The cordial reception of "Turrets, Towers, and Temples" has encouraged me to hope that a welcome may be given to a book treating the masterpieces of painting in a similar manner.
Great writers and literary tourists have occasionally been inspired to record the impressions of their saunterings among galleries and museums. The most interesting of these, not necessarily professional, I have tried to bring together in the following pages. My object has been not to make a selection of the greatest pictures in the world, although many that have that reputation will be found here, but rather to bring together those that have produced a powerful impression on great minds. Consequently, when the reader is disturbed at the omission of some world-famous painting, I beg him to remember my plan and blame the great writers instead of me for neglecting his favourite.
My task has not been a light one. A few words of rapturous admiration are constantly to be met with in the pages of art-lovers, but a sympathetic study of a single work is rarely found. General comment of a given artist's work is also plentiful, while discriminating praise of individual canvases is scanty. The literary selection has, therefore, involved a great deal of research.
From time to time the relative popularity of painters shifts strangely, but no matter what inconstant fashion may dictate, or what may be the cult of the hour, certain paintings never lose their prestige, but annually attract as many pilgrims as Lourdes or Fusi-San.
Of modern painters I have only included Turner and Rossetti.
It is interesting to compare the example I have chosen from Rossetti with Leonardo's "Monna Lisa." Pater has admirably brought out, without dwelling too much upon it, the charm that is eternal in her face as well as the fantastic imagination of the great artist who created her for all time. He says: "The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one.... Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea." In a similar sense Lilith the siren, the Lorelei, the eternal enchantress, in her modern robe, is the embodiment of a new fancy, the symbol of the ancient idea; and just here across four centuries the thoughts of two great artists meet.
The types of beauty and women in this book offer no little suggestion to the fancy. From Botticelli's "La Bella Simonetta," and Raphael's "La Fornarina," through all the periods of painting the model has been a great influence upon the painter's work, and upon this point nearly every essayist and critic represented in these pages dwells. In many of the essays, such as Pater's on Botticelli, and Swinburne's on Andrea del Sarto, the author strays away from the painting to talk of the painter, but in doing this he gives us so thoroughly the spirit of that painter that a fuller light is thrown upon the picture before us.
I have included a few criticisms by modern French critics, MM. Valabrègue, Lafond, Giron, Guiffrey, and Reymond, recognized authorities upon the artists whose works they describe; and I have selected Fromentin's valuable essay on "The Night Watch," feeling sure that this thoughtful criticism would interest even the enthusiastic admirers of this enigmatical work.
I have been careful to take no unnecessary liberties with the text. In the translations from Gruyer, Goethe, Fromentin, and others, which were unfortunately too long to be included entire, I have not allowed myself to condense, but only to cut. This is true, also, of the English extracts.
New York, September, 1899.
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