Painting - Advice to the Beginner
Landscape painting has been called the Cinderella of the arts.
The ancients, in fact, appear to have thought little of it; and, speaking generally, for centuries the painting of landscape was kept in the background by painters of all schools. Not, probably, that the artists themselves were insensitive to its charm; witness the water-colour Nature studies made by Durer for himself, some of which may be seen in the British Museum. And especially in the work of Flemish and Italian primitives, we find constantly charming bits of landscape, introduced as vistas and to make a foil to figures. They are, however, always quite secondary, and somewhat topographical in execution.
The earliest picture I know of in the National Gallery which makes its appeal as a landscape, and nothing else, is one by Patinir, a Flemish painter who was born towards the end of the fifteenth century. It is a lovely scheme of blues and browns, showing a river winding among mountains, more like the dream of a far country than a reality. For years it was attributed to the Venetian school, and hung on a screen by itself in a magnificent frame. Since the discovery of its real author, it appears to have dropped in the estimation of the authorities; for it is now placed rather high in a corner, shorn of half its frame as well as half its splendour.
As I have said, it is upon the Flemish and Dutch that our eyes must rest when seeking for signs of the development of landscape painting as a separate art, and the flower of their painters appeared almost at the same time.
To continue with the Flemish school. About the beginning of the seventeenth century, Rubens, their master painter, sometimes stepped aside from the painting of a life-size nude in a morning to give his view of the opulence of Nature seen out of doors, with results that can be seen and judged of admirably in the National Gallery and Wallace Collection. He became thereby the founder of a school of landscape painters of whom Cecil Lawson is a magnificent example in this country.
Among the Dutch, the first great name in landscape is that of Ruysdael, born in 1628, the austere painter of low-toned pictures of rocks, waterfalls, mills, and trees, with stormy skies full of a sense of brooding sadness. These pictures probably look dull to the casual observer, but they are eloquent to the student and all who can go close and venture within the limitations the painter has set for himself. These pictures, painted probably from drawings and notes, state the first two principles of landscape painting, the contrast between the solidity of the earth and the luminosity of the sky, in a way that can hardly be surpassed. The artist died neglected, but prepared the ground for an advance by others, most of whom were his contemporaries. There is Rembrandt, actually his senior in years, who produced his marvellous emotional landscapes towards the end of his life; Hobbema, a younger man, more naturalistic and concerned with actualities; and Vermeer, another figure painter, who in such painting as that of his large picture of Amsterdam reached a power of realisation of things seen that has not been surpassed, if equalled, by the great Dutch painters of similar subjects to-day.
A landscape study, showing the example of modern French influence From the original painting by A. S. Hartrick, A.r.iv.s.
We cannot pass this period without recalling the name of Claude Gellee, France's great landscape painter, the maker of sunbathed pictures, to which he was the first who was able to introduce successfully the source of light itself. He was the forerunner and inspirer of much of the work of our own greatest landscape painter, Turner.
During the eighteenth century, if we except Richard Wilson, landscape painting, though gaining ground as a separate form of art, becomes too often formal and artificial, hedged about by rules of the schools, as was figure painting; till, finally, it was so divorced from Nature that we find painters of landscape who ceased to look outside, but preferred to paint their pictures from the stains caused by damp on their studio walls.
This condition of things could hot last long. The beginning of the following century brought with it an increased activity among landscape painters here and abroad, with all the usual signs of a fresh return to Nature.
In the nineteenth century, landscape painting came into its own as a great province of art, and the new developments of painting since then have been chiefly in the direction of landscape and the problems set up in rendering with paint the effects of light as seen out of doors. In England - indeed, in Europe -the greatest of all innovators was John Constable. Turner developed along the lines of the old traditions into a style entirely personal to himself; but, Constable, assisted by the fact that he was the son of a well-to-do miller, so not dependent on his work for his bread, broke deliberately away from tradition in a manner unknown before.
Most especially he revolted against the tyranny of the " brown tree," which at that time was supposed to be necessary in the foreground of every well constituted landscape. Of course, he was laughed at, and abused for his daring His first real success came after the exhibition of some of these pictures in Paris. There they received a gold medal, and excited great interest, especially in a group of the younger painters, sending them back to Nature, with the result that another great school of landscape was started, known now as the Barbizon school, of which the chief landscape painters are Rousseau, Diaz, Corot, and Millet. Of these, however, the first only was directly influenced by Constable.
From France, in the early 'seventies, came the last great movement in landscape painting - namely, the Impressionist school. Its object was to render light, especially sunlight, with greater intensity than before. This movement owed something to the experiments with colour in the later work of Turner; but, while the latter was interested above all in an intellectual and emotional expression, the Impressionists were chiefly concerned with an endeavour to reach a sort of scientific realism, for which 'they believed they had found a further guide in the researches into the composition of colours made by the chemist Chevreuil.
Claude Monet was the chief exponent of these new theories, which began by removing black from the palette and confining it to the primary colours. They also advocated what is now known as " the division of tones"-that is, working on Chevreuil's analysis of the spectrum; instead of mixing a tint, say, of green, to represent a grass field, they placed touches of blue and yellow side by side until a tone was made, which, combining in the eye at a certain distance from the canvas, produced the effect of a mixed tone of the same colouring. If it was necessary to neutralise this tone, some red, which is the complementary colour of green, was also put with sure touches of pigment, and so on with all the primaries. The effect, in the hands of an artist of temperament like Monet and several others, was a great increase of brilliance, and much of the landscape painting we see to-day has been strongly affected by these experiments. All the work done on these lines is done directly before Nature. It is said that Monet takes five canvases out with him, on all of which he begins the same subject, changing the canvas whenever the effect before him changes, and in no case working for more than two hours consecutively on one canvas.
This is contrary to the practice of the old landscape painters, who worked almost entirely from drawings and quick sketches for the effect, and it gives quite different results, of which a vivid sense of actuality is the most valuable. On the whole, this working direct from Nature is a phase that all landscape painters should go through, for only to those who are constantly working in her presence, and watching her patiently, does Nature reveal secrets of how her effects may be reproduced.
The great difficulty all beginners of landscape painting will find is that the scene before them is constantly changing, and unless by some means the painter can keep one aspect of the scene sufficiently strongly in his mind to reproduce in its essential features, his work will become a mere hotchpotch of pigments,
For this reason it is best for the beginner to start by making a large number of quick sketches, working, say, a couple of hours on each. If he can, let him make three sketches a day, and let him continue to practise doing these until he is able to seize rapidly the chief features of the scene before him.
Remember that the first thing he has to mark is the expression of the difference between the earth and the sky, and at first it will be well for him to let no object on the earth appear lighter in tone than the light parts of the sky. In making such sketches, begin painting them against the light, and looking rather in the direction to which the sun is travelling. These effects last longer, and show up the values of the different planes more distinctly than when the sun is on the landscape.
When the student has had experience in making such sketches, let her try a subject made of a few simple tones and lines as seen on a grey day, returning to it daily at the same time. On this she can work three or four hours at a time without much change of effect, and she ought to try to render everything before her as accurately as in still life painting. From this she can proceed to sunlight, and the evanescent effects of morning and evening.
A summer landscape. An example of Impressionist work From the original painting by A. S. Hartrick, A.r. W.s.