[The Landscape Painter...], unpublished manuscript, c. 1956
The manuscript probably dates from 1956 or so judging by some of the references it contains. If
that is the case, then it is the last text of any length which Phillips left us. It is untitled, and the
title provided is derived from the first words of the text. How the manuscript was to be published
is unknown. The structure of the piece is fairly loose, and seems to offer Phillips the opportunity
to talk about his love of nature and of sketching outdoors. It also provides a glimpse into how he
conducted his landscape painting classes in Banff. The following is provided as a kind of table
of contents for the piece. I have provided hyper-text links to the titled sections.
1. [An artist's life]
2. The Sketching Season Opens
4. Return to Nature
6. The West Road
8. Third Lake [and Mount Rundle]
9. Wild Animals
11. Boulder Creek
12. Edith, Louis and Fifi
15. Summer in the City
20. The Rainbow
23. Johnson Canyon
25. Indian Days
27. Water Colour vs Oil
28. Parson Painters
29. Surprise an element of Beauty
30. More Rain
31. How to Look at Nature
32. The Golden Mean
33. The New Highway
35. Broken Colour
36. The House-painter
The landscape painter lives a lonely life. He communes more with nature than with his fellow man. His also may be a sedentary job. He sits whilst he works, assuming an ultimate greatness unrelated to his prestige as an artist.(1) To escape this fate some take to the hills, some, like the great Turner, and the lesser MacWhirter go for long hikes across Europe sketching as they go, some indulge in underseas painting, others go abstract. We did none of these things but built a house in the Rockies, praying that the steep trail down to town, traversed at reasonable intervals, would provide exercise sufficient to keep me slender.
On the first count I undertook to conduct a class in Landscape Painting, whereby, for six weeks in the summer I should bask in the warmth of human relationships, and at the same time, by driving my class hither and yon, up hill and down dale, particularly up hill, I should take adequate care of my figure.
That the artist's life means something less than Beer and Skittles I must insist, in the circumstances. The question always arises as to what so and so will do with his, or her, talent for drawing. If he, or she, is young and untaught, yet promising, the answer is study; if he, or she, is already proficient in art, study also, but study another profession. For there is no doubt about it the amateur gets all the fun out of art. By amateur I mean he who practises only in his leisure moments, and earns his bread by other means. This advice I always offer; that it is sound I am convinced, and anyone who will take the trouble to study the lives of artists of other days, may also be convinced. Lives of Great Men all remind us...
Redgrave's Dictionary of Artists of the English School is an admirable volume for the purpose. The author introduces human little touches, which Bryant, for example, does not, avoiding long, impersonal descriptions of works of art; he strives to keep the reader interested. The brief account of Frank Vandermyn illustrates the point. He was a portrait painter who practised in London in the middle of the eighteenth century, and who constantly indulged in a pipe while painting, 'by which he lost many sitters.' There exists a mezzotint from a portrait of him, painted by himself, lettered 'The Smoker.'
Francis Vivaris had 31 children! Thomas Troughton 'undertook a voyage to Africa and was shipwrecked on the coast of Morocco, where he was detained in slavery from 1747 to 1780, and suffered great hardships.'
Cornelius Ketel was the original 'finger-painter', who practised in England until 1581, and was so enamoured of his own skill that eventually he 'laid aside his brushes and painted only with his fingers, and Walpole says that, increasing in his folly, he next tried his toes.'
John Kay's aptitude as a face-painter in miniature led him to caricature. His victims were well-known people, and his portraits were 'extreme in their resemblance, humorous, exaggerating and intensifying little points of character, they gave offence. Many were bought and destroyed. The artist was cudgelled and charges brought against him by the magistrates.'
Few artists really enjoy painting portraits, a fact upon which I have commented frequently. James Inskipp is described as 'of an irritable temper' and 'ill-fitted to contend with the trials of portrait painting.' He is said to have dismissed a distinguished sitter on his second sitting, telling him with an oath that he hated him and would not paint him.
There are many such stories and they point a moral for the aspirant painter, but the most forceful of all is implied in the frequent epitaph, 'He died in poverty and neglect.' Take the case of Wenceslaus Hollar, of whom Walpole wrote, 'to have passed a long life in adversity, without the errors to which many men of genius have owed it, and to have ended that life in destitution of common comforts, merely from the insufficient emoluments of profession, and with a strictly moral character, such was the fate of Hollar.'
Hollar's etchings are said to number 2,400 costumes, portraits, history, antiquity, views and landscapes. They form a most valuable record of contemporary life.
'The times' wrote Redgrave, 'were unfortunate for art. The Fire of London and the Great Plague added to the perplexities of all, and he (Hollar) fell into absolute want, when, about this time (1669) he was sent to Tangiers by the King to make drawings of the forts and defences and of the surrounding country. For his two years of labour and his valuable drawings, some of which are now in the British Museum, he only received one hundred pounds, after many supplications and long delay; and on his return his vessel had to encounter a serious attack by Algerian corsairs.'
Fate's final buffet came when he was disturbed on his death-bed which he prayed to retain for the few hours he had to live, by bailiffs who entered his apartments to seize the only remaining piece of furniture.
Artists are supposed to lead a placid life, and are presumed to die peacefully in their beds. But this is not necessarily true. Let us consider, with the help of Redgrave, some of the dire evils that may beset an artist.
Andre was shot as a spy.
Basevi fell from a scaffold whilst contemplating the interior beauty of Ely Cathedral.
John Brown and J. Dwyer died of sea-sickness.
W.O. Burgess was killed by a cricket ball.
George Chalmers, one of the best of the Scottish artists, was found by the police thrown down an area with his skull fractured and his pockets rifled.
John Chatelaine and captain Grose died from eating too heartily.
R. Cleverly fell from a cliff to his death.
Robert Davy was murdered on the street by robbers.
Robert Cochran was hanged in 1484 by nobles who were jealous of his friendship with the King.
Alec Dobson died gallantly after having saved others from fire.
William Duffield, who painted still-life, lost his sense of smell, and, painting in his room from a dead deer, was insensible to its dangerous state of putrefaction, which caused a fatal illness.
D.T. Egerton was murdered in Mexico.
Gahagan was laid low by the fall of a statue on which he was working.
Theodore Gardell was executed for murder.
Gilray, the caricaturist, threw himself out of a window.
Michelangelo Hayes was drowned in a tank.
R. Huristan was killed by lightning.
Theodore Lande fell from a sky-light.
Edward Ryland was hanged for forgery.
George Samuel was killed while sketching when a wall fell on him.
Vanderdort hanged himself.
Van Hove was murdered.
William Wissing was poisoned.
This perhaps is enough to persuade young enthusiasts of the trials and dangers of art as a profession.
Whether or not our move to the mountains was made for either of the reasons stated, I must confess that I have never seriously doubted that my choice of a profession was an inspired choice. It is a wonderful calling. In his last lecture Constable said, 'Paley observed of himself that the happiest moments of a sufficiently happy life were passed by the side of a stream; and I am greatly mistaken if every landscape painter will not acknowledge that his most serene hours have been spent in the open air, with a palette in his hand.' 'It is a great happiness,' said Bacon, 'when men's professions and their inclinations accord.'
The commonest reason given by students for seeking admission to my class is probably that they wish to cultivate a hobby, and they are generally older people. The young ones hope to become professional artists and usually continue their studies elsewhere. They the latter are more pliable: their faults are not ingrained. Some of their elders never seem to be able to shed their bad painting habits however hard they try; others respond surprisingly. However we are all interested in art and in each other; we do our best, and we enjoy ourselves.
I explain vainly, I believe, that the contemporary artist must compete with every artist who has ever lived and whose work has survived; with all living brothers of the brush, with his pupils, with children, with week-end painters, and the army of amateurs hidden behind every rock and bush in the landscape. And today no standards remain by which to judge painting, since critics and iconoclasts imagine they have destroyed tradition. They offer us instead the eye of a child.
Back to Nature always has been the reaction against too much formalism, and that is just where we are going.
When spring is here the sketcher begins to look over his equipment and relishes in anticipation the soothing hours he will spend in the open, warmed by the sun, fanned by the breeze, charmed by the manifold delights of nature. The matter of equipment is important. It must be overhauled as carefully as the angler's tackle, replenished if necessary and improved if possible. It must be compact and portable, yet practicable.
The sketcher is interested in new devices that augment these qualities; if he is experienced he has no doubt invented such devices himself. In any case he likes to hear how the other fellow equips himself for this engrossing quest for beauty in landscape.
One will cut down his material to the minimum, so that he may walk without undue fatigue, while another will burden himself with a lot of things. It all depends. Richard Meryman, a famous U.S. painter (he once won the Popular vote at the Carnegie International) with whom I once sketched in the mountains, lugged about a heavy easel and a six-foot canvas, and a huge sketching umbrella. But he never strayed far from his car.
He must have had a couple of hundred brushes, and pounds of paint. He laughed at the simple needs of my method, but I could go where he could never hope to follow. He was as convinced of the good sense of his own ways as I was of mine.
The essentials are something to paint on and something to paint with. To these one usually adds something to sit on; but this is not always a necessity. In the hills and by the lakes there is always a ledge of rock, a bed of heather, a boulder or the root of a tree, which will rest the bones and provide a suitable elevation.
The stool, however, is never really cumbersome. Mine is a folding three-legged affair. The wooden legs fold up to form a smooth, round stick, which is carried in the hand, and the detachable leather triangle forming the seat goes in my rucksack with all the rest of my things materials, and lunch, and sweater on occasion. The rucksack rests on my back and even when full its weight is negligible.
So that, fully equipped, I carry only a billet in my hand, and a bag on my back, which is not much of a burden. There are more comfortable seats, but they are awkward and heavy, and there are less comfortable ones, such as the English shooting-stick. My own combines the virtues of comparative comfort and utility.
The same type, fitted with a webbing seat, is stocked by most dealers in artist's materials. This seat may as well be thrown away at once; it is a snare rather than a seat, a specious token of security apt to collapse at any moment, if one's figure is too generously padded.
Making these same remarks to a former class, I once set up my tripod and patted the leather top affectionately. Then, deriding the inferior seats with which my pupils were provided, I sat down with heavy emphasis too heavy as it turned out, for my stool collapsed and I with it, feeling very embarrassed. Even a leather top will not last forever.
The sketcher in oils is well served by the modern box, containing his colours, his brushes, palette, and mediums, and fitted with a lid which accommodates his wooden panels or canvases, and which is used as an easel. This outfit is the simplest yet devised, but much heavier than that of the water-colourist. The latter needs only two brushes, a water-bottle with a fitted cup, a palette and a piece of paper.
It is remarkable how little intelligence went into the manufacture or, rather, the design of water-colour boxes. Formerly the inlaid water-colour box, divided into little compartments holding forty or so cakes of pigment, some brushes, a glass dish for water, and a porcelain palette, was considered to be the acme of perfection, as it certainly was of expense and clumsiness.
Even now the sketcher is required to balance his whole stock of pigments on his thumb while he paints, since the lid of his box is his palette, and some recent models have the water-bottle attached to the box also.
I buy my paints in tubes, and squeeze out enough on a folding metal palette, which is a true palette and not a warehouse. I leave the tubes at home when I go sketching.
There remains only paper to discuss. I never use a 'block' which is a sheet of cardboard supporting some 24 sheets of paper bound together at the edges. The paper cockles unpleasantly. Many water-colourists prepare paper by pasting it on a sheet of cardboard. I don't. I like a more solid panel, which I can hold with my knees instead of with my hands: I would rather have my hands free. Formerly I used a double frame. The only objection to that is that the edges of the paper come out a mangled mass.
Now I have two light boards of three-ply wood, measuring eighteen inches by thirteen. I soak the paper in water until it expands a little and fasten it down with 1 inch gum-tape. My panels are of the size to take a quarter of an Imperial sheet of paper, so that there is no waste. When my sketch is finished, the edging of brown gum-paper is stripped, then wetted and scraped until a clean white border remains. The sketch is thus as fit to display as if it were matted.
Sketchers soon determine what pigments suit them and how many. My selection varies. Right now my palette holds yellow ochre, pale cadmium yellow, Indian yellow, French ultramarine, monastral blue, light red (Venetian), alizarin rose madder, cadmium red (light), burnt sienna, raw umber, monastral green, Mars violet.
Many a time, grossly deceived by my satchel and stool-stick, someone enquires 'How're they biting?' In the same friendly spirit let me express the hope that, having overhauled your tackle, all you sketchers may have a good catch this season.
The faults in modern painting are sometimes ascribed to a lack of faith, a condition which pervades contemporary life as a whole. It is a postulate worthy of elaboration, and it is significant that today many of the journals which, through the defection of their so-called art critics, have threatened to wreck the very foundations of art, have begun to raise such questions as, 'what has come over Art?' or 'Where is Beauty?'
In other days the days of faith no such question arose. Material beauty definitely lay in the marvels of creation and it was the privilege of the artist to emulate its various manifestations with reverence and sincerity. Art is egregiously described as the creation of things of beauty; it is rather the adaptation of the forms in nature that please the eye and their rearrangement after laws that govern natural growth.
Good art has always conformed to the canons of beauty revealed in nature, tinctured by taste or style. Taste is mutable; beauty eternal. Taste influences subject and treatment. That which intrigues one generation is rejected by the next. Thus the Grand Manner, the Heroic, the Eclectic, and the Narrative, and a thousand other styles that once were popular are derided today.
It is true, the works of old that we venerate as masterpieces all display the marks of styles that are now outmoded, but in them is a preponderant element of indestructible beauty. The artist cannot always evade the dictates of fashion, but he can keep his faith; he can cherish the conviction that beauty is truth, and sharpen his perception by a persistent search for that quality amidst the wonders of the world.
There have been periods of degeneracy in art, as now, occasioned by the vanity of artists lacking faith, virtually by their denial that ultimate perfection lies hidden in nature. Such art is generally distinguished by violent stylization.
Recovery is always made along the same road, the return to nature. By this I do not mean the adoption of the degraded style of naturalism the artless copying of natural forms and appearances, but the application of the laws that govern growth and underlie the orderly beauty of creation.
Giotto was inspired by nature, and leads the noble pageant of the art of the Renaissance in Italy. A hundred years later Donatello and Masaccio saved Giottoism from decay. Again and again revival succeeded decline. After Michelangelo's death artists took to imitating the masters, and Caravaggio provoked the reaction, preaching a return to nature. Later Velasquez evaded the grip of Spanish mysticism, and achieved greatness by the same route. Regnault said, 'Before a work of Velasquez I feel as if I were looking at reality through an open window.'
Gainsborough, Crome, and Constable were among the first to venture upon 'setting up and easel int he fields' and to upset the cult of classical landscape. The pre-Raphaelites and the Impressionists strove to convert dry academicism into living art by looking with fresh eyes upon the fruits of creation.
I think that those who do not love nature as 'the vicar of the Almightie Lord,' cannot appreciate art nor can they produce it.
Reynolds used to say that only gentlemen should study the arts; Fra Angelico said that he who practised the art of painting should live without cares and anxious thoughts; that he who would do the work of Christ should perpetually remain with Christ.
Banff is an ideal location for a school of Fine Arts, for here nature displays some of her handsomest features. It is set in a long valley and surrounded by mountains. There is some snow on the peaks all the year round, and in the summer one is liable on awakening any morning to fine a white sheet covering the mountain tops. Snow comes into its own during the winter when its depth and quality is a matter of concern to those in high-up ski lodges, whilst down in the town the citizens stand at their windows and hopefully watch the drifts building up. They are impatient for the snow to stop falling so that they can indulge in the joys of Shovelling. I shall discuss snow in (or on) landscape later. It is sufficient to remark that in few other places can snow pictures be painted outdoors in one's shirtsleeves.
Down in the valley all is peace in the summer and the fall. The lacy patterns of snow on the heights add to its beauty. The Bow river flows smoothly here for the most part, bordered by scrub willows, aspens and lodge-pole pines. Here and there are scanty stands of Blue Douglas fir, thick in the bole, and towering, survivals of the fire that swept the valley many years ago. Moose range around, beaver work and play in the side streams, mule deer graze in the meadows, elk and Bighorn sheep come down from higher ground to drink. Grizzlies invade the Park at rare intervals, but the black bear regards it as his own domain.
Our house on Tunnel Mountain overlooks the town and faces the setting sun. We have a view of the valley until it veers to the north ten miles away and seems to be blocked by the Massive range.
When there is any doubt where by class shall sketch I say unhesitatingly, 'We'll take the West Road.'
I remember the West road thirty years ago.(3) It has changed, and now its very existence is threatened. Its meandering tendencies have been checked at intervals down the years; now all its charming twists and turns will be obliterated. Instead of a winding road demanding leisurely driving it will become a speedway. It will be a straight road surmounting or hurtling through all barriers, never too steep, never turning at a sharp angle, conforming to the specification for the Trans Canada Highway.
The first phase of the West road as a route for travel was as a game trail following the course of the valley and giving access to water. Indians passed over it on their occasional hunt for wild horses. The explorer led his cavalcade along it; the fur trader traversed its length. Surveyors measured it, then along came the road builders to straighten its curves and polish its surface.
Though as in the olden days wild animals still roam the trail, and explorers now equipped with pen or paintbrush still follow its streamlined course and pack-horses walk timidly on its shoulders, the automobile has at last taken over the West Road.
The first five miles out of Banff constituted a notable walk (and may still do so) full of incident and natural beauty, skirting the three Vermillion Lakes, and it is along this stretch that most of our sketching is done. North over the C.P.R. tracks, over Forty-Mile creek, turn west at the foot of Norquay, and in two miles one is on the shore of the First Lake, a shallow lake connected with Second Lake by Boulder Creek.
Boulder Creek is less than a hundred yards long, and is separated from the road by a strip of gravel. Beaver threw three little dams across it. These the Park warden broke up frequently, but they were always built up again overnight. Beaver felled many of the poplar groves that once filled the valley. They will drop a six-inch tree in one night, subsequently eating the tender tips of the top branches and cutting the bole and the larger branches into convenient lengths to drag to their lodge or to any of their dams needing reinforcement. There is a nice stand of aspen a few yards further west which as yet the beaver has not disturbed. The boles of these trees, as of all others in the valley of this species, have black scars extending from the ground to the height of a man. They are not man-made disfigurements, but are gnawed by elk who eat the bark in the winter.
At the end of another wide curve in the highway is a notice indicating a beaver pond, in which is a lodge. Hundreds of tourists pause there hopefully, but the beaver has abandoned this residence. The lodge is interesting, being arranged as a duplex, and rented, as to the top floor, to a family of muskrats.
The road rises here and curves again to avoid some beaver bogs. The poplars stand up sturdily against the Bourgeau range, their warm gray boles and branches contrasting with the deep blue of the mountains. The pyramidal peak to the south-west is snow-capped in the winter, the snow extending down the draws, like icing poured over a cake. To the north the ground slopes up to the top of Norquay. The sun has set, and the snow reflects golden lights from the afterglow. In a few minutes I made a sketch in pencil to fix the scene in my mind. In a case like this David Cox would have turned his back to the view and sketched it from memory as it first flashed across his vision. I have never tried that; he claimed it helped him to avoid irrelevancies.
We often drive or hike to Second Lake in early May to watch the hundreds of migrant Canada geese, some wild ducks and occasional whistling swans that rest here on their journey north every year at this time. On one occasion the lake was still frozen, the aspens were bare and the water-birds found only a small patch of open water near the road on which to rest. We were close to three swans. They did not like us; they swam a few feet and climbed on to the ice, awkwardly for the ice was too rotten to bear their weight.
Those of us who have learned to draw (of my generation) began by studying plaster casts and other inert objects and graduated after drawing from the life, which involved a painfully exact rendering of a human model who did not dare to move a muscle. We had to contend only with our own incapacity. We were in constant danger from the temptation to view a part and not the whole, to concentrate on the nice treatment of detail instead of bearing on mass and movement. There was some excuse because movement was conspicuous by its absence, and mass per se was always uninteresting. And rhythm, that over-worked, misunderstood, but essential principle: how can it be identified and appreciated by immature minds, but through movement? I have always thought that the study of drawing should involve the representation of living, moving things as well as dead ones.
In such study we have the excitement of action, the stimulus of a new contact with life. Useless is our deliberate, meditative technique of the studio. The keenest observation, the utmost concentration, speed and accuracy are demanded of us. Time and tide wait for no man, and a galloping horse will never wait for you.
The landscape painter soon learns that there is nothing static in nature. A rock, you say, is a symbol for steadfastness and immobility yet its shadow is constantly moving and its appearance changes with the light.
But it is not of rocks, restless water, moving clouds, or rustling leaves that I was thinking. I am also interested so far as drawing is concerned, in studying wild life. I enjoy making sketches of gulls as they swoop and swirl around and about me, of deer as they dash for cover, or of leaping salmon.
If you wish to make drawings of swans the best place to go is to your own town park where they are obliging enough to stay around and pose if you toss them some food. The wild swan, says Biological Memoir 104, though actually common in Canada, is wilder and warier than the wild and wary goose. It spends the day, and feeds in deep and open water in lonely places. It flies silently at night. It is rarely seen. The skipper of the steamboat that used to ply adventurously between Warren's Landing and Norway House, told me that in the spring Playgreen Lake was solid white with swans. Flocks of hundreds, the Memoir states, appear annually on Lake St. Clair, and on the Niagara River, where on misty or foggy nights they drift down the current to destruction. Men at the foot of the falls bring in maimed and broken birds, their plumage soiled with blood. That practically is the total Canadian bag for the year.
It is said to be a useless fowl, for swan's meat is unpalatable. But the swan charms the eye and stimulates the imagination, and what better service can any bird perform? Its grace of movement, its white elegance, its strength and courage are acclaimed in many an ancient tale. So when I stand on the shore of Second Lake and make quick sketches of this proud bird I do homage to the presence of mobility and beauty.
Beyond the Beaver Pond the West road traverses a gentle slope and winds though the forest for half a mile or more, down to Third Lake. Hidden at first by spurs of rock, the lake is revealed as the largest of the three and by far the most beautiful. Here by the roadside is a small sulphur spring, the first of several discovered in the valley. It percolates under the road-bed and is dispersed in the waters of the lake. In the winter a small area at this point remains free from ice. Here is the best view of old Rundle, with its tilted strata, and the big bite taken out of its perimeter. Trees creep up its flanks, and enough snow lies near the top to provide a plume when the wind blows. It is a lovely mountain from this point, doubly so when the lake is still.
Dan McCowan used to call it 'Phillips' bread-and-butter mountain.' I never tire of painting it, for it is never the same. In deep shadow in the morning it borrows a warm glow from the setting sun at the end of the day. Its colour runs the gamut from orange to cold blue-gray, with overtones of violet and intervals of green. A row of dark conifers appears above the waterline. A mountain peak cannot very well make a satisfactory point of interest: here the eye fastens on the crotch between Rundle and Tunnel mountains, through which flows the Bow, and which reveals a part of the Fairholme range beyond.
One day I sat by the roadside, feet dangling over the water, making a sketch, when I heard an uproar from the east and pounding hooves. In a moment a big moose rounded the corner, head down, his wide antlers capable of sweeping aside anything that blocked his path. Including myself, I thought. I couldn't get up quickly, so I reached for my camera. He skidded to a stop when he saw me. 'Another damn tourist,' I could hear him say, and he jumped into the lake in disgust. Almost immediately an irate photographer pulled up beside me. 'I've been chasing that danged beast for two days,' he shouted, 'and here you get a good shot with no effort at all.'
Big-horn sheep frequent this spot. They eat the soil under the banks at the roadside. In the summer ewes and lambs alone appear, and in the fall the rams wander down from loftier haunts. There is often a flock of twenty and they remain in this spot all day giving the sketcher plenty of time for drawing. They are very curious. I was once sketching on the mountain-side just above the lake. My wife was reading down below. She called up, 'Who's your pal?' I looked around and nearly rubbed noses with a ewe which was very interested in what I was doing, and was apparently a little near-sighted.
All kinds of animals take one for granted. I have a photograph depicting me busy painting with an admiring chorus of cows behind. At Third lake one day a weasel played around my feet for several minutes. Once a snake slithered over my shoes.
Animal curiosity is not confined entirely to beasts of the field. I have a lively recollection of Marlie seated on the Macadam in the middle of the town of Canmore she scorned a stool busily painting and quite unconscious of the fact that a score of young men were grouped behind her. I suspect they were interested as much in Marlie as in her picture.
Golden Mantled ground squirrels are greedy as well as inquisitive, and sometimes attack me in packs, searching my pockets for food, my rucksack, scrambling over my palette, and over my drawing, greatly persistent. They smell my lunch, I suppose. Black bears certainly do. My class has had many a bout with bears. It was a lonely spot where the Bow lapped the precipitous eastern face of Tunnel mountain. I took my class there. As usual they spread out a little. Madame settled down surrounded by her belongings her painting materials, her lunch, and a large sheet of watercolour paper. A bear appeared attracted by the faint odour of sandwiches. He approached madame, and, in order to reach her bag of lunch he stepped on the paper. This aroused madame's ire and she smote the bear on the snout vigorously with her palette. 'For dis,' she shouted, 'I pay forty cent.' The bear on his part had a certain dignity to maintain and held his ground growling. I shudder to think what might have happened had not two riders come to the rescue, though I'd have put my money on madame.
A mountain lion dogged my heels coming down the steep trail from Lake Oesa to O'Hara. 'Where did you pick up that yellow dog?' Gladys asked.
Neither the cony nor the flying squirrel seem to be able to overcome their timidity. The former, otherwise known as the harvester, or the pika, or as Dan McCowan called him 'that little bright-eyed ball of fur,' peers uncertainly through a crack in his rock-pile, but I've often been close to him, and often hear his plaintive squeak. Another characterization of Dan's that I like is 'the pika runs like a toy animal on wheels.'
We never would have seen a flying squirrel but for the Joyces. They Elaine and Martinlived in Holiday House, a place set in comparatively extensive grounds, and on the edge of town. They cultivated the friendship of a large family of squirrels, who would step through the kitchen window, after much scouting and indecision, and partake of peanut butter and other delicacies spread upon the table. These squirrels work on the night shift, and are rarely seen. Once on Elaine's table they are fairly confident and we watched them from the doorway with the light burning.
The valley is never in too deep a sleep. There are voices in the dark, coyotes howl, elk bugle, or a deer will scream as a cougar drags him down.
We made a night excursion along the West road to a gravel pit just two miles from Banff. Nick Morant had learned that a mule deer carcass lay there, and that an eagle had spotted it and had gorged on it so heartily that he was too heavy too fly. Nick wanted a photograph and had invited us to go along. He drove into the gravel pit, shut off his engine, doused the head-lights, and waited. By and bye he turned on a searchlight and adjusted it to illumine the dead deer. The eagle had departed. The sides of the pit loomed above us, and at the top was the forest. Nick swung the searchlight around the rim of the pit. Dozens of eyes reflected its gleam.
Two or three years later I took my Painting class to the same milestone, and we parked under the well-known tree midway between the beginning and the end of Boulder creek. On the further bank of the narrow stream globular willows flourished, and around their roots coarse, marsh-grasses grew. Behind them were tall spruce trees and topping these the mountains Sulphur to the south, Rundle to the east, Bourgeau to the west, and Norquay behind us. Too many mountains, said the students, and much too many trees. However, most of them settled down to painting portraits of these long-suffering mountains. Not all of them. The men found a boat to enliven their foregrounds, and Lil walked into the gravel pit. She found the bones of the deer upon which the eagle had feasted. She took the skull, some vertebrae, and arranged them on the gravelly ground where dandelions bloomed. Here was nice colour contrast, and a colour scheme enriched by the varied hues of the pebbles. A popular theme for a young painter the brevity of life exemplified in the skull and the flowers, one of which was already in seed.(4)
This young lady monumentalised her outdoor still-life in her customary style, and produced a fine picture, I thought. The students were quick to agree. Pure landscapes are weather pictures, pictures of light, records of the day. The mountains and the trees whose shapes are multifarious and confusing, are mere hooks on which to hang the true theme. There are rare golden days in all seasons here, when I see pictures everywhere (colour is my prime motivator) and days when all seems wrong. This was a day of the second type.
The gravel pit lies at the western end of Third lake, in the draw between mounts Norquay and Edith. The run-off which in years gone by deposited the gravel has found another outlet, but a wardens' trail leads through this pass in a northerly direction to the valley of Forty Mile Creek. Edith's peak stands well back and is only visible from the road at this point. It is a fine pyramid and a sharp apex, and a favourite with climbers. I had always wanted to explore this pass, but found neither the time nor the opportunity, until one day in October my neighbour Syd Vallance, a former president of the Canadian Alpine Club, asked if I would care to go with him. I agreed of course.
It proved to be cheerless, even a dismal, walk, through a dank, and dripping forest where only moss grew. Had I been alone I am sure I should have looked back furtively and imagined every cracking twig to signify a grizzly.
The trail led up and up until at, say 4 miles, we had passed Edith's peak, and had a briefly clear view of the two mountains beyond, that is, of mounts Louis and Fifi. The three names commemorate a walk taken by three individuals years ago Fifi was the dog. We pushed on, emerging at last from the inhospitable and somewhat eerie woods, and traversed a shoulder of Edith. At about timber-line we were trudging through snow. A cold wind whistled through the pass. We paused only when the vertical face of Louis loomed directly ahead. The last time Syd was here, he said, he watched his son through binoculars climb this monstrous slab of rock, and recorded the incident with his camera and a telescopic lens. The last stage of the climb was up a 400-foot chimney.
I made a sketch in water-colour, sitting in the snow. The wind was penetrating, the paint froze on the page of my sketch-book instead of drying. Twenty minutes was the limit of my endurance. We retired to the lee of a rock and ate our lunches. The walk back was tiring. My pack gained in weight. I suffered cramp in the shoulders, and at last suffered the indignity of handing over the pack to my younger companion, who was generously insistent. We regained the West road, much relieved, emerging by way of a grove of aspens which the welcome sunshine penetrated, and on the way home we admired anew the friendly contour of Mount Rundle.
There is a good view of Edith from the river or from the south side of the valley, but Louis and Fifi are hidden. Their silhouettes may be seen from the Minnewanka road.
The last time I put Edith into a picture, raising her head above the monotonous green forest, I was offended by its very viridity. This is an old story. When I lived in England I liked to paint pictures of the countryside in winter, or in spring and fall. I shuddered at the thought of midsummer amidst the trees, and with most others of my calling, I packed up and left for the coast to paint ships, and the sea, and the stone habitations of fishermen.
Now green is a colour of great beauty and infinite variety. Brewer states authoritatively that there are 106 shades of green, but to the landscape painter its shades are uncounted. Green symbolizes noble things joy, happiness, safety, abundance, hope, and, to the Moors and Greeks of old, victory. It is restful to the eye. It was a favourite hue to the psalmists. Apparently it symbolized for them all the comforts needed for complete well-being. It suggested green sward, and lush foliage, water in the desert, cool shade in the heat of the day, and a soft spot suitable for repose in a stony, thorn-ridden land. But grass and trees occur infrequently in the middle-east, compared with say, the Emerald Isle. It is anything but monotonous.
Constable claimed that it was his composition of his green out of a medley of greens that made his meadows, and again it was by treating it as a single tone that poor painters contrived to give it so little intensity.
Before Constable arrived, landscape painting was a matter of formulae and convention, based upon the mellow but faded productions of a bygone age. A story told of Sir George Beaumont and Constable serves to show how the paysagist of that time proceeded. Sir George had placed a small landscape by Gaspar Poussin on his easel, close to a picture he was painting, and said, 'Now, if I can match these tints, I am sure to be right.' 'But suppose,' replied Constable, 'Gaspar should rise from his grave, do you think he would know his own picture in its present state? Or, if he did, should we not find it difficult to persuade him that somebody had not smeared tar or cart grease over its surface and wiped it off imperfectly?'
On another occasion when the two were painting together, Beaumont said, 'Do you not find it difficult to determine where to place your brown tree?' And the reply was, 'Not in the least, for I never put such a thing into a picture.'
A contemporary critic (Mattews, in 'Diary of an Invalid') wrote, 'The fact seems to be that the delightful green of nature cannot be represented in a picture... I believe that nature must be stripped of its green livery and dressed in the browns of the painters, or confined to her own autumnal tints in order to be transferred to canvas.' Constable restored green to pictorial art; his paintings moreover are proof enough that warm colours are not necessary to produce the impression of warmth in landscape. Leslie wished for a parasol when looking at a sunny landscape done in cool blues and greens, just as Fuseli called for an umbrella when contemplating one of Constable's showers, in which warm colour was even less conspicuous.
Sir Alfred East has somewhere written on the proper treatment of a green meadow on canvas, drawing attention to the reflection of the sky on the blades of grass which bend to the proper angle, to the lurking undertone of earth, and to the immense variety of greens that go up to make up a mass which, to the casual and uninformed observer, seems to be flat, unchanging tone. In his water-colours I have seen leafage represented by unadulterated yellow and almost pure ultramarine, with a score of intermediate tones resulting from the admixture, or from the use of other pigments.
In the management of greens, it must be apparent, the landscape painter finds his greatest difficulty.
The anomaly which I seem to have implied is easily explained. It must not be supposed that Constable's pictures are cool in colour throughout. He introduced warmth for contrast. 'All concord's born of contraries,' wrote Ben Jonson. Contrast, change, surprise, novelty, quicken human interest. Beauty only exists because there is ugliness for a yardstick. There is no harmony without discord. A spot of warmth introduced into Green Hell would make it heaven. So, a touch of warm colour such as that I have mentioned, is necessary to set off the cool constant greys of the mountains. Green is as often cool as warm and is not a great help.
I wrote that I was appalled, or offended when I finished my last sketch of Edith. This is not strictly true; I was annoyed at my failure to capture the wonderful green harmony the scene suggested, and monotony was discernible in my sketch rather than in nature.
On rainy days the class assembles in the studio and either paints from a model (often an accomplished model from the ballet class), practices portraiture, creates a still life group, or compose pictures from sketches already made. One, perhaps, eyeing me doubtfully, will essay an abstract. Another is liable to set forth in spite of the rain, hoping to find a sheltered spot, maybe a tree, a doorway, or an arch of the stone bridge that crosses the river. It depends on the species of rain. Hiroshige considered and illustrated forty forms of pluvial pulchritude. He was perhaps rain's most distinguished interpreter. Hiroshige depicted nature in all her moods, although he abhorred the dramatic. Indeed one most fascinating quality in his landscapes is tranquillity. That the summer shower was a theme receiving frequent and ample treatment at his hand, goes without saying.
His treatment also was surprisingly varied. He had no formula for rain, like that propounded by Rembrandt in 'Three Trees,' and faithfully copied by every etcher since his time. He never seems to have repeated himself. 'White Rain at Shono' and 'White Rain at Nihonbashi' bear little resemblance in expression.
In the former the rain comes down in driving sheets. It is a sudden shower. Three straw-clad figures in the foreground run for shelter; two others who carry a lady in a litter are less fortunately situated. Bamboo and taller trees in the background bend to the weight of the storm.
In the second the rain falls gently and straight. It has not body enough to obscure Fuji in the distance, it is expressed by a few black lines, mostly vertical. Walkers on the bridge in the foreground open their gay umbrellas.
In 'Rain at Night on Karasaki' there are no figures, but there is peace, and this is reflected in the poem inscribed on the print:
'The Wind of the evening
Surrenders its sound
To the night rain,
And the pine of Karasaki grows in fame.'
Who complains of a warm summer rain! At home we hasten to put out our window plants, and consider going for a walk. There is something invigorating and mentally cleansing about a walk in the rain. The soft veil of gray seems to compose the spirit. The hues of nature become bland and harmonious. Local colour holds its true character. Flowers assume a brilliance and an individuality largely lost in sunshine, and their fragrance diffused more intensely, mingling with the odours of growing vegetation and the fertile earth, charms the senses.
Through the window at home I note the freshness of the lawn, the vivid green of foliage, the black boles of the trees, sparrows playing in the puddles, reflections on the wet roadway, a little girl in a blue raincoat, glistening, a young man, bareheaded, his face pink and glowing. Peace pervades the street. Sound is muffled, all but the songs of birds which are clear and bright.
Once I worked for a whole day upon a gray landscape which I wanted to finish for the Royal Academy exhibition. It was cold and miserable, the rain fell with a gloomy persistence familiar to an Englishman. Nevertheless I wrapped myself in a mackintosh, selected a large umbrella, packed my picture in oil cloth, and set out.
What a day! Crouched under the gamp, shivering, depressed I shall never forget it. Fortunately in this country rain is rarely accompanied by that searching and penetrating chill. Once at Muskoka we were caught in a violent downpour on the edge of the forest. We fled to the partial shelter of a large pine tree. I stretched my raincoat over two convenient limbs and the shelter was perfect. We settled down for the duration, and there I made a picture of golden-rod in the rain, in perfect comfort.
But on occasion in a mood of frustration I solemnly declare that, apart from utter darkness rain is the worst calamity that can befall a sketcher. All its vaunted qualities wash away. Let us wait till it stops.
'For lo,' sang Solomon, '..the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of the birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.'
It was so long since I spent a summer in the city that I had almost forgotten that the joys of the season the pleasures of sight and sound, and the comfort of well-being may be enjoyed therein as fully as in the country, at the lakeside or in the mountains. The country of course is easily accessible, if you must have it, and the lakes are never far way, but it is really no hardship to be kept in town if there are trees around your home and flowers in your garden.
What a boon the trees are! The elms particularly, with their graceful branching and spreading foliage. Not so graceful perhaps as the elms of Ontario nor so imposing, but well enough, and of all our urban trees the most beautiful. The oak looks best in the forest, the willow on the river bank, the pines belong to the northern wilderness of rock and lake and muskeg never in the city do they live up to Ruskin's description 'goodly and solemn pines with trunks like pillars of temples and the purple burning of their branches sheathed in deep globes of cloudy green.'
Elms are best for the street: no other tree makes so symmetrical an arch over the roadway, so high a canopy.
I write facing a large window. Bosky elms fill the lights. I see the lawn dappled with shadows, and the avenue beyond the hedge enveloped in a cool penumbra. All is green but the gray pavement pitted with golden sun-spots, the brown boles of the trees, and the glimpses of red brick and white stucco seen through rifts in the foliage. But green is a generic term, as I have said, embracing a thousand tints.
I suppose that few, other than landscape painters of the academic school, really examine a tree with an eye to its form, chiaroscuro and colour. It is a profitable study nevertheless. Look with me at the elm tree that stands at the far end of the lawn and fills the top part of the window. We cannot see its crown, which is just as well, since at one time it was callously pruned, and its spread is not so great as it should be.
The high sun shines through the foliage towards us. We observe without difficulty that the greens may be classified roughly as pale greens and dark greens those in light and those in shadow, and that each class has many subdivisions. Taking the light first the brightest leaves are those few that directly reflect the sun, and they are dazzling. Then there are those that reflect the sky they are bright also blue tinged with green. More numerous are the semi-transparent leaves that the sun shines through; they are mostly at the edges of the leaf masses, and are very brilliant at the top of the tree they appear to be yellow against the blue sky; lower down, or where they are clustered, they assume a greener tint.
The hues in the shadows require much keener discernment. The greatest depths are almost as low in tone as the dark branches, and may be 'warm' or 'cold' that is inclined to brown or to blue depending on the character of the colours they reflect. There is a tree across the street whose foliage reflects the cool shadows of the asphalt pavement, but our elm has warm umbras.
Now examine the golden spots of light that break up the shadows on the road and on the lawn. Each is an image of the sun, or, when they seem to be larger, a conglomeration of such images. They are not round discs of light, but mostly ovate, because they are distorted by various means, and because they are viewed at an angle, in perspective.
In the form, the lines, of the tree there is beauty of a more permanent order. The sun hides his face, and the splendour of colour has departed, but the form remains. The trunk is straight and sturdy. At the height of five feet its bifurcations begin. The new branches curve only slightly at first but as they grow more slender the curve grows more pronounced. These radiating lines 'sweeps of associated curves' may be traced in the leaves also, both in their groups and in their individual forms. The whole growth is subject to law; each part springs from the parent stem.
Ruskin frequently stressed the inevitability of the principle of subordination in art and live, drawing his analogies from nature. He likened masses of men to masses of leaves. Trees, he said, like society conform to two other laws also, those of individuality and incomprehensibility. He spoke often of the individuality of leaves, and of the strange fact that no form is ever exactly duplicated in nature. No two leaves are the same. He saw mystery in the heart of a mass of foliage.
The valley and the lower slopes of the surrounding mountains are well covered with lodge pole pine, a very straight and slender tree, as its name implies, and so dense in growth that one wonders how elk with their great spread of antlers, or moose, manage to find a passage through them. In the mass they are unlovely, and the despair of visiting artists. It is hard to retain that respect due to all trees for the benefits we derive from them a respect that in other lands and in other times developed into worship.
In the days of Pliny a noble Roman admired a beautiful beech-tree in a sacred grove of Diana, wrote Frazer in The Golden Bough. He embraced it; he kissed it; he lay under its shadow; he poured wine on its trunk. He really did worship that tree.
I knew a lady who would embrace certain trees when she felt depressed, deriving great comfort and happiness from the contact. But the old-time veneration has been outgrown. Imagine a Canadian logger begging a tree's pardon before felling it. Yet this is still done in Europe.
The ill-favoured lodge-pole pine, I'm afraid, is not venerated in spite of its posthumous roles as railroad ties, mine timbers, poles and pulp. It is an untidy growth and practically naked up to its crown, useful only (as it stands) as sanctuary when a grizzly chases one up it. As a model for an artist it is a complete failure. Edward Bawden, the English painter, on his first visit to the valley, was dumbfounded by the prospect of miles and miles of lodge-pole pines. But he faced the matter manfully, and evolved a calligraphic technique that seemed to solve the problem of expression. He drew a containing line, a simple shape like a pine-cone, and within this contour he inscribed details in line which identify the tree cheerful little arabesques and squiggles.
If the superabundance of trees is overpowering, what can be said of the towering peaks. Many would-be alpine artists feel frustrated and mutter 'They can't be painted! They're too big!'
Meryman came and spoke to me as I sketched at Moraine Lake a very spectacular spot. Here indeed is scenery on the grandest scale. He asked, 'How can you paint this stuff on such a small piece of paper?' I felt a bit huffy, but he soon charmed this feeling away and we finally accepted each other's point of view. Of course he was right in a way: the larger the canvas the more impressive it is apt to be.
He had a Hook easel screwed to a six-foot canvas, and he left it standing day and night on top of the pile of boulders known as The Moraine. It was his ambition to cover the canvas more than that to finish it at one sitting, just as the American painter, Redfield, did.
It is more a matter of scale than size, I had much pleasure in pointing out. The scene he aspired to paint at one go, overpowering as it is, is not without its built in yardstick. The trees that border the lake, beginning in the foreground, recede in orderly fashion, and climb a little way up the screes in the distance. They are of known height, more or less, and indicate roughly the miles that extend along and aloft. I have been deprived often of any good means of measurement, and my paintings consequently have lacked magnitude and magnificence. By the judicious introduction of objects of known dimensions, such as human figures, the artist may indicate or exaggerate the size and importance of anything he likes. I recall Poe's story of the insignificant insect that became a monster in given circumstances. By this means a handful of rocks may be converted into a mountain range, or a dripping spout into a waterfall.
We were sketching in a forest clearing within sight of that meandering creek, Forty-mile, over which the West road passes before it turns west. A thick growth of thistle bloomed where trees had been felled a good half-acre of it, and on each bloom was poised a Painted Lady. Such a cloud of butterflies I never saw before. There were thousands, calling to mind the butterfly trees of California which are occupied every year by migrating Monarchs. It might have been hard to distinguish them, but that they seemed to be so restless, and every few moments each Lady would flutter upwards for a few feet and then return to her seat upon the thistle.
It was a wonderful and a beautiful sight. One of the students put some in her sketch, where they didn't look like anything, so she produced her movie camera and took coloured photographs of them, determined to record somehow that unique, sedate dance of the Painted Ladies.
It may be thought that a discourse upon butterflies is unwarranted here, but it happens that this inconsiderable insect is closely associated in my mind with an artist of bygone days whose genius I have always admired. Thomas Stothard is his name. He drew the lovely line drawings that embellished Pilgrim's Progress, over which I used to pore as a child. He was a gentle, industrious man.
Once he was engaged upon a picture which embodied a reclining sylph, and he was puzzled as to how he might represent an elemental spirit of the air so as to express her insubstantiality. A friend suggested he should give her a butterfly's wings, 'That I will,' said the artist, 'and to be correct I will paint the wings from the butterfly itself.'
His biographer states at this point that he 'sallied forth immediately, and after a walk of several miles, succeeded in catching a butterfly, of the class known as The Peacock. He brought it home carefully and commenced his drawing but not, as he should have done, in the studio: he worked on the kitchen table. He was interrupted and left the insect where it lay. The maid, of course, swept it up.
This unfinished drawing, done in the late 18th century, is still in existence. When he learned of his loss Stothard did not complain. He was of a gentle disposition, as I have said. When burglars at one time carried away all his silver he was equally philosophical.
He went for another walk and this time caught a Tortoisehell. This fellow with his magnificent colouration, really excited him, and from that moment he determined to enter the field of entomology. He became a rabid collector of bugs; the more he caught the more rabid he became; and he confessed that no one knew what he owed to these insects, for they had taught him the finest combinations in that difficult branch of art colouring.
This also confirmed him in his respect for nature. He went nowhere without his sketch-book and made careful notes of everything that struck his eye or his fancy. He claimed that, 'of all studies nature forms the most inexhaustible and delightful, and that every artist should in some way make his art his recreation; for let him sketch what he might some time or other he would find it useful.'
This last observation is true. I keep all my sketches, however bad they may be, and, in my experience, few if any of them have failed to come in handy. Stothard was to make distinguished use of his wildflower studies late in life, when he was commissioned by a silversmith to design a large quantity of chased plate for the king.
The harmonies he derived from the pigmentation of butterflies are not readily discernible, but he was famous among his contemporaries for a rich brown that is characteristic of some of them. He invented and made this peculiar pigment himself by baking the shank bone of a sheep in the oven, afterwards pulverising and grinding it in oil.
Along the West road one is permitted a clear view of the sky. The valley measures more than a mile in width in the five-mile strip down which we have wandered. The peaks lie well back, and induced no feeling of claustrophobia. The study of skies is an essential part of our class-work, that is, of landscape painting.
It is astonishing that so many pure landscapes are produced in our generation, when one considers that the painters of the High Renaissance produced none at all. It is also surprising that while mountains, trees, still water, and purling streams, are skilfully represented there in moments of supreme beauty, the sky, more often than not, is treated with scant respect.
The realist frequently neglects his skies, underestimating their importance and the decorative painter often overemphasizes them. I don't know which is worse the misfits of the former or the slickfits of the latter. Clouds assume marvellous shapes in nature, but none so marvellous as those one sees in art.
Sky in landscape establishes the mood of the scene, and indicates the weather and the time of day; its colour is reflected not only on lake and river but upon the leaves of the trees and on blades of grass that happen to have the right angle of incidence.
Clouds are the most inconstant forms with which the landscape painter has to cope. They move and change, expand or dissolve. Yet their inconstancy is a virtue from his point of view; he can arrange them so that by line, mass, tone, and colour, they become an integral part of his topographical and pictorial pattern.
Thus the sketcher who starts with the sky (and there are many who do they like to start from the top) is blindly rejecting the most valuable aid. Sir Alfred East always advised the student to leave the sky till last so that it might be designed to perfect the composition.
Some are afraid to paint a clear sky, believing it to be uninteresting. Wordsworth knew the type:
'The soft blue sky did never melt
Into his heart; he never felt
The Witchery of the soft blue sky.'
A cloudless sky betokens peace stillness and repose. Salvador Dali is aware of its value. The atmosphere of broodingsuspense that envelops many of his strange compositions is enhanced by its presence. In The Ancient Mariner the sense of inaction and foreboding is maintained in part by Coleridge's insistence on an empty sky.
'He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap,' said the prophet, who, it is evident, was not a landscape painter, or would have had to eat his words. The boy, Constable, spent many hours lying on his back watching the clouds the large, garish clouds as he afterwards described them, whose broad shadows swept over fields, woods, and hills.
Light, fleecy, summer clouds add gaiety and a little movement to a clear sky's static state. They float serenely over Hobbema's masterly landscapes,' in Boudin's peaceful coast scenes, and in a thousand other pictures.
The insinuation of a rainbow in a picture was described around the turn of the century as a daring feat, and a while before that a Times critic coyly sneered at 'sweetmeat rainbows of lollipop colours.' It is possible also that at some time the painter who presumed to fashion that radiant arch out of pigment was guilty of blasphemy in the sense that he usurped the powers of God, who, it will be recalled, distinctly said to Noah, 'I do set my bow in the cloud and it shall be a token.' So many things were forbidden the artist on similar grounds. At any rate rainbows were rarely seen in pictures before the time of Rubens.
It was said that Rubens employed others to paint in his landscape backgrounds which calumny he nobly refuted by reproducing a series of pure landscapes. It is more likely that he turned to nature for relaxation, or because he loved to be out of doors, or that he was a born sketcher, which is certainly true. He delighted in observing and recording such phenomena as bursts of sunshine, moonlight, meteors, and impetuous torrents. And he did not neglect rainbows; there is one in the Louvre, and an even finer specimen in the Munich gallery, entitled 'Landscape with Rainbow' which shows a simple hay-field with a small farm on the further side and three haystacks in front, with a luminous bow flung across a gloomy sky and with a transient sunbeam burnishing gable and tree. A larger version of this canvas hangs in the Wallace collection in London.
That incomparable sketcher Turner, was familiar with every mood of nature and with the phenomena appropriate to each. He often pieced out a composition with a rainbow. I remember seeing a water-colour by his hand in London, and particularly the note which was appended to the title, 'The Rainbow,' in the catalogue and written, I believe, by Mr. Finberg, which read: 'This is a drawing which I do not understand. The, rainbow has only two colours: viz., yellow and crimson lake.'
Turner, of course, knew the proper sequence starting from the top, or the outside edge violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red. No artist could conceivably go wrong on that. A double rainbow, however, is another matter. It is easy to jump to conclusions; the second bow, you think, is obviously a replica of the first. At least so Millais thought when he painted 'The Blind Girl,' one of the most famous of all rainbow pictures. It is all right now, for the artist made the necessary correction when it was pointed out to him that the second bow is a reflection of the first, and that the colours are therefore reversed and less brilliant.
But what of the third bow. Is it a reflection of the second, or a second reflection of the first? On one memorable occasion I saw five luminous bows fused into one broad band of brilliance. It appeared in the east flung across Tunnel Mountain and above Rundle, in the afternoon. It was breathtaking. I rushed around to Dan McCowan on the next street. He was in the bath-tub, but he got out and draped himself in a towel. Whether he had colour-film in his camera I have forgotten. I never saw his photograph. I took a good shot but lacking colour.
One day whilst driving along a country road in Manitoba a brilliant rainbow came after a sharp shower. It was an arresting effect and one easily memorized. I made a little picture of the scene the next day in my studio. When it was finished the effect struck me as being more unusual than I had thought, and much too odd to show. I had my back to the sun, yet the sun's rays converged to a point within the bow. Had I been looking in the opposite direction the effect without the bow would have been understandable. It looked wrong in the picture, though I knew my observation had been accurate. Months later, whilst dipping into Leslie's Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, I came across the passage
'He (Constable) pointed out to me an appearance of the sun's rays, which few artists have perhaps noticed, and which I never saw given in any picture, excepting in his 'Waterloo Bridge,' when the spectator stands with his back to the sun, the rays may sometimes be seen converging in perspective towards the opposite horizon. Since he drew my attention to such effects, I have noticed very early in the morning the lines of the rays diminishing in perspective through a rainbow.'
Painting a rainbow in water-colour is always a daring feat technically.
It was a brisk, bright day. The class was assembled in the studio. To-day, I said, we shall try a new location. So we bundled into several cars and were soon bowling along the Minnewanka road, past the Buffalo Park, the Indian Grounds, and the Air Field. I drove with the Doctor, a former member of the class who joined us now and then for old time's sake. We left the road after three or four miles, and followed a trail leading into a small meadow at the foot of Cascade mountain. Set in the midst of it was a stockade, a fort, built of logs, in the style of the Frontier days. An anachronism rather than a relic, it was built by the movie company that filmed 'Saskatchewan.' The company did a fine job, at least with building the Fort. When it was time to pack and return to Hollywood they offered the Fort to the Parks Board instead of obliterating it as they had contracted to do. Whether the gift was accepted or not is uncertain.
The huge gates were padlocked when we arrived. The doctor soon had the lock picked, however, and we drove in. Within the walls were all the appropriate buildings: store-houses, bunk houses, kitchen and stables, all properly equipped for living, that is with furniture. There was a flagstaff. There were fire steps on the walls, cribs for the horses.
The Fort was abandoned, but acquired a fortuitous authenticity later in the day when a red-coated Mountie sauntered by to see what we were up to. The students were curious, and before they settled down to do some painting they explored the buildings. Aha!! The Fort was found not so completely abandoned as we had supposed. A man was found asleep in one of the bunk-houses. He came out presently. The doctor saw him and recognized him as a man wanted by the police. He said he had better be getting back to town, and hurried away. So did the other fellow, though we heard next day that he had been picked up.
It was very pleasant painting there. The scene was stimulating, and though the Fort was a mere movie set, the majestic mountains rose all around us and the shadows that fell upon them formed engaging patterns. Shades of the past piqued the imagination and the arrival of the redcoat was a grand climax. He was the Red Note in person, the animated yardstick, the felicitous figure which always turns up, it is said, if only the sketcher waits patiently enough.
We had lunch in the shade of a stand of small aspens. There were wild flowers blooming among the grasses, and an abundance of wild fruit a little way up the mountain. It was a pleasant spot.
The road by which we came, having skirted the mighty bastions of Cascade, proceeds only a few miles more, and comes to a stop on the shore of a lake called Minnewanka. It is a long and narrow lake, dominated by Mount Inglesmaldy, whose peak is a precipitous slab of limestone based upon sloping screes. Clouds build up frequently beyond the mountain, and roll down the lake towards us, adding to its dark splendour. When the sun shines the menace of the mountain wanes. The precipice is reflected in the glacial-green water and the colour is as sweet as the lid of a candy-box. There is the one view here but it is as changeable as the weather-vane.
One warm, still, summer day I found myself a willing prisoner within a stone fort. I sat in a chair in the broad shade of a tree and watched the golden leaves fall gently on the lawn. Gardeners raked together little heaps of leaves, but not so hurriedly as to disturb the peace. The boles and branches of the golden poplars were shadowed upon the wall in quaint patterns. Loopholes pierced the thick limestone at frequent and regular intervals, and reminded me that once this was a stronghold and a safe retreat. In reality this fortress that the masons built more than a hundred years ago always has been a haven of rest. . Neither bullets nor arrows ever broke on its defences. One of the bastions at the corners of the rectangular enclosure was indeed used as a powder magazine but the other impregnable roundhouses were utilized by the cook, the sutler, and the ware-houseman.
Within the walls are several large buildings, all of stone. On the verandah of the largest I had my lunch not of pemmican or buffalo steak, but a well-served modern meal. Now a group of ladies is seriously occupied over a game of bridge. I hear their voices. Later in the afternoon men will come from the city, and they will play golf on the links behind.
Alexander Ross wrote in 1856, 'Lower Fort Garry is more secluded; although picturesque and full of rural beauty. Here the governor of Rupert's Land resides, when he passes any time in the colony. To those of studious and retired habits it is preferred to the Upper Fort.'
It has always been like that, I know, perfectly peaceful.
The play of sunlight is amusement enough for a lazy man, but the deep shadow, vibrant, dramatic, which extends to the bastion itself with its red roof partially screened by vivid foliage, and the rich green sward these will not be denied. I look again, unwilling to be disturbed even by beauty. No use! I have to make a sketch; the pictorial possibilities of the scene are too much for my professional eye. Afterwards I sketched furiously fifteen drawings, no less, on that sunny afternoon. I sketched the sundial, the trees, the walls, outside and in, the doorways, the boat-landing, and the river, the turnstile everything. Then I smoked a pipe on the riverbank which is only a few yards from the outer wall.
It was easy to imagine the fast canoes or the brigades of York boats coming round the bend. They say you could hear the crews singing before the boats came in sight, I could imagine that too, and the eagerness and interest of the nice folk at the fort as they waited. I saw the broad path up from the Landing; it is not obliterated yet. Along here the sturdy boatmen came, laden with bales of merchandise, laughing, shouting, eager to get to the shop to be paid off and be free to attend to their friends or their families. Or in winter, when the snow drifted to the height of the walls, there were the comings and goings of the dog-trains their drivers resplendent in blanket coats and gay sashes, huskies bedecked with ribbons and bells. It is cold; but within doors huge fires of oak create an atmosphere of cheer and warmth, and the long evenings are spent sociably in conversation, or, when the fiddler sets his chair on the table, in the rollicking activity of the Red River jig.
The fort is not only a relic of the past, nor is it only a house of memory. Rather it is the expression in stone of the continuity of life, its easy flow, its imperceptible transitions. The mason who laid these courses lived until 1898 not so long ago, it seems to some of us.
Later on I converted all my sketches into wood-engravings, and by introducing appropriate figures, by refloating the old boats, and reenacting the few historical incidents connected with the fort, suggested the manner of life lived there. This set of engravings was published by Stovel's of Winnipeg.
To us the West road is the highroad to adventure. It has its dull moments, but it leads to the heart of the Rockies and promises much. With my class I cannot venture far, but we do visit the more accessible if distant spots occasionally and we rarely miss spending some time at Johnson Canyon on account of its waterfalls. It is a half-hour drive from Banff.
I do not mind confessing that I like waterfalls. Every time I stand before a presentable specimen I echo the words Richard Wilson addressed to the Fal1s of Terni: 'Well done water, by Gad.'
'Unstable as water,' they used to say, forgetting that water has the greater power compared with rock and that, partly because of its instability, it can move mountains. Good landscape painters ignore this base insinuation. They wallow in waterfalls. They realize that instability is not necessarily a sin, but 'the supreme quality of transience which puts the keenest edge on beauty' as Mrs. Miniver observed when the fireworks went off.
My own interest in the matter began far away and long ago on the moors of Yorkshire to be precise, when I was a child. We lived in Howarth, at the foot of the hill. Now and then we were let loose in the heather to pick bilberries, and on rare occasions we were taken on a picnic. To our elders the logical place for the latter diversion was Charlotte Bronte's waterfall, and there we always went. I have seen photographs of it since, and it does not seem very attractivea trickle of peaty water on the barren moor. I suppose it held some interest for us at that time. At least it was the best part of a wholly objectionable business. I recall the perennial mint pasty how I hated it! and the interminable walk.
The imprisoned waters of a lake are passive and reflect only the moods of the weather. Overflowing, the stream seeks lower levels and only the lie of the land has much influence upon it. Falls, we are told, are typical of regions where streams are young or immature, not having had time to grade their courses. Here is water in all its forms the clear stream , foam, spray and still smaller drops suspended in the air a translucent veil in which a rainbow is often woven. And the textures! What is sleeker than the lip of the fall, rougher, yet more transient and inconstant than the broken water of the spill, or more diaphanous than the rising mist. Smooth water above the current distorting but not breaking the reflections of trees and rocks and sky upon its shining face; broken water below a medley of white water and foam, pieces of sky, fragments of foliage that surprisingly fall into a rhythmic pattern.
Water is the most expressive element in nature. It responds to every mood from tranquillity to turbulence. The bubbling spring engenders and supports life; the raging torrent and the remorseless flood may be the instruments of its destruction.
The surface of still water is our standard of horizontality, which is the well-spring of peace and repose. Even falling water induces little emotional disturbance for vertical lines are also static. Thus a waterfall may induce pleasurable thoughts and even its roar may be soothing.
Once I saw a sketch of Tom Thomson's of a water-fall in the woods. It was not a voluminous or a spectacular falls, but a mere runnel with perhaps a ten-foot drop. It was viewed between the slender boles of birch or poplar, against a background of dense foliage, and it composed so beautifully that it has stayed in my memory for years. The pattern that impressed me was no doubt the creation of the artist, but the material that inspired it he found in that spot in the forest, and I doubt that he falsified it at all.
I first paddled up Rushing river, Lake of the Wood, more than thirty years ago. It was a long trip at that time a run in the launch to Blindfold Lake portaging the canoe over the falls there a five-mile paddle to the river. Now a road crosses the river just above the falls.
I shall never forget that first visit. An hour's paddling in the hot sun brought us to the river. As we proceeded the cool shade of overhanging trees and the propinquity of the water were very refreshing. In the depths of the clear stream I saw fish darting; I watched with enjoyment the new vista that each turn of the stream revealed, and the banks as we sped by them moss-covered rocks, white birch boles, wild rice, white lilies. The forest wove its spell about us. Once we chanced on a scene straight from the pages of Fenimore Cooper a young Indian girl plucking a water-lily to put in her hair. A little further on was a small clearing on which were pitched a group of birch-bark tepees. Then came the murmur of falling water faint at first, but attaining the dimensions of a roar as we progressed, and by and by, negotiating the ultimate turn, we saw the falls, a gleaming slash of white across rich verdure and gray granite.
It is not a large waterfall, but none has pleased me more. Perhaps the magic of the moments or the charm of the setting, or the cumulative interest of the approach with that dramatic crescendo of sound at the end whatever it was, I cannot forget the sight nor the sound of that remote little waterfall.
My pupils thus find themselves confronted with a waterfall sooner or later, but few have ever submitted a reasonably good picture of it. Most of them give up, recognizing the subject as too formidable for their inexperience. Pitfalls to be avoided. The commonest faults are lack of movement and lack of pattern. Motion is a matter of line, and pattern the result of observation and imagination. One sometimes sees paintings of waterfalls as static as gobs of ice-cream.
The rock presents no great difficulty. They are dark, solid and static, but the water that spills over them takes many forms, from sleek reaches above embodying distorted reflections, to shining domes of foam shaped by pale and pleasant grays. On the lower level the foam disperses in lacy lines enclosing oval mirrors that reflect whatever lies above and behind them. They are as hard to photograph as to paint.
On a sunny day I enjoy nothing better than to walk beside a mountain creek, whether over bare rock or through the forest, when the air is charged with the smell of balsam; when the sound of flowing water implies the proximity of a hidden waterfall, and now and then the sound expands, and diminishes when we pass it by: a situation that creates what the Chinese call a scene of enchantment. 'Three sounds there are,' wrote Washington Irving, 'most lovely to the ears of man: bird songs, the sound of running water and the voice of a loved woman.'
One may indulge all these joys and more by a mountain stream. Johnson creek, fifteen miles from Banff, along the West road, provides a very proper setting. It is a stream to my mind of perfect dimensions, of varying width, averaging three or four yards. Here and there the trail clings to the walls of the gorge through which the stream brawls, bridging it at intervals, sometimes bearing away from it through the trees, but never so far away as to be beyond earshot. The stream is broken by various cascades each with a character all its own: at last it is compressed between the canyon walls, bursting through in white fury, expended in concentric curves in the dark green pool below. Here the trail crosses again and one climbs steeply to the top, and skirts the wooded mountain-side, still rising.
The sound of other unseen falls comes now and again, and, at last an increasing roar is heard as the creek again comes into view tumbling into a deep pothole. Immediately above it, at an angle, is another very beautiful waterfall.
A further hike through the pines brings one to another noble fall square in appearance, with an open, boulder-strewn forefront lovely indeed and most paintable.
My own first progress up this creek ended at the first falls, at the second falls on the second trip, and so forth. I stopped to sketch each one, and it was more than a year before I got to the top. But this fall kept me very busy. I painted it from all angles, and waded the stream to paint it from the other side. It was crowned with pines but its surroundings were spacious and airy.
On my next trip I came upon a waterfall spilling into an immense water-worn cavity in the rock. The spill was on the side furthest from the entrance. Once I had a class of about 75 all seated comfortably among the boulders and protected from the rain without. Within the cave the sound of the falling water was increased to a deafening roar.
Up the side of this, and along the creek for a few yards, the canyon contracts again and ends in a cul-de-sac, but the water has worn a bed and comes down vertically from a height of perhaps a hundred feet, a soft, silver ribbon that shimmers as it enters the mists at the bottom.
It may be remarked that the trail ignores this approach to the High falls, and winds up and around, and breaks through the trees at the top. The trail makers of this country may have sound reasons for this, but it seems to me that they play the same practical joke ad nauseam most falls, especially high ones are approached from the top.
Most of the waterfalls I have mentioned are small and obscure but I have a nodding acquaintance with some that enjoy as is said of artists an international reputation. Niagara, for example. On the Canadian side I did not get a good view, owing to the top-side approach. On the other side I took the elevator down to the low level, and through spray and mist viewed that monstrous mass of moving water, all the while deafened by the crash of its fall. I made a half-hearted sketch from the northern bank, but was not much impressed by the beauty of the scene, thinking only how unfortunate it would be if I fell off. Vertigo, instead of admiration! That is probably the feeling which induces so many Japanese suicides to take off at the top of Kegon
Falls. It is notable that the authorities fenced off the trail only a short time ago.
Such creeks as Johnson are common in the Rocky Mountains. Beauty Creek is a smaller edition of the same, situated 15 miles north of the Columbia Ice Fields is very pleasant and very accessible. Paradise Creek is rewarding after a hard hike. And many more.
There have been no tragedies so far as I know along Johnson Creek: a young lady from the Oral French group fell in a while back, but was quickly fished out again, and last year a young man inadvertently jumped down the High Fall with no ill effects. He thought he was jumping over the narrow ribbon of water at the lip. My memories of the steam are all happy ones.
During the winter, when the sun rises at a reasonable hour, its first rays strike the peak called Brewster, the fine peak in the crotch between Stoney Squaw and Norquay. Occasionally, and for a few minutes only, the mountain seems to have caught fire at this time, so brightly does it shine through the pre-dawn gloom. There is no doubt about the colour: it is decidedly red. Snow on the peak renders the red even brighter and more transparent. A friend who maintains a cottage at Banff told me he would never come to the mountains in the winter but for this.
The same effect occurs in summer, but the same mountains are not then in the line of fire. In July the rising sun paints the Victoria Glacier a fiery hue as seen from Lake Louise. Then the flood-lit mountain tops seem to be getting nearer nearer an alarming illusion to some. The hotel manager told us that one guest was watching the display from her window, and when she could stand it no longer, phoned to him, gasping, 'The mountains are coming into my room.' It is a grand spectacle nevertheless.
Moonlight creates effects in an entirely different range of hues, more subdued, less common, but equally beautiful.
Perhaps my class has seen this phenomenon, perhaps not. I hesitate to assemble them at so early an hour, but it has become a tradition that the student should climb Sulphur Mountain one night in time to see the sunrise the next morning.
For two or three days early in July the town is given over to the Indians. They establish a camp of forty or fifty tepees, gaily painted on their own grounds beyond the Buffalo Park. Every morning they parade through the town, dressed up to the nines, feathered and beaded, braves, squaws and papooses, the majority mounted. A few of the squaws' mounts are equipped with poles for travois, the cart without wheels. They pause for a half-hour on the bridges where the costumes are judged and tourists take photographs. We rubberneck too, and make the most of it. The jostling crowd on the bridge is dense, and it is next to impossible to photograph an Indian without pale-faces intruding back and front of him, though he is raised above them.
In the afternoons there is a rodeo on the grounds, and the tepees are open for inspection. Tribal dances in the open-air stadium at the Banff Springs Hotel fill the evenings. It is carnival time, and one cheerfully pays the small fees demanded. Even in a case like this I was sketching a part of the encampment and included several tepees in my pictures one of which belonged to Mary Starlight. Mary approached with a determined air, hand outstretched, palm up. I crossed it with silver.
The school usually detains one tepee complete with brave, squaw, family, horses, and what-not, for a few days so that the art classes may have authentic aboriginal models. The man and his wife pose morning and afternoon, sometimes seated on soft skins within the tepee, and at others in the open air. They are good models; like the Mounties they are used to it.
The tepee is put up in two minutes. First three poles, tied near the top are raised in tripod fashion, and many other single poles are placed resting on the three notches of the tripod, and forming a circle at the base. When all are encompassed by canvas, and this pegged to the grounds when skins and blankets are thrown over the floors the tepee is ready for the family to move in. It is surprisingly roomy.
The outside is decorated with geometric patterns in colour based on forms in nature hail and rain, the sung the moon and the stars, around the base and at the apex, and a formalized rainbow framing the door-slit, and birds and animals, some realistically painted, occupy the middle sections.
Here are many pictures and the class in photography makes hay while the sun shines. When it rains they go back to town to hide in their dark rooms, while we, the landscape class, enter the tepee and paint portraits. This for us is an interlude: so Back to Nature!
A painter can be as garrulous in his own medium as the proverbial fishwife in hers, and just as tiresome. He often is, complicating what might otherwise be a plain statement with such irrelevancies as details, colours, accidental appearances, and other things that don't matter.
Like a story that is worthy to be told, a picture must have a theme, and a climax, and the manner of educing it must be straightforward. Diffuseness, circumlocution, circumstantiality, ambiguity all the faults that obscure the points of a story badly told, are apparent also in a poor painting. Simplicity is a quality common to all great works of art; I do not mean the 'very suspicious virtue' derided by Reynolds, but the kind of simplicity born of honesty and single-mindedness.
I have landscape in mind particularly. The large majority of landscape painters are mere copyists of nature; they are not artists. They can never, in the words of Reynolds, 'produce anything great, can never raise or enlarge the conceptions, or warm the heart of the spectator.' That has always been true in art. Proclus, the Greek mystic knew it; Cicero expressed the same conviction. Old John Varley put it tersely: 'Nature needs cooking,' he said.
Ideal form as opposed to nature is the text upon which Reynolds based his Fifteen Discourses. Well turned phrases reiterate the thought throughout. He refers frequently to the 'intellectual dignity that ennobles the painter's art;' to 'industry not of the hands but of the mind.' He said, 'the usual and most dangerous error is on the side of minuteness' and that 'Art is no imitation at all of external nature.' Here is one paragraph that should be framed and hung in every studio:
'So far is my disquisition from giving countenance to idleness, that there is nothing in our art which enforces such continual exertion and circumspection, as an attention to the general effect of the whole. It requires much study and much practice; it requires the painter's entire mind; whereas the parts may be finishing by nice touches, while his mind is engaged on other matters; he may even hear a play or a novel read without much disturbance. The artist who flatters his own indolence will continually find himself evading this active exertion and applying his thoughts to the ease and laziness of highly finishing the parts; producing at last what Cowley calls 'labourious effect of idleness.'
Nothing dismays one more than to see a student meticulously placing each leaf on a tree, and each blade of grass in a meadow, wielding a small sable brush, and with his nose touching his drawing.
Yet that is how some landscapes are painted piecemeal, without thought. Euclid asserted that the whole is greater than its part. As a schoolboy I thought the axiom redundant and gibed at memorising it, but as a teacher I discovered that Euclid knew what he was about; the axiom may be self-evident, but is not necessarily self-taught.
It is no easy matter to decide what to include and what to leave out in a picture, especially when confronting nature. The experienced paysagist often finds it best to paint in the studio, working from perhaps a rapid colour note and a series of careful drawings which have been kept till time has erased from his mind all the irrelevant minutiae associated with the subject in nature.
On the other hand, among the best examples of nucleated graphic expression are the outdoor sketches of Peter de Wint and John Sell Cotman. No artist, asserted A.W. Rich, ever came nearer painting a perfect picture than did Peter de Wint. Should the student of Landscape study this artist's work closely and read Reynold's Discourses there is no doubt he will profit himself.
The widely accepted theory that water-colours are more perishable than oils is a mistaken one. Durer's water-colours have lasted better than his oils. If a painting has been done with the best materials and with a proved technique, no matter what the medium, sealed in a frame, and kept out of direct sunlight, nothing much can happen to it. But slight lapses in technique or preparation are far more disastrous in the oil medium.
Valuable oil paintings are often framed under glass. Some galleries have reported that the glazes which gave life and colour to certain pictures fled from the canvas and adhered to the glass. Oil paintings become disfigured with cracks in the course of time sometimes within two years. They become caked with dust and grime; the canvas rots; the wood if they are painted on wood warps and cracks; the beaverboard buckles; mistakes which the artist thought he had buried under a thick layer of paint, come to the surface. If the air is tainted with factory fumes, certain pigments are attacked and change their hue.
In the days of Sir Joshua Reynolds bitumen was a favoured pigment. It is a transparent brown derived from pitch. Sir Joshua used a lot of it. Not long ago a portrait by that master was cleaned and put in the sun to dry. The gallery technician nearly had a fit when he went to take it in. The eyes had run down the cheeks to the corners of the mouth. Bitumen also causes unsightly cracks. No, the picture was not ruined; it was turned the other way up and the eyes ran back.
I use the water-colour medium, I think, partly because of its difficulty it keeps me interested, and partly for its brilliance, for I love colour. It has been called 'a breakfast of sunshine.' It has been called all kinds of things. Joseph Wright described it as an amusement for young ladies. But we don't take that too seriously. Michelangelo said much the same of oil-painting ('Oil is a medium fit only for women') Wright's slanderous estimate originated in the fact that virtually all the masters of the English Schools of his day, were forced to teach for a living. Cotman, de Wint, Cox, Cozens, Varley, all of them took pupils, mostly young ladies of leisure.
Water-colour was known as 'the gentle art,' and in spite of its beauty and advantages, was commonly thought to be inferior. Some of this centuryold prejudice still sticks, and though most modern young women prefer to use oil, many big strong [men] specialize in aquarelle. The fact is water-colour is a very difficult art, requiring more concentration and sustained effort than oil. Turner loved water-colour, but during the last five or six years of his life, he had not the strength to use its though he still used his oil paints. David Cox had his first lessons in oil when he was fifty-six, and he wrote, 'There is not half the trouble with oil as with water-colour. I should never touch water-colour again only for my honour and duty to the Society I belong to.'
Of course every medium has some peculiar beauty; that of. watercolour is transparency and beauty of colour. Kenyon Cox, in one of his fine lectures, made a comparison which I and you, no doubt, have made often. He said, 'On going into an exhibition of water-colours the first impression will be that the painters, good and bad, are all working in colour. On going into an exhibition of oils the first impression is apt to be that everyone is painting in mud or in chalk. In this one matter of beautiful and pure colour the watercolourists will maintain their advantage.'
Water~colours were first prepared by grinding pigments in waters in which gum Arabic had been dissolved, forming a paste that was pressed in a mould, and dried to form a hard cake. These are the most brilliant pigments obtainable, but they are provoking to use they must be rubbed in water on a china palette. Nowadays manufacturers add glycerine to keep the pigment moist, and put it up in little porcelain pans, or in tubes made of tin-foil.
The brush used is commonly a sable. While an oil-painter may use fifty brushes at one sitting, the aquarellist rarely uses more than two a large one and a small one that will come to a point. Watercolour paper is preferably white, and hand-made from linen rags. There is no reason why a water-colour drawing should not last hundreds of years if the best materials are used.
The secret of good technique in any medium involves one simple principle that each brush-stroke shall lie absolutely undisturbed. It must be true in form, tone, and colours and it must be an integral part of the pictorial scheme. It may sound easy, but its consistent achievement is next to impossible.
Martin Hardie's tribute to that great watercolourist Peter de Wint is descriptive of his masterly technique 'One of those who can make colour sing, one of the few who can keep his darks transparently luminous and sparkling. No other artist has ever set on paper with more meaning and more purpose that beautiful blot of untroubled colour from a full-flowing brush, which, as it dries out, transparent and rich in bloom, is the charm and essence of the water-colour art.'
De Wint's work was done on rough paper. He worked very directly, rarely overpainting, never washing down. He used a pen-knife for scraping out lights.
The modern vogue for water-colour began with the topographical drawings of the eighteenth century, which were produced largely for the use of the engravers. The subject was outlined with a reed pen, and tinted or stained with washes of colour. This technique is still used, by some.
Paul Sandby (1725-1799) is called the Father of English water-colour painting. He was followed by Samuel Prout (1783-1852) whose subjects were largely architectural tumble-down cottages, and streets containing relics of by-gone days, which were considered picturesque at that time solely on account of their antiquity and were worked up from large pencil drawings made on the spot. He coloured his drawings at his convenience and elaborated them with a reed pen. He used brown ink the foreground, and blue for the distances a concession to tonal accuracy frequently used by living artists. He introduced figures because a deserted [landscape] is a pathetic sight, copying them from his sketch-book.
Girtin made the first big step in water-colour, abandoning line for tone, but Cotman, who was only seven years his junior, leaped so far forward that he was completely out of sight of his contemporaries, and only within the last thirty years has his work been estimated at its true worth. Cotman's handling is as distinguished as his composition. He is the student's authority for sponging, scraping and paste-painting.
Scraping with a sharp knife or a razor is not necessarily restricted to the removal of dry pigment, or to the representation of high lights. Some of Cotman's drawings sparkle with widely distributed scrapes a whole sky in one case, and sometimes more. The knife is a legitimate part of the water-colourist's equipment. Nothing else will give vitality to a dull and woolly drawing more readily, or will suggest an effulgence of light such as the sheen of the sun on water.
The mixture of paste with water-colour retards its drying and thus makes its manipulation easier. It also gives it the appearance of solidity usually associated with the oil medium, without the sacrifice of transparence. It is astonishing that the paste method is not more popular.
Turner used any method at all that would serve his immediate purpose. He made a larger use of wet paper painting than any of his contemporaries. Many of his water-colours are carried nearly to completion upon wet paper, the colours melting one into the other, manipulated in a manner possible only on paper in that condition. He frequently had three water-colours on hand at once, when working from sketches in his studio. He outlined the main features of the composition, immersed the drawing in water contained in a bucket conveniently placed near his chair, and immediately carried the painting as far as he could. When the paper began to dry he laid it aside and started on another, resoaking the first when the other required time out.
David Cox had no use for a pen. He made a preliminary drawing in pencil and in the process of painting would draw also with the point of his brush. His method was that of building up tones with a constant repetition of touches, until the correct intensity and variation were reached. He was a great teacher and recommended the use of a large brush. Don't spare the colour, he said, use plenty of colour and dab at it.
In this thumb-nail summary we have covered the main types of watercolour technique in use to-day. There are many other techniques: one I use frequently involves a pale underpainting in charcoal, well rubbed in, and treated with fixative. The majority of modern teachers recommend the method of de Wint. A.W. Rich's valuable text-book embodies examples made after the manner of that master, each part finished as the painter proceeds, as though he worked in mosaic. I also employ that ..technique, not only on account of its clarity and beauty but because it is the one best suited to the dry air of the Canadian interior.
F. Hopkinson Smith, an American water-colour painter and novelist, published a book of lectures on painting in which he complained that the English masters allowed themselves too little freedom in their methods. He contended that the painter should do as he pleased, 'working in anything and all things .... so long as he gets there, handling body-colour, in a veil of silver-gray as an overwash, or squeezed in chunks from a tube; undertones of pastel anything for quality.' Smith's pet method was to make a finished drawing in charcoal on tinted papers and to go over the shadows with transparent colours and over the lights with opaque colour. By this means he claimed to render the weight and solidity of form in nature, which, he said, 'the staining of paper with washes of transparent colour does not, and cannot, give.'
A more recent textbook written by the late president of the American Water-colour Society, George Pearse Ennis, reverts to the de Wint tradition, He uses a very rough, heavy paper, which he does not stretch, and very large brushes. He begins with an outline in pencil, paints in his darks first and his lights last. His palette is a brilliant one three reds, three blues, two yellows, and Hooker's green. The earth colours which Hopkinson Smith flushed over his charcoal grounds are discarded as being too dull. Anything else that might defile the brilliance of
of the applied pigment is discarded also over-painting, or mixing on the palette instead of on the paper, or scrubbing or sponging (save for complete obliteration).
Gouache, or body-colour is an opaque process of water-colour, in which tones or shades are produced by the admixture of more or less Chinese white. Thus the medium is deprived of its most beautiful characteristic, transparence, and in this the artist is always regarded as heterodox, particularly if he combines transparent and opaque methods in one picture. However, one is often tempted to associate the two. A little white mixed enables the painter to represent details that are brighter and higher in tone than their surroundings. David Cox taught that the use of body-colour is illegitimate, yet he never hesitated to use it when he found occasion. The paper that bears his name it was originally used for wrapping sugar and was known as sugar paper comes in shades varying between warm gray and brown. No conceivable wash of transparent colour could make this paper resemble, for examples snow and ice. Opaque colour must be used in such circumstances, but on white paper I cannot see the necessity for opaque painting.
Burne Jones painted his 'Love among the Ruins' in gouache and sent it to Paris for exhibition. An attendant at the gallery thought it looked a trifle dusty, and, never having seen a gouache painting before he rubbed it over with a wet sponge. Imagine his dismay when the paint came off. Burne-Jones was obliged to repaint the picture, but this time in oil!
Practically all the more satisfying landscapes of the past were painted indoors. For years, whilst I was learning to use my eyes and my brush, I finished pictures on the spot in full colour. No doubt my design was atrocious and I am sure I introduced all kinds of detail that looked beautiful at the time, but only served to complicate, even to destroy that particular aspect of beauty I sat down to express. This method is unnecessarily difficult: drawing, tone, colour, texture, design all these principles must be considered with every stroke of the brush.
Then the time involved is too long. In four hours the sun has travelled a great way; the first effect has gone forever; the shadows have changed; the scene is entirely different If one works for an hour with the idea of going back to it the next day, one is again disappointed, for no two days are the same. The method that suits me best now, is to make small, quick, sketches in colour, so that I can capture an effect in nature before it passes, and I leave the drawing to be done at another time if necessary or from memory.
The drawing is really very important to my mind. Annibale Carracci, a great teacher of the late Renaissance, told his pupils that if they had a good outline, they would have a good picture no matter what they put inside it.
It is the fashion nowadays to invent form and schemes of colour, but none of it compares
in variety and interest with the forms and patterns of nature. Henri Matisse, a leader among modernists, derives many of his colour schemes from the two hundred birds he keeps in his studio. His favourite is a toucan which rides on his as shoulder. Van Gogh confessed that he always started by keeping as close to the hues of nature as possible.
At intervals parsons have joined my class, and I have found them to be distinct acquisitions, good-humoured and keen to learn. I recall that one of them, laden with his equipment, climbed high along a game trail above Third Lake to make a sketch of Mount Edith. The first thing he did on arrival was to kick over his pail of water. He was prone to accidents of this kind, and had invented an expletive that had no questionable connotations, but did relieve his feelings.
There is a Society of Parson Painters in England. It holds regular exhibitions. I made a note of a paragraph from the foreword to an old catalogue, written by the Rev J. H. Humphries, 'It is imperative' he asserted, 'that the clergy should know something about the fundamental principles of art; a parson who can compose a picture has at his disposal sufficient knowledge to initiate the furnishing and decorating of a church. The principles which govern good composition apply to paintings and churches alike.'
The same argument might be used in favour of the study of art by housewives, who have homes to beautify, or by stenographers who have letters to write, or by almost anyone interested in some manual occupation, but I have no quarrel with it; I am all for a better understanding of art.
Though why an apologetic attitude should be assumed by the student, even if he is a parson, I don't know. I mean I do not think it is necessary. There was a time, of course, when the profession of art was considered a trifle naughty, and even the staidest of painters liked to be thought feckless like a character from the pages of 'Trilby.' Then the layman has not yet quite forgiven the artist's harmless and necessary association with the nude figure, whether from motives of prudery or envy. Perhaps to a divine of an age to remember this aspect of the matter such sort of apology or explanation would appear necessary. Later generations have a broader outlook.
I am reminded of Fra Angelico, a parson-painter of the past, whose nature never once belied his name, whose painting gave evidence of piety and devotion, as well as ability. It was the custom, wrote Vasari, in a passage that I love, of the artist to abstain from retouching or improving any painting when finished. He altered nothing but left all as it was done the first time, believing, he said, that such was the will of God. It is also affirmed that he would never take the pencil in hand until he had first offered a prayer. He is said never to have painted a crucifix without tears streaming from his eyes, and in the countenances and attitudes of his figures it is easy to perceive proof of his sincerity, his goodness and the depth of his devotion to the religion of Christ.
Fra Angelica was not a parish priest with multifarious duties; he was a monk who seems to have given up most of his time to evangelistic painting, though he cannot have neglected his religious duties, since he was offered the archbishopric of Florence by the Pope. Many of his patrons were private individuals; he would accept any commission provided his superior approved.
Matthew William Peters was a parson and a fine painter who attained the distinction of election to the Royal Academy towards the end of the eighteenth century. It is said that he took holy orders rather than endure such poverty as the landscape painter Wilson suffered.
The catalogue seems to indicate that the parson who painted at that time did so for relaxation and amusement. Art was his hobby. Thus landscapes predominated: the President, the Dean of Westminster, exhibited several. But figure-painting was not neglected, nor portraiture, nor imaginative composition. On the whole the parsons' exhibition bore the characteristics of the average society show; similar subjects were treated with similar skill. That it represented spare-time effort is not unusual either, for many exhibiting painters labour under the same restrictions, being teachers, or writers, clerks or architects, even policemen or postmen during the week, and artists only on Saturdays. But it is both interesting and significant that the practice of art is indulged by the parson. For his own sake it is an admirable practice; and for the sake of art does it not indicate that the profession had resumed the habiliments of respectability? 29. Surprise an element of Beauty
Surprise is an essential element of beauty; it is a sublimation of the element of contrast, without which beauty would be non-existent; like the desert that blossoms as the rose, or claims attention by its improbability and incongruence and inspires the sensation of excitement.
The surrealist theory is based on irrelevancy carried to the extreme of unreason. The desert does indeed blossom, briefly perhaps and at long intervals, but the Cheshire Cat, the Jabberwock, and the dapper White Rabbit which are freely quoted in justification of surrealism, are the stuff that dreams are made of the essence of unreality. There is no reason why this school of painting should not produce works imbued with charm comparable with the masterpieces of Carroll and Lear; unfortunately, as a school, it lacks the saving grace of humour, and strives to shock rather than surprise, in a spirit of deadly dejection.
The discovery of a boss of moss campion high on a mountainside is as thrilling an experience as finding a diamond in a mass of gravel after washing and sorting monotonously for weeks. I liked the flower best: it was so unexpected. It shone a pink and violet convexity close to the ground, close up to the snow, and far above the trees and other vegetation, a bright jewel in a drab setting. How it shone! No need to drag weary limbs above the scree to get nearerwe raced up, weariness forgotten.
So it is often with the wild flower; it appears unexpectedly, a magic inflorescence. The Prairie 'crocus' lifts its purple head through the stubble, even through the snow; the mamalaria burgeons in a waste of sun-bleached grass.
What poor and shabby things they seem in a garden. Transplanted, they lose the precious quality of wilding, of splendid isolation. In a garden of course mass is the unity and the arrangement of masses is the source of beauty; but in nature the unit is often the flower, the single plant, or tree.
This thought is aptly applied to the display of pictures. In this day and age pictures are not given a chance. They are hung close together, and they are mutually destructive. It is in the house that the worst sins are committed. There pictures are hung, and there they stay, as long as the house lasts, day by day becoming more contemptible through familiarity and soon deprived of the freshness and originality which constituted their first appeal.. They become as unattractive and as useless as an old shoe, and the only grace that remains is their colour which, presumably, helps to make the room as a whole agreeable. Far better to give them away whilst they still retain some shred of enchantment, and substitute others the old ones will wear best in memory; or to put them away for a while, making a practice of displaying only a few of one's pictures at any one time.
I first appreciated the importance with which a single work of art may be endowed by its surroundings, in my youth in Salisbury. That is an ancient city, much of it built of dressed stone retrieved from the ruins of Old Sarum, which was demolished early in the thirteenth century. Many of these blocks of stone were carved; the walls of The Close are embellished with occasional rosettes, though without intention for they were set by the masons as they came.
The Club to which I belonged had also risen from the debris of Old Sarum. In the bar, halfway up the wall was a head carved in nearly full relief. It was extraordinary, being where it was, so useless and unexplained. It had once been a bracket supporting a small round arch in the old castle on the hill. Now it merely juts from an alien wall fortuitously looking down upon men of the town who assembled at legal hours when they are thirsty. I for one often looked up at that ageless lady. As a matter of fact she fascinated me. Such beauty, such serenity, such a kindly and untroubled regard of the present from out of the distant past.
No doubt at all the beauty of this sculptured head was enhanced by contrast. Its irrelevancy in respect to the time and place suggested the phantasmal. It was an intrusion, a fortunate intrusion.
One day 1 wandered down to the beach at Sointula, a remote settlement on the Pacific coast, and there among the abraded logs washed up by the sea, I observed with some excitement the torso and head of a woman, carved in wood. It was crudely wrought but possessed the charm peculiar to aboriginal sculpture naivete, simplicity and exoticism.
It was not heavy, so I carried it along as far as my sister's house and proudly called attention to it. My sister was as excited as I but for another reason. 'Put it DOWN,' she said, 'Don't touch it.' She explained that it was as much as my life, or perhaps it was only my liberty, was worth, to be found with a native monument in my possession. I therefore put it back amongst the rubbish on the beach, but reluctantly, for I wanted to keep it.
Some time later we went for a cruise into Knight Inlet. Miles away from Sointula I saw my wooden lady again, her allurement still potent. She was afloat on the sea, and for the moment tangled in a mass of kelp. I thought I discerned a look of appeal in her eyes.
Time elapsed a matter of weeks, and we anchored at Alert Bay. The wooden lady had already arrived or anticipated me. She lay on her back at the foot of the garden comfortably ensconced among great logs. I was convinced she had followed me. Such devotion could not be ignored. I took her in my arms and planted her among the strawberries. Quite apart from the strange appearances of this image, its appeal depended again upon incongruity. It was out of place.
I stepped out of doors one morning with no hopeful thoughts regarding the weather, for I had lain in bed listening to the patter of rain on the roof. But the birds in the garden were twittering, even the pair of humming-birds which have spent the week poking their long noses into the pink blossoms on the salmon-berry bushes lifted up their little voices in what seemed to me sheer joy. They live here, I thought: they're used to it.
I do not dislike rain necessarily, if it is not too cold. Indeed, rain on the skin is a distinctly pleasant sensation. But, being an aquarellist, in the midst, moreover of a sketching trip, I could
not regard rain as an asset, although it was more liquid than some, particularly at this juncture, having exhausted all the sheltered nooks along the water-front, which provide at once a picturesque outlook and adequate protection against those lachrymose skies.
On the first wet day I called at the bakery and bought a cigar.
'That's a nice view from the window,' I said tactfully, knowing it was not nearly so good as the one in his sitting-room, 'I'd like to paint it.'
'Pretty fair,' he said, politely craning his neck to look at it, as though he had never as en it before, 'But come in here and I'll show you a better one.'
So I made a sketch of Holman's wharf, while the clouds trailed across the mountains of Nimkish. This, I should explain, was Alert Bay, on the Pacific coast.
Another day I sat under the projecting roof of Wong's float-house and made a sketch of May's wharf. Another view of the same wharf resulted during another rain storm when I took refuge in the house of a Norwegian while it lasted. This gnarled Norwegian was a boat builder. He was finishing the interior of a troller, which filled the sheds and towered ten feet above me as I cowered under the stern. Every half-hour or so he would climb down and engage me in conversation.
His topic might be the British Israelite theory in which he was an earnest believer, or ethnology, which under his direction was a wildly mysterious science, or it might be his native land to which his mind wanders now that he is ageing. He was a genial fellow, with the moustache of a Viking, and spectacles which he converted into bifocals by the simple expedient of wearing them well down on his nose, so that he could glance through them for close work, and avoid them altogether when more distant objects called for his attention. I hoped he would soon get back to Norway.
The Japanese barber shop looked promising. I might have entered and simply asked to see the view but I hated to think of his disappointment should I have done so. Imagine him alone in his gaily painted float-house, crouching over the stove, for, of course, it was raining, reading for the tenth time the last copy of his Nipponese newspaper. He hears heavy footsteps on the planking connecting his float-house with dry land. 'Hiya!' he exclaims in Japanese, 'Here's an honourable customer.' He rises hurriedly and dons his clean white coat, for customers are rare except when fishermen foregather here.
Consequently, I asked for a hair-cut, but alas, there was no view.
The advantages of living in a float-house might well form the subject of an extended essay. For the present I am reminded of a damp session under a dripping cedar when I made a drawing of a remarkable floating village called Simoom, which is some twenty miles from Alert Bay. Simoom is linked with the shore by a long boom of logs slippery and unstable I found them.
That morning, as I have remarked, I viewed the well-watered prospect with indignation. For once I lacked any plan whereby to cope with drenching clouds. I cannot sit inactively indoors, and read, or play solitaire, contentedly when I might be painting. The philosopher of course, retains his equanimity in any circumstances; this story goes to prove that he is right.
Had I been wiser I might have been pleasantly and profitably employed the whole day. We (that is, Bob and I) walked for the sake of air and some fillets of fish as far as the butchers, whose store is about a mile away. The store belongs to Jim King, an aged Chinaman who has prospered after many years of trading in Alert Bay. He owned a large general store and a picturesque wharf, which I have sketched many times, and he had then retired. But he still lived close by and as we walked back he called out to us. We turned to meet him. Addressing Bob, and pointing to me, he said,
'Him paint sign for shop?'
His old sign had been nearly blotted out by the weather as we well knew. He explained that he was contemplating a new one with a light under it. I have never yet painted a shop-sign, and, being a creature of habit, thoughtlessly declined.
The old man proffered me a job for a rainy days and I turned him down. He was sad about it, and I was miserable, being idle.
I am asked sometimes how to look at nature: because I am a landscape painter it is thought that I must have a sure-fire answer. I am not so sure. I may have a keener perception of my own brand of beauty since it is my business to smell it out and reproduce it, but do I get more pleasure out of the simple contemplation of nature. I don't doubt that I do. Some of us are almost pagan in that our love for Nature prevails over our love for art.
The artist is supposed to look on landscape with a predatory eye, mindful of what may be appropriated therefrom. As the undertaker measures the corpse for its box, so the painter measures scenery, it is thought, visualizing its ultimate apotheosis within a frame of gilt.
It is no use raw; it must be modulated by art. The picture has but one frame, lacking depth or distance; it is contained within the static walls of a rectangle or oval or circle, instead of being limitless; it is entirely devoid of movement a timeless heath without wind; it is but a part of a panorama, a line of poetry torn from its context; it has one texture instead of many; and its luminosity is a muted parody on the effulgence of the light of day, or the unsubstantial shimmer of starlight. The painter's job is to compose these differences, by selection, arrangement, unification and other devices.
How much of Nature and how much of Art should go into a painting is the point of departure for all new schools of painting.
Constable's claim, that, whenever he sat down to make a sketch from nature, the first thing he tried to do was to forget that he had ever seen a picture, must not be taken literally. It does not mean that he tried to forget all that he knew of the science of picture-making. Far from it. He meant merely that he did not want to see nature through another man's eyes. He wanted his transcriptions to be his own, unimpaired by extraneous influences.
De Loutherburg painted a panorama he called it the Eidophusicon which he exhibited in Panton Square in London. He made it as realistic as possible by using lighting and sound effects. It was very popular. Gainsborough went to see it every evening. De Loutherburg wanted to show a free expanse of landscape and evade the constriction of the frame. Pictures have been painted on concave surfaces with the same Idea.
Many generations have attempted to suggest movement without much success. The representation of textures has frequently been aided by the incorporation of material other than pigment in the picture, strands of hair, bits of tinsel, newspaper and so forth. The problem of reproducing light proved a fascinating one. The Tenebrosi tackled it; the Impressionists approached it from another angle; and the Pointillists reduced the problem to one of simple division.
The art of painting was always considered to be that of representation. All down the ages the painter strove to render an illusion of reality. Many stories have come down to us of alleged success, of realism so faithfully achieved as to deceive beholders. They began with the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, which was a winner. No other has work of art has ever come to life. Apelles painted grapes so real that, it is said, birds came to peck at them; a horse neighed at a painted horse in another picture by the same artist; and his third success was a painted curtain which a friend tried to pull back.
Vasari quotes many examples of the same kind of thing. Peacocks, he wrote pecked so heartily at some strawberries painted in fresco on an outside wall that the plaster was destroyed. Moronobu, a Japanese artist, painted sparrows so well that one spectator swore that he saw them fly away and return to the kakemono. There was the fly on the snuff-box that a king tried to brush off, and failed because it was painted.
But these were all near objects, not overly difficult to paint. I never heard tell of a landscape that fooled anyone. Constable used to say that he had never seen anything in art that completely satisfied him; and it is safe to assume that he was never deceived. The most a landscape painter can do is to reanimate the emotions inspired by scenery.
That painting is the art of representation has been rudely denied in recent years. But such denials are mere quibbles; even the abstract painter tries to represent something. Cennini of old composed this precept for his pupils 'Thy Perfect Guide is Nature,' and it seems to me that it holds good to-day.
It must be apparent that the artist's way of looking at scenery differs from that of the layman; it is complicated by other considerations than those of simple enjoyment. There is no doubt that he sees more in it than others do, but he has more practice and whether he derives more pleasure than they from its contemplation is doubtful.
My friend the dealer in Winnipeg had a nice gallery above his store. I walked in there once and was surprised three ladies in curious and unnatural attitudes. One stood with her head between her knees it was in the days of the knee-length skirt; the others were painfully bent, and their heads were twisted as though they were trying to get an inverted view of something or other. I withdrew hurriedly. The dealer followed.
'What on earth...?' I asked.
'Only three women from Detroit,' he explained, 'buying a picture for their art club. Thought I'd sold them one, but one of them just remembered that Professor Ecks said that if a picture was good it was just as interesting upside down. They're looking at it upside down.
'Why didn't you turn the picture round for them?' I asked.
'O well!' he laughed.
Seurat and Signac never saw in nature masses of colour split up into primaries blue sky, for example, made up of touches of pure blue, pink, and yellow but they painted them that way, and calculated that this method of colour-division would give the effect of reality, impossible to achieve by other means, and that at a certain distance there would result a visual fusion of the pure colours and an added sense of vibration.
The botanist, the geologist, the hunter, and the nature student are trained observers also, but their ways differ again from ours. Theirs is primarily a material rather than a spiritual interest. The layman, I expect, would not wish so much to look through their eyes. He wants a guide to nature's beauty and grandeur. There is nothing else for it he must learn how to paint.
The ancient Greeks found the key to perfect proportion in man, and reduced it to a numbers. Rodin reiterated, 'The whole of art lies in the human body.' This is demonstrable in a well-set male figure, divided at the hip; divided again as to the upper portion at the collar, and in the lower one at the knee. This method of division is perfection and is expressed in numbers thus 1.618. A properly proportioned book-cover would be a rectangle whose sides were in that ratio 1 to .6189 roughly five-eighths to three eighths. It is called the Golden Mean.
Another way of looking at it is this: Divisons of or 1/4 are readily recognisable as such, and are obviously aesthetically clumsy for that reason. Curves also, whose origins are most obscure are the most beautiful. Thus a section of a parabola outreaches an arc of a circle in interest. A full moon is never introduced in a painting, but an oblate version. In all paintings sightly spacing follows this law.
I seem to have neglected the West road. In the interval we drove along it through the snow as far as Massive, which is nine miles from Banff. Our worst fears have been realized during the winter fears founded on the constant blasting of rock. The new highway is indeed going through. The mountainside that we knew so well is sheared down to bed rock. For a space on each side of the new road all vegetation has been obliterated. Most of the blue Douglas firs are either felled or shattered. The new road follows the old one but is a few feet higher so that the rubble on its southern shoulder impinges on the trail below. At about the six-mile post the new highway crosses the valley, and its bridges will span the railroad and the rivers and it will continue along the south side for many miles. It will open up new vistas no doubt, for hitherto the south side has been mostly inaccessible.
But our beloved five-mile ambulatory adjacent to Banff is badly damaged. The country beyond it is less familiar. None of it, in forty miles, displays the same concentrated beauty. But we do go further afield.
The West road forks at twenty miles. The left, or S.W. tine is known as the Windermere road. It passes through Vermilion Pass, by Marble Canyon, and over Vermilion Crossing, and reaches the Windermere Valley at Radium Hot Springs. The Western tine continues to Lake Louise Station, and there divides again. The left prong climbs the hill to Lake Louise, and eventually reaches Golden, also in the Windermere valley, through Wapta and Field, bypassing the Yoho Valley, and Emerald Lake. The other branch veers to the north, following the Bow River, and comes to Jasper Park in due course, by way of Bow Lake and the Columbia Ice Fields.
We do not see much of' the acknowledged beauty spots as a class, but we arrange to stay at one place or another over week-ends, at one of the many bungalow camps, or we join the C.P.R organizations, The Trail Riders, or The Trail Hikers. One of the nearest, and, formerly one of the most popular of the camps is Sunshine, fifteen miles away. It is reached by private road on the south side of the river, off the BanffSundance Canyon roads and protected by a padlocked gate. Originally a fire-warden's road, it is now strictly One-Way a road that climbs 2500 feet in about ten miles. Towards the top the grade is extreme. The lodge lies in a hollow at the foot of a waterfall. Once out of the hollow one is upon a vast moorland, heather scented, above timber line and so treeless, extending south for six miles to the top of Quartz Ridge. And beyond the ridge Assiniboine the highest mountain in these parts lifts its shapely head. On the mesa's western rim is a chain of lakes at different levels, all emptying into Simpson's Creek, far below. These are beautiful lakes, gem-like, in a magnificent setting. Rock Isle Lake is the highest and Larix receives its overflow. As its name implies Larix is surrounded by larches; a stream connects it with Grizzly.
From Sunshine there are trails to Aasiniboine, over Quartz Ridge, and to Egypt Lake, over Wawa Ridge.
This seems like the top of a fabulous world, limited by a fantastic horizon fretted with high peaks. Beside the streams are deer-haunted, flower-studded, meadows. There are trout in the lakes: we used to stop and feed them.
In spite of its unique beauty Sunshine now is strictly a ski lodge, and had not catered to the summer visitor for the past few years. We have sketched there in June when patches of snow lay thick on the ground, and avalanche lilies and anemones pushed through for a sight of the sun.
Sunshine brings to mind the pure, palpitating colour of the high plateaus, and raises the question as to how this effect is achieved by the sketcher.
One of the advantages of the water-colour medium is that it is possible to achieve with it a sparkling effect of opalescent colour rivalling that of sunlight. It is not achieved by mixing pigment on the palette, but by visual fusion partial mixing on the paper. Oil painters strive for a similar effect by colour division, by splitting up mixtures into Primaries which are applied to the canvas separately, pointillisme, they call it in France.
To paint a shining gray sky begin with a wet wash of yellow ochre, let rose madder or Venetian red flow into that from the top, and finally ultramarine or pure cobalt. A clear blue sky can be painted in the same way, substituting phthalocyanine blue for ultramarine.
A mixture of the same pigments on the palette is dead and dull by comparison. This principle does not apply only to skies, but throughout a painting, and especially in the shadows, which must be kept transparent. If a shadow Is essentially warm, the warmth occurs in the middle and its edges are cold. This is easily suggested by painting the whole shadow in blue, and while it is wet by dropping into it burnt sienna or raw sienna or whatever is necessary. When dry this passage will vibrate, or 'sing' and will assume a beautiful bloom.
One learns a great deal technically from outdoor experience. A sketch is often done in a race against time, or in an exalted state of mind excited by some spectacle of more than ordinary interest, or in a fury of creative enthusiasm in which one works by instinct rather than by thought or calculation.
It goes without saying that the purest colours belong to the distance in landscape. I have mentioned three which I prefer. Ochre is an earth; the best is that mined in France: it is transparent. Rose madder was formerly made from the madder root, but is now refined from alizarin, a derivative of coal tar. Ultramarine was at first made by grinding and purifying the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli; it is now a laboratory product known as colloidal sulphur. Pure cobalt would do just as well, but it is hard to come by.
According to Oscar Wilde all art is quite useless. Panting, however, has a variety of purposes, one of them distinctly utilitarian. There is the matter of house-painting, which, though hardly to be classed among the fine arts, has been practised from time immemorable, in circumstances of expediency or necessity by artists of the first rank. I know one or two contemporary painters who were once adept with the six-inch brush and the paint-pot, and a number of famous artists of other days who first learned to love the smell of paint whilst apprenticed to the same.
There is something fascinating in the act of embellishing a flat surface with pigmentto do it smoothly and regularly is not as easy as it looks: something involving the exaltation that comes of the mastery over material and the pride attendant upon good craftsmanship.
The three painters who have been busy on our house for the past few days stood together on the lawn and looked up at the gleaming eaves. One said to the others, 'Looks swell, doesn't it?' Modest pride in work well done. They enjoy slapping paint about; they whistle while they work, even when balanced on top of a swaying ladder.
We who paint pictures are only too painfully aware of the element of truth in Wilde's aphorism. There are far too many pictures in the world already yet we continue to produce them. Some of us have to coax people into buying what we paint. Some are a public pest, I regret to say; they plague possible patrons with the persistence of brush-peddlers. My three friends enjoy far greater independence. They are indispensable in the community, for wood must be protected from weathering.
That this so-called humble branch of the art of painting is purely utilitarian, and makes no appeal to the mind or the emotions, is a mistaken idea. A well-kept, well-painted, homestead, whether in town or country, is not only pleasing to the eye, but uplifting to the spirit. It betokens prosperity and cleanliness, pride and energy. A drive through Wisconsin, such as I sometimes take, gives one a fine feeling of well-being neat towns, trim farms; but proceeding northwards one becomes depressed to see barns mostly unpainted, gardens unkempt, and small towns drab and doddering.
With a curious perversity the landscape painter of the older schools found more inspiration in decay than in freshness, in any visible evidence of the hand of man barn or bridge, fence or fortress. He sees in ruin the pathos of nature, and in the soft hues of weathering more repose than in the animated contrasts of new-laid bricks and fresh paint. He discovered a deeper sentiment in the contemplation of the futility of hope, as expressed in this material way, than in the sustaining influence of hoping.
It has been remarked that paint is alluring stuffy full of possibilities to an enquiring mind. Old Crome was bound in his youth to one Francis Whisler, a coach, house, and sign painter of Norwich. His biographer Kaines-Smith wonders whether, as the Homeric 'iron of itself doth draw men on to strife' paint does not of itself draw one on to art. Crome worked for Whisler for five years before he showed the slightest inclination, or ability, to scale the heights. Some of the inn-signs he painted during this period are still in existence, and show no promise at all. But it is obvious that he did like to sling paint about. He invented 'graining.'
Barker of Bath, Julius Caesar Ibbetson, and many another began their careers in similar circumstances. Perugino, according to Vasari, was given by his father 'to be the shop-drudge of a painter in Perugia, who was not particularly distinguished in his calling.' This undistinguished man was, in fact, a house-painter.
My three painters are young men. I have not yet discovered whether they are ambitious to exchange the noble expanse of' the side of a house for a square yard of canvas, on which to express their thoughts with bits of all the colours they possess. Nobody really needs a picture, but the wall needs painting at intervals. Better, I might advise them, make pants of the canvas, for they too are necessary, and be content to minister to the requirements of the house and the barn.
1. The typescript includes the following sentence, crossed out: 'The Indians around here call me Big Phillips.'
2. This material was derived from a previous column in The Winnipeg Tribune, 6 May 1939.
3. Hence the date ascribed to this text: Phillips first visited the Rockies in 1926. The Trans-Canada Highway was built through Banff in the mid 1950's.
4. The following sentence is in the type-script, but crossed out: 'The Victorian painter called this 'The Pathos of Nature,' and found it in decay too, in mouldering ruins and in anything else that displayed the patina of age.'