Friday, January 08, 2010

Rainbows, showers, partial gleams of sunshine

Peter Paul Rubens, Philemon and Baucis, c1630

In 1822 William Hazlitt compared Rubens with Claude: 'I imagine that Rubens's landscapes are picturesque: Claude's are ideal. Rubens is always in extremes; Claude in the middle. Rubens carries some one peculiar quality or feature of nature to the utmost verge of probability: Claude balances and harmonises different forms and masses with laboured delicacy, so that nothing falls short, no one thing overpowers another. Rainbows, showers, partial gleams of sunshine, moonlight, are the means with which Rubens produces his most gorgeous and enchanting effects: there are neither rainbows, nor showers, nor sudden bursts of sunshine, nor glittering moonbeams in Claude. He is all softness and proportion: the other is all spirit and brilliant excess. The two sides (for example) of one of Claude's landscapes balance one another, as in a scale of beauty: in Rubens the several objects are grouped and thrown together with capricious wantonness. Claude has more repose: Rubens more gaiety and extravagance.'

Claude Lorraine, Landscape with Acis and Galatea, 1657

According to Kenneth Clark, 'no great painter ever lived so completely within his resources as Claude.  Unlike such prodigals as Rubens, his pictures always suggest a tactful and far-sighted economy.'  In Landscape into Art, Clark praises the earlier writing on Claude of Hazlitt and of Roger Fry, whose essay on the artist appeared in the Burlington Magazine in 1907.  Fry also praised Claude (rather faintly), whilst comparing him with more vital, colourful artists and writers.  For example, he says that 'Robert Bridges, in his essay on Keats, very aptly describes for literature the kind of beauty which we find in Shakespeare : "the power of concentrating all the far-reaching resources of language on one point, so that a single and apparently effortless expression rejoices the aesthetic imagination at the moment when it is most expectant and exacting." That, ceteris paribus, applies admirably to certain kinds of design. It corresponds to the nervous touch of a Pollajuolo or a Rembrandt. But Claude's line is almost nerveless and dull. Even when it is most rapid and free it never surprises us by any intimate revelation of character, any summary indications of the central truth. But it has a certain inexpressive beauty of its own. It is never elegant, never florid, and, above all, never has any ostentation of cleverness.'

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