Studio: international art — 28.1903

Page: 156
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The Lay Figure


"Let me state my case," said the Critic to the
Journalist. " It is a belief of mine that, if a book
were compiled on the debts of gratitude that artists
owe to medical men, the public would be surprised."

"A vague statement, indeed," remarked the
Journalist. " To what debts of gratitude do you
refer ? Do you wish a book to be published on
the dangerous illnesses through which great artists
have been pulled in safety by their doctors ? "

" No, that is not my wish," replied the Critic.
" I am thinking of surgeons and physicians in their
relation to art, for I notice that a strong affinity
exists between them and the brotherhood of artists.
I have rarely met a medical man who was not
keenly interested either in some phase of art or in
some form of connoisseurship. Take the medical
profession in any country, and I believe you will
find among its members an appreciation of art
more serious and more intelligent than you will
meet with in any other profession or calling outside
the actual practice of the arts themselves."

"The subject is a new one to me," said the
Journalist; "but I can look at it through my own
knowledge of doctors, and I believe you are right."

" Certainly he is right," the Reviewer dogmatised.
" The subject is new to you only because it has
never been stated and discussed. That it should
have been passed by is singular, for the history of
art in every country gives us many examples of the
kinship of temperament existing between medical
men and artists. Think for a moment of the
history of English art. Was it not two physicians,
Dr. Benjamin Hoadley and Dr. Morell, that aided
Hogarth when he wrote the well-known treatise The
Analysis of Beauty ? And in London at a later date,
again, was not the good Dr. Monro a wise patron,
critic, and teacher ? Did he not gather together,
in his house on the Adelphi Terrace, all the ablest
young painters of his day, with Girtin and Turner
at their head? and did he not teach them admir-
ably in his evening class ? He helped them also in
other ways, for he gave them half-a-crown and a
good oyster-supper for their copies and sketches.
Ruskin was not wrong when he said that Turner's
true master was Dr. Monro. But this is but one
side of an interesting subject. One might talk of
those artists who, like Girtin and Cotman, had sons
or grandsons that became doctors; and you know
as well as I do that De Wint was not the only
English painter of the nineteenth century whose

father was a physician. George Mason, again,
renounced medicine to follow art, and Seymour
Haden was a noted surgeon when he won for
himself his high position among the masters of
etching. Thus in England alone, since the middle
of the eighteenth century, there has been much to
suggest an affinity of temperament between medical
men and artists. How strange, then, that a thing
so interesting should have been passed unnoticed."

"Yes, it is strange," said the Critic, "but it does
not interest me much. What interests me is the
meaning of the temperamental kinship of which we
are speaking. We may set aside as exceptional
those cases in which the practice of art has gone
successfully hand-in-hand with the practice of
medicine or of surgery. There have been few such
cases, and I know not how to get at their real
value in the present discussion. For this reason I
confine myself to a simple general question. What
is it in the study and practice of medicine that
makes a man sympathetic to the arts ? A habit of
observation counts for much, I believe, and there
is also a form of artistic training in that education
of the eye and of the nerves without which medical
men could not be so light and so deft of hand."

" I agree with you entirely," said the Reviewer.
" Doctors are men of observation, like artists, and
their first-hand knowledge of the human body
cannot but bring them in touch with the great
masters of painting and of sculpture. They look
keenly at -the anatomical knowledge displayed in
works of art; and if they find the knowledge sound,
they continue their study of the work before them,
and by this means they penetrate to the subtle
aesthetic qualities. But this is not all, I think.
In all kinds of specialistic surgery a man requires a
singular union of gifts, for it is his business to be as
sensitive as an artist and yet as firm and resolute
as a man of action. I do not believe that anyone
can be a great surgeon unless he is endowed with
a touch of the Eesthetic temperament."

"But we must remember another point," the
Critic said. "Art can be approached in a question-
ing, scientific way, as the example and criticisms of
Herbert Spencer bear witness; and this way of study-
ing art is often more fruitful of useful opinions than
the emotionalism of professed art critics. Thus,
for instance, I frequently find myself praising applied
craftsmanship, but without inquiring whether the
articles that please my eye are well adapted for the
purpose that they have to serve as chairs, or tables,
or teaspoons, or fire-irons, or what you please ; and
hence I get myself into difficulties by trusting too
much to my sense of sight." The Lay Figure.
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