of the most remarkable proofs of the expressional power of the line that it even suggests modeling in the black spaces which are inclosed by it.

Notwithstanding the excellence of Greek linear design it would be well that the student’s attention should not be confined to it too exclusively. For, in the first place, we may remember that the vase-paintings which remain to us were not executed by the most eminent painters living at that time, but were only done by clever workmen in the artistic spirit which the eminent painters had rendered prevalent and fashionable; whereas in modern art we can study the ipsissimoe lineoe of truly great men, both in their drawings and in many cases more accessibly still in their etchings. Again, the Greek designers had certain excellences, but not all excellencies, the remarkably harmonious character of their work being, in fact, quite as much due to its absolute neglect of certain qualities of line as to its possession of other qualities. It is a narrow and limited kind of art, the singular perfection of its being due in great measure to that narrowness. Modern art, on the contrary, is infinitely vast and varied, full of imperfection, abounding in all conceivable kinds of error had failure, but also rich beyond all that a Greek could possibly have imagined in knowledge and sentiment of many kinds.

The Greek spirit passed through its first decadence in Roman art, and was at last degraded past recognition at Byzantium. A new spirit of linear design arose in the northern countries during the Middle Ages, gradually forming what we call the Gothic schools of architecture and ornament. The mediaeval artists began exactly like the Greeks by the natural primitive process of line and flat colouring of spaces, of which we have abundant examples in their illuminated manuscripts, and examples less abundant in the mural paintings which remain to us. Students who intend to qualify themselves for decorative work, or for carrying, will do well to give earnest attention to mediaeval designs of ornament which abound in the richest and most fanciful invention; but students of the figure have little to learn from the Middle Ages, for in those centuries the figure was very imperfectly understood. Sometimes we meet with a startling exception, with some instance of individual observation which strikes us because it looks like science; but the plain truth is that the mediaeval artists of all classes were as inferior to the Greek in the knowledge of the human frame as they were superior to them in the capacity for inventing new and fanciful schemes of decoration. If the student wishes to learn the figure he may therefore pass at once from the period of decline in Greek art to the Renaissance, without concerning himself about the more or less successful attempts of the intervening ages, in which, indeed may be found examples of quaintly rendered human character, but hardly any of well-studied human form. The best way is to go from antiquity to Hans Holbein the younger at once. He had remarkable power and skill in the use of line, many of his best portraits being hardly anything more than a delicately true outline, with just enough shading to make us understand the modeling, but nothing of what is commonly understood by chiaroscuro. As Holbein was much more of a realist than the Greeks were, his lines have more variety of curvature than theirs, and the forms inclosed by them are more individual, All that is best in the peculiar spirit of northern drawing at that time is to be found in Holbein’s art, which is full of close observation, of calm sobriety, and unflinching truthfulness. In the south of Europe the Renaissance led to that artistic development of which the modern schools of figure design have inherited the ideas and principles. A certain period in the life of Raphael marks the transition from the old spirit to the new, and his great success in the application of the new principles led to their authoritative establishment in the schools of Europe. The Renaissance made drawing at the same time more scientific and more ideal. The artists studied anatomy more than it had ever been studied before, and they gave a degree of attention to the whole of the human body which a mediaeval draftsman would have concentrated almost exclusively on the face. But they did not rest satisfied with copying the facts of nature and investigating the laws of construction and of action, -- they took that farther step which the Greeks had taken before them, and drew the figure not merely as it appeared to their bodily eyes, but with that more perfect beauty which was suggested to the eye in the artist’s mind. Raphael openly affirmed this principle by declaring that he drew men and women, not as they were, but as they ought to be, and the process of idealization may be actually seen in what he did by comparing his studies with his completed works.

We have hitherto spoken simply of the use of line, that being essentially drawing in the strict sense of delineation; but when the European mind had reached the period of the Renaissance a new study its rise—chiaroscuro—which became so inextricably mingled with that of drawing that it is impossible to speak adequately of the one without giving some account of the other. The increased knowledge of the muscular structure of the body led the artists to pay more attention to modeling than had ever been paid to it before, so that god modeling got to be considered an essential part of drawing. It may be necessary, for the uninstructed in artistic matters to explain in this place that modeling in design in is the art of shading in such a manner as to give everything its due degree of projection or relief, and the practical difficulty of it lies in the necessity for making the degree of projection in any object or part of an object exactly what it ought to be relatively to other projecting masses or details in the same drawing. The simple line-work of the early stages of art was therefore abandoned by the greatest artists of the Renaissance as a general means of study. Even when using the most rapid means of expression for themselves alone, they were accustomed to treat the outline with little respect, and always to indicate shading in some way, often by the very rudest means, as for example by a few hasty diagonal strokes of the pen. Leonardo da Vinci retained to the last a good deal of that care about the outline which characterizes the earlier stage of art, but even in his case it was accompanied by an equal degree of care in modeling. In the sketches and studies of Michelangelo the care and time given to the outline are always in exact proportion to the pains taken with the modeling, and this employment of the time at the artist’s disposal is a clear proof that he considered modeling as much a part of drawing as the outline itself. When he had time to do the modeling thoroughly, as in his finished studies, he made the outlines very carefully also, but when the time at his disposal was limited he did not economize it by making, as an earlier artist would probably have done, a careful outline without modeling—he still gave both together, but in a rougher and readier way. The student can find no better examples of this treatment than any three sketches and studies of Michelangelo which may have cost him respectively five minutes, half an hour, and three or fours hours of labour. The work in each instance is economized, not by rejection of one portion of his art, but by summarizing the whole, more or less, with the strictest reference to the time at his disposal. The studies of Raphael are done on the same principle.

The spirit of the Renaissance was caught from the study of antiquity, but it gave more latitude to original genius by allowing a freer play to personal qualities in art. This led to bold exaggerations, which become a part of artistic expression, and were to it what emphasis is to the orator. Michelangelo himself set the example of this, and it may be observed that, whereas when the works of the ancients seem to lose their spirit on reduction to a smaller scale, and require to be accentuated by the copying who reduces them, those of Michelangelo bear reduction easily by reason of their own strong accents and exaggerations. Leonardo da Vinci, being of a calmer temper, put little exaggeration into his finished works, which are distinguished by great suavity and sobriety of manner; but he gave it free play in his caricatures, which served as an outlet for the more violent side of his genius.

A kind of exaggeration almost universal during and since the Renaissance has been a more than natural marking of the muscles, which is opposed to the spirit of the best Greek design, and was directly due to anatomical studies, especially to the habit of dissection. This has continued down to our own day in all the learned schools of Europe. For example, in the St Symphorien of Igres the figures of the Roman lectors are drawn as if they were without skins, and every muscle is enormously exaggerated.

A better result of the scientific spirit of the Renaissance was the degree of care and attention which artists began to pay the measurement of the human body, so as to determine its true proportions. Albert Durer made and recorded very numerous and careful measurements both of man and the horse, declaring that "no one could be a good workman without measuring," and that "it was the true foundation of all painting." Leonardo affirmed in words of equal plainness that "a young man ought to begin to learn perspective by measuring everything." This habit of measurement has been continued down to our own day by the more careful artists. Whenever an animal died in the Jardin des Planters, at Paris, Barye the sculptor went at once to take all its measurements, and drew or modelled it besides; but he measured animals all his life, notwithstanding his great skill in drawing by the eye.

It is necessary to say something in this place of the rise of what we call picturesque drawing, which is now more prevalent than any other throughout Europe. We all know what we mean by the word "picturesque" as applied real objects; for example, we all consider that a feudal castle or abbey, when it has become an ivied ruin, is a picturesque object, but that a Greek temple is perfect repair is not. Even amongst things in equally good repair the distinction is recognized, thus we say that the costume worn by Charles II., was more picturesque than that worn by William Pitt. We are less accustomed to recognize the fact that almost any object may be drawn in a manner which is picturesque or not picturesque, according to the temper of the artist. The temper which produces picturesque work is tolerant, observant, and playful; the temper which produces the other kind of work is always either simple or severely disdainful, -- simple in Greece and in the purists of the Middle Ages, disdainful in the great men of the Renaissance and in all their strongest successors. The most perfect development of the picturesque spirit in drawing before our own century took place in Holland, the Dutch school working almost entirely in that spirit. The severe spirit has maintained itself chiefly as a sort of academic protest against the picturesque, which is never authoritatively taught in any academy of art. The academies direct students continually to Raphael, but never to Rembranst. On the other hand, the kind of drawing usually taught to amateurs is picturesque, especially reaction against the picturesque has been that of the French "néo-Grecs," who is study went back to the pure Greek line and flat space, the most earnest of them declaring that nothing more was needed to the perfection of art. The most perfect and studied picturesque in modern drawing will be found in the works of etchers and fusinists (artists who draw in charcoal). The picturesque is always easily recognized by its love of accident and variety of line and character, and by its strong effects of light and shade. When in excess it violently exaggerates these accidents, varieties, and effects.

The kind of drawing which is best for landscape differs in some important respects from that which is best for the figure. To perceive the full truth of this, the reader has only to draw a landscape with the simplicity of the line in a Greek figure, when he will see that the more complicated character of landscape material requires a more varied interpretation. Good landscape draftsmen are seldom very accurate as to form, and it is not necessary that they should be; but they are always careful to preserve truth of character; and have great difficulties of their own to contend against, which are generally much underestimated. The inaccuracy of landscape design comes from the necessity for composition. When the figure painter compasses, he can move his models about, and place them in different attitudes, and draw them faithfully after all; but when a landscape painter does the same thing, by an towers, he unavoidably violates topographic accuracy. The habit of inaccuracy soon forms itself, for this reason, in all landscape draftsmen who compose; and all artists by profession are compelled to compose in order to make their works attractive in appearance and saleable. Simple studies of landscape, may, however, be made with perfect accuracy, and are so done occasionally for special purpose. The best examples of such accurate landscape design to which we are able to refer the reader are the engraved studies of Mr. Ruskin. Fine examples of artistic landscape design, in which natural scenery is well interpreted but not literally copied, are infinitely more numerous. The Liber Veritutis of Claude, and the Liber Studiorum of Turner, abound in the fine examples of composed landscape. And a great number of illustrated works have been publishes during the present century, in which the student may find endless instruction.

Landscape design is usually taught to amateurs by drawing masters, because it is thoughts to be easier than that of the figure; but the choice of landscape for elementary instruction is unfortunate, because a beginner requires simpler and more definite material than is to be found in landscape nature. It is wiser for all beginners in art to study for a long time the most simple and definite objects which can easily be entirely detached form other objects and thoroughly studied by themselves. This was the true early classic manner of drawing, and the student who follows it in the present day will always be rewarded by an earlier insight into the qualities of form than can be attained by any other method. The truth of this is more fully recognized wherever drawing is taught seriously; but those who teach water-colour to amateurs too often encourage them in a confused way of looking at nature which, at the best, only results in a feeble imitation of fifth-rate water-colour landscape, in which there is nothing worthy to be called drawing at all, nor any real rendering of form. It is of the utmost importance to amateurs that they should not misapply the litte time which they can usually give to practical art, and yet they often do misapply it in many ways. A very common cause of loss of time, in their case, is false finish, and labour thrown away by the employment of methods which take more time than other methods for an inferior result, as, for example, when painful pen hatching is employed for shading where the chalk and stump, or charcoal, or the brush, would give a shade of far better quality in a twentieth part of the time. All truly great artists, though prodigal of labour when their purposes required it, have economized it whenever the economy was not artistically an evil, and this is often best seen in their sketches, which give rapidity, not by hurrying the hand, but by using the most summary means of expression. This art of summary expression in drawing is of great use to figure-painters, but it is still more important in landscape, because the effects of nature pass so rapidly that they do not permit any slow method of interpretation. Many of the fine sketches by great men have been don, without hurry, in a few minutes. Tinted papers are often used to economize time, because they supply in middle tint on which lights can be noted in white, and darks in chalk, charcoal, or a wash of water-colour. Good examples of sketches and studies by the greatest artists are now quite easily accessible through the photographic processes, and by their help a student at a distance from the national collections may easily learn for himself how they sued the pen by itself, of the pen for line with a wash for shadow, or the lead pencil point or chalks (white and black) or grey paper, or sanguine, getting a shade more quickly by one method, a line more precisely by another. Original drawings by great masters may be seen in all the capitals of Europe, in the public collections. Of late years drawings by modern artists have attracted more of the public attention than they did formerly, and "black-and-white" exhibitions have been successfully established in London, Paris, and New York. Through the influence of the South Kensington Museum and its affiliated schools of design the knowledge of drawing is now becoming much more general in Great Britain than it has ever been before. The preliminary difficulties of the art can scarcely be overcome without the assistance of a master, but in his absence the student may obtain useful help from books.

The student thoroughly master and remember Burnet’s Essay on the Education of the Eye, which is most concise, and contains nothing doubtful or disputable. Mr Harding’s works, and Mr Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing, are also useful books for amateurs, especially if taken together. There are also various little treatises on elementary technical practice, usually written by artists, and published by the colour-makers, from which good practical hints may be obtained as to the use of instruments and materials. It is not generally known in England that there is a magnificent national collection of drawings by the old masters in the British Museum, to which access may easily be obtained on compliance with a simple formality. The student is earnestly recommended to avail himself of these treasures, which are generally strangely neglected. A handbook to the Department of Prints and Drawings, with an introduction and notices of the various schools (Italian, German, Dutch, and Flemish, Spanish, French, and English) has been lately complied by Mr Fagan, of the Museum, and published by Messrs Bell & Sons. A selection of drawings by the Italian masters in the British Museum has been lately published in autotype by Messrs Chatto & Windus, with notes by Mr Comyns Carr, which, it is to be hoped, will be followed by selections form other schools. It is much to be regretted that some portion, at least, of these national treasures should not be made readily accessible to the general public by framing them and exhibiting them under glass in a gallery, according to the plan adopted in the Louvre. Their very existence is not so much as suspected by the great majority even of cultivated Englishmen. (P. G. H.)

The above article was written by Philip Gilbert Hamerton; Art Critic on the Saturday Review; author of The Intellectual Life, French and English, The Graphic Arts, Contemporary French Painters, The Etcher's Handbook, Life of J. M. W. Turner, etc.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries