Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics - Vol. 1

By Julius Meier-Graefe; Florence Simmonds et al. | Go to book overview
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THE FIRST FLORESCENCE OF PAINTING

THE victorious struggle of planes against line continued with results more and more decisive in the new painting. The Venetians, Rubens, Rembrandt and Velazquez were its heroes. In the nineteenth century this tendency was carried to its extreme consequence. The result is undoubtedly the most important acquisition made by our art. If it were the only one, and if the influence on all æsthetic production had been limited to it alone, its apogee would coincide with the nadir of our power to form style.

This conclusion, a consequence of the Renaissance idea, is happily an error. We shall see later, on which factors the formation of style devolves in our times, at least, in our abstract art. To deduce the style of our day from our pictures would be as absurd as to deduce Gothic art from, Gothic pictures. Painting did not create Gothic. The reverse was rather the case. Painting needed the impetus it received from contemporary style, to free itself from that style. Its destinies can therefore at the most only be accounted symptoms of this liberation, this "degothicisation," if I may coin such a word.

On the other hand, the period undoubtedly plays a part in another form in the development of painting, however spasmodic this may seem. Its course may, to a certain extent, be recognised as a phenomenon parallel with the development of the human organ of vision and certain faculties of perception, not in its entirety, but certainly in its most important tendency. The great painters, to whom we owe landscape, from the Dutchmen of the seventeenth century to our own contemporaries, were undoubtedly right, when they showed that there are other things to see in Nature besides the stylistic line which classicism selected. Our own century played such an important part in the development of landscape, that we may almost consider the creation of the genre as an achievement of our era alone. The importance of light, of air, of all the imponderabilia we require to give probability to a study of nature, developed gradually, almost step by step. Much that the earlier masters saw in Nature, seems, if we place the most trivial modern landscape beside it, an illusion of primitive senses, and it seems legitimate to demand that the increased complexity of our perceptions should find expression in art as well as elsewhere. This necessary scientific accretion, which nevertheless may leave to art all its sources of beauty or even create new ones for it, modifies its technical equipment. The significance of the artistic is unaffected by this modification; painting governed by scientific considerations alone would lose its artistic value. Science must remain a means, and can never become an end in this connection.

The quasi-material development of painting naturally caused a reaction on the other side. While interest in Nature became more and more intimate, composition entered upon a new phase. Its field of operation altered, became smaller both in a superficial and a literary sense. The Dutchmen of Rembrandt's time had already demonstrated that, to render the quality of a fine piece of stuff, it is not necessary to drape it on an elegantly posed figure, nay more, that arrangement

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