A manual of oil painting - PDF book by John Collier

A manual of oil painting

A manual of oil painting

The art of painting in oils is a very difficult one, and not the least of its difficulties consists in the great uncertainty that exists as to the proper methods to be pursued. 

As a rule, the great painters have been too much occupied with their painting to explain to the world how their effects have been produced. Indeed, it would seem that they have not always known themselves; for when they have theorised upon the subject their theories have been often quite irreconcilable with their practice. 

Fortunately, they have generally had pupils who have carried on the tradition of their masters' work, and on the Continent, this excellent system is still in force at the present day, for most of the great foreign painters think it their duty to give up a certain amount of their time to teaching, without any other reward than the additional fame conferred on them by the successes of their pupils. For some reason or other, this practice is almost unknown in England. Our English painters have no pupils, so the experience they have so laboriously acquired for themselves is of no profit to others.

 It is true that the schools of the Royal Academy are visited in turn by some of the Academicians, but the utmost that a student can hope to gain from these visits is a confused jumble of at least a dozen different methods. Nor is there much enlightenment to be gained from books. It is a melancholy fact that more non-sense can be talked about art than about any other subject, and writers of treatises on painting, from the great Leonardo downwards, have not been slow to avail themselves of this privilege. 

The student who attempts to model his practice on their precepts must inevitably arrive at the most disastrous results. I am aware that after having said this it must seem the height of folly to add another to these treatises; but I have a firm conviction, in spite of all experience, that it is possible to apply ordinary common sense to these matters, and I mean to try to do so. First of all, it may be as well to lay down, with some attempt at precision, the object the student should have in view.

 To whatever use he may mean to put his art eventually, the one thing that he has to learn as a student is how to represent faithfully any object that he has before him. The man who can do this is a painter, the man who cannot do it is not one. Of course, there is more to be done in painting than this, but once this power has been attained the student stage is at an end the workman has learnt his craft, he has become a painter. Of course, having got so far he may fail to apply his knowledge to any good purpose, but at least the means of expression are ready to his hand.

This representation of natural objects by means of pigments on a flat surface is a very definite matter, and most people are competent to judge the truth or falsehood of such a representation if they are fairly put in a position to do so; even the student himself can be a good judge of the success of his own work if he will make due allowance for his natural partiality for it.

There is, after all, nothing so very mysterious in the matter. Every natural object appears to us as a sort of pattern of different shades and colours. The task of the artist is so to arrange his shades and colours on his canvas that a similar pattern is produced. If this is well done the effect on the eye will be almost identical. As far as seeing is concerned, the two things, the object and the picture, will be alike; they will be absolutely different to the sense of touch, or indeed to any other sense, but to the sense of sight they will be practically identical.

 I am sorry to say anything that may diminish the awe with which the outside public regards my profession, but instead of finding it (as many worthy persons do) almost miraculous that a perfect representation should be made on a flat surface of solid objects, I have always wondered why it should be so difficult.

the book details :
  • Author: John Collier
  • Publication date: 1887
  • Company: London: Cassell

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