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The French School

The Art Of Painting - The French School - 1, a brief series of articles on the art of painting and drawing
 
 
NICOLAS POUSSIN
The Bacchanalian pictures are inspired by Titian. Like the painters of the so-called " Eclectic " school, Poussin has selected from the Italian master ideas, forms, landscape setting, and colour. But although a good technician, very prolific, and at times more personal than in these pictures, he falls far short of his model. One loses interest in rechauffes of a bigger man's work.
The French school is poorly seen at this gallery. Watteau, the finest product of French art, is not represented. An excursion to the Dulwich Gallery should be made to see him at his best, and there are a few choice pictures of his at the Wallace Collection, where Lancet is better seen than here. In his " Four Ages of Man " series, there is a charming panel, " Manhood," with the gracefully posed youths shooting arrows at a high mark ; but with the artificiality characteristic of the Frenchmen of the period, the amoureux spread around appear to be totally oblivious of the spent arrows which might well put an end to their amours.
Nor is Chardin to be judged by the two little pictures in these galleries.
Claude is fine and clear in his stately and serene landscapes, but I prefer the " Dido building Carthage," by Turner, between two of them. What technically is go extraordinary in the Turner is the heated, sun-suffused atmosphere ; which is attained by a scumble of warm colour across the sky, the hills, and the middle distance—a very interesting point to study. See behind this transparent scumble the boat, the builders, and incidents well defined in the first instance, and then fogged by this semi-opaque wash. A truly wonderful effect is here produced out of the endless resources of his genius.
GREUZE
Merimee tells us that " Greuze was fond of dead colouring in full impasto, which he glazed all over ; afterwards painting upon the glaze when it was dry, beginning with the lights and proceeding gradually to the shadows." Though somewhat artificial and over sweet, he has a tender grey in his flesh, which is often admirable.
The few examples which we have discussed should serve to awaken an interest in the material side of a work of art, as distinct from those aspects of it which belong to the realms of aesthetic thought. Viewed broadly, they cover, I think, sufficiently for our purpose, the ground of acknowledged legitimate technique. A canvas or panel, a few colours, brushes, vehicles, and a palette knife are the comparatively simple materials with which an oil-painting is done, and three or four main methods, with subtle variants, constitute the limits within which the painter is forced to work ; so that in describing the apparent practice of the leaders among the craftsmen, my constant repetitions are due not only to a lack of phraseology, of which failing I am conscious, but rather to the fact that the notes are very few on which the illimitable combinations and imaginings are rung.
But now that in my poor way I have sought to show you how to extract and detach from a work of art some of its constituents, you might try your hand unaided to seek a similar lesson, and profitable pleasure, on the remaining works in these galleries, or among others elsewhere.
In any case, do not attempt more than about two rooms on any one day, on one occasion making a technical quest, on others, quite separately, notes on the linear construction of composition, the scale of figures to their setting, colour arrangements, and the massing of light and shade. It may even be instructive to join the crowd and look for subjective points of interest.
And now let us make our way to the British section of these galleries.



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