Drawn by F. Harvard Thomas
The Influence of the Sculptor
It is very doubtful, however, whether this new study could have progressed to the conquest of the old traditions so rapidly as it did but for the sudden appearance in the West, practically at the same time, of two such great personalities and artists as Leonardo da Vinci and Michael Angelo. The former, a great observer and persistent experimenter, quickly solved the first part of his problem, enforcing the effect studied by the use of a mirror. The latter, a sculptor above all, took his extraordinary knowledge of the third dimension in the round, and applying it to decoration in the Sistine Chapel, practically overthrew what had been done before in that direction, and created a new school and tradition that set the standard in the West for long afterwards.
Surely it is something more than a coincidence that the two great men who brought about this revolution in painting were sculptors as well as painters, and herein, perhaps, lies the secret of the success of the revolution.
All that was to be accomplished, of course, was not discovered at once, nor in the lifetime of the innovators. Of the two Leonardo experimented the more widely, but his efforts were centred chiefly in expressing the roundness and solidity of an object in light and shade, and the scale in which the objects diminished in perspective from the foreground plane with the relative faintness of their chief tones as compared to it also. Little notice was taken of the play of light and atmosphere on local colour. A figure was looked at much as if it were a statue, the flesh in one colour, with a darker flesh colour for the shadow, and the same with draperies. All sculptors look to form more or less in this way, with the result that their drawings are usually remarkable for the feeling of solidity and roundness that they convey; and there is no doubt that a knowledge of modelling in the round is of great value to any painter.
The Study of Light
In France, where ideals of training are perhaps more severe than with us, it is not uncommon to find sculptors painting and painters modelling by way of relaxation, with admirable results. I am able here to give a reproduction of a beautiful drawing by Mr. Harvard Thomas, one of the most accomplished draughtsmen in England today, whose celebrated statue of "Lycidas" has lately been added to the national collection at the Tate Gallery.
In the seventeenth century, by the hands of Rubens, Rembrandt, and Velasquez especially, the appearance of roundness, together with an illusive effect of the light and air about a figure in a room, was realised with paint in a way that is never likely to be bettered. Shortly, the study of the effect of light on objects up to about twenty feet from the eyes was practically solved. For the following century painting practically "marked time," and even retrograded. Not till the nineteenth century, and the vast revolutions brought about by a sudden extraordinary advance in science and mechanical contrivance, was anything new attempted in painting. This time the direction taken was mainly the study of light out of doors, again with a view to rendering it with a greater sense of illusion than before.
The Work of Millet
Leaving aside pure landscape for the present, I think the most successful innovator here Was the great French peasant painter J. F. Millet. With a simplicity of speech as convincing as that of his painting, he laid down the law "In Nature things stand up or lie down," and by his handling of these two facts he got into his work a resultant monumental effect which, but for its sympathy, would almost inspire awe, so elemental are the emotions displayed.
This, I think, completes our sketch of the history of the third dimension, and brings it up to date. If anything further is to be said on the subject, it would rather point to a revolution against the third dimension altogether, and a return to the most primitive forms of art, in an endeavour to find a new road.
Any movement of this kind is not likely to succeed in our time, however, so the beginner is safe to commence his study of the third dimension by seeing that he sets his model in a proper light. The lighting should be from one window only, preferably one with a north or east aspect, to avoid the sunlight coming into the room, which by moving round and setting up reflections will increase the difficulties.
Some Simple Rules
The top of the light should be as high as possible, and the bottom screened off with a piece of dark material up to about six feet from the ground. These precautions will be found to concentrate the light. Placing the model (a plaster cast of round or cylindrical form will be best) at about eight feet from the eye, with some plain background behind it, let the light fall on it in such a way that a greater proportion of light is seen on it than of shadow. It will then become apparent that there is a broad half-tint, with a narrower band of shadow and a still narrower band of light on each side of it. There will be a tendency to make this half-tint too dark; it should be kept so light that the high light, except on polished surfaces, can be disregarded at first. If these rules are followed carefully, the beginner will greatly increase his chances of making a successful drawing, because, his business being to reproduce only what he sees and not what he knows about the model, it will be presented to his sight in its simplest terms.
Value of Co-relation
Again, the student must train himself to work upright, well away from his paper or canvas, so that he may compare the whole effect of his drawing with the model, also seen as a whole. Remember that, in drawing, two truths set down in correct relation to each other are of more value than a hundred facts each of which is struggling to assert its own importance.
This is by no means so easy to accomplish as it seems. The untrained eye or mind seems to have the greatest difficulty at first in understanding the principle involved.
Time after time, beginners of most varying temperaments persist in making the same mistakes. Having on the paper only the two dimensions, length and breadth, they seem to expect that, by some process of adding on the space backward which they know is there, they will arrive at the third dimension; whereas it is rather a matter of subtraction, and the distance lost must be suggested by shading on the flat. Another common error is to make the features much too large for the head, probably because the interest of the worker is concentrated on them; and, again, the division of the features to a beginner is nearly always such that the forehead is too high and the mouth set too low, with an abnormally small chin beneath it.
The Mirror an Aid to the Artist
A study of the bones of the skull will be found most useful in counteracting this sort of mistake. If the student will test his drawing by putting an imaginary skull on it, he will soon learn to appreciate the proportions of the various parts to each other, and especially cease to make the base of the skull on a level with the bottom of the lower jaw.
A small mirror, too, is of great service for correcting errors. By reversing the drawing it presents the draughtsman with a fresh impression of his work, and enables his eyes, fatigued and to a certain extent hypnotised into error by inaccurate seeing, to make a fresh start. Such a severe critic will it be found that it often demands considerable courage to use it as much as it ought to be used.