Province Of Painting
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
I now therefore proceed to assign to each art the appropriate sphere or province in which it is especially adapted to move, being moreover that to which, and to which alone it properly belongs.
The peculiar province or distinctive department of the art of painting is to represent with fidelity and force, so as to afford a near resemblance of those subjects, real objects and scenes in nature, as they actually appear to the eye, which is the organ of sense that is availed of in the pursuit of this art. Painting is also adapted for the representation of imaginary scenes in which fictitious personages and transactions are portrayed as though they were existent, by means of which it is fitted for the description of, and for recording with the utmost exactness, fulness, and force, and presenting before the mind leading ideas of transactions of every variety, and of great importance, either on account of the interest they possess, or the results they produce, and which occupied but a limited space in their performance, so that the most prominent and important matters or individuals in such transaction may be exhibited at one view. Historical and tragic, and also domestic events, are thus narrated at some particular period of their occurrence. Moreover, by means of this art, the portraits of living characters, presenting them exactly as they appeared, by which we seem to retain among us their very persons, are effected, and are preserved for future generations.
Through the art of painting we also obtain an accurate and forcible representation of views of landscapes such as they are seen in nature, by means of which the appearance of distant countries is accurately made known to us, in all their various characteristics.
In historical representations in painting, the greatest truth and force are evinced, and the real figures of each of the actors in the scene appear to be before us, although destitute of voice and motion. Another advantage which this art possesses is, that the description is intelligible to all persons alike, of whatever language or clime, as it is in the universal language of nature that they are addressed. The exhibition of character and passion and emotion applies itself with equal vigour to the understanding of every individual, of whatever nation or tongue.
The leading elements of painting are shape, colour, light and shade, and perspective. Its power to excite the mind it owes to language, ocular indeed but not oral, which, like verbal language, varies with the style and school of the art. A transaction present, or lately passed, can alone be de-scribed by painting, and not, as in poetry, the continuous narration of an event; although to what extent this rule is capable of being relaxed, I shall endeavour to point out in a future chapter,* where this part of the subject is more particularly discussed. But as there are many objects and scenes which it is out of the power of painting and sculpture to represent, and which can only be communicated by words; so there are also many objects and scenes which painting and sculpture alone can adequately, or indeed at all efficiently depict, and of which words wholly fail to convey any apt notions. And in all eases, painting and sculpture are far more precise and complete than are either poetry or eloquence, in the portrayal or production of the ideas which they serve to call forth.
Painting is in its manner the most definite and distinctive of all the arts ; what it effects it effects the most completely, although its scope in some respects is the most limited of that of any of them. But though colour and form, and light and shade, and perspective are its only elements, yet it is able to convey ideas of action as well as of substance.
Painting, originally confined to the representation of natural objects, in its higher walk embraces subjects most remote from matter ; and even the inmost feelings and cogitations of the soul it is sometimes successful in describing.