( Originally Published 1903 )
But the enquiry is naturally made, " if deception is undesirable, should the artist pause before he has brought his work to a complete finish ? " Finish is not dependent upon putting in everything which nature contains, else would art not be a matter of selection. Finish, though interpreted singularly by different artists as to degree, is universally understood to mean the same thing. Finish is the expression of the true relations of objects or of the parts of one object. When the true relations or values of shade and color are rendered the work is complete. That ends it. The student for the first year or so imagines his salvation depends on detail and prides himself on how much of it he can see. The instructor insists on his looking at nature with his eyes half closed in the hope that he will take the big end of things. There is war between them until the student capitulates, after which the instructor tells him to go as he pleases knowing with this lesson learned he will not go wrong.
As a comprehensive example of finish without detail, one may take the works of Mauve which aim to represent nature as truly as possible in her exact tints. No one can observe any picture ever painted by this master and not be drawn down close to the ground that he may walk on it or elevate his head into the air and breathe it or feel it possible to send a stone sailing into its liquid depths; but finish! when we look for it where or what is it? At the Stewart Gallery the attendant was accustomed to offer the visitor a magnifying glass with which to examine the lustre of a horse's eye or the buckles upon Napoleon's saddle, in the " Review of Cuirassiers at the Battle of Friedland " by Meissonier. These items are what interested the great detailist and they are perfect ; but with all the intense effort of six close years of labor the picture has less real finish than any work ever signed by Mauve. The big thing in finish has been missed and I doubt if any artist or connoisseur has ever come upon this picture, now in the Metropolitan Museum, without a slight gasp at the false relation of color existing between the green wheat, the horses trampling through it and the sky above it. The unity of these elements was the first step in finish and the artist with all his vast knowledge of little things never knew it.
If then, perfect finish is a matter beyond de-tail, it follows it must be looked for elsewhere than at this end of nature.
The average man soon takes the artist's intention and accepts the work on this basis, thinking not of finish nor of its lack, but of nature; acknowledging through the suggestions of the picture that he has been touched by her.
" During these moments," says John La Farge in his " Considerations on Painting," "are not the spectators excusable who live for the moment a serene existence, feeling as if they had made the work they admire?"
The argument then is that the master painter is one who selects the subject, takes precious care that its foundation quantities and qualities are furnished and then hands it over to any one to finish. That it falls into sympathetic hands is his single solicitude.
" It requires two men to paint a picture," says Mr. Hopkinson Smith, " one to work the brush and the other to kill the artist when he has finished his picture and doesn't know it."