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Portrait Art

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


The portrait and the bust, which reproduce the forms of nature most perfectly, are not necessarily entitled to the highest rank; and when they are entitled to it, like the works of Titian or Velasquez, they rank thus not merely on account of the accuracy of their imitation, but also because, in addition to this, they have the quality to which Sir Joshua Reynolds referred when he snapped his fingers, saying of a work, " It wants that." No matter, at present, what this quality is. . Just now, it is enough for us to recognize that the value of a portrait or a bust does not depend alone upon its accuracy as a copy. Nor, even were this the case, could "natural," as the term is used, be applied to it with any more propriety than to a picture of the Madonna, whom Raphael never saw; or to a landscape of scenes in Greece which Rottmann never beheld; or to a statue of the struggles of a Laocoön, which existed only in the brain of a Virgil.—Idem, XII.


It may be said that when any portrait is to be painted, that of which the great artist thinks is not merely outline and color, but the thoughts and emotions which outline and color, in the particular face before him, can be made to suggest. He asks what is the character, and what is the influence upon the mind, of the particular character that is to be portrayed. Take a boy. If he be athletic in his tendencies, his character may be best brought out by standing him up in a lawn-tennis suit with a racket in his hand: if studious, by sitting him down with a book. In both cases, the pose can be made to tell its own story. In the latter case, if he be gazing up from his book with a dreamy, far-away look in his eyes, the picture, though a portrait, may be made to have all the interest that might attach to an idealization named " The Young Newton, " or " The Young Scott"; and, no matter whose boy it may be, he will seem interesting to every one. What makes any portrait the opposite, is less the fact that the person portrayed is uninteresting, than the fact that the artist has not had enough penetration to discover what the traits are that are interesting, uniformly and universally; or the ingenuity to extract them from their lurking-places and reveal and emphasize them.—Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XIV.


To go back to portraits. By the exercise of a little brain-work it is always possible, in picturing a person, to introduce something which, without verbal interpretation, will represent, and enable the mind to recognize, his character. This causes what is termed ideal portraiture.—Idem.


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