Translated From The German
The term wood painting has, through the numerous designs invented for the purpose, found such a widespread use that it would be wasted pains to attempt to substitute a more fitting one. Not everything that is painted upon wood, falls under the knowledge of wood painting. No one would think of counting an oil painting, executed upon wood, under the category of wood painting. But if the colors were the distinguishing sign, then wood and water color painting would fall together, or wood painting could be only an aquarelle painting applied upon wood. Wood painting permits itself to be thus defined, inasmuch as the character of the material and the choice of its objects differ, so wood water-color painting differs from the actual water color. While it is possible for the water-color artist to produce upon paper the softest tones and most brilliant phenomena of nature, so that the painting inspires the observer through its life-like freshness; if the same picture, by the same artist's hand, were reproduced in exactly the same manner upon wood, it would appear raw and unfinished, - yes, even wholly incorrect.
The prepared wood takes the softest tint, as well as paper, but the texture of the wood shimmers through the transparent tones, and though the fibres and pores of the same have taken another hue, they still act as wood, and thereby destroy the effect which the artist intended. For it is originally the task of the artist to thus deceive the human sense of vision in such a manner, and so faithfully imitate the appearance of things in nature that the observer must believe himself transported in the midst of reality and actual life, through the activity of fancy; in short, the artist must reproduce true to nature, and his pictures have the effect of nature.
If one was to try with exclusive body colors which do not allow the grain of the wood to penetrate, to attain this ideal of painting, and attempt to create upon wood an actual life-like picture, we would not conceive such an aquarelle, that never can compare with a picture upon paper in softness, just as little as an oil painting upon wood, as wood painting in the general sense.
Therefore, neither the material to be painted nor the colors applied are the criterion of distinguishing reasons for wood painting on one hand, and the oil or nearer related aquarelle painting on the other.
The difference in a measure lies herein, that the characteristic peculiarity of wood does not subdue, but is drawn upon for the effect of the painting, partly in the nature of that which painting upon wood represents or should represent.
Wood painting, as far as we have touched upon it, cannot and does not intend to create natural pictures; it only serves to ornament objects in wood, which through colored and tasteful designs are to produce an agreeable charm to the eye. It is not an object in itself, like a painting, the frame of which serves as a folio, but an external addition, like the ornaments of buildings, to make an otherwise monotonous surface interesting.
Wooden articles admit of being ornamented in various ways, through sculpture work, by inlaying of colored woods and metal, and by painting.
The choice of ornamenting is naturally dependent upon the purpose the object to be decorated is intended for; a table, which must naturally have a smooth surface, we would not think of making useless by carving the top.
Wood painting, as it is now en vogue, is of a recent date, and originally sprang out of the idea to imitate the mosaic work of art cabinet-makers.
It may, with consideration for the purpose of the objects to be ornamented, also imitate carving, but must not go beyond the wood tones and the production of the effects of light; it may even attempt to imitate enamel work by the application of strong, bright colors; but it ought at the same time be in keeping with the purpose the object in hand is intended for, and never involve itself in contradictions.
Its refined field should always remain the imitative, and should therefore confine itself as near as possible upon the application of ornaments with a surface where effect is flat, and consequently do not mar the surface. To apply figures, modest, decorative additions for the ornamentation of surfaces, is allowable, as long as they do not clash with the character of the surface; but here the limits that are drawn by the nature of the article are not to be overstepped. For every perspective representation of a figure painted with the application of light and shade intends to deceive the observer; it lifts itself off the surface and no longer works upon our fancy as a part of the surface, but as body. Cases, chests and other large pieces may be decorated in this manner; tables, portfolios and similar pieces which in themselves are required to have smooth surfaces; smaller objects to be handled, where the sense of touch can at every moment convince itself of the attempted deception intended for the eye, one will do well to take heed in not painting these with figures of a plastic effect. Such contradictions are not to be tolerated in principle and should be avoided in the selection of patterns and designs, To create a real picture in the beginning lies outside the province of the art of wood painting, and therefore the practice of the same, as far as it does not reach into the professional art, must always be confined within the circle of amateurs. Good, correct drawings of the outlines, cleanliness in coloring and a proper combination of the colors, is the highest aim the art of painting upon wood may achieve; for the artist is greatly answerable for the composition of ornaments, where designs are used as patterns.
But even in the narrow limits in which the art of painting upon wood moves, it accomplishes much that is beautiful, that the acquirement of the same cannot be too strongly recommended.