With eyes close to the canvas he notes the way Millet has handled his materials, his drawing, his color, his surfaces and edges, all the knack of the brush-work, recognizing in his examination of the workmanship of the picture that though Millet was a very great artist, he was not a great painter, that the reach of his ideas was not equaled by his technical skill.
His landscapes are more sincere than his religious canvases, which are almost as sensuous and earthly as Correggio without the magisterial brush-work and commanding conception of the Parma painter. To be quite fair, it may be admitted that Murillo could make a good portrait. Both in Madrid and Seville you may verify this.
There was still some gold in the thinning hair and some scarlet on the sensual lips. The sodden eyes had kept something of the loveliness of their blue, the noble curves had not yet passed entirely away from chiselled nostrils and from plastic throat. Yes, it was Dorian himself. But who had done it? He seemed to recognize his own brush-work, and the frame was his own design.
The first period of his art found Velasquez a realist heavy in colour and brush-work, and without much hint of the transcendental realism to be noted in his later style. The dwarfs, buffoons, the Æsop and the Menippus are the result of an effortless art. In the last manner the secret of the earth mingles with the mystery of the stars, as Dostoïevsky would put it.
Velasquez, sir, was a great artist, and Velasquez could paint, in his day, to beat the band. But I argue that, if you resurrected Velasquez to-day, he'd have to alter his outlook, and everything along with it, right away down to his brush-work. And I go on to argue that if I can't paint like Velasquez which is a cold fact it's equally a fact that, if I could, I oughtn't.
We see the heath lying under infinity, under true sky and winds. No hint of the theatre is there. All is as the poet may have conceived it in his soul. And for us Corot's brush-work fills the place of Shakespeare's music.
There are no doubt qualities in the painting which evade analysis by a mere amateur, and yet involve supreme craftsmanship such things as precision of line, perfect mastery of the palette, clever brush-work, management of shadow, perspective, proportion, and relation of the parts to the whole; but I leave all that to the professionals whose business it is to appreciate it; what strikes me especially about Zeuxis is the manifold scope which he has found for his extraordinary skill, in a single subject.
The idea is the emotional content of the work; the execution is the practical expressing of the idea by means of the medium and the vehicle. The idea of Millet's "Sower" is the emotion attending his conception of the laborer rendered in visual terms; the execution of the picture is exhibited in the composition, the color, the drawing, and the actual brush-work.
He seemed to recognise his own brush-work, and the frame was his own design. The idea was monstrous, yet he felt afraid. He seized the lighted candle, and held it to the picture. In the left-hand corner was his own name, traced in long letters of bright vermilion. It was some foul parody, some infamous, ignoble satire. He had never done that. Still, it was his own picture.
It was Sargent's brush-work that he was admiring. Then he smiled, as much to the portrait as to himself. "Princess Czarina Bolsheviki," he murmured, "were you really looking at me when my back was turned? Did you flash your eyes away directly I obeyed your desire? It's the trick of every woman; but you're not like every woman, Princess Czarina Bolsheviki."