Color - Texture, Atmosphere, Tone
( Originally Published 1913 )
In our previous talk about color we have laid great stress on the relation of one color to another. We have not thought of red, for example, as beautiful by itself, but as one of a family of colors, whose beauty consists in their relation to one another. And this related beauty we have spoken of as color harmony.
"Behold how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity." So said the Psalmist, and his words might be applied to the unity of colors. He did not mean that everybody shall be of a like mind; there will always be differences of character among relations and the best of friends; but they will agree to differ; and their very differences make their unity or harmony the more real and good. Such is the harmony among colors; a union of differences or contrasts, as well as of similarities ; of variety of values of color related into a harmonious unity.
On the other hand, though the beauty of colors is chiefly to be found in their relations to one an-other, there are separate possibilities of beauty to each color. And if each displays its own share of these the general beauty of the harmony will be in-creased. Some of the possibilities are texture, quality, and tone.
Texture first. It is derived from the Latin word, textum,—something woven. Texture, in its original meaning, represents what has been produced by weaving. A lady, when she is shopping, presses the linen or silk, or cotton goods between her fingers in order to judge of their texture ; whether it is closely or loosely woven, whether it is hard or smooth to the touch. Secondly, the word is used of a thing made by any other means than weaving. We speak, for example, of the texture of paper; and judge of its texture by the feel of it. Thirdly, it has come to be used of any material, whether made by man or nature. Thus we say that oak has a very close texture ; glass is of firm but brittle texture ; butter is greasy in texture, and so on. Finally, the word is used in a very general way to describe the character of any substance, especially the kind of surface that it has. So we say of the flesh of a healthy baby, that its texture is firm and silky; and we speak of the glossy texture of a polished table; the downy texture of a young chicken's breast, or the velvety texture of a peach. In one word, texture is the quality of a thing that we discover by touching it.
Texture appeals to our sense of touch. It ex-cites in us a, variety of feelings, pleasant or unpleasant. I need not tell you how disagreeable the texture of sharp rocks may be to your bare feet, when you are bathing; what a relief it is to them to feel the texture of sand. Some of you, I am sure, are conscious of the pleasure you derive from handling things. You have discovered for yourselves what a lot of feeling you have in the tips of your fingers. You would enjoy handling the red box in Whistler's picture: and your touch would be very careful and delicate. Not alone because the box is valuable, but because it is only with a delicate touch that you can appreciate the exquisite smoothness of the lacquer.
The latter is a varnish composed of the gum of a certain tree. The Japanese workman lays it over the box very thinly, and, when it is thoroughly dried, rubs the surface until it is perfectly smooth. Then he applies another coating of lacquer and again rubs, continuing the process several times, until at last, the surface shows not a single flaw or inequality, and is smooth and silky beyond the description of any words. It is only by the look of it, and still more, by the feel of it, that you can appreciate the exquisite finish of the surface ; and your delight in it is mingled with almost a reverence for the patience and love of the craftsman, who could work so long and so faithfully to make this little work of art perfect in its beauty and beautiful in its perfection. Compared with this lacquer box, the texture of an ordinary polished table or piano seems coarse and commonplace.
I might go on to speak of the different kinds of sensation that you would enjoy if you touched the waxy petals of the camelia. But it is not necessary.
For if you have a joy in the sense of touch I need not try to tell you about it. I will only ask you to wait a few minutes, until we see how the enjoyment derived from texture enters into the appreciation of a picture.
Meanwhile, if any of you have not as yet been conscious of getting this sort of pleasure through your fingers, let me say that this does not prove that you have no feeling for textures. I think that you have had it unconsciously; for I suspect that the pleasure that you take in flowers is not only because of their shape and color. As you have examined the beauty of roses, the texture of their petals has not escaped you. In one case, how silky; in another, how softly crumpled; in another, how delicately waxen! You may never have put these ideas into words, or even been conscious of them ; but do you not see, now I mention these textures, that they have had a good deal to do with your pleasure in, the roses ? It may be, after all, the difference in the texture that makes you prefer one rose to another.
However, whether this be so or not, the fact re-mains that a great number of people derive pleasure from the textures of objects. So let us now see how the artist, who, as I have said before, has instincts and feelings like our own, takes advantage of this feeling for texture to add to the beauty of his picture.
We shall often see a picture in which the textures are not represented. Even modern pictures sometimes fail in this respect; and it is a very common fault with early American pictures, painted by artists who had not the advantage of training that the modern student enjoys. I will quote the case of John Singleton Copley, a very famous painter of the Colonial Period, who lived in Boston and made portraits of the well-to-do men and women of the time, just preceding the Revolution. Before the latter broke out, he went to England, where he spent the rest of his life and was highly thought of. ` His portraits are handsome as pictures for they represent men and women, mostly of elegant manners in handsome clothes. They also give the impression of being good likenesses. Yet his pictures lack animation. The figures and the costumes are stiff and hard. This is partly due to there being no suggestion of atmosphere surrounding them. The picture is not filled with air and light, as we found Vermeer's was. But there is another reason. Copley was unskilful in the presentation of textures.
The flesh and hair, the materials of the costumes, the furniture and ornaments, present no differences of texture. All seem to have a uniformly hard surface, as if they were made of wood or tin. The result is that the whole picture seems hard and stiff-lacking in animation. If you ask me why this lack of animation is caused by the artist's neglect of textures, I think the answer is that Copley has not given to everything in his picture its own separate, particular character. For when you come to think of it,—and the dictionary meaning of the word textures, bears me out—the character of everything depends so much upon its texture; whether it is hard or soft, smooth or rough, glossy or dull, and so on. Now, if there were a number of girls and boys in the room, all sitting round with the same dull expression on their faces, we should say that the whole group lacked animation. What makes a party animated and lively, is the fact that it is composed of a number of persons, each having a separate character to which he or she gives free play. The more easily and naturally each exhibits his or her character, the more animated and lively will be the fun of the party.
Now, do you not see how this applies to a picture ? The artist invites a number of different textures to his party or composition. Surely the party will be lacking in animation if he does not bring out the special character of each. The lady's face and hands will not contribute their full share to the animation of the whole composition, unless the character of their texture is expressed. It will not be enough to represent only the coloring of the flesh, for its beauty depends also upon its firmness and softness. Her satin dress will lose half its charm, if we are only made to see its shine and gloss. We know satin to be also soft and thin, ready to arrange itself in all sorts of delicate folds. This is a chief charm in the character of satin; and if this particular satin does not exhibit these qualities of texture, the dress will not do its proper share in helping the animation of the figure. Well ! if you agree with me about the satin dress, I think that you will see that the same thing holds good of the table on which her arm is resting, and the glass vase with carnations in it that stands near her hand. Do you not think that the character of the hand will be better expressed, if the separate characters also of the polished wood, the hard shiny cut glass, and the soft velvety flowers are playing their part? They may not be so important as the woman and her dress, but in a composition as in a party, everybody must do their share, if the affair is to be a complete success.
The first great masters in the rendering of textures were the old Flemish artists of the Fifteenth Century—the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, for example, and Hans Memling. Their country,—what we now call Belgium—had long been famous for its textiles. Silks, linens, cloths and velvets—its gold and silver and other metal work, its manufacture and decorating of glass. The Flemish were a nation of craftsmen, skilled in the production of the most beautiful articles of domestic use and church worship. And this love for objects of beautiful workmanship was shared by her painters. They represented them in their pictures. They painted not only the character of the men and women of the time, but the character of the life in which they lived, and did this by surrounding them with the furniture and objects that gave distinction to their lives. So the very rug on the floor, the glass in the windows, the mirror on the wall in its highly wrought frame, as well as the clothes worn by these quiet, serious men and women, have a choiceness of feeling. The room is not simply furnished, much less is it cluttered up with all kinds of tasteless Department Store " objets d'art." Every thing in it has its own distinction of beauty, suggesting the taste and refinement of its owners, and so by its own character contributing to our appreciation of the character of the men and women in the picture.
Another great master of texture was the German artist of the Sixteenth Century, Hans Holbein the younger. He too loved things of delicate and exquisite craftsmanship and often made designs of such things for the workmen of his native city, Augsburg. So he was fond of introducing such articles into his pictures. It was a joy to him to paint them, each one with its own individual character of texture. Still, notwithstanding his love of them, he only puts them into his pictures when their character will help the character of his main subject. So, when he paints the portrait of a rich merchant of taste, like Georg Gyze in his office, he surrounds him with many objects related to his work—inkpot, seal, scissors, ledger, and can for holding string, letters, and a scale for weighing money. There is a profusion of beautifully fashioned objects, but they all by their separate characters help us to understand more fully the character of the merchant himself. On the other hand, since characterization was Holbein's main purpose, he treats the portrait of the great scholar Erasmus, differently. Here he introduces only a small writing desk, a sheet of paper on it, and a pen in the scholar's hand. These remind us that Erasmus was a writer; while the handsome rings on his fingers and a piece of finely woven material on the wall, tell us of another side of his character that beside his love of learning, he had a taste for the beautiful things of life.
Looking back then over what we have been saying, we find that when the artist suggests to us the different kinds of sensation we may receive from touching things, he greatly increases the expressiveness of his pictures. By rendering or representing the textures, as well as the form and color of objects, he accomplishes at least four results. Firstly, he makes the objects more life-like; we feel as if we might really handle them and receive the sensation that such objects, if they were real, would give us. Secondly, he gives us a more keen enjoyment of their beauty; consciously or unconsciously we receive a sensation of the pleasure of handling them. Thirdly, the increased life-likeness and beauty increases the general animation of the whole picture. Fourthly, this rendering of the separate character of each object contributes to our understanding and, appreciation of the character of the whole subject. To sum up, the rendering of textures suggests reality, beauty, animations and character.
Atmosphere we have already alluded to in previous chapters. We saw how Vermeer filled the scene of his picture with lighted air; and, in discussing color, we talked of it first as light, and then went on to study how the light which is in the air affects the light which is reflected from all objects that are visible. We found that colors differ from one another in the quantity of light they contain : in what artists call their values; the value of red, for example, being different from the value of blue or green. Also we found that each single color may have variations of value, according to the quantity and direction of the light which falls upon it.
All this, you may say, has more to do with light than atmosphere. But the two are really united. What we call atmosphere, as you know, is the volume of gases which surrounds the earth. The particles from these gases are lit up by the light. We cannot see the particles, only the reflections of light thrown off by them. But though we cannot see the particles themselves, they can interfere with our seeing of other things. It is the layers or veils of atmosphere that lie between us and a distant hill, that prevent our seeing the bright green grass on the latter and the dark green fir trees. Seen through the atmosphere, the colors of the hill appear subdued, the very form and bulk of the ground flattened and, perhaps, indistinct.
This effect of atmosphere is one of the things that we are now going to discuss. The other is that atmosphere penetrates every where. Suppose we be-gin with the second point. The atmosphere is in one respect like water; it is a fluid. It flows in and out and around about and fills the whole space that is not occupied by some other body. But have you thought what this means to an artist? Or at least to some artists; for we said that Copley's pictures contained little or no suggestion of atmosphere. And the same may be said of a great many pictures by modern artists. They represent the form and color of things, but do not suggest that they are surrounded, or, as is often said, enveloped in atmosphere.
Why is this ? Well! in the first place, as you re-member, there are many artists who do not profess to represent nature. When they use nature as a model, it is for the purpose only of getting the forms of nature, and these they improve upon, as they will tell you, so as to make the forms in their picture " ideally perfect." These " Academic " or " classic " painters as I have already said, think of art as separate from nature. On the other hand, even among those who think of art as a means of interpreting nature, there are many artists who never put atmosphere into their pictures. Or, if they do, it is not nature's atmosphere.
Then what sort of atmosphere is it? I call it a studio atmosphere, because it is manufactured in the studio. The artist, feeling the need of softening the hard outlines of his figures and of subduing any harshness of color, spreads over the picture thin layers of transparent, slightly colored varnish. Through these glazes, as, they are called, the forms and colors are seen, somewhat as if you were looking at them through a piece of colored glass, and the effect is to merge or bathe them in a glow of atmosphere.
This was a usual practice with the great colorists of the Italian Renaissance. Correggio's ,pictures, for example, are prized for their golden glow. It is one of the reasons of their beauty. But then, his idea was not to interpret nature. His subjects were drawn from the Bible, or the Christian religion, or Greek Mythology, and he treated them as his imagination suggested. He saw them through the glow of his own imagination, and surrounded them with a glow that seems to place them far away from actual things in a beautiful world of their own. Similarly, modern colorists, when they create pictures out of their own imagination, will suffuse them with an artificial atmosphere that helps to express the spirit of the scene. In fact, these atmospheric effects, produced by glazing, are beautiful and proper in their place. But their place is not in pictures that profess to be studies of nature. In these it is as wrong to suggest an unnatural atmosphere, as it is to leave out all suggestion of atmosphere whatsoever, which is, perhaps, the more usual fault.
Since the true rendering of atmosphere is a part of the true representation of light and color, you will not be surprised to learn that it appeared in the pictures of Velasquez and of the Dutchmen of the Seventeenth Century. We have already spoken of it in the case of Vermeer. It was from these artists that modern colorists, beginning about 1860, have learned to study the effects of atmosphere and light. They have carried the study even further than the elder men. Indeed, the rendering of light and atmosphere has been the most distinct triumph of mod-ern painting. There are two reasons for this.
One is, that with the advance of scientific studies and mechanical inventions, people have become more than ever interested in the every day facts of life; and the writers, painters, and sculptors, following with the stream, have studied more and more how to represent life and its surroundings, not as we may dream they should be, but as they are known to our actual experience. They have become ardent " realists " or " naturalists." " Realists," because they are occupied with what we are in the habit of calling the realities of life.' " Naturalists," because they love nature and try to represent her actual appearances, as they are enveloped in and affected by light and atmosphere.
The second cause of the modern advance in rendering these qualities is again due to scientific discoveries. Scientific men have made a close study of light and color and the painters have profited by the results. Painting, in a measure, has joined hands with science.
However, now that we have seen why some artists do not put atmosphere into their pictures, and that among those who do some manufacture an atmosphere of their own, while others try to render nature's atmosphere, let us study for ourselves the effect of atmosphere in nature. It will help us, if I begin by telling what we expect to find. First then, that the outlines of objects are softened; secondly, that the bulk of things seems flattened; and thirdly, that as objects recede or stand further off from our eyes, their forms becomes more and more indistinct and their colors change.
As to the first. Suppose you are standing on a street or country road, and a wagon passes you. While it is close in front of you, the body of the wagon and the wheels and the man driving, all are clearly outlined; you can distinguish distinctly the parts of the wagon and the character of the man's figure, whether it is fat or thin, strong or weak-looking; and so on. But, as the wagon passes along the road, its appearance changes. At first, it is the smaller details that disappear; they have, become merged in the general mass; then the outlines of this mass grow less and less distinct ; you could not be sure now, unless you had seen the wagon close, exactly what its build is; nor does one part seem nearer to you than another, its bulk has become flattened, and gradually the whole affair looks to be only a patch of color against the color of the road.
Do you remember, it was as patches we saw the cows which we met early in our talk ? The reason then given for their appearance was that our eyes were not strong enough to distinguish their details at such a distance. And this reason also holds good in the case of the wagon. But it is not only the distance that reduces our power of seeing, but also the layers, or veils of atmosphere that hang between us and the object. We are sure of this on a foggy day, when the mist lies low over the country or city, and trees and tall buildings loom up like blurs, and everything beyond the distance of a few hundred paces is blotted from sight. But the fog or mist is only the atmosphere more moist than usual and with its moisture condensed by cooling.
When you breathe on a mirror, the damp of your breath is condensed by the coolness of the glass. A film of mist forms over the mirror. Of an evening you may see the mist lying over the river or meadows ; for the sun is gone down and the earth and air are cooling. But the upper air cools more quickly than the lower part, since the latter is still warmed by the heat stored in the earth. So, as the cooler air from above drops down, it acts like a mirror to the breath of the earth or the air that lies close over it; and this air is condensed into mist. All through the night both air and earth are cooling, but the earth more slowly, so that there is still a meeting of cooler and warmer air and consequent condensations, and the mist is hovering over the meadows when the next morning's sun rises. As the sun mounts up, it begins to spread its warmth and the upper air is the first to feel it. Growing warm, it rises, drawing up after it the cooler air below. And as the cooler air is sucked up, the warmer air closes in behind it; until, as this circulation of cool and warm continues, the warmth at last reaches down to the mists above the earth. And then commences that beautiful sight that you may see on some summer mornings. The mists, that a while ago lay like a blanket over the sleeping earth, begin to stir, as if they themselves were awakening from sleep. They tremble a little, then slowly stretch themselves, and begin to rise to meet the warmth of day. And as they rise, little wisps of mist become detached from the main body and float up and disappear, until gradually the whole rising mass is rent asunder by the currents of warm air into shreds and wreaths, which curl and float and soar and at last lose themselves in the warmth that now wraps the earth.
later in the day, if the weather is very hot the air, close above the ground, becomes so heated that it rises very quickly, and we see a shimmer of light upon its shifting patches. I mention this, because I wish you to think of atmosphere, not only as veils of gauze hung between us and objects we are looking at, but also as a moving, palpitating, vibrating fluid. We will talk a little more about this presently. Meanwhile, let us note some of the effects of atmosphere upon form and color.
We have mentioned that it softens the outlines of objects. This is only another way of saying that the objects appear less distinct; that even a chimney, though it cuts against the sky in strong contrast, has not really hard sharp outlines. At first sight you will think, perhaps, that it has; just as the cornices of the roofs may seem to you to have hard lines, and the windows and doorways to be sharply outlined. But they do not appear so to an artist's eye, and will not to yours in time, if you are observant. Suppose an artist with pen and ink should draw one of these houses, using a straight edge to make the outline hard and sharp. This is how an architect draws the design of a house, because his object is to make an exact drawing for the builder to work by. But, if you have seen one of these architectural drawings, you will recognise, I think, that it does not look natural; that some-how or other it is too precise and tight and hard to suggest the appearance of an actual house. If this were his object, the architect himself would draw the house differently. He would make what is called a free-hand drawing. He would no longer represent the edges of cornices and chimneys and so on, with continuous lines ; he would " break them up "; lifting his pen for a moment and leaving a tiny space of white before he continues the line; making the line thicker or thinner as he went along, and occasionally pressing on his pen to produce a dot. In these ways he will break up all the. edges and out-lines that they may not be too hard, but may have the less distinct appearance that the lines of the actual house present to his eye. For the same reason when he draws any bits of carving, such as the capitals of the columns of the front door, he will not represent every detail exactly, as if he were making a working drawing for the carver. He will leave out some and break up others, so that, although he plainly indicates the style and character of the ornament, it will not seem hard and sharp, but softened, and a trifle indistinct, as the capital appears to his eye. He will, in fact, make allowances for the softening effects of atmosphere.
Up to this point we have imagined the penman-ship to be concerned only with the lines. Now let us see how a great pen-artist, like Joseph Pennell, or Edwin A. Abbey, would carry his drawing further. He would see the house, not as a skeleton of lines, but as a mass, part of which is silhouetted against the sky, while the rest is seen in relation to the other buildings or objects that stand near it. Each according to his own individual technique, that is to say, his own particular way of using the pen, will make his building a mass distinct from the masses of the other buildings, of the ground, and of the sky. And on the masses of buildings he will make the windows appear as they do in the actual building—namely, as patches, darker in color than the walls. All this he will do, because to his eye the different objects, under the influence of the atmosphere, appear as masses of various colors in relation to one another. More than this, when you have grown to appreciate fully the work of Pennell and Abbey, you will find that, though it is done in black and white, it seems to suggest color.
Elsewhere I have spoken of the fact that many artists, especially modern ones, see nature as an arrangement of colored spaces or masses in relation to one another. This implies that they are very little conscious of the edges or outlines of the masses. If they think of them at all, it is to try and prevent your noticing them in their pictures. They paint, for example, the head, and shoulders, and cheek of a man, a bust portrait—with a dark back-ground. If you examine the picture closely, you will not find a sharp line, separating the head from the background. In fact the color of the hair and cheek seems to extend a little way into the dark of the background. The artist has dragged his brush round the head, so that it is impossible to say just where the background begins. The reason for this you understand, as soon as you step back and look at the picture from a short distance off. The head appears very solid; we can believe there is really a hard skull beneath the full flesh of the cheeks and the tight skin of. the forehead. Yet the head does not seem to be stuck against the background, like a postage stamp on an envelope. Indeed, if the picture is well painted, the dark part is not really a background. That is to say, it is not merely some-thing behind the head; it seems to have depth and to go back, but it also comes forward and surrounds the head. The latter does not stick out of the picture, it keeps its place back within the frame, enveloped in atmosphere that, though it is very dark, is penetrable. You feel, that is to say, that your hand could be pushed through it without coming up against some wall, as it were, that would stop it.
Now I particularly wished you to notice that the head suggested to us that hardness of the skull and the varying firmness and tightness of the flesh. For it proves that the softening of the outline will not interfere with the feeling of hardness and strength, or firmness in the mass. The effect, indeed, is to increase it, since out attention is concentrated on the head and not distracted to the outline. On the other hand, do not suppose that the softening of out-lines is always intended to increase the suggestion of solidity. It may be part of an entirely opposite intention; namely, to lose sight of the idea of solidity of mass. For example, the French landscape artist, Corot, often represented the masses of the trees as soft, dark blurs against the soft light of the sky. For he loved especially the early dawn and late evening, when the light is very faint and in the hush the trees loom up like quiet spirits. Ile wished you to feel their presence, but not to be conscious of their solidity and bulk. He, you see, used the softened outline for a different purpose; which shows that in art, as in other matters, a single principle may be applied variously in different cases.
These tree-presences of Corot are painted very flatly. The roundness of their bulk disappears into a fiat mass. It was one of the ways in which he avoided the suggestion of solidity. But here again comes in the fact that a principle may have other applications ; for flatness does not necessarily make the object appear unsubstantial. A house does not look so, yet its front may be flat. And Corot, as other artists, and as you may, if you use your eyes, had discovered that in the open air all objects appear flatter than they do indoors. The reason is that in the case of a room lighted by windows, the light is always stronger near the windows than it is in parts of the room further removed. The light is unequally distributed, so that there are more shadows to throw up the bulk of objects. But out of doors the light is more diffused; more equally distributed. Moreover, we view things from a greater distance, so that more atmosphere intervenes. The effect of both these facts is to make the masses of objects seem flatter. The lawn from a little distance may look very smooth; but, when you walk over it, you find the grass needs to be cut and the bumps to be rolled before you can play croquet. That maple, too, is a sturdy, solid fellow, but as you see its mass of pale green against the darker mass of hemlock, both seem flatter than they do when you are climbing among their branches.
In speaking of the softening of outline and flattening of bulk due to atmosphere we have frequently alluded to the effect of distance on the appearance of objects. The further off the latter are, the more atmosphere will intervene, the less distinct will they appear. In the case of distant hills, the ups and downs of the ground, the bulk of the trees, even the stability and massiveness of " the everlasting hills," may be softened and flattened into what seems to be only a faint mass of color.
Perhaps we have walked over these hills and know them to be carpeted with grass ; the greens also of the maples, oaks, cypress, each with its separate hue, attracted our attention. But to-day, from a distance, all these greens are lost in a vaporous hue of blue. It is this effect of atmosphere on color that we will now talk about. It is easy to notice in the case of the hills because of the great quantity of atmosphere that intervenes between us and them. But, if there were a row of maples ex-tending from the hills to us, so placed that we could look along their entire length, we should find the appearance of their color gradually changing, as they recede from our eyes. In a word, to the sensitive eye of the artist the colors of even nearby objects are affected by atmosphere.
Now, those hills appear to be blue; another day, they will incline more to grey; yet another day to violet or purple, or pinkish. In winter time, around New York, they would very likely take on a dry, whitish color. In fact, the color will vary ac-cording to the condition of the atmosphere and the quality of the light ; depending upon how moist or dry, how warm or chill, the atmosphere may be, and whether the light is yellow or golden, grey or white, full or feeble, and so on. It is these constant variations of lighted atmosphere that give continually fresh interest to the beauty of nature. Nature never wearies us by being always the same. It is like a human face; whose expression is continually changing.
Sometimes we see a beautiful human face, with almost perfect features. But behind that beautiful mask may be a very dull, uninteresting mind. If so, the expression of the face will be passive, the opposite, that is to say, to active. It will not leap from grave to gay; kindle, sparkle, grow tender, or angry and joyful by turns. It will be—" faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null"—no expression. And we may even tire of its beauty; while a face, less perfect in features, may win us more and more and hold our interest by the charm of its continually varying expression. The more we think of it, the more do we realise that beauty depends upon expression. It is the same with nature as with the human face. Its beauty is affected by expression and this is produced by the varieties in the lighted atmosphere.
A moment's thought will satisfy you of this. Nature's features vary with the seasons, but change little from day to day. Every morning, during the summer vacation, the same objects greet your eye, but how differently you feel towards them, according to what we call the weather, which after all is the condition of the atmosphere. One day the familiar features of the landscape will take on an expression of gladness, some other day of dullness; and the more we study the features, the more variable will their expression appear from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season.
I spoke just now of the movement of the atmosphere. It is a fluid, that one day may be as still as a forest pool, another day may be stirred like the ocean. We cannot see its particles, but we do see the light reflected from them; and, I suppose, it is the differences in the appearances of the lighted reflections that make us conscious of the stillness or movement of the atmosphere on days when there is no wind. We need not be very sensitive to nature to notice these differences of the atmosphere at different seasons of the year; how, on certain winter days, the air seems absolutely motionless; while on other days it seems alert and sprightly; how in early spring it seems astir with gentle life, while in summer or autumn it may be alive with animation or heavy with drowsy languor.
The motionless air of winter has been rendered with marvellous truth by John H. Twachtman; the stir of spring by Dwight W. Tryon; the active air of summer by Childe Hassam, and its languorous drowsiness by George Inness. All these are American artists, whom I mention only as examples. For much of the beauty of modern art, both American and foreign, is due to the sensitive rendering of the variations in the atmosphere. For, the best artists now-a-days are not satisfied to paint the features of nature only; they aim to depict the varying expressions on her face. And the chief cause, as I have said, of these variations is the constant change in the conditions of the lighted atmosphere.