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LETTER

ON

LANDSCAPE PAINTING.

You

OU think then, sir, that I may be entertaining, perhaps even useful, by pointing out the route I have taken to attain some proficiency in the arts of design, in an age but little favourable to great success. It certainly is to be wished that a project of this kind had been executed by some celebrated artists. What advantage should we not reap from an history of painters, if, with the events of their lives, it contained an account of the

progress

of their talents? We shou'd there see the different routes that lead to the same end; the obstacles there are to encounter, and the means of surmounting them ; the developement of science, relative to the display of genius, and to the observations that arise from practice. Now, if these sorts of details had been wrote by the artists themselves, they wou'd undoubtedly have presented that important and useful truth, and that engaging entertainment which constantly attend it.

Perhaps, it is true, we shou'd not find in these simple recitals those profound researches which they labour to make, who descant on arts they never practise ; but they who practise them would there find the resources and informations that experience alone can give.

Thus, the work of LAIRESSE, so useful to young practitioners, has justly acquired him the title of benefactor to those arts his labours have adorn'd. Thus, also, the work of MENGs may assist his rivals to equal him, by affording more opportunity for reflection, in a few lines, on the principles of painting, than is to be found in large works. If he sometimes give us occasion to wish that he had been more perspicuous as a philosopher, what amends does he not make us as an artist, when he explains his method of proceeding, and his principles, and makes us admire the energy, the pure taste, and refined art which we ought to expect from him whom his cotemporaries call the RAPHAEL of his

age. May I be permitted to descend to myself, after having soar'd thus high? Shall I dare to fulfil my promise? I, who have advanced only a few paces in the career, and, perhaps, shall find myself stopp'd by compulsive circumstances and occupations. But I am engaged. It is in the name of friendship, and friendship shall be my excuse.

You know that fortune did not seem to have intended me for the practice of painting. A natural inclination, however, shewn in early youth by continual essays, seem'd to indicate that Nature, in this matter, did not agree with those circumstances of situation that depend not on her. I drew, there

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ز

fore, in my infancy, all objects that occur'd, without being then able to guess what this disposition meant, and without an attention being paid to it sufficient to render it useful. I made no progress, my taste declined, and my choicest days pass'd away; but the beauties of nature, and the excellent imitations of that grand model, made incessantly the most vivid impressions on my mind. I had abandon'd the pencil; a secret impulse made me take up the pen, and, by the aid of that which appear'd to me to have less difficulty in the practice, I imitated artless scenes and picturesque beauties; in a word, the charms of NATURE that struck me most.

A select collection, however, that belonged to my father-in-law *, awaken’d in me the passion for drawing; and, toward

my
thirtieth

year, I attempted to deserve, in this sort of imitation, the indulgence, and if it might be, the approbation of artists and connoisseurs.

My natural inclination led me to landscapes; I sought with ardour, the means of satisfying my desire, and embarrassed in the route I should take, I said to myself, there is but one model, there is but one master; and I determined to draw after naTURE. But I soon found, that this great and sublime master does not explain himself clearly but to those that have learnt to comprehend him. My precision in following him everywhere led me astray. I lost

* M. HEIDEGGUER, counsellor of state at ZURIC.

II

In a

myself in those minute details that destroy the ef-
fect of the whole. I had not catch'd that manner
which, without being servile or slight, expresses
the true character of objects. My trees were dryly
design'd, and not detach'd in masses. The whole
was disturbed by a labour without taste.
word, my eye, confined too closely to one point,
was not accustomed to embrace a large extent. I
was ignorant of that address which adds to or di-
minishes in the parts that art cannot equal. My
first progress, therefore, was to discern what I was
not able to perform ; the second was, to have re-
course to the great masters, and to the principles
they have established by their precepts and their
works; and is not this the natural progress in all
arts? The first who practised them fell into that
dryness with which they are reproach’d, by a too
great accuracy in imitating nature, whose beauties
they consider'd too much in detail. In fact, these
details are executed by our first painters in a man-
nor sufficiently finish'd, as well in the subordinate
objects as in the most striking parts. They that
follow'd them remark'd these defects, and disco-
vered that a characteristic imitation was more inte-
resting than an imitation of parts. The ideas of
masses, of effects and disposition, offer'd them-
selves; these ideas produced principles, and the
great painters have aim'd at a general effect, as the
poets have at a principal object.

I employed myself, therefore, in studying the great masters, in distinguishing them from each

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