Books Pictures and Teachers -
Reading maketh a full man. - Bacon.
It is possible to unravel some of the secrets of the quality of the masterpieces of water-colour by studying books and reproductions. There are excellent monographs on the masters to be had, and an immense and widely distributed quantity of drawings which constituted, after all, the factual monument to their genius and amazing industry. I have studied Cotman in Vancouver, John Varley in Winnipeg, Peter De Wint at the Victoria and Albert Museum, David Cox in Birmingham, and in Devonshire, and in a London vicarage which contained scores of his paintings - so many that the walls were covered and cases of them, unopened, were stored in the attic. You will find Turners wherever you go. Thus the student need never be at a loss, though far from London, whose museums contain the largest collections.
Coincident with an artist's complete mastery of technique is the inability to talk about it. The first faltering steps are forgotten: the material aspects of painting, of paramount importance to the student, give place to the spiritual, and the artist finally devotes himself to the quest of beauty and truth unhampered by, and unconscious of, any difficulty in its expression. For this reason few artists attempt to write text-books on art. Reynolds' Discourses as related to his won practice are sometimes purely rhetorical.
Still there are most valuable books on all phases of painting, compiled by masters who were able to recall the obstacles encountered in their early days, and how they were overcome, ranging from the treatise by Cennino Cennini, written in the fifteenth century, to the finely illustrated books fo the present day. If the student imagines that by reading he will be enabled to produce masterpieces of painting he will be disappointed. He will be disappointed in any case, feeling that the author fails to divulge his secrets. There are no magic recipes for the mixing or the application of pigments such as he half expects to find.
It is not in the choice of colours, or materials, of subject or treatment, that quality exists. One artist uses a set of colours that another damns; one scrubs, another scrapes; one paints in Patagonia, another in China. They differ on every technical point. youth will find out for itself, unmindful of the experiences of others.
Experience will master any of the means employed in painting. The colours of youth studies so earnestly, and uses in such variety, will submit eventually to his authority; his picture will pulsate with chromatic rhythms for the unconscious use of three or four pigments where he used twenty before. Form will materialize without measurement or conscious striving. His preoccupation will be his complete conception, not the part by the whole.
But to attain to this happy state he must work all the time. "Nothing is denied, "said Reynolds, "to well-directed labour, nothing is to be obtained without it." Every genius owes his achievements to unremitting toil. The industry of Apelles prompted the expression nulla dies sine linea - never a day without a line. Michaelangelo told Vasari that he frequently slept in his clothes, "being wearied with his labours he hae no mind to undress merely that he might have to dress again". Constable would work all day until he was sick with hunger.
If books will drive the student to the close study of nature - he must never fail there - and to incessant practice in painting, they will have served the best possible purpose, for such habits constitute the road to success. He will read to renew his enthusiasm and to refresh his mind.
A brief bibliography follows:
David Cox's manual on water-colour, reprinted by the Studio(London)
Water-colour Painting by A. W. Rich. Seeley Service Co's New Art Library.
The Practice of Water-colour by A. L. Baldry. Macmillans
Water-colour Painting by Romilly Feddon.
On landscape painting, irrespective of medium, the following books will prove inspirational:
Landscape Painting by Adrian Stokes. Seeley,
Landscape Painting by sir Alfred East
Landscape Painting by Birge Harrison
Harold Speed's Book on drawing is the best
I know (Seeley Service Co.) It contains some very informative
chapters on composition. The Art of Etching by E. S. Lumsden is
in the same series. Wood-cuts and Some words by Gordon Craig,
tells all one needs to know on the art of making wood-cuts. The
Technique of the Colour Wood-cut by W. J. Phillips (Brown Robertson
Co., 424 Madison Avenue, New York City) I hope, has justified
its existence. The philosophy of art is expounded by sir Joshua
Reynolds, in his Discourses, and by Vernon Blake in Relation in
Art. The English masters of water-colour and their works are discussed
in the British Artists Series, published by Frederick Stokes Co.,
New York, and edited by S. C. Kaines Smith. There are volumes
on Cotman, Cox, De Wint, Girtin and Bonington, Sandby, Cozens,
Turner, and Prout.
Table of Contents