Copying -

"There is not a single instance to be cited' asserts Thomas Bodkin, in The Approach to Painting, ‘of a master treating the same theme twice in facsimile, though many have made a series of replicas of favourite pictures.'

Hayden, for instance, whose famous musing Napoleons numbered about forty. Before he had really warmed to the subject, he wrote the following entry in his journal, ‘I have painted nineteen Napoleons, thirteen musings at St. Helena, and six other musings, and three dukes and Copenhagens. By heavens! How many more?' They were the only saleable things he did, and there were always pressing debts to liquidate. They were not copies however.

Copying is an art in itself, demanding the greatest technical ability, especially in water-colour. However well done, the copy invariably lacks that nascent, ineffable, but definite quality, provided by the furious enthusiasm with which an original is created, an essential spontaneity that defies reproduction. It is present in sketches, and accounts for the common belief that the best water-colours are those finished on the spot.

That belief is a fallacy of course, Cotman's and Turner's paintings possess this charm, and more besides, and few of these were completed out of doors.

I have never succeeded in copying on of my own paintings satisfactorily for the emotion which caused and justified its creation has long been dissipated. Such arduous and thankless labour is done in cold blood, but it is necessary when, for example, a good original is marred by accident.

There is the process of enlarging a water-colour, which actually amounts to copying its good points and improving its bad ones, and is interesting proportionately as the latter increase. Enlargements are made mostly for exhibitions.

Dimension and Studio Painting

It is often said that the modern exhibition has ruined painting. It is an unfortunate fact that it does encourage competition, so that, to attract attention to his work, an artist is tempted to descend to sensationalism, whether it is expressed by strong colour, grotesque handling, unusual subject, or sheer size. But the worst feature in the interests of water-colour is the demand for exhibition works - broadly treated paintings, strong enough to carry across the gallery. The delicacy, the transparence, that is conceded to be its peculiar charm, is lost; the spontaneity of the sketch has vanished and instead there is an evident to compete with the more flexible and solid oil medium. A water-colour should be limited in size.

But in large paintings, not necessarily intended to prevail in a mixed exhibition, other graces may atone for the freshness that may be lacking. Composition, or arrangement, may be better studies, and nearer perfection, washes may be more suavely graded, a too insistent objectivism may be modified and unity achieved.

The most interesting studio work, and perhaps the most practicable, is painting from pencil sketches and notes. One is almost forced to employ this method for snow painting, and often one uses it also from choice irrespective of the season. most paysagists have done so, relying upon memory for colour, or inventing it. It ensures the elimination of all facts but those essential to the effect. Irrelevant facts are forgotten, but there is a danger of other facts being forgotten too, and the picture may assume conceivably in part the character of other scenes, introduced subconsciously. The subtle flavour of locality is apt to be sacrificed to cosmic breadth.

This method is quite useless to any but the experienced sketcher. Not only local and reflected colour, and the colour belonging to given atmospheric effects, but the important matter of tone must be stored in the memory to help out the meagre gray outline that the pencil has supplied.

The feeling about this summary method of sketching - that accomplished with a pencil only, might be easily one of haste to return to the studio and transcribe one's notes for fear salient facts will go and the vision be dissipated.

It is possible to retain an image in the mind, with practice, for long periods even to visualize a landscape at will, but such an effort is rarely necessary, and is not popular among landscape painters. To aid his memory, Gainsborough brought weeds, stumps, branches of trees, and various kinds of animals into his studio. He made model landscape, and kept it on his table. It was composed of broken stones, dried vegetation, and bits of looking-glass, which posed as rocks, trees and water. A piece of rock has often served as a model for a mountain, and was recommended as such by Cennini, who wrote, ‘If thou shouldst paint mountains in a good style and to look natural, take some large stones full of cracks and copy them.' But such practices are not in favour now.

Open air painting also has its disadvantages. There is the danger of becoming merely an eye, as Cezanne called Monet, of becoming a slave to realism or literal representation, an animated M
camera. It is easy, change it for a more entrancing effect that develops during the process of sketching. Such an exchange is fatal to success.

Table of Contents