I mention this fact because I do not think it is necessary to have that sort of sympathy or affection for childhood in order to be able to paint them successfully. One characteristic, I think, the painter of children must have. That is patience. One must be able to adapt oneself to the mood of the child, and gradually direct that mood into the desired channel in Order to obtain the result one is seeking. Impatience would be fatal, for in all probability the child would either get angry or begin to cry, and that, I need hardly say, would put a stop to work for some time, if not for the rest of the sitting.
Another characteristic which I think valuable is the habit of painting, or certainly of sketching, quickly, for children are proverbial fidgets. The great advantage of cultivating this rapidity is that one can seize an effect or expression at once.
It is a good method, in painting pictures of children, to compose the picture without them, and paint them in bits, as it were, as one can catch them. It is, therefore, a great advantage to have studied children so carefully as to be able to draw them in practically any position without the use of a model. When the drawing is finished, then the child may be posed to correct any errors in the design.
The work itself is, I need scarcely say, exceedingly interesting. And it is little short of amazing to note how plastic is the child's mind, and how rapidly it is influenced by artistic associations. The difference between child models and their parents is really remarkable. His visits to the studio extending over years are a valuable part of the child model's education. My experience is that he learns to speak nicely, acquires good manners, and a refinement not common to his fellows, which goes to show that environment in the matter of education is greater than anything else, and that book knowledge plays a secondary part in shaping the mentality and characters of the little ones. My life-size picture, " On the Threshold of Life," represents a young girl sitting on a doorstep, on one side of which grow poppies and weeds, and on the other beautiful flowers. It was, I need hardly say, intended as an allegory of life, to raise the question in the mind of the beholder as to which path the girl would choose. My child model might have been the daughter of a duchess, so refined was she through, I presume, living so much in an art atmosphere. Now she is married, and probably has children of her own, but I do not know what has become of her, for I have not seen her for some time, though some of her brothers and sisters are sitting to me now.
The young artist will often be amused, as I have been, by the funny things these children say. I remember one day, as I was painting, that my little model was very interested. After a time she exclaimed, "My father is an artist, too, miss." Then she went on to tell me that there were times when he was very busy indeed, and with great pride vouchsafed the information, ' Yes, miss. And when he's very busy my mother and I help him."
"Help him ? " I asked incredulously.
" Yes, miss. My mother does the yellows and I does the blues."
The lives and habits of these children, too, affect their views in a decidedly humorous way. This is exemplified by a little boy who was one of the models for my picture, *' We are But Little Children Weak " (see page 3918).
My studio was on the top floor of the house, and my husband's was on the ground floor. One day, when the boy came in, Mr. Seymour Lucas gave him a tube of white paint to bring up to me. He marched into my room, and handed it to me, with the words, "The lodger on the ground floor sends you this."
He exhibited something of the same feeling on another occasion when, as we were going upstairs together to my studio, I told him that if he would knock at a door on the first floor, he would get a piece of cake. It was the door of the nursery. When the governess opened the door, the boy saw my little son in the room, and as he took his piece of cake, he pointed to him and asked her, " Is that yourn or the top lodger's ? "
With regard to subject pictures, I feel this about them - that it is no good painting them unless they express an idea. It is the idea that people look for, the imagination which underlies the picture. Imagination is the soul of all art, and imagination is as rare as great art in painting.
From the financial point of view, my advice to the young artist would be, "Never paint a subject because it is likely to be lucrative, but because you want to do it." Then it may be a lucrative piece of work. 1 will not go so far as to say that the artist who paints for money will not make it, but I feel this - that the ordinary artist who paints merely for money is not likely to go very far as an artist.
Whatever she does, the artist is almost certain to be dissatisfied with her work. I know I always am, and so are all the artists of my acquaintance. It is a feeling which should not be allowed to depress one unduly, for, in any case, it is a wholesome sentiment, which will spur the really ambitious girl to try to do still better in the future.