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IMPRESSIONISM


near Paris there was a great deal that was only pictorially tolerable when its tone was subtracted from the details of its form. Monet's painting carries' the shorthand of form and broken colour to extremity; the flowing touch of Manet is chopped up into harsher, smaller notes of tone, and the pitch pushed up till all values approach the iridescent end of the register. It was in 1886 that the doctrinaire ferment came to a head, and what was supposed to be a scientific method of colour was formulated. This was pointiltisme, the resolution of the colours of nature back into six bands of the rainbow or spectrum, and their representation on the canvas by dots of unmixed pigment. These dots, at a sufficient distance, combine their hues in the eye with the effect of a mixture of coloured lights, not of pigments, so that the result is an increase instead of a loss of luminosity. There are several fallacies, however, theoretical and practical, in this “ spectral palette ” and pointillist method. If we depart from the three primaries of the Helmholtz hypothesis, there is no reason why we should stop at six hues instead of six hundred. But pigments follow the spectrum series so imperfectly that the three primaries, even if we could exactly locate them, limit the palette considerably in its upper range. The -sacrifice of black is quite illogical, and the lower ranges suffer accordingly. Moreover, it is doubtful whether many painters have followed the laws of mixture of lights in their dotting, e.g. dotting green and red together to produce yellow. It may be added that dotting with oil pigment is in practice too coarse and inaccurate a method. This innovation of pointillism is generally ascribed to George Seurat (d. 1890), whose picture, “ La Grande Jatte, ” was exhibited at the Rue Laiiitte in 1886. Pissarro experimented in the new method, but abandoned it, and other names among the Pointillistes are Paul Signac, Vincent van Gogh, and van Rysselberghe. The theory opened the way for endless casuistries, and its extravagances died out in the later exhibition of the ndépeudants or were domesticated in the Salon by painters like M. Henri Martin.

The first modern painter to concern himself scientifically with the reactions of complementary colours appears to have been Delacroix (J. Leonardo, it should be remembered, left some notes on the subject). It is claimed for Delacroix that as early as 1825 he observed and made use of these reactions, anticipating the complete exposition of Chevreul. He certainly studied the treatise, and his biographers describe a dial-face he constructed for reference. He had quantities of little wafers of each colour, with which he tried colour 1.-liects, a curious anticipation of pointillist technique. The pointillists claim him as their grandfather. See Paul Si nac, “ D'Eugene Delacroix au Néo-lmpressionnisme ” (Revue Blancgze, 1898). For a. fuller discussion of the spectral palette see the Saturday Review, 2nd, oth and 23rd February and 23rd March 1901.

In England the ideas connected with the word Impressionism have been refracted through the circumstances of the British schools. The questions of pitch of light and iridescent colour had already arisen over the work of Turner, of the Pre-Raphaelites, and also of G. F. Watts, but less isolated and narrowed, because the art of none of these limited itself to the pursuit of light. Pointiltisme, after a fashion, existed in British water-colour practice. But the Pre-Raphaelite school had accustomed the English eye to extreme definition in painting and to elaboration of detail, and it happened that the painting of James M'Neill Whistler (Grosvenor Gallery, 1878) brought the battle-name Impressionism into England and gave it a different colour. Whistler's method of painting was in no way revolutionary, and he preferred to transpose values into a lower key rather than compete with natural pitch, but his vision, like that of Manet under the same influences, Spanish and Japanese, simplihed tone and subordinated detail. These characteristics raised the whole question of the science and art rj aspect in modem painting, and the field of controversy was extended backwards to Velasquez as the chief master of the moderns. “Impressionism ” at first had meant individualism of vision, later the notation of fugitive aspects of light and of movement; now it came to mean breadth in pictorial vision, all the simplifications that arise from the modern analysis of aspect, and especially the effect produced upon the parts of a picture-field by attending to the impression of the whole. Ancient 345

painting analyses aspect into three separate acts as form, tone and colour. All forms are made out with equal clearness by a conventional outline; over this system of outlines a second system of light and shade is passed, and over this again a system of colours. Tone is conceived as a difference of black or white added to the tints, and the colours are the definite local tints of the objects (a blue, a red, a yellow, and so forth). In fully developed modern painting, instead of an object analysed into sharp outlines covered with a uniform colour darkened or lightened in places, we find an object analysed into a number of surfaces or planes set at different angles. On each of these facets the character of the object and of the illumination, with accidents of reflection, produces a patch called by modern painters a “ value, ” because it is colour of a particular value or tone. (With each difference of tone, “value ” implies a difference of hue also, so that when we speak of a different tone of the same colour we are using the word “ same ” in a loose or approximate sense.) These planes or facets define themselves one against another with greater or less sharpness. Modern technique follows this modern analysis of vision, and in one act instead of three renders by a “touch ” of paint the shape and value of these facets, and instead of imposing a uniform ideal outline at all their junctions, allows these patches to define themselves against one another with variable sharpness.

Blurred definition, then, as it exists in our natural view of things, is admitted into painting; a blurring that may arise from distance, from vapour or smoke, from brilliant light. from obscurity, or simply from the nearness in value of adjacent objects. Similarly, much detail that in primitive art is elaborated is absorbed by rendering the aspect instead of the facts known to make up that aspect. Thus hair and fur, the texture of stuffs, the blades of grass at a little distance, become patches of tone showing only their larger constructive markings. But the blurring of definitions and the elimination of detail that we find in modern pictorial art are not all of this ready-made character. We have so far only the scientific analysis of a field of view. If the painter were a scientific reporter he would have to pursue the systems of planes, with their shapes 'and values, to infinity. Impressionism is the art that surveys the field and determines which of the shapes and tones are of chief importance to the interested eye, enforces these, and sacrifices the rest. Construction, the logic of the object rendered, determines partly this action of the eye, and also decoration, the effects of rhythm in line and harmony in fields of colour. These motives belong to all art, but the specially impressionist motive is the act of attention as it affects the aspect of the field. We are familiar, in the ordinary use of the eye, with two features of its structure that limit clearness of vision. There is, "first, the spot of clear vision on the retina, outside of which all falls away into blur; there is, secondly, the action of focus. As the former limits clear definition to one spot in the field extended vertically and laterally, so focus limits clear definition to one plane in the third dimension, viz. depth. If three objects, A, B and C, stand at different depths before the eye, we can at will fix A, whereupon B and C must fall out of focus, or B, whereupon A and C must be blurred, or C, sacrificing the clearness of A and B. All this apparatus makes it impossible to see everything at once with equal clearness, enables us, and forces us for the uses of real life, to frame and limit our picture, according to the immediate interest of the eye, whatever it may be. The painter instinctively uses these means to arrive at the emphasis and neglect that his choice requires. If he is engaged on a face he will now screw his attention to a part and now relax it, distributing the attention over the whole so as to restore the bigger relations of aspect. Sir Joshua Reynolds describes this process as seeing the whole “ with the dilated eye ”; the commoner precept of the studios is “ to look with the eyes half closed ”; a third way is to throw the whole voluntarily out of focus. In any case the result is that minor planes are swamped in bigger, that smaller patches of colour are swept up into broader, that markings are blurred. The final result of these tentative reviews records, in what is

blurred and what is clear, the attention that has been distributed