French XVIII Century Painters: Watteau, Boucher, Chardin, La Tour, Greuze Fragonard

French XVIII Century Painters: Watteau, Boucher, Chardin, La Tour, Greuze Fragonard

French XVIII Century Painters: Watteau, Boucher, Chardin, La Tour, Greuze Fragonard

French XVIII Century Painters: Watteau, Boucher, Chardin, La Tour, Greuze Fragonard

Excerpt

Final judgements of art criticism must always be literary judgements. Perusing the reviews in defunct magazines, our sympathy and admiration are naturally aroused by the expression, in whatever lifeless form, of aesthetic notions which foreshadow or anticipate those on which the taste of our own times is founded; and we cannot but applaud the occasional contemporary notice in defence of an artist whose fame was otherwise posthumous. Aesthetic notions, however, are subject to constant mutation, and even the laurels awarded by posterity may not be green for all eternity; what stands out for us today as prophecy or insight may escape altogether the notice of our grandchildren; we cannot appraise the criticism of the past by referring its standards to present ones, for no equations discoverable by this method can be proved to have more than a transitory bearing on the essential value of the work. Criticism is neither science nor history: it is a branch of literature which is a branch of art; it is only as a work of art that it endures, and it is as such only that we can appreciate that proportion of the criticism of the past whose quality today continues to fix our attention.

Pater's shadowy outline, in his essay on Giorgione, of ideas with which Roger Fry packed the aesthetic consciousness of the twenties of the present century may still impress us as evidence of critical genius; we fasten upon the stray phrase in the countless pages of Ruskin's works if it should suggest to us that the immense pliancy of his mind would have yielded, in a propitious moment, to the beauties of abstract or surrealist art; and Baudelaire is universally approved as the original champion of the now revered Constantin Guys. But it is not on such grounds that the art criticism of these writers continues to exercise an influence and appeal. The passions and sensibilities of Ruskin and Pater, as expressed in their prose, have at times a force which, however misapplied in the light of current thought, would, nevertheless, continue to have its way with us; and it is at least a question whether the charms of Guys are not the reflection, rather than the inspiration, of Baudelaire's essay.

The enduring repute of the Goncourts as art critics is not to be explained in terms of their aesthetic opinions. Their view that painting should, in the . . .

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