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Studio: international art — 3.1894

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The Responsibility of Painting

surrounded it. The canvas was complete in itself,
dependent upon nothing external for its right to
exist, affected by nothing beyond itself, and in fact
frankly and simply decorative.

He had really discovered that in decoration lies
the future cf art. He looked forward sufficiently
to perceive that the pictures dramatic, religious,
topical, and comic, over which public taste nowa-
days runs riot, are destined almost at once to give
place to work of a nobler type. The signs of the
coming change were clear enough to him. He read
in the restless activity of artistic opinion, in the
divisions between the various phases of aesthetic
thought, in the growth of ideas and practices of
novel complexion, proofs of the approach of new
ideals and new beliefs ; and, ahead of the growing
movement, he set himself to prepare the way for
it. He recognised that in the future art would no
longer be a mere handmaiden, serving any master
who could compel her services; he saw that the
time was almost over during which she had, in
obedience to unnatural tyranny, to distort her own
true shape by carrying burdens beyond her strength
to bear; and in this perception he strove to work
out her emancipation. And, so far as he could,
almost without assistance, he certainly completed
the task that he undertook. During a working
life of nearly forty years he proved in a wonderful
succession of admirable pictures what aesthetic
possibilities lie in true decoration—in art, that is to
say, unhampered by external incongruities. He
proved that without subject, without emotion,
passion, or dramatic effect, a picture may yet be
admirable as a work of art. He showed that
beauty of form, colour, design, and draughtsman-
ship, exquisite balance of line arrangement, and
consummate skill of handling, are all possible in a
canvas that tells no story, records no gossip, nor
teaches any moral. He preached, indeed, through
the medium of his own practice, the doctrine that
all these popularly accepted functions of the pic-
ture are so many hindrances to its real mission ;
to teach beauty and nothing else, to be perfect
decoration, and to allow no unsuitable suggestion
to jar upon its perfection. And he never wavered
in his devotion to the principles he had adopted ;
he persevered in spite of the neglect of the people
to whom he preached, and in spite of the opposi-
tion of the men in authority whose support would
have been so valuable. He died, at last, in harness,
without having recanted any of his opinions, and
without having appreciably modified his methods ;
a sturdy innovator to the very day of his death.
(To be concluded next month.)

6

HE RESPONSIBILITY OF
PAINTING: AN ADDRESS TO
STUDENTS OF ART.* BY
FREDERICK WEDMORE.

I know I ought to come before you in an
apologetic mood, for it is on the "responsibility"
of Painting that I am announced to speak ; and
"responsibility" is a word which, by its meaning,
is dangerously near to " duty," and we live in
days when the enlightened have discovered that
men, and more particularly women, have no
" duties," but only " rights." You have come to
listen to an old-fashioned person. What claims
have I got ? I have never felt that with any justice
I could call myself a "faddist." You cannot be
invited to find, in anything that / shall say, the
undeniable attractiveness of the doctrinaire and
the "viewy." No word that I shall breathe could
be construed by even the most wildly hopeful of
our race—by Mr. Bernard Shaw, for instance, or
the Star newspaper, or the young lions of the
Daily Chronicle—into affording any glimpse of trust
that you may have before you a Socialist, or a
Vegetarian, or an Atheist, or a Teetotaler, or even
a Pre-Raphaelite. All that you have, I fear, is a
confessed and rampant Philistine.

Yet I am to speak to Art students, not wholly
without seriousness, on the Responsibility of
Painting.

Have you ever thought—you, ladies, especially :
some of you, perhaps, like Mr. Browning's "pretty,
thoughtful thing"—she, you remember, in " Dis
aliter Visum" who

" draws—hopes in time the eye grows nice "—

have you ever asked yourselves what it means,
this bringing into the world—another new picture ?
If I could have my way in these matters—but
your opinion may be a different one—I would
have everybody taught to draw, up to a certain
point, and only the very few, and those, most
carefully chosen, only the very few permitted to
paint. I will tell you why, in a moment. And so,
far from advocating, as I know certain painters would
advocate, that Art education should be gratuitous
and for all, I would say, that as regards the
actual production of noble pictures, it will matter
very little whether we teach the many, or leave
them untaught. If we leave them untaught, the
genius, the person of originality whose gift is
Painting, will teach himself, or without difficulty
give proof that he at least must be taught. If, on
the other hand, we teach the many, teach them
* Delivered at Highbury, March 5th, 1894.
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