Notebook, 1993-

Eastlake's Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters

Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock [One-time President of the Royal Academy], Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters [Formerly titled: Materials for a History of Oil Painting]. Vol. One. New York; Dover Publications, Inc. 1960 [Originally published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1847]

Professional Essays - Natural Harmonies

The imitation of nature teaches the artist to apprehend, or at least to have some glimpse of the mystery of the relations of harmony; but the real power of the arts is not acknowledged or arrived at till the artist can supply the relations which cannot be got directly from nature. This creative power is necessary even in the lowest departments of art, for, unless an entire scene is copied from nature, something of arrangement, composition and harmony is supplied by the artist. Now the science derived from the imitation of nature teaches what follows from certain data, and although the rules which regulate it may be, strictly speaking, useless to one who has not found them for himself, still the grander principles which influence those rules are intelligible and applicable from the beginning, and comprehend in their just application all the minutest cases which demand solution. There can be no doubt that the Greeks had reduced the arts [p. 318] to this certainty, and made them as sure in their results, although apparently imitative, as in the more creative arts of architecture, and the invention of the forms of vases, furniture, &c. The uniform and pervading excellence of all they did is not to be explained by any other means.

The dependence of every portion, every atom of nature on what it comes in contact with, is its life, its excellence, its beauty. A work of art is therefore not even imitative which does not represent this chain of mutual dependence. It is like the principle of the wedge, the smallest or the largest portion represents the same power; and so, in a fine work of art, the relation of the smallest portion, which is thought worth admitting, to its neighbour, is as true as that of the grander contrasts which first command attention. On the other hand a portion of an imitative work which is not allied to and does not present an epitome of the whole is dead and false.

Again, a work of art which is true to itself in those great principles of nature is more really imitative than a collection of facsimile of the peculiarities and accidents of nature, which, it will generally be found, have no connection with each other. We admire a Greek temple or a Greek vase, and if anyone should observe that there is nothing like them in nature, we might wonder [admitting the remark] that we could admire them; but a little reflexion would teach us that we only admire because [p. 319] they are true to the principles of nature, although not imitative, or imitative only in the largest and truest sense. The Greeks were not at a loss in thus apparently creating, because their whole practice of the arts, even in those more apparently imitative, was equally intellectual,--equally removed from blind copying. However startling this assertion may be, it will cease to appear strange when it is remembered that the modern imitative arts are equally creative wherever they command permanent admiration. The choice of forms and attitudes, or, when these are less necessary, the choice of colours and their exquisite dependence on each other, and above all the indispensable requisite of that general effect in painting which is calculated to attract, partake of this creative power, being imitative of nature only in her spirit. The theory of the fine arts therefore which are addressed to the eye may be defined to be the science of the relations of nature, or the power of combining as nature combines without nature, for nature can only assist the artist in his actual operations by giving him the materials. We can thus understand it to be possible that Claude, who, his biographer relates, spent whole days in observing the appearances of the outer world and in forming a mind equal to all cases, yet never painted a study from nature, although he necessarily reverted to her for the details of forms. [pp. 318-320]



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