There is something in every individual that is likely for a long time to defy the analysis of science. When you have summed up the total of atoms or electrons or whatever it is that goes to the making of the tissues and also the innumerable complex functions performed by the different parts, you have not yet got on the track of the individual that governs the whole performance. The effect of this personality on the outward form, and the influence it has in modifying the aspect of body and features, are the things that concern the portrait draughtsman: the seizing on and expressing forcefully the individual character of the sitter, as expressed by his outward appearance.
This character expression in form has been thought to be somewhat antagonistic to beauty, and many sitters are shy of the particular characteristics of their own features. The fashionable photographer, knowing this, carefully stipples out of his negative any striking characteristics in the form of his sitter the negative may show. But judging by the result, it is doubtful whether any beauty has been gained, and certain that interest and vitality have been lost in the process. Whatever may be the nature of beauty, it is obvious that what makes one object more beautiful than another is something that is characteristic of the appearance of the one and not of the other: so that some close study of individual characteristics must be the aim of the artist who would seek to express beauty, as well as the artist who seeks the expression of character and professes no interest in beauty.
Catching the likeness, as it is called, is simply seizing on the essential things that belong only to a particular individual and differentiate that individual from others, and expressing them in a forceful manner. There are certain things that are common to the whole species, likeness to a common type; the individual likeness is not in this direction but at the opposite pole to it.
It is one of the most remarkable things connected with the amazing subtlety of appreciation possessed by the human eye, that of the millions of heads in the world, and probably of all that have ever existed in the world, no two look exactly alike. When one considers how alike they are, and how very restricted is the range of difference between them, is it not remarkable how quickly the eye recognises one person from another? It is more remarkable still how one sometimes recognises a friend not seen for many years, and whose appearance has changed considerably in the meantime. And this likeness that we recognise is not so much as is generally thought a matter of the individual features. If one sees the eye alone, the remainder of the face being covered, it is almost impossible to recognise even a well-known friend, or tell whether the expression is that of laughing or crying. And again, how difficult it is to recognise anybody when the eyes are masked and only the lower part of the face visible.
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Mrtc Low r«*rf INI Or ¥ir!r"lf I* IO*lf!rt ter. dtjfrmn In »h« rjpn 111 a on «idbor ilda ur tbft wnilh. Mi.
FROM A DRAWING IN RED CHALK BY HOLBEIN IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM PRINT ROOM Note how every bit of variety is sought for, the difference in the eyes and on either side of the mouth, etc.
If you try and recall a well-known head it will not be the shape of the futures that will be recollected so much as an impression, the result of all these combined, a sort of chord of which the features will be but the component elements. It is the relation of the different parts to this chord, this impression of the personality of a head, that is the all-important thing in what is popularly called
"catching the likeness." In drawing a portrait the mind must be centred on this, and all the individual parts drawn in relation to it. The moment the eye gets interested solely in some individual part and forgets the consideration of its relationship to this whole impression, the likeness suffers.
Where there is so much that is similar in heads, it is obvious that what differences there are must be searched out and seized upon forcefully, if the individuality of the head is to be made telling. The drawing of portraits should therefore be approached from the direction of these differences; that is to say, the things in general disposition and proportion in which your subject differs from a common type, should be first sought for, the things common to all heads being left to take care of themselves for a bit. The reason for this is that the eye, when fresh, sees these differences much more readily than after it has been working for some time. The tendency of a tired eye is to see less differentiation, and to hark back to a dull uniformity; so get in touch at once with the vital differences while your eye is fresh and your vision keen.
Look out first for the character of the disposition of the features, note 2th42e proportions down an imagined centre line, of the brows, the base of the nose, the mouth and chin, and get the character of the shape of the enclosing line of the face blocked out in square lines. The great importance of getting these proportions right early cannot be over-emphasised, as any mistake may later on necessitate completely shifting a carefully drawn feature. And the importance of this may be judged from the fact that you recognise a head a long way off, before anything but the general disposition of the masses surrounding the features can be seen. The shape of the skull, too, is another thing of which to get an early idea, and its relation to the face should be carefully noted. But it is impossible to lay down hard and fast rules for these things.
Some artists begin in point drawing with the eyes, and some leave the eyes until the very last. Some draughtsmen are never happy until they have an eye to adjust the head round, treating it as the centre of interest and drawing the parts relatively to it. While others say, with some truth, that there is a mesmeric effect produced when the eye is drawn that blinds one to the cold-blooded technical consideration of a head as line and tone in certain relationships; that it is as well to postpone until the last that moment when the shapes and tones that represent form in your drawing shall be lit up by the introduction of the eye to the look of a live person. One is freer to consider the accuracy of one's form before this disturbing influence is introduced. And there is a good deal to be said for this.
Although in point drawing you can, without serious effect, begin at an2y4 3part that interests you, in setting out a painting I think there can be no two opinions as to the right way to go about it. The character of the general disposition of the masses must be first constructed. And if this general blocking in has been well done, the character of the sitter will be apparent from the first even in this early stage; and you will be able to judge of the accuracy of your blocking out by whether or not it does suggest the original. If it does not, correct it before going any further, working, as it were, from the general impression of the masses of the head as seen a long way off, adding more and more detail, and gradually bringing the impression nearer, until the completed head is arrived at, thus getting in touch from the very first with the likeness which should dominate the work all along.
KPÚH 1*4 ill A ^h>K III Ehq 4«UMEIú-i úT l-:¡r kúurll Ki>ti II IMn End EúnEr t h limn It. I.l[b Lililí ln=i Hirkiil not T"HiF
Plate LI. SIR CHARLES DILKE, BART.
From the drawing in the collection of Sir Robert Essex, M.P., in red conté chalk rubbed, the high lights being picked out with rubber.
There are many points of view from which a portrait can be drawn—Ei44ean, mental points of view. And, as in a biography, the value of the work will depend on the insight and distinction of the author or artist. The valet of a great man might write a biography of his master that could be quite true to his point of view; but, assuming him to be an average valet, it would not be a great work. I believe the gardener of Darwin when asked how his master was, said, "Not at all well. You see, he moons about all day. I've seen him staring at a flower for five or ten minutes at a time. Now, if he had some work to do, he would be much better." A really great biography cannot be written except by a man who can comprehend his subject and take a wide view of his position among men, sorting what is trivial from what is essential, what is common to all men from what is particular to the subject of his work. And it is very much the same in portraiture. It is only the painter who possesses the intuitive faculty for seizing on the significant things in the form expression of his subject, of disentangling what is trivial from what is important; and who can convey this forcibly to the beholder on his canvas, more forcibly than a casual sight of the real person could do—it is only this painter who can hope to paint a really fine portrait.
It is true, the honest and sincere expression of any painter will be of some interest, just as the biography written by Darwin's gardener might be; but there is a vast difference between this point of view and that of the man who thoroughly comprehends his subject.
Not that it is necessary for the artist to grasp the mind of his sitter, although that is no disadvantage. But this is not his point of view, his business is with the effect of this inner man on his outward appearance. And it is necessary for him to have that intuitive power that seizes instinctively on those variations of form that are expressive of this inner man. The habitual cast of thought in any individual affects the shape and moulds the form of the features, and, to the discerning, the head is expressive of the person; both the bigger and the smaller person, both the larger and the petty characteristics everybody possesses. And the fine portrait will express the larger and subordinate the petty individualities, will give you what is of value, and subordinate what is trivial in a person's appearance.
The pose of the head is a characteristic feature about people that is no2 always given enough attention in portraits. The habitual cast of thought affects its carriage to a very large degree. The two extreme types of what we mean are the strongly emotional man who carries his head high, drinking in impressions as he goes through the world; and the man of deep thought who carries his head bent forward, his back bent in sympathy with it. Everybody has some characteristic action in the way that should be looked out for and that is usually absent when a sitter first appears before a painter on the studio throne. A little diplomacy and conversational humouring is necessary to produce that unconsciousness that will betray the man in his appearance.
How the power to discover these things can be acquired, it is, of course, impossible to teach. All the student can do is to familiarise himself with the best examples of portraiture, in the hope that he may be stimulated by this means to observe finer qualities in nature and develop the best that is in him. But he must never be insincere in his work. If he does not appreciate fine things in the work of recognised masters, let him stick to the honest portrayal of what he does see in nature. The only distinction of which he is capable lies in this direction. It is not until he awakens to the sight in nature of qualities he may have admired in others' work that he is in a position honestly to introduce them into his own performances.
Probably the most popular point of view in portraiture at present is the2 4o6ne that can be described as a "striking presentment of the live person." This is the portrait that arrests the crowd in an exhibition. You cannot ignore it, vitality bursts from it, and everything seems sacrificed to this quality of striking lifelikeness. And some very wonderful modern portraits have been painted from this point of view. But have we not sacrificed too much to this quality of vitality? Here is a lady hurriedly getting up from a couch, there a gentleman stepping out of the frame to greet you, violence and vitality everywhere. But what of repose, harmony of colour and form, and the wise ordering and selecting of the materials of vision that one has been used to in the great portraiture of the past? While the craftsman in one is staggered and amazed at the brilliant virtuosity of the thing, the artist in one resents the sacrifice of so much for what is, after all, but a short-lived excitement. Age may, no doubt, improve some of the portraits of this class by quieting them in colour and tone. And those that are good in design and arrangement will stand this without loss of distinction, but those in which everything has been sacrificed to this striking lifelike quality will suffer considerably. This particular quality depends so much on the freshness of the paint that when this is mellowed and its vividness is lost, nothing will remain of value, if the quieter qualities of design and arrangement have been sacrificed for it.
Frans Hals is the only old master I can think of with whom this form o2f4 7portrait can be compared. But it will be noticed that besides designing his canvases carefully, he usually balanced the vigour and vitality of his form with a great sobriety of colour. In fact, in some of his later work, where this restless vitality is most in evidence, the colour is little more than black and white, with a little yellow ochre and Venetian red. It is this extreme reposefulness of colour that opposes the unrest in the form and helps to restore the balance and necessary repose in the picture. It is interesting to note the restless variety of the edges in Frans Hal's work, how he never, if he can help it, lets an edge run smoothly, but keeps it constantly on the move, often leaving it quite jagged, and to compare this with what was said about vitality depending on variety.
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Plate LII. JOHN REDMOND, M.P.
From the drawing in the collection of Sir Robert Essex, M.P., in red conté chalk rubbed, the high lights being picked out with rubber.
Another point of view is that of the artist who seeks to give a significant and calm view of the exterior forms of the sitter, an expressive map of the individuality of those forms, leaving you to form your own intellectual judgments. A simple, rather formal, attitude is usually chosen, and the sitter is drawn with searching honesty. There is a great deal to be said for this point of view in the hands of a painter with a large appreciation of form and design. But without these more inspiring qualities it is apt to have the dulness that attends most literal transcriptions. There are many instances of this point of view among early portrait painters, one of the best of which is the work of Holbein. But then, to a very distinguished appreciation of the subtleties of form characterisation he added a fine sense of design and colour arrangement, qualities by no means always at the command of some of the lesser men of this school.
Every portrait draughtsman should make a pilgrimage to Windsor, armed with the necessary permission to view the wonderful series of portrait drawings by this master in the library of the castle. They are a liberal education in portrait drawing. It is necessary to see the originals, for it is only after having seen them that one can properly understand the numerous and well-known reproductions. A study of these drawings will, I think, reveal the fact that they are not so literal as is usually thought. Unflinchingly and unaffectedly honest they are, but honest not to a cold, mechanically accurate record of the sitter's appearance, but honest and accurate to the vital impression of the live sitter made on the mind of the live artist. This is the difference we were trying to explain that exists between the academic and the vital drawing, and it is a very subtle and elusive quality, like all artistic qualities, to talk about. The record of a vital impression done with unflinching accuracy, but under the guidance of intense mental activity, is a very different thing from a drawing done with the cold, mechanical accuracy of a machine. The one will instantly grip the attention and give one a vivid sensation in a way that no mechanically accurate drawing could do, and in a way that possibly the sight of the real person would not always do. We see numbers of faces during a day, but only a few with the vividness of which I am speaking. How many faces in a crowd are passed indifferently—there is no vitality in the impression they make on our mind; but suddenly a face will rivet our attention, and although it is gone in a flash, the memory of the impression will remain for some time.
The best of Holbein's portrait drawings give one the impression of hav2i4n9g been seen in one of these flashes and rivet the attention in consequence. Drawings done under this mental stimulus present subtle differences from drawings done with cold accuracy. The drawing of the Lady Audley, here reproduced, bears evidence of some of this subtle variation on what are called the facts, in the left eye of the sitter. It will be noticed that the pupil of this eye is larger than the other. Now I do not suppose that as a matter of mechanical accuracy this was so, but the impression of the eyes seen as part of a vivid impression of the head is seldom that they are the same size. Holbein had in the first instance in this very carefully wrought drawing made them so, but when at the last he was vitalising the impression, "pulling it together" as artists say, he has deliberately put a line outside the original one, making this pupil larger. This is not at all clearly seen in the reproduction, but is distinctly visible in the original. And to my thinking it was done at the dictates of the vivid mental impression he wished his drawing to convey. Few can fail to be struck in turning over this wonderful series of drawings by the vividness of their portraiture, and the vividness is due to their being severely accurate to the vital impression on the mind of Holbein, not merely to the facts coldly observed.
THE LtMY Amic.LV, Hin.imx [IVLMUM)
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THE LADY AUDLEY. HOLBEIN (WINDSOR) Note the different sizes of pupils in the eyes, and see letterpress on the opposite page. Copyright photo Braun & Co.
Another point of view is that of seeking in the face a symbol of the person within, and selecting those things about a head that express this. As has already been said, the habitual attitude of mind has in the course of time a marked influence on the form of the face, and in fact of the whole body, so that—to those who can see—the man or woman is a visible symbol of themselves. But this is by no means apparent to all.
The striking example of this class is the splendid series of portraits by2S0e late G.F. Watts. Looking at these heads one is made conscious of the people in a fuller, deeper sense than if they were before one in the flesh. For Watts sought to discover the person in their appearance and to paint a picture that should be a living symbol of them. He took pains to find out all he could about the mind of his sitters before he painted them, and sought in the appearance the expression of this inner man. So that whereas with Holbein it was the vivid presentation of the impression as one might see a head that struck one in a crowd, with Watts it is the spirit one is first conscious of. The thunders of war appear in the powerful head of Lord Lawrence, the music of poetry in the head of Swinburne, and the dry atmosphere of the higher regions of thought in the John Stuart Mill, &c.
In the National Portrait Gallery there are two paintings of the poet Robert Browning, one by Rudolph Lehmann and one by Watts. Now the former portrait is probably much more "like" the poet as the people who met him casually saw him. But Watts's portrait is like the man who wrote the poetry, and Lehmann's is not. Browning was a particularly difficult subject in this respect, in that to a casual observer there was much more about his external appearance to suggest a prosperous man of business, than the fiery zeal of the poet.
These portraits by Watts will repay the closest study by the student of portraiture. They are full of that wise selection by a great mind that lifts such work above the triviality of the commonplace to the level of great imaginative painting.
Another point of view is that of treating the sitter as part of a symphonyiof form and colour, and subordinating everything to this artistic consideration. This is very fashionable at the present time, and much beautiful work is being done with this motive. And with many ladies who would not, I hope, object to one's saying that their principal characteristic was the charm of their appearance, this point of view offers, perhaps, one of the best opportunities of a successful painting. A pose is selected that makes a good design of line and colour—a good pattern—and the character of the sitter is not allowed to obtrude or mar the symmetry of the whole considered as a beautiful panel. The portraits of J. McNeill Whistler are examples of this treatment, a point of view that has very largely influenced modern portrait painting in England.
Then there is the official portrait in which the dignity of an office held by the sitter, of which occasion the portrait is a memorial, has to be considered. The more intimate interest in the personal character of the sitter is here subordinated to the interest of his public character and attitude of mind towards his office. Thus it happens that much more decorative pageantry symbolic of these things is permissible in this kind of portraiture than in that of plain Mr. Smith; a greater stateliness of design as befitting official occasions.
It is not contended that this forms anything like a complete list of the &Hnerous aspects from which a portrait can be considered, but they are some of the more extreme of those prevalent at the present time. Neither is it contended that they are incompatible with each other: the qualities of two or more of these points of view are often found in the same work. And it is not inconceivable that a single portrait might contain all and be a striking lifelike presentment, a faithful catalogue of all the features, a symbol of the person and a symphony of form and colour. But the chances are against such a composite affair being a success. One or other quality will dominate in a successful work; and it is not advisable to try and combine too many different points of view as, in the confusion of ideas, directness of expression is lost. But no good portrait is without some of the qualities of all these points of view, whichever may dominate the artist's intention.
ExpressionThe camera, and more particularly the instantaneous camera, has habituated people to expect in a portrait a momentary expression, and of these momentary expressions the faint smile, as we all know, is an easy first in the matter of popularity. It is no uncommon thing for the painter to be asked in the early stages of his work when he is going to put in the smile, it never being questioned that this is the artist's aim in the matter of expression.
The giving of lifelike expression to a painting is not so simple a matter53 it might appear to be. Could one set the real person behind the frame and suddenly fix them for ever with one of those passing expressions on their faces, however natural it might have been at the moment, fixed for ever it is terrible, and most unlifelike. As we have already said, a few lines scribbled on a piece of paper by a consummate artist would give a greater sense of life than this fixed actuality. It is not ultimately by the pursuit of the actual realisation that expression and life are conveyed in a portrait. Every face has expression of a far more interesting and enduring kind than these momentary disturbances of its form occasioned by laughter or some passing thought, &c. And it must never be forgotten that a portrait is a panel painted to remain for centuries without movement. So that a large amount of the quality of repose must enter into its composition. Portraits in which this has not been borne in mind, however entertaining at a picture exhibition, when they are seen for a few moments only, pall on one if constantly seen, and are finally very irritating.
But the real expression in a head is something more enduring than these passing movements: one that belongs to the forms of a head, and the marks left on that form by the life and character of the person. This is of far more interest than those passing expressions, the results of the contraction of certain muscles under the skin, the effect of which is very similar in most people. It is for the portrait painter to find this more enduring expression and give it noble expression in his work.
Treatment (If Clatbemnmon idea among sitters that if they are painted in modern clothes the picture will look old-fashioned in a few years. If the sitter's appearance were fixed upon the canvas exactly as they stood before the artist in his studio, without any selection on the part of the painter, this might be the result, and is the result in the case of painters who have no higher aim than this.
But there are qualities in dress that do not belong exclusively to the p254cular period of their fashion. Qualities that are the same in all ages. And when these are insisted upon, and the frivolities of the moment in dress not troubled about so much, the portrait has a permanent quality, and will never in consequence look old-fashioned in the offensive way that is usually meant. In the first place, the drapery and stuffs of which clothes are made follow laws in the manner in which they fold and drape over the figure, that are the same in all times. If the expression of the figure through the draperies is sought by the painter, a permanent quality will be given in his work, whatever fantastic shapes the cut of the garments may assume.
And further, the artist does not take whatever comes to hand in the appearance of his sitter, but works to a thought-out arrangement of colour and form, to a design. This he selects from the moving and varied appearance of his sitter, trying one thing after another, until he sees a suggestive arrangement, from the impression of which he makes his design. It is true that the extremes of fashion do not always lend themselves so readily as more reasonable modes to the making of a good pictorial pattern. But this is not always so, some extreme fashions giving opportunities of very piquant and interesting portrait designs. So that, however extreme the fashion, if the artist is able to select some aspect of it that will result in a good arrangement for his portrait, the work will never have the offensive old-fashioned look. The principles governing good designs are the same in all times; and if material for such arrangement has been discovered in the most modish of fashions, it has been lifted into a sphere where nothing is ever out of date.
It is only when the painter is concerned with the trivial details of fashion for their own sake, for the making his picture look like the real thing, and has not been concerned with transmuting the appearance of fashionable clothes by selection into the permanent realms of form and colour design, that his work will justify one in saying that it will look stale in a few years.
The fashion of dressing sitters in meaningless, so-called classical drapSles is a feeble one, and usually argues a lack of capacity for selecting a good arrangement from the clothes of the period in the artist who adopts it. Modern women's clothes are full of suggestions for new arrangements and designs quite as good as anything that has been done in the past. The range of subtle colours and varieties of texture in materials is amazing, and the subtlety of invention displayed in some of the designs for costumes leads one to wonder whether there is not something in the remark attributed to an eminent sculptor that "designing ladies' fashions is one of the few arts that is thoroughly vital to-day."
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