This section is from the book "Chromatography; Or, A Treatise On Colours And Pigments, And Of Their Powers In Painting", by George Field. Also available from Amazon: Chromatography, or A Treatise on Colours and Pigments, and of Their Powers in Painting.
This appeal from the decisions of criticism,* in behalf of colouring, is not intended to militate against the necessity the painter is under of studying the other branches of his art, nor to assert the redeeming power, or the exclusive excellence, of colouring.*
* See Note A.
" For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich; And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds, So honour 'pearcth in the meanest habit. What 1 is the jay more precious than the lark Because his feathers are more beautiful? Or is the adder better than the eel, Because the painted shin contents the eye?"
Shakspere: Taming of the Shrew.
The graphic branches of painting are, indeed, inseparable from colouring, and those who think that drawing consists in outline only are grossly mistaken; for light, shade, and colouring, which constitute the whole filling up of pictural objects, figures, and effects, have appropriate forms, drawing, composition, grace, and expression; and the necessity of studying these in all their relations is indispensable to excellence.
Colouring alone will not, therefore, constitute a picture; still colour is the flesh and blood of the art, - and if it be wanting, the finest performances will remain lifeless skeletons, and fail to please; and, as the proper end of painting is to please, and there is a higher and more effectual medium for addressing mind, the most intellectual performances of the painter, and the grandest efforts of his invention, will fall short of their true purpose, if they pass not to the mind by the medium of pleasurable effect through their appropriate sense of sight, of which colour - and colour alone - is the immediate object: and what is painting altogether but the art of representing visible things by light, shade, and colours? Colouring is, therefore, the first requisite - the matter and medium of the painter's art: it is indeed the first quality which engages attention and regard - the best introduction to a picture, and that which continues to give it value so long as it is regarded. It is a power of the art also the most difficultly retained, being the first that leaves the artist himself, and the first to quit a school on its decline; of which latter the Grecian and Italian schools are examples. In the grosser matters of taste a food or medicine may be both salutary and nutritious, but we nauseate it if it be not also palatable or well-tasted: such is painting without colouring, and so it is with all objects of sense; nor did the first and greatest critic that ever lived assign any higher end than pleasure to even poetry itself.* It was the deficiency of colouring in the great works of the Roman and Florentine schools which occasioned Sir Joshua Reynolds, with such admirable candour, to confess a want of attraction in their works, and to declare the necessity of a forced and often-repeated attention, with previous cultivation and profound investigation of their other excellences, to a just relish and estimation of their greatness, which hundreds have affected to admire upon authority, without feeling or comprehending.* For this deficiency in the colouring of these great masters, apologies more ingenious than just have been offered by eminent critics, to the perversion of taste and truth; while some, through false admiration or want of seme, have attributed fine colouring to these masters, who, although they knew some of the contrasts of colouring, knew little of the laws of harmony; and we fear this attribution may have misled the British artist who has had the misfortune to study colouring in Italy; from whence we know not any one who has returned a better colourist, however he may have improved in other departments of painting.
As music relates to sound simply, and poetry, or figura live speech, to signification; and as these when united became sound significant, so it is with colouring in respect to figure, etc.; the first belongs principally to the harmony of painting, the latter to its sentiment or poetry, while in the perfect picture they are united.
* Aristotle's Poetics.
It is the consecration of great names which blinds, betrays, and ruins their followers; and it is no less true than lamentable, that the modern Italian schools have fallen a sacrifice to the greatness of their models. And so it is in all sciences when great human authorities have subverted the authority of nature - the master of masters!
* See Note B.
" Nature is made better by no mean, But Nature makes that mean. So o'er that art Which you say adds to Nature, is an art That Nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry A gentler scion to the wildest stock; And make conceive a bark of baser kind By bud of nobler race. This is an art Which does mend Nature - change it rather, - but The art itself is Nature."
Shakspehe: Winter's Tale.
With respect to those departments of Painting which have been ranked above, and represented as inconsistent with colouring, it may be questioned whether this is not to be attributed to a proneness, common enough in all cases, to consider the greatest difficulties as the highest attainments of art; that which is most rare as of highest esteem, and to the mistaking of novelty or singularity for beauty and excellence; but we have to remember that that which is most beautiful, like that which is most useful, is least rare in nature; nay, it is beautiful abstractly, because it is not rare. Thus the most common form of any thing is the most general or middle form, and such the Greeks have taught us is also the most beautiful and natural. We have to consider also, that colour individually gives finish or final value to all the productions of nature, not excepting the diamond; and that he who has attained colouring in its complex and higher relations, has rivalled Nature in her chief beauty, whatever we may determine it to be in art.
We believe that all the excellences of the masters, with all other powers of the art, could never have occasioned the partridges of Pharrha-sius, the grapes of Zeuxis, the horse of Apelles, or the dog, etc. of Gaudentius and others, to have allured and deceived dogs, horses, and birds; much less could the curtain of Pharrhasius have deluded a Zeuxis without the assistance of colours: nor can the various objects of nature and the elements be represented with fidelity without them; so that the despising of colouring must belong either to defective sense or prejudice of understanding.