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THE question “What is a picture ?” at first consideration seems to be a reasonably easy one to answer intelligently, but the more thought one gives to it the more apparent its complexity becomes.
A picture may be generally defined as a representation on canvas, or on some other material, by the use of colour and form, of the vision that forms itself in the mind of the artist when he looks on the landscape, or on the people and the scene which he is painting, or when he afterwards recalls it in his memory.
This vision in the pictures painted by great artists changes as it passes through their imagination, and is affected, more or less materially, by their personality. It is obvious that there must be an accurate resemblance, as nature furnishes the symbols used by the artist for the expression of his ideas, and these must
be painted in such a manner as to be readily understood, and the technical skill necessary to produce adequately the effect desired is also an essential part of the artist's equipment. But it is the vision, which may be realistic or imaginative, according to his individual temperament, that is always painted; not the thing as it is in itself, but as it appears to the receptive mind of the artist. “I dreamed my picture, later on I will paint my dream,” said Corot.
The same scene might be painted by Ruysdael and Hobbema, by Constable and Turner, by Daubigny and Rousseau, and each picture would take on the spirit of the individual artist, and give the observer very different ideas of identical views. For if it is not the actual scene before him that is painted, but his idea of it, it is evident that the personality of the artist counts for a very great deal in pictures; and so it is the subjective view of art that is the all-important one.
Those who are already lovers of art know the pleasure that is to be obtained from its study, and would like to interest others in
their favourite pursuit. It is my hope that this book will prove useful in drawing attention to a source of pleasure open to all, and that it will help to encourage a taste for it by trying to show what should be looked for and what should be found in pictures. In support of the views expressed I have given a number of opinions of the best writers and authorities. Those who are beginning to study paintings are often deterred by the difficulties they meet with or anticipate. As in all other matters worth knowing about, it certainly does take time and much seeking for it, to gain knowledge in this. But it must be remembered that as we look at pictures we learn, and that all through life we are learning. Yet the study is pleasant and helps to pass many an hour happily. And the more we get to know, the more grows our admiration for the artist and his work, and the greater becomes our pleasure in being able to appreciate them.
The common remark of a person who has given little thought to pictures, that he knows what he likes, shows that he has not con