Documents, Dated Watercolours and Early Accounts of the Artist
4 January 1805
Two hand-coloured soft-ground etchings are published by ‘J. Harris’: Cottages near Newcastle (see print after TG1084) and Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire (see print after TG0344). This is presumably the frame-maker and dealer known as Jack Harris (unknown dates), through whom the artist was said by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) to have sold many of his works (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.25). This appears to be incorrect as the artist’s dealer has since been identified as Samuel William Reynolds (1773–1835).
John Opie (1761–1807), the author of several portraits of Girtin (including TG1929), calls on the young Augustus Wall Callcott (1779–1844) (Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (Ms AWC II a f.338), quoted in Gage, 1989, p.28). The two artists find themselves
conversing on the singularity of Girtin’s never being able to execute anything worth seeing till he got Cartrage paper. O— observed that Painters were as much governed by their tools as their tools were by them seeming to consider that much of the art was dependent on the materials.
1 October 1805
Samuel Middiman’s (1750–1831) engraving Eggleston Abbey is published (see print after TG1071).
Edward Wedlake Brayley, ed., The Works of the Late Edward Dayes (Dayes, Works, p.329) (1805 – Item 1)
After the suicide of Edward Dayes (1763–1804) in May 1804, an edition of his writings on the arts is published for the benefit of his widow. It includes a brief biography of his one-time apprentice amongst the Professional Sketches of Modern Artists.
GIRTIN THOMAS. – LANDSCAPE.
THIS artist died November the 9th, 1802, after a long illness, in the twenty-eighth year of his age. Biography is useful to stimulate to acts of industry and virtue; or, by exhibiting the contrary, to enable us to shun the fatal consequences of vice. While our heart bleeds at the premature death of the subject of this paper, it becomes equally an act of justice to caution young persons against the fatal effects of suffering their passions to overpower their reason, and to hurry them into acts of excess, that may, in the end, render life a burthen, destroy existence, or bring on a premature old age. Though his drawings are generally too slight, yet they must ever be admired as the offspring of a strong imagination. Had he not trifled away a vigorous constitution, he might have arrived at a very high degree of excellence as a landscape painter.1
Edward Wedlake Brayley, ed., The Works of the Late Edward Dayes (Dayes, Works, pp.279–311) (1805 – Item 2)
Following a series of theoretical pieces titled Essays on Painting that first appeared in the Philosophical Magazine, the editor publishes an extensive manuscript titled Instructions for Drawing and Coloring Landscapes. It is not known when this was written, but it is highly likely that the detailed advice to young landscape watercolourists formed the basis of Girtin’s instruction in the art during the course of his apprenticeship to Dayes around 1789–92.
DRAWING AND COLORING
Delightful Art! how great thy friendly pow’r,
That knows to cheer the melancholy hour;
To teach at once the troubled mind to bear
Oppressive ills, and soften fell despair.
GUIDE THROUGH WALES.
Yes! thou hast sooth’d my heart in Sorrow’s hour,
And many a wayward passion oft beguil’d;
Thy charms have won me to Reflection’s bow’r,
When Folly else, with visions false and wild,
Had lur’d my footsteps by her witching pow’r
From thee, enchanting Nature’s loveliest child!
GENERAL INFORMATION, SKETCHING, &c.
THOUGH the following pages are designedly addressed to those who wish to acquire a knowledge of LANDSCAPE PAINTING, and are particularly intended to treat of the use of Transparent Colors, yet it should be premised, that those who wish to obtain a high degree of excellence in this, or, indeed, any other branch of the art, would do well to begin with the study of the human figure; for by accustoming themselves to draw from regular forms, they will get into a habit of copying nature with more firmness, and greater accuracy. This practice will also enable the young artist to embellish his landscapes with figures; an advantage, of which, if the knowledge be not early obtained, the looseness that must necessarily attend the drawing landscape, will be likely to destroy.2
It was premised, that the use of water-colors only was meant to be treated of; for which purpose the following articles will be wanted: a drawing-board, with a pannel, to strain the paper through when damped; a T square, compasses, black-lead and camel-hair pencils, Indian ink, Indian rubber, and the following colors: yellows, gamboge, raw terra de Sienna; reds, lake or carmine, vermillion, burnt terra de Sienna, Indian red; blue, dark Prussian; brown, VanDyck. In addition to these, a decoction of bistre, or wood-soot, will be found of excellent use to tone with.
The first thing the young artist must do, is to procure some of the best pictures, or drawings, for the purpose of copying; or, in lieu of them, some of the best prints; though the latter will not by any means be so useful as the former.3 Strict care must be taken not to imitate the lines of the graver, which some self-taught persons do, and which, in the eye of one of any judgment, must always look as if they had taken so much pains to spoil the whole. Having procured a subject, proceed to sketch lightly, with the black-lead pencil, each part in its respective situation; to find which, great assistance will be derived from supposing horizontal and perpendicular lines intersecting each other in different parts of the original: these will serve to show what parts are over each other, and also those that may be of an equal height.
The situations being ascertained, begin to draw with a fine, but sure and firm line, the most remote distance; then come on with the nearer parts, making each stronger; and, lastly, touch in the fore-ground very strong; and in the darkest parts, make the pencil mark as strong as possible: this will give great spirit and boldness to the lines, and will also indicate the different degrees of distance, which will be afterwards found of great service in sketching from Nature. This is, undoubtedly, the best practice; for, though some ignorant people (who cannot draw) assert that it is bad, as there are no lines in Nature, and therefore it is unnatural; yet, as there is a perfect contour in Nature, to define form by lines is the highest effort of art. This beauty of line strongly prevails in the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, as historical painters; and in those of Berghem and Both, as landscape painters; and renders their drawings invaluable.4
When the outline is completed, by every part being marked as correctly as possible, the first part to begin to work on with color, must be the sky, then the distance, next the middle-ground, and, lastly, the fore-ground; Iaying each part in with care, but not attempting to finish either, only to do what the painter calls to dead color; taking care to keep the parts more cool and tender than in the original; and always to work from a cold state to a warm one, as a grey or soft purple may be easily overcome; but a yellow, brown, or red, never: then, when gone over a second or third time, give the true tone; and, lastly, put in the spirited touches, or those touches of shadow in shade, that give animation to the picture.
Great care should be taken, that no one part of the picture is finished before the other; but that the whole proceeds regularly together, otherwise it will be impossible to judge of the effect as a whole; that is, how one part will agree with the other when done. The last touches should be put in with great freedom, to give the appearance of ease. Sir J. Reynolds displayed more art in this part of his pictures, than any other artist; for, by loosening and easing the different parts of his pictures, he made them appear as if executed with the utmost facility and dispatch: this has induced some ignorantly to suppose that they were done without thought, and thereby to fall into slovenly habits.5 It may not be foreign to the purpose to remark, that the English artists are, in general, not only too careless where drawing is concerned, but also too negligent in finishing, seldom troubling themselves after the picture has got what is called a good eye, or such an effect as will strike at first sight: to avoid this, the student should be particularly careful not to copy from slight pictures or drawings.
Much of the ease of the touch will depend on not lounging, but to draw with the hand as lightly rested as possible, just bearing on the little finger, otherwise the play of the wrist will be prevented. The student will do well, not to fatigue his mind by persevering with a subject that runs cross, but rather leave it for a time, and proceed with another: and by no means show a half-finished subject, except to a person from whom he may expect information: this cannot be looked for from the half-bred connoisseur, who has, perhaps, a little of the theory, and none of the practical part of the art; but will be best obtained from a professional artist. Fresnoy seems to have been aware of this, when he wrote,
Of all vain fools with coxcomb talents curst,
Bad painters and bad poets are the worst.
Pope had possibly the same object in view in the following lines; as there is certainly nothing to be more dreaded than opinions of men who have little of art, and nothing of nature:
’Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appears in writing, or in judging ill.
ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
After so much time has been spent in copying, as to get the free use of the pencil, and obtain some knowledge of the modes of combining the colors, the young artist must then go to Nature for his subjects; for should he continue to copy too long, it is a chance but he will fall into a manner; that is, a method of painting like some one else. This should be avoided as much as possible, if the student look forward to perfection. The decline of ambition is a sure barrier to excellence,
Who, like the hindward chariot-wheel are curst,
Still to be near, but ne’er to reach the first.
What is meant by touch, is not, as many understand it, merely a wanton playfulness of the pencil, but a just power of delineating the form of the object intended, added to the greatest freedom. No stress is meant to be laid on this part of the art; for though execution is an excellence, it is an excellence of an inferior kind; its fascinating power ought to be guarded against, and the artist concealed as much as possible, otherwise he will lose more than he will gain. In studying from Nature, it will be found by far the best to begin with single objects, as they will not only be easier to get the forms of, but, from giving (in general) a sufficient quantity of light and shadow, will form a whole with less judgment, and therefore be more likely to insure success. This will be the only method of calling forth ideas; for, should the student copy till dooms-day, it would not teach him to think, which is the end of the art. Indeed, much of his success will depend upon the clearness of his conception, not only of the picture as a whole, but of each particular part.
From this period, every opportunity must be taken by the student, of comparing his works with those of the best masters; for should he neglect to do so, he will be just in the situation of the artists on the revival of the arts in Italy, and his progress to perfection, of course, will be but slow. He will find frequent opportunities of doing this, by occasionally attending at the best picture sales; and also by viewing the many excellent private collections in this country. The vast importation of fine pictures has, in a great degree, removed the necessity of the young artist going to Italy; and, in any case, he should by no means be sent there too young, (that is, not before he feels his profession,) as he should rather go there to finish his studies, than to study. Almost all our landscape painters bring away as much prejudice as spoils them through life; for it is by no means uncommon to see the air of that climate brought into all their English scenes; a thing just as absurd as Dutch figures in an Italian view; or, as once occurred in a picture of the Apostles awakening Christ in the Storm, where the figures were Dutch, with a Dutch boat, and even Dutch colors. This remark is not made to deter the young artist from going thither, but merely to guard him against the adoption of those prejudices that most writers on the subject of painting have too much encouraged; we mean the introduction of Italian skies without considering climate. Countries, as well as men, have their peculiar character, and should, no doubt, be equally attended to. The beautiful silvery tone of distance that attends some of our tolerably clear days, is highly fascinating, and must interest every one but the coxcomb, who can talk of nothing but the serenity of an Italian atmosphere. Some men have carried the infatuation so far, as to suppose that a man cannot become an artist of any celebrity, who has not inhaled the air of Italy; as if the atmosphere had a divine virtue, and could make painters. Indeed, as it will be necessary for the young landscape painter to travel, he cannot do better than by going to Italy; but should that not be in his power, he may comfort himself by the reflection, that many of our best artists are in the same situation; and that England has produced her finest sculptor without this foreign aid. The intent of his travelling should be the enlargement of his ideas; and go where he may, this should be his primary object, both by reference to works of art, and to those of Nature. To this end, the sketch-book should be always at hand, to enable him to make each beauty that may occur his own; otherwise they may escape his recollection.
Wilson used to say, that ‘Every thing the landscape painter could want, was to be found in North Wales.’ It is evident, that many of the grandest of his scenes are from ideas collected there, as may be seen in the peculiar character of his rocks. That it is a fine country is beyond all doubt, and would afford subjects for Claude, Poussin, and Salvator Rosa; and should the student do justice to them, he need not fear obtaining a reputation.
It must not be understood, from the frequent reference to the works of the best masters, that the young artist is desired to pay an implicit respect to them; no, he that judges art by art, will be directed by an imperfect guide; the rule must be sought in Nature. Yet, where a reference may be necessary, if will be an easier and more certain task to point it out in a master, than by any application to Nature, whose features being eternally varying, nothing but the occurrence of that particular kind of color or effect wanted would do, and that can only be shown on the spot by some able artist.
There is a common prejudice among mankind, and which is recommended in many of the books that treat on landscape painting, that to take a view, the person should get on a hill: this will always produce what is called a bird’s-eye view, and will never look well; on the contrary, the height of the horizon should seldom exceed one third of the picture, except on some extraordinary occasion.6 Great care should also be taken, not to take in too great an extent of horizon; the rules of perspective admit of only 45°; this, if possible, should never be exceeded, as it will increase the difficulty in the management; and one common fault is the including too much.
As single objects, or not more than two or three, in a picture, will be found the easiest to begin with from Nature, they will also admit of being more exquisitely finished, which is not the case in a picture containing a great many parts, where an attention to the whole supersedes every other consideration; or, as it is technically said, that ‘to relieve every thing, you will relieve nothing’. As, therefore, single objects require more detailing, they will also be likely to introduce a habit of care in the future operations of the art. In sketching from Nature, care must be taken not to get too near an object, as, by having too short a point of distance, it will be made to appear under so great an angle as to look quite distorted. This disagreeable effect will be avoided by observing, (unless prevented by circumstances,) never to be nearer the building, &c. than twice its elevation, or length, which will bring the object within an angle of 45°. This rule also holds good with respect to looking at pictures, as it is impossible to see the whole at a less distance than twice its longest side. As that may be considered as the focal-point, it will at once account for small pictures requiring more finishing than larger ones, as the eye, at the time it takes in the whole, is capable of distinguishing its most minute parts; therefore, every thing not seen at that distance, may justly be considered as redundant. It would be happy for the artist, if, in looking at his pictures, the spectator would observe two things: first, to place them on the plane of their horizon; and secondly, not to go nearer them than the above focal-point.
As perspective is materially connected with geometry, inasmuch as it depends on the doctrine of proportions, the properties of similar triangles, and the intersections of planes, it will be necessary that the student should consult some abridgment of Euclid. A common book among the painters, is Le Clerc’s Practical Geometry, which, with Priestley’s Perspective, will be quite sufficient for the artist; but those authors he ought well to understand before he goes to Nature. This is mentioned as absolutely necessary. A knowledge of that part of chemistry that relates to colors will be of great service; and also, that part of optics called chromatics, which explains the colors of light and of natural bodies. This will enable the young artist to work on more certain principles; and will also be productive of another grand benefit, that of extending his knowledge.
In the practice of the picturesque, the ruler and compasses will be but of little service, as they can only be wanted in finding the vanishing-lines, &c. in perspective, or in setting off the proportions in regular buildings; but the outlines ought invariably to be done by hand, otherwise they will look stiff and mechanical.
One thing that the student ought most strongly to guard against, is the flattery of his friends, as every one has his little circle of admirers; the moment he conceives this as the applause of the public, his progress in the art is stopped: he should learn to prefer the opinions of the learned few to the praise of the ignorant multitude. On the contrary, should he meet with disappointment, he will have the comfort to know, that, as they make him humble, they will make him wise.
Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing vice of fools.
It is said, that Mortimer used to lament his having received the premium of the gold medal from the Royal Society, as from that moment his exertions ceased, from an opinion of greatness.
LIGHT AND SHADE.
The more an art can be simplified, the greater probability will there be to expect success in the study of it. This reverting to simple principles, seems the more necessary in painting, from the variety of inquiries it involves; and to this end, Light and Shade will be descanted on, without any regard either to the forms or colors of objects.
The outline having been correctly made, as directed in the former Section, the next thing will be (with a soft or tender color) to lay in the natural shadows of the objects: by this means will be seen what Light and Shade will be in the picture without the aid of art, and this will enable the student, with more ease and certainty, to determine what further quantity may be necessary for completing his effect.7 As much of the success of the picture depends on the judgment used in arranging the masses of shade, great care should be taken to keep them broad and simple, otherwise it will be in vain to expect what the painter calls a good whole; that is, such a union of light with light, and shadow with shadow, as to excite a pleasing sensation to the eye. The French have succeeded worse in this part of the art than any other school, their pictures always conveying to the mind, what is called flutter; or such a distraction of Light and Shadow, as to confuse and disturb the sight. The best examples will be seen in the works of the Flemish and Dutch: and some of our own artists, as Wilson and Gainsborough, have been highly successful. When the natural, as well as their projected shadows, are laid in, as before observed, the next step will be the uniting them together, so as to form them into masses: to this end, the interposition of artificial or accidental shadows will be necessary, (such as those thrown from clouds,) which, by being judiciously used, may be made so to combine the different parts of the picture together, as to produce broad masses; and which, by being laid in soft, may be easily altered even into light in the working up, should the shadows not appear agreeable. One great advantage may also be obtained by bringing the dark part of the clouds against the dark parts of the landscape, which will considerably increase the breadth; and the lights may be made to assist in the same way. It is a common error among landscape painters, to introduce their skies without any relation to the masses; yet it contributes more to the breadth than any other part; for, should the objects give a sufficient quantity of Light and Shade, the sky may be kept down; or should a further quantity of dark or light be required, it may be increased by clouds. By attention to this practice, a breadth will be certain, and at all times will insure a mellow picture: besides, a strength of tone will be acquired without a hardness, which must ever attend dark shades and bright lights coming into contact with each other. Should, however, this method be carried to excess, it will produce an insipidity; to prevent which, some small part should be left cutting and hard, to give contrast, as dark is only known by light, motion by rest, &c.
One of the old painters used to wish that white was as dear as ultramarine: indeed, nothing can give a greater air of poverty to a picture than too much light; on the contrary, shadow will give dignity, and make the light, if sparingly used, appear with more vivacity. Of this many of the poets, but Thomson, in particular, seems to have been so well aware, that his best descriptions are full of shade:
— — At every step,
Solemn and slow, the shadows blacker fall,
And all is awful list’ning gloom around.
Majestic woods, of ev’ry vig’rous green,
Stage above stage, high waving o’er the hills;
Or to the far horizon wide diffus’d,
A boundless, deep immensity of shade.
— — but in a night
Of gath’ring vapour, from the baffled scene
Sinks dark and dreary.
It were endless to make quotations, as the whole of the Seasons abound with examples. The following description of Akenside’s is much enriched, and the vastness of the scene greatly increased, by the introduction of the mass of shadow, which is perfectly applicable to such an extent of country. The idea of empires black with shade is uncommonly grand.
Who that from Alpine heights, his lab’ring eye
Shoots round the wide horizon, to survey
Nilus or Ganges rolling his bright wave
Thro’ mountains, plains, thro’ empires black with shade,
And continents of sand, &c.
PLEASURES OF IMAGINATION.
From these observations, it must be sufficiently evident, that quantity of dark is necessary, yet, what the precise quantity is, will be difficult to determine; some of the painters allowing one third, some considerably more; and some, as Rembrandt, in his landscapes, less; including middle-tint. The nature of the subject will best decide the inquiry; for, should the scene be beautiful, every thing should tend to excite sensations of pleasure; therefore, the light should be broad and vivid; as light is life in its most animated state. On the contrary, should the subject be of the more noble cast, and therefore require treating with dignity, the greater quantity of darkness and obscurity will be necessary, as darkness and obscurity are more expressive of horror, and death.
And with the majesty of darkness round
Covers his throne; from whence deep thunders roar,
Mutt’ring their rage.
Burke truly observes, that, ‘To make any thing very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary:’ the remark is perfectly applicable to the sublime in painting, which, as far as effect is involved, cannot exist without it.8
In disposing the picture into masses of light and shade, care should be taken not to scatter them, or to make them too numerous. The general rule is, not to exceed three masses of light, and to keep all of them subordinate to the first grand one. Rembrandt seldom had more than one light in his pictures; and many of Ostade’s best works are on the same principle: though this practice may be making too great a sacrifice, and also be in danger of producing a weight, yet it may well suit some particular effects, as storms. As every picture should have a principal feature, every art should be used to conduct the eye to it; this is generally done by bringing the greatest power of light on it, or at least in that part, so that it may be distinctly seen at the first glance. This feature should invariably occupy the centre of the picture, and every means should be used to prevent the inferior lights from distracting the attention; and on no account should straggling lights be introduced in the remote corners of the picture. Where the eye concentrates itself, and which in perspective is called the point of sight, or centre of vision, there the object will be most distinctly seen, which is the reason why the lights at the extremities of a picture, should not, by their brightness, attract the sight, and thereby destroy the repose of the whole. In some instances, it may be necessary to depart from this rule, as where the idea in the picture is contrived to lead the spectator to suppose he sees only part of an action, or to convey the idea of vastness: but in this, the good sense of the student must direct. That disposition of the lights may be considered as particularly happy, where the inferior is made to lead the eye to the superior mass.
In the management of the lights, two methods are used: the one is to make them equally broad, but not equally bright; the other, to make them equal in brightness, but of unequal breadths. The latter mode will give the most spirit. Where the subject to be treated, may happen not to admit the great body of light to be thrown on it, the student may carry it into the clouds, which will enable him to enrich a bad subject: but, as before observed, the light must be centrical. The brightness may be much increased, by bringing (if possible) some terrestrial object in opposition with the light in the sky, which will make it more lively by its dark tone, and its light will, at the same time, give solidity to the landscape. This kind of effect is very fine in some of Gainsborough’s pictures, particularly in one where a broad sheet of light cloud rose behind a hill, in the middle distance of the picture, with a mill on it, that looked very solid and fine, in opposition to the effulgence of the sky. In stormy scenes, the light and shade may be made abrupt, as being more expressive of violence.
It is curious to observe the different means made use of by Claude and Rubens to produce the same end; that is, to delineate the effect of the sun in their pictures. In the former it is done by a broad effulgent light; in the latter, by sudden bursts, that almost electrify. The prints of Bolswert, after Rubens, will furnish excellent examples of light and shadow. The student must be careful to look with reverence on those works which time has stamped a value on; for should he become a critic, that is, according to the common practice, one who supposes judgment to exist only in finding fault, the ardor of his pursuit will be checked; as he would want a stimulus; and he will be likely to share the fate of the common herd.
In search of wit, these lose their common sense,
And then turn critics in their own defence.
Those accidental shadows that result from the intervention of clouds, may be made to answer the best possible purposes, particularly in open scenes, which can scarcely be made to tell without them:
Erragon brightened in her presence as a rock, before the
sudden beams of the sun; when they issue from a broken
cloud, divided by the roaring wind.
Claude seems not to have availed himself of them; probably those striking effects did not suit with the tranquillity of his genius. In many of his pictures, and where, indeed, he has been most successful in the choice of objects, grandeur is often destroyed by the insipidity of the chiaro-oscuro. Many of his groups of trees seem introduced as substitutes for masses of shade: the same reason has probably compelled him, as often as possible, to darken the fore-ground. When such expedients are not employed, there will be great danger of insipidity, as all the parts will be relieved dark off dark; that is, every object, as it comes forward, will be relieved by its being stronger colored, which will be the progress from the remote distance to the fore-ground, and will be as tiresome to the eye, as a monotonous discourse is to the ear. This sort of treatment will by no means suit with the grand, where every means ought to be used to raise the subject, and which can only be done by producing the most striking effect, so as to fix the mind to the picture only. In this, Rubens was particularly successful, by introducing bursts of light, rainbows, storms, &c. so as violently to arrest the mind of the spectator; making his picture carry with it an interest beyond the mere mechanical representation of Nature. This is not the case with the more ordinary pictures, which only interest for the touch, color, or, as in some of the Dutch works, by the wonderful shine of the kitchen utensils, the whole merit of which depends on the closeness of the imitation, and this fixes the mind merely on the painter, whose duty it should be, in the higher walks of the art, to make the spectator forget him as much as possible in the contemplation of his labors. Some of our artists are so fond of execution, that their handling attracts the attention even in subjects they mean as efforts of the sublime. Woollet’s print after Wilson, will be worth consulting for the fine light and shade.
The following quotation so aptly expresses one of the purposes of shadow, that it were impossible to say more on the subject.
–––– ’Tis wisely done;
What would offend the eye in a good picture,
The Painter casts discreetly into shade.
As the shadows form the repose of the picture, great care should be taken (as well as to have them broad) that they be kept still; that is, not to disturb them, by making the parts too distinct, which would not only confuse the eye, but also destroy the brilliancy of the lights; a thing, of all others, the most to be avoided; for the student must recollect, that the highest point of light he can possibly get is his white paper, which at all times he should contrive to make the most of. It is from this contrast that every thing must be expected; for should a bright light be wanted, it can only be acquired by breadth and stillness of dark. Every picture ought in some one part to possess the greatest possible brightness: by this is not meant white, for a tinge of yellow will be brighter. Light has not the property to come forward, but as it is forced on by dark; therefore, bright skies always keep their places. Notwithstanding this, terrestrial objects, as they recede from the eye should be lowered with the aerial tint, to prevent their coming forward, which they might do, from their being generally surrounded by dark colors, and also look spotty, except they be small; such as are sometimes seen sparkling in the distance, which, from their size, cannot interfere with the sky, or any other great light. Though the shadows are required to be kept still, they should be clear. Many suppose this to depend on the colors, and therefore highly gum them: this is not the case, it depends on the object being pretty well defined, and the shadows in shade being pretty smartly touched: but this must be done with caution; for of the two, the want of clearness is better than the want of stillness. The Dutch pictures are in this instance unquestionably the best examples.
The shadows that may occur in the relieving masses of light, must be kept soft and tender, otherwise the effect will be destroyed. This is best illustrated by Titian’s Bunch of Grapes, where, on the light side, though every grape has its light, shadow, and reflection, the whole forms one undisturbed mass. On the dark side, also, the shade of each particular grape uniting together, will form one broad mass, and finely explain the doctrine of shadow uniting with shadow, and light with light: that is, supposing the grapes placed so as to receive the light obliquely, thereby making the light and shadow broad. The grapes will serve to show the necessity of letting shadows die softly into the light, by the interposition of middle-tint, otherwise the picture will look hard and edgy. Even projected shadows, which are always darker than those of the objects, should be made soft, as they go off from the points of contact. Hard shadows produce angles; soft ones are expressive of round surfaces, which are composed of light, shadow, and middle-tint. The highest point of dark and light, is on the parts that come nearest the eye of the spectator, as on a ball. As objects recede from the fore-ground, they lose their power of dark, (and, of course, their light,) till the whole becomes one undistinguished mass, should the distance be great; and therefore one care will be, to let every part, as it retires, be less defined than those before it. It is erroneous to say, make a thing start from the canvass; if any one part should appear to come from the surface, it would be out of its place, as it would be before the base-line of the picture.
It was an opinion of Sir Joshua Reynolds, that every picture ought to possess the extremes of dark and light: this may hold good in historical; but, with deference, the extreme of dark would be likely to make a landscape look heavy, and could never be wanted, but in a total deprivation of light, which can seldom happen; and even there a dark brown would look best. This is instanced in the fine picture of the Cradle, by Rembrandt, where great force is produced by brown. Wilson, also, thought brown dark enough for landscape, as he used to observe, with reference to Sir Joshua’s opinion, that ‘perhaps that great man might allude to the benefit of black draperies as a set off.’ It will most certainly be found, by practice, that the strength of a picture depends more on the middle-tint than on great depth of shade, and will always carry with it more melody. The figures, cattle, and other objects in the picture, should be treated in the same simple way as is recommended for conducting the whole; that is, not to confuse them by too many parts; one light, and one dark, for each object, will relieve them stronger than a greater division of parts: indeed, it will be obvious, that if they come off a dark ground, the light should be broad; if off a light ground, they should have broad shadows.
As to the form of the lights, it must in a great measure depend on the objects: all that can be recommended, is to avoid letting them take any particular one; as a square, an angle, or, indeed, any other form that is geometrical. It will be always found in pictures possessing the best; light and shadow, that they will tell what they are meant for at almost any distance, as a figure, building, or landscape. On the contrary, where the masses are injudicious, a landscape may at a certain distance appear as a white horse, or any thing but that for which it is intended.
The names of the colors wanted for landscape have been mentioned in the first Section; in this it will be necessary to show (as far as possible) their uses and properties. One great inconvenience the student labors under, arises from the too great quantity of colors put into his hands; an evil so encouraged by the drawing-master and color-man, that it is not uncommon to give two or three dozen colors in a box, a thing quite unnecessary.9 The best way is for the student to prepare his own colors, and this may be easily done, as all that is requisite, after grinding them, if they should be wanted very fine, is to wash them: this is effected by putting the ground color into a bason of water, and letting it stand a few minutes, pouring the top gently off into a second vessel, and letting that stand double or triple the time of the former; then into a third; and so on, in proportion to the fineness of the color wanted, as each time will afford a finer sediment. This may be preserved dry in a powder, tempered with gum-water for use; or by mixing with gum, and put to dry in little card molds, may be rubbed upon a smooth stone or plate when wanted. To prevent them from cracking in the mold, some fine sugar, or white sugar-candy, should be mixed with them. Sweet-wert will answer the same purpose, and may be drawn from the malt, by boiling it in an earthen vessel till it feels sticky between the fingers. It is a mistake of those who suppose much mucilage (gum) will prevent the colors from fading; on the contrary, it is highly injurious, as when it loses its transparency, which it soon does, it deadens the colors, by preventing the transmission of the light.
Colors admit of several divisions; as true and false, light and dark, warm and cold, simple and compound, and opaque and transparent. True colors are such as will bear exposure to the air and sun without changing; false, such as will not. Light and dark ones speak for themselves. Warm colors are browns, reds, and yellows; cold ones, blues, blacks, greys, and purples. Simple colors are such as it is not possible to make by any combination, as red, blue, and yellow, which are also called primitives: by mixing the primitives, the following compound colors will be the result: red and blue produce purple; red and yellow produce orange; blue and yellow produce green; red, blue, and yellow, produce, by different modifications, brown, black, and grey: these comprehend all the colors or tints in Nature, though the degrees of them are endless.
This sufficiently proves those philosophers mistaken, that make seven original (or primary) colors, as four of them are evidently compounds; the orange, green, purple, and the violet, which partakes of the nature of the last. Besides, the order in which they occur through the prism sufficiency shows it, as the green always comes between the blue and yellow, orange between the red and yellow, and so on. It is a curious circumstance, that an heterogeneal color, orange, for instance, by being viewed through a prism, will disappear, being resolved into the two homogeneal colors of which it was composed; that is, red and yellow. The primitive colors have also the property of neutralizing each other; that is, if a blue and a yellow are mixed, they will produce a green, and a certain quantity of red will make that a negative; and so with the other. Opaque colors are such as, when laid over paper, or other substances, cover them fully, so as to obliterate any drawing or stain that may have been previously made there. The others are transparent, or of such a contrary nature, as to leave the ground or drawing on which they are laid, visible through them. The student must therefore be careful to choose for his purpose the most transparent colors, otherwise his drawing will look muddy, from its obliterating the surface of the paper. Sir Joshua Reynolds, from observing the clearness in transparent drawings, thought it impossible to foul or muddle them; but his mistake arose from his never having practised in that way.
Mr. Delaval10 proved, by several experiments, that transparent-colored substances do not reflect light; and that when the light that passes through such substances is prevented being transmitted, they become black. Therefore, as all effect of color is by the light made to pass through it, by what he calls transmission, or, in other words, by being reflected back through the color, it must follow, that the lighter the ground they are laid on, the brighter and more vivid they must appear. This not only holds good with respect to water-colors, but equally applies to oil, and, indeed, to all other modes of painting.
It is much to be lamented, that the most beautiful colors soonest perish; therefore, the student had better sacrifice brilliancy to permanency. To this end, the fewer vegetable colors that are used, the better, as they are the first to fade. The earths will be found to answer the purpose of durability best; and those, if well washed, as before recommended, will give every degree of brilliancy necessary: but as all colors, with an earthy base, are liable to be injured by acids, great care should be taken in preparing them. As lake and carmine soon fade, a good substitute may be found for landscape painting, in well-washed Indian red: this, by that process, becomes so fine, as to admit of being used in the face by miniature painters. The raw terra de Sienna is a useful color, and is capable of becoming a red by calcination: this is a ferruginous earth, of which a good imitation may be made with green vitriol precipitated by lime. Gamboge is a vegetable, and liable to fade, but may be used with Indian ink, for dark greens, with great success, as it works freer than raw terra de Sienna, which has a tendency to work ropey, particularly when mixed. Vermillion is a metallic color, and being opaque, can only be used sparingly in draperies. Van-Dyck brown, a fine color for fore-grounds, is an earth, and permanent. The decoction of bistre, before mentioned, will be found useful in buildings, and will stand. Prussian blue has iron for its base, is liable to be destroyed by fire, or by very pure alkali; lime, and terra ponderosa, extract the color, and show the same phenomena as alkali. Some drawings hung up in a house newly repaired, and near a large new building, lost their blue color, which had become a dirty iron grey. Those who may be desirous of improving the brightness of their colors, may do it as follows. Red colors are improved by acids; alkalies darken them so as to make them approach to a blue or dirty purple. Yellows are brightened by acids; and by alkalies are rendered dull, and of an orange color. Blues mixed with acids, turn red with vegetable juices, and green with alkalies. Any effect of brilliancy produced by this means, can be only transitory. The change of color produced by alkalies, both fixed and volatile, to a purple, is brighter with the latter. Solutions of lead debase red colors to a dull purple. It must be expected, that all acids are not equally powerful in their effects on colors; the nitrous is the most, and marine the least powerful of any of the mineral acids. Alkalies are also more perishable than acids; the nitrous most so, the vitriolic less, and the marine least of all.
It will now be necessary to proceed with the practical part of the art; but it must not be expected, that here will be given a long catalogue of tints to answer every particular purpose, as is the case in some books that fall into the hands of young people, which contribute more to confound than to assist them: and, indeed, if it was to be done, it would be only a repetition of colors, as all the tints must resolve into the three primitive colors, and their compounds, as before observed. This must be obvious to the student, if, when at a loss for a tint, he should ask himself to what class it belongs, that is, whether it is a kind of orange, or green, or purple; and when this is discovered, the making the precise tint must be the result of practice. Where a tint, however, can be described, it shall be done; but, after all, it will be but a blind guide, if the party does not feel it himself, as it cannot be determined by measure or weight.
Supposing the outline complete, and ready to work on, there are two ways of working it up. The first, and most easy way, is to make all the shadows, and middle tints, with Prussian blue, and a brown Indian ink. The other is, by dead coloring it all over, making light, shade, and middle-tint, as is done in oil painting, (only preserving the lights,) and which is, of course, most complex, and so proceed strengthening each part, till the whole is finished. In the former method, the clouds being previously sketched in, and as light as possible, the student begins with the elementary part of the sky, laying it in with Prussian blue, rather tender, so as to leave himself the power of going over it once or twice afterwards, or as often as may be necessary; then with the blue, and a little Indian ink, lay in the lightest shades of the clouds; then the distance, if remote, with the same color, rather stronger. Next proceed to the middle ground, leaving out the blue in coming forward; and, lastly, work up the fore-ground with brown Indian ink only. This operation the student may repeat till the whole is sufficiently strong to his mind, marking the dark parts of the fore-ground as dark as the ink will make it; that is to say, the touches of shadow in shade. Great care must be taken to leave out the blue gradually as the objects come forward, otherwise it will have a bad effect. Attention must also be given to the middle tints, that they are not marked too strong, which would make it, when colored, look hard. The same grey color, or aerial tint, may be first washed over every terrestrial part of the drawing required to be kept down; that is, before coloring; as color laid over the grey will, of course, not be so light as where the paper is without it.
In washing up a drawing, the hair-pencils should be used as large as the parts worked on will admit. The shadows and middle tints being worked up to a sufficient degree of power, coloring will be the next operation. This must be done by beginning in the distant parts, coming on stronger and stronger, coloring light and middle-tint to the fore-ground; and, lastly, re-touch the darker parts of the fore-ground with Van-Dyck brown. Great caution will be required not to disturb the shadows with color, otherwise the harmony of the whole will be destroyed: or, at any rate, not to do more than gently color the reflections.11 As shadow is a deprivation of light, it follows, that it is a deprivation of color therefore, care will be required not to disturb the shade with color; that is, not to shadow blue with blue, red with red, &c. for harmony prevails more on shade than light, as may be seen in the pictures of Teniers, Ostade, and other Dutch masters, whose works, in this respect, stand unrivalled.
As well as in the unity of shadow, the harmony of the whole depends on restoring, in some other part of the picture, whatever forms the principal mass of color, and which should always be warm. At the same time, whatever kinds of color may prevail in a picture, they must be disposed in masses, to prevent a spottiness; and by no means should a cold color form the principal feature. There is another method practised by some, to procure the same end, that is, by breaking the color in the lights, so that each color may partake, in some degree, of the tone of its neighbour. In the best pictures of Deflegar, Backhuysen, and Vandevelde, the colors are sometimes broke down to nearly a state of black and white: the former method undoubtedly suits best with the grand style. All effects of evening will be harmonious from the lights all partaking of one hue.
Whether the drawing is made by dead coloring, and worked up as in oil, or the light and shadow made first, with blue and Indian ink, the method of proceeding in both will be the same; that is, by beginning with the sky, then the distance, &c. Another care will be to color colder than the drawing is intended to be when finished: the necessity of this practice arises from the warm colors easily affecting the cold ones; but when once a part is made too yellow, or too red, it never can be overcome. From this it will be easily seen, that if a drawing is brought up in grey, (that is, in blue and Indian ink,) it will be susceptible of receiving the warm tones of an evening; the grey being by red convertible into a purple, and the warmer tints of the light operating in an equal proportion. To illustrate the matter further, grey by red (as lake or carmine) will become a purple; and that by a yellow (raw terra de Sienna, or gamboge) an orange; but an orange can never be made a red, or red a grey. Still, as before observed, the harmony of the whole depends so much on the shadow, that even blue, and other cold draperies, require warm shadows, otherwise they will not unite with the other parts of the picture. The cold colors have also the property of retiring; and of this the artist sometimes so far avails himself, as to clothe his distant figures in draperies of that sort: on the contrary, the warm ones advance; therefore, should an effect of evening be wanting, and the distance made of a yellow tone, (which is a warm color,) attention must be paid to increase the warmth as the parts advance, till the fore-ground partakes of a red, and the shades of a rich brown. Two things to be avoided, are, in mid-day scenes, not to let the silvery tones in the clouds and distance fall into an iron grey; or the warm ones of evening, to become foxey; but rather to partake of that mellow, or amber-colored light, that is sometimes seen in a serene evening, and which is highly expressive of that degree of warmth most congenial to Nature. The pictures of Both will furnish excellent examples of the warm style of coloring; and those of the younger Teniers are unquestionably superior to all others for the silvery tones.
When the sun sets with a yellow horizon, it will generally be found, that the shadows of the clouds, and the distance, (if remote,) will be either slightly tinged with yellow, or be of a tone that there is no term of art for, but which is called a negative tone; and sometimes having a slight tint of blue prevailing, as may be seen in some of the pictures of Penaker: this will form the aerial tint for the shades of the picture, (assisting them in coming forward,) which always depend on the shadows of the clouds and distance. But when the sun sets red, then the aerial tint will be more or less of a blue purple, in proportion to its redness. In coloring an evening sky, if the horizontal color is yellow, it must die into a red, and that into the blue, (which should be worked dry over the other,) by which means the intermediate tints will come right; that is, between the yellow and red, orange; and between the red and blue, the violet; for if the yellows run into the blue, they will give a false color. Green solution of saffron in water, is used by some to produce an evening tint. A great advantage will be gained where a warm effect is wanted, by lowering the paper after the outline is finished with a color answering to the lights in the sky; but this requires great care, so as not to soil the paper.
A cream-colored wash, of either raw terra de Sienna or gamboge, with lake or carmine, may be washed first over any kind of drawing with great success, as it much assists the warmth, and improves the brilliancy. Burnt terra de Sienna does as well. It was a bold undertaking of that man who first attempted to imitate light with an earth. Distance not only destroys forms, but confounds all local colors, reducing every thing to one common mass.
As yon summits, soft and fair,
Clad in colors of the air,
Which, to those that journey near,
Barren, brown, and rough appear.
DYER’S GRONGAR HILL.
Should this rule not be attended to, one great beauty in all open scenery will be lost; and it will look as if cut out, and stuck on, and not melt into the sky. Some excellent examples will be found in the pictures and drawings of Barret. The effect of distance may be much assisted by an artful management of the clouds, by making them extend in long spiral sweeps across the picture, in something of an horizontal direction, so as to lead the eye backward and forwards down to the horizon; and also by diminishing the size of the breaks as they recede towards the distance. As the distance must melt into the horizon, so every part of the picture will require more making out as it comes forward; and lastly, the fore-ground will require not only to be well detailed, but also highly enriched with plants, and various kinds of shrubs, and the ground to be finely broken. Thus the bustle of the fore-ground, contrasted with the soft vacuity of the distance, will contribute highly to increase the effect; a well-disposed group of figures, or cattle, will add to the deception, as well as to the beauty. Cuyp’s fore-grounds are inimitable examples to consult; and the cattle of Berghem, and Paul Potter, are fine examples. Vescher’s etchings after Berghem, and others, will also afford fine studies.
Great caution must be observed in working up the fore-ground, not to labor the plants, or foliage, so as to look studied, and interfere with the other part of the picture; for the landscape painter is not to describe like a botanist; yet they should be so correct, that their several kinds may be distinguished. Trees must be described by their general character, touch, and color, and not by making out leaves, which would look formal: masses of trees will require to be diversified in their form and color, to prevent a monotony.
Below me trees unnumber’d rise,
Beautiful in various dyes:
The gloomy pine; the poplar, blue;
The yellow beech; the sable yew;
The slender fir, that taper grows;
The sturdy oak, with broad-spread boughs;
And beyond, the purple grove,
Haunt of Phillis, Queen of Love.
The text continues in 1805 Documents 2
A Farmhouse, Said to Be near Newcastle-upon-Tyne
1795 - 1796
A Distant View of Marlow, from the River Thames
1800 - 1805
Portrait of Thomas Girtin
1798 - 1799
Egglestone Abbey, on the River Tees
- 1 Girtin was a pupil of Mr. Dayes, under whose tuition he made a considerable progress in his profession.
- 2 This may be exemplified in Claude, who labored hard to obtain a knowledge of the human figure after he became a landscape painter; and how he succeeded, may be judged by the circumstance, that Sir P. Lely, who wished to have a picture of that master, desired him to paint one without any figures: this, it may be supposed, was taken in dudgeon; for he received the well-known picture of the Molten Calf, a piece, unfortunately, full of figures.
- 3 The large figures, in imitation of red chalk, after Vanloo, will be the best subjects to copy, should the student not be able to get drawings; after which he must copy the best plaister casts, beginning with the most muscular.
- 4 A lady of fashion, who insisted that drawing was unnecessary, wished an artist to put her son to painting: he not wishing to offend, and finding several others had taken the young gentleman before, to give him an easy task, set him to copy a picture of flowers, which, when done, was so bad as not to be known what is was intended to represent: on the lady seeing it, she asked what it was; ‘Why, Madam, (replied the painter,) that is painting without drawing!’
- 5 This is so true, that a slight picture, with a red curtain, always passes with the ignorant as the manner of Sir Joshua, without reference to his reason for introducing it.
- 6 An artist who wanted to make a view of Liverpool, was told by a person, he could show him a good situation, and for that purpose took him to the top of the Exchange! It is really surprising how many of the old views were manufactured, when it is considered that balloons were not in use, as some of the places (as Durham, &c. in Buck’s Antiquities) are on high hills, which you are looking down on.
- 7 Gradations in the shadows are necessary to indicate distance; for, suppose a cube to be put in true perspective, its lines do but barely hint the direction that its various faces would take; but, with the addition of the shadows, the sides recede with the lines; thus mutually completing the idea of recession, which neither of them could do alone. It may be further observed, that the outline of a globe is but a circle; yet, according to the manner of filling up the space within it with shadow, it becomes either flat, globular, or concave, in any of its positions with the eye.
- 8 How far (according to the same author’s remark) the most lively and spirited verbal description will raise a stronger emotion than the best painting, is matter of doubt: certain it is, that description has one highly flattering quality; it leaves every one at liberty to form his own picture, and this may probably affect more than that of any other person.
- 9 Wilson, on being told by a person that he had found out a new color, said he was sorry for it, as there were too many already.
- 10 See Gregory’s Economy of Nature.
- 11 All reflected rays of light will be tinged with the color of the reflecting object.