Workers In Art
( Originally Published 1884 )
Sir Joshua Reynolds on the Power of Industry in Art. Humble Origin of Eminent Artists. Acquisition of Wealth not the Ruling Motive with Artists.—Michael Angelo on Riches.—Patient Labors of Michael Angelo and Titian.—West's Early Success a Disadvantage.--Richard Wilson and Zuccarelli.—Sir Joshua Reynolds, Blake, Bird, Gainesborough, and Hogarth, as Boy Artists.—Hogarth a Keen Observer.—Banks and Mutready.—Claude, Lorraine and Turner: their Indefatigable Industry.—Perrier and Jacques Callot, and their Visits to Rome.—Callot and the Gypsies.—Benvenuto Cellini, Goldsmith and Musician: his Ambition to Excel.—Casting of His Statue of Perseus.
" If what shone afar so grand,
EXCELLENCE in art, as in everything else, can only be achieved by dint of painstaking labor. There is nothing less accidental than the painting of a fine picture or the chiselling of a noble statue. Every skilled touch of the artist's brush or chisel, though guided by genius, is the product of unremitting study.
Sir Joshua Reynolds was such a believer in the force of industry, that he held that artistic excellence, " however expressed by genius, taste, or the gift of heaven, may be acquired." Writing to Barry he said, " Whoever is resolved to excel in painting, or indeed any other art must bring all his mind to bear upon that one object from the moment that he rises till he goes to bed." And on another occasion he said, " Those who are resolved to excel must go to their work willing or unwilling, morning, noon, and night: they will find it no play, but very hard labor." But although diligent application is no doubt absolutely necessary for the achievement of the highest distinction in art, it is equally true that without the inborn genius, no amount of mere industry, however well applied, will make an artist. The gift comes by nature, but is perfected by self culture, which is of more avail than all the imparted education of the schools.
Some of the greatest artists have had to force their way upward in the face of poverty and manifold obstructions. Illustrious instances will at once flash upon the reader's mind. Claude Lorraine, the pastry-cook; Tintoretto, the dyer; the two Caravaggios, the one a color-grinder, the other a mortar-carrier at the Vatican; Salvator Rosa, the associate of bandits; Giotto, the peasant-boy; Zingaro, the gypsy; Cavedone, turned out of doors to beg by his father; Canova, the stone-cutter; these, and many other well-known artists, succeeded in achieving distinction by severe study and labor, under circumstances the most adverse.
Nor have the most distinguished artists of our own country been horn in a position of life more than ordinarily favorable to the culture of artistic genius. Gains borough and Bacon were the sons of cloth-workers;
Barry was an Irish sailor-boy, and Maclise a banker's apprentice at Cork; Opie and Romney, like Inigo Jones, were carpenters; West was the son of a small Quaker farmer in Pennsylvania; Northcote was a watchmaker, Jackson a tailor, and Etty a printer; Reynolds, Wilson, and Wilkie were the sons of clergymen; Lawrence was the son of a publican, and Turner of a barber. Several of our painters, it is true, originally had some connection with art, though in a very humble way, such as Floxman, whose father sold plaster casts; Bird, who ornamented tea-trays; Martin, who was a coach painter; Wright and Gilpin, who were ship-painters; Chantrey, who was a carver and gilder; and David Cox, Stanfield, and Roberts, who were scene-painters.
It was not by luck or accident that these men achieved distinction, but by sheer industry and hard work. Though some achieved wealth, yet this was rarely, if ever, their ruling motive. Indeed, no mere love of money could sustain the efforts of the artist in his early career of self-denial and application. The pleasure of the pursuit has always been its best reward; the wealth which followed but an accident. Many noble-minded artists have preferred following the bent of their genius to chaffering with the public for terms. Spagnoletto verified in his life the beautiful fiction of Xenophon, and after he had acquired the means of luxury, preferred withdrawing himself from their influence, and voluntarily returned to poverty and labor. When Michael Angelo was asked his opinion respecting a work which a painter had taken great pains to exhibit. for profit, he said, " I think that he will be a poor fellow so long as he shows such an extreme eagerness to be-come rich."
Like Sir Joshua Reynolds, Michael Angelo was a great believer in the force of labor; and he held that there was nothing which the imagination conceived that could not be embodied in marble, if the hand were made vigorously to obey the mind. He was himself one of the most indefatigable of workers; and he attributed his power of studying for a greater number-of hours than most of his contemporaries, to his spare habits of living. A little bread and wine was all he required for the chief part of the day when employed at his work, and very frequently he rose in the middle of the night to resume his labors. On these occasions, it was his practice to fix the candle, by the light of which he chiselled, on the summit of a pasteboard cap which he wore. Sometimes he was too wearied to undress, and he slept in his clothes, ready to spring to his work as soon as refreshed by sleep. He had a favorite de vise of an old man in a go-cart, with an hour-glass upon it bearing the inscription, " Ancora imparo!"--" Still I am learning."
Titian, also, was an indefatigable worker. His celebrated " Pietro Martire " was eight years in hand; and his Last Supper " seven. In his letter to Charles V. he said, " I send your Majesty the ` Last Supper,' after working at it almost daily for seven years dopo sette anni lavorandovi quasi continuamente." Few think of the patient labor and long training involved in the greatest works of the artist. They seem easy and quickly accomplished, yet with how great difficulty has this ease been acquired. You charge me fifty sequins," said the Venetian nobleman to the sculptor, " for a bust that cost you only ten days labor." " You forget," said the artist, " that I have been thirty years learning to make that bust in ten days." Once when Domenichino was blamed for his slowness in finishing a picture which was bespoken, he made answer, " I am continually painting it within myself." It was eminently characteristic of the industry of the late Sir - Augustus Callcott that he made not fewer than forty separate sketches in the composition of his famous picture of "Rochester." This constant repetition is one of the main conditions of success in art, as in life itself.
No matter how generous nature has been in bestowing the gift of genius, the pursuit of art is nevertheless a long and continuous labor. Many artists have been precocious, but without diligence their precocity would have come to nothing. The anecdote related of West is well known. When only seven years old, struck with the beauty of the sleeping infant of his oldest sister, whilst watching by its cradle, he ran to seek some paper, and forthwith drew its portrait in red and black ink. The little incident revealed the artist in him, and it was found impossible to draw him from his bent. West might have been a greater painter, had he not been injured by too early success: his fame, though great, was not purchased by study, trials, and difficulties, and it has not been enduring.
Richard Wilson, when a mere child, indulged him-self with tracing figures of men and animals on the walls of his father's house with a burnt stick. He first directed his attention to portrait painting; but ,when in Italy, calling one day at the house of Zucarelli, and growing weary with waiting, he began painting the scene on which his friend's chamber window looked. When Zucarelli arrived, he was so charmed with the picture that he asked if Wilson had not studied landscape, to which he replied that he had not. " Then I advise you," said the other, " to try; for you are sure of great success." Wilson adopted the advise, studied and worked hard, and became our first great English landscape painter.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, when a boy, forgot his lessons, and took pleasure only in drawing, for which his father was accustomed to rebuke him. The boy was destined for the profession of physic, but his strong instinct for art could not be repressed, and he became a painter. Gainsborough went sketching, when a school-boy in the woods of Sudbury, and at twelve he was a confirmed artist : he was a keen observer and a hard worker no picturesque feature of any scene he had once looked upon escaping his diligent pencil. William Blake, a hosier's son, employed himself in drawing designs on backs of his father's shop-bills, and making sketches on the counter. Edward Bird, when a child only three or four years old, would mount a chair and draw figures on the walls, which he called French and English soldiers. A box of colors was purchased for him, and his father, desirous of turning his love of art to account, put him apprentice to a maker of tea-trays! Out of this trade he gradually raised himself, by study and labor, to the rank of a Royal Academician.
Hogarth, though a very dull boy at his lessons, took pleasure in making drawings of the letters of the alphabet, and his school exercises were more remarkable for the ornaments with which he embellished them than for the matter of the exercises themselves. In the latter respect he was beaten by all the blockheads of the school, but in his adornments he stood alone. His father put him apprentice to a silversmith, where he learnt to draw, and also to engrave spoons and forks with crests and ciphers. From silver-chasing he went on to teach himself engraving on copper, principally griffins and monsters of heraldry, in the course of which practice he became ambitious to delineate the varieties of human character. The singular excellence which he reached in this art was mainly the result of careful observation and study. He had the gift, which he sedulously cultivated, of committing to memory the precise features of any remarkable face, and afterwards reproducing them on paper; but if any singularly fantastic form or outre face came in his way, he would make a sketch of it on the spot upon his thumb-nail, and carry it home to expand at his leisure. Every thing fantastical and original had a powerful attraction for him, and he wandered into many out-of-the-way places for the purpose of meeting with character. By this careful storing of his mind, he was afterwards enabled to crowd an immense amount of thought and treasured observation into his works. Hence it is that Hogarth's pictures are so truthful a memorial of the character, the manners, and even the very thoughts of the times in which he lived. True painting, he himself observed, can only be learnt in one school, and that is kept by Nature. But he was not a highly cultivated man, except in his own walk. His school education had been of the slenderest kind, scarcely even perfecting him in the art of spelling; his self culture did the rest. For a long time he was in very straightened circumstances, but nevertheless worked on with a cheerful heart. Poor though he was, he contrived to ive within his small means, and he boasted, with becoming pride, that he was a " punctual paymaster." When he had become a famous and thriving man, he loved to dwell upon his early labors and privations, and to fight over again the battle which ended so honorably to him as a man and so gloriously as an artist, " I remember the time," said he on one occasion, " when I have gone moping into the city with scarce a shilling, but as soon as I have received ten guineas there for a plate, I have returned home, put on my sword, and sallied out with all the confidence of a man who had thousands in his pockets."
" Industry and perseverance" was the motto of the sculptor Banks, which he acted on himself, and strongly recommended to others. His well-known kindness induced many aspiring youths to call upon him and ask for his advice and assistance; and it is related that one day a boy called at his door to see him with this object, but the servant, angry at the loud knock he had given, scolded him, and was about sending him away, when Banks, overhearing her, himself went out. The little boy stood at the door with some drawings in his hand. " What do you want with me?" asked the sculptor. " I want, sir, if you please, to. be admitted to draw at the Academy." Banks explained that he himself could not procure his admission, but he asked to look at the boy's drawings. Examining them, he said, " Time enough for the Academy, my little man! go home mind your schooling try to make a better drawing of the Apollo and in a month come again and let me see it. The boy went home sketched and worked with redoubled diligence and, at the end of the month, called again on the sculptor. The drawing was better; but again Banks sent him back, with good advice, to work and study. In a week the boy was again at his door, his drawing much improved; and Banks bid him be of good cheer, for if spared he would distinguish himself. The boy was Mulready; and the sculptor's augury was amply fulfilled.
The fame of Claude Lorraine is partly explained by his indefatigable industry. Born at Champagne, in Lorraine, of poor parents, he was first apprenticed to a pastrycook. His brother, who was a wood-carver, after-wards took him into his shop to learn that trade. Having there shown indications of artistic skill, a traveling dealer persuaded the brother to allow Claude to accompany him to Italy. He assented, and the young man reached Rome, where he was shortly after engaged by Agostino Tassi, the landscape painter, as his house servant. In that capacity Claude first learnt landscape painting, and in course of time he began to produce pictures. We next find him making the tour of Italy, France, and Germany, occasionally resting by the way to paint landscapes, and -thereby replenish his purse. On returning to Rome he found an increasing demand for his works, and his reputation at length, became European. He was unwearied in the study of nature in her various aspects. It was his practice to spend a great part of his time in closely copying buildings, bits' of ground, trees, leaves, and such like, which he finished in detail, keeping the drawings by him in store for the purpose of introducing them in his studied landscapes. He also gave close attention to the sky, watching it for whole days from morning till night, and noting the various changes occasioned by the passing clouds and the increasing and waning light. By this constant practice he acquired, although, it is said, very slowly, such a mastery of hand and eye as eventually secured for him the first rank among landscape painters.
Turner, who has been styled " the English Claude " pursued a career of like laborious industry. He was destined by his father for his own trade of a barber, which he carried on in London, until one day the sketch which the boy had made of a coat-of-arms on a silver salver having attracted the notice of a customer whom his father was shaving, the latter was urged to allow his son to follow his bias, and he was eventually permitted to follow art as a profession. Like all young artists, Turner had many difficulties to encounter, and they were all the greater that his circumstances were so straightened. But he was always willing to work, and to take pains with his work, no matter how humble it might be. He was glad to hire himself out at half-a-crown a night to wash in skies in Indian ink upon other people's drawings, getting his supper into the bar-gain. Thus he earned money and acquired expertness. Then he took to illustrating guide-books, almanacs, and any sort of books that wanted cheap frontispieces. " What could I have done better?" said he afterwards; " it was first-rate pratice." He did every thing care-fully and conscientiously, never slurring over his work because he was ill-remunerated for it. He aimed at learning as well as living; always doing his best, and never leaving a drawing without having made a step in advance upon his previous work. A man who thus labored was sure to do much; and his growth in power and grasp of thought was, to use Ruskin's words, " as steady as the increasing light of sunrise." But Turner's genius needs no panegyric; his best monument is the noble gallery of pictures bequeathed by him to the nation, which will ever be the most lasting memorial of his fame.
To reach Rome, the capital of the fine arts, is usually the highest ambition of the art student. But the journey to Rome is costly, and the student is often poor. With a will resolute to overcome difficulties, Rome may however at last be reached. Thus Francois Perrier, an early French painter, in his eager desire to visit the Eternal City, consented to act as guide to a blind vagrant. After long wanderings he reached the Vatican, studied and became famous. Not less enthusiasm was displayed by Jacques Callot in his determination to visit Rome. Though opposed by his father in his wish to be an artist, the boy would not be baulked, but fled from home to make his way to Italy. Having set out without means, he was soon reduced to great straits; but falling in with a band of gypsies, he joined their company, and wandered about with them from one fair to another, sharing in their numerous adventures. During this remarkable journey Callot picked up much of that extraordinary knowledge of figure, feature, and character, which he afterwards reproduced, sometimes in such exaggerated forms, in his wonderful engravings.
When Callot at length reached Florence, a gentle-man, pleased with his ingenious ardor, placed him with an artist to - study; but he was not satisfied to stop short of Rome, and we find him shortly on his way thither. At Rome he made the acquaintance of Porigi and Thomassin, who, on seeing his crayon sketches, predicted for him a brilliant career as an artist. But a friend of Callot's family having accidentally encountered him, took steps to compel the fugitive to return home. By this time he had acquired such a love of wandering that he could not rest; so he ran away' a second time, and a second time he was brought back by his elder brother, who caught him at Turin. At last the father, seeing resistance was in vain, gave his reluctant con-sent to Callot's prosecuting his studies at Rome. Thither he went accordingly; and this time he remained, diligently studying design and engraving for several years under competent masters. On his way back to France, he was encouraged by Cosmo II. to remain at Florence where he studied and 'worked for several years more. On the death of his patron he returned to his family at Nancy, where, by the use of his burin and needle, he shortly acquired both wealth and fame. When Nancy was taken by siege during the civil wars, Callot was requested by Richelieu to make a design and engraving of the event, but the artist would not commemorate the disaster which had befallen his native place, and he refused point-blank. Richelieu could not shake his resolution, and threw him into prison. There Callot met with some of his old friends the gypsies, who had relieved his wants on his first journey to Rome. When Louis XIII. heard of his imprisonment, he not only released him, but offered to grant him any favor he might ask. Callot immediately requested that his old companions the gypsies, might be set free and permitted to beg in Paris without molestation. This odd request was granted on condition that Callot should engrave their portraits, and hence his curious book of engravings entitled " The Beggars." Louis is said to have offered Callot a pension of 3,00a livres provided he would not leave Paris; but the artist was too much of a Bohemian, and prized his liberty too highly to permit him to accept it, and he returned to Nancy, where he worked till his death. His industry may be inferred from the number of his engravings and etchings, of which he left not fewer than i,600. He was especially fond of grotesque subjects, which he treated with great skill; his free etchings, touched with the graver, being executed with especial delicacy and wonderful minuteness.
Still more romantic and adventurous was the career of Benvenuto Cellini, the marvelous gold-worker, painter, sculptor, engraver, engineer, and author. His life as told by himself, is one of the most extraordinary autobiographies ever written. Giovanni Cellini, his. father, was one of the Court musicians to Lorenzo de Medici at Florence; and his highest ambition concerning his son Benvenuto was that he should become an expert player on the flute. But Giovanni having lost his appointment, found it necessary to send his son to learn some trade, and he was apprenticed to a gold-smith. The boy had already displayed a love of drawing and of art; and, applying himself to his business, he soon became a dexterous workman. Having got mixed up in a quarrel with some of the towns-people, he was banished for six months, during which period he worked with a goldsmith at Sienna, gaining further experience in jewelry and gold-working.
His father still insisting on his becoming a flute-player, Benvenuto continued to practice on the instrument, though he detested it. His chief pleasure was in in art, which he pursued with enthusiasm, Returning to Florence, he carefully studied the designs of Leonardo da Vinci and Michael Angelo; and, still further to improve himself in gold-working, he went on foot to Rome, where he met with a variety of adventures. He returned to Florence with the reputation of being a most expert worker in the precious metals, and his skill was soon in great request. But being of an irascible temper, he was constantly getting into scrapes, and was frequently under the necessity of flying for his life. Thus he fled from Florence in the disguise of a friar, again taking refuge at Sienna, and afterwards at Rome.
During his second residence at Rome, Cellini met with extensive patronage, and he was taken into the Pope's service in the double capacity of goldsmith and musician. He was constantly studying and improving himself by acquaintance with the works of the best masters. He mounted jewels, finished enamels, engraved seals, and designed and executed works in gold, silver, and bronze, in such a style as to excel all other artists.
Whenever he heard of a goldsmith who was famous in any particular branch, he immediately determined to surpass him. Thus it was that he rivalled the medals ,of one, the enamels of another, and the jewelry of a third; in fact, there was not a branch of his business that he did not feel impelled to excel in.
Working in this spirit, it is not wonderful that Cellini should have been able to accomplish so much. He was a man of indefatigable activity, and was constantly on the move. At one time we find him at Florence, at another at Rome; then he is at Mantua, at Rome, at Naples, and back to Florence again; then at Venice, and in Paris, making all his long journeys on horseback. He could not carry much luggage with him; so, wherever he went, he usually began by making his own tools. He not only designed his works, but executed them himself hammered and carved, and cast and shaped them with his own hands. Indeed, his works have the impress of genius so clearly stamped upon them, that they could never have been designed by one person and executed by another. The humblest article a buckel for a lady's girdle, a seal, a locket, a brooch, a ring, or a button became in his hands a beautiful work of art.
Cellini was remarkable for his readiness and dexterity in handicraft. One day a surgeon entered the shop of Raffaelo del Moro, the goldsmith, to perform an operation on his daughter's hand. On looking at the surgeon's instruments, Cellini, who was present, found them rude and clumsy, as they usually were in those days, and he asked the surgeon to proceed no further with the operation for a quarter of an hour. He then ran to his shop, and taking a piece of the finest steel, wrought out of it a beautifully finished knife, with which the operation was successfully performed.
Among the statues executed by Cellini, the most important are the silver figure of Jupiter, executed at Paris for Francis I., and the Perseus, executed in bronze for the Grand Duke Cosmo of Florence. He also executed statues in marble of Apollo, Hyacinthus, Narcissus, and Neptune. The extraordinary incidents connected with the casting of the Perseus were peculiarly illustrative of the remarkable character of the man.
The Grand Duke having expressed a decided opinion that the model, when shown to him in wax, could not possibly be cast in bronze, Cellini was immediately stimulated by the predicted impossibility, not only to attempt, but to do it. He first made the clay model, baked it, and covered it with wax, which he shaped into the perfect form of a statue. Then coating the wax with a sort of earth, he baked the second covering, during which the wax dissolved and escaped, leaving the space between the two layers for the reception of the metal. To avoid disturbance, the latter process was. conducted in a pit dug immediately under the furnace, from which the liquid metal was to be introduced by pipes and apertures into the mould prepared for it.
Cellini had purchased and laid in several loads of pine-wood in anticipation of the process of casting, which now began. The furnace was filled with pieces of brass and bronze, and the fire was lit. The resinous pine-wood was soon in such a furious blaze, that the shop took fire, and part of the roof was burnt; while at the same time the wind blowing and the rain falling on the furnace, kept down the heat, and prevented the metals from melting. For hours Cellini struggled to keep up the heat, continually throwing in more wood, until at length he became so exhausted and ill, that he feared he should die before the statue could be cast. He was forced to leave to his assistants the pouring in of the metal when melted, and betook himself to his bed. While those about him were condoling with him in his distress, a workman suddenly entered the room, lamenting that " poor Benvenuto's work was irretrievably spoiled!" On hearing this, Cellini immediately sprang from his bed and rushed to the workshop, where he found the fire so much gone down that the metal had again become hard.
Sending across to a neighbor for a load of young oak which had been more than a year in drying, he soon had the fire blazing again and the metal melting and glittering. The wind was, however, still blowing with fury, and the rain falling heavily; so, to protect himself, Cellini had some tables with pieces of tapestry and old clothes brought to him behind which he went on hurling the wood into the furnace. A mass of pewter was thrown in upon the other metal, and by stirring, sometimes with iron and sometimes with long poles, the whole soon became completely melted. At this juncture, when the trying moment was close at hand, a terrible noise as of a thunderbolt was heard, and a glittering of fire flashed before Cellini's eyes. The cover of the furnace had burst, and the metal began to flow! Finding that it did not run with the proper velocity, Cellini rushed into the kitchen, bore away every piece of copper and pewter that it contained some two hundred porringers, dishes, and kettles of different kinds —and threw them into the furnace. Then at length the metal flowed freely, and thus the splendid statue of Perseus was cast.
The divine fury of genius in which Cellini rushed to his kitchen and stripped it of its utensils for the purposes of his furnace, will remind the reader of the like act of Palissy in breaking up his furniture for the purpose of baking his earthenware. Excepting, however, in their enthusiasm, no two men could be less alike in character. Cellini was an Ishmael against whom, according to his own account, every man's hand was turned. But about his extraordinary skill as a workman, and his genius as an artist, there can not be two opinions.