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We spoke in the last chapter of the beautiful manner in which Israels paints the floors of his interiors, and produces a perfectly level appearance in them as they gradually retreat from the spectator. The failure of so many artists in this apparently simple matter shows that it is by no means easy of accomplishment. The effect is gained by a masterly combination of linear and aerial or colour perspective, and by getting the values absolutely true, all of which gives the appearance of depth to the flat surface the painter has to work on. It helps largely to give a feeling of atmosphere to the scene, and we are able to follow the strong light in the foreground as it plays round figures and furniture through finely graduated passages of colour, until it is lost in the dim distance.
We would like to draw particular attention to the artistic and charming way in which Israels puts the windows into his cottages. Through them the diffused light enters the room, brightening everything and penetrating to its dusky corners. But we can also look through them, and see the fair outside world,
with its green trees and quiet evening sky. In all his interiors these effects of light have a fascination for him, and he succeeds in passing it on to us. We like to watch the girl sitting quietly there, with the light falling in bright rays on her cap and dress ere it loses itself in the shadows, and to look out with her on the spring fields and the rosy-tinged sunset; and we wonder what were the dreams that were passing through her young mind as she sat there alone, and the night came on.
This double effect of treating the light inside the room and outside is very characteristic of Israels, and it has not been treated in this natural way by anyone before him. Yet natural as it seems, it has a magic power; for it carries our thoughts out of ourselves, out through the window in the walls that shut us in, and we dream as we gaze away into the far beyond.
Another and very serious phase of Israels' art is his representation of his own people, the Jews, in such masterpieces as the Scribe, the old Jewish writer intent on copying on a roll of parchment the law and the prophets,
while the light falls on his head and long beard and floods the writing table; or the old Rag Merchant; or the great painting of Saul in his tent, founded in part on Browning's poem, with which he was familiar.
But when the final stage is near, when men grow old and companions pass away, what does Israels tell us? Is there really anything more than this world he has been painting in all its busy life? What of the future? “Alas,” he seems to say, “who knows? I cannot see any light shining on the path.” Indeed, even in the present he sees more of the sadness of life than of its happiness. Man must suffer, and he has just to go through with it. All have to submit to what life has in store for them, and must endure their lot. Then comes the end lit up by no ray of hope.
At least this appears to be what he tells us in his most serious moods, when he paints the old woman cowering over the fire to get a little warmth, no comfort left in life, and nothing to look forward to: or when he describes, in “Alone in the World,” such utter and overwhelming loneliness as had never been put on