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For his art as the symbolic expression of thought, Mr. G. F. Watts has insistently challenged recognition. Of all modern painters none have defined more explicitly an esthetic philosophy. He has set before us in unequivocal sentences the moral purpose his paintings interpret and enforce. He has enunciated the creed of the apostolate of art, nor has he left a loophole for misconstruction of his aspirations and endeavours. The supreme autocracy of art as art has been asserted, for him, in vain. 'Handmaid of ' religion,' wrote Mr. Swinburne, 'exponent of duty, servant of fact, pioneer of morality, she cannot in any way become, 'she would be none of those things though you were to bray 'her in a mortar. . . . It is at her peril if she tries to do ' good. Her business is not to do good but to be good.' Such a doctrine was at every point adverse to Mr. Watts's canon law. So far as the peril incurred was genuine, he courted it.
'The great majority of these [he writes of his works in the Exhibition of 1897] must be regarded rather as hieroglyphs than anything else, certainly not as more than symbols, which all Art was in the beginning, and which everything is that is not directly connected with physical conditions. In many cases the intention is frankly didactic; excuse for this, generally regarded as exasperating, being that it has been found, not seldom, that the attempts to reflect the thoughts of the most elevated minds of all ages, even in an unusual and halting language, have not been without interest at least, if without profit.
'Whatever type may have been used, classical, mediaval, or other, the endeavour has been to impress distinctly the direction of modern thought....'
His instinct, no doubt, modified perceptibly his aim, his aim his instinct. Each may have stimulated and restricted the other. But whether the embryo inspiration were of the eye's vision or the mind's evolving, it is essential in any study of his life-work to bear in mind that the principle he advocated, however disputable, was inseparably connected, if not incorporate, with his individual genius; that he was impelled intuitively to ascribe to each form of beauty, strength, grace, and dignity, to each revelation of colour, to each design in whose compass those forms and colours found a logical raison d'être, some vivid spiritual significance. Symbolism was not his choice, but his vocation. His individual proclivities determined its character. As a thinker the bent of his thought was towards intellectual, spiritual, and moral abstractions, their relationship to one another and man's relationship to them. His art became the
utterance of his thoughts. Further, his stronger impulses as a painter-even in portraiture they betray themselves-led not so much to the pictorial embodiment of what is external as to the pictorial externalisation of what is within. It follows that criticism cannot sever the artist from the thinker without misapprehension of both.
As a painter, power, dignity, directness, balance, sanity, a spiritualised human tenderness, an idealism based on truth to nature, are, with an ordered wealth and splendour of colour, characteristics of his works in their totality. The esthetic embodiment, the imaged form of the idea, was always in accord with the intellectual form of the thought. He was untinged by the subtleties, the caprices, and the incoherences of the symboliste of contemporary art. He was no disciple of those obscure cults where the idea is itself but a symbol of what lies beyond the idea, a cipher of a word which cannot be uttered, which cannot so much as clothe itself in the first envelope of consciousness-thought. Nor has he any leaning towards mysticism. His art is not a veil, but an exposition, an elucidation. His thoughts revolve in the circle of thoughts with which prophets and priests, old and new, have ever striven to arrest the errant steps of pilgrims who wander on the high road of the soul. They are moral, not speculative, and the interpretation his art gives to them is mainly that of accentuation and enforcement. Thus, setting aside technical considerations belonging to another plane of criticism, the study of what he names his 'hieroglyphics' is simplified. The difficulty for the lay picture-loving commonalty lies not in the comprehension of individual pictures, but in following the continuity of thought, in the recognition of the underlying unity of idea, of which each work manifests a phase or aspect. They line the walls like scattered sentences of torn pages; each, howsoever complete in itself, reminds us that the key to the full understanding of any rests in some ordered apprehension of all. His thoughts, no doubt, ran in wide currents, but there is as true a unity in direction as in centralisation, and it may be said that to their unvacillat
* T. Carlyle's verdict on his own portrait, now in the South Kensington Museum, ends with, from him, a singular criticism. 'Decidedly the most insufferable picture that has yet been made [of me], a delirious-looking mountebank, full of violence, awkwardness, atrocity and stupidity, without recognisable likeness to anything I have ever known in any feature of me. . . . .. The fault of Watts is a passionate pursuit of strength.'
ing unity of direction every severed fragment of his pictorial symbolism owes something of its impressiveness, its force and sincerity. Here his genius mirrors the heavens, there the earth; now a mountain, now a broken tendril of a vine, is reflected on the surface, but beneath one and all the river winds on to the predestined sea, and the intellectual processes of his art of thought reveal themselves as surely as, by another method of study, we learn the material processes of his art of painting. Catalogues tell of dates, of signature, of the facts collectors, past, present, and to come, require for identification and proof. Critics tell of mediums, methods and vehicles of the painter's craft, trace developements of youth, maturity and age, detect influences, appraise varying degrees of skill testified by failures and successes, analyse what is original, what derived or inherited, and define the artist's place in the general history of art. Such technicalities-interesting as they are-are beyond the range of discussion where the question considered is the position claimed by Mr. Watts as the Painter of Thought. Moreover, neither the colour sense, nor the sense of form and design, is conveyed with any appreciable exactitude by verbal disquisitions. The description of paintings as colour and composition has usually proved, of all descriptive efforts, the most ineffectual. The tones and scales and qualities of colour have few direct counterparts in language ; far-sought analogies, pressed into the service of speech, exhaust themselves, and only a vague, inconclusive approximation to the pictorial reality is the result. Colours luminous as in 'Olympus on Ida,' brilliant as in 'Charity,' dusky and soft as a moth's wing in the 'Death Angel' or 'Endymion,' colours which burn blue, red and green on the canvases of the symbols of abstract idea (for which he reserved his most intense hues), colours which deepen to purple or flame into the orange golds of winter sunrises, all these reach the eye of le passant in art as sounds the ear of the uninitiated music-lover, and the design gives coherence to their colours and rhythmic articulation to those tones. They make themselves felt like living things reflected in a living mirror, and this not by what they suggest to the mind but by what they impress on the vision. And here comes in the special demand of the painter of thought. To touch and stir the senses was not his ultimate endeavour. True, the rule holds good for him that if the artist desire to 'express certain philosophic conceptions by means of sym'bols he must never forget that, art being representative, the
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'symbols chosen must possess in themselves a charm inde'pendent of what they mean,' that art is picture-painting not picture-writing. Yet that the mind of the veriest passer-by shall stretch out its hands beyond the senses and grasp not only the esthetic impression but the ethical significance, is his avowed and asseverated intention.
As symbolist it is in the accurate correspondence between thought and form that Mr. Watts's genius lies. Very rarely does the climax of the idea clash with-if one may use the term-the climax of the pictorial interest. The rhythm, as it were, of sense and semblance runs parallel; the accents fall in the same place as the accent of the songword falls in accord with the accent of the melody-note. It is seldom that he uses a pictorially insignificant detail for the enunciation or even elucidation of the idea. There are exceptions. In 'Hope,' perhaps his most popular design, the epitome of the allegory lies in the pictorially unimportant fact that the lyre Hope holds has but one string. As design it is of little or no account whether there be one string or a full complement of strings. Symbolically that single string is charged with the concentrated sentiment of the whole picture. Again, in the figure of 'Faith' (clad in the colours of Charity and wearing Love's crimson heart), the sword she has sheathed is-as the stringless lyre-the summarised point of the parable. And here again pictorially it is of no account whether that blade be covered or bare. In a less degree in the large finished canvas of 'Progress,' he has used detail, apart from its pictorial value, more than is his wont, if not as emphasis, as interpretation. The scholar's dying taper, the goldseeker's coins, slide almost into narrative; moreover the one true Illuminate, the figure turning with eager arms towards the Sun-clad Rider, seems inadequately to portray its spiritual importance. These exceptions throw the general principles of his symbolism into relief. It is the absence of such interpretative details which gives to these works their characteristic breadth, strength, dignity. They are the symbolism of condensed impression and simple outline divested of the riddles of emblematic trivialities. Where some subtler touch of meaning may be ascribed as in the 'Fata Morgana' when the pursuing knight closes his grasp only on what veils the feu follet of his illusion-it is, one conjectures, by a mere pictorial chance the more complex note is struck.
Viewed in relation to thought, the ordering of Mr. Watts's works into some intellectually intelligible sequence
is not purely arbitrary. To paint in some sort a 'chronicle ' of life' would seem to have been the immense shadowy scheme which haunted his imagination. Of that vast record, indeed, he accomplished but some scattered pages. Yet in those few the thread of this central idea may be dimly discerned, and the trend of sentiment, more distinctly, may be deciphered. Life nascent he painted in Chaos. In themes drawn from Mosaic tradition he illustrated the phases of the beginnings of human life. In a second picture of origins, now called the Genius of Greek Poetry, he represents the creative imagination of man as a prelude to his treatment of classic myths. A third group of paintings are of subjects taken from mediæval and Renaissance literature. La vie contemporaine, except in his capacity as portraitpainter, has found little reflection in his art. Though his genius-too often overlooked-as landscape-painter evidences the depth of his sympathy for natural surroundings, there is, besides his portraits actual and imaginary, scarcely a theme taken from the common life of his century. 'Waiting,' 'Prayer,' 'Spring,' a girl at a half-open door, a woman, ragged and starved, under an arch, with some few others, make up the small sum total of their number. His life-work, as he himself would estimate it, lay elsewhere. For him it culminated in the paintings expressive of abstract ideas, of laws, powers, and dominions that condition life, in their relationship to one another and in their relationship to humanity, and on these he expended the full energy of his genius.
Thus classified, the starting-point of thought is the conception his pictures embody concerning the origins of things material and spiritual. The scene of Chaos' takes priority as the first episode in the drama of creation, the mysterium magnum of science and faith. Here, as elsewhere, he has discarded the imaginations of past classic literary tradition. Milton's vision of the
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave,'
is in singular opposition to the painter's. For the poet it was
Without dimension, where length, breadth, and height,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal anarchy. . . .