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that to develop it one must work with an ardor Corot" must be pretty much what we find it: that knows no concessions.” His whole life he would know that truth cannot be based on was given up to work, and his whole work was ignorance, and that knowledge cannot be acan effort to see nature with more and more dis- quired except through patient labor. tinctness and to render her with more and more Corot's aim was always to simplify expresfidelity. A gray-haired man, a master among sion, to disengage the thing he wished to say his fellows, a poet before the world, he was to the main idea and meaning, the picture he had the end a child at the great mother's knee; and in mind — from the thousand minor pictures to the end a conscientious, often a despairing, and ideas that had been wound up with it in naaspirant when he had a brush in hand. ture. As he lived and labored his power to do
No one can doubt Corot's accurate vision this increased. When he retouched an early and patient labor who has seen his earlier pic- canvas he never added anything; improvetures. Certain of his noblest qualities appear in ment always meant suppression - some broadthem all — his care for harmony in composition ening, simplifying touch. But the fact is a and for dignity and grace of line, his belief proof of growing knowledge, not of waning that the whole is of more importance than any interest in truth. What he wanted to repeat one part, and his desire to speak from a per- were not nature's statistics, but their sum total; sonal point of view. But there is none of the not her minutiæ, but the result she had wrought breadth, freedom, synthesis, which characterize with them; not the elements with which she his later works. Conscientiousness is apparent had built up a landscape, but the landscape itas well as real; details are carefully expressed, self as his eye had embraced and his soul had and the touch is dry, slow, and not a little heavy. felt it. This he wanted to paint, and this he did Even the splendid “Forest of Fontainebleau” paint with extraordinary truth as well as charm here reproduced, which was painted in 1846 and individuality. But can any superficial and won the cross of the Legion of Honor, brush do this ? Can any one know the things to might not be recognized as a Corot by super- say without knowing the things to omit, build ficial students of those later pictures with which up broad truths in ignorance of the minor in this country we are more familiar. But a truths which compose them, reproduce an imwiser critic would feel sure that an “ early pression without remembering what elements had worked together to create it and which had analytically and learned all he could about been of preponderant, controlling value ? solid facts; but he painted synthetically –
No: the real lesson taught by Corot's omitting many things that he knew about, and pictures and Corot's life is that breadth in even many that he saw at the moment, in painting (if it is not meaningless and empty) order to portray more clearly the general result. must repose on accurate knowledge; that free. And this general result he found in the main dom (if it is not mere idle license) must have lines of the scene before him and its dominant its basis in fidelity to facts; that feeling must tone; in the broad relationships of one mass of be guided by reason and self-restraint. Corot's color with all others; in the aspect of the sky, knowledge of natural facts — within the cycle the character of the atmosphere, and the play of such scenes as he preferred to paint — was of light; and in the palpitating incessant movegreater probably than that of any painter who ment of sky and air and leaf. has ever lived, except Théodore Rousseau; and Look at one of Corot's foregrounds and you the loving patience of his efforts to express it will see whether it is soft or hard, wet with dew has never been surpassed. These are the rea- or dry in the sun: you will see its color, its sons why he could permit himself to be the mobility. Look at his trees, and you will see most free and personal and poetic of all land- their mass, their diversities in denseness, their scape painters.
pliability and vital freshness. Look at his sky,
and you will see its shimmering, pulsating IV.
quality: it has the softness of a blue which “ TRUTH,” said Corot, “is the first thing in means vast depths of distance, or of a gray art and the second and the third.” But the which means layer upon layer of imponderwhole truth cannot be told at once. A selec- able mist, and the whiteness of clouds which tion from the mass of nature's truths is what shine as bright as pearls but would dissipate at the artist shows - a few things at a time, and a touch. And everywhere, over all, behind all, with sufficient emphasis to make them clearly in all, you will see the enveloping air and the felt. You cannot paint summer and winter on light which infiltrates this thing and transfigures a single canvas. No two successive hours of a that — the air and the light which make all summer's day are just alike, and you cannot things what they are, which create the landpaint them both. Nor, as certainly, can you scape by creating its color, its expression, its paint everything you see at the chosen moment. effect; the air and the light which are the Crowd in too much and you spoil the picture, movement, the spirit, the very essence of nature. weaken the impression, conceal your meaning, No man had ever perfectly painted the atmosfalsify everything in the attempt to be too true. phere till Corot did it, or the diffused, pervad
This was Corot's creed. What now were the ing quality of light; and for this reason no one truths that he interpreted at the necessary sac- had painted such delicate, infinite distances, rifice of others which were less important in such deep, luminous, palpitating skies. his eyes? They are implied, I think, in the See now how Corot managed to paint like words I have already written.
this to interpret the life, mood, and meaning Corot prized effects rather than what the of the scene he drew. It was just through non-artistic world calls solid facts. But effects that process of omission and suppression are as truly facts as are the individual features which the superficial misread as proof that he and details which make them. Indeed, they did not really “render” nature at all. Even are the most essential as well as interesting of the smallest, simplest natural fact cannot be all facts. It is effects that we see first when we “ rendered” in the sense of being literally reare in nature's presence, that impress us most, produced; and to attempt the literal imitation and dwell the longest in our minds. Outlines, of large features is merely to sacrifice the whole modeling, local colors, minor details — these in favor of what must remain but a partial renshift, appear, and disappear, or alter vastly as dering of a part. A leaf can be painted, but light and shadow change; and most of them not a myriad leaves at once; we are soon we never really see at all until we take time to forced to generalize, condense, suppress. And analyze. Look at the same scene on a sunny to try to paint too many leaves is to lose the morning or by cloudy sunset light. It is not tree; for the tree is not a congregation of the same scene. The features are the same, but countless individual leaves distinctly seen their effect has changed, and this means a new it is a mass of leaves which are shot through landscape, a novel picture. The mistake of too and through with light and air, and always many modern painters, especially in England, more or less merged together and moving. It is that they paint from analysis, not from sight. is an entity, and a live one; and which is the They paint the things they know are there, not more important that we should see the living the things they perceive just as they perceive thing, or the items that compose it? What we them. This Corot never did. He studied ask the painter is, not just how his tree was
Vol. XXXVIII.- 35.
constructed, but just how it looked as a feature greens. Everything in it is not greenish. The in the beauty and aliveness of the scene. What sky is pure blue and the clouds are purest white. we want is its general effect and the way it har- The water is rightly related to the sky, and monized with the effect of its surroundings. where things were gray in nature, or brown, or
Does it matter, then, if he omits many things, even black, they are so on canvas. Harmony or even if he alters some things, to get this does not mean monotony. Tone does not mean right result? Such altering is not falsifying. untruth. And this Corot could accomplish beIt is merely emphasis a stress laid here and cause he studied “values” as no painter before a blank left there that (since all facts cannot him had studied them. possibly be given) the accented fact shall at This word — new in our language but indisleast be plain. The generalized structure pensable — has been a little hard of compreof Corot's trees, their blurred contours and fly- hension to those who know nothing of the ing, feathery spray — these are not untruths. painter's problems and devices. But it means, They are merely compromises with the stern as simply as I can say it, the difference between necessities of paint - devices he employed, not given colors as severally compared with the because he was unable to draw trees with pre- highest note in the scale (white) and the lowest cision, but because, had he done this, his fo- (black); the difference between them as conliage would have been too solid and inert for taining, so to speak, more light or more dark. truth. A twig is never long in one position. It This does not mean the same thing as the relacannot be painted in two positions at once. tive degrees of illumination and shadow which But a twig that is blurred to the eye because may fall upon them. The one quality may be it is passing from one position to another — involved in or dependent upon the other, but this can be painted, and this Corot preferred the two are distinct to the painter's eye. to paint rather than ramifications with exact- It is not easy even to perceive differences in ness or leaf-outlines with a narrow care. So value. Given two shades of the same tint, as his trees are alive, and, as he loved to say, the of a blue-green or a yellow-green, it is easy light can reach their inmost leaves and the enough to say which is the darker ; but it is little birds can fly among their branches. more difficult when a yellow-green is compared
It is the same thing with color. The color with a blue-green, and still more when we set a schemes to which Corot kept were never as brown beside a green or a blue beside a yellow. strong and vivid as those we find with some Yet the painter must not only learn to see values of his contemporaries and many of his suc- in nature but to transpose them correctly on cessors. Browns and grays and pale greens canvas---for color can never be exactly copied predominate on his canvas with rarely an acuter on canvas; from the nature of paint there must accent, a louder note. But he fitted his themes always be transposition, adaptation, comproto his brush, so that we feel no lack; or, in mise. Corot mastered the difficulty as no one other words, he chose his color schemes in else had done; and this mastery has made him accordance with the character of the natural the guide and teacher of all the landscape effects that he loved best. And within the scale painters who have since been born.1 he chose his coloring is perfect. His tone (the harmony, or, as used to be said, the “ keeping"
v. of his result) is admirable beyond praise. But it is gained at no sacrifice of truth in local color. “THERE are four things for a painter,” Corot There are cheap processes for securing tone was wont to say. “These are: form, which which are indeed falsifications of nature --ways he gets through drawing; color, which results of carrying over into one object the color of from truth to values; sentiment, which is born another, throwing things out of their right of the received impression; and finally the exerelationships, harmonizing with some universal cution, the rendering of the whole. As to mygauze of brown or gray. But Corot's was not self, I think I have sentiment; that is, a little a process like any of these. His power to har- poetry in the soul which leads me to see, or to monize and unify his colors sprung from the complete what I see, in a certain way. But fact that he studied colors with a more careful I have not always color, and I possess only and penetrating eye than ever before had been imperfect elements of the power to draw. In brought to bear, and never forgot their mutual execution I also fail sometimes — which is the relationships. Look at one of his pictures where reason why I labor harder than ever, little the general effect, perhaps, is of soft delicious though some people may imagine it."
1 A conspicuous example of what is meant by the falsi. trouble has been obviated in some of the newer methods. fication of values may be seen in photographs taken But it is easy to see that this question is of vast imporby any of the usual processes. Chemical action deals tance in all translations into black and white. In nothdifferently with different colors, so that a light yellow, ing has the success of American wood-engravers been for instance, comes out darker than a dark blue. The more remarkable than in this.
In accepting these words about himself we spere's never happened, yet we feel it is truer must make allowance for that spirit of aspira- than any literally reported scene of the policetion which always leads a true artist to remem- court, or “realistic” stage-play or novel. The ber his ideal as better than the best possible character of a man, we know, is a higher fact rendering. It is natural that Corot should have than any of his daily deeds; why, then, is not thought he often failed to get his values right, the aspect of a landscape a higher fact than although the world gradually saw that he had any of its details ? More significant than any at least come nearer right than any one before individual character, again, is the essence of him; and of course he knew that he had not human nature; why, then, does not the essence even attempted many schemes and scales of of some kind or type of natural beauty mean color which he perceived in the actual world. more and purer truth than the aspect of any As regards his power to draw he spoke with one actual spot ? Must not an artist see broadly, stricter verity. A lifetime of study in the woods synthetically, if he is to show us general asand fields had enabled him to draw landscapes pects ? And must he not see imaginatively, fully and exactly when he chose, and some of poetically,— must he not complete" what he his portrait-heads are wonderfully true. But sees,- if he is to search out and render the in our modern world schools alone can give ideal therein suggested ? All his interpretations scientific knowledge of the figure; and for the must be based on facts which he has observed lack of this Corot's figures are weak in anatomy in this place or that; but to make a good picand loose in modeling, though often most de- ture and a true one he need not confine himlightful in color and sentiment.
self to facts which he has chanced to see It is the same with his execution. Born at together. Very likely Corot never painted a a time when few painters painted really well, scene without omitting some features and addand trained almost wholly by his own efforts, ing others; and in more than one of his works he is not one of the supreme masters of the there are elements both of French and of brush - one of those whose every line and Italian origin. But there is never disharmony touch delights the connoisseur in handling. in the result, for his knowledge was too great But he painted well enough to express with and his imagination too artistic – which means charm as well as clearness the impressions he too logical and too sympathetic. He made no received; and as these were the impressions mere patchwork pictures. He created landof a very great and individual artist, the ver- scapes of his own out of the elements with dict is still a high one. Had his growth been which, in nature's presence, he had stored assisted by stronger outside influences he would his sketch-books and his memory. He might doubtless have reached technical skill more alter a scene - he did not alter nature. He quickly, and perhaps have conquered it more but completed the beautiful message she completely; but something of the personality had been suggesting here and half revealing of his manner might have perished. So we are there. content with his technical shortcomings, and It is easy to prove that Corot's painted after all they are far from serious. Although a poetry was true — much truer than the realist's few men have painted landscapes still more painted prose. We have only to consult our own beautifully, Corot's surely satisfy the eye while experience with him as an interpreter of nature. delighting and moving the soul.
Here and there, at home or abroad, we may If but a single phrase of Corot's had been recognize some scene which some realist has recorded I should wish it the one which says faithfully portrayed; but Corot's scenes are that sentiment in art is a poetic power to see everywhere — by the little lakes and brooks of things or to complete them in some personal France, in the forest glens of Italy, in the misty way. Here the whole import of idealism in glades of England, and along the river borders art lies crystallized in a word. Not to depart of our own far western world. What he painted from nature, but to complete her, is the true were not items from nature, but certain broad idealization; not to conceive an ideal foreign beauties and moods of nature; and though we to her own, but to perceive her own with so may rarely be able to put a finger on documuch sympathy that it can be more perfectly mentary proof of his veracity, we carry it about revealed than, on this imperfect earth, she her- with us in a new sensitiveness of eye, a new self is often able to reveal it; not to be untrue receptiveness of mood. Everywhere, I say, we to fact, but to choose and arrange particular see from time to time some beautiful living facts so that the type, the ideal, towards which Corot; but should we see it so quickly or they tend shall be most clearly shown. would it seem so beautiful had he not taught
The whole world prizes such work as this us how to value it? The commonplace painter when it is the poet's or even the figure-painter's. shows us things that we had seen and felt in Why is it so often disallowed when the land- the same way ourselves. The true artist selects scape painter brings it? A drama of Shak- more delicate yet more general facts, explains
them with poetic stress, shows us things which probably we had not remarked before, and makes them forever ours. We may never pos- If we can fix upon any one of Corot's picsess a picture by Corot, but how immeasura- tures as the most famous it must be, I think, bly poorer we should be had he painted none! the “ St. Sebastian” owned by Mr. Walters in His message is our own if his canvases are Baltimore. Painted in 1851, it admirably repnot; and who shall say this of a painter unless resents Corot's art in that middle period which he is as true as truth, yet personal, poetical, in French critics have held to be his very best. that creative way which alone means the His individuality had then fully developed highest art?
both his poetry in conception and his freedom The special character of Corot's idealism in treatment; the difference from the “ Forest shows first of all in his choice of subject-mat- of Fontainebleau,” which he had painted only ter. He was most attracted by the most idyl- five years earlier, is immense. Yet a little of lic scenes and moods of nature. Grandeur, his early reserve of manner still clings about force, terror, sadness, did not appeal to him. the “St. Sebastian,” giving it more massiveness He had no taste for storms and rugged wild- and grandeur than we find in pictures of a much ness; he loved high noon less than the glinting later date. It seems to have been Corot's favortender prophecies of morn or the mysterious ite work. He would never sell it, but in 1871 grace of twilight; and if it was high noon he gave it to the lottery held for the benefit of the painted, still it was not prosaic clearness, but wounded defenders of France. Delacroix called noon in a day of soft veiling mists and passing it the most truly religious picture of modern gleams and shadows. The peculiar broad soft- times; and, indeed, to great external charm and ness of his touch — a softness which lacks purest poetry it adds a marvelous depth and neither delicacy nor nerve — fits well with the solemnity of mood. It is the least idyllic, the sentiment of these favorite themes. But to keep most epicin sentiment, of all Corot's great works, feeling and execution of this sort above mere yet instinct with a pathetic tenderness. The sentimentality and vagueness, a painter needs dying saint lies on the ground, cared for by two the great gift of style. This gift Corot had in holy women, in a shadowy forest glen. On each a very high degree the power to give his side rise enormous trees, and between them, in pictures a quality which every one will under- far perspective, a little hill with horsemen silstand when I call it classic. No one could be houetted against the sky. Two baby angels float more thoroughly modern, more thoroughly high above the saint, bearing the palms of marGallic, than Corot; but no one in modern art tyrdom. The hour is twilight, and the shadhas been more classic in the fundamental mean- ows are dense beneath the trees; but there is ing of the word. It was not because he often a soft radiance still in the wonderful sky and painted classic subjects — how many have the very breath of living nature in the atmosdone this and given us a breath from English phere. firesides, a blast from the Parisian boulevard, Not so grand, not so impressive, but still in pictures which have perhaps all other vir- more beautiful, perhaps, is another work of this tues, but are conspicuously devoid of style! It middle period, the * Orpheus Greeting the was because he felt things with Greek simplic- Morn," owned by Mr. Cottier in New Yorkity, joy, and freshness, and saw them in a way another famous Corot and another that well dewhich meant Greek dignity, harmony, and re- serves its fame. The upright shape of the large pose, and a real yet ideal grace. If his figures canvas (seen likewise in the “St. Sebastian") are often dreams of Hellas it was simply be- is characteristic of Corot, who loved a composicause he saw the landscape he was painting in tion in which the dignity of vertical lines might such a way that it could be most fittingly be emphasized. In no picture is the peopled thus. The idyllic, classic note was in sence of morning more truthfully, exquisitely, the voice of the man and would have rung out portrayed: we are bathed in its air, steeped in his work whatever the themes he chose. It in its light; our ears are filled with the soft must have been his by birth, though it was rustle of its wakening leaves; our souls are happily fostered by the course of his student thrilled with its fresh and tender promise; years. From Bertin and Aligny he imbibed and the infinite lovely distance draws us till we sobriety in taste and that love for harmonious share the passionate poetic yearning of Orpheus composition which more than any other sin- himself. And in the execution what breadth gle element means style in painting; and his combined with delicacy, what soft yet radiant long Italian months had enforced the lesson, color, what a sense of freedom, sincerity, inspishowing him broad reposeful tones as well as ration! And what a delicious golden tone to lines. Yet had he not already dreamed of compare with the darker yet silvery tone of nymphs and fountains in his boyhood by the the “St. Sebastian”! This, indeed, is the poetry window at Ville d'Avray ?
of art — nature's poetry truthfully reported, yet